Stranded in Bali during the COVID 19 lockdown

by David Turner, buyer Ancient Wisdom Gifts Wholesaler

Day 1

It’s a fact that of all the places in the world Bali is uniquely placed to organise a lock-down, they already have police departments for it, trained and organised volunteer force in place, and a complete set of recognised and respected rules. You may have heard of Nyepi – It’s Bali’s New Year. Every 210 days according to their calendar is a complete day of silence – a spiritual day of reflection.. airport, roads are closed, everyone must stay at home and reflect. So it’s same as a lock-down right?  It was on Wednesday, the night before parades and parties all cancelled but the quiet day went ahead.. with one last-minute amendment… it would last for two full days not one, and that further instructions would follow. It seemed to me a smart move.. already a total lock-down.. extend it and then extend it more (with allowances for going out for food and stuff) until like Malaysia a virus halting lock-down is imposed. But alas rumours that it would be extended, were fake news and today (Friday) Ringo and I were allowed out to finish of a few jobs, however, the place is like a ghost town. Everything is closed.

Day 8

Since then, I had to move hotel, where I was, was nice but too expensive for long term even when they offered me a discount. Anyway sooner or later like all the hotels in Bali they will close.
So I checked on Hotels.com and Booking.com to find something cheap, because like everyone else  I have to cut costs. Strangely no amazing deals showing up.. so I decided to just walk and ask in the other hotels nearby.. then I learned why..
“Sorry sir, new lock-down rules for hotels” .. oh what rules I asked?  “No new check-ins allowed”. OMG.. I suddenly had visions of me sleeping on an abandoned sun-lounger under a frangipani tree in a hidden corner of the beach.
So face mask on, observing social distancing (pretty easy because almost no people) I walked and walked asking in any hotel lobby that seemed open.. same story..
 
So what could I do.. I sat in an empty cafe (the only one open) and ordered a fresh coconut, and googled villa rental.. up comes a website, a villa letting agency.. A reach me by WhatsApp button.. oh joy.. minutes later I’m chatting with a nice Bali lady who is asking what my budget is.. so I start low.. “OK” she says.. “I can do that” and sends me pictures of potential places, but warns me all private villas are filling fast as hotels close.. She asks for my location and says she will pick me up in ten minutes and take me to view.. OK thanks.
Five minutes later she arrives on a funky Vespa and says jump on the back.. No!! I cry  – I can walk.. that’s not social distancing, and anyway I’ll get a bad back doing that.. so I walk half an hour back the way I came. She is waiting for me on the side of the road with an elderly posh lady from Switzerland, who owns a plot with eight small villa’s. I’m hot and sweating, from walking in the sun and quite conscious I must look like I have a fever.
 

But we go and view.. just one left, it seems nice and I say yes I’ll take it. I’m relieved not to homeless.

Bali is closing.. hotels are shuttering up.. many restaurants write fond love letters to their customers.. others just say “We are Closed”. Streets, closed up restaurants, closed up beaches.. Bali is closed.
 
 

Day 14

Happy Easter Weekend.. but it’s not is it? It’s more of the same. Easter normally a time of Chocolate, family gatherings and trips to Church (for the faithful) is now just a time for quiet reflection. Easter is a time of renewal, and maybe after this terrible virus has done it’s worst the world will have a kind of renewal with different values installed. Seems to me that humans as the dominant most powerful creature on earth, abused the position.. killing whales, and animals big and small.. now a thing so small we can’t even see it, has this terrible power over us. Ironic no?
 
Hope you are safe and well, and not going stir crazy. Obviously I’m still here stuck in Bali, learning to adapt, finding ways to keep fit, feed myself, keep occupied. Actually keeping occupied is not a big problem, the day fills up with tasks, and I’m spending more time talking to family and friends than I ever did. Must be the same (but different) for you also.
 
It’s peaceful and quiet, its so quiet.. the air feels cleaner. The animals, the birds something about them.. they know.
In the hotel where I was week before last sitting outside this bird would come and sit near by. We kind of became friends, he was always there – sometimes singing.
 
 

But maybe I’m going mad.. but in the villa garden I have now, the same bird is coming (well OK could be a different one) but I can hear him singing as I type. He knows..  I’m sure.

 

Day 22

Mostly I fill my day by working in the mornings, the afternoons I go for a (social distancing / mask on) brisk walk along the beach nearby. Evenings (when Europe is awake)  I ring home. But each afternoon as I walk I literally see the same few faces ,we nod to each other but rarely speak. It’s really beautiful, maybe because the air is cleaner, maybe because it is so quiet. To the left is a view across to the volcano, sleepy and exotic.  Mount Agung the locals believe to be a sacred mountain, the centre of the universes home to Gods, there is a temple on the banks of the volcano, Bali’s most sacred, parts of which date back 2000 years.
 
 
 
The last time people wore masks in Bali. Only in May 2019 it was erupting and delaying flights and a real concern that a major eruption could bring Bali to a halt. I was here at the time and experienced more than one earthquake.
 
