Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Cameron Highlands

After a few short days in the capital, we headed north, past miles and miles of palm oil plantations, some lovely untouched misty rainforest, and into the strawberry fields and tea plantations the Cameron Highlands are known for. The air here is fresh and cool, and there’s more masala dosai than I can handle. I didn’t expect to find such incredible Indian food in Malaysia, but when the British started the tea plantations in the 20’s, they brought workers over from India, and happily, they brought their amazing cuisine with them.

We made our base in Tanah Rata and spent our days reading and relaxing, hiking through mossy forests, and exploring the nearby insect museum and tea plantation. The fields of bright green, evenly trimmed tea bushes are quite picturesque rolling through the valleys and up the steep slopes. And it was interesting learning about and seeing the process of how you get from tea leaf to steeped cup of delightfulness.

For Earth Hour it was the Cameron Highland’s own version of Tanah-Rata’s-got-Talent in the town square with various songs and dances performed over the hour, including a flash mob dancing to Josh Groban’s song Brave. (Though technically I don’t think it’s a flash mob when they announce it ahead of time by saying “now please make way for the flash mob that is about to assemble. Please, make way for the flash mob.”) But it was cute, and for the second chorus Mark and I got up and tried to follow along. It was fun!

One day, Mark went on a hike to some neighbouring peaks while I chose to relax with my new read. Not far onto his trail, he came across a dog that had gotten caught in a length of wire. One end was wrapped around a tree, and the other around its hind leg. It’s hard to say if this was an intentional trap of some sort; it’s an odd place to lay a trap, but a similarly odd place to leave a chunk of wire. In any case, the tangled dog was angry, scared, and undoubtedly in pain (though there didn’t seem to be blood), and was barking and growling. Thankfully, a woman who lives at the trailhead, Mrs. Tan, came by for her daily walk, and she said she would go back and get some wire cutters (the snipers in Mark’s leatherman not being up to the gauge of wire). Using Mrs. Tan’s snips (which also were not ideal for the job), Mark sawed through the wire as close as he could get to the dog without being bitten, unfortunately leaving a short trail of wire from the leg, but setting the dog free. Mark offered him some of his muffin, but he wasn’t interested, and hunkered down near the base of the tree. There was really nothing else that could be done, so Mark continued on his hike. When he returned from his hike, we went back together to see if the dog was still there (stopping en route to buy him a hotdog on a stick, because what dog doesn’t like hotdogs, and it’s the closest thing to dog food we could find), and we did find him, in the same spot, nestled farther into the hole by the base of the tree. He growled in defense, and didn’t seem interested in the hotdog, so we left it with him. Poor little guy. It was so heartbreaking to leave him there, but I really don’t know what else could be done, given the high number of street dogs and the lack of animal welfare facilities. I’m just glad Mark and Mrs. Tan were there at the same time and were able to set him free.

We also saw a mother cat and two kittens who’d made a home in one of the big, rambling trees in the town’s park. We brought them a hotdog later too.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Thinking about palm oil…

With every leg of travel, I’m always excited to see the countryside along the way. And we’ve passed through some incredibly scenic, natural landscapes. However I was shocked, if not downright disgusted, at what I saw out the train window almost the entire ride from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and then on the bus from KL to the Cameron Highlands. I shouldn’t have been surprised, since when we connected in KL a few weeks ago I saw the same thing from the plane: palm oil plantations. As far as the eye can see, nothing but palm oil trees. And what’s palm oil used for? Other than everything, it’s most notably used in confectionary chocolate. That’s right. Our beloved chocolate bars (like Kit Kat and almost every commercial candy bar, Milo is a big one around here), are one of the reasons the Malaysian rainforest* is being decimated, and as a result, delicate species like the orangutan are being pushed to the brink of extinction.

But really, when are any of us going to see an orangutan anyway, and Kit Kats are just so damn tasty.

