Amed and Agung, Bali

The tourist area known as Amed refers to a long stretch of coast in the North East of Bali, running from Culik, a traditional Balinese village located inland, and incorporating seven locations along the coast, Amed, Jemeluk, Bunutan, Lipah, Selang Banyuning and Aas.

Early morning Agung

Amed is the most recent district to be developed specifically for tourism in Bali. Over the last 20 years it has become a major diving venue and is very popular with French tourists and younger backpackers. Until recent times, Amed was one of the poorest areas in Bali. Local industries centered around fishing and salt farming- the land near the coast being too dry and unsuitable for farming. Kadek, our homestay host, happily chatted about the old days in ‘Amed’. His grandfather, like most other Balinese from the inland villages near Amed and Culik, owned a small plot of land on the sea which was used for salt harvesting by hand, a labour intensive process with very poor returns. Family members also went fishing during the dry season, and eked out a living with one cow and a few vegetables during the wet season. Most of the salt was bought by a large conglomerate from Denpasar each season. It was hand harvested and cured in hollowed out coconut tree trunks. There are still a few salt farmers today, including the central¬† government run farm on the coast near the Amed end of the tourist strip.

Salt farm, Amed.

Kadek built his first two homestay rooms on this small parcel of land 5 years ago, then added two larger rooms recently. Along with the income from running this accommodation, which is limited to the dry season, Kadek is a master dive instructor, driver, and fisherman. Kadek’s multi -tasking life is fairly typical of the other Balinese people along this strip. One morning at 7 am, Kadek purchased two tuna from one of the incoming fishing boats: he invited us to a beach BBQ that evening. The BBQ tuna had a wonderful smoky taste, and was served with sambal matar, rice and stir fried vegetables. During the day, various family members kept an eye on the business as he drove other tourists to visit the nearby water palace and temples inland.

View from the balcony: fishermen return with the morning catch.

We stayed in the area between Amed and Jemeluk, a three kilometre section of this funky paradise. As the purpose of my visit was to be closer to Mt Agung, Bali’s sacred mountain, this section of the coast, which faced north, provided a constant view of Agung to the west. I woke at dawn to the presence of the holy mountain emerging from the morning haze, and gazed in awe each evening at sunset, as Agung donned his more dramatic night cloak of cobalt and indigo, a divine and auspicious presence appearing to rise directly from the sea. Gunung Agung is 3031 metres high and viewed from Amed, it appears perfectly conical in shape.

Most tourists come to Amed to dive or snorkel. There are numerous ‘plong√©e‘ (diving) companies along the road- and most of these are signed in French as well as English, offering accredited courses in diving.¬† Other tourist activities include early morning fishing trips, run by a local fisherman in traditional Jukung fishing boats- you keep your catch to bring home and BBQ at your homestay – as well as free diving, yoga and snorkeling off the beach, especially at Jemeluk. Mr T enjoyed his snorkeling at Jemeluk where the fish took a fancy to him, while I declined, deciding that the current and breaking waves were not conducive to happy snorkeling. Kadek explained that the sea is usually much calmer and less cloudy at this time of year, but the full moon created these stronger currents, and, due to some recent cremations, some of the ancestral spirits were still uneasy and had not yet been released into their next life, causing rougher water than usual. Hinduism informs everything in Bali and it doesn’t take long to appreciate that what appears to be an element of animism within Balinese Hinduism goes much deeper: a spirituality based on learning from the environment around you. I was happy to hang out on the day bed on my balcony and read, under the presence of my mountain friend.

Sunset, Agung, and families out for a splash.

The atmosphere in Amed is laid back and there are still many reminders of old 1980s Bali, with a prevalence of smaller homestay accommodation options, fish BBQs on the beach, and jappels ( jaffles or toasties) on some menus. The warungs serve delicious food, especially local fish, such as Mahi- Mahi, Barracouta, and Tuna, which come simply grilled, accompanied with rice and urab– a Balinese vegetable dish. There appears to be a height restriction in place and most of the tourist businesses ( accommodation, restaurants, diving companies, small supermarkets) are small in size, as they have replaced the tiny sea front family salt farms. You won’t find much in the way of traditional Balinese culture along this strip. The Balinese don’t live here- they have never lived directly by the sea. The ritual of morning flowers and incense is sadly missing here, there are no temples, and no gamelan sounds or evidence of ceremony. These Balinese activities would be found in the villages nearby.¬† It is a remarkable tourist locale and one can only hope that it stays small, natural and resort free, and doesn’t develop along the lines of the south- west coast tourist ghetto of Kuta-Legian-Seminyak.

Jukung fishing boats, black volcanic sand, Gunung Agung
From my balcony, Amed

A Quest for Fish. Jimbaran Fish Market, Bali

It’s a frenzied scene down along the shore in front of the Pasar Ikan (fish market) in Jimbaran. The confusion builds as more¬†Jukung arrive at the water’s edge, like a maddening jigsaw puzzle or an animated Where’s Wally. It’s 7 am, the best time for fish markets. The morning glows with colour. The crowds are on a quest to buy the best catch of the day

Crowds gather at the Jimbaran Fish Market.
Crowds gather at the Jimbaran Fish Market.

Outside the market, brick paved walkways are crowded and awash with melting ice and hoses dousing down the day’s slippery catch. The hard bargains take place here as buyers from restaurants all over southern Bali arrive to haggle over the catch of the day. The fish that make it inside the building probably go to late comers or those too timid to strike a deal on the shore.

