The Sockeyed Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Indonesia

Bali-Bye and on to Bangkok

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The most exciting thing that has happened since I last wrote is that I have become an uncle. Just less than 24 hours ago, my sister-in-law Emily gave birth to Asha Marguerite Johnson Denton, a lovely little girl born at home. Derek called me first thing this morning with the news and I could feel his glowing fatherdom from halfway around the world. I can’t wait to meet Asha.

I am now in Bangkok, staying in the unique and somewhat charming Atlanta Hotel with its classic art deco lobby, plain rooms, reasonable rates and an astounding number of firm rules posted on almost every blank surface, mostly telling the reader that bad behaviour of any sort will not be tolerated and any transgressor will be immediately surrendered to the Authorities and locked in gaol for the duration. Nonetheless, it is a fun place to stay and it has a great restaurant overseen by an impressive octogenarian cashier/matriarch who has been at her post since the dawn of time. I happened to meet one of my co-workers from the City – Thor Kuhlmann – at the reception desk last night. We knew that we’d both be in SE Asia, but had no idea we would actually overlap at the same place at the same time. I spent the morning with Thor today, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Our last few days in Indonesia were very quiet, and tainted a bit by mild sickness. My ear got worse and Kristi developed flu-like symptoms. At first she was convinced that it was dengue fever or malaria or both, but relaxed a bit when the fever proved not high enough. It wasn’t fun, regardless, so we decided to make an earlier-than-planned exit from the island. We were lucky to get two spots on the Blue Water Express boat to Benoa Harbour on Bali on the morning of the 10th, plus a reservation at the Swastika Bungalows that evening. The boat ride was uneventful, quite scenic and a bit bumpy. It was also about twice as long as the earlier trip from Padang Bai. Returning to Bali and then to the bungalows felt calm, quiet and familiar. It was nice to be back in the lushness and flowers, and to see the daily offerings appearing everywhere again. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and had a nice lunch of local nosh (nasi campur) at Wayan’s Warung, right by our bungalows. Kristi mostly napped and read in bed, and I went for another tasty massage across the road.

For our last day in Bali, we relaxed again in the morning then hired our driver from earlier, Ketut, to take us around to the various craft villages between Sanur and Ubud. We visited places selling stone and wood carvings, textiles and silver. We didn’t buy a ton of stuff, just some batik napkins, several small wood carvings, and Kristi bought a few nice pieces of silver jewellery. Unfortunately Ketut backed his van into a tree and shattered the rear window at our first stop, and had to drive back to Sanur to get another vehicle. Poor fellow.

We watched the sunset at Tanah Lot, which was easily the most touristy place we saw during our time on Bali. It is a temple in a lovely setting on a stone outcrop in the ocean surrounded by crashing waves. Walking through endless stalls selling touristy crap wasn’t pleasant, and the crowd was thick, but we found a nice spot on the next headland over from the temple where we could look back on the temple and at surfers down below as the sun made its progress toward the horizon. The sunset was spectacular and certainly worth watching.

Ketut made quick work of the drive to the airport and we were there in plenty of time to have a bite to eat before checking in, boarding and flying off. The flight was fine and we touched down in Singapore on schedule at 00:45 and took a taxi in to Laurie’s place, once again marvelling at how orderly Singapore is.

I had to wake early to get organized and out the door to make my 11:00am flight. Kristi is staying in Singapore for a few days, then Hong Kong for a night before heading to Vancouver (and work). We were sad to say goodbye, but I’m very happy that we were lucky enough to share a great trip together.

My Air Asia flight got me to Bangkok just after noon, and the taxi ride in was surprisingly fast compared to past years. A new train to the airport that is under construction will improve things even more. I checked in to the Atlanta, then walked to the local 7/11 for water and a SIM card for my phone. Back at the hotel I made contact with local folks who I want to see, and I relaxed.

