Tuesday, 31 March 2009

tarian topeng...

Tuesday 31st March 2009

i had the greatest of luck to see tarian topeng (mask dance) while at the temple recently in Tunjuk, Tabanan. the expressions on the masks are quite mesmerising, especially those eyes that appear to see right through you.

some of the masks in these dances are full face, where the body is purely used to express oneself in the dance in the one pictured above, you can see how the dancer started with a mask where the face is younger and thus his movements were freer, and then changed into a mask where the face is aged and his movements became slow and laboured. other masks are half-face, and these allow the characters to speak and poke fun at each other...they are highly entertaining and later on in the evening at the temple when this took place it was particularly enjoyable, as one of the characters came out with a bowler hat and blond wig and spoke in English - a first for me at a mask dance performance where there were no tourists.

Monday, 30 March 2009

the long way round...

Monday 30th March 2009

Remember me my love,
I'm the one you're dreaming of.
Going for a ride, I'll keep you warm inside.
I'm gonna roll up the sidewalk,
I'm gonna tear up the ground.
Comin' round to meet you,
The long way round.
Bah, Bah - rah - rah - rah!

Sooner or later, I'll get me off this track.
Gotta do what it is that I do and then I'm - coming back.
Got sun in my face, sleeping rough on the road.
I'll tell you all about it, when I get home.
Gonna roll up the sidewalk,
I'm gonna tear up the ground.
Comin' round to meet you,
The long way round.
Bah, Bah - rah - rah - rah!
From 'Long Way Round' by the Stereophonics

when i'm on my bike, this is often the song whizzing round in my head and that i'm humming along to as i pull up at the traffic lights. i guess it's from too much watching all those episodes of Long Way Round and Long Way Down with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman...but truly it is the best feeling in the world to be able to jump on your bike and get yourself around...and with that wind in my hair and the sun in my face...i feel like i wanna take the long way round to everywhere i'm going...even amidst the craziness of bali traffic...whatever, man...just go with the flow and remember the rules of the road are...there are no rules :)

Sunday, 29 March 2009

kuningan at tabanan

Sunday 29th March 2009

I had the good fortune to be able to join another Balinese family in their Kuningan celebrations, yesterday...

If Galungan is the welcoming of one’s ancestors to Earth, then Kuningan is the time to bid them farewell as they return to heaven. Kuningan is officially a tumpek day and means “yellow”. Like all the other Tumpek days, it always falls on a Saturday, in this case the second one after Galungan.

On the morning of Kuningan, Balinese pray to their ancestors. They believe they should do so before midday, which is said to be the time when their ancestors go on their way. Offerings are made to the Gods as well as their ancestors. The yellow rice placed in a bowl made of coconut leaves called endongan. This is accompanied by small offerings of peanuts, spiced grated coconut and tiny salted fish. The food is for their ancestors to take with them on their journey. The Balinese hope that with this offering their ancestors will continue to protect and guide them in their daily lives.

Temples and house fronts are decorated with coconut leaves and flowers. The leaves are carved into delicate shapes and draped over objects, particularly shrines in the family temple. Some modern Balinese even dress up their cars.

Manis Kuningan is the day for visiting family and friends. You will see many families travelling around the island together. The beaches and recreations spots are always full on this day.

i travelled to the village of Tunjuk in Tabanan to meet the family of a friend and celebrate Kuningan with them and one of the main temples there was also having it's Odalan (birthday) so there were great celebrations. it was amazing to be back in a kampung (village) which was quiet, peaceful but yet full of the happy chatter that goes hand-in-hand with balinese ceremonies all over the island. the temple was full of people bringing their offerings to pray. and there was dance and gamelan. as usual, i am blessed with the people i get to meet here and how they so readily open up their lives and homes to welcome outsiders into the daily rhythm of their life...

Saturday, 28 March 2009

warung italia...mama mia!

