Manduk Village


I guess the village is about 200 people but I’m not really sure. Most are farmers but the crops are varied; red and white rice alternated every six months (every crop), or cloves sold to cigarette companies, and coffee, they roast it here too. There is also a lot of cacao but there is a fruit fly problem killing more than half of the fruit on most of the trees. These are the major ones that I know of, but they also grow other spices like nutmeg, shallots seem common, today I saw zucchini, cauliflower, lettuce, green beans, chili and many different leafy greens, but I assume these are for local consumption not for export. For fruits I saw Pineapples, papayas, dragon fruits, avocados, bananas and coconuts. I’m sure they grow much more but this is what I’ve seen. It seems like they use most of what grows naturally, not just the very common banana leaf for a plate, which is great, but many leaves can be used to heal and roots, fruits, and flowers. They have learned through the generations what can and can’t be used. I think if you get cancer or some can’t be killed without radiation disease, this is the place to come to get better naturally, or at least to die in paradise.

Despite their herbal cures and healthy variety of food, many still believe that if they get sick it is because of the spirits or bad karma. We went by a house and the girl inside was sick. Obviously I am no doctor and Ary, who I was with, was not either, but all the same Ary tried to comfort her and talked to her, she tried to find out the cause. It seemed like she needed to be asked what she had eaten or been exposed to, to follow a normal line of deductive reasoning that you would ask a child, but it was uncommon here, the girl wanted to see a spiritual healer. In the modern world I guess we are pickier eaters or don’t live directly off the land.

There is a sort of village healer, and old woman about 60, she has a big smile and seems chipper and in good health. She offered me snacks which I liked and remembered me when she saw me walk past her house in the woods. She would know what plants to use to heal different sicknesses and the old natural remedies forgotten in our modern world, not scientifically tested but tested through time and many generations. I would imagine that sometimes she probably heals with a placebo effect, her patients believing in her powers, but I also believe she would know secrets that science either doesn’t know yet or has forgotten.

The village has two chiefs. One is from the government and the other is more related to the church or you could say tribal. The village by the way is basically all the people in the town. The church and the village seem to be one. It turns out I’m staying at the village chiefs house. He seemed a powerful fella and Ary said he was a bit feared and respected, but I just thought he was a rich man, as he owns the restaurant where I stay, a guest house somewhere, a coffee plantation and a rice plantation. They are not huge but they bring in money for sure. Now that I know he is the chief I see he is a bit more than just a rich guy, I see that he holds himself as a man of wisdom and power. He is nice, friendly and incredibly relaxed, but I don’t know if he doesn’t speak English or just doesn’t say much to me. There are often people here talking to him and he always seems very important. His attitude fits his position. The positions of chief, both of them, change every 5 years. The government one is not so important here as things don’t go through the law as much. If there is a dispute they don’t usually go to the law and get witnesses, they go to the village chief and talk it out and a solution is decided upon.

Every new or full moon there is a three day ceremony. Last night was the last night of the full moon ceremony, so he and the healer woman were up until 4 am. I don’t know what the ceremony consisted of but I assume it was like the one I attended the day before: music, praying, dancing and offerings to the gods, but it would be on a smaller scale. The ceremony that I witnessed was four villages combined and the day that most people go. Last night was a private church for this village alone, Munduk. You would probably need to be very dedicated or in need of some serious good luck to be out all night.

The town has many guest houses to make money. It is a bit sad because it equals people coming in and taking pictures of their culture but having very little to do with it. It is also very expensive to tour here. As far as Bali goes there isn’t much culture left that has not been altered by the tourist trade. Today I walked through different farms in the town. I saw where they make fertilizer, and also a small garden next to it . There was a guy who lived there with a wasp tattooed on his forehead. He was a friend of Ary’s so we stopped and talked to him. He made us coffee and cut some cacao for me to eat. It is orange and oval shaped, gourd-like but not perfectly oval, it’s ribbed. The part you could eat was a white coating around the bean, kind of like pith around the beans, very sweet full flavored and a little citrusy and rich. It was really delicious until you bit into the incredibly bitter seed, or bean, which is what makes the chocolate. We met another guy who gave me some red rice seeds to plant at home. There are lots of workers in the village who go from crop to crop as harvesters. I guess the village chief pays more than others, he does 1/3 of profits for red rice which is normal, and 2/3 for white which I think is a bit high for here. The workers usually take product as pay rather than money.

