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

Another Day Unfolds in Bali.

There is a calm urgency about my mornings in Bali. I’m keen to arrive at the beach a little before 6 am, drawn by the dawn but also by the anticipation of catching a sighting of Mt Agung on the horizon. When Guning Agung is in hiding, I admit I’m disappointed, and move along with my day a little more quickly.

Gunung Agung

I head along the beach pathway in the direction of the cake lady‚Äôs stall, situated on the brick wall at Pantai Sindhu. You have to be early to buy her freshly made Dadar Gulung. All her special cakes have been snapped up by 7am. She is round and sweet, just like her cakes and greets me with¬†Selamat Datang if I’ve been away for a while. If it‚Äôs her day off or if she has ceremony, I wander down the road to the Sindhu market to buy cakes there, along with a hand of bananas or a few mangoes. Indonesian cakes are light and sweet, and incorporate three main ingredients-¬†sticky rice, coconut and coconut palm sugar, and come in an endless array of shapes, colours and textures. They are boiled, steamed, baked or fried, often enclosing a secret ooze of bean or palm syrup and are small enough to wolf down in two bites. I‚Äôm very fond of green cakes, a colour extracted from the Pandanus leaf and striped jelly cakes made from agar-agar.

Today’s surprise package from a new lady at Pasar Sindhu. A triangular parcel, made from banana leaf, filled with a sweet mixture of black long grain sticky rice, boiled jaja, shredded fresh coconut and a generous drizzle of coconut palm sugar syrup. I did not share this wonderful concoction with anyone.

Yesterday’s Pasar Sindhu was alive and more frantic than usual. By 6 am, motorbikes and trucks had filled the small carpark entrance. Something was going on and I had to find out. The rows were crowded with vendors of cakes, ceremonial nic nacs, chicken stalls and flowers: I could sense excitement and frenzy, that buzz that permeates markets before a big festivity, akin to the mad rush in Melbourne markets before Easter or Christmas. I sought out my friend Ketut: she runs a little kitchen ware stall at Pasar Sindhu and is a goldmine of information. Today, she informed me, was Tumpek Wayang.¬†

Ketut’s shop, Sindhu Market.
Ceremonial Baskets, Sindhu Market

When Ketut mentioned Wayang, or puppets, I almost ran home to my books and internet, keen to find out more about the day and the ceremonies that would follow. Along the footpath and business doorways of Jalan Danau Tamblingan, I almost tripped over the elabourate displays of Canang Sari. Today’s floral offerings were completely different, much bigger than the usual little baskets, with rectangular bedding of palm leaves and another jagged edged leaf, as well as flowers. Each business had the same leafy arrangement- another mystery to uncode.

Tumpek Wayang, occurring every six months, is a festival when puppeteers perform purification rites to purify their bodies both physically and mentally. It is also a day of the performing arts, when offerings may be made to musical instruments and dance equipment. On this day, puppeteers (Dalang) throughout the island will present offerings to their shadow puppets (wayang kulit) with the intention of honouring the Lord Iswara. The puppets are taken out of their cases to be blessed by their owners and placed as if an actual performance is being held. This ceremony is staged at the different temples, and is called Sapuh Leger. In short, this is the day of puppeters and the puppets themselves.

I have profound memories of the puppeteers and Balinese shadow plays, Wayang Kulit, of old Bali. On our first trip to Bali in 1978, travelling then with two young children, aged 8 and 7, we set out at dusk on a horse and cart into the countryside to see this famous shadow play. The night was dark: no street lighting or electric lighting of any kind lit the streets or houses back then. The village was lit by kerosene lamps. On that occasion, we were the only Westerners in the village. Fortunately we were met by the local schoolteacher. He spoke English and kindly offered us some tea and green cakes Рmy love of Indonesian cakes began on that day. The Wayang Kulit stage was raised and broad, covered in a long stretched white sheet and back-lit by a flickering lamp. The exotic sounds of the gamelan orchestra tinkled through the night, as hundreds of villagers sat below the stage in the dark and watched in awe. We took our place in the audience as the puppets performed the Ramayana, a show that lasts for 6 hours or more, as we soon found out. At some point we realised that we needed to exit gracefully: carrying our sleepy children, we managed to find a horse and cart to take us back to our palm thatched losmen.

