Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
“Paddy is like a pregnant woman. That’s why you need to take care of it and put offerings to relieve the morning sickness,” said Westi, our Herbal Walk guide. About eight of us were walking behind him on the causeway in between paddy fields, listening to his knowledge and wisdom regarding Balinese herbs.
“This is Philippines rice,” he referred to the paddy field surrounding us as far as the eyes can see. “Balinese rice is taller. It’s also more delicious and satiating. But it’s also more expensive, twice the price of the Philippines rice, because you can only harvest it once a year, whilst the Philippines’ is three times a year. Harvesting Balinese rice also takes longer time because it needs to be cut one by one,” he continued with a tad show of regret.
That’s just one of so many Westi’s stories on the 3 hours walk. As one of the owners and guides of Bali Nature Herbal Walks regular program, Westi didn’t just fill us up with information on the herbs per se, but also the relevant cultural insights.
According to Westi, the paddy field and irrigation system in Bali is very well organized. You’ve probably heard of Subak, the unique Balinese irrigation system that’s been applied since the 9th century, and was created in order to distribute water fairly to every family’s rice field. There are 235 subak groups in Bali, at the time of this tour, each one with an elected leader. Decisions are to be made with discussions, including what rice to grow. The rules are strict, there are fines to be charged for violations.
“Bali is a fertile land. Throw things to the land and they’ll grow. Like the papaya, right here. It didn’t have to be planted, it just grew,” Westi said with an amazement on his face. Bali is not only fortunate because it’s fertile, but also because these plants come very handy in everyday life. “Young papaya leaf can be eaten but not for pregnant women because it can cause a miscarriage. It is also used as antiseptic. You know, the monkeys in Monkey Forest eat young papaya to self-heal when they’re sick.”
To tell you the truth, the plants that Westi was explaining and ‘claimed’ as Balinese plants, aren’t really exclusive to Bali. Most of them are easily found in other parts of Indonesia, as well as a few other South East Asian and tropical countries. However, I did gain so much new knowledge from his guidance.
At the beginning of the walk, we were passing a bamboo garden. Westi explained that there are 25 kinds of bamboo in the whole Bali Island. Some make really good building materials, some can function as wind barrier, and the young ones can be cooked as ‘rebung’ or young sprout. And I thought there was only one kind of bamboo, the kind that panda eats.
“We have the best quality of aloe vera in Bali,” Westi continued, when we got to a small garden of aloe vera, without explaining why it is the best. But he did explain that aloe vera grows easily as long as there is enough sun and sandy soil. It doesn’t even need so much water as it is a member of cactus family. Having an aloe vera-based cosmetic business, Westi has got to know a lot about this thorny kind of plant. All I know is that it makes great after-sun lotion!
The herb walk is really packed with information and is a good walking session among the greens. It’s true that Ubud’s tourism has developed fast. More cars and motorbikes are spilling on the narrow streets. But the herb walk route steers clear from it all.
Almost at the end of the route, we visited a thatched-roofed diner in the middle of the rice field, where they served us young coconuts. The kitchen staff chopped off the top part of the coconut, and we sipped the water with a straw, scooped the coconut meat with a spoon. It has been one of my favorite drink (or food?) since forever. I love how coconut water has a subtle sweetness and is light and fresh, especially when you plunge in some ice cubes in it!
The herb walk ended at Westi’s herbal workshop and store “Nadis Herbal” on Jalan Suweta. We were served with a herbal tea drink, and were welcomed to check out the stuff they sold. They didn’t push us to purchase anything, and they were cool with participants that decided to split even before entering the shop.
This herbal walk that I signed up and paid for was a part of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. There might be slight differences with the regular walks, like the meeting point. I have a hunch that Westi remains friendly and informative at the regular walks as he did on my herb walk.
If you’re heading to Ubud, Bali, you can contact them for a walk. Really, it’s refreshing, healthy and you’ll walk out with a lot of interesting information.
For more info on the Herb Walk by Bali Herbal Walk by Westi and his partner Lilir, go to: