The Hike Down


joylani 130pxWe made a trip this morning to see some gem-toned volcanic lakes, which were beautiful, but the hike back down the mountain was more interesting. Many of the plants were different from what we’d been seeing, and I liked the big pine trees whose smell reminded me of camping back home.


It was nice to go for a walk that wasn’t in a city for a change. As we started switchbacking down the mountain, beautiful views of the valley and ocean below came into sight.


It wasn’t completely zen though, as it was starting to get hot and I was getting tired of plodding downhill. It had been almost two hours, and we still weren’t at the shortcut that would allow us to skip a large portion of the main road on our way back to Moni. We started passing little plots of cultivated land and simple homes. Adults with a load of unthreshed grains greeted us, “Hello Mrs., hello Mister!”

We saw a group of school kids off in the distance. Apparently they saw us too, and soon we were surrounded by their curious faces. School uniforms have varied throughout our trip from standard white shirts with blue trousers, to the girls who wore traditional Lao skirts with a western-style white blouse, to students in Jakarta wearing beautiful batik patterned shirts. But these kids’ outfits won the prize for most awesome. They were wearing woven vests, probably lovingly made by their moms, as each one had a slightly different design. My favorite was the little guy wearing only a vest and shorts. But the vest-as-hat look was pretty cool too. One of them pointed to my camera asking for a picture. I hesitated, but then pulled out my camera anyway. They kids started screaming and jumping as they not so calmly posed for a snapshot. Giggles ensued as I showed them the picture on the little screen.

After the photo, the little animated posse joined us as we finally veered off the paved road and onto a dirt path: the shortcut at last. They were with us for a while, pointing the way down the hill until we reached their village.


Alone again, we continued the trek downhill. Most of it was along a thin dirt path, barely visible between swags of tall grasses. My pants were covered in those little pointy grass seeds, and the rest of me was dripping in sweat. At a couple points the path forked, but luckily this was usually near a village of some sort (say, 5 houses). Twice we started heading the wrong way, but then a kind villager would appear in a doorway and, smiling, point us in the right direction. Finally, three hours later, we made it back to Moni. A little bit dusty, a lot bit sweaty, but we had a good time.




164_6445-4.JPGIt was an early morning today as we headed up to the volcanic lakes at Kelimutu. We hired a car to drive us up the mountain about forty minutes, before hiking up an additional twenty to view the unusual lakes. Not much to say about the lakes that these photos don’t. Although they’re black, brown, and green today, the periodically change colors although the causes and process is unknown. The last time this occurred was in 1992, when the changed from blue, white, and red to their current colors. Locals believe the souls of the dead go to rest in the lakes, the old to one, the young to another, and the wicked to the third.



Also, every now and then tourists disappear, most likely slipping and falling down into the lakes. Scary, but it kept Joylani and I on the paths. After about an hour sitting up there with the lakes in the clouds, we opted to hike down the three hours to the village. Super hot, but a nice walk.




164_6445-4.JPGFlores is where I was most looking forward in Indonesia. We took a ramshackle little plane on an incredibly scenic flight from Bali to Flores this afternoon. We flew over Lombok, Sumbawa, near Sumba, and half of Flores, taking in the volcanic mountainscape, azure seas, offshore reefs and waves from the air. On our descent into Ende, we stared out the windows in amazement as we flew right by conical volcanoes and lush valleys. The runway was positioned awkwardly, running parallel to beach in a semicircular bay. Consequently, we banked sharply into the mountainous bay, it seemed within arms distance of the dramatic lava-flow coastline. The runway wasn’t much more than a single airstrip, so at the end of our landing, our plane did a 180 and taxied halfway back down the runway to two-room “airport.” Taxi drivers, touts, and welcoming families crowded inside and out the small structure. We waited inside while our bags were unloaded into a pickup and then put on a wooden desk for us to claim. A little different from the conveyor belts we’re used to.


view of shacks on the side of the runway and one of many conical volcanos all over the island

The two hour drive from Ende to Moni was unbelievable. Massive green mountains and cliffs dropping down into verdant valleys, the black road curving through bright green landscapes, and passing tons of streams and waterfalls reminded a bit of parts of Hawaii, although a lot less developed. Most of the buildings along the way were simple bamboo huts, much like the ones found in rural Lao. Most of the people we saw walking along the road or working in the fields carried big machetes, even young boys. Besides using them for harvesting and collecting wood, we passed several villages under construction. Perhaps the end of the rainy season marks the beginning of the home-building and repairing season. Also of note, we had a live goat on the roof of our van. We’ve sat in everything from cars to buses with chickens, have seen dead pigs loaded up on motorcycles and pickups, seen motorcycles hoisted on top of buses or tied to the backs of vans, and lot of other weird ways of transporting animals and things, but putting live animals on top of a van is new to us. The owners just tied up the legs and threw it up there with all the other goods and parcels being transported.