In the early evening I was invited out to see the Loy Kratong celebrations down on the Chao Phraya river by Alex Duke from PSI, the NGO I will be volunteering for here, in Laos and in Phnom Penh. Alex is a very friendly young guy from Australia and England. He and his girlfriend met me on the riverside under the Taksin bridge, which was a feat in itself given the dense crowd. The festival is a time to give thanks for the year’s water, and is celebrated at rivers and lakes (and ponds and public fountains). It involves launching colourful floating offerings with a prayer of thanks. After enjoying the crowd and the sights for a bit, we paid 20 Baht (66 cents) for a 20 minute boat ride up the river with a gaggle of other folks clutching their offerings. The river was raging, and was lined with colourful light displays and populated with many festive boats. We chugged upstream to near Wat Arun, apparently an auspicious vicinity to launch the offerings. As we returned southwards, we were waved to the side of the river by an officious police boat and made to sit there. About ten minutes later we were treated to a front-row view of a mid-river fireworks display sponsored by three hotels, with one barge in front of each stretching off in front of us. I’m not usually a huge fan of fireworks, but these were pretty impressive because of their proximity and context.

Once docked again we wandered around a bit longer, then rode the skytrain homeward, them to their apartment and me to the Atlanta.

I met Thor for breakfast in the hotel this morning at 9:00, then we went for a walk, first to the Erawin Shrine (Hindu, but very popular with Thais), where we watched eight dancers sing and dance with not much gusto. They are paid to dance by people praying at the shrine, and they do it all day most likely, so I can understand their lack of vim. We turned south down Ratchamdamri Road to Lumphini Park, a large, well-groomed and attractive park with trees, orchids and moderately-intimidating lizards swimming in the lake.

As lunch was approaching, we went to the food court at the large MBK mall near the National Stadium. The food court was heavenly, with stall after stall offering every imaginable Thai delight, plus some international goodies. For 100 Baht (three or so dollars), I had a spicy papaya salad (made fresh and professionally in a giant mortar and pestal), a sticky rice, black bean and coconut milk desert, and an iced coffee. I even had four Baht change.

In the afternoon I headed north to the Mo Chit Skytrain station, then took a cab to O-zone, a drop-in centre and needle exchange for IDUs (intravenous drug users) run by PSI. The staff, volunteers and clients were a wonderful group of people, and I spent the several hours photo-documenting their work: an outreach worker meeting, condom education and recreation (playing music, watching DVDs, eating and relaxing in a safe environment). I felt welcomed and appreciated by everyone there. I’ll be sending them a CD of my images once I’m back in Canada.

One of the staff drove me on his motorbike to the Ari transit station and I rode back to the hotel. This entry has been the focus of my attention since then, but soon I’ll hopefully join Alex and Thor for a beer and dinner.

Written by sockeyed

November 14, 2008 at 02:00

Waterlogged Ear

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Despite the noise of a live band playing not far away, I managed to get a good night’s sleep, probably in part due to air con, and partly due to earplugs. I had water from yesterday’s snorkelling trapped in my left ear, and no amount of bouncing on one foot last night or this morning would dislodge it. Unfortunately this led to discomfort in this morning’s dive to Halik, north of the island. I had quite lot of trouble equalizing the pressure in my ear on the way down but eventually got things sorted out. The dive itself was not as impressive as others. We were carried by a current along a relatively featureless slope of mostly broken coral with a few pretty areas. We saw a few good local residents: a bump-head parrotfish, emperor angels, titan triggers, clown fish and a couple of sizeable turtles.

Back on shore my ear started to bother me some more. Talking with a dive instructor, he figured that some salt water had got in and the ear became inflamed, effectively sealing it in, which explained why I couldn’t bounce it out. He suggested that I pick up some ear drops called Otopain from the clinic on the island, so we walked down there and I procured some with minimal effort and we strolled back. Dramatic weather was blowing across from Lombok: huge waves were breaking off of Gili Meno (with surfers riding them), and even Trawangan’s harbour had some waves rolling in, much to the delight of local naked kids splashing in the surf. We had lunch at a nice place just off the market. I munched a salade nicoise and drank a mixed fruit juice with coconut milk and vitamins in it. As we sat there the clouds and wind blew in dramatically and we even had a few splashes of rain. After, I stopped at Coco for my daily iced cappuccino and Kristi headed back to the bungalow as she wasn’t feeling great.

