Saturday, January 31, 2015

Munduk waterfall and the Mengwi temple complex

After another stop to admire Lake Bayan and Lake Tambignan far below us our driver directed us across the busy road to a sign for the Munduk waterfall. We followed a path through the rainforest that became steeper and steeper. In fact we passed some fellows on their way back up who were literally gasping for breath. The path became more vertical with some horribly irregular steps that were well over a foot high. Finally, we arrived at the spectacular waterfall. There were only a few people there but one man was thoroughly enjoying himself standing in the spray from the falls.

I particularly liked all the lush vegetation from the delicate ferns to the huge palm leafs. The trip back up the steps and the steep hill provided quite a sweaty workout in the heat and humidity. It was with some relief that we reached the road.

After a quick stop for lunch overlooking more spectacular scenery we drove to The Royal Temple of Mengwi, which is one of the most important temples in Bali. Built in 1634 by a King of the Mengwi dynasty, this impressive complex stands on an island in a river, its inner temple surrounded by a moat. Its Balinese name means ‘Garden Temple in the Water’.

The temple had wonderful gardens. Walking around in Bali is like visiting the tropical area of your lonursery with many of the plants in bloom. As we entered the temple we watched a civet climb over the walls. I wanted to take its picture but it was far too quick for me.

This temple is part of a network of directional temples that protect Bali from evil spirits. It was built as a series of garden terraces with courtyards on different levels. The entire complex was designed to symbolize the mythological home of the gods, Mount Meru, floating in the sea of eternity. We walked around the gardens very carefully because of the very slippery walkways. Near the end of our tour we had to take shelter in one of the pavilions because of the tropical rain. After all it is the rainy season in Bali.

There was a large covered over pavilion with life sized models of the handlers and their birds at a cock fight. Cockfighting is a big sport in Bali. On a walk to the beach we will see several cages with roosters in them. Come later and we see the cocks taken out of their cages to be stroked and caressed by local men who sit together, enjoying the last rays of sunshine while discussing the qualities of their proud and elegant birds.

Bali, like many other nations, has banned cock fighting as a cruel sport, although the practice is still continued on the Island of the Gods for ceremonial purposes. These fighting birds are as much a part of Balinese Hindu rites as the burning of incense and giving offerings to the gods. The birds are sacrificed with their blood going to the soil before farmers can start planting their crops. Although illegal, cockfighting for gaming purposes still continues; the winner takes the loser home for the cooking pot!

Our sightseeing was finished for the day. Now it was time for the hour-long drive back to our hotel in the crazy traffic. Motor scooters were cutting in and out everywhere. The passengers on the scooters were completely covered by the drivers' plastic raincoats; they couldn't even see where they were going. Our van crept along finally crossing a busy intersection where the traffic can only be described as higgledy-piggledy. The amazing thing is no one gets angry and there is no road rage. Vans and SUVs squeeze by each other with centimeters to spare. Motor vehicles don't have all the dings that we see in Spain. It is quite remarkable. I must admit that I am always happy to get out of the traffic and return to the hotel.









Friday, January 30, 2015

Up into northern Bali to visit the famous 'floating' temple

Today a two hour drive took us to the northern part of Bali. Once we passed the urban areas there was field after field of rice paddies. Men and women were tending the rice, backbreaking work. Later we saw a couple of people fishing for eels in the rice paddies.

Eventually, we arrived at our destination, Ulun Danu Beratan Temple, one of the biggest temples in Bali. It is located 1200 meters above sea level. It is a popular spot for locals and tourists. The temple is often called the Floating Temple because the reflective surface of the lake surrounding the temple makes it look like it is doing just that. It was built in the 1600s.

The landscape is stunning with beautifully manicured gardens filled with colorful canna lilies. Passing through the gates we immediately noticed the Balinese architectural Qfeatures and the towering tiered shrines. The temple complex is home to three mainshrines, 11-tiered, 7-tiered and three-tiered, dedicated to the worship of the gods Wisnu, Brahma and Shiva. It seemed like a good spot for a picnic or even a whole day's outing.

We continued to climb higher and higher. We took a quick roadside stop to admire the scenery at a spot which had a very large and quite ugly lizard standing on a box. But beside this there were two huge bats unlike anything you have ever seen hanging from poles. Disgusting.

The animals at the next stop were much nicer and they were everywhere, monkeys large and small. I fed the monkeys small bananas. Of course the leader of the troop would sidle up and grab a couple of the bananas from the basket. The other monkeys had more manners and would wait for you to hold out the banana. I felt sorry for one very young monkey with the most expressive little face, who was too scared to come and take a banana. He scavenged everyone's leftovers. There were monkeys on walls lining the road grooming each other, while others were soaking up the sun.







