Monday, September 21, 2009

Cloves, Flowers, and Plastic Streamers: The Bali Countryside

Bali is basically a verdant agricultural island with rich volcanic based soils, ample rain (most of the year), and intelligent agricultural practices of terracing and crop rotation that have stood the test of time. There is of course, rice, but also corn, coconut palms and bananas. There are a myriad of different fruit trees. And there are more exotic crops of coffee, clove, mandarina (oranges), nutmeg, and tobacco.

We drove from Lovina via Singaraja and Mt Batur and Mt Agung (two high volcanic peaks) over to Sidemen in Eastern Bali. The drive takes you from the “dry (or rather drier) side” to the wet (or wetter) side” of Bali. Along the northern flanks of the mountains were acres and acres of clove, coffee, mandarina, coconut palms and other crops. The clove is harvested from tall trees both for use as the spice and as export (primarily to Europe) for use in cloves cigarettes. We saw locals drying the clove on plastic or canvas sheets alongside the road (we also saw people drying their clothes the same way just laying on the top of bushes alongside the road, curious habit). We also saw them drying shredded tobacco and rice in the same way. In fact we saw rice laid down in driveways so that cars would drive over it and in time separate the seed from the hull. Clove gathers use long skinny poles meters and meters in height that have smaller bamboo poles slid through holes in the center of the pole to form footholds. So it forms just a single pole as opposed to a double poled more traditional ‘western’ ladder. It looked pretty precarious to me.

And speaking of harvesting techniques, we noticed that in every home, every restaurant and in every hotel room there are always ample flowers laid about carefully and with consideration. A few frangiapanes are always left on the pillow of our beds. And yet, there are still flowers on the trees! I know there are many trees, but still. Well, it appears that in many places it is someone’s job to go out in the morning (especially after a rain) to gather all the fallen flowers (frangiapane and bougainvillea especially) carefully off the lawn and ground. And these flowers are used that day. We’ve also seen people with long poles gently tapping the branches at the tops of the trees to “encourage” willing flowers to fall to the ground. It is a lovely custom.

Another colorful and curious, if perhaps not environmentally sound, agricultural practice is the use of strips of plastic bags to make long streamers to drape across rice fields to discourage birds. It’s interesting to see the different “styles” of streamers and who apparently has access to colored bags versus plain white ones. I don’t know if they are recycling or just using new bags. And I don’t know what happens to the old streamers, I suspect they may clog up some stream somewhere. But farmers apparently need the birds kept away from growing rice and they really are pretty festive to look at. And it’s better than shooting the birds, which I think may have been the more, generally accepted method!

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