We spent the afternoon relaxing: Kristi in bed, napping or with a book, and me on the porch with one of the local cats on my lap until she got too hot. There are lovely cats here, with long noses and large ears, and many with wrecked-looking tails. They are usually orange or some blend of white and grey-brown. Some are grey with lovely darker spots and green eyes. They all look related (and they probably are).

Written by sockeyed

November 10, 2008 at 01:17

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Classic Rock and Cuttlefish

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The advantage of sitting and typing inside our bungalow is that avoids having to hear Hotel California one more time. Gili Trawangan’s musical catalogue must consist of a single CD of 70s and 80s classics that washed up on the beach some years ago and was copied and shared among every bar. It’s tragic and aurally numbing.

Thank god you can’t hear music underwater as that’s where we’ve been for much of the last two days. Yesterday was two boat dives with Manta Dive. After a terrible night’s sleep in our very hot bungalow (the fan didn’t seem to penetrate the mosquito net and there was no breeze through the place) but a decent breakfast of banana pancakes and Lombok coffee (sweet and served in a teapot), we walked the ten minutes to the dive place. A wait while they located all the tanks they needed, and we were off in our outrigger boat to Manta Point. It was a great dive among excellent fan, staghorn and brain coral. Fish highlights were two cuttlefish, titan triggers, moorish idols, shaded batfish and many angels. Our dive master was Hermann, an Indonesian guy, very relaxed.

Back on the island we had lunch at Coco – baguette sandwiches and excellent iced cappuccino.

The afternoon’s dive was even better – to Hann’s Reef off the east coast of Gili Air, about a 20 minute boat ride away. It was a sandy dive teeming with life: cuttlefish, numberous lionfish, turtles, damsel fish, mantis shrimp, frogfish, a purple swirly juvenile emperor angel fish, a sea cucumber and a blue spotted stingray, hiding in the sand until he was coaxed to swim away – beautiful! A large pinnacle half-way through provided a great vista upward to hundreds of fish, the first sight here that’s really reminded me of Sipadan. A excellent dive.

After a shower and some relaxing at Tanah Qita, we went for dinner at the farther south part of the ‘strip’, to an Indian restaurant called Pesona. We sat right by the water in a small pondok-like structure. The food was very nice: potato cumin curry, tandoori vegetables and paneer, creamy raita and lemon rice.

After leaving the front and back doors of our bunglow open and catching some of the cross breeze, and putting in ear plugs (mostly because of the cockerels and the mosque), we slept much better last night although I still felt a bit groggy today.

By 8am we were snorkelling on the beach right across from the bungalows. The snorkelling was not far off of the dives in quality. The water was crystal clear and the coral in great condition and dramatic. The fish were much of what we’d seen, but also included needlefish and a very large solitary pufferfish just relaxing in a sandy area. All of this just meters off of the shore and continuing great distances north and south.

The middle of the day was devoted to checking out of Tanah Qita and moving down the road to the Manta Bungalows which, bless them, have air con. Yes, we are wimpy, pampered folks and are luxuriating in our mid-20s cool air. The layout is much the same, with a peaked roof and curving walls, a front porch leading out to a garden and a back door leading to an enclosed open-air private shower and bathroom area.

(As I write this there is a strange discordant cacophony between the mosque’s call to prayer and the bass lines from classic rock along the beach).

Mid-day was characterized by reading (both of us working our way through Neal Stephenson novels), another iced cappuccino at Coco, then a later lunch of quite tasty mee goreng at another beachside place, made a bit less pleasant by a small but obnoxious swarm of flies.

We snorkelled again in the later afternoon, a bit further south on the beach. Visibility was not quite as good, my mask leaked, there were gaggles of small jellyfish, and Kristi lost her snorkel (getting out of the water somehow), but we saw some good stuff including a black and white-striped sea snake, a turtle snacking on coral, a picasso fish and an enormous titan triggerfish tearing chunks out of the coral while a group of smaller reef fish looked on, probably waiting for tasty morsels.

