Bali: Elephant Temple, Coffee Plantation…

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Temples are everywhere in Bali! Only a few are open to tourists. The elephant temple is an ancient temple rediscovered by Dutch archeologists late 1800s. Restored for use after a 1918 earthquake knocked down some of the walls. It’s a small cave and really has nothing to do with elephants. Because there have never been elephants in Bali. There were a number of shrines in use today on the temple grounds – there were people placing offerings at some of them.

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Notice how everything is cloth wrapped – an indication of the importance of textiles in Balinese religious life. White and yellow signify holy/happy – the black and white represents good/evil. On ceremony days men worshipers dress in white; the women in colorful clothes. It is considered polite for visitors to a temple to wear a sarong and sash which we did.

Further down into the valley is a Buddhist temple – I knew I would not be able to climb the stairs back up, so I waited for those who went to see the temple below to return.

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We’ve been hearing about women’s responsibilities, which are many: to shop for food, to cook, to care for children and elders, to prepare the many daily offerings (for many, today, to work as well outside the home). As far as we can tell men have few obligations. Here we see one of them: to prepare the bamboo for the women to make baskets for carrying food offerings to the temple and elsewhere. In today’s world in a good many households these baskets would be purchased ready-made in the market absolving the men from the labour. It really does seem that women bear the burden of keeping Balinese life going.

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Next stop a coffee plantation – it’s an example of eco-tourism in action. The site has the two kinds of coffee grown on Bali, as well as cocoa, vanilla, ginger, coriander, black pepper… Bali also produces luwak coffee – coffee beans that have passed through the digestive system of civet cats! Very expensive. They had caged civet cats on the plantation for visitors to see in addition to being fed ripe coffee beans (the cats reject unripe beans!). I don’t know whether there was a population of wild civet cats or not – if there were it would require people to gather cat scat in order to recover the digested coffee beans. The beans aren’t actually digested, the hulls remain and have to be removed before the coffee can be roasted and ground.

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There were also some ginger plants – the unopened buds are sold in the market and used in cooking.

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We stopped for lunch at a ridge overlooking some lush rice paddies. No one was working in them – too hot midday – they work early in the morning while it’s still relatively cool.

A final stop on the way back to the hotel was for ice cream – a welcome treat on a hot day!

Bali: Weavers’ Market

We began the day with a trip to the northeast part of Bali first to visit the Weavers’ market, then to stop at a weaving cooperative where the young women were weaving ikat fabrics (more about the ikat fabrics later).

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The weavers’ market is an assemblage of indoor fabric stalls each displaying piles of handwoven fabrics, many from the local region.

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What makes these weft ikat fabrics unusual is the process the weavers use – they set up their looms with solid colour warp threads then weave a design with weft threads that have been dyed using a tie-dye technique.

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The photo shows the weft threads set up (tied in groupings which represent the design) just before they are placed in the dye. Once dyed, ties are systematically removed and the “blank” areas of the thread are hand dyed in the desired colours.

The weavers pass the shuttle loaded with the dyed thread back and forth making sure the colour alignment is accurate – this requires close attention to the colour placement at the selvedge edge. The fibers can be dyed with either natural or synthetic dyes. Needless to say, the fabrics using natural dyes are worth more.

I bought one sarong length of weft ikat fabric at the market; I bought a second length at the weavers cooperative. We were able to watch some of the women work at the looms – they can each weave about 2 m of fabric a day which earns them 40,000 Indonesian rupiah (approximately $4 CAD)! That same 2 m of fabric sells for between 150,000 – 200,000 rupiah depending on the delicacy of the threads and the complexity of the design.

After lunch we visited with an Indonesian woman who is an expert on natural dyes and who has been instrumental in helping revive the hand weaving industry in Bali. She showed us a number of textiles – all of which had ceremonial importance (textiles play a very large role on Balinese religious life). Each textile was connected to a particular ceremony. All of the fabrics she shared with us were stunning examples of hand weaving.

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Our final visit of the day was to a sea salt maker – talk about labour intensive – the salt maker carries large buckets of sea water from the beach (2 at a time) to pour on the sand flats. Once dry, he skims off the crusted sand and washes it in a vat using more sea water. The sand is washed 4 times, then the salt concentrate is taken to evaporation trays so the sun can dry off the water leaving behind salt crystals. The process can take a day in the sun, several days if it’s cloudy and the whole operation is shut down during the rainy season. On a good day he harvests 10 kg of salt – not a lot for all his labour! Some of the gals bought a kilogram of salt for 40,000 rupiah which gives you an idea of what he makes for his 10 kg of salt.

Tomorrow we visit a temple – that should be very interesting.