our rustic losman in Moni

Arriving in Moni, we realized its not so much a town as a few structures strung out along the main road. It’s a pretty rural and simple place and our accommodation options were similar. But it’s a really scenic area, as it overlooks a massive valley that descends down to the sea many miles away. So even from here in the mountains, we can see the sea and a horizon of water. Although we’ve only been here for a few hours, what we’ve seen of Flores has been stunning.

Ubud Walks


164_6445-4.JPGMy favorite part of our time here in Ubud has been Joylani and my early morning walks each day. Although Ubud is a pretty touristy place since its renowned for being a cultural capital of sorts, walking for just a few minutes in almost any direction will bring a nice change of scenery. Our first morning, we walked north of town and quickly found ourselves in an endless landscape of rice paddies. We walked along a palm covered path which was nice, considering the blazing sun. Bali gets pretty hot even in the early hours. The scenery was unbelievable, but it was an interesting walk as well. We passed men and women at work in the fields and along the paths, we saw little families of ducks walking single file alongside the irrigation ditches only to duck into paddies as we approached, and passed a multitude of pretty little shrines and offering dishes.


Photo from our first morning’s walk, along with the Photo of the Day
Our second morning walk took us south through a couple villages and their small quiet streets. Like the touristy part of Ubud, the rural residents of Ubud also live in ornately decorated family compounds and the intersection of art and nature is evident.


Second morning walk, through villages
And our third morning walk was incredibly scenic, as we climbed and walked up a grassy ridge sandwiched in a river valley. The past mornings have been beautiful, beautiful walks and a good time of conversation with Joylani. I cannot think of a better justification to travel than our past three mornings.


Third morning walk, along a grassy ridge


A mother-child pair we met on one walk

On Ubud


joylani 130pxWe’ve been relaxing for the last couple days in the small town of Ubud on the island of Bali. Bali is really beautiful. There are bright rice paddies and moss-covered gates and buildings decorated with stone carvings all over the place. Our room is more expensive than we normally would have gotten considering the choices ($6 vs the $13 we are spending) but has been nice because it gets a lot of sunlight (big windows on three of the walls), is somewhat private (on the second floor of a building in the back of a family compound off the main road). Besides, I don’t care how quaint or traditional an open air bathroom is, I did not like the idea of bathing surrounded by crazy bugs. I’ll pay more for our enclosed bath. One of my favorite aspects of the room is that there is a nice breeze flowing through the balcony and into our room. After so many rooms in Malaysia with no windows, it’s refreshing to wake up to endless sunshine in the mornings.

Breakfast is included with our little home stay, and after I get out of bed I just walk out to the balcony where a pot of hot water is waiting for me to brew some morning tea (skip the sugar, there’s a lot of ants in there…). I let the lady know we’re awake, and after a few minutes she comes upstairs with a tray of breakfast. Each day it has been different, but there’s always a plate of fruit: bananas, papaya, and pineapple. My favorite dish was on our first morning when we were served a jaffle (toasted sandwich) filled with sweet slices of banana covered in freshly grated (and still milky) coconut. The view from our balcony is just roof and tree tops, but it is still nice, especially since we’ve been spending a lot of time there catching up on writing and studying.

Ubud (5)

Each morning we’ve gone on walks, which I love for many reasons, one of which are the unannounced details. Ubud is full of details; you don’t have to do much except walk and you’ll notice things along the way—an old man up high trimming a coconut tree; ducks quacking to each other and diving into rice paddies

Ubud (2)

elaborate offerings among the paddies, and the people who drop them off

Ubud (3)

Ubud (4)

a chicken snacking from the rice drying on the road

Ubud (8)

a monkey grabbing my leg…(That detail was actually kind of creepy. Matt and I were in a place called Monkey Forest debating which path to take when a monkey came up behind me and put one hand on my leg and the other on my water bottle—I screamed and it went away. I think it wanted food. After that I tried not to stand still when there were monkeys around).

Ubud (6)

Where is the monkey expert when you need him? And how is anyone supposed to “stand still” and “walk away slowly” at the same time? Oh those silly monkeys.

