Conical Houses of Wae Rebo
In the mountains of Flores lies the remote traditional village, Wae Rebo, on top of a picturesque mountain 1,100 meters above sea level. In 2012, the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation honoured the village with an Award of Excellence for its efforts to preserve its traditions and culture. Wae Rebo is home to the traditional cone-shaped Mbaru Niang homes which are typical of Manggarai tribes. These unique homes are constructed entirely without the use of nails, consisting of a wooden structure which is covered with layers of palm leaves, giving it a massive roof and distinct cone shape. Unlike other traditional villages, Wae Rebo is home to one single clan whose ancestor, Empu Maro, established the village 100 years ago. Today the 18th generation of his descendants have strived to keep alive Manggarai traditions. Visiting Wae Rebo is to step back in time, there is no cell phone reception, no wi-fi, and the only electricity is provided by a small solar panel.
Village elder watches the morning activity in Wae Rebo
Traditional conical houses of Wae Rebo
The houses consist of five levels with each serving a separate purpose. Level 1, lutur or tent, is the living area for families. The second level, lobo or attic, is for food storage. The third level, lentar, to store seeds. The fourth level, lempa rae, is reserved for food stocks in case of drought and the fifth level, hekang kode, and most sacred is kept for offerings to the ancestors.
A young boy peeking out of a window of a Mbaru Niang home in Wae Rebo
Getting to Wae Rebo
Wae Rebo is located near the town of Ruteng though most people choose to stay in a homestay in a small village called Denge located at the starting point of a 9 km hike uphill to Wae Rebo. We decided to go Denge from Labuan Bajo by private car hire via a 7 hour scenic, but tumultuous drive and hike to Wae Rebo to stay overnight there. May decided to stay in the Denge village while I hiked to the top. It was an arduous trip, mainly due to the poorly maintained one-lane very windy road that leads to Denge. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery and excited children along the way yelling “bule (boo-lay),” which means foreigner. They seemed so excited to see tourists and a group of kids showed off for us when we stopped for a rest along the road.
Group of kids on the way to Wae Rebo
Rice field on the way to Wae Rebo
The only way reach the village is to hike 9km up a mountainous trail which was a bit of a challenge during the mid-day heat. It was well worth the hike and I was not the only one on the trail. Doing the hike on a Sunday, the trail was crowded with villagers bringing sacks of coffee beans down from the village and hauling supplies up to the village. Sunday and Monday are the two days of the week that they resupply the village by selling coffee beans at the market in Ruteng and purchasing supplies. After meeting many villagers on the way to the village during my many rest breaks, I finally reached the part of the trail that would descend down to the village. Before entering the village, I had to signal my arrival by ringing a bell located in a stand just above the village. Once I reached the village I greeted the chief and gave my offering to him, 20,000 IDR in the drum house. The structure of the village includes the traditional houses, a drum house which is the symbol of the unity of the clan and a communal building and an altar. In front of the drum house is the compang, a stone altar where the souls of the ancestors are believed to stay. Wae Rebo is the only village in the Manggari district that has the complete village structure.
Sun rays bathing Wae Rebo during sunrise
Morning in Wae Rebo
Staying overnight in the village was a great experience and highly recommended. I woke up early for sunrise, hiking up to the “kids house” for a good vantage point. Sitting in the silence of the morning, I thought about how lucky I was to be able to visit this village. Surrounded by the mountains and taking in all the wonderful scenery as the sun slowly rose above the mountains was a wonderful experience.
Morning in Wae Rebo
My guide enjoying a morning smoke in Wae Rebo
Laying Out Coffee
After watching the sunrise, it was time for breakfast so I headed back to the guest conical house. There was very little activity in the village aside from some villagers pounding maize, one of the staples of the villagers diet. Once I arrived back at the guest conical house, breakfast was waiting. It was a tasty traditional meal, a good way to start the day off before I would have to hike back down to Denge village. Once breakfast time was over, the village came to life as the villagers began to lay out the coffee beans they had harvested for drying under the sun. Watching everyone move around, laying down tarps and then spreading bags of coffee beans on them was interesting. They would rake the beans so that they were evenly spread out and would then sort through them. Once everyone had laid out their coffee beans, the village became quiet again except for the children that were out playing. This signaled it was time for me to start my hike, at least it was downhill this time.
Flores island in Indonesia is only a 90-minute flight from Bali but feels like it is a whole other country. Not long ago it was a remote backwater on the Indonesian tourist trail but is gaining more visitors each year. Of the four islands we visited during our time exploring Indonesia, Flores rewarded us with diverse culture and traditions, warm residents, and stunning natural beauty. One highlight of the two weeks we spent on Flores was visiting the remote mountain village of Wae Rebo.