Wednesday, January 28, 2015

We visit the Mother Temple, Besakih

After driving through more rice paddies and negotiating more winding roads we arrived at our next temple. We had to rent sarongs and sashes, and Seamus had to wear a traditional hat as well. Next we had to pay for a guide with the going rate being $5.00. However, the guides are ruled by a syndicate operating in Besakih. They target tourists by offering a compulsory "tour guide" at exorbitant charges. In fact they tried to have us pay $50. It is a clever scam where they show you visitors' names and how much they have paid, even although the figures look like they have been written by the same person. The quite evil looking guy with a massive mole on his cheek tried to bully Seamus but he held firm and we paid $5.00. After all that excitement we met our guide who was a lovely, well informed young man.

It was a long hike up to the temple but very rewarding once we arrived there. To understand how the temples work you need to know that there are is a caste system in Bali consisting of four castes The four castes of Bali are:

  • Shudras - peasants making up more than 90% of Bali's population. They constitute close to 93% of the population.
  • Wesias (Vaishyas) - the caste of merchants and administrative officials
  • Ksatrias (Kshatriyas) - the warrior caste, which also includes some nobility and kings
  • Brahmins - holy men and priests

The members of the four castes use different dialects of the Balinese language to address members of a different caste. Nowadays, the caste system is used more in religious settings where the members of the lower caste would ask the members of the Brahman caste to conduct ceremonies. It is not really used in everyday life.

The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung in eastern Bali, is the most important, the largest and holiest temple of Hindu religion in Bali. Perched nearly 1000 meters up the side of Gunung Agung, it is an extensive complex of 23 separate but related temples with the largest and most important being Pura Penataran Agung. This is built on six levels. The higher castes use the temples at the higher levels.

We were very fortunate to see a rambling procession of families mainly dressed in white. Several of them were balancing golden urns on their heads. Twenty-one days after a death families come to the site to pray for the deceased and receive the holy waters. As we climbed higher and higher we encountered the group giving offerings, moving in smaller processions, and sitting on the ground chanting and praying. They seemed to move from temple to temple. It was all very interesting. We said good-bye to our guide and removed our rented attire.It was three o'clock and definitely time for lunch.

Our driver took us for a short drive to a stunning restaurant on the side of a mountain, overlooking the tree tops and in the valley below were more rice paddies. We ordered some banana juice and the set menu. The table was not big enough for the huge amount of food that we couldn't begin to finish. There was salad, two kinds of rice, lovely mixed vegetables, cooked beans, chicken satay, chips, rice chips, shrimps in sauce, pork and best of all chicken wings. Any readers who remember the amazing wings at Mustang's in Mississauga and who haven't tasted the like since, here was their equal high in the mountains of Bali. What a way to end this day.



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Temples, a traditional village, and not your average coffee

Our driver picked us up bright and early this morning. Today we visited spots in the north and east of Bali. There are very few dual carriage way roads in Bali so it takes a long time to drive anywhere. And the driving is quite exciting with four million inhabitants and three million motor scooters. There are very few cars but loads of SUVs and vans. Once we were out of the urban areas we passed fields of lovely grasses used to thatch houses and temples.

Most of Bali's population are Hindus. Each home has its own small temple, then there are family temples and caste temples. Our first stop was at the temple of Pura Kehen, which was built in the eleventh century. On both sides of the stairs there are guardian statues of elephants. The stairs climb up to three terraced courtyards, and at the top is a wonderful 400-year-old banyan tree with a monk's cell built high up in the branches.

At the top were different thrones that are used for praying to different gods. Sanghyang Widi Wasa is widely accepted as the supreme being. Most Balinese temples have stone thrones for the gods when they come down to Earth and Sanghyang Widi Wasa has a throne called a Padmasana located in the holiest part of the temple, the center of the inner compound. Three other gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are the manifestations of Sanghyang Widi Wasa. Before entering the temple I had to don a sash, and Seamus a sarong and sash, because his knees were almost showing. This temple is still used today by the locals, who give offerings here every six months.

A our next stop was at a traditional Balinese village, seven hundred meters above sea level, Penglipuran. It is a well-organized traditional village with only 700 inhabitants. The people were very friendly and opened their homes to be visited. The village itself was small, only one main street with a row of houses on both side and a beautiful small temple at the top of the village. Behind the village there was a bamboo forest with walking and cycling trails.