Ubud (7)

We’ve eaten a lot of good food here too, which is great. I don’t really know what it is in terms of how it is cooked/ingredients, but Indonesian food seems to be hardy and flavorful in a way different from the other SE Asian cuisines. We’ve tried jackfruit curry, chicken and potatoes in kecup manis (sweet soy sauce), roasted suckling pig, and countless dishes whose names I’ve forgotten or didn’t know in the first place. But my favorite is the tempe—which is made from pressed fermented soy beans. Like tofu, it can be cooked in many different ways, but has a much firmer texture and a bit more flavor. (In the US it goes by the name of tempeh, and one brand of it is made by the same manufacturer as the tofurky. Go try some! The tempeh that is.)

The weather has been great for us, with just a quick shower one night.  But after about 10am, if you’re not in the shade it gets hot and, well, sunny.  Without a fan or a breeze, it can get quite uncomfortable.  So during the afternoon we just hang out around our guesthouse where we have both a fan and an uninterrupted breeze.  Matt has been diligently studying for his test, and I have been catching up on writing.  (I’m a morning/daytime writer, but when we’re always doing stuff during the day, it’s harder for me to concentrate and get my stuff done!)  Between our leisurely morning walks and languid afternoons, Ubud has definitely been refreshing.

At night the polyphonic sounds of percussion-driven gamelan music really get going as dance performances take place in various venues throughout town.  There’s always people trying to sell us tickets to various performances, which are actually one of the big attractions in Ubud, but we decided to pass.  Even though I didn’t want to sit through a whole performance, I still love hearing the sounds of the playful and mysterious music permeating the air at night.


Dancers practicing

Bali Hai!


164_6445-4.JPGBali has almost seemed like a mythical place and my first glimpses of it were, in fact, quite dreamy. But that may because my first looks at the island were as I groggily woke up from my overnight-bus-ride-slumber. My first sight that morning was a beautiful view of the paddy covered hills. It made the volcanic mountains look like a green topographical map. Beautiful, but I needed sleep. I turned my head away from the window to get a couple more minutes of sleep, but before I closed my eyes again I caught sight of the ocean out the other window. Although it was early still and the beach relatively far from the road, I could see the light blue waves crashing on an offshore reef. Big waves- perhaps the one that originally put Bali on the map. I slept on and off for the next hour or two, from dreams to the dreamlike landscape. Every waking moment was spent admiring the beauty of Bali.

Arriving at our final destination of Ubud, it became apparent that Bali is totally unlike Java. Firstly, there’s a lot more foreigners in Bali, both tourists and expats. The Balinese, as a result, seem to enjoy a much higher standard of living than their Javanese compatriots. Secondly, its Hindu overwhelmingly Hindu rather than Sunni Muslim. The Hinduism is quite different from Indian or Nepali Hinduism, which is also readily apparent. Small offering dishes, constructed of leaves and filled with flowers, rice, and incense, litter the side walks and numerous shrines and lanterns. Supposedly, these are offerings to appease the spirits, since Balinese Hinduism is really a mix of native animism and the Indian religion. Meat, including beef, is on all the menus, as well. Bali looks different too. Its true what they say about art being an innate part of Balinese culture. From the family/clan compounds with their ornately designed temples, walls, and statues to the flower-draped shrines, to the peoples’ traditional dress, Bali is pretty aesthetically appealing. So far, Bali seems beautiful and unique.

Not so bad for 24 hours


joylani 130pxWe took another overnight bus last night, and arrived at our destination in ok shape. We checked out of our little room at a losman at noon, and walked to the ticket agency where we caught a ride by SUV to a bus garage. The floor on the bus was still wet from being mopped, and I was glad to find that the bus looked pretty clean. The automatic dispensers of air freshener above the seats worried me a little. I just don’t like an overly fruity car, and the idea of breathing in chemicals all night wasn’t too appealing. I thought about what was worse: below-freezing temperatures of Malaysian AC or an overdose of air freshener. I decided the latter was worse and tried (without luck) to see if I could shut off the dispenser. We were the first ones on the bus, and worried about how long it would take before the bus would actually leave. Surprisingly, we didn’t wait too long, but to our dismay upon leaving the garage the bus drove around Yogya for over an hour picking up passengers.

