Wednesday, April 12, 2016
We went to Indonesia over the Songkran period in Thailand, neither Annie (my wife) or I had been there before. Bali was our chosen island destination. We landed at Ngurah Rai International Airport. The airport was named after Ngurah Rai, who had been a brave soldier, who had died at the Battle of Margarana, after fighting the Dutch invasion of the islands after World War II.
We stayed in the town of Ubud. The roads to get there were narrow and winding. We stayed along the Raya Andong Road, our accommodation was down a narrow passageway at Dsk pt Putera Hidden.
Holiday, with or without a bicycle, still arouse the idea for an adventure. After settling in we went for a stroll up and down the Raya Andong Road. We went initially looking for somewhere to eat; Balinese food was obviously our first choice, but the streets we graced were all dressed up for the Hindu celebration of Galungan, the victory of dharma over adharma. It is the time when ancestral spirits are supposed to visit Earth. The last day, which was going to be on the 15th is called Kuningan – which celebrates purification. On this day ancestors’ souls will leave their family temples and return to heaven after visiting Earth during the period of Galungan.
Annie and I were unaware of this celebration, but what took us by surprise was all the penjor – bamboo poles with their offering suspended at the ends, which were interspaced along the roadside.
It wasn’t just the large number of Penjor that caught our eyes, but also the offerings of seeds, fruit and yellow rice that had been carefully positioned on the pavements encased in bowl-like structures made out of coconut leaves. Kuningan was from the word kuning which means yellow. The significance of the yellow rice is the gesture of human gratitude towards God for the: life, joy, wealth, health and prosperity that is given. Every house we walked past seemed to have an elaborate entrance, with statues acting like guards. Some of these looked like Rangda, the demon queen, who is depicted as a semi-naked old woman, with long messy hair, pendulous looking breasts and having goggled looking eyes. Not all houses had these, but many did, certainly naked females and occasionally a naked male proudly exhibiting themselves.
Eventually, we had lunch at an Indian restaurant called ‘Siti’s Warung, also known as ‘little India.’ The walls were white clean and the tables and chairs were predominately turquoise in colour. The walls had posters hanging on them, no doubt from a Bollywood movie. The ambience of the place was very welcoming, the staff were pleasant and helpful too with the menu. I had Tandoori Chicken and a Bintank Beer. So much for wanting to sample Bali food.
After our late lunch. we continued walking around admiring the Galungan festivities with the vibrant colour that Hindu festival, which is renown for and the mystical decorations.
Most of these houses had very decorative split gates, which obviously led to their private temples. The research stated that there were two types of gates in Balinese architecture: The split gate or candi bentar and a roofed tower gate paduraksa or kori agung. These gateways were seen on the outer zone of the temples, the Nista Mandala (jaba pisan). These came in all sorts of designs, but in their own nature, they were very interesting. One of these gates had the wording of ‘Pura Puseh,’ we didn’t know of the relevance to this, but again we were to learn later that these temples here were built in classical Balinese temple architecture style.
As we walked down the road we came to a quieter part on a bend. The road passed over a river that was quite open to view. Intrigued, to be acquainted with the view we were both prepared to gaze intently at the flow of the river to see if it meandered away on its course and to see what kind of shrubs and trees if any followed its course. But as we looked down on to the river we had not prepared ourselves for what we’d encounter. There bathing indiscreetly were a couple of elderly people, completely naked and up to their knees in the river flow. I felt embarrassed to continue looking. I think it took Annie a little longer for it to register. It got to the time when dinner was calling. We ate at the Tamarilo Mexican Restaurant, that served Balinese food. The restaurant was painted red.
It looked very cosy and they even played music that I recognised: Red, red wine and other reggae music including Jamming by Bob Marley and Buffalo Soldier. I decide upon having Nasi Gorgeng which consisted of cabbage, shrimps, eggs, shallots, chilli bean, garlic to name but a few and to drink I had a Bintang beer, which now tasted rather sweet, maybe the novelty was wearing off. The restaurant cat was determined to share our meal with us, but I wasn’t game. I nudged it and pushed it, but it still wouldn’t move. All it wanted to do was to attempt to show me its affection. But when it realised that it wasn’t going to get any food from me, it resorted in attempting to bite me instead, before running off in shame.
