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Padangbai and Beyond, Bali, Indonesia

Departing Pemutaran with our driver/guide, Edy, we were able to take the coastal road to our next destination, Padangbai.  Passing thru the resort city of Lovina and then Singaraja, the former capital of Bali, we were in the heart of a major agricultural area.  This region is known for its produce and coffee plantations.  Numerous small roadside markets gave us the opportunity to purchase a variety of unusual fruit for snacks later at our hotel; black grapes, custard apples, lychee nuts, rambutans, and mangosteens were snagged.  

Tirta Gangaa (holy water of the Ganges) was our only tourist stop for the day.  Built in the 1940’s and 50’s, the palace was rebuilt in 1963 following it’s destruction due to an eruption of the nearby Agung Volcano.  Focal point of the water palace in an eleven-tiered lotus fountain surrounded by pools, water-spouting sculptures, and meticulously maintained gardens.  Waters come from a natural spring and are said to have curative powers.  Admission to the grounds is 30,000 rupiah (roughly $2.85) but for an additional 10,000 rupiah visitors can take a dip in the healing waters.  The area provides gorgeous overviews of rice fields and terraces.

Arriving late afternoon in Padangbai, we were able to schedule a snorkeling trip for the following morning.  Our accommodations were located up a narrow road on the outskirts of town.  With a recommendation from our hotel’s owner, we walked down to the waterfront to a local warung offering fresh fish.  Selecting red snapper and black grouper from the offerings our first evening, the fish was cleaned and butterflied, and slathered with garlic butter and sizzled over a wood-burning grill. It was served with rice, a salad and a fruit plate, the meal was heavenly and cheap.  Confident we had found the best place in town, we returned nightly to repeat the feasting and were never disappointed.

As we headed out on the water the following morning in a traditional jukung, there were two destination on the schedule.  The renowned Blue Lagoon offered little during our visit, but the second location was like jumping into a giant aquarium with excellent visibility and a huge variety of colorful tropical fish and corals. During our off-season visit we were the the only snorkelers at the site.  Plans to travel out to nearby Nusa Penida were cancelled due to a bad weather report.  But, luckily, the weather was beautiful in Padangbai and by staying in town we had time to explore the overlook for Blue Lagoon, White Sand Beach, Black Sand Beach and to hang out poolside during the heat of midday.

Ogoh-ogoh
Walking back to our hotel after dinner one evening we witnessed the illegal, yet common, cockfighting at a waterfront property.  A large crowd had formed, betting on the action.  Not wanting to actually watch the fight, we moved on.  Cockfighting is legal in Bali, if it is part of a Hindu ceremony, this was definitely not a religious event.  Another evening, we saw a group of children, 5-8 years old, near the same location, gambling.  A large game board was laid out on the ground with cartoon-like characters.  The children placed their money on a character, an adult shook two large dice and then another adult either paid out the winnings or collected the losses from the board.  We didn’t have a camera with us, but we watched for quite a while, unable to believe what we were seeing.  Turns out this is also illegal, but not necessarily uncommon.

In wandering around town, we saw some men preparing for the upcoming New Year’s celebration, which we missed.  Called Nyepi, a day of silence, the event differs radically from the rest of the world.  The evening before New Year's Day, parades are held across Bali featuring Ogoh-ogoh.  This large sculpture is carted through the streets, and represents evil spirits.  At the end of the evening the character is burned to dispel those bad spirits.  The following morning at 6 AM and for the next 24 hours everyone must stay inside.  Restaurants, and all businesses are closed, no flights are allowed to come into or depart the only airport, and the only vehicles allowed on the streets are for emergencies.  Special watchmen are assigned to monitor this restricted activity and anyone (including visitors) will be admonished to return indoors.

Edy returned to Padangbai to deliver us to Jimbaran, our final destination before departing Bali the next morning.  We stopped in Kusamba, where salt is made from the sea water using a centuries old technique.  The lengthy process starts with retrieving the water from the ocean and then sprinkling it over large, raised beds of volcanic black sand.  Once the salt has dried it is raked up and put in a wooden filter to remove the black sand, sea water is poured over the mixture, and the process is repeated as needed.  The resulting brine is poured into hollowed out tree trunks where it dries out.  The salt is then scraped out and bagged for sale.  Historically the salt was used for preserving fish, but it has now become an artisan product but it is still inexpensive, in spite of the huge amount of work involved.  

