Friday, September 18, 2009

Bali August 2009

Our side trip to Yogyakarta and Borobudur was a visual experience that we won’t soon forget. We are driven to the Yogyakarta airport taking back roads that avoid the center of town and see all kinds of farming with the exception of pigs and cows, if that falls within the category of farming. There are lots of chickens running around, but we don’t see anything that remotely resembles a chicken factory. It is not surprising that there are no pigs because Java is mostly Muslim besides, pigs need grain putting them in competition with humans and making them ecologically undesirable especially in the desert of the mid-east where their taboo started. Bali is Hindu and they eat pork but we are not there yet.

It is Saturday and the airport is teeming with people traveling to various part of this huge east-west country. We board our Garuda flight direct to Bali and not surprisingly find a full plane. All Garuda airplanes have 6 seats a row, with no extra leg round for anyone six feet or over, which is fine for most Indonesians, and tolerable for the rest because the flights are not long and they always have food and drink at no extra charge.

We land at Bali and for the first time, I do not have to go through customs because we came on a domestic flight. Soon we are off to the Laguna Hotel in Nusa Dua and after two security checks we check-in. We eat an excellent dinner just off the beach to avoid the wind while a trio and singer perform some light rock songs.

I wake up early Sunday morning and take off to the beach to get some sunrise pictures. I find these two workers raking up the seaweed, digging holes every 10 feet and burying the seaweed in the sand.

I see this heron like bird feeding in the tide pool and use him to add interest.
See the bird? Do you see him? His long beak is in the sun’s reflection. Enlarge.
Later the tide will come in and come close to these chairs. This is the quiet time before nature’s energy comes alive.
The AIDS/HIV conference is next door at the Weston and Judith goes and registers, and finds her students, from China and Indonesia. And she also meets with the Laguna event manager to make final arrangements for her small party to entertain her colleagues, students, government officials and others on Wednesday evening after the end of the conference. Of course, my time is spent on the beach, re-enforcing the best body tan I have ever had.

Monday Judith made plans to have two vans take her students and colleagues to Jimbaran Beach. This is the sunset beach where several seafood restaurants adorn the shore and after the sun goes down the place lights up.

There is cloud bank on the horizon this night so there will be no sun setting at the horizon, so this is the last glimpse of the sun.
The candles go on and the beach torches light up. Lights from the fishing boats add to the atmosphere along with the perfect weather and slight breeze. And I have my feet in the sand.

Wednesday the conference is over so Thursday, Judith rents a couple of vans and her ex-student Mad’e takes the group of us into the interior of Bali starting with Ubud. We have been there a couple of times before, but it was a new to most of the travelers. We split into two groups, one of whom went to the monkey forest and the rest of us wandered through the shops and markets before we gathered again for lunch. I have always wanted to get pictures motorcycles in Indonesia as they are the main form of transportation. Indeed, if everyone had a car, the roads would be hopelessly locked up.
From Ubud we traveled through mountains and rice fields where “lush” is the word of the day.
And a good time was had by all.
We ended up at Mad’e’s home before taking the 1 ½ hour return trip to our hotel, arriving worn out and looking for some hard liquor and light dinner.
We checked out of the Laguna Friday to get a change of scene. We checked into what used to be the Ritz Carlton and now is under new ownership as the Ayana Resort and Spa. We were here before when it was the Ritz. It now has refurbished rooms and carpeting which it needed before. We stayed in the club section and sat out on the balcony having a few drinks until it was time to get closer to the sunset.
Here is one of the best pictures I have ever taken.
Life is good!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Yogyakarta and Borobudur

Our primary destination was the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific convention (ICAAP) held in Bali, Indonesia for our latest trip. However, we spent our first week in and around Yogyakarta (Joja), on the island of Java.

We spent two nights on Singapore instead of our usual one night this trip staying at a different hotel as is our custom. The Hotel was the Amara Sanctuary Resort on Sentosa Island which sits atop a hill overlooking the Palawan Beach. Part of the resort is a colonial style building where we stayed. It housed the British Sergeants quarters in the 1930’s. Outside were some bomb shelters used in WWII. The room had an outdoor Jacuzzi and a 4 poster bed. We spent the afternoon and early evening at the beach and snacked with a pitcher of margaritas after I soaked up some sun. Later, we ate supper at one of the local eateries, before climbing back up the hill and relaxing in the Jacuzzi.
The next morning we hopped aboard Garuda Airlines and flew to Jakarta and then transferred to Joja. We were met at the airport by a luxury van and driven to Amanjiwo resort near Borobudur.

Amanjiwo is featured in “1000 Places to See Before you Die” and for good reason. The domes of Borobudur are called supas and this dome motif is seen through out Amanjiwo. There are 35 terraced villas arranged in a half-moon shape around the main stupalike building. This shot was taken from the fields of vegetables in front of the resort. The main building is in the middle with the black dome.
One of the things that impressed me was that the center of the main building lined up with the center of Borobudur, seen in the distance.
Within our villa, this is a picture of our bed with the sliding doors behind revealing the area where the sunken tub is positioned.
This is our “back yard”.
And the swimming pool just around the corner.
And here is the sunken tub.
The resort also is just 5 minutes from Borobudur, allowing for an early morning trip there before dawn, which we did on our first morning there.