It was a huge worry in 2019, many people cancelled holidays, parts of the island were closed to visitors for safety and the people of Bali prayed and held continuous ceremonies until eventually, the volcano calmed down. Did it just calm down, or did the ceremonies and prayers to the gods do the trick? Rationally of course it calmed down, but spiritually maybe it is possible to draw (simultaneously) a different conclusion. At that time, tourism was badly effected, ironically people were issued with face masks to protect them from breathing in ash-laden air and Agung anxiety created a heightened spiritual awareness.
 
Yesterday afternoon I passed a ceremony happening at a temple near the beach, I didn’t take pictures because I realised it was a cremation ceremony. A kiln in the shape of a dragon was spewing smoke from it’s nose, as people prayed toward mount Agung.  They wore masks and social distanced, but I know the event was probably illegal. People are scared – not just here but the world over. I noticed some offerings I had not seen before..
 
The drum was heard.
There is a drum in a temple at Puri Klungkung, very rarely it sounds by itself, once in 1963 just before the volcano had a major eruption, once in 2002 before the Bali bombing.. only certain holy men across the island can hear it. On the eve of the Silent Day called Nyepi 25th March, the bell was heard again.  As a result of this, the holy men of Bali asked people to make a special devotion and make a nasi wong-wongan. It’s a figure made of rice – nasi is Indonesian for rice and wong-wonga means people.
 
 
 Rice People to protect the island and the world from the virus.
 

Day 27

To be honest I don’t know what day it is. Everyday is more of the same and it’s all taking on a dreamlike quality. Or nightmare.. seriously when is this going to end? maybe I will wake up and find it was all a bad dream.. Do you feel like that?
 
Last week I was telling you about Mount Agung, which I can see from here, across the bay, smouldering like an exotic painting – like a view to heaven. The locals believe it is the key to the centre of the universe.. weird things happen there. The shock news – a rumour passed to me by my land-lady yesterday is that Bali will self isolate totally. News today is that all flights will stop, all boat crossing – nobody leaves or comes to Bali.. Officially until 1st of June.  But Ringo tells me that maybe until a vaccine is available. So a long time.. – the island of Bali will be like Noah’s Ark, floating in the tropical sea.
 
Am I the only one to think about this.. but surely all the worlds airlines can’t just go bankrupt.. there has to be a solution. And here it is: All international travellers be tested at the point of travel? You’d have to turn up 3 hours early, be tested – and if clear be allowed to check-in. They just need 10 minute tests..  This way the virus couldn’t migrate between countries, you wouldn’t need to social distance once air-side or onboard, and the world could start to functioning again.. I could see my wife and family. You read it here first!!
 
Meanwhile, life goes on. I took a trip into Denpasar with Ringo, we went to buy a photo studio set up and a colour laser printer. The idea is to photograph all the new products here so that we can save time later. Also, we want to print picture barcodes on all the packaging, and cartons. Denpasar.. it’s an exotic city. lots of gardens, tropical plants, low-rise – no towers at all. Normally it is gridlocked a huge slowly moving traffic jam. But now clean air, the streets seem wider and almost empty, a few people all wearing masks (it’s the law now) walking, shops open but empty.  I said to Ringo, it’s like a sleepy provincial town, a pleasant place to be.
So Ringo has a brother, who has a daughter.. Natalie.. I said that’s not a Bali name.. she said.. “cause my dream is to go to America, so I have an American name”..
 
 
 
One office has lots of natural light. She is studious, seems shy but I think smart. Normally works for an internet company setting up hotel wifi systems. But all the hotels are closed, so she is laid off. Her hobby is photography and she even owns a decent camera..  So today we spent setting up a studio space and me (and what do I know?) explaining about product photography.. Ringo says we can send her on a training course, but actually she was doing good and had an understanding in no time what we wanted.
So we will see how it goes..
 
Day 34
Happy worker’s day.. May Day.. is it springtime?.. It’s a good time to recognise the workers of the world that are still going to work in the this time of corona.. the front line nurses of course, but also all the unseen people that feed us and keep essential services running.
Here in Bali, as I was telling you last week.. I’m well and truly stranded. All travel in or out of Bali suspended until further notice. But somehow life goes on.
And even though the advice is #StayHome many people are able to work. Some days Ringo will pick me up and we go to the warehouse – it’s only about 15 minutes from here on the edge of Sukawati, an area famous for it’s art market and a major centre for artisans. I can see as we drive around plenty of activity, but everyone, everyone is wearing a mask and generally keeping social distance. And there are police everywhere enforcing the rule.
 
We have been setting up a photo studio so that product shots of new items can be taken, well before they reach us in Europe. Yesterday a guy came from the photo equipment shop (we are good customers now) to give us training.. wearing a mask and keeping 2 meters apart he still managed to impart a huge amount of stuff.. I learned so much, and I thought I knew how to picture things.
 
Afterwards I suggested to Ringo that what we really need is some natural props to give texture to the pictures.. like some driftwood, or pebbles. Ok lets go to the nearby beach, which I know to be barely used – must be some driftwood knocking around.  But the beach was blocked by a large barricade and a security guy wasn’t going to let us pass.. no problem says Ringo, there’s lots of beaches we can get to.. and we tried, at the next road entrance which was way to a small port area, there was police and army and flashing lights. Some guy – with a machine gun came over to ask us what our business was going to the beach..    “Erm.. to look for driftwood” didn’t impress. Mission abandoned.
 
