It’s winter here. Temperatures plunge to 10 degrees Celsius. We neglect the blog as we concentrate on finding a camper-van so we can head north, back into the warmth.
This turns out to be a challenge. We look at several vans, but the ones that fall in our price range have sky-high mileage (like three or four or five hundred thousand kilometers) and look unreliable. We find a rental at a reasonable rate and we leave Sydney in a few days.
It’s great to be back in a place where you can drink water out of a tap without becoming deathly ill. And they have sidewalks. Among other things.
The quality of museums here is superb – much better than I remember from 1979. Australia is well over its ‘cultural cringe’ phase and is now duly celebrating its status as one of the best places to live on Earth (almost by accident, like Canada), and the twisty path it took to get here.
This painting, by Elioth Gruner, has a magnetic effect on me. I’m not sure why. I can imagine myself in a former life, moustachio’d, in a stripey gentleman’s bathing costume, sitting in a beach chair. It’s a windy, sunny afternoon, 1915. I’m looking at the war news in my Sydney Morning Herald. I look up from the page when a young woman asks me directions to the tram stop. It’s a Zen moment I never forget.
Your mileage may vary.
Sight or Insight of the Day – Sydney
A dictionary entry…
The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy
or beneficial way. “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”
This happens to us a lot in our travels.
For example, we visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It just so happens it’s the last day of an exhibition featuring the ‘Lady and the Unicorn‘ tapestries from the Musée de Cluny in Paris.
This is like going to visit the neighbours for a cup of coffee. They have the Mona Lisa hanging in the kitchen.
I saw these in Paris in 1987. They are one of the most outstanding works of art on the planet, even though many people have never heard of them. (I thank God every day that I was born in the Golden Age of public education in North America.) This is only the third time in 500 years that they have been outside of France.
So long, Southeast Asia. Has it really been eight months? It seems as if we just left.
After Nusa Penida, we spend a few days on Nusa Lembongan. (Which is no Nusa Penida.) We are now in Denpasar, Bali’s main city. Tomorrow, we fly to Sydney, Australia and say ‘Au revoir, Southeast Asia.’
Some things we’ll miss about Southeast Asia:
People have been very good to us almost everywhere here. Ordinary, everyday people have treated us with courtesy and respect. (In fact, usually the only people who are unpleasant to deal with are people in the actual tourism industry: ticket vendors, transport providers, etc.) Being strangers in a strange land, not speaking the language, means we are vulnerable. We can’t count the number of times our bacon has been saved by the kindness of locals.
Meeting wonderful and interesting people from different places, like Ulf and Susane. And Soufiane and Jessica. And Zane. And so many others. It’s a lot of fun hanging around with people much younger than we are.
Eating in restaurants every day. We haven’t cooked a meal in eight months. And we like to cook. But it’s traditional here to eat outside the home often. If you like rice and noodles and a thousand variations thereof – and we do – you’ll never go hungry. And it’s economical.
Speaking of economical, it’s refreshingly inexpensive. I’m sure this will change in Australia, but you get used to not worrying what things cost because whatever it is, it’s much cheaper than at home.
The weather, and the fact that it’s never seldom cold. We are both great lovers of heat and loathers of cold.
Amazing landscapes. Especially mountains. We don’t really take photos in the mountains because cameras don’t capture the stupendousness of traveling through the high parts of Myanmar, Laos, and Indonesia.
Some things we WON’T miss about Southeast Asia:
Garbage everywhere. In combination with armies of idle people guys lying around doing nothing. When they could be picking up the trash. And digging a hole to bury it in. Takes no skill. But it’s a universal third world trait to be indifferent to living in an ocean of trash. This is hard on people like us, who become apoplectic if we find so much as a gum wrapper on our front lawn.
Animals in need of care. It’s another universal third world trait to be surrounded by mangy stray animals, some diseased, some crippled, some starving. And few people care. Even middle-class people in these countries purchase designer dogs most of the time. When there are millions of mutts around who’d like nothing better than a home to belong to. Caring for animals is a Western aberration.
