Monthly Archives: March 2014

Wonderful Indonesian food

The last post about my trip in Indonesia will be about the wonderful Indonesian kitchen. Indonesian is highly varied and fascinating. People were warning about how spicy it would be but after Thailand it seemed quite moderate and yet rich in flavours and nuances. It has several staple dishes which never let you down and the number one in this list is surely nasi goreng.

I ate this main Indonesian dish in expensive restaurants and for one dollar on the street. In each case it was well prepared and very tasty. Nasi goreng simply means fried rice, usually it is served with various fried ingredients. In this case there is chicken, egg and prawn. If you want to fill your stomach in Indonesia without experimenting too much, nasi goreng is the obvious answer.

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Ubud’s rice paddies on a bike

I am back to wonderful Ubud in this post, this time to tell about the bike tour of rice paddies. A myriad of small companies offer such a tour in Ubud. Surprisingly, most of these companies have virtually exclusively positive reviews in tripadvisor – first time I see such unanimity. Mind you, the reviews are obviously genuine – it is quite easy to tell by the language used and by how active the reviewers are. So it is a tough choice – between great, fantastic and wonderful! I remember choosing the company to take the tour of Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia – there the problem was exactly the opposite. For every company tripadvisor had a list of horror stories. I guess it does reflect the level of service and customer satisfaction in each respective country somehow.

A smiling guide picked me up in the morning from the hotel, holding my hand with his both hands, asking me lots of questions (yes, this is Indonesian hospitality). And soon we are speeding up the mountains in a minibus – myself, two Austrians and a Japanese girl. Almost right away we stop by this wonderful sun-drenched rice paddy:

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Tongariro Alpine crossing

Fellow travellers often ask me what was my favourite country on this trip. I usually pick one, not to be boring, but very honestly there has not been a single country I didn’t like or I didn’t feel like I wanted to come back to. There were three countries that I found difficult – those were Bolivia, USA and Indonesia. But even there I got some pretty unique experiences, perhaps the most memorable of the trip. I was thinking about all this today as I was walking to the top of Mount Victoria, towering over Wellington, the wind-swept capital of New Zealand. And I was inspired to wonder about my favourite country by the admiration I feel for New Zealand. It is a true heaven on Earth. I can easily understand why for example one German friend of mine spent six months hitch-hiking around it. As for me though, I have about six times less time for this beautiful country.

I was looking through the photos from various episodes from my trip and at the spur of the moment I processed the Tongariro crossing photos. I just could not resist. So I will publish them now, out of order, just because they asked for it. I did the Tongariro crossing the next day after skydiving, out of the same little place – Taupo. At that time New Zealand was being taken over by the cyclone Luci, which was expected to cover the North Island with incessant rain and fog on Saturday. On a day like this Tongariro crossing would definitely be closed. I was lucky to make it on Friday, and on that day the weather was wonderfully sunny – a mint day for doing the crossing.

Tongariro Alpine crossing is a trek of around 8 hours duration through volcanic desert. The length of the trek is 19.4 km. The path first climbs rather steeply up and then descends slowly on the forested mountain slope. There is no public transport and therefore you have to organise specialised transport. A minibus picked us up in Taupo at 5h30 in the morning and we were at the start of the trek at 7. The last bus leaves at 16h30, if you miss that you are in trouble. For those who are a bit crazy or in very good physical form the trek features a couple of diversions, of which the most titillating one is the possibility to climb Mount Ngauruhoe. This volcano is most famous for representing Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Frodo climbed it in order to rid Middle Earth of the Ring forever by throwing it into the flames. The climb of Mt Doom is around 3h return, and it is in addition to the main trek.

The first look at the trek early in the morning.

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Traditional dances of Bali

Cultural events in Ubud are truly a myriad. Some evenings you can see traditional dance performances in eight different locations. In this post I will describe two different dance performances that I attended in Ubud.

Legong and barong dance
On my very first night in Ubud I set off for the Royal palace which hosted a traditional legong barong dance. When I arrived about 10 minutes before the start, almost all the seats behind the starry sky were already taken, so I had to photograph over the heads of those sitting in front of me. Surprisingly there were quite a few local spectators too, in addition to tourists, though the locals were mostly watching from behind, probably as friends of performers.

The performance in the Royal palace consisted of two parts. The first part, legong dance, is based on a 13th century novel about a princess that is being abducted and then saved. All performers are young girls.

Anticipation of the start:

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Magical Ubud

For a while this blog will be a mixture of posts about New Zealand (where I am right now) and Indonesia and then Australia (where I was about a month ago). Right now I am in Taupo, New Zealand. The day before yesterday I skydived (what an experience!) and then yesterday I walked the Tongariro alpine crossing (also quite something). Thus today was a relaxing day to give my body and mind a little rest. In this post however I will come back to Indonesia, to my visit to Bali and the best place there for me – the town of Ubud.

Before coming to Bali I knew this about it:
– that it is the most popular touristic spot in Indonesia;
– that it is the only remaining Hindu island in Indonesia;
– that as a result the atmosphere there is very relaxed and tolerant, somewhat different to rest of the country.

