I’ve mentioned that Bali’s a tropical island. You’d be forgiven for not picturing Ubud. Where other towns ring the coast, Ubud is firmly in the centre. Replace tropical beaches with monkeys, white sand with temples, bamboo bars with bamboo forests. Keep the tourists, though. Well, keep them in the city centre. Drive five minutes out of town, and it’s a different story.
I got lucky. My neighbour is an Australian sculptor. He’s been traveling to this island for twenty years. And he’s fallen for Ubud. At least annually, sometimes more, he’d return to the centre of Bali and watch it grow — from a dirt road with one temple, to a tourist paradise with hundreds of resorts and hotels. Now, he’s returned to stay — purchasing a villa in the hills and starting an art school. Of course, he’s long made friends in the art community here. One of those friends invited him to a temple ceremony in a nearby town. I tagged along.
A fifteen minute motorbike ride to the east, and we’re in the middle of something else. Rice paddies and gas stations. Temples and houses. Not a resort for miles. Wayan meets us at the edge of town and leads us to his home. By “home”, I also mean something else. He opens the gate — a small double door made of thin red wood, set inside a tall, thick, grey, stone fence. Behind it there are many houses, more than a dozen, all connected by large square tiles set in grass paths lined with pebbles. The houses are small and short — only one room I’m told. They each have a small front porch that’s exquisitely tiled in colourful ceramic patterns. The houses themselves are built of concrete, with square pillars that have bases and capitals intricately extruded in geometric designs. Each house is painted a shade of burnt orange. There’s one for him and his wife, one for his parents, one for his uncle, a few for his kids. In total there are 34 family members living in his home. He laughs when I’m shocked: “you should see my neighbour, he has 57!” No wonder my sculptor friend likes it here.
At dusk we ride to the temple. We’re dressed in sarongs — long cotton wraps around our legs — and udengs, traditional headbands with a turban knot. We arrive early, and I learn Wayan is an important man. Apparently, he’s a former town mayor, a title that mixes religious and political duties and which isn’t elected but appointed by the outgoing mayor. He’s also a music “master”, and he has to leave to take his place in the traditional orchestra. “But, walk around!”, he encourages. We do.
I can’t adequately describe the scene. Between traditional music, incense and prayer, fruit-basket offerings, folk theatre, and plenty of local food, it’s a whirlwind. It feels like a fall fair back home — an entire community joining together — though of course much more religious and ancient than our annual celebrations. Still, it has a similar vibe: families with children walking and sitting and playing. We sit for hours and enjoy the festivities. Smiles all around when people learn we know Wayan. A night of memories.
A local flavour.
Background image by Nepomuk