Equators, evil spirits and the power of silence

We’ve just crossed the Equator, and people, can I tell you, there was no red line.

I think that might be an oil rig on the horizon, but other than that, no fanfare. There is some sort of traditional hi-jinks on this afternoon to celebrate, but for now, it was a quiet event at about 4am, somewhere off the coast of Malaysia, as we head to Borneo and the nearby Malaysian port of Kota Kinabalu.

Our day trip to Bali has spawned a new flush of batik clothing on board, snapped up from voracious traders, and people are still talking about the stick-like-glue beggars and their hour-long $10 Balinese massages (compare with the $150 deals on board), proving that even the wealthy love a good bargain.

I joined a cycling tour from Mt Batur, in the north, riding 25km down to Ubud to counteract some of the serious eating happening on board the Odyssey. About 14 of us whizzed through rice paddocks and tiny villages, kids waiting with outstretched hands that we slapped as we passed, like slightly wobbly Tour de France pros.

Our route was lined with enormous paper mache monsters, about 10 meters high, grotesque dolls being made by the villagers in preparation for Silence Day, the only Hindu celebration recognized by Indonesia’s predominantly Muslim government (bizarrely, Bali is a little Hindu island in the world’s largest Muslim nation).

The government has to recognize this day: no Balinese will work the airports, sea ports, drive, cook or even venture out doors. The belief goes that once a year, these enormous grotesque dolls are paraded from one end of the village to the other, scaring out all the bad spirits, who leap, terrified, into the air.

So, the whole of Bali goes quiet for 24 hours to fool the spirits, who are now flying angrily across the skies, into thinking the island is deserted. Thus deceived, the evil spirits dive back into the seas from whence they came. Hence the day of fasting, with no work or play – just silence. I was in Bali on this day a few years ago, and all I could hear from the hotel I was staying in was the tinkle of bells tied around the farm animals’ necks as they grazed peacefully on the jungle foliage.

Well, room service has just delivered breakfast, but here’s some more food for thought: Bali’s evil spirits are underwater, and we’re on the water…

About the author

Fear is found on a creaking glacier in the Caucasus mountains and joy is encapsulated in the perfect Shanghai dumpling. And while I love a $500-a-night hotel room (who doesn’t?), sometimes the best stories are found in a $20 guesthouse. With an eye always out for good markets and great street eats, I write the travel news and features for the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers, and features for whoever else asks. I have a particular soft spot for the wilds of the Middle East, scarves and carpets. My articles and photographs have been published in a range of consumer magazines and newspapers in Australia and abroad.

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