Nature pulls off colour schemes no human can get away with wearing. Here, plants glow with lush greenness against a background of throbbing storm-clouds while thousands of brake-lights pop red and purple flares that leave brownish smoke trails. I’m wearing hiking shoes, strawberry-patterned socks, denim shorts and a tie-dye jumper. I’m not pulling it off nearly as well as Bali does randomness and colour.
On the three-hour drive from Denpasar to Amed, our destination and the hometown of our driver Made (MAR-day), Emilie and I drank in the tantalising details of human life in an unfamiliar country. Everything was a novelty and the clue to a mystery: the way Balinese drivers use the car horn and don’t use lane markings, the smoking rubbish heaps and the satin-draped shrines, which I mistook for letterboxes, housing food offerings all over the island.
For so many reasons, my passage from Australia to Indonesia felt more like floating than flying and arriving three days before Galungan has only helped to perpetuate the hazy state I’m in! Every street and lane is a scene from a Hindu dream. Ornate bamboo decorations the height of lampposts arc into the road outside every shop and dwelling. Twice each Balinese calendar year, every family erects one of these sentinels to guard the shrine at its base. In the days leading up to Galungan, food offerings are placed prayerfully inside. We saw a girl using a leaf to scoop little mounds of rice, which she set down with a reverential wave of her other hand towards the sky – until her brother interrupted her worship, shouting her over as an Indonesian pop song (evidently a family favourite) began thumping through his speaker.
Today, families are finalising their penjor (the bamboo pole) and preparing food that will see them through tomorrow, a day of prayer. We narrowly missed seeing the ritual slaughter of a pig but did cop the sight of some tell-tale guts in the roadside garbage. We’ve been told to expect traditional Balinese clothing and lots of family prayer gatherings tomorrow.
What does this all signify? Made put it so poignantly: ‘We are celebrating the victory of the truth over evil.’ Galungan is related to the festival of Divali and, according to the guy who took our breakfast order, it’s a chance for Balinese Hindus to honour deceased relatives and pray for divine favour in their lives. For the boys in the family just down from our place, it’s also a chance to drink and smoke and spit a lot. Or maybe they do that every day. We’ll see.
The humid heat is as we expected: like a really long hug from a friend who’s just worked out. Or – a little less gross – like walking around wrapped in a damp doona. No worries, though. We’re luxuriating in the infinity pool that first sold us on this villa and enjoying flavoursome local food, plus some oddly verdant mojitos…
The title of this post was requested by Emilie as an ironic homage to the expat population of wellness influencers and alt jewellery designers who originated in Bondi, got an ‘om’ tattoo because they’ve “been through some stuff” and who now, thanks to some good karma, are ‘Bali-based’. I guess we’re no longer too young to be this cynical!