Arriving in Jimbaran, Edy mentioned that we could purchase seafood at the waterfront fish market and then have our
purchases cooked at nearby warungs, which would also provide sides and beverages for a total charge far below the restaurants in the city.  Once we were set at a the hotel, we walked to the market and selected our dinner, crab and lobster.  With multiple warungs available, we selected one next to the market.  Once again we were not disappointed.  We are quickly getting spoiled with the excellent, inexpensive food here—good thing it’s time for us to return home now.  

The journey home is lengthy, and we made it a bit longer by giving ourselves a couple of breaks—3 days from Bali to Florida, flying from Bali to Singapore to Hong Kong to Los Angeles and then Florida.  It was an incredible trip, but it’s good to be back home.


In Padangbai, busy street following an evening ceremony at the Hindu temple

Padangbai waterfront



Overview of Padangbai on our walk into town

Roosters waiting for the evening's activity

Black Sand Beach

Jimburan waterfront

Dinner prep in Jimburan

Dinner in Padangbai
Jimburan waterfront

Overview of Blue Lagoon
View of the rice fields near the water palace

Brine drying in the tree trunks to create salt

Pemuteran, Bali, Indonesia

Departing Ubud, we were headed to the northwest coast for what is touted as the island’s best snorkeling.  While Pemuteran was our final destination for the day, we made a few tourist stops along the way.  

We first pulled over for a coffee break at a wurang (a small, family-owned restaurant in Indonesia), with hopes of getting some photos of the Agung Volcano which erupted in Nov., 2017.  The eruption caused the evacuation of more than 100,000 nearby residents and stranded thousands of visitors as departures were cancelled due to ash plumes which would endanger the flights.  Heavy cloud cover hid the volcano from our view.

The water temple, Pura Ulun Danu Beratan located on Lake Bratan was built in 1633.  It was built in worship of the main Hindu trinity, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, as well as an offering to the water goddess, Dewi Danu.  For centuries the lake has been, and continues to be, a main irrigation source for central Bali.  Located about 4000 feet above sea level, temperatures were in the 60’s and most of the locals were bundled up in heavy jackets.  It’s a beautiful spot nestled in the surrounding mountains.

In Munduk, we took a lunch break at the Munduk Eco Cafe (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g608490-
d8702709-Reviews-Munduk_EcoCafe_2-Munduk_Bali.htmlwhich features an Indonesian menu and amazing views, but they also offer civet coffee (Kopi Luwak) from a farmer’s cooperative which they have helped develop.  Now fortified,  we walked to the nearby Golden Valley Waterfall, passing through wild growth of cocoa trees, nutmeg, clove, durian and jackfruit.



Arriving in Permuteran, we were immediately struck by how mellow this little village was compared to the chaos of Ubud. Having secured a room at Pondok Sari Resort, we were situated on the bay.  The resort offered beautifully landscaped grounds, stained glass and carvings at every turn, a koi pond and pool, fresh flowers in our room each day, a well-designed outdoor shower, and beachside seating.  There was also a restaurant on site, so we didn’t even need to leave the grounds except to explore the tiny village.  We were all set for serious hanging out.  This area and the nearby Menjangan Island National Park are considered to be some of the best snorkeling on the island and that was part of our plan as well.

Booking a snorkel trip out to Menjangan, we lucked into clear skies and enjoyed the 30-minute trip along the coast out to the island.  A number of divers were also on board and the boat was perfectly situated to provide shallower waters for our snorkeling with deep drop-offs for the divers.  We saw a nice variety of tropical fish but minimal coral.  On my 3rd trip into the water I immediately tangled with a pod of jellyfish.  Luckily, the boat was nearby and I was able to get on board quickly but not before being inflicted with multiple stings.  Not fun.  

