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Silver Jewelry, Revisited

Bali Day 3: Monday, August 7, 2017

Making pendant -silver glue

On my way to the airport, my host stopped at the Prapen silver jewelry workshop near Ubud, where I got to see more silver filigree jewelry being made. This lady is using a yellow glue made from red piling-piling seeds to glue small curls of wire into a silver pendant the same as the one shown.

I slept in a little and it took some time to get showered and to repack all my things. I put the rice farmer’s hat into a large red plastic bag and figured out how to tie it to the back of my TGC bag. I had already dumped some clothes in Jogja, so I dumped a few toiletries I wouldn’t be needing and consolidated things the best I could so that I was packing the most weight I could handle in my carry on bags. I didn’t want to pay a lot for overweight bags on the flight to Jakarta; once I get there and have more weight allowance for the international flights, I can redistribute to save my aching shoulders.

The landlord served me breakfast of chicken bacon on scrambled eggs on toast, a fruit bowl again (pineapple, watermelon, dragon fruit, etc.) and a papaya smoothie. It was good, but I missed the banana pancakes of the day before. I ate a couple of the oranges I’d bought yesterday, then packed my bags up to the top of the stairs by the landlord’s house. Come to find out, there is another road at the top of the hill through the passage beside their home, with several other bungalows tucked back there. I didn’t have to lug everything down the cement stairs.

Blowtorch soldering

Using a finely focused acetylene torch to weld pieces together.

I went to pay for the water I’d used from the mini-fridge and for today’s trip to Denpasar, but found out my payment for this stay hadn’t gone through, although I had the online receipt. My wife checked and found that indeed the payment had not shown up. So after loading up his car, we stopped on the main road of Ubud at an ATM because I had to get some more money out. I got just enough to tide me over so that I wouldn’t have a bunch of Indonesian money left. I had a few 2000 rp and 5000 rp bills and a bunch of smaller coins (1000, 500, and 100 rp) but altogether this amounts to maybe $5 U.S., and I do want some money to collect.

Making lockets

A lady at the Prapen workshop assembling lockets.

I had arranged with my landlord and owner of the Ubud Wins Bungalows to drive me to the airport this morning and perhaps see a few sites I’d missed the day before. Since I was a bit later getting started, we decided I only had time to visit one place, and it had to be on the way. So no Gunung Kawi or Monkey Forest Temple (he said it wasn’t a good idea to visit there in the morning, anyway, as the monkeys are hungry and aggressive).

Workers on silver

Workers at the Prapen silver smithing workshop near Ubud, Bali

We drove around some byways in Ubud that I had not been on before, a part of town given to art shops and crafts workshops. This would be a great place to explore when I return here, if I ever get the chance. We stopped at a small place called Prapen Jewelry, a family owned silver crafting workshop.

Casting silver bals

Preparing silver balls for casting and molding to become parts of jewelry.

I could tell by the coi fish in the pond and the upscale look of the showroom that this was a more exclusive shop than the one I’d visited in Kota Gede. They would not allow me to photograph the jewelry (exclusive designs, apparently) but I was allowed to photograph and video the craftsmen and women making the jewelry. One of the staff explained the process to me, and there were signs with English and Indonesian captions that also explained it.

Silver strip mill

This hand mill presses silver bars into strips. Wire of different gauges is made by pulling the strips through a die.

The silver is mixed with copper (7.5%) and drawn into wires, just like in Kota Gede. It is then cut into pieces, curled or shaped, and glued into designs using a yellowish paste made from red seeds called piling-piling. Once the piece is done, an acetylene torch is used to fuse the wires together and they are cleaned and polished to provide the brilliant white metal finish of sterling silver.

Amarinth seeds

Amarinth seeds, which are used in part of the processing of the silver (polishing?). I find it fascinating that native plants and seeds are used, such as the piling-piling seeds for glue.

One lady was using a tapering round rod to make silver wire hoops of exactly the right size to fit inside earrings. Another was assembling square wire shapes and pieces to build lockets. One lady was creating small curls of varying lengths to place inside a necklace pendant, a very exacting process. When I asked how long it took to build one pendant, they said about five days. Obviously, even if she has made hundreds of these exact pendants, and they assembly line them, with all of this handwork the final price must be much higher than what I could pay.

Silver plate and wire

Silver plates, strips, and wire. The die at the left allows different gauges of wire to be created.

I looked through the showroom and the pieces were amazing; truly works of art. I wasn’t allowed to photograph them, but they did let me photograph a silver Ganesha figurine in the center of the showroom.

Silver pellets

Silver beads of different sizes for use in making jewelry pieces.

This visit has added much more detail to what I saw in Kota Gede, and between the two places, my students will have enough photographs and video footage to put together a nice video on how silver filigree jewelry is made. I can add that to my extensive videos of silver mining and have that element pretty much locked down.

REsizing rings

This lady is creating precisely sized loops of silver to glue and weld into the final earrings. To make the loop just the right size, it is pushed onto the tapered tool she is holding until it reaches the right spot for the circumference she is after.

The original purpose of this site, the Elements Unearthed, has not been forgotten. My own greater purposes now encompass so much more that I originally intended when I started this blog site, so the topics I write about have also expanded. But I still come back to my roots as often as I can; I will never lose interest in how the elements are mined, refined, and turned into finished products such as the beautiful jewelry I’ve seen in Indonesia.

