A Travellerspoint blog

December 2012

The Genteel Art of Balinese Fly Killing.

semi-overcast 30 °C

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It’s a Balinese New Year and it’s mid-summer here in the sunny southern hemisphere. Ahead of us the placid Sea of Bali stretches to the horizon where it melds seamlessly into an azure sky, while, at our feet, the paddies are turning green with newly planted rice. Here’s the neighbor and his son doing some last minute ploughing…
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But Bali has a darker side and the clouds shrouding the mountains at our back ominously presage yet another nocturnal firework display. This equatorial Nirvana, wrought by volcanoes and molded by earthquakes and tsunamis, is a land of extremes. When it’s hot - it bakes. And when it rains, the roads turn to rivers and the paddies overflow in torrents. But the nightly downpours nurture the young rice and the tropical vegetation grows so fast in the moist heat it could outpace a triffid…
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If we had the stomach for heights we could pick our own coconuts, papayas and cloves, and from the surrounding trees we could harvest cocoa, rambutan, durian, jackfruit and breadfruit. But Bali has such a varied topography and climate that almost anything grows here. Nutmeg, cinnamon, and a myriad of other spices thrive in the steamy jungles of the coastal plain, while coffee, tea, and all manner of fruits and vegetables flourish in the cool damp mountain airs. But along with such abundance comes wildlife…
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Perhaps the greatest disappointment on our trans-Siberian journey was the absence of wildlife. Apart from a lone Bactrian camel in the Gobi desert and a woolly squirrel in Listvyanka our only brush with raw nature was a couple of teenaged boys fighting in the snow outside a college in Irkutsk. However, down on the farm in Bali, we live in a veritable menagerie. Exotic birds, butterflies and dragonflies fill the air, while less adorable snakes, frogs and gourmet-sized snails slither across the paths and swim in the paddies. Mice, rats and ants of every size are a daily irritant, but lizards, like gekoes and their larger cousins, tokays, are welcome house guests. These acrobatic little suckers can eat their weight in flies and spiders every night, so here in the tropics a man’s best friend is a lizard – except when they are noisily mating on the ceiling at three in the morning.
And then there are the flies. Balinese flies are akin to dandelions and unwanted facial hairs – pluck one and it’s a fair bet that two will appear in its place. But we don’t give in to such threats easily and have been determined to stamp out the little pests since our arrival. We started with a dollar-store plastic swatter, (only 10 cents here), and left a bloody trail of splattered bodies on the chopping board and table cloth. The continual “shlap” of the swatter hitting the table so unnerved the dog, (who may have worried that she was next on the hit list), that we gave up in favour of the more genteel, and time-honoured, flypaper.
Flypaper was a Victorian invention, using glue laced with honey and arsenic, at a time when many people still believed that flies hatched directly from men’s perspiration. (Victorian women, of course, never perspired – they merely glowed). But, while flypaper might be effective against the odd well-mannered English fly, a thin strip of sticky paper is little use against a squadron of the Balinese blighters. So we went for the full monty of fly traps - a tabloid-sized sheet of flypaper ankle deep in glue strong enough to disable an Indonesian elephant. And it worked – on the flies, not the elephant. But a page coated with a hundred dead flies is not a pretty sight, so here’s a picture of Tony's farmers planting the rice in our front yard...
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But back to the flies – if we must. A page full of tasty morsels looked like dinner to a mouse one night and he metaphorically came unstuck when he dived in. He had barely started on the appetizer when his feet refused to budge and he fell over. Bingo – we now had a hundred and one pests all firmly glued to a single sheet of paper, an even less attractive sight. So here’s another view of our lush surroundings..
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We can only imagine the struggles that the mouse went through as he tried to unglue himself that night, but by the morning he was more firmly attached to the page than a bibliophile with a classic novel. He was a pitiful sight with his paws firmly stuck and his fur matted, and he had fallen and couldn’t get up. It would have been so easy just to drop him, flies and all, into a bucket. So why did we spend ten minutes gently prying the poor little creature, one paw and one hair at a time, from the page? Why were we so careful not to damage his little tail as we disentangled it from the glue? Why did we clean him up as best we could and find him a sheltered little spot in the garden? Why did we let him go?
We guess we’re just suckers for a hard luck story and a cute face! And here’s some more cute Balinese faces…
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These are some delightful kids we were introduced to when we were invited to participate in a festival to celebrate the full moon by our friend Juny.
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Happy New Year dear blog reader, (and Catherine), from us and Juny. Now it’s time for our Polar Bear swim – at least it would be if only we could cool the pool to below 25 degrees. That’s very unlikely in this heat so we have come up with a plan. Henceforth we shall celebrate New Year with a Koala Bear swim where we will search for the hottest pool available and suffer the intolerable warmth with a smile...
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Happy New Year to all from downunder in sweltering Bali.

