Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Travel Diaries: Uluwatu - Kuta - Lembongan

(Published in the NOW! Jakarta Magazine, September 2014)


Above (Top and bottom): Turis Domestik in the floating restaurant at the beautiful Bulgari Bali

An East Javanese friend recently lost his bride-to-be in a horrific car crash (she was on her way to the wedding), so I invited him to Bali for a Lebaran holiday treat.
Every day I sent my guest Rifky out on a motor bike with Awi, one of my staff, and they would discover places I didn’t know existed — such as the mangrove walk in Benoa Bay (soon to be F-1 circuit, so get here soon) and the coterie of almost completely naked Perth matrons that hang out on the beach in front of the Discovery Mall. Once they saw the throbbing post-Lebaran herds of Javanese tourists outside Beachwalk — all covered head to toe in Moslem beach wear — they felt at home.
On Legian Beach they found a gay beat of daddies; one Canadian senior tried to follow him home. Fortunately I had told my guest — as he left the house — not to pick up any stray Canadians.
They came back with hundreds of hideous photographs but, sadly, their quest to get photos of white titty failed miserably. Each time they’d approach a gaggle of topless white women and ask “May I take photo with you?” they were rebuked, which seems rather unsporting on the part of the foreign ladies.

LEFT: Holiday-maker Rifky (right) and stray daddy on Kuta beach; RIGHT: A pensive moment on Kuta Beach as Rifky searches for white titty

One day, I took them to the Bulgari cliff-side café where they were bored senseless. Really, for the domestic tourist, it’s not interesting unless there are at least 1,000 motorbikes parked behind tank-proof barriers and lots of Surabayan aunties in calypso outfits with fake Vuitton bags.
The Bulgari bar was divine, I must say, and the gardens alone are well worth the detour; I am doing some remedial work on my gardens there to accommodate a new wedding venue.

Mega-star Jakartan developer Soetikno Soedarjo (Bulgari Bali) and his fiancée Lana Jong at their Bulgari residence

On Rifky’s second day, Amir, my butler came back from Lombok with a bottle of bush honey and a woven handbag with Sasak Party Animal woven on the front. Both were for me.
Amir's brother had been apprehended the night before leaving the Lombok ferry with four dried turtle paws in a box of genetically modified soya bean cakes (very wicked).
“How did he get busted?” I asked.
Amir said the cops asked his brother what was in the box and he fell apart, gugup to the max. “Did he get fined?” I asked. He would have, Amir explained, but we had a few excuses like, “We bought it from a man who bought it from a man, not direct from the fisherman.”
 Travellers are advised to remember this simple ploy when apprehended smuggling endangered species. 

The fabulous fire dance on a Friday night at Kumala Pantai, Legian    

On the Sunday afternoon, I took Rifky with me to meet Australian living treasure marine biologist, Valerie Taylor at the Kumala Pantai hotel on 66 Beach, Legian. Valerie was in town as a guest of the Lindblad’s, who have chartered the ‘Orion’ for National Geographic and are running cruises throughout Eastern Indonesia with Legian heartthrob, Dr Lawrence ‘Ring of Fire’ Blair, as lecturer.
Legian Beach is somewhere I haven’t visited for 30 years, since the heyday of the Made’s Warung to Oberoi night crawls, and boy has it changed!
The Kumala Pantai is a beach hotel classic which is a heady mix of East Kalimantan Chinese kitsch interiors and lush Balinese gardens. The food is excellent. The pork spare ribs in the beachside restaurant are to die for. Every night there is a tango demonstration by local hotties in red sequin outfits, or a fire dance, or a belly dance. 
The beach in front is Bali's answer to Bondi Beach, Sydney, on a bank holiday. There are any number of outlets selling cold beer. Temporary tattoos can be rented at the beach entrance. Non-Australians are advised to keep any foreign language talk to a minimum and only address the Australians as 'bro'. 

The beach drummers and sunset crowd on Double-Six Beach, Legian

On Sundays, the beach hosts 30 Balinese drummers who play drums from all over the world. By sunset the water’s edge is throbbing with flash mobs dancing to the frenzied beat. Needless to say my houseguests loved all this mayhem: my valve slammed shut at first sight of a prawn on a Barbie and I was gently fanned back to consciousness by gentle mountain Balinese for most of the afternoon. 

Rifky styled by Awi in front of a giant Ramayana butter statue    

Of course, Rifky mentioned “Joger” (the mega-popular T-shirt shop) and I told him that if he mentioned it again he could walk home. I mean how is it that every single domestic tourist, no matter from which far flung corner of Indonesian he or she hails, only wants to come to Bali to go to Joger. I find it irritating.

