Just because something is sacred does not mean that it is exempt from entropy and the physical laws of change. In fact, being sacred may mean that every force in this world is immediately set in motion with the express purpose of subverting that consecrated thing. It is the world’s way.
Sacred refers to being set apart for a specific purpose. The dictionary defines it as the state of being connected to God. The word is derived from the Latin word sacrare, which is a verb. That means it denotes action, motion, interaction, etc.
But if a thing is truly sacred, it will survive and thrive, because being connected, it will subvert entropy. There is comfort, hope and truth in that. But in the short run, we all may mourn the changes, because often something must die before a new thing springs to life. That new thing, being a reincarnation of the original sacred seed grows and blooms anew.
Our friend, Justin Doty has been in Bali for close to ten years. He and his gal, Harmony Scott found the inspiration and attention to detail in local artisans that afforded them the opportunity to make their annual pilgrimage from Aspen Colorado USA to Bali, in order to design and build their line of fine jewelry.
Three years ago I had stood on a hill in West Bali with Justin. In the hard light of the mid day tropical sun we stood with palms swaying overhead in a cerulean blue sky, clouds scudding by. A warm, soft breeze caressed us. We could hear and see surf breaking way out to sea on the sandbar created by a river that ran below us. “This is the spot. I will have to lose two of these palms. But I am going to Java and find a Joglo and it will put it right here.”
One evening a few days ago I found myself standing in the Joglo. It’s ornate wood carved panels and high peaked tile roof were the pinnacle of that hill now, and as I stood dead center, I could not help but marvel at it all. The place was beautiful, the palms rich with coconuts, swayed in the afternoon breeze overhead. The large open walled floor plan gave views that one would be hard pressed to find, let alone own, anywhere in the US.
It seemed too good to be true. It had been a little over a year since I had been out this way. On the road in I had noticed a lot of new construction. If we looked out and down from the West side of the joglo, there was a four building compound framed up. “Russians”, Justin had said. “A lot of money is coming in from Russia. This place is changed from what I had dreamed about.”
The river is called Balian. Translated into English that word means sacred or holy. It is the second largest and possibly the cleanest river in Bali and the outflow from it creates one of the largest sand bars that I have ever seen. A small enclave of private homes and little Ponduk Pisces, a charming home stay which had been pretty much the only place to stay at the beach when we first came to visit Justin now was in morph.
I had seen this happen many places and times before. All over the world. Someplace nice. A sweet wave. Good climate and people. Rich natural resources. Next thing that you know, development transforms the place into something new, different.
Justin being the hopeful visionary that he is, had planted roots here. He had told Donna of the place a long time ago and she had been out to visit as she built her own company, Betty Belts, which Justin and Harmony had generously leant advice and encouragement to.
The wave is a big wave. Large in scale and length. It requires a larger board to catch and ride properly. Justin had twisted my arm when I wanted to paddle out on a 6’8” one year and made me ride a Bruce Jones 8’2”.
He is a big boy. Rugby player, skier, snowboarder, surfer, cliff diver, he comes in at around 220 pounds, so his board had a lot of foam.
On it I had ridden a wave close to triple overhead that went right from mid ocean all the way to the near shore break, then reformed and took me left all the way up the river onto which bank I had stepped off and simply walked away, realizing that I had just ridden one of the best waves of my life. Would never have happened on a short board.
We had kept it all pretty quiet. For obvious reasons. Some of you may be wondering why I write about this place today. I generally have reasons for everything. This time is no exception.
Pulling myself away from the inspection of the great detail of his vision, I followed Justin outside, where his partner Wayan was being coerced into climbing on of the 30 foot palms and pulling down some coconuts. A short discourse in Balinese and I could see Wayan accept the challenge. The girls Aaron and I watched as Wayan literally ran up the palm in the light of a sun now setting. Out of the fronds a couple green ones flew and smacked the grassy lawn, spewing milk as they rolled down the hillside.
Then from the fronds came a yelp and a few words of Indonesian. Justin turned to me and said “Red ants. He is getting the shit bit out of him”
“He coming down?” I had asked. “Not yet. He is playing it off”.
