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Sunday, 4 July 2010

Weekend with Bali

Being at home for a few weeks and with a lot going on in the work world I don’t have a lot of chances to update this blog, so here’s a look back at the weekend after returning from Savu last month.
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Returning to Bali, Island of the Gods, after the trip to Savu I found myself with all my work targets achieved on a Friday evening. With Garuda’s direct flights to Sydney departing at 10 minutes to Midnight if I left now I would arrive in Sydney on Saturday morning, so why not delay departure for a couple of days, depart Sunday night and still be in Sydney for work on Monday morning!
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But work wasn’t quite finished, Yusdie Diaz, Indonesia’s legendary expedition operations consultant was flying from Flores, where he was busily trying to get himself appointed as the local Bupati (somewhere between a mayor and a god), to see me. Yusdie came straight to my hotel from the airport and we headed off for dinner in Kuta. Most locals and savvy travellers avoid Kuta but it has some great restaurants and its proximity to the airport and my hotel made it the logical choice for dinner. My own choice and taste in Kuta’s restaurants was given a silent tick of approval when to my surprise , Bali local resident Yusdie, pulled into the driveway of one of my favourite Thai restaurants in the world, Kin Khao on Jalan Kartika Plaza. Yeah I know it’s Thai food in Indonesia, but it’s exceptional. As well as the typical exceptional Balinese service, the restaurant setting, or more specifically the bathroom setting, is stunning. The toilets are situated in the middle of a giant fishpond, stocked with Koi Carp, complete with tumbling waterfalls. You sit on the throne looking out over the open fishpond, the best restaurant toilets I have ever seen……..
3 Carp with a view…?
My personal favourite selection of Kuta’s restaurants had been reinforced a few days earlier as well, when owner/manager of Destination Asia Indonesia, Pak Yasa, had taken me for lunch on my earlier transit through Bali and he chose Gabah, a Balinese restaurant. Gabah is so good if you only go to Kuta for one reason make it Gabah. But obviously I wasn’t going to take a weekend in Bali just to eat, there was so much more to be seen and done. My good friend Peter Paka of Cita Travel had given me use of a car and driver for all of Saturday and I planned to head inland into the hills.
4 Gabah’s sate selection
2Kuta to Gunung Batur
At the time of day on a Saturday morning when most visitors to Kuta would most likely just be returning home from a night on the town, I was already on the road. As soon as you break free of Denpasar’s traffic the change is almost instantaneous, and you start to breathe the fresher mountain air. To add to the atmosphere it was raining ever so lightly. Nothing better than heading into the hillside forest with a misty rain in the air.
First stop was the temple at the village of Batuan; Pura Dewa Puseh (Temple of Origins) dedicated to Vishnu. Like most temples in Bali there are traditional rules and regulations for entry, known as Adat. At the very least you are normally required to wear a sarong and this temple was no different. The temple attendants there to enforce the Adat found it hard to contain themselves as they wrapped me in a sarong. The first lady had to call her friend to assist and between the two of them they managed to dress me appropriately, the end results were definitely amusing………
7 At the Batuan temple; a comical sight…
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Next stop was a very different temple. The 11th century Gunung Kawi, north-east of Ubud has shrines cut into 7 metre high niches, carved directly out of the rock face. The Hindu shrines were carved as a dedication to King Anak Wungsu of the Udayana dynasty and his favourite queens. With a fast flowing white water stream running through the centre of the complex and beautiful rainforest interspersed with rice terraces. Like the earlier temple, Gunung Kawi had it’s own set of rules, including “compulsory” cleansing of one’s head before entering the area of the shrines. Large signs explained the rules and two fonts provided holy water, all pretty straight forward which is why I was so astounded to see a local Javanese tour guide lead a group of European tourists straight in, pushing around others who were cleansing with the holy water, leaving me to contemplate the frailties of cultural respect in tourism, something I deal with nearly everyday.
9 Rice terraces surround Gunung Kawi
10 The holy water fonts at the temple entrance
11Shrines carved into the cliff face
The trek up the mountain continued, but not for long before destination number 3 for the day appeared on the horizon. The small village of Tampaksiring is home to the Tirtha Empul Temple, famous for its Holy water where Balinese Hindus go for purification. The Tirtha Empul Temple was built in 926 A.D. during the Warmadewa dynasty (from the 10th to 14th centuries), at a site where there was a large water spring. At mid-morning when I arrived, the temple was chock full of worshippers in the midst of various rituals.
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16 The phallic Lingam sits in it’s Yoni receptacle
