A Travellerspoint blog

Java part III - Jakarta and a sorrowful Parting of the Ways

Making the journey from hell to arrive at Hell on Earth

Our onward destination from the temples was the metropolis that is Jakarta which would mark the parting of ways for our triumverate as Sarka and Jana had to return to Czechland whilst I would then head off into mainland SE Asia. First things first however, we had to get to the city and this turned into probably the most harrowing journey this Fool has ever taken - and it was nothing to do with the bus, the driving or indeed the roads.

The Bus Journey From Hell
Boarding the night bus from Yogyakarta, I sat behind the girls and opted for the aisle seat as experience has told me that my random seating partner will be larger than his seat and being squashed against a cold window for 14 hours just didnt appeal. As expected my bench buddy was the biggest (and I don't mean tallest) person on the whole coach and he looked a little disappointed that I made him squeeze past me into the window seat.
Anyway we eventually sorted ourselves out and the bus headed into the night. After a short while, my neighbour and I struck up a conversation of sorts as he knew a little broken english and had the usual international hand gestures. Having established that he had twin boys of around 5 years old he pulled out his mobile and showed me a video he had made of his boys playing happily with a bucket of water. It was about 3 years old (the boys looked very young) and he was obviously very proud of his family.
He then offered to show me another video which, naturally, I readily agreed to watch, thinking it was a more recent film of his boys, when they were a little older. The clip was again filmed on his phone in black and white, it was very shakey and dark, and opened with a close up of a guy lying on his front on the ground, obviously being restrained by several people. Then his head was pulled back by his hair and a knife blade came into view and was held against his neck before being withdrawn again. At this stage I was not sure what I was watching but I thought it might be some sort of play similar to the exorcism show we had seen at Borobudur so I was not too concerned. Well, back on screen, the scene was repeated with the guy's head being pulled up and back and the knife again pressed against his neck. This time however the knife was used to slice his neck wide open and suddenly a whole torrent of black blood spurted out at tremendous pressure. I involuntarily cried out and looked away trying to work out what the hell I was watching. Appalled, I was ashen faced, I gave him his phone back and told him it was insane to give this to a stranger to watch. He was disappointed that I didnt want to watch the whole thing as, at the end, they hacked the guys head off completely, something he showed me by mimicing the cutting action and then holding up an imaginary head by it's hair! Somewhat traumatised I then asked him what had happened and he explained that the guy had had a gun, had gone crazy and shot 5 people in their village. The villagers had then chased and caught him and then dealt out summary execution which he had filmed from no more than a couple of feet away.
At this point I retreated into my shell a little until, a little later, he offered to show me some more pictures which, he assured me, were not like the video. Thinking I would see more recent photos of his twin boys or his wife I agreed to have a look so he searched around, loaded a picture and gave me the phone again. The scene was not very clear so it took a moment or two to work it out. It was not one of domestic or familial bliss but the scene of a fatal road accident, with a crashed and broken motorbike lying on a pedestrian zebra crossing and two dead bodies laying in the road. Again revolted by the images I was seeing I shoved his phone back at him at which point he went to load another photo for me to look at!! It turns out that he works for a hospital in Jakarta and his job is to go out to collect the dead bodies at fatal traffic accidents so he took the photos as a personal momento! Needless to say the remaining 13+ hours of the bus journey were fraught and I dont think I actually managed to relax at all whilst my two lady companions slept line babies in the seats in front of me. Even now I still shudder when I recall those bizarre moments, thankful that the video was in monochrome and not very clear.

After our 14 hour (non)sleeper we transferred to another coach for a 2 hour jaunt up the Transjakarta Express Busway and then, there we were, in the Indonesian capital.
Having booked a hotel room for me and after we had all freshened up we set off to explore the city in the searing midday heat. We managed to find our way on foot to and up the Nacional Monument (hard to miss given its height), then negotiated the crazy streets absolutely teeming with tuktuks and taxis, to find a place that served a decent coffee and to have what was our big "farewell meal".
Cool Jakarta street art

Cool Jakarta street art


One of Jakarta's few high points

One of Jakarta's few high points

Guardian gargoyles abound

Guardian gargoyles abound

Tuktuks close in on a foreign tourist

Tuktuks close in on a foreign tourist

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Bye bye ladies.

Wilting somewhat, we returned to the hotel and, all to soon, my one week adventure with my two wonderful new friends was over as they headed off into the traffic to fly home to Prague. Although we had only travelled together for seven days much of our time was spent either laughing or eating - two of lifes simplest but rewarding pleasures. One day I will get to traverse Europe and, if either Sarka or Jana are at home, I hope that we will have a great reunion in their beautiful city.

As a backpacking destination Jakarta was hot, dusty, noisy and not very welcoming. The Lonely Planet had nothing good to say about either the city itself or the whole surrounding area of north west Java so, once the girls had gone, I went online and booked the first flight out to Singapore, luckily it was departing the next morning. The trip to the airport was simplified by the express shuttle buses that run from central Jakarta and, soon afterwards, I was bidding farewell to Indonesia - for now!!

Posted by RoystonBoyston 07.03.2014 09:15 Archived in Indonesia Tagged sarka jana Comments (0)

Java part II - Yogyakarta, Kaliurang and the amazing Temples

No room at the Inn, the amazing hostel cafe and Prambanan & Borobudur.