Saturday 28th March 2009
one of my favourite spots to eat in the Kuta area is at Warung Italia at Jl. Kunti, Seminyak. what i find myself craving for at various points in any given week is there fabulous italian tapas that they serve up with fresh bread. my usual indulgences would be the meatballs, squid, carrots, spinach and potatoes...generous servings of each on a nice big plate. you choose them from a display case located at the back of the restuarant. then of course, there are the pizzas. delightfully thin, floury crusts and perhaps over 40 different selections to choose from. i adore the pizza italia with rucola, sun dried tomatoes, olives and ricotta...fabulous, flavourful and all to soon finished. as of yet i have not yet branched into exploring the pasta dishes, though they are numerous and range from traditional favourites such as bolognese to gnocchi. with the number of times i frequent this place...how could i not get round to it. but i really do have to tear myself away from the tapas bar.
prices are reasonable - the location is like a warung...ceiling fans, wooden tables and a view of the world going by on the always busy Jl. Kunti outside. you can stay for hours here...believe me i know...

Warung Italia,
Jl. Kunti,

Friday, 27 March 2009

jogja batik...

Friday 27th March 2009

Thursday, 26 March 2009

selamat hari raya nyepi...

Thursday 26th March 2009

Nyepi is a Balinese "Day of Silence" that falls on Bali's Lunar New Year (March 26, 2009). It is a day of silence, fasting, and meditation.

Observed from 6 a.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning, Nyepi is a day reserved for self-reflection and as such, anything that might interfere with that purpose is restricted. The main restrictions are: no lighting fires (and lights must be kept low); no working; no entertainment or pleasure; no traveling; and for some, no talking or eating at all. The effect of these prohibitions is that Bali’s usually bustling streets and roads are empty, there is little or no noise from TVs and radios, and few signs of activity are seen even inside homes. The only people to be seen outdoors are the Pecalang, traditional security men who patrol the streets to ensure the prohibitions are being followed.

Although Nyepi is primarily a Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents of Bali observe the day of silence as well, out of respect for their fellow citizens. Even tourists are not exempt; although free to do as they wish inside their hotels, no one is allowed onto the beaches or streets, and the only airport in Bali remains closed for the entire day. The only exceptions granted are for emergency vehicles carrying those with life-threatening conditions and women about to give birth.

so what a contrast...to the way the rest of many of our cultures celebrate a new year...drunk, disorderly, partying...and how beautiful instead to take the opportunity to reflect on your year, in silence, and have hope for a prosperous year ahead. there are many lessons to be learned from the way the Balinese celebrate the coming of their new year. i for one will be enjoying the silence at home...

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

the BEST place to eat in Jogja...

Wednesday 25th March 2009
thanks to a very thoughtful friend, we found on our first night his highly recommended choice for dinner in Jogja. it's called Milas Vegetarian restaurant and is absolutely not to be missed. the setting is beautiful - on covered bamboo platforms around a lush garden. and the menu...well, once you open it up and see the delicious treasures that lie within, you immediately start calculating how many nights you'll be in the city so you can fit in eating here as much as possible. with everything being vegetarian, there are options such as tempe burger, tempe steak, rosti, and salads with home-made cheese, to an array of indonesian dishes substituting tofu or tempe for the usual meat...the prices are to die for almost as much as the food...so cheap and yet everything was delicious.

my favourite snack had to be singkong goreng (fried cassava) that were like french fries but so much more flavourful and were served with homemade tomato sauce and chilli. they were thin, crispy and so delicious. other dishes i tried were the tempe burger, gado-gado, milas salad (with good homemade cheese) bakso with tempe balls and nothing failed to satisfy. the only reason we didn't eat here on the last night was because it was closed...sob sob...

Milas Vegetarian Restaurant,
Jl. Prawirotaman 3,

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Monday, 23 March 2009

mystical borobudur and a still under repair prambanan...