I know it’s abstract to think that the purchase of one measly chocolate bar in Canada could contribute to a species’ demise, but with every purchase, we make a choice, whether we know it or not.

I don’t believe that just because land is fertile, that we should just rip down whatever is there in the name of job creation and poverty alleviation. Yes, oil plantations create jobs, but people also rely on the forest for their livelihood in its natural state.

Oil palms are a high-yield crop, which is excellent. So if we use it in a limited way for necessary things, that’s great, but if we use it for useless non-foods like chocolate bars, that’s just a frivolous waste of precious resources.

Furthermore, monoculture agriculture is never good for endemic species, and there are other ways to farm, but when the demand is high, and profit is the main goal, you’re going to have massive plantations, because it’s most efficient.

The bottom line is we need to focus on creating jobs and alleviating poverty, but not at the cost of already endangered species. Without getting into my view of world economies and capitalism—and the fact that neither of these systems can have the limitless growth they require on a planet with finite resources—we have got to come up with better ways to serve the people AND the animals that live on this delicate planet. We have to stop acting like the earth's resources only exist so that we can exploit them (in the name of growth and progress) and start being stewards of the land.

I’m not calling for the end to all palm oil production. I’m concerned about the continued deforestation, when I feel there are ways to limit our use so that we can work with what we have. We need to become conscious consumers, aware of what’s actually involved in creating the things we buy.

If we’re going to feed a planet of 20 billion by 2050, we’re going to all have to start doing with less, and separating our wants from our needs. There are only so many resources, and if we use them carelessly, we’ll be in a much bigger bind. And honestly, if we’re willing to choose a chocolate bar over an orangutan, then there is no hope for this planet.

Only after the last tree has been cut down
Only after the last river is poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten

 – Cree prophecy

Will you join me in making a personal commitment to avoid or limit your consumption of palm oil?

This is what's being cut down to grow palm oil.

Bye-bye misty rainforest, hello processed junk.

*Not just the Malaysian rainforest is being mown down for palm oil plantations, Indonesia's forests are being affected too. We probably all remember this Greenpeace campaign.

Further resources:
Say no to palm oil
Ethical Consumer - list of palm oil free products
Palm oil free alternatives - from Borneo Orangutan Survival

Friday, March 22, 2013

Kuala Lumpur

As our overly air-conditioned train approached Kuala Lumpur we could see the two majestic Petronas towers illuminated, rising from the skyline. We wouldn't see them up close until the following day, but we caught tantalizing glimpses of them everywhere we went.

Kuala Lumpur is a beautiful capital city, with all the glitz and splendour of Singapore, but with a rawness and a grittiness that makes it feel more real, and less surreal. Shiny metal and glass condo towers rise above pinnacles and domes from mosques featuring keyhole-shaped windows with intricate lattice-work screens, in a very interesting harmony.

We visited Batu Caves, just north of the city, and climbed the 272 steps beside the massive statue of Lord Murugan to the massive cavern and the Hindu temples inside. Naughty macaques stole snacks from tourists and brought them up to their monkey lair at the end of the cave. We watched them clamber up the rocky walls and squeal at each other. Now that the Cat Sanctuary is closed down, I think Parliament Hill could use some macaque antics. Thoughts?

Back in KL, we availed ourselves of the delectable Malay cuisine while seeking shelter from the daily afternoon deluge. Then, after being teased by glimpses of it all day, we finally got to a good vantage point to take in the full grandeur of the Petronas Towers. I've been wanting to see them for a very long time. And then after night fell, we circled around to get another look of it all lit up. I have to say, I think I like it better at night! (Though I cringe at the amount of energy it takes to illuminate it...)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Splendid, squeaky clean Singapore

Goodness, I can’t imagine a bigger (reverse) culture shock than going straight from gritty Yogyakarta to the shiny, glistening metropolis of Singapore. Not a single person offered us a tuk tuk ride or tried to entice us into some dodgy store or another. Not even once. The squeaky clean streets, simple and easy-to-navigate rapid transit system, over-the-top architecture, anti-smoking laws, and potable tap water* at first seemed jarringly surreal and futuristic. With its well thought out city plan, and prominent public art and green spaces it feels like what every city wants to be when it grows up. Along with fully western prices–yikes!

