Friday, November 20, 2009

BALI 1

1. 16 Nov, Day 33; after Mt Bromo, our plan was to head towards Bali and, if necessary, stay the night at Banyuwangi before catching the ferry to Bali the next morning. As it turned out, we reached Banyuwangi early, at about 2 pm, and decided to board the ferry immediately for Bali.

2. As we turned to head south for Banyuwangi along the coastal road, we passed through the Baluran National Park, a 25 000 ha forest reserve on the north coast of east Java, with Mt Baluran (1247m)on the left. For tens of kilometers, the area seemed burnt out. The trees looked naked without their foliage. The road that we traveled on was been resurfaced. During one of its dry spells, there must have been a fire that took away most of the foliage.

3. The ferry to Bali was clean and efficient. After paying the fee at the gate, we boarded the ferry. We left the car on the car deck and went upstairs to relax in the passenger area. Journey to Bali's Gilimanuk was about 1 hour, and we were told there were 2 services per hour. At Gilimanuk, the ferry waited for a few minutes for the landing point to be cleared. At the exit gate, we were stopped briefly by a police officer. Asking us in Bahasa, he wanted to know whats in the car, but waved us through after consulting his "boss" in the office. We were not expecting any custom check as the it was an internal movement within Indonesia. Soon, we were on the public road, traveling south towards the town.

4. The town was some 150 km away from Gilimanuk but it was a long drive to town. Road was a good road but it was only one lane either way and very often it was clogged up by slow moving trucks and buses. As we were driving into darkness, we decided to check into a hotel nearby. With GPS set for Le Meridien Nirwana Golf & Spa Resort we were led through a tortuous route through small villages and paddy fields along narrow roads, in pitch darkness. Eventually, we got there by 8 pm, both quite exhausted. I suspect the GPS was using out-dated information to get us to Le Meridien. After dinner in the hotel, we slept early. I was up at 6 am next morning and took a walk along the coast. Located close to a cliff along the shoreline, the resort golf course hugged the hotel and I could see Tanah Lot few hundred meters away (looked like a par 5 distance). Tanah Lot is one of the most visited temples in Bali. It sits on a rock along the coast and is accessible on foot during low tide. At 6+ in the morning, there were already people walking on the marshy shore near the temple.

5. Next day, Day 34, Yeow Pheng checked into hotel at Kuta Beach to await his family arriving from Solo/Spore the next day, while I linked up with my daughter, who was in Bali for yoga course. She is learning to teach yoga and her course is in Anahata Hotel in Ubud (course still on-going). As I had never been to Ubud, I was happy to drive up there and stay there while Yeow Pheng spent the weekend with his family near the beach. Fangping's yoga friends were so nice to visit her in Bali and here she was sending them off back to Singapore at Bali airport.

6. In Ubud, I stayed in Cedana Hotel along the busy Monkey Forest Street. It had quite a sizeable land area but it was only accessible from Monkey Forest Street via a 50-60 m long narrow lane, wide enough only for one car in or out, next to a restaurant. Shops, restaurants and hotels lined both sides of the narrow Monkey Forest Street and gaps between them would lead to more hotels behind. Developments looked uncontrolled. Ubud looked way over-developed; very touristic. It was convenient to stay in town, but the charming developments were those at some distance away from Ubud town, closer to the natural environment, among the paddy fields. In front of my room at Cedana was a nice pool overlooking a small paddy field.

7. At Ubud, I had some time to myself as Fangping was having her classes, Yeow Pheng with his family near the beach and Li Hoon (my wife) only arriving on Nov 19, Day 36. I walked the streets of Ubud and visited a number of attractions. At northern end of Monkey Forest Street was a sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, an area that was still green with trees and secondary vegetation with a temple within, populated by long tailed macaques. It was a quiet space to relax for a few minutes watching the monkeys playing among themselves and doing their social-bonding. A signboard warned that the monkeys might be aggressive but when I was there they were happy just doing their own things. The temple there was under repair.

8. At the other end of Monkey Street was a morning market. Leading to it, were many stalls selling clothes, handicraft (including non-powered tools), fruits and vegetables etc etc; rather untidy but here you see an interesting mix of locals doing their morning marketing and tourists browsing to see what they could buy.

9. Next to the morning market was a small religious shrine. Many locals, mostly females, were there doing their daily prayers. Along the street, it was a common sight to see ladies, dressed beautifully, placing religious offerings at their door-steps. The sale girl I spoke to said that it was a daily practice and she would prayed for good business and for good health. Morning prayers:

10. Near the morning market was Ubud Palace. Took a stroll in there (no entrance fee) but there were no explanatory boards, no guides; hardly any information. Some sections were closed to public. Took some pictures and left.



11. Walking along Jl Raya Ubud towards Museum Puri Lukisan, I passed his cafe with a beautiful lotus garden. Had a cup of coffee at the cafe while enjoying the beauty of the lotus garden.



12. The Puri Lukisan Museum was officially opened in 1956. It is dedicated to the preservation of Balinese arts heritage. It was a worthwhile visit; not just to appreciate Balinese arts but through the arts pieces gained a better appreciation of Bali culture and history. On both sides of the entrance to the main building of the museum were 2 wall paintings by a famous Balinese painter. One showed the planting of paddy seedlings while the other showed the harvesting season. Rice planting remains an important facet of life in Bali.

