A Balinese funeral is a unique combination of the spirituality of Buddhist and Hindu rites which celebrate a person’s time on Earth and, more importantly, their transition to a life after death.
Tourists will be aware of the funeral ‘season’ on the tropical island by the visible presence of massive bamboo towers which will convey a body to a cremation. But these prominent structures are for wealthy Balinese. In most villages and towns throughout the island the cost of a funeral is shared between several families.
In a small coastal town which I look on as second home, a mass cremation is held about every three years. When a family member dies they are buried in a grave in the local cemetery.
This is a temporary resting place. Over three years enough relatives are ready to move on to a new life. In this ceremony, held in June last year (2016), 98 were cremated.
The ceremonial process took seven days culminating in the Ngaben, the cremation, after which the ashes are divided between family members and taken to sea for a final scattering on the element of water, in this case the Badung Strait.
The past few months have been the beginning of a watershed. A slight change of life style and direction. Only slight of course, I don’t like drama.
I have been living in Fremantle, Australia, for close to 40 years. Those years have been great fun, sometimes profitable and sometimes a touch irritating when it comes to glancing at the pile of bills alongside the bank statement. I imagine a few people experience that feeling.
I’ve pretty much covered Australia from top to bottom and side to side. Produced a number of books and written umpteen articles about everything from mining, agriculture, prospecting, cattle rustling, rodeos, fishing, pearling, diamonds … it goes on.
Now, with massive changes in the media resulting from new technology, great changes in photography for similar reasons and changes in my mind for no particular reasons, I have made a decision to take a sideways shift in lifestyle.
Bali, peaceful and charming
Fremantle is a little over three hours flying time from Bali, a place I enjoy for it’s laid back lifestyle, peaceful culture and charm. Thus I thought “Why not work from Bali?” It costs very little to live here in reasonable comfort and it is a convenient point to reach pretty well anywhere in Asia. So now I’m spending a few weeks here looking for a suitable place with two or three bedrooms, a swimming pool and space for an office. Thus I can live a ‘fly in fly out’ lifestyle and friends are welcome to drop in when they wish.
The idea is to carry on doing what I do, produce a few more books of one sort or another, write a few articles and not make any rigid rules. I don’t do stress.
I’ve also made a commitment to shoot more film, black and white, as well as the digital colour necessary for articles. More on that later but I have bought myself a rather indulgent Christmas present. I’ll show and tell in a later post, probably mid January.
Here’s the view from what I refer to as my ‘Lunch Office’. I also have a ‘Coffee Office’ and a little further down the road a ‘Beer Office’.
I confess that I do enjoy taking snaps on my iPad. This was a straight shot which went through a sort of random button pressing process on the Snapseed App which is far more entertaining than any computer games.
I may have mentioned before that the idea of going to Bali was to catch up on some writing and maybe take a few pictures. I booked the trip while remarkably low fares were available and arrived in a bucketing tropical rain storm. I did actually do some work, mostly while sitting on a beach with a cold beer on standby. I really don’t like offices.
When I booked the trip I’d forgotten that the Balinese New Year was to happen right in the middle of my time on the island. This is when, after a few celebrations which involves building giant monsters – the famed Ogah Ogah (read ogre) – representing the evil spirits said to roam the island. The object of New Year is to frighten these spirits and force them to leave the island. It’s a story which has been told a few times to say the least but I’d never witnessed it and in any event it seems to happen mostly at night-time which makes photography a little arduous.
As luck would have it I was staying in Padang Bai and the performance which is designed to frighten the local ogahs into a hasty retreat takes place in daylight. This was bonus for me.
In the morning I strolled around town, finding these colourful creatures having finishing touches put to their hideous bodies and watched them being hoisted onto frames, making it easy for them to be hauled through streets.
Padang Bai is small enough to walk around in ten minutes and it is not a tourist centre as such. It is a small port where ferries leave for a variety of islands such as Lombok. It’s also a popular dive centre. As the time came close for the procession of about a dozen ogahs to be paraded and ultimately destroyed the atmosphere became quite electric. I could feel good pictures in my bones.
Small groups of bands formed up. Kids, dressed in their brightest and best took up vantage points in the streets and I armed myself with my only travelling companion – the little Leica D Lux 5. “Bring ’em on” I thought. And they did.