The sunset from the top of the island’s single hill was a non-event, unfortunately. I imagine that it can be spectacular as it sets right over Bali’s volcanoes, but as usual, they were socked in. Ah well, it was an interesting walk through the local village and up the dry dusty hill among numerous goats, some chickens and a cow or two. Views down on the developed part of town were good, as were those on the large breakers rolling in from the west.

Time to think about dinner.

Written by sockeyed

November 9, 2008 at 01:10

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Gili Trawangan, Pt. 1

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Since I last wrote, the United States elected a new president – Barack Obama. I hope that this signals a new era for Canada’s southern neighbour. They were in desperate need of a sea change in their leadership.

We have crossed a sea, or the Lombok Strait at least, and are on Gili Trawangan, a small island, 2x3kms in size, off the coast of Lombok. I was here three years ago and things have changed. I’m not sure if my memories are blurring into those from Gili Air, a nearby island with a more laid-back character, or if things are really that different. I think that they are. There seems to be a lot more development up and down the beach, and a lot more younger European tourists looking to be in the party mode with their Bintang beer shirts, flip flops and large designer glasses. They made me feel old and a bit snobby.

Anyway, Gili Trawangan is still a lovely place, free of cars and scooters (horse-drawn carriages and bikes only) and surrounded by clear turquoise water teeming with corals and fish and turtles and other sea life.

We checked out of Tegal Sari in Ubud early this morning and rode a van into Badangbai, a nondescript coast town that was in the midst of having a cruise ship arrive. We rode across to the Gilis on the GiliCat fast boat with about 12 or so other folks. The trip took only an hour and the highlight was seeing a pod of dolphins leaping from the water. The boat was a vast improvement over the flight, car and boat trip I took last time.

The boat arrived on Gili Trawangan around 11:00, and we stopped in at Manta Dive to tell them to expect me for my refresher course shortly. We left our bags there and set out to find a place to stay. Last time I was here I stayed in a place called Queenrich Bungalows for a few dollars a night. Although I brought a picture of the place and the owner, we couldn’t seem to find it. Instead we settled on a bungalow at Tanah Qita, fairly far north up the beach. We have an A-framed thatch bungalow with a smallish room, a covered porch (where I am writing this), and a fun open-air shower and toilet out back. We are on the main road across from the snorkelling beach, but although we are in the front-most bungalow, we are still set back around 25m meters from the road behind a large, open garden.

Back at Manta I did an hour-long refresher course in the pool that went over the scuba basics and really set me at ease (Kristi just completed her certification in Vancouver, so she was good to go). Around 2pm we set out on a dive, heading north around the island to Shark Point. The dive went really well and both of us were totally relaxed. It was great to be back in the 28-degree water with good visibility and incredible sea life. Over the course of our 47-minute dive (down to 21 metres), we swam past giant coral mushrooms and over fan corals and sponges, and saw sea turtles, trigger fish, angel fish, parrot fish, sweetlips, parrotfish and even a few white-tipped reef sharks hiding out under a coral overhang. Although it wasn’t as dramatic as my dives in Sipadan, Malaysia, two years ago, it was still a great deal of fun and very nice to share this experience with Kristi.

After the dive and debrief, moved our stuff into our bungalow and showered, then went out for a delicious dinner at Recchi’s Living Room, down near the ticket office. I had northern Lombok fish saté (minced fish and coconut milk and spices), a Bintang beer and banana fritters with ice cream for dessert. Kristi had a tuna and veggie salad and fried tempeh. To help digest all this nummy nosh, we walked south down the main strip. It just feels more busy and buzzing than I remember.

I should say something about our last days in Bali. It’s Thursday today; on Tuesday we made a point of not doing much more than relaxing. We spent the morning reading at the hotel, ate at the Lotus Lane in town (huge and good chocolate mousse), and then walked to the market and back to the hotel in a leisurely loop, Kristi buying a few presents for folks along the way.

