Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bali overview

sometimes during a trip you capture an image that just doesn't fit within the blog text, yet it says so much about the country or the people that you have been visiting that it should be included for sheer pleasure. so, for our Bali escapade, these are my picks. Enjoy!

Jimbaran, Bali

Jimbaran turned out to be unlike anything I had imagined. We set off to walk the beach, cut through and walk into town. A short discussion with someone in the know however soon changed our minds. Other than a few resorts along the beach front and a cluster of beach front shack styled restaurants, there is not much to Jimbaran at all. Not within walking distance at any rate. Apparently as a starting point for day trips, or to set out on day trips to water ski, fish, snorkel etc it is world famous, but for self made exploration there is little to discover. So, we returned to our villa via Sundarra, the new beachfront restaurant which is part of the Four Seasons complex. We stopped to sit and relax, have a cold drink and just chill for a while, then headed back and spent the rest of the morning swimming and just being lazy. Quite perfect really. We had some excellent seafood at the bar by the resort pool, then again headed back for a swim and relaxing afternoon. Mid afternoon I wandered down to the resort temple which is the practice venue for local girls learning Balinese dance. With only five girls, and an audience of one, there was much giggling and smiling. Eventually the oldest girl came to talk to me so we had a convoluted conversation where she translated for the others and we all tried to understand each other. We exchanged names and they told me they ranged in age from 8 - 11, with the older girl being approx 15. By the end of it all I had made some new friends and thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon. 31.5.13

Balinese dancing

Jimbaran is on the coast, and overlooks the Bali airport across the bay. Planes come and go frequently. My expectation is that the culture of Jimbaran will be more aligned with that of Koh Samui. Still lots of shops and food outlets, but with the addition of more bars. Shops too I expect will be newer and with more European labels and styling rather than the traditional art and crafts seen in Sayan, wood and stone carving and the like. We will find out more later this morning as we explore Jimbaran further. Last night we saw traditional Balinese dancers and a Gamalan band. My favourite musicians were the two guys who each had a set of drums, similar to those we saw in one of the temples. These guys really rocked a rhythm and the sounds they produced, in unison, were amazing. Quite eerie, and unlike the sing song sounds of the rest of the performers instruments. The dancers were very interesting. Luckily we had a translation sheet to the story behind each dance. Due to this I could basically follow the story line, and still enjoy the movement and colour. A bit like opera really. You have no idea what they are saying, but the emotion comes through....and you either love it, or hate it. The highlight of the dances for me last night was the one where two girls were interpreting the courtship rituals of male birds of paradise. I could see the connection following the research I have been doing of late. An unexpected bonus really and much less scary than the old man in the first dance. I was glad though that we took the time to watch the performance as it was quite different to the Thai dancing we saw in Chiang Mai in January. 30.5.13

Rijsttafel dinner

Monday evening we joined other guests at the restaurant to participate in a traditional Indonesian Rijsttafel Dinner. Funny thing was everyone else watched the Legong dancers and Gamalan orchestra upstairs on the terrace, while we decided to eat as waiting for the performance to finish would have meant eating too late, so we ended up with the restaurant to ourselves, and we could still hear the music. The Rijsttafel, which translates literally as "rice table dinner" dates back 350 years to the peak period of Dutch rule in Indonesia. The idea developed from local culture where rice is the meal staple, and you add small amounts of meat or seafood or poultry and vegetables. The Dutch however liked larger meals, so they developed the idea into a feast with rice and 8 or more accompanying dishes, with associated pickles and sauces. The meal we had comprised 13 different courses, although luckily some were presented simultaneously, more like tasting plates. Even with the rice there were three different varieties - white, black and yellow. While I was still very full by the time we finished it was not quite the ordeal it sounds. The food was beautiful and the spices used are certainly different to those used in other Asian foods I regularly eat at home. 27.5.13

Sayan, Bali

Located in the Ayang River Valley we are staying at a resort in Sayan, a mountainous area of Bali. We have the Ayang River passing by our door, the water tumbling over rocks sounding like torrential rain day and night. Quite a relaxing sound once you become accustomed to it, but I can imagine the American tourists dialling reception to have the noise of the river "turned down". Being set within a natural area of vegetation we have seen lots of birds, butterflies and insects in addition to our squirrel friends who delight with their arboreal acrobatics each morning. It really has been a beautiful place to stay for a few days and I have enjoyed it. This afternoon we relocate to Jimbaran and the beach. Should be quite a contrast. 29.5.13

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Balinese cuisine

Food is a large part of Balinese culture and I am proud to say we have immersed ourselves fully.  Even though we have participated in a traditional feast, and a "rice table banquet" the best meal we have had was at a roadside restaurant recommended by two different people we spoke to - Naughty Nuri's.

