Random happenings are the best.
So the place we were staying in Banyuwangi was called Didu’s Homestay, and had been recommended by the tour company that took us to Sukamade. It was a ways out of the city centre but super cute, consisting of three little cottages in a yard with a common hangout space. We had initially planned on just sleeping that afternoon (since we were going to be leaving for Ijen Crater at midnight), however when we arrived the lovely Maya, who was running the place, informed us that we just happened to be here on the night of a big festival in Banyuwangi. She was taking some other guests and asked if we wanted to come too. We figured we couldn’t say no to that opportunity, so along we went.
The festival was called Tumpeng Sewu Kemiren, and I’m not sure of the exact translation but Maya said it was something about A Thousand Rice (Rices?) because everyone in the village sits down along the side of the main street in one big long row and eats the same rice and chicken dish for dinner. The rice is served in a traditional pyramid or cone shape.
We arrived a bit before the action started so decided to take a bit of a walk around town. On our walk it became apparent that in this village, being a bearded Caucasian person made Chris some sort of celebrity. All the locals, little kids to grown men, were looking, pointing, and coming over asking to take pictures with him. One girl had a giggling fit when Chris put his arm around her for the picture. It was pretty hilarious and he felt super popular and cool. There was a group of white French tourists who were also from Maya’s place, but their popularity started to wear thin on them after the thousandth photo.
As part of the lead up to the festival there was a children’s parade, with kids dressed up as different animals/spirits. The star of the parade was Barong, who is the Indonesian spirit of good, basically, and has several different animal-like forms (boar, tiger, etc.). He is summoned to fight/eat evil spirits and the like. He always fights Rangda, who is an evil witch. There was also the world’s cutest marching band.
Closer to dinner time we met up with Maya’s dad, who works for a government tourism agency I believe. He took us into some local homes to see the food being prepared, and also gave Chris this sweet traditional hat that all the other men were wearing. Then he and all his friends took thumbs-up pictures with Chris, making me laugh quite a lot.
Eventually it came to dinner time. Due to a combination of (I think) Maya’s dad’s position and everyone wanting to be friends with the Westerners, we somehow ended up in the VIP section. This meant we were sitting with all the visiting dignitaries, including the mayor of Banyuwangi and Chief of East Java. Hilariously this meant we also photobombed a zillion people’s pictures, since the mayor was right in front of us and was constantly getting photographed.
After another dancing Barong and some Indonesian speeches by the various dignitaries that we didn’t understand, the rice and chicken dinner was served. In traditional Indonesian fashion we ate with our hands out of a banana leaf bowl. The food was good but I had to make an effort not to poison myself, since (like everywhere in Indonesian) they like to serve everything with a side of peanuts, my mortal enemy.
After dinner is when the real party starts apparently, but we decided to head home since we had to wake up in 4 hours to climb a mountain!
P.S. Chris was even written into some kind of news article where he is quoted saying he enjoyed the festival but the food is a bit spicy. Hahaha.