Sparky Travels

December 23, 2010

Updates

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I’ve got updates on my adventures for the last few months but the internet in this tropical paradise (Gili Islands) is awful. I’ll try and have it fully updated in the next few days so you can think of it as a Christmas present from me. Its the only one anyone is getting so you better be glad!

December 22, 2010

Ubud

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After being driven through numerous Balinese villages for 40 minutes in the mysterious Patrick’s old banger we arrived at his house -  Praety’s Homestay on the outskirts of Ubud. The house and garden compound was really pretty, like a Hindu temple with palms, flowers, shrines and offerings to the gods dotted around the place. The room was ok with a mosquito net protecting us from insects which had unrestricted access to the room. After dumping our bags we headed into central Ubud, a 15 minute walk away. We ate a lovely late lunch in Warung Igelanca (where I had a superb Nasi Campur: rice with a variety of meat, veg and tofu) and beer in Nomads, an upmarket bar/restaurant.

The next day, the 14th of December we went to the famous Monkey Forest. It’s basically a temple complex inhabited by hundreds of inquisitive Macaques. It turned out to be quite intimidating with monkeys jumping on people, fighting over food and trying to steal things out of your pockets. An evil one even managed to scratch my hand while trying to empty my pocket.

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In the evening we went to see one of the traditional Balinese shows after relaxing in a funky Art Cafe. This was a Barong and Keris dance accompanied by a live 30 man gamelan band. It involved the struggle between the good Barong – half-lion,half-dog – and evil Ragda – ugly witches. The gamelan music is a crescendo of high tempo percussion and flutes that felt like it was constantly on the verge of anarchy. The show itself was not the highest quality but good fun all the same, well rehearsed amateur dramatics.IMG_0534 IMG_0548 IMG_0627

After encountering a 2 inch spider the night before and with a bit of asking around the town we realised we could get a nicer hotel closer to town so checked out of Praety’s homestay on the 15th. Patrick wished us well with a long chorus of good luck, healthy life, good journey and other complements … before overcharging us for our room. A great example of the overt displays of faith by the Balinese and how this faith doesn’t get in the way of extracting cash from tourists. We moved to Sania’s place in the centre of town where we had a room without mosquitoes and a pool.

During the day we walked along to Museum Puri Lukisan which had three galleries in a lush green setting displaying Balinese art of varying quality. Some of the sculptures were impressive as were a few of the ‘traditional’ Balinese paintings were good. For a place that is renowned for its artistry it was slightly disappointing but then there are so many private galleries and buyers around it must be difficult to keep any good works.

We went to another show this evening, a Ramayana Ballet at Ubud Water Palace. The venue was really pretty with the stage surrounded by pools of water lilies and a temple backdrop. This show, with obligatory gamelan accompaniment was part of the story of the hindu Ramayana epic. All the musicians and characters were from the Women’s Association of North Ubud and although there were only a dozen in the audience they produced a very good show.

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On the 16th we did a cooking school at one of the warungs. Originally it was just Helen and me but as we were about to be taken on a trip round the market a Dutch couple joined us. The four of us were led round the market stalls by our Balinese host and shown the various foods for sale. Back in the kitchen we were each set tasks and shown how to make the 6 dishes: Corn Fritters, Tempe with Sweet Sauce, Sate Lilit, Soup Balinese, Nasi Goreng and Black Rice Pudding. The key to a number of these was the Balinese sauce. The course was good value and the feast we’d made was huge, even so, a couple of dishes were pretty much premade, especially the Black Rice Pudding. It was good to have another pair on the course as we all sat round afterwards to discuss our experiences of Indonesia and tips for onward travel while we devoured our self-made lunch.

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When we got home we had a dip in the pool and then went to the Art Cafe where we pretty much had our own private band. Two charming locals on guitar playing Clapton, Beatles and other standards.

On Friday we had to go back to Renon/Denpasar to see if our visa applications had been granted. It was a public holiday that weekend so the immigration office closed at 12:30pm thus we had to be there as early as possible. To save hassle and ensure we’d make it there unscathed we hired a car and driver to taxi us around. At the immigration office it didn’t take long to get the final pieces sorted and pay the 250,000 Rupiah (£20) for the extension. The clerk then told us the chief immigration officer had to approve our forms and that we’d need to come back on Monday to collect them. We had expected this from our research and were ready with our sad faces and explanation that we were going to the Gilis before then and wouldn’t be back for a few weeks. The kind guy said he’d see what he could do and that we should come back at 11:30am. So, with a couple of hours to spare we asked our driver to take us for breakfast, anywhere he wanted. Big Mistake. Living an hour away from the ‘big city’ of Denpasar he wanted to go to one of two places: McDonalds and KFC. KFC it was, and it was not too bad really. We then had a walk along Sanur beach because the nearby museum was closed for the holidays. Back at Immigration at 11am, we gratefully received our passports stamped with a 30 day visa extension and headed back to Ubud and the pool. Job done.

