Debra Lynkowski and her partner Marc Archambault spent 6 weeks at a Bali homestay during their mid-life, 8-month trip around world.
Bali surprised me more than any other place in our round-the-world trip. We chose the island as a place to regroup before leaving Southeast Asia. It had been described as being exotic and beautiful and, frankly, it was one of the few places in Southeast Asia that wasn’t in the midst of the monsoon season.
We’d been told Kuta was highly over-developed and Ubud overrun by readers of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Love. (They now sell T-shirts in Ubud that read: “Eat, Pay, Leave”.) So we had the extraordinary good fortune to find a homestay with a traditional Balinese family in a compound in the village of Payogan on the outskirts of Ubud. It was the home of Ketut Mendra and family.
The rhythm of Bali life was unlike anything Marc or I had ever experienced, and we settled into that rhythm with great ease.
Here is the description of Payogan Homestay on airbnb: “You will wake up to the traditional sounds of Bali and experience the essence of staying in a Balinese village. Living in a Balinese family compound means that you will have many friendly neighbors. The compound is home to a large extended family, all of whom are very involved in traditional Balinese life, and committed to our village ceremonies. We welcome you to participate if you choose.”
Here is what the description could have said: “At Payogan Homestay, you will wake up to the crowing of time-challenged roosters at about 3 a.m., and interestingly, you won’t mind at all. You will smile to yourself and drift back asleep. Shortly after 5 a.m., you’ll smell wood burning as the early risers begin to prepare breakfast and offerings for the day. In a matter of an hour or so the scent of incense will come wafting through the open soffits of your bedroom. Sometimes you open the drapes slightly to watch the women in the family approach the shrine with offerings of incense, rice, coconut, fruit, and flower petals. The chickens and roosters follow close behind assuming that what is offered must surely be for them.
“By this time, one of the two kittens that you have temporarily adopted will have jumped into the open-air bathroom and be pulling the underside of the door, impatiently trying to get into the kitchen. They have quickly developed a taste for store-bought food and snuggling.
“On the best days, it is bread day and Wayan or Made delivers a warm loaf. You light your own incense and sit on the terrace overlooking the rice field, as family members mill about and start their chores. The old and achy dog, Joe, comes by for a treat and a belly-rub. You take special delight in making Joe howl, knowing it is his unique way of expressing pure bliss.
“The sound of young boys practicing traditional gamelan music drifts across the rice fields.
“You plan the day ahead with some ambitious but vague discussion of ‘things that you really should see on the island’, knowing that inevitably you will reach the conclusion yet again that everything you’ve come to see is within the walls of the compound itself.”
We booked the homestay with the hope of getting a glimpse of traditional Balinese life and culture. Instead, we found that we were quickly integrated “into” that life. In the short space of six weeks at Payogan, we began to feel a deep sense of belonging.
Ketut is one of five brothers whose families live on the compound. Ketut’s immediate family includes his wife, Wayan, and their sons, Wayan and Made. It is traditional for the male members of the family to remain on the compound while the sisters join their husband’s family. The compound has been in the family for over 100 years; it is home to 25 adults and children and a menagerie of animals—chickens, roosters, cats and dogs, and one huge black snake that Ketut says has lived there for years.
A little bit about naming in Bali. Bali names are derived by birth order:
– The first born is Wayan (Wah-YAN) or Putu;
– Second born is Made (Ma-DAY) or Kadek;
– Third is Nyoman (NYO-man) or Komang;
– Fourth is Ketut (Ke-TUT).
– If there is a fifth child, s/he is Wayan ‘again’.
In my family, I would be Ketut (‘Tut’ for short); Marc would have been Made.
In our Balinese family, there were four Wayans and three Mades whom we came to know well. Questions such as “Wayan wants to know if we need a bigger pot for the chili” were never simply answered!
During our six wonderful weeks at Payogan, these are some of our favourite memories:
- Daily visits with the family when we shared music, food, and stories and learned that everyone in the family really loves spaghetti, coca cola and chocolate.
- Celebrating potluck birthdays with the family, which included many favourites such as yellow rice, satay, and Marc’s famous chili, which was a big hit with the family.
- Trips with our friend (and professional guide) Ketut Mendra to wood carving villages, local morning markets, the floating temple and the Mount Batur volcano.
- The simple pleasure of showering in the open-air bathroom, under coconut trees.
- Being able to participate in many of the traditional ceremonies.
We happened to be at Payogan during a ceremony celebrating the anniversary of the family temple. Preparations for the event were extensive and one of Ketut’s brothers, a priest, officiated. Most people in Bali practice a form of Hinduism that is very unique and integrated into daily life. You cannot walk down a sidewalk in Bali without being conscious of sidestepping the offerings that are placed on the ground in front of shops and homes. The offerings are to please the gods and appease the demons.
A lot of places on airbnb describe themselves as ‘home stays’. This was the first one that really captured the essence of that word. As Marc said, ‘home’ is what it felt like, and ‘stay’ is the word that came to mind when we were set to depart.
This article has been adapted, with permission, by Riding the buses from a blog Debra Lynkowski wrote to family and friends.
Photo credits Marc Archambault