Turns out the problem is Mudik.. it’s the beginning of Ramadan and lots of people from Java and other islands want to be in the home-town for Ramadan.. this is a huge travelling time – called Mudik.. and quite rightly the government is terrified that a mass movement of of millions of people is a bad idea right now. Most people are complying with the rule, but some miss-guided folk are determined to get home even using small boats to travel in.. hence the beach lock-down.
 
 
Ringo had a visit from the police at home.. his daughter called and Ringo dashed home to find out what the problem was. Turns out Ringo has been identified as the neighbourhood trusted person and given the task of handing out free food parcels to anyone in need.
It’s a major problem in Bali, the population of 4 million, half work in tourism related jobs.. all the tourists have gone, almost all hotels are closed, all restaurants and bars closed. Many of these workers are not rich, living from week to week.. now out of work the local government is actually worried about starvation, hence the food parcels. Also on the main junctions I have seen food banks opening up, with free food for anyone who needs it. Ringo says surprisingly few people are using them.. maybe it’s a pride thing. Even on the street near my villa, a lady sits with a pile of  packets of rice wrapped in banana leaves.. a big sign says “Makanan Gratis”  – Free Food. I didn’t see anyone avail themselves – yet..
 
Another guy handing out food is our man in India Mr Chatterjee.. I speak to him most days. The issues in Bali are nothing compared to India, and there the local government don’t seem to be able to do much. I sent some money and Mr Chatterjee and friends turns it into food for his laid-off workers and the poor people of his town.
 
 Feeding the poor in India. Mr Chatterjee – a Hero.
 
 
Chatterjee delivered food to the Children’s home we support and they sang him a song.. and sent me a personal message – saying they are fine, how are you Mr David?
 

Day 41

There is something really strange going on in this island.. maybe it holds a clue to escaping Covid-19 – anyway it’s becoming clear something is spectacularly odd. I’ll explain below.
Last week I was telling you about all the free food here on offer as the local government scramble to prevent starvation and avoid civil unrest.
 
Today as I write it is a New Moon day in Bali, that means everyone gets dressed up nice and makes offerings in every place, and then troops off to the temple for exotic ceremonies. The wife from the family that owns our warehouse came with a tray of offerings, there is a small temple in the corner of the car-park which she cleaned and refreshed and placed incense and offerings, she came in the office and placed offerings around my new photo-studio, she went in warehouse placed more amongst our packing benches. Ringo said it’s all Full Moon offerings, praying success for our business and protection from the virus. When she had finished he went and at distance thanked her profusely.
 
 
Full Moon Offerings.
 
So here’s the thing. Six weeks ago Bali was a bustling tourist resort. 740,000 tourists in Bali and a maybe 100,000 of those were Chinese including many arriving on direct flights from Wuhan. Many others from Europe, including not a small amount of Italians and Spanish people busy hugging and kissing everyone they meet. This is a small island with 4 million local population, it is densely populated. It had all the ingredients for a major corona-virus mega-disaster.
And yet.. here are the stats as of today: 287 cases to date, 183 recovered, 4 deaths – 2 of which were Europeans. No new cases yesterday.
 
Compared to other parts of Indonesia (with very few tourists).. compared to Europe it’s simply astoundingly low. Why?
 
Are they faking the figures (thinking it will protect tourism).. I think it’s possible to a degree – but the hospitals are normal, and I know that from Ringo who knows doctors in the central hospital in Denpasar. The mainstream media is not covering this story, but I think they should because whatever the reason it’s so low here right now is a mystery. The local spiritual leaders would have you believe the same Gods that calmed down Mount Agung two years ago from a predicted massive eruption, acted again and protected the island.
 
Maybe, let’s keep an open mind.. but perhaps it is something else local to here. Diet for example, the particular level of heat and humidity.. erm I can’t think of anything else.
Critics argue it can’t be the humidity because Singapore is suffering and it’s not so far away and the same weather. Other tropical countries are also bad (eg Mexico) so why on earth is Bali immune?
 
In Europe and America the curve is past its peak.. just.. and already an un-holy rush to relax lock-downs..So you would think here they would be ultra relaxing now. Some days there are no more cases.. the argument for getting back to normal is strong. And yet.. everyday more stringent rules come, more police and army on the streets. Check points on all major junctions. You must wear a mask at all times outside your home, even in a car. Beaches closed, no public meetings (although I have seen temples open), detergent is been enthusiastically sprayed everywhere with gay abandon.  Cars have to drive through detergent washes – streets are drenched twice a day. All ports and airports remain closed, even travel from one part of the island to another is prohibited without reason.
 
 
   Police check everyone.
 
Oh yes and another strange thing in Bali.. it’s normal that every now and then – every few days you get an earthquake.. mostly little – occasionally a little more scary – I have experienced a few whilst here. Regular readers will recall the worst ones..  
In 3 months of corona time.. guess what? – None at all..  it’s like the very earth it’self is at peace.  Something strange in Bali..
 

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