Surprisingly the Bali Bomb Memorial has become the favoured backdrop for group photoshoots for the Bali Body-builders Co-operative (BBC)

7 August 2014: I take some English  friends on an outing to see a rare ceremony on Lembongan Island. We take the Rocky express from North Sanur Beach and are on the island within 25 minutes.Our host Ketut Suri from Lembongan village  has arranged for us to stay at the delightful Tanis  Beach Hotel, Mushroom Bay.

 It is lovely over here with the he-men and the sea-oaks. Loony atmospheric Sanghyang Grodog in the village last night. Fishermen dragging big things on wheels (see photo this page) through the village under the banyan tree and hurling them in the air and smashing them up while women in white wail hauntingly. Part of an 18 day once every two years demon placating ritual. (Video Sang Hyang Grodog http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mtpdTrMfGA)

• • •

We returned to Sanur the next morning with packages of rice from Men Pulak’s famous harborside warung at Jungut Batu beach. The prawns, be grang (dried bait fish) and spicy fresh squid are legendary. August sun-seekers are everywhere: Rifky can’t believe seeing all the ladies’ bottoms flapping below the pareo line. (see photo this page)

Fisherman carries Sanghyang Jaran float through the village square, Lembongan, 7 August 2014.

Ketut Untu Ageng, Rocky Lembongan cabin boy of the month.

Nice Spanish girl at Men Pulak’s warung, Jungut Batu, with bottoms hanging out of Pareo.

TRAVEL TIP FOR FREQUENT FLIERS if you have a long layover in Dubai airport and are flying EMIRATES business or first stay at the hotel in concourse B -- its wonderful . The lift lobby is just after you pop out of transit screening and just above the lounges, which one can raid at will for supplies, U K papers and Hello mags. The Timeless spa , full of Balinese, is next door. The hotel is run by charming efficient pinoys. The rooms are deluxe and all have views over the quite stunning interior architecture and parked planes. Sunday the terminal is empty. Downstairs is the pharmacy, duty free and arab perfume shops. 






Engagement of Dayu Putri of Geria Kepaon and Ida Bagus Ketut Suamba of Geria Pengayasan, Intaran, Sanur, 4 August 2014

Domestic tourist beach wear 2014.


Friday, 1 August 2014

Stranger in Paradise: Ancestor Worship – The Hard Way

Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, September 2014

Dayu Tu (left) and Dayu Pon, two Geria Kepaon beauties, with the puspalingga of Nini Geria and
that of the
sangge mascot god of the ancestor spirits

Most people don’t know that Bali is called ‘Island of the Gods’ (Pulau Dewata) not because of all the temples, but because the spirit of every Balinese is eventually beatified to become a dewata (deified ancestor).
Most tourists today don’t even know or care that Bali was once known as the Island of the Gods because it’s now marketed differently, as a cheap exotic holiday destination, but that’s another story.
I want to tell you about last month and my 35 bliss-filled days in a traditional village that was once surrounded by the world most perfect ricefields but is now surrounded by urban sprawl.

Nothing has changed, ceremonially speaking, in the 40 years since I used to go hunting ricefield frogs at night. Balinese courtyard homes face inwards: what happens between houses is kind of irrelevant when your head is in the netherworld most of the time. 
Ida Bagus Gede, Ratu Kakiang, (90),
sitting on the stairs of the grandstand of
the ancestor spirits, where sits the spirit
effigy of his late wife of 70 years,
Nini Geria (Biang Agung)
The press keep talking about Bali on the brink and Bali bursting at the seams but all I see is bakti yoga brinkmanship — bakti yoga being the worship of the divine through umpteen ceremonies; and that’s how many there were last month at my Balinese Mum’s beatification — and loads of offerings, priests, and dancing girls who just kept coming, and coming, and coming.

Mid-June, my village house garden, which is about the size of three badminton courts, was razed and in its place a temple-like enclosure rose, constructed almost entirely out of bamboo and betel nut palm trunks. The enclosure was replete with grandstands for the spirit effigies — 54 other families sent ancestor spirits to join in the beatification — a tall pavilion for the high priests and a special shrine for Surya, the sun god, to witness the month-long proceedings.
The enclosure, called a peyadnyan, was built by relatives and fellow villagers. My Balinese Mum, Nini Geria, had been an offering-maker most of her life — she died aged 90 — and was much loved in the community. The ceremonial side of the show was assisted by a band of a dozen or so village priests and Brahman aunties from out of town. High priests, called pedanda, were delivered at climatic moments, such as the consecrating of the payadnyan, the fashioning of the puspa (spirit effigies) and the return of Nini’s spirit into the pantheon of ancestor gods from where she had come in the first place, according to Balinese belief. My Balinese brothers and their wives played ring-leaders and masters of ceremony.

