Monday, January 10, 2011

Travel log - Bali, ... sizzle on!

Well gentle readers, I regret leaving you in suspense for over 7 days... but here I am... and I warn you, there is a very long photo-blog like post ahead!

So Darling and I stayed in Jimbaran, at a handy distance from all the happening places. The sari Segara Hotel was a great deal for about US$60 per night, which included breakfast. The first thing you notice from the moment you step into the arrivals lounge of the Denpasar airport, till you check in is how wonderfully intricate and artistic Bali is. Everything that can be carved is carved... and that includes wood, metal, cement and stone. Bali is probably the only place in Indonesia with traces of the original Hindu and Buddhist cultures, unaffected by both the colonials as well as the Arab traders. This is reflected in their artwork, their dance and just about everything in the island. Most carvings are based on some part of the Ramayana chronicle, with the Garuda receiving high veneration as the vehicle of Vishnu.

Statuette at the airport

Our digs

Saraswathie like carving at hotel

Demon mask in lobby... notice the similarity to our own "yakas"

Fountain, conference hotel

Ramayana mural, conference hotel

Gatekeeper, conference hotel

Fire meets water, entrance of the conference hotel at night

Welcome dance, conference hotel

The two young ladies stand in front of the entrance all day, and as soon as a new guest arrives at the hotel, they dance in welcome. This is seen in almost all the classier hotels.

Somehow, one cannot speak about Bali without mentioning the beaches. I honestly do think that our golden sandy beaches with the crashing waves are much better... but the beach at Nusa Dua was just a calm, clear expanse of water extending a good half kilometer outwards, perfect for doggy paddlers like me who do not know how to swim... The surfer dudes head towards Kuta or Lombok which are supposed to have impressive waves.

Beach, Nusa Dua

The absolutely clear water

There is virtually no public transport and travel is either via taxi (slightly more expensive than a Sri Lankan tuk tuk), scooter or foot. Many tourists as well as locals opt for the scooter since petrol is highly subsidized at about SLR 60/- per liter. It's not uncommon to see women drive by with kids clasped between their legs, or tourists in abbreviated swim wear zoom off in search of more sun, sea and sand.

I spent a good half day exploring the by roads around the hotel, mostly because in search of drinking water, yoghurt and a top up for my simcard. The inner streets are quiet and tranquil... and reminded me strangely of Balapitiya... bare land full of coconut trees and scanty undergrowth, cement brick walls with women peering over them, a few stray dogs. The main difference is that walking around Bali is like walking around a huge art gallery. Every other shop or garden is like something out of a landscapers dream... I'd stop to admire some carved pillars and realize that they are part of the entrance to a scooter repair place or a shut down bakery. And on every major intersection, there would be these HUGE statues towering over the traffic, illustrating some scene or the other from the Ramayana.

Statue at intersection : Ravana challenging Rama while standing on the heads of terrified horses


Darling and I traveled inland to Ubud, which is like the craft capital of Bali. Throughout the 2 hour drive the roads were lined with miles and miles of wooden, stone and metal carving. We first visited Goa Gajah elephant caves, which are the remains of 9th century Hindu and Buddhist monastery. Affected by earthquakes, only the Hindu part of the temple and some of the stairways and pools remain intact, whilst the Buddhist temple is nothing more than ruins.

Entrance to Goa Gajah

Carving of Ganesh, inside the cave

The three lingams, inside the cave

Bathing pool for devotees, Goa Gajah

Ruins of the Buddhist temple

Remains of the rich carvings that adorned the Buddhist temple

On the way, we stopped by at a silver factory, and were amazed at the sheer beauty and the intricacy of the carvings. The gems set into the jewelry are imported mostly from Sri Lanka and were very expensive. However, Darling bought me an intricately carved pair of earrings for quite a reasonable price.

Silver factory, Ubud

Polishing the silver... note that in spite of the mask and the "chest guard" there is absolutely no protection for the fingers.

Silver jewelery

Silver ornament

One of my gorgeous orchid design earrings

Entrance decor, silver factory

Entrance decor, silver factory

Another highlight was the famous Uluwatu temple that sits at the highest point of a cliff. The blue waves break against the sheer cliff walls, throwing up swirls of white foam. I took the picture of the waves by lying flat on my tummy with my head over the cliff while Darling kept clutching at my ankles, horrified that I would fall over. Uluwatu is well known for its monkey menace which we witnessed first hand when a monkey grabbed a pair of glasses from a tourist, inspected it and then started showing off to the other monkeys.

Uluwatu temple from the bottom of the path

The foot of the cliff

Monkey business 1

Monkey business 2

Monkey business 3

Uluwatur is also famous for the Kecak (pronounced "Ke-chak") fire dance. Kecak involves the relating of the Ramayana, in a ballet form and is enacted around a fire. The principal actors are surrounded by about 70 bare bodied men, who sing with the peculiar clicking note that gives the dance its name. The clip below is the bit where Sita tells Rama and Lakshman of the golden deer, and they prepare for the hunt. remember to turn the sound on!

