Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday, Mar 19th, Candidasa, Bali, Indonesia


We're glad the trip design lands in Bali last.  There are places with better food, stranger animals, older ruins, bigger jungles, and more challenging politics.  But few places have a more humane intersection of social, religious, cultural, artistic, and sensual experience.   

We headed out early this morning for the first of a series of days visiting parts of the island of Bali.  The awe of this place can be found in the villages, representing extended families which have fought for their identities, authority, and security for five hundred years.  And as we learn more about how they express themselves, and what traditions and customs have survived, we see the beauty of their lives.

Tenganan is a four-walled Bali Aga village of original, pre-Hindu inhabitants who we were privileged to visit.

We continued to a central moat-surrounded facility in Klung Kung, where a table and chairs beneath a wooden ceiling decorated with elaborate murals depicting punishment in hell and rewards on earth.

We ate lunch looking across rice fields to Mt. Agung, the most active volcano on Bali.  Fortunately, it was quiet today.

Quiet enough for us to ascend to Besakih, Bali's most important temple.  On the slopes of Bali's equivalent of Mount Olympus, this structure is reached by many long flights of 1,000 year old stairways passing many levels of lava stone terraces and pagodas which contain family compounds with courtyards and shrines.  This site incorporates the holy triad of temples venerating the Hindu trinity. 

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, Mar 19th, Candidasa, Bali, Indonesia. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday, March 18th, Candidasa, Bali, Indonesia


Today was a flying day - from Java to Bali.  In the morning, however, we had time to walk down  Marioboro Street to do some shopping.  Pat has consistently questioned whether I should get a small backpack to carry the stuff needed to make it through these daily jaunts outside of the hotel ad bus (water, umbrella, camera accessories, maps, etc.). 

I usually stuff them in my jungle fatigue pockets, but the pants have been dropping a little low with the thin plastic belts I wear to more easily pass through the x-ray machines at airports. 

We found one at a store at least a mile down the street, making crossing three main intersections necessary twice.  Pedestrians aren't given much respect here, and you just have to use timing and a bit of bravado to make it across. 

On the way to our resort hotel tonight (Ramacandidasa Resort), we had dinner at Warung Smiley, a well-known and liked local stop run by a couple who also sponsor the local chapter of Trash Hero Candidasa.  They are great chefs, supportive community activists, and they deserve all the help we can give to them to help the young residents of Bali protect their island's environment.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Sunday, Mar 18th, Candidasa, Bali, Indonesia.

Saturday, Mar 17th, Yogyakarta, West Java, Indonesia


Last day in Java was spent at Borobudur.  What a great treasure.  Built 300 years before Ankor Wat in Cambodia, the 2 million stones it contains result in a very impressive structure.  The stupa surrounding the top contain buddhas that visitors try to reach though the holes and touch for good luck.  Monks and dedicated worshipers perform ritual clockwise circling of the four layers past story reliefs.

Because I got lost trying to reunite with the group at the rendezvous point after reaching the summit, I had to climb down the exit stairs, walk all the way around to the entrance stairs, and climb up again to try to find them.  What work and panic!  They were worried too when I didn't show up.  Sorry guys!

On the way back, we had coffee at the Original Powan Luwak Coffee Store.  Some of you who know the story of civet digestive enzymes, and how coffee beans are transformed in the pass through the intestines of this cute little creature.  I'm told it moderates the acidity, and is a highly prized taste.

  This evening, we attended a performance of the Ramayana Ballet in a large open-air theater.   The dancers were beautiful, the gamelan orchestra was superb, the story was complex and well-presented.  After 41 years of daily shows, I think they've got it together.  Don't miss it.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Saturday, Mar 17th, Yogyakarta, West Java, Indonesia.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday, Mar 16th, Yogyakarta, West Java, Indonesia


Three weeks into our travels, we're still excited.  Of course, getting up early each morning to a wonderful continental breakfast, being driven to unusual and spectacular places, having lunch at local restaurants (often at resorts in the mountains and along coasts), visiting more exciting places until late in the afternoon, returning to the hotel to freshen up and answer emails, and then heading out to dinner at another choice restaurant - isn't hard to find exciting.  But it can be exhausting too.