Our very early start from Gunung Bromo was just the beginning of what turned into a marathon travel day which comprised a rediculously fast bus down the mountain to Probolingo (he he, mentioned it again), an executive coach to Surabata (very nice), a local bus to the train station and then a 6 hour train ride to Yogyakarta.

Executive style travel!

Executive style travel!


Once we arrived it took us ages (even with the assistance of a wonderfully helpful and generous local chap) to actually find the tourist/backpacker area of the city and then another 2 hours of tramping the streets to discover that Java's second city had exactly NO rooms, beds, mattresses, floors or even stables available, again due to the muslim holiday weekend!! Fed up and dispirited we eventually referred to the Lonely Planet and phoned Vogels Hostel in Kaliurang, some 32 km away up near Mt Marapi, where the proprietor Christian Awuy (already famous through his mention in the LP) said that he had room available and agreed to wait up for us. We finally arrived after midnight to find the place being heavily renovated but we happily took the triple bedded veranda room and collapsed for some much needed sleep.

Awakening the next morning we took stock of our surroundings - a good sized hostel in a very small village with mountain views and complete with it's own cafe/restaurant ( also praised in LP). At breakfast we took advice from Christian himself and had an amazing feast of toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches (on home made bread)  and banana pancakes. In hindsight this was a big, BIG mistake as the portions were absolutely huge, the plates and dishes completely engulfing our decent sized table for four!
Our heavyweight breakfast

Our heavyweight breakfast

Toastie smiles

Toastie smiles


After following the backpackers code of NEVER leaving any food and stuffing ourselves stupid, we wandered literally next door where we were lucky enough to witness the Kaliurang International Food Festival, in which a couple of dozen plucky teams of cooks prepared dishes of rabbit, to be judged by the chef of a 5 star Yogyakarta restaurant. There were many beautifully presented entries, some of which looked good enough to eat!
One of many fabulous entries

One of many fabulous entries

Vegetarian crocodile???

Vegetarian crocodile???

Sweet

Sweet


Later we strolled to the Ullen Sentalu Museum for a delightful tour and history lesson on the four kingdoms of Yokyakarta and the development of batik designs for which the region is famous. On the way back to the hostel we encountered the traditional afternoon monsoon thunderstorm which kept us penned in the hostel but with the food being so good this was hardly a punishment. Sadly the rainy season was well and truly underway and had already claimed its first victim, with an enormous landslide making Mount Marapi unapproachable for hikers, so we had to settle for views from a distance, the pictures in Christian's dining room and using our imagination about what the hike would have been like..
Ganesh at the museum

Ganesh at the museum

A beautiful and serene spot

A beautiful and serene spot

Our view of Marapi

Our view of Marapi

The next morning heralded departure day for us and Christian's brother/cousin/neighbour/friend (or maybe he was all of the these) was procured, for a reasonable fee of course, to take us to Prambanan, the Hindu temple complex and then on to Yogyakarta. So after a more modest breakfast and purchasing some of the small local bananas we departed Kaliurang - my last memory being our exiting the town past its only roundabout which had a huge sculpture of crayfish or lobsters as its centrepiece! Very strange these hill folk!!
Playing with food - again!

Playing with food - again!


Kaliurang's only roundabout - dedicated to the Crayfish!?!?

Kaliurang's only roundabout - dedicated to the Crayfish!?!?

Prambanan:
This is the largest, and probably the most stunning, Hindu temple complex in Indonesia. The point of entry point is large, somewhat clinical and very strictly controlled - also you can see nothing of the complex until you have paid your (expensive) entry fee. That said, once you have paid, been processed and entered the grounds you get your initial sighting and, as you approach and your field of view becomes wider, the full scale of the temples are revealed in all of their splendour, the number of temples and shrines seeming to multiply right in front of your eyes. This site is a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back some 1200 years or more, as well as being of significant religious importance. Understandably buildings of this age can be somewhat structurally suspect and Prambanan is no different, with some areas having been restored and others being supported whilst remedial works are conducted - some sections are less stable so numbers and visiting times are limited and hard hats are provided to all visitors. The complex is visually impressive on many levels - not least in terms of its concentric square layout, the sheer size of the central building which scales some 47 metres high and the incredibly detailed stonework on most of the individual shrines and temples. As a foreign tourist one thing to bear in mind is that many, many schools arrange for coachloads of their pupils to visit and all of them are encouraged to talk to anybody who even looks like they speak english in order to improve their language skills. As a result you will be continually approached by individuals, small and large groups who want a couple of minutes of your time to complete a short questionnaire - they all ask the same questions and it can be repetitive but, if you do say no, they do take rejection extremely courteously. After clambering around the complex for a few hours it is always nice to be able to stroll around outside and, whilst the place has some nice neat grounds and a reindeer enclosure, there is little else to do until you decide to fight your way through the large commercial crafts, souvenirs and tat village which you have to walk through to get to the exit.
The girls arrive at Prambanan

The girls arrive at Prambanan

Its bigger than you think!

Its bigger than you think!

Gargoyles guard the entrances

Gargoyles guard the entrances


Reindeer in the park

Reindeer in the park

Once we had exhausted the photo opportunity and run the gaunlet if the innumerable stallholders we rejoined our driver who took us into the heart of Yogyakarta and dropped us in the backpackers area. This time our search for a hotel was easier and much more fruitful this time and we booked into a room at the very nicely appointed Monica Hotel (a double room with a 3rd mattress squeezed in on the floor for yours truly) before we headed into town. Walking around in the intense heat was enegry sapping but we did manage to fit in a good few sights before heading towards the bus station to get our tickets for the onward trip to Jakarta the next evening. We were still some distance from the ticket office when the afternoon rains began and we got caught in an absolute deluge which instantly had the streets flooded and saw us wading against the flow. We huddled under any available shelter (along with the hundreds of locals) and tried waiting the rain out but it soon became apparent that this would not happen any time soon so, in the end we hopped, soaking wet, into a tuktuk and even this was occasionally in danger of being swept off the road by the torrents of water. Tickets procured we again battled the weather to return to our hotel to dry out.

Some time later we followed the recommendation of the LP and dined at the Bedhot Resto where the food was good but the decor was the star. In addition to some amazing murals on the walls the star of the dining area was a beautifully restored Lambretta scooter which we all had a wee sit on for photos.
A surreal mural in the Bedhot Resto - viewed without the aid of "special" mushrooms

A surreal mural in the Bedhot Resto - viewed without the aid of "special" mushrooms

The fabulous Lambretta in Bedhot

The fabulous Lambretta in Bedhot

The next morning saw us head off to the Buddhist temple at Borobudur.

Borobudur:
The early start saw us all packed into a minibus and on the road in the pre-dawn light. The journey of around 40km didnt take long and we arrived at around 6.00 am. After queueing briefly to buy our tickets, we headed into the complex in the early morning mist to seek out the temple. The grounds are extensive, very well laid out and beautifully maintained so our first sighting of the temple itself took several minutes and was seen through the trees. As with Prambanan this temple was built around the 9th century and it is also absolutely enormous. Where it differs from the hindu complex is that this temple is effectively one single huge edifice as opposed to the 240 shrines and temples originally built at Prambanan. Oh, and look out for the steps at Borobudur, there are about 100 as you approach the East Entrance and then more inside the complex as you follow the route up the various levels to the top. There is ongoing repair and restoration work going on but, given the sheer scale of the building, you dont notice this too much.
Two things that really grabbed my attention here are 1) that the whole temple is built of millions of interlocking pieces, like an enormous 3D puzzle and 2) there are literally thousands of beautifully detailed carved stone relief panels depicting everything from sailing ships to birds and elephants to court scenes.
Borobudur - the worlds biggest 3D puzzle?

Borobudur - the worlds biggest 3D puzzle?

Heffalumps! <img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Heffalumps! :)


We followed the tourist route round and through the whole temple (steps, tunnels, ramparts etc) to the top where we played among the beautiful stupas (containing figures of Buddha) and even saw an advert for tv being filmed. As with our hindu experience there were large groups of schoolchildren but they seemed less of an interruption than Prambanan - indeed they preferred to have their photo taken with the white folk to asking loads of questions.
Borobudur in all of its glory

Borobudur in all of its glory

Not ugly - but hardly beautiful!

Not ugly - but hardly beautiful!

We're sexy and we know it!

We're sexy and we know it!

Now you see us......

Now you see us......

...and now you dont! Fun among the stupas

...and now you dont! Fun among the stupas

The beautiful gardens, barely visible in the morning mist

The beautiful gardens, barely visible in the morning mist


The views from the top are panoramic however we were somewhat limited by the lingering morning most. The grounds are much bigger than at Prambanan and they include two museums and a number of what can best be described as side-shows. We stopped to watch one of these shows which appeared to be the re-enactment of the excorcism of possessed or crazy young people - it was very convincing and lifelike, and quite disturbing, sufficiently so for me to move on rather quickly. We wandered around the Kapal Samudraraksa museum which houses the Borobudur ship, a full sized replica based upon a ship relief carved into the temple walls. It was built in the 1980s, built using traditional methods and materials and completed a journey from Jakarta - Madagaskar - Cape Town - Ghana before being returned to Yogyakarta and retirement in the museum. Our tour to Borobudur also included stopping off at a much smaller temple (in some disrepair) and another site where we were able to wander (briefly) amongst statues, lotus pools, bells, shrines and flowering trees and shrubs - visually stunning and very relaxing!
The full scale traditional boat

The full scale traditional boat


Indonesia - where huge bells abound

Indonesia - where huge bells abound

The peaceful garden

The peaceful garden


Stunning!

Stunning!


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Overview of Yogyakarta:
This is the second city of Java and is a large, sprawling mass which, in itself, has little or no real charm or beauty. It is redeemed however by the close proximity of the Marapi mountain range and the two extraordinary temples.
Unfortunately for us the recent heavy rains had caused a very large landslide which effectively shut the mountain to visitors, even from a distance!! 
Prambanan is a fantastic example of Hindu temple architecture but, for the price, it was a bit of a disappointing experience for this scribe. Hugely commercialised, you are treated like a number (or an ATM) and there is really only the temple complex itself and a huge tourist market to see there.
Borobudur however was a complete experience by comparison. Although the entrance fee was the same, in addition to the temple itself there are the beautifully designed, planted and maintained extensive gardens, oodles of space to wander around, side shows enacting bizarre exorcism plays, a couple of museums and the tourist trinkets and food village markets. Wonderful!

Our onward destination was the metropolis that is Jakarta and getting there was a harrowing experience in itself...........

Posted by RoystonBoyston 05.03.2014 07:22 Comments (0)

Java part I - The Volcanoes of Kawa Ijen and Gunung Bromo

Czech Mates, the DIY tour and the start of food fun

The ferry crossing from Bali was both straightforward and wierd at the same time. Whilst we could see Java quite clearly across the narrow Bali Sea strait the currents there are so strong that the trip takes considerably longer than one would expect. Initially the ferry merrily chugs out into the channel with the bows heading into the oncoming current, after a while they cut off the power and let the boat just drift sideways and backwards, using the current to travel laterally. Next they fire up the engines once again and start heading forward once more before cutting and drifting, a process that was repeated several times and which provided a feeling of deju vu because the same piece of Java coastline (in our case on the right) and other boats and ferries that we had already passed kept reappearing ahead of us. Eventually, at least an hour later, we steam into the very busy harbour area to tie up and disembark.
Java ahoy!

Java ahoy!

Post my arrival at the ferry terminal in Ketapang I found my way to the only "recognised and reputable" tour operator in town and discussed the price of his "all inclusive" Kawa Ijen (an old volcano), Gunung Bromo (a mountain complete with caldera) and onward travel to Yogyakarta package which started at Rph1.5 million for a single customer and dropped to around 750k per person if he managed to bag a group of 6 or more punters. I agreed to stay at their local homestay and checked into a beautifully appointed room for just 100k for the night, had a spot of lunch and then a cleansing shower. Returning to the tour office for an update on group numbers I was just in time to chat to a couple of girls who, like me, couldn't justify the prices the agent quoted. They decided that they would do the whole trip themselves using local transport and agreed that I could join them so, literally 10 minutes later I had re-packed and vacated my room and we were on the street looking for a shuttle to take us to the bus station!!! The two ladies in question were Sarka and Jana from the Czech Republic on a real whistle-stop 3 week tour of Indonesia.
My room, for about 90 minutes!

My room, for about 90 minutes!

Kawa Ijen:
The journey from ferry port to the town of Bondowoso involved a local shuttle, a full sized coach to Sitobondo and then another smaller bus for the final leg. The first two went well although we were hustled to board the final shuttle only to sit, without moving, for a full hour until the driver and conductor turned up. Arrival at Bondowoso heralded the end of our 4 wheel transport as we transferred to 3 wheel pedal power to be whisked off to our hotel for the night. Our food for the evening was exclusively fruit based and included eating a huge papaya, several snakefruit and a few dragon fruits.
Fruit overload

Fruit overload

Cheese!

Cheese!


Next morning, after a traditional Indonesian breakfast, we agreed to shell out about 180k each for the services of a friend of the owner and his trusty 4x4 to take us to the Kawah Ijen volcano. This journey definitely warranted an off-roader as some stretches were pretty rough. What it didnt really need though was the old boy's constant, incessant use of the horn - I think it must be a part of his driving style because he even used it on flat open roads with no oncoming traffic in sight. On the way up we passed through forests of fir trees which were being milked for their sap as well as numerous coffee trees/bushes bearing the bright red berries that contain the beans that eventually end up in our breakfast mugs.

Sap collecting

Sap collecting

Buzz does a quick workout

Buzz does a quick workout

The Petrol Station

The Petrol Station

After a few backhanders at the various barrier points along the way we arrived at the base point for Ijen where we suntan lotioned up for the 3 km hike to the craters rim.
All along the dusty and sometimes quite steep path we encountered local men coming down, laden with baskets or bags stuffed with bright yellow sulphurous rock which seemed rediculously heavy considering how small the carriers were. I had the opportunity to try and lift a typical load, somewhere around 55-65kgs, far too much for this softened western tourist! Bear in mind that these guys weight in at under 50kgs and you can see how strong they are. At the rim the view was pretty spectacular but the wind was ferocious making the photo opportunity somewhat challenging. it was here that we met one of the "porters" who offered to guide us down the one kilometre goat track inside the volcano to where the sulphur was mined. At the bottom the sulphurous gas spewed of the rock in a continuous thick cloud and when the wind changed and blew the gases in our direction our home made bandana face masks were little protection against the poisonous yellow smoke. After such an edifying experience we were all three glad to return to the car park unscathed to enjoy a hot cuppa and reflect on how easy our jobs and lives were!
Kawa Ijen from the top

Kawa Ijen from the top

The sulphur pit

The sulphur pit

On the way back down we stopped off at a large coffee plantation to enjoy a quick tour where we saw the whole process, from the manual sorting of the beans through to packing and on to despatch, before getting back to town. Interestingly they had a large fenced and caged compound in which they kept numerous Civets - the wild cats that eat the coffee berries and from who's pooh the digested beans are collected and processed to make the extremely expensive Luwak coffee.
Civet alert

Civet alert

No, he is not home!

No, he is not home!

Tea for two, madam!

Tea for two, madam!


Gunung Bromo:
Back in town again, we collected our baggage before embarking on the journey to Gunung Bromo, the first leg of which was from Bondowoso to Probolingo (I love the crazy alliterative and onomatapaeic names in this region). Here they got us all off the bus and then herded us straight back on again before heading up to Cemoro Lawang village where we had planned to stay the night before the next morning's legendary sunrise. Unfortunately our visit had coincided with the muslim new year holiday so we were told that there were no rooms available at all, anywhere. Trudging around the whole village we were first offered a Harry Potter-like under-the-stairs dungeon but eventually ended up in fair rooms which had crappy shared toilets and no showers. I roomed with an affable walking machine from Spain called Pedro while the two girls shared a room with a view on the upper level.

Before dawn the next morning we gathered together and set off in the dark to walk to the viewpoints up on the hillside. This turned out to be a pretty dangerous move as 1) literally hundreds of small 4WD jeeps sped past us on the ill lit and poorly made road and 2) the exhaust fumes from so many diesel engines in such a small area were overpowering. Being walkers we were very much in the minority and, as it turned out, we were unable to reach the higher viewing spots because the road was almost impassable, it was literally choked with parked jeeps! As dawn broke we managed to secure a reasonable vantage point and enjoyed a pretty good sunrise.
The Caldera at Bromo

The Caldera at Bromo

The sun approacheth

The sun approacheth

Our epic Bromo sunrise

Our epic Bromo sunrise

Once it was light we trudging back to our overnight lodgings, again through the crazy 4X4 traffic, to collect our bags and start our onward journey towards Yogyakarta.

Death by diesel from the 4x4s

Death by diesel from the 4x4s

The Caldera was absolutely huge!

The Caldera was absolutely huge!

Posted by RoystonBoyston 05:31 Comments (0)

The Gili Islands but not Lombok!

Trewangan - turtles, Irish bars and the night market

To break up my time in Bali I decided to head out to the Gili islands. A quick evening phone call by Nyoman Sueren, my Ubud homestay host, and The Fool was all booked on the ferry for the next morning.
A 6.45 shuttle bus start was scheduled however the driver must have had a good lay-in as he was at least 30 minutes late reaching me and still had more pickups afterwards. When the bus was finally jam packed full we had under 55 minutes to complete the drive, all the passenger registration formalities and to board the boat - the only trouble is the journey to Padang Bai always takes well over an hour. The result was that our moody driver went like a maniac trying to make up time, overtaking on blind bends, swerving in and out of lanes of traffic and even jumping red traffic lights on the wrong side of the road. Well, we all lived to tell the tale however pulses were racing and many a sweaty brow was wiped as we all tried to calm ourselves at journeys end. The irony was that we had to wait some time for another bus of punters to arrive before we could board the boat and set off to sea, so he need not have put all of us through the death race experience!
The boat, too, was pretty packed so quite a few passengers sat up on top. Many of them ended up absolutely drenched as the boat carved through the sea towards our paradise islands.

On arrival at the beautiful, idyllic beach the usual accomodation touts were yet again out in force and here I was lucky once more. Whilst one pushy young fellow was trying to promote 3 or 4 different homestay options, a quietly spoken lad next to him offered me a room at his family place for the same price with all the same facilities - bedroom with fan, bathroom, and breakfast included. For some reason I opted to check this place out and, despite the walk some 4 streets back from the beach, I felt comfortable and immediately agreed to stay. The place is called Little Woodstock and it is well worth the money and the few minutes walk into the town.
My en-suite facilities

My en-suite facilities


Bags dumped in the room and it was off to wander around the latest location and seek out some breakfast - like most tourist resorts that have grown in popularity there are numerous eateries and bars, bike, snorkel and flipper hire stalls and little stores selling overpriced everything. There are plenty of choices about where and what to eat, with higher prices reflecting those with a beachfront location while smaller, much cheaper and more traditional places are found one or two streets further back from the shore.
My walk along the front afforded views of the beautiful beach peppered with many colourful boats, the backdrop being the sandy coastline of nearby Gili Manuk and beyond this the brooding, cloud-cloaked presence of Lombok which had started its rainy season a little early (due, no doubt, to the much higher volcanic mountains nestled over there). As I neared the eastern edge of the main street I happened upon that most touristic of all establishments - an Irish Bar complete with unpronouncable gaelic name, a drinks board proclaiming both Guinness and Irish Whiskey (neither of which they appear to have stocked - EVER), staffed entirely by local Balinese and the jewel in their crown, a huge indoor bar area complete with multiple tv screens to show all of the major sporting events! Winner!!
After enjoying a beer or three in the company of Glen, an affable Aussie who, at 45, is visiting various places in Asia with a view to finding his long term retirement location and with some traditional local food safely despatched it was back to the homestay to nap, freshen up and return to Little Ireland to endure the disappointment of an inept Arsenal team capitulating to the arch enemy of all Leeds fans, Man U. High point was that on the way home the night market was still open so I had a tasty take away chicken and noodles supper for just a knicker!!

