Thursday, November 16, 2017

Denpasar on Purpose & Kuta by Accident

Ubud is lovely. Nearly a paradise. When i arrived i thought i never wanted to leave, but by day four, i was ready to move on. The centre is sort of phoney in a perfect sort of way. Inviting restaurants and bars and shops for tourists, english speaking staff, abundant taxis, juice and gelato stands, walkable, clean, easy ... and after a day, a bit dull.

I flew to Denpasar for one day and night and realized only then how happy i was to be in a new city. A real city. Dirty, crowded, busy. With a momentum of its own that did not centre around me, the visitor.

The airport is in Denpasar, so if you are going anywhere in Bali you will likely pass through, but most people don't stay. I would have skipped it myself but i didn't want to be in a rush to get through traffic from Bali to make a flight. So i took an uber from Ubud (a complete rip off compared to a regular taxi, as it turned out) to Denpasar and checked in at my accommodations: the Nakula Familiar Inn. The rooms felt like your Grandma's neglected basement spare room, but there was AC, private balconies, and a nice courtyard with places to hang out. And it was about $20 a night and walking distance to most sites. Plus, the manager was great and gave me a map and meticulously marked the best walking routes and stops along the way, after she applied magical healing oil to my finger that i had just slammed in the car door. So A+ for service.

I walked through the flower market, which was busy all day (i walked past it again in the evening) with women selling flowers and petals for use in the little palm frond offerings that are placed at least once a day at every temple and altar, on the sidewalks in front of shops, and on the dashboards of cars. Women set these out, add some food item to the flowers (a candy or cracker) and sprinkle it with some holy water or oil. When they are stepped on or ravaged by monkeys, they are replaced.
From there it was a short walk to the main market, Pasar Badung. It did have a floor of gifty items, but was otherwise a proper market with fruit and vegetables, seafood, textiles, and housewares. It smelled very bad in places, as good markets often do. I browsed around but didn't buy anything.

I walked to the bird market. Hundreds. Thousands? Of birds in cages for sale. Some common, like chickens and pigeons, most exotic and colorful. I mentioned in a previous post that people hang bird cages everywhere, along the streets even, usually with one bird to a cage. Apparently there are bird song competitions, and also pigeon training, and cockfights. I don't like seeing all the birds in cages but it was interesting to walk through.

Worse than the birds though were the other animals. Tiny puppies, kittens, and rabbits in cages in the hot sun, lizards piled upon each other, monkeys chained to cages. It was a real downer, to say the least.
On the plus side, i saw this urban turkey, hanging out in an alleyway.
From there i visited the Pura Jagatnatha (temple) and the museum, which were both nice, but at this point in the trip everything is starting to look the same.

It was then my plan to walk about 2 km to the Bajra Sandi monument. I waved off the offers of taxis. I was content to walk. And, at first, i was. I walked through residential streets. I found a nice vegan restaurant.

But then i realized i was lost. I had gone too far to backtrack, but i couldn't find my way and no one spoke English or understood my attempts at Indonesian. I would have paid anything for a taxi. It was hot and i was exhausted. I ended up walking 20 km that day. But there were no taxis. Finally, nearly in tears, i went into a bank and found a teller who spoke a little English and who drew me the most detailed and accurate map that got me to the monument. I would send him a thank you card if i knew his name, or that of the bank, or what street i was on.

I arrived at the Bajra Sandi monument completely wasted, but it was beautiful in an imposing and evil sort of way.

I explored its nooks and crannies, then managed to get a taxi. I gave the taxi driver a business card for my hotel which had the address, phone number, and a map. He said he knew where it was. I had no idea how long the drive should take, i had gotten so twisted in my walk, but it seemed to be taking a long time. He said it was the traffic. I then noticed that the area looked more rural that i had seen. He said it was a better road. I then noticed a lot of fancy shops and restaurants and wondered why i hadn't see them earlier. Finally, he pulled up on the correctly named street at the correct number...but it was not my hotel. Only then did i discover...he had driven to the right address in the wrong city. We were in Kuta, not Denpasar. I don't know why it happened, why he didn't see that the business card clearly said "Denpasar", but there we were. It took another hour in heavy traffic to get back to Denpasar. At least i saw another city, i guess.

But that basically took up my evening. I just had a cigar and went to bed. I am currently at the airport in Jakarta, awaiting a flight to Taipei. And so ends my trip to Indonesia. It has been a good one. I could see myself returning some day to the country, but to visit other islands. Right now though, i am happy to move on. 

No Elephants or Menstruation at the Elephant Temple

On my third day in Ubud i hired a driver to take me to some of the far flung sites. It was nice to drive through the countryside, seeing villages and suburbs, with people going on with daily life, all with the picturesque scenery. We stopped to gawk at more rice terraces, which i really cannot get enough of.

I went to the Goa Gajah temple/cave, also known as the elephant cave or temple, which is odd, as there is nothing elephant-like about it. It is just an 11th C temple with a cool cave you enter through the mouth of a carved demon head. There are also pools with sacred water, but the nicest part was the walk up and down stairs in the lush forest to visit a Buddhist temple and lily covered pond. 