We were charmed and delighted at every turn by yet another fantastic architectural wonder or public art installation. We chowed down on tasty things from the many hawker centres. We sought refuge from the heat in the various air conditioned malls (seriously, who’s shopping so much at Chanel that the city can support at least five of them?) and underground walkways throughout the city. We strolled along the beautiful riverside promenades, and felt both at home, and distinctly out of place (as stinky, increasingly disheveled backpackers).

Because it was so expensive just to be in the Merlion City, we wanted to make the most of it; flopping into our bunk beds only after cramming as much into a single day as we could manage. We braved a visit to freakishly perfect Sentosa island to visit one of Singapore’s two aquariums. As it is home to the city’s theme parks the whole island feels overly contrived and synthetic; we’ll call it the fake boob of Singapore. Manicured beaches made from trucked in sand look out over the pristine (polluted) waters of the Singapore Strait (and about 400 cargo ships). The whole place had a don’t-look-at-the-man-behind-the-curtain feel… And expensive too: if you went to all the attractions on the island, it would cost over $400 per person. And that doesn’t even include Universal Studios. Despite the high entry fee to the aquarium ($30 each! Damn, there goes our food budget!) and long queues, the aquarium had some excellent exhibits; I especially liked all the incredible jellyfish.

We debated whether or not to go to the Singapore Zoo or the Night Safari, but in the end it came down to price. The zoo was $22 each (still ouch for our meagre budget), and the other $35, or $49 each for a combined ticket. Yikes! The zoo was fantastic, with many open-air exhibits without ceilings or fences (moats instead), and some exhibits where the animals were free to roam. For instance, the orangutans were free to move beyond their created habitat, and had ropes, nets, and swings over pathways to other trees and areas. A colony of egrets had free range over the park, and had claimed one central tree to build their nests. We also managed to catch feeding time for the cheetahs and lions, and it was awesome to see them chase after and gulp down the raw hunks of meat being thrown to them. My favourite moment from the zoo was when, in one of the free-ranging pavilions, the fruit bat slapped at the ruffed lemur for encroaching on his chunk of papaya. The lemur was cool with it though, and they’re still buds.

There are lots of other ways that Singapore will help relieve you of your money, but there are a lot of great free things to do too, and the city is great for just walking around. As if all this sightseeing and walking around wasn’t tiring enough, Mark sought out some pick-up ultimate Frisbee games, and it was cool to meet some locals and expats.

*A good friend brought to my attention that Singapore’s tap water is reclaimed wastewater, treated through conventional means, with additional purification stages including microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and UV disinfection. It’s an innovative method to reduce reliance on imported water from neighbouring Malaysia, and also lower the impact on local reservoirs. Get on board! It’s tappening!

Beautiful Hindu temple at the end of our street in Chinatown.

Laksa, a spicy noodle soup; a merger of Chinese and Malay elements.


The giant Merlion on Sentosa Island.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Yogyakarta and the temples of Prambanan and Borobudur

From the cooler temperatures of the volcanic peaks, it was back to the scorching heat in Yogyakarta. We walked slowly, hiding in the shade as much as possible, ducking into some of the many, many batik shops to enjoy a bit of AC (and marvel at the intricate designs). I have new appreciation now for batik, after watching artists at each of the various stages. It’s an incredibly time-consuming art form, but an important part of Yogyakarta’s culture and Javanese history.

I was again struck by how different the cities in Java (predominantly Muslim) are from Bali (predominantly Hindu). Both part of the same country, but different worlds. The call to prayer could be heard loud and clear across Yogya, waking us daily at 4:45 am, then again at 6 am, and sounding numerous other times throughout the day. We wound our way through gritty streets and maze like alleyways, past vibrant murals and colourful street art. School kids trailed us, working up the courage to ask us questions for their school projects and asked for our signatures. Fame circle complete.