Prambanan is a 9th century Hindu temple compound in outside of Yogyakarta.  It is the largest in Indonesia, and one of the largest in Southeast Asia.  It is the only temple dedicated to the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva), and it's content far surpass most other Hindu structures.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Friday, Mar 16th, Yogyakarta, West Java, Indonesia.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday, Mar 15th, Yogyakarta, West Java, Indonesia


Today, we drove to Taman Alum Lumbini, where a replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda (Yangon, Myanmar) was built.  The second highest pagoda outside of Myanmar, it was finished in 2010 by local Chinese buddhists who visit it on holidays. 

Our drive to the Medan Airport also included a stop along the road to see caged bats.  Some stretching three feet at wingtips, they are consumed at local dinner tables.

From Medan in Northern Sumatra, we flew across the equator to Yogyakarta, West Java, where we will be staying at the Phoenix Hotel.  A five-star hotel in the heart of the city, we'll be here for three nights while we visit Prambanan (largest Hindu compound in Indonesia), the Sultan's Golden Pavillion and private Water Castle, Borobudur (largest stuppa-style Buddhist monument in the world), and a Ramayana ballet.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Thursday, Mar 15th, Yogyakarta, West Java, Indonesia.

Wednesday, Mar 14th, Berestagi, North Sumatra, Indonesia


Driving away from Lake Toba can’t be done quickly.  It's a huge island, and the road around it too our bus by lots of interesting views.  With my Google Pixel up against the window, I tried to assemble a collection of Batak architectural styles, and of their people.  We circled a major portion of the island to get to the bridge that connects it to the mainland.  Then, it took us three more hours to get to the northern end of the caldera.  Aop a very large volcanic plug, we had lunch at an exclusive resort.

Indonesia has more volcanos than any other country, and is fourth in population density.  Combine that with the fact that it ranks just behind the Amazon in vegetation density, and you get lots of people living amidst lots of greenery, a little worried about their futures.  We sped down poorly maintained, winding roads, filled with motorcycles, cars, and trucks passing each other next to houses, businesses, agricultural fields, and every type of sign imaginable.

We stopped at Si Piso Piso, a 394 ft waterfall with a spectacular view of the lake.  We visited several villages, and walked uninvited into them to talk to the residents.  All were very receptive, and allowed us to poke through some of the traditional houses.  The Batak tribe is trying to hold onto their ethnic identity against the usual factors influencing the attitudes of their young, and in the face of serious economic woes.  But they seemed happy, and were certainly appreciative of the chance to meet some foreign travelers.

Berastagi (rice store) is our destination tonight, and we had some time to walk around it before dinner.  The market was crowded, and full of vegetables, fruits, spices, and fish.  It's an old city in the mountains, that the Dutch built in 1920 to get away from the heat.

After dinner, we drove up to an abandoned town on the slopes of Mount Sinabung.  It looked like this last October, but wasn't cooking anything up tonight.

To see all of the photo taken today, click on Wednesday, Mar 14th, Berestagi, North Sumatra, Indonesia.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tuesday, Mar 13th, Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia


We chartered a boat today, and went about a third of the way around Samosir island to visit Batak villages.  The Bataks constitute the fourth largest ethnic group in Indonesia, and dominate this area.  We're finding indonesia very different from Malaysia.  Although containing similar groups, they appear to be more geographically separate.

Batak villages are easily recognized from the distinct shapes of their longhouses.  Lined up in a row, and surrounded by walls, the lifestyles and beliefs of the villages are incorporated into the design of the structures and their uses.  Extremely patrilineal and centered around local kings, the family social and marriage rules emphasize strong kinship allegiance and respect for ancestry.

We were invited into a dance ceremony demonstrating prayers to a sky god to among other things: encourage good behavior from the tied water buffalo; grant good health to participants' sons and daughters; witness a marriage proposal; and the visit of an ancestor blessing all with holy water sprinkling.  I got it all on video, and will post it when I get time.

 At the finish, we were invited to join the dancers, and that too is recorded.  We'll see if that makes it to the public realm.

Traveling around the island to a few more villages, we watched a village council in their weekly meeting in front of the longhouses, heard the history of another village's kingships from a  descendant, and saw the ceremonial execution location and instruments for use in it for serious community crimes and prisoner of war.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Tuesday, Mar 13th, Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Monday, Mar 12th, Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia


We've come to stay for a couple of days on the tummy of a dangerous giant.  Samosir Island is a resurgent bulge in the floor of the largest volcanic lake in the world.  It sits in the middle of a caldera atop a giant magma chamber which caused the largest supervolcanic eruption on earth in the last 25 million years.  Seventy-five million years ago, it is thought to have wiped out most everything in South Asia, and reduced the worldwide human population to a few tens of thousands.  The eruption was large enough to have deposited an ash layer twenty-feet thick in India, and it is estimated that global temperatures dropped five to six degrees farenheit for several years.