Monday 23rd March 2009
most people's main purpose in visiting Jogjakarta, is to pay a visit to these two very different religious monuments. one buddhist, the other hindu...

Borobudur is a ninth-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. The monument comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. A main dome, located at the center of the top platform, is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupa.
The monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The journey for pilgrims begins at the base of the monument and follows a path circumambulating the monument while ascending to the top through the three levels of Buddhist cosmology, namely Kāmadhātu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). During the journey the monument guides the pilgrims through a system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the wall and the balustrades.
Evidence suggests Borobudur was abandoned following the fourteenth century decline of Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms in Java, and the Javanese conversion to Islam. Worldwide knowledge of its existence was sparked in 1814 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the then British ruler of Java, who was advised of its location by native Indonesians. Borobudur has since been preserved through several restorations. The largest restoration project was undertaken between 1975 and 1982 by the Indonesian government and UNESCO, following which the monument was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Borobudur is still used for pilgrimage; once a year Buddhists in Indonesia celebrate Vesak at the monument, and Borobudur is Indonesia's single most visited tourist attraction.

Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple compound in Central Java in Indonesia, located approximately 18 km east of Yogyakarta.
The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the largest Hindu temples in south-east Asia. It is characterised by its tall and pointed architecture, typical of Hindu temple architecture, and by the 47m high central building inside a large complex of individual temples.
It was built around 850 CE by either Rakai Pikatan, king of the second Mataram dynasty, or Balitung Maha Sambu, during the Sanjaya Dynasty. Not long after its construction, the temple was abandoned and began to deteriorate. Reconstruction of the compound began in 1918. The main building was completed in around 1953. Much of the original stonework has been stolen and reused at remote construction sites. A temple will only be rebuilt if at least 75% of the original stones are available, and therefore only the foundation walls of most of the smaller shrines are now visible and with no plans for their reconstruction.
The temple was damaged during the earthquake in Java in 2006. Early photos suggest that although the complex appears to be structurally intact, damage is significant. Large pieces of debris, including carvings, were scattered over the ground. The temple has been closed to the public until damage can be fully assessed. The head of Yogyakarta Archaeological Conservation Agency stated that: "it will take months to identify the precise damage". However, some weeks later in 2006 the site re-opened for visitors. The immediate surroundings of the Hindu temples remain off-limits for safety reasons.

borobudur still holds a special place in my heart...i find it such a place of peace and tranquility and totally loved every moment of being there when i first visited it and again on this trip. the mist as you arrive and make your way up to it, creates this sense of mysticism and it is surrounded by incredible forest and a beautiful park. the monument has been very well restored and taken care of and so much has been preserved, especially the relief and one feels so awed, so dwarfed, by its' magnificent splendour. a very magical place that one shouldn't miss...

prambanan has suffered greatly from the effects of the earthquake. when i was there 10 years ago, people could walk up to each of the temples and go inside. now they are mostly off-limits and the majority of the complex is surrounded by a metal gate and scaffolding is evident around many of the temples. even the restoration work itself seems to be taking painstakingly long (unlike at borobudur where the stones are all engraved with symbols so that they can always be matched up again) the stones at prambanan that have been repaired seem mismatched and like they have been put in places they do not belong. such a shame that such a beautiful complex cannot be injected with the funding it needs so that it can be lovingly restored to its former glory...
nevertheless, you should definitely make these two incredible monuments to different religions a stop if travelling to Jogja...