Borobudur is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. It was “discovered” by the British in the early 19th century. It was built about 800 A.D. and it was covered with volcanic ash from the eruption of Mt. Merapi in 1006. About 1953 a massive project was started under the direction of UNESCO to dismantle and reconstruct Borobudur and 10 years later and $25 million the project was completed. The monument is actually built on a hill and rain leaking down through the stones eroded the hill and caused it to collapse in sections. The reconstruction installed a massive hidden draining system to keep the structure intact.

We rise a 4:30 and meet at the main building at 5 AM and after rolls and coffee, we take off in the dark. Each party is given a van and driver so we are able to operate independently. We are given a flash light and we use it to climb up an equivalent of a 5 story building. After the sun came up and there was light, I took this picture from the ground after we climbed down.

When we arrive at the top, there are few spot lights on the monument. They provide enough light for silhouettes of the small supas to frame the ever changing colors of dawn.
Inside each of the stupa is a statue of a Buddha. This stupa was left open for everyone to see.
There is a lot of morning haze and low wet clouds as the sun starts its ascent.
Borobudur is surrounded by 4 volcanoes and the finally starts to appear over one of them just to the left of the peak.

On the way down we see other parts of the monument that were hidden in the dark on our way up.

Amanjiwo allows clients to choose 3 events out of several choices and of course Borobudur is a given. The next day we choose to have a picnic on a bank overlooking where two rivers join.

The next evening we eat in this local restaurant in the small town nearby. No one was in the place, but perhaps it was because we ate early.
Our stay at Amanjiwo was the height of luxury. Although there was no TV, I kept up with world events through the Internet in their library. And an International Tribune was delivered to our room every late morning. This newspaper is surely one of the best in the world. The staff was excellent, the food was excellent, the drinks were excellent, the views were outstanding, the place was beautiful, and they gave me floppy straw hat as a gift,

Amanjiwo drove us to our next lodging, the Cangkrungan Resort near the slope of the active volcano Mt. Merapi about 30 minutes from the center of Joja. This was a quaint place with a small swimming pole, pool table, big couches under a roof just outside our front door. We think they were suppose to be shared by just 3 other rooms, but apparently these rooms were vacant because we had these facilities for ourselves.

We signed up to view the lava fields of Mt. Merapi and I believed we were going to see actual lava flow but I was mistaken. I also didn’t realize at the time that Mt. Merapi was only about 3000 feet above the hotel. From the bottom of the old lava flow we visited we clearly see the volcano.
We climbed up as far as the signs said we should, taking care not to twist an ankle as we navigated the rocky terrain. During the raining season, the lava flow becomes a heavy stream so walls have been built to contain it. The clouds cleared somewhat from the peak and smoke can be seen pouring out of the top.
And here is a better shot of the smoke. I asked the driver to stop for this photo.
The next day we hired a van to take us into Joja. We were told that the Sultan’s Palace and ground were closed that day and this being the main attraction, we started out disappointed. But after we went through the local museum, we found out that it was open.

The Sonobudoyo Museum was not too large and covered a variety of ancient arts that have become traditional art forms in the present day. The puppet making workshop was the most interesting. There were three craftsmen working on puppets and the man in charge was anxious to sell us one. But decided we had no place to display it and passed.

Within Indonesia politics there are two special regions within Java. Dated to the ancient history of the region, Yogyakarta remains a kingdom inside Indonesia, with its Sultan/King as the governor. The sultan’s official title is His Majesty, The Sultan-Carrier of the Universe, Chief Warrior, Servant of the Most Gracious, Cleric and Caliph that Safeguards the Religion. It is not unusual that ancient kingdom cultures often were declared themselves to be the center of the universe. Our guide through the grounds told us that when the man is in his governorship capacity, one can look him in the eyes, but when he is acting as sultan, one must look down at the ground in his presence. Here is his palace.
Here are some various shots around the grounds.

The exquisite figurine was presented to the sultan by the French Government.
We ventured on to the Sultan’s baths (not the current sultan) that were empty concrete pools that were being repaired. Our guide showed us where the Sultan used to select one of the concubines bathing into his private room and took delight in explaining that sometimes he would look out and select another to join them. Talk about man fantasy land!

We ended our day at a very nice restaurant just off the palace grounds.
We left for Bali the next day. When we flew back from Bali, we flew over Java on a clear day and I could see Mt. Merapi.
Java has 30 still active volcanoes and I saw a lot of them from the airplane window, all surrounded by a halo of white puffy clouds. The volcanoes seemed to be evenly spaced every 50-75 miles apart.