Yesterday was a great finale to our day on the island. After an early nasi goreng breakfast on our balcony over the rice paddy, we got a lift into the main market to watch the action of the locals’ food market. It took some time to find it as most of it is underground, down some wet stone stairs into this inferno of fruit, veggie and meat stalls and small food stalls emitting large amounts of smoke. It reminded me of the Psar Chas in Siem Reap, Cambodia, but for Kristi it was her first such experience.

Next stop was a Balinese cooking class done by Casa Luna at the Honeymoon Guesthouse (very nicely laid out with statues, fountains and great wood and stone relief carvings), which lasted almost four hours and started with a lecture on all the ingredients central to this kind of cooking. Most of it was about spices and gingers and the balance of sweet, salty, spicy and sour flavours. After this, our instructor prepared a series of dishes served on ceremonial occasions: fish and chicken saté, green beans in coconut, ferns, yellow rice, corn fritters, sembal and black rice pudding for dessert. To drink we had sweet cold hibiscus juice and a mild rice wine (like good saké). The most important element to the food is the fresh spice mix, all ground up on a large, flat stone mortar and pestel. The course was very worthwhile, and the food very good. It will be interesting to try and recreate some of it at home.

The climax of the day was an evening Kecak performance at a temple in the north part of town. Kecak involves a large male chorus chanting in a complex and highly-synchronized way, seated in a circle around a central altar. The men wear chequered sarongs and create trance-like songs and chants, calls-and-responses. An element I was not familiar with was the storytelling from Hindu mythology using a series of dancers entering the circle. These included very elegant female dancers in gold and green as well as a whole pantheon of Hindu gods and demons appearing in frighting or even comical roles. For the entire dance or ritual, the men in the circle continuously chanted and sang, sometimes jumping up, other times lying flat upon each other, and even getting involved in the action, hoisting fighting gods up on their shoulders to do battle. This all lasted at least an hour and the audience was enraptured, applauding and cheering loudly when it was over. The finale was a fire dance. A large pile of coconut husks was placed in the middle of the courtyard, doused with fuel, and lit on fire. The kecak chorus appeared again on the far side, and when the fire had burned down to embers, a man with a hobby horse-like costume and bare feet entered, and in a trance-like state would jump on an kick the embers in every direction. Helpers would re-pile the embers and we would do it again, maybe four times in total. At one one point, a pile of embers landed on an audience member who screamed and jumped up, suggesting that the embers were something to be reckoned with and not some trick. The ritual ended when the man collapsed into the kecak men, and a priest entered and blessed him with holy water. His blackened feet were clear evidence of the power of his trance. The entire evening in the temple was the perfect way to mark the end of our few days in Bali.

Written by sockeyed

November 7, 2008 at 04:00

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Floating Temple, Music in the Rain, Thunderous Massage

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The ricefields in front of our room are now being planted with seedlings in perfect rows with incredible speed. My own back aches just looking at how the men work bent over double, a cluster of seedlings in one had, planting rapidly with the other, pushing a floating basket of seedlings behind them with their calves as they move backwards down the row.

Yesterday’s excursion was to Lake Bratan to visit the Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, the floating temple. The four of us hired Angelo, a younger driver that Rod and Sandy have used, for the day. I woke early and wrote up the previous days’ adventures, then we ordered breakfast to our room and ate on the balcony overlooking the paddies. Around 10:00 we met the others and set out. We got off to a rough start at the gas station when Angelo backed into a stack of propane cannisters (fortunately empty) and sent them rolling in every direction, right after telling us what a cautious driver he was. With this exception, he proved to be correct.

The drive to Lake Bratan was straightforward: a climbing road directly north of Ubud. Up we went into the clouds, and rice transitioned into fruit and vegetables. We descended down to the lake under ominous-looking clouds and piled out of the car to look around.

