12 - Pura Sebatu & Kecak (Bali, Indonesia)
More coffee with Ketut. A drive through the country. A stroll through the temple. Fire-dancing by night. Airport run through the gauntlet of Denpasar traffic by day. Oh, no, not I, I will survive…
by Mr. Nos T. O’maniac
I KEPT IN TOUCH WITH KETUT. He let me know there was an upcoming cremation and offered to escort me. Initially, I’d hesitated at the thought of gawking at a stranger’s funeral, but after my Bali Aga Death Extravaganza, I was over it. Well, didn’t happen. Not then, anyway. Scheduling conflict. I guess ceremonies had been double-booked. The cremation was postponed a couple weeks. How’s that work, exactly?
“Um, sorry, sir, Wayan is just gonna have to wait. The Harvest Spirit is pissed, and we need to appease that grouchy prick, pronto. We’ll torch your brother next week. Is the 14th good for you? Put him over there under the tree. And burn some incense, would ya?”
Instead, I spent half the day hanging with Ketut. We drank coffee, ate lunch, and then we were off to a nearby temple for a look around. I wasn’t templed out yet, but even if I had been, Pura Gunung Kawi Sebatu (not to be confused with Gunung Kawi) would’ve snapped me out of my monotonous torpor. And this temple had something unexpected (at least for me)—a badminton court. Badminton is huge in Southeast Asia. How huge? Real huge. I’d say placing a court on sacred ground screams volumes.
Ketut drove my motorbike with me on the back. I don’t think he trusted me. Who could blame him? It was refreshing to find a local driving with cautious deliberation. They do exist. Of course, killing tourists is probably frowned upon.
I liked Ketut. He was friendly and personable. But, (yes, there’s a “but”), I must admit it didn’t come without expectation. Besides the obvious (compensation for his guiding services), he also hoped I’d buy his wood carvings. This wasn’t a problem per se, just awkward. How much of the friendship revolved around money? Hard to tell. I didn’t hold it against him. How could I? Tourism is the golden goose in Bali and everyone wants a piece of the action. I sensed Ketut was feeling left out. We only met because I happen to stop for a picture near his house.
The Balinese seem to defy the monetary corruption associated with other third-world destinations. What bothered me was the unbridgeable gap between Ketut and I. Such disparate backgrounds. I’m in Bali, so I must be wealthy. Relatively speaking, he’s correct. Maybe the only way to overcome the barrier is to immerse one’s self in a voluntary role, like the Peace Corps for instance. Perhaps, only by living side by side under identical circumstances can one build a true bond. I have the utmost respect for those that do so. I applied at the end of college but was rejected, conditionally. For some reason, they had no need of philosophy majors. Shocker. They provided suggestions and potential country matches if I attained targeted training. I was just a TEFL course away from being accepted. If only I’d been more determined…Silly rabbit.
Kecak fire dance, anyone? This dance/music drama is rooted in an epic Indian poem (Ramayana) depicting the rescue of a prince’s wife (Sita) by the prince (Rama) from the demon king (Ravana). Monkey-like people (Vanara) assisted. The performance is loosely based on an actual Balinese trance ritual, but the current iteration evolved under the guidance of German Painter Walter Spies in the 1930s. Performed all across the island, it’s hard to miss. Worth a peek? Sure, but you’d be forgiven for questioning the authenticity.
My fascination with traffic protocols continued. I witnessed a motorbike-bicycle tandem maneuver. One hand on the moped, one on the bike, and the cyclist along for the ride. Probably a bad idea, but who the hell am I? By then, I’d stopped forgiving the locals for such ill-advised faux pas. My life too, damnit.
And then there was the airport run. Singapore was my destination of choice for renewing my Indonesian visa. Pop in for a few days, get an extendable two-month visa from the embassy, fly back to Bali. I had a problem with the airline’s website, so it was either buy a ticket from an agency in Ubud or skip the middleman. I went with the latter. Not sure it was worth the trouble as it required a drive through Denpasar, Bali’s capital. Let’s just say traffic is a tad dense. Sparing myself the stress would’ve been worth a few extra bucks.
On the way back to Ubud, a young guy drove up alongside me and tried to convince me to go somewhere or purchase something. I wasn’t really paying attention as I was trying to avoid serious bodily injury and/or death. I’ve had people chase me down before, but not while doing 30 mph. I contemplated pulling off to the side and giving him a WTF speech. Certain truths I believe to be self-evident, truths that cross all cultural boundaries. Negotiating on a moving motorcycle in traffic seems like a no-brainer. Then again, what the fuck do I know…really?