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 ‘plongée‘ (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

Bali, Tradition and Change. Witti’s Story

It was the sign on the little Warung that first caught my eye. The first item, Tipat Tahu Kantok, provided only one clue, Tahu (tofu), but the other elements remained a mystery. This was one Balinese dish I hadn’t come across before.

I asked the gentle man standing near the warung about the word Tipat and he pointed out some little palm leaf baskets hanging inside the Warung. Obviously, Tipat was some form of sticky rice steamed in these little baskets: the other elements of the dish were yet to be revealed. The other menu items looked tasty too. Plecing is a tomato chilli sauce and came with aforementioned Tipat, Sayur sounded like a vegetarian dish, Rujak, a spicy fruit salad, and some drinks. What a perfect little menu for a tiny Warung by the sea.

View from Warung Kak Esa

I returned the following day and met the delightful Witti, the cook and owner of this tiny new warung. We tried her tasty version of Tipat Tahu Cantok and began chatting.

Witti has witnessed great change in Sanur over 58 years, most for the better.

Witti has worked at the beach end of Segara Ayu, at the northern end of Sanur, since she was a girl. She regrets that she never went to school: in the 1960s, her parents didn’t consider school important and so she was taught to collect coconuts, make shell jewellery and so on. Of course Witti is literate and speaks three languages fluently as well as a smattering of other languages too. She learnt on the street and is a modern, well spoken Balinese woman, as sharp as a tac, happy and vibrant. Her own three children completed high school and now she proudly talks about her grandchildren and the soaring cost of education these days, a subject that all Indonesians worry about.

The beautiful Witti cooks up some tasty treats.

She remembers many aspects of life from the past quite vividly. She spoke of the day Mt Agung erupted. She was four years old at the time. That eruption was one of the largest and most devastating eruptions in Indonesia’s history, killing an estimated 1,100 – 1,500 people.

‘On February 18, 1963, local residents heard loud explosions and saw clouds rising from the crater of Mount Agung. On February 24, lava began flowing down the northern slope of the mountain, eventually traveling 7 km in the next 20 days. On March 17, the volcano erupted, sending debris 8 to 10 km into the air and generating massive pyroclastic flows. Cold lahars caused by heavy rainfall after the eruption killed an additional 200. A second eruption on May 16 led to pyroclastic flows that killed another 200 inhabitants. Minor eruptions and flows followed and lasted almost a year.’¹

Witti remembers crowding with others on the beach in the pitch darkness, as Mt Agung, looming on the horizon, spewed lava and fire into the air. She recalls the the rain of ash falling around her for days. As she spoke, I could see the terror of that childhood memory in her eyes.

Another sad memory involved the loss of many of her siblings. She was one of 12 children, but due to poor sanitation and lack of doctors and medicine, five of her siblings died at a young age. Still, she followed this with a smile- imagine having Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut ( the four Balinese names used in order of birth) repeated three times over. We all laughed together: yes, things have changed for the better. We also met Los, her older brother, who works along Segara Ayu at a little booth next door to Witti, offering information and selling tickets for the large boat tours further north. I am keen to chat further with Los about the old days, to see if, as a teenager, he remembers the chaos and horror of the civil war period that followed the earthquake in the 1960s, though most Balinese don’t want to talk of those times.

Vibrant modern Balinese woman, Witti in her brand new warung.

After we finished our Tipat, a tasty and extremely filling vegetarian dish resembling, in some ways, a gado-gado, Witti brought out a little plate of crispy fried Jackfruit, an unusual sweet taste sensation. Sweet and crispy, the batter was as light as tempura but golden in colour. We promised to return for breakfast the next day to try her crispy fried sweet potato, pineapple and banana, washed down with Bali black coffee. On other occasions, we simply popped in for a cold beer and peanuts. Witti cooks peanuts and garlic together and serves them hot and fresh on a large saucer. One Bintang beer, some fresh nuts, a good sunset and a chat: life is sweet.

Jackfruit ( nangka ) fritters at Warung Kak Esa
These freshly fried nuts are cooked a little darker and will be used in the sauce

More about Tipat Cantok

A Balinese Tipat Tahu Cantok is a common traditional Balinese dish that can be found almost anywhere in Bali. It’s made of mixed steamed vegetables (water lily, long beans and bean sprout) which are mixed with steamed rice cake( tipat) and fried tofu mixed with peanut sauce.  The sauce is made from freshly fried whole un-skinned peanuts, garlic, white pepper, coriander, purple shallot, chili and fermented soy paste. Tipat Cantok can be found in local small Balinese warungs but is rarely found in big restaurants.

Warung Kak Esa
Los’ dog, Chocolate, knows his way home after work.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Agung

As a footnote to this post, Indonesians live with the fearful presence of volcanoes and earthquakes. With all that beauty and fertility comes disaster from time to time. Mt Agung continues to vent, there are still over 1,500 Balinese evacuees. Agung only tends to become news worthy in the Western press when it affects air traffic and the plight of the traveller. Meanwhile, we awake to the sad news of another earthquake, following one from 10 days ago, on the neighbouring island of Lombok. If you are looking for a reliable place to chip in a few dollars or euros for food and emergency supplies, follow the link below. If you have ever spent time in Lombok, or its Gili islands, you will appreciate how important this help is. Big or small, donations make a difference.

Update: Thousands (22,000) local residents of Lombok residents are homeless and without aid. If 1000 readers of this blog donated $10, $10,000 would be raised to provide immediate relief by those volunteers on the ground. If you can’t donate, please share the following link to your social media networks.

https://fundrazr.com/LombokEarthquake?ref=ab_3A65lLLlvoX3A65lLLlvoX

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

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