Today’s Tumpek Wayang¬†celebrations were in full swing by mid afternoon.¬† As the amplified voice of the puppet master, exaggerated and theatrical, emanated loudly from the nearby temple, I wondered whether the voice I heard was that of a real working Dalang or a recording: there aren’t so many working Dalangs in Bali these days, ( in 1990 there were around 2-300 Dalangs but only 30 working Dalangs ¬Ļ) not because of any demise in tradition, but because the role of Dalang is a demanding one, requiring skill in story telling, improvisation, comedy, linguistic skill, religion, singing, music, orchestra direction, puppet making as well as stamina.¬†

As food stalls began to line the streets, groups slowly gathered, dressed in white and gold, the colours of purity, and walked towards the temple for the ceremony, due to start at 4.30 pm.

Most days go like this in Bali. After 40 years of visiting, I’m still trying to fathom the mysteries and joys of Balinese Hinduism. Sunrise to sunset and the time in between may bring an afternoon ceremony, a seaside cremation, or a purification ritual. Read the signs and keep your senses alert to gongs, bells and gamelan, then ask the locals about the day’s events. If you wish to join in, or visit any temple or ceremony, you’ll need the right¬†outfit- a top with sleeves, a traditional printed cotton sarong and a scarf tied around the waist. While Balinese women tend to wear a lace kabaya, it is acceptable for westerners to wear any other sleeved shirt or T-shirt. Balinese men go for the double sarong on ceremonial days and look extremely dashing. Western men need only learn to tie their sarong in the appropriate way, worn over shorts.¬†

¬Ļ For further reading on Balinese ceremony and culture, see Bali, Sekala &Niskala, Essays on Religion, Ritual and Art. Fred B. Eiseman, Jr. Tuttle Publishing 1990. A remarkable book and a must for lovers of Balinese culture.

Balinese Serenity and Mt Agung

Yesterday I was listening to Raf Epstein on ABC’s afternoon drive time radio. He was interviewing a tourist who was stuck in Bali due to the closure of Ngurah Rai airport in Bali as ash continues to pour from the erupting Mount Agung, Bali’s most prominent active volcano. Like many other tourists whose flights have been cancelled, this chap wasn’t too perturbed. He sounded jolly, amused even and serene. He was sitting by the pool eating chicken. A few more weeks in Bali with glorious weather and tasty Balinese food- what’s not to like. Raf made no mention, in this instance, of the significance of Mt Agung’s eruption to the lives of the Balinese people. It was all a bit of a joke really,¬†‘enjoy your chicken by the pool’ was Raf’s closing comment. It’s a similar story in the Australian press. Pictures of closed airports, or tourists milling about as airports open once again with only occasional glimpses into the lives of those hugely affected- the Balinese people.

Serene under the water.

While Mt Agung makes up its mind, 44,000 people have left the danger zone and are waiting. Many more thousands have returned to the exclusion zone to tend their cattle and farms. The Balinese economy is fragile: despite the lush fertility of the country, farmers live a very simple subsistence lifestyle. Those who have returned have had to weigh up the cost of continuing with their farms, crops and cattle with the threat of a possible disaster. What a choice!

Mt Agung in a serene mood

Meanwhile, the Balinese economy is completely dependent on tourism. For months now, many sectors have been affected. Those working directly in tourist industries, such as hotels, hospitality, transport, mountain climbing and adventure, have been without wages for some months.

rare glimpse of Agung in the morning.

Gunung Agung, a sacred mountain, is revered by the Balinese. When Agung is active and threatens to erupt, it indicates that the Gods are displeased and something in the world is awry. The Balinese have been praying, or counting their losses, or worrying about their homes and livelihood: meanwhile tourists will either kick back by the pool and rejoice in their lengthened holiday, will be checking their travel insurance policies to see how much they might be financially inconvenienced, or travelling by ferry to Lombok for another flight home. Life’s tough.

