Friday, April 29, 2011

Time for friends and travelling

1½ week ago Mailiss & Erling arrived from Norway, for a 2-week holiday on Bali. And they brought the sun and good weather with them. The last 2 weeks before they came it had been raining a lot every day, more than we have seen in the 8 months we live here. Luckily it stopped and Bali shows its very best side to our dear visitors. The first 9 days we spend time together and at the moment they have some romantic days on their own in a beach hotel. Last week we were hanging on different beaches and just relaxing, showing the good, slow Balinese life. Iris also took them on a daytrip to Ubud, showing the foundation she worked at and just to see Ubud, which is our favourite place in Bali. Both Mailiss and Erling practiced a couple of times on driving the scooter in Bali traffic and after a couple of days we drove easily around both to Ubud and to Balangan beach in the south. Especially Mailiss just loved it. After driving scooter for many years in the past, it was a familiar and fun activity for her! For us it is fun to have people over and see Bali through new eyes again. Even though we highly appreciate our blessed everyday life here and enjoy every second. It is good to see how others react when they see things, realizing how easily we actually adapt and get used to things, we almost forget that all this wasn’t to natural when we first came here. We probably get a new culture shock when we come back home to Norway and the Netherlands…

Mailiss & Erling have a camera with a good function for panorama pictures, which we miss a lot, with all the nature and beaches we photograph here on Bali. We are so happy to have some panorama pictures now from this paradise island!

Van week 16 Bali, Mailiss& Erling

“Our” beach in Seminyak

Van week 16 Bali, Mailiss& Erling

Beautiful Geger beach with seaweed farming in the water

Weekend trip
We had booked Nyoman, who was our guide once before, to be our guide together with his driver Komang for 3 days in a row this time. Nyoman is a good guide and good company to travel with and Komang is a humble and good driver that makes us feel safe. We wanted to show Mailiss & Erling a variety of the beauty of Bali, a mix of things we had seen before and things we also still wanted to see or do. One of those things was to climb Gunung (mount) Batur and see the sunrise. Saturday at 8am we were picked up and started our journey. The weather was beautiful, we were excited to show Bali we have learned to love so much and
M&E were excited to see so much of Bali’s other beauty after a week enjoying the beaches.

We headed to the north with a waterfall, rice fields and a couple of temples in mind. We visited the royal temple Taman Ayun in Mengwi. When you think you have seen all kind of temples in Bali, you get to see a new one that looks again different than the ones you saw before. Again a beautiful temple to see and to photograph without it looking just like our other pictures. After this we drove to the UNESCO world heritage nominated rice terraces in Jatiluwih. We had been there before and we really want everybody visiting Bali to see this almost artificial landscape and magnificent rice fields. We would like to see it with newly planted rice once, but just like last time the rice was already high now. Beautiful, but the view is probably totally different with young rice, we hope to maybe see this one time before leaving Bali.

Van Week 16-17; Bali; the trip

Panorama view on Jatiluwih

Close to Jatiluwih the public temple Pura Luhur Batukaru is laying on the foot of Gunung Batukaru. Today there was an important ceremony going on in whole Bali, especially for all school kids and students, Hari Raya Saraswati. A ceremony to thank the Goddess of learning, science, and literature through offerings and prayer. In and around the temple we saw around 1000 children and teenagers in Balinese clothing bringing their own small offering to the temple. We had never seen such a massive ceremony with so many people waiting to make their offering. Teenagers were actually standing in line to get in to the praying area. Just like back home we stand in line for a concert or something else, laughing, talking and just being like teenagers are. It looked and sounded so familiar in one way, but then again so different.
We took of over the mountains and towards Singaraja. On the way down we still had daylight and time to see Gitgit waterfall. A nice short walk towards and a beautiful waterfall, but too many souvenir shops along the path and too much “cheap, cheap”, “1dollar, 1dollar”, “yes, please shopping, shopping?” We stopped in Singaraja to eat some food and watch the sunset from the nice warungs on the old harbour front.
It was getting dark and we were tired and full of impressions from the day. Komang drove us safely to Kintamani, the village in front of Gunung Batur, the mountain we were going to climb at 4am next morning….

