Coffee Bali

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The so called tourist trap, which I was very happy to fall into. This location is basically an island in the geographical sense and the religions one too. It is a Hindu island, in a Muslim country and moreover, Balinese Hinduism is different from the Indian one, but I still haven’t finished my reading on that.

My base camp was in Ubud, for the whole stay in Bali. After 2 days I finally made up my mind. The lodge owner and the staff were very kind and helpful, made me feel welcome. I decided to stay with them. Besides, the place seemed to be an island on a island, since it had its own micro climate being on the hill top, as well as a good location. The island is not that big, something like 300 x 400 km, thus this is a pretty good point for day trips to whichever corner, as well as a place well known for its cultural richness.

One of the Balinese women working In Da Lodge, I think the owner’s SO, made a very sweet remark on me, while examining my stature. With a genuine smile and a scrutinizing look, she turned towards the owner and said: She’s small, like us! :) Balinese women are also in the range of 165cm, thus only completion was left to be fixed!

Rice paddy from backstage Ubud I spent the first day strolling along the 2 – 3, main streets of the ‘city’. I started off on the back door ‘shortcut’ that I landed on after I tried to follow the instructions the lodge owner gave me to the Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Of course I got it wrong at some point (I think, but not that sure anymore) and ended up on some country road with some houses and half mad street dogs passing me by, on your way to the even crazier monkeys!

monkey forestEventually, I got off the paddy fields, and I made it in the end to my first destination. Honestly, I did not find that corner of Ubud very attractive, even though people seemed to enjoy it. Monkeys everywhere, all the same, sometimes fighting on food and increasing your changes to land in the middle of that fight, other times just picking fleas from each other. Thus, I moved on pretty quickly.

On the way back I realized that my little shortcut not only gave me the wrong first impression of Ubud, but the fact that I also missed the whole Monkey Forest Road (which is very nice btw. with shops, restaurants and cosy cafes). I took Hanuman Street (the monkey warrior in Sanskrit epics) on the way back and even though it was a long walk, I enjoyed it and it sort of brought my hopes back about the place. Balinese cities are quite small, and the infrastructure is missing. The pedestrian walks are with many ups and downs, that could cause inattentive tourists to bite their tongues or to eventually trip, or even worse, the sometimes missing concrete slabs could easily break a leg.

This detail is in perfect harmony with the local concept of traffic, which besides being on the wrong side :), is full of scooters and in the same time slow. Higher speed than 50-60 is pretty rare. Thus the pace of life is slower here, but this is also due to winding, narrow roads in general. Besides, locals don’t really have where to rush. They are pretty rigid regarding mobility. This was a trend also in Kota Kinabalu region. People are happy living their lives in the same place as born. Then I guess Switzerland is not to be criticized anymore… .

Rama and Sita The general feeling on this part of my vacation, was indeed a vacation, more relaxed and with a high dose of ‘things will work out one way or another’ attitude. It is very sad though to learn about the lack of education among youth. I learn that high school is mandatory, though, I see most of the men and lads on the streets doing nothing… or lightly harassing tourists with taxi service. They are also kind though, when passing by at least I always got a Hello and a smile.
Barong MaskNot entirely true that they don’t do anything. Actually they are very skilled wood carvers. In Mas, a small village nearby Ubud, they work with ebony and other interesting woods (2 colored ones like in Rama and Sita sculpture here).

The population of this island is much better at sculptures and painting. Besides gorgeous landscapes, they dye batiks with local motifs. Thus the sarong here has different patterns as the one is western Indonesia or in Malaysia. The most often colors are red, dark blue and white, the colors of the three main Hindu Gods —Brahmā, Vishnu and Śiva. Plus yellow/gold, for Mahadeva.

canang sari
At the entrance of the market in Ubud

The local culture, like Asian cultures in general, it is also rich in stories, mythological figures that fight the bad, symbols, etc. . It all revolves around religion. People start their day by giving thanks for life’s richness and they prepare offerings. Therefore canang saris will be lying around on the side walks and in front of the places that are believed to be inhabited by spirits. This one must be a very good form of the spirit, holding a gada –symbol of bravery.

