Friday, May 24, 2013

21 Days In The Kingdom: Part One - Faces in the Crowd

Two long & crowded flights and 20 hours post-departure from one island, we arrive on another. Passing through immigration & customs kiosks manned by sleepy-eyed officials, it's just past midnight when we break free of the air-com of the arrival terminal and become enveloped in the warm blanket of humid, equatorial night air.

Adi arrives a few minutes later and we load our luggage and camera gear into the mini-van and wind thru the dark streets of Tuban and aim for the highland village of Ubud, Regency of Gianyar. Our lodgings for most of the stay are in the nicely appointed home of photographer Rio Helmi, a large room, luxurious bed encased in mosquito netting with adjoining study, spacious lanai and outdoor office area situated poolside, nestled within a lush, tropical garden. It is quiet here.

A much needed shower and sleep are the first order of business. Waking with the roosters a few hours later, refreshed and ready, the Missus is off to the nearby village of silversmiths to begin her business while I am left with the tasks of changing money, hunting down a rental motorbike and reconnecting with old friends to warn them of my impending impositions on their good nature & hospitality.

Accomplishing few of my tasks by mid-day, the invitation to join friends Ayu & Made (Mah-Day) for a mid-day meal arrives and we wind thru the crowded streets to a small cafe serving spicy indian delicacies to catch up on our live since we last saw one another.

Made (L) & Ayu (R)
Ayu informs me that there are massive ceremonial processions taking place later in the day in the nearby village of Sukawati. Most people visit Bali, it seems, for the beach, the surf, the hedonistic nightlife and the shopping. I come to be immersed in the bliss & color of ceremonial pageantry. For this, it turns out, our arrival on the island falls at an auspicious time - the day before full moon. Everyone is preparing to celebrate & honor the climax of the lunar waxing and ceremonies are taking place everywhere.

Off to Sukawati we go, arriving just as the processions are beginning... a procession the cary village Gods to the river spring to gather holy water. The crowd is immense, the colorful dress impressive and the crowd welcoming and friendly to foreign interlopers armed with cameras and massive lenses. I appear to be one of the few westerners amongst the throngs of worshipers and I feel lucky and blessed to be here.

There are village orchestras, stern-faced children displaying the weight of the responsibilities of accompanying their deities on their made-up faces. Graceful dancers perform a ritual pendent, thrilling the crowds amassed roadside.

Suddenly, the heavens open and the deluge begins, sending the crowd running for any shelter available but doing nothing to dampen enthusiasm for the spectacle.

Yesterday, another group from the village performs a similar procession, this one gathering a crowd of participants and observers even larger than the previous. I am joined by my friend and guide, Mr. T, looking splendid in his white, ceremonial priestly garb as we set upon the crowd, cameras in hand. Again, we are among only a handful of westerners and again, the rains set in just as the light began to fade.

Mr. T

Friendly folks and amazing faces provided umbrellas to protect cameras and as we scurried for shelter and cars & the return to the modern day, just as nightfall sets in.

As I finish making this entry, Mr. T sends a text and we plan to meet in just a while to hunt for photographs and plan for a trip to Cambodia in two weeks. Today is a buddhist holiday and my host is hosting a gathering of friends here at the compound. The soft, comforting murmur of their chanting fills the air. It's time to sign off and prepare for our meeting.

The journey continues...

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