Southeast Asia Map

Southeast Asia Map

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

[INSERT: A Real-time Post]

There are a few blog posts I need to make to close the time gap between the previous post and this one, a whole country's worth! But a real-time post will paint a real-time picture. Here is our reality right now: I am sick, I have been for a few days, and we are both having to deal with it. I'm tired but am having trouble sleeping due to a persistent cough. The effort to speak is exhausting and today I finally lost my voice. I quite literally haven't been able to smile without also feeling pain since Friday last week, so my usual optimism and sunny nature feels depressed.

Our series of unfortunate events, actually mine, began exactly two weeks ago with a teeny tiny motorbike accident. This happened on the very last day of our road trip around Bali, at the very last possible moment, just as Dennis was parking our rented scooter in a narrow alley on our return to Ubud. He pulled in too close to an adjacent bike and the top of my left foot was gouged by a deep scratch about 3-inches long. In retrospect, given the crazy driving techniques and safety violations of the Balinese, how we managed without injury up to this point is pretty amazing.

Later that same day, my foot iced and elevated, I discovered that my iPad had run out of memory to download any new photos. The search for a reasonable solution over the last two weeks has been frustrating to say the least. In between our travel commitments, unreliable and/or slow wi-fi (mostly non-existent) and emails to my tech savvy brother, I've come to the conclusion that there really isn't one. Unless of course, you're connected to a reliable and speedy wi-fi source! Distracted by this problem and figuring a work-around has meant my blog posts have slowed down, though more recently I just haven't had the energy to work on any.

Last week, Friday dawned bright and beautiful at the 'Hundred Islands National Park' in the Philippines; a great day for island hopping. However, hurrying to the bangka (boat) I tripped over a rope and fell face first; crashing hard onto the unforgiving cement! For a few seconds, I lay there in shock as the damage slowly registered. Within a couple more seconds Dennis, and at least three other pairs of hands, had rushed to my side to help me up. I admit to making some weird sounds. Glasses askew (amazingly not even scratched!) and blood pouring down my face, I was utterly frightened that I was going to lose some teeth. Within minutes, our Filipino host and friend - Ronnie, was rushing me in his van to a local dentist.

After careful examination and discussion, the dentist advised immediately pushing my front tooth back into place. The force of the fall had pushed one of them backwards into my mouth. I was able to tolerate the pain and walked away with a few painkillers and a week's supply of antibiotics. I was shaken by the experience but determined it wouldn't sabotage the effort our group had made to come and see this beautiful area. With my well-being at the forefront of everyone's mind, we still managed to enjoy the rest of the day as planned.

I surprised everyone, including myself, by sleeping most of Saturday and Sunday. During my waking moments I hobbled around the house (both knees were also badly hurt), my whole body feeling bruised, and of course, finding it difficult to eat anything. The damage to my front tooth aside, my swollen upper lip and badly grazed skin meant I couldn't smile or open wide. The antibiotics were also upsetting my tummy and on the whole I felt I'd been beaten up. I think the impact of the fall was far greater than any of us had realized.

Though I briefly felt better on Monday, I believe the travel day on Tuesday set me back again. Also, after a dentist appointment in Bangkok today (which we'd set up from the States more than a month ago) my fear that all is not well with my front tooth was confirmed. At some point over the weekend I'd noticed an abscess forming but had crossed my fingers and hoped it would go away. No such luck! The infection means I need a root canal as soon as possible. Fortunately there is an opening this Friday; the day my antibiotic course ends and the day before we fly to Cambodia! Hopefully I will feel much better by then.

There's a perfect word in Afrikaans to describe exactly how I'm feeling right now: gatvol! I don't know that there's an English equivalent that so perfectly encapsulates the upper limit to my tolerance level. Please, some sympathy hugs would be lovely ... it's time to heal. :-)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Aah, Amed ... (Bali)

Amed is the collective name for a number of small sleepy fishing villages on the east coast of Bali. The area is known for good snorkeling and diving as well as for its black sand beaches. It was a relatively easy 2-hour ride from Sideman including stops for photos. We followed the contours of Mt. Agung, admiring the mountainous scenery and cornfields along the way.

Through the gates to a new province -

Mmm, a diver ... definitely a good sign we were headed in the right direction! Our luggage for the week is all on the bike, the 125cc motor strong enough to carry the weight and take the hills! 

Our guidebook recommended the Sunrise Homestay in the village of Jemeluk.

With the sound of the ocean already lulling our senses, we accepted an upstairs room without hesitation; IDR200,000 (about US$16) including private bathroom, breakfast for two and wi-fi. There was no hot water but considering the temperature, this was more of a plus than a negative. The lovely Balinese family lives downstairs and they have a total of six rooms available for rent.

