There are only two days left of the retreat. Time has flown, yet I also feel as though I have been here for ages. As I sit typing with roosters crowing in the background (there are always roosters crowing!) by the fountain at the hotel lobby, I am reflecting on the past few days, and anticipating the next. I am really missing my daughters at the moment. The three hour time difference between Australia and here is actually quite hard to work around in terms of being able to communicate with them easily! If I’m up at 5.30am Bali time it is 8.30am and they are either at or on their way to school. And the evening brings similar issues as I am often out and about doing things when it is after school time back home. 6.00pm here is 9.00pm there and hopefully by then they are in bed! Anyway, I’m sure that I’ll be able to get in touch on Saturday and then I’ll be home on Sunday morning anyway! Don’t get me wrong – I’m not wishing my time away, and I will be sad to leave, but I’ll also be happy to get home. I am anticipating that today (Friday) and tomorrow will be “slower” days. More pool time, more reading time, more wandering locally, more sitting in cafes, maybe more massages. Although I do have a basket weaving class planned for this morning….
So, back to Thursday! We had a full day trip planned, with an excellent guide Yuda who Susan had met on earlier visits. He was a fascinating man, and the day was highly educational. Not just in terms of facts, but also in terms of learning yet more about Balinese history, societal and family structure, and sense of humour!
Eleven of the group piled onto the bus at 9.30am (the twelveth has been to Bali a few days and opted for a day of rest). We began by visiting a family home. You’re possibly thinking “haven’t you already done that? And more than once”? Well yes, this was the third family home I have visited this trip, but each time I have learned something new and have been able to identify similarities and differences between each one. Yuda explained that many years ago each family was given land by the government. Each home is built in a similar style. There is an outer wall, and an open gate that you enter through. Each house is oriented so that the temple building is always in the North-East corner. This is also the first of the buildings to be constructed when a new house is being built, although it is often more symbolic at first to allow for the main kitchen/living building to be constructed so that everyday life can continue. The other buildings are then built in a particular order as funds allow. Balinese traditional houses are what we in the west would probably describe as “compounds”, as there are a number of buildings within the one walled area, and a number of generations live there. There is a good overview of Balinese traditional architecture here.
Once again we were able to see people going about their everyday business. Offerings had been prepared and were being placed, and fringing was being made. This house was much more manicured and decorated than the simple house we had visited on our bike tour, to me reflecting a clear difference in income levels.
From there we went to a silver manufacturer. Yuda took us to a village cooperative, where proceeds go back to the community. We were able to watch the process of silver jewellery construction from beginning to end. Everything is handcrafted. There was a massive array of jewellery available to purchase, and unsurprisingly I found something for each of my girls. I hope that they like them!
And back into the bus! There was a considerable drive ahead of us. We drove along windy rounds going up, up and further up until we arrived at Mahagiri restaurant in Rendang, overlooking Mount Agung and more of those beautiful rice paddies. We had lunch there, all the while admiring the stunning scenery. So far we had travelled less than 50km, but it had taken around an hour and a half. The roads in Bali are fairly well maintained, but are often very narrow and are almost always very busy. I have say that the drivers here do an excellent job. The spatial awareness of the local people is rather astonishing, as is the politeness of the road users. People stop and let one another in constantly, they weave past one another, and I have not seen one example of road rage or impatience. Buses and vans squeeze through the narrowest of spaces, simultaneously avoiding motorbikes and pedestrians. It fascinates me!
While we drove Yuda entertained us with traditional Balinese stories, the occasional song (he is also a wedding singer and many of the songs reflected his love of ballads) and even a few dad jokes. He also answered all our questions about life in Bali and was willing to share information about his own family. Yuda had married well above his caste, which had been problematic for his wife’s family. He talked about how he eventually resolved difficulties with them. He also spoke about tooth filing ceremonies, and explained how he had refused to have it carried out on himself (and subsequently for his children). Yuda explained the cremation ceremonies, and some of the cultural and philosophical issues about the current expense that is involved. He was an outstanding guide and I feel privileged to have met him. I love learning about how people live, and he gave us a great deal of insight. He appeared to be a many of many roles and was clearly not defined by a particular one (such as “tour guide”).
Our next destination was Tenganan village. We wound down incredibly steep roads from Rendang towards the coast. The views across to the ocean were spectacular! It is currently dry season in Bali, and although the rice paddies were almost fluorescently green, there were some parts of jungle that I thought could do with a bit of rain. It has rained twice since we arrived, but each time during the night and only for a brief time. It was another 50 km from Rendang to Tenganan, which took us around an hour and a half.
Tenganan village was only opened to tourism in the 1970s. The Bali Aga people live there, with traditions and architecture that are different to those found elsewhere in Bali. It’s worth a read of the Wikipedia link. The drawcard for us was that Tenganan is also the home of hand-dyed and hand-woven ikat and double ikat textiles. While it was interesting to see the village layout it didn’t take long before we were inside a local house watching the weaving process and admiring the textiles.
There were two pieces of weaving under construction. One was double ikat, with dyed warp and weft threads making up the pattern. Double ikat pieces are the most expensive due to the labour intensive processes and time taken to manufacture them. They are slightly sheer, as the warp and weft cross threads are kept equidistant in order for the dyed pattern to emerge beautifully.
A teenager was weaving single ikat on a backstrap loom. Single ikat has only the weft threads pre-dyed. It was fascinating to watch her work and carefully line up the pre-dyed threads so that the pattern was as precise as possible. Because only the weft are dyed into patterns, they are pushed closer together and pretty much cover the single coloured warp threads. The white selvedges allow for a little “play” in lining up the weft threads.
Quite a few of the group purchased pieces of single ikat from the family (the double ikat was out of the budget for most of us). I was thrilled to purchase my piece directly from the maker and have a photo taken with her and the piece of weaving. It took her two weeks to weave on the backstrap loom. That of course doesn’t count the work involved in dyeing the threads in the first place; it’s just the weaving time. I also bought a smaller piece that had been made by the grandmother of the house. She was thrilled to sell quite a few pieces to us; all simple ones that mainly showed variegation in weave as her eyesight is now very poor and she cannot weave complex designs. There were lots of smiles from the family and as we left the house Yuda told us that we had brought them prosperity! They had provided us with an unforgettable experience and some wonderful memories – a pretty good trade, I think!
Outside were men selling carved bookmarks in a variety of intricate designs. These were carved onto bamboo, and we were able to have them personalised.
And once again, back on the bus! We had one more stop on the agenda. We drove another 50km along the coastline to Batubulan to visit Sari Amerta to see their batik collection. This time the drive was a little shorter; a little over an hour. There was always so much to see from the bus and Yuda kept us entertained and informed. Topics that were covered ranged from politics to education to healthcare! It was also interesting to see the changes in terrain and corresponding variations in vegetation and architecture.
It was late in the day when we arrived at Sari Amerta, and there were only two women still working on textile manufacture. Watching them deftly apply wax for batik we had a whole new level of respect for their skill and artistry. There were also a couple of looms to examine, and a number of treadle sewing machines and overlockers. Many of us did purchase a few pieces of quality batik garments while we were there. By this stage everyone was pretty tired and all looking forward to getting back to the resort. So it was onto the bus again and the shorter 15km half hour drive home. I’m just doing some quick sums – we travelled around 170km total over the course of the day.
Then it was time for cocktails at the cafe nearby followed by dinner at the resort. Our waiter entertained us with a couple of magic tricks, much to the hilarity of our group and the rest of the restaurant staff. Yes, it was another wonderful day!