 

Pura Tirta Empul

Praying in Pura Tirta EmpulBesides the daily offerings, praying and purification is also very important part f the culture. Thus I ended up visiting a few temples here too. Goa Gajah (TentativeUNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site), Gunung Kawi and Pura Tirta Empul. Pura means Hindu Temple. The latter one I liked the most. This is the place where people go for purification. They prey and then they get blessing and spiritually ready for purification, in the holy water.

 

Kecak fire and trance danceLegong and Barong danceThese rituals for me are very attractive, since it is all new, full of mystery and curios significances. Thus, the most impressive and straightforward means for discovering the beauty of this culture were the temple dances. Each night, there would be 7-8 temple dances performed in different temples located in various corners of Ubud. These dances depict ceremony fragments that at their turn rely on Sanskrit epics. I had the chance to attend 2 of such dances (they rotate between temples). They were both amazing experiences, the Kecak fire and trance dance and the Legong dance. To my knowledge, temple dances are performed only in Ubud, thus the cultural center of Bali.

Wayang KulitBesides the dances, they play a sort of shadow puppet theater called wayang kulit, designate by UNESCO to be a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This was also a very cute, interesting experience. Right before the lights went off, a cicak was hunting insects around the light bulb.

 

Pura Ulun Danu
…and this is how a typical batik pattern looks like

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan was the last temple to visit. It is situated in a region of high fertility, thus the name of the lake, Lake of Holy Mountain. The pagoda-shaped shrine which is found in almost every Balinese temple, is named after Mt. Meru, a sacred Hindu peak, considered the home of the Gods. The importance of the God being worshiped is indicated by the number of roofs, which is always an odd number, with a maximum of 13. The 11 roof pelinggih meru, followed by a 3 roofed pelinggih meru, are dedicated to Wisnu and Dewi Danu.It is important to notice that the main feature of the meru is the accurate, proportional construction technique, as well as the decorative effect it has, both symbol of the local wisdom and traditional Balinese architecture. Another important feature of the merus is the roof construction, which is made of non-ordinary palm leaves. The palm trees producing these dark leaves are used only for meru roof top construction, whereas the standard ones will be used for producing book covers and paper.

TirtaganggaGood, a last edifice that I visited, was Tirtagangga Water Garden, the former Royal residence. It is not used anymore, thus it feeds the tourists… like me. Nice complex of pools and floral ponds, mostly featuring Lotus flowers, symbol of beauty, prosperity, and fertility. Balinese scripture Danghyang Dwijendra calls Bali the Padma Bhuwana, or “lotus flower” of this planet.

Air Panas BanjarSo much spirituality must be follower by purification, but this time it was a corporal one, namely at the hot springs from Air Panas Banjar. Very nice place for a bit of relax, and an extra opportunity to get glance at how Balinese people enjoy nature’s gifts. There are actually 3 pools, with water at various temperatures. Very …. exhaustive experience, by the time I got back at the end of the day I was dropping tired in my bed.

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offeringBesides the cultural beauty of the island, Bali has more to offer. The other part of the trip concerns flora lovers. The abundance, variety and beauty of flowers is wonderful! Besides the colors, each flower delights the olfactive senses with a distinct, soft and very pleasant fragrance. Most of these flowers you will find in offerings and the most common ones are Ylang-Ylang, Frangipani, Cempaka, and the rest of them that are used as spices (Ginger Flower) or ornamental (Heliconia).