People spitting everywhere. Accompanied by dramatically noisy, espresso-machine-like horking up great loogies and phlegmy gobbing and general belching into people’s faces and eructations and other noisy expulsion of bodily material. Projectile nose-jets of snot. Explosive uncovered sneezes. Oh no, we won’t miss that at all. We know, we know, ‘it’s only natural’, but Jeeze Louise, keep it to yourself, people.
The general entropic state of decay in everything; even things that are new look like they’re falling apart or abandoned or just barely holding together or malfunctioning. It will be good to be someplace where this is not the norm.
People wearing surgical masks. It’s just creepy. This probably started in response to pollution in China or something, but now it’s become a thing everywhere. And covered people women in general (even baby girls). And the godawful governments of nearly every country in the area. How do such nice people end up with such brutes? (And no, they’re not ‘puppets of the USA’.)
‘All the world over, so easy to see
People everywhere just wanna be free’
– The Rascals, 1968
The entrance is tiny. You have to crawl on hands and knees to get inside. We’re sure this has some kind of ‘birth/rebirth’ symbolism.
Once inside, it’s huge. (I was going to say ‘cavernous’.)
We walk a dimly-lit walkway a few hundred metres that leads to another entrance on the other side of the mountain.
The Hindu priests sit around checking their phones, like everyone else on the planet.
We continue down the coast.
We learn interesting things about Nusa Penida: for one, the entire island is a bird sanctuary. For another, the island is considered bad juju by other Balinese, according to this site.
‘To the mainland Balinese, Nusa Penida is virtually unknown except
through legend. To almost all it is a place that is generally Angker, a term that is difficult to translate into English. About as close as you can come is to say that it is “scary”, or even “terrifying”, because of strong and mostly evil practices that is associated with the island. It is a fearful place, a source of disease, bad luck, and evil spirits.
The center for this evil influence is Pura Dalem Penataran Peed, sometimes spelled Ped, located on the northwest corner of the main island. Quite a few Balinese make the trip there for the odalan of this temple, which, as Budi aptly puts it in his mixed Balinese-English, is the “Angkerest” place in all of Bali because it is the abode of Ratu Gede Macaling, one of the most powerful and potentially destructive and evil of all of the various gods, or, to be more accurate, manifestations of God, to be found anywhere in Bali.’
Mind you, this dates from 1986. Things change in 30 years, and we don’t get the impression that locals feel the island is in any way ‘cursed’.
As is the case with many places of interest here, the last five kilometres or so are down terrible, bone-jarring, scooter-destroying stony goat-paths.
Perseverance rewards us with a stunning view of Atuh Beach, nestled between two cliffs.
As we walk back up the trail, we look down and see three baby sharks, each one a metre long, swimming in the bay, invisible to the people paddling unconcerned nearby. (They are not a threat. The baby sharks, that is.)
Next day, we visit the Peguyangan waterfall and temple. This means taking a steep metal stairway down a cliff face.
We watch three or four Cadillac-sized manta rays swim gracefully in the sea below
The temple hugs the cliffs at the base.
Maria samples some of the purifying waterspouts.
Another day, we take the scooter to Crystal Bay.
This is popular with snorkelers and other visitors.
We take a walking trail at one end of the beach to see where it goes.
The trail leads to a small white sand beach, with crashing waves of clear water and no other people. We have the beach entirely to ourselves.
Sight or Insight of the Day – Nusa Penida
The Balinese are among the most observant believers in their religion. They spend a lot of their time constructing and placing offerings just about everywhere as part of their observances – gateways, doorways, steps, crossroads.
Worship and purification take up a large part of every day.
It’s all very pretty and quaint.
And yet – at our guesthouse in Ubud, the owners have several cages of birds on the property. One in particular contains a couple of mynahs. The only drinking water they have is a ceramic bowl on the floor of the cage, old and murky with filth and droppings. We casually mention several times ‘maybe you can change this water bowl today?’ ‘Yes, yes, OK, OK.’
But it doesn’t get done. We ourselves look in several pet stores in Ubud to purchase a couple of cage-mounted water dishes. The shops only have dog and cat supplies.
The point is – people spend hours of every day propitiating invisible and (probably) non-existent spirits while – in the real world – remaining oblivious to the genuine physical needs of a living, breathing creature in their care. It’s kind of like the nature of all religion writ small.
