A Travellerspoint blog

Indonesia

Bali

Rice paddies, temples and macro diving

sunny 30 °C
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In Bali, we headed to Ubud and based ourselves there for a while. Ubud is a town located part way up the slopes of the central mountains of Bali. The focus here is on Balinese culture, rather than the party scene on the beaches in the south, and so we figures it would be more chilled out. And Ubud turned out to be a great choice - it is a relaxed smallish town, with lots of great restaurants, spas and so many art shops that it becomes ridiculous.
We found a good little hotel, for $10 a day we got a large, clean room, with hot water, and a bathtub - pure luxury after Flores and other places we have been lately. We then rented a motorbike, and drove around on little daytrips, to the numerous temples and other sights surrounding Ubud. It was lovely to drive through the little villages, to see the real people of Bali, and to see the lush green landscape of rice paddies, banana palms and flowering frangipani trees. Truly a fertile place is Bali.

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We visited villages that produce different handicrafts - silver, woodcarving, stone carving, even wind chimes. We also saw a plethora of Hindu temples. Even though no specific temple stood out as fantastic in itself - there is nothing as grandiose as Borobodur here - seeing each added a part to the puzzle that is Balinese Hinduism. Certainly a very different religion to the Indian Hinduism, with spirits everywhere - in fact, there seems to be more temples on this island that there are houses (not kidding). We saw caves inhabited by bats, huge shrines carved into the mountain side, a forest inhabited by monkeys, and freshwater springs bubbling up from the volcanic underground - each of which had been turned into a temple and a place of worship. The colourful nature of the worship here also added to the beauty - you have to wear a temple sarong and sash to enter - and the locals seem to really dress up for the occasion, with beautiful fabrics and hats. They also bring offerings to the temple, in the form of incense, fruit, rice and cakes, carried in woven baskets - or on special occasions stacked up in elaborate towers, which the women carry on their heads. These towers are even often topped with a whole fried chicken - fantastic.

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This colourful interpretation of Hinduism (which is already colourful in itself) added another nuance to my feeling of Indonesia. I came to Indonesia expecting a Muslim country - I mean, isn’t it often given the title of being the most populous Muslim country in the world? (I may be mistaken, but I believe I have heard that said). And indeed, there were many Muslims in Java where we started out, and we have certainly been woken at 4.30 am by the call to prayer more that once so far - but it does not seem particularly strict - I have not seen many headscarves at all, and not a single woman in burka so far. Perhaps the western part is more strict, I don’t know. What is becoming clear (and I guess it should have been obvious) is that Indonesia is so much more that its title implies. We have now travelled through (predominantly) Protestant Timor, Catholic Flores, Muslim Lombok and Hindu Bali - and each has its very own flavour and feel - there are certain common denominators, but also many, many differences - and I am really enjoying experiencing these differences.

Staying in Ubud, and doing our little daytrips, we really came to enjoy Bali. I will admit, we were highly sceptical. We expected some horrific tourist trap, full of partying Australians on two week holidays and airhead surfers (no offense J). But again, we had to correct our misconceptions. Bali is amazing, with lots of personality and culture that has not been destroyed by the high level of tourism. It combines the conveniences of a high degree of tourism (infrastructure, lots of hotels and restaurants, western toilets etc) with lots of charm and character.

The food in Bali was also great and interesting. We gorged ourselves on crispy duck and on the lunch special babi guling (whole roast suckling pig stuffed with spices). Babi guling in particular was fantastic!

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And then, being in convenient Ubud full of choice, we detoxed from all the pork by having veggie days, drinking health juices and smoothies (even wheat grass juice is available), eating veggie soups, salads and sandwiches, and enjoying the beautiful green surroundings of Ubud.

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We went on an overnight driving trip on the rented motorbike, leaving our stuff on the room in Ubud and bringing along only a small pack. We drove from Ubud up to the central mountains of Bali, to the area around … It was an exceptionally beautiful region, with lakes and forests covering the mountainsides, and with lots of coffee plantations. We stopped in a coffee house, expecting to be able to sample the different beans, but were disappointed to discover they served only two types of coffee: Bali coffee or Nescafe. What the Hell? The good stuff must get exported I guess - or drunk by tourists down in Kuta - clearly not here. We spent the night in Lovina, on the north coast of Bali, and then drove down the whole east coast the next day, through the Tulamben area, and then back into the hills at Ubud. This eastern coast was very different to the rest of Bali - it is dominated by the huge volcano Gunung Agung, which last had a large eruption in 1963. Because all the rain is squeezed out of the clouds as they pass this volcano, this narrow strip of land between the volcano and the ocean get very little precipitation. It is therefore dry and rugged - with sharp black rocks jutting out into the crashing waves. We stopped at a hotel and diveshop called Liberty, in Tulamben, and found out that most of the diving there is done from the shore. As a result we could simply rent cylinders - which they do for $10 dollars for the first of the day and $5 for any subsequent ones. We thus decided to move up here to do some diving, and booked a room for the following day.

