Bali: Elephant Temple, Coffee Plantation…

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Temples are everywhere in Bali! Only a few are open to tourists. The elephant temple is an ancient temple rediscovered by Dutch archeologists late 1800s. Restored for use after a 1918 earthquake knocked down some of the walls. It’s a small cave and really has nothing to do with elephants. Because there have never been elephants in Bali. There were a number of shrines in use today on the temple grounds – there were people placing offerings at some of them.

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Notice how everything is cloth wrapped – an indication of the importance of textiles in Balinese religious life. White and yellow signify holy/happy – the black and white represents good/evil. On ceremony days men worshipers dress in white; the women in colorful clothes. It is considered polite for visitors to a temple to wear a sarong and sash which we did.

Further down into the valley is a Buddhist temple – I knew I would not be able to climb the stairs back up, so I waited for those who went to see the temple below to return.

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We’ve been hearing about women’s responsibilities, which are many: to shop for food, to cook, to care for children and elders, to prepare the many daily offerings (for many, today, to work as well outside the home). As far as we can tell men have few obligations. Here we see one of them: to prepare the bamboo for the women to make baskets for carrying food offerings to the temple and elsewhere. In today’s world in a good many households these baskets would be purchased ready-made in the market absolving the men from the labour. It really does seem that women bear the burden of keeping Balinese life going.

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Next stop a coffee plantation – it’s an example of eco-tourism in action. The site has the two kinds of coffee grown on Bali, as well as cocoa, vanilla, ginger, coriander, black pepper… Bali also produces luwak coffee – coffee beans that have passed through the digestive system of civet cats! Very expensive. They had caged civet cats on the plantation for visitors to see in addition to being fed ripe coffee beans (the cats reject unripe beans!). I don’t know whether there was a population of wild civet cats or not – if there were it would require people to gather cat scat in order to recover the digested coffee beans. The beans aren’t actually digested, the hulls remain and have to be removed before the coffee can be roasted and ground.

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There were also some ginger plants – the unopened buds are sold in the market and used in cooking.

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We stopped for lunch at a ridge overlooking some lush rice paddies. No one was working in them – too hot midday – they work early in the morning while it’s still relatively cool.

A final stop on the way back to the hotel was for ice cream – a welcome treat on a hot day!

Bali: Weavers’ Market

We began the day with a trip to the northeast part of Bali first to visit the Weavers’ market, then to stop at a weaving cooperative where the young women were weaving ikat fabrics (more about the ikat fabrics later).

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The weavers’ market is an assemblage of indoor fabric stalls each displaying piles of handwoven fabrics, many from the local region.

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What makes these weft ikat fabrics unusual is the process the weavers use – they set up their looms with solid colour warp threads then weave a design with weft threads that have been dyed using a tie-dye technique.

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The photo shows the weft threads set up (tied in groupings which represent the design) just before they are placed in the dye. Once dyed, ties are systematically removed and the “blank” areas of the thread are hand dyed in the desired colours.

The weavers pass the shuttle loaded with the dyed thread back and forth making sure the colour alignment is accurate – this requires close attention to the colour placement at the selvedge edge. The fibers can be dyed with either natural or synthetic dyes. Needless to say, the fabrics using natural dyes are worth more.

I bought one sarong length of weft ikat fabric at the market; I bought a second length at the weavers cooperative. We were able to watch some of the women work at the looms – they can each weave about 2 m of fabric a day which earns them 40,000 Indonesian rupiah (approximately $4 CAD)! That same 2 m of fabric sells for between 150,000 – 200,000 rupiah depending on the delicacy of the threads and the complexity of the design.

After lunch we visited with an Indonesian woman who is an expert on natural dyes and who has been instrumental in helping revive the hand weaving industry in Bali. She showed us a number of textiles – all of which had ceremonial importance (textiles play a very large role on Balinese religious life). Each textile was connected to a particular ceremony. All of the fabrics she shared with us were stunning examples of hand weaving.

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Our final visit of the day was to a sea salt maker – talk about labour intensive – the salt maker carries large buckets of sea water from the beach (2 at a time) to pour on the sand flats. Once dry, he skims off the crusted sand and washes it in a vat using more sea water. The sand is washed 4 times, then the salt concentrate is taken to evaporation trays so the sun can dry off the water leaving behind salt crystals. The process can take a day in the sun, several days if it’s cloudy and the whole operation is shut down during the rainy season. On a good day he harvests 10 kg of salt – not a lot for all his labour! Some of the gals bought a kilogram of salt for 40,000 rupiah which gives you an idea of what he makes for his 10 kg of salt.