All of the pictures were taken on the Leica D Lux 5, a perfect camera for travelling with. The 24-90mm (equivalent) lens offers a useful range from wide-angle to a short telephoto.
I keep the camera on auto everything. I have three basic programs. The first handles colour with an ISO setting of 80. The other two are B&W set to 80 and 400 ISO. I find this combination is pretty much perfect for everyday shooting in reasonable light. The D-Lux 5 has now been superseded by the D Lux 6.
Apart from a few holiday snaps I did the bulk of my shooting in one day. From about 350 pictures I edited 35-40 which formed an excellent back up to a short story about the New Year celebrations.
As a matter of interest these days I specialise in travelling light and producing stories and pictures which I syndicate. I am running a workshop at the Ballarat Photo Festival. If anybody is interested check out the details at <http://ballaratfoto.org/garwood-workshop/> This will lead you to the home page. Look for “Participate”, scroll to “Workshops”.
I may meet some of you there. It’s going to be great festival.
And so I made a plan. I’d spend five days in Padang Bai, then slip over to my favourite hotel in Candidasa where they have an excellent restaurant with a French influence and a brand new pool to frolic around in and finally round off the trip with a few days in Ahmed. So much for the best laid plans. Anyway, this was a working trip and I had to work out a routine of some sort.
On my first morning I thought I’d gather my thoughts by heading off to White Beach with my notes and iPad.
There’s a beach at one end of the town – White Beach. If you read the Lonely Planet guide it’s a short walk. Thus I cheerfully set off. It was a hot tropical day – humid with air like close-fitting velvet. I was told the beach was a gentle meander over the hill, a stroll past the temple ” … take about half an hour … you can’t miss it”. I’ve heard that phrase a good many times in Australia and greeted it with a sinking feeling. I’m the bloke who always misses the bright red oil drum marking the beginning of the dirt tract. Can anybody explain to me how it is possible to get lost on a single track lane who’s only destination is a beach?
Black Beach or White Beach?
It was simple as far as the temple which is just beyond the harbour’s ferry terminal. The hill then became somewhat more inclined, to the ‘short of breath’ status. After going down the other side of the hill I came to a junction. Nobody had mentioned that. The left side went up, the right side went down. Logic told me the beach must be down so I turned right. Wrong! I could hear water on a beach but it wasn’t getting closer. I stopped a guy on a motor bike which had a huge pile of hay on board, holding him in place: “Excuse me my good man, would you be kind enough to tell me the way to the beach please?” I said in my best and clearest English.
“Black beach or white beach?” he asked in perfect Indonesian.
“Er, white please my good chap”.
He indicated the direction I had come from, told me to go to the top of the hill, I’d see a big green gate, ignore that, go to the road at the left and look for a pathway. “About 25 minutes”.
Grasshoppers get their rocks off
Dehydrated and close to death I retraced my steps, found the gate, ignored it, found a network of paths and took several wrong ones, all within earshot of surf. I finally found some steps which led through unremitting undergrowth and trees. Suddenly there it was. White beach. I felt like Tarzan, in one of those films we used to watch as kids, suddenly seeing water for the first time. I grabbed the last creeper and swung down onto the soft sand and staggered up to one of half a dozen bamboo and tin warung, each with rickety tables and bench seats sitting unsteadily in the sand. I sat in the shade and ordered a Coke which came ice-cold in an old-fashioned bottle, the sort Tarzan would have been familiar with in Hollywood.The ocean was azure, palm trees dutifully did their postcard bit behind the huts and a few people plunged into the water. They were mostly of the eye candy version which gladdened my heart, making the journey worthwhile. It had only taken close to an hour and half to get here?
I made camp and settled down at the least busy table, planning to read and write a bit but allowing myself the occasional distraction. A grasshopper, massive bugger, lodged at the end of my table and was slowly rocking backwards and forwards. I looked a bit closer and there were two of them … shagging themselves silly. I didn’t want to disturb them so let them get on with it.
It didn’t take long before there was spontaneous outbreak of yoga on the beach. Not organised, just individuals. Having spent a day looking at ogahs (more about them in the next posting) in various stages of distortion and licentious behaviour I saw no reason not to enjoy what was happening. Women started contorting themselves on the beach in a manner they wouldn’t dream of doing at home, in front of menfolk. In any event they would have been hosed down with cold water.
