The end of a life....
Trip Start May 31, 2008
13Trip End Jul 14, 2008
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Crack of dawn on a spider boat out to visit with the dolphins and then some snorkeling on the reef.......all sounds great except that last night was a night of hellacious hot....the hotel is great....even has a swimming pool and, with breakfast included, it costs a mere $6 per person. Swimming pools around here seem to be common...seems like an extravagance but labor is cheap and it's hot enough around here to use it all year. However the fan on the ceiling, which is essential even in the most basic hotels, rotates in s-l-o-w motion...which means no breeze...which means that the windows have to be wide open to avoid suffocation...which means the mosquitoes are in charge for the night. Now normally there are a few mosquitoes, but between the fan and a light sheet, you can deal. But without either you're just food for them. So I personally was up most of the night, scratching and sweating, and tossing and complaining. Plus I've got all the jellyfish allergens in my blood so add onto those a pile of mosquito bites and all I can do is take Benadryl to knock myself out.
But I'm still awake every 15 minutes...I even contemplate trying to sleep in the pool with my body submerged to the neck....my head resting somehow on the side. Eventually 5:45 AM arrives and I hear our boat driver calling us. Next thing, we're on the boat in the dark looking for dolphins. I guess the dolphins have been awake for hours and they're great as always...full of energy and the sunrise is spectacular...but the most amusing part is the crowd of spider boats out there loaded up with tourists circling the dolphin family, probably disturbing their rest time and interrupting some critical life cycle. Myself, I can hardly keep my eyes open...the Benadryl is still making me sluggish and sleepy....my goal is to keep my butt in the boat and not nod off and fall over the side...the boat is barely wide enough for me to fit into it, the sides squeezing me a bit...but one lapse of consciousness and I'd be over the edge....and, especially as we head back to land...the waves are rocking me out. But I make it back, drop onto the bed, postpone the snorkeling for another hour and get pulled into a comatose-like sleep.
A nap and 3 cups of Balinese coffee later we're off to snorkel....you can't fall asleep in the water and the views are magnificent. The water is perfect body temperature, a clear blue brilliance, and the reef is rich with activity. Once again, I'm delighted to be immersed in this marine world...all I have to do is float and it all plays out beneath me. I see this organism that looks like a very large, bloated sand dollar with a patchwork of colors on its exterior...never seen that before. Snorkeling...always worthwhile...getting back in the boat, not as easy...no ladder...got to boost my body up over the side...which is pretty high...I'm bigger than the guy pulling me in...it's a struggle...but a few grunts and groans and scrapes and bruises later...we're headed back to the island of Bali and Dewa to see the rice-paddied landscapes as we drive back down to the south.
The Balinese cremation ceremony...I've been hearing about it...trying to understand the ritual as it is practiced here...with the language barrier I'm getting mixed understanding. But the opportunity arises to participate in a cremation ceremony. It's important to understand here that the Balinese seem to welcome visitors into just about every aspect of their lives. When you visit a temple, you often witness ceremonies. They go on around you as daily life does and you get to learn about Balinese culture. No place I've traveled has offered this direct look into family and community life.
It's as though the Balinese really want to share their culture...they want you to learn about it. They are a very non-judgmental group...their version of Hinduism...Balinese style...is so much a part of their daily activities and the way they interact with everybody in the world around them. Prayer and making offerings are a large part of every day. And creating good karma through right relationships...I was on a beach the other day and a woman was offering me a massage...I was not ready for it at the moment...but she decided to give me a sample of her ability to show that she knew what she was doing...not that I doubted that. But she said to me..."I will give you good massage...if not, it's my karma, not yours". Like it would come right back at her if she was a phony. Living a life based on karma is a powerful act.
I was talking to Dewa the other day, asking him about whether the rats were a problem in the rice paddies. And he says - of course...and I ask what is done to control them. He makes it VERY clear that they do not kill them. He says something like "If we kill one, two will come, if we kill two, three will come...it is not right to kill them." What they do instead is no surprise....they make offerings and pray for a good harvest and pray that the rats will respect their needs and lives. And then, if it is to be so, so it will be. I just loved his answer because for me it epitomized the perspective of Balinese Hinduism that forms the framework of the lives of these people.
So back to the cremation ceremony. We don our sarongs and join a family at their home, who are celebrating the death of a man that died a few days ago at about 55 years of age. They welcome us in as family...like they know us or something...there is a massive feast of traditional food going on...we are offered to share the meal with them. The brother of the man to be cremated talks to us about the cremation, making us feel totally welcome...the children are curious and playful...and the women, who are busy preparing food and offerings, are a bit more shy, but completely welcoming as well.
After about an hour of celebrating with family and neighbors, the box with the dead man in it is removed from the family altar in their backyard (which you can see in the photos) and placed up on a new, mobile altar (maybe shrine is a better word) to be carried through the streets. The procession, including offerings piled high on the heads of the women, is like a parade...lots of people, all beautifully dressed...with musical accompaniment - the traditional gongs, gamelans and things that look like metal pots...it all ends at the cemetery where a structure of bamboo awaits for the actual cremation of the body.
But first, the body of the man is removed from the box and many blessings are made. His body is circled by family and friends and he is showered with flowers, and blessed water, woven cloths, and many prayers with the family gathered around him. The atmosphere is solemn but celebratory at the same time. A few members of the family collapse, expressing their grief...they are carried to the side and tended to. It is preferred that people do not cry or show their grief at these ceremonies...it is believed that this will slow the individuals passing to his next incarnation. But it is also recognized that some people can't control their grief as well as others...no judgment is made...it is understood that everybody will be trying their best.
After the prayers, the fire under the bamboo structure with the mans body inside of it is lit with gas torches....the fire rises up under the body...it is time for us to leave so that the immediate family can be alone and together with each other ...after the burning, they will gather the ashes and they will be sprinkled in the sea. The elaborately decorated shrine that he was carried in on will also be burned...it looks like a work of art to me but it would not be appropriate to use it for anything else. Even our sarongs cannot be worn again...they must be washed after a cremation.
We leave and reflect on the beauty of this experience...the open heart with which it has been shared. And the respect for this traditional culture that only increases with exposure and learning...