What a wonderful couple of days we’ve had. I was welcomed with open arms into the house of my friend Yuli and her husband Nyoman’s family, in a small village outside of Singaraja called Mayong Village, about 3 hours north of Kuta. Meme (Yuli’s Mother in Law) was excited to meet me and the feeling was mutual. In fact, she spent the next 3 days trying to fatten me up, which reminded me of my own Nanna, always feeding the neighbourhood. It was a pleasant thought, no matter who or where you are, Nanna’s will feed you till you burst and she did just that. We arrived to share the first of many feasts, all Balinese food of course and I put my Indonesian lessons to good use. Spicy as hell but my iron tummy can take it! I felt like a fish out of water for about 2 minutes, a feeling I’m beginning to tame, then Boom! I was part of the family.
I met Lucy the gorgeous 18-year-old niece who is a ball of energy and is simply a delight to be around, her smile is so infectious and she speaks English! I learnt that Nyoman’s sisters all converted to Islam; so the Hindus, the Christian and the Muslim were together, ready for the big celebration that is Galungan. Oh this is gonna be fun! Galungan, the second most important ceremony of the year (after Nyepi), the Balinese celebrate the balance of good and evil and recognise without the dark there is no light and that the two complement each other and are necessary in life. Ying and Yang sprung to mind. The more I learn about Balinese Hinduism (Agama Hindu Dharma) the more I see the Buddhist undertones and understand how this mashup religion is so appealing.
The day before Galungan is a busy one and we are up early for a day full of preparations. How exciting! Meme taught me how to make sate babi (Pork Satay) with freshly cracked and shaved coconut, pork, chilli of course and a myriad of other spices. Breakfast of champions! Next the offerings. I’m talking maybe 35 offerings needed to be made, some pyramids of fruit made with the help of a banana tree branch to secure the fruit (Pajagan) and also with fish, rice, coconut, egg, chicken, cakes and all sorts. Next, I think my favourite part. The Penjor!! The Penjor is a bamboo pole covered in decorations made from coconut palm leaves and finished with a Sanggah Cucuk and a Sampian. My friend Ketut once explained it to me as the Bali Christmas tree (ok, not the same, but you get the idea). Very complicated structures with many parts and harder than it looks, but we made one. I go-pro’d the whole thing so keep your eye out for that. (Gimme time to work out how to edit the footage, hahaha).
Next was the slaughter of a pig for the traditional babi guling dish. Unfortunately, or luckily I missed it, because the news had spread that a Bule (foreigner) was in town and the local Pemangku (Hindu Priest) stopped by to say G’Day. We chatted briefly (in Indonesian) and then all of a sudden, it seems I had accepted an invitation to his house for tea. Walking through the village to his home we were stopped by everyone (Mr Popular this guy). We sipped tea and chatted about world religion, shared stories and opinions on faith, organised religion, Islam, Christianity and the common ground that we all are children of God and that’s all that matters. His many grandchildren (cucu) sat by curiously and we practiced English words together, a lovely afternoon. He walked me home by the rice fields and I was in awe of this man’s energy. Kindness and calm seemed to exude from his pores, a real man of faith and a leader in the community.
Right! Happy Galungan, the day had arrived. With all the prep done the day before, all that was left was to suit up in our Kebayas and Sarongs, fasten our temple sash and put flowers in our hair. Well, honestly I would have been happy just walking the streets, looking at all the beautiful outfits and how radiant everyone looked. We spent the morning at the family temple, which isn’t exactly just the family given the 150 odd people there. My friend Wayan, the Pemangku greeted me and I muttered something awkward like (I carried a watermelon) referring to the Carmen Miranda offering on my head. Now, important information to know BEFORE praying in a temple in Bali is that each region and even temple have a slightly different approach. So you can imagine my surprise when the Odalan started and there was no red flower reference (Oh Shit!) Yuli help me. Of course she whispered and guided me through the “Singaraja way” with kindness and slight amusement in her smile. Luckily the holy water process is the same, Splash, Splash, Splash. Splash Drink. Splash Drink. Splash Drink. Splash face, rice and done (Phew!) We ended the first formal part of the day and relaxed the afternoon away waiting for Temple Round 2, at the larger regional temple ceremony at 5 pm. Lucy and Yuli took me on a lovely walk along the “Mayong Trek” track. (Trekkers in Bali check it out!) A 3-4 hour round trip through untouched and beautiful rice field, jungle and by the river, in what I imagine the south used to look like before the tourism explosion of Kuta and Seminyak moved in.
Temple #2 – That was interesting to say the least, they had traditional dancers, hundreds upon hundreds of fellow faithfuls, speaker systems bellowing the prayers and traditional Gamelan players (traditional Balinese instrument). I was again overwhelmed with the wonder of this coming together of people of the lord, praying and worshipping, loving one another and God. Similar to that tingly feeling of Amazing Grace or Hallelujah being sung out in a church. As the sun set proceedings had finished. I remembered the new prayer style and managed not to choke on my rice (a random fear I have) followed by a lovely dinner prepared by Meme and off to bed. Galungan done! So what is the 3rd day for I ask Yuli. To santai (relax) she says, you want to see the dolphins? Umm Yes! Tomorrow an adventure in North Bali, I’m in!
Up at sparrows literally, the alarm sounded at 430am and Nyoman dragging himself out of bed dutifully took, Yuli, Lucy and I to Lovina for a sunrise boat ride to see the dolphins on the bay. What an experience, the dolphins were plentiful (so were the tourists to be honest but still lovely). We cut our trip short given poor Lucy was not at one with the waves and had her head over the side providing fish food for most of the trip. We decided to spend the day by the water, a little further down at Krishna Water Sports, which I can highly recommend. Lucy and I went snorkelling and the marine life was spectacular, our guides were fantastic and all activities reasonably priced (see the link below). After a light lunch we hooned about on some jet skis and then headed back to Mayong to pack up and head home.
In the car I was reflecting not only on the events of the ceremony, but the inspiring conversations I had over the past few days. Chatting to Wayan the Pemangku about all things faith, Lucy explaining to me the process of Rataak and Qur’anic prayer, Made at the family temple thanking me for coming to learn about their culture and religion or Uncle Putu listening intently to me explain the plight of The Unlikely Pilgrim and his words of summary “God is in our hearts and that is between only you and God. It doesn’t matter the pathway just the Faith and the love of Tuhan (God in Indonesian).” So True.
Every day is a blessing and the open hearts and homes that I will and have already come across, is exactly why this trip is going to be a once in a lifetime experience that I am so grateful for. Lastly but no means least, a massive thankyou to Yuli, Nyoman, Meme and Lucy for making me feel so loved in their home and for Nyoman stopping on the way home at Munduk Waterfall and Lake Tamblingan despite the crazy traffic because he thought I’d like it. I did. I will definitely be back.
Yours in Faith,
The Unlikely Pilgrim