“Hello! Hello!” two skinny little kids call out as they peek from behind a dilapidated brick wall, a short distance down the lane from our villa in the tiny village of Tumbak Bayuh, Bali.
“Hello!!!” we shout back and the kids smile shyly and scurry away.
Opposite, at the entrance to another home, a young woman looks up from sweeping her cement courtyard with a straw broom. She smiles generously and also says hello.
Chickens sprint across the yard behind her, where an elderly man, dressed handsomely in a batik sarong and headband, places offerings of incense, fruit and flowers at a small shrine.
Moments later, a wrinkled old lady, barefoot and balancing a stick across her shoulders, cloth bags tied at either end, squints her eyes and opens her mouth to give us a friendly toothless grin. I look back at her a few seconds later to find she has stopped to watch us, and once more she smiles at us, eyes twinkling.
By the time we reach the corner of our lane, where it intersects with the main street, we’ve been greeted by a handful of neighbours, and we’ll be welcomed by two dozen more locals by the end of our stroll around Tumbak Bayuh a couple of hours later.
One of the best things about our home away from home in Bali is its bucolic location, on the edge of the village of Tumbak Bayuh. A 30-minute drive from Kuta and ten minutes to Canggu on the coast, our picturesque village couldn’t be more different in appearance or atmosphere to the island’s more popular tourist destinations. And that’s just the way we like it.
Tumbank Bayuh is dissected by one main street dotted with warungs, simple wooden stalls selling snacks such as rice cakes wrapped in coconut leaves, or slightly larger shacks offering basic groceries, a fridge of cold drinks, and a table with a few stools that serve as meeting places as much as anything.
In between the warungs are crumbling temples decorated with stone carvings, with miniature flowers growing out of the cracks between the bricks. Walled family compounds house ramshackle pavilions, paint peeling and dappled with moss, and yards hosting a motley collection of animals: pigs, roosters, hens, baby chicks, geese, and everywhere, mangy barking dogs.
The narrow two-lane road is lined with towering palm trees heaving with coconuts, banana plants bearing small bunches of the sugary fruit, and as far as the eye can see, lush green terraces of rice paddies.
Everywhere in Tumbank Bayuh there are people, whizzing by on motorbikes and scooters, doubling two and three family members or friends; riding bicycles laden with sacks bursting with freshly picked crops that spill onto the bitumen as they cruise past; and everywhere there are shirtless guys jogging easily, barefoot or in sneakers, occasionally stopping to chat to their friends or say hello to us.
“They’re warming up for a game of volleyball,” my new friend Aditya explains from the back of her motorbike, after pulling up beside me to ask where we’re from and introduce herself.
After dropping her vehicle at her house a little way down the road, Aditya skips back down the road to join us on our stroll. A thirty-year-old waitress who looks a very youthful twenty, Aditya moved to Tumbuk Bayuh from Sanur after getting married and having her first son – “a happy accident”, she shares with a giggle, which she says is not uncommon.
As we amble, Aditya points out different trees, plants, birds, and animals. “That’s pork,” she tells me, “and foie gras…” Realising her mistake, we both laugh hysterically. Aditya’s English is excellent, but, as she explains, she learned her animal names from restaurant menus.
Aditya shows us where her husband’s rice farm is and tells us how hard he works, from sunrise to sunset. She explains how the banjar or village council operates, and how everyone in Tumbank Bayuh helps each other out.
She tells us about the rats that are ruining the rice crops, for which no solution has been found – a nuisance second only to the birds, which explains the ubiquitous scarecrows and the full-time human lookouts.
The latter, children and teens mostly, shake the contraptions that stretch convolutedly above the rice fields, making a rather pretty tinkling sound that’s intended to frighten the birds away.
“I like living in Tumbank Bayuh,” Aditya says with a sigh, as we gaze at the luminous green rice paddies. “It’s so quiet and the air is so fresh compared to Sanur or Seminyak, and everyone is so friendly.”
We completely agree, of course. Exchanging smiles, we turn and begin our amble home to our lane in Tumbak Bayuh.