Odalan – Full Moon Celebration in Munduk Bali

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Most of the village, the town is all considered related so they are one family, is Hindu. Ary, the lovely woman who decided to host me as a couch surfer, told me it is actually a mix of Hindu and Buddhism. Munduk is small and I had to take a motorbike here as there are no buses. It is a tourist spot, which surprised me, mostly French, but it’s not cheap, most people rent cars to bring them here, but I found a local motorbike taxi and paid him 4 dollars to drive me the 30 minutes up steep roads full of turns. I arrived around 2 PM still exhausted from being up all night at Ijen and from doing so much the previous two days. Ary had a nice room for me and I took a shower – cold but refreshing. Then we headed to the ceremony.

We found what looked like a little driveway off the road but turned out to be a concrete path winding all the way down the side of the mountain; past beautiful homes full of flowers and lush trees, all very close, a neighborhood connected by a long walkway. The path was thin, steep and winding, though motorbikes were coming it as well. As we went lower into the valley a thin mist began to form. At one point we passed by a beautiful Indonesian woman taking a bath and doing laundry in her concert tub on the side of the path. I did not want to be caught looking at her exposed breasts. I said hello and kind of kept my head down. She had great breast, hard due to the cold water, not to big, but dark and firm, and she was not shy about them in any way. Her and her friend had smirks on their faces and laughed, I think they joked about my embarrassment in Bahasa Indonesian.

At the end of the path we were on another road, full of hundreds of people, cars and motorbikes, all pushing through trying to get to the ceremony. All of the people were dressed in saris of uncountable designs and colors. The women wore shirts of bright colors, many sheer, but they had on undershirts, there were many floral patterns and things like this. Their hair was in pony tails or pulled into a bun and wrapped in tight black silk hairnets. They had pieces of rice stuck onto their forehead in the place of the red dot seen on many Hindus. The men wore mostly white jackets and a white headband with sharp folds making a strong pointy pattern in the center of their head. I put on a sari basically like a dress, wrapped around my waist and down to just above my feet, then a belt and my normal shirt. I’m sure I looked funny trying to figure out how to put it on. Bule.

DSCF5638Walking up the steps and into the even denser crowds of people I was overwhelmed. There was a man flinging holy water on everyone with a small paint brush. Once inside it is hard to decide which way to go. There were people coming out of a doorway and it seemed like the right place, but where to enter? I was clearly looking at the exit. Pushing past some girls and young boys with heavy make up on their faces and big head dresses on of gilded metal leaves and designs, I found the entrance. Inside there was a small set of steps leading up to a platform where from the outside leading in there was another door and a steady stream of women bringing in baskets on their heads filled with offerings of food and flowers , some whole cooked chickens, fruit and vegetables. Later they would take it back home. I don’t think it is the belief but I like the thought that the food would now be blessed and better to eat.

Past the food offerings there were maybe 100 people sitting in prayer, but not stiff, they all seemed very relaxed, some held their thumbs to middle finger on their knees, but most were just sitting and looking, or chatting with the person next to them. In front of everyone were some men with lots of flowers preparing holy water and possibly other things though I don’t know what, it seemed very anti-climactic. One the side there were people playing instruments and there was a man singing or chanting. His voice was very harmonious and calming to listen to. He was sitting next to three other guys. One of them would make a speech later that sounded almost like he was announcing winners to a contest.

I stood and listened for a while but didn’t sit down because the ground was muddy and I didn’t have a plastic bag to sit on. I left through the exit door and got some more holy water splashes, and went to admire the people in makeup, performers. They had long eyelashes and eyeliner, with blue around their eyelids and along their cheekbones, it drew a majority of my attention to their eyes.  Their cheeks were reddish, basically their whole face was heavily made up, and they wore bright red lipstick. The girls had elaborate golden head dresses. The boys had spears and almost the same makeup and clothing. They looked very famine, and at first I confused them for younger girls. Later all would dance. The girls had very defined hand movements like in Khmer tradition dance, with fingers and feet in specific positions that would flow into the next position and stop stiffly for pose. DSCF5644They would shake their hips as they moved up and down, and they would shake their heads with a stiff head bobble, the head seeming to rotate directly from the stem of the spinal cord. When they did this they would open their eyes wide and stare with intense directness and strength, almost giving off the look of insanity, then change into a sweet, laughing smile, self-awareness showing through. In some of the dances they would wear long dresses, holding them at their lower thighs as they spun, the dress going high out to the sides. In other dances they used fans, or they would face each other in a circle and show off, maybe in contest, maybe in fun and feminity.

The boys, there were six of them, wore similar dresses but more like the sari I had on. They fought each other with spears or they practiced moves. One of the boys kept shoving his spear into the face of a little girl in the crowd. She was laughing with joy and jumping her head back with every thrust.

