Man, I am glad we came to Nusa Penida. This little island measures 257 square km and has some 60.000 inhabitants. Crowded doesn’t describe this place.
The most ‘busy’ road goes around the isle, following the shore, passing villages as Pet, where we are at, and Sampalan, which has a rather groovy warung with a decent mojito. But I wouldn’t recommend anything with tomato sauce. The Balinese love their ketchup manis and their BBQ-sauce, which make the dishes too sweet for my taste.
The inland of Nusa Penida is pretty rough, bushes and palmtrees and rocky underground, the roads, with steep climbs and treacherous descents, cracked and potholed, joining the few houses. Not a lot of rain here, so the climate is drier than Bali’s, and hotter. There is no fresh water on the island, no well. A couple of hotels accomodate a modest amount of travellers, among which our Ring Sameton Inn, The Full Moon, and The Kubu Ganesh, and some resorts smack up there in the jungle, on the way to Crystal Bay: The Namaste, The Bingtan Resort and The Coco Resort. And they do have A/C, contrarily to what I said before.
Lisa, a young Aussie woman, opened up a warung right on the beach: The Penida Colada. It’s a warm and welcome place, with hammocks and bean sacks, tasty smoothies (the nutty banana!) and nice food. Ideal for doing nothing. Lisa lives here with her Indonesian husband. They have a small boy together: Theo.
I sit back, read my book and watch the sea. An old, I assume mad woman with a serious case of Bechterew is drawing pictures in the sand with her toes, she is all big eyes and smiles. A couple of seaweed farmers check their crop. A Tasmanian tourist snorkels quietly and undisturbed.
And what about Crystal Bay?! Oh boy! We have seen some beaches, but rarely as enchanting as this one. Agreed, the sand is not the whitest, the water could be still a notch clearer, but the atmosphere is great. It reminds me a bit of Selon Belanak, in the south of Lombok, my favourite beach so far. With almost no people, just a couple of shops and no hotels, Crystal Bay is caught between two stretches of land running into the sea, and has a little rocky island in the waves. There are tall palm trees, and a Hindu temple. In the morning small boats moor here to snorkel, but in the afternoon everything is calm and quiet. The surf is gentle enough for the kids to swim and when it is low tide, crabs of all sizes play in the watery holes. The kids love to look for the tiny crawlers, letting them run over their hands and keeping them in a blue toy bucket, before releasing them again.
On the way back from Crystal Bay, we visit the turtle sanctuary of The Green Lion. Normally visitors are not allowed, but, lucky us, Komang made a call. Komang is the head of the government coral protection program on the island, and driver in the weekend. In the modest sanctuary (it is not Sealife) get a tour from the elegant Thai coordinator. We don’t want any donations, she says, as we want to remain independent. The turtles are just being fed, they love the chunks of dark tuna. The place and the tortoises is looked after by international volunteers, who actually pay to come and work here. I talk to a friendly Spanish lad. I stay three weeks. (Minimum stay, according to the website, is two weeks.) Every day we clean the tanks and the turtles, we feed them and give vitamins to the babies. We also gather seaweed and clams on the beach. The turtles need some living’ food as well.
Komang offers to take us to a wedding ceremony. Marie-Lou and I love to go. Komang is a friendly guy, lots of laughs and talkative. And his English is pretty good. He dresses me in two sarongs, a waistband and some kind of turban. I sweat my ass off. The turban, Komang says, is to keep the mind focused. Just what I needed. Marie-Lou only has to wear the waistband. We drive half an hour, penetrating the hilly interior. Most people, Komang says, live of agriculture or seaweed. They don’t make a lot of money, and ceremonies like these wedding cost them a pretty penny. We stop by a farmhouse, all flags and colorful decorations. Big cooking pots on wooden fires. Lots of locals, all dressed up. We get some peanuts and a lukewarm coke and sit on plastic chairs, looking at each other. Then Komang points to the courtyard.
We go in now.
