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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.

Bali Hai

Bali Day 1: Saturday, August 5, 2017

Bali sunset

Twilight in Bali Hai. I had a small role in my high school production of South Pacific, and this was as close to Bali Hai as I would ever get. At least, it was Bali.

On my first day in Bali, I had traveled from the airport to Ubud via taxi, put my bags in my room at the Ubud Wins Bungalow, and set out to explore the area and find lunch. When I returned, I was extremely tired and needed a nap.

I slept for at least two hours – I was more tired than I thought, and the air conditioning felt really good. By the time I woke up and got going again, it was just past sunset, which comes early in the tropics. I don’t have a clock in my room and my cell phone is turned off because I can’t get a network here, so I was guessing it was about 6:00. I decided to explore in the other direction of Kajeng Lane, heading away from the main part of town.

Flooded fields at evening

Twilight over the rice paddies in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

The lane takes a sharp left just at the entrance to the Ubud Wins Bungalows and passes around the temple across the street. About 20 yards further, it narrows into a motorcycle trail and travels up a hill to come out into an area of rice paddies. There is a well-known trail that leads up from Ubud into these paddies, but this is not that trail. It is lesser known, and just as nice, so it suited my purposes better.

Evening reflection

The twilight skies reflected in the rice paddies above Kajeng Lane in Ubud, Bali.

The twilight glow was deepening as I took some photos. It reminded me of the song “Bali Hai” from the musical South Pacific, which I performed in as a senior in high school. This is Bali, after all, and as for the Hai – well, at least it’s sunset and I could feel a Technicolor moment coming on. It truly was beautiful, and I took quite a few photos.

If there had been more light I would have pressed on and come back around the other, better known trail. But it was getting quite dark. There were streetlights out and a half-full moon, so I was able to walk back without difficulty. I continued on up the lane, because I could hear a gamelon orchestra playing up ahead. I wondered if it was the kacek flame dancers they were selling tickets to. But it was a group of men practicing in the community temple part way up the lane. I tried to get some video of them without their seeing, but they soon ended their practice.

Balinese sunset

Sunset over the rice paddies in Ubud, Bali.

I walked to the main street again and got some extra water at an Indomaret store, as I didn’t want to use the non-complimentary water in the mini-fridge in my room. I also got a Happy Cow ice cream bar, as I’m quite fond of them. I ate it sitting on a cement block while watching the tourists go by. Then I walked back to my bungalow and uploaded photos. I did a Google Hangout with my family and told them I had arrived safely, then I tried to read a book but fell asleep instead.

Neighborhood temple at night

I heard a gamelon orchestra practicing, so I followed the sound up Kajeng Lane to another neighborhood temple. It had towers lit up with interesting designs. The orchestra was finished practicing by the time I got there.

The Ubud Scene

Bali Day 1: Saturday, August 5, 2017

Stairs and papaya tree

The Ubud Wins Bungalows at the end of Kajeng Lane. This is a papaya tree growing in the courtyard. My bungalow overlooked the street and was above and to the right of this photo.

It was around noon that I arrived at my bungalow in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. I tried lying down for a bit to rest but had some trouble getting the air conditioner to work, which ran off of a remote control that wasn’t very intuitive. Not wanting to waste the day, and getting hungrier by the minute, I decided to walk into the main part of town and explore.

Temple out the window

The community temple across the street from my bungalow on Kajeng Lane.

Right across from my bungalow is a community temple with an inner courtyard for meetings and small statues lining the roof. The humidity and frequent rains have left the gray volcanic stone covered in lichens and green moss, with just a bit of color where gold or red paint has been applied or cloth tied around the statues of the gods. Everything here is green.

Dude, I can't believe your tongue

“Dude, I can’t believe your tongue!” An interesting decoration on the temple across the street from my bungalow.

I walked along Kajeng Lane with its interesting inscriptions in the cement panels. There were Balinese doorways leading into the courtyards of houses, and another larger community temple. A few shops lined the road, a touring company selling local tours and taxis to Denpasar, a restaurant or two, and a place selling souvenirs made by disabled people. After a 15 minute walk I arrived at the main street in Ubud.