We’d enjoyed our first day tired and later we soon fell asleep as our heads hit the sack.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Today, we decided on taking a cycle tour that would take us up into the hinterland of the island and into the land of volcanoes and past lava flows. To where the landscape in parts had been tamed and nurtured for the profusion and fecundity of the luxuriant tired rice fields and surrounding forest.
On our trip, we going company with some Australians and their son, the little boy was extremely cute and well behaved. Part of our journey took us past some wonderfully manicured rice fields near the village of Ceking, snuggled into the landscape – tier after tier the rice fields climbed the terraced hillside, but we never stopped to explore the area.
Later we called into Laksmi Bali; the home to Luwak Coffee. I personally was more interested in the plants that they were growing than in the coffee – never being a lover of coffee.
Laksmi coffee was famed for being one of the most expensive coffee in the world, due to the fact that the ripe berries are picked by the civet cat or Luwak and the beans are defecated by the animal undigested. Which I suppose supports my claim that coffee is a crap drink.
They allowed us to sample some of their coffee, with different flavours such as chocolate, vanilla. By the expression on everybody’s faces, I don’t think any of us were really taken in by it. However, the alternative teas tasted much more satisfying to me.
The Australian’s little boy was very cute, he stole the show and I’m sure the host was taken in by him, he certainly had a fuss made of him.
‘He’s been very well behaved.’ I said.
‘Yes, so everyone keeps telling us. The nursery where he goes to tells us that he eats everything they give him, but in our company, he’s very fussy,’ the mother said. I was sure that we were all like that at that age.
Our cycle commenced, some of the roads were challenging. The Australian man was excellent at hill climbs and obviously, he had youth on his side. On all the hill climbs he reached the top before I did. So much for my confidence getting the better of me. As it turned out, he’d cycled for a French team, I believe professionally and now he worked for an Australian bicycle manufacturer.
The climax to our cycle tour was towards the middle of the cycle when we called in at a small restaurant that looked out across to Mount Batur, which last erupted back in 2000, but more dramatically is the lava field of the 1968 eruption, which is still visible from the village of Kintamani.
From where we could see the nearby lake to the right of it, looking mighty calm considering that it was next to an active volcano.
For lunch, we called into a restaurant, here we were entertained by some enchanting young girls doing Balinese Legong dancing as they did a rendition of a Gabor welcoming dance to traditional Balinese Gamelan music. The girls performed very well with their theatrical Gelungan headdresses on. Their costumes were probably ordinary clothes and thankfully at this age, they had not gone for the dramatic make-up. Still, they looked very good. Balinese dances are very dynamic, angular and very expressive, especially with their arms, hands, fingers and eyes. I heard one woman next to us as she talked to her friend. ‘Watch out for their eyes,’ we did as they nearly popped out of one of the dancer’s eye sockets.
The mother of the young Australian boy took him to have his photograph taken with them. They obliged willingly, the young boy’s was only about four, but he was certainly enthusiastic about it all.
As is mother sat him between the young girls, he now looked as if all his Christmases had come at once.
‘Don’t be surprised if he comes back with a girlfriend,’ I said jokingly, ‘they start young these days.’
‘Yes, don’t I just know it.’
Shortly after lunch, our cycle tour came to an end. It had been an interesting day.
Back in Ubud, we went shopping in the local market, which was bustling with people. There seemed to be more Polo Ralph Lauren shops than anything else. Annie, loved the atmosphere here, especially looking for bargains, or whether she could banter with the shopkeepers. Many times, I got embarrassed by her determination to get the merchandise at the price she wanted. She certainly had a knack of getting the asking price right down to the bottom line – amazing, but shopping the best of time wasn’t my forte, after bargain hunting, we decided to wander around. Again, away from the glare of the market we came across an old woman in a channel of running water. At first, we thought she was going to defecate, but as it was her intentions were to have a fast- flowing bath in the dirty water; and that virtually concluded our second day.