Bali: Farmers’ Market and Cooking Our Own Balinese Lunch

Today we were picked up early and taken to a Farmers’ Market in the north of the island.

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We got there around 9:00 but the market opens at 5:00 am. Most of the locals do their shopping before the kids get up for school.

Our guide (Sang De) walked us through the stalls stopping to tell us about the ingredients we were going to use to make our meal: tumeric, ginger, shallots, garlic, small hot peppers, large red chili, coriander seeds, kafir limes…

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The market had flowers (both edible and for offerings), spices, rice, feed for chickens and pigs, even a dry goods section:

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From the market we were taken to Sang De’s family compound where he has facilities for a cooking “school”. First he explained the layout of a Balinese family compound – a Balinese home is a multi-generational affair – including a family temple, a place for family ceremonies, as well as individual “houses” for the family groupings, a kitchen, bathroom facilities (which are communal, not part of the individual houses), and a grazing area for chickens and other small livestock.

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The kitchen was large enough that all 9 of us were involved in the meal preparation: first chopping the “spice” ingredients very finely so the mixture could be ground in a pestle. Next we cooked it in a pot, adding chicken stock, bay leaf and a leaf of kafir lime. This mixture was used to make the unripe mango soup as well as the curried chicken. It was also added to the puréed chicken thigh to make satay. We spent over an hour and a half getting the meal ready.

Before eating, Sang De explained how offerings to the gods are made as part of each meal. Balinese lives are tightly interwoven with their religious beliefs.
Offerings everywhere on the streets, on the ground in front of shops, on shrines along the streets, in lots of other locations. They consist of small woven palm leaf dishes filled with flowers and topped with a burning incense stick; beneath the flowers is an offering of the meal about to be eaten (I assume the offerings on the street are the same).

The meal was delicious (more than twice what I was able to eat), if a bit under spiced – I like.hot spicy food, but the other gals asked for mild, so while I found the food flavorful, it was lacking in heat.

We left with copies of the recipes we’d made so we’ll be able to make them when we get home.

Bali: Rice Paddy Walk and Visit to a Spa

We started the day early by driving a distance toward the northern mountains from Ubud to the start of a trail through a series of rice paddies back to town – something like a six km walk downhill.

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The paddies were of various sizes – some smaller ones obviously intended to feed a family; some of the harvest from the larger ones probably would be sold.

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The path was narrow, we needed to walk single file; nevertheless there was quite a bit of motorcycle traffic going in both directions. When a motorcycle came into view we had to step to the edge of the ditch beside the paddy to let it pass – not always easy to do.

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Some of the families have been enterprising by building small shops on the path – they sell art, trinkets, food items, gifts, you name it. However a majority of the shops were closed for the day due to a big religious festival where thousands of people get dressed in their going-to-temple white outfits and walk from Ubud to the ocean – a bit of a hike. In the afternoon we saw the procession returning in 100 trucks all decorated and carrying a load of people and large religious statues.

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What became obvious as we got closer to Ubud, was just how much construction is going on (much of it resorts being built) which in 5 years will likely obliterate much of the rice paddies. If tourism remains stable or grows that will mean income for Bali, but I couldn’t help wondering how the poor will be able to afford imported rice – the essential in the Balinese diet.

Later in the afternoon I visited a spa not far from the Rama Phala Resort where we’re staying. I had chosen a traditional Balinese massage. The masseuse began by loosening every joint starting with my feet – I go for a massage regularly at home – this was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. When the gal was done, I was so relaxed I could barely move. Quite wonderful – to be recommended to anyone visiting Bali. There are spas everywhere so I know for sure I’m not the only visitor to take advantage of the service. I hope to be able to have another massage before I leave.

Bali: Fire Dance

Two evenings ago we attended a performance of a “Fire Dance”. The Balinese name for the dance is “Sekaa Kecak”. It’s a dance not accompanied by instruments but by a 100 member male chorus.

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It’s an old ritual dance based on an ancient Indian epic. It involves gods and princesses and other important persons in a series of abductions, rescues, deaths… All very convoluted.

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Can’t say I understood much of what went on. The finale involved a rather large bonfire in the midst of the square and a dragon character who dashed through the fire scattering the burning cocoanut husks repeatedly. The performance was in the round so those scattering ashes came very close to the audience! Unfortunately, I didn’t capture any photos of the dragon and the fire – the fire was too bright.

Bali: Silk Painting

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Today the group split up – half taking a “walk” (more like a hike) through a rice paddy. The rest of us went to Sanggingan, not far from Ubud, to do silk painting with two wonderful silk painting artists: Aguso and Renee. We got to see a collection of their works – predominantly used for making silk garments and scarves as well as wall hangings.

