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Posts tagged ‘Indonesia’

BOROBUDUR

Surrounded by three volcanoes the center of the Java island rainforest sits the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere and it is called Borobudur. Built in the ninth century by the Saliendra dynasty, this temple soars ten levels and contains over twenty-five hundred panel reliefs.

The temple reads like a book teaching the pilgrim though the carved pictures in the stone. Visitors travel around each level in a clockwise direction, following the path to enlightenment.

The first levels, called Sphere of Desire, are dedicated to the everyday activities, chaos and desires of the human existence. These walls also explain the role karma on our choices and lives.

Walls on both sides surround you. The walls on my left, the outer walls, portray the activities of man while the inside walls, to the right, show the story of Siddhartha (Budda), from his past lives to his path to enlightenment.

The next level begins the Sphere of Form as man separates himself from greed but is not separate from the material world. It is here that the outer walls fall away and the beauty of the surrounding mountains are viewable.

Inside each of the seventy-two large stupas, which circle around these three levels, there is a large statue of Budda holding his hands in front of him, one up and one down, middle fingers touching representing the truth of the turning wheel.

On the top level we reach the Sphere of Formlessness, representing true enlightenment and attaining Nirvana. There is no form or Budda found on this level. The stupa is empty. Looking around I see the glory of this place.

Through the stupas below and above the mist in the hills I see the faint outlines of the three surrounding volcanos, including Merapi, one of the most active volcanos in the world today. I am reminded of the people who built and abandoned this place. It was because of the volcanic eruptions that work on this temple was never completed and the people relocated to safer grounds in eastern Java.

Almost a thousand years later the temple was rediscovered under the ash and volcanic remains. The temple was restored with great care in the 1970s. Many stones that were taken from the temple were recovered by the Indonesian government. Where there was a perfect match the stones were replaced in the original locations. Flat stones in the panel reliefs serve as a “placeholder” for the original stones yet to be located. Stones recovered but whose original locations are unknown lay outside of a museum nearby waiting to be reunited in there original space in temple.

Borobudur is not only a great representation of how various religions use pictures to teach and a great demonstration of ancient methods of measurement and construction but also is a tribute to the modern engineering skill used to preserve such ancient wonders.

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Dragons, Mantas and Sting Rays! Oh My!

The journey to Flores Island is a rough one, when sailing is impossible due to the tempestuous seas in January and February. During this time, you must either fly, by first backtracking to Bali, or take the bus and ferry route. I chose the adventure. Thirty-one and a half hours later, I arrived on Flores Island, the gateway to the Komodo Dragons.

Once on Flores it is easy to schedule a trip or you can even go out to the docks and barter a price with a boat caption. Most trips include tracks for the dragon on both Rinca and Komodo Island and break up the trips by stopping to snorkel several reefs along the way. This time of year most people opt to sleep on the deck of the boat at night as it is cooler than the cabins.

I loved sleeping on the deck. After the caption turned off the boat generator, it looked like the stars would go on forever. Away from the modern world they peer out to play and dance in the black night. So many stars that constellations were difficult to recognize since there were so many additional specs shining in places that I have not observed before in the sky. This is the way the night was meant to be seen….In all it’s glory.

On Rinca and Komodo I stayed within a few feet of my guide during the entire hike. We were all aware that two park rangers were bit by a Komodo Dragon last week. The had just returned to the park from the hospital in Bali. I was not planning to make an early trip back to Bali and was overly cautious.

“Excuse me? That dragon is coming up pretty fast behind us. Can I walk in front of you.” I said to a ranger, knowing that dragons can run up to the speed of a horse. “Yes, don’t worry.” “Are you not afraid of them?” I asked. “Yes, I am. I think that is the reason I have never been hurt. I respect the dragon.” It sounded good to me but I wonder if those other two rangers had felt the same way before their near fatal experience.