I also visited Gunung Kawi which is one of the oldest temples/monuments in the country (so sayeth Lonely Planet). This one forces you up and down hundreds of stairs to descend into a valley to see ruins and temples, then forces you to hike up and down to visit other temples that are less impressive than their jungle settings. I was exhausted and sweaty, but the walking was beautiful. Plus, how could i complain when i wasn't walking those same stairs with a giant sack of wood or plants on my head like some i saw. 

When visiting these and a number of other temples here, if you're scantily dressed (i.e. shorts) you will be made to wear a sarong to cover your naked legs - a measure i appreciated as there are a lot of people wearing shorts who shouldn't be (plus, men look good in sarongs). I was covered shoulder to toe in black, so i was good to enter, but the temples here have one additional warning: women may not enter if they are menstruating. Each temple had multiple signs to this effect though there was no one checking as far as i could tell. I can't imagine any tourist abiding by this prohibition, but consider yourself warned.

That night, after dinner, i went to a traditional dance show in Ubud. (They are happing nightly as far as i could tell.) i'm not a big fan of dance, but thought this would be worth taking in. It was. It isn't dance in a traditional, western way; it's more like theatre/mask work and movement. There was a large live percussion (+ one flute) band and each vignette featured one or more dancers with elaborate costumes and masks. It was beautiful. What was not beautiful was the crowd who were the rudest bunch of douchbags. They took photos through the whole show - with flashes - standing up, walking  around, taking videos...and did i mention the photos with flash? They also reviewed and edited their pictures during the show. I wanted to slay them all, but i didn't. I just say there silently hating them and trying not to let that hatred ruin the show.  When the cast came out for the curtain call, one of them said that NOW we could take photos. Here's mine:

But the show was great and very good value.

The next day in Ubud, my final full day there, i started out in great spirits and went to the market after breakfast to do my shopping. I always save my shopping for the final day, once i know how much money i still have and how much things cost. 

There wasn't much i wanted for myself - a pair of earrings, some coffee beans, and maybe some tiny trinket - but i had things for others to get. The market is great fun for browsing and haggling. (Prices seem to be about s third of the first price asked.)

Lots of clothing, carved wooden things, paintings, tea and spices, art, baskets, and the usual tacky stuff. 

I finished by shopping just as the daily downpour started. I got caught outside for two minutes max, and i was soaked through. I spent the rest of the day hiding out in cafes and smoking cigars on my covered hotel balcony. 

When the rain did let up i returned to the monkey forest for a bit more monkey action.

I felt kind of melancholy that day. I think it was one day too long in Ubud. It is lovely, but i like to be a bit busier or maybe it was just that my trip is wrapping up, but i felt down. All that went away the next morning when i left Ubud for Denpasar. When in doubt, move on.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ubud on Foot

My first full day in Ubud was spent exploring the city on foot. I visited about six super cool cafés and had an espresso at each. I visited various temples, including the main two.  Before i came here i looked at maps and read my guide book strategizing so i would be sure to see the Balinese Hindu temple architecture and carvings. I needn't have worried because every building here has a small temple and it seems like every second building is a religious site with statues, intricately carved doors, and altars or spirit houses. I took way too many photos.

I Knew there were rice fields one could walk into from Ubud so i found the path and set off. It was completely pastoral aside from a temple complex at the beginning of the journey and the odd sign promising cold coconuts at the end.

It was a stunning path through the most verdant of landscapes...palm tress, vines, grasses, and fields of rice.

There was even a picturesque bamboo swing that swung out over the valley.

I didn't see much in the way of wildlife; lizards, dragonflies, centipedes, and butterflies - the latter of which i could have done without. (I hate their unpredictable flight patterns.)

It was beautiful but hot, shadeless, and humid, by the time i reached the top i was red faced and sweating so much i was nearly blind. Even my Kat Von D waterproof eyeliner didn't survive. I did find a perfect oasis though. Outdoors with fresh pineapple juice and a view of a lily-covered pond and the fields. Restored, i made my way back, watching people toiling in the rice fields. Seriously. I don't think about it often enough but rice is planted and harvested (and here anyway) processed BY HAND. That is just incredible for a food product so cheap and abundant.  And to think we throw it around at weddings like jerks.

I don't know what i did the rest of that day but i think i went like this: walk, coffee, walk, juice, walk, dinner, cigar, walk, bed. A thoroughly delightful day. Ubud is very touristy, and in a way i wish it wasn't, but i must admit to enjoying the ease of it all.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Monkeys of Ubud

I arrived in Denpasar mid morning and caught a taxi to Ubud. The ride can take an hour and a half, but mine took longer as we got stuck in interminable traffic. I didn't mind too much though as the scenery was great. 

So Bali is predominantly Hindu, unlike Java which is Muslim. So gone are the calls to prayer and here are countless statues of deities and offerings of flowers. The island - or what i saw of it on this first day - is green. Every conceivable shade of green, dotted with flowering vines, orchids, magnolias, is stunning.