Kajeng Lane

Walking up Kajeng Lane from the Ubud Wins Bungalows, about 15 minute walk to the main street of Ubud.

This street was packed with cars and motorcycles driven by tourists. I had been hoping for a quiet getaway for two days while I explored the arts and crafts here, but this is a busy town. I suppose it has changed because of the Julia Roberts movie, “Eat, Pray, Love” which takes place here. Now lots of people have “discovered” Ubud and turned it into another Kuta. People in the know say the place for peace and quiet is now Lombok. At least my bungalow is out of the way and not on the main road. To make the congestion worse, a funeral procession passed by with a group of men in traditional Balinese clothing carrying an urn and memorial to the deceased on a series of bamboo poles on their shoulders.

Ganesha through gateway

A Ganesha statue with morning offerings inside a family courtyard in Ubud.

I walked right at random and found a promising place selling gelato. I got a cup with coconut and lime flavors, and it was delicious. I sat on a bench outside a restaurant to eat it, and talked with a lady and her husband from Australia who were here for ten days. I asked where a good place for lunch was, and she gestured to the restaurant behind us and said she had eaten an excellent tuna sandwich. I decided to try it out. Probably more expensive than some places, but the tuna sandwich was good. Instead of the usual tuna salad I’m used to, it was actually a grilled tuna steak. I also some pineapple juice. The best part was that it was just in front of the Saraswati Temple that I was looking for. My research into Ubud said the temple was a good place to visit and was behind the Starbucks, which I found was next door to the gelato place and I had missed it in the pleasure of eating the gelato.

David at Saraswati Temple Ubud

David Black at the Saraswati Temple in Ubud. I’m not sure what the lady on the stairs is doing. This temple is behind the Starbucks and is reached by a walkway through lilly ponds.

After the meal, I walked back to the temple and took photos. Two German ladies took my photo while I took theirs. So far, I haven’t met any Americans. The temple pathway lies between two lily ponds. I needed to wear a sarong to go inside the temple proper, so I walked further down the main street and found a beautiful blue-aqua sarong with gold highlights in a shop, again a bit more than I might have paid, but worth it. By the time I got back to the Saraswati Temple, it was closed. Oh well, I can use the sarong tomorrow for my trip to the Besakih Temple and it will be a nice gift for my wife.

Gate to Saraswati Temple

Gateway into the inner courtyard of the Saraswati Temple in Ubud. I wasn’t able to go inside because I didn’t have a sarong, so I went to find one and found a nice aqua sarong with gold accents. By the time I returned, the temple was closed.

I walked the other direction from Kajeng Lane and passed a large temple complex under construction, then a smaller community temple where people were gathering. I went inside and saw a group of young girls practicing a dance with metal plates (probably will be porcelain in the final performance). They are getting ready for Independence Day. I videotaped parts, because it was beautifully done.

Saraswati with lillies

The Saraswati Temple in Ubud, Bali as I saw it from the table where I ate lunch.

Girls practicing dance

Girls practicing a traditional Balinese dance in the courtyard of a neighborhood temple.

I crossed the main street and followed the flow of tourists into a shopping alley that paralleled the Monkey Temple road. Like Malioboro Street in Yogyakarta, this alleyway is lined with shops selling all sorts of tourist wares, everything from thumb organs to wooden male – uh – organs. Not sure what the appeal is there, but there were quite a few different styles available. I feel an obscure Star Trek reference coming on, about “maharong” and a wooden fertility figure. Win the prize (my appreciation) by telling me which of the 700+ episodes it is. The thumb organs were very nice, and I almost bought one but I am already out of room in my luggage.

Girls at end of dance

Girls at the end of their dance practice. Indonesian Independence Day was coming up in two weeks, and many groups were practicing in the local temples, which act as community centers.

