The frogs are croaking, the crickets chirping, and Balinese Gamelan music is wafting across the valley from the village of
Penestanan. The sun went down an hour or so ago and the swallows have gone to nest.
Our Balinese Home was located in the village of Penestanan, near Ubud. To get to the house from the nearest street, you
have to climb 100 steps (Trish counted), underneath a curtain of tendrils descending from a giant banyan tree. Then over
very narrow paths, up and down more steps to our house in the middle of the paddy. It’s quite precipitous in places, unlit at
night, and often raining.
The house (costing us less than $11/day) is quite new with glistening marble-tile floors. Our bedroom is up a very steep flight
of stairs (over 12 inch high steps!). The four poster, mosquito net draped, bed looks out over its own deck with a view of the
rice paddies, backed up by a tropical river valley filled with palm trees.
A shallow, landscaped pool surrounds the deck with over a hundred Koi fish ranging up to a foot long. I can’t emphasize
enough the beauty and serenity the view lends to the house. In the mornings and evenings, workers tend the paddies, the
women carrying large bundles of feed for their pigs, picked from amongst the rice. Several Balinese cows are in a pen in the
middle of the paddies. Like everything else in Bali, they are extraordinarily beautiful.
To be able to take advantage of the cool mornings we get up as early as we can and walk through the rice paddies. Each paddy
has a 6-8 inch wide raised border planted in grass, to keep in the water. These can be walked on – carefully. From one paddy
to the next, one has to use steps carved out of the muddy soil. While we find this precarious, the Balinese habitually use them
quite easily, even with large burdens balanced on their heads.
Fortunately it was not raining when we made our way back home though the paddies.
Trish and I were honored to be the only foreign guests at a marriage and tooth filing ceremony in the village. About 350 people
crowded into the family temple dressed in their finest ceremonial clothes. Wayan, the owner of our house, was our host, and
had previously made sure we were properly attired. We walked over the paths to the village about 7:30 am. I must admit my
sarong tying lessons were not successful and the whole way I was praying to all the local gods that my sarong would not fall
off. Fortunately, I made it to the ceremony, and Wayan was able to take me into the kitchen and re-tie my blue sarong, gold
saput, and bright red sash. Trish, of course looked beautiful in her gold sarong and purple kebaya.
After a small snack of sticky rice cakes and pastries was served, the tooth filing ceremony took place. Two Brahman priests,
dressed in white with the obligatory wispy beards, performed the filing. No anesthetic was used, but the whole family lovingly
held the two young men down. They were dressed in especially fine ceremonial robes, and were made up in the Balinese
fashion with bright red lipstick. In this important Balinese ceremony the front six upper teeth are filed to an even line. This
eliminates the fang-like appearance of the “dog teeth”, a symbol of demons in their culture. It does make for an attractive
appearance in both the men and women.
The wedding ceremony was then held, but was so subtle; we didn’t even know it was finished. As is common in Bali, the bride
was noticeably pregnant. The large ornament behind the young couple is made of candy.
The whole experience was a sensory overload for Trish and I. Food was being prepared; beautiful Balinese women were
constantly coming and going, carrying golden trays of offerings on their heads. A small gamelan orchestra was playing in the
corner where a puppeteer was chanting and performing a traditional story taken from the Hindu Ramayana, some two thousand
After the ceremonies were over, food was served. Rice, vegetables, curries, and other Balinese foods, all of the spicy variety,
were eaten without the aid of utensils. A bowel was present for all the guests to wash their right hands; the only hands used for
eating, as the left hands are reserved for use in the toilet, and therefore “unclean.
We definitely plan on returning to Bali to experience more of its magic.
An old peasant woman insisted on taking us into her paddy and showing us her corn (one ear per stalk – tough, but tasty, even
when eaten raw), and peanuts (Trish didn’t realize they came from under the soil). While our mutual communications were
very basic, she did get across her troubled concerns about “Bush’s War
We then continued on our way over a bridge which crossed an incredible jungle ravine, past innumerable family compounds,
each with their own temple.
(Update - 2014)
When we returned to Bali in May of 2014 we found a different place. Our old home had become surrounded by the Australian
suburb that the Ubud area has become. The streets are choked with traffic and tourists. Wayan, the owner, and our old friend
now owns numerable income properties with his brothers, but they are living under Western stress. Their many mortgages are
overwhelming them. However, there is one oasis seemingly away from the throngs; Melati Cottages is still tranquil, and the
pool is inviting. And it is still inexpensive!
Bali is still beautiful and the ancient Balinese culture refuses to become buried by the debris. Traditional music still reverberates
through the villages and the jungle. . . and the people still dance.