13. Walking down Monkey Forest, I saw these 2 ladies, enjoying the fish spa while watching life in the street- innovative entrepreneur.


14. On Nov 19, Day 36, I decided to check into a hotel in Jimbaran Beach, near the airport, to receive Li Hoon when she arrived at 7 pm that night and only traveling back to Ubud the next day. After some scouting around, found the very charming Jamahal Private Resort and Spa. It is a small property, with 13 villas, designed very tastefully, with plenty of greenery and privacy. When inside, you are in a world of your own. I could only afford this because it was low season and it was too attractive to refuse, especially when the receptionist was so friendly and helpful. It has a decent size pool and from the villa we stayed in, we could almost jump into the pool from the bedroom. We had dinner at the patio outside the bedroom and a refreshing swim at 6 am the next morning when the sun shine woke us up. When we checked out, the whole team of hotel staff, including the director, Dhita Hadisubrata, was there to send us off.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

MESMERISING MT BROMO

1. Woke up 6 am and it was already bright in Surabaya. Decided to take a stroll along the streets near Hotel Mercure. It was a Sunday morning but at 6.30 am the streets were already busy. People were out strolling and jogging. There were many cyclists on the road, exercising. A big group in brown T-shirts on bicycles passed me, clearly on an organised event.

2. Music was blasting away when I returned to Mercure. By 7.30, the female instructor in camouflage uniform began her aerobic session with about 10 ladies following her. Cars were forbidden entry to the road but cyclists ride through the space in between. Was told that Hotel Mercure organised this aerobic session every Sunday at 7 am.

3. Blogged to about 10.30 am and with Yeow Pheng we left Hotel Mercure for Mt Bromo. It was a fast highway out of Surabaya, traveling Eastwards on the North coast of Java. With GPS set for the Cemoro Indah, we turned right at Tongas for the 28 km up the mountain to the hotel. Yeow Pheng drove. It was raining, visibility was not good and the few pictures taken were good. But, we could see that it was beautiful terrain. Hill slopes were densely cultivated, mostly paddy in tiered steps along the slopes. Occasional houses and mosques lined the road up and, from time to time, passing through villages with their colourful buildings.

4. Our hotel, which was pre-booked by Yeow Pheng, was located Cemoro Lawang, at the edge of the crater looking into the Sand Sea and Mt Bromo. It was probably the closest one could stay near the volcanoes. We booked into a bigger room for 400 000 rps. We confirmed booking for the jeep the next day to watch sunrise as well as renting the jackets as it would be cold. Yeow Pheng was there a couple of months back and he knew it. As we arrived at the hotel at 4 pm, we were immediately captivated by the spectacular view of Mt Bromo. We were told sunrise would even be better.

5. Mt Bromo sits inside the massive Tenggar caldera (diameter about 10 km) and surrounded by the Sand Sea of fine black volcanic sand. It is easily recognized as the entire top has been blown off and the crater inside constantly belches white sulphurous smoke.

6. Took a stroll in the evening before dinner around the farmlands nearby. Current crop, it seemed, was onions as we could see them everywhere. We met this 2 kids in their bicycle. They were cheeky, like kids elsewhere.

7. It was simple fried rice for dinner at the hotel restaurant and went to bed at about 8 pm. We were expecting a wake up call at 3.15 for departure at 4 am in a jeep up Mt Penanjakan (2270m) to see sunrise. Beds were too soft and we did not have a good sleep and was up at 3 am. After a bun each, which we brought along from Surabaya, and kitted ourselves with gloves, jacket, a few layers of clothes, we were set to go.

8. It was about 20 km in pitch darkness to Mt Penanjakan look out point; first down to the Sand Sea, traveling across it and up the steep slope of Mt Penanjakan. From where we disembarked the jeep, it was a 200m walk up a gentle slope lined by shops to the look out point. It was not peak season, but it was a good crowd. Was told that there were 30-40 jeeps that day. On a peak day, there could be as much as 80-100 jeeps. Each jeep, like the short Land Cruiser that we traveled in could carry 4-5 passengers. There must be 100-150 people at the look out point with their cameras, all ready to take pictures.

9. First sign of the sun was about shortly before 5 am. Here you see Yeow Pheng and I at the look out point with Mt Bromo "fuming" in the background. In front of Mt Bromo ( 2329 m) was Mt Batok (2440 m), with its characteristic lined slope and a flat top. Beyond them, in the distance, was the highest mountain the area, Mt Semeru at 3676 m. This the angle for a signature shot of the volcanoes. The sun rises to the left. Here is a video taken at the scene.

video

10. By 5.15 am, it was all over and people started to disperse down the slope, some into the shops for a cup of coffee or tea. We found our jeep and as part of the tour proceeded down the slope to the Sand Sea and towards Mt Bromo. We had booked 2 horses to bring us mid-point up to Mt Bromo and then climb 250 steps to the top to see the active crater of Mt Bromo. Rested twice up the exhausting 250 steps before I got to the top of Mt Bromo.







11. Back in the hotel, we had breakfast with these German friends, who like us, were hotel guests. They too were mesmerised by the sunrise at Mt Bromo. They were Mr and Mrs Joamar Reisen, Wolfgang Rindchey and Dela Dressler and we exchanged contacts.

12. After checking out, we were off to Bali, taking the North coastal route to Banyuwangi where we could catch a ferry to Bali.