The process begins with a drawing on parchment which gets transferred to a length of silk charmeuse. Next the silk is stretched and pinned to a frame so a fine line of beeswax can be applied. The process is the same as that used for doing pysanky – Ukrainian Easter eggs – applying a fine line of heated beeswax with a stylus. The wax protects the base colour of the fabric from the dyes that are applied, in this case, using a “brush” (a 8″ length of wood with a tip that looks like an overgrown Q-tip).

We were given silk squares which had already been waxed (although we did get to try our hand to applying it ourselves – it felt very like doing pysanky and my control of the stylus quickly improved as I used it). We were shown how to apply the dye, then turned lose on our prepared design.

I had selected an image of a Strelitzia (bird of paradise flower). The challenge when applying the dyes is to do it in such a way that you get subtle shadings – much more difficult than it at first appears. Dyes get shaded with the help of a bit of water carefully applied to move one dye into the next while both are still wet, not unlike the way colour is blended in a watercolour painting.

We had a limited number of brushes to work with, none really small enough to apply the dye in small spaces so it was inevitable that dye did occasionally end up outside the waxed outline. Nevertheless, in a couple of hours I had a finished flower. Applying the background colour also required learning about how the silk absorbed the dye when enough was applied – I didn’t need to bring the brush right up to the waxed line – if enough dye was applied it travelled to the wax line but no further.

We didn’t do this ourselves, but the pieces are finished by being dipped in some goop to fix the dye, rinsed thoroughly, placed in boiling water, swished around until the wax outline is completely melted, then hung to dry. Our pieces will be finished and delivered to us by the end of the week.

I still have all my supplies for doing pysanky. I must dig them out when I get home and see what I can create.

Bali: From Denpasar to Ubud

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Hey, photos today.
The ones above are of a building we passed on the way to Ubud. Very Balinese.

The trip took about an hour although the distance isn’t great. We were in a small van so greatly affected by the traffic. As we got further and further from Denpasar, the roads got narrower and narrower. We passed through a number of small communities although the demarcations were blurry. What was striking is that Bali is a land of crafts people: we passed many woodworking establishments (you could tell by the milled lumber outside); ceramic pots were being made in lots of different places, many businesses selling statuary of Hindu gods, some obviously old, others contemporary.

We haven’t walked around Ubud much yet but one thing is obvious – the sidewalks here are accidents waiting to happen. I’ll take pix tomorrow so you can see – you have to walk with your eyes on your feet to be sure you don’t trip over broken tiles, or fall into a drainage hole! And the sidewalks are narrow with traffic very close at hand – you have to be watchful.

I could write about the food as well, but that has to wait for another time. I have to go in before the mosquitos get me even though I’m wearing quite a bit of DEET – they’re flying around me.

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A door to one of the rooms in the hotel we are staying at.

The grounds are gorgeous:

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More tomorrow – silk painting!

Bali: The Vegetation

Can’t upload pix again today-no idea why. I’ve tried several possibilities but can’t get any of them to work. I believe it has something to do with me not enabling international roaming. So I’ll carry on with describing my experience.

(I’m adding a couple of pix after the fact:

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The grounds of the Patra Jasa Bali Resort are wonderful – you see gardeners cleaning up fallen leaves daily, pruning shrubs, attending to the clothing of some of the statues (they put sarongs either in black/white check or in a golden yellow on statues of what I believe are God images, rethatching some of the roofs/rooves.

There is bougainvillea everywhere in shades of white, peach/red, pink and purple; sometimes more than one colour on a single plant obviously the result of grafting. Lots of frangipani trees on the grounds. Heliconia, hibiscus, and a purple flour I don’t recognize. Cana lilies, and various kinds of palms. Kalenchoe which we get as a small potted tropical plant, grows shrub size here.

I stopped to take pictures on my way to breakfast this morning – too bad I can’t include a couple.

Following breakfast, I led a water aerobic class with three of the gals in our group-it was at their request. Following the exercise the group got organized to go shopping. Here’s the contrast again, we went to a LARGE shopping centre. This time both cabs reached our destination. We specifically went to a department store selling all sorts of goods made from batik. From tablecloths to men’s, women’s and children’s clothing. I could have binged on gift buying, but nobody needs more stuff so I bought next to nothing. The only thing I picked up was a gizmo with two holes used for tying a women’s sarong.

The mall was large and filled with shoppers. After an hour and a half of looking around the shops we went for lunch – to Pizza Hut – very contemporary Bali. Again, traffic was astounding – it’s a free for all – the motorbikers seem to ignore any rules of the road and swoop down on the cars.