Five minutes later a cluster of perfect coconuts was being lowered by rope. In short order Wayan shimmied down the trunk and stood smiling as he coiled his blue line.
(In the next day or so I found Wayan to be the single most coordinated human being that I had ever met. The 29 year old has such great control over mind and body that he can do things like climb ladders backwards and stand on roof lines 20 feet up while holding tools. Justin, though working with Wayan daily, said he was still amazed at the guy’s skills. That means a lot coming from him, such an accomplished, multi sport athlete.
We all headed inside for Heineken, and Vodka cocktails. With music pumping from the Joglo’s sound system, we watched the color drain out of the sky. Inky blackness slid down from overhead out and around the horizon as the firmament brimmed afresh with brilliance one only experiences away from city lights. A sliver of moon glided through clouds framed by palms and all was still. Then the hula hoops came out.
Justin and Wayan had made hoops out of electrical conduit. Some of the local girls had arrived and it was three abrest on what served as the dance floor as well all tried our hand er hips at it. The soft, dim lighting of the joglo made for a surreal scene as Justin’s impeccable musical taste prodded us all along into swaying hoopness.
Around 10pm we made a dash for Michael’s new restaurant which is on the beach, for a Western-Balinese blend meal. Michael is a Canadian advertising wizard who, having made the score of a lifetime in his career over ten years ago, moved from Toronto to Bali. He develops this place now. Michael gave us copies of his new insider’s guide to Bali book. It is a good humored look into aspects of Balinese culture one would not expect in your average tourism guide.
By midnight, Donna and I were snuggled under the stars on a mattress bed laid out on the large deck, while crazy hula hoop party fun, went on inside the joglo.
I awoke pre dawn. First light was a streak of magenta and orange stamped with black palm silhouettes in the eastern sky across the river. At the railing leaned Justin, quietly watching it all. With my arms wrapped around Donna, I had a quiet over the shoulder look at the peaceful scene. The noise of the surf rumbling offshore was dotted with staccato rooster blasts. Moisture from the night lay atop us, as the soft pulse of sleep breathing from Donna tried to lure me back, into a different dream from that which my consciousness was fixated upon at the moment.
Justin turned quietly and walked back inside. I heard him get back into the big Indonesian bed. I imagined he thought of Harmony. I know that I would be, if I were him. This was their place, in spite of her being a world away.
I slipped from our bed, and silently crept past Aaron, asleep ten feet away, rounding the corner of the Joglo to find Gusti sitting up, eyes still full of sleep. Grabbing a camera out of my bag I walked across the grass, framed the Joglo, dawn sky and jungle, and shot a single frame. Perfect.
Justin met me as I walked back, and together we made our way down the hill and up to the little warung-restaurant cliff top, for a surf check. A couple guys were seated having coffee, watching the light come up and the surf boom. Four guys had already made their way out and were sort of getting worked by a set.
“Coffee?” Justin asked. “Sure”, I enthused, with a camera in each hand, being put down on pink plastic table covers. In a few moments he had emerged from the kitchen with two glass mugs of Bali coffee and we chatted with the boys and perused the surf. A few good ones spun through in the offshore cleanliness of morning.
We watched a fishing boat make its way outside, and I heard the story of a largish swell last year, that kept several boats at sea for 3 days. Out of supplies, the boats had eventually made a run for shore. They did not make it, and two of the fishermen had died, bodies washing in at the sandbar beach. The boats were lost. Totalled. This place plays for keeps at size.
I know why Justin has big boards. Outside I saw someone drop down the face, and realized that they were on what appeared to be an eight foot plus board. The short boarders continued to get worked, missing the waves they paddled for, only to be nailed by the wave following. Typical. Could have been me actually. The right equipment makes a big difference when the ocean begins to really move.
A cheery man with a kind look to him arrived. The warung owner. We said our hellos and goodbyes and proceeded down the cliff to the beach. Justin turned to me at this point and began a story, several of them in fact. All interwoven.