Silver Ganesha

A silver Ganesha statue in the main showroom. I wasn’t allowed to photograph the jewelry itself, which was amazingly intricate and beautiful.

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Bali Day 2: Sunday, August 6, 2017

David on side stairway

David Black on the side steps leading up to Besakih Temple in Bali, Indonesia.

Although I could have stayed on the edge of the caldera looking at Gunung Batur forever, we had one more place to visit on our tour: Besakih Temple, the Mother Temple of all Bali.

Snake fruit and oranges

A fruit stand selling oranges, snake fruit, and bananas on the way to Besakih Temple.

Gusti had done well answering my questions about the shrines and temples we passed this morning, and now we were going to visit my first major Hindu religious site on Bali. We got back into the car (after I bought a small bag of oranges to try) and drove down ridgelines through small towns, gradually rounding the mountain until we got to the bottom foothills. I had no idea exactly where on Bali we were, but had the feeling that not many tourists got this far. That suited me just fine.

David at Besakih steps

The main steps to Besakih Temple, which only believers are allowed to use. I had to climb up some side steps. Wearing a sarong is required to enter the temple grounds. Gusti had to show me how to tie it properly. This temple is the mother temple to the rest of Bali.

From a distance it is hard to see Besakih Temple because its pagodas and walls are so old and covered in vegetation that they blend into the basic mountainside. We stopped at one of many parking lots and were immediately besieged by people selling souvenirs and sarongs. All Hindu temples require a sarong on Bali, and I had already purchased one the day before. Gusti and a lady selling postcards helped me correctly tie my sarong on; it was a bright aqua colored batik print, and with my ice-dyed blue shirt, I must have stood out. Gusti walked with me up to the foot of the temple, walking along a pathway through fruit stands selling snake fruit, oranges, bananas, and durian (which I could smell from a distance). He told me that only Hindu believers are allowed to walk up the central staircase or go inside the temples, but that tourists could see inside through the gates and could reach the top via a side staircase. We took some photos at the bottom of the main stairs, then worked our way around to the side entrance.

11-step pagoda

The main temple pagodas have eleven levels representing the eight cardinal directions and top, middle, and bottom. From the side stairs we could see into the main temple courtyard.

Walking in the sarong was difficult. I kept tripping as I walked up the stairs, and finally had to hold up my skirt as I have seen ladies do. Since everyone was wearing one, I did not feel out of place. I’m sure the vendors around the temple were charging much higher prices than what I had paid the day before.

David before mother temple

On the lawn leading to the main stairway into Besakih Temple. This far up in the mountains, the air is fairly cool, and there are fewer tourists than at most Hindu sites around Kuta or Ubud.

The temple complex was huge, with walled compounds that Gusti said were family clan temples. They surrounded the main courtyard and largest temples of the central complex. There were large pagodas with eleven stories, which Gusti explained represented the eight points of the compass plus top, center, and bottom. Believers in white shirts and gold hats and sarongs were placing offerings and praying inside the main courtyard, and everywhere the dark stone walls were green with mosses and grass.

Besakih temple from above

The temple complex as seen from above.

Gusti showed me large photos of one of the biggest ceremonies held here. Each year, the people of the local town dress in the white and gold clothing and take out the shrines of the Hindu gods, carrying them on their shoulders all the way to the ocean, where they go through a purification rite before being carried back up to the temple. The photos showed a huge procession winding its way to the sea. Other ceremonies are held only once per generation, going back hundreds of years.

Pagoda and flowers

Temple pagoda and bougainvillea flowers. The entire complex is divided into separate areas and temples for each of the major families of Bali. Gusti said his family has a temple here, too.

We walked up the side stairway and peaked into the various courtyards. This complex has some 32 clan temples and a number of larger temples, and is truly a huge area. Yet it doesn’t seem huge, because it blends in so well with its surroundings. Everywhere I pointed my camera, the photos were gorgeous.

Gusti told me that this was the central and highest level of temple in Bali. It was at the foot of the sacred mountain. At the next level down were the four regional temples at the four primary directions, with Tanah Lot in the south. These temples were under the administration of Besakih. Then each city or town had at least three community temples that were under the regional temples. Finally, each household had its own family temple or shrine.

Green temple vista

The lush green grass and plants at Besakih Temple in Bali, Indonesia.

Gusti was great at taking many photos of me and at explaining the ceremonies of these temples. I was surprised that a place so sacred was also open to tourists. There were restrictions, but I got to see inside all of the areas. I didn’t see many westerners, but there were some Indonesians walking up the stairs with me. Most of the people here were believers and came up the middle stairs; the central courtyard was pretty busy. So although it was mildly crowded, most of the people here weren’t tourists. That made my experience that much more pleasant.

Worshippers in courtyard

A view into the main courtyard, where worshippers kneel before the main pagodas.

It was humid but nicely cool this far up the mountain and very refreshing. Even though I had climbed a large number of stairs, I wasn’t tired. But it had been a long day, and by the time I got back to the car I was ready to head back to Ubud. I took off my sarong and climbed into the car and we started down the mountain.

Shrines to the sea

Portable shrines in the Besakih Temple. Once per year, they are carried by hand from here all the way to the beach to perform a purification rite. The local villagers dress in white and make quite the procession.

I dozed off, but we came to a winding road down a cliff with incredible views. I wasn’t able to get a good photo through the trees along the road, and could only catch glimpses. Once we reached the valley floor it was late afternoon and the hills and mountains glowed in the sunlight with a breathtaking green beyond the rice fields. Some of my photos through this area turned out very well.

