Every time I escape the throngs and noises of an all too highly-seasonal Ubud, I feel a giddy sense of excitement and anticipation. Accompanied by a deep sigh of relief and a sky that seems bluer, rice fields that look greener, and villages that remind me that this island still holds treasures of centuries long gone.
It holds true in particular when I’m off to Sidemen, a pastoral village tucked so deeply between old growth forests, fields and a lush valley that (until now) I’ve found nothing that comes close.
Just over an hour’s drive from home – and after a quick stopover at Klungkung traditional market – a sharp turn by the market leads us down a winding road, past schools and a roadside brick-making workshop.
I’ve been down this road so many times that, with eyes closed, I can easily identify which dip or turn we’ve taken. A few more turns and we pass the mosque, a cluster of homestays, the too-small cage where I spot Maggie the golden retriever, the village temple and bale banjar.
More fields, kids riding bicycles, farmers chopping long grass for their cows, women doing laundry in the stream. And ahhh.. finally, the home stretch. The familiar sign of Embang Homestay on the edge of the driveway. It’s the Home that keeps calling me back..
Jero is usually at her loom, skillfully weaving another one of her incredibly vibrant songket hangings; but today she is nowhere to be seen. Gusti is out and about; could be in the field, doing repairs, picking up the kids from school. Made is stirring something up in the kitchen down below, sure to be another of his deliciously aromatic concoctions.
I settle into my room, my rhythm, my bed. The view is, as always, vastly green and breathtaking. Clean air. Good food. Morning yoga. Lots of writing. A visit to the market. Daily walks through the village. Conversation, in a mixture of my broken bahasa and Jero’s improving English. For a few days at least: What more do I need?
Jero tells me that the bridge has, finally and fully, collapsed. I’m not sure I understand what she means, so I decide to go and see for myself. On one of my early morning walks, I meander through the village, downhill past chili fields, rice paddies and temples, until I see the first bridge and a void beyond.
There’s also a new sight at the roadside, which announces itself long before I arrive with head-spinning noise emitting from a boom box: A small group of chain-smoking, tattoo-bearing, tan-skinned young men from Luah, the village across the stream, are hanging out in an improvised booth, Checkpoint Charlie-style.
One of the guys, with a ‘Laskar’ tattoo etched across his chest informs me that tourists are requested to pay a ‘donation’ fee of 10,000 rupiahs to cross the bridge. What bridge? I ask. It’s fallen into the stream. No, he says, turning slightly and pointing to a spot further downstream. I’m speechless at the sight; a rickety and very unstable-looking excuse for a bridge, made of long wooden planks and bamboo poles, on which a father and young child are teetering.
What can I tell you? I have this ‘thing’ about bridges. I prefer for them to be of the sturdy, you’re-not-likely-to-fall-off kind.
No thank you, I tell him. I’ll turn around here.
The bare-chested. ominous-looking Laskar dude lurks with an expectant look, hoping that I’ll hand over a donation anyway. But I live in Bali, so I get the gig. I smile and walk away.
Ahh, Sidemen. A peaceful oasis, where I seem to always find sunshine, fresh air and the latest episode in the continuing saga of a broken bridge at the edge of paradise.