indonesia 2010

After four frantic days in Hong Kong, we landed in slightly less frantic Bali. Neither of us had ever been to Indonesia before. So let the adventures begin.

tropical bali

Breakfast on the patio of our cute little hotel on the northern outskirts of Sanur. Not really an adventure, I suppose, but a good way to start the day. Actually, this hotel (the Tropical Bali) and its delicious home-cooked meals were two of the best things about Sanur, which is otherwise a somewhat tired beach resort filled with elderly Europeans. Kuta and the trendy beach resort of Seminyak, on the other side of south Bali, are where the young Europeans (and Australians) hang out. None of this suited us, so we headed off to Ubud—an inland town, cooler and at a higher elevation. We’re really only here in Sanur to rest up and get oriented to Indonesia.


Speaking of hotels, here’s the Artini 3 in Ubud, with its views of the surrounding paddies. You can walk through these on slippery, grass-and-mud tracks. Try not to think about snakes. There are amazing places to stay at and eat at in Ubud, a touristy arts-and-crafts centre with traffic problems but lots of charm. The streets are lined by low-rise shops and home compounds built with traditional tiled roofs, airy balconies and carved wooden doors. Somehow, a lot of agricultural land has been retained throughout Ubud, so there are views everywhere of rice terraces and ponds. We walk and shop and eat and have massages and meet other visitors. The usual thing. Everyone has a laptop, every good hotel has wi-fi, everyone is skyping. Why not run your business from Bali?

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Balinese attention to detail is legendary. The people, though poor, still live in beauty. There are small Hindu temples everywhere, faithfully attended and laden with offerings (food, flowers, incense). Life may be intense but it is still formal and ceremonial. Everything must be done just so, and most visitors willingly submit to Bali’s gentle but very particular way of life.


Traditional dance and haunting gamelan music are very much alive in Ubud, both for tourists and for residents. We went to a fabulous kecak performance, where a chorus of 40 bare-chested men chanted for more than an hour, making a strange, rhythmic “chicka-chicka” sound, while dancers performed a story from the Ramayana. (In olden days, the chanting would have put the dancers into a trance.) At another event, the superb dance troupe in the photo above was accompanied by a 20-piece gamelan ensemble, which included drums, cymbals, gongs, flutes and a dozen xylophone-like gangsa.

hotel staff   lake temple

The people are very gentle and polite but quite easily offended by obnoxious tourist behaviour. I screwed up in this department at the airport as soon as I arrived. I was hot and exasperated, and when a porter offered to make off with my bag I scowled at him and made unpleasant noises. I thought the guy was going to break into tears. He turned his back on me, put his hands on his hips and refused to speak. The other porters all looked shocked, as if I’d insulted his mother or something. I minded my manners from there on in. The second photo is of a temple in Danau Bratan, a large lake in the highlands nestled between imposing volcanoes.

a in pond

This rare shot of A posing as a piece of outdoor furniture at the Tirta Gangga water gardens was snapped only seconds before he was attacked and carried off by hungry koi.

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More floral circles: a bloom from Ubud’s fabulous lotus pond and a plant pot filled with water lilies.

k at volcano

K enjoyed a nice banana juice while awaiting the next eruption of 1,717-metre-high Gunung Batur. You can see the brown lava field from the most recent major blow (in 1963) to the right of her head. The entire area around Batur, including the lake in the background at the right, is part of another, much larger volcanic feature. In fact, the green landform right behind Katherine is a remnant of the wall of an immense caldera.


Now we’re in Yogyakarta on Java, the world’s most densely populated island (it’s about the size of Greece or Nicaragua, but with 130 million people). Trishaws, known locally as becaks, are a popular form of transport. The heart of Yogya is the sultan’s palace, which is surrounded by an immense walled compound called the Kraton, once home to the sultanate’s employees and civil servants.


The World Heritage Site of Borobudur, a massive eighth-century stone mandala carved as an intricate vision of the Buddhist cosmos, is a magical place. You can treat its nine terraces and five kilometres of passageways and stairs as a pilgrim’s walk, or else just enjoy the stupendous views from the upper levels.


Prambanan is another restored eighth-century World Heritage Site near Yogyakarta. These monuments are Hindu in origin, however, and reflect an era when both Buddhist and Hindu cultures flourished in the region.

a:k in paddy

Back in sweltering Bali we decide to stay and become rice farmers. Bye for now!