After the climb on Batur (see further down) it was still morning and we wanted to take it easy the rest of the day, after a volcano climb you are not taking inn so much more that day. Amed on the east coast was the destination and relaxing and snorkelling was the plan. Nyoman and Komang once again drove us safely and were great company. We booked a nice and clean hotel with swimming pool for the night. After some snorkelling, swimming and beers we were more than satisfied of the day went to bed early.

Monday late morning Nyoman and Komang picked us up and we slowly headed to the west and back home with a couple of destinations on the way. Tirta Gangga water palace is one place to be if you are in Bali, it is a peaceful and beautiful Royal palace and temple and most of all a big garden to explore and admire. The restaurant with view over the garden is slightly expensive, but highly worth the money. The food is fantastic, the service is good and the view is rewarding.

Van Week 16-17; Bali; the trip

View on Tirta Gangga

Back in the car we made a route through Sidemen road which one of the most beautiful valleys to drive through in Bali. We had a few stops, a small traditional Ikat weaving factory and we also made a visit to the only resort in the area, just to have a look. If you want to experience peace of mind and harmony just by staying at a place, you should stay a night or more at Surya Shanti in Sidemen. We are thinking of it, even though it’s quite above our budget (donations are accepted ;-) ). Combination of the amazing rooms, interior, atmosphere, swimming pool and not to forget the indescribable view, makes it just an oasis in the middle of Bali.
To end our day and long weekend with almost overkill in input we visited Gyanyar evening marked, which is supposed to be very nice and cosy. Erling and Rino tried to eat Babi Guling (suckling pig) and burned their mouth out of the spicy local food and we walked through the marked and just experienced the Balinese roaring marked life. We went home and let the weekend and all the experiences sink in on us.

Gunung Batur
We have been looking forward to climb a volcano already since we came here. But in the rain season its not really recommended and often the passes are even closed. Now the wet season is slowly ending and with all the visits coming up we wanted to finally go for it. Gunung Batur is a 2-hour hike up the 1717m high mountain and you see sunrise from the top. M&E were also excited, none of us had ever seen or climbed a volcano.
After a banana pancake and coffee at 3.30 in the morning, Wayan, the guide picked us up and we started the hike in the dark with flashlights and enthusiasm. Through forests in the beginning, followed by steep and curvy paths up the side of the mountain. We took a few small drinking stops and admired the dark valley of Kintamani and lake Batur beneath us under the stars. Slowly a tiny hint of purple light was coming up on the east horizon and we continued our climb up to the top. Wayan, our guide is a highly experienced senior guide, born and raised in the area. He made us feel safe and always on ease and had a perfect tempo for the 4 of us. Sweaty but not too exhausted we arrived on the top op Gunung Batur and together with a few other groups and guides we could take in the stunning view, while the sun minute by minute made its entrance on the landscape around us. The big crater and all the details of the volcano slowly became visible for us. It was such a rewarding feeling to stand there together the 4 of us at 6.30 and look at the beauty around us and smell, see and feel the volcano we stood on. The steam poring out everywhere, the hot stones we could touch and the fact that we could boil eggs in the steam in the mountainside was so fascinating! Breakfast on a volcano: Mountain steam boiled eggs and mountain steam cooked banana sandwich, yuuummmyyy!! :-)

Van Week 16-17; Bali; the trip

Van Week 16-17; Bali; the trip

The sun is entering the landscape :-)

The rest of the journey was to walk around parts of the big crater and then slowly go down on the other side of the mountain, seeing a smaller, but more recently active crater and walking to a point were we would be picked up by our car.
Mailiss and especially Iris were finding parts of walking on the (sometimes narrow) crater edge a bit too exciting, but with lots of adrenaline, positivity and sometimes a steady hand from the guide we all had a trip and experience, which we find hard to describe in words. A tear in the corner of an eye and goosebumps are some of the ways to explain the beauty. It is on top of our experiences and places to be on Bali.

