Weekend trip to Gunung Batukaru Bali


batukaruVisiting the quieter parts of Bali is a treat and my latest trip was back up to the peaceful slopes of Gunung Batukaru, north of Tabanan. Richard Kaal is in the process of building a mountain retreat, his dream is to attract musicians and lovers of art and culture. Richard has visited mountain villages and recorded 40 CDs of Balinese gamelan music, with the hopes of learning more about it and doing some kind of western fusion. He recently took 4 Balinese musicians to Australia to do a mini tour.

The mountain retreat looks great already, with a main 2-storey house, a cafe, a small pondok with 2 rooms and other structures waiting to be erected or finished. He has built a sturdy looking 2-story roofed structure for music and dance performances, with stunning views over the jungle all the way to the coast. Indeed, the terrain drops off right outside the pondok into virgin jungle. I told him he should put a hot tub 100 meters down the slope in the jungle. Imagine taking a dip in that thing!

Alway interesting to take a peak into other people’s projects and hear their stories. Richard has spent a ton of money so far on his place and its taking longer than he expected. Local workers
just don’t move fast and a good example was the cement. They were supposed to be doing cement work on Saturday morning, but he discovered they only had 1 sack left, meaning a trip to town. No one mentioned the lack of cement, but they tried to complete the job with 1 bag. There are all kinds of corner cutting activities that go on in Bali. The roads are a disaster because the tarmac is not thick enough and they do not use enough tar. Take a close look at a disintegrating road and you’ll see what happens. Another trick they do is making a cement ‘box’ then filing it with earth, before laying a thin layer of cement over the top, rather than just pouring in the whole thing with cement.

The 2-storey performance place is supported by 200 year old teak beams and Richard is setting up a massive joglo structure, which is made in Java and comes with carved teak walls. His labor costs are 15m rp per month, not including materials. This would be way higher down in Kuta / Seminyak, but here in the village, people are glad of the work. Having the construction experience Richard has pays dividends out here. He spots things all the time that the locals do wrong in their own projects, including using the thinest, cheapest cable to run electricity, meaning they lose half of it over a distance. Plugs are not Earthed over here either.

batukaruOne of the cool things about the mountain retreat is the structures are all slightly out of alignment. This is deliberate and gives each ‘space’ a kind of independence from the others, meaning the structures are better for privacy and small group interaction. Living high on the jungled slope of a mountain in Bali has its price. There is no Starbucks around the corner and the closest big town is Tabanan, 45 minutes down the hill. Seminyak is 90 minutes away. The final section of road is heavily rutted, or more accurately, the rocks that underlay the former road form piles that create ruts. The good thing about this is it keeps the our buses out. Richard says the bad road doesn’t bother him any more as he knows every bump. I was amazed to hear him say that as my thoughts are always something like ‘there’s no way I could live up here’. The road is getting re-surfaced this year so zooming up for a visit will be less painful.

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Arriving after dark this last trip, I learned a local joged dance was about to start. These dances were created along ago to introduce the girls of a village to the boys of another village. The joged is a flirtatious dance in which a solo Balinese dancer selects single men in turn who try to charm her. These can get very sensual and a lucky male dancer may get to do a little hip grinding with the dancer, to the delight of all present including the old ladies.

This was the first joged I’ve been to where I was not selected to dance, largely because of the number of young men eager to get in there. The 3 Balinese dancers were good sports, occasionally batting away a cheeky teenager with the fan if he got out of line. The dance took place out in the street, totally blocking the narrow mountain road. A house across the street provided snacks and soft drinks, consisting of sweet tea in a bottle and a selection of Balinese rice desert cakes. We were invited in by the locals who all know Pak Richard and shook hands with the banjar guys and the gamelan orchestra.

pembantusBuilding a nice place in the middle of nowhere might make some people nervous. Bali is notorious for rips offs involving land, but Richard said he is totally comfortable with the land owner, Pak Gede, who a friend has known for 17 years. He has a 25 year lease and provides valuable income for villagers. Pak Gede will get the place back eventually and maybe by then the area will developed for tourism. The way Richard and his family are going about it, by hiring locals, attending ceremonies, inviting the locals in for music performance and visiting their homes is the right way to do it, not just for security, but for karma. When people build a fortress in the middle of a village they are creating a problem for themselves. The mountain retreat is all pretty open and nothing gets stolen. Of course the 2 pembantus are around in the daytime.

The mountains of Bali have some great things to offer if you have the time to get to know them.