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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Last days in Ubud (Bali)

Even though we'd thoroughly enjoyed our road trip it was great to be back in Ubud. Foremost on our 'To Do' list was to have another massage. Following a recommendation for Funny Monkey, one of the many salons along the main street, we tried a full body 1-hour massage. Wow, to feel so good for so little, only IDR150,000 (about US$12.50) for both of us! Excellent value for money!

We fitted in repeat visits to all three of our favourite restaurants. Café Lotus is located on the main street and has a magnificent view to the adjacent temple.

The view from our table in the restaurant -

Café Gayatri serves the most delicious 'Opor Ayam' - a chicken curry full of flavour! The garden seating at the back of the restaurant also looked out onto a small temple. At night the glowing votive candles that line the entrance bridge and walkways create a very romantic atmosphere. It was so inviting and we loved it ... enough to return again and again!

We'd pre-arranged to return the motorbike to the couple who had rented it to us, Nyoman and Tinni, at the Biah Biah restaurant. We greeted each other like old friends and shared tales from our adventure. Over a 2-week period we'd traveled almost 600kms (about 375 miles) on the bike and we think Nyoman was relieved to have it back in one piece. He gave it the once-over and declared we could rent it again anytime!

As for us, the limit of our good karma on the bike may have been reached, at least on this trip. We'd survived without serious accident but we both felt our odds were diminishing fast. The bike had undoubtedly made a huge difference in our holiday experience but we were also a little relieved to see it go. Free from any responsibility, we could fully relax and enjoy our authentic Balinese food, served tapas-style on banana leaves!

The white-tented restaurant on the quiet rice-paddy walk lured us back; it was rather noisy when the breeze picked up but the food was absolutely delicious! 

We squeezed in the time to mail all our postcards. At one stage in its history Bali was occupied by the Dutch; when I looked at the sign for the post office I found myself wondering how much of that language had made it into the daily Balinese vocabulary. The camera accompanied me on our walks around town and I snapped a few shots of things that interested us.

Rules are obviously meant to be broken - this photo was taken outside a government building!

A typical street scene; motorcycles far exceed the number of cars.

The Ubud Royal Palace, now used as a main site for nightly cultural dance performances.

A treehouse that childhood dreams are made of?

What a beautiful setting for a wedding!

Some of the shopfronts begged to be photographed.

The music shops were interesting; the traditional instruments fascinating.

On our last day in Ubud we spontaneously chose to have another massage. How could we not take advantage of these fantastic prices? We picked somewhere at random and enjoyed another 1-hour full body massage, this time for a total of only IDR130,000 (about US$10.70). Our three massage experiences have been different but all equally as good. If only there was time for more!

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

Friday, February 21, 2014

Back to Ubud! (Bali)

Pura Luhur Batukaru is one of the nine directional temples in Bali that are believed to ward off evil outside spirits and protect the Balinese people. Thanks to its relatively remote location it is also one of the most peaceful. There were no vendors lining the streets outside and hardly any tourists. Getting here from Jatiluwih was a short half hour ride but returning to Ubud - only 37kms away (about 23 miles) - proved entirely frustrating and took us about three hours!

We spent at least an hour walking the extensive grounds; wandering and discovering hidden walkways, moss-covered stairways and temples in the middle of a pond.

On our way out we noticed this sign. Guidelines, number 1, 4 and 6 are typical of all temples in Bali but this was the first we'd seen the others. Point number five had us chuckling for a while!

Feeling relaxed and thinking we'd be back in Ubud in time for lunch we set off in high spirits. What followed was our most frustrating ride to date. We now understand that traveling east to west in Bali, or vice versa is not that simple unless you're following a main road. The numerous rivers that cut through the land flowing to the ocean means you always have to find a bridge to cross them. And in the country, bridges are scarce.

We'd drive south for a while, find a bridge and cross it, ask for directions, drive north for a while, perhaps dog-log a few times, find a bridge and cross it, ask for directions, drive south for a while; repeat ... several times! Sometimes we'd find ourselves on a road that was perfectly acceptable to the locals but was beyond our skill level on the bike, especially with a passenger and luggage! The photos below are typical of the roads we did travel on.

There were times we weren't sure if we were making any progress and times we'd stop five times in five minutes to check that we were indeed going in the right direction. Eventually we learned that the key was to take baby steps; pick the next small town on the map and get there, then the next one and the next one. Even so, there were still moments when we felt completely lost! But we did see some very interesting things.

This procession, we're not sure if it was a wedding or a funeral, shut down the street we needed to travel on for a while. There was nothing to do but watch ... and take photos! Dennis stayed seated on the bike (top left). The men, dressed mostly in white, came first. In the photo below, notice the man three back on the left giving me a peace sign. I happily waved back, saying "Salamat Siang!" - Good Afternoon!

The ladies, all dressed so beautifully in a myriad of colours, came next.