Sunday, 22 March 2009

nasi gudeg...a jogja speciality

Sunday 22nd March 2009

so while in jogja, the local speciality had to be tasted. it's called nasi gudeg. the main ingredient is unripe jackfruit. this food is a mixture of sweet and delicious flavors because it is cooked with milk squeezed from coconut and sugar. gudeg is served together with krecek fried chili sauce (sambal goreng krecek), and side dish such as chicken meat, eggs, tempe (fermented soybean cake) and tahu (soybean curd) cooked together with the gudeg.
this was a choice for breakfast at the hotel we were staying at in Jogja...and although i am not a big fan of such things so early in the morning, i figured it had to be tried.
the jackfruit dish was interesting...very sweet and almost fel like you were eating a dessert. it was heavy...so that you really didn't want to eat too much of the rice. the chicken was soft and fell off the bone...it had obviously been cooked for a long time. the egg must have also bee n boiled for some time in various spices because it was dark brown on the outside and a lighter brown on the inside. it was soft and full of flavour. the krecek - tahu and tempe was interesting. the tahu had an almost jelly like quality to it, but the tempe was good...still firm and a spicy taste. i can't say that i would want to eat it every morning for breakfast, but it sure was a fascinating array of flavours and textures...

Saturday, 21 March 2009

a rollercoaster ride on a Jogja becak...

Saturday 21st March 2009

ok so a becak is basically a trishaw...the skinny dude sits at the back on his bicycle and cycles you around in a little carriage connected to the bike. and most of these guys are skinny dudes...i mean at one point when we were choosing, gone were any attempts to actually look for a mildly attractive man to pedal you around...no no...we were looking straight at the calf muscles...i mean you gotta know the guy has the stamina to get you to chosen destination.

we make the decision to take the becak...and the guy pulls up. one person gets in and we wonder where the other becak is because two people are NEVER going to fit in there...but lo and behold we are expected to squeeze in together. we wriggle ourselves into as comfortable a position as possible and off we go...it's terrifying...really terrifying...the traffic, the pollution, the noise...you're at ground zero, man and you feel you are in the midst of everything...add to this a certain someone's penchant for having the 'top down' (err, a dodgy canvas cover that at least helps you feel you are in some miserable way shielded from the mayhem) and well you might as well be sitting on the bonnet of anyone's car really...

the guy has power...those legs can go...but you still feel every bump in the road...make that every crack...suspension? what's that?

the journey of 3km feels like a never-ending ride to hell...between smoke belching from every vehicle, motorbikes zooming by, cars over-taking on the other side of the road so close you wonder whether you could just grab on and give becak dude a hand...

but we get there...still in one piece but definitely shaken...and stirred, for that matter. it's a one off experience, right? something you have to do once while in Jogjakarta...so tell me then...how on earth did we end up riding in them almost the entire trip...!

Friday, 20 March 2009

just Jogja-ing around...

Friday 20th March 2009

i decided as i was on school holidays to re-visit an old haunt of mine...Jogjakarta in Central Java. i first started going there about 11 years ago when i was living in Jakarta and completely fell in love with the sleepiness and gentle vibe of the little city. i had many fantastic trips there back then and when a friend hinted that she wanted to go, i couldn't wait to go back and see all my old hang-outs and visit many beloved spots. unfortunately...as i have been told...one should always be careful of the nostalgia...for things change, cities grow, pollution increases, tourist attractions are damaged by earthquakes or lose their sheen, streets that seemed so happening and full of life, become quiet and tired...but the key is to make fresh memories...and there certainly were many of those...

Thursday, 19 March 2009

selamat hari raya galungan...

Thursday 19th March 2009

wednesday 18th march is Galungan - an important hindu holiday here in Bali. An explanation is in order from Wikipedia...

Galungan is a Balinese holiday that occurs every 210 days and lasts for 10 days. Kuningan is the last day of the holiday. Galungan means "When the Dharma is winning." During this holiday the Balinese gods visit the Earth and leave on Kuningan.

Occurring once in every 210 days in the
pawukon (Balinese cycle of days), Galungan marks the beginning of the most important recurring religious ceremony that is celebrated by all Balinese. During the Galungan period the deified ancestors of the family descend to their former homes. They must be suitably entertained and welcomed, and prayers and offerings must be made for them. Those families who have ancestors that have not yet been cremated, but are still buried in the village cemetery, must make offerings at the graves.

