Den Pasar, Bali, July 1956: Jessica Reynolds (me), 12, my brother Ted, 18, and Balinese friend I Gusti Rai Suwandi.
(From All in the Same Boat by Earle and Barbara Reynolds, continued)
Our entrance into Bali was one of the most trying and difficult that we had yet experienced [in a year and a half of deep-sea sailing]. The currents that sweep down between the islands are fierce in these areas and the monsoon wind pours down through the passes…. The log tells of some of our difficulties: ‘Rainy, misty, visibility poor. No visibility in frequent showers. Terribly rough–roughest we’ve had yet–high, steep waves, from all directions.
‘Finally located Benoa, in a relatively clear moment, got the leading marks in line, when a heavy shower washed out all sight. Since the entrance involves a right-hand turn and various tricky meanderings, we put about and lay off one hour until the weather cleared a bit.
‘When we entered, we found buoys were completely changed from the pilot book and our up-to-date chart. Had to put man at masthead and con our way through the reef.’
BUT Bali was worth all the trouble it took to get there. Not only is it spectacularly beautiful, with its rugged mountains, its misty vales, its crumbling temples, and the glossy green of its rice paddies, but the people are beautiful too. Outside of Den Pasar, where the tourist congregate and create understandable disruptions and where it is considered “rude” for women to go about unclothed above the waist, the Balinese serenely follow their age-old customs, practice the Hindu religion, which is the hard core of their society, and preserve their independence and integrity.
In contrast to other countries we had visited, even the more remote islands, we saw little influence of the West in Bali. No American movies, not even in Den Pasar; no Cokes or chewing gum. Music could be heard as one strolled the streets of a village at night, and it was not rock and roll but the hauntingly compelling music of Bali, played on drum and gamelan [Indonesian percussion instruments, especially gongs, xylophones and drums].
The village of Benoa turned out to be a picturesque cluster of houses and brightly painted fishing boats drawn up on a spit of land to the left of the harbor, but the port of Benoa, on the other side of the water, was less interesting… [except for] a stack of long wicker baskets like porous sausages, each of which contained–a real live pig!
(My journal for July 16-17, 1956 adds): “But we did discover something about which we had read in the National Geographic–baskets of woven leaves piled up on top of each other–and each with its pig inside packed for shipping!… The basket-pigs were classed by Mum as the original sausage rolls. Some snouts were sticking out which was unfortunate to the snout’s owner, as a strutting rooster marched by and took pecks at them.”
(Back to Dad’s account): Our first act, after officially entering (Benoa) the next morning, was to take the bus to Den Pasar [11 km away] to meet Barbara’s mother. Minnetta herself was on a trip around the world, traveling by a somewhat faster means and at a bit higher altitude, but the motivating aim of her entire junket had been to meet us in Indonesia!
No one seemed to know the bus schedule, but all were happy to show us where to wait for it. Eventually, a dilapidated bus pulled up, so we climbed on and waited…
Several praus [various Indonesian boats usually without a deck that are propelled especially by sails or paddles] with wishbone sails pulled up to the sea wall and willing hands began to unload. Stalks of bananas, bunches of coconuts, matting bundles were all unloaded, carried up the sloping sea wall to the road and thence up a narrow ladder to the top of the bus.
The driver returned, carrying a woven leaf tray on which were a few carefully arranged yellow flowers and a few leaves. He placed this in a niche above the driver’s seat and stuck a stick of burning incense into a holder on the dashboard. (There’s an extra that American models don’t have!) We wondered if he was exorcising whatever demons may have gotten aboard with us.
A little later the people began to get on. Soon the bus was full, but still we waited. Down at the waterfront another prau came in. This one was loaded to the gunwales with large turtles and Barbara scrambled out with her camera.
“Don’t let them go without me!” she warned, stalking her photographic prey.
She didn’t have to go to the shore for her pictures, however. Her subjects were being brought to her, each turtle borne upside-down on the shoulders of a man who walked with it easily up the sloping ladder to the top of the bus and there deposited it neatly.
The last two turtles were too large to be carried by a single man. These were slung from poles and brought up to the road by two men each, who shoved them inside the bus where they filled the aisle and made an excellent foot-rest for the passengers, who sat in long seats facing one another. At last we started.
[My journal:] “We all had a jolly ride to Denpasar. On the way were flat rice fields, huts on mud or salt flats, old, old looking stone buildings falling to ruin with broken dragons or people or elephants guarding the gates. Behind some were lots of smaller shouses with carved roofs and little children playing in the yards. The irrigation ditch in front of all the houses along the road is convenient for washing clothes or to take baths in or most anything. The children either wear tops and bottoms; tops, bottoms; or don’t bother to dress. The women carry hug baskets on their hears just as easily as pie and not all of them … wear tops.”
[Dad:] Once we were rolling, we passed beautifully irrigated rice fields, villages with walled compounds, and temples which looked centuries old, with carved elephants or boars guarding their narrow gates. Everywhere we saw evidences of the rice harvest: rows of workers in the fields, seemingly bowed over beneath the weight of huge mushroom-shaped hats as they cut the ripened grain; men and women carrying sheaves from each end of a pole across the shoulders, the women with a single, larger bundle balanced on the head.
Throughout the Balinese countryside women apparently have not heard of the regulation, promulgated in Java, that they must be “properly clothed” or, if they have heard of it, they pay it the same attention that the Balinese, through the centuries, traditionally have paid to the directives of their alien rulers: they ignore it. In the dooryards the lovely bodies of the women, clothed only in a sarong of patterned batik, moved in graceful rhythm as they bounced an upright pole first with one hand, then with the other, to thresh the grain which had been spread on mats to dry.
In Den Pasar we got off at the wide dirt lot which is the bus terminus and transferred to a doh-ka, the pony-cart-for-two which is the picturesque means of travel through the city streets. The driver whipped his tiny horse at a gallop, the plume of bells on its head jingled merrily, and in no time at all we were deposited in front of the Bali Hotel, where Minnetta was waiting on the porch.
She was far too travel-wise to be living at the Bali Hotel, however. Already she had found lodgings, at one-fifth the tourist rate, at a small Balinese hotel on a side street. [My journal: “As we talked … men, and even a woman and boy kept buzzing around us with things to sell … postcards, jewelery, carved gods and animals and cloth …. Diggie Dee and I went out for a walk to see all the carved figures in the shops, the fancy gold headdresses and a section of the town. Fat, sway-backed pigs, paying not the least attention to the people or vice versa window-shopped or strolled about the town. Men carried fighting cocks under their arms, often stroking them as to a dog, or keeping them in cages nearby.
“Finally we had to be going back [to the Phoenix] but Mum wanted to spend the night with [Grandma] Diggie Dee. They were loading the pigs on the boat when we got back–rows of men tossing each basket along to the boat and rolling it down a ramp–not heeding the loud squeals.”
[Dad:] On the way back from seeing the rest of us off at the bus terminal, [Barbara] managed to get herself completely lost. Through this happy accident she made the acquaintance of Igusti Rai Suwandi, a charming young Indonesian of Ted’s age who had been studying English in school. Rai (Igusti, we learned, is a title of caste and not a proper name) was happy to show Barbara back to her hotel and practice his English.
“Tomorrow I come again,” he promised, “I will meet your son. I will show him many things. If he will come by me for two days I will show him fête of young girl who become big.”
To be continued
From Chapter 9: “Into Indonesia; Thursday Island to Bali” and Chapter 10, “Bali, Java, the Keeling-Cocos,” Earle and Barbara Reynolds, All in the Same Boat, (David McKay and Company, Inc. 1962)