But as I walked to the end of the alley I found a place selling rattan rice farmers’ hats. I looked at them, and the shop owner asked if I wanted to buy one. I said he probably didn’t have one in my size, but lo and behold he did. So I bought it. This will be the final Indonesian hat for my collection. He put it into a large plastic bag, and I figure I can tie it onto the outside of my TGC carry-on bag on the way home. At least I hope so.

Ubud traffic

Traffic and pedestrians mixing on the main street of Ubud. This was supposedly a quiet artist center, but the book and movie “Eat, Pray, Love” was based in Ubud and has turned it into a tourist destination. Traffic can be snarled, with all the tourists riding mopeds, especially when school gets out.

I walked back through a side alley to Monkey Temple Road, then back to the main drag. By this time I was tired and footsore, so I walked across the street and back to my bungalow for a nap. The humidity here is very high and it saps the energy right out of someone. I wanted to have enough left to go out at sunset.

Market lane and tourists

A lane to the east of Monkey Lane Road is a kind of open air market, similar to Malioboro Street in Yogyakarta but not as long or busy. I took a walk along it and found a rice farmer’s hat to buy.

Captain America puppets

Wooden puppets for sale on the market lane in Ubud. I like the Captain Americas. There were other interesting wooden items for sale as well, such as thumb pianos.

Durian and bananas

Yep. More durian fruit. I smelled it before I saw it. Notice the stubby bananas which are common here in Indonesia. If I hadn’t been repulsed by the durian, I would have bought some mangos even though they aren’t in season yet.

Checkered guardians

Guardians of the temple, wearing the checkered cloth that denotes wisdom. They also have parasols to ward off the sun and rain.

Stairs to pathway

A pathway to explore along Kajeng Lane. It’s hard to explain the feeling of Bali – it rains almost every day, and everything, even the stones and concrete, are covered in green lichen. Even newly built houses have the feel of ancient ruins because of the vivid jungle growth. Notice the yellow frangipani blossoms that have dropped from the trees above.

Balinese house gate 2

A gate into a household compound along Kajeng Lane.

Household gate

Gate into the inner courtyard of the Saraswati Temple in Ubud.

Statue at stairtop

All of the statues are covered with clothing, and small woven baskets with fruit and frangipani flowers are left each morning. This statue was at the top of stairways leading down into a deep canyon running through Ubud. One of the gelato shops I ate at is to the right.

Down stairs in Ubud

A stairway led down from the Ubud main street to this canyon running through the town. It gives you a feel for the depth of the terrain here.

Green lane

A view of Kajeng Lane in Ubud. The blocks of concrete have been signed by businesses and people as a promotional program when this lane was paved.

Flight to Bali

Bali Day 1: Saturday, August 5, 2017

Prambanan from air

Prambanan temple complex as seen from the air on my flight to Bali from Yogyakarta.

My flight to Bali was fairly early, so I arranged for a taxi to pick me up at the Hotel Jambuluwuk at 6:15, giving me just enough time to eat breakfast. There wasn’t any of the excellent bread pudding this time, and I didn’t really eat much, but it was enough to tide me over. I checked out of the hotel and had to pay $25 for the Stroberi Fanta I had spilled on the carpet. I must have knocked it over in the middle of the previous night, and the lid wasn’t on as securely as it should have been. Their efforts to clean it had only been partly successful, and they would have to bring in some professionals to clean the spot. Mine wasn’t the only spot on the carpet, but it was the most obvious.

Ratu Boko from air

The hilltop palace of Ratu Boko, which I had visited the night before, as seen from my airplane on my flight to Bali.

The taxi drove me to the airport and I unloaded my bags and found a baggage cart to help me carry them inside. This airport is small and crowded and it took a few minutes to make it to the Garuda Indonesia counter, where my two checked bags were 11 kg overweight, total. I had to pay about $30 for the extra baggage fees, then worked my way through security. It was divided into three lines, but still took some time. I was glad I had given myself some extra time.

Jambuluwuk patio breakfast

My breakfast on the patio of the Jambuluwuk Hotel on my last morning in Yogyakarta.

