Virtual Vacation: Dancing Our Way Through Bali, Day 25

On our way to the waterfall today, our last hike of the trip, Surya pointed out this leaf, kasa, or as it called it, “traditional Balinese toilet paper.” When we stroked the incredibly soft underside of the leaf, we could easily see why.

Along the path, we came across this dead green snake. Judy said it’s the most poisonous snake it Bali—one that she has rarely seen. Without treatment, you have about four hours after it bites you to live.

We came across several small booths right by the side of the trail by enterprising locals selling small packets of spice: saffron, nutmeg, curry, coriander, galangal, anise, cardamom, fresh vanilla pods, and much more. Our band of hikers happily bought up these useful souvenirs to take home.

Photo credit: Tawnya Sargent

The waterfall, when we finally reached it, was not the same one I saw yesterday, though the two are close by. Several of us, feeling hardy, braved the very forceful water of the waterfall and got as close as possibly could, backing in and holding hands to keep from being knocked over by the intensity of the flow behind us:

When we climbed out, it was raining, but what difference did it make? We were already wet—and exhilarated. The downpour that followed soaked us on the way home, but I don’t think any of minded the unseasonable rain. Just before we got back to the turn-off to Puri Lumbung, we looked down a hillside off the road and saw some kids jammed into an bale getting a music lesson, playing gamelan. Surya said we could go down there, so several of us hiked down to get a closer look. It was a rehearsal of a local youth orchestra, preparing for tomorrow’s cremation of a grandmother who died in Munduk Village. “They’re kind of like a Balinese marching band,” he said. “They’ll be in the procession with the body.”

Photo credit: Tawnya Sargent
Photo credit: Tawnya Sargent
Photo credit: Tawnya Sargent
Photo credit: Tawnya Sargent

We are actually going to the cremation tomorrow. When Surya told us that we could watch this most significant rite of passage in the Balinese world of rituals and ceremonies, it definitely creeped out some members of our group—not so much the idea of being around death or a dead body, but the worry that we’d be horribly gauche Western tourists gate-crashing a funeral. Surya explained that in Bali, cremation is a cause for celebration because the soul is liberated, and the more people that attend the cremation, the more honor is heaped on the family. That goes for tourists (even with cameras). Some wealthy families even advertise their cremations so that more people will come. There are aspects of the rites surrounding death that are private (like the washing of the body), but the march to the cremation grounds—and the cremation itself is a rowdy, celebratory public affair. Surya and Judy told us to wear our sarongs and temple scarves out of respect, and to be ready to go at 9:45 tomorrow morning—I can’t think of a more dramatic way to spend our last day in Bali.

The children of Munduk are performing for us tonight. And this afternoon, we were invited to watch their rehearsal in the oven air pavilion where we’ve had early morning yoga with Karyn. The children seemed to range in age from six to older teenagers.

This is their teacher, Nyoman:

 And here are the kids being put through their paces:

I was especially taken with this little guy. He was the youngest, just six years old:

 

When the teenaged girls weren’t dancing, they sat on the side of the bale whispering and talking like teenage girls everywhere.

The teachers are very hands on with the children, continually correcting their posture, their arm position, their eye position, and their steps. To us as Westerners, the corrections at times seemed rough—almost slapping the children into the right positions. Balinese dance is extremely precise and that showed in the rehearsal. The older girls wore tight corset-like things around their waists to simulate the tight costumes they would be wearing tonight.

After we’d watched and photographed the children for forty minutes, Nyoman, the teacher, invited Vanya from our group, who’d taken a private dance lesson with him yesterday, to get up and dance with him for the group—and for us. She was reluctant, much as her third graders back at home might be if asked to perform. But eventually she acquiesced. He dressed her in sarong and a scarf and up she went.

Now the tables were turned. The students were clapping for Vanya and laughing and taking her picture with their cell phones. When she was done dancing with Nyoman, the children roared with laugher and applause.

After the dance class, we had our final writing class of the retreat and afterwards, we all gathered together for another lovely family-style dinner. Judy, whose been ordering vegetarian dinners for us every night since we’ve been here, surprised us with perfectly cooked tuna. It was delicious! And the dessert merited seconds as well—some variety of cooked banana, a palm sugar syrup, topped by coconut milk.

We piled into the Wantilan, the community meeting room we’d been using for our writing classes. It was time for the community performance to begin. The gamelan musicians—who have traveled to the US and France to teach—were a lively, talented group of excellent musicians:

It was great to be so close up to the dancers—many of whom we’d seen rehearse in the afternoon. In costume and with make-up they were transformed. I was captivated by their precise movements and the complete absence of expression on their face—their facial muscles held absolutely still except for the positioning of the head and the dramatic movements of the eyes.

It was a great night….our second to last in Bali. Tomorrow, after the cremation, our thoughts will turn to the transition home.

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