Bali is a strange place. Outwardly, tourist Bali is a mess. Streets are narrow, crowded, overrun with traffic, full of people trying to sell you stuff. Kuta, the mass-market mecca, near the airport, is especially awful.
But everyone is polite and patient. Go into a restaurant, even one of the cheapest, and everyone greets you, there is no rush.
There is no public transport, and one at first feels lost – does one have to walk everywhere? But taxis are cheap, especially the metred ones, and ubiquitous. So if you want to go a few miles to a beach, hire a taxi.
And if you want to go to several places over a couple of hours, hire a car and driver. (Don’t unless you are very confident, hire a car and drive it yourself. Road maps are not good, road signs intermittent at best, traffic anarchic and scooters obey rules of their own.) A whole day will cost £35 all inclusive. And the driver will take you to places you would otherwise miss and even supply you with a sarong and sash so you can get into temples!
That is what our driver did so that we could see the Kecak Dance at Uluwatu Temple. This is in a spectacular setting, on top of a cliff. The dance was very well done especially by the chorus and the White Monkey – Hanoman.
We had been staying in the south of the island, not far from the airport, but then we moved to Ubud which is more centrally located. It is less hectic than the south – what some would call “more Balinese”. However Monkey Forest Road, where we were staying, like all the streets of the town, is a mess – poor pavements, anarchist parking, hawkers and taxi touts.
And you cannot buy the makings of a meal in Ubud! There are no food shops. I suspect a cunning plan to encourage restaurant use. The local market has a food section but it closes mid-morning.
BUT – our first night in Ubud, we got into conversation with Dewa, a waiter in the restaurant we went to. He invited us to attend the cremation of some member of his extended family. He arranged for his brother Gunantra to pick us up and take us to his village, and lent us sarongs and sashs.
The cremation was fascinating, full of various bits of ritual, which I am not qualified to describe. The death had occurred some time ago and the body buried. Once sufficient funds had been gathered and a propitious day arrived, the bones were recovered and the cremation could begin.
After words at the local temple there was a procession to the cremation ground – very loud gongs, cymbals and drums, various bits of funeral paraphernalia, including a paper covered wicker cow. The traffic was stopped, three times round the roundabout on the main road and at last we arrived at the cremation ground.
At the cremation ground various things were put into the cow, including the bones, all sorts of spirits were appeased and the cow set ablaze.
After the ceremony we returned to Dewa’s house, changed out of our sarongs and taken for a walk round the paddy fields. The rice harvest was in operation – there are three harvests a year – and I was able to take some picture of the ladies – they were all ladies – doing the harvesting.
It was an education to see work being done in a manner which has not changed much since the invention of iron tools. The work is hot and hard and rice sells for about £0.50 per kilo. Its a lot easier being a waiter or driver.
More from Bali soon.