We visited Prambanan temple, and—wearing the obligatory, if not downright fashionable, hardhats—explored the various towers that have been deemed “relatively stable” after the 2006 earthquake which devasted much of the city. (We got a bird's eye view of the temple a few days later, when our plane to Singapore flew right over Prambanan!) 

The following day we woke up before the call to prayer and the rooster’s first yodel, to get to Borobudur temple when the gates open at 6 am. It was worth the tired yawns to be there before the rowdy school groups showed up, as the dawns early rays hadn’t yet pierced the morning mist, lending it an especially sacred feel. We spent a long time marveling at the massive, bell-shaped stupas on each level, and the intricate carved stories and figures on the walls.

This shows the fabric second waxing, ready to be dyed again.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A harrowing transit day, recounted thusly

Km from Mount Bromo to Yogyakarta: about 400

Trip time by bus: 12 hours

Drivers: 2 (1 sane, 1 crazy)

Torrential deluges driven through: 1 (a big one)

Near head-on collisions: countless

Cigarettes smoked second hand from the driver beside me: 3

Hours late to destination: 2 (not bad, considering...)

Time in hotel before seeing a cockroach scurry across the floor and up the wall: 2 minutes

Mothballs collected and thrown out from around the room: 19

Hours of sleep until the call to prayer being broadcast outside our room will wake me: not enough

Roosters I'd like to put out a hit on: 5

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bromo Birthday

We woke at 3am under a blanket of brilliant stars, to watch the sun rise over Mount Bromo and the neighbouring volcanoes. Other than the stars, the only lights in this dark and chilly pre-dawn landscape were the string of lights snaking across the crater floor—the procession of jeeps we were about to join. From a distance the plateau had looked smooth and flat, but we bounced and bumped across sand ridges and dried riverbeds to the crater wall rising sharply from the floor, where we whipped around steep and sharp hairpin turns to the rim. Here the land dropped away on both sides revealing the string of jeep lights below on one side, and the blanket of city lights far below on the other, adding shape to the mysterious landscape.

We wound higher and higher until we hit the wall of parked jeeps, and had to walk the last kilometer to the viewpoint, through entrepreneurial men offering moto rides to the top and selling hats, scarves, and coats to the shivering Indonesians. Finding a spot along the wall, we waited until the first hints of colour began to appear on the horizon, and slowly, the landscape before us formed itself out of the blackness.

The stars fells away to brightening purples and golds, and as the sun crested over the volcanic peaks to the east, pink light began to illuminate first the imposing figure of Semeru, then the sculptural ridges of Batok’s symmetrical dome in the foreground, then illuminating the billowing plumes rising out of Bromo’s wide crater, until all the shadows had been chased away and a new day begun.

From here the procession wound back to the crater floor to the base of Bromo, and the magic and slowness of the dawn gave way to the hustle and bustle of day. Horses whinnied and stomped at their posts, or galloped up the trail among the crowds carrying sleepy tourists to the staircase leading to the rim. The unexpected fumes from the sulphur clouds rising from Bromo’s pit sent us into coughing fits, and between gasps of fresh air we tried to take in the depth and size of the crater.

Our celebrity status preceeded us from Probolinggo, and strangers asked to have their photos taken with us; one mother came up to us and wanted to take our picture with her daughter. We obliged, with a smile, wondering where all these photos are going. This must be how Will and Kate feel.

Later, after a nap and some lunch, we hiked back down to the crater floor under fickle clouds and found a patch of quiet, where we sat on the black, volcanic sands to admire this incredible landscape. In parts it’s like a strange, desolate, lunar sandscape, and others a lush, rich meadow, ringed by protective green walls.

Yes, I think 33 is off to a fantastic start.