We go through the doors and there is more people. Two young women sit on a wooden bench, they don’t move a muscle. They wear a golden crown and fancy clothes, and their faces are covered in make-up, they look like Indonesian dolls with porcelain faces. They are the sisters of the bride and they seem tense. We go further. There is an altar-like podium, upon which the groom lays, a young man, pale as a corpse. He is surrounded by family and friends, who pamper him. A Hindu priest is busy filing his teeth. I hadn’t expected this. Neither had Marie-Lou. She is a bit afraid. I understand: looking at this bizarre ceremony makes me feel rather uncomfortable. After the groom it is the two sisters’ turn. That’s why they are tense.
Does it hurt, I ask.
Oh yes, says Komang with a big smile.
He explains tooth filing is an important coming of age ritual. The priest cuts away the most prevalent pointy edges of incisors and canines, so the demons can get out. Normally it is done when one gets twelve.
Muslim cut penis, we cut teeth, he laughs.
The Hindu priest cleans the teeth with flower petals, stuffs bamboo (or what is it?) in the groom’s mouth, and files away. In the background a gamelan-band is playing it’s spooky jazz like music. Animals, predators especially, have sharp dentals. The Balinese demon statues have exaggerated teeth, like vampires. Filing the teeth is one way to distinguish us from the wild beasts and the demons, along with wearing clothes and such.
We eat something, is polite, says Komang, then we leave, go to the second wedding. There is an abundance of food, lot’s of local stuff I rather not touch. Too spicy, too tricky. A pig head is on display and the flies love it. Pieces of octopus on sticks. Roasted duck.
We take the road back and stop by another festive house. No filing ceremony here. We get some lukewarm coke and peanuts, one can never have enough of those. There is cake and other snacks. Bride and groom greet everybody at the entry. They smile and have their picture taken.
It is so hot, the bride whispers to me.
Do they have to stand there the whole time, I ask Komang.
He laughs again. No, when they tired they go to sleep.
We watch the gamelan-percussion band for a while.
Komang taps my shoulder. Okay, Sebastian, now we eat something, is polite, then we leave.
And so we do. This was quite an experience.
So Island Life as a tourist. The sea, the shells on the beach, the pool. The massages. The slow rhythm (sometimes a bit too slow for our western patience as we wait 1.5 hour for lunch). Snorkeling and manta spotting turns out to be a bit of a disappointment, mostly because we didn’t spot the mysterious sea creature. But the boat ride along the rough coastline is beautiful. Me barfing a little less so.
After 4 days and celebrating Lux’ fourth birthday with a yummy cake Eta and Moses brought with them, we take the express boat back to Bali. Not the Mola-Mola this time, but the Maruti Express, a bigger boat, bigger seats, 4 engines, insurance in case of death or injury. We reserved 10 seats, but apparently, according to the Asian way of things, something went wrong with the booking. The staff only has two seats for us. Nice. There we are, on the kay, with five kids, in the blistering heat, the hotel on Bali already booked for tonight. We have to go with another company, the crew says, maybe Mola Mola, hope they are not fully booked. So Moses gets angry. Common lore says one shouldn’t get angry in Asia. But screw that, we get the seats. And the boat is not even full. The Asians seem so strange.
Back in Sanur, means back in mass tourism, but the vibe in this seatown is still okay, I guess. Okay enough. Hotels, restaurants, massage parlours and souvenir stores scream for attention on the bigger touristic streets. I see a guy wearing a ‘one shot one kill’ T-shirt, and I wonder why. We get a room in the Swiss Bell, a 8.7 on Booking.com, with a busy lobby, British tattoo tourists and even bikers with obligatory jacket, a copious breakfast buffet and a huge pool with different levels. The kids love it but I am glad Ella still prefers the more quiet island atmosphere. More tourist means more commercial. My masseuse for example explains me, in mid session, she gets a 10% commission of what I pay. So 20.000 rupiah for two hours. 1.37 euro’s. Not too much, I agree. I like to tip when the service is good, and this massage is great. But I while she is standing on my back I do not need info about her grandson with a harelip. Sorry. It kind of takes away the idea of the whole thing: to get relaxed. Now I ponder how much too tip. I propose an extra ten percent. Too small, she complains. Result: I give her more, but I will not go back. And still, I feel a bit like a jerk.