On the 7th of July, we moved to Tulamben and started diving straight away. The entry from the shore was made difficult by the fact that the beach here is made of (slippery!) black pebbles, and the waves can sometimes come crashing in with some force. The first dive went OK, I only slipped and bruised myself slightly. On the second try however, I fell over and could not get up, and I was thrown around on the pebbles and rocks by the waves for five minutes like an idiot. When Alan tried to save me, he even fell over. Not a great success, and like a fool I managed to loose one of my fins to the waves. Shit - and I only just bought those after the mishap in Tubbataha. After that, I realised that entering the water with the fins on was a terrible idea - and once we tried walking in and putting the fins on afterwards, it became a bit easier.
The wreck here, Liberty Wreck, is the most famous dive site in Bali. And it shows. We could manage to dive it in the early morning, before 8 am, but after that hordes of divers would descend from other parts of Bali, and it became too crowded for our taste. It is not much of a wreck anyway, although there is a decent amount of fish life around. We were here for the macro stuff though, as we had picked up the missing part for Alan’s housing, and he was eager to give his little-used macro lens some exercise. The best site for that, we discovered, was a place called Scuba Seraya. Located straight in front on the resort of the same name, it was basically black sand and rocks, with patchy coral, and even a small artificial reef set out by the resort. At first glance, it all looked pretty boring - there did not seem to be much there. But when we looked closer, over several dives, we found lots of great little critters there, and Alan took some great shots.

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Alan wants to add some comments of his own to the Tulamben story:

Tilde managed to spot the smallest critters, she even earned a new name: “eagle-eye Nielsson” as most of the critters were smaller than 1cm - the lens and I were put to the test!

After seven days of diving we decided to call it a day. I got what I wanted; a shot of a pygmy sea horse This one was male and his name was George. George was thinking of having a sex change operation in the next few months, but he has very happy when I explained to him that if he waits a few years, he will naturally change sex. With this, Georgina, aka George, thanked us and asked us round to his place for dinner and drinks. He was very happy with the fact that we saved him some money on the sex change operation, and I was still in shock to learn that an unscrupulous sex change sea horse doctor works in the Tulamben community ……PYGMY SEA HORSES BE WARNED!

OK, back to the blog. After Tulamben, we returned to Ubud to witness a royal cremation set to take place on July the 15th. Supposedly, it is some sort of record breaking number of people being cremated at once. The people from Ubud, as well as surrounding villages, spent weeks building and decorating the figures and towers which would take part in the procession on the day of the cremation - mostly out of bamboo, paper and paper Mache. Apparently, they only cremate people in Ubud every 3-5 years, and because a member of the royal family, who pasted away in March this year, was due to be cremated, lots of other families took this opportunity to also have their deceased family members cremated - some of which had died 3 or 4 years ago, and were exhumed for the ceremony.

On the day, the city was packed with people, both locals and tourists, all lining the route of the procession. The floats and towers were all transferred onto huge bamboo frames, and then carried by a vary large number of “pall bearers” - by hand - to the cremation site. There were some enormous bulls towering over the men carrying them, and the main tower, which carried the body of the royal guy from the palace to the cremation site, was maybe over 25 meters tall - it was taller than all the buildings in Ubud. It must have weighed at least a tonne. The men would lift it, and then carry it along running in short bursts of speed, before they had to put it back down. Along the route, there were groups of other pall bearers lined up to take over, like a huge relay race. All in all, an amazing feat of organization. At the same time, everything was delicately decorated with coloured paper and fabric, as well as gold leaf. Everyone, including us, were dressed up in temple sarongs and sashes, and the women had their hair up in elaborate hair styles. Eventually, the tower with the royal uncle’s remains made it to the cremation site, here he was transferred via a huge bamboo ramp, to the inside of one of the massive black bulls. Then a ceremony was performed, burning incence and spraying holy water. All the offerings - coins, fabrics, foods, flowers etc, were loaded into and around the bull. All the relatives climbed the ramp to pay their respects. When this was done, the bulls were set on fire. Due to the materials they were constructed with - bamboo, paper, papier mache, string and polystyrene, the fire was huge and swift. The flames lit up the surroundings, as the sun had set in the meantime, and everything turned golden as if lit from within. Altogether a very interesting experience, and we were told by a local we were very lucky to have been here, for what he termed “the best cremation ever”.

