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Published: October 25th 2011
AS WE NEARED MUNDUK I breathed a sigh of relief – no more tourists, no more shops, no more people asking if we need transport - just the mountains, the mist, and us. It was the perfect place to relax, recuperate, and sip coffee while staring into the distance. So, that’s what we did.
Munduk is a teeny tiny little village clinging to the slope of a mountainside in northern Bali. The village itself consists of only a couple small stands selling necessities, a few warungs and several home stays – all with breathtaking views. There are no attractions in Munduk other than nature, which for me are the best kind. Several waterfalls, coffee plantations, and a few rice fields are nestled in amongst the mountains.
We chose a cute little collection of bungalows to stay at right outside of ‘town’ up a steep incline. As everywhere else in Bali the grounds were beautifully landscaped and covered in vibrant flowers. It would have been a very comfortable, peaceful place to stay if it wasn’t for the ridiculously loud roosters that woke us up every morning starting at about 2am. Contrary to what you would think the countryside is
actually much much louder at night than the towns in Bali. The insects, animals, and other mysterious sounds create a thunderous symphony when the sun goes down. There was also an incident with a spider that I don’t really want to talk about (thing LARGE). On our first day we set out to do our usual explore/investigate our new surroundings routine. Only, this time there wasn’t much to explore. We walked into town, but after about 5 minutes we were done…there was no more town. We decided to follow a sign for ‘bamboo crafts’ down a small gravel road and almost immediately a small shack came into view. An older Balinese man was sitting outside of it playing a bamboo instrument that resembled a xylophone. When he saw us coming he motioned for us to come inside which we were used to since it seems each and every single Balinese person that inhabits this island has tried to convince us to come into their store. But what he did next surprised us. Rather than trying to sell us something he motioned for us to sit down and try one of his instruments. I sat down first mainly just to humor
him, still convinced he only wanted to sell us something. But ten minutes later I was still there and there had been no mention of buying or selling. Then his wife appeared with a tray of steaming tea and coffee and it became apparent that we were going to be there awhile. An hour later Travis, the old man (Made), his daughter and I were having a pretty solid jam session while his wife looked on and smiled approvingly. Made showed us how to play literally every single instrument in his store, then showed us again. He placed his hands over ours to teach us rhythms and beats and then joined in on his own instrument. His daughter also performed several songs for us on various instruments. All of this went down with next to zero conversation (he knew very little English and we obviously do not speak Balinese). It was getting dark and we hadn’t eaten yet (and shamefully there was a part of me that was still wondering if we would have to pay for this impromptu music lesson) so after about two hours we excused ourselves. Made looked slightly disappointed that we had to leave. We offered
to pay for the tea and coffee but they shooed us away. It was the coolest interaction Ive had with locals on this trip so far.
After our music lesson we began the walk back uphill towards our hotel and decided to stop for dinner at a place called Warung Luwak (luwak referring to the coffee-pooping cat that I wrote about last time). We both had a bowl of delicious potato, chicken and veggie soup and some fantastically deep, rich coffee. After dinner, the owner came over to give us our bill and started up conversation. His name was Nyoman. Very quickly the conversation turned from small talk to a deep, long discussion about anything and everything. We covered everything from Indonesian politics to environmental concerns as well as some deeply personal stories. We learned that Nyoman had studied in the UK and had a civil engineering degree (although he rarely has an opportunity to use it in Bali because all the jobs go to people who have connections with the government). We also learned that he was one of the initiators of an organic farming cooperative in Munduk that harvests luwak coffee beans from wild luwak cats. On
top of that, he initiated a community project that targets both poverty as well as the environment. He taught children from poverty stricken families how to gather a weed that was destroying the surrounding lakes, dry it, and make products out of it that they could sell such as sandals and hand bags. Over 400 children are now making these sandals and selling them in the surrounding areas. Nyoman had lived a hard life himself so he really empathized with these children. At age 10 his mother died and he was forced to drop out of school to earn money. A Balinese couple from the city adopted him which he initially believed to be a good thing only to find out that he would be treated as their slave. For 7 years (until he he turned 17 and was brave enough to go off on his own) he lived in the garage with their dog and had to share the family’s scraps with it. He uses these traumatic experiences as inspiration to improve the lives of others. It was an honor to get to know Nyoman and learn about how he is using his negative past experiences to fuel positive
change. As a social worker I have a deep respect for this. If any of you would like to find more out about Nyoman or the farming cooperative you can visit his website at www.balieco-empowering-projects.com.
The next few days we maintained a very slow pace. We sat on our terrace gazing at the mountains and devouring books (I read all of the Hunger Games and half of Little Princes – both amazing). One day we ventured out to hike to a nearby waterfall that was located on part of the farming cooperative’s land. It was a beautiful walk through jungle that ended with the towering falls. Along the way we passed children playing outside that ran up to us beaming and calling out, “Hello! Hello! Waterfall? That way!”. On our last day we rented a motorbike and drove about an hour south to the Candikuning/Bedugal area. Unfortunately, we terribly misjudged the weather. In Munduk despite its altitude it is sunny and hot during the day and only slightly chilly at night. Bedugal on the other hand – only a about 45 minutes away was completely covered in a thick cloud and was downright cold even for a couple of
Wisconsinites (especially on a motorbike). We attempted to visit the Botanical Gardens which I'm sure are amazing and would have been lovely if we were dressed right, but we were freezing and wet so we bailed after not too long. We made a half-assed attempt to see the small town of Candikuning which is known for its flower and herb markets and then headed back towards Munduk. As we got closer, the clouds dissipated up and the sun’s warm rays began to peek through allowing gorgeous views of Lake Batur. We ended the night with a cup of Balinese coffee and some fried bananas at a secluded little restaurant overlooking the mountains. The waitress looked extremely excited to see us and couldn’t wait to serve us our food – it appeared that she had not had many customers that day.
Munduk is our last stop in Bali and I'm a little sad to go. We have spent about three weeks here and it has become a comfortable, happy place for us. Now more than ever I am in awe of how kind the Balinese people are. They reward us with smiles and cheerful ‘hellos’ wherever we go and expect
nothing in return. They are truly an inspiration for the rest of us.
As always, more pics at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thejarvisproject
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