Surf, Sun, and Temple Fun
Sunset at Uluwatu Temple
Having spent some time exploring Ubud we decided to head down to Kerobokan and then Seminyak to get a taste of the side of Bali while we waited for our visa extension. We would need to go to the immigration office near the airport to get our photo taken and fingerprints scanned. With May needing some rest to recover from her strep throat, we booked a room at Pandawa All Suites Hotel in Kerobokan. It was little more secluded than we imagined, but it gave us some peace and quiet. Maybe it was little too much peace and quiet; we couldn’t wait to get to the beach after a week of isolation in Kerobokan. Having gotten all of the relaxing we needed, and with her throat feeling better we decided it was time to head for the beach and have some fun. So we got a hotel room down the street from Double-Six beach in Seminyak. Time to enjoy some sun and fun, playing in the surf, and check out a couple of temples.
Seminyak and Double-Six Beach
This ended up being our favorite place in Bali, not as crowded and without as many touts as Kuta Beach, so we could just relax and play in the surf. It was so much fun to jump in the ocean, dive into the waves and feel like a kid again, not having a care in the world. After playing in the ocean, we lounged in the cabana area provided by our hotel, Hotel Horison, eating some delicious food and soaking the sun. At night, the restaurants at the beach set out beanbag chairs and set up stages for live music, which we really enjoyed. Sitting down, enjoying a cold beer while listening to music, we reflected on how lucky we were to be there, enjoying life. We were just beginning our second month on the road and it still didn’t seem real. Looking at the stars, absorbing the vibrations of the music, and feeling the energy of the ocean truly made Double-Six beach a special place for us. Watching people light lanterns and letting them drift up to the sky was an enjoyable experience. As they floated farther away, becoming a little light moving across the night sky, and finally resembling star as the last flicker of light faded away was a great sight to take in. Making the beach all the more fun. Having taken in the beach, we decided it was time to go temple visiting.
Stars start to shine after sunset at Tanah Lot Temple
Tanah Lot temple, built on a rock just offshore, is an important directional temple on Bali and one of seven sea temples on Bali. In Balinese, the name Tanah Lot means “Land (in the) Sea.” The temple is built to honor Dewa Baruna, a sea god in the Hindu religion. The ocean tide continuously shapes the rock and is only accessible during low tide. Due to erosion, the temple underwent a restoration in the 1990’s with one-third on the “rock” being very cleverly disguised artificial rock. Sunset is when it is at it’s most beautiful. We hopped in a cab, negotiating with him to take us there and back; we headed to Tanah Lot to see the sunset. Once you enter the temple grounds you have to walk through a maze of souvenir stalls before you actually get to the temple. It was a little more touristy than I prefer, the stalls selling the standard tourist items found in the markets around Bali. After walking through the stalls, we made our way down towards the temple.
It was low tide so we were able to wander down to the beach and over to the rock that the temple sat on. Unable to enter the temple grounds since it wasn’t open yet, so we walked around and scouted for a good location to view the sunset. At first we headed back up to the cliff that overlooked the temple but thought that the beach would give us a better vantage point, so we made our way back down to the beach. Finally finding a spot, setting up my tripod, we waited for the sunset to begin setting when we noticed people going up to the temple. A rush of disappointment set in, we had missed our chance to explore the temple, but we had found a good place to view what we hoped would be a beautiful sunset. We were not disappointed.
Getting ready for sunset pictures
Standing in the surf for the sunset was very fun. The tide slowly began to rise, the waves hitting my legs at a steadily rising rate as the sun steadily descended towards the horizon, the sky ablaze with an orange glow. As the ocean got higher I had to keep moving closer to shore until I found safe ground, darkness was beginning to set in, the sky became brilliant blue and purple, bringing joy to our eyes. At the end of the shoot, walking along the shore with our headlamps guiding us, we both felt happy to have seen such a pretty sunset.
Tanah Lot Temple Sunset
Tanah Lot is located about a 40-minute drive from Seminyak. There is not much transportation there so most visitors are part of a tour or hire a taxi or motorbike. Make sure you have some return transportation arranged or may get stuck there or pay a high price to get back to your lodging.
