After 3 nights at Aston Bali in Tanjung Benoa, Wayan picked us up for a tour on the way to our next destination: Munduk in the north mountains. On the way we stopped at I Made Sura stone carvers in Batubulan where we made the biggest single purchase of the entire trip.
Actually, the purchase price on the stone carving wasn’t all that bad but as might be expected, the shipping cost as much as the article. Fortunately, when we finally saw it again 3-months later, we still felt we made a good purchase. We also toured a silver factory/shop in Celuk (no purchases there), several really lovely temples and then paid a visit to Wayan’s mother at the family compound in his home village. It was a nice experience to sit and chat for a while with Wayan’s family and get an inside look of a family compound.
We continued on our drive through some beautiful countryside and happened upon another temple that was having their Melasti (cleansing) ceremony leading up to Nyepi Day. The temple was located on a lovely lake in the area and we spent some time just absorbing the beauty and local culture.
Our drive into the mountains took us past Lake Tamblingan into Munduk and the Puri Lumbung Balinese Cultural Hotel. The rooms there are 2-story Dutch Colonial style cottages, constructed of teak and woven bamboo floors and walls and set in the middle of pools of water and rice paddies. We absolutely loved this hotel. The views in every direction were spectacular and the staff was as kind as humanly possible.
Choices on restaurants in the area are not all that plentiful so we ended up taking most of our meals at the hotel. The food was not fancy but was very good and quite reasonably priced for a hotel restaurant. We hired a local guide at the hotel for a day of touring in the area. We had read about some very old villages in the area that dated back to pre-Hindu times and in fact, still practiced the old Balinese animist based religion and when making our plans, that’s where we asked the guide to take us.
The next morning, the guide arrived at our cottage with full ceremonial dress for both my wife and I and told us he was first taking us to his temple’s Melasti celebration on Lovina Beach. He helped me dress and one of the lady’s at the hotel reception helped my wife and then we were off to the celebration.
When we arrived at the beach and the ceremony, we were the only Western people there but the temple members were all very welcoming. They seemed to appreciate that we were dressed appropriately and our guide joked that they probably thought that we lived in Bali. Since it was his temple’s ceremony, he knew just about everyone there and lots of people walked by for a chat and we suspect, to get a closer look at the gringos.
As we were standing near the back of the crowd, we kept hearing some very simple recorded music being played over and over again. I asked the guide the significance of the music and he replied: “That’s the ice cream man.”
From Lovina Beach, we headed straight up a mountainside and visited the 3 very old villages. The first was noted for their bamboo weaving and virtually every house we passed seemed to be in that business. We stopped at one and bought a set of 3 small baskets that fit inside of each other. I’m not sure if we could have bargained a lower price on that one but the starting price of R15,000 was so reasonable, we paid it without even trying to do better.
In the next village, the guide took us to a small one-room house where the family makes sugar from the sap of palm trees. The lady there was also making candy from palm sugar and black rice. There were two much older women in front of the house wrapping small bits of the candy in corn husks for storage. Even though we didn’t speak the same language the guide clued us in on what they were saying to us. One in particular was so pleased to see my wife in her traditional Balinese dress she just went on and on about how pretty and thin she was and asking how she put up with a big man like me. It was really a funny scene.
We wanted to take pictures but the two older ladies asked that we not so we didn’t. I asked the guide if it was appropriate to offer the lady of the house a tip and he said that it wasn’t expected but if I wanted to, anything I offered would be accepted. I gave the lady R10,000 and she started giving us gifts. She gave us a beautiful sample of the palm sugar in the shape of a half coconut shell (which in fact had been the mold) and a large sample of the candy. I gave the guide the candy but kept the sugar and am happy to report that US customs didn’t seem to mind that I hid it in my luggage and brought it back with me.
Virtually every house we stopped by in these villages (including this one) had their beetle nut kits with nuts, lye, shredded tobacco and lime tree leaves out ready for use. Our guide told us that the old ladies’ reluctance to have their picture taken was most likely more from not wanting to show the effects of a lifetime of beetle nut use on their teeth than for any fear of losing a part of their soul to a picture.
In the next village the guide took us to what he described as a “custom house”. I’m not sure what he meant by that term but it turned out to be the oldest house in a very old village. The owner of the house was a fairly young man who spoke a little English and his wife who was busy whacking the hell out of some chicken parts (and chicken bones) with a cleaver the whole time we were there. They showed us what was essentially a very dark 1-room structure divided into 3 areas. In the back sleeping area was a berth where they told us that they kept the bodies of family members after they died. When not needed for that use, it was where they slept.
As we strolled through this village, we noticed a tall Western man emerge from one of the houses and walk towards us. It turned out that he was an Italian anthropologist who had been living in this village for 6-months studying the medicines of ancient cultures. We had a very nice chat with him and he told us a little about the local village’s religious practices, which mostly centered on an elected shaman who went into trance to seek the wisdom to solve any local disputes or the treatments for any medical problems.
From there it was down to Lovina Beach for lunch and then back up into the mountains to a Buddhist temple and the hot spring baths.
On the way we passed several more temple groups either walking in procession or riding (longer distances) to the beach for their Melasti ceremonies. As we were leaving the hot springs, it started to rain a bit, which allowed us to enjoy a rainbow for a good part of the ride back up the mountain to Munduk. In reflection, we both agreed, it was probably the best single day we spent in Bali. We left Munduk wishing that we had planned a longer stay there.