Following the flow

Sat, 07/10/2023 - 12:00pm

I must say I’m in complete awe of the traffic on the crowded streets of Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. For every car there will be at least 20 motorbikes all travelling at between 5 and 20 mph. The roads are narrow and while the flow is for left-hand drive, motorbikes both overtake and undertake cars equally with only inches to spare between each other, the cars and the oncoming traffic. Indeed, the pavement is more likely to have a motorbike travelling on it than a pedestrian.

Vehicles ease out from the tiny side-streets with a wave and a smile from the occupant as the priority traffic give way. All road markings are pretty-well ignored, and I’ve only ever seen one set of traffic lights. Even at road junctions it is all about easing out into the flow. I just can’t get over it. I’m told that when on motorbike, ‘don’t think too much, get in the zone, go with the flow. It’s like being in a flock or shoal’.

Having now spent several hours being ferried back and forth through the conurbation of about 4 million people, I have never seen any accidents, traffic jams or any sign of road rage. The traffic just keeps on flowing, sometimes slowly and sometimes a bit faster. There is the occasional light toot of a horn, but this is invariably a gentle warning of a car’s presence to another road user or acknowledgement of a favour.

Of course, this would never work in the UK. Or would it? In fact, it has been trialled in a town called Poynton (see the film Poynton Regenerated). Removing all road signage but altering the flow patterns greatly eased congestion, improved traffic flow, reduced accidents and, as one observer commented, "It has a very calming effect, and I think we’re all being kinder to one another, motorists and pedestrians alike."

Funny that, it reminds me of James Robinson’s book ‘Any Fool Can be a Dairy Farmer’, where after a disastrous attempt by the author to dairy farm in what must have been two of the most challenging years 1975 and 76 he concluded that the more he interfered with natural processes, the worse everything got.

And that, in so many ways, reflects what we have found in our farming experience over the past 25 years. Where we were able to stand back and allow nature – with maybe a wee bit of assistance - to operate, it did so in a way that was kinder to all. The moral to these stories, I believe, is that when we try to control complex biological systems that we barely understand, the consequences can be even worse, and maybe with Wilma…

But back to Bali. The accommodation we are using is part of a group of houses that have been built in the traditional Balinese style – open sided and no doors; basically a roof. Though the tourist guides warn of the risk of theft, our hosts say that in 17 years they’ve only ever had two items go missing. Despite being a city of this size with a large proportion of the population poor (the average manual wage is about £1 per hour), begging is almost unknown. ‘A Balinese family looks after their own’, I am told.

Unusually for Indonesia and due to historical circumstances, Bali is 90% Hindu. Patience, mutual respect, and spiritualism in the indigenous population is palpable. How long this might last with the rise of international tourism in recent years, now contributing over 70% to the local economy, remains to be seen. I wish them well.

What on earth, you might ask, are you, who is so scornful of air travel, doing in Bali? Well, it’s a long story. In a way, I guess, it begins with our gradual transition to the type of farming we are now practicing at home.

I have come from a place where I believed deeply in the data-based, scientifically ‘proven’ idea that good, efficient farming was the model of technology-based intensification. I used to believe that organic, agroecological farming was just muck and magic - a con, and waste of research money. How things have changed!

My belief system was turned completely on its head as our farm - our soils, our pastures, our animals and our people – responded to what we might describe as a nature and management-based system of food production. Boosting our professionally assessed farm biodiversity and soil carbon levels. Cutting our environmental pollution and stress levels. Enhancing our farm and business resilience and profitability.

I must say, this has shaken my blind faith in conventional science and about which I now question everything.

Okay. So what has this all got to do with Bali?

Well, a month ago Wilma’s oncologist told her that there was nothing more the NHS could offer for treating her stage 4 lung cancer. But the glimmer of hope she offered was that she wouldn’t have expected someone with Wilma’s scan results to have walked in the door unaided, let alone appear well.

That would probably have been that - but for a chance encounter.

Five years ago, when we ran the Crowdfunder for the cheese dairy, a generous donation of £1,000 came from an Australian cattle dealer living in Bali. It was completely out of the blue. He had never heard of us before but wanted to support what we were doing.

Three months ago the donor, Scot, made contact and said he and his family were in the UK, could he come to see us? But of course! They visited, we chatted and during the conversation Wilma’s cancer was mentioned. Scot immediately spoke of the work of a healer in Bali who had successfully treated many including several international high-profile people. He said we must come to Bali to see this healer. Well, ‘no chance!’ I thought. But this was all before the bombshell from the oncologist.

It was after that bad news a month ago that Wilma got back in touch with Scot. He suggested he and his Indonesian wife, Farah, set up a long-distance WhatsApp call with the healer – PA Manggu. The six sessions lasted 10 minutes each, and I held the mobile while Wilma followed the healer’s instructions – feeling then pressing different parts of her upper body. What anyone might have thought had they walked in, I daren’t think!

Wilma had been exhausted and somewhat depressed in the weeks leading up to these sessions. Working in the mornings, in the lead up to selling our ice-cream and visitor attraction business, and sleeping much of the afternoons. She wasn’t on any medication at this point either. It was in the morning after her third session with PA Manggu that I came back in from the farm and found her hoovering upstairs. ‘This house is a mess!’ she complained as she scurried about. I couldn’t believe it! I had not seen her with this much energy for months.

And that is what tipped the decision scales and found us, a couple of weeks later, on the 19-hour flight to Bali with completely open minds.

It’s a pretty long shot, sure, but now that we are here and amongst these people where the spirituality is palpable, I could believe just about anything.

And belief, I am told, is everything.  


If anything sums up the culture of the people here it might be this story. On the third and final day of Wilma’s treatment by PA Manggu we were invited to dinner with our amazing hosts, Scot and Farah and their four delightful children. On departure after the meal I turned to Farah and said, ‘You’ll be glad to get us out from under your feet.’

She looked at me blankly so I added, ‘In Scotland we have a saying, family, friends and fish all go off after three days.’

She smiled and replied, ‘In Indonesia we also have a saying, after three days, friends ARE family.’

Farah, Scot, David and Wilma
View of Bali

David Finlay