Day 2 started with a lovely homestay breakfast cooked to order, followed by a solo biped circumnavigation of the whole island (including lengthy chats with several locals, it took about 2.5-3 hours), taking in the wonderful views followed by a well deserved couple of bir bintangs.
His and hers loungers

His and hers loungers


Solitude with a view

Solitude with a view


Surfs up

Surfs up


Dinner across the road from the homestay was in a small local's place and was nicely filling, the meat quite boney though, then it was off to the Paddy Bar to watch Lewis Hamilton's wretched luck continue in the Abu Dhabi grand prix. I ran into Glen again, who had been on the sauce since mid afternoon and was a little bit the worse for wear (properly pissed actually), before I toddled off to the homestay for a late and cold shower and my bed. Mild exertion can be quite tiring in the heat and humidity - well thats my excuse anyway.

Day 3 was a real breakthrough day: Today I have finally seen LIVE TURTLES SWIMMING IN THE WILD!!.
First thing on the agenda for Monday was a jaunt into town to book a snokelling trip - 3 sites around the 3 Gili islands. Whilst talking to the helpful young lad in the sales booth we discussed the merits of visiting neighbouring Lombok. The options were there but 1) going to see another waterfall just didnt do it for me and 2) the treks up the volcano have been marred by very poor weather and rain. Given that the mountain had been constantly shrouded in cloud since my arrival in the Gilis the thought of trekking and camping in the rain was a no brainer. (I later met  a guy who had done that volcano trip and he said that there was no health and safety provision and that parts of the ascent were effectively rockclimbing as it was that steep on occasion).
Having procured a ticket for the snorkelling and finally located my free flippers I joined about 25 other intrepid tube suckers on our jolly green boat and we headed up the shore of Gili Trawangan to the first snorkel site (easily recognised by the plethora of swimmers already there from other boats). The water was very pleasantly warm and the views were pretty damned good for the price (£6.50 for the 5 hour trip) with the fish being small but plentiful and the coral somewhat less dense than on the Great Barrier Reef but with some much bigger individual corals in the mix.
Snorkel central!

Snorkel central!


After a good swim around it was off to a site off of Gili Meno for a guided trip along the "reef" to spot and briefly follow the timid wild turtles. Finally, after my barren attempts in Oz, I got to see some of these beautiful, languid creatures just doing their stuff in their own back yard. We were priviledged to see 3 individuals, the last of which was the biggest of the day with a shell measuring about 60cm across, munching on coral before surfacing for air and then just easing out to sea, away from the many masked pairs of eyes and wafting flippered feet of our gawping group. It is gratifying to know that such a simple creature can entrance an eager crowd of humanoids simply by being seen!
Guided tour section completed we then headed across to a site off of Gili Air where the captain suggested we be very careful - prudent and yet obvious advice as the wind had picked up and was encouraging the pretty big waves shorewards over the coral.
My mask sprung a constant leak so it was back to the boat a bit early to await lunch on Gili Air itself - seafood fried noodles notable only for the fact that said seafood comprised exclusively of a few small prawns! Our journey home was an adventure in itself - out in the open sea the waves were pretty big and our course was about 45 degrees right of head on, the result being that our sturdy old clinker pitched and yawed constantly in the increasing swell, with everybody being regularly doused in spray as we ploughed into and across each wave. Whilst a few of the passengers were clearly unnerved by the trip nobody screamed (much) and all lunches were retained.
Back on dry land The Fool sought to procure a cheap fishing charter however prices for the single traveller proved prohibitive so it looks like fishing off the jetty tomorrow provided the wind dies a bit and I can find some bait. A brisk walk around the western end of the town to see the sunset at the "Paradise Sunset Bar" run by an aussie called Rob was enjoyed whilst downing a couple of cheeky Bintangs with Glen, followed by watching a crazy fire juggler. and then a trip to the night market for supper. I selected a red snapper from an array of fresh fish which was then barbequed with lemon and garlic and served with rice and a garnish for the princely sum of IR50,000 (or £3.35 in old english). Beautiful!!
At sunset beach

At sunset beach

Man on Fire?

Man on Fire?


Last full day

With the wind up, the sea choppy and the Fool unable to source some bait the fishing aspect of this island trip was finally binned off, so priorities were booking a return ticket to Bali and . . . .  erm, well that was it!!
Having haggled the price down to the cost of the original trip out it was a day dedicated to enjoying a bit of downtime and some more fried noodles before another night market supper (white snapper, not as tasty and much more boney than his ginger coloured cousin) before an early night. The weather had been moody all day and finally, in the middle of the night we had a reasonable downpour, sufficient to take the temperature down to "comfortable".
Departure morning comprised breakfast, packing and waiting at the shore for our 10.30 fast boat to arrive.
Gili breakfast on leaving day.

Gili breakfast on leaving day.


