Written by: Thommen Jose
It was a rare event. Wally was quiet. And Wally was never quiet unless he was sleeping or if he wasn’t staring you down enquiring after the ‘angle of the dangle’. Then at the Tree Top Bar, which he runs with his son Mathews near the Labuan Bajo harbour, there is always some reason to be raucous. Wally had moved here in the 80s when Bajo, as locals call it, was not even a blip on the tourism map. He had begun his career as a diving instructor in 1976 and came here when his clients began to demand a change of scene from ever-bustling Bali.
“The harbour then was a small, quaint one with some trees, beneath which were a few benches for passengers and a small harbour master’s office,” said Wally. Difficult to believe as earlier that day I had ojek-ed my way around it and found a melee of ferries and freight carriers and fishing boats. I didn’t see a single tree either.
“The entrepreneurs pumping in the money have no respect for the environment, just filling up more and more of the sea with earth levelled out of mountains in the name of development,” Wally grumbled.
“Maybe that’s how Bajo is poised to be the next Bali?”
Wally stared at me long and hard. And quiet.
Bali has remained rooted in and loyal to its beliefs and culture. Hinduism, which was brought in during the seventh century by scholars travelling with Indian merchants, continues to thrive here. While a hop skip across the waters, over many islands in the archipelago, Islam brought in by Chinese traders a few centuries later became the dominant religion. Every house in Bali has its own temple or pura. Most house constructions in Bali begin with that of the pura, usually next to the entrance gate itself, and the installation of an elaborately carved deity. Equally important as places of worship, the puras are where ancestors are revered.
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