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Published: October 2nd 2011
IF I HAD A VISION of what Bali would look and feel like Nusa Lembongan was it. Nusa Lembongan, a small island of the southeast coast of mainland Bali has stunning beaches with crystal clear water and misty views of Gunung Agung (Bali’s largest volcano). Seaweed farmers in straw hats lay their wares out to dry on the beach, roosters crow, stray dogs roam, young kids zoom by on motorbikes, and bright orange temples blast Balinese Hindu ceremonial songs from their speakers. And best of all, the locals far outnumber the tourists.
As we climbed off the boat in Nusa Lembongan I noticed a man holding a sign with the name of our hotel “Star Two Thousand” on it. Underneath the hotel name the word “KLERYAL” was written. I had called ahead for a pick-up from the hotel but this was definitely not my name. We waited until everyone else had filtered out but the man was still standing there holding the sign. Apparently, it was my name.
As always, on our first day we were very eager to explore our new surroundings. We dropped off our gear, rented bicycles and took off right away in the direction of
the elusive Mushroom Bay. Riding our bikes across the island was exhilarating! It was the first time I got to see Balinese people going about their daily lives. Of course I saw and met plenty of Balinese people in Kuta and Sanur but they were usually try to sell me stuff, or serve me food, this was different. Along the incredibly bumpy way (my butt hurt for days) we passed by women carrying huge baskets of fruit and materials on their heads, villagers praying in the cemetery, men building bamboo structures, warungs serving the usual fare and of course lots and lots of temples. We never did find Mushroom Bay but we did find Sunset beach, which might as well have been it. Sunset beach was a little cove with perfect white sand, clear water with a hint of turquoise and a pounding surf. We parked our bikes and spent a couple hours playing in the ocean and exploring the nearby cliffs. We ended our long day of exploring with a delicious meal of fresh mahi mahi at a restaurant in the cove, complete with a rose hued sunset. After dinner we took the restaurant up on their offer to
take us back to our hotel since it was dark, we didn’t really know where we were, and the “roads” were horrendous. We piled into the back of a beat up pick up truck and a few bumpy minutes later we were snuggled up in our beach bungalow listening to the sound of the waves crash on the beach.
We spent the next few days laying lazily by the beach (our bungalow was steps from the ocean), eating our daily nasi goreng (fried rice, egg, chicken satay) at small warungs, reading, and exploring the island by motorbike (we had learned our lesson about the roads the first day). One day we went so far that we ended up on another island. Even though the village is very relaxed and chill we are bad at being lazy and stayed pretty active. We took a boat tour through a mangrove forest one day followed by snorkeling. I have only been snorkeling one other time (in Jamaica) but it did not even remotely compare to this. The snorkeling here was phenomenal – the clear water and the bright sun made for stunning views of the marine life. It was my first time
snorkeling without a life jacket so I was a bit scared at first but I figured out pretty quickly that you naturally float in salt water. We swam together through schools of iridescent fish motioning wildly to each other about the ones we liked (Look, over there! The horn! See the one with the horn!?) and once again I was in awe of the vibrant, intense colors that can be found in nature.
Unexpectedly, we discovered that our trip to Nusa happened to coincide with a Balinese Hindu cremation ceremony that occur only about one time every three to five years. Balinese Hindus believe that cremation is very sacred. They believe that cremating the body allows the deceased person’s soul to be liberated so they can be reincarnated. Unfortunately, it is very expensive partly because the family of the deceased is expected to feed everyone who participates in the ceremony, which is the majority of the village. Due to this, most families will bury their loved ones initially after they die and then save up for several years before they can afford to have them cremated. When they have finally saved enough money they dig up the coffins and
create elaborate funeral pyres to be burned. The ceremony is considered a huge celebration rather than a time to mourn. The particular ceremony that we were lucky enough to witness was for approximately 15 individuals who had passed away several years earlier.
We initially learned about the ceremony when I inquired about a sound that I had been hearing ever since I arrived. In fact, it was one of the first things I noticed when getting off the boat. The sound was eerie almost, but beautiful. It could be heard all over the island, but was impossible to tell which direction it was coming from. Over top of the swaying palm trees, the chirping bugs, the crowing roosters, and the crashing waves the hauntingly beautiful sound could be heard. We soon learned that it was a special cremation song that was being blasted from the speakers of temples all over the island. I never found out if it was a recording, or if someone was actually singing, but I assumed the latter. It played from sunrise to sunset every day that we were on the island.
After several days of preparation it was finally time for the ceremony.
You could feel the excitement in the air. Normally, the village was quiet and calm but on this day every one was buzzing with energy. The kids ran up and down the road excitedly and families crowded into the streets. Everyone stood on their tip toes to try to catch the first glimpse of the action – and then it came! Huge, bright pyres held up by dozens of sweaty men paraded up and down the street. Just when you thought it was over the pyres turned around and came back down the street. Kids ran into the street after the pyres had passed and waited for them to turn around, then squealed with delight and pretend fear and scattered in all directions when the did. Immediately after the parade everyone headed to the cemetery to watch the pyres be lit on fire. It took only seconds for the brilliant, elaborately decorated pyres to be melted into twisted wood. It was a truly amazing last day.
That night we arranged a boat ride back to Bali mainland from a local we had met, Nyoman. The ride was to cost less than half the price of the tourist boat we
had arrived on. We showed up the next morning with our large packs to find a teeny tiny little wisp of a boat that was used to deliver food to the island. It looked somewhat horrifying but we figured since it was just the two of us we would be able to fit in no problem. Then 5 more people showed up. We all piled in, knee to knee and clutching our bags in our arms for the 1 ½ hour boat trip. It ended up being a fun ride. Being in such close quarters we had no choice but to become friendly with the other backpackers. We had really good conversations about where to go, what to see, and what to do regarding the pollution from plastic water bottles in Southeast Asia. By the end of the 1.5 hour journey we had solved all the world’s problems and we said our farewells. And then, we were in Padangbai.
*Many people have either commented on or asked about the photos in this blog. About half of the photos from every entry were taken by me and the other half were taken by my husband Travis. You can see more
of his pictures at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thejarvisproject/ .
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