I waited in the main lounge and wrote entries for these blogs on my computer. I almost failed to hear the final boarding call for my flight, and hurried to hand my boarding pass to the gate attendant and walked out onto the tarmac. My flight was a small jet and I was the second to the last person to board. I was located on the right side by a window with a good view.

Other temple from air

Prambanan isn’t the only temple complex in the area. This set of temples, called Candi Sewu, is a bit further northeast, as seen from my airplane window.

We taxied a short distance and turned around to face into the wind and revved up for take-off. We bounded off the tarmac and were airborne. I knew from seeing jets flying over Prambanan and Ratu Boko yesterday that I might be able to see both from this side of the airplane, so I watched carefully. I could see the Ratu Boko hilltop, and then we passed just to the left of Prambanan, so I had an excellent view out my window and took some photos. I also saw other temple complexes in the area; Prambanan is not alone. One temple that I saw below me is called the Candi Sewu.

Smoking volcanoes

We took off to the northeast and once we passed the line of volcanoes that form the spine of Java, we turned east-southeast and flew to the north of more volcanoes, a perfect view from my right side window.

But I have to admit some jealousy to the people on the left side of the plane, who got excellent views of Mt. Merapi as we passed by. We crossed the line of volcanoes that form the spine of Java, then turned east. I could see rice fields and roads below showing patterns of settlement; the houses and businesses lined the roads, then as smaller side roads were paved, the businesses and houses followed, with rice paddies just beyond. As we gained altitude, volcanoes showed their heads above the scattered clouds. Now I wasn’t jealous anymore, because I could now see each volcano clearly out my window as we passed it.

Mt. Bromo caldera

I had an amazing view of the Gunung Bromo caldera with its smoking fumerole in the center. This would have produced more ash and dust than several Tambora-class explosions combined. The composite volcano cone in the background is Gunung Semeru .

The mountains form a chain, some giving off puffs of smoke. We approached a larger volcano than the others, lying behind a large circular caldera with a central column of smoke. This must be Gunung Bromo. I took several good photos of it as we passed.

We then came to the eastern coast of Java. Beaches and headlands stretched below. In the center of one island there was a narrow strait bisecting the island. I could see pulses of waves entering the strait and traveling along it, emerging out the other side of the island. It would be quite a view to be down there overlooking the thin passage.

Bromo Caldera and Semeru

This is the same view as my flight from Google Earth, only without clouds. The caldera is rather squarish, with a no-man’s land of fumeroles and barren plains surrounding the active vents. Mt. Semeru in the background.

Fluffy white cumulus clouds gathered as we crossed the strait between Java and Bali. I saw a small jet below us turning before the banks of clouds as it started its approach into Denpasar Airport. We turned and followed it in. I took some videos of the amazing clouds as we dropped toward the island.

Java coastline

The southeastern coastline of Java as we crossed to Bali. This area is a Taman Nasional (national park).

On our approach to the airport I could see the beaches and resorts here on the southeastern flank of the island. Inland, there was a large structure under construction; I learned later that it was a huge statue of Buddha, which will be the largest statue in the world when it is done. If it is ever done. They’ve been building it for twenty years, and there’s been a great deal of cost overruns and possibly some corruption along the way. Supposedly that has all been smoothed over and the statue is scheduled to be completed next year.

Coastal islands slit

The thin strait through the center of the island to the left was interesting – the waves coming from the south (top in this photo) traveled slowly through the strait. It would be fun to be down there and see it – no doubt very beautiful. There are so many places in this world to explore!

The plane landed smoothly and we taxied to the main terminal. We climbed down the small stairway built into the plane and walked across the tarmac to the building, passing through an ornate gateway colored orange and white. A sign said, “Welcome to the last paradise on Earth.” I hoped it was right.

Clouds over Bali

We flew through some incredibly fluffy cumulus, following another plane down to the airport at Denpasar on Bali.

In the main terminal I found a baggage cart (wheels are a wonderful thing) and claimed my bags at the luggage carousel. Everything went smoothly, and I walked outside to look for a taxi to take me to Ubud.

Bali airport

After landing at Denpasar, we taxied to the terminal and climbed down the stairs to walk into the main building. This airport is more modern than the one in Yogyakarta and serves as an international hub.

