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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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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Monkey Forest is a large park in the South of Ubud which looks like a magical kingdom from an Indian fairytale. You get to the Monkey Forest by walking down South one of the main streets of Ubud:
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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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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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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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The temple complexes of Borobudur and Prambanan were built in 9th century by rivalling Javanese royal dynasties. First Borobudur was built by the Buddhist Sailendra dynasty. Then about 50 years later the Hindu dynasty Sanjaya built Prambanan not far away. From Jokja you can visit both complexes in one (rather long) day on an organised tour. I found myself in Borobudur very early in the morning at 6am – right at the moment it opens – before sunrise.
Internet is full of information and photos of Borobudur as it is the number one tourist attraction in Indonesia. So I won’t copy paste Wikipedia. My own impression of Borobudur was initially a slight disappointment. It is essentially a large hill circled by concentric corridors. Corridors are filled with bas-reliefs and the walls are full of sitting Buddha statues. But if you have travelled South East Asia and particularly if you have visited Angkor Wat, perhaps you expect something more unusual. This is the first approach of Borobudur:
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I was drawn by Indonesia as if it were a forbidden fruit. Many of my traveller friends shared quite a negative opinion of the place. I read about the squalid conditions, road chaos and abject poverty reigning particularly in Jakarta. Also Singapore acquaintances professed that Indonesia is “too much”. Thus it was with some trepidation that I bought my plane tickets in the direction of South East. I decided to start in a softer spot – in Yogyakarta. Colloquially referred to as Jogja, it is the cultural heart of Java, and by extension of the whole country, Java dominating the archipelago demographically and politically. Nonetheless I made myself a promise to go to Jakarta, despite all the negativity.
By Indonesian standards Jogja is a calm and pleasant place. Still during my first days there I was driven to helpless rage by a neverending rain of shouts from any and all: “Hey, taxi! Taxi? Transport? Massage? Massage! Motorbike! Transport!” Pretty much any ostensible white tourist is subjected to this treatment. To answer to these characters makes things worse – you get trapped in a whole spiel starting with superficial interest in who you are ending in insistent offers to take you for an excursion for a whole day tomorrow, whole week, whole month… At some point I resolved not to react at all and started wearing headphones to block out the noise, although some just increased the volume or started using the car horns right next to me! With time of course I got used to it and adopted a stoic approach: just ignore.
It is the rain season now in Indonesia. Every day like a clock around 2.30pm the water starts falling from the sky in buckets. The rest of the time too the sky of Java is covered with clouds and the rain can suddenly start. A random Jogja street:
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