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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.

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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.

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