The temple doesn’t float, but is built on a small island just offshore. It is very picturesque, almost pagoda-like with an ascending series of thatched roofs. The temple is one of the primary icons of Bali and can be seen on the 50,000INR note. There were also temple elements on the land including two covered open areas. Under one a gamelan orchestra was setting up, and under the other was a group preparing offerings and chanting.

A rain started and judging by the fact that locals ran to shelter, I knew that it would be a big one. I took shelter with the gamelan, now playing a very rhythmic piece that rose and fell in waves of volume. I don’t know if it was technically a gamelan as it was comprised of drums, gongs and cymbals only, not the keyed gamelan played with hammers. I found the music mesmerizing and made several recordings. The rain beat hard all around making it all very atmospheric. During this time a duck and a chicken – alive, wrapped in leaves and weighted with stones – were sacrificed from a small boat in the lake. This, I would imagine, is a reflection of the animist beliefs that have mixed with Hinduism on the island, although I could be mistaken.

The rain let up slightly and we made our way back to the car and set off, stopping at a fruit market in the town to buy rambutans, mangosteen and bananas. We were asked to pay an exorbitant 250,000 INR ($30) for a small selection of fruit, but the driver and I talked the woman down to 60,000, which I still think was way too much, but the fruit was good (with the exception of one mangosteen that exploded with ants when I opened it and got thrown out of the moving car like a live hand grenade).

We spent the rest of the drive looking at dramatic rice terraces in the Jatiluwih area. There were several steep valleys blanketed in beautiful vibrant green terraces, and we forced the driver to stop every few hundred metres so that we could jump out and take pictures. Rod was most excited to see a father and two sons swimming nakedly in a stream next to the road. The boys squealed happily when we drove by.

The trip back into Ubud was long, down a rough road, then zig-zagging back and forth to cross a series of rivers and valleys to get from west to east towards Ubud. We dropped Rod and Sandy off at their hotel and said goodbye as they are leaving for Vancouver today.

Back at the hotel we had a simple supper (mee goreng for me), then walked over to the Zen Spa down the road for some pampering. Well, I had a very impressive massage, but I wouldn’t call it relaxing as the fellow who gave it to me was incredibly strong and almost had me whimpering several times. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I did whimper when we worked on my calves and hamstrings. The setting of the spa was beautiful, though. My room had an open wall that faced out onto a garden, and during the massage a thunderstorm developed. The rain poured heavily into the garden, and lightning flashed and thunder crashed constantly.

Back at the hotel I sat in the open area near reception and connected to the internet with my laptop. I answered and sent some emails, and uploaded a whole series of postings to my blog. I also drank a glass of Balinese rosé, which was passable and fun. The storm put on a good show all around. Another early night – we were in bed and reading at around 10:00.

Written by sockeyed

November 4, 2008 at 17:00

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Paddies, Bikes and Mating Monkeys (with a Side of Gado Gado)

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It’s just after 7:00am and I’m sitting on the second-floor balcony of our hotel room overlooking a panorama of rice fields flooded with water and reflecting the morning sky. Men are making their way to work among the paddies along narrow raised paths, and work seems to mostly revolve around maintenance and weeding at this time in the rice-growing cycle.

There are white egrets stalking small fish or frogs, and smaller sandpiper-like birds.

The hotel is the Tegal Sari, just south of Ubud. It is a series of attractive two-story buildings surrounded on three sides by the paddies. Around the buildings are lush plantings, ponds and pools. Our room, #12, is one of the nicest that I’ve stayed in, full of windows that make you feel that you are among the paddies. The bed and bathroom are spacious, but the highlight has to be our balcony, made even better because we are on the upper level of this building.

We arrived in Ubud on Saturday morning in a car hired through the bungalows in Sanur. It took only about an hour to get here, so we got to the hotel around 10:30 and met Kristi’s parents, Rod and Sandy, who had been here for several days already. They showed us their room, a ‘super deluxe’ like ours, but mostly finished in wood inside. We couldn’t check into our room yet, so we relaxed at their place for a while and caught up, then had lunch at the outdoor hotel restaurant (I had nasi campur, pretty much a combo plate with a diversity of dishes plus rice).

