A good distance from Tabanan stands Negara, the capital of Jembrana regency-a rugged strip of land partitioning the southwest coast of Bali. From Gilimanuk, the harbor at the westernmost tip of the island, ferries ply the narrow strait to East Java, the route by which most of Bali's import needs, and such exports as copra and coffee, are transported.

The most exciting event in Negara is the bull races, a secular entertainment that began less than a century ago. Possibly it developed from the custom of carrying home the harvested rice by bullock cart, or it may have been introduced from Java or Madura where the sport is strong. Bulls are carefully selected for strength and color, looked after and pampered, and never used for plowing the fields.

Dressed up in silk banners with painted horns and enormous wooden bells (now usually replaced with metal bells), they parade before the crowd of spectators. The course is a 2-kilometer stretch of road, and the teams are judged for speed and style. It is remarkable to see such ordinarily docile creatures thunder down to the finishing line at speeds up to 50 kilometers an hour.

The agile charioteers often drive standing up and twist the bulls' tails to give them spunk. For the fans, this regional sport of Jembrana is a great opportunity for gambling. A family that owns a winning bull gains much prestige, and, besides, the price will double. A little magic is believed to help. If you are fortunate enough to be in Bali during the bull racing season, usually between July and October, do not miss seeing them. Negara is the farthest point west cited in this trip. The road, however, continues around the island to Singaraja, through lonely regions of the northwest. The journey takes a full day, on the seldom-used roads. From this point, your tours may take you through Gilimanuk and by ferry to East Java, where breathtaking scenery awaits you.


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