The dragons had big claws and saliva which dripped down from their mouth. I assume that saliva contains the same bacteria that slowly kills the victim. Once dead, the dragons, which follow there prey, sometimes for days, chomp into there prize with there heavy duty teeth. I notice that the dragons walk with a purpose….Never backtracking. I wonder what is on their mind and I hope it isn’t me.

“Evon… Come look at this deer.” I walk over toward my friend and startled the deer in the process. The deer turned and just then out pops a dragon at his feet. The deer hops his front feet in the air and pushes off with its hind legs over the reach of the dragon. I think to myself, “See that dragon was hunting.” As is was the same dragon that had been walking behind us just twenty minutes earlier.

There were so many small islands and secluded beaches on the way. The rainforest was a brilliant green with all types of foliage and brown vines hanging from banyan trees. I loved sitting on the boat as it chugged onward. The water was so clear that we could see fish swimming in the shallower waters.

“Look, there’s a turtle.” Sure enough, a turtle swimming towards the side of our boat. Also the way to Komodo we saw a large pod of dolphins jumping out of the water in a parade like fashion, one behind another, a short distance from the boat. Later, when I was sitting on the bow of the boat, two dolphins jumped up twice just a couple meters away from me. We all clapped like school children at the sight of them.

My favorite part of the trip was the snorkeling. The advice I was given was correct…..I would now agree that this is some of the best snorkeling in the world. In addition to the fish I saw in the Gills, there was even more bountiful and diverse aquatic life here. The coral was more pronounced with bolder shapes and colors. Maroon, green, blue, purple, yellow…Some enormous and sturdy brain coral covered the sea floor and other coral fanned out providing a perfect place for little fish to dart in and out.

At one point I was swimming along and directly beneath me a sting ray raced from under his coral hiding place out to sea. It only took a few split seconds for him to disappear again.

When we reached manta point is was clear how it was named. Huge manta rays moving on the bottom of the sea floor with just a soft fan of its wings. “Are you ready to snorkel?” “Is it safe?” I reply. “Sure….Just watch out for the jelly fish. If you get caught in the current that is okay. We will come around and get you.” The three travelers on our boat decided to go even though the guide was going to watch us from the boat.

The mantas were so large and graceful. I loved watching them. “Come over here.” My guide yells out from the boat. “There are too big ones here.” I decided to swim out to where the boat had just been circling. After about ten meters, I can feel the current pushing back towards me. It is amazing how fast the current changes here.

I arrive directly above a huge manta ray and I have to continue to take long powerful strokes to stay above the manta who is motionless on the sea floor. It feels like I am in one of those new Hydropools I have seen on television and think they actually might work if they can duplicate this experience.

“It’s so graceful!” I yell back to my guide. I look down again in the water. Another slick black manta ray joins the large manta I had been watching. Then with a graceful partial flap of their wings they leave me behind.

I swim back to my friends looking for jelly fish as I swim. I adjust my stoke and turn slightly to let each float by me. We continue to observe the mantas until we spot five jelly fish in a lump and decided it was time to get in the boat. Swimming with the mantas was definitely the highlight my trip.

Yes, even in January and February, the trip is worth the effort to get here and should not be missed when in this part to the world. However….I will add that I am flying back to Bali.

-Please note the under water manta ray photos were captured by Eric Van De Put, Holland. Who had been diving on manta point the following day. Thanks Eric!

-Also note that the blue fish by the manta rays are just larger than my pinky finger.

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The Gili Islands – All The Little Fishes

There are over 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Bali is only one of them. A week and a half ago I had never heard of the Gili Islands. It seemed to be the place all the backpackers were talking about. “Don’t even waste your time in Kuta. It is nothing like it used to be.” I heard that over and over. That is one nice thing with backpacking, the “buzz” is always more correct than an outdated Lonely Planet guidebook. So, while in Ubud I bought a ticket for the “the speed boat” and I was on my way.