David above temple in sarong

David Black at the top of Besakih Temple in Bali, Indonesia.

The towns became larger and more numerous. We passed groups of school children marching, practicing for Indonesian Independence Day. We came into Ubud from the south and passed the Monkey Forest Temple on our way to the center of town. We drove down Jalan Kajeng to my bungalow. I had already paid Gusti and the driver when we started out, a total of $155 U.S., but I gave them a decent tip as this had been an extraordinary day, well worth the money.

Temples and flowers above

Flowers and pagodas at Besakih Temple.

I was getting hungry again but was too tired to walk into town, so I ate the last of my snacks and some of the oranges. I tried to get on Google Hangout with Becca and the boys, but our timing was off and I fell asleep. Once I woke up again, I spent the remainder of the evening uploading photos. I had taken hundreds and lots of video just today. I also started to repack my things in anticipation of leaving Indonesia tomorrow.

Bali Hai scene

A perfect photo of the Balinese countryside on my way back to Ubud.

I will be sad to go, with so many thing left to see and do. But I’ve been here for nearly four weeks and I miss my family. It’s time to go home.

Bali Day 2: Sunday, August 6, 2017

Batur caldera panorama-s

A panoramic view of the Mt. Batur caldera as seen from my restaurant in Kintamani. The darker areas of the cone are lava flows from the 2006 eruption.

We left the coffee plantation and continued our journey up the side of Mount Batur. At higher elevations, there were orange groves and stands selling oranges, small towns in valleys as we ascending the ridge lines, and ever more clouds. I tried taking photos of the oranges but the car was moving too fast to get a clear shot. Up ahead the clouds seemed to engulf the roadway, but as we reached it I saw that we had crested the edge of the caldera. We had arrived at the heart of Gunung Batur, which is the beating heart of Bali itself.

Batur details

A close-up view of Mt. Batur on Bali. You can see smoke rising from fumeroles about 1/3 of the way down from the top; this is the active site of the 2006 eruptions, marked by the black lava flows that are only just beginning to be colonized by plants.

I had been afraid that I would face the same problem as at Mount Merapi three days before, especially since it had rained this morning, but luck was with me this time. The clouds were higher up than the central mountain and there were patches of sunlight shining on the peak. We drove a short distance along the edge of the crater and stopped at a white restaurant in Kintamani that hung out over the edge. Gusti said this would be where I would eat lunch. It was an Indonesian buffet. I felt guilty being the only one of us eating; Gusti and the driver were staying with the car, waiting for me to get done. I’m not used to being an exclusive guest, but I did pay 50% more for this tour because I was by myself.

Reataurant at Batur

The restaurant in Kintamani where I ate lunch, hanging over the caldera’s edge. You can see the ridges in the background right that are formed by the double ring of the caldera.

I was assigned a seat overlooking the caldera and parked my camera bag while I got lunch. The buffet dishes were pretty good, but the vegan soup was the best. There were banana fritters, fried rice and fried noodles, chicken satay (on a skewer), and other dishes. I sat my food down and took photos of it with the mountain in the background. Before eating, I took advantage of the sunlight and took a series of photos of the entire caldera in a panoramic view as well as close-ups of the mountain itself. Misty clouds kept trying to blow in, and I could tell the mountain would be covered later on, but for now the view was excellent.

Gonna plug that mountain

Something tells me my finger won’t be enough to plug this mountain if it decides to blow . . .

Gunung Batur is an active volcano, a composite peak growing inside a double-walled caldera. Gusti had told me that it last erupted in 2006, only 11 years ago. I could see smoke rising from fumeroles on an area about 1/3 down from the top of the peak directly in front of my position, with fresh lava flows spreading from that position down into the bottom of the caldera. The town of Kintamani was threatened and eventually moved (mostly) up to the top of the caldera rim.

3D model of Batur

A 3D model of Mt. Batur on Bali. My restaurant was at the 7:00 position on the south rim of the caldera. You can see that it is a double ring – this mountain has blown up and collapsed at least twice, then the composite cone has formed again. The flat area to the right is the surface of the lake. This data comes from the USGS Earth Explorer website and is modeled in Daz3D Bryce.

It was hard to tell from this side, but my 3D models of the mountain show a definite double wall with the central peak growing inside both rims. The eruptions that made these walls were violent indeed, blowing the top off the mountain many years ago and collapsing the magma chamber to form the caldera that I was eating on top of. To my left I could see the double ridge of the rims. To my right was a large ridge and beyond that, a beautiful blue lake, the largest on Bali. The far wall of the caldera rose beyond the lake. Various ages of lava flows could be determined by their degree of coverage in brilliant green foliage; the 11-year-old flows were just beginning to succumb to the plants’ encroachment.

Gusti with Gunung Batur

My tour guide, Gusti, at the rim of the Mt. Batur caldera. He is an excellent guide, with a great amount of knowledge about all things Bali as well as good English skills. I highly recommend looking him up for tours of Bali.

This was an incredible sight and my first good look at an Andesitic or composite volcano up close. When I took my two oldest children to Washington in 2000, we visited Mt. St. Helens but the mountain was shrouded in clouds, just at Merapi had been. I had been 0 for 2 until today. But now I’m 1 for 3, and the wait was worth it. This will be very useful for my earth science classes this year, as well as my fly-overs of Mt. Bromo and the other volcanoes.