Barely worth a second glance as far as restaurant decor and street appeal go - in fact the day of our first visit we walked right past it, but that could have been due to the Neka Museum of Balinese Art being opposite so I was a little distracted.  We walked on by for quite some time until we realised we had overshot the mark.  About turn, and back up the hill, but boy was it worth it.  The restaurant is always busy and you sit at communal tables to eat.  It is obviously a favourite haunt of locals, and tourists in the know.

So, what's all the fuss about? BBQ Ribs!  Not being a huge rib girl I ordered a local noodle, chicken and vegetable dish. Then proceeded to steal ribs off Frank's plate.  Wow, they were sooooo good.  The ribs are grilled on a BBQ which virtually stands on the street.  Pre cooked in a huge pot, as orders come through the rack of ribs are removed from the pot, dipped until they ooze in a vat of sauce, and are then grilled on the BBQ.

Served with rough cut potato chips or salad, they are incredibly good.  So much so, that we ordered a second plate.  Only fair given I was helping Frank to eat his!

Established 1995 they advertise Good Indonesian Food, and it is.

The next day we went to a traditional Indonesian restaurant.  This was located within a large complex, with a traditional building and seating around the garden.  Looked good, but the food left a lot to be desired.  The flavour of my chicken dish was good, but the flesh of the chicken seemed to be missing, leaving succulent bones, but a hungry Tammy.  Frank made the mistake of ordering ribs - bad move as they just didn't compare.  The noodle dish however was good.

The highlight for us, and what made it worth eating here was the spice and herb garden.  Open to restaurant diners we went for a walk to explore to find that beyond the garden beds were open rice paddies.  We walked along the edge of one and stopped to watch some men threshing rice the traditional way.  Best thing was no one demanded money for the privilege.  This little hidden corner of Ubud was a highlight of our day.

A little indulgent perhaps, but with both of us still a little hungry we again headed up the hill and shared a plate of ribs at Naughty Nuri's.  with a bottle of Bintang, the local Balinese beer, it was the perfect way to end our day exploring.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Monkey Forest

We got smart today, returning to the Monkey Forest. This time, walking a different route we found the main part of the temple in addition to what was obviously the nursery section. There were small groups of mums suckling new babies everywhere. One of the babies would have been lucky to be one week old. Others might have been two to three weeks. They were tiny and mum wasn't about to let them out of her reach. It was absolutely incredible to be able to be so close to these wild animals, yet watch them interacting with each other, unconcerned by our presence. Watching the humans interact was interesting also. From the woman who pulled a monkeys tail, to those getting close to have their photo taken with the monkeys, it was easy to see why the warnings were in place. These animals are wild and as such they are unpredictable. One look at the size of their teeth was enough to make me conscious of the potential dangers. That said, I really enjoyed having more time to explore the gardens and temples with the monkeys as guardians. 28.5.13


Today was a day to revisit previous destinations.  We returned to Ubud, walking from the Monkey Forest back up Monkey Forest Road, looking at shops as we went.  This road boasted more new shops and businesses and as such the architecture was less interesting.  The traffic was equally frenetic with motorcycles going both ways even on one way roads.  Crazy stuff.  There is little to do other than shopping, so it helps to enjoy going in and out of numerous shops, most of which sell very similar items.  Even the "art galleries" seem to stock similar work, the quality of which is fairly questionable.

We turned off the main road and cut across to the back streets we explored the day previous and again enjoyed the quieter pace.  Stopped for a drink, had some lunch and generally enjoyed our morning.

One of the things unique to Balinese men and women is their capacity to carry bundles on their heads.  From buckets of building rubble, to trays of food and bundles of banana palm fronds you see them carting gear this way quite often. Many of the women go bare headed to do so.  Those using a round of cloth seem eminently more sensible to me.  That said, there is still some skill involved I am sure.

Dog count for the day was 22.  With 23 dogs for yesterday's count it seems Ubud dog counts are pretty close on any one day.  The security dog at the resort did change today though.  So far this week a golden retriever a gorgeous toffee colour had been on bomb sniffing duty.  This afternoon however a black lab had the honours of checking our vehicle.  Then it was back to snooze until another car came in to request access. 