Downward Dog was pretty easy to spot but there were interesting variations. Scratching Panda, Itching Monkey … how do you describe such things? Thank goodness they hadn’t seen Shagging Grasshopper. One tender morsel, trim, taut, terrific (and knowing it ) stood up, all but naked and covered in damp sand which was sticking like Lycra, where it touched, which was almost everywhere. She skipped to the water’s edge with one of those dainty little hopping dances which fitted a ‘look at me, look at me’ rhythm. So I did. Then ordered a cold beer and a plate of freshly prepared nasi goreng – total cost about $3.
I returned visit to the beach the day afterwards. Managed it in 27 minutes without even breaking into a sweat. It was a tad different. The sky clouded, the cloud base lowered to head height and lightening ripped through, biblical style. Thunder shook the area and torrential rain smashed into the beach, creating small rivers which then recycled it to the ocean. After the initial fright which caused everybody to retreat to the back row of tables a few mad buggers rushed out onto the beach and started to hug each other. They were all washed out to sea so I finished their beers which was the most charitable thing to come to my mind.
Should I offer an apology? May be I should but I haven’t. In any event I doubt that too many people will be losing much sleep over it.
The truth is I said I would post Part II of the Mekong Delta story: Travelling with Dragons. In the event I ran out of time to complete that and decided to take a backlog of work to Bali, find a cheap hotel and catch up with ‘stuff’ – basically unfinished stories. For readers who don’t know Fremantle, where I live, you may consider that it’s rather extravagant to hop on a plane to Bali. In fact it is quicker (that’s stretching a point a little) and a lot cheaper (that’s not stretching a point) for me to go to Bali than to go to next nearest place of note. . It’s a three hour drive to our nearest resort region and it’s very expensive territory.
Thus I find it easy to slip into Bali, not quite a commute but it’s getting like that.
Marco Inn: Not five star but cheap and clean
Thus, decision made, I fronted up in the small coastal town of Padang Bai in the middle of a tropical downpour which delighted me as I hadn’t experienced real rain for about a year. It was well after sunset and, as I like travelling with no prior hotel bookings, I lobbed into the first place I found. Marco Inn is tiny, about eight rooms, and right on the waterfront of Padang Bai. Like may of these small hotels it is situated down a narrow alley which is wedged between a shop on one side, which sells many wooden carvings, and a warung which sells icy beer, fresh fruit juices and snacks.
A room was available on the first floor and had all I wished for – it was clean, there was a shower, toilet, fan, a small desk and a cupboard. It was not five star, more like a monk’s cell. Even in the damp climate of the wet season it smelt fresh and when the sun rose, summoned by roosters crowing, dogs barking and the booming horns of ferries I was able to look out over rooftops to the harbour. Perfect. Even better it was nine dollars a night which included breakfast.
Like many visitors to the island I am totally addicted to banana pancakes for breakfast. That and a heart starter of Balinese style coffee – somewhere between Greek and Vietnamese – sets me up for the morning.
Breakfast was taken in a small frangipani scented courtyard with blooming pink Bougainvillea. And to round it off my banana pancake was served by an attractive and chatty Balinese woman named Jasmin. In the middle of the courtyard yard is a small structure, call it a family temple, and the day’s offerings to the Balinese gods and spirits were already sitting beside small statues. Sandalwood incense sticks were slowly burning and tiny columns of blue smoke mingled with the frangipani’s aroma.
You may have guessed that these days I don’t like to work under pressure.
I specialise in travelling light. So much so I even lecture in the practice. My total baggage weighed a little over 8kilos – about 17-18 pounds. I travel with an iPad, a keyboard, a Leica D Lux 5, a few cards for the camera, notebook, pens and pencils, about five T-shirts, three pairs of shorts and bits – shaving gear etc. I carry this onboard as hand baggage. (TIP: Jetstar allow 10kg of hand baggage). I book a seat up front in the plane and am invariably in the first half-dozen passengers through immigration.
But this trip was going to be full of surprises so tune in tomorrow …. or the day after, I’ll see how I go. And I will finish the Dragon’s Tale soon as possible.