Active volcanoes in Indonesia

A USGS map of active volcanoes in Indonesia. Bali has both Mt. Batur and Mt. Agung, with Mt. Rinjani on a the nearby island of Lombok. There are 125 active volcanoes in Indonesia, the most of any country. They from a series of arcs where ocean crustal plates are colliding.

The Indonesian island arc of Sumatra, Java, Bali, and so on to the east sits at the edge of a very active subduction zone, where the Philippines Plate is being pushed into the Indian Plate. The Indian Plate is being pushed below, and materials eroded off the islands are caught in the subduction zone, along with water. These light materials are heated and rise to the surface as large plutons of magma, high in volatiles, that explode when they reach the surface. Repeated pyroclastic ash and andesite eruptions create the composite cones. When a magma chamber explodes and then collapses, a caldera forms. Here at Mt. Batur, one can see both, a testament to the long-term violence of Earth’s tectonic plates.

Lake Batur panorama-s

A panoramic view of Lake Batur, the crater lake inside the caldera. We drove east along the caldera’s edge until we found this overlook.

After lunch we took some photos at the wall in the parking lot, then I convinced Gusti to drive me around the rim further to get a better look at the lake and to see the mountain from a different angle. The view kept shifting as we traveled, and we found roads to take us even though we left the main highway. Gusti seemed to know every road on Bali. We stopped eventually at a pull out with a great view over the lake and back to the mountain. I took further photos, which I have pieced together into the panorama you see here. I was reluctant to leave such a view, but our next stop awaited us.

Batur from other angle 2

Gunung Batur seen from a different angle as we traversed the caldera’s rim.

Lunch with Mt. Batur

My lunch overlooking an active volcano. Some people take early morning hiking tours of the mountain and each a lunch of eggs roasted in the fumeroles of Mt. Batur.

Appease the mountain god

A local shrine to appease the mountain gods.

David by Lake Batur

David Black overlooking Lake Batur with the composite volcano cone in the distance.

Bali Day 2: Sunday, August 6, 2017

Luwak poop

A basket full of luwak poop. The semi-fermented coffee beans contained in the poop are considered to be the best tasting coffee in the world.

As drove higher up on the central mountain slope above Ubud, Bali, the rice fields gave way to orange groves and other highland agriculture. Our next stop was at a coffee plantation, one of several in the region. Coffee grows on mountain slopes in wet highland areas. It originated in the Ethiopian highlands in Africa and was exported to Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia, but the conditions there are not very good for coffee. Its third location was Indonesia many hundred years ago. It wasn’t until the Spanish conquest of the Americas that coffee emigrated there, where it is now grown in the highlands of central and south America.

Coffee beans

Coffee beans growing at the plantation.

Although it is not native to Bali, coffee has become well established, with plantations staying in families for generations. Gusti knew the people at this plantation and showed me around as we walked along paths to a back area where their store was located overlooking the coffee plants on a steep slope. Along the path itself he pointed out cacao trees (the first I’ve seen, although the season isn’t right for them), Indonesian passion fruit growing on trellises, pineapple plants, ginseng, and a curious vine growing in zig zags up the trunks of other trees. These were vanilla plants, and the stems are dried and ground up for vanilla flavoring, as well as the beans and seeds.

Cacao pods

Cacao pods growing at the coffee plantation. They had a little bit of everything growing here on the high slopes of Bali.

We passed a cage with a rock wall inside and two small animals about the size and shape of a mongoose. They had the large eyes and long tails of nocturnal arboreal creatures, and they were trying to sleep. Gusti told me that these were luwak, which live wild in the coffee plantations. They eat fruit and the occasional live chicken head, and have a taste for coffee beans. They are very good at picking out only the best, ripe beans and eating them. But since coffee is not native here, the luwak don’t digest them very well. The beans will ferment a bit in their stomachs, then get pooped out mostly intact. People go out into the forest each morning to look for the droppings and are very happy to find one cup’s worth. The droppings are bought by the plantations, cleaned off, roasted by hand, ground up, and sold as the most expensive coffee in the world.

Luwak climbing

A luwak in a cage at the plantation. These animals are similar to a mongoose and eat eggs, small birds, fruit, and whatever they can find. They have the large eyes of nocturnal animals, and are especially fond of the best coffee beans, which they only partially digest. People go through the jungles each morning around here looking for luwak droppings, which are collected, washed, roasted, and sold as a premier coffee.

I’m not a coffee drinker, so I wouldn’t know luwak coffee from the cheapest instant blend. I can’t help but think of the unfortunate person who was driven to try out Luwak coffee beans for the first time.

Indonesian passion fruit

Indonesian passion fruit growing as vines on a trellis at the coffee plantation.

We went to the back area of the plantation where a lady was roasting coffee beans over a small fire by hand. Gusti showed me the large mortar and pestle used for grinding up the roasted beans and the final powder. They don’t use automation or machinery here, it is all done by hand and sold in small batches. They also had containers with tumeric, ginger, cacao beans, peppercorns, and cinnamon bark (all grown here) and a large basket full of Luwak droppings.

 

They brought out samples of coffee and herbal teas and hot chocolate. I didn’t try the coffee, as that is against my own religion. I would not normally drink tea either if it was made from tea leaves, but I did sip the herbal teas. I liked the lemon tea, but wasn’t so big on the dragon fruit tea. The chocolate was pretty good. They did not offer any Luwak coffee – that is too expensive to give away. I wouldn’t have tried it, anyway.

