A Travellerspoint blog

Indonesia

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

overcast 28 °C

Bule: pronounced boo-lay means white-skinned (westerner).
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For good reason, the intensely superstitious Balinese are as fearful of the gods in the mountains as they are of the devils in the sea. From time immemorial, unpredictable and seemingly vengeful volcanoes have rained fiery death on this island from their cloud-shrouded heights, whilst cyclonic tropical winds have periodically whipped the sea into a destructive frenzy along the coast. It is possible, therefore, that common sense and not superstition has driven the Balinese to believe that a point halfway between these two hellish elements is the best place to live.
Our good friend Tony inhabits such an idyllic space: a lush plateau of rice paddies and coconut palms midway between the mountain and the ocean; a place of tranquility and beauty from where he can oversee the devilish forces of nature whilst remaining resistant to their destructive powers.
Tony is a creative, gentle, intellectual who has no place amongst the boorish ex-pat drunkards who lurch around the sleazy beachside bars with nubile Balinese girls for support. Neither does he fit with the get-rich-quick merchants who inhabit the higher slopes and seek every opportunity to turn a buck by inveigling purpose-made friends into property deals of doubtful value.
However, Bali is not only home to renegade westerners taking advantage of cheap women, cheap land and cheap labour. It is home to more than a million entrepreneurial Balinese who find dastardly inventive ways to pick the pockets of the neo-colonialists.
Bules can neither own property, vehicles nor bank accounts, so need either a local wife or ‘trusted friend’ to act as trustee. But trust is a matter of interpretation which often leaves the “friend” holding the bag.
The families of young people all hit the jackpot if a rich old westerner is lured to the bridal bed. What self-respecting westerner would not build a house – probably large enough for the extended family – or pay for granny’s operation, or brother’s motorbike etc. etc. etc? And why not hire the entire family as cook, cleaner, gardener, etc. etc. etc. ….? The list is endless. It is a symbiotic relationship with each player in some way or another taking advantage - from the rejuvenated bule whose friends back home are trekking through the snow to the pharmacy for incontinence pads, to the twenty-year-old bride who is the envy of the village. Not all such marriages of convenience end in heaven, although the bride and family may end up with all the money.
So, why does Tony stay in Bali and why does he love this life which is so full of contradictions? Because, like us, he sees the ugliness but focuses on the beauty. Because he lives on an idyllic plateau midway between the devil and the deep blue sea.
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Posted by Hawkson 20:00 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

It's a Wet, Wet, Wet, Wonderful World!

semi-overcast 31 °C

It’s the monsoon season in this watery world. The oceans of rice paddies are daily turned to steam baths by the scorching noonday sun, but by dinnertime the overburdened sky can take no more and it lets go with a warning clash of thunder and lightning. Bucketfuls of warm rain deluge the paddies in a nightly demonstration of the reciprocating cycle of life. In the midst of such a downpour in Ubud, Bali, we watched the Legong dancers in the amazingly ornate community centre.
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The suppleness and precision of the dancers was spellbinding whilst the accompanying gamelin was …interesting. Regrettably, we can only show you images of the gongs, drums and primitive xylophones of this orchestra. However, for a close approximation of the percussive cacophony, empty your pots and pans cupboard onto the floor and let loose a dozen of the neighborhood kids with hammers, mallets and wooden spoons.
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Water has been the key element in our travels: from crossing the Pacific to Japan; zipping along the Phrao in Bangkok on the water buses; lazily cruising down the Mekong in Laos; and sailing a junk on the South China Sea. The list is almost endless: the Andaman Sea, Indian Ocean, Sea of Bali and Straits of Malacca – we’ve sailed them all. And now as we plan the ending of this journey we have decided to carry on around the world – to cross the Indian Ocean and Asia to England and from there across the Channel to France and the Mediterranean. We will then return home via the Atlantic, the Arctic, Hudson’s Bay, and finally the Strait of Georgia.
Everyday, as we check our emails or talk to family and friends by phone, we marvel at how small the world has become. But then, as we backpack our way around it, we are awed by its enormity and diversity. Despite all the doom and gloom, this truly is a wonderful world.
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Posted by Hawkson 22:12 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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 ...
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.....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 ....
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..... 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?
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Or should we chronicle the terrible mess left by the offerings once they have been scavanged by rodents, birds and dogs?
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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)

Prambanan

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 ......
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....... back into an ancient monument like this?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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How much further? I can't stand this heat!

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

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