Uluwatu Temple Sitting on the Cliff Edge
After going North for sunset at Tanah Lot, we decided to head South to other main Hindu temple on Bali, Uluwatu. Uluwatu, located 70 meters above the sea on a cliff is another great place to sit and enjoy the sunset. It, along with Tanah Lot, is one of the six temples believed to be spiritual pillars of Bali and an important directional temple. These temples are believed to protect against evil. Not only can you get spectacular views of the ocean from the cliff it sits on, it also hosts a nightly Kecak dance. Not being satisfied with just seeing the sunset, we decided to take in the Kecak fire dance. Since its location is on the Bukit peninsula, the most Southern part of Bali, we hired a driver to take us there and back.
Beautiful Sunset at Uluwatu Temple
Sitting on the edge of a cliff, it gives way to beautiful views of the ocean and the waves crashing below. Pura Luhur Uluwatu in Balinese means “something of divine origin (at the) lands end rock.” We walked along the cliff edge trail to different vantage points, taking the beauty of the area and stopping to look at a Chinese couple getting their wedding pictures taken. Our driver accompanied us, making sure we didn’t have any trouble with monkeys that live at the temple. They are known for taking things such as sunglasses from tourists. As the sun began to descend towards the horizon, we made our way towards the stands that surround the stage where we would watch the Kecak fire dance. We picked our seats and had enough time before the dance started to enjoy the beautiful sunset.
Uluwatu Temple Sitting on the Cliff Edge
Balinese are crazy about coffee, especially Kopi Luwak or what I call, cat-poo-cino, a local and highly sought after delicacy made from Arabica coffee beans produced from cat poo! Kopi means coffee in Indonesian and Luwak is a local name of the Asian Palm Civet, a cat-like creature originally from Sumatra.
A golden civet or luwak enjoying some bananas at the Uluwatu Temple market
What is Kopi Luwak?
The civets select the best coffee cherries to consume, in this case, Arabica coffee beans mostly for the fruity fleshy pulp. Their digestive mechanisms are stated to improve the flavor profile for the coffee beans because they ferment these partially digested coffee beans. These coffee beans are later excreted and collected by farmers and processed by washing, roasting, and finely grinding to prepare kopi luwak. Kopi luwak is known more for the novelty of the process than for its taste and it is called “one of the most expensive coffees in the world with retail prices reaching US $700 per kilogram” or around $80 for a cup. Kopi Luwak is currently the second most expensive coffee since the most expensive coffee is the Black Ivory Coffee, a local Northern Thailand delicacy made from poop by elephants consuming the same type of Arabica coffee beans. These can be fetched for “US $1,100 per kilogram” and only sold in luxury hotels and cafes.
Kopi luwak is produced mainly on the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Sulawesi in Indonesia. It is also produced in the islands of the Philippines, East Timor, and Vietnam, but all have different names and prices associated with it. There has been some debate on the ethical methods on how kopi luwak is produced. PETA and other animal rights activists claim the production of kopi luwak is unethical because farmers would lock up civets in battery cages and would force-feed them. Caging civets prohibits them from roaming wild to enjoy their natural habitat and by having limited mobility, they ultimately become stressed, which reduce the quality of the coffee beans.
Here’s a little snippet from the movie “The Bucket List” about what kopi luwak is all about.
How Kopi Luwak is Produced
Step 1. Civets consume the cherry beans. It takes 24 hours to fully digest in their stomachs before they are excreted along with other byproducts like seeds, nuts, and coffee beans.
Civets are nocturnal creatures that feast on coffee cherries and defecate the coffee beans which create kopi luwak.
Coffee cherries the civet consumes, but cannot fully digest.
Step 2. Feces from civets are collected, dried, then separated to individual beans and washed. A considerable amount of weight is reduced here as nuts, seeds, and bad beans are separated out.
The excreted feces with coffee beans that cannot be digested by the civet
Top left, luwak poop in a clump, bottom separated into individual coffee beans. Middle right, vanilla beans.
Step 3. Once the coffee beans have been washed, they are left to dry in the sun for a few days so the papery parchment around the coffee been can be easily removed. It is washed and dried again.
The outer parchment is removed from the coffee beans shown here.
Step 4. The coffee beans are then roasted over the fire on a cast iron wok for an hour or more, constantly stirring to get a deep dark color and to extract strong bitter flavors. The coffee beans reduce in size through this process.
Woman roasting the coffee beans.
Step 5. Once the coffee beans are done roasting, they are placed in a pestle and mortar and are grounded up coarsely. It is then sifted out for impurities and grounded more finely.
Different phases the luwak coffee has been processed. In the far back, the coffee is roasted, on the right, the coffee is coarsely grounded, and bottom, coffee is finely grounded.
Step 6. The final product yields a finely grounded kopi luwak and packaged in a container for sale. One is by Satria Agrowisata, where we did our free coffee and tea tasting (details below) at and the other from a small shop at the Uluwatu Temple marketplace.