Friday, April 14, 2017
After breakfast, we set off walking. We admired the floral gestures scattered on steps leading up to the private temples.
We walked down the road admiring the floral street gestures for the Kuningan festival and the penjor that lined the road on both sides.
We arrived at our destination, the ‘Monkey Forest,’ but all we saw were crab-eating macaques (Macaca fasciculans). I caught one perched right at the top of a signpost busily tending to feed itself on some tit-bits. Some of the paths were in decking formation, especially were the rocks protruded. It was still the flora and fauna that interested me; we were surrounded by the stuff. Strange looking branches seemed to hang down in a curtain formation, but for all, we knew these might have been strangler figs, although it still gave the place an ere feel to it as the sun struggled to break through.
The macaques didn’t take to kindly to me filming them. One of these crazy monkeys followed me along the fence. As I stopped to take some photographs the monkey jumped onto my rucksack. On-lookers watched, to see what my reaction would be, but I stayed calm. The next thing I knew the little devil took off with my anti-mosquito spray.
‘The monkey will die if it drinks that.’ Annie stated a little distressed by it all.
‘It will soon throw it away when it realizes that it doesn’t taste all that good.’
Later on, we decided to venture out to where the Ceking rice terrace was if only to get some photographs. We realised that we’d book a taxi for such a trip.
As planned, later in the morning we caught a taxi and headed out for our next destination – the Ceking Rice Terrace. Our taxi driver drove incredibly slow.
‘Has he got out of second gear yet? I asked. ‘It’ll be dark by the time we get there at the rate that he’s driving at.
When we finally arrived, we agreed with our taxi driver that we’d be no longer than forty minutes.
We stood on the opposing side of a narrow valley and eagerly took photos. What was so astounding here was the rice was growing on a tiered landscape up the hillside. It looked more like the way I imagined tea would grow.
We ventured down the hillside, but once we got to the bottom, we realized that we had to pay if we wanted to go up the other side, neither of us was prepared to pay the sum that they were asking for.
Time was getting on and although we still had some time left, we decided to head back.
Once back we descended back to the market. While walking around we bumped into the Australian’s that we’d met yesterday.
‘Hello, how are you.’ The Australian woman asked.
‘Oh, hello. Just doing our last-minute shopping before we headed off for Kuta tomorrow.’
We chattered about what we’d done and where we had been. It had really been nice to see them again.
In the evening, we went to the Tamarilo restaurant, if only to indulge mildly on red wine while Red, Red Wine was being played.
The wretched restaurant cat came to plague us again, but this time I had a plan up my sleeve. It rubbed its body against my legs and jumped up onto the back of my seat if only to show me its affection, but I was taken in by this feline activity. It must have thought I was fickle, especially after it attempted to bite me on Wednesday night. The pestering cat just wouldn’t go away. So, knowing Annie had some segments of lemon on her plate. I lured the cat onto the floor by teasing it with some chicken, as the cat began to cry again I squeezed some lemon juice straight into the cat’s mouth. The cat’s reaction was quite amusing. I’d never seen a cat move so fast for a long time.
‘I don’t think it’ll come and pester us again now.’
We both hoped that we would sleep well, but we both woke up at around one in the morning. No doubt with alcohol play havoc with our senses.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
We had breakfast at eight thirty as planned and our taxi driver arrived ahead of schedule. We rushed to get ready as we still wanted to get the last-minute photograph of the owner and his son dressed in the lovely white gown and wearing their headdress.
At nine o’clock we were ready. The drive to Kuta was not too bad, to say I don’t think our driver, the same one as yesterday, ever got out of second gear.
We arrived at the Kuta Puri Bungalows.
‘Well we got here ahead of schedule, I didn’t think we’d get here this side of Sunday.’