We spent the afternoon on a walk in the terraced rice paddies northwest of Ubud. The engineering of the gravity-fed irrigation system was fascinating. Most of Bali seems to be on a slope because of the island’s volcanic geology, and it always rains up high. Over hundreds and thousands of years, the Balinese have developed an amazing rice-based agricultural system using terraces where the land gets steep, and channelling water where it is needed. We climbed up through these terraces, watching farmers harvest rice and prepare seedlings. Dotting the fields are stone shines as well as well as colourful material swinging from long ornate, curving bamboo poles, likely meant to scare birds away. Ducks and geese were regularly employed in the paddies to eat weeds and pests and leftover stalks after the harvest.

We hiked for around two hours in a big U, and ended up back in Ubud where a van from the hotel met us and drove us through the narrow, busy streets back to the hotel. We haven’t really explored the town yet, but it contains an overwhelming number of small stores selling Balinese crafts of every possible sort: carvings, paintings, clothes, textiles, jewellery and more. There is restaurant after restaurant as well. It is very obvious that this is the tourist’s place to come as an alternative to the beach holiday.

In the evening (after a soak in the hotel pool and being soaked in a rain storm), we watched a dance performance at the Lotus Pond next to the Lotus Café, in an ornate, palace-like courtyard. There were actually more people in the gamelan band than were watching the performance, but this didn’t stop the musicians or the dancers from putting on an energetic show. Six dances and on instrumental piece were performed, and dances were in the legong and kebyar style, with extracts from the Ramayana, a flirtatious male-female bee dance, an old man mask dance and a technical show piece for a solo male dancer. It’s interesting to compare the dances that I’ve seen in India, Laos, Cambodia and here; they all clearly have common roots and elements, but are also unique. Facial expressions play a central role in Balinese dance, and its styles seem quite physical and demanding on the performers. I hope to get to one of the dance schools while I’m here to watch and document how students learn the dances.

We spent all of yesterday on a bike tour through the countryside north of Ubud. We booked the tour with Bali Eco Tours and found it a very satisfying experience. We were joined by a very pleasant French woman and her daughter, and I spent part of the day translating into my terrible French. The trip began with an hour long drive up and up to a viewpoint over the misty Lake Batur caldera and up at the summit of Mount Batur (1717m). The lava flow from a relatively recent eruption was clearly visible as a black swath down the peak to the lake. On the way up to Batur, we stopped at a steep valley to view some very impressive rice terraces.

Driving on we came to an agro-tourism development that reminded me very much of one Derek and I visited in Sri Lanka in 2005, even down to the overpriced gift shop. They had demonstration plantings of cinnamon, clove, coffee, gardenia, vanilla, cocoa, papaya, taro, pineapple and more. There were four civet cats in an enclosure. These animals are famous for their role in the production of ‘lewak’ coffee – they eat the most ripe, best coffee fruit and poop out the coffee beans. These are gathered and roasted up into the most expensive coffee in the world. I couldn’t resist buying a cup of it, and it was pretty good although it would be interesting to try it as espresso rather than in the Balinese style: a very fine grind that you let settle in the bottom of your cup before drinking, as in Turkey.

Five minutes down the road we picked up our bikes, and we spent the rest of the afternoon rolling downhill on quite backcountry roads through rice terraces and villages. We stopped to tour a traditional compound house for an extended family, complete with a house temple which seems to be standard here. Our excellent and happy guide also took us two carving workshops, one making balsa wood Buddha statues, and the other making very ornate doors, beams and windows, carved with scenes of gods like Hanuman or in organic motifs. Behind the largest banyan tree that I have seen there was a group of about forty women of all ages preparing offerings for an upcoming ceremony. Very friendly, like almost everyone we’ve encountered, they invited us over to show us the rice flour offerings they were making and to chatter with us. I took a whole lot of pictures.