Our mission for the day was to go to his coffee plantation. We went past a sixty-or-so-foot waterfall that I had seen the day before, and met a woman and her son, and a dog named Bobo with his two very amusing puppies. They invited us in for bananas, coffee and to talk. We then met the husband and their younger daughter who was very cute. I watched the dogs and chickens mostly, as I had no idea what they were talking about in Bahasa, then Ary said it was time to go back to the house. We were at the coffee plantation and I didn’t even realize it. So the guy offered to take us into the property further to see more. I’m sure this made Ary happy too, but I think she waits till things are offered, and isn’t pushy, so my innocent unawareness was a bit helpful.

I didn’t see too many trees, because I don’t think it was a very big place. Maybe plantation just referred to the fact that there was a land owner and someone who worked the property and lived on it. It was on a many levels, built on the side of the steep hill just like the rice fields and everything else, in a stair step pattern. We past some workers who offered…more coffee. No thanks, if I had had the three cups offered so far, I would be so jittery, but I had declined them all because I drank one at the house already and caffeine hits me hard.

The man showed us how he was splicing in a new strain from a different area. It was organic as was most everything here. He cut off a branch, then cut the stem diagonally about an inch, then the same to a small piece of new stem, connected them, cut sides touching, and finally wrapped them in a thin strip of plastic. Then he put a small bag over the top, though I’m not sure why, maybe to keep in moisture, and make it humid. Another way he did it was to cut the new stem diagonally on the left and right of one side. Then he just cut a slit down the still growing stem and slid the new into the old, then again the plastic bandage and the bag over the top. The coffee tree starts to yield at about year three and is about 4 ft tall. Its branches grow wide and the new leaves are really shiny green or reddish green. Because of their shininess my first thought was it might be some versions of poison oak. You can only harvest the coffee beans once a year but it is still a profitable business and Indonesia produces tons of it. Why do you think we nicknamed coffee Java?

Then we walked back home. It’s a slow, quiet, peaceful walk with Ary. The forest around us is lush and green and dotted with colorful flowers. We pass houses and can look inside of them and see people now and then. And step over a steam now and again too. When we see people they are happy to see me, nod hello and continue on with what they are doing.


Off to the Rice Fields

I woke at 6 am. Yes I cannot believe it either but I did go to sleep around 10 the night before so I guess it’s not too surprising. I sat with Ary and two of her friends showed up, Galle and Hastate, I think were their names. The girl did research here and I’m not sure about the guy, but he graciously said he could take me around Denpasar and help me find seeds to take home. They all, but mostly Ary told me about other local plants or fruits that have healing properties. She had had cancer and beat it, four operations she said but still beaten. I did not ask what kind of cancer but my first guess is cervix.


They left and Ary and I took off. Down the road and then down another smaller turn off. It was basically a one lane road but bigger than the pathway of last night. She told me about different plants as we walked past them.

There was a small stream and we walked along a path next to it. I don’t remember if it was a turn off or the road just became this. On either side of the stream were rice fields. It looked like there were places where you could stick a board in the stream, damming it, and it would flood your property. I was reminded of my old irrigation on the Clay St. property of my youth.

At one of the rice fields we walked out into it. The fields here are special because they are stair-stepped one below another so that the water floods from one to the next. The fields are on the side of a mountain so this is kind of necessary. Each paddy is in a small section, maybe 10 by 30 meters, some smaller and probably some bigger. We went up to the owners little house in the middle of the property, I later learned they were just care takers, the land owner doesn’t do the work of farming. They watched us walk up with smiles on their faces. This has been my experience in most of South East Asia, no anger or suspicion at someone on their property, no idea of trespassing or claim of ownership. They don’t suspect you to steal something, or to ruin something that can’t be fixed.

They didn’t speak English so I just said “Hallo” and Ary did all the talking. She wants to make records of the culture because most of Bali is now just for tourists. There is not going to be any of the old culture left soon. It will be a new culture, a salesman culture, not traditional or living off the land.