The reception was surrounded by shrubs and frangipani trees, that were all in bloom, delighting up with its aroma. The area was nice, with chalet-style accommodation around the periphery. The looked more like a park with its immaculate manicured lawns and pathways taking up the grounds and trees dotted here and there. There were two outdoor swimming pools sitting side-by-side taking up centre stage. The main pool even had a bar built into it, that would be quite good if you wanted a ‘slash of something.’
After settling in, we decided to go for a walk if only to find a place to eat. Kuta was quite a commercial town with plenty of fast food restaurants to choose from, not to mention the plethora of licenced bars on every street corner. This might have been OK for the average tourist, but we wanted to sample the delights of traditional cooking in a cosy setting.
We walked and walked, we sampled the beach and saw the surfers riding the tide. We were tired to start off with, but there seemed to be nothing except places serving western fast-foods. Eventually, we found somewhere of our liking. Annie munched away on a pork chop Indonesian style, while I decided to sample a Nasi Goreng Super.
In the evening, we walked along the beach again, but we’d just missed the sunset, but the western sky was dazzling with the colour of burnt orange, with a softer yellow tone above. Hundreds of tourists had flocked onto the beach to witness this spectacular phenomenon.
Dinner was taken at the stylish ‘Gabah Indonesian Cuisine Restaurant.’ This was certainly an interesting place. I had a chicken dish, while Annie had a Sumatra fish dish. Annie raved on about how special this fish was.
‘You have to remember, it’s come all the way from Sumatra.’
“Yes, from a 7-Eleven shop on that island. There’s probably nothing special about it, except for that it was probably caught in a dirty, murky khlong in Bangkok and exported to Sumatra.
The meal was extremely nice, probably the best meal yet. Annie’s dish certainly looked appetizing.
On two occasions, the waiter put on a strange ritual for us, a strange, bizarre kind of entertainment, which consisted of the waiters quickly dressing up and equipping themselves with drums and a gong, there wasn’t really much of a tune to their musical interlude.
‘As Duke Ellington, would have said, ‘If don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got no swing.’ The all point to this performance was to let everyone know that somebody had ordered the restaurant’s most expensive dish on the menu, ‘The Royal Baruna’ which came in at 988,000 Indonesian rupees (£10.15), the certainly put on a performance – but still no swing.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
After breakfast, we decided we’d spend some time in the pool if only to cause a splash or two.
Lunch was taken at the resort’s restaurant. I decided to gorge myself on the Nasi Gorgeng Super, which consisted of: Indonesian fried rice with chicken, shrimp and vegetables, topped with shredded chicken, fried egg, two skewers satay, crackers and pickles. Some nice concoction.
Our first trip in the afternoon took us to the Taman Ayun Temple, in the village of Mengwi. The temple, for what we saw of it was different from what we expected. Originally built in 1634 by Tjokerda Sakti Blambangan, the then ruler of the Mengwi Kingdom. The towering tiers of the temple shrine are a gesture to the noble ancestors. The complex was large and certainly popular with the tourists having what looked like a moat around it. All of the salas had grass roofs even the tiers on the towering shrines were made of the same stuff. When all said and done this had been influenced by Chinese architectural design of that period.
We prohibited from gaining access into the actual confines of this beautifully designed complex, so we marvelled at it from the outer railings and across from the moat. There were, so we were led to believe ornamental features that represent the nine Hindu gods that guard the nine points of the compass.
The next place we went to was another Monkey Forest, like the other day, this I believe was more of a fill-in excursion, especially with there being so many of these monkey temples around Asia, quite a cliché to be quite honest.
The forest seemed like it had been tamed somewhat, it wasn’t as if it had turned to anarchy with lianas running wild in all directions and getting themselves into knots and a tangled mess. Although the stranglers it seemed had got a head start up some of the trees. From a natures point of view, it was interesting, not that I really knew what I was looking at from a scientific point of view – it was just made to look natural and at peace with itself.
I later asked our guide.
‘Do you get snakes in this park,’ as I was starting to get bored with the tour.
‘You like snakes?’ she said wincing somewhat.
‘He’s got strange tastes.’ Annie said, interjecting.
‘No, I haven’t I just think that they’re misunderstood animals.’ I replied.