After 25kms (during which I probably pedalled 12 times) we came to a small dam and were given the option of an additional ride or a drive onwards. Kristi, Rod and I opted for the ride and were treated to a half-hour or so mostly uphill and very sweaty ride that made my face go all red. It was enjoyable and scenic, though, and it was good to get some exercise. Our destination was a restaurant in the paddies that served the best food that I’ve had so far: smoked chicken and duck, tofu in sweet soy sauce, tofu in peanut sauce, chicken satay, steamed greens, noodles, rice and fresh sambal (which was really zippy). Everything was salty/sweet and spicy and garlicky and incredibly tasty. I hope that we can get food like that again.

The final leg, in the van this time, brought us to the Monkey Forest, which is actually right across the paddy from where I am typing right now. The forest is in a warm, moist ravine, and is inhabited by three troupes of macaque monkeys, numbering about two hundred or so. They were everywhere, just sitting like people, getting groomed, eating sweet potatoes or bananas, wrestling and playing, swimming and having sex. There were three mossy temples in the forest as well, one of which was deep down in a humid, slimy grotto.

At about 4:30 we were back in the hotel, showered and floated in the pool for a while. Rod and Sandy had to move to another hotel as Tegal Sari was booked up. Kristi and I relaxed for a while then went for a short walk towards town. En route we decided to get some foot reflexology which I found very intense, particularly on the bottom of my toes. After it was all done it felt very good, and Kristi had a look of bliss in her eyes and said she enjoyed the entire process.

A light snack and a drink back at the hotel, then we called it an early night. I slept soundly and was out of bed at 6:30 and writing this.

Written by sockeyed

November 3, 2008 at 14:30

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I have spent Halloweens in some interesting places in my time. One that springs to mind was back in around 2000 when I was in Wilmington, North Carolina and we spent the night out on the town drinking and eating raw oysters by the plateful. Today I didn’t eat any raw seafood but I had some pretty tasty Balinese fish at one point.

It was not a breakfast though. Breakfast was poolside at the hotel, and consisted of tea, fruit (rambutan and papaya), toast and fresh eggs. We were surrounded by Germans, and I couldn’t help but wonder what they though of staying at the Swastika Bungalows. Obviously the meaning in a Hindu/Buddhist context is very different, but it must have resonated on some level with them. Did they choose it to help return the meaning to its true and good meaning? Or did they just decide to stay there because it’s a nice place to stay?

Sanur is not unpleasant although there doesn’t seem to be a ton going on. It’s relatively quiet, which I like. The beach is OK but a bit plain for these parts. We did enjoy a longish walk along it past a number of beachside restaurants and some swish hotels, plus many brightly-coloured small outrigger boats and brightly-sunburned European tourists, mostly of the large variety. We were offered many a massage and pedicure and shop visitation and boat ride. That got a bit tiring but is not unexpected. We walked a long loop south down the beach and north back through town, returning in the heat of midday (minimal shadows here just south of the equator). We lunched at the Bonsai Café, on the beach north of our bungalows. I had a Balinese dish (bebes?) – fish in curry sauce grilled in a banana leaf, served with rice, green beans in gado gado, sambal and a great fresh chili onion relish. Tasty stuff. Kristi had a grilled three-fish combo that was also quite good.

After that, we waded out to a pondok out on a breakwater and splashed about some in the surf. Back at the bungalows we floated a bit in the pool as well, but it was actually hot and not entirely refreshing.

Kristi is struggling some with the heat and finds it makes her feel ill at times or just plain weak. I hope that she gets used to it while we’re here because I don’t think that it will get much cooler.

Tonight we had stunning massages at a place right across the street from our bungalows for the princely sum of about $10 for 1½ hours. It was in the Balinese style, using just the right amount of pressure and body weight, plus we got a scouring with hot bundles of herbs (turmeric? other earthy things?) and rubbed with scented oils. I came within millimetres of falling asleep, and in fact may have dozed slightly once or twice. Kristi and I looked at each other very groggily afterwards and had a lot of trouble stringing sentences together. A late meal at a nearby restaurant associated with the Swastika and we headed back to our room for what will probably be an early night.

Written by sockeyed

November 1, 2008 at 00:00

Posted in Travel

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