Monday, May 27, 2013

Pay as you go

One of the things I am struggling to come to terms with is that you must pay for everything. Rice paddies are in abundance - where we are staying there are ornamental, but working fields, and by the roadside they are a common sight. So when our driver asked whether we would like to stop and see rice paddies, take photos etc on our way up the mountain we readily agreed. Only to arrive and be charged a fee to view the rice paddies from a variety of viewing platforms located opposite and amidst yet another, tacky roadside selection of stalls selling crap. These rice paddies are set up as a tourist trap, and while you can see them across the hillside quite plainly, the view is nothing compared to some of the others we have seen while driving around Ubud. Further up the mountain we were also charged to enter the network of roads surroundings e of two active volcanos in Bali. Only problem was it was pouring rain, and with the fog, visibility was nil! What a rip off! Luckily for us we had a great lunch at a traditional buffet styled restaurant. 27.5.13

Bali bird park

Luckily for me we stopped to see the Bali Bird Park late in the morning. If we had waited until the afternoon which was the original plan, we would have been washed out. Quite a good collection with Budgerigars, Galahs, Pelicans, Eclectus Parrots and Sulphur Crested Cockatoos representing Australia. International species included, Hornbills, Toucan, Flamingos and Crested Cranes amongst the less common species. Seeing the birds was another highlight of the visit to Bali so far for me. While there are many birds in cages, there are also two free flight aviaries. One of local Balinese birds which was good. There was also a selection of Birds of Paradise. Very exciting to see after recent research I have undertaken following the travels of Tim Laman and Ed Scholes and the work they are doing through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Greater Bird of Paradise was incredible to see as for the first time ever I saw for myself the iridescent colours on his throat as the sun shone directly onto his feathers. This little guy came right over to the edge of the cage to say hello and I will be eternally grateful. Even though Tim Laman is a master in the art of bird photography, seeing this for myself was beyond description. It was a great moment to see this effect for myself. Other high lights were the birds that were free roaming on trees which you could walk straight up to....often without a human guide nearby. So, African Grey Parrot, Macaws, Eclectus Parrots (quite rare in Australia) and Sulphur Crested Cockatoos could all be seen at close quarters. The best thing though was the chance to hold (or be stood on by) a variety of birds. Hornbills are not a common sight in Australia so having a photo with both a male and a female was amazing. As was holding not one, but two Macaws, and a variety of parrots. The photo says it all. I was one happy girl. Dog count for the day was a respectable 62. 26.5.13

Balinese temples

Temples in Bali appear predominantly Hindu.  As such they are uniquely different to temples I have seen so far.  Full of stone carving, statues and brickwork. They remind me more of the ancient village in Thailand than any of the temples we saw while there.  Not surprising really given that Thai temples tended to be Buddhist.

The thing that intrigues me with Bali temples is the sheer number of them.  They are literally everywhere.  Look on any map and the most evident mark is a temple site.  Most private dwellings also seem to have them.  Houses generally appear to be situated behind high brickwork fences, with tall stone doorways as entry points.  The more elaborately carved and decorated the entry way, the more wealth of the family living within.  

Once you enter the doorway the "house" is usually made up of a number of "pods" - each used for a distinct purpose.  Kitchen separate to food preparation, separate to sitting area, separate to sleeping.  Each complex has a separate temple area also.  Many businesses have a temple pillar installed out the front, for those that don't, it seems a small banana leaf receptacle, filled with rice and flowers will suffice.  These are often placed directly onto the footpath adjacent to the gutter.The idea then is to cleanse the tribute with water or smoke and pray. Women and men can both be seen doing this.

We visited one traditional home which our driver took us to.  While it was interesting to see the kitchen still functioning, with fire, but no electric light - and the well with its cover out the back.  Being chased out to the car and asked for a "donation" was off putting.  With "grandpa" in his wheelchair eating his lunch it hadn't seemed appropriate to intrude with the camera so I had taken no photos, walking respectfully around the compound and then leaving.  For me, being hunted down for a payment was an uncomfortable way to do business.  I much preferred the situation in Chiang Mai, where when we visited a tribal village area, we paid up front, but then were free to interact and take photographs without being harangued.


Monkey forest

Sitting on the deck this morning, having breakfast, we ended up with unexpected visitors.  With only a rustling of leaves to announce their arrival we  saw a squirrel - followed by a friend or two.  Moving at the speed of light they raced across the tree branches, flinging themselves across gaps and running up and down the trunks.  Not sure whether it was a game of chase or whether it is how they keep out of the reach of predators, but it was lovely to watch.  We will have to keep an eye out for them each morning....capturing them via vp camera will be a challenge.

We decided to spend the day exploring the areas around Ubud, so taking a car and driver for the day, we set out early to explore.  We are based at Sayan, an area famous for its arts, village life and culture.