We arrive in Padang Bai, Bali after our boat trip from Flores to Lombok. We go directly to Ubud.
(This entry goes out to the memory of Anthony Bourdain (1956 – 2018), originator – and practically sole owner – of a totally new genre: bad-boy chef.
When a creature like Donald Trump is the President of the United States and a life-affirming individual like Anthony Bourdain commits suicide, you have to wonder if we are indeed reaching the End Times.
See you in another life, Tony.)
It happens to be the first day of Galungan, one of the most important of Balinese holidays.
And there are lots of holidays. Besides the boring old Gregorian calendar, the Balinese also use not one, but two traditional calendars: the Saka calendar and the Pawukon calendar. Both are Hellishly complicated.
Staying at the Nirvana Pension. It’s a beautiful place, oozing with Balinese authenticity , run by a nice family.
Ubud – all of Bali, for that matter – is, let’s face it, overrun with tourists. We take advantage of this fact by eating lots of gringo food after months of rice and noodles and fish. Pizza from a wood-fired oven, more-than-respectable burgers, and something we miss, beef rendang. (A coincidence – beef rendang is a Sumatran specialty that was one of Tony Bourdain’s favourites from the area. Find a good recipe and try it!)
After a stretch of uninterrupted travel, we are happy to hang out in our lodgings and not do anything special.
When strolling around town, we see that Balinese temples abound.
The Balinese are Hindus, preserving a kind of Hinduism that existed throughout Indonesia (and Malaysia, and other parts of Southeast Asia) before the arrival and spread of Islam.
Among other observances, statues and altars for small offering are often wrapped in checkered cloth that looks as if they’re borrowed from an Italian restaurant.
We visit the Threads of Life textile gallery, a fair-trade outlet. We leave with a Timorese textile, which we now have to send home. We resist buying stuff most of the time.
We also visit the Museum Puri Lukisan. A good place to see Balinese art. Lots of inspiration from the Ramayana and the Mahabarata. India is visibly the greatest cultural influence in this part of the world before the arrival of first, Islam, and second, Europeans.
Venturing to the outskirts of town – which is not that big – to view the surrounding rice paddies.
We don’t have to go very far.
We have a look at the intriguingly-named Yoga Barn. Yoga is a big thing here.
After five lackadaisical days in Ubud in which we can’t decide where to go next, we opt for something different: the island of Nusa Penida off the coast.
Sight or Insight of the Day – Ubud
Everything in this world connects. Maria goes for daily yoga sessions at Radiantly Alive Yoga while we’re here, chosen at random from the many yoga studios available.
Our friend in Ottawa, Anne, has been coming to Ubud to teach occasional yoga courses for the past few years. Maria sees a notice for Anne’s upcoming course in January, 2019.
We are almost 16,000 kilometres from Ottawa. Small world.
We arrive from our road trip through Flores back to Labuan Bajo, where we embark on a two-day, two-night slow boat trip to Lombok.
After an overnight on board, our first stop is Rinca Island, another habitat for Komodo dragons.
Of which there is no short supply. These hang around the ranger station because they smell the pigs that the rangers keep for food.
We learn that KDs can move surprisingly fast. Normally, they are the most torpid of creatures. Something catches the eye of one and it takes off like greased lightning.
Good thing the guides carry a crook-like staff to ward off any curious dragons.
The crew from the boat takes a group photo.
We return aboard and sail on to an island (whose name we forget) for some snorkeling.
We sail on through the night over rough-ish seas. We’re tossed in our cabin like dice in a cup. I like it, but Maria resorts to taking her motion-sickness medication. (Which is worth its weight in gold on our mountain-traversing land journeys.)
The next day dawns bright and calm.
We stop at Moyo Island, off the northern coast of Sumbawa Besar. After breakfast, we go ashore and hike to some waterfalls.
Moyo’s population consists of six small fishing villages.
Our next stop is Keremat Island, northwest of Sumbawa.
The sole inhabitants are a fisherman, his wife, and one well-fed, friendly cat.
It takes 10 minutes to walk around the entire island. Nice white sandy beaches. Beautiful coral reef and marine life for snorkeling.
