In which I learn a lot about rice farming, and drink something excreted by a cat

We awoke to have breakfast at the villa before our tour, a delicious choice of nasi goreng, pancakes, or an omelette served with juice and coffee or tea. The kids have developed quite a taste for tea on this trip and have a cup of black tea with milk and sugar every morning. I asked a doctor if this was okay by looking in the mirror and saying, “Self, is it okay for the kids to have black tea?” And then doing what every doctor does when they don’t really know the answer: I googled it. I’m sure that’s not very reassuring to some of you, but it’s the truth if we don’t have access to UptoDate. Google told me it was okay. Mostly.
We met our fantastic guide, Putu and we were off. This was the second or third Putu we had met, and I’d also seen many businesses with the name Kadek and Ketut around Ubud. I asked if these were common names, and Putu told us that in Bali, names are given according to birth order! Putu/Gede/Wayan is a first born, Kadek/Made is second, Nyoman is third and Ketut is fourth. They also have a given name which follows the order name, but everyone is called by their birth order name primarily.
We first went to the famed Tengallalang rice terraces. These are absolutely stunning, not only in their beauty but also their engineering, which is mirrored in all the rice terraces seen in Indonesia. THe girl loved these and frolicked about jumping up and down the levels,until she plunged knee deep into a mud pit. She took a mini bath in the little waterfalls that dot the terrace.


The rice fields are terraced in an ingenious method of overflow irrigation. Given that Bali is a wet country with much rainfall and many sources of natural spring water that come from up high, there are irrigation ditches dug around the towns everywhere. I initially thought these were open sewers as this is how they look in India, but it’s actually clean spring water and you’ll see people doing laundry or bathing in the water. The small fields have little outlets dug into the edges to allow water to flow into each subsequent paddy, finally meeting at the bottom in a river. The farmers manage the amount of water each paddy needs by opening up or closing the little outlets with some more mud.  You can see one of the openings in the picture below.


There are strict water rules in Bali, for instance damming is forbidden as all people need the water flow to feed their rice paddies. The large fields at tengalalang are owned by a community of more than 50 farmers, but most fields you see around are owned by fewer. Once the rice is planted, it doesn’t need a lot of work until it’s ready for harvest, and so most farmers have another skill, such as a handicraft, to earn money since the rice planted in these fields is used mostly to feed their families and is not sold.
After this we visited a coffee plantation and visited the civets. As you may know, the civet is an aggressive jungle cat that eats coffee berries and then poops out the bean a short while later and supposedly the process through the digestive tract makes for a delicious pot of coffee. They collect the beans, clean them, roast them and grind them into a potent coffee. There are concerns over the treatment of the civets – they’re kept in relatively small cages and really, they don’t look happy. My curiosity won the better of me though, and I had to try a cup. I found it to be very dark and almost syrupy in texture, and for an hour or two I felt particularly virile. Rawr. Behind the plantation was another spectacular rice terrace.


On our way to the first temple, we happened upon a village having a cremation and stopped to visit, more successfully this time, with Putu along to explain. Turns out the large papier mache animals are what the disinterred bones are put into for burning. Each platform is what becomes the pyre itself, and the drawings on the sides of the platforms are meant to represent hell so that we are reminded what happens if we do not behave well in this life and suffer bad karma. It was clearly a large town gathering and many of the village’s residents were out in their dressed up clothes for the event. There wasn’t any actual cremation taking place, because they don’t start the burning until after noon. Aha! This is why nothing was happening at the Ubud cremation either! We were too early.





I particularly like this depiction of hell, where we give money to the devils who run the internet.

After this we visited the holy spring water temple, where fresh spring water comes pouring out of a row of pipes into a pool, and Balinese and tourist alike come to make their ablutions.


These temples are living temples where Balinese regularly come to worship and leave offerings for the Gods. What I found interesting is that on the offering piles to all the Hindu gods were plenty of roast animals! Unlike India, where most Hinduism comes with a side of vegetarianism, that aspect did not make it to Bali. I guess when Ganesha tires of having ladoos and moduk for prasad, he makes his way to Bali for some roast duck!


The whitish tower in the picture above is carved from pork fat and little satay skewers of roast pork surround it, not to be outdone by the whole duck in the lower part.

Then to a second temple – the rock temple, an ancient temple carved out of the existing stone with many stone steps to take us downward. This is one of those off a movie set, where decaying stone walls are covered with moss, rivulets of water flowing down the side.


Honestly, we were getting a bit templed-out at this point. It was hot and humid and we felt like we were melting with our clothes sticking to us. On the way out, I purchased a coconut and drank some refreshing water and then nibbled on the meat.


Our next stop was to the woodcarving area of Mas, where we had driven by on our way from the Airport and fell in love with the large slabs of wood seemingly carelessly stacked in an open air warehouse. How would one of those look as a dining table, we wondered to ourselves? Hmmm… We took a few price quotes and left to ponder the decision.


During the day, Putu told us much about Balinese culture and philosophy. All of Bali is focused on your bandar, or community group. Every community has a meeting area and a temple and the rules for how one becomes part of a community through marriage are specific. As Eric talks about in his post about Bali and driving, one of the reasons that we don’t see the aggressive and angry driving you see in the States is because there’s a chance that you may know the other person through few connections, and you’re just not rude to your neighbor. We had a later discussion talking about divorce in the community, which is a difficult thing. The woman fares the worst – first, the couple has to go in front of the elder at the community meeting and discuss the divorce in public. If there is no success with reconciliation and the divorce is granted, the woman is left without a house and has to leave the community as well. If her children are under five, they may be able to stay with her but if not then she would lose custody as well when she had to leave the community. I can see how this can help to stabilize the community, but I couldn’t help but wonder about women who were in truly difficult situations and how trapped this would leave them.
Last place to visit was a waterfall swimming hole. This was awful – there was no place to swim because there were so many people in the swimming hole, plastic trash floated about the base of the river. The tourists there were loud and partying in a most obnoxious way. We took one look, walked around the site and left. Especially after the beautiful and clean swimming holes in Australia, this was not a place we wanted to spend another second. We hustled back into the car to return to our peaceful villa for the night.



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