I can honestly say that when I signed up for some mud fun at Mepantigan I had literally no idea what I had actually gotten us into, or how incredibly entertaining it would be. There are a lot of videos in this post, but while we got some great static shots, really you need to see the movement and hear the craziness to get a sense of what we actually got stuck (!) into!
We were greeted with some delicious lime and lemon-grass water, and a few local sweet treats. Apparently the greeness of the green one comes from extract from suji leaves pandan leaves which was a pleasant surprise (I assumed lots of food colouring!).
Before long a lone drummer came stomping and dancing around the corner dressed in a rustling leaf contraption.
He was soon joined by his friends, and they performed a vibrant physical tribal song and dance for us before demonstrating some of the moves and calls that are used in the prelude to mud-wrestles:
I think at this point we were all feeling somewhat bemused (possibly nervous!) inside, but the infectious smiles and good humour of our ‘crew’ lulled us into a fab warm up team photo.
Mepantigan is a actually a form of Balinese martial arts that involves similar physical techniques to those found in self-defense traditions around the world. But Mepantigan extends the form by also drawing upon Balinese drama, contemporary dance, and gamelan music, fusing fighting with the performing arts to create an entirely new cultural phenomenon. Participants wear uniforms consisting of traditional Balinese clothing, and can compete on the beach, in the mud of rice fields, or in any open space.
Practitioners of Mepantigan gain physical fitness, release stress, and learn valuable lessons in camaraderie and sportsmanship. In addition to physical skills, strength, and agility, both emotional and spiritual intelligences are utilised.
According to Putu Witsen Widjaya, the founder and senior teacher of Bali Mepantigan Arts and a martial arts champion, students of Mepantigan evolve as human beings and avoid violence while cultivating compassion. As he observed, “Wherever proper martial arts develop, evil will diminish and a respect for others will grow. This is particularly true for those who practice Mepantigan, which is a celebration of the spirit”.
We did some prolonged ‘land-based’ warm up games of chanting and singing and finally practicing some wrestling moves. These were a lot of fun in themselves, and I think their purpose was as much to tackle our inhibitions and warm up our sense of crazy fun as they were to warm up our muscles.
The mud warm up took it up a notch! Amongst other hilarities, it involved various running races across 2 split level mud ‘pitches’. The water was about a foot deep, and the mud underfoot was on the squidgy side, and a bit slippery, but didn’t smell bad which was a relief. In fact the mud here is purported to have multiple health and skin benefits, and to be very sanitary.
The next exercise was to help us learn a technique for cleaning our eyes should they inadvertently get any mud in them whilst fighting. You put your face near the water, slam the water with your hand to shoot (muddy?!?!) water against your face, and then clean it away with your palm. It sort of worked!
Then it was time to embrace the mud wholeheartedly!
And then get right in! There was no sitting by the sidelines with this outfit….
We did a final practice of the pre-wrestle ritual:
Lastly before the games began (finally!) in earnest, we sat with our eyes closed while we were painted up with war paint.
Emily opened the mud-wrestling games
She sustained a convincing (!?!) win, and received lots of appreciation for her dance at the end (victors are expected to dance not gloat at the end, and then to help up their opponents and give them a hug – we love you Bali!).
The battles then began in earnest! We all embraced the fun and the challenge and the mud! Our crew went fairly easy on the women and children, but didn’t hold back so much for Robin and James!
Bella masters the basic throw:
I suffer a hugely undignified shoulder spin, but come back with a vengeance:
James gives it a good shot with the Papuan from our crew who comprised a solid mass of dense muscle.
I’m kinda proud of this one….
Emily mirrors the facial sparring that comes before the arms interlock
Bella embraces the mud!
More wrestling videos at the bottom, but I’ll fast forward for now to the end of the battles, when we had a nice sit down and a cup of coffee (matured and roasted of course in mud). It was very treacly but actually quite tasty and reviving after a very physical afternoon.
Then came the duck bit! I believe in the authenticity of most of what we did that day, but never actually got to the bottom of whether the duck-on-the-head has any cultural relevance, or whether its just the crew’s way of having a good laugh at our expense (fair enough – they worked REALLY hard!). So, they slapped a huge dollop of mud on our heads, and then put a duck on top. The duck pooped on me – apparently that constitutes very good luck (obviously!!), so lucky me!
Now that we were nicely cooled down it was time for a mud massage, and a mud face pack. We suspected that this wasn’t the crew’s favourite (or most expert) part of the programme, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime, so why not?
James looks like he might be enjoying his massage just a little too much?!?!
Lastly we took a turn in a home made sauna, heated by water infused with local herbs.
It was pretty pitch black in there, and on the more tepid side of hot, but we embraced the steam and a darkened chill out for a while before emerging to be washed off by the warm herby water.
We took a final rinse in the local river which was thankfully warmer than it looked because we were getting a bit chilly by that stage, and then tasted some delicious fried tempeh and battered bananas before wending our way home.
This definitely constitutes one of the more bonkers activities of Monicofamilytravels. We certainly discovered some Balinese traditions that few tourists get to enjoy, and added to our repertoire of ‘you’ll never believe what we did….’ stories.
2 more videos for you:
- James and Robin go at it
2) If you know Robin watch this one (and see it through to the end!)