What better way to explore the villages of Bali than on 2 wheels (maybe 2 wheels with a motor if you ask James, but on this beautiful balmy late afternoon I appreciated hearing the sounds of nature around us, and the breeze blowing gently past us)? Especially when its downhill ALL THE WAY (well 90% of it)!
Our guide Made was the perfect balance of fun and informative. He picked a trail that took us through some really remote villages, away from the tourist rat routes, and we stopped often to explore.
Robin didn’t last long at our first stop – he squealed louder and escaped faster than even Bella and Emily! Made showed us a vast web of golden silk orb spiders 10 feet tall and wider than it was high. They live communally. The spiders are highly prized as they keep the flies away from the neighbouring chicken farm!
We learned that typical villages contain about 8-900 people. This is a workable size for the water irrigation Subak collectives, and most of the houses in each community line just one or 2 intersecting streets.
Families live in compounds together. You can count the number of families by the number of water pipes in leading in from the street! Within the compound, sub-families have their own detached rooms or small houses, and often contain 3 or 4 generations. As Sarah explained in her guest blog, the older generation are usually taken care of by their eldest son, who’s wife comes to live with them. If a couple only has daughters, they need for one of their daughters to find a husband who is willing to come and live with them vs staying with his own family. There is no dumping old folk in ‘homes’ in Bali!
Each compound has an ornate gate, and then a ‘blocker’ so you can’t see from the street into the compound. The ‘blocker’ will have a statue of one of their gods, often Ganesha who is the deity of good fortune. Daily offerings of flowers and food are made to the god, and also and also to the demons to keep them away (these consist of small pieces of banana leaf with rice on them as on the RHS below).
Every village or town has its craft. The village we explored specialised in making offerings and baskets from bamboo which is unfortunately for them not very lucrative. Others community specialism examples are wood carving, pottery, bone carving etc.
The main courtyard at the front of each compound has 4-6 pavilions for various purposes including celebrations, sleeping (for the head of the family), a rice barn and a kitchen.
Each compound also has its own pamerajan, or family shrine, which is always enclosed by a stone fence, and is positioned at the most auspicious northeast corner.
Grandma making little pockets from bamboo leaves to house mini offerings:
The kitchens were very basic and fire fuelled. All the food is essentially rice based, or just rice. Balinese don’t eat communally. Someone cooks first thing in the morning enough for the entire household/compound, and then individuals graze and help themselves throughout the day. Families are around each other all the time, helping, working and hanging out, so they don’t feel the same compulsion to come together for ritual eating that we do in the West.
Family groups tend to own a pocket of paddies, and farm their own rice subsistence-style, in addition to working other jobs to support themselves. The rice you see drying by the side of the road, or inside the courtyards is rarely if ever sold.
As with all households in Bali, cockerels abound, and this one had a particularly fine fellow!
We got some great paddy views on our descent, and saw plenty of harvesting, as well as the ducks cleaning out the last morsels of nourishment from the stubble fields.
It was astounding the number of temples we passed. Every village has 1-3 temples (or more!), all of which are well tended and regularly used for offerings and celebrations.
Some were nestled in pockets of jungle on the outskirts of town:
We stopped for bananas and water under the BEST TREE EVER!!!
We felt very much that we had opened up a deeper understanding of Bali and the Balinese over the course of this afternoon. Its people are so warm and friendly. Kids called out to us the whole way, and high-fived us as we passed through, and villagers welcomed us to explore their homes, and embraced our presence with the warmest smiles.