A Travellerspoint blog

January 2009

The Multiple Personalities of Bali

sunny 30 °C

This is our third visit to the tropical mecca of Bali in ten months, yet we are still totally confused about its identity and how to describe it.

Should we enthuse about the sun-drenched postcard-pristine beaches overhung with palm trees like this one ...
.....or should we complain about other beaches that are so polluted with garbage that even Fred, the idle Malaysian beach cleaner, would have difficulty turning a blind eye?

Should we tell you about the near-deserted hotels and empty restaurants, or about the ones that are packed with Dutch "Overwinteraars" escaping the January blues of Amsterdam.

Should we write about the extravagent villas, ritzy restaurants and luxury hotels patronised exclusively by affluent westerners, or describe the thatched bamboo shacks and concrete-block hovels of the locals.

Should we show you photos of Hindu shrines that we meet around every corner - like this one ....
..... together with a portrait of one of the hundreds of local women who make daily offerings of food, flowers and incense in the hope of appeasing the gods?
Or should we chronicle the terrible mess left by the offerings once they have been scavanged by rodents, birds and dogs?
And what about the winning smiles of the Balinese? Could they possibly be as friendly as the appear, especially as they know that we have so much more than they, or do they only smile at us in order to pick our pockets? Prices of most things here are ridiculously low so we have a certain sympathy for vendors who quote relatively astronomical prices in the hope that buyers may be too stupid to notice or too rich to care. We are neither, although Jim's bargaining skills still need honing.

Conclusion - Bali has as many faces as the Hindu gods that the Balinese so assiduously worship. But you can choose which of the faces you want to focus on. We see everything - the good, bad and downright ugly, and we love it because, above all, it is totally fascinating.

Posted by Hawkson 23:11 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)


semi-overcast 30 °C

We are mindful that we haven't posed a brain-teaser for awhile, so here is this week's question:
How would you turn this pile of rubble ......

....... back into an ancient monument like this?

Answers , on a postcard please, to: The Curator of Religious Antiquities, Prambanan, Central Java.
The winner will receive accolades from the people of Java and a tour for two around the temple at Prambanan, (value $22 U.S.), (airfare not included).
The Prambanan Hindu temple was built around 900 A.D. as an elaborate symbol of superiority over the Buddhists whose great temple of Borobudur lay sixty kilometres away. Today, this is all that remains of the temple which stood majestically for over a thousand years on the central plain of Java until an earthquake shook it to its core on May 27th. 2006. The Hand of God, like that of a petulent kid with his big brother's Lego creation, reached out that day and flattened the bloomin' lot. Just a few of the largest stupas, (towers), survived as the earth turned to jelly underneath them, but more than a hundred were completely destroyed. The remains of Prambanan temple is still a magnificient sight, but it is difficult to see how it will ever be restored to its former glory. However, we did our bit by making a donation on behalf of those of you who contributed to the S.E.Asia fund.

Now. several of our readers have kindly suggested that we must be getting tired - even exhausted - so we thought it time that we took a break from all the hard work and fly back to Bali for some beach time. But ... Wait! What hard work? What exhaustion? For the past three months we've been chauffered and guided, we've had servants to cook, clean, make our beds and carry our bags. Life could not have been easier or more relaxing. So, dear concerned friends, believe us when we say that we are not in the slightest fatiqued and are looking forward to our next adventure.

Posted by Hawkson 22:04 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Indonesia's World Wonder

Borobudur - World's largest Buddhist temple

sunny 30 °C

When the Normans invaded Britain in 1066 and built great cathedrals and abbeys in Westminster and Salisbury they were probably unaware that their eclesiastical monuments had been superceded by the Buddhist and Hindu temples of Java.
After being ravaged by time, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions for more than twelve-hundred years, the Buddhist temple at Borobudur stands today as a testament to the skill of its architects and stonemasons. This gargantuan multi-tiered structure rivals any of the Christian megaliths in design, construction and decoration. The massive masonry structure was built without mortar of any kind. Hundreds of bas-relief panels depict Javan life in the ninth century A.D., and there is a stone Buddha around every corner and under every bell.
As we walked the five kilometre labrynthine circuit under a scorching tropical sun, our thoughts turned to home; to the labyrinth in our garden on Gabriola and to our B.C. friends who are enduring the worst winter in decades. Sorry folks - we didn't plan it that way.
How much further? I can't stand this heat!