We made it back to the hotel by mid afternoon – at which time I crashed – slept for an hour and a half before a group dinner which turned out to be good food and pleasant company.

Tomorrow we change hotels – we’re heading to Ubud and the artistic community and rice paddies. Should be interesting. The trip begins in earnest.

Bali: Contrasts

I’ve tried and tried but can’t get photos to upload! (It’s the slow wi-fi connection that’s the problem.) I’ve tried on my iPhone and on my iPad. No luck on either device. But I want to record my impressions – so here goes without benefit of images.

This morning after a lavish breakfast buffet, I walked to the pool and the beach just beyond. Its what you’d imagine Bali to be – lovely sunshine on a sandy beach with waves lapping the shore and breakers in the distance, great for surfing. The pool and the grounds with lush tropical foliage (both trees and gardens) typical of a South Pacific island setting.

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Early this afternoon we went by taxi into Kuta – a gazillion motor bikes weaving in and out of the dense traffic narrowly being missed by the cars – some carrying cargo, some with passengers, all traveling at high speed. I’m a courageous driver but you couldn’t pay me to drive here!

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Then there are the streets lined with small shops – their owners persistently trying to entice us into their particular establishment.

We were in two groups – we had planned to meet at Tommy’s Cafe. Our taxi driver had no clue where the cafe was located. He dropped us off at least two kilometers from our destination! Cheryl our guide didn’t have the actual address with her; the four of us stopped frequently to ask directions – nobody knew what we were looking for. Finally Cheryl phoned her Balinese friend, had her explain how to find Tommy’s to a shop owner who had never heard of the place. Cheryl did this twice more before we were able to see the Cafe sign in the distance. Once there, four very hot and tired women were in need of what was billed as the “best iced coffee in Bali”. I have to say, not being a coffee drinker, that the milkshake consistency drink hit the spot.

After lunch at Tommy’s, we went a few doors down the street to shop for rayon batik fabric. A wonderful, colorful selection. It was frantic in the small shop as each of us made selections, had the fabric cut to length, wrapped and paid for it. Great fun! I ended up with 2 1/2 yds of a deep teal with a lighter design in shades of pale blue – it should be enough for a dress or loose shirt.

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We returned to the resort in rush hour traffic. If we thought traffic has been bad earlier, it was simply hair-raising on the return trip. I bet though all those people made it to their destination.

It was still hot so a number of us went to the pool for a relaxing dunk! That followed by dinner – I ended up at the Japanese restaurant in the hotel with two other of the gals (both from the Boston area). The rest ended up at the pizza place in the hotel.

The adventure continues tomorrow!

Bali: I arrived

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The amazing thing is all flights were on time – the flight from Bangkok actually arrived in Denpasar a wee bit early. Made it through visa and immigration without terribly long line-ups. Finding my luggage was a bit of a challenge – the baggage carousels aren’t well marked. But eventually I did find my large bag. Got a taxi without any fuss and arrived at the Patra Jasa Bali Resort which is about an eight minute drive from the airport.

The resort has been around a while, but it’s still reasonably elegant. My room is pleasant but with some serious hums – it took some playing with light switches to finally be able to turn off the loud rattling fan in the bathroom and still keep the wall sockets active so I can charge my iPhone and iPad.

Not long after I arrived I was able to track down the other four gals who were arriving yesterday. After unpacking and a quick shower, we had a golf cart come pick us up (the grounds are huge – have no idea where our rooms are in relation to the lobby – you call for a cart to come pick you up – today, I expect we’ll actually walk at least once) take us to the Italian restaurant that was actually opening that evening.

There were lots of tasty Italian hor d’oevures to snack on and some very attractive desserts. None of us was terribly hungry so we made our meal nibbling as guests of the hotel. The photo, above, was the food sculpture in the middle of the dessert table. Chatted with staff attending the party. While they “speak” English, there’s lots of miscommunication happening. I asked for some “bottled” water, but instead got a large wine glass filled with hot water. (Since you don’t drink the water, I waited until I got back to my room to have a glass of bottled water.)

Then I simply crashed! I just wanted to put my head on the table and pass out. We were all tired so we rather quickly got a golf cart to take us back to our rooms which are adjacent one another. I brushed my teeth and climbed into bed.

It’s now nearly 1:00 am and I’m wide awake, so I’ll take some melatonin and try to fall back to sleep.

I didn’t think much about taking pictures of the crowds at the various airports but I will be more conscientious today – the resort grounds are lovely, right on Kuta Beach. And we’re scheduled to spend the afternoon visiting a large shopping market in Denpasar in the afternoon.

‘Till later today.