Despite its upsides, a few days in touristy Ubud, Bali was more than enough for us – perfect timing for our next stop, Pejeng. Pejeng is only 20 minutes northeast of Ubud by motoscooter, but it feels like another world: a collection of very small, traditional villages where people live similarly to how they did 20 or 30 years ago (save for the onslaught of motobikes and automated rice field tillers!).
We’d actually found Pejeng online through rave reviews for a guesthouse there, Swallow Guesthouse, named after its former role as a barn for swallow nesting (the swallows keep the bugs that roam the fields at bay). The place looked great and the price was right, so in a move uncharacteristic of our usual, whimsical ways, we booked it ahead. As such, Pejeng became the only planned stop on our Bali itinerary.
The Swallow Guesthouse was really quite luxurious, and we had the entire place to ourselves, aside from a couple staying on the other half of the house (two very nice medical anthropologists from Europe with whom we cooked and shared a great dinner one of the nights).
We spent a lazy week in Pejeng, reading alongside the rice fields, watching the farmers harvest their crop and herd their packs of field-fertilizing ducks, riding bikes around the surrounding villages, and cooking meals for ourselves, including a makeshift Thanksgiving meal! (Fried corn fritters, sweet pound cakes, cocoa swirl cookies, eggplant in a red pepper and garlic sauce, and Bintang Balinese beer (Bintang translates to “Natty Light” in English, I think…).
The Balinese “bale”, where we did much of our eating and reading, from the top floor:
The back porch:
It had an amazing lotus garden out back as well!
And the sunrises over the rice fields…
While at Swallow Guesthouse, I began working again. In case you didn’t know, this trip isn’t all fun and ga… okay yeah, it sortof is. Anyway, for the remainder of the trip, my plan is to work somewhat regular hours for my employer, Filament Group, from wherever we happen to be in our journey (amazing, huh!?). Fortunately, this is not a drag at all. I really love my job, and the ongoing pay doesn’t hurt our travel funds either. Here I am at the office:
I should note too that another our goals for the trip is to casually seek some potential organizations and causes that Steph might be interested in contacting for work as well, which she spent much of her time researching while in Pejeng. Later on, we may end up heading back to a place we’ve already been if there’s a good opportunity for her to explore.
Much like the other small villages we visited, Pejeng suited our tastes well. The villages were very rural, the old traditions still in practice, the people unjaded to visitors. Pejeng is also quite flat, making for different scenery than we’d found in rice-terraced Sidemen and mountainous Munduk.
Another highlight of Pejeng was that we were able to try a fruit called Durian, something we’ve been wanting to try for years, as it’s known to be, well, completely repulsive – what fun! The durian is hard and spikey on the outside, and upon cracking it open you find 3 or 4 very sweet, tubular, pudding-soft, almost onion-tasting custard snacks. It’s a divisive food: people are known to either love it or absolutely detest it, and its strong smell actually leads many hotels in Asia to post rules against guests bringing durian on their premises! Andrew Zimmern, the host of Bizzarre Foods, one of our favorite TV shows, claims it’s the only food he absolutely can not eat! (And that guy eats anything.)
Our first durian!! :
Aside from all the laziness, we did end up attending YABCC (Yet Another Balinese Cremation Ceremony). If you’ve been following along, you’red probably thinking we’ve become quite the funeral crashers during our time in Bali (“open bar, dude!”), but really, cremation ceremonies are meant for the entire village to attend. So, once again we gladly donned our sarongs and headed off to observe.
This one was a bit more elaborate than the small cremation ceremony we attended in Sidemen. A priest, one of the highest ranking people in the Balinese caste system, had died, and that fact combined with the relatively greater wealth in Pejeng made for quite the festivities.
The body being hoisted onto the tower, for carrying to the cemation site:
The priest’s body, hoisted atop an even taller sleigh than the last one we saw, was led by another group carrying a large white bull. Many of the customs were similar – the drunken, disorienting march of the body, the gamelan band, the crowds following along, the concession stands – but all were more pronounced.
Upon reaching the pre-prepped pyre, they placed the bull above the torches and removed its back, leaving a cavity in which the body was placed for cremation. We remarked on how odd it is that even an event such as this can begin to feel like an unsurprising, everyday thing after having seen it already. Of course, this time around they did a much better job of concealing the body during the cremation, so it was a lot less graphic.
Again, the flames were fueled by massive tanks of propane. This time though, the many tanks were neatly collected in a van we dubbed “the bomb.” We spent much of our time there simply trying to avoid being positioned next to “the bomb.”
And what large, modern Balinese ceremony would be complete without a clueless, offensive foreigner or two? Here he is, front and center, with his short shorts (wearing a sarong is expected, but at the very least, attendees of Balinese ceremonies and temples must ALWAYS cover their legs and shoulders), and his massive, television-esque HD camera to make sure he captured every last gory detail – even at the expense of all the horrified villagers he stood in front of, filming as they reacted to the event. Nice goin’!
In the end, Pejeng was a great place to wind down our time in Bali.
After heading out our last day, we stopped off at an ancient site called “Elephant Cave”, named for its proximity to the Elephant river. The cave and surrounding sites were excavated as recently as the 1950s, and it had been used throughout history as both a Hindu and Buddhist temple, with vast ruins from both still in tact.
The grounds had ruins barely uncovered by nature, and caves with ancient relics from the temples.
One of the caves tunneled deep into the hills, and I walked in until I could barely see. But the sounds of flapping quickly alerted us that the place was full of bats who were not at all welcoming! Here I am accidentally snapping a pic as I sprint out of the cave with bats trailing close behind!!
Lastly, the views into the Elephant River gorge were well worth a small hike.
After that, we were off to a quick stay near the airport, for Cambodia beckons!