There are three Gili Islands and all have a different personality to them. Gili Meno is the quietist Island. And no wonder since it has mosquitoes…..I choose not to go there. Gili Trawangan has the most development and the most tourists. Gili Air is less developed and though would be perfect in the high season, right now it seemed almost too quiet for me.

It is easy to jump over to different islands for the day. We were were really happy we spent a day snorkeling on Gili Air as we saw many different varieties of aquatic life here.

Since it was the low tourist season on the islands, I found Gili Trawangan a perfect place to hang my hat. The cost of the rooms are about half the price than in the summer and the weather was perfect. The entire time I was there only three of us occupied this hotel and we had the beach front and umbrellas to ourselves.

The nicest thing about all three islands is that there are no vehicles or motor bikes allowed. Once here you have to walk, ride a bicycle or pay a flat rate to ride a cart pulled by a pony to travel anywhere on the island.

There are no police on these islands but there seems to be no need. I guess if something “happens” there is a “guy in charge” that will resolve the issue. Though I think it is the permanent inhabitants that watch out for their own island. One time someone tried to brings a motorbike on Gili Trawangan and the locals threw it in the water. It is still visible to new comers as a reminder of the no vehicle policy.

In many ways I think I have stepped back into time…. This must have been the way beaches used to be in more famous places before being taken over by developed resorts. All accommodations are steps away from the water. In low season it is not uncommon to spend twenty to forty dollars a day on accommodation. The cost of lunch has been about two dollars a day. An expensive meal would cost seven to eight dollars. No snorkel gear? That’s okay…The place next door has gear for three dollars a day.

The snorkeling is incredible. Just a few feet off our beach we started seeing fish. Then a huge turtle! Wow. We just floated and watched this giant turtle eat on the bottom of the sea. Several minutes later he, ever so gracefully, moved his fins forward and glided to the surface for air.

The were bright electric blue and aqua fish that darted about. There were fish whose color blended in with either the sandy bottom or lime green coral surroundings each tried to appear invisible beside. There were small black and white angel fish swimming energetically and big vibrant yellow angel fish gracefully floating by their reef.

There were grey fish with orange, white, blue and purple highlights. Long transparent fish with needle noses that pointed an inch out from their faces. You could see their long spine within.

We saw a puff fish and a cutter fish with sides that rolled up and down like a flag in the wind. I loved the medium size fish with purple, pink and blue colored pastels. How lovely.

There were also fish as big as a trunk of a person. One of these was busy feeding on the coral when someone I was snorkeling with decided to get a closer look. This large fish did not like that and swam directly towards him. When the fish opened his mouth we saw it had teeth. Now the mouth was smaller than my fist and we we in no danger but our friend was sure he had just had a possible brush with death.

My favorite fish was at least two feet long and had the most brilliant colors. Bright purple and yellow splotches on the sides and tail and vibrant aqua on his face.

Off the shores of Gili Air they had millions of these little light blue minnow fish which darted about us in these massive schools of fish. Just as I thought, “Wow, really cool”, then they all changed directions unison and darted the other way. This is just a few of the countless varieties of aquatic life we encountered. More than once I thought I felt like I was in the middle of the Nemo Movie.

The people here are pretty laid back. The locals and businessmen do not haggle tourists on the beach or when walking down the road unlike in other Asian cities. One only has to say “no” once to be left alone. Restaurants are “open until closed” and no one seems to be running on a set time. Some may say that has to do with the availability of magic mushrooms but I think it is the island life.

We had to laugh one Monday as our hotel restaurant was closed for the day and it was lunch time. We had been sitting on the beach for hours and we getting pretty hungry. “I will ask if they have take out at the place next door?” James, who was staying at our hotel announced. A few minutes later he came back with a smile on his face, “No food there but he did say he had some magic mushrooms and marijuana to offer.” Needless to say we found take out somewhere else.

The snorkeling was some of the best I have ever seen. The sheer beauty of these islands makes this one of my favorite beaches ever. The absence of noise pollutants and few people makes this one of the most relaxing places I have ever been. It is not easy to get out to these islands but if you do you will not be disappointed.