Damage to the reefs in Permuteran Bay and surrounding waters due to dynamite and cyanide fishing coupled with rising water temperatures caused residents to spring into action to protect this asset.  Local businesses, including dive shops and hotels, along with conservationists initiated a reef restoration program near the shore of the bay in 2000. Utilizing low-voltage electricity on artificial underwater structures (60 so far) the procedure encourages the growth of a diversity of transplanted corals at 3- 5 times the normal rate. 

Our subsequent days in the area were overcast and the final 2 days windy, creating choppy water in the bay.  It was pleasant for hanging out beachside, but made snorkeling offshore a little less than optimal.  But, we still wanted to get in to check out the artificial reef.  Structures are set up over a 1000 foot area relatively close to the shoreline, making it easy to explore.  It’s a phenomenal project, and based on what we could see, seems to be successful.

Padangbai, another snorkel area and a 4-hour drive from Pemuteran was our next destination.


Lake Tamblingan in Asah Gobleg along our route

Aguang Volcan hiding behind the clouds
Rice terraces along the drive

Pemuteran beach


Rest house located out in the bay

Fisherman repairing his nets

Typical fishing vessel in Bali
Blue sea star



Koi pond

Sea Cucumber

Artificial reef and coral growth

Artificial reef

Ubud, Bali

Yoga and meditation centers, spas, temples, art galleries, excellent restaurants, museums and countless shops selling goods from artisans of nearby villages all come together in Ubud.  It has been an important center for the arts since the 1930's when Western artists were drawn to the area.  Hiking, rafting and bike tours in the countryside are also available.

With reservations secured at a centrally located hotel, we were within easy walking distance of many things the town has to offer.  For the most part, however, we kept our visit in the area pretty low key.  Alan’s priority was to experience a Balinese massage.  With a recommendation from our hotel, he was picked up and whisked a few blocks away to Jaens Spa. (http://www.jaensspaubud.com/)  His 1 1/2 hour massage was the “best ever” and this is after a lifetime of semi-regular massages.  It was also, by far, the most reasonable, at $20 including a tip.

Not surprisingly, I signed up for a Balinese cooking class.  Picked up at the hotel, the first stop was the local market where I met with Chef Ketut and the other 6 students in our class.  (http://www.ketutsbalicookingclass.com/about.html) During a walk through the market, Ketut pointed out, identified and described the flavors and uses for a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.  From the market, we were driven to his kitchens.  With individual work stations for each student, menus are a general outline with modifications based on each person’s likes, dislikes and food preferences or sensitivities.  Over the next few hours, we prepared, from scratch, 3 different sauces, a soup, an appetizer, 4 entrees and a dessert.  For the peanut sauce, we fried the peanuts, then ground them with spices using a mortar and pestle, then thinned it with chicken stock and coconut milk.  At the end of the session, we sat down and  ate what we had produced.  Yummy, and I had leftovers, so Alan could enjoy at least part of what I had made.   
With several quality museums in town, we decided on the nearby Agung Rai Museum of Art.  Three open-air galleries,  nestled in beautifully maintained gardens, house the collections.  Intricate Batuan-style works from the 1930’s and 40’s , as well as some modern art, are included.  There were also works by Javanese artist Raden Saleh, including his “Portrait of a Javanese Nobleman and His Wife”, an Indonesian version of “American Gothic”, completed almost a century before the American version.  Hindu god statues at the museum, and throughout Bali, are frequently draped with saris and/or covered with decorative umbrellas.  We were told this is done to humanize the gods. 

Another tourist destination is the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary which is inhabited by 600 long-tailed, gray-haired Balinese Macaques.  The moneys overflow the sanctuary out onto the nearby streets, where store owners stand by with brooms or slingshots to prevent the animals from making off with their merchandise.  Visitors are warned not to show your teeth or make eye contact, as this would incite the monkeys to more aggressive behavior.  Grabbing sunglasses, dangling earrings, or anything else they can snatch is part of their daily routine.  We watched one fellow hop onto a nearby scooter, dump a beverage he didn’t like but snag a hard-boiled egg that he wandered away to peel and eat. 

