Well, it was a cremation ceremony actually and it wasn’t a dress, it was a sarong. Making matters worse, it wasn’t my sarong, it was a tour company’s. CeCe and I and the other half dozen tourists gathered for this Hindu ritual were wearing matching ones. The logo advertised something like WildlyIntrusiveBaliTours.com and it helped us stick out even further. As if our hair and height wasn’t enough. I was mortified. We seemed to be breaking all our rules of responsible tourism at once. We were intruding, uninvited, on what at home would be an emotional and private family event. And we did it in borrowed skirts.
But in the end, it wasn’t all that bad. First and foremost, the cremation wasn’t much to write home about. In the drizzle about a hundred people and a small band marched with the casket of the 40-year-old deceased woman a few kilometers to a public park. Adjacent to a another cremation in progress, the group thinned to about 40 clustered around the coffin, someone performed some rituals I couldn’t see, and then before you knew it, she was ablaze on a propane fire. Meanwhile, men were selling popcorn and peanuts, most of the guests had dispersed in the drizzle, and the band had already settled in for some refreshments. There were virtually no tears. The one thing I know I will remember is watching the other body unceremoniously speared by men wielding long pieces of rebar ostensibly to accelerate the burning process.
While this was happening, a few people approached us to talk. It was clear that our presence wasn’t an intrusion to those who even noticed we were there at all. It was just another day in the life of Bali’s Hindus. We chalked it up to yet another lesson in how things differ wildly from culture to culture. One thing remains true however: I look smashing in a sarong.
Bali is in our rear-view mirror and we’re halfway across Java in our rush to see as much as we can before flying to Thailand on March 4. Today we visited a pair of temples high up on volcanoes outside the smallish city of Solo (Surakaya for those of you consulting a map). Yesterday we wandered the city and didn’t see much. A few days ago we hiked up Ijen Volcano outside Bandowoso for a glimpse of its azure (that’s CeCe’s color, not mine) lake and the sulfurous vents spewing yellowish gas on one side. Most remarkable was the small group of miners who each day haul up to 200 pounds of recently mined sulfur down the steep slope of the volcano for the measly return of less than USD$.02 per pound. When they’ve done it once, they trudge back up the mountain to do it again. We could barely keep upright during the decent in our hiking shoes and they do it, often in flip-flops and often in the rain, with the sulfur in baskets on their backs twice a day.
Sulfur’s commercial applications include matches and explosives. I will never look at a book of matches the same way again.