This was the second day of three for the ceremony. They have a ceremony every full moon and new moon. The festival starts in the early morning and goes into the night. On the last day it goes all night long.

We walked home in the foggy night. The houses along the walkway provided some light but a flashlight was needed, there certainly were no street lights. Though their houses are small and open without privacy, it felt comfortable and cozy in the cold wet village. Once on the street you could see the big mountains around you, covered in a white mist, cold but not too cold because it’s still tropical here and we’d just walked up the steep path. Although I would miss the comforts of modern life, for me this would be a great place to call home.

weekly writing challenge: Silence

Silence

Shut your eyes

A melon baller sits on the table next to you

And a nut cracker

And a cheese grater

You, with these things next to you, wait for hours

Waiting for a man to arrive and use them

Your mind flares up with fear and uncontrollable anger

Then you breathe and try not to think

Let the silence take you, passing time in limited capacity

You find solace in the unfairness of the world

The cruelty

You think of your family

Of your children and your wife’s eyes

You wonder who is in the next room and sadness come over you

Off in the distance you think you hear boots approaching

Clapping the cement in oscillating rhythm

You prepare for the inevitable questions that you have no answers for

You can hear them now in your head

You tell yourself not give up others to be put in your spot

You pray for a quick death

You know that it won’t come and that you will say everything

Your eyes dart to the instruments beside you

The melon baller in your eye socket

The nut cracker around the joints of your fingers

The cheese grater on your skin

In you anus

You feel the pain, choking, and it explodes into release

You find silence again

Because you must

And you wait

Spending All My Money in America

I have been home for just over two months now, and I have spent something like Thirty Seven Hundred Dollars! I can’t believe it, my savings are almost completely depleted. Savings that I took to Asia and lived on for almost two years, I should mention that I found work over there though. Savings that after selling my car for $2,300 were almost higher than when I left. I have plans to travel again with them, to go to South America, hike in the Patagonia in southern Chile, and then travel north volunteering on farms. But as time passes here, my money just disappears and with it my plans to travel again so easily. I wonder if the two months here is worth trading for the experiences I could have had with that money in other unexplored countries.

It’s not to say that what I have been doing with my time is not important. I have been with family, and spending time traveling around Oregon and Washington staying with friends that I have not seen in a far too long. It was much needed time spent here. Rekindling the old days with people who I’m glad are still in my life. I have been cheap though, relying on those friends to buy me drinks, and trying chill out in their homes to save money, traveling in the cheapest ways and when possible walking everywhere to save the $2.50 bus fare. I got a food stamps card as soon as I got back into the country and have been letting the government buy meals for me, and for my friends so that I can barter with them in that way, you buy a bottle of wine, or whiskey, I’ll cook dinner for you.  It is far better than spending ten dollars on a hamburger, when did restaurants get so expensive, I feel like before I left I could go out and eat for six bucks, now it is ten, that’s a big jump in just two years.

I have decided to move home for a while, go to school and get some work, it is also much needed, I need to be home with people I know in the place where I’m from, and just relax for a little while. But finding work is not as easy as I remember, and the big one – rent – I rented a room in a house, for $575 a month, that means my move in cost of first, last and $300 deposit was $1,450. This is crazy, what kind of poor person can come up with this much money. I sure felt the dent it took out of my remaining stash. Now I must work my ass off replenish the money I have spent, but I have to hope my school fees wont be too much over the amount the government gives me, and I also have to watch how much money I make, because if I make too much I’ll reach a new tax bracket and the government won’t give me school money next year.

Where is the get rich quick plan for making money? I am not finding it. I have even considered taking out a loan once I start school. Entering the debt system in this country is something that many of you have done and I feel sorry for you to be blunt. I have worked very hard not to be a part of it, because I know once you are, it controls your life. Want to travel…no you have payments to make. Lose your job…oh no! You have payments to make. Paying interested alone makes me upset, it is like giving away money. But it seems like there is little choice but to enter it at times, we are pushed into it.

So now I need to work, work, work, and spend as little as possible. I need to try to put some of the padding back in my mattress. I just don’t see how everything is so damn expensive in this county. More importantly I can’t believe the set up costs, being cheap and jumping from one friends couch to another is still damn expensive and getting a place of your own takes a good savings and a steady income coming in. America, lower your damn prices. I sometimes forget that it took me more than two years to save up to travel.