First stop was the Monkey Forest.  Although we are both aware of the potential dangers of interacting with monkeys we decided to brave it.  Turned out to be a great decision as it was a highlight of my day.  Arriving early, the ticket office wasn't yet open, was the best decision we made.  The monkeys were feasting on breakfast, fairly mellow, and with few tourists yet to get them going were well behaved.  We walked the park within reach of them, but had no issues with monkeys climbing on us, stealing glasses or hats or any of the elements we were warned about.  Having removed my ear rings as a precaution I was a little nervous as to what to expect, however things went well.  The area is quite beautiful with seemingly unspoilt forest, lots of mature trees, paths, a temple and of course the monkeys. 

Long tailed macaques, it was interesting to observe the monkeys interacting.  The juveniles spent much time harassing each other and play "fighting".  A couple of the females had quite young babies, but even they were quite happy coming close to you.  The trick was to keep an eye on all of the monkeys while simultaneously photographing your monkey of choice.  At one stage, distracted by a mother and her baby, another couple of monkeys came close to me from out of sight. Frank though was on standby in case things escalated.

As we left the monkey forest, more people were arriving and things were getting busier, so we timed our visit well.  Paid retrospectively for our ticket and kept going.


PS the collective noun for a group of squirrels is a colony or a favourite option though - a scurry!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bali adventure

Incredible though it is to believe we awoke in Brisbane, then bedded down for the night in Bali.  Ubud in the mountains to be precise.  So off on another adventure and I am yet to be disappointed.

Airport etiquette hasn't changed much since we last travelled.  There is always someone queue jumping, using their gold card status.  I must admit I was pleased to watch them then go to their seats in Row 23.  How spoilt am I?

Arrival at the airport in Denpasar was chaotic to say the least.  There is major redevelopment of the site going on and it seems to impact on everything.  The new airport should be finished by October and it seems that it really is needed.  We heard the arrival of over half a dozen flights announced just in the period we were waiting for our bags to come out.  This took the longest time.  Even our allocated guy was on his walky talky trying to see what the delay was.

I can highly recommend the express airport process.  You pay a fee, then you are allocated a staff member from the airport to walk you through the visa process, the bag collection and customs.  Then we were passed on to a Four Seasons guy, who took our luggage and escorted us to the vehicle (quite a hike given the redevelopment process) then yet another guy was our chauffeur.  Seems complicated but it worked.

We are staying about  an hour and a quarter from Denpasar, in the mountain area of Ubud.  Watching the frenetic activity from the safety of the car was an eye opener.  The place is crazy.  There seem to be more vehicles than Thailand, certainly more cars and an equal number of motor scooters.  It wasn't long before we saw the usual tally of multiple people, children (including babies and toddlers), overloaded cargo - from bamboo cages, to bundles of stuff, armfuls of pipes, vegetation etc.  the sight of the afternoon however was the girl riding pillion who had a bright orange swim tube around her stomach as she clutched on to her friend and zipped past us in the traffic.  If you get bored with watching the world pass by, the car has its own wifi hot spot!

Roadside stalls sell everything from car tyres, to food.  Bali is known for its artisans and so far it is a toss up between stone carving and wood carving for the ultimate position.  They are everywhere.  Apparently the teak now comes from another island and a lot of the timber pieces we saw were a much lighter timber than teak - both in weight and colour.  Everyone proclaims items are "made to order" but I have my doubts.  Why Balinese artisans would carve giraffes is beyond me, especially given the 1000's we have seen.  Can't help but think they come in from China, then are finished off on site.

Arrival at our destination went smoothly.  After we passed through the security check point and had a bomb check of the under carriage of our vehicle carried out.  Another first, it seems this is standard practice on entering the resort.

We went through check in, did the intro to our suite, then decided to eat dinner.  Bali time is two hours behind Australia.  So, for us, arrival was 6.30 or dinner time, where for locals it was late afternoon.  Dinner was not served until 7.00 pm so we compromised with a drink and snack at the bar first.

Dinner Saturday night is a  traditional Ubud feast.  Made up of numerous courses the food was great.  The meal started with a selection of salads, then duck soup, followed by a range of choices from the  wok station fried rice, beef, chicken etc, then the grill station with chicken, prawns, fish followed by suckling pig roasted on the spit and a range of deserts.

Dog count for the afternoon was a respectable 32.  Not bad given we had limited time on the ground.  The dogs here are all very similar to those in Thailand.  A specific colour and look to them, they are a typically generic dog.  

As our friends in Thailand would say "same same but different".  It's hard not to compare Bali with Thailand, but for me so far  I think Thailand is winning.

25 May 2013