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Dancing in Bali

Watching at least one traditional Balinese dance is well worth your time. I thought the styles were as unique as any I have seen before and thought these events were worth there own post.

The stories of the dances are as ordinary a tale as in any culture. Stories of good, bad, right, wrong and love. The subjects are of demon kings, witches, gods, goddesses, prince and princesses and as in any Disney tale the good guy always seems to win. Many of the dances are also performed in a series of acts. However, the unique aspect of Balinese dance is the music and the dance itself.

The music for the dance is made from one of two sources: The first is sounds made from men who play and instrument which looks like a short xylophone bench. The men sit cross legged at this instrument and use a small pointed hammer to strike the keys on the instrument making a “ping” sound. The second form of music is made from a choir of voices. These men sit in a large circle in a trance-like state with the dance happening in the center of the circle. The men each say one word syllables like “tutt…tutt…tutt” at different speeds and octaves creating a soothing sound.

The performers wear elaborate costumes and make-up. Evil demons seem to always wear scary masks. The movement of the dancers is more deliberate that I have ever seen. Every foot, every finger, every head movement has a precise location for every poise. The women somehow made their head move side to side in an inhuman looking manner. When their head slid one direction, with there face straight out toward the crowd, their eyes slid the opposite direction. The speed at which they performed this movement must have taken years of practice to perfect. In one act, two women danced this style of dance in complete synchronization with their eyes closed the entire time.

My favorite dance was something that took me completely by surprise. I did not even have my camera ready to shoot a picture. A man in a grass skirt was dancing around a flame as all the dancers had been doing most of the night. Then out of know where he started jumping on the hot coals and stomping on them. Then the “helpers” sweep the coals in a circle again and he did it two more times! I was sure it had to be a trick so when he sat down I took a close up photo of the dancers feet. Sure enough, there were coal marks on his feet. What a way to earn a living!?!

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UBUD – Cultural Center OR Spiritual Oasis

In the hills of Bali, between the fields of rice terraces, is the cultural and spiritual center of the island. I had planned to stay two nights in Ubud and I ended up staying six. This community was already known as a destination zone for health and spiritual growth for decades. However, since the “Eat, Pray, Love” movie, this place has become a mecca for a wide range of alternative practices and natural healing.

I met people here from all over Europe, America and Asia on week long to several month retreats. There were a lot of people here for yoga workshops but I also met three people completing intensive week long “colon detox” spa and an entire group of people staying at my hotel doing a ten day mysticism course.

There seemed to be something for everyone and every age here. Vegans and raw food enthusiast would love this place. I have never seen restaurant menus with so many varieties in meal style preparation. I did not even know of the Ayurvedic Diet method and that it was used by some to reach a balance for a particular body type. However, here there are restaurants with a complete section of dishes tailed for this diet on their menu.

It seems as though everyone is out walking in the evening and you can count on live music any night of the week. You will never find yourself lonely in Ubud. There seems to be always someone wanting to socialize.

I went on long walks everyday including walking through the “must see” Monkey Forest. The Monkey Forest is a jungle area near the center of town with hundreds of monkeys. It was pretty but I was more than a bit nervous at times when the diseased infested creatures moved a little to close for comfort.

I also spent parts of four days at the Yoga Barn. I figured it was a good place to try to work on one of my 2013 New Year’s Resolutions to “Try to do yoga again and try to like it.” I figured this had to be a good place to try to work on this goal since all the classrooms overlooked gorgeous gardens. How could I become bored in a class here?

There were yoga sessions every hour on the hour from seven in the morning until six at night. They had a wide selection of yoga styles to choose from–I found one style called Shadow Yoga that I actually really enjoyed. Shadow Yoga incorporated marital arts movements into this style with the focus of intensionally following your shadow with the body movements. So I guess that’s something of my New Year’s list….”Check!”