Tomorrow we visit a temple – that should be very interesting.

Bali: Farmers’ Market and Cooking Our Own Balinese Lunch

Today we were picked up early and taken to a Farmers’ Market in the north of the island.

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We got there around 9:00 but the market opens at 5:00 am. Most of the locals do their shopping before the kids get up for school.

Our guide (Sang De) walked us through the stalls stopping to tell us about the ingredients we were going to use to make our meal: tumeric, ginger, shallots, garlic, small hot peppers, large red chili, coriander seeds, kafir limes…

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The market had flowers (both edible and for offerings), spices, rice, feed for chickens and pigs, even a dry goods section:

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From the market we were taken to Sang De’s family compound where he has facilities for a cooking “school”. First he explained the layout of a Balinese family compound – a Balinese home is a multi-generational affair – including a family temple, a place for family ceremonies, as well as individual “houses” for the family groupings, a kitchen, bathroom facilities (which are communal, not part of the individual houses), and a grazing area for chickens and other small livestock.

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The kitchen was large enough that all 9 of us were involved in the meal preparation: first chopping the “spice” ingredients very finely so the mixture could be ground in a pestle. Next we cooked it in a pot, adding chicken stock, bay leaf and a leaf of kafir lime. This mixture was used to make the unripe mango soup as well as the curried chicken. It was also added to the puréed chicken thigh to make satay. We spent over an hour and a half getting the meal ready.

Before eating, Sang De explained how offerings to the gods are made as part of each meal. Balinese lives are tightly interwoven with their religious beliefs.
Offerings everywhere on the streets, on the ground in front of shops, on shrines along the streets, in lots of other locations. They consist of small woven palm leaf dishes filled with flowers and topped with a burning incense stick; beneath the flowers is an offering of the meal about to be eaten (I assume the offerings on the street are the same).

The meal was delicious (more than twice what I was able to eat), if a bit under spiced – I like.hot spicy food, but the other gals asked for mild, so while I found the food flavorful, it was lacking in heat.

We left with copies of the recipes we’d made so we’ll be able to make them when we get home.

Bali: Rice Paddy Walk and Visit to a Spa

We started the day early by driving a distance toward the northern mountains from Ubud to the start of a trail through a series of rice paddies back to town – something like a six km walk downhill.

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The paddies were of various sizes – some smaller ones obviously intended to feed a family; some of the harvest from the larger ones probably would be sold.

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The path was narrow, we needed to walk single file; nevertheless there was quite a bit of motorcycle traffic going in both directions. When a motorcycle came into view we had to step to the edge of the ditch beside the paddy to let it pass – not always easy to do.

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Some of the families have been enterprising by building small shops on the path – they sell art, trinkets, food items, gifts, you name it. However a majority of the shops were closed for the day due to a big religious festival where thousands of people get dressed in their going-to-temple white outfits and walk from Ubud to the ocean – a bit of a hike. In the afternoon we saw the procession returning in 100 trucks all decorated and carrying a load of people and large religious statues.

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What became obvious as we got closer to Ubud, was just how much construction is going on (much of it resorts being built) which in 5 years will likely obliterate much of the rice paddies. If tourism remains stable or grows that will mean income for Bali, but I couldn’t help wondering how the poor will be able to afford imported rice – the essential in the Balinese diet.

Later in the afternoon I visited a spa not far from the Rama Phala Resort where we’re staying. I had chosen a traditional Balinese massage. The masseuse began by loosening every joint starting with my feet – I go for a massage regularly at home – this was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. When the gal was done, I was so relaxed I could barely move. Quite wonderful – to be recommended to anyone visiting Bali. There are spas everywhere so I know for sure I’m not the only visitor to take advantage of the service. I hope to be able to have another massage before I leave.

Bali: Fire Dance

Two evenings ago we attended a performance of a “Fire Dance”. The Balinese name for the dance is “Sekaa Kecak”. It’s a dance not accompanied by instruments but by a 100 member male chorus.

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It’s an old ritual dance based on an ancient Indian epic. It involves gods and princesses and other important persons in a series of abductions, rescues, deaths… All very convoluted.

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Can’t say I understood much of what went on. The finale involved a rather large bonfire in the midst of the square and a dragon character who dashed through the fire scattering the burning cocoanut husks repeatedly. The performance was in the round so those scattering ashes came very close to the audience! Unfortunately, I didn’t capture any photos of the dragon and the fire – the fire was too bright.