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After this lovely time in Bali and in Indonesia, we will be heading back to Singapore tomorrow night (the 17th). After a brief stop there, its back to India - watch this space for news from there soon!

Posted by monkyhands 00:31 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Timor, Flores and Lombok

Bit of travelling and some diving in Komodo National Park

sunny 27 °C
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Timor was once again little more than a stepping stone for us – the main city of Kupang simply being the cheapest and most convenient way to get to eastern Nusa Tenggara from Jakarta. So we arrived late in the evening, and left on a flight to Flores the next day. Our plan was to go to Maumere and do a few dives there, before heading west. This plan was altered, however, as our flight to Maumere was cancelled. The only other way to get to Flores was to fly to Ende, so we did.

In Flores, we headed from Ende airport straight to the village of Moni, about two hours away. Here you can see the supposedly amazing crater lakes of Kelimutu. There are three lakes, each a different colour, and they all change colours more or less regularly, probably due to minerals leaking into the lakes from the volcanic soil. Used to be one blue lake, one red and one white, which is what you see in most postcards – now the lakes are brown, black and bright green. We slept one night in Moni, and then got up at 4.30 am to ride up the mountain on the back of motorbikes to see these lakes. On the ride up the curvy mountain roads, it was dark and ominous – the mountains looming like even darker shadows against the dark night sky. We arrived at the end of the road and then walked about 20 minutes in the pale dawn light to the edge of the crater. Unfortunately for us, it was a very cloudy day, and even though we waited several hours, we never caught much more than a fleeting glimpse of the green lake – which was indeed very very luminous. The brown and black lakes remained more or less hidden in clouds.

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Quite a disappointment, but that is how it goes sometimes. On the drive back down, we did see some lovely scenery though. We quickly came out of the cloud and the lower parts of the mountains here were amazingly fertile areas, covered in lush green vegetation that we had not been able to see on the way up. We drove through beautiful cloud forests, and crossed several bubbling streams. The mountains sides were covered in a strange combination of pine trees and palm trees, ferns and fruit trees, side by side. The forest was interspersed with agriculture of various kinds, growing cabbage and carrots alongside dates and oranges. What a beautiful area!
Back in Moni, we caught a bus onwards to Bajawa, in the mountains further east in Flores. Here we spent the night, and due to the terrible state of the roads, and the extreme discomfort of the public buses, we then rented a private bemo (minivan) to drive us the further 10 hours or so to get to Labuanbajo. Even with this private transport, the trip was still a nightmare. The road was in terrible condition, with huge potholes everywhere and lots of roadwork’s slowing us down. Many places had seen recent rock slides, creating blockages of the road. The tight hairpin turns made my stomach instantly queasy. Despite us renting the car, the guy was still insistent on playing very loud music the whole way, which they seem to view as a necessity here. Mostly they play bad Indonesian pop music, or, for some reason, country western sung by Indonesians. This guys tape deck was not functioning properly though, so only two tapes worked: one with Indonesian pop, and one with Shania Twain – and he alternated the two at full volume for nearly 10 hours. (We did convince him to turn it off regularly, but he would soon have it back on). By the time we arrived in Labuan, we felt like shell shocked survivors from some disaster or other, and just wanted to sleep.

The next day, we hunted for a dive shop, and looked at the possibilities of a liveaboard. It looked like most of the sites were reachable on day trips from here though, and so we dropped the liveaboard. We booked 10 days of diving with the shop Bajo Dive Club. We did sites such as Crystal and Castle Rock, Batu Bolong, Manta Point, Lonely Tree, Tetawa Kecil and Besar. Out of these sites, Crystal and Castle Rock were probably the best, with the largest concentration of fish life.
The diving was good, although maybe not excellent – but maybe we are becoming too critical. We saw lots of fish life, and some very large trevally and jacks, many white tip reef sharks, some nice large eagle rays, turtles, sea snakes, a juvenile bat fish that we had never seen before. And mixed in, there is even some quite good macro life – nudis, crabs, the first ribbon eel I had ever seen etc. The visibility was great - most dives we had 20-25 m plus. I think we were just a bit disappointed because we never had the luck to find the manta rays which they see at manta point regularly. If we had had the added bonus of the mantas, I think I would have called the diving here fantastic.