Nearby, we found the Ubud Palace, Puri Saren, built in the early 1800’s with some reconstruction following the earthquake  The palace is open to the public with a number of international events hosted here each year, but the royal family still lives on part of the property.   Countless shops and restaurants line the surrounding area.
of 1917.

But, we also enjoyed hanging out poolside at our hotel to avoid the midday traffic and sun.  After 3PM or so the influx of traffic from tours quiets down and the town becomes much more peaceful.  We walked everywhere, but walking in the evening requires extra caution and a flashlight since street lighting is intermittent and there are occasional, sometime large gapping holes where a sidewalk should be.  

Some locals feel that Ubud has been a bit ruined by its own popularity following the towns introduction to the world in 2006 by Elizabeth Gilbert’s book and the subsequent movie, Eat, Pray, Love.  Certainly, the book has brought a large number of tourists to the area, but then that means more jobs and more money also, so maybe it's a balance.  At least for now, most of the tourists disappear with the tours and the town returns to some level of peacefulness in the evenings.  And now it was time for us to move on as well, heading to the northwest coast of Bali.





Jakarta, Indonesia

This capital city of Indonesia is located on Java, one of 13,466 islands of this independent republic.  With a population of ten million, the city swells an additional 1.5-2 million each day as workers pore in.  Our guide, Jan, met us just outside the ship and we headed in to explore.  Immediately, we were struck by the sea of shacks housing so many of the country's desperately poor. 

Starting with Sundra Kelapa Harbor, the fishing boats are influenced by the Portuguese ships which came here in the 1500's.  Followed by the Dutch in the early 1600's as they expanded their spice route.  The colorful Phinisi Schooners are made from Sulawesi ironwood which gets stronger when wet.  Though integrity of several appeared questionable, Jan pointed out a few that were over one hundred years old.  As the primary port for inter-island transport of goods, ships were laden down with product.  

From the harbor, we made a short stop at Kota Tua (Old Town), which reflects the Dutch impact on architecture.  Taman Fatahilla Square is a complex housing the museums highlighting the history and art of the area.  The Wayang Museum
houses thousands of Indonesian shadow puppets.  Brightly colored, large-tired bikes are available to rent in the square, they even include a wide-brimmed straw hat with the rental.  But, most renters seemed to stay within the confines of the square, not daring to venture out into the city traffic.   

Our next stops focused on religion.  First, we checked out the oldest church in the city, the Black Portuguese Church built in 1695, followed by a visit to the Jakarta Cathedral completed in 1901.  But the star of the show was the Istiqlal Mosque built in 1978.  As the largest mosque in SE Asia, this 5-story building is designed to handle up to 200,000 worshippers at one time.  During our visit the facility was being scantly used.  We were asked to remove our shoes and were given appropriately modest robes to wear for our visit.  Selfies with Western tourist was a phenomenon we had heard about and several  women approached me with cell phones in hand and politely requested a photo with themselves and their children.  

Taman Mini Indonesia was our final stop.  In a setting of parks and gardens, combined with an amusement park, visitors can see life-size replicas of traditional housing for all 34 provinces of the republic, unique and beautiful structures.  

Jan has worked a number of years as a tour guide, which he supplements with tutoring jobs, where he can make substantially more than his engineering degree provided.  As an engineer his earnings were about $300/month.  Doctors at the public hospitals earn $800/month, school teachers in public schools $200/month and at private schools $150.  Corruption is wide-spread and endemic with politicians and police at the top of the heap.  If you are somehow able to accumulate extra monies you can bribe a local official to get a public service job, so the rich continue to get richer.  Education is mandatory from preschool through 12th grade.  Minimal basic health care is provided but individuals with serious ongoing health issues are on their own to obtain medicines which might help treat their ailments.  

Now it was time to move back across the city to Tanjung Priok Port.  Driving through this congested city is not for the faint of heart.  Chaos reins everywhere, but we arrived safely at port for a timely departure.

Black Portuguese Church
Jakarta Cathedral
Largest Mosque in SE Asia