DSCF5666 They offered us a seat and food right away. I sat but didn’t know what they were talking about so I got up to take pictures. Their home is on the side of a large mountain. Most of the mountain is trees, except for the place cleared, what looks like a long time ago, and made into a livable, workable property. It is a small house and about 2 acres of rice. When you look across the valley to the mountain next, you see from a distance dense trees of dark green, then cut outs with bright green rice fields patched across the mountain side. You can see the many different levels of the fields too and there are patches of palm trees around the fields and a house, usually centered on the property

DSCF5675The people’s house that I was at had a few papaya trees and some ponds right next to the house. In the ponds were hundreds of fish, and the furthest pond the fish were one foot to one and a half, and some orange coy, as the rest were thinner grey fish. The fish poop and fertilize the water. In the water they grow morning glory, and the water flows into the rice patties to fertilize them. I didn’t see much else growing so I guess they buy or trade for other vegetables.

Along the front of the different rice paddies is a path to walk which is higher and holds in the water. There are ½ foot cut outs here to let it drain into the next pond. On the corners there are steps cut into the soil to go up to the next level, but not at every corner so it is a bit of a maze to get to where you want to go. This style horticulture, of stair stepping the paddies and letting the water run down from one to the next is special, and one of the cultural techniques that may be lost to them in the near future.

DSCF5684 I think you could stand for hours looking out across the mountains. The sky, this bright blue. The different greens of the mountains. I think it’s all alive, other than the rare house or a road if you can spot one, which is unlikely. It’s all alive. Even the people here are more alive. They talk. And they just sit. And they work. One of the older guys had lost many of the teeth, something that I have problems with. His fronts were ok but his backs were mostly gone, he just had one good pair that looked pretty weak and dying. I stared his two usable teeth for a while. He was probably 50. And I imagine he will be out pulling rice and working hard in 3 days when the harvest comes. Like I said when we showed up, they were sitting. Resting. The oldest man – maybe 60 – started sharpening the blades of some scythes and the hoe. They were harvest yet and had no TV to watch or computer to waste their time on. Their house was a few rooms with no ceilings. They had a roof but basically there was no sound privacy and the bugs could do whatever they pleased. The house was concrete and cold. Not much on the walls. Not much color. Life is outside, the room is for sleep. Now I must say this is the rare case and these are old, poor people. Most people, especially kids have smart phones and want to be like the west. Processed foods are moving in and Facebook is king. But they still talk and laugh and have a good time in a close personal way, without alcohol most of the time.

Ary finished talking with them. Took a picture of the woman and man. The woman looked away from the camera and tried to act natural and to laugh and be beautiful, but she was very self-conscious. I think the man was similar but I didn’t watch him while his picture was being taken. Then we left and made our way through the maze, climbing up from level to level. I had forgotten my notebook and they yelled for me. I would have been very sad if I had lost it, or had to go far back to get it. We got to the next property, very close by, and I sat and looked out at the valley and imagined a life here. So boring but so much more fulfilling. My heart and soul nourished, but maybe my brain bored, wanting videogames or something stupid like keep my brain active but my heart numb. I thought of marrying an Indonesian woman and having a farm. My mind jumped ahead to how much happier I would be when I died, though it would not be an easy life. The farmers I met did not own the property, there was someone else who had many places and they got about  50% of the money earned from the harvest. Maybe I could be that guy. Or start an English school on the side. Or even have a hostel or farm-stay to bring in more money. And also…my mind went quiet. And I just sat. So quiet out there. So much to take in, but all of it simple. So peaceful.

We walked back to the stream and saw a mother and her son collecting coconuts. We went to their shop and drank one. They had two dogs, a cat and some chickens. I think the family was a husband, wife, two sons and a daughter. The boys played football, the man talked with a friend and the wife cut open our coconut and did dishes. The little girl picked up a pole and walked down the mountain out of my view. When we left I asked how much and she said “up to you.” I was very confused as was Ary, but up to me. I gave her 10,000, about one dollar. I guessed it would normally be 5,000 but she was nice and if up to me better to be generous that cheap I guess. I think she was smart and figured I’d over pay this way, and she didn’t have the guilt of charging me more than normal.

We walked back to the house. It had been about three hours. I wrote and was ready to sleep, but I didn’t think it was a good idea so I walked to a waterfall Ary had told me about. She told me the back way. I got lost for a second but then a little kid told me the way and then a woman with a baby whose dog wanted to eat me did the same. The waterfall was very nice. The way back was all uphill and my legs were very tired from 4 days of intense workout. I was actually getting overwhelmed by all the great things I had been seeing and experiencing. I think some of them had far less of an impact because I had been amazed so much already. So the waterfall was really special but I have few details recollect, it was just peaceful.


Odalan – Full Moon Celebration in Munduk Bali


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.