Posted by Hawkson 00:18 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Yogyakarta - Ancient and modern

semi-overcast 32 °C

Today we take you on a photo-tour of the Sultan's Water Palace in the ancient Javanese capital of Yogyakarta, (also known as Jogjakarta).
First we have to get there from our hotel in a tricycle rickshaw called a becak.
How do these guys cope with the chaotic traffic of this congested city?
Oh-Oh! This one's given up.
We switch to a horse and buggy to give our becak driver a break. We may think that we are doing our bit for the environment by not taking a cab, but goodness knows what we are doing to the horse's lungs in all this pollution.
We have arrived at the Water Palace. It was built in the seventeenth century for a Sultan with an unpronouncable name. (Just look to the left of the satellite dish, underneath the line of washing, to see parts of this important aecheological monument).
These are the Sultan's harem pools.
Twenty-eight concubines at a time swam around these pools until the Sultan chose his 'Catch o' the day' from his bedroom window. Why twenty-eight at a time? What happened to the twenty-seven rejects? and a dozen similar questions overstretched the comprehension of our Indonesian guide.
This is the pool at our hotel. Sheila is going to swim around until Jim chooses his 'Catch o' the day.'

Posted by Hawkson 00:16 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

The Orient Express

semi-overcast 33 °C

Okay - so we didn't take the real Orient Express ... wait a minute .... actually we did take the real Orient Express. The 'so called' real Orient Express travels from London to Venice - hardly the Orient. Whereas we are in the true Orient; the land of Javanese rhinos, komodo dragons and orang-utans. Nowhere is more exotic or oriental than Indonesia. So, when we took the train from Banyuwangi high into the volcanic peaks of southern Java, we were truly on the Orient Express.
As we began our journey on the coastal plain, water buffaloes yoked in pairs ploughed the thick mud of the rice paddies and created a timeless image. Two hundred years of colonialism and modernization have failed to change the pictures; hundreds of peasants in conical straw hats work the rice fields, ploughing, sowing, reaping and threshing by hand as they have done for centuries. The only concession to modernity is the enormous amount of chemicals now used to ensure three bumper crops a year; herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers are liberally spread on the paddies, often by workers wearing little or no protective equipment. The conditions are medieval. Men and women toil together under a scorching sun until the rice ripens, then the threshing begins- enormous sheaves of dusty dry rice are hefted overhead then thrashed down onto logs. It is hot, heavy, back-breaking work for which the workers receive a pittance.
The rice paddies grew smaller and steeper as we climbed higher into the mountains and were gradually replaced with tomatoes, peppers, sugar cane, tapioca, durian and coffee. Every inch of this land is productive and cultivated. Bananas and coconuts grow everywhere, along with teak for furniture and boat-building, and kapok for mattress stuffing.

It is Chinese New Year and these are some of the decorations in one of the gigantic shopping malls in Surabaya, southern Java.
Cosmopolitan cities may be teeming with chic techno-savvy teens and rich dudes driving BMWs, but the countryside is dirt poor. Bare-breasted women wash themselves, their kids and their clothes in streams laced with chemical run-off from the rice paddies; millions of children receive little education - despite government claims to the contrary; and people who cannot afford medical treatment, simply die.
Our seven-hour journey through southern Java on the Orient Express took us through a movie that could have been filmed in the middle-ages,
This first leg took us to Surabaya - a sophisticated city of luxury hotels, highrises and office towers rising above an ocean of slums. Here we spent a few days with friends from Widya-Mandala University: Veronica, Agnes, Susanah and Elizabeth.

And then we reboarded our Orient Express to the ancient Javanese capital of Yogyakarta. The land was flat - three hundred kilometres of rice paddies as far as the eye could see. We travelled 'Executive class' (six hours for just twelve dollars - and that included a full meal). We weren't offered anything but 'Executive class' and when we saw the regular trains we knew why. For a few cents, thousands of locals cram the carriages and hang out of doors and windows of the local trains. We saw one train where even the driver's cab was completely crammed with passengers. There are so many occasions when we realize how fortunate we are and whenever we eat rice or drink coffee in the future we will be reminded of the hardworking poor people who made it possible.

If you are interested in world wide train travel you might want to check www.seat61.com a great web-site

Posted by Hawkson 01:25 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

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