18 May 2014
Balinese spider boats
They are said to be built without any blueprint. That’s perhaps why the Balinese wooden boats look a bit flimsy. I would certainly not dare to be in one of them by stormy weather and anything but calm seas. Whether they are used for fishing, dolphin chasing or ferrying passengers and goods, these boats have this distinct characteristic of wooden arches protruding on the sides, which make them look like spiders. Some are multi-coloured, decorated with funny eyes painted at their bow.
One early beautiful morning in Amed, a small village on the northeastern coast of Bali, I sat forth on my scooter to see narrow fishing boats come back from their nocturnal work out at sea. I had read that the sight of little colourful sails dotted on the horizon was a picturesque scene to observe. The only problem was that it took me close to an hour to figure out where along the coast the boats would come ashore, by what time most boats had already been pulled onto the beach. A few of them had thankfully waited for me – the early awakening had anyway allowed me to appreciate the morning light emphasising the vivid green colours of the jungle and the 3,000-metre high Agung volcano as can be seen in the background of the first picture.
A few days later, I would be sitting in a larger version of those boats, as I was heading to the island of Nusa Lembongan (the island where I would see traditional seaweed farming). It was the public boat, cheaper but slower than their ultra-modern private counterparts. My feet were stuck between bags full of pineapples and huge plastic water canisters. My bench, a wooden plank across the boat, wasn’t the most comfortable but I was at least in the middle, my centre of gravity being lower and making me visibly more stable from the swell of the waves caused by strong winds despite a sunny day. One other Western passenger didn’t seem too well as he moved to the back of the boat, bent in half, head over board… Maybe I should have made him ponder on the following cryptic Indonesian proverb (possibly about the creation of the universe): “The sea becomes the shore, the shore becomes the sea”... but the illusion thankfully stopped and we did reach the shore at some point... some two hours later.