Finely ground kopi luwak in the Satria Agrowisata packaging.
Bali Civet Coffee sold at the market at Uluwatu Temple
Tasting Special Teas and Coffees of Bali
Our driver, Rama spent an entire day with us showing us some sites in the Ubud region of Bali and he surprised us with a stop at Satria Agrowisata, a tea and coffee plantation for a free tour of the premises including looking at the flora produced on-site (lemongrass, cocoa, cloves, cinnamon, coffee beans, and so many other plants used to produce the tea and coffee sold here). We also got a quick tour of the traditional kopi luwak roasting process and enjoyed a free coffee and tea tasting before being led to the shop where we purchased a few of our favorite teas to consume during our trip and to send some unique ones home for our family to try.
The free tasting included Ginseng Coffee, Coconut Coffee, Moccacino Coffee, Vanilla Coffee, Hot Cocoa, Saffron Tea, Mangosteen Tea, Bali Coffee, Lemon Grass Tea (Organic), Rose Tea (Organic), Ginger Tea, and Roselle Tea (Organic). We were led down some steep stairs to a shaded seating area under a hut overlooking the beautiful valley and plantation and enjoyed tasting everything here. Our guide informed us that some of these herbal teas had medicinal healing properties. Saffron for overall health, immunity and to aid digestion, Roselle (or hibiscus) to lower blood pressure, promote weight-loss, cure coughs, and Mangosteen for its anti-cancer properties, to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and to reduce inflammation. There’s no pressure to purchase anything, so if you want to just enjoy the plantation and sample the tea/coffees, that would be fine.
After sampling the 12 different coffee and teas with Mangosteen, Roselle, and Saffron being our favorites tastewise and for their healing properties, I asked about the kopi luwak tasting. The kopi luwak tasting costed extra. Fortunately, it didn’t cost $80 a cup, but at 50,000 IDR or around $3.50 USD for a small cup.
Joshua outright opted out of drinking cat poo coffee or any kind of coffee because he doesn’t like the bitter taste of coffee. And since I have a knack to try new and unique things, I, of course, tried it. I’ve been wanting to try it since we first saw the civets napping at the market at Uluwatu Temple but was a little apprehensive about drinking it and getting food poisoning from the deadly E. Coli bacteria from something that is predominately made from poop. After watching how kopi luwak was produced, I felt reassured I would not get food poisoning. I paid for the cup, with coffee in hand, Joshua intently stared at me with a grossed out look on his face as I took a sip of kopi luwak, black. I felt an immediate jolt of adrenaline rush throughout my body and my taste buds were hit with a strong, sharp bitterness and grittiness from the coffee and grinds. I promptly added cream and sugar to make it less bitter so I could finish the cup of kopi luwak. Coffee connoisseurs say kopi luwak is mostly consumed for novelty since there is no distinguishable taste, one even said it tasted like Folgers.
Would You Drink Cat Poo Coffee
So kopi luwak is safe to drink, but the question is, would you want to try it for the taste or for the novelty? And the next thought is, can you get over the fact it came from the bowels of a cat? I knew I gave into the gimmick and tried it mostly for the novelty and so I can say I drank the second most expensive cup of coffee in the world and it’s made from cat poop!
Ubud – Our Starting Point
Flower vendor at the Ubud market
Having learned during our research that the Kuta area was very touristy, we made our first destination Ubud which is labeled the spiritual center of Bali. With the cost of travel in Australia expensive, we ended up traveling quickly through the country. Wanting to do things a little slower than in Australia, we decided we would spend a week there so we wouldn’t have to rush through the sites. The laid back appeal of Ubud sounded enticing. Five location changes in less than a month left us feeling a little worn out. When we arrived on Bali we decided to take it easy in Ubud.
Whether you have a week or a month, we recommend you make the effort to visit Ubud. There are many things to do in and around Ubud. No matter whether you are doing independent exploration or with a tour you will find something that suits your interest. Ubud makes a great base for many activities. Because of its location, there seemed to be endless options for things to do. Activities include everything from hiking a volcano to riding bikes through the rice fields. For those who are not seeking adventure but a holistic experience, you can take advantage of the many spas, masseuses, and yoga facilities. Some of the activities we did while staying Ubud were seeing traditional dances, learning to cook, and taking a leisurely walk through the monkey forest. Most hotels will help arrange activities or you can join a tour. There are several tour organizers in town.
Getting to Ubud
There are several options for getting to Ubud. To get to Ubud, you can take the Kura-Kura Bus, hire a driver, or rent a motorbike and drive yourself. Since we were going to Ubud directly from the airport we hired a driver. There are several options but check all their prices and bargain. Bali is notorious for traffic, especially during commute hours, which is when we arrived, so we had to put our excitement of exploring Ubud on hold. Following a three-hour drive, even with our skilled driver Wayan weaving in and out of traffic, we arrived at Y Resort and were greeted with a welcome drink by the friendly staff. It was a pleasant drive, first going through the city and then the countryside so we were able to see a little bit of everything on the way.
Learning a New Culture
Kecak Fire Dance
We would learn during our time on the island that the people of Bali are very spiritual. Bali is almost entirely Balinese Hindu and we felt this most in Ubud. It seemed that everything was celebrated on Bali. The receptionist of our hotel would be celebrating the full moon later in the evening of our check-in. Everyday offerings are given to the gods, placed in front of nearly every business, several were placed around the hotel grounds. If you go to the market, the first sale is considered lucky so you may be able to get a better bargain.
The next day we decided to get a massage so we could begin to work out the stress we had built up over the years of our lives and begin healing our body and soul. After getting traditional Balinese massages, (where they massage your chests or breasts), we then caught the free shuttle from the hotel to downtown. We were dropped off in front of the old royal palace and when we tried to cross the street we were a little shocked by all the motorbikes that passed in front us. What got our attention was how much many people or goods were packed on the bikes. It is not uncommon to see four or five people packed on a motorbike. It seemed there was could be no limit to the volume of people or goods that could fit on a motorbike. I would have never thought an entire family could fit on a bike – mom, dad, and as many as three kids. But we would see it every day to our amazement. More amazing was the age of some of the drivers. Due to lack of public transit we would see elementary school age kids driving them around which was a little shocking since we would never see that back home. By the end of the two months, this would just seem normal.
Penis bottle openers are sold in Ubud, and everywhere on Bali
The main drop-off and pick-up point in the town center is in front of the old Royal Palace. If you are staying in a hotel outside the city, this will become a familiar with this location. Most things are within walking distance from here or you can hire one of the many taxi drivers to take you to another location. Wanting to visit the visitor center located across from the old Royal Palace in central Ubud, we crossed the street as soon we saw a break in traffic. With all the motorbikes whizzing by, it was a little intimidating to just step out into the street and not worry about being hit. We would get used to this way of crossing the street very quickly.
After the visitor center, we went to explore the market located next to it. Walking through the market and just wandering around was a fun experience, how could it not be, when there were penis bottle openers everywhere. Who doesn’t want to own a penis bottle opener? Besides the penis bottle opener, the market is bursting with art, from woodcarvings to paintings. It was fun to window shop, I felt like buying everything. It seemed like we were walking through an open air art gallery, making the temptation to buy a painting hard to resist, but I just couldn’t see lugging one around the world with us. Well, if we ever do stop and settle in the region, we know where to pick up some art at. Having fully enjoyed the market, we headed back to the hotel so we could soak in the fact we were no longer in the comforts of the developed world and things here would be a lot different than what we were used to. For me, this would be the beginning of letting go of the customs and rituals that defined our daily routine of life in the U.S. and starting the process of growing as individuals and citizens of the world.
Sacred Monkey Forest
Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest
Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest
After resting for a couple of days, I headed to the Sacred Monkey Forest while May was getting acupuncture done at Taksu Spa. This was a fun visit; wandering the trails and just observing the monkeys interact with each other. Having learned that the monkeys can become aggressive if you have food, so I passed on buying the bananas that the vendors were selling. I knew that I made a good decision when I saw a girl run by me screaming and throwing the bananas she bought because a monkey was trying to take them; I had to laugh because I thought it was a little funny to watch. It was very peaceful just stand but and watching as the baby monkeys would play with each other, scampering up a tree and jumping from branch to branch while playfully chasing each other. While wandering on one of the trails, I stopped to watch a monkey play and as I stood there I felt the weight of a monkey jump on my back. This made me a little nervous since I didn’t know what it was doing and I didn’t want to make it mad. It was nice that I was able to make a new friend in the forest, but it got bored with me, jumped off and I was free to continue wandering the forest, a little sad my friend had left though. It was a good place to visit for a couple of hours.
Paon Cooking Class
All the yummy Balinese food we learned to cook and eat!
Before we started the trip we decided we would take cooking classes in the different places we visited, so when we return home, we can share what we learned while traveling. I know I could definitely use the help learning to cook as well. So we chose to take some cooking lessons at Paon Cooking Class in Ubud. On the morning of the class, we headed to the market; located near central Ubud, where the locals would typically go and learned about the different ingredients we would need for the dishes we would be learning to make. Popular ingredients sold here specific to the Ubud region are candlenuts (similar to macadamia nuts, but a bit drier), cinnamon sticks (so long), vanilla beans, and various spices. The market was an interesting place to tour with all the different fruits, vegetables, and spices that was offered along with the activity of people going about their business.
