Patangbai

Some cliches are true. This is a small world. We started in Bali by sharing our cottage terrace with Daniel, from Daly City. Now, we were about to sublet the home of a woman who was returning to her Novato, CA roots for the summer. Turns out that I played against her brother in my SF softball league for years -and would be still if I hadn’t dropped off the planet. Whenever I experience these types of coincidences, it reinforces my theory that we just miss having many more of them; that they are hovering around us, and passing us by all the time: classmates from 2nd grade; neighbors from 1977;  friends-of-friends from a party. When we actually do collide with them, it seems amazing.

Nancy wasn’t flying home until the 6th of June. Rather than continue living where we’d spent the month of May, we decided it was a good opportunity for a change. We hadn’t seen any of the coast of this island yet, and so chose Patangbai as our first destination away from Ubud, 75 minutes to the southeast. We expected to rent a car, but realized at the last minute that they are all stick shifts in Bali, with reversed gas/break/clutch/action. This was not the time or place to learn to break with my left foot, and so we paid Wayan to drive us instead. Upon arrival at the western end of the smallish bay, we set out in search of a place to stay. There were many options, and we ended up taking a room at the far end of the beach, a 3-story place right out of Swiss Family Robinson, made of bamboo, wood, with thatched, peak roofs. A large, relaxing, shaded courtyard and friendly staff welcomed us. Despite it’s size, there are only a handful of small rooms, and we took the one with the private bathroom (albeit cold shower). Most of the inhabitants were backpacker types in their 20’s, and scuba divers from Australia, Germany, Holland, and France. Few Americans, but the Balinese especially love Californian’s. They often exclaim “Hotel California!” when we tell them where we’re from, and I’ve heard young men in Ubud, playing that song’s introduction on their ukelele (and listening to a lot of Clapton).

Patangbai is set against a smallish, picturesque bay, just around the corner from a much bigger one. It is a hub for ferries to the surrounding islands, and for scuba and snorkeling, and has a laid back feel to it -though the hawkers are more aggressive than in Ubud, and seem to depend more on tourism for survival, which can get awkward. Still, most of the natives that we met were sweet and gracious, and welcoming. Like most of Bali, things quiet down after the sun sets. The main road hugs the bay and is lined with palm, banana, and coconut trees, with leaves like elephant ears, and strolling along it at night is relaxing. Almost barren of people, the air is filled with the sound of roosters and lapping waves. Several thatched Gazebo’s stand between the road and the many small boats beached upon or near the shore, which look like water-skeeters, tethered by long ropes that bury themselves under the sand. The lights from across the bay reflect back in shimmering gold. During the day, we liked to beach comb for small gems scattered across the large, round grains of sand, which look just like millet: small, delicate shells; vertebra; corral; and sharks teeth. A handful of fishermen, wearing conical straw hats, throw out their lines, and stand waist deep in the Indian Ocean. Behind them, up in the hills, sit 3 temples, including Pura Silayukti, where Empu Kuturan lived -who introduced the caste system to Bali in the 11th century.

On a solo hike into these hills that divide the 2 bays, I found plenty of surprises. A small stairway zigzags down the far side and ends at an isolated, quiet, cave temple perched above the black lava rock and crashing sea. The shallow cave has many carved figurines, empty plates and dishes, small bottles, golden parasols, and offering plates -with incense still burning. Its a beautiful, and serene spot from which to contemplate and appreciate life. Back at the top of the hill, were 2 other, larger temples. The first was empty: grey stone walls, steps, and cornices, standing still for centuries. A few small gazebos stood nearby, each with its own colors and personality, and offering baskets with incense burning. One in particular showed a beautiful, delicate, carving of a mysterious figure in red. The distant 3rd temple was all dressed up in golden silk banners and parasols, in advance. Nearby, in a large covered shed, a  group of woman were busy cutting and chopping, slicing, chatting, and creating countless baskets of fruit and vegetables for tomorrows temple ceremony (you might’ve caught on that there are a LOT of ceremonies in Bali, all taken very seriously). A few hours later -as darkness set in, I took Jennifer back to this spot. But this time, it was all men, cutting and chopping, slicing, and chatting, preparing the meat and poultry dishes. This included dressing up the pig (yikes) and hoisting it above the campfire. We stood off to the side, fascinated by this tribal-like scene. Jennifer was the only woman there, and we wondered if we were intrusive. But eventually, a few men smiled at us to make us feel alright, and later, one poured us (potent) local wine into the communal cup making the rounds. We were accepted, and even invited to the ceremony the following night.

That next day, at 4:00, wearing our ceremony clothes of sarongs and sashes, we entered the 3rd temple. We were the only foreigners there, and found a spot against the side wall in which to watch in fascination. Families entered through the rear gate, all dressed properly. Men in special sarongs, white shirts, and white cloth udeng caps. The women wore ceremonial lace tops, and their finest sarongs. They carried colorful wicker baskets, filled with food, incense, and money. They first took their baskets to a table near the back of the open courtyard, removed the lids, and rearranged the contents to look more presentable. They then lit sticks of incense and placed them on top of their bounty, and carried the boxes to the front area where large plates and bowls of food already rested. One priest sprinkled these offerings with holy water, as the families knelt in the main central area to pray, and get sprinkled themselves by a second priest. Periodically, one of the priests would sit and delicately ring a bell for a minute or two, or traditional prayers were sung through the loud speakers.

We drew attention, but just enough smiles to feel okay about being there. Children found us equally fascinating, and several posed for our cameras, with their parent’s permission. There was so much to watch and take in, and it was a spectacular cultural and visual experience that we relished. However, it was also very hot there, and we were sweating buckets, and getting hungry watching all that food pass in front of us. We had many questions, such as where’d that roasted pig go from the night before? Or what preceded this, and what will follow? I did return a few hours later, after the sun had gone down. The same thing was still happening, but it was much more crowded.

-matt

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Liz
    Jun 09, 2013 @ 22:31:03

    Matt Thank you so much for your blog It,s great to follow you, especially since you write so beautifully. Oscar has been paying us visits peaking Sophie’s curiosity. They stare at each other and wag their tails. I think it’s delicate jesture of friendship.

    Reply

  2. ozzcar2013
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 19:54:10

    Thanks Liz! I’m so glad that Jennifer created this blog, to help document our experiences. And, am glad to know that Oscar has yet another reason to stay put in Sophie,

    Reply

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