The Gunshot

TV streams into my eyes

My brain plump

Overflowing with useless planets

Galloping horses running off a cliff

Glutton with sweets

I eat a chocolate sundae with gummy worms and Skittles atop a full peperoni pizza

From sea to shining sea

The second Amendment

Truth or dare

I dare you to question my Suburban freedom

My jet skis

My smart phone watch

The last episode of Breaking Bad

Game of Thrones

If it doesn’t get all over the place it doesn’t belong in your face

Greasy couches

Streaming video

A gunshot to the face

Till I fall asleep

Sitting on a Ferry

I begin to wonder what would happen if I fell off. Shiiiiiiit!!!! The water doesn’t look clean. I guess I’d have to drop the backpack immediately, letting it sink to its death, and start yelling for help. No one would come so I’d have to swim, not for shore, too far, but for the island we are now passing. I see a red blinking light at the highest point on the island atop a tree covered hill, so there must be some human presence there, maybe I could get help. What if there are komodo dragons, scary creatures, fast with strong meat ripping jaws, a lizard that stretches 6 feet. I’d have to kill one with a rock and make spears out of its teeth, but not get cut myself because their saliva is deadly, full of bacteria and venom, it contains a paralysis agent and clots your blood, leaving you an easy victim to the bacteria or the hungry lizard itself. How about a fire? I would need to cook the meat, but I didn’t go to the boy scouts, I don’t know how to make a fire with some rocks, and I don’t know if the meat also has some kind of poison in it as well, hope not. I think I’d infiltrate the building where the light is and make a home there. I might have to defend it from the authorities after they realize I am living there, but as I got to know the island I could find ways to hide and outsmart them. It would become mine. Oh, but lonely. I might have to make a boat and steal a few women from the mainland and bring them back as my wives.

As I think of my new life on this island, this nice guy sits next to me and offers to share his food with me. We eat with our hands, spicy and rich, jackfruit, potatoes and fish. I only have one bit of fish because it tastes of fish, which I find gross. The darkness turns to early morning light blue as we eat. There are too many clouds and fog for a sunrise or any yellow and orange across the sky, but it is very beautiful still. I try to make conversation, anything, silly shit, “You like fish?” I say pointing and rubbing my belly. He laughs and shrugs, it’s no use we don’t speak the same language and it’s not really necessary, the silence is refreshing. He seems like a very nice guy, I think we are on the same bus that I have been riding in for 47 hours now, down the heavily forest covered island of Sumatra, I’ll find out in a bit when we load back up. For now I’ll look at where the sky and the water meet in the distance, and at the big island of Java approaching, I am almost at my destination of Jakarta; a horrible, polluted, waste of a stop in my travels.

P.S.  I am the only white guy I have seen in 2 days.

Ijen and the Blue Fire

From start to finish this was my favorite part of the tour. We stayed in a guest house in some coffee plantations, didn’t see much coffee though, but below the guest house were big gardens with mountains around them, there were mostly strawberries in the gardens. The people here were very friendly, with big smiles and happy to talk to me. I went off looking for the seeds of a plant called Kelor to take home for my mom to grow. I’m told it grows all over Indonesia and seems like a miracle plant. It is good for your garden, adding fertilizer, nitrates or something, and is a natural pesticide. It is rich in vitamins and a source of yen cooling energy, and fights black magic. It is used medically to treat loss of appetite, epilepsy, ulcers, jaundice, muscle pains, herpes and other skin wounds. You can eat it in soups and the seeds can purify drinking water from germs and other impurities. The people there, fishing or going on walks or heading to mosque, said it didn’t grow in that area, but they were very amused by my looking for it and asking in Bahasa Indonesian. I had gotten a nice gay Indonesian guy on our tour to teach me how to ask to buy it and I think what he wrote translated into: “Can you give me a gift of some Kelor seeds?”

The guest house was worth a few days stay but we went to bed after just a few hours, at 7pm and tried to get some sleep, then woke up at midnight and didn’t return. Luckily I was tired from getting lost on Mt. Bromo the day before and did get some rest.  Off to the mountain.

The climb up was steep and about three kilometers. I barely stopped and let my heart rate climb high and level out. It is different to climb in the middle of the night. I talked with a cute Indonesian girl on the way up and some of her friends. It’s weird to talk with girls who have saris over their head and are clearly Muslim. I don’t know the rules. Another time I had been told not to touch a girl, not even to shake her hand. I don’t know the way to tell the level of each girl’s strictness in her religion.

At the top there was just about nothing, only a sign saying “Danger, it is not allowed to go any further”. I did not notice this sign till after I had come back up from going further. It was dangerous too, we went down into a valley or something, very steep, walking on rocks that could slip away. Of course there was no railing, like most outdoor tourist sites in SE Asia, but also it winded on itself often so if you fell it could be down multiple sections at once, meaning, it was a damn far fall, maybe death. The sulfur wasn’t too bad till I was at the blue fire. There, when the wind changed and blew it in my direction, it burned into my lungs. As it attacked my chest I did not get enough oxygen so I wanted to breathe even deeper. Even with my sweatshirt over my face, it didn’t filter much of the sulfur smoke, and it burned my eyes so I couldn’t see. The only good move was to stay still, breath slowly, and get lower to the ground.