But today we drove for eight hours, descended down from the rim of the crater, and hired a boat to take us to this island on a lake on an island between the Java and Andaman Seas.

Why? Because we want to meet and learn about the Batak people living here, have some more great meals, and kick back and watch the sunset.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, March 12th, Samosir Island, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia.   

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sunday, Mar 11th, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia


After checking out the street market early this morning, we spent most of the day flying.  And at each stop on the way, we said goodbye to some of our travelers.  We'll pick up two more tonight before dinner at Medan, our first stop on the island of Sumatra, in Indonesia. 

And after a great dinner at a restaurant our bus dropped us off at, we took a local motorcycle cab  (bajaj) back to the hotel.

To see the few more photos taken today, click on Sunday, Mar 11th, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Saturday, Mar 10th, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia


I know it must seem like we're hopping all over Malaysia, and we are.  Today, we flew back to the hotel we were at four days ago - across the island just north of Brunei.  Tomorrow, we fly to the island of Sumatra (Indonesia), lose a few of our travelers, and pick up a few more.

On our way back here, we stopped by a palm oil collection station, and learned more about the industry which has decimated the orangutan natural habitats in Malaysia.  The vegetable oil has found its way into so many products we consume, wear, or use for fuel.

Further toward the airport, we visited a chinese temple sporting 13,000 lanterns, and a great view of the surround bay.  A well-positioned rest stop on a very long drive.

Lunch was held at an English tea house atop a majestic hill (the scones and mini-sandwiches were welcomed). 

Before we gather for the first evening of the next portion of the trip (Indonesia), I'll try to find the time to ponder what Malaysia has presented to us.  I fear these posts are turning into more show then tell.

To see all of the photos (if the internet gods are good to me) taken today, click on Saturday, Mar 10th, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Friday, Mar 9th, Bilit Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Malaysia

Bilit Rainforest Lodge (BRL) is reached by bus from Sandakan, and is the gateway to hundreds of kilometers of Lower Kinabatangan riverways and jungle secured from an abandoned palm oil plantation in the state of Sabah, Malaysia.  Accommodations are cabins along wooden walkways, surrounding a restaurant, lounge, and souvenir shop.  BRL also operates a tour company (Tropical Gateway Tours).

Before breakfast this morning, we took a two-hour boat trip upriver.  In addition to lots of Proboscis and Macaque monkeys, we saw a crocodile, several monitor lizards, a tree snake, two kinds of kingfishers and horn-bills, many egrets and herons, and a couple of serpent eagles. 
The middle of the day in the jungle is not much good for anything other than lunch and relaxing.  Without an Internet connection, we turned to watching videos of the wildlife here, reading Lonely Planet guides, and deleting duplicate and poorly-taken photos.  

At 4pm, we loaded back into the river boat, and headed 15km upriver to see what we could find at a place called Oxbow Lake.  Passing the familiar colonies of macaques and proboscis monkeys, we encountered snakes in trees, a third variety of monkey, a very large crocodile, and finally - a very large orangutan.  

Orangutan means "Orang" (man) "Utan" (of the forest).  We are called "Orang", with another ending (I've forgotten) which means "man outside the forest".   We spent quite a bit of time watching the big guy while he sat in the crook of a large tree along the river.  Our guide indicated that it appeared he was settling into this location, as the sides of his face were beginning to stretch out (to make him look meaner to other males), and the hair on his back was thinning.  As we left, he bellowed to the surrounding female orangutans that he had arrived.  The hope is that they will respond favorably, and there will be a greater chance of their species avoiding extinction.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Friday, Mar 9th, Bilit Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Malaysia.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Thursday, Mar 8th, Bilit Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Malaysia

After a flight this morning from Kota Kinabalu (that's the mountain out the window), we landed in Sandakan, and drove to Sepilok.  There is an orangutan rescue center there that’s taken in, raised and rehabilitated, and returned to the jungle over 300 abandoned orangutans since its inception.

