coconut plantation

Wayan, beaming at least as brightly as the kerosene lamps he holds, brings light for the room. I called him Tuan Halus or Mr Graceful. Wayan could could glide up the steps of the open verandah, and without so much as breaking his stride, remove his sandals in one smooth movement as he floated on past. Smiles such as this were one of my first and lasting impressions of Bali. In some other cultures, smiles are less forthcoming.

"A Smile". How strange. Take away the flesh, the cheeks, the lips and you are left with the sickening grimace of death. But arrange thick lips and smooth brown cheeks in such a way as to show something of those perfect straight white teeth and you have a smile when so freely given and unfettered by any thought other than that of genuine pleasure to meet another fellow, communicates from soul to soul. How freely he smiles at a stranger. How quickly it lightens my heart. He is a wood carver and shows me his shop. I have walked far off the main road and am miles from the tourists of Ubud. He takes pity on me and kindly offers to take me back on his bicycle. I decline. I need the exercise! Notes from a travel diary, 1997.

Early morning and a young Balinese woman in
pink, blurred by the slow shutter speed, rides
through the dappled light of a coconut grove on
her way to market on her family's Honda motor
scooter, or "Bebek", (duck) as the Balinese call
them. This is Kuta as it once was away from the
beach. Plantations of these most useful of trees
once grew all the way up to the sea front.

This was the view out from the backyard of my friend's home, Ketut, when he first built it with the financial help of some Australian friends in 1976. The original two roomed red brick dwelling in traditional Balinese style had a magnificent black thatched roof, a rarity these days because of the expense. One half of the house was for Ketut and his family, the other for tourists who were beginning to come to Bali thick and fast.

This building, a well, a shrine and other additions made since, were all placed on Ketut's plot of land with great care, paying due attention to religious matters. Ketut's father is a Pemangko, a village priest, and there were a number of ceremonies to seek permission of the spirits that might inhabit the area.

The above grove of coconut trees and others like it have long since gone from the Kuta scene to be replaced by tourist accommodation protected by high walls that fight cheek by jowl for a patch of sunlight. Gosh, even Ketut's homestay has gone up two more flights.

I've stayed with Ketut on many occasions but most enjoyed the early days before electricity and television arrived when there was little else to do but to share meals around a kerosene lamp, chat with the neighbours for an hour or so and retire to bed early. In the morning, you drew your own water from the well and ladled it all over yourself under a bright blue sky. Ah a 'mandi' in the great outdoors.

I used to sit with Ketut on the polished tile floor of his open sided verandah when he was still a single man. He would gaze off into the distance with a look of perfect serenity and contentment on his face. "What are you thinking of 'tut?", I would ask, hoping he would bestow some profound secret knowledge from his culture upon me that might cure my restlessness. "Oh, nothing", he replied. At other moments he confessed that he could not quite believe that he owned a bit of land with a house on it. It was like a dream.

Ketut is a humble, generous and deeply spiritual man who was never spoilt by the wealth he was slowly accumulating. He prayed every day not forgetting to give thanks to the Hindu gods for his good fortune. His sojourn to Australia, his collision with Western culture and all the kinds of problems that fussy arrogant tourists bring, and being the first port of call when any members of his family were in some kind of trouble, made him wise beyond his years.

Ketut has long since returned to the sanity of his mountain village above Ubud and leaves his cousin to manage his homestay. "Bunut Gardens" is still a little haven behind its walls of grey cement.

Ketut tucks into a delicious meal
of 'nasi campur' or 'mixed rice'.
A boiled egg, bean sprouts, some
crispy fried onion, roasted peanuts,
a small serve of meat, chili sambal
and rice served fresh on a banana
leaf. Hmm! The original finger
lickin' good. Where did he get
this tasty snack from? Why at
Nyoman's Warung
of course!
Sorry Ketut, not a very
flattering picture of you.

or the donut man calls