Ginseng

Ginseng plants growing along the walkway at the coffee plantation. They had many different types of food plants here.

I took some photos overlooking the deep valley where the main coffee plants are located. They showed me through their store, and they had coffee, cocoa, and spices for sale, including nutmeg and saffron.

Saffron

Balinese saffron for sale at the plantation gift shop.

“Saffron! A little saffron would make this!”

Roasting coffee

The coffee beans are roasted by hand on this small stove, then ground, sifted, and sold.

There’s my obscure movie quote for the day, and this time it’s not from Star Trek. As much as I wanted to buy some saffron just to have some, it was a bit expensive and I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I think they were a bit disappointed that I didn’t buy anything, but I’m sure part of my tour fee went to this excursion in a coffee plantation, so I certainly paid for the samples I tried.

Coffee mortar and pestle

A large mortar and pestle for grinding the roasted coffee beans.

We walked back along the path and climbed back into the car. My most anticipated part of this trip was next.

Yellow cacao pod

A yellow cacao pod. Notice that cacao flowers and fruit grow out of the trunks of the trees, not from the branches.

Pineapple

Pineapple plant. The ones we eat grow from the ground like this. If allowed to grow into a full-sized bush, then pineapples grow suspended from the branches but are too sour to eat.

Roasted beans

Roasted coffee beans at the plantation.

Taste test

A taste test – they bring out free samples of different herbal teas and coffees made and flavored here. I don’t drink coffee, but I tried the herbal teas and liked the lemon tea the best. The purple dragon fruit tea was unusual. The hot chocolate was good.

Spices grown at coffee farm

Other spices grown at the coffee plantation on Bali. The front left and middle left are ginger root, the front right is tumeric root (similar to ginger but more orange). The middle right is cinnamon bark. The back left is cacao beans, and the back right is peppercorns. Indonesia was known as the Spice Islands in antiquity for good reason.

Cacao beans

Cacao beans after fermentation at the coffee plantation on Bali.

Vanilla plant

A vanilla vine zigzagging it’s way up a tree at the coffee plantation.

Vanilla vine

The large vine growing on the tree is vanilla. The seed pods are harvested as vanilla beans, but the stems are ground up for the flavoring itself.

David at coffee plantation

David Black overlooking the slopes of the coffee plantation above Ubud, Bali.

Baby Elephant Walk

Bali Day 2: Sunday, August 6, 2017

Elephant hug

David Black hugging a rare sumatran elephant at the elephant safari park near Desa Taro, Bali, Indonesia.

On my second day in Bali, Indonesia I took the opportunity to hire a driver and tour guide (Gusti) to show me some parts of the island that are a bit off the beaten tourist path. We started in Ubud, and  after our ride through the rice fields, past temples and small towns, the rain finally let up and the clouds broke up. By the time we reached the Elephant Safari Park near the village of Desa Taro, the weather was nice and cooler now that we were higher up the mountain.

Rajah elephant

A sculpture of a Rajah riding an Indian elephant.

The Elephant Safari Park was established in 2010 as a preserve for endangered Sumatran elephants. A sub-species of the Asian elephant, about 80% of the population has been destroyed over only three generations (75 years) due to poaching and habitat loss or fragmentation. Almost 70% of the large areas of forest on Sumatra have been broken up for farming and the remaining pieces are too small to support viable wild elephant populations. Much of the poaching has been because the wild elephants trample crops, and bull elephants in heat are extremely dangerous. There have been many deaths of humans, too. In 1985, as many as 4800 elephants ranged through eight provinces in 44 populations. By 2003, 23 of those populations had disappeared or were no longer viable. Now, only 2400-2800 elephants remain in about 25 fragmented groups not including camps and zoos.

Elephant safari park

Riding elephants in the Elephant Safari Park. Paying to ride them helps to keep them fed (they eat 250 kg of food each day) and provides them with needed exercise. Four baby elephants have been successfully bred here in the seven years the park has been open.

The Safari Park holds 31 Sumatran elephants: 7 males and 24 females. Four of these are children and were born here, the youngest is about four years old. These elephants have been rescued from captivity or distress elsewhere and are treated with great care here and a island of preservation. It is also designed to be a sustainable preserve, and to this end the elephants interact with humans through having visitors feed them fruit and bamboo, watch them put on acts, wash them down, or even ride them. I had chosen this tour specifically to have the experience of riding an elephant, and especially to help support the feeding and care of the elephants.

Feeding elephant

Elephants eat many plants, including bamboo. They love fruit. I am feeding bamboo to a young elephant here, and was surprised at how dextrous the trunk is – it stored several pieces in its trunk before eating them.

Sumatran elephants require 250 kg of food per day, which is quite costly. The visitor attractions pay for these expenses. I know it sounds strange (and several of the other teachers had a strong negative reaction when I told them I was going to do this) to be riding around on a critically endangered species. But what an opportunity! And at least my money is helping to preserve the species. Asian elephants have had a long relationship of working with humans. Perhaps they have been mistreated and exploited in the past, but I could see that these elephants are well cared for.

 

Loading the elephants

The drivers sit behind the elephant’s neck, while the riders sit on chairs attached to the elephants’ backs. They come in to the feeding area and riders climb on and off at the level of the elephants’ backs. In the enclosure behind, I saw several elephants do a show – I took lots of video but no still photos.