I negotiated a bit with the driver, who said it would take two hours to get there because the traffic is bad. I settled for 400,000 rupiah as the fee, or about $30 US. Maybe going on the meter would have been better, or maybe not, because he was right about the two hours. This is about what I would pay for a shuttle from Salt Lake to Orem, where I live, so even though high by Bali standards, I was OK with it. As it turned out, the driver earned every rupiah.

We drove out of the airport and headed north on one of the roads to Ubud, which is a cultural center further north from the busy, touristy southern beaches around Kuta and Denpasar. Although laying on a tropical beach sounds great, I didn’t come all this way to lay around. I wanted to learn about Bali, and Ubud sounded like the best headquarters from which to do that. I had found an inexpensive bungalow for only $26 per night, with excellent reviews.

Gate to paradise

We walked through this traditional Balinese gate to reach the terminal. It represents the path through the sacred mountain. Architecture is quite different here than on Java or Borneo.

The traffic up this road was slow. I found out later that there are wider and better roads, but this one was the most direct. As we crawled along, I dozed a bit, but eventually started paying more attention once we got out of the city proper. There were many small businesses along the road, many of them in this area carving stone statutes of Buddhas in various poses. I saw shrines clothed with gold or black and white checkered cloth. There seemed to be lots of small temples, and everything was covered in green moss, grasses, and lichens. There were also places carving large cross-sections of trees into wood sculptures, some making elaborate tables, others carvings of Hindu gods and goddesses.

Last Paradise

This sign welcomed us to the paradise of Bali. It may be a bit of an overstatement (there are still other paradises) but it was still nice to see that I had arrived.

The traffic was unrelenting until we finally took some narrow side roads. The driver was getting frustrated, as this was taking longer than he thought and he was missing out on other fares. There wasn’t anything I could do about it; apparently, tourism has reached Ubud because of the book and movie Eat, Pray, Love about a journalist that found love here. Julia Roberts starred in the movie. It sounds like a chick flick to me, but maybe I’ll have to watch it just to see the places I will recognize. Now everyone comes here. And I thought I was being smart about staying away from the party scene in Kuta.

Wooden faces

After getting my luggage at the baggage claim, I found a cart and wheeled everything outside, where I negotiated with a taxi to drive me to Ubud, about 40 miles away in the interior of Bali. I didn’t want to get stuck in the touristy parts of Kuta and Denpasar, as I was here to learn about history and culture, not hang out on the beaches. On the way to Ubud the traffic was slow and it took close to two hours to reach Ubud and find my bungalow. On the way, we passed many shops such as this one carving Hindu sculptures, or statues from volcanic ash, or many other types of souvenirs.

It turns out that Ubud isn’t just one compact town but is more of an area of interconnected villages with a network of winding roads that are little better than paths. It reminded me of Kota Gede. After some wandering around through hills and rice paddies and along narrow roads, we came to what appeared to be the main part of town, at least according to the many foreign tourists and motorcycle renters. We found the entrance to the lane my bungalow is on: Jalan Kajeng. It was barely wide enough for one car, but we squeezed in and traveled along it. My printout of the Ubud Wins Bungalow did not give a house number, so we kept driving up the alleyway. The driver finally stopped and asked someone, at the only place in the road wide enough to stop. The person said to keep going; the bungalow was at the end of the lane. We finally found a small sign on a wall just before the road took a sharp left turn.

Large statue at roundabout

Large statue inside a round about on the road leading north out of Denpasar.

The owner’s wife and son saw my taxi arrive and came down to take my larger bags. I paid my driver a good tip, and that brightened his expression. The Ubud Wins Bungalows are built on the side of a steep hill with tall stairs made of green-covered concrete leading up about 30 feet around a family shrine and a papaya tree, then over and down to my corner room. Just carrying my carry-on bags was very difficult up the slippery stairs. I don’t know how her son managed my large red bag.

Buddha statues

A workshop specializing in stone carvings of the Buddha. Most Balinese are Hindu or Buddhist, with Islam being a minority religion here.