Dinner that evening was at Rai Pasti, a warung and tailors on Monkey Forest Road which looks unimpressive from outside but has free wifi and a great view of rice paddies along with tasty cheap food.

On Saturday the 18th we hired bicycles so we could explore the Ubud surrounds. Our first port of call was Goa Gajah AKA Elephant Cave which was about 20 minutes down the main road to the South East. When we got there we thought we needed sarongs to enter so bought ones from the well placed stalls at what turned out to be an extortionate price. Even more galling, when we got to the entrance there were free sarongs available! Goa Gajah itself was a minorly impressive carved cave entrance with nothing of note inside. The scattering of temples and ponds were better than the main attraction but nothing to write home about ( ironic given that’s exactly what I’m doing now). Our next stop - down a very steep road and with cars passing within inches of us – was Yeh Pulu, a 25m wall carving which was ok.

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After lunch back in Ubud we headed off into the villages to the west of town. This was more fun than the sights of the morning with quiet country roads, villages and rice paddies. It felt more like exploring rather than fighting through traffic.We did a good circuit through the village where most of the artist live and work before returning to town through a path which took us along the edge of Monkey Forest.

The next day I was feeling under the weather so spent most of the day sleeping and eating. On the 20th we decided to move hotels as our room had turned out to be a bit dark and damp (which probably didn’t help my health). We’d also tired of cold water showers. We managed to come up trumps after a fair amount of trudging along Monkey Forest Road. At Dewi Ayu we found a lovely ground floor villa right beside a large pool. It was twice the size of anywhere we’d stayed so far, with air-con, hot water, a bath and was easily 4-star quality at a 2-star price.

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Unfortunately we didn’t have long to enjoy it since we had our Christmas accommodation for the Gili Islands booked for the 22nd. On our last day in Ubud we booked ourselves on a Downhill cycling tour. We were picked up in a minibus early in the morning and taken up to Gunung Batur, a large volcanic crater with a lake and new volcano growing in the middle. When we arrived it was misty but as we ate our buffet breakfast the mist started to clear and we could make out the view into the crater from the rim.

We also stopped at some hillside rice paddies and at a coffee producer where they make coffee from Lemur excrement. Soon our group, about a dozen of us, were all on our bikes and had begun the 30km downhill cycle back towards Ubud. IMG_0813

On the way we stopped at a traditional village compound where our guide told us about the Balinese family system and showed us around. We were each handed ponchos as the rain started. Then the rain worsened. Then it got really bad. Soon we were riding down country roads feet deep in water, absolutely drenched from head to feet. At our next stop (a large banyan tree) we joined another cycling group hiding from the rain. We were given the choice of getting back in the vans and heading for lunch or continuing down. We’d paid to cycle and couldn’t be any wetter so we soldiered on. It was good fun freewheeling through constant puddles past soaked schoolkids and laughing locals. We rode through rice paddies and along the side of swollen rivers at times blinded by the driving rain.

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Finally we reached the lunch stop but there was nobody there. It turns out we’d beaten the minibus of quitters down the hill! When the rest arrived we all tucked in to a very tasty buffet lunch before heading back to Ubud. It was a shame that the weather was so awful but we enjoyed it nonetheless. After a warm shower we went out and joined an English/Irish couple we’d met on the trip for a few drinks. Mark and Delyle were very friendly and a few drinks turned into a few more. We finally dragged ourselves to bed in time to have a short sleep before our trip to the Gili Islands the next day.

Our week in Ubud was very enjoyable, our time there coincided with the Balinese festival of Galungan-Kuningan. Held every 220 days, the whole of Bali is decorated with large palm arches which are displayed outside houses and the island becomes host of festivities and offerings.

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December 13, 2010

Bali - Sanur

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We landed in Denpasar at 8am and all went swimmingly until we passed through immigration. We weren’t stopped from entering the country but they reminded us that we had to leave on the 9th of January. Our flights out are booked for the 11th! A miscalculation on our part (you’d think we’d be good at this by now) meant that we’d be overstaying our visas in a country where they don’t like people overstaying. The two options available were to buy new flights or try and get a visa extension. This problem could wait though, we had a holiday to enjoy.