Although Galungan falls on a Wednesday, most Balinese will begin their Galungan 'holiday' the day before, where the family is seen to be busily preparing offerings and cooking for the next day. While the women of the household have been busy for days before creating beautifully woven 'banten' (offerings made from young coconut fronds), the men of our village usually wake up well before dawn to join with their neighbours to slaughter a pig unlucky enough to be chosen to help celebrate this occasion. Then the finely diced pork is mashed to a pulp with a grinding stone, and moulded onto sate sticks that have been already prepared by whittling small sticks of bamboo. Chickens may also be chosen from the collection of free-range chickens that roam around the house compound. Delicate combinations of various vegetables, herbs and spices are also prepared by the men to make up a selection of 'lawar' dishes. While much of this cooking is for use in the offerings to be made at the family temple, by mid-morning, once all the cooking is done, it is time for the first of a series of satisfying feasts from what has been prepared. While the women continue to be kept busy with the preparations of the many offerings to be made at the family temple on the day of Galungan, the men also have another job to do this day, once the cooking is finished. A long bamboo pole, or 'penjor', is made to decorate the entrance to the family compound. By late Tuesday afternoon all over Bali the visitor can see these decorative poles creating a very festive atmosphere in the street.

On Wednesday, the day of Galungan, one will find that most Balinese will try to return to their own ancestral home at some stage during the day, even if they work in another part of the island. This is a very special day for families, where offerings are made to God and to the family ancestors who have come back to rest at this time in their family temple. As well as the family temple, visits are made to the village temple with offerings as well, and to the homes of other families who may have helped the family in some way over the past six months.
The day after Galungan is a time for a holiday, visiting friends, maybe taking the opportunity to head for the mountains for a picnic. Everyone is still seen to be in their 'Sunday best' as they take to the streets to enjoy the festive spirit that Galungan brings to Bali.

it is a beautiful day with streets full of brightly coloured traditional dress, gently swaying penjors and the scent of incense filling the air as offerings are lit and respect paid to ancestors...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

so, how do you like your arak?

Tuesday 17th March 2009

it's st. patrick's day and what better way to celebrate than with a post about alcohol...(what am i insinuating here...that all irish are alcoholics...hell, yeah!) and seeing as i'm in bali...i can ONLY write about THE alcohol to drink here...otherwise known as arak.

so what is it, you might ask...arak is the locally brewed traditional alcohol, colourless and sugarless, brewed from palm sap or rice. it has a 20-50 percent alcohol content...so you know, it doesn't take too long to feel the effects! it can be drank with other liquids and a favourite of mine would be arak madu...arak with honey and lemon juice. it does, however have other purposes beyond the mere intoxication factor. it is used in religious ceremonies such as when it is deliberately spilled on the ground to honour Dewi Sri, the Goddess of Rice.

Arak production originally began in home industries, however there was a crackdown to prevent this in 2004 after some Balinese men died after consuming arak. so now they have licensed sellers. however, the home industries continue as you can see...i mean the licensed sellers are not going to be selling their arak in recycled large aqua bottles! and this is what you can see in the photo. this bottle of arak is from a producer in Karangasem. it is very pure and highly intoxicating. i got it through reliable sources...c'mon i can't reveal my connections!

anyway, the funny thing about this is that i wanna know what genius thought it would be a good idea to put colourless alcohol in a recycled bottle of water? yes, there was someone at my house recently who thought it was a bottle of water and poured out a glass and took a massive gulp of...arak...i did feel bad...heehee...no, really, i did. but it's still there in the water bottle...waiting for the next eejit (as we'd say in ireland) to take a gulp. meanwhile i can still use it for stripping paint off the walls, disinfecting toilets and getting seriously drunk on occasion!

a glass of this stuff is not to be missed while in bali...

Monday, 16 March 2009

sugar descended from heaven...