That evening, we arrive at Labuan Lombok, on the east coast of Lombok. We take a bus to the west coast town of Sengiggi to spend the night before catching a fast boat to Bali the next day.
(Why do we not spend more time on Lombok? It’s my contention that people often visit Lombok mainly so they can say they’ve been ‘someplace besides Bali’. We’ve been to enough slightly-off-the-map places to forgo this justification.)
On the way to Bali, our boat stops at the three Gilis.
In 1989, I spent an indolent week or so lounging on Gili Trewangan. At that time, the permanent population was 80. There were three homestays offering a bamboo hut and three meals. Generator-supplied electricity was on only a few hours a day. Reaching the Gilis involved a dodgy small boat ride from the mainland of Lombok.
Theses days, Gili Trewangan looks more like this. Thankfully, there are 17,000 islands in Indonesia to choose from.
Sight or Insight of the Day – Slow boat
When we arrive at the falls on Moyo Island, there is a rope swing that you can use to leap out into the abyss and launch yourself into a pool.
Everyone’s dubious about this at first, envisioning broken necks and snapped spines. The locals demonstrate. When they emerge unscathed, a brave few take the plunge. Eventually, everybody gets into the act.
You can see a brief video of more age-inappropriate activity here.
With Maria still nursing her stingray-afflicted ankle, we depart Labuan Bajo and fly to Ende to begin our road trip through Flores. Our driver, Ardi, meets us at the airport. We drive through mountainous central Flores on winding roads.
The Lio people are keen woodcarvers. Ardi tells us that the carvings on a house are indicative of ‘economic activity’. We can see this regarding the cattle below…
…but are mystified by this lifelike pair of breasts carved into a doorpost.
We spend our first night in Moni. The main draw here is to watch the sun rise over the multicoloured lakes of the Kelimutu volcano. We rise and depart at 4:15 AM. It’s raining and foggy. As dawn breaks, visibility is zero. So it goes. This is what we would have seen.
We carry on. Of course, the sun breaks through eventually. We stop for lunch on Bluestone Beach, where the stones are indeed blue.
We pass this volcano, Mt. Ebulobo. We’re always passing volcanoes here.
No surprise that Indonesia is the third most volcano-rich country on Earth.
And we visit the Malange thermal springs on the way to Bajawa.
Overnight in Bajawa. In the morning we visit the village of Bena.
The village is interesting, but unbearably loud music drives us out within ten minutes. Seems the villagers are having a party in the evening. It is now about 8:00 AM. For some reason, bad music is blasting out of bad speakers somewhere at ear-splitting decibels. We flee.
We pass through Ardi’s home town. His wife invites us for coffee.
We continue to Ruteng, where we stay in a convent, the Convent of Santa Maria. It’s the cleanest place we’ve seen since Singapore.
We visit a local village at the edge of town.
This place is more authentic, less of a tourist attraction than Bena. Locals play volleyball in front of the Mound of the Ancestors.
We drive back to Labuan Bajo the next day. We pass these unique rice fields planted in a spider-web pattern.
They’re yellow rather than emerald green because the rice has just been harvested.
Sight or Insight of the Day – Flores Road Trip
One of the most memorable places we visit is the ‘hobbit’ cave, where a ‘new species‘ of human is discovered.
This was global news of the ‘Where were you when ‘X‘ happened?’ level in 2004. I remember being at my desk and reading online ‘Breaking story – remains of new human species discovered on Indonesian island’. I suspect the media loved the hobbit connection.
Quote from Wikipedia:
‘The specimens were discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003 by a joint Australian-Indonesian team of archaeologists looking for evidence of the original human migration of Homo sapiens from Asia to Australia. They were not expecting to find a new species, and were surprised at the recovery of a nearly complete skeleton of a hominin they dubbed LB1 because it was unearthed inside the Liang Bua Cave.’
The site is a working archaeological dig. If we hadn’t arrived on a Sunday morning, the place would’ve been rife with eggheads.
Not everyone would be as thrilled to come here. There’s not much to see. But with a bit of imagination, there is a sense of history being made. And it’s probably a good thing that visitors are rare.