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On our last day of diving we jumped on a boat trip to Rinca island after the diving. Rinca is supposed to be better than Komodo itself for seeing Komodo dragons. I was quite disappointed with them though – I think I had an idea in my head of some huge dinosaurs, but the largest Komodos grow to about 3.1 meters – and this is only the large males. We never found any males, only saw the large females that hang around the kitchen in the camp there – on the walk we did we saw nothing larger than a wild pig with piglets. Anyway, we had to do it, it would have been strange to leave the Komodo area without seeing them.

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After leaving Labuanbajo, we flew to Mataram in Lombok (via Bali, as there are no direct flights). From there, we went to Senggigi – a beach town north of Mataram (capital of Lombok). Senggigi is labelled as the ‘premier beach resort’ in Lombok, and it does have a series of lovely bays with stretches of decent sand beaches. We did not find it particularly charming though, as it was all centred around the busy main road, rather that focused on the beach.

The reason we came to Senggigi, and to Lombok at all, was that Alan wanted to do a dive site at the south side of Lombok, where you can sometimes see hammerheads – and it seems that there are no operators down there, but some shops do it from here. Alan booked a day trip to Blongas Bay, as the place is called, to do this magnet point dive site. I still had a funny ear from Komodo, and so sat it out. Alan went on the trip, and did magnet point in the morning, and then some other site afterwards. Unfortunately, the dive master missed the site at the magnet, and they never did get to see the hammers. Sounded like two OK dives though. After this little interlude in Lombok, we headed off to Bali. We were able to catch a boat from the beach right in front of our hotel, and so a trip that could have been quite a hassle, became quite enjoyable - were sat on the deck catching some sun, and even saw a huge pod of dolphins at one point, surfing the bow wave of the boat.

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Stay tuned for updates on our adventures in Bali - coming soon! (I may also add some videos later, from Komodo and Lombok, when I find some faster net, so stay tuned for that as well.)

Posted by monkyhands 00:17 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Finally in Indonesia

A short stint in Java

sunny 32 °C
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After Pulau BatamBuddha_with_stupas.jpg, we then flew to Jakarta, and then immediately went to the train station and caught a night train to Yogyakarta, a city in central Java with a population of around 450.00. The city is supposed to be one of the most traditional in Java, and is still headed by a sultan who lives in a palace in the centre of town. Its main attraction for us, however, was the nearby sights, rather than the city itself.

In Yogya, as the locals kept calling it, we went to see two amazing temples – one Hindu and one Buddhist. The Hindu temples of Prambanan are the best remaining example of Java’s period of Hinduism. The temples were contructed between the 8th and 10th centuries AD, when Java was ruled by a Buddhist dynasty in the north and a Hindu ruler in the south. Supposedly, these two dynasties were united by the marriage of a Hindu prince and a Buddhist princess – which explains the Buddhist elements in the architecture here. Unfortunately, these temples were damaged badly in an earthquake in 2006. As a result, they were cordoned off with a fence, and several of the main stupas were covered in scaffolding. This did take a lot away from the experience, as you could not really get a feel for the temples – but they were still very impressive.

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The Buddhist temple is called Borobodur, and is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Indonesia (although to be honest, I had never heard of it before – but maybe I am just uncultured). The temples were built between AD 750 and AD 850, so around the same time as Prambanan nearby. The site was abandoned not long after its completion, and lay forgotten for centuries, buried under volcanic ash. It was first cleared in 1815, and in the early 20th century, the Dutch began a restoration project. However, the hill on which the temple was constructed had become waterlogged, and the massive stone temple started to slide downwards. Between 1973 and 1983, a US$25 million restoration project, led by UNESCO, was undertaken, to bring the temples back to former glory.

Despite the impressive site, and lots of details to take photos of, a lot of Indonesian visitors seemed more interested in having their picture taken with me than in front of the temple - strange, but funny.

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Borobodur is built from two million blocks of stone in the form of a massive symmetrical stupa, wrapped around a small hill. Six square terraces, bordered by relief carvings, are topped by three circular ones, featuring numerous stupas, surrounding the main central stupa. These smaller stupas are latticed, and inside each sits a Buddha statue.

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The combination of the impressive scale of the whole site, and the intricate detail of the reliefs, made this place a really worthwhile experience. After paying for a guided tour with a very enthusiastic little guy, we spent a couple of hours just wandering the site on our own, climbing up and down several times, to get a good overview of the place.

All in all, we spent two nights in Yogya, and then headed back to Jakarta. We did not see much of the capital city, as we were anxious to get out of the cities now. So we simply stayed over one night, and then headed further east, on a flight to Timor in eastern Nusa Tenggara.

Posted by monkyhands 00:56 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

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