“Big changes are headed this way. On top of the development that you see there is an encroaching Muslim population. This being a Hindu country you can see conflict coming.”
He told me about how a cooperative had bought a large parcel of village land. The coop was from Java. The plan was to build a Javanese enclave.
On Bali the Javanese are the unclean people. Java was the ancestral home of the Balinese who fled it in the course of an uprising. The Balinese you see today are the descendants of royalty based in Indian royal families. They came to Bali bringing their lives inviolate to what many consider to be one of the most blessed fertile lands on earth. They had left the Muslim Javanese behind.
“Wayan saw something last year that really screwed him up. Two Javanese guys had been passing through. Their motorbike broke down and in sort looking through the village they were caught and accused of stealing. They were brought before the Banjar (chief) beaten with chains, taken down here (to where we stood at the moth of the Holy river), stoned them then cut the bodies into pieces and their remains were dumped into the sea. I doubt they really stole anything. They were just trying to fix their bike. They were workers. Here from Java on the ferry looking for work”
“Wayan was foked up for over a month.”
“Then there was another Javanese who was caught stealing. Same thing. The village whipped them, brought them here and stoned them. That guy up in the warung? He took a big stone and crushed the guy’s skull, ending it. Then cut him up and threw him in the sea.” The whole village was in on it. That is how it goes. They do not tolerate stealing and the village law rules, not the Police or Government.”
“That land purchase? Michael went up there and bought the land out from under the Javanese, and they were pissed. Have to hand it to him though, he did it. But see his little restaurant over there right next to this river? That is the front line. Look around, this is where the next bombing incident will take place. This is the crossroads for Bali. The Muslim see it as the front line of resistance.”
We strolled up river and through a new building site. Justin pointed out the septic tank location. It was 10 yards from the waterline and 100 yards back from the break. A bleak signpost telling of issues to come. No codes. It would pollute the rivermouth more than likely. The project, a foreign investors dream.
Back at the Joglo we had coffee with Aaron and spoke of mystical goings on. The true Bali. In ten years Justin had experienced a lot and I coerced him into sharing one of the more surreal tales The girls were all still buttoned up tight in the Balinese room down hill from the Joglo. Fast asleep. It was only 8am.
Our day played out with a shoot on the river with the standup paddle board, Hailey and Sierra. Then a fashion and art romp round the Joglo with house and club music pumping through the warm breeze as we shot Betty B, Hobie, Harmony Scott and Stewart+Brown with the girls. Donna styled while Aaron and I collected stills and some carefully choreographed motion picture. The segment will be a sub chapter in the film.
Days end saw the girls head in to Kuta with Made or second driver, in search of surf, shopping and nightlife, while Aaron Donna and I made our way back to Ubud with Gusti on the impossibly dangerous road. Ten minutes out, from the joglo we ran across it. Someone had died roadside. Same thing as the last time I was here. “Dead dead”, Gusti said in his Hindi sing song. Obviously sad.
No matter what one believes of the afterlife, it is always sad when one sees something die. But joy comes with the dawn of a new thing. In Bali’s case, you can see both headed in, like the herons of Petulu, which are harbingers of souls lost to a violent death. Bali has a way or reminding one of what is sacred, unlike any place that I have visited. That is where salvation lies.
(from the short story Dancing with the Gods which I wrote several years back)
A case in point would be Petulu. The village we stayed in. In the sixties a clash with government troops had caused the entire village to be slaughtered. Genocide as Gusti had described it. An even more horrible concept than a Western mind could accommodate when one experiences the closeness of the Balinese family unit. The silent homes of the vanquished lay dormant, waiting seemingly, he said. But for what? A couple seasons later something odd occurred. White herons descended into the trees above the village, a huge number of them. The Balinese believe. It was said to be the incarnation of their belief and proof by their Gods: the slaughtered innocent returned in the guise of white herons. They are there to this day. I was dumbfounded when I saw that they would return at sunset each night to roost overhead. But that is “The Real Bali”: a land that urges one to believe.
Islander Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, has this to sing for you all.