The view from our balcony ... aah, it felt good to be here! And we were the only guests!

Seated at our favourite warung (restaurant) we watched the local fishermen handle the jukungs lined up on the beach. Jukung is the Balinese name for this type of boat.

Having come in to deliver their morning catch, they were ready to head out to sea again. The timing was perfect to sit and watch them help each other relaunch their jukungs. It was interesting to note that none of them wore shoes. As we'd discovered, the black sand beach is in fact lots of small pebbles and piping hot!

This is a great shot showing the narrow body of the jukung.

Hanging out just before 'take-off'. Typically two to a boat.

This gentleman was giving his jukung an overhaul.

This is what he wants it to look like ... typical sunhat hanging on the right.

This little boy was fishing with extraordinary balance, using only twine - no pole.

Overlooking the village of Jemeluk - the water looked so inviting!

We could see where we were staying quite easily. Sunrise Homestay occupies one of the largest buildings on the beach - centered in the photo below.

Close-up view also showing part of the family temple built on the roof. This is a typical feature of a Balinese family compound and it is visited on a daily basis to make offerings.

While Dennis went snorkeling I relaxed in a beachside café, enjoying the cool breeze and several fresh fruit juices. It was an extremely pleasant environment in which to catch up on my blog posts and I felt very happy we'd decided to stay for two nights. Dennis reports that the snorkeling was good, though not the best, and he saw lots of different brightly-coloured fish.

We couldn't resist waking up early to watch the sunrise from our balcony - morning # 1.

- and morning # 2.

Note on current exchange rate: US$1.00 is about Indonesian Rupiah IDR12,160 is about ZAR10.60

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Sweet Stay in Sideman! (Bali)

Sideman, pronounced like cinnamon, is known for its rice terraces as well as its deep spiritual nature. Logistically it also made a good overnight stop for us, on the way to the east coast of Bali. We rode from Ubud for about three hours on narrow twisty roads to reach the small town, stopping only to ask for directions. Signs are hit and miss here, and once or twice we had to turn around and retrace our steps.

We were really interested in trying homestays on this trip. A homestay involves staying with a Balinese family in their compound. We liked the idea not only for the experience but also because it was a way of making sure our tourist dollars were going directly into the pockets of the Balinese locals. Most homestays are not advertised online but we'd read that Sideman had several. We knew we'd made the right choice as we approached the town and the scenery looked like this:

As a basis for comparison we stopped at this house on the hill. For sure, you could get a luxurious room with an incredible view for only IDR500,000/night. But the only Balinese we saw were clearly employees and that wasn't the atmosphere we were after. We found out later that this business is owned by a Dutch family. Continuing down the road, a bright yellow sign beckoned.

A Sweet Homestay was reached by a narrow alleyway; though we knew it wouldn't have a view that didn't matter to us. We'd be out exploring until it got dark and who can see a view after that anyway? Right away we got a good vibe. An older Balinese gentleman stood up the moment we rode in and introduced himself in broken English and a big smile. He showed us a room, wrote down a price and we accepted all within the space of five minutes.

As you can see, it had just rained - we actually arrived in the rain - which probably also helped us to make a quick decision. But instinctively we knew it was the right one.

Our room, for IDR150,000/night (about US$12.50/night), included breakfast for two, a private bathroom and hot water. No wi-fi or a/c but we didn't need them.

Breakfast was served in the restaurant consisting of two tables. We also ate dinner here because it was such a convenient option. We pre-ordered from their menu so that they could make the necessary purchases in order to make it fresh, preparing it only when we were ready to eat. With all that settled we could leisurely explore the area and find a late lunch in town.

As it happened this was the first thing we saw in the way of food for sale. With our tummies growling loudly we said, "Two, please", not having the least idea what we'd just ordered!

It was a soup with funny things in it. Since trying it we've noticed 'Bakso Ayam' listed as an option at several eateries but we still don't know exactly what's in it. We think the pale meatballs are pork-based; the largest meatball had a hard-boiled egg inside it. The white bits are pounded rice, and there were identifiable vegetables. Other than that, it's a mystery! Served hot, it was spicy and delicious and we ate/drank every last drop! IDR14,000 for two servings.

We ate on the side of the road, comfortably seated on concrete slabs no more than three feet from passing traffic! When we handed back our clean dishes we were rewarded with the biggest smile ever! With full tummies we set off to explore the area. Sideman is closer to the mountains than the Ceking rice terraces but it's still lush and tropical.