My room had a porch in front with couch and chairs, then a large glass door and window into a big room with a bed and dresser and tiled floor. I brought in my bags and tried to figure out the air conditioner (I finally got it working later that night). I was tired and lay down to get some rest before venturing out to explore Ubud.

Reclining Buddha

More stone statues of the Buddha at a workshop on the road to Ubud, Bali.

I was in paradise, the legendary Bali of song and story. It just didn’t feel quite like it yet!

Rice farmer on bicycle

A rice farmer on a bicycle passes a family compound flying the red and white Indonesian flag. His conical hat is the traditional hat of rice farmers in Bali. I have to get me one of those!

Family shrine

A household shrine. Notice that shrines are wrapped in cloth. The gold represents prosperity, the white and black checked cloth represents wisdom and that there are good and bad aspects in all things.

Balinese side road

There were narrow side roads leading away which invited me to explore. I already knew that two days wouldn’t be nearly enough time here.

Bali paradise

The sign said that we were visiting paradise, and everything was green. Even the rocks and cement were growing green lichens on them.

Gate to household

A traditional gateway leading to a family compound in Bali.

Stairway to heaven

Arriving in Ubud, we passed this stairway leading up through a gateway that represents the path through the sacred mountain. The man is wearing traditional Balinese clothes: a white shirt, a sarong (wraparound skirt), and a turban style cap.

Ramayana Ballet

Yogyakarta Day 3: Friday, August 4, 2017

David with actors

Actors in the Ramayana Ballet with David Black at Prambanan in Indonesia.

We returned to Prambanan after our excursion to the hilltop palace of Ratu Boko. It was almost dark as we parked in the lot near the Trimurti outdoor theater. Haru gave my tour ticket to the people at the gate for my regular admittance. There were performers in costume standing near the entrance and I took my photo with them. I also purchased a couple of snacks – a Happy Cow and another ice cream treat. I was starving, but didn’t want to buy a whole meal.

Gamelon players before show

Gamelon percussion orchestra playing before the show.

Haru had to return to the hotel and said another driver would meet me after the performance, so I went in. There was a small gamelon orchestra playing as I found my seat. It was on a stone bench, but we were given seat cushions. Even so, the bench was hard. There weren’t many people there, and some of the seats that were more expensive were vacant. I thought of moving, but I could see the stage well and the temple formed a perfect backdrop. I waited a few minutes for the show to begin.

Gamelon orchestra and temples

The main gamelon orchestra and stage with the Prambanan temples in the background. It was quite a setting, with the dramatic temples of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu lit up behind the stage.

The Ramayana is an ancient Hindu epic and one of the longest pieces of literature ever written at 24,000 verses. It rivals the King James Bible and the Complete Works of William Shakespeare in sheer size. But the Mahabharata is still longer. Take the Bible, the Illiad and the Odyssey, and the works of Shakespeare and put them together, and that is still short of the size of the Mahabharata. When I had researched this ballet, I had seen that this night’s performance would not be the whole story but only the first half. I figured that would be about right.

Gamelon instruments close

The main orchestra, consisting of gamelon percussion instruments including gongs, cymbals, and drums.

A large gamelon orchestra with many gongs and bells and xylophones was located behind the stage on both sides of a central staircase. They began to play and a group of singers acted as a backup band. Two people came out to introduce the performance, and then it began.

Cheap seats

Most of the audience sat in the more expensive seats in the middle. I took a seat in the moderately cheap seats, but the view was really all the same. The benches were stone with pads to sit on and became a bit uncomfortable after two hours. And they only performed half of the Ramayana.

The Ramayana tells of the romance of Rama with Sita and his struggle to rescue her after her kidnapping by the demon king Ravana. The ballet began with Ravana and his demons and demonesses (is that a word? The spell checker liked it, so it must be) plotting to overthrow the goodness of Rama, his mortal enemy. Rama was the seventh avatar, or incarnation, of the god Vishnu, which is why Ravana hated him. I didn’t understand the singing, but the dancing was easy enough to follow, although very stylized. Then Rama, while hunting, spied the beautiful princess Sita (an avatar of Lakhsmi) walking with her father and fell in love. Their love was mutual, although her father was against the idea. To convince the father to let him marry Sita, Rama took him hunting.

