For the last ten years I’ve spent most of my non-working time in a small village near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. There’s no public transport where I live, and a limited tourist bus system. Most locals rely on motorbikes, which are the ‘family car’ here – sometimes up to five balance precariously along with the shopping and the odd chicken. My main form of transport is my bicycle.
On a recent evening I was going to visit a friend for a birthday dinner. She lives about 5km from me. I usually cycle, but as it was going to be dark on my way home, and it’s rainy season, and that she had promised to organise me a lift home; I decided to walk. The evening was clear, although there was the hint of an ominous looking rain cloud lurking in the distance. It was lovely time for a stroll in the warm twilight.
As is the custom, everyone was out at this time of day. Farmers had returned from the fields, workers had arrived from their offices, kids were out enjoying the last light of the day. Not far from my house, near the river, was an old Ibu carrying a large basket of foliage on her head. “Mau ke Mana?” I enquired – literally “where are you going?”, but more often used as a polite greeting. “I’ve come from the garden, this is food for the pigs” she replied. “Cantik”, – “Beautiful”, she commented. I brushed off the compliment in the polite Indonesian way, “Oh, Ibu, thank you, but just average. You are beautiful too. All women are beautiful!” We both smiled and I bid her goodbye. Further along the path, the hubbub of a volleyball game was in progress. Every afternoon, in almost every village, groups of young men gather to play volleyball. A group of men on motorbikes had assembled to watch. There was cheering and shouting as the ball went flying out of bounds and one man climbed the fence to retrieve it.
The ‘kaki limas’ – mobile food carts, we’re doing a brisk business. Steaming bakso, meatball soup, was being served up in chipped china bowls; the charcoaly aroma of sate sticks grilling on coals, a group gathering in anticipation. Everyone greeted me with “Hello”, as I passed. “Mau. Ke mana?” many enquired. “Jalan, Jalan”, just going for a walk, I replied. My answer met with a smile or a nod. The smell of ‘nangka’, jackfruit, wafted past. This rather large pungent fruit is a popular local treat, and grows along the roadside.
A group of teenage girls called out, then giggled shyly when I replied in Indonesian. A small gang of young boys whizzed past on bikes way too big for them. I felt a drop of rain, but the sky still looked clear. Mums balancing babies on their hips, while feeding them rice porridge with their fingers, lingered by the gates.
Another volley ball game was in progress… I’d moved on to the neighbouring village. This one had a larger audience, and the cheers, were more rowdy. Another spit of rain, and then another. Time to open the umbrella. As I opened my umbrella, so did the heavens, but this tropical burst was short lived. A tailless cat scampered by, avoiding a truck laden with lime green LPG canisters. A cyclist sped past, this time a young man in full lycra cycling gear complete with helmet, a sight that’s becoming more common on the roads here. Previously when I rode my bike around Bali, I was only old accompanied by toothless farmers or young kids on bikes.
The light faded as I entered I the village where my friend lives. A couple of old men lounging in the security post at the entrance to the village welcomed me with a warm smile. I too had a grin on my face, and was soon at my destination. I then resolved to get out more; slow down, and take a stroll more often to remind myself why I love living in this delightfully warm and friendly little part of the planet.