We found out that under the brown, dried and harvested rice stalks were sweet potatoes and chili plant seedlings. Rice is planted in between these rows.

Mt. Agung, an active volcano, presides over the fertile valley -

The intensity of colour is incredible -

The following morning we were treated to a special Indonesian breakfast; pounded rice with palm sugar and coconut. There are three different items on the plate but every one of them is pounded rice. The small triangles have also been wrapped in banana leaves. Served cold, this was an amazing treat - very sweet and tasty!

In the morning we learned that the Wayans have worked in the hotel industry and it definitely shows. Mr. Wayan runs the homestay and competently does all the cooking. Mrs. Wayan still works as a massage therapist for a spa nearby as well as offering her services to staying guests once she returns home at night. Manis, Mr Wayan's father also helps to run the family business. 

Thank you Wayan, Wayan and Manis for the sweetest sweet home stay!

Note on current exchange rate: US$1.00 is about Indonesian Rupiah IDR12,160 is about ZAR10.60

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gunung Kawi and Tirtha Empul (Bali)

We're getting to know everyone who lives in the area near us and Mr. Chu, a 76-year old Chinese man who had lived in the United States for thirty years, invited us and our neighbours to dinner one evening. He strongly suggested we don't miss the archeological site of Gunung Kawi. We are thankful for that, besides for the opportunity to get to know him better.

Gunung Kawi was a day trip north from Ubud to a town called Tampaksiring. Despite its size Ubud has only one traffic light. We pulled off as it turned red to take a photo of this beautiful statue.

It was pretty straightforward to get to Tampaksiring and once there a large sign directed us to the site. (Straightforward and signs are atypical Bali.) It was immediately apparent why not many tourists visit it; the streets are very narrow and there is absolutely no way a tour bus could get anywhere close enough to the entrance, even a car would have trouble. We love our scooter!

It has been concluded that Gunung Kawi is the shrine of King Udayana and his two sons, dating back to the eleventh-century. There are two temples separated by a river. Both have inscriptions that show the larger temple was for King Udayana and the smaller for two of his sons, Marakata and Wungsu. These sons also became Balinese kings, succeeding each other upon death. Here I am on the bridge over the Pakerisan River with King Udayana's temple behind me.

This is the close-up view. King Udayana has been enshrined in this temple -

And his sons have been enshrined in this temple across the river. It's a jungle here and must take a lot of upkeep. It was peaceful walking around and we only saw a few other people.

Gunung Kawi is also a centre of spiritual and religious training. However, at the present time there is some construction going on and we didn't see anyone who appeared to be in training.

This lizard slowed down when he realized we weren't going to chase him.

Enormous Jack fruit growing wild. We'll have to try this some time.

Tirtha Empul was a short ride away from Gunung Kawi but it was a different experience altogether. A large parking lot accommodated tour buses and cars and we were directed through a gamut of craft stalls to get to the exit. It was still lovely to see the beauty of the old temple and we didn't exactly have to battle crowds. A lot of tourists as well as Balinese nationals make the pilgrimage to give offerings and ask for blessings under the flow of pure water which bubbles up from an underground spring. The water is considered holy.

Here is the pool where people immerse themselves while still clothed, also wearing a sarong and sash. The ritual is to stop at each fountain, make an offering, request a blessing and receive it by immersing oneself under the flowing water.

This young girl had obviously been here before. Offerings are small baskets made from palm fronds and filled with flowers and grains of rice. An incense stick seems to be an optional extra. 

This Balinese family was clearly happy to be making the journey. The wife holds incense sticks and the offerings, one for each fountain, are in the bag. We wondered about the significance of the baby's head being shaven and discovered another Balinese ritual. They're shaved at the ages of 6-months and 1-year old, the reason being simply to encourage a thick head of hair as they grow up.

The sacred gates leading to the source of the pure water.

The pool at the source of the pure spring water. We could see it bubbling up from the side closest to the temple building. It appeared to be a high volume underground spring.

Temple detail, beautiful artistry.

On our way home we felt impelled to stop for these rice paddies just on the eastern outskirts of Ubud. The thing that makes them different from any others we've seen are the numerous mini temples dotting each paddy. It was a gorgeous day!

After eight days in Ubud we're heading out to explore more of Bali. Mr. Chu has kindly agreed to let us stash our biggest backpack at his house so we can travel extra light. We've rented the scooter for another week and playing it by ear with no accommodation booked. We're aiming to see Sideman, Amed, the north coast and Lake Bratan before returning to Ubud for one last night.

Note on current exchange rate: US$1.00 is about Indonesian Rupiah IDR12,160 is about ZAR10.60