Nestled in the Balinese countryside lies a village named Sidemen. Ever heard of it? I definitely hadn’t, and I didn’t even know how to pronounce the name of the village when I first read it on the itinerary of my Beautiful Bali trip with Intrepid.
Side-men? Sigh-da-men? The correct pronunciation is See-de-men, and it’s a name and place that is forever etched in my mind after my trip to Bali. Relatively untouched by Western influences, the true culture of Bali has stayed alive here.
Let me paint a picture of Sidemen for you: Imagine winding dirt roads through hills and valleys covered in lush jungle as far as the eye can see. Imagine flora and fauna that come to life in the morning mist, with flowers blooming and monkeys swinging through trees. Imagine men and women wearing thong sandals and conical hats, swinging their sickles in the rice fields day and smiling at you as if you are an old friend. Imagine fruit stands on the sides of roads, holding the most delicious fruit you’ve ever tasted. All of these things, and more, is what I found there.
My time in Sidemen started with a group tour from the entrance of our beautiful hotel in the jungle. Our lovely tour guide was named Nyoman, who was born and raised right in the village and lived there happily with his family.
In short, he was an expert on the region. Along with him came a cute little dog named Jack who became our honorary tour guide and an expert of the canine division.
We walked down the dirt path away from our hotel and he began to tell us the history of the village, stopping every so often to pick up a plant from the side of the road and tell us of its origin and use. He would interject his history and botany lessons with a few well-placed jokes you could tell he had been practicing. We laughed and learned and kept walking, taking in the acres of rice fields that you could see from the road. Jack the dog raced in front of us, turning around every so often to look at the group as if to say, “Aren’t you guys coming? Hurry up!”
We walked through the village and arrived at Nyoman’s family home, where his wife was hard at work hand-weaving sarongs, which are large pieces of fabric worn daily by many Indonesian men and women. Hand-weaving sarongs was an ancient and time-consuming process; Nyoman told us it would take her around 50 hours to weave a sarong that was big enough to wear!
Nyoman’s wife sat on the concrete floor, strapped into her wooden loom. We watched as her hands performed a complicated dance of weaving string around the wood. When Nyoman asked if anyone wanted to try, I volunteered. She didn’t speak English, so she placed my awkward hands where they needed to go, and it was much harder than she had made it look. There was lots of giggling and laughing on my part because I was terrible! The group came away from the experience with a newfound appreciation for the art that many of us had never even heard of before our trip.
We bid our goodbyes to Nyoman’s wife and continued on a hike through the acres of rice fields. We watched the rice farmers drive their sickles into the ground while crickets chirped all around us. He told us that rice farmers had to work the fields every day as rice plants needed lots of care, and months of work could be destroyed in one day if the fields weren’t tended to. All of a sudden, Nyoman stopped and pointed into a bush, where we could see a black and yellow spider as large as my hand. As if just seeing the spider wasn’t horrifying enough, Nyoman picked up the spider and put it on his face!
After this exhilarating experience (!), we were all feeling the heat, and as if by magic a man appeared out of nowhere selling bags of freshly cut pineapple. I am a person whose mouth leads to my heart, and I almost professed my love for this man when I tasted the pineapple he sold me. It tasted like honey, and even months later I still think about how good it was. We ate our pineapple as we walked to the end of our tour and our lunch spot, a stretch of sunny grass near a river.
Nyoman handed us our traditional bungkus lunch. Bungkus, meaning ‘take away’, is the healthy Balinese version of street food. Rice, noodles, meat, and vegetables are expertly wrapped in a banana leaf and eaten by hand. We sat on the grass in the sun listening to the sounds of the river as we licked our banana leaves clean, happy and full.
If you are looking for wild parties, Sidemen is not your spot. If you are looking for Westernized food, you won’t find it here. If you are looking for a beach, go elsewhere. But if you want to see the Bali of jungles and rice fields, the Bali of ancient traditions and traditional food, the Bali that you never knew still existed, you will find it in Sidemen.
Ready to experience the beauty of Bali for yourself? Check out Intrepid’s range of group tours.
(All images c/o Alexandra Frustaglio.)