On the return leg the boats call at both of the other Gili islands as well as Lombok so the journey time is significantly longer. The choppy conditions out in the open sea found out a few passengers, with a couple of unfortunate ladies losing their breakfasts in the most uncomfortable manner. Back at Padang Bai it bordered on pandemonium at times as people and luggage were finally reunited and with the charter guy trying to put the right number of people in the right sized vans to get to their onward destinations. Our shuttle back to Kuta was a compact 7 seater minibus which, somehow, managed to take all 7 of us and all of the assorted backpacks, suitcases etc inside by way of human tetris. Given the crazy shuttle ride from Ubud on my way out I had hoped for a straightforward and gentle 90 minute transfer through Bali's incessant traffic. Sadly this was not to be as about half way back to Legian our driver (who looked about 14) started to give a couple of guys on a motorbike a bit of a close call, almost running into the back of them and then forcing them to the side of the road. The boys had the temerity to pull up alongside and return the verbals at which point our driver swerved violently towards them, literally forcing them off of the tarmac. A repeated attempt to berate our driver resulted in another crazy swerve, this time hitting the bike broadside, bending/breaking their wing mirror. Needless to say the fight was now on and the bikers buzzed around the minibus like an angry wasp, trying to get us to pull over to sort things out while our driver continued to try to swat them, using our bus to do it. At one point they were seen  to pull over ahead of us and, as our driver again ignored them, they picked up some rocks to use on us (fortunately they didnt throw them). The battle carried on for several kilometres and included a reprisal attack by the bikers who kicked out at and smashed the shuttle's nearside rear light covers. The driver ignored the pleas and demands of all of us  passengers not to carry on with his crazy antics however the matter was finally "settled" by a long argument at a set of traffic lights. Both parties having made their point the bikers drove away leaving us to hope that our driver could complete the journey without further incident which, fortunately, he did.

And so endeth the Gili section of the Indonesian leg of the trip.

Posted by RoystonBoyston 25.12.2013 09:24 Comments (0)

Ubud - the cultural heart of Bali

Luwak coffee, rice, temples and the burning of the dead

Following another aimless town based day in Kuta the Fool finally got his butt into gear and (after a McD's coffee) headed to the main street in Legian to locate the bus/tour company for a ride to Ubud. Having secured a ticket, returning by taxi to the hostel to collect my baggage and then being dropped off back at the bus stop ought to have been straightforward. However limited time and the crazy, all-day-long traffic in Kuta meant my arrival back at the ticket agent's office was pretty much at the same time as the bus was due to depart. Although Bluebird Taxis are everybodies first choice and run on the meter the drivers appear to think that the size of "tip" they get from customers is something that they alone decide!! Hence, whilst the meter for my trip read a tad over IDR30000 my driver deemed it appropriate to give me no change out of the 40k I handed over - he probably sensed that I had very little time and to be honest I struggled to work out what the tip actually meant in proper money, before he rejoined the constant stream of mopeds and taxis and sped off, at about 5 kph!!!

The bus ride cost 50k (just over 3 quid) and proved that you get what you paid for: no air con, possibly no suspension judging by the constant bone jarring jolts from the many potholes that the driver appeared to aim for, and the "stick to your thighs" ancient plastic seats.

On arrival at Ubud we were ejected into the usual melee of locals touting for guests for their homestays. My captor, Nyoman Seuren, whose family own and run the Suartha Pension homestay, reduced his initial quote to the off season norm of R100k per night then it was off into the tight street traffic on his moped - we two adults, my full backpack and a couple of other bags, negotiating the narrow streets at a fair old lick on his gutless little machine. Once at his I was led to my "room" which was a self contained unit - double bed, overhead fan and en-suite bathroom, far from the noisy main street - bargain at the price methinks. An initial chat with mine host included agreeing an itinerary for the Tuesday in which he would transport me around the countryside for the day on his newer, more powerful motorbike, and would end with me having to decide how much I should pay him based on how much I enjoy the day!! An after event narrative follows:

Day 2: After a quick trip to the local food market (which reminded me of last year's Peruvian equivalents) it was back to a delightful breakfast of an omlette sandwich and fresh fruit before perching on the back of the moped for a magical mystery tour of the top spots, as identified by Nyoman.
Homestay breakfast .... nom,nom,nom

Homestay breakfast .... nom,nom,nom

Our tour comprised what must be the standard for every short term visitor to Ubud - winding through un-named and largely unmade streets, roads, paths and alleys to a set number of "must see" attractions, each of which cost an entrance fee of about £1 (reminding me of the farmer in the "Carry on Camping" film).

First stop was to view the rice terraces which were all the more impressive as they were some way up in the hills in a steep sided valley. The most remarkable thing about these (and all subsequent paddy fields throughout my asian swing) was the amazing hue of green that the mature rice plants reach just before the rice is ready to harvest. It is a different shade to any other vegetation I can recall in that it seems to radiate its colour, drawing the eye and brightening up the surrounding area.
Rice paddies

Rice paddies

Harvest time

Harvest time


Next port of call was the Rock Temple, built, not surprisingly, into the rock of another valley. Evidently ancient, it is still an active place of worship with an attached monastery. After this we went to the Water Temple and I bet you can guess what the theme of this one was. As well as the temple itself there were a couple of large rectangular pools, fed by multiple spouts under which one is encouraged to cleanse away ones sins by ducking into the flowing torrents. Yes, the Fool did do the tourist thing and go in and, yes, the water was bl@@dy cold.
The Rock Temple

The Rock Temple

Cold?? - its effing freezing!

Cold?? - its effing freezing!