We hopped in a taxi from Denpasar airport to our accommodation, Prima Cottage in Sanur. Sanur is a quiet resort town 30km from Kuta - the Aussie’s Magaluf – which we’d decided would be a much more relaxing introduction to Bali. Our room was large and quite nice, as was the pool and restaurant. We immediately sampled the famous Bintang beer and had a wee stroll round town. The town is a long strip of tourist shops, tour guides, restaurants and bars, not unlike many other resort towns we’d seen. Our first meal was at Little Bird Cafe, a charming little warung (local restaurant) which reacquainted us with Indo-Malaysian staples Nasi Goreng and Mi Goreng. That evening we headed to a nearby sports bar and sampled the non-existent nightlife, accompanied by spring rolls and Bintang.

On our first full day in Indonesia, we started with a breakfast of banana pancakes and fruit salad. We found the beach after a few wrong turns. Though very long its a bit scabby with a reasonable amount of hawkers. There are lots of cafes, bars and restaurants along the stretch but none were very busy and it felt very much like low season. Nevertheless, we had a sunbathe, a swim in the warm – in comparison to Australian – waters and relaxed on sun loungers for the day.

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With Sanur pretty much covered and a desire to see more of what Bali had to offer we left on Monday the 13th. We’d decided to try and extend our visas rather than spend lots of money on flights (which would have meant spending less time in Indonesia and more time in Kuala Lumpur) so our first destination was to the Immigration office in Denpasar and then to Ubud. A short taxi ride got us to the Immigration office and after filling in forms, photocopying documents, re-filling in the forms in black pen and handing over our passports we were told to come back on Friday to see if our extension had been approved. It only took an hour or so which was a pleasant surprise.

Pleased with our efforts for the morning, we trudged a mile or two into town and hailed a Bemo ( public taxi, like a tuktuk crossed with a people carrier) to Batubalan Bemo terminal where we would change and get another one to Ubud. After fending off the touts on the way to and on the way in to the terminal we found the Bemo to Ubud and negotiated a price. Unfortunately we were the only people going to Ubud (or so it seemed). Up stepped Patrick who, after exchanging pleasantries and nice conversation on Indonesia, happened to have a homestay in Ubud. He said we could be waiting hours for enough other passengers to rock up but that he would take us with him to his homestay for the same price as we’d agreed for the bemo. We declined, but an hour later and after reading his guestbook and looking at pictures of the place we relented and hopped in his car. Hopefully we’re heading to Ubud.

December 11, 2010

Leaving Melbourne

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As my time left in Melbourne dribbled away I started to formulate my plans for the next part of travels. Helen and I decided to go to Indonesia for Christmas and New Year before I jet off to South America for a few months and she returns to Melbourne to finish her Working Holiday Visa. The big event at the start of November was the Melbourne Cup AKA “the race that stops a nation”. The main reason the nation stops is because its a public holiday. We toyed with the idea of going to the races but the dreary weather put us off. Instead caught the train into town and went to the Crown Casino to drink beer, place some bets and watch the races. My luck wasn’t in as I failed to make a cent. Helen had the winner (Americain) at short odds so lost slightly less money than me. Fortunately I had 2nd placed MaLuckyDay in the office sweepstake so pocketed $25 the next day at work.

Other events during my last month were more Sunday afternoon Barbeques and heading back to some of our favourite haunts. The Perth St Olympics were an important affair during one of the BBQs with Andre and Marquino performing a clean sweep of the Bocce, Table Tennis and MiniGolf trophies.

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November was also ‘Movember, where much of Australia takes on the task of growing a moustache for charity. Lev, Rob, Zoltan and Me all did our bit for the Coles Pricing and Promotions team.

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On St Andrew’s Day I managed to acquire haggis, neeps and tatties and IrnBru to introduce Helen to the great chieftain o’ the pudding race. IMG_0431

Planning Indonesia, reducing my belongings back into a a backpack sized bag and work were the order of the last few weeks though we did manage to meet up with Fuss and Susie for sunbathing, drinking and dinner a few times. A Latino food festival in Fitzroy was good fun as was some weird hippy one-day festival in Edinburgh Gardens.

On Friday the 10th of December, after the longest week of work ever, I said goodbye to the many kind people I’d met at Coles and raced out the door. The final odds and ends tied up, we had an early night in anticipation of the early morning flight to Denpasar. Taxi to the airport, wave goodbye to Melbourne, hop on plane, prepare for relaxation.IMG_0486 (Large)

It was a bittersweet feeling to leave Melbourne (and Australia in general) since it has been a great place to live for the last 6 months with good people, a decent job and nice vibe. On the other hand I have even more exciting adventures to come, starting with Indonesia.

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