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Jenny Bigio

Jenny Bigio has 3 articles published.

Jenny Bigio
Born in England, raised in Africa and based in Asia, Jenny has been writing about travel and culture for thirty years. She's happiest exploring new places, taking photos and painting portraits.

Bali Hammocks

in Shops by
Handmade Hammock

Nothing says tropical holiday quite like a hand-woven hammock which evokes thoughts of bleached white beaches, dream-filled siestas, sea-breeze cocktails and star-gazing nights.  

There’s something magical about being suspended in mid-air; the hammock’s gentle swaying calms your thoughts, settles your heartbeat, and lulls you into reverie or slumber. That’s true whether you’re beachside in Koh Samui or nested in a goose down comforter someplace cold, daydreaming about a good hammock swing.

And yet, unlike Central and South America, Asia has no hammock-making tradition. That is set to change now, thanks to the persistence of Daniel Elber, whose non-profit Future for Children has been changing the lives of the poorest communities in the drought-prone mountain slopes of eastern Bali. 

BALI HAMMOCKS  

Daniel was looking for new ways to provide a sustainable livelihood for the women of Muntigunung, whose sole source of income was begging in Bali’s more prosperous tourist areas. Could their basket-weaving skills be re-imagined for making hammocks, he wondered?

That’s how one master hammock-maker Walter Cruz from El Salvador —the ‘Land of the Hammocks’ (and considered to produce the best in the world) spent three months in the remote village of Kulkul, teaching his ancestral craft to 35 mountain women. And while they had no common language — he spoke Spanish and they a Balinese dialect — what they now share is an uncommon ability to craft absolutely stunning hammocks.

Muntigunung now makes a range of high-end hand-woven hammocks that are arguably the best in Asia. Top of the range is the Agung, which has twin spreaders of elaborately carved camphor-wood, is embellished with crocheted lace, and can incorporate customised lettering (such as a house or person’s name) — statement-making perfection for upmarket rental villas or private residences.

Lighter and less expensive is the chongos-tassle-decorated Muntigunung, which is as stylish but, without the spreaders, will even go into your hand luggage. If you prefer a more upright seating position to lying supine, the chair hammock will appeal — it looks as good in a living room as by the pool.

There are also custom hammocks and chair hammocks, and anyone with a tiny tot in the family will find the baby hammock irresistible. These incredibly comfortable artisan hammocks are so much more than an alternative seating choice or lifestyle accessory. Each is an individual work of art,

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The Muntigunung Trek – a walk on the wild side of Bali

in Recreation by

If you’ve visited Bali before, you might have taken a day trip to Kintamani to take in the stunning views across Lake Batur towards the mountains. And the experience will have stopped there. But beyond the lake and the steep mountains is a side of Bali so far off the tourism trail that few have had the chance to visit — unless they have joined the exclusive and award-winning Muntigunung Trek. Seduced by the promise of breath-taking vistas and heart-warming encounters in the once-forgotten villages of Muntigunung, we eagerly signed up and set our alarm clock for the pre-dawn start.

After driving northwards for two hours in the company of Pica, our principle guide, we stopped on the crest of the caldera to marvel at the sun rising behind the mountains beyond the lake — an early Instagram-worthy moment. “That’s where you will be trekking”, he pointed. The drive itself was part of the experience; we drove past amazing rice terraces and rural vistas, then dropped down into the caldera weaving across lava fields from Gunung Batur’s 1968 eruption and along the lake to Songan.

Ready for jaw-dropping vistas?

Time to lace up your boots, lavish on the sunscreen, have selfie-stick at the ready, select a sturdy bamboo walking stick, and  then take to the trail with Pica and the local guides as they lead their way up the steep mountainside. The views are spectacular — at one stage the trail follows the top of a ridge and the expanse of ocean shimmers towards the horizon on one side while, down a vertiginous drop far below, Lake Batur sparkles towards Kintamani perched on the far rim of the caldera.

It is unimaginable to think that this mountain trail was once the only route the women and children of the Munti villages could take to secure water for their families – a perilous five-hour round trip every day. It was also the start of their journey to go begging with their children in Ubud and on Bali’s main beach resort streets — then their only source of income.

EH Muntigunung logo

Making a difference, step by step

But that’s one of the joys of completing the trek; with every step, you’re making a positive contribution to the livelihood and wellbeing of the island’s poorest, most neglected communities. For the trek is just one of the extraordinary initiatives that have transformed their lives,

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Ubud Royal Cremation attracts thousands

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Royal Cremation Ubud Bali photo by Sonny Tumbelaka AFP

Attending a cremation is unlikely to be top of the ‘must do’ list for the average vacationer. But then Bali is far from an average holiday destination.  As anyone who venture a few kilometres from the main tourist beaches will discover, this really is the ‘Island of 1,000 temples’ – an understatement if ever there was one. The fabled sea temples of Uluwatu and Tanah Lot, the mother temple of Besakih on the slopes of the sacred Gunung Agung, and the oft-photographed Ulun Danu Bratan temple feature on many a day-trip itinerary. And driving through traditional villages and across swathes of rice terraces can bring many unexpected sights as you come across small temple festival and colourful processions. 

Visitors to Bali’s cultural heart in early March found themselves in the right place at the right time to witness something spectacular: the cremation of Anak Agung Niang Agung, the wife of Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati (1910-1978), widely known as ‘the King of Ubud.’

ANAK AGUNG NIANG AGUNG

 “Strange as it seems, it is in their cremation ceremonies that the Balinese have their greatest fun. A cremation is an occasion for gaiety and not for mourning, since it represents the accomplishment of their most sacred duty: the ceremonial burning of the corpses of the dead to liberate their souls so that they may thus attain the higher worlds and be free for reincarnation into better beings”. The words of Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias ring as true today as when he wrote his Island of Bali book in the 1930s.

A ngaben – literally translated as ‘turn to ash’ – is perhaps the most unique ritual in the unique form of animism-influenced Hinduism followed by the deeply spiritual Balinese, who believe that life, and death, are transitions. Even more elaborate is the pelebon –  the cremation ceremony reserved for members of the royal family.

For the preceding three weeks, visitors would have seen intense activity outside Ubud Palace as the community gathered to construct the two enormous structures that are the core of the ceremony: the Bade, an intricately decorated, gravity-defying multi-level tower in which the body is placed and carried from the Palace to the Pura Dalem Puri, and the Lembu, a magnificent black velvet bull sarcophagus, to which the body will be placed for cremation.

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