‘We’ve got a two-metre-long snake which you can touch if you want?’
The temptation was too great. I’d never touched a live snake before. She led us to a glass tank and there larger than life was a snake. Instantly I recognised it as a reticulated python (Broghammerus reticulatus). A man got the snake out of the tank and placed it around my neck and draped its body down my back and front.
Its texture wasn’t exactly what I’d been expecting, I knew snakes weren’t slimy, someone had mentioned once that their skin feels like velvet, but the sensation was neither of these. I wondered if it was being treated well, firmly believing that the rightful place for such an animal was back in the forest away from human interference.
Holding the snake just behind its head, I was overjoyed by the occasion. A crowd of bewildering people came to view. Annie claimed that it looked like I’d done this hundred of times before, but the point was, I hadn’t.
The snake itself seemed very relaxed with me holding it.
‘Annie, do you want to hold it?’
‘No! not for a million dollars!’
From here our guide insisting in taking us to her small little shop. I knew straight away what her game was, but Annie felt obliged. She insisted on us buying something from her, but I wasn’t interested.
‘Come, Annie, she’s going to make a mint out of you if you give her half a chance.’ But Annie just waved me away.
Eventually, Annie bought three scarves.
‘God, you fall for it every time, don’t you.’
‘I got a bargain.’
‘Did you? A new collection to go alongside your handbags, and make-up accessories.’ I said, a little annoyed with the time we’d just lost.
Our next stop on this tour was to the Tanah Lot, or to be more precise Tanah Lot Temple. The temple is one of Bali’s most famous landmarks, famed for its fabulous sunsets. This temple is classed as being an ancient Hindu shrine perched on a rugged rock, looking out to sea amidst the constant crashing tides and spray.
Once we arrived in the area, we joined the crowds as they walked down to the beach with penjor lining the road.
We’d arrived on the beach during the late afternoon, we had still around an hour and a half before sunset. Many people slowly wandered around on the beach, looking like lost souls as they debated in attempting to get to the best advantage point. Somebody had scaled a nearby rock face and perched his tripod up there.
Bizarrely, we came across a cave with a sign that had inscribed on it ‘Ular Suki’ holly snake, I was intrigued, to what it was. I gained access and there snuggled up in a hole was a snake. Not really able to identify what species of snake it was, I turned to the men who were guarding it.
‘What kind of snake is it?’
‘It’s a temple snake.’ One of the more boisterous men exclaimed.
I had been expecting more of an educated answer than that, as it was, what they were caring for a banded sea krait (Hydrophis fasciatus), unknown to them it’s lethal venom is ten times more toxic than a rattlesnake.
Back on the beach, amongst all the sea haze and god knows what, the sun’s gaze seemed to swell, to a great magnitude. Through my camera lens, the sun looked more like a giant brilliant white egg, with blinding intensity. Surrounded it was its glow of yellow. Slowly the sky turned to burn orange, as the rocks and the temple silhouetted against the late evening sky. For many, this was going to be a fantastic sunset, one that most people dream of taking, but through my lens, I could see a line of cloud that was about to spoil everyone’s hopes.
‘This is going to be wonderful and it’s our last day in Bali.’
‘I don’t think so, there’s low cloud out there sitting just above the horizon.’
‘Don’t say that you’ll spoil it.’
‘I won’t spoil it, but the weather might, I can’t control the clouds.’
What I thought was cloud was just a strip of cloud, as the sun passed behind it, it created a glow like a halo above it. But again, more cloud obstructed the sunset and this was much larger than the previous cloud had been. As I suspected, the sun set behind the cloud, haze and no doubt a plethora of pollution from further afield.
It had quite a romantic feel to it, but we’d been hoping for something spectacular. That evening, we had dinner at the Gabah Indonesian Cuisine restaurant, in the hope that the waiters would do another rendition of their little dance for us, but that never materialised, as nobody ordered the Royal Baruna dish. Everybody it seemed had gone home, retreated to where they’d come from. For us well this was the end of an interesting holiday for Songkran, as they say, all good things come to an end.