At the point I took the photos below we were feeling lost. Not sure whether to go left or right I told Dennis I just wanted to get off the bike, look at the map for the zillionth time and stretch my legs. Everything always feels better after a good stretch! We still don't know what this lady was harvesting but she was intent on it until she spotted me photographing her; the smile lit up her face for a few brief seconds and then it was back to work.

As we got closer to Ubud, directional signs started appearing and traffic intensified. We made our way directly to the center where we'd previously checked out a really nice homestay. Not being sure of exactly when we'd be back we hadn't made any reservations. But luckily there was a room available and it was excellent value for money considering the amenities and location.

Sayong House is located at the end of a narrow alleyway. With the noise and bustle of the city in such close proximity the compound is amazingly quiet and peaceful. For IDR200,000/night (about US$16.00/night) we had a private room with en-suite bath and hot water, a really good breakfast for two and wi-fi (it worked!). There was also a lovely swimming pool, very refreshing after our frustrating day! We'd stay here again in a heartbeat!

Our room was close to the koi pond.

I took two photos so you could see the intricately carved wooden door to our room.

The view through our window into the family compound. It was a very well kept space with every effort made to present an aesthetically pleasing picture.

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

Monday, February 17, 2014

Jatiluwih - the highlight of our trip to Bali!

The advantage to writing this blog in retrospect is that we're able to identify, without question, the highlight of our time in each of the countries we visit. Jatiluwih (pr. Ju-t-il-loo-eh) and the surrounding countryside yielded so much more than we expected. Located on the lower southern slopes of Mt. Batukaru, the terrain is hilly and the temperature a perfect compromise between the cold mountaintop and the heat of the flat plains to the south.

It was a fairly easy downhill ride from the Lakeside Temple albeit the condition of the road did not improve. The rain stopped and it got warmer. We asked for directions a few times; a good thing or we'd have missed our turn-off. No tour buses come this way and as usual, directional signposts are sparse. After about an hour's ride we started to see the promise of what was to come. 

A green brilliance of rice paddy terraces as far as the eye could see, like velvet-carpeted stair steps leading up the mountain! It was difficult for Dennis to keep his eyes on the road and after a couple of hard bumps on the bike I asked him to please, please, STOP the bike if he wanted to look at the scenery. Though this wasn't easy as the road was narrow with little or no shoulder.

Thankfully, we soon arrived in town and could feast our eyes on foot. We paid IDR15,000 each to enter the acknowledged UNESCO world heritage cultural site which incorporates the small town of Jatiluwih. The regional administration has established a 300-hectare area of protected rice paddy fields and is also restricting the development of star-rated and city hotels. That's good news!

Jatiluwih is tiny; we counted three homestays and perhaps five restaurants, no shops. One homestay stood out above the others and we quickly secured a room for IDR200,000/night (about US$16/night). This included an en-suite bathroom with hot water, breakfast for two and wi-fi. The room was very nicely appointed, the best we'd had in Bali so far. We later discovered the wi-fi didn't work but no matter, we had a great time without it.

And you just couldn't beat the view from our window!

Our host gave us information on a 2-hour rice paddy loop walk, also pointing out that one side of the loop was in fact much more scenic than the other. We set off thinking we'd do the loop anyway but just a few minutes into it we'd already decided we didn't want to miss the same magnificent scenery going in the other direction! We were charged a nominal fee of IDR5,000 each for entry to the trail ... only a few steps from our room. Looking back at the homestay, our room (one of only four) is the one on the far right of the building, the small family restaurant on the left.

These are young rice shoots ready for planting.

It's not unusual to see young children riding motorbikes in Bali, even in major cities in the busiest of traffic. In this case, they were also carrying sharp scythes! We thought these three boys to be aged about ten years old.

The pathway into the forest above marked the halfway point. We deviated from it to discover a deserted temple in the overgrown jungle. Or at least, it was deserted when we were there.

We've seen people using these leaves as umbrellas!

Exiting the jungle to return the same way we came, the sun peeked out from the clouds and lit up the rice fields beautifully.

And then it was gone for the day.

The walk took us longer than two hours because we'd stop every few steps to take photos. We passed very few tourists on the trail, perhaps no more than six altogether. After we freshened up for dinner and walked the road further into town to find a restaurant, it slowly dawned on us that we may be the only overnight guests in Jatiluwih that night.

The first clue was that we appeared to be the only westerners in town, and the second was that all the restaurants were closed. Apparently they only stay open until all the day-trippers leave. So it was back to our own homestay where the host cooked us a delicious dinner. We were also treated to a performance of traditional Balinese dance by their 9-year old daughter, Yande.

Around six in the morning we were awakened by the brightest of colour lighting up our room. The sunrise was stunning and we decided to go for an early morning walk.

This is the main street running through town. We really appreciated that all the buildings were on one side of it, to allow for an unobstructed view on the other. Amazingly, we were indeed the only tourists in town and it was wonderful to have it all to ourselves!

We walked the other side of the loop and passed many farmers on their way to work -

Imagine this as a little hillside retreat!

If only we could have stayed a week! For sure, this fabulous place will be in our hearts forever!

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