Wayan explaining rice cultivation in Ubud
After the market, we were taken to rice fields located on the edge of Ubud where we met up with another Wayan. He explained how each household was provided land by the government so that every member of the family can plant and harvest rice three times a year. Enough to feed the members of the household and maybe a little bit more to sell. Some households, like the one across from where Wayan lived, would have as many as 18 people living in it. In his case, there were only 2. Wayan continued to explain that there are three types of rice that are grown in Bali – white, brown, and red. We then headed to his house where he explained how a traditional family house was set up. Each and every house in Bali would have their own temple and the placement of the rooms is laid out the same. Based on the direction of the entryway placement. He later introduced to us to his “his ex-girlfriend” or now wife Puspa, who would lead the cooking lessons.
Left: Joshua learning to cook, Right: Our instructor Puspa
Tempe Me Goreng
We learned how to make Sate Siap, Tempe Me Goreng, Kacang Me Santok, Kuah Wong, Base Gede, Be Siap Mesanten, Jukut Urab, Peoesan Be Pasih, and Kolak Biu. It was fun to get some quality lessons on how to cook. Even though we learned to cook, did not do any cooking after that since we didn’t have a kitchen, and the food was inexpensive at restaurants. There are so many good options for eating that there was no need to prepare our own food.
Kecak and Barong Dances
At the visitor center, we got a schedule of all the traditional and cultural dances that are performed in Ubud. The schedule lists the time and location of all the dances. You can either buy tickets for the dances at the visitor center, from a reseller on the street, or at the venue itself. Legong dance and Kecak Fire dance are the most popular dances performed in Ubud. We originally chose just to see the Kecak Fire dance but ended up also watching the Barong dance during a day trip tour. The plots for both of these dances centered on two different battles of good vs evil. We enjoyed the Kecak Fire dance, it was a little more unique than the Barong dance, but both were entertaining. Taking in the traditional dances in Ubud happened to be one of our favorite activities on Bali
The Barong & Kris Dance is a traditional Balinese dance drama portraying the eternal battle between good vs. evil from characters in Bali mythology. Barong, is a lion-like creature, is the king of all good spirits and Rangda, is a widowed witch and the queen of all evil spirits. Both are equally revered and worshipped amongst the Balinese Hindus as one cannot exist without the other. The backstory of Barong and Rangda is explained below.
“The story goes that Rangda, the mother of Erlangga, the King of Bali in the tenth century, was condemned by Erlangga’s father because she practiced black magic. After she became a widow, she summoned all the evil spirits [demons and witches] in the jungle, to come after Erlangga. A fight occurs, but she and her black magic troops were too strong that Erlangga had to ask for the help of Barong. Barong came with Erlangga’s soldiers and fight ensued. Rangda cast a spell that made Erlangga soldiers all wanted to kill themselves, pointing their poisoned keris (swords) into their own stomachs and chests. Barong then cast a spell that turned their body resistant to the sharp keris. At the end, Barong won and Rangda ran away.” —Indo.com
The drama we watched is depicted in five acts in Indonesian and features a Balinese gamelan orchestra, Balinese dancers, actors in full traditional costume, and sword-wielding Kris dancers. For those who do not understand Indonesian, there is an English translation that explains what is happening during each act which I have re-written and included below. The original translation was hard to follow and to fully understand the drama, the storyline needs to be understood before watching. The dance show can be viewed daily from 9:30-10:30am in Ubud in the Gianyar area for IDR 100,000 and comes highly recommended to watch to enjoy Balinese culture.
Barong – King of Good Spirits
Barong is the king of good spirits and is portrayed as a fun-loving, lion-like creature with a red head, covered in thick white fur, wearing gilded jewelry adorned with pieces of mirrors. The term barong is derived from local term bahruang which today corresponds to Indonesian word, beruang which means bear. The origins of the Barong are quite uncertain as its origins could be from animist worship before Hinduism appeared when villagers still believed in the supernatural protective power of animals.
Rangda – Queen of Evil Spirits
Rangda, is the mother queen of all the evil spirits with an army of demons and evil witches who practice black magic at her disposal. She is depicted as an old woman, with long and unkempt hair, pendulous breasts and claws, and her face is traditionally portrayed with fanged teeth and a long, protruding tongue.The name Rangda in old Javanese and Balinese language means widow. Rangda’s origin was linked to the legend of Calon Arang, the legendary witch who wrecked havoc in ancient Java during the reign of Airlangga in late 10th century. She is also linked to the legend of divorced and exiled Javanese queen Mahendradatta.