Posted by Hawkson 03:44 Archived in Indonesia Comments (8)

Paradise in Bali

semi-overcast 30 °C

Two worlds live side by side on the tropical island of Bali and each is a considered a paradise by some. On the southern coast, high-octane nightclubs and all-inclusive resorts annually lure millions of tourists to a Disney version of South Pacific where the booze, the food and the women are inexpensive. And then there is our Bali – just eighty kilometres, and several centuries, north of the tourist Meccas of Kuta and Sanur.

Ours is a National Geographic world of coconut trees and banana palms, where the Balinese live in thatched huts, and oxen still plough the waterlogged rice paddies as they have done for millennia…
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We are ‘farm-sitting’ for a couple of months for our friend Tony. His exotic hilltop perch, with its infinity pool, is surrounded by the sculpted hillside of his rice paddies. Here, the swimming pool and paddy meld seamlessly and make a verdant watercolour…
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The gongs and cymbals of the gamelan orchestra, so discordant to Western ears, strike a distinctly Balinese tempo, but the metronome of life here beats to the rhythm of water. It is the rainy season. The heat of the day brings forth nightly cloudbursts and our aqueous world dances to the music of raindrops on giant lily pads,while rivulets of rainwater trickle melodiously from paddy to paddy on their way back to the sea. Water makes music all around us: from the gushing waterfalls to the steady ‘splosh’ of the oxen’s hoofs as they plough the paddies.
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This fruitful Eden has more colours than a rainbow, more fragrances than Chanel, and more shades of green than an Irishman’s blarney. Freed from the shackles of winter, the lotus, hibiscus and bougainvillea blossom at will, while sweet frangipane and jasmine nightly scent the evening air…

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Warm equatorial nights bring out the lovers and as the sun sets a raucous chorus of amorous frogs rend the air, while mating crickets add to the cacophony and fireflies flash silently at their suitors. Finally, the nightly storms put on a light show that brings thunderous applause and then this world sleeps. By cock’s crow the clouds have let in the stars and by dawn the sun makes a welcome return – Paradise found.

Now dear blog reader we know that you are busy preparing for the festive season so we will cease our literary ramblings for awhile. However, thanks to you we will be marking a milestone in the next day or so – our blog has been read 249,800 times and, with roughly 500 visitors per day, we will soon hit a quarter of a million page views - thank you for your interest. Come back in a couple of weeks for another look at Bali.

Posted by Hawkson 05:58 Archived in Indonesia Comments (9)

When the Nuts in the Milk Incense

sunny 33 °C

Throughout our travels on a slow train to China and beyond we have been amused and perplexed by bizarre translations - often on very large and clearly expensive advertising materials. For example, this glossy advert appeared all over southern China...
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And some of the menus have been a real hoot. How about this tasty, (but potentially chewy) Russian dish...
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Of course, it is easy to make fun of foreign people, artifacts and situations. So, purely for your amusement ,and with no wish to denigrate any of the wonderful people we have met, here's our take on some of the funnier things we captured on camera...

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James at the Hermitage..."I think it's possibly a 14th century Russian spittoon!"

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This is clearly a Siberian Car Boot sale.

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"Don't look now Olga, but I think another Canadian submarine has run aground."

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"Of course I'm annoyed - you promised me a Fabergè egg."

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This Chinese sign means...No Parking for Suicide Car Bombers.

While this sign was five hours by camel cart from the nearest proper road in the Mongolian desert and it warned of a potential hazard!
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This is a Cambodian tandem...
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And this is a Chinese tandem...
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We are always intrigued by the differing eating habits of the locals and we like to try different things - but not everything...

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Chinese mother. "Hey Zhou, stop playing with your food!"

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"O.K. I know I'm cheap, but believe me I've got very skinny legs for a frog."

And finally...
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"O.K. James. These are the kind of beach stairs I want you to build next year."

And after all that thinking and writing...
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Look who's asleep on the job.

We're now on our way to the mid-point of our trip - the tropical paradise of Bali - where we have a lot of work to do down on the farm. Come for a visit in a few days and we will show you around our winter abode.

Posted by Hawkson 04:42 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Cambodia’s Future Begins Today

sunny 34 °C

Confession time – Angkor Wat was actually bursting with tourists when we visited…
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But we have perfected ways of keeping them out of the picture as we explained in our blog post from Turkey, dated 12.10.2011, titled Confessions of a Devious Photographer.