It is easy to arrange tours from Ubud to see the surrounding area. One day I arranged a half day tour to explore a waterfall and walk through the rice fields. The half day adventure with the driver guide cost twenty dollars.

As we were on our way to the waterfall my guide, Yan Tu, asked me, “Do you like coffee and chocolate?” “Yes. But I like coffee better than chocolate.” I responded. “Have you ever had animal coffee?” “Animal coffee?” I questioned. “I don’t know what that is.” “You know poo.” “Poo?” I shake my head as I try to think. “You know, poo, poo.” Reaching back in my mind for an answer I replied, “You don’t mean coffee like on the movie the Bucket List?”

“Yes, the Bucket List! I love that movie!! Jack Nicholson and Morgan…ah..What’s his name?” Freeman.” I answered. “Yes, yes….Morgan Freeman. Do you know that movie?” “Yes, I have seen the movie. It is one of my favorite’s.” “Yes, well it is that coffee…..Luwak.” I chuckle to myself then answer, “No. I am not drinking that coffee.”

We sat in quiet a couple minutes and I thought– Well, I am back in Asia and have not tried to eat something out out of my comfort zone yet. “Okay, the coffee is on the way from the waterfalls.” “Yes. It is.” “Okay, we can try the coffee.” So yes, while in Ubud I did go to a processor of Kopi Luwak. Coffee made from the fermented coffee beans which have been selected, eaten and exited from the civet before being processed into the most expensive coffee in the world. And I must say it is really quite amazing.

So that was my adventure in the heart of Bali. Are you ready to join me yet or at least share a cup of coffee?

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My Days with a Balinese Princess — Part I, THE ARRIVAL

As I exited the airport there was a crowd of people behind the waist high fence waiting for new arrivals. Most had signs with names written on white paper, but some were there just hoping to pick up a new customer. I scanned the line up and soon saw my name in all caps. I looked and waved at man holding the sign. He looked hopeful and points to me and then again at the sign. I look him straight in the eyes and smile as I shake my head “yes”.

We were quickly on our way. I had arrived during afternoon prayer and could hear the call to prayer over the busy traffic. I would soon learn that Islam is practice in ninety percent of the county. However here, on the island of Bali, Hindu is the predominant religion.

The accommodation I had arranged was located in the city, a short distance from the Sanur beach. It was the home of a Balinese Princess and I would learn the 1982 crowned Miss. Indonesia.

Stepping out of the vehicle it would be hard not to notice the massive white statue of Lord Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god, as I came to the entry of her home. On either side of the statue there was a pathway. Once around the statue, an immense lush and hidden garden revealed itself. There was green everywhere. Trees, broad leaf plants and ivy filled the open spaces. Fluorescent lime green moss covered the cement statues and rock work in the garden. There were serval buildings in the complex. All structures had the same white exterior, red clay roofs and intricately carved doors. Many colors detailed the woodwork on the doors, windows and rafters but most impressively the gold paint provided a striking contrast against the clean white building. I could hear the sound of water falling into a pond and the soft chimes blowing in the wind. I was suddenly and completely relaxed.

Reaching the second house of the compound, I was surprised to learn that I had an entire house, not just a room to myself for the next few days.

It was not until the next morning that I noticed a black and white picture hanging in the downstairs living room. I was sure I had seen as a child. However, I was positive that I had remembered this photo in color. “Is that you?” I asked. “Yes. That was from a very long time ago.” “I think I have seen this picture before?” “The photo was used as a travel advertisement for JAL Airlines in the 80s.” Ratih, my hostess, replied.

Only then did I recall that I had seen this photo in Seattle airport. I remember wanting to go wherever that photo was taken. Now not only had I arrived here, but it was hard to believe that I was speaking with the girl in the photo.

Ratih was a perfect hostess and helped me to arrange the plans I had in mind for my stay in Bali. My favorite day would be the day we went to the Temple and she taught me how to pray.

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