The fourth stop was a bit of a surprise on two counts 1) it was free and 2) it was informative and enjoyable! Stopping on a quiet country road I was led into a well cultivated area which is run by a coffee plantation in the hills. A guided tour of their local fruit trees was followed by a run through of the manual process of making Luwak coffee - the coffee berries are eaten by wild Civets which then pooh out the coffee beans, allegedly removing caffeine and adding some magical health inducing ingredients and properties during their digestive processes. The beans are collected, washed and then roasted before being ground up - all by hand - packaged and sold at a rediculous premium, mainly to a few Singaporean restaurants apparently. After the tour I was treated to a tea and coffee tasting session which was a real treat.
Luwak coffee basics

Luwak coffee basics

Coffee tasting - nice job

Coffee tasting - nice job


After the coffee stop it was into the mountains for lunch - another entrance fee for the valley view then a hugely inflated priced, rubbish buffet which, given its location and the lack of alternatives at the top of the mountain, was not really optional.
The view at lunchtime!

The view at lunchtime!


The return journey incorporated a visit to a "traditional" village which was well worth the fee followed by a surprise visit to Nyoman's family home where his wife made us tea and snacks. His eldest daughter is currently studying to be a beauty and massage therapist and gave me a full thai massage on their front porch, with all family and pets looking on, as practice for an exam she was taking the next day. After this relaxing session it was back on the motorbike and back to the homestay.
Standard issue shrine in the traditional village

Standard issue shrine in the traditional village

Suaren's family

Suaren's family


Day 3 was supposed to be relaxing and low key however my host kept coming up with interesting things to do. Having taken a leisurely breakfast of banana toastie and fresh fruit the Fool set off to visit the nearby Monkey Forest and temple at the bottom end of town. This proved to be mildly entertaining as the monkeys tried to rob those tourists who allowed them to get too close or taunted them with bananas.
Statuary at the Monkey Temple

Statuary at the Monkey Temple

Mmmm ... banana!

Mmmm ... banana!

Dont tease me frenchie!

Dont tease me frenchie!


During our trip the previous day we had passed through sites of forthcoming weddings and funerals so Nyoman suggested that I hotfoot it back from the monkeys for around midday so that he could drop me off to view a quadruple funeral/open air cremation ceremony.
Depositing me at a local's eatery near the procession start point I find that I have no local lingo knowledge and nobody in the food shack speaks a word of the queens (or any other) english. The chappie there tried to help me but we both end up simply pointing at the menu and reading out aloud the names of the dishes - not a hope of either understanding the other. I ended up having some coloured, cooked and flavoured rice with crispy fried onions on top, filling and tasty but still, as yet, unnamed!
Lunch despatched to the old belly and its outside into the raw heat of the day to follow the funereal procession through the streets, witnessing the chaos that ensues when 25-30 men of all ages carry a multi-storey construction (containing the deceased) through streets which are criss-crossed with telephone and power lines that hang too low for the procession to pass under unaided.  Every time a new cable is reached pandemonium breaks out as long bamboo poles are used to try and raise the wires above the construction and all the while an old fire engine is using its water cannon to soak and cool down the pall bearers. Not all of the construction (nor indeed the wires) escaped damage but eventually the procession reached the cemetery.
Too big for the streets

Too big for the streets

Crowd refreshment

Crowd refreshment


Preparation of the body for the cremation itself takes about 45 minutes during which the brightly wrapped remains are transferred to the platform on which it will be burned, various things are added to help the deceased in their onward journey and the large attendant family pay their last respects. Finally the pyre is lit using a couple of industrial gas-fired flamethrowers and, with remarkable speed, the whole thing flares up and burns bright and very hot. Once the body has been completely cremated the families set up shrines at the various cremation platforms to remember those who have passed, a noisy, colourful and vibrant celebration and ceremony, fittingly ended with time for quiet reflection.
Having never previously witnessed a Hindu send off I had the mixed emotions of a nearby observer, walking in amongst the crowd following the route, slightly bemused by the vivid colours and raucous musical accompanyment, unused to the friendliness and openness of everybody involved and also slightly embarrassed at intruding on such a private family event. The local people, however, celebrate the passing of their relatives and are very welcoming to all and sundry at the open air site, offering food and drink freely to anyone in the throng.
After witnessing the cremation of the body that I followed from the start I wound my way back to a rendezvous with Nyoman and his motorbike who returned me to the homestay.
The body is transferred...

The body is transferred...

...... and finally the cremation

...... and finally the cremation

Day 4 was moving day, as I had decided to head off to the Gili islands for a few days rest and recuperation after my all action programme in Ubud.

Postscript: Whilst Kuta, Legian and the other coastal places are completely commercialised and touristic Ubud is currently undergoing an increasingly rapid transition. Currently it still, deservedly, retains its cultural centre of Bali title but the tourism sector has recognised its financial potential and a speedy regeneration programme has been undertaken. Whilst the town still has its mixture of quaint traditional streets and some run down areas, a number of 5 star resorts, spas etc have sprung up with many other high end tourist hotels and the like under construction or in advanced planning. Some of the shabbier street have already been "made over" with restaurants and souvenier shops moving in, to the detriment of the village feel that so recently attracted the punters. If you want to experience the old and the new, I suggest that you get yourself to Ubud asap before it loses what character that still remains.

Posted by RoystonBoyston 23.12.2013 19:09 Comments (0)

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