The Barong Drama
Indonesian dancers in traditional outfits with Barong, the king of good spirits.
The dance starts with music by the Balinese Gamelan Orchestra
The monkey and tiger, both friends enter the forest. Three men are seen making and drinking palm wine in the forest and are also servants to Dewi Kunti. They spot a tiger and see it killing a child and the men respond by attacking the tiger to fend it off, but the monkey assists the tiger in the fight. The nose of one of the three men was bitten off and the tiger and monkey escape the scene.
Act 1: Two female dancers who represent the servants of the Rangda search for the servants of Dewi Kunti who are on their way to meet their Patih (Prime Minister).
One of two dancers, also one of Rangda’s servants shows off her intricate hand movements called mudras, or symbolic ritual gestures similar to classical Indian dance.
Act 2: Rangda transforms one of her female servants into a witch (who also looks like Rangda) and starts to fight the servants of Dewi Kunti. Dewi Kunti’s servants manage to escape the Rangda and encounter the mischievous monkey again on the trail. This time they defeated the monkey and they make it safely with Patih to later meet up with Dewi Kunti.
Barong dance is injected with some humor. The servants of Dewi Kunti (right) and Patih (left) kill the monkey who tries to attack them earlier.
Act 3: Dewi Kunti has promised the Rangda to sacrifice Sadewa, her son. A witch appears and ends up possessing Dewi Kunti and she becomes angry and orders the Patih to bring Sadewa into the forest. The Patih is later also possessed by a witch so he does not have pity on Sadewa and continues to take Sadewa into the forest and ties him up to a tree.
Rangda here with Sadewa tied up to the tree
Act 4: Unknown by Rangda, Siwa, a Hindu God appears and grants Sadewa immortality. The Rangda appears ready to kill Sadewa to eat him up, but Sadewa is still alive. Rangda then surrenders and asks Sadewa for redemption and Sadewa agrees and kills the Rangda. The Rangda goes to heaven.
Left: Rangda witch with Sadewa, Right: One of the servants of Dewi Kunti
Act 5: One of the servants of the Rangda called Kalika comes up before Sadewa and asks him to redeem herself too, Sadewa refuses. Kalika gets angry and transforms herself into a boar to fight Sadewa. The boar is defeated. She then transforms herself into a bird but is defeated again. At last she changes herself into a Rangda. Sadewa meditates and then he changes himself into a Barong. Still the Rangda seems to be too powerful for Barong to defeat Rangda and the fight doesn’t seem to end. Followers of the Barong, Kris-wielding dancers appear and help Barong fight Rangda. Rangda puts a spell on the followers to turn their swords to kill themselves, but Barong casts another spell to make them immortal. Ultimately the fight ends and Rangda is scared away.
Kris Dancers stabbing themselves with the keris sword.
Where to Watch
Jambe Budaya, Jalan Pasekan, Batubulan, Gianyar
Phone: (0361) 2770291
Cost: 100,000 IDR
Other Traditional Balinese Dances
Another equally enchanting traditional Balinese dance to watch is the Kecak dance where hundreds of half-clothed men chant the word kecak to a melody they create with their own voices while the Hindu Balinese epic of Ramayana is portrayed by beautiful Balinese dancers. One show in Central Ubud even had a man who kicked fire under a trance.
Arriving in Bali – Our First Taste of Southeast Asia
After spending nearly a month in Australia, we left Perth and headed to Bali to begin a two-month trip through Indonesia. Though Australia was on the other side of the Pacific Ocean from California, it sometimes felt like we had never left the U.S. since everyone spoke English and the cities had a similar feel to San Francisco. The only difference was that they spoke with a funny accent. As we disembarked from the airplane, we felt like our trip had just begun. We didn’t quite know what to expect of Bali. Beaches and “Eat, Pray, Love” were all that we knew about the island, but we had been told by several people we knew before we left that it was their favorite place so we were very excited to finally arrive. As we exited the plane and stepped on the tarmac, feeling the warm tropical air hit us, we both smiled knowing that we had finally reached Southeast Asia and a new adventure awaited us.
Though Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country, the 3.8 million population of Bali practices Balinese Hindu. When we arrived, we had to walk through a temple at the airport and could immediately tell Bali had a special spirituality to it. We arrived during the full moon. The power of the moon were quite powerful and special as it created some of the most lucid dreams I have ever experienced in my life.
