Wednesday, July 28, 2010

July 1, 2010 Manggis, Bali: A Trek through the Rice Fields

Three of us from the hotel, Katherine, Bev from Adelaide, Australia, and me, set out with our guide Toto to take what we thought was an easy walk through rice paddies, scheduled to take two hours and twenty minutes.

In the van on the way to the trail head, we saw monkeys and ducks on the road and close by two golden cows and their master plowing a field. “We are not in Hawaii,” we said to ourselves.

Shortly after we reached the trail and our van with umbrellas disappeared into the distance, it started to rain—improbably and unexpectedly given that June and July are not part of the rainy season. Our guide, ever resourceful, cut each of us a banana leaf to hold over our heads. Problem solved. And off we went.

Over a rickety bamboo bridge, up a steep trail to a water channel used for irrigating the rice paddies, and through the rice paddies themselves.

These rice paddies have been terraced in these hills for more than a thousand years. The water system, a complex and ingenious network of irrigation channels, tunnels and aqueducts, is organized into water-sharing communities called subak. These regional communities make the decisions that determine how the water is allocated for each field under cultivation. Given that rice is the primary staple of the Balinese diet, the success of the crop is extremely important and water is, of course, crucial.

Looking at these terraces there is nothing to remind us of the 21st century: men working the fields by hand, no visible power lines, lunch carried to them on a fellow villager’s shoulders. (Lunch is wrapped in plastic but that’s it.)

All along the way Toto told us stories about the flora and fauna. He has a wealth of information at his fingertips and we were enthralled: red pineapples, mimosas closing up with our touch, shrines to the rice goddess, Dewi Sri, all the uses of coconut palms, etc. I am standing next to a rice goddess shrine.

About mid-way, the 21st century happily resurfaced in the form of a small shop with a much-appreciated outdoor toilet. An elderly fellow was playing a bamboo instrument called a rindik.

We continued through a small village whose clean water system was built by Engineers without Borders and then down an impossibly narrow, stony, and slick trail to the ancient village of Tenganan where pigs and sacred black cows were making themselves perfectly at home in the streets and temples.

We stopped along the main street to visit the studio of a weaver whose specialty was double ikat.

Back at the hotel four and a half hours from our departure—about two hours longer than anticipated, refreshed with frozen towels provided by the driver of our van, we are weary but proud trekkers. I am hugely grateful to Toto who held my hand down the trail, step by precarious step. It was a marvelous adventure.

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