We visited one home, entering through the traditional Balinese arch. We climbed the stone steps to the kitchen building. It was very dark inside with a very old cast iron oven. It didn't look like it would be much fun to cook there.

It was definitely time for our morning coffee. After a short drive we stopped in an area with very dense jungle vegetation. We took some old stone steps winding our way along a path with huge jackfruit, snakeskin fruit, bay leaves, lemongrass, cocoa, various kinds of coffee trees and fruits we had never heard of. We stopped to watch a lady roast beans stirring them for an hour in a pan over an open flame.

Finally, we reached a beautiful spot overlooking high terraces of rice paddies. Our host presented us with several glasses of drinks to try including coffee, cocoa, lemon grass tea, mangosteen tea, ginger coffee, ginger tea and coconut coffee. I liked all of them but my favorites were the mangosteen tea and lemon grass tea.

Then we were asked if we wanted some Luwak Coffee. I had heard about it and just couldn't resist. The civet cats live in trees and eat the red coffee cherry. While the beans are in the civet's stomach it ferments. The beans finish their journey through the digestive system and exit. Then the still intact beans are collected, cleaned, dried and roasted and ground with traditional Balinese processing. The coffee was actually quite smooth and mild. The wild civet beans can fetch almost $360 CAD per hundred grams. There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding this coffee since now civets are being kept in cages in inhumane conditions, while they produce the scats for the coffee.

Refreshed, we were happy to be back in the van with our purchases of mangosteen tea, lemongrass tea and some powdered lemon grass to use in cooking.

The pictures you see come from our phone. Once we visit an electronics store we will upload some photos from the camera.

















Monday, January 26, 2015

Beachside restaurant our new favorite place to eat

Life continues to be a beach in Bali. In fact it is a beach so much that we really haven't done much else. The sea continues to be quite rough but we manage to do quite a bit of swimming, enough to make our necks ache.

Our only foray into another area came when we visited a mall looking for Marks and Spencer's. The mall had a power outage. Some stores had emergency lighting but Marks was plunged into the deepest darkness. When we went to eat at the beach right outside the mall the whole restaurant went dark just as we were about to be seated so we returned to the hotel.

We are finding the money sometimes confusing even though it shouldn't be. One Canadian dollar equals 10,000 rupiahs. Most of the time we get it but tonight, when I went to buy some toner for 18,000 rupiahs, I thought it was exorbitant. When I did the math I realized it was only $1.80, not bad at all!

Tomorrow we are looking forward to visiting the east of Bali with its beautiful scenery and temples.







Friday, January 23, 2015

Sand, surf and seafood in beautiful Bali

The water is very tidal here. This morning the sea had claimed most of the beach and we had to get out past the huge rollers before we could swim, in water that feels like a bathtub. You are never cold going in or coming out of the water. The beach is very quiet until about 5 o'clock, when the locals both young and old, come down to paddle about in the water or play a game of soccer. At the same time the narrow fishing boats with their long floats on either side to keep them balanced, head out to sea. The fresh fish restaurants on the beach have put out their tables and chairs ready for business. Smoke rises from the coconut husk fires that are used for grilling the fish.

Scooters are everywhere, making walking on the roads quite scary. Many schoolchildren have their own scooters and only a few wear helmets. We have seen all kinds of things piled up on the scooters including roosters in cages, one man driving with three children seated in front and even a golden retriever type dog standing straight up with his tail nearly dragging along the ground.

Most people here are Hindus. Each morning and later in the day tiny little baskets of bright flowers are placed outside businesses, on desks in the hotel, on walls outside shrines and even on the beach. These offerings get quite scattered throughout the day but then are replenished in the evening. I even noticed one basket with flowers and small watermelon slices on the beach.

The fresh fish coming right from the boats on the beach is excellent. So far I have had John Dory meunière and some red snapper. Another night we had a plate with little bowls of Indonesian food, chicken, pork, meat and fish. Delicious. And maybe the best thing every night at seven a member of the hotel staff delivers wonderful fresh home-baked cookies to accompany our tea. It's seven now.







Thursday, January 15, 2015

Girona perfect place to celebrate special birthday

The restaurant we had booked for Seamus' birthday had to close for some sudden repairs. With only a few days notice this caused a bit of a dilemma. Since we are going on a trip for Seamus' 60th, he didn't really mind what we did. But since we had talked of spending a day in Girona, I took a chance and emailed Cellar Can Roca, ranked number two in the world by Michelin, to see if we could get in. Normally you have to book months in advance but as luck would have it there had been a cancellation and we were in. Since dinner wasn't until nine, quite normal in Spain, we decided to stay overnight in Girona.

