The Abandoned Amusement Park

This post is another extract from my new Uncultivated book project. As previously described the book is built up around negations of “the ten commandments of cultivation”. The intention herewith is to challenge taken-for-granted cultural and societal “truths” and assumptions and to promote a rewilding of the cultivated human being.

The ten commandments are the following:

  1. We have to adapt and behave
  2. We are superior to animals
  3. We are separated from nature
  4. We must be ambitious
  5. We have to work hard
  6. What cannot be explained is not true
  7. We do not talk about death
  8. Decay must be defeated
  9. Time is linear
  10. God is dead

In this post I will share another passage from the section: What cannot be explained is not true. This section is a description of an eerie experience I had this weekend together with my oldest son.

Sometimes what cannot be explained is true.


What cannot be explained is not true

I am riding my motorbike with my 14-year-old son on the back on a steaming hot Sunday from our house in the jungle towards the coast. The destination is an abandoned amusement park called Taman Festival Park that has apparently been taken over by tropical nature and graffiti art. We have no idea what to expect. I was tipped by a friend to check it out and have done a quick google search to find the location and seen a few intriguing photos. When we arrive at the empty parking area by the entrance to the park, we are met by a man who claims that we have to pay an entrance fee to him. As the amount is not unreasonable, and I am not in the mood to negotiate we pay him, and he points up some stairs and says: you can enter up there and adds (to our amusement) good luck. The ticket booths are covered in graffiti and the glass is shattered. We pass them and continue through the entrance gates.

Strangely there are no dogs in the park. Stray dogs are everywhere in Bali, and as we enter the parking area, we see a bunch of scruffy looking dogs roaming the beach, but for some reason the park is completely dog less. The only living creatures we encounter are a multitude of mosquitoes, piles of wriggling centipedes, swallows and bats. Besides therefrom the park is cleared of visible life. A couple of other visitors are here; two young men with cameras, who are leaving as we enter, nodding at us quietly as a greeting. The atmosphere is eerily peaceful. The only sounds are the howling winds and the ocean.

As we walk further into the park we are met by enormous ruined buildings with shattered windows and missing roofs. Vines, tropical flowers, and large branches with giant leaves are growing in and around them, and the broken concrete walls are covered in colorful graffiti art; some of it absolutely amazing. We are both in awe. The beauty of the decay combined with the lush tropical plants and the colorful graffiti is breathtaking. We are quietly taking photos and walking slowly through what used to be a huge atrium. The stairs to the second floor are still partly intact, yet overgrown with green leaves, so we carefully walk upstairs. The view of the vast ocean and the colossal ruin covered in greeneries that meets us is sublime, breathtaking.

We leave the ruined atrium and walk into a square with a shattered fountain in the middle. One can sense the grandeur that this place must undoubtedly have had when it was just built. Another massive building is facing the square and as we approach and are met by an intimidating graffitied snake, we realize that it is the remains of a movie theater. We can enter the darkness of the ruined cinema but feel reluctant. Every intuitive hunch in us screams: no!

We decide to continue and pass through a gate covered in thick vines and leaves and enter a courtyard. Strange holes are dug in the soil – they look like freshly dug graves and my son and I send each other a bewildered look. What are those holes for? He asks me. No idea, I say, should we leave? No, it’s ok, lets walk through here and check out the building over there. He points to some wide steps that lead up to a massive decaying building with a surrounding colonnade. I hesitate for a bit and then nod at him. As we walk through the courtyard, we pass a tall chapel-like building which, strangely, isn’t plastered in graffiti. Plants have almost completely taken over its walls and tropical vines are hanging from the roof. There is a small overgrown passage next to it, and as we look down it suddenly an orange scooter driven by an old Balinese man with grey hair passes. A small boy is sitting on the back of the scooter holding on to the old man. They pass, and then disappear. And we think nothing of it at the moment. 

As we walk into the grand crumbling colonnade surrounding the massive structure swallows fly out towards us, and bats are hanging from the ceiling. I am really not a big fan of bats, and my son knows, but he says: let’s just check out the open area, then we can leave. I nod, and we continue. The ground of colonnade is covered in rainwater and the graffitied walls are reflecting in the water giving the sight an illusion of abolition of up and down. We walk into the massive demolished center of the building; the iron structure is the only thing still standing and loose pieces of timber are hanging from it, giving it a very unsafe look.

When we leave the area and walk back through the overgrown gate, into the sunlight and away from the swarms of mosquitoes that harass and bite us in all the shadowed areas, my son suddenly says: where did that man disappear to? What do you mean? I reply. There was a man standing right there – he points to a clearing – he was right there, wearing a grey shirt, but now he is gone. Did you see him? I shake my head. That is strange, my son mumbles.

We walk slowly towards a few more graffitied shattered buildings, take some photos, and then decide we have had enough. We are both quiet, contemplating. As we ride home, we both exclaim: holy s…, what was that place all about?!

After returning home we are so filled up with the overwhelming impressions from the park that we begin to frantically read everything we can find about it. The story of Taman Festival Park is insane. The 9-hectare amusement park that sprawls along the southern coast of Bali was built in the late 1990’s by the Indonesian government as a major tourist attraction. The park was to feature a fancy 3D theatre, laser shows, an erupting model of a volcano, a swimming pool planned to be the largest in Bali, an inverted roller coaster, and a crocodile pit. However, on a Friday (the 13th, as a matter of fact!) in March 1998 lightning struck the park and destroyed the expensive laser equipment as well and some of the buildings. Insurance didn’t cover natural disasters and the park was never completely finished and never opened. The park has now been abandoned for over two decades and has been more or less swallowed by the jungle.

We also read about visitors being observed and followed from a distance as they walked through the park – by a young boy with a shaved head and by a skinny man – only to lose sight of their followers as they reapproached the entrance/exit. And about how these visitors after returning home fell sick and were bedridden for days. We read about the park being the most haunted place in Bali: about the spirits (some evil) that roam the park, and about how locals never enter, because, as they say: nothing living ever comes out of there. We read about how locals do offerings that include animals (chickens, goats and pigs) every fortnight at entrance area of the park to ensure that the spirits stay content and remain within the park. And about how those offerings are always gone when they return in the morning. We read stories about the crocodiles that were left behind when the park was deserted and about rumours that the crocodiles initially were fed chickens by local farmers, but later started eating each other as well as humans. It is said that the last crocodiles were finally removed, but this has never been confirmed (and I start to wonder why there absolutely no dogs in the park). These stories all add to the unease that we both felt when we were in there; a feeling that made us stick close to the entrance area and forced us to comprise our curiosity to explore more and wander deeper down the overgrown paths of the park.

And then suddenly my son reads a story on a custom motorbike and vintage scooter show that was held in the park just as it was about to open its doors to the public. He turns completely pale and starts to shake. I immediately know why. The orange scooter we saw with the old man and the child wasn’t of this world, and we both immediately know that this is the truth: it isn’t possible to ride a scooter through the overgrown area behind the chapel-like building that borders the massive ruined building behind it. And as soon as the scooter passed us its sound disappeared. I am never going back there ever again, says my son.

I cannot explain what we experienced. But it was real.

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