 

 

Bali Sunrise. The Edge of the Day

It is always worth getting up early in Bali to sense what Nehru meant when he called Bali ‘The Morning of the World.” The warm air feels tender at 5.30 am. The scene is still: there is no noise, no gamelan or motorbike sound. Perhaps a rooster crows somewhere in the distance. No one speaks. A few souls gather along the edge of the water, to meditate and reflect, or to wake slowly, to witness. The joggers and bike riders have not emerged yet. On good mornings, Mt Agung peeps out from the veil of¬†clouds to the west.

edge
Boats at dawn. Sanur, Bali
Guning Agung at dawn. Very rarely seen at any other time of the day.
Guning Agung, Sanur, Bali. Very rarely seen at any other time of the day.

Greeting the Dawn. Sunday, Bali

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6.30 AM Sanur Beach.
Dawn on Sunday and it’s all happening on Sanur Beach. There aren’t many tourists in sight- only Mr T and I, one western swimmer and a few expats walking their dogs along the beach promenade. But the place is packed and it’s wonderful to see. Sunday is the main holiday for Balinese and many family groups gather at the beach: some for traditional Hindu ceremonies, others to take a dip and a beach breakfast before the weather gets too hot. The beach is alive with activity as teams of cleaners sweep up leaves and rubbish, lone fishermen look for small fry to catch in nets, diving schools set up for the day as bemos deliver air tanks, and best of all, Gunung Agung pops out of the clouds and makes a majestic appearance. It was worth getting up early.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/early-bird/”>Early Bird</a>

The Morning of the World, Sanur,Bali

Morning is the best time to go walking, jalan- jalan, in Sanur, Bali. Walking along the beach front is a lovely ritual and one best done before the sun rises and the heat¬†becomes¬†too fierce. The pathway meanders for about five kilometres, with long stretches of deep shade provided by large Pohon trees. Along the way, picturesque¬†Jukin are parked on the sand, colourful traditional Balinese outrigger canoes used for fishing or tourist jaunts; sunny sandy sections are lined with white beach chairs and umbrellas, beckoning those who are partial to frying, and shady beach restaurants, morning yoga schools and art markets begin business for the day. The large crunchy fallen leaves of the Pohon are swept away for another day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are lucky, Gunung Agung, Bali’s sacred mountain, may pop out of the low cloud on the horizon to greet you or the white cliffs of Nusa Penida will glow like silver in the morning sun. More rarely, Lombok’s 3276 metre high volcano, Gunung Rinjiani,¬†will appear from across the Lombok Straight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWaking in Sanur and walking this stretch of coast, I feel blessed to be back in the “Morning of the day”, especially as I watch the women carefully arrange their early morning offerings, Canang Sari, on small alters,¬†Palinggih or in the larger Puri, district temples.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA nod and a Selamat Pagi or Good Morning to all the locals at this early hour makes the day special. Although most of the locals know rudimentary English, I prefer to use my very basic Indonesian where and when I can. A buongiorno goes a long way in Italy and so does a selamat pagi here in Indonesia. At 8 am, you will meet uniformed security guards of large hotel compounds, beach sweepers and sand rakers, and some of the omnipresent women, Judy, Anna and Norma, trying to make a few rupiah from their tiny beach shop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt this time of the year, April, things are very quiet in Sanur. The hotels are half empty and many beach warungs are closed or busy renovating for the season ahead. Some new hotels are being built on the main drag, vulgar looking concrete monoliths designed for those tourists who need to feel insulated from the local environment and its people. At the same time, some overcapitalised international establishments along the beach front have been closed now for some years and the jungle is returning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany of the locals worry that the Europeans have been hit by the GFC and their numbers will continue to dwindle this year, affecting the local Balinese economy. Australians, of course, visit at all times of the year, being only a 6 hour flight away from Melbourne or less from Perth and other cities. The Australian accent is recognisable in any Balinese district, though not as prevalent in the Sanur district as say, Kuta/Legian/Semiyak, a district I no longer visit due to its over commercialisation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven after 36 years of visiting, Bali still entrances me. This island is Hindu and its culture is alive and well, despite a century of tourism. It is important to keep this in mind when visiting, through appropriate dress and behaviour, and by supporting the local people through the choices we make as tourists. Be mindful where your tourist dollar or euro is going.

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Look to this day,
for it is life, the very breath of life.
In its brief course lie
all the realities of your existence;
the bliss of growth,
the glory of action,
the splendor of beauty.
For yesterday is only a dream,
and tomorrow is but a vision.
But today, well lived,
makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
and every tomorrow
a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
(Ancient Sanskrit)