Vibrant dawn colours

Saturday, March 9, 2013

From Bali to Java

Getting to Java proved to be a larger challenge than anticipated. Travelling around SEA has been relatively easy, and most guesthouses also operate as travel agents (of sorts) who can get tickets for you (with such a small surcharge that it’s hardly worth finding a cheaper option yourself, plus, the guesthouse expects you to buy tickets from them; it can lead to some very awkward situations when you don’t). So for the most part, we’re used to being able to just tell the hotel where you want to go next, and they hook you up. Easy peasy.

When we told people in both Ubud and Legian that we didn’t want to take a private tour, but wanted to take the local bus to Probolinggo in Java (connection point to get to Mount Bromo), we were told “no bus, fly.” Though it doesn’t seem like it from the amount we’ve been flying lately and with the amount of flights coming up in our trip, I have a hard time taking short-haul flights. Flying is the absolute worst thing for the environment and I would love to be able to avoid it altogether. And most of the time there’s a reasonably viable overland alternative. I’m willing to suffer through long bus or train rides to save some bucks, see the scenery, and have a slightly lower impact on the earth. But other times, flying’s unavoidable. But we knew there was a cheap overland option to Java and no one seemed to be able to tell us where to catch the bus.

In the end, we had to take a moto (pretty much on the way to Tanah Lot anyway) to the bus terminal at Ubung, to try to get some answers about when and where to catch the bus. We were stuck in scorching, diesel-choked traffic most of the way there, and as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, we were chased and then surrounded by the omnipresent entrepreneurs who magically appear at every turn. “Where you go? Where you go?!” We tried to politely dismiss the helpful hoard as we looked for the ticket office, but it became clear after a while that these men were the ticket office. One persistent guy won out over the others and ushered us to one of the many shady “offices” where with very few words, we bought tickets to Probolinggo. Easy peasy? Using the aid of a map on the wall, I asked a few questions and got some affirmative nods, so, I guess we’re good then. Great! See you tomorrow. 8:30 am? Nod. Ok, see you tomorrow!

In hindsight now, the whole thing was pretty easy—I was fully expecting to have to change buses at the ferry, and then again when we got to Java, but we had the same bus the entire way (unlike the craziness of going from Siem Reap to Bangkok). And there was a bathroom on board. The door wouldn’t latch, but it was there. And when you got hungry, they would stop and let a vendor on board who would walk the aisle selling drinks and snacks. Not unlike in-flight beverage service. Though I do appreciate the No Smoking rule on planes—the man directly in front of me chain-smoked the entire time which was pretty terrible. Also, I’ll glaze over the fact that on a relatively short stretch of Javanese road we saw an overturned cargo truck and then a short while later an overturned passenger bus in a ravine, not unlike the very bus we were on…

We overshot our 4pm arrival time by a good three hours, in part from the numerous Nyepi processions blocking the streets of Bali (neat to see!), the ferry waiting on the Java side for docking space, and just general traffic slowness. And then as night was falling, the bus broke down. But, judging from a few signs we had seen, we appeared to be in Probolinggo, and we were ready to just grab our bags and start walking. Our few shared words—good morning, tasty, thank you—were not helpful in helping to confirm our location, and we wanted to avoid ending up at the terminal if it was outside of town, only to have to come back to where we were… And as it turns out, we broke down directly beside the one (of two) hotels in town that our guidebook lists as being passable. Awesome! I’ll take passable!

Settled into our passable accommodation, we hit the town in search of some eats, and were instant celebrities. Strangers and storekeepers stop us to say hello and shake our hands. Parents stopped their children so they could wave and point. It sent them into fits of giggles when we said hello and waved back. Despite being a key connection point for trips to Bromo, it doesn’t seem as though many tourists pass through here unless they’re on a tour. We’re famous!

Anyway, to sleep, and then tomorrow: Cemoro Lewang on the rim of the crater!

You can also see the beautiful formal wear -- long-sleeved tops
(white for procession) over colourful sarongs, tied with a sash.

