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Down the Back Alleys of Paradise

by Ni Jegeg

A friend of mine once said that Bali belongs to the Banks by day and to the dogs by night.

Certainly a walk through any Balinese village at night will strengthen the feeling that the dogs reign supreme. At the same time the visitor will be pleased to learn that the dogs are trained to carry out a specific role, and this they do most efficiently.

They are watchdogs.

The Balinese often smile and tell you that when the dogs come a little bit too close, they are only welcoming you to the Island of the Gods. Some Balinese have seen the irony in the reversal of this catch-phrase so that, at night, it becomes the Island of the Dogs.

The good news is that the dogs do not bite. They often come very close, when welcoming you, but they do not bite. Once you understand this, a walk through the lanes of Bali at night, can be quite fun.

In the darkness of the night, the Island of Paradise changes.

The inhabitants, used to early rising, and toiling in the fields, are usually in bed very early, or else they have joined in the sort of local entertainment which brings crowds of people together and lasts until morning. They are either tucked into bed at an early hour, or out socialising all the night through.

Walking at night brings you sometimes to pools of light which reflect through the dark from afar. Young men flock to a makeshift pool-hall where the billiard balls rattle and whiz over the greener than green surface of the tables, while the ricefields around, have darkened with the night. Outside, motorbikes lean against motorbikes, in a rare show of affection.

You pass and the noise recedes, and the lights are once more dim. Every now and again, a five or ten-watt lamp attempts to brighten the darkness. The occasional street lamp shines on the corners of the night, where hosts of insects attract the predators of the dark.

Cats sit on walls or scamper across your path. They sometimes sit transfixed in the light of your torch and look longingly behind at their missing tails, which have somehow become a stubby reminder of the fleeting nature of life.

One of the most wonderful things to do in Bali at night is to ride a motorbike. This is the time when the roads are clear and free from traffic and you can drive for miles through the ricefields of the mind. There is a freshness in the air. There is a beauty in the rush of wind you create.

As you indulge yourself, stop the bike every now and again, turn off the motor and listen. Frogs, dogs, and yes, its faint and far away, but there is the inevitable sound of the gamelan. Where was it? Ride towards the sound.

Park your bike amongst myriad others in a makeshift parking-lot. Look around. You will find the all-night entertainment which so pleases the character of the Balinese.

In the midst is a performance which varies in type and duration according to the occasion, but on the fringes there is the inevitable set of stalls and warungs which sell everything you can imagine, and a lot more besides.

The fun of the fair is in the air. Fairy-floss and T-shirts gleam under the yellow light of pressure-lamps. The loudspeakers blare, the gamelan sounds and the coffee pipes hot from the kettles of the stalls, where boys meet girls with the freshness of a new discovery. Mums nurse babies in the seats of the stands; dads yarn to dads on the edges of the light, and life seems never to stop.

There is no closing down this night. The occasion is the night, and the action lasts until the sun begins to light the sky. Light comes again to the mountains and the valleys and the misty ricefields of the morning, and you must wait twelve long hours before you can once more wander at night through Bali's back alleys and discover what is in store for this night.

Ni Jegeg