The blue fire. It is the sulfur on fire. It does not stop, 24 hours a day, until all the resource has been used up which I guess will not be for a long time. It’s supposedly only present in two places in the world, here and in Iceland. In the night not much is visible, blackness and smoke, but when the smoke shifts you catch a glimpse of it, blue flames on the side of the mountain. It is like they are hovering, dangling in the air because you can see nothing but blackness around them. Multiple different patches of them but the smoke blocks your view so when they appear you stare in amazement. Something about it being the side of the mountain that is burning, or that it is rock that’s burning, or that you just climbed up here in the middle of the night. It’s like no fire you have ever seen before, it is like it’s not fire at all. Everyone is in awe, trying to get pictures though the picture are just blue flames in a field of nothingness, they just can’t do it justice as most pictures usually cannot for scenes of natural beauty. You must see it with your own eyes.

DSCF5625They have set up little tubes to collect the melted sulfur as it runs off. It goes down the tubes and onto the ground below, where it hardens and the workers, local men, break off pieces with a metal pole and carry them one kilometer up the steep rocky path that I came down, and then down the mountain another three kilometers, all in two baskets connected by a piece of wood that they then carry on their shoulder muscles on one side of their bodies or the other. Fifty to seventy kilograms we are talking about here. They do it two times per day, every one of them. Most of the men I talked to have been doing this for upwards of twenty years or were sons of men who have been doing it for longer. One older man had a torch made of a soda bottle full of fuel with a rag sticking out. He stood, torch in hand, amid the sulfur smoke posing for pictures, breathing it in for extra tips. None of the men wore face masks.

I stayed up there till 7am. There were different places to stand with different views, avoiding the smoke was always at the top of my list of priorities. There was also a lake that I didn’t see till the sun was coming up. It was very acidic, I put my hand in to see if it was hot, it was hot, a little more than lukewarm, but it also burned the cuts on my hand, and even my skin but only slightly. I didn’t notice it at first but within a few second the acidic water started biting into the exposed flesh. It hurt pretty bad for about 15 minutes.

There were people collecting the molten sulfur and pouring it into water slowly to make pretty (stupid) looking souvenirs to sell to us. They looked like hand dripped beeswax candles.  In the daylight I also found the toilet amid some rocks off the path, where the early morning dump is taken when needed.

Really the fire was beautiful, incredible, alien, but it was the whole experience that made it great. I was one of the first up as I walked fast and past most of the Indonesian tourists who had started a little earlier, and I was one of the last ten to leave. One the way out I had had enough sulfur. It came hard at us while we walked out up the rocky path. I didn’t think I could take anymore. My hacking lungs started to sound bad and I kept gaging. But I made it out and looked down at the smoke and flames from above, less impressive in the daylight.

I gave one of the guys carrying sulfur rock a shoulder massage, he said it was the first time anyone had done that. He had been carrying those heavy loads for 24 years. I said he must have a great wife to work so hard for her, he laughed and said yes of course he did.

On the way down I passed tourists going up. They were tired and didn’t really look at me, whereas all the workers smiled big at me and said hello enthusiastically. I don’t know how they keep their spirits up while working so damn hard but I guess they have to or day after day it would be unbearable. I gave a few of them snacks from my bag and bought some silly turtles molded out of the sulfur for a buck. I forget the figures of how much they made for a trip of seventy kilos but it was small, 10 or 20 cents on the kilo, but I was told they make double what a normal worker in Indonesia makes.  I would put it on my list of hardest working jobs, maybe hardest, but definitely not worst jobs, just hardest.

Revolutionizing the NBA

Do you get bored with the professional basketball? The huge score fluctuations, the constant pick and roll plays, hundreds of fouls per game and the drawing of them by “Star Players”? How about the last 30 seconds of every game, including unwinable ones, lasting 10 minutes?

The NBA should add a luck based card game to the normal game to make it more interesting. The players would receive cards with extra points, penalties, dares and challenges. We can work with this more but I figure they would receive the cards for missed free throws, or passing the ball more than 3 times before shooting, and for drawing a foul while charging the hoop.

The cards would include:

  • Challenges like long distances shots, eyes closed, behind the back, shoot offs between teams.
  • Player rotations, changing positions or even teams.
  • Simple points additions and penalties.
  • Swap clothing with an audience member.
  • Riddles to be solved for points.
  • Charades words or phrases.
  • Adolescent dares like: “Run around the stadium naked”, “Pull the opposing coaches pants down”, or “Sucker punch another player” (penalty included).
  • Money bonuses and fines.
  • Rap battles.
  • Dance offs.
  • Eating challenges like: A hot dog eating competition, or eat 10 live goldfish or a kitten!

Refusal to do what the card says would result in a 10 point deduction and removal from the game.

What do you think? I am sure we could work on this more and get it a bit more “professional”. Give me more card possibilities and lets present this to the world!