While researching accommodations I stumbled across a Bali Homestay program in a village just outside of Tabanan. It is designed for you to stay with a Balinese family 2 or 3 nights allowing you to experience different aspects of their culture. My timing was perfect and they were able to accommodate me with such short notice. The only down fall was that they were unable to pick me up that day in Medewi so I decided to hitch a ride on  Bali’s public bus (Bemo) to Tabanan. Initially, I was a little nervous about how their system worked, but with a little help from the hotel staff it worked out flawlessly and I made it there in an hour and a half with time to spare.

When I left Medewi I had been given a book titled Fragrant Rice which is the story of an Australian woman who feel in love and married a Balinese man. It’s the story of her immersion into the Bali culture and way of life, along with insights to their rituals & customs in Bali. She also provides delicious Balinese recipes throughout her memoir. The book provided great insight and understanding as I stayed with the family for 3 nights.

The Accommodations
The Balinese live in a compound which is usually set out in a certain pattern. In the entrance way beyond the gates, there is usually a small pond to absorb evil spirits and a path that leads you to the right or left. This is a subtle trick to confuse evil spirits, who, luckily, cannot turn corners. Beyond the gates and temple, the compound unfolds into a network of small cottages, with wide verandahs and small windows, surrounding the central pavilion (bale dauh). While it’s not typical for all family compounds, our family has hot & cold running water, a western style toilet, and shower in the middle of their complex. My room was very simple, with a bed, nightstand and dresser.

Several families usually live in the compound; the family I stayed with included the host parents (Wayan & Nyoman), their 2 children, grand father, great grandmother, and his brother’s family. As Wayan & Nyoman’s children get older and marry their son will stay there with their family and their daughter will follow their husbands and set up house in his family compound.

When I would day dream about the paradise of Bali and how relaxing it was going to be, the one thing I didn’t dream about were the roosters that wake you up at 4:30am everyday. Being on vacation it feels like such an inconvenience, however, for the Balinese that is when their day begins.  They start by giving thanks by making offerings, small squares of banana leaf topped with a few grains of rice and a tiny amount of cooked food, called saiban. These blessings are then put in magically charged places around the compound. Once the offerings have been made then the family may eat. (The Balinese believe that if you don’t share your food with the spirits, harm and bad fortune will certainly come your way.)

The Meals
Most of the time, the Balinese sit close to the ground at mealtimes, preferring contact with the earth, rather than the comfort of table and chairs. I spent my visit eating the traditional style at the central pavilion (bale dauh). I decided to keep myself open to the food during my stay, I didn’t know what I would be eating until they brought it out to me. The food was wonderful, full of spice and flavor. I choose to have it on the “mild” side which was still on the spicy side. Steamed rice is served with lunch and dinner along with a side of vegetables, chicken or fish. The only time I was hesitant, was the first night, when they served fresh fish. What was served where primarily fish heads. Being from Colorado I’m not overly venturous with my seafood so I found a small tail portion and loaded up on the rice and vegetables instead.  

I choose to use utensils for all my meals, although to eat traditionally in Bali food and rice is scooped between the fingers of the right hand and popped into the mouth with very little mess being made. I heard that utensils create an unpleasant taste interferes with all spicy flavors used in cooking.  This makes for slower eating with results in more thorough digestion. Throughout my stay the family kept pointing out how fast I would do things, including how fast I would scarf down my meals. It’s my new challenge to pace myself and enjoy my meals a slower pace. The Balinese don’t eat as a family they grab their food and eat at their own accord. So during my stay I would eat with Wayan the host in the evenings and was on my own for breakfast and lunch.

Offerings
Offerings are a way of life in Bali. Every day, small coconut leaf trays containing petals, leaves and rice are placed at busy crossroads, outside shop fronts, in shrines and throughout the home. These are sacred blessings as a protection from the evil spirits that linger around. The Balinese believe that the world is a place occupied by many beings, good and evil, seen and unseen. Great care must be taken to ensure that balance and harmony is maintained between all members of this metaphysical world.

Coconut leaves are essential for offerings and celebrations the leaves are woven into thousands of intricate containers and decorations. In the afternoon of my second day Surya (Wayan’s sister-in-law) taught me how to create various offering with the coconut leaves. The more intricate offering I made was with long strips of coconut leaves wound around and around and in and out to form the container called Ketupat. You then add cooked rice to this beautiful diamond shaped small container woven from young coconut leaves.

Rice Fields
I spent a morning walking through the lush emerald floating rice terraces lined with shaded coconut trees and various shrines throughout the countless acres of the family’s property. In total it takes approximately 6 months to harvest the rice. Throughout the walk I was able to see each stage of the rice …process.  Life revolves around this highly respected grain and the cultivation of rice is a ritual process that requires prayers, ceremonies and offering.

I really enjoyed my experience with the family and would recommend it do anyone coming through the area.

(The internet is a bit finicky and I I'm continuously working on uploading new pics and info)
Sari
12/7/2010

I love that picture!

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