When I arrived Gusti worked out my ticket (included in my tour price) and I walked to the feeding area. You can feed the elephants chopped up bamboo sticks or pay a bit extra to feed them fruit. They come up to a fence and reach over with their trunks, and I was surprised how dexterous the trunks were. Asian elephants have a single prehensile tip at the end of the trunk, and they can stack and manipulate quite a few pieces of bamboo. They were friendly and playful. One elephant had been trained to place a flowered wreath over people’s heads, then place his trunk on top of their heads. They seemed to enjoy interacting with us. I had Gusti take photos of me feeding the elephants and even giving one a hug.

Elephant ride

David Black riding Ardila, a female Sumatran elephant.

I stood in line for my ride and talked with a lady named Patricia who was originally from Wales but now living in Perth, Australia. She had come up to Ubud on a holiday. My name was called and I was asked if I would be willing wait until after the show to do my ride and I said yes, as I didn’t want to miss the show.

Traffic jam

An elephant traffic jam. They even have bungalows that people can stay at where the elephants come up to the balconies to be fed and then carry you to breakfast. For a price, of course.

They had three elephants who were trained to some fun tricks, such as kick a soccer ball (quite accurate really given how thick their legs are), shoot a basketball through a hoop with their trunks, do simple math problems, draw with chalk on a chalkboard (elephant art, anyone?), and spray the crowd with water. Perhaps I am putting human emotions int elephant expressions, but they really seemed to like spraying us.

Thumbs up

Thumbs up. I handed my camera down to Gusti, who took these photos of me riding Ardila the Sumatran Elephant.

As soon as the show was over they called my name for a ride and I hurried over to take my place at the head of the line. The elephant walked up to the fence so that I only had to step across onto the seat mounted to her back. Her name was Ardila and her driver sat on her neck behind her ears while I rode on her back. Sumatran elephants have a more dome shaped back than African elephants, so mounting the seat is tricky. As she walked, I swayed side to side in a rolling motion.

Elephant crossing sign

An elephant crossing sign at the Elephant Safari Park in Bali.

We followed a trail up and around the elephant paddocks and onto a trail system through a small patch of jungle. We had a continuous procession. The elephant ahead of me was obviously male and stopped to urinate part way along the pass. There was frequent elephant dung, and the elephants were trying to grab whatever bamboo they could reach as we walked along. They have to eat almost constantly.

Arpila showing off

Ardila showing off. At the end of our ride, the elephants walk into a wading pond and spray everyone with water. They seem to enjoy getting people wet, their idea of a practical joke.

Since I was by myself, I felt like quite the rajah riding on my elephant. We climbed up a small hill, then looped around and back toward the starting point. We passed a series of bungalow rooms with back porches. The people who stay here get to feed the elephants from the back porches, then ride the elephants to their own breakfast each morning.

Spraying water

Ardila enjoyed spraying bystanders with water.

At the end of the ride I handed my camera down to Gusti so he could take some photos of me riding. I had taken quite a bit of video on my way. They had the elephants circle back through a pool of water at the end and pose for the cameras. Gusti took some nice photos of me on Ardila.

Look, Ma, no hands

Look, Ma – no hands! The ride was a bit jarring on the spine as the elephant sways back and forth as it walks, but you do get used to it. But you can walk faster. Still, it was a great deal of fun.

I climbed off and we walked back to the car, which the driver brought up for us. We traveled back to the village of Desa Taro and continued on our way.

Flowers at safari park

Flowers at the Elephant Safari Park. The grounds and facilities were nicely maintained and beautiful.

Planting Rice

Bali Day 2: Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lush green rice field

Rice fields near Ubud, Bali.

Along our way to our first destination, the rain continued to fall intermittently. We passed along narrow roads without many other cars (our driver knew the back roads very well) and we wound through small villages and rice fields. I asked Gusti questions about rice planting and harvesting. I’ve already talked about the harvesting that I saw around Banjarmasin a week before, so I’ll talk about the planting here.

Mountains over rice fields

Rice fields and mountains in Bali. This rice has been planted and growing for about one month. When the rice is green, the paddies are kept flooded. One the rice starts to mature and comes into the head, the fields are drained and dried out.

Gusti told me that Indonesia gets two rice crops per year, and that they are timed to coincide with the two seasons: rainy and less rainy. The rains begin in earnest in October and last until March, then things gradually dry out through August to September. Usually there are a few weeks between one harvest and the next planting, which we were beginning to see here. The second crop of rice should be planted and growing before the rains begin. As Bali is a mountainous island, the rice paddies are built into terraces and the dikes between need to be repaired before the fields are flooded in preparation for planting. A system of ditches carries the rain water from paddy to paddy.

Rice field with adung

The rice terraces of Bali are famous. I didn’t get to the ones that are most photographed, but I still saw plenty of rice paddies in various stages of maturity. Here, andung plants mark the edge of a terrace.

At the beginning of planting season, the ground of the paddies is worked. Weeds have tried to grow up in the weeks between, and the ground is plowed or a motorized rototiller is used to churn up the mud and churn in the weeds. I saw this happening in several locations today, but mostly the planting was beginning.

Freshly planted rice

Rice terraces near Ubud, Bali. Each terrace or paddy is walled to contain water. The rice is first planted from seeds in a small fenced off and flooded area, then the seedlings are transplanted by hand. In the field in the foreground, the rice seedlings had just barely been transplanted the day before. The paddies behind have seedlings that are several days to a week old.

