BALI & JAVA
BALI: Kuta, Denpasar, Ubud, Kuta ; JAVA: Yogyakarta, Borobodur; BALI: Kuta
BALI & JAVA
Magical names, magical places. These Indonesian islands were great places to relax after the jungles of Irian Jaya - even if they did seem a bit tame by comparison.
However, tourists shouldn't let the political turmoil or tsunami dissuade them from visiting Bali, which - at the time of this writing in early 2005 - is a peaceful, beautiful and fascinating place to visit. To check the current political situation: www.travel.state.gov
Religious beliefs pervade Indonesian life
and have a fascinating complexity. The original people arrived about 6,000 years
This belief is still visible today
in the checkerboard sarongs wrapped on sacred trees, the flowers placed on
religious figures and the food offerings left in front of sacred rocks. Most of
Joan came out of the jungles of
Irian Jaya with a heavy cold (later diagnosed as a sinus infection), so we
decided to rest in
We stayed at Oka Wati Hotel, a
charming small hotel set in a lush tropical garden with swimming pool. The plumeria, hibiscus, ti, ferns, crotons and palms in the garden reminded us of
While we ate, we watched fat ducks digging for snails in the rice fields below. One day we hired a taxi and rode into the hills around Ubud, where flooded rice paddies shimmer in mirrored terraces.
Back in town, we went on a mini-shopping spree, buying locally-crafter silver jewelry, ikat and batik textiles, puppets and masks. We went out nightly to one of the many dance, shadow puppet or dramatic performances. While these are aimed at the tourist market, they are said to be quite authentic - although trimmed from several hours to one hour in length. Performances usually are held in beautiful temple courtyards, and tickets were only $2.50.
We ate well at the many charming restaurants in Ubud. One night we celebrated our 39th anniversary by dining in a private pavilion in the garden of one of the town's best restaurants. We splurged on the most expensive "taster's menu" - 1) cold spinach soup with peanut brittle crumbled on top; 2) king prawn & lemongrass sate with spicy green papaya salad; 3) sweet potato and pumpkin agnelotti in spiced roroban sauce; 4) roasted gindara fish in jackfruit and bell pepper salsa; 5) clay-baked smoked duck with lemongrass/coconut spinach, creamy potatoes and apple saffron chutney; and 6) sorbet and ice cream in chilled melon broth. The meal, cold beer, service and delightful garden setting were all excellent, as was the total bill: $37.
GODS AND GAMBLING
A hotel staff member invited us to a temple festival
The ancient temple compound, with its lichen-covered carved stone shrines, gates and enclosures, was draped with colorful fabrics, tasseled umbrellas, towering offerings of food and flowers. One altar held an elegant, 15-foot tiered bamboo construction that closer inspection revealed to be hung with pig entrails, swarming with white maggots!
Food stalls lined the path to the temple, and villagers clustered in front of the various shrines to pray amidst clouds of incense, be blessed with water sprinkled by a priest and make their flower and fruit offerings. A healer sold herbs and aphrodisiacs, while nearby a fortune teller threw huge dice for small children. Small groups of smoking men gathered around game boards on the ground, where large dice were thrown or roulette balls rolled while bets were placed.
At the rear of the temple compound was a ritual cock fighting area. Amidst gambling, squawking and blood the defeated cock's spirit was released as an offering to heaven. Meanwhile, in a corner of the compound chanting went on throughout the evening - calling down to the festival the three manifestations of the Supreme God: Brahma, Visnu and Shiwa.
The main performance was the ritual enactment of a principal story from the great Hindu epic, The Ramayana. The Balinese have layered Indian Hinduism onto their ancestral animism with mystical overtones and take their religion very seriously. They believe that God, in his various manifestations, can be called down to earth to inhabit the bodies of the performers, whose elaborately painted, gilded and tousle-haired temple masks and costumes are considered sacred. The villagers crowded around to watch the 3-1/2 hour performance with rapt attention and awe. (Hiding behind the wall next to us was a group of young women peering longingly at the festivities. Menstruating women are considered unclean and cannot enter the temple compound.)
Suddenly the Barong appeared in the main gateway to the upper temple - accompanied by much gonging and chiming from the Gamelan orchestra. A huge monster, the Barong is enacted by two men inside a long body that looks something like a hairy Chinese dragon. The Barong's tail stands up tall, while ten feet or so away his shaggy head is energized by a fantastic wooden mask with bulging eyes, flapping ears and a huge, clacking mouth filled with sharp teeth. The Barong tentatively peered one way and the other from the top of the temple steps, delicately lifting his bare feet and darting his head from side to side. He stepped forward a bit, then pulled coyly back, peering and posturing while the Gamelan musicians took their cues from his movements. It took fully 15 minutes for him to descend the ten steps!
We followed the action as best we could over the next few hours. In brief, this was a ritual enactment of the balance between good and evil in the universe. The Black Magic of the evil witch, Rangda (below) was neutralized by the power of the good Jauk, who transformed himself at the end into Celuluk.
Finally, white-robed priests rushed Jauk-Celuluk back up the temple steps and off to heaven. The captivated villagers roared their approval, prayed again, then walked or rode spluttering motorbikes off into the dark.
We traveled to the
One night we sat under the stars to watch a dazzling ballet performance of The Ramayana, performed twice-monthly in the open-air theatre at the magnificent Hindu temple Prambanan (below.)
On a sweltering hot day we
visited the fabled
Lou left the hotel early the next morning while Joan rested, and raced to the top of the temple to experience it before the crowds arrived. The dark valley of palm and savannah-like trees below the temple was laced with ribbons of mist. Alone at the temple, Lou watched as the dawn grew lighter behind two volcanoes - transforming them from flat silhouettes into rounded cones. A few minutes later, the sun peeked over the saddle halfway between Gunung Merbabu and smoking Gungung Merapi. The sun at the bottom of the saddle threw two beams of light up the slopes of the volcanoes and shot them beyond the conical peaks creating a "V" of radiant light above the shadowy valley and across the sky. It was as if two arms of hallowed light were lifted in praise of the Borobudur Buddha!
DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
GUIDEBOOKS: Guide to
BACKGROUND READING: The Year of Living Dangerously, Christopher J. Koch
FILM: The Year of Living Dangerously
UBUD, BALI: Oka Wati Hotel, charming small hotel in a tropical garden with swimming pool. $30/night for a large double with bath and private balcony, breakfast included. (In 2000, the rate on this room was $70. Due to the lack of tourists in Bali at the time, Lou was able to bargain for a three-week stay at $30/night.) Ph: (062) 361 97 3386
Ubud restaurants: Especially good - Ary's Warung and Cafe Wayan, as well as the humble little Wes Wes vegetarian cafe
KUTA, BALI: Ida Beach Inn, $32/double with bath, breakfast (near beach, airport)
BOROBUDUR, JAVA: Manohara Hotel, on the monument grounds. $41/double, with bath, breakfast, t.v. and unlimited entry to Borobudur temple. Ph: 88-131
JOGJAKARTA, JAVA: Wisma Gajah Guest House on Jalan Prawirotaman. $16/double, with bath and breakfast
PRAMBANAN OPEN-AIR THEATRE, JAVA: Performances $2-12, including entrance fees and transport. Tickets through Kresna Tours: 02 74 37 5502
Joan and Lou Rose email@example.com