Demon dance

The ballet began with the dance of demons as their king, Ravana revealed his desire to destroy Prince Rama, who is really an avatar of Vishnu.

Ravana spied on all of this and saw a chance for his revenge. He transformed into an old man walking with difficulty leaning on his cane, and when Sita was alone she saw him stubble and fall down. Rushing to his aid, the fake old man tied her wrists and led her away. Garuda, the vahana (vehicle) of Vishnu, spied all of this with his eagle’s eyes.

Hatching an evil plot

Ravana, the Demon King, hatches his evil plot.

Meanwhile, Rama and Sita’s father were out hunting and encountered a herd of deer (the dancers had deer horns on their heads). After an encounter with the Queen of the Deer (what was said here I don’t know but there appeared to be some disagreement going on), Sita’s father relented to have Rama marry his daughter. I think. At least their dancing appeared more friendly.

Good vs evil

Rama arrives in a confrontation of good versus evil.

I was growing tired about this time and lost the thread of the story a bit during the dancing deer. Somehow Garuda was shot by an arrow but managed to tell Rama and Sita’s father that Sita had been kidnapped before dying and ascending into heaven in a blue fog.

Rama and Sita

Rama falls for the beautiful Sita, but her father isn’t so sure about this.

Somewhere in here Hanuman, the Monkey God, and all of his monkeys did a dance – I think Rama tried to fight Ravana but was defeated, so he enlisted the aid of the monkeys. Then the ballet ended rather abruptly. That was when I remembered that tonight’s performance was only the first half of the story. Probably a good thing, as I was falling asleep even on the hard stone bench.

Kidnapping Sita

Ravana pretends to be an old man who stumbles, and when Sita tries to help him, he kidnaps her and binds her with cords. Garuda the eagle tried to warn her, but he was shot down.

It was an interesting spectacle to watch but it was difficult to stay up on the story since it was sung in stilted Javanese with the performers only dancing. This is a ballet, after all. It is a classic tale, going back over 2000 years and was probably first written as early as 400 BCE by the sage Valmiki Muni. It is carved into the walls of Prambanan temple itself. The gamelon instruments were a bit loud to handle for the two hours of tonight’s performance, but it was a fascinating experience until my exhaustion got the better of me. I took some great photos from my vantage point with the temple lit up behind. I also got some good videos of it.

Back, evil temptress

Meanwhile, Rama is attempting some male bonding time by going hunting with his future father-in-law, but they are warned of Sita’s kidnapping by the Queen of the Deer. Notice the little horns.

Afterwards, we went down on the stage to take photos with the performers and I got some close ups of the gamelon instruments. My replacement driver met me at the gate as I exited and we drove back to the Hotel Jambuluwuk. I was tired and slept in the car much of the way back, then woke myself up enough to get my bags packed as much as possible for my flight to Bali the next day. I had arranged for a cab to pick me up at 6:15 so that I would have 15 minutes for breakfast.

A little bird told us

Garuda is revived just long enough to tell Rama where Ravana has taken Sita before departing into a blue fog.

This had been quite a day. There are still more things to see and do in Yogyakarta, but in three days I’ve done many things and gotten a feel for the city and its surroundings. I’ve done as much as could possibly be expected without driving myself to complete exhaustion, and I pretty much did that today. I kept thinking that my wife would love it here, since she was a humanities major in college. I hope some day to return here with her.

Monkey dance

They enlist the help of Haruman the Monkey God and his army of monkeys. This is where the performance ended for tonight, only half way through the Ramayana. The whole performance takes four hours.

Posing after

Posing with the audience after the show.

Gamelon cymbals

Gamelon cymbals. Each brass kettle creates a unique tone, like a bell.

Temples at night

The dramatic backdrop of the Prambanan temples at night, with the temples of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu from left to right.