Drums and flutes, singing and chanting.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Tanah Lot

Along the southern shore of Bali, west of Kuta, and with a view of the cliffs of Uluwatu, sits the temple at Tanah Lot. Rising majestically from the crashing surf, the temple was built on a rocky outcropping that is only accessible at low tide. We were there at high tide, so enjoyed the views of it and the other temples along the shore from higher ground.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Kuta’s beach is trashy

Imagine this: you’re standing on the edge of a golden sand beach, a hot breeze in your hair, watching surfers twist and glide along the massive, crashing waves, in front of a stunning cloudscape. Now, just don’t look down at your feet, or else the reality of the mounds of garbage washed up along the shore might mar this lovely tableau. In addition to wet and dry season, Kuta has another season: garbage season. At this time of year, piles, and piles, and piles of garbage wash up daily on the west shore. It looks like a dump. And so much of it is plastic. It makes videos like this less surprising, but no less disturbing. 

Opinions are divided about the cause—some blame it on neighbouring Java, but others point to the litter tossed into Bali’s ditches (whatever isn’t burned) that ends up washing into the sea during rainy season. Regardless, it’s appalling, and shocking.

There is a major waste problem in South East Asia. Absolutely everything from the market comes in bags, and often double- or triple-bagged. And when you say you don’t need a bag, you get strange looks. Bags are the norm. As are straws. Any beverage will come with a straw. Then there’s all the single serving snacks from the mini-marts. So much packaging. Municipal waste management is patchy, and a lot of garbage is burned in the ditches or dumped into ravines and gets washed out to sea from there.

Maybe some packaging reform can come from being faced with a problem like this? It’s hard not to want to change something when our consumptive habits threaten to ruin the very thing so many people come to Kuta to see…

*Also, I took these photos in the afternoon, after the dumptrucks had shovelled up the majority of it. This shows a fraction of what you'd see in the morning at low tide.


With Legian, just north of Kuta, as our basecamp, we went by moto down to the westernmost point of the southern peninsula of Bali to Uluwatu. There’s a temple here, but it’s not so much the temple that drew us, as the stunning natural scenery. Puru Uluwatu is built atop a startlingly sheer cliff that falls away to the crashing surf below.

We adventured beyond the paved path along an extremely muddy and sticky trail to some fantastic cliff views with swallows performing their aerial acrobatics above, but seeing an ominous wall of rain approaching, we headed back to the bike, and made it just in time to seek shelter by the vendor stalls.

When the rain passed—but not before breaking up one dog fight—we went over to a neighbouring bay and watched some intrepid surfers take on the massive waves. Awesome!

Waiting for the rain to pass so we can start our day!

Live chicken being transported.

Ominous grey skies followed us around for most of the day.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ulun Danu Beratan

We took another daytrip by moto north of Ubud, up winding roads overlooking gorgeous, terraced rice paddies, past volcanic peaks shrouded in cloud to the temple on the shores of Lake Beratan: Ulun Danu Beratan. With the crater wall in the background, the view of this lovely temple is truly magnificent. Even better seeing it in person than on the 50,000 rupiah notes! We sat and watched the clouds roll over the razor-sharp ridge and continue along their way (to threaten us as rainclouds later).

We explored the manicured gardens on the grounds and happened upon a setup of birds and mammals that you could pay money to be photographed with. Several kinds of owls, from tiny saw-whets to large horned owls, hornbills, eagles, about a dozen fruit bats, and a couple of pythons. Yes, for a fee ($20 bucks for the snakes, $5 for the bats, or $3 for the birds), you too can manhandle an animal! There's big business in pimping out animals for a profit, and it's indicative of a larger system of problems (unemployment, corruption, lack of social programs, etc) that won't change overnight. It's tough to make a living here, but until tourists stop feeding the demand for such gimmicks and spectacles, this isn't likely to change.