Soon enough we reached the top of the road overlooking the smoking volcano of Gunung Batur and its neighbouring lake. Today was a Buddhist holiday and despite Buddhists being in the minority in secular Indonesia, huge numbers of local tourists had taken advantage of the public holiday long weekend and by the bus load had taken ferries from the tip of Java to visit Bali...and the Gunung Batur lookout. The rat race was on again. A rude awakening from the serene and peaceful temples of the first part of the day. The stereotypical Indonesian hawkers jammed postcards in my face and tried to get me to buy the usual rubbish found at any tourist haunt in Bali. Nayoman, the driver, was unable to park the car anywhere close due to the large numbers of buses from Java on the road so I bolted for the opposite side of the road were a series of food carts were serving sate and drinks. It was lunch time anyway and the hawkers ignored me over this side of the road as yet another fabulous street food meal was consumed by myself.
18 Gunung Batur smoulders in the distance
19Lake Batur
20 Lunch on the mountain
It was on for young all on the return. We were jammed up behind huge lines of buses trying to get in and out of restaurant car parks on the top of the mountain. The car parks built for normal cars turning off the road, now had to deal with 50+ seat coaches trying to make the sharp turn of the steep road into the narrow car parks. The dozens of restaurants built overlooking the volcano and the lake each served as a choke point on the road as huge coaches blocked the main road trying to get in or out of the car parks. Whilst my early start had given me a fabulous morning, it meant I arrived at the "focal point" right at lunch time, when every package tour from here to Java turns up with all their guests in tow for a scenic lunch. Chaos. It was going to be a slow trip home. The rat race had found me.
With pauses in traffic flow that would make Manila look good eventually we broke free of the chaos and had the rainforest shrouded road to ourselves again speeding down the mountain back to Denpasar. On the way down we passed through Tegallalang and the famous Balinese rice terraces before Denpasar reached out and dragged us back into its grasp.
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Dinner in a back alley of Tuban, exceptional of course, I don't think I have ever had a bad street meal in Bali, now what to do on Sunday? One of my favourite places has got to be the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud. The feral Crab-eating Macaques of Ubud rule the jungle no doubt about it, and any naive tourist who is stupid enough to carry food in their bag or disregard the warning instructions and takes on a pack of macaques is going to lose. I've had my fair share of run ins with feral macaques around Asia. In East Timor in 2004 I was jumped by a gang of thieving Macaques early one morning on the beach in Com. They were after my camera can you believe, and it was fully fledged battle to keep the thing, but there were only three of them. In the Ubud forest you could be taking on a dozen or more. On my last visit there in 2008 I watched an American woman get pinned down and her bag ripped apart for the apple it contained.
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Only minutes into this visit the entertainment began, a European sounding lady just in front of me was surrounded by several macaques taking up fighting stances and exposing their teeth. The female guide with the lady cautioned her "you must have food in your bag, I told you no food in your bag". The woman looked puzzled and took her back pack off her shoulder just in time as the monkeys pounced, sparing the woman now separated from her backpack and within seconds producing an avocado seed from her bag, dumping the bag in the bushes and running off onto the distance fighting with each other over there prize. Why she was carrying an Avocado seed, the Monkey gods only know.....
And then with surreal flashbacks to above mentioned 2004 incident a medium sized macaque jumped from the tree beside me latching onto my leg and within seconds was sitting on my shoulder staring me right in the eye exposing its teeth and looking all aggressive. At least he was on his own, I could win the battle one on one if it came to it but why had this monkey jumped me? Had the pineapple I ate for breakfast dried around my mouth and set of the scent radars of the macaque? The monkey seemed intensely interested in my shirt, it was smelling my shirt! It was intrigued by the exact place on my shirt where I had sprayed some Dark Temptation Chocolate Scented Lynx Body Spray! You don't see that part on the TV ad where women swarm to men emitting chocolate scent, where's the warning about attracting feral macaques! It seemed once the macaque realised he couldn't eat the source of the smell he leaped back into the forest and left me to enjoy the performances of all his relatives.
24 When Macaques attack!
25 Hanging out
27 Monkey business
28 Near-new born Macaque
29 Ferry, my travelling companion for the day, Queen of the Monkey Forest?
Give me a spare day in Bali and I'll hit the monkey forest every time, it's great fun for an hour or so, combined with some shopping in the Ubud markets on the way back to town, it's always a winner.
30 Giant pile of Saffron at the Ubud Markets

3 comments:

  1. Very interesting Justin, almost like I was there!!! Andy.

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  2. Looks like you are destined for travel journalism mate.Personally I love the north of Bali.The sea view is great, the people are much nicer and the traffic is almost non-existing compared to the south. It's a place to just relax and take in the surroundings and soak it up.The beaches are black but very quiet.
    Nice peace of writing mate. Dazza

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  3. @ Andy - I think you were there, isn't that you in the third monkey forest picture??

    @ Dazza - I know what you mean about the north of Bali, infortunately I only had the weekend and was already in the south due to work, so Gunung Batur was as far as I got.

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