Finally, we were out of town, and the bus felt like it was finally going somewhere far away. I discovered that the foot rest attached to my seat actually popped up 90 degrees, parallel to the floor. Nice. Even though I couldn’t completely “kick my feet up,” since my legs are longer than 18 inches, it was definitely more comfortable having this seat extension. I caught a glimpse of the Prambanan ruins, and a little bit later the bus stopped at outside of a bus station for more passengers to climb on board. As we waited, a man with a guitar boarded from the front entrance. He began strumming, and then he started to sing. “Hmm,” I thought, “this is new.” He held out a container for donations as he left the bus. Another performer took his place. This one was a cappella, sputtering spit, and definitely worse than the first act. He shoved a bag in our faces. I don’t know why (maybe to make him stop), but Matt gave him a few small bills. Other salespeople boarded with trays filled with drinks and snacks. A man touched my arm with a steamed bun so that I could feel it was nice and warm. “Why would you want to buy a bun that he’s been putting on people’s arms?” Matt retorted, irritated with the long bus stop.

Soon with all singers and sellers off the bus, passengers settled into their seats, and our bus started rolling again. The bus maneuvered past other cars on a narrow road elevated above rice paddies. The sun slipped down the horizon and I into sleep. When I awoke, the bus had stopped for dinner. We were handed meal tickets and followed the crowds into a large dining area. Exchanging the ticket for a bowl, I walked towards the chafers and cautiously examined the food. I put some steamed rice, a splash of noodles, and a spoonful of a mystery tofu dish into my bowl. It was surprisingly and delightfully good, at least the tofu and rice. Back on the bus, Matt and I shared some wafer cookies before tucking in for the night. I awoke early in the morning when the bus stopped to board a ferry. As before, vendors hopped on board eager to sell their goods. Unfortunately for one guy, no one seemed to want to buy sunglasses at this early hour. Matt slept through the stop, and soon I fell back to sleep.

The next time I woke up we were in Bali. Through my sleepy eyes I saw expanses of bright green rice terraces out of one window and on the other side of the bus Matt pointed out huge waves barreling just offshore. It was stunning. We drove through small villages and I was introduced to the charming stonework prevalent throughout island. Quaint yet chunky, the carved roof ornaments and idols made for enchanting looking structures, each dotted in offerings of flowers, rice, and incense sticks.

We began to pass more buildings than fields and I knew our bus ride was almost over as we neared the city Denpasar, Bali’s transportation hub. At Denpasar we hopped off the bus and onto a bemo—a modified van with benches along the sides instead of the usual rows of seats. After about 10 minutes our driver pulled over and flagged down another bemo heading further inland to Ubud, our final stop, to take us the rest of the way. To our driver’s dismay, he wasn’t able to find any extra passengers along the way, but I was glad to have the bemo to ourselves and not have to shift the luggage to make room for other people. I enjoyed the scenery as we left the town and drove into smaller villages in the middle of rice fields, some specializing in a single craft such as stone carving or silversmithing. Eventually workshops gave way to gift shops, and we had arrived in Ubud. By the time we checked into a hotel in Ubud, it had been about 24 hours since leaving our last one in Yogya. And we’re looking forward to staying here, for a few days at least.

A World Heritage English Lesson


joylani 130pxTo add to a few things from Matt’s posts, it was interesting to see a few different looking (to our unprofessional eyes) Buddhas today.  I think they mostly were just different to us though because a few still had intact arms and hands so we could actually see what position it was sculpted in (fingertips touching in an “s” shape).  As for the covering up of panels, I think it’s a shame and maybe they could have just taken them out and sent them to a museum where they could have been appreciated or at least preserved instead of just covering them up with plain bricks and left to the elements.  Oh well.  The highlights for me were the stunning views of the valleys below and especially a group of school children who had visited the temples seemingly for the express purpose of practicing their English.  It was fun to talk with them, especially since we didn’t have to worry about being asked to look at a batik gallery or anything.  And I just thought it was funny their teachers brought them to Borobudur to practice their English.  Not a bad idea!  We talked with a couple groups of 10-15 kids for about 5 or 10 minutes each, answering their scripted questions, “What is your opinion of this place?” “What type of animals do they have where you are from?” “What are schools like where you are from?” and asking a few of our own.  I was especially surprised when I asked them where in the world they would like to go visit and the common response seemed to be that Indonesia had plenty of interesting things to see and do without having to leave.  Very patriotic.