Soured a bit, and frustrated, we continued on to see if we would get a view of the north shore of Bali from the ridge of the crater (spoiler: we didn't), but along the way, saw a bunch of macaques running along the guardrails and sitting perilously close to the road because yet again, you could stop and pay money to feed them.

I apologize that this is a bit of a downer of a post... I knew when coming to Asia that we would see animal welfare rank low on the list of priorities, but it's frustrating and heartbreaking to see time and time again, and I feel powerless to do anything about it, because it's not just a simple fix. It's hard to reconcile coming from a place where it's a luxury to have a pet and wild animals are often protected. But the reality is I don't have to worry about having enough money so my kid can go to school instead of selling postcards on the street to tourists.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Besakih, Batur, and Tegallalang

We’ve been exploring Ubud on foot, despite the constant offerings of taxi?! taxi?! services, but for trips further afield, the best way to get around is by moto. You can hire a private taxi for about $40 a day, but when a moto is $5 and your day’s worth of gas is only $2, the choice is easy, especially when you’re on a tight budget.

Roadmap in hand, we set out to find our way along the confusing set of roads that run the length of the spines radiating out from the volcanoes; there are few, if any, reliable crossroads. Get on the wrong ridge road, and you could find yourself much farther away from your destination than where you started. We navigated the network to Pura Besakih, or Mother Temple, partway up the steep slopes of Mount Agung. The last eruption of this behemoth was almost exactly 50 years ago, on March 17, 1963. In that blast, over 2,000 people died and over 10,000 homes were destroyed, though Besakih was untouched by mere meters.

When we were there, we were told that it was a special lucky day—I swear, we must be the luckiest travelers that ever were, because everywhere we go, it’s always a special lucky day!—and that there was a special ceremony going on, and though we’d already paid the entrance fee, we wouldn’t be able to go into the temple proper unless we paid another fee. This fee varied depending upon who you talked to, anywhere from “whatever you want,” to 40 Euros. We decided not to pay the seemingly bogus fee and stick to the perimeter of the temple which we were allowed to explore. Though we didn’t end up coming across any areas that were off limits.

The temple itself is composed of many walled areas—each with many of the Balinese tiered and thatched-roof towers—stretched across a large area as you move further up the mountain. Stunning and picturesque.

After exploring the temple grounds for a while, and seeing the ominous rainclouds getting closer as they got thicker, we decided to head back to the bike, but didn’t make it far before the deluge began. Finding our roadside bamboo grove ineffective for keeping out the rain, we made a dash for a nearby shelter used as a brick-making factory. We stayed there through the worst of it, and would have stayed a little longer had not some local, roving dogs told us, in no uncertain terms, that it was time to move on, rain or not. They did not care that it was our special lucky day.

As we rode higher and higher, the rains eventually turned to mist, then fog, as we arrived at Mount Batur with its lake in the middle of the caldera. We drove along the rim of the caldera, ominous rainclouds on one side, the impressive cone of Batur with its rich, black, volcanic floes on the other. We visited a temple on the ridge (that was relocated from the base of the caldera after being destroyed), where we could hear music from a 3-day celebration ringing loud across the temple.

From here it was an easy coast down the volcanic ridge back to Ubud, with a stop at the gorgeous terraced rice fields at Tegallalang. This was an exciting moment for me, because I had had a picture of this exact place as my desktop background for months, and I could remember all the time I spent imagining being there. And now, here I was… I was actually here. Can’t say I didn’t tear up a bit… Ok, this definitely was a special lucky day.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Sacred Monkey Forest

In addition to these expressive faces, you'll some other expressive faces if you come to Ubud: monkey faces. A large colony of macaques live in the Sacred Monkey Forest, an unexpectedly lush, quiet haven tucked just off the main street. Towering banyans drip their rope-like roots into steep ravines, and weave their tangle of roots into sturdy bridges for the monkeys to play on. Monkeys lounge and groom each other, or practice their cannonballs and water wrestling in the small ponds, or steal entire bags of bananas from unwitting tourists. Endlessly entertaining.

Faces of Bali