The main touristic centre on Bali is the town of Kuta on the Southern tip of the island, right next to the international airport. Kuta gradually merges into Legian which merges into Seminyak which merges into Kerobokan – all these villages by now have grown together into one long township stretching along the coast to the North. I stayed for some days in Seminyak, the most upmarket of this line up. Then I became tired of the heat and moved to Ubud, which is located in the centre of the island at some altitude and is the cultural heart of the island. (Bali’s business and administrative capital and most populous town is actually another town, Denpasar, which I did not visit.)

Ubud is a magical place. Lost among the emerald green rice paddies, laid back and full of esoteric practices, it charms the visitor immediately despite its apparent superficiality. Its fame nowadays comes thanks to the movie “Eat Pray Love” and the book of the same name. The characters of the movie are real people, for example the healer old man visited by Julia Roberts in the movie can actually be visited. A friend of mine did pay him a visit and told me about it. Although the locals consider altogether different magicians the most powerful. I guess in Ubud everyone finds their own – either very superficial experiences, or something more interesting.

At first I expected to spend just a couple of days in Ubud, but days quickly grew into weeks and finally I was there for about two weeks. I attended yoga classes, various meditation workshops, ayurvedic procedures. Basically I was discovering a new sphere of life experience.

To give a first taste, a notice board in one of Ubud’s many fashionable cafés. Full of activities of every imaginable variety:

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In New Zealand’s sky

The bright light of the sun fills the bluest of skies. We are dressed in funny blue suits, leather aviator caps and plastic goggles. I take off my shoes to go bare footed. On a tiny pink plane we fly up to 15000 feet. In a narrow cigar of the plane we are all seated on the benches in the same direction – backwards. One next to another, instructor, diver, instructor, diver. The majestic panorama of lake Taupo, the small town and the mushroom-like hills is laid out before our eyes. My instructor is a young athletic Aboriginal Australian, his helmet is covered with Aboriginal patterns. We discuss Dreamtime before suddenly it is our turn. For a few seconds I am sitting in the open exit of the plan, my feet dangling in the abyss, my eyes widening from excitement. With a swift movement Mali holds me close and all of a sudden I am falling down. Wow! At first we fall backwards, back to the ground, then we get in the horisontal position and – oh my God! – for 60 seconds I am falling down like a stone and can’t stop laughing. Then Mali opens the parachute, the euphoria of weightlessness turns into another dynamic, slow relaxed gliding in the air, no longer ignoring the gravitation. At this moment I feel a strong disappointment, it is not enough, I desperately want more of the incredible free fall. Although my ears are totally blocked and the pressure on them will last for an hour more. We slowly descend, making circles above the lake, observing other divers. In the last moment I hold my feet parallel to the ground and carefully we slide on the grass. I shake Mali’s hand, he asks me if I want to jump again. The answer is obvious.

Lake Taupo above which the skydive took place:


It is a momentous time we live in. Turns out, history has not ended! As is shown by the complex events in Ukraine, the endless surprises of Sochi Olympic games and even by the sudden and innocent switch between the Estonian Prime Minister and EU Commissioner, history is alive and well and will continue spicing up our existence.

I am by now in New Zealand after spending a month in Australia. Australia is truly magnificent, but at times it shows a traveller its less friendly side, mostly in very simple comfort questions. You are asked to check out at 9:30 in the morning (what?), you have very limited access to internet – no free wifi even in expensive hotels, and even paid wifi is very slow. For example a new critical update for iPhones is 1GB large – forget about downloading it in Australia! Because of this limited web access every time I published a post on the blog, it seemed like a giant triumph of will.

All this threw the chronology of my journal in quite a disarray. I will continue publishing some experiences from Indonesia and further on as I went, but I might also make some sudden posts from the present moment, as I did with Sydney Mardi Gras.

Of course there is also the second reason why I am late with updating the blog. Australia and New Zealand have been so intense and so interesting that it seems life just sucks me in like a hurricane not leaving time for anything else really. I have already accepted that there is no way I can sleep as much as I’d like to ever. Sleep seems simply a criminal waste of a critical resource. I have no time to read books, to watch movies, to meditate – all these activities I thought I would be doing in abundance on a round the world trip. Nothing like that.

This is what I’m missing the most on this trip – time. And it is the main lesson of the trip. You suddenly realise how valuable time is and how little we have of it. That’s why it’s so important to concentrate our attention on what truly matters.

There is another lesson I learnt from this trip. It is that you always have to DO that what you want to do. Even if you are tired, you’ve no money, you’re in a hurry, you’ve no more strength, you’re not sure – DO IT ANYWAY. You painfully regret afterwards the things you did not do, the people you did not meet, and almost never the things you actually did, even if they did not go quite as you would have liked. Looking at the list of expenses on your bank card statement, I am always surprised by how small they look several months after the facts. And I regret not having done more.


I made myself a promise to visit Jakarta, to avoid a huge white area in my head in place of this huge city which most tourist try to circumvent. I really hoped to like Jakarta, to find some pleasant elements there, which will disprove the prevailing opinion. Alas. Jakarta is a heap of rubbish, full of poor people living in squalid conditions and endless cars standing in an eternal traffic jam.

Jakarta as we approach it:

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