Monday 16th March 2009
another great thing about living here is that you constantly make these little discoveries. i mean you can be walking along and discover a little restaurant that you've never seen before, or you can find a shop selling items you never knew existed or you can even just be wandering around the supermarket looking for something totally different and you stumble upon a gem. this is what happened today...i found this charming little container of cinnamon palm sugar. i couldn't resist. it just had to be bought. i think it was almost calling out to me. and what pushed me even more is that it was locally produced. when i'm living here, i feel much happier buying produce that has come from local industries. it gave some nice suggestions on the lid of what you could use it for...making french toast, glazing ham, putting in chai tea and when i opened the lid...
wow! beautiful golden granules met my eyes. and the taste...well because i just had to pop some in my mouth was lovely...a soft crumbly texture...coupled with a warm, aromatic taste. so with not having time to rustle up instant french toast, or being too lazy, i thought that the next best way to have a good sample of it, was to brew a cuppa coffee and pop in the palm sugar and wow! my usual cup of joe was transformed into something so much more flavourful and rich. what a great find!

the company making this wonderful sugar, is called Big Tree Farms and you can have a look at some of the other fine artisan foods they produce and how they help the local community. i love what they are doing, i love their packaging - simple and very organic looking and i want that vanilla palm sugar next...

Sunday, 15 March 2009

blissed out at COZY...

Sunday 15th March 2009
ok, if you're here in Bali and you've never been to COZY, well then, sorry but you just haven't lived...for me, it is THE best place for foot reflexology and i would gladly sell my soul to have a lifetime worth of weekly massages.
so why is it so special...well first of all, you arrive off a busy road to a place of peace and tranquility with cascading waterfalls at the entrance. you take a seat and if you haven't made an appointment, fear not, because you are never left sitting more than 10 minutes to wait for the next available therapist. i do make an appointment, simply because i have fallen in love with the hands of one particular therapist who knows exactly the amount of pressure i like. you choose the kind of reflexology you want...there's anti-stress, insomnia, poor circulation, energising, etc. and you also choose the kind of music you want to listen to on the little mp3 player you're given.
once you are called, you head upstairs to a very comfy chair that faces a calming fish tank, the lights are down low, and the bliss begins.
the massage takes 1.5 hours and includes an hour on your legs and feet plus half an hour on arms, shoulders, neck and head. you can ask for the pressure to be strong, or light, depending on how you like it. i kinda hover somewhere in-between. i like to know i'm being massaged but hey, no need for agony either, right. i mean it's supposed to be relaxing. and it is just right...phones are silenced, people speak in whispers and with your chill out music gently playing in your ear, you just kinda float away. and suddenly the therapist is whispering in your ear that it's over...and with a sigh, you gather yourself back together and prepare to face the world again...a little more prepared and a little less tense.
this is a popular place, when i go there are always people in various stages of arriving, waiting, leaving...and the customers are local and western alike. the prices are incredibly reasonable for the service, the ambience and the experience. my 1.5 hour foot reflexology is about Rp. 80,000. for that price, really how can you resist. they offer lots of other massages and services including facials and manicures/pedicures. i haven't tried anything else so far...i just love the foot reflexology too much...

Sunset Road Blok A/3
telp: (0361) 7472762

Monday, 2 March 2009

bamboo...it's just you and me again, baby!

Monday 2nd March 2009

NEVER say never....and aren't i lucky i didn't...i wrote a certain little love post some time back about my tumultuous love affair with bamboo and even though it was rocky that one day i might welcome bamboo back into my life...and lo and behold...a charming bamboo cottage found it's way into my life that i am now renting in Batu Belig in Canggu...with a mere 3 minute walk to the beach. it's perfect. full of character and charm and i just adore coming home to it every evening and find it hard to tear myself away to leave in the morning...and let's face it...isn't that supposed to be the way you feel about the place where you set up home. i am blessed...and bamboo...thank you...i didn't give up on you, nor you me...and we're together again...