TJANDIKESUMA, BALI, INDONESIA – I am wakened by the sound of roosters just before six in the morning. They have been crowing intermittently for about an hour or so. My brain has lost the ability to ignore it. I am now awake. As whatever dream I may have had slips from memory, I begin to open my eyes. The first thing I see, looking upwards towards the ceiling, is the mosquito net that is encapsulating me and the bed I lay in. I turn to the side and see a cat sitting in the windowsill licking its paw. It pauses as he sees me seeing him as if to say, “Good morning.” He then continues to lick his paw.
I am in a guest house of a friend of mine, Fredrick. He is a fellow film enthusiast and designer from Sweden. I met him through another friend of mine named Wekku from Finland. Together they fly drones all across the beautiful island that is Bali. They have both lived in Bali for over a decade so their knowledge from a “westerner’s” perspective is invaluable. (You can chek out some of their exploits here: Nagavisions)
Fredrick lives far away from where the vast majority of tourist that come to the island are willing to travel. His home is in close proximity to the port where you can ferry to the island west of Bali called Java. Indonesia is around 90% Muslim, however, Bali is approximately 90% Hindu. Both of these cultures still mix the old culture into their religions. In this particular area there is a smattering of both Muslim and Hindu Indonesians.
A lot of the villages and homes are spread far apart. This leaves you with countless configurations of rice fields as far as the eye can see. Outlining the rice fields are the tallest coconut trees I had ever seen. Beyond the height of the tall coconut trees is a majestic view of volcanically formed mountains from either side. We are close enough to the neighboring island Java that its nearest volcanoes are visible as well. Every direction you look, it feels like a living art gallery.
Roosters or not, I needed to be up to prepare for this 3 1/2 hour journey that lay ahead of me. I am doing it all on a motorcycle with two backpacks. One of them became a frontpack. From traveling and being places for only days at a time, I have developed a rather sound method of gathering all my gear in a short period of time. I rarely unpack anything that isn’t essential. Plus, packing in the morning gives me the right mindset for travel. It takes me less than 5 minutes to pack; and then I head to the shower.
The resemblance of cold weather only exists in the mountains. This allows for the construction of bathrooms that are partially and sometimes entirely outside. The bathroom is located just outside the corner of the main house. It is about 5 meters long on each side with a half wall in the middle between the shower area and toilet/sink area. The structure is on a slightly raised platform leaving only half of your upper body visible to anyone within sight. There is no roof so you are completely exposed to the sky. It makes talking to someone while in the shower or while pooping a completely different experience. This morning would be no different.
Fredrick’s home is in the middle of the jungle. there are a few long roads that lead to it, but we are still smack dab in the middle of the jungle. Frederick has two young boys (Sunshine and Forest) with his Balinese wife, Putu. Forest is running around a bit and Putu is making coffee. Putu asks me how I like my coffee from the kitchen window. I yell out, “Black or course!” After I am dry and dressed I sit down for a moment to have a smoke with my coffee. Putu has also made a bit of breakfast for the road. I sit, slowly sip my kopi (Balinese coffee) and start to think about my brief time spent in west Bali.
I came to visit only a couple of nights before. Fredrick wanted to show me this part of Bali. The part still largely untouched by the effects of tourism. Just man, nature and a few gadgets. During my stay I got to visit his mother-n-law’s restaurant in the middle of the jungle and one of Bali’s many black sand beaches. His mother-n-law’s restaurant consisted of, seemingly, their entire immediate family.
We road up on motorcycles through wet often tattered rocky roads during the sunniest part of the day. We are here for lunch. Most dwellings in Indonesia have what is called a bale (bah-lay) just outside the main area. It is a a little square wooden surface sitting on four legs about one and a half meters from the ground. It is covered by a roof to keep us hidden from the sun and reasonably dry from the rain. It is customary to take your shoes off and just sit on the floor of the bale. When the food is brought to us we eat from the same floor we sit on. Its a communion of sorts when you sit and eat in this fashion. It is similar to eating at the dinner table but this just feels more intimate.
We have some of the more traditional dishes in Bali. Nasi campur (nah-see chahm-purr) is the main dish. That means mixed rice. They bring out jackfruit soup for starters, an assortment of vegetables, fruits and different styles of tofu. There was also a bit of crispy chicken if memory serves me correct. There is no rhyme or reason to how the chicken is cut up. I never know if I am eating leg, thigh, wing or what. Sometimes there’s a bone and others not.
Putu’s mother began to try and have a conversation with me although she spoke not one word of English. She looked at me strangely and asked where I was from. When I said Texas she had a puzzled look on her face and said in her native tongue, “LADY – “Where are you from?” I replied, “Texas… America.” “America? Are there black people in America?” she asked. I start to smile and laugh before I reply, “Yeah. Yes there are.” To which she responded, “Yes, but you’re black sweet.” I’m still not quite sure what that means but I simply said, “Terima kasih!” (Translation: Receive Love)
I don’t get racism out here. I don’t get the bad sentiment that often comes with being American in a foreign land. (Yes its true. A lot of folks do not like Americans. We’re thought of as Imperialists.) What I do receive, however, is warmth and wonderment. People are more interested in who I am and what I am about. They react to me in the same manner in which I do to them… with love.
After our meal we ride through the countryside for a bit to see the sheer beauty of the island. That is short lived. The rains start to come and we have no choice but to ride back home. I managed to snap a few photos before it started pouring.