As the ground is being prepared, a small area of the field is fenced off from grazing animals for growing seedlings. Rice must be planted and mostly grown wet. The desert environment I am from is simply too dry and rice takes too much water as a crop in an arid region. It requires a place like Bali.

Once the seedling reach about 8-10 inches height, they are manually transplanted into the rice paddies. This is difficult labor and because of the muddy conditions of the paddies, it can’t really be automated. A team of planters will poke the seedlings into the mud, going in a pattern and working quickly. Each seedling is spaced out about eight inches. Even in the rain this morning, I saw many groups of farmers in rain gear and conical hats planting the rice. I managed to take several good photos.

Planting rice

This farmer is transplanting rice seedlings into a flooded paddy. It is very labor intensive, and the muddy fields make using machinery difficult (and expensive). A practiced hand can poke the seedlings into the mud with surprising rapidity.

Planting rice in the rain

Here, a team of four people are transplanting rice seedlings into a flooded paddy in the rain. A rainy day is actually ideal for planting. I can only imagine how one’s back would feel after bending over and planting rice all day.

We saw fields in many different ages, ranging from unplowed to plowed but awaiting planting to planting going on to rice that was a week or two weeks old. Since rice can grow all year here, the seasons and crops aren’t precise. Some places like Banjarmasin are just harvesting the rice while in Bali they are planting the next crop.

Irrigating fields

A rice farmer moving water from one rice paddy to another. Working in rice fields is a wet and muddy occupation. As the son of a farmer, I appreciate machinery and automation even more after seeing the work involved to plant, transplant, water, and harvest rice.

I grew up as the son of a farmer so for me this is fascinating. We planted grain (wheat, barley, and oats) with a seed drill after we had leveled and plowed the fields. Since the spring rains can’t be counted on, we would irrigate the fields several times before the final harvest in late July or early August. We only got one crop, and would often plant alfalfa with the grain so that it would grow up during the fall for a good first crop the next spring. Because of the poor quality of the soil where I live (highly alkaline and nutrient poor), we have to fertilize and rotate our crops. We start with alfalfa for several years, since it has nematodes which fix nitrogen in the soil. Then we relevel the field and plant corn, which is chopped for silage. Since they are large plants, corn will quickly deplete the soil. Then we plant grain for a year or two and it’s time to start the rotation over again.

Drying rice

Because farmers are able to get two crops of rice per year, one can see planting, growing, harvesting, and drying of rice all at once. The farmers near Banjarmasin were harvesting rice last week, the farmers here are planting. Here, rice is laid on a tarp to dry.

Because the soil here is derived from volcanic ash, it is fertile and will grow anything. Rain just falls from the sky and only has to be diverted. It seems like an idyllic way to farm. Yet I would not ever want to plant rice in a muddy field by hand. Give me modern farm machinery any day. I grew up in the desert and I like nice, dry air and clear skies.

Week old rice

The rice growing here was transplanted about a week ago. It will eventually fill in all the space, and will be drained as the rice begins to mature and come into the head.

Terraces on hillside

Terraced hillsides on our way up Mount Batur on Bali. These are a bit overgrown and not being used, but there are famous terraced paddies in many places over the slopes of the hillsides of Bali.

Towns and rice from air

Rice fields and towns from the air (approaching Jakarta). Some areas are clear (brownish) because they are between crops for a few weeks. Indonesian farmers can harvest two crops per year.

 

Bali Day 2: Sunday, August 6, 2017

A funeral procession in Ubud. To support the large coffin, bamboo poles are strapped together to distribute the weight to eight or more pall bearers.

On my second day in Bali, I arranged for a tour of several places that weren’t the ordinary tourist destinations. I figured that I could save the Monkey Forest, the Kawai Temple, Tanah Lot, and other places for another time. I was here to see the culture and biodiversity of this island, so my tours would include a chance to see endangered Sumatran elephants, a coffee and cacao plantation, an active volcano, and the mother temple of all temples in Bali.

Daily offerings of frangipani, marigold, and other flowers with fresh fruit are placed in small baskets woven of banana leaves and placed in the doorways of houses and around shrines. The fragrance of the flowers will drive away the evil spirits and invite in the good spirits.

There was a light rain this morning that was to clear off later on. I showered and got dressed and ready to go. My host provided a delicious breakfast of fruit, a smoothie, and banana pancakes on a bed of shredded coconut.

My breakfast at the Ubud Wins Bungalows. The fruit bowl includes dragon fruit (the purple pieces), papaya, and pineapple. There was a fruit smoothie, and incredible banana pancakes over a bed of shredded coconut with syrup.

I waited at Kajeng Lane for my ride, knowing that they might have some trouble finding me. There was a bamboo hut built as a shelter by the side of my bungalows. Several other cars came and went, picking up peoples staying at other bungalows in the area (Ubud is packed with these places).

My room at the Ubud Wins Bungalow in Ubud, Bali. It had a large bed and open floor. I could draw the curtains for privacy.

About 9:00 my ride came, and I was surprised to see that I would have both a driver and a tour guide all to myself for an entire day. I had paid 50% extra for being a single tourist. I didn’t learn the driver’s name, but my guide was Gusti, who had excellent English and wore a traditional Balinese man’s outfit with silk shirt, sarong, and hat.