After this trip we have decided to also climb the highest volcano in Bali Gunung Agung (3142m) together with Sarah, which we picked up from the airport yesterday. WELCOME SARAH! We want to climb Agung together with Wayan, the guide we also had for Batur. We are excited about how that is going to be, harder for sure but maybe twice as rewarding…you have to wait and see. We will tell all about it when the time comes.

Van Week 16-17; Bali; the trip

Gunung Agung in the very back, our next goal :-)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bali Hindu offerings

As you know Bali has a very rich culture and a complex Hinduism, which influences the people and their daily life enormously. One of the things that are visible in every corner, street, crossroad, shop entrance, kitchen, restaurant floor, on the bar, simply everywhere, is the small colorful offer baskets for the Hindu gods and spirits. This small basket made of palm leaves, are filled with different holy flowers in many colors, rice and with different items, depending on the family or where the offer is placed. Mostly you will see candy, a cookie, fruit, a cigarette or money, again depending on the place of the offer. The Balinese believe in the balance between good and bad, yin and yang, they say one cannot exist without the other. So they will always equally make offerings to the good spirits as well as the bad spirits to please them all. The good spirits are then happy and will give fortune and wealth and the bad spirits are kept satisfied and quiet and will leave the people alone. Every house, room and area has a beautifully painted wooden box hanging on the wall somewhere. This is where they put the offer basket for the good gods. The offer baskets for the bad spirits will be placed on the ground, the ground is considered dirty and belong to the bad spirits. Which you also see when child in Bali will not touch the ground before a ceremony is done at 3 months and it’s rude to sit with your feet towards another person.

The offerings are done several times a day, mostly morning, afternoon and evening, depending also on the family, shop, hotel or other place. Because it is everywhere, at a shop they will offer to the gods of money and business. And at a school it’s important to offer to the gods of knowledge. At the beach you see offer baskets everywhere, to bring good luck, to keep the tourists and surfers safe and to please the gods of the ocean. And so on. This are just the regular days, then you off course also have all the special days of the Balinese calendar, where there will be offered more and with more items and more beautiful baskets. The people have obligations to offer and pray at certain days in the calendar at their family temple, village temple and public temple.

Placing the offering is a small ceremony on its own, the woman will always do it, except when there is no woman present at the time, a man will do it. They put on a sarong and a scarf around the middle, which is also used when you enter a temple in Bali. The basket is placed in the box or on the ground, an incense stick is put in front of it and with the right hand they make a move like they give it to the spirits and say a prayer. The baskets on the ground also get a splash of arak, the local liquor, this is of course for the bad spirits and not for the good. This ritual you can see everywhere at any time of the day, that’s if you are in a shop, at a restaurant, at the beach or just walking on the street. It is beautiful to watch and it makes us actually feel safe here. Outside our door, which is in our neighbor’s garden, there is a box hanging on the wall. Every morning there is an offerbasket and an incense stick inside it, it must be for us and our wellbeing. That’s how it is everywhere, they will offer for themselves, the island and wellbeing, but they also offer for the visitors, strangers and tourists. No wonder we feel safe!

Many people are scared to step on a basket or ruin it, but when the incense stick is burned out, the offer is absorbed/taken by the spirits and the offerbasket is not considered holy anymore. That’s handy to know, because the baskets are often lying in the middle of the sidewalk or exactly where you drive your scooter. I also wonder if they take back the cigarettes and money…never saw anybody do it yet. The dogs are anyway happy for the cookies and the rice.
For the bigger ceremonies also bigger offerings are maid. The woman will bring baskets with fruit and food, carrying it on their head to the temple/ceremony. Men will offer an animal, a pig, chicken or rooster, sometimes also done by a cockfight. For some special ceremonies the woman carry big creations on their head, made of fruit and flowers. The people will eat all the food, fruit and meat when the ceremony is finished, the spirits already had their share.

