Bali Part 1 – Nyepi and Ogoh-ogoh Day

And now for Bali. The Eat Pray Love section of the blog is here. I know you’re looking forward to it.

We spent the first 6 days of our Balinese adventure in a town on the southern coast called Sanur. Sanur was the first tourist area developed in Bali, and its kind of fun to see kitschy tourist stuff from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Its like if the Brady Bunch went to Bali. See??

We stayed in an apartment on the northern side of Sanur, and while in theory it was a 5-minute walk to the beach, that walk involved crossing a freeway and getting chased by scabby dogs. Jeff nearly got physical with a weenie dog. So yes… we were a bit less than impressed with Sanur. On the plus side, however, we did get to experience an interesting neighborhood and spend time on the locals beach, which was so much more appealing than the Aussie poop-party in the fancier parts of southern Bali.

Unbeknownst to us, our visit coincided with the Balinese New Year festival of Nyepi, which was really a treat. There are three basic parts to the Nyepi festival: 1) the multi-day preparation phase, 2) Ogoh-ogoh day (which is Nyepi-eve), and 3) Nyepi day itself.

Based on what I can piece together from observations and some surprisingly specific but unhelpful Wikipedia articles, the preparation for Nyepi involves several (4-ish?) days of sitting on the beach while wearing pretty white clothes and praying. Each day people bring small offerings of food and flowers to send out to the sea, and a holy man does some incredibly creepy chanting. Not to get all E-P-L, but I was impressed by how seriously people take the preparations for Nyepi – praying, preparing nice little offerings, and sprinkling things with baggies of holy water seems like a full-time job.

For Parts 2 and 3 of the Nyepi holiday we headed north to the town of the quiet town of Pemutaren (much more on this delightful town later). As far as I’m concerned Ogoh-ogoh day is really the star of the Nyepi festival. Village youth groups get together and build the Ogoh-ogoh’s –giant papier-mâché and Styrofoam demons that are freaky and surprisingly lewd. Here are a few of my favorites:

On Ogoh-ogoh day these demons are paraded through town by the village children. At each road intersection the Ogoh-Ogohs are spun around 3 times counter-clockwise to disorient the evil Ogoh-Ogoh spirits and thereby keep the village safe in the coming new year. Multiple people told me that the evil spirits are tricked into going to the nearby island of Java, so that’s fun and neighborly.

Once the Ogoh-ogoh demons are thoroughly disoriented , the procession continues to the beach. The Ogoh-ogohs are then set on fire, much to the delight of the screaming teenagers who made them. It’s really quite the spectacle. American holidays need to be more like this.

After the chaotic revelry of Ogoh-ogoh day comes Nyepi, the final day of the festival. Nyepi is an island-wide day of silence and rest – no going outside, no electricity or lights, and no doing anything fun. The airport closes down, and there are scary religious police who make sure you adhere. By keeping the island quiet and dark for a day, the fleeing spirits of the Ogoh-ogohs are ‘tricked’ into thinking the island is uninhabited, and leave Bali alone of another year. We were staying at a wonderful small resort run by a German couple, so we could leave our bungalow but not the resort grounds.

This was our Nyepi prison – somehow we survived.

Next up, I’ll tell you all about how great Pemuteran is and I won’t mention anything about E-P-L or Balinese religious life. I promise. (But maybe I will since we’re going to Ubud.)

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