It is also very touristy. Ubud is a tourist town. Restaurants catering to foreigners, margaritas, pizza, gelato, tour touts, tacky souvenir shops, spas, and bad tattoo studios. The streets are crawling with tourists, most sporting some combination of tie-dyed harem pants, Ganesha tank tops, tattoos, beards, beads, and dresses they would never wear at home. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It just means that the place has a less than authentic gloss, and also that it is a terribly easy place to visit.

My first day i didn't have time for my customary get-my-bearings wander; i had plans to meet up with a mother/daughter travel duo from the States whom i had met at Goa Jamblang. We had lunch and hung out poolside at a Miami Beach-esque restaurant, waiting out the afternoon rain (which i have since discovered is a daily occurrence). 

After that we went to the Monkey Forest: an expanse of impossibly green jungly terrain dotted with temples, statues, bridges, and twisting walkways.

But it also has monkeys. Macaques. Monkeys everywhere. Running, climbing trees, hanging off temples, eating bananas (so cliché and so adorable), grooming each other, assaulting tourists, and having sex (with each other). You have to be careful of the monkeys. Don't look them in the eye. Don't smile at them. Don't hide food on your person, because, as one sign warned, "the monkeys will know."

I didn't have any monkey-related troubles. I just stalked them with my camera, trying to catch them being adorable.

After that, gelato, and then i parted ways with my companions, and continued to walk. Had dinner at a beautiful outdoor restaurant where, although smoking is allowed, i annoyed all the other patrons with my cigar smoke (unintentionally).

Back to my hotel and to bed. ... wait! Have i neglected to mention my hotel? Hotel Okawati. On a charming side street off Monkey Forest Road (note: ALL side streets here are charming), it is a small complex of tropical plants around a turquoise pool next to rice fields from which frogs and birds fill the air with their chatter. It is lovely. More lovely than i am accustomed to, but i'll tough it out.

Yogyakarta: final day

On my final day in Yogyakarta i had planned to go to the cigar factory as it had closed at 2:00 pm the day before and i missed it...but as it turns out it is also closed Saturday and Sunday. Dammit. So i had the day at leisure. Honestly there isn't much to report. I hung out at this cool hipster cafe for a couple of hours where i had a jackfruit burger, which was a revelation. So good. And some excellent coffee.

I then walked to find a cigar store i read about...only to find it had closed. Fuck. But the walk was interesting and i passed markets, paintings, and had fresh soursop juice.

After that i decided to walk out of the downtown area to this other area i had seen when i drove in from the airport where there was a ton of street art and some public sculpture. The walk wasn't too long but in the heat and humidity it felt like a grand trek. 

It didn't disappoint. There was an array of murals, from the great to the sucky, but all were enjoyable to look at. There has been such an impressive amount of street art here, and one artist in particular whose works i started to seek out: multicoloured figures often with heads replaced with flowers or birds. Cool stuff.

So that was my day. It was good and fairly relaxing and totally unstructured. The next day i was flying to Bali.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Descent: Goa Jamblang

Yesterday i hired a car to take me from my hotel in Yogyakarta to Goa Jamblang, a cave about a two hour drive from the city. The cave wasn't listed in my guide book (that's a failure of Lonely Planet, in my opinion, but once it is listed it is sure to get a lot busier) but i had seen pictures of a magical cave on the internet and that was good enough for me.

The ticket was 450,000 rupiah, which was more than reasonable, and but they only allow 25-35 people in per day, so it is important to get there early. I was #5.

We were walked over to the entrance to the cave: a large hole in the ground created by a sink hole, with perfectly vertical sides descending about 60 meters (200 feet ish) to a verdant bottom. 

Our way down? Being lowered on ropes held by a group of slight men in flip flops. 

Not exactly comfort inducing, but i figured it was safe, or at least no more dangerous than some of my previous travel exploits. They outfitted each of us in helmets and well worn harnesses. 

I was a bit nervous but happy that i wasn't going first. "Number 5!" They called out. "Huh, i guess we aren't going numerically"' i thought. I made my way to the edge of the cliff and they clipped my harness to a single, knotted rope. Stepping off the edge took a moment of courage but once i was free and not plummeting to the ground, it was wonderful and exhilarating. I was slowly lowered to the ground taking in the greenery and the height.

Once everyone was at the bottom we made our way into the cave, which was dark and slippery but only a short walk to a grand opening filled with light from a natural opening above.

The sun, filtered through the leaves high above, made for a cascade of beams of light that was either heavenly, magical, or simply amazing, depending on your world view.

Far below us still was another drop off and water flowing. Water dripped from above making for other worldly rock formations. 

It was all just incredible. I felt like an adventurer, an explorer, and, at times, a character at the beginning of a horror movie.

We spent about an hour or two down there and then we were lifted back to the surface. This next photo is me being lifted and looking down from part way up. The red things below are the helmets of the others.

We all shared a lunch (included in the price), united in our conquering of the cave. And that was that. Done by 1pm, satisfied and exhausted and muddy, i went back to the hotel and spent the rest of the day just hanging out at various cafés and enjoying a cigar with my curry.

I highly recommend this experience and suspect it may be the best thing about this trip.