Last March we met a couple friends in a village in Bali's northern hills for Nyepi, the Day of Silence that marks the first day of the Balinese New Year. As soon as we returned to KL Dave's photographs from that trip - and there are plenty of them - got buried beneath deadlines and other obligations, so I never posted much about it. But I just came across a stick drive full of photos, and I've been looking and remembering all the amazing experiences (culinary and otherwise) we had that week.
The Balinese start their New Year's celebrations several days before Nyepi with Melasti, a cleansing ceremony (I'm simplifying this quite a bit). You need water for Melasti. The village we stayed in is about an hour from the sea, and so in the days leading up to Nyepi there was a steady procession of cars and pickup trucks on the road leading down from the hills to the beach, each packed with men, women, and kids dressed in ceremonial garb. Every household brings an offering to the Melasti, which they place on a makeshift altar on the beach (offerings are reclaimed and taken back home afterwards), and a priest and his assistants officiate over a cleansing ceremony accompanied by live gamelan music. At the end of the ceremony an animal - a duck, in the case of both of the Melasti that we witnessed - and a few other items are rowed out to sea, where the animal is sacrificed.
On the day before Nyepi, called Tawur Kesanga, every village holds an exorcism ceremony of sorts, meant to rid everyone's lives of evil. In the weeks leading up to Tawur Kesanga each village constructs an ogoh-ogoh, a huge (bigger than man-sized) scary-looking effigy with bulging eyes, sharp teeth, wild hair, and long fingernails that, on the day, will be the paraded to the village's crossroads and then taken outside the village and burned. The ogoh-ogoh are usually constructed right by the road. No two look alike, and villages compete (informally) to build the biggest and most horrendous looking. It's great fun to take to the road in the lead-up to Nyepi for ogoh-ogoh viewing.
On Tawur Kesanga our friends and I headed to the coastal town of Sererit to check our emails and stock up on food and libations for the Day of Silence, which is to be spent in your home, silently. (In reality not everyone is silent, though you're meant to stay in or very close by your house and be quiet enough not to be heard by neighbors. That goes for tourists too, who must stay in their resorts/hotels/guesthouses. Bali's airport is even closed for the day, barring emergencies.)
In Sererit we had a lunch of sio bak - stewed pork and parts in a thick, slightly sweet gravy made with kecap manis and, from the taste of it, cinnamon and lots of star anise. It's a dish of Chinese origin (the name may mean 'roast pork' in Hokkien) which seems to be associated with Singaraja, a city on Bali's northern coast, and is similar to the sweet stewed pork served over rice in Thailand. On Bali it's accompanied by deep-fried pork skins to crumble over the stew or eat on the side, and a sort of relish of pickled cucumber and chilies that does a nice job of cutting the sweetness of the pork. We ate this version right on Sererit's main drag, at a place called Siobak Sererit. We found it pretty delicious but our friend, who fancies himself quite the pork connoisseur, pronounced it 'just OK' - not as good as a version he'd enjoyed earlier in his trip. We have no basis for comparison, and so shall defer to his judgment.
As we were finishing lunch a ruckus ensued outside the eatery and we exited to find (1) it raining like heck and (2) a bunch of kids getting their ogoh-ogoh on. Seems that on the day of the eve of the exorcism bands of male munchkins parade their own mini ogoh-ogohs.
There was lots of macho-in-the-making here as the two groups jostled each other, each trying to claim pride of place in front of Dave's lens. It was a nice warm-up for the spectacle that would unfold in the village later that evening.