#ShelinaTravels Day 7 morning: local immersion at last! A visit to the local village of Ungasan

  • One of the frustrations I’ve had during this trip is that the hotels we’ve stayed at, chosen for comfort, relaxation and child friendliness, coupled with day trips that visit tourist destinations, have left me whizzing past local villages and unable to really get a feel for local life and culture. Of course, those were the choices I made, and every choice comes with a trade off.

    But at last, on the penultimate day of our trip I took a guided village walk to nearby Ungasan village. My guide was a woman who herself lives in Ungasan, was born there, married there and who said she had no plans to ever leave since her ancestors are also there.

    It was hot, really hot, hot and sticky. The road wound up and down through lush trees and beautifully adorned houses. We passed a junction with a shrine sacred to the locals, it was there to offer safety, and if you drive past you have to ring your horn to acknowledge it.

    The local central marketplace had a row of shops in the middle and shops all the way round the outside. This was where most of the religious items were bought. It was 11am when we arrived and the shops were closing. “What time will they re-open?” I asked, imagining a much needed afternoon siesta. “Oh no, this is it!” said the guide. “They open at 4am and close at 11.” It seems the life of a Balinese woman is tough – she needs to wake up, come to the shops to buy food and prepare breakfast for her family before they wake up. She will also prepare the items for the daily offering for her home’s own shrine.

    What caught my eye is the number of Muslims in the area, from Java, I was informed. This surprised me, especially as the population looked comfortably and historically interwoven, and the guide felt it was perfectly normal. So much so, that she was surprised when I pointed out how beautiful it was to see a shop selling the items of Hindu rituals, right next door to a Muslim shop selling their equivalents like prayer mats.

    As we walked on we saw Banyan Trees (sacred, protected by a wall, a special ceremony to cut them), mango trees (several varieties), coconut palms (the yellow fruits bunched together tantalisingly) and teak trees. In the fields were cows, who moo’d to us and we moo’d back (at least I did) and screeching cockerels.

    Cute children played in school yards. The locals who drove past and knew the Guide honked her. We walked past the bank, an incredibly grand building (‘some of the locals have made a lot of money here from selling their land’).

    Before the hotels came, Ungasan was a small village, mainly farming and some fishing. It’s about half an hour from Denpasar, the capital and feels extremely remote, perched on the furthest southern tip on the cliffs. It’s on limestone and so farming is tough.

    Despite my own choice to stay at a resort in this area and enjoy its delights, I was suffering acute first world guilt that perhaps the row of hotels on the coastline had torn the local fabric of society and environment. But speaking to her and other locals, I felt it wasn’t as clear cut. In her opinion, everyone in the village works at a hotel. The tourism industry is sustaining this and several other local villages.  But equally, large posters across the village were protesting against land reclamation in a nearby area. The village was sprinkled with villas rented out by travellers who would then spend their money in local shops. And in the surrounding areas surfers and long term inhabitants were plentiful, again, spending money.

    Each village in Bali has three shrines: Pura Dalem (Shiva), Pura Pusa (Vishnu) and Pura Desa (Brahma) named after the three gods. You couldn’t enter but could see the large altars and doors.

    There was a friendly buzz to the place. And the locals zoomed past on their motorbikes and smiled and I waved back. Life was in full swing here. And I was grateful to have had a chance to get out of a car, free myself from the cloistered surroundings I’d put myself into, and actually get a taste for what it is like in a local village. It’s worth it – give it a try.

    This guided tour was provided courtesy of the Banyan Tree Bali. All opinions are my own.

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