We have visited Girona only twice before. It is quite lovely along the river and in the narrow streets of the old town. The one hour drive on a sunny winter’s day was most pleasant, right up until we got into the city centre and tried to locate our hotel. Our Google map lady led us a merry chase with us always ending up in a small street with bollards blocking our way. Finally, we went old-school and pulled out a map. This got us within sight of the hotel but once again we were blocked by these infernal bollards. We abandoned the car and went to the front desk where we found out that there was a secret button to push, and our road to the hotel was cleared.

We spent much of the afternoon strolling through the lovely old town. We weren't even tempted by all the sales that were on. By four we had reached our out of the way destination, Cinema Trouffaut, an English-language cinema. Right outside a very old font with the Virgin Mary greeted us. We still don't know what the building was originally used for. After watching Birdman, we once again strolled through little passageways and along cobbled streets stopping to buy some homemade pasta from a little store we discovered on a previous visit. It cooks in only three minutes and is some of the best pasta we've ever tasted. The lady makes it in several flavours, including spinach, and mushroom, which we had to try.

Finally we arrived at Can Roca and toasted Seamus' birthday with some cava in the most exquisite champagne flutes. There were two tasting menus on offer. We opted for the smaller, which was still a lot of food, all beautifully presented. At the end we were given a personalized copy of our menu. You can see from the pictures just how elaborate some of the food was.

On Thursday morning we returned to the old town, this time climbing lots of steps and cobblestone braes to reach the old Roman Wall. It is in excellent condition. The two-kilometre walk overlooking Girona's rooftops was lovely. There were several guard towers to climb and if you were in need there was even an old Roman toilet.

Girona is a beautiful, old town with much to offer, history, dining and shopping. Next time we will take the train from our nearby town, which will be an easier journey.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Three Kings bring gifts for all good children

The weather has been beautiful lately with warm days, blue skies and little or no wind. This weather is perfect for the arrival of the Three Kings. We watched from our terrace as the three traditional fishing boats, accompanied by the search and rescue boat, rounded the point to sail into the village. It was time to head into town.

All the villagers, young and old, lined the water’s edge to greet the Three Kings as they came ashore. This was also the signal for the fireworks to commence. One after the other, Melchor, Gazpar and Balthasar, and their retinues, sailed up to the dock and waded into the cheering crowds. The African king  had different clothes this year. I think his makeup person overdid it as you couldn't make out his features at all. Their majesties paraded through the crowd before going to the ajuntament  - town hall - balcony. Normally the mayor and each king makes a speech with much hilarity but this year it seemed that the microphone wasn't working properly. Someone asked if everyone had been good. They had, and the retinue headed off to the ballroom accompanied by villagers holding some beautiful home made lanterns.

In the ballroom the Kings call up each child in the village to receive a present. The place is always jammed and it is always a little chaotic. On January 5th children are supposed to leave their shoes out to receive the King's gifts. However, nowadays some families are actually turning to the Christmas tree as the place to pile gifts as the Kings’ spending power grows and shoes can no longer support the weight or volume of the their delivery.

Breakfast is a special occasion on January 6th with the Three Kings’ Cake the centre of attention. This is a sweet bread that is adorned with dried fruits, glace cherries and sugar. Inside, bakers have hidden a small prize wrapped in paper as well as a bean. The one who finds the lucky prize is supposed to be King or Queen for the day. A gold paper crown is provided with the cake. He who ends up with the unlucky bean is expected to pay for next year’s Kings’ Cake. We were at our baker's in Figueres yesterday and the huge long display case was filled with all sizes of these cakes. In fact they were being snapped up like "hot cakes." I don't think you can eat too much of them as they are very sweet.

January 6th is a very special day for families, much like Christmas Day in North America or northern European countries. The village was very quiet in the morning but, happy days, the Nautica was open for our morning cortado. You just can't beat sitting outside with the sun beating down as you have your coffee. Nowadays, Both Christmas Day and January 6th are getting about equal celebration with the children’s gifts often divided between the two days.

Later in the afternoon we went for a walk. Things were strangely quiet except for a few visitors wandering about, some fishermen fixing their nets. a lone topless woman lying on a rock and a little girl with her mum and dad trying out her new hot pink bike. I'm sure everyone will be out for passegiatta later this evening.