Deep in the Surreal Balinese Countryside
By Amy Chavez
For The Bali Times
Today I will give you a tour of the Balinese countryside. Just climb into the passenger seat of my car. And don’t forget to bring your camera.
First, to get out into the countryside, we have to make it through the snarling Kuta traffic. But once we get out onto the open road, I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly we’ll move.
Now, having left the souvenir shops of Kuta behind, things are becoming more residential. People have their laundry hung out along side of the road, next to the traffic, taking advantage of global warming and its effects. Street vendors are selling a variety of foods: fried tofu, fried bananas, fried this and that, fried these and those. The streets are lined with red banners of advertising and road signs are hidden behind foliage. The trees have been left to grow between the road and the sidewalk, their trunks painted with black and white stripes for better visibility. When half the population rides around on motorbikes without helmets, this is especially important. And it’s widely known that at night, these trees tend to sneak out into the road; so you must be very careful.
From the car we can see into local open-air restaurants enclosed with bamboo railings. Red-and-white-checked plastic tablecloths cover a dozen tables, and black velvet paintings are the décor of choice. Most of the restaurants are empty, but they still serve an important part of the community as a place to gather, even if just for a cup of tea.
We pass cottage industries by the dozens: wooden sculptures of rearing horses and Indian chiefs in full dress, and rows and rows of ceramics for giants. We pass places where you can buy palm trees, garden ponds and grass. Alongside the road old women sit, their skin dark from the sun and dirt, selling baskets full of pebbles.
Life here is lived alongside the road as if it were the banks of a river. Trucks come in and out of town, dropping off supplies and picking up crafts to take to the markets.
A woman is walking along the road, taking her live chicken somewhere. It’s hanging upside-down as she holds it by the feet. Nearby is a hen with only one chick. Perhaps the chick’s name is Nyoman.
As we approach the town of Sukawati, life along the road becomes more colorful as shops display their crafts on the sidewalks. Batik bedcovers are hung out for all to see, splashed in dyes of pinks, yellows and greens. Some are so bright and new they glow. Others look a little tired, faded by the sun, tattered by the wind, exhausted by the fumes of the road.
Quite suddenly we are met with a new palette of shiny colors. We are in… a tropical fish tank? Colorful fish, bigger than the average person, are all around us and we are somehow at the bottom of the sea! But just as quickly as we entered the fish tank, we are now out of it, headed into a field of flowers and… pink butterflies? Just what is happening?
We are passing bis pariwisata, which are tourist buses with giant murals painted on them. These buses are so big they can transport entire cities of people. I’m not sure what the population is inside them, but they sport all the mods and cons, including a swimming pool and a 40,000-seat sports stadium. I suppose the idea is that Indonesia is a very long country, so the longer the busses are, the sooner they will reach their destination.
There are at least a dozen of these behemoths parked along the street here, having brought tourists from all over Indonesia.
We slow down and gradually pass the buses, temporarily entering their dream-like canvasses. For a few moments we are on the Serengeti with elephants and zebras, the next among Disney characters playing jazz instruments. Look over there – a bulldog waterskiing! And at that skyline – we’ve even made it all the way to New York City! Around the world in 10 seconds.
Soon we’re back into the countryside. Terraced rice paddies, palm trees and banana trees emit a green so bright, it’s almost blinding. We pass a team of 10 men plowing a field with five hand-plows. Women are in the streams bathing and shampooing their hair. Cows, attached to ropes, walk in circles munching grass.
A small boy in a ceremonial outfit is running along the side of the road carrying offerings. He’s headed to a temple next to a large tree with a black-and-white-checked skirt around it. People walk along the road going who knows where. An entire vanload of men has stopped for a pee.
As we approach the mountains, we see a line of traffic up ahead. The source of the jam is a big truck laboring up the incline, churning its gears while belching out clouds of black exhaust. It’s named “Gerhana,” and the name is painted in fancy letters on the back of the truck as well as on the top band of the windshield. Cars take turns passing Gerhana, while more and more join the crawl from behind.
We finally pass Gerhana, only to be held up by “Gosip Liar.” We overtake this misspelled tittle-tattle fibber and get stuck behind “Virgin.” And in this fashion, we slowly inch up the mountain.
Now, be sure to fasten your seatbelts, because we’ve got to get down this mountain faster than a speeding Gerhana.
Amy, fan of the great weird outdoors, is at email@example.com.Filed under: Arts & Entertainment