 

oka agriculturecacaoBut not only flowers grow on this island. It is also a source for Coffee Bali , cinnamon, pepper, chili, vanilla, cloves, and naturally fruits like ca-ca-o (or cocoa), pa-pa-ya, ba-na-na, co-co-nut, a-na-nas (pineapple), and probably some more repeating syllable named fruits –interesting naming trend :). Nyoman told me that in Bali, and in Asia in general, they give names very easily. E.g. the child could wear the brand of the car it was born in — like in Life of Pi. We made a stop at the Oka Agriculture plantation, where we had a degustation of various coffees and teas. Seems like tin Bali there are many farms to live off of agrotourism. They offer most of the time Balinese coffee–Luwak coffee processed by the Luwak :), lemongrass, coconut oil products, as well as chocolate but what I loved the most are the essential oils. They can be used as perfume and they really last for long. At least the Champaka, Jasmine and Night Queen that I purchased from Oka, last a whole day and are very pleasant. The more recently purchased one from Teba Sari –rose is wonderful, but not as long lasting as the previously mentioned ones. Will see how the rest of them turn out to be.

Aaaand finally, we’re getting there, the paddy fields. And this is a hard photo choice! There are so many beautiful fields, of a mesmerizing crude green, wonderful. Bali is good at this as well, but where does all that amazing green come from, besides the mountain water? as a matter of fact, from its 3rd UNESCO stop over, Bali’s traditional subak irrigation system as a World Heritage Activity! All the rice terraces are beautiful, but the ones from Baturiti… well see for yourself.

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My journey ends with a nice day of snorkeling near Amed and I owe a big Thank You! Nyoman, my friend and driver, for all the teaching and the wonderful places that he showed me during my stay in Bali.

Beach near Amed

Thank you!
Thank you!

More pics here.

New Year’s Eve in Borneo

Borneo, the third largest island in the world and at this time of the year, also the very warm and dry place in Asia. This is one of my favorite corners that I would love to explore a bit more.

Nabalu_view
Before carrying on our trip, I snap a few shots.

The purpose of the visit on this island is to climb Mt. Kinabalu (UNESCO World heritage), Low’s Peak (4095.2m) — the highest peak in South-Eastern Asia– and thus we registered with a tourism company for the 2 day trip to the top of the mountain, the World’s highest via ferrata included.

Nabalu handicraft marketThe trip from the airport to the reservation is a 2h drive, with a very friendly Malay guy/de. It is funny to me to notice that they drive on the left here, unlike in Europe. The road to Kinabalu Reservation, includes a stop in Eden …ahem, I mean Nabalu’s market full of local handicraft and fruits fro, the region. There we try some mangosteen and red banana.

Palm trees mix with the usual non tropical species, until slowly the road starts climbing and there are only exotic plants left on the menu. Coconut and banana growing in the wild, and from time to time I catch a glimpse of a Jackfruit tree or Durian? (after all I left Asia without grabbing the chance to taste it … :-\ ).

Pine Resort Vila's terraceBefore starting our journey up to Low’s peak, we spend a night in the Pine Resort. This is basically our New Year’s Eve, which turns out to be a very sweet one, unexpected thing for the middle of nowhere. Alex decides that she wants to BBQ, so we gear up for it and in the evening, after dinner we try our luck… which is not with us. The fireplace is empty, BUT friendly locals help us out first with coal, then with the rest of the stuff. I actually get into a nice get to know them conversation. They are local guides in Kota Kinabalu, accompanying tours on flora in the city. They are all mostly from KK and their English is improving! :)

Trail to Pendant HutOn the 1st of ’13, we start our journey up to Pendant Hut (3289m). It is a 6km long trail, that we are told it takes 6h, for 1423m altitude difference. I let you do the math on the steepness of the path. It is yet anther beautiful experience. The path is basically stair like, which atm I totally enjoy, will do less on the way back … . The weather is pretty warm, but nothing unbearable, I sweat, thus I don’t feel the humidity. Our way goes up through the clouds sometimes. Our guide has an original local name, which unfortunately I forget right away, but the other locals that I get to meet during the coming 2 days have names like Bryan, Albert and so forth. This is a bit unusual, interesting!

We are 5 in the group, and turns out that the couple who joined us is very friendly and kind. I help out the guy with some post workout advice and seems to work for him, thus he makes it to the top later on. On the other hand, Denzil is not feeling so good, and decide to abandon the hike. Turns out after the trip that he had caught some bacterial infection at lungs’ level.

