Queen of the Bali Witches (Bali 2016)

Aug 10th

About beach and witches, seashells and black magic.

We do some more pool and beach in Sanur, have a nice dinner at Three MonkeysI get a shave at The Billionaires Cut Barber Shop (which costs less then a euro) and buy some books in Ganesha Bookshop, which has an interesting range of books on Bali. Then we leave, to get a bit closer to the airport.

3 weeks Bali. Our last day. Tomorrow we get up at 4am to catch the Airasia flight to Kuala Lumpur. We are at the Bali Le’mare, a smallish hotel at the border of the mangrove forest, and we spot an iguana right away, a big one. The place is cosy, has a tiled red pool and a joglo for massage. 25 euro for a double room, breakfast included. *  Hilde, Sari’s mum, goes to stay one night with Moses, before heading back to Belgium. Thank you, Hilde, for your warm company!

We lie under a thatched roof at The Pirate Bay, Nusa Dua, sipping fresh mango juice and strawberry smoothies. Nusa Dua, the stretch of the Bukit peninsula were the five star hotels are. I wasn’t too eager to come here , expected … Well, not this. I like the place, like it better than Sanur actually, it has the open feeling Sanur misses. The bay is long, the beach isn’t covered with shops and eateries and hotels, on top and behind and next to each other. There are no restaurant hawkers trying to lure you into their establishment. The water is clear. And the Pirate Bay (part of The Bay Bali) is a blast for the kids, with treehouses high above ground, a wooden pirate ship, and swings all over the place.

But the hotels on the beach, with landscaped gardens, and every beach chair it’s own soap dispenser, and crystal clear pools are expensive, at 250 euro’s for a double a night. Uniformed locals rake the sand. Women carry overloaded baskets on their head: pineapple, papaya.  A few kilometres into the sea, a lonesome destroyer watches the shore. It is a strange sight. (The destroyer, not the shore.) We have a drink in a low key warung and the kids feed the squirrels, that climb down the trees for krupuk. We haggle over the price of some seashell with an old man who coughs up his lungs. An older big bellied man drags his board into the surf. A signs shows where to run in case of tsunami. Another sign says ‘do not hunting’.

It is a nice last day.

So Bali, yes, we would come back. We would visit Moses and his family, we might go to Nusa Penida again, and go to places beyond Ubud, where you can still drive a car at 40 km/h or more. And we would sail to Flores, maybe combine with a trip to Borneo, Kuching, or the Toraya land of Sulawesi. I finished Phil Jarrat’s book Bali. Heaven and hell. Especially the last chapters left me with an uneasy feeling. We are 5 of the four million tourists visiting Bali this year, and we shouldn’t really be here. Compared to a Balinese family, our too fancy hotel rooms use up an awful amount of water. And the hotels and villas build at ridiculous pace destroy Bali’s nature and adat (culture). The region of Canggu is nicknamed ‘Expatria.’ Farmers lease their lands to expats to build their luxurious villa’s. Jarrat explains doing this tenfolds their monthly income, as they get money from the lease, and the family can provide caretaker, driver, housekeeping, guard for the bule … But the price of the neighboring land goes up as it has become ‘residential area’, and someone else buys it, builds another villa, and no more ricefield view for the first buyer. Medok, the cabdriver who brings us from Sanur to Bali Le’mare, tells me life has gotten hard. Money didn’t use to be important. We lived in the banjar, the community, which more or less took care of itself. We grew rice and stored it. Now, with 90% of the Balinese (sic) working in the tourist industry, money is all that matters. But we need money. Our religion isn’t expensive, our culture is. Medok explains there are, for example, three classes of cremation, with the middle one costing more than 5000 dollar. (A cleaning lady earns 200.000 rupiah a month, remember, which equals 15 dollar.) I want to live in another country, or on Java, but in my family I have to take care of family temple. So I cannot leave. Medok tells me his family is linked to five temples. Each temple has two ceremonies a year, or something along those lines. For each ceremony the priest has to be paid, and the food, and the offerings, all has to be paid.

Medok shakes his head. But I don’t pay anymore, no more ceremonies. I am in meditation now. And he starts a story about how he meditates and contacts the eye spirit or whatchamacallit, and sees heaven and hell, and in heaven he saw Shiva, and Allah, and Jesus and some other dudes. He rambles on. My guru, my teacher, he was alligator before, and crocodile. We drive into the street of the Bali Le’mare. And then Medok points to his left. O! I think my teacher has house here. Yes, this one. And you see this factory? It is my teacher’s bread factory. He is a rich man. He also has hotel. Too much hotels he have. He is very rich.                                                                             

Medok tells a good story. When I ask him about black magic, and is it still alive?, he doesn’t answer right away, pretends not to understand. But he loosens up and relates how he can see spirits leave a dead body when there has been an accident in the street, and how in a banyan tree at least fifty spirits reside, and don’t sleep under the tree because you will wake up crazy. He tells me about Rangda, Bali’s queen of the witches, with her saggy breasts and hairy body. I read On the Edge of a dream: magic and madness in Bali, by Michael Wiese. It is an autobiographic (?) travelogue/ novel, well written and entertaining, about two Americans who roam the beaches and countryside of Bali. Nicolas has fled the Vietnam draft, Eddie was destined to become a priest and runs from his faith. Leaving the surf scene behind, they go live in a village, and experience another world. Nicolas tells about a dance he saw, during which another reality shows itself. In the ritual, Rangda, representing dead and evil, fights Barong, representing good. None of them wins, because good and bad have to be balanced. But the warrior dancers engage in the fight, it gets real, the spectators end up caught in the violence and then some warriors commit suicide, plunge their krisses into their hearts, and the queen of witches gets chased. And everything is blurred. The incense and the trance inducing gamelan music. Was it real, or merely a dream?

Bali is very real, and sometimes it is a dream. But reality bites and I am afraid the dream is being destroyed and there is no stopping it.

Jarrat wonders when the tourists will stop coming.

* So what is the difference with a more expensive hotel, you might ask? The rooms are clean and big. The garden is well looked after, the frangipani smell delicious. There is a free shuttle to Nusa Dua, Kuta and Jimbaran beach. So? I will get into the details a bit, not that they are such a nuisance. But just, so you know. Well. For one, the A/C in one of our rooms doesn’t work. After a lot of asking, ‘engineers’ coming over, testing and such, the night manager brings in a portable A/C system, which does half the job. The LED-screen indicates 27° C. What else? You have to ask for a lot of things: wifi-code, extra coffee, water in the room. Tables are not cleared and the staff hangs around, play Pokemon Go and watch their nails grow and pick you up half an hour late while you wait on a parking lot.


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