These baskets woven of banana leaves are prepared fresh each morning and contain herbs and flowers that drive away evil spirits and invite good spirits into the house or business.

The mother of the owner of my bungalow is shown here placing the daily offerings around the family shrine. The shrines are usually statues of a god, such as Ganesha, or are a small temple. The ashes of the family ancestors are placed in the shrine.

We drove back up the lane and joined the main road, which was less crowded this morning. It seems that school drop off and pick up times are the worst, and that other times once you get past the knot of traffic in the main area of Ubud, it thins out. We soon left the main road and wound out into the countryside headed for our first destination.

Marigold blossoms placed on the stairs leading to a hotel to drive away evil spirits.

Since Gusti had such good English, I asked him about the Hindu practices of the people in Bali, and he was eager to explain. He told me that each household has its own shrine, and if it is a larger extended family and lives in a traditional family compound, then the shrine is placed in a small courtyard just beyond the main gate. The shape of the gates are reminiscent of the sacred mountains of Bali, and the split through the middle is the pathway to heaven. This is also why all gates require several stairs – it symbolizes climbing the sacred mountain to heaven.

Courtyard of Saraswati Temple

The inner courtyard of the Saraswati Temple, a large neighborhood temple. One must wear a sarong to enter the gate.

Each morning, in a traditional household, the female head of the house (usually the grandmother) prepares the offerings in a small kitchen just to the side of the main entrance. Baskets are woven of banana leaves and small amounts of food (usually fruit and rice) are placed inside along with frangipani or marigold flowers. Their aroma invites in the good spirits while driving away the bad. The food is for the ancestors of the house to consume. Their ashes are inside the figurines, and the baskets are placed around them and on the ground before the gate.

This is a small neighborhood temple, seen as we traveled  near Ubud. There are different levels of temples. Each family has its shrine, often in the courtyard or entrance to the family compound. There are also small neighborhood temples, each village having three, one for each of the Trimurti gods of Brahma, VIshnu, and Shiva. Some larger temples are dedicated to specific gods such as the Temple of Saraswati in Ubud. Then there are the four large regional temples, which include Tanah Lot near Denpasar. All of these are under the mother temple of all Bali, called Besakih. I would be visiting it today.

There are several main gods worshipped here. In Hindu philosophy, there are three main male gods: Brahma the Creator (not worshipped very much now, possibly because his work is done), Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. In the wheel of reincarnation, Shiva has an essential role as what comes before must be destroyed to make way for that which is to come. Each of these gods has consorts or wives. Vishnu’s is Lakshmi, and Shiva has at least two, although the ones most revered here is Parawati, Goddess of Wisdom (and revered by students especially before a test), and Saraswati, who is the mother of Ganesha the Elephant God. I visited the main temple to Saraswati the day before.

Shrines inside of a local temple are draped with golden cloth to represent prosperity.

It is a Balinese tradition to put clothing on the statues of the gods in their shrines. A black and white checkered cloth represents the good and bad inherent in everyday Balinese life. White cloth is for wisdom, and gold cloth is for prosperity. You see gold very often around the rice fields – each individually owned field has its own shrine with a gold cloth to ensure a bountiful harvest.

Guardian of the Kajeng Temple

This is the view out my bungalow window of the temple across the street. This is a neighborhood temple, and you can see the tiled inner courtyard used as a community center for dance practices and performances. I don’t know what the orange color represents, but is common on household gates and temples.

Gusti explained further that each village has three main community temples, but since there can be many smaller villages inside own town, such as in Ubud, so there can be more than three in a larger town. These three are for the main gods, but they are also places of gathering and cultural centers for the community. I was to see a group of ladies practicing a dance at the temple across the lane from my room that night, and there was the gamelon orchestra the day before and the young girls practicing their dance. All of these were using the community space/courtyard of the temples.

A brass figurine of Shiva as the Lord of the Dance. Although the God of destruction, Shiva is revered as an essential part of the natural order of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

Each major household also has its shrines, which is why I thought there were many temples the day before. There were shrines everywhere, and the statue carving shops due a brisk business. The community temples are under the jurisdiction of larger regional temples at the four corners of the compass, such as Tanah Lot in the south of Bali. These regional temples are in turn under the jurisdiction of the central temple called Besakih, which we would be visiting that afternoon.

In addition to baskets of flowers, garlands are also placed around the necks of statues such as at this shrine at a local restaurant.

Just the Buddhism I had seen in Taiwan was adapted and changed from the original teachings of Buddha, so has Hinduism been adapted here. I don’t know if the offerings done each morning are common throughout Hindu culture worldwide or are only done here. It seems to have much in common with the ancestor worship I saw in Taiwan, with small shrines inside each home with photos or spirit tablets for the deceased, daily food and money offerings, and incense burning. The daily offerings here often get trampled and scattered as the day progresses, so they must have efficacy only in the morning.

Frangipani trees grow here in profusion, and the blossoms are collected and placed as offerings to attract good spirits.

I thanked Gusti for his descriptions. It helped me to make some sense of what I was seeing. I know this is a very simplified outline of beliefs and practices here. I would need to spend much more time to see exactly how Hinduism works in their everyday lives, but at least I have a small taste of it given the short time I have here.

Larger temples, family compounds, and even many businesses are built so that one must climb a stairway that passed through a gate shaped like a mountain split in two. This represents the journey through the Sacred Mountain at death.