Kecak dance, Uluwatu

Another highlight was the visit to the Garuda-Vishnu gardens where we saw more of the amazing carvings and another Balinese dance performance in front of a giant statue of Vishnu.

Giant Garuda

This gives an idea of the sheer size of the carving

Balinese dancer, musing

A tiny part of the performance

The trip to Ubud also included a visit to a batik factory


Colourful batiks I brought back to SL

I guess no travel diary would be complete without an account of the food! :) To be honest, Indonesian food did not impress me much as it contained a lot of oil and beef. The vege dishes usually included boiled vegetables floating in what looked like dishwater. Bali on the other hand was a sumptuous delight, with the food containing fish, chicken and plenty of vegetable, usually cooked in coconut milk and in short, very pleasing to the Sri Lankan palate. Balinese coffee is to DIE FOR and was among the best I've ever tasted.

Snake fruit... Darling placed the taste somewhere between jambu and pineapple. Notice the scaly skin

Fish broth

Seafood and sweet potato

Seafood noodles

Genuine Indonesian nasi goreng

Soto... a thick chicken broth served with rice or dumplings

Cendol... a drink made of coconut milk, treacle and some type of noodle

A final short word about the spas. Massage parlours and spas are dotted along every street and you can get a traditional Balinese relaxation massage for anything between SLR 600/- to SLR 6000/- depending on how posh the place is. There are many variations on offer including fruit scrubs and an astonishing "beer cocoon massage" where you first bathe in beer, then will be massaged with beer while sipping beer! Darling and I went for a special "couple aromatherapy massage", which left me so overwhelmed, I quite forgot to take pictures! ;)

Well... I think that's about it for this loooong post. if you have stayed with me for this long, gentle readers, I can only be grateful. I took over 1000 pictures in Bali, and this post is just a glimpse of that wonderful place...

Await more travel logs... soon!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Travel log - sizzling Bali

Isn't it nice that I am starting my first post for 2011 on such a sizzling note? :)

So the Jakarta conference ended up with a bang because

a) My research won an award
b) I visited approximately 40 different shoe shops (yayyyyy!!!)

The conference was huge with close over 700 participants. The nice thing was that all us foreign delegates were allocated an "escort", either a final year medical student or a recent graduate who would help us change money, locate conference venues etc.

100's of participants!

I was really nervous while making my presentation because of the big audience, and because I tend to ramble and exceed the allocated time, but fortunately everything went well, including the Q/A session... phew!

The rest of the conference was very intensive, with workshops going on after dinner until 9.30pm, and then follow-up activities starting at 8.30am the next day. Somehow all the participants were oblivious to the bustling theme park around the hotel as they madly threw themselves into the academic activities.

Lovers at the beach, Anchol, Jakarta

By the final day, I was well primed for some fun, so I asked Gina, my lovely Indonesian assistant to take me shopping. Her reward? To be dressed in one of my sarees so she can take pics and post them on Facebook! So Gina and I, accompanied by her long suffering boyfriend hit Mangga Dua the shopping district of Jakarta...

Oh Em Gee.

The malls were massive, even when comparing with those of Malaysia and Singapore... and had everything from key tags to SUVs on sale. I was like a kid let loose in a candy store, running from one shop to the other squealing with delight at the offerings there. The only things that limited my spending were the consciousness of limited weight allowance by the airline, and strict instructions by Darling not to use my credit card in Indonesia.

SUVs for sale!!

Lame dude trying to sell me SUV

We shopped for more hours than I would like to confess, and I gorged myself on the yummy food available at every corner of the mall. They had sweets very similar to our kevum and banana pancakes which involved a sliced banana and a hefty dose of chocolate rolled up in a pancake, dipped in sweet batter and deep fried.... the chocolate melts and oozes out of the sides, getting caramalised and it's like a warm taste explosion when you bite into it... sigh...

Kevum, aggala, thalaguli, anyone?

Chocolate banana pancakes

Somehow, banana, cheese and chocolate seem to be the most popular flavours in Indonesia, since they were everywhere in all possible combinations. My foodie experiments also included a chocolate and banana bun, a chocolate and cheese doughnut and cheese and banana pastry. :)

Anyways, food experimented with, shoes and clothes bought... I headed back to the airport and boarded a truly terrible flight. For those of you who consider Garuda Indonesia as a potential carrier, don't.


The sizzle continues...

Well, my next stop was the beautiful tropical paradise of Bali... where I was joined by Darling. The declared reason was so that I could attend another conference... the underlying reason was for us to celebrate our 3rd year as hubby-and-wifey. Sigh.... isn't that romantic?

Conference #2 was even bigger, with close to 1000 participants... it was hosted in the post resort area of Nusa Dua, and the sheer size of the conference hotel made us go all O_o. Darling and I stayed at less ostentatious but very comfortable digs in an area about 1/2 an hour away from Nusa Dua, and close to Kuta, which is like teh happening place in Bali, night club bombings and all.

Ohhhh Bali!

The beaches.... the sights... the sounds....

I think that warrants a separate post, don't you?

Till next time, gentle readers... stay tuned!