Orangutan Appeal, founded in 1964 by an Englishwoman (Barbara Harrison), operates the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in 43 square kilometers of protected land at the edge of Kapili Sepilok Forest Reserve.

And like other tourist locations within a couple of hours of a cruise ship dock, you’d better stay away between 11am and 2pm, or be prepared to encounter and squeeze between hundreds of frustrated foreigners with cameras following colorful guides holding signs aloft with bus numbers.  

We arrived before the cruse ship travelers left, and I was very pleased to step aside as group leader after group leader announced themselves, and led their flock off down the jungle boardwalk. All this to see one mother and her child eat fruit on a platform? Yes. The largest tree-dwelling animal, sharing 95% of our DNA, is worth it.

There is also a large nursery, where we watched five young orangutans learn to interact and acquire survival skills from each other.

The organization has a habitat which transitions even the youngest and least capable orangutans from complete dependence to self-sufficiency over six years through a series of inside and outside – restricted to unrestricted environments.

The facility provides medical care for orphaned and confiscated orangutans as well as dozens of other wildlife species. Some of the other animals which have been treated at the centre include: sun bears, gibbons, Sumatran rhinos and elephants.

In the wild, orangutan babies stay with their mothers for up to six years while they are taught the skills they need to survive in the forest, the most important of which is climbing. At Sepilok, a buddy system is used to replace a mother’s teaching. A younger ape will be paired up with an older one to help them to develop the skills they need.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Thursday, Mar8th, Bilit Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Malaysia.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Wednesday, Mar 7th, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia


The tallest mountain in Malaysia is in the middle of the thickest jungle, and after a two-hour drive up steep roads in a large bus - you'll find the Kinabalu National Park.    We sped there quickly this morning in order to fit in the long canopy walk amidst some huge trees, and a visit to their orchid garden and butterfly reserve.

This travel group is beginning to work as a real team to accomplish the most adventurous day-trips possible, and still have a lot of fun.  We're beginning to know each other's luggage, food needs, and shopping preferences.  Of course, we're still asking about favorite trips and memorable guides.

 Our guide for this trip, Pam Schewe, does an excellent job of den-mothering us when altered schedules, unexpected surprises, and mother nature just throw us a curve.  We follow her everywhere, and she's proven she'll get us through safely.

A late dinner on the waterfront just out from our hotel, and we returned to pack for tomorrow's 6;30am flight to an orangutan reserve.  We'll be there for a couple of days, and then fly back here.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Wednesday, Mar 7th, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tuesday, Mar 6th, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia


On the way out of Brunei, we visited their Museum of Technology and drove to the gates of the Royal Palace.  But the best part of the day was the Subway-like tuna sandwiches on wheat bread and slushes we had for lunch.  I know I've been a bit hard on this part of the trip, and it has nothing to do with the Bruneian people.  We've had nothing but great experiences with the locals, and do admire their cheerfulness and hard work meeting our requests.

But I just can't shake the feeling that they deserve a greater share of the wealth of the country.

As we peered through the front gate of the Royal Palace (at 1,788 rooms, 371 bathrooms, and seven floors, it's the largest residence in the world), we were told that the Sultan opens it up for three days a year to his people for a tour and catered lunch.

A short flight to Kota Kinabalu, Sabay to begin the jungle portions of the adventure.

To see the few more photos taken today, click on Tuesday, Mar 6th, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Monday, Bandar Siri Begawan, Brunei


Brunei is a two-hour drive from Miri, but a world away in culture.  It's a country owned by an individual family.

The 29th Sultan of Brunei is loved by those we speak with locally, but they seem a bit frightened of saying otherwise.   It's clear that he has provided benefits to those who work for him (everyone), and retirees.  These include free education, health care, housing, infrastructure (nice roads), and large mosques. 

What isn't clear is the degree to which his imposition of Sharia law has made life intolerable for women, gays, drug-users, and anyone wanting to speak poorly of him.  There are articles in western media detailing the bad-boy activities of he and his brother (and you thought Trump was bad), but there are certainly advantages to having a government of one. 

The kids are well-fed, and there don't seem to be any homeless on the streets (it's illegal).  Westerners are not allowed to talk about the religion, or the Sultan.  There doesn't seem to be much effort to recruit tourists outside of more muslims. 

It's a novelty country, and more power to him.  Though I don't see how he could have any more, actually.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, Mar 5th, Bandar Siri Begawan, Brunei.