The way up is not too hard, and even though before the trip I was doubting the lose requirements shoe wise, it is indeed a trail doable with trainers, trekking shoes, all the way up.  On the way, I try to communicate with our guide, a very very cute old man, obviously in a good shape, and later on he starts showing me all the amazing plants on our way up.

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By the end of the 4th km, meaning 4h — which is very much doable in less than 4h, the tropical rain starts. And it pours more than cats and dogs and it keeps on raining. It catches us at the shelter, but we have a commitment, by 15h30 we have to be at the hut, for next day’s via ferrata briefing and it is 12h30.

Pendant hutOnce the rain doesn’t seem to want to stop, we continue our journey up the path in rain, and after a short while I am swimming in my shoes and decide to break apart from the group (cannot get lost since there is no other way, but down the same path) and decide to continue alone and … faster. I make it to the cabin 1h before the others and take a very welcome warm shower. By 14h45 I am at the early briefing, though the weather at that point doesn’t look too promising. The only problem now is that the shoes and socks are not gonna dry for the next… morning.

Summit
My first climb of >4000m and it is outside Switzerland

After dinner, early bedtime, by 7 people start sleeping and we wake up at 2am to get ready for the departure. I get to hike with Nicky, partner of Carol who decides not to do the climg, friend from dinner last night. Very handy! So we start the climb, and with 2 x 30 min breaks of shivering in the shelter of some cliffs on the way up, we make it to the top, where we have another few minutes until the sunrise. It is there, finally and after so many pics, we finally head down from the 0 degree non-tropical, windy climate. Socks and fingers frozen, I can’t be more grateful to descend!^^

 

The way down is actually only until the via ferrata (3776m). We meet there our mates and guides and we begin the 3h descent. I must day, it was enough of it for a while. Since we start off without breakfast, Nicky and I am all about breakfast the whole way down, but mostly towards the end. It is an amazing trail, with many verticals and horizontals. Our guide is amused by us not taking chances with the security attachments, in the beginning but by the end we try out the crazy hangings as well. There is a segment which takes us through the jungle. ATM seems the most difficult part of the trail. Finally with an average speed we reach the bottom and in the end we get our well deserved meal!

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via2

 

We leave the hut at 12 and the final descent takes us like 3h20 for ~>2300m descent, back to Timpohon Gate (1866m) and that’s where (aprox.) I say good bye to my trekking mates and new lovely friends, Nicky and Carol.

View from the end of the via ferrata over Pendant and Laban Rata Huts
View from the end of the via ferrata over Pendant and Laban Rata Huts

At the bottom, the driver who picked us up from the airport and drove us around, Bryan is taking us to our accommodation places. In the meanwhile the Amazing Borneo Team Member hands us out the certificates of accomplishment for Low’s Peak and the via Ferrata

<BLING> Wohoo, got the certificate! :-) <BLING>

More pics here.

Kuala Lumpur and Batu Caves

Malaysia was on the other hand, like a lotion to me after the bustling streets of Bangkok and all the craze there, we had a blissful stay in Kuala Lumpur at the Reggae Mansion, situated in the old town area.  Petronas Twin Towers

The Petronas Twin Towers (World’s highest buildings for 6 years until Taipei took over) are outstanding and imposing. The inside is a shopping mall of course, but it also houses the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and some more institutions. In its close vicinity is the KLian space needle, which offers, honestly a poor overview on the towers — at least during the night.

Batu Caves and the 270 stairs

As a short evasion from the engineer’s world, to the north of KL, opens up the Batu Caves. A carst cave, formed in limestone, which at present houses a Hindu temple. The complex includes also the Dark Caves, for which they offer a guided tour. The guide I had was very sympathetic, working currently in the cave as a scientist. Somehow I felt after a while that caves are like mountains (shame on me), almost the same after a while, but seems that a new take on presenting the formations can attract interest again!

Ancestor on a leashThe whole formation is accessible by climbing 270 stairs, a nice warm up before something more serious! and yes, it would have been perfect if I opened my eyes on this one…

 

More pics here.