By Mark Ulyseas
For The Bali Times
This bohemian rhapsody is dedicated to the people of rural Bali on the 62nd Independence of Indonesia.
Finding Neverland has taken me many years, across continents and through the minefields of social disparities and conflict of interest. Now I rest my weary self on Miltonâ€™s Paradise regained, eight degrees south of the equator. The spirits of Bali hold me close to their bosom, magnifying the good and bad within me. Many intrepid travelers have fallen by the wayside; others have created a niche for themselves, surviving on the nectar that the island has to offer.
Circumnavigating Bali in search of this, I come across a place on the northeast coast that nestles on the rocky side of hills overlooking the azure sea. Amed, the seventh heaven, which lingers in a time warp embracing the rustic beauty, the innocence of village life wrapped up in breathtaking landscape, with Agung the sacred looking down benevolently on the mortals below.
I drive from Ubud in the hills to the coast, past Padang Bai and Candidasa in a northeasterly direction, down narrow roads hugging the hillsides along the Mediterranean-like coast towards Amed. The countryside is alive with the wind whistling through the trees, the raucous sound of birds and the clinking of Coca-Cola crates being unloaded at the warungs by the roadside.
Passing through a village, I stop to light a cigar and to take in the fresh sea breeze. Nearby, four babi guling (suckling pigs) are being roasted over a pit lit by coconut husk. One of the four men rotating the large bamboo skewers gives me a toothless grin and asks for a cheroot. I reply in the negative and instead offer him a cigarette. The bond is made and soon I am sitting on my haunches rotating the skewers and chatting in sign language with the aroma of sizzling pork permeating the air around us. I am invited the next day for a feast in the village. Itâ€™s a celebration after a cremation. The Balinese sometimes bury their dead when they cannot afford the cremation and after a period dig up the body (when money is available) and then cremate it. In Bali people spend a fortune on cremations. In fact, banks offer loans at reasonable rates. In the small warung across from where we are sitting are youngsters gyrating to the song Itâ€™s My Life. They know what life is and accept it without pretensions.
Half an hour later – which feels like an eternity in serendipity – I carry on my journey along the coast.
I am waved down at a warung called Wawa Wewe One by Wayan, a young bloke with pants hanging precariously on his lower hip, boxers showing and a t-shirt that reads Born to Die, Rebel for Life. After a warm Balinese smile, handshake and Om Swastiastu greeting, he is sitting in the car directing me to the Wawa Wewe Two hotel down at Lipah Beach. Wayan informs me that the area is predominantly rural, with fishing, cultivation of peanuts, corn, rice and salt making. The entertainment consists of cock fighting and Saturday Night Live at Wawa Wewe One.
I check into Wawa Wewe Two, which has a number of cottages built at different levels overlooking the rocky beach. The following morning I watch the fishing boats returning with their catch and landing on the beach where the hotel is situated. The eight fresh mackerel that I buy for a Rp1,000 (10 US cents) each makes me wonder as to how these fisher-folk exist on such meager earnings. Their catches are quite small but the dignity with which they conduct themselves is truly inspiring. Putu, the head cook and bottle washer, serves me a breakfast of fried fish and rice. As I donâ€™t eat fish, I hand the fabulous spread to Wayan. Putu, observing this, tells me to â€œwaitamoment,â€ and soon serves me an English breakfast. God save the Queen! From now on I name Putu the Queen of Amed and bestow on her the honorary title ofÂ â€œwaitamoment.â€
Later in the day, Wayan takes me into the hills to village Bangli in an area called Toyemasem where four holy springs are located. I park my trusted, rusting Feroza on a side road and carry on on foot across the ricefields up into the hills. We reach a temple dedicated to the Goddess Masayu. Itâ€™s not really a temple in the true sense of the word but a gray stone, carved column. Wayan gathers a few wild flowers and hands them to me along with some lit incense sticks. I place these offerings at the foot of the column and pray for my family to the sound of the stream rushing by and the giggling of the village children observing me and whispering â€œThakur Singhâ€ (a character from Hindi films).
The springs are located at walking distance from each other along the steep hillside. I taste the water from them and wash my face, hoping to be absolved of my iniquities. The water from each spring tastes different: sour, bitter, sweet, and sweet-salty! You must visit this place. There is a presence here that I cannot explain but which I can feel deep down. As we walk back, I sense I am being watched. I convey my apprehension to Wayan, who tells me that the Goddess Masayu is benign and that I should not be afraid. This simple village lad has just enlightened me without even knowing it. This is the nectar I was looking for in Bali: The simplicity of living woven into a rural existence on the threshold of modernity, yet retaining the beauty of nature in its purest form.
For lunch, waitamoment serves us corn and rice, seaweed salad and grilled chicken in peanut sauce. We tuck into the spread, washing it down with local arak diluted with orange juice. An hour later I am lying comatose on a deckchair next to an infinity swimming pool that seems to meet with the sea on the horizon. Suddenly I am rudely awakened by waitamoment, who has a hot cup of tea in her hand and a smile that livens my mood. She grandly announces that there is a metajen (cockfight) in the village, which is commencing under the hour, and that Wayan will take me to the venue.
Mind you, the authorities here frown upon cockfights and when I write about it, itâ€™s not to glorify this blood sport but simply to convey how rural life often comes into conflict with our perceived notions of right and wrong.
The metajen is held at the local meeting place, on the beach a few kilometers from the hotel. We arrive to the cacophony of voices and the shrieking of cocks, with intermittent oooohhhhs and aaaahhhhs.
Wayan introduces me to Kadek, one of the promoters, who is famous for his cocks that win most of the fights. Witnessing a few wins by his cocks, I promptly give him one of my Ramayana cigars, to the delight of the onlookers, light it for him and rename him Don King.
Before each fight there is much discussion as to the contenders. When this is decided, a man carrying a leather purse opens it and flips through the felt pages that have very sharp knives mounted on them. The knives are as sharp as scalpels. The contenderâ€™s leg size is measured and the appropriate knife tied onto the leg with red thread. Soon both gladiators face each other to the loud shouts of â€œMenangâ€ (win) and â€œKalahâ€ (lose). Like the gladiators in Roman times, itâ€™s a fight unto death. The vanquished is soon cut up and taken away for someoneâ€™s dinner, while its tail feathers are given to the owner of the winning cock.
A hour or two later, I have to leave the coliseum as the sun is setting and Wayan is keen to show me the peanut, corn and rice cultivation before I head for home. Back on the road the silence in the car is deafening. Wayan slips his cassette into the tape deck and soon life around returns to normal, with the reggae beat of Welcome to My Paradise.
The rest of the evening is spent walking the fields, with Agung glowing in the setting sun. Nightfall is minutes away when I turn onto the highway to head back to Ubud. Wayan alights from the jeep, folds his hands and wishes me â€œOm Shanti Shanti Shanti Omâ€ and I reply, â€œSuksema.â€
Night blankets the countryside as the headlights of my car weave patterns on the darkened road. A bohemian rhapsody comes to an end.
And in the words of Wayan, â€œTomorrow we shall see.â€
Even though the names change from area to area, Selang, Lipah, Lehan, Bunutan, Jemeluk, the whole strip along this coast is loosely called Amed. Meet Wayan and the other young Balinese lads hanging around warungs looking for work and they will show you pristine rural Bali, trekking, fishing, peanut farming and of course snorkeling and diving. Call Wayan on his cell +6281337117026.
(Long Live Bali)
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om