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Thursday, 4 July 2013

Stranger in Paradise: Lovely, Languid Lembongan

(Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, July 2013)



View to Jungut Batu Beach with Gunung Agung beyond.
Lovely, Languid Lembongan
It has been almost 35 years since my first foray to Lembongan Island reported in this column in January 1979. Below an excerpt from that column:
“The scenery is small-scale but spectacular: long white beaches, caves, and giant cemetery and cactus gardens; always with Gunung Agung towering across the strait. In two hours one can cover the whole island and, if the tide is out, cross to Ceningan where it is inconceivable that anything has changed in the last few hundred years. The local populace consists of fishermen and merchants; the low rainfall and barren rocky soil make crop cultivation near impossible. A small sub-culture if Australian surfies has staked out a  homestay in Jungut Batu, waiting for the awesome bombora that I am told topples onto the reef”
Now, I have been aware of the real estate explosion on Lembongan for some time now, and was fearful that ‘Boganization’ — the swamping of a pristine village setting with villa people and assorted low-end tourism developments, as has happened on many beaches on the bukit peninsula — had ruined the small island with its unique culture.
29th June 2013: Hope dies last
I arrived at the beach in front of the Le Mayeur Museum at North Sanur to find that it has been turned into a cabin-cruiser terminal and beach bum bandit depot. There are shade structures for sun-worshippers and glistening white three-engine cabin cruisers  replete with glistening brown deckhands in roller-derby outfits. It is 9 a.m. and yummy Perth mummies are already lining up to be man-handled.
We take the swankiest boat, the ‘Rocky’, which has us in Jungut Batu Beach in 25 minutes.
The bogans on the beach seem very nice but can turn nasty at the drop of a hat if deprived of beer or suntan lotion.
Jungut Batu Village is still pretty much as I remembered it — a maze of narrow lanes and tiny hamlets — but the fishermen have become barefoot fashionistas in Oakley eyewear.

‘Rocky’ Deckhand Nyoman Widana.
Trophy homes rise from surrounding foreshores in a nice not a nasty way: the scale of the developments respects the sloping coastal terrain and the compact and cozy nature of the island’s indigenous settlements.
Most expats villas have been built using the local limestone; many importing thatch from the Big Island (Bali), to achieve that exotic island get-away look.
I bolt from the tourist strip and head for the hills.
Driving across the island towards Lembongan Village I discover the Pura Puseh Temple atop the island’s highest hill.
It is half 19th century Klungkung style and half Brontosaurus (black andesite reconstruct). The doomed half displays Majapahit proportions and carved decorative elements in the unique Klungkung style (See photographs below).
Images from Pura Puseh, Lembongan.
The Nusa Penida island group, of which Lembongan is a part, was administered by the Raja of Klungkung and his court as a penal colony — Bali‘s own Australia if you like. This day the islands still have the gracious manner of Klungkung Balinese (When they are not stealing your wife or daughter Ed.) Below an excerpt from my July 5th 1980 column:
“It appears that during the reign of the second Dewa Agung (Emperor) of Klungkung, I Dewa Agung Madya (1775 – 1825), the island of Nusa Penida was divided by a series of tribal wars between the different Bali Aga factions (ancient pre-Hindu cults). The Dewa Agung sent an army led by Ksatrya Dewa warriors from Gelgel to quell the disturbances and annex the island in the Dewa Agung’s kingdom. The islanders were subdued and slowly the intricate Java-ified court Hinduism of Klungkung was laid over the indigenous culture. The Dewa warriors remained as rulers/controllers of the island, which was used from then on as a penal colony.”
The main town of Lembongan is plastered onto the side of south-facing hill which purveys the deep blue of the vast Indian Ocean.
Enterprising sand-gropers (Western Australians) have established smart beach clubs in some of the coves that ring the township. We had lunch at the Beach Club at Sandy Bay, the St. Tropez of Lembongan and watched a Malaysian princess having a pedicure. The few beach front villas have been designed sensitively to blend in with the craggy foreshores, something rare on fortress-frenzied Bali.
I got the 1 p.m. ‘Rocky’ back to Sanur and arrived home feeling refreshed.
•         •        •
Two days later, I discovered that one of the Rocky deckhands had befriended me on Facebook and had used one of the photos I had taken as his profile pic. Thinking I had a ‘billet doux’, as the French say, I went to the photos section of his Facebook and discovered a dizzying array of boobs in bikinis and positions of carnal desire.
Emboldened to continue my research, I discovered that all his friends — fellow Rocky deckhands — had page after page of nubile-breasted blondes on their Facebook albums too.
I put this obsession down to the influence of the young Perth matrons who get on the ‘Rocky’ and strip down to animal print bikinis, fueling the passions of the mammary-obsessed islanders.
I may be wrong.
31 June 2013: To North Bali to check on some temple restorations
Just in the nick of time a group of concerned Balinese architects have started a conservation movement with muscle. Through their Facebook page “Architecture, Conservation and Us” they are educating by documenting the more and less successful restoration efforts taking place in North Bali, which has a unique architectural heritage.

1913

1913
Pura Desa, Jula, North Bali (Photo left Courtesy of Bali Kunst Book & Right: Courtesy of Gede Kresna)
I am heartened to see that one of my favourite funky gates in Bali, the main kori of the Pura Desa Julah has been sensitively restored recently and looks much as it did in 1908 (See photograph above from Bali Kunst book by P.A.J. MOOJEN 1926).
Another great restoration is the main gate of the Pura Desa at Bungkulan, a coastal village near Kubutambahan famous for its exotic architecture and statuary.
On 3rd August I am giving a lecture, with the help of Ir. Gede Kresna, who is a leader in the North Bali Architecture conversation movement on Majapahit influence on North Bali architecture, at the North Bali Culture Conference in Singaraja.