It is simple to remember the names of people we met since the males are named after their birth order. We met a lot of Wayan (first born, pronounced why-anh) and Made (second, pronounced mah-day), but Nyoman (third, pronounced just as it’s read) and Ketut (fourth, pronounced keh-tut) were a bit more scarce. The fifth child’s name would start over at Wayan. But not everyone goes by their birth-order name because it would be confusing because you would start to be unsure of which Wayan would be referred to. Usually nicknames are given to them from friends or selected themselves. Rama was a special case. He was our extremely informative and chatty tour guide we met at the Kecak Dance at the Desa Pakraman Taman Kaja community near central Ubud.
Us with Rama our driver, tour guide, and friend with his wife
Arriving during the high travel season, the island seemed to be overrun with tourists as 40% of Indonesia’s foreign tourists go to Bali. At times we just wanted to lay low and have some peace, so we spent our time in a couple different areas of Bali that offered us a little of everything. Here you can hike volcanoes, drink the second most expensive coffee in the world (Kopi Luwak or coffee made from cat poop), see traditional Balinese dances, visit some of Bali’s most spiritual temples, and enjoy amazing sunsets.
Ubud – Bali’s Spiritual Capital
Titra Empul Water Temple
Ubud is located in the mountains of Bali, making it a little cooler than Kuta or Seminyak. It is a good location for starting many adventures on the island or experiencing the traditional side of Bali. Many of the traditional dances on Bali are performed in or around Ubud. During our stay, we saw the Kecak Dance and Barong dance. Needing a little pampering we took full advantage of the spas to work out the stress we had built up in our bodies. As you wander around you may stumble across various celebrations, there seemed to be a reason to celebrate everything. While driving around, we were able to see a couple of wedding processions. Giving offerings to the Gods is very important so noticed them in front of every store, and placed all over the hotel we stayed at, Y Resort. Our first stop was the tourist information center for the latest schedule of dances. Across from the center is the market where you can wander for souvenirs and art.
Since we didn’t have a motorbike, we decided to hire a driver for a tour of the sites near Ubud – watch a Barong dance, view Mount Batur and lake while feasting on a lunch buffet, woodcarving center, Tirta Empul water temple, and rice terraces. Learning to cook Indonesian cuisine at the Paon Cooking Class was one of our favorite activities. From walking in Sacred Monkey Forest to learning to cook, we learned there are plenty of things to do in Ubud.
Kerokoban – Peace and Quiet
For some peace and quiet, we spent some time in Kerokaban. Staying at Pandawa All Suites Hotel gave us some time to reflect and re-energize. The resort was located a bit far from the main attractions in the area so we just advantage of it and rested. If you are seeking to get away from what can seem like the hectic pace of Bali then this is a good place to stop and rest.
Seminyak – The Beach and Temples Call for Us
Sunset at Uluwatu Temple
Needing to feel the ocean on our bodies we made our way to Double Six Beach, staying at the Hotel Horison. Located just a short walk down the street from the beach, with their own cabana section, we spend a day playing in the surf. When night comes, the restaurants on the beach are great for sitting down, having a drink and enjoying live music. Being out of the mountains and getting the rest we direly needed, it was time to visit temples. Two of the most famous temples on Bali, Tanah Lot and Uluwatu are great places to visit during the sunset. Tanah Lot, known for it sunsets, is one of the most popular temples on Bali. It is built on a rock and can only be visited on foot during low tide. Taking advantage of the low tide, we ventured out in the ocean for sunset photos. The other famous temple on Bali is Uluwatu Temple. Located on a cliff, it provides great views of the ocean and there is a daily performance of the Kecak Dance. It was hard for us to sit still and wait for the Kecak dance to start with such a pretty sunset, but we managed. Watching the sun turns the sky beautiful pastel colors were amazing at both these temples.
Tanah Lot Temple Sunset
Extending Our Visa
When we arrived we were only granted a 30-day visa on arrival so we went to Highway Bali Consulting Services to start our paperwork for extending our visa another 30 days. The process should only suppose to take 5-7 days, but in our case it took longer. After filling out the paperwork, we handed over our passports and were told we should get a call for when we would need to go to the immigration office for fingerprinting and getting our photo taken, in about 3 days. Since we would need to go to the Kuta area we decide to head down to Seminyak to enjoy the beach and finish our visa extension, then head back to Ubud for some more exploration. Instead of 5-7 days it took us 14 days to actually get our visa extension. The most annoying part of the experience was when we went to the immigration office at our scheduled appointment time the first time, we were told we had to come back in two days because their computers crashed. If you are planning on extending your visa in Bali give yourself extra time.