Because Angkor Wat is such a draw it also attracts an army of locals hoping to profit from the visitors and there is no shortage of souvenirs and services on offer. The touts are accompanied by hordes of young children, especially doe-eyed little girls, who have learned their sales pitch in many languages and memorized the capitals and heads of state of numerous countries. Mention Canada and some adorable 5 year old kid will immediately tell you that Ottawa is the capital and Harper is the P.M. (This is impressive - eighty percent of Canadian 5 year olds, and a fair chunk of adult Canucks, wouldn’t know that). And if you still refuse to buy their postcards or trinkets the children will promise to go to school the very next day if you give them a dollar. We didn’t buy their trinkets, or their story, but they are poor people in a poor country. Many of them live in squalor on stilt houses like this…
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These riverside homes under the coconut and banana palms may look exotic, but the murky water is a sewer and mosquito breeding ground. Dengue fever and malaria are rampant in this seeming paradise...
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The ruined city of Angkor was one of the world’s largest urban conurbations in the 12th /13th centuries, but internecine wars and invasions led to its eventual downfall and abandonment. Tribal, religious and geo-political wars have blighted the world for centuries, and we have seen the battle scars in places like Kosovo and Vietnam, but nowhere have the wounds been so close to the surface as in Cambodia. Siem Reap may be a bustling city of neon lights and cut-price bars but it has a dark side: amongst the throngs of western backpackers and well-healed tourists, dozens, (probably hundreds), of paraplegic Cambodians scrape a living by playing music, selling books and trinkets, or outright begging. We refuse to exploit the plight of suffering people by photographing them, so here’s a happy picture of a flock of egrets amidst the lotus blossoms at Tonle Sap lake…
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Tonle Sap lake is home to countless fishermen and their families who live in ramshackle floating villages along its banks. It looks quaint from a distance…
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But it’s not pretty up close…
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In the early 1970s Nixon and Kissinger ordered the bombing of Cambodia in a desperate, and secret, bid to stop the Vietcong from resupplying their troops in Vietnam. The Americans dropped over a hundred thousand tons of bombs and mines on the unsuspecting Cambodians, killing eighty thousand and wounding countless others. And then came the real tragedy: the communist Khmer Rouge, under the paranoid dictator Pol Pot, murdered between two and three million intellectuals, took Cambodia back to the stone-age, and left the country littered with millions of landmines. The legacy of this reign of terror can be seen today in the limbless and blind trying to eke out an existence on the streets of Siem Reap. But the terror has also left thousands of orphans, many sexually abused and suffering from HIV/Aids, and we visited an orphanage in Siem Reap where we were very impressed by the care and education given to the children. Here they are performing a scene from the Ramayana…
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We always donate to really worthy causes that we come across on our travels and this orphanage in Siem Reap is one of the most worthy we have ever encountered. It is entirely free of religious or government affiliation and every dollar donated goes directly to helping the children. Please take a look at their website www.acodo.org and see how you can help these orphans this Christmas. With your help the children of Cambodia can look forward to a brighter future.

Posted by Hawkson 06:21 Archived in Cambodia Comments (4)

If It’s Tuesday - It Must Be Cambodia

sunny 34 °C

We’re on a bit of a package tour at present: Hong Kong on Sunday; Bangkok on Monday and now we’re in the ancient Khmer Kingdom of Cambodia to visit the historic temple of Angkor Wat. Here’s a glimpse of the magnificent monolith to whet your appetite…
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We nearly visited four years ago when we were in this neck of Indochina’s jungles but some hack travel writer, who had obviously never travelled further than the end of Brighton pier, wrote in The Times’ Travel Section that anyone who had experienced Borobudur in Indonesia could more wisely spend their money on a crate of ice-cold Guinness in the Irish Pub in Bangkok than spend 11 hours in a mini-bus on the road to Cambodia. Oh. He of little knowledge! We have been to Borobudur, but we’re not Guinness fans and our friends Keith and Helen who were at Angkor just two weeks ago said it was a “Wow!” So here's Sheila together with our guide and tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Wan...
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Granted the stone temples at Borobudur and Angkor Wat are of similar age and religious persuasion, but that’s where the similarity ends. Borobudur has been knocked down and rebuilt so many times that hardly a stone has been left unturned, whereas much of Angkor is still in the wonderful state of decay you might expect after eight hundred years in the tropics. Many of the temples are only held together by enormous tentacles of giant fig trees…
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Other temples, including the mind-blowingly enormous Angkor Wat itself, have been restored, and even rebuilt, by a number of foreign countries including France, Japan and Germany. Here’s another view of the main temple...
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Understandably, Angkor Wat is one of Southeast Asia’s most visited tourist attractions and we had heard that the place can be an absolute zoo at this time of the year. So imagine our surprise when the only sounds we heard were the calls of tropical birds, the screeches of cicadas, and the whoops of monkeys, and there wasn’t a tourist in sight. Check it out for yourself…
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Can you spot a tourist anywhere here?
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Or here at the Lolei...
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What about here at the Bayon...
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Either we have bought a camera that simply doesn’t like people or we had the whole place to ourselves under a perfect blue sky for six hours. What do you think?
Either way - take no notice of The Times. Whatever your travel plans, don't miss the incredible ruins of Angkor Wat, (and try to get here before the tourists come back), because it is absolutely impossible to capture the grandeur and splendour of this wonderful place in a photograph - but we tried...
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Posted by Hawkson 00:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged angkor wat Comments (5)

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