As you already can imagine the offerings are a big part of the Balinese Hinduism and the people’s daily routines and traditions. It is also a visual and artistic beauty for others visiting Bali, because you can see the offerings and the offerings being made at all times and at all places.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rain, routine & the beginning of the end

Last couple of weeks have been terrible weather-wise, we never had so much rain and unstable weather since we moved here. It actually has rained every day, several times a day for 10 days in a row. Bali has mostly a couple of hours of heavy rain and then the sun shines again or sometime it rains many hours during the night. But like this we have never seen. It doesn’t matter so much as long as it stops NOW, before our visit is coming. We feel sorry for the tourists who were here only last week, they have hardly seen sun at all. Iris has used the last weeks on building up energy again and reading books while Rino is working, during the afternoons we have been hooked on the serie ‘Californication’. We have seen all 4 seasons in 10 days. It is so funny! That’s the way we have survived the rain so far.

Last weekend we finally went away again on the scooter to see new parts of the island. We took a chance that it would be better weather on Saturday, which it was and we went away from the rain that was falling back home we heard later. We tried the west this time, which we had never explored before. Saturday morning we drove a couple of hours to the west and had planned that we would stay at Medewi beach. The road and traffic is terrible, it is the main road to the ferry that goes to Java, so there is a lot of heavy traffic with big trucks and busses driving (for Balinese standard) really fast! The pollution is crazy and for the first time on Bali we didn’t feel that safe on the road on our small, cute scooter between all the big, heavy, stinky trucks. It was a beautiful drive partly though because of a nice view over the ocean and vaguely we could see Java in the horizon. Keep left, drive carefully and let all the big trucks pass when they honk, then everything is ok.

The west coast of Bali is known for the good surf breaks and the homestays, hotels and beaches are also focusing on the surfers. There is not much tourism either except from surfers, yet. The beaches are not that nice, mostly black sand and much stones, but the breaks are beautiful and close to shore, without dangerous riffs. But we didn’t surf ourselves, we didn’t bring our board and it was not a priority this time. We checked in to a nice hotel and explored the area, we found Balian beach with cosy restaurants and swimming pool, which we enjoyed the rest of the day.

Sunday we had planed a drive up an alternative route before heading homewards. The route was up the hills of west/central Bali on small roads, through small villages and beautiful Balinese landscape. The route starts in Pelukan and ends back on the same road further east at Antosari. It’s a road well worth taking. We saw the beautiful (at this point for us) familiar rice paddies, we still never go tired of seeing rice fields here, they are stunning eye candy every time again! In this area there was also a lot of other farming, different spices, nuts, coffee and fruit. We even drove through an enormous tree where the road was made in the middle of the tree, really beautiful! We wanted to take a break and walk to a waterfall near Pupuan, halfway the route. One of the women in the village stoped us and told us that we had to take a guide, we would not find the waterfall otherwise... Probably she just wants to earn some money, but ok, we did it, it’s also nice to leave something for the locals anyway. We agreed on a good price for everybody and we walked together with Ketut, who turned out to be a really sweet, intelligent woman who talked perfect English. The waterfall was beautiful and the walk as well, the Balinese jungle is always fascinating with all the spices and fruits growing everywhere. Until now the weather had been treating us really nice, but on our way back from the waterfall the sky opened up and all water fell down that didn’t fall the two days before. We hurried back to the village and Ketut invited us to drink coffee at her family’s compound until the worst rain would stop. We drank Balinese coffee and tasted different Balinese vegetables and fruits she offered us and we met her sweet (youngest) daughter and just as sweet grandmother in law.
We had a wet and long drive home and the rain didn’t stop. But we had already seen the beauty of this route and of the west of Bali and were happy to just get home and watch more episodes of Californication. :-)

We are a little out of routine, because Iris was sick and with the rain last weeks, the days and weeks have looked different the last months than before. At the moment we talk a lot about going home, traveling and leave Bali. We now really look forward to have friends coming over, it’s just perfect timing for us and we need some social input and fun with friends. Through their eyes we can enjoy Bali to the max again for our last period here! Because paradise it is still, we are very aware of that!