As he sees us strolling towards him, the hotel attendant puts his hands together before his chest, in a small prayer sign, and smiling he cheerfully says “good morning!”. It’s breakfast time and we’re trying to chase away the drowsiness from our muscles. But he’s been awake for 3 hours already.
A Life Guided by the Sun
The Balinese wake up together with the sunrise, around 6 am every morning. As a Western visitor, partially jet-lagged and with the vacation “hat” on, you feel like you’re interrupting an ongoing movie scene. You’ve entered a bit too late after the “action!” sign has been snapped and are trying to catch up as the Balinese are already in their daily errands, long past their rice-porridge breakfast.
With the sun well high up in the sky, we’re gradually waking up, surrounded by crickets, birds and other unknown insects that hold a symphony on the hotel’s terrace.
Weathered-Down Working Hands and Big Smiles
The abundance of insects, ducks and other birds is also due to the rice fields surrounding every home, taking over any piece of unconstructed land. The man-made ponds and staircase-like terraces are all done manually. It’s hard to believe that at a first glance.
There are vast surfaces of land which people today still work with their bare hands.
They stand bent all day long over the ponds, building the horizontal terraces from mud, constructing water canals, planting the rice sprouts one by one in the murky water. Their only protection is the bamboo coned-hat on their heads and their everlasting smile.
The amount of manual work the Balinese do is impressive, from crafting small offerings to Gods, to washing clothes on a rock in the water canals near the fields, to carrying round bowls of food on their head, or chopping down the fruit of coconut trees. As much as their hands and bare-feet are weathered down, their eyes are glimmering softly with kindness and peace. There are no gyms here, and you can see why.
Celebrating the Abundance of Life
Some travellers say that all Balinese women do all day long is craft square offering baskets and perform the ceremony to thank the Gods. Seeing the amounts of offerings and their complexity, one would be tempted to believe that.
The green leafy offerings, or banten in Balinese, are filled with flowers and something edible, rice or a cracker, and offered to the Gods three times a day, in a ritual of giving back. The Balinese don’t do this out of fear, the ritual is based on gratitude and of sharing from the richness of life, and it’s considered both a duty and an honor.
Seeing brown-eyed little girls watching carefully how an older sister or a mother is crafting the offering baskets and wanting to help in the procession is like watching Bali’s history with your bare eyes, witnessing the handing over of the traditions from generation to generation.
Bodily Heaven after Sundown
Every day of the year, at exactly 6:15 pm, the sun goes down. The Balinese families stop the day’s work and take as much care of their bodies, as they do of their spirit, with the crafted offerings. The daily massage that all locals get here is all about healing, an essential health practice.
There are uncountable massage parlors to satisfy any tourist taste and wallet, but the best are the hidden ones, behind shabby wooden doors, on dark side-streets, where the masseuses barely speak English.
A Balinese traditional massage, especially after a 15-hour flight through 6 time zones, is the best welcoming one can get in Bali.
You’re still so exhausted from the trip but feeling like your body has arrived in the Heaven of Bodies, with the help of two powerful hands and some frangipani-scented oil.
Little happens in the life of the Balinese after sunset. After all, the new day will arrive early enough, at about 6 am, when, together with the sun’s rising from the Indian Ocean, life starts all over again on this beautiful Island of Gods.