164_6445-4.JPGThis morning we ventured to nearby Borobudur to see the famous temple in the early morning light. We woke up too early and drove for about 45 minutes from our guesthouse in Jogja, arriving just as the sun was coming up. We hired a guide at the entrance and made our way up the hill on which the temple is situated. Our guide told us way more than I think almost anyone would care to know, but I’ll share some of what we learned throughout the post. The first thing is that the structure at Borobudur probably wasn’t a temple, as a temple implies an internal space or room for teaching/meditation. What we saw was more likely just a collection of stupas. The stupas were pretty interesting as there were dozens of smaller hollow ones w/ Buddhas inside encircled around a large solid central one; supposedly, it was designed to be a giant mandala. It was several stories with stairs connecting each individual level, and enclosed within a large square floorplan. I realize my architectural descriptions aren’t too good, so I’ll move on.



The building is pretty old, having been built in the 8th century by Buddhists, although it has many Hindu elements as well. It was discovered by Sir Thomas Raffles (of Singaporean fame), who had the entire hill excavated to uncover the ruins. Today, what we see is mostly restored. Besides sitting under a hill of dirt and trees for a millennium, earthquakes and eruptions from the nearby volcano occasionally cause damage, as did a bomb by an anti-Suhaerto group a couple decades ago. Interestingly, some panels depicting Kama Sutra scenes have been covered up by the ultra-conservative Indonesian government, who consider the reliefs pornographic. Most of the reliefs are pretty cool though, depicting everything from Indian people to Buddhist stories. Beyond the history though, the coolest thing about Borobudur was it aesthetics. Granted, its been restored to the tune of 25 million USD, but its still an awesome site. I think the hollow stupas are really cool, especially compared to the usual plain white mounds that most stupas are. And although most of the Buddhas are missing heads or arms, they are distinct from any others we’ve seen. Some of their hands are in interesting positions, while some are sitting in unusual postures. Additionally, the scale, age, and detailed reliefwork make Borobudur deserving of its World-Heritage site.


Buddha inside a stupa



On a sidenote, in our travels we’ve learned that Unesco/World Heritage designations don’t necessarily make something worth seeing. There’s a lot of things listed under these two categories and a lot of them are junk. But I’d say Borobudur was worth the visit, if not deserving of being the most-touristed place in Indonesia. One last tangent: guides and locals at Borobudur, like guides and locals at almost every touristy site we’ve seen claim that their attraction is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I’ve heard people say that everything from the Taj Mahal to Niagara Falls is one of the Seven Wonders. If we believed all the guides and touristy flyers, we must’ve seen at least 30 “Seven Wonders of the World” sites on this trip alone. I guess there’s all the new Seven Wonder lists that people have made up (Seven Natural Wonders, Seven Wonders of Asia, Seven Modern Wonders, etc, etc.), but its still a pet peeve when people claim their site “____________ is one of the seven wonders of the world.” Anyways, I don’t believe that Borobudur was on Ptolemy’s list of seven, but it was pretty cool to see.





164_6445-4.JPGWe budgeted at least three days for Yogyakarta (abbreviated and pronounced as Jogja), but one full day was enough for us. Tomorrow, we’ll do a morning trip to Borobudur and then its on to Bali. We saw pretty much everything we wanted to see today. We checked out the Sultan’s palace in the morning, along with a couple adjacent and uninteresting museums (unless you have an interest in paintings of royal carriages or seeing royal sitting areas). The palace wasn’t too interesting, although we got to see part of the weekly gamelan performance. The royal family of Jogja still lives in a part of the compound and is still somewhat respected. I guess the Jogja sultan was the man back in the late-colonial days, during the push for independence. He gave refuge to freedom fighters and rebels in his palace. The Dutch knew the resistance was operating out of the palace, but never took any action out of fear of enraging the local population. I guess its similar to some of the militants in Iraq that hide in mosques and stuff; the US military knows where people are but cannot attack a mosque for obvious reasons. The sultan was also up in the Soekarno-Hatta clique when the independence movement was taking shape. The only other interesting thing we saw today was the bird market. Within the regular city market was a couple blocks of just birds. Pigeons, canaries, doves, tons of cages of all shapes and sizes, as well as boxes and boxes of grasshoppers and maggots for feeding. Wandering around, we also saw plenty of other animals for sale: squirrels, rabbits, fish, and lots of turtles. What Indonesians’ do with all these animals I don’t know. It seems too poor a country for keeping pets, but the cuisine doesn’t seem as adventurous as Chinese. Anyhow, that’s Jogja in a nutshell, or a day rather. The only thing I left out is the eight million people who are trying to sell batik or steer you towards a batik shop or gallery.