For the Balinese, reincarnation is a practical business: a return to this world is guaranteed, basically, if you play your cards right.
Playing your cards right  involves going through seven life rituals (rites de passage) which include three-month ceremonies, tooth-filing, and marriage, and then seven after-death ceremonies which are performed by one’s family and fellow villagers.
The most important of these after-death ceremonies are the cremation (ngaben), which takes a minimum of a week of organization, and then a secondary cremation, or purification of the soul, called (mukur), which  takes a few months to arrange.
As a Balinese, a million offerings will eventually be made in your name accompanied by tens of thousands of sticks of incense and the slaughter of a zoo-load of animals, as well as to feed the thousands of guests who will come to all your ceremonies.
Shortly after your final ceremony is complete you will be reborn and the whole process starts again.
And you wonder why Balinese are such bad drivers! Ha!
The most amazing thing about the whole 35 days of euphoric ordeal I went through — part documenting, part partaking in the series of  ancient rituals — was the way the family came together to perform as one three ring circus, despite the fact that many of them have been locked into decades-old feuds.
When this happens in business, the Bali expats called it ‘two-faced’; in the traditional community it is called ‘a matter of priorities.’
Making great ceremonial beauty and appearing to be nice to relatives all the time is basically the Balinese main reason for being alive.

I made 13 videos over the 5 weeks of ceremonies, starting with the ritual measuring of my Balinese Dad by a high priest before the building of the peyadnyan; certain measurements were used as in the setting out of the enclosure. This South Indian Hindu geomancy, called Asta Bumi Asta Kosala-Kosali, is as old as the hills.

Perambulations (the Buddhist part of the Balinese Siwa-Buddha religion) were a big part of the ceremonies. Here the priests and
the participated circle the table of freshly collected Banyan tree (bringin) leaves

The final video documented ending of the 30 days of ceremonies with the burying of the remnants of the male and female spirit surrogates that had accompanied the deified ancestor spirit of Nini Geria the last few days of the purification rituals.

In between there were mass tooth-filings, processions to Kuta at dawn, the fashioning of over 120 spirit effigies and over 20 costume changes. We collected holy water at Sakenan, Uluwatu, Besakih, Batur, Goa Lawah, and Sidakarya.
Gus De a sleep at the Kuta Beach finale
Every day I posted my outfits on Facebook to amuse the plebs and received, for my efforts, such abuse from the Bukit surfers and other assorted manbag-bashers on Facebook.
During the post-dawn Kuta ceremonies I discovered a band of industrious Kuta Balinese setting out neat rows of bait (stubby holders in tidy boxes) for day-feeding marsupials (Perth tourists).
All of the ceremonies went off without incident; if you don’t count the one overly zealous follower’s gas canister almost exploding at the spirit effigy burning and the fact that the high priest Pedanda Sidemen, staying in my new blessed apartment, couldn’t find the shower tap. We never ran out of chickens and ducks (which accompany all major ceremonies in Bali) or cakes for the myriad guests, or fags for the gamelan players.

It was like a production of ‘Loaves and Fishes’ meets ‘Hindu Holiday.


 Ida Ayu Suryawati Manuaba, during the month of the Penileman ceremony

30 June - 30 July 2014



Ida Bagus Gede Ratu Kakiang (90), during the month of the Penileman ceremony

30 June - 30 July 2014


White Raja Buduh mukurwear for the modern era


30 JUNE - 30 JULY 2014

30 June 2014: 
Nyukat Piadnyan Kepaon (Measuring the enclosure)

6 July 2014: 
Geria Kepaon WEEK 2

9 July 2014: 

17 July 2014: 
Neteg Beras Ceremony (The offering making kick-off)

20 July 2014: 
Nunas Tirta Sidakarya (Collecting holywater in Sidakarya)

21 July 2014: 
Ngingsah Beras and Pemelaspasan Piadnyan (Consecrating the enclosure)

22 July 2014: 
Ngangget Don Bingin Kepaon, Geria Kepaon (Plucking Banyan tree leaves)

23 July 2014
Tooth Filing Geria Kepaon

25 July 2014: 
NGAJUM PUSPA (Making spirit effigies) 

26 July 2014: 
Puncak Karya Penileman (The Climax)

 26 July 2014: 

 27 July 2014: FINALE : 
THE 'NGANYUT' at Kuta Beach (The confining to the ocean)

30 July 2014: 
NGELINGGIHANG CEREMONIES (Returning Nini to family house shrine)