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In front of the Pasar Ikan at Jimbaran. 7am
Late comers rush their catch to the market
Pasar Ikan. Jimbaran, Bali
A Buyer inspects some large Barracuda.
A buyer inspects some large Barracuda.
Ron loads his purchase on the back of his motorbike and heads off into the distance, probably back to Seminyak or Legian.
A happy buyer loads his five large barracuda onto the back of his motorbike and heads off into the distance, probably across to Seminyak or Legian.

Jimbaran Bay, Bali. A Fishing Community Wakes

6 AM. Jimbaran Bay. Small pyres of leaf litter and debris burn, smoke mixing with heat haze, as women languidly rake. A tourist walks briskly along the water’s edge while local men sit alone and quietly gaze at the horizon.¬†Old wooden boat dollies stand along the sand, sentries lying in wait for boats to arrive. Loyal dogs sense their masters’ return. I also sit on the sand and enjoy this window of tranquility and inertia. Sleep still lingers.

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The first Jukung arrives after a long night’s fishing

A small jukung, a brightly painted Balinese fishing boat, arrives at the water’s edge after a night fishing out from the bay. Although jukung may seem simple in the eyes of the foreign traveller, there is an underlying symbolism associated with these fishing boats: they are constructed following a strict set of religious guidelines.

“When a fisherman decides to build a new boat he must first carefully choose the tree that will be used for its timber. The Balinese prefer to use the wood from the indigenous Belalu or Camplung tree, which is light, strong and ideal for boat building. Such a tree can only be cut down on an auspicious date in accordance to the ancient Balinese calendar and a special day is also sought for construction to commence. All members of the local fishing community offer their carpentry skills to construct a new jukung and this social interaction is a vital element of the Balinese Hindu culture.”

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A few man gather and the trailer is rolled into place.

“The majority of jukung are built using a set of dimensions that are closely related to the owner‚Äôs personal body measurements. The Balinese strongly believe in harmonizing with the physical environment and spiritual world, thus human measurements are used in an effort to balance these invisible forces. Just like a human body, a jukung is not symmetrical. In fact, the bamboo floats that are attached to both sides and run from the bow to the stern are not even parallel. Yet this basic, but ingenious design gives the jukung a heightened degree of stability when out on the open seas.”

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More men arrive from distant spots along the beach. The energy builds.

“Once the jukung has been fully constructed and brightened up with a bold coat of paint, it then undergoes a complex blessing ceremony. Offerings of rice, flowers and fruit are presented to appease the Gods and the jukung is sprinkled with holy water by a priest before it is considered seaworthy. The jutting bow is decorated with an image of the mythical Gajah Mina (elephant fish) with its fierce bulging eyes to ward off evil. The spirit of Gajah Mina is also thought to bear the power of night vision and guide the jukung through all sorts of weather conditions”¬Ļ

jukung arrival, a community affair
When a jukung arrives, it’s a community affair

The men along the beach are roused into action: they move purposefully towards the boat. One man pulls the boat dolly into place while others gather alongside the bamboo side floats. The scene is now swarming with helpers: more men move towards the boat from distant points along the beach; the boat becomes a gravitational magnet. The fishing community have been waiting for this moment.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The boat is hauled onto the wooden sand trailer: more men arrive and the boat is pushed to a higher point along the shore.

Working together is better than working alone. Community is alive and well in Bali.
Working together is better than working alone. Community is alive and well in Bali.

The morning heat haze lifts as the sun rises: the men become more animated through shared activity and camaraderie.  Pagi pagi ( early morning ) turns into pagi (morning). Another boat is about to turn up. There will be many more.

Selimat pagi , good morning to you dear reader from beautiful Bali.

¬Ļ¬†http://www.tanahlot.net/home/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1171:jukung-as

Dingo Beach, Far Away in Time

There’s a little quiet beach some distance away from the commercial hub of Airlie¬†Beach in North Queensland that makes you want to sing. The foreshore fringes the beach with deep shady old trees for a kilometre or so. Randomly¬†placed wooden picnic tables hide in the dark, looking almost¬†organic. Although the public facilities are generous, the area¬†isn’t overly manicured or regimented. Cars park randomly,most still attached to a boat trailer. A few stainless steel BBQs hide under cover, inviting the traveller to cook up a few prawns or slabs of coral reef fish.

Dingo Beach, far away in time

The town consists of two or three streets of local holiday houses, a friendly country pub whose front area blends with the treed foreshore, and a small breakfast shop attached to the rear of the pub.

Diver returns from the  reef.

We visited Dingo Beach on a few occasions, parking our Hobbit van in the shade, our only company a cheeky parrot who came to inspect the salad and then leaving in disgust.

Tiger Prawns fresh from the trawler at Bowen.

What is missing is a camping ground, a blessing in disguise. Accommodation¬†is limited to three apartments next to the pub and a few rental beach houses. Consequently the town isn’t dominated by the ‘grey nomad’ traveller, retaining a wonderful local ambience and diversity. And the song that came to mind?¬†

Dingo Beach
Far away in time
Dingo Beach
Far away in time

Lyrics adapted from Echo Beach, Martha and the Muffins, 1983. Another song plant, to be considered by Mr Tranquillo and his guitar playing mate, Chris.

A traveller kicks a soccer ball at low tide on Dingo Beach

Low tide at Dingo Beach, North Queensland, Australia

A fish and a tune.