Bali Report #5

Thursday, July 19, 2000

Sunday to Tuesday we went to Munduk for 3 days. This is a village near Lake Tamblingan in the north of the island, which Sheri remembered as a beautiful area from her last trip to Bali. We hoped to walk around the lake and spend some quiet time away from the kids and the hard sell tourist traps.

From Ubud the country slopes gradually up towards the mountains that are the sacred center of Bali, the abode of the gods. As the car climbed upwards the air gradually got cooler and coniferous trees started appearing on the hillsides, though the palm tree and rice paddy environment was still pretty prevalent. Munduk is a very small, somewhat shabby village that mostly lives from clove harvesting, not at all touristy except for a single luxury hotel, Puri Lumbung that charges the astronomical price of US $61/night for a single. We stayed instead at a house owned by friends of friends of Sheri - much more primitive, especially since the shower wasn't working, but with a direct view of the rice paddies (from the Indonesian word "padi") which at the moment when we arrived were being plowed by a gentleman driving two cows.

Sunday July 16th was the night of an unusually long lunar eclipse. Bali was conveniently in the path of totality, which was scheduled to begin around 9pm. Puri Lumbung being the only place around where you could get dinner, we arranged for a table to be put outside with a clear view of the eclipse.

Being in the southern hemisphere for the first time in my life has been slightly disorienting. My first day in Ubud, as Sheri and I were going constantly in and out of stores trying to find kain to wear, I got totally turned around and we ended up going in circles. I was sure that the ground sloped upwards from Nyuh Kuning in the south to the center of Ubud in the north, but my shadow told me that north should be downhill. Then I realized that in the southern hemisphere, the noonday sun will be in the northern sky, rather than the southern sky. At night, I can't recognize any of the stars, except what I assume is the Southern Cross, a pitchfork-like constellation that always hovers over Nyuh Kuning when we return from a nighttime trip to Ubud. Next time I bring a star map. I feel like someone in Star Trek: "Captain, I don't recognize any of the stars. We have left the known universe!" But at least you can still recognize the Milky Way, and as the eclipse went into over an hour of totality the sky was a strange and wonderful panorama of dull blood-red moon, the brilliant Milky Way and the unknown constellations.

Monday was a busy day: Sheri remembered several things from her last trip here and wanted to relive them all. We visited a huge banyan tree (actually a bunut tree, in the banyan family but with larger leaves than what the Balinese call "binyan".) Banyan trees are sacred anyway, and, girded with the black and white checkered cloth that marks the sacred in Bali, grow by every village's Pura Desa (village center temple). This one was so large that you could enter into and climb up inside of its jungle of roots. With the daylight filtering in through the snake-like roots, it was like being inside a swirling, organic cathedral.

Next was a visit to Lake Tamblingan. There is one temple built at the west end of the lake, under reconstruction as the water level has risen, and another temple at an old, sacred site part way around the lake. The trail to the second temple led through cow pastures and banyan forests and included a slippery scramble up a hill where the old trail is now under water. The temple site has natural rocks in the shape of the male lingam and female yoni, and has been venerated since pre-Hindu times.

Stage 3 was a visit to warm springs near the north coast town Seririt. The water spigots were in the shape of fantastic beasts, and the bathing pools of course surrounded with the usual tropical vegetation. Getting in and out of the warm springs compound was however like running the gauntlet: as seems to be typical for tourist destinations here, the path from parking lot to warm springs was lined with shops, and the hawkers were extremely aggressive about pursuing you. This will be the reason I don't return to Bali - the buy buy buy hard sell is extremely unpleasant here.

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