Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Bintang Monologue - 24/11/2014

At 8pm and 25 degrees centigrade, I'm sweating like an Englishman in Bali, which I am.
2 large bottles of initially ice cold Bintang (they don't stay cold once released into the wild) have flowed in relatively quick succession but to no long term relief. The sweat keeps coming and I start to crave my old coke habit again as a form of comfort. A 1.5 litre bottle of "Zero" costs around 28,000 idr from the nearby Circle K, the bigger bottle helping to keep the liquids inside cool for slightly longer than it takes to walk the 632 steps back to my room.

Today was mainly notable for one reason, or four as it later became. After just over 1 week in Bali, this morning I noticed my first insect bite has arrived. An annoying little chomp on the top of my left calf. By the evening I noticed a further 3 bites have come up. One just on the shoulder line of the right side of my neck, one on the upper part of the right calf and another on the outside of my left ankle. There must be something about this left leg that excites mosquito's as this was also singled out last time i travelled as the focus of their attacks. I'm now drawn towards the conclusion that mosquitos are the leg men of the insect world, only unable to wear beige macs and round glasses due to the obvious difference in weight and size ratio of ebject to pest. At least I had the first week free from nibbles, but I guess from here on in normal service will be resumed.

The last few days here have been spent exploring the area in and around Ubud, both on organised tours and just wandering off the beaten track. With temperatures in the day exceeding 30 degrees it's imperative that I remember to carry plenty of fluids with me as well as a few packs of sweets to combat the constant dips in glucose levels that seem to occur in this warmer environment. A walk around the rice fields of Ubud yesterday evening that I thought would take about an hour or 2, in fact took nearly 4, having to munch my way through 2 packets of menthol's over that duration just to get back safely. A beautiful walk that took me past vast rice fields where I studied some of the simple gates in use for controlling the flow of water onto the terraces, through forests and rivers past unabashed locals bathing,  past lizards and frogs, dragon fly's and the one barking dog as I headed back towards the town slowly as the evening sun disappeared from view, enjoying the views a little too much and eventually having to rely on my pocket torch to light the narrow path in front of me whilst also making myself visible to the stream of scooters from both directions that were making the trip to and from Ubud at the last throws of the day. Still, a nice way to spend a few hours

So a quick breakdown of the excursions I have done and places I have visited over the last few days,  in no particular order other than what my fingers decide to dictate.

Antonio Blanco Museum.
When reading up on places to visit when in Ubud, the Blanco Museum is a name that pops up quite a lot. One opinion piece I had read that stuck in my mind as I wandered around the museum looking at the art on display (paintings/ drawings / poems / collages) was "the best thing that could be said about Antonia Blanco, is that he managed to be a success despite his lack of talent"*. My opinion is that nothing could be further from the truth. The art here is of a varying standard to be sure, as an artist it seems he was never afraid to try new styles and techniques with many images reminding me of Da Vinci sketches (which I have been lucky enough to see examples in the past), in the sense that one particular area would be singled out and perfectly detailed, with the rest of the composition being less so, but composed in such away that you feel the artist was always leading you to exactly what he wanted you to see. Other things started to become more apparent as I wandered around examining his paintings.  It was obvious that Blanco was a fan of the female form but often the body would serve as the framing or subtext for superbly detailed features elsewhere, on the face or hands for example, but make no mistake, the occasional nip did have a fair bit of effort spent on it as well. It may be fair to assume in this case that unlike the humble mosquito, Blanco wasn't really a leg man.  You start to notice on some of his pieces that his paint work (sometimes details or maybe a wash of colour ) would come over onto the frames, knowingly breaking that boundary between subject and viewer to great effect. Once noticed it apparent enough, but also remarkably subtle, so much so it wasn't until viewing the pictures on the second floor that I noticed exactly what he was doing. It's after this point you notice not only how the subject of his art was important, but how the choice of frame was paramount to his pictures as a whole. This was also an artist who wasn't averse to the odd visual "name drop", with painted pictures referencing fellow spaniard Salvador Dali along side collages of him with Michael Jackson and Rolling Stones homages.  To say this was a man who succeeded despite his lack of talent is a huge disservice to the man and the work he produced. Whilst everything there may not be to everyones taste, some of the pieces are technically breathtaking and it's a collection that should be seen at least, if not adored and all set in the grounds of the artists former Ubud home.

eco cycling tour.
Starting at a view point looking over Mount Batur, we cycled (or coasted) along 26km of roads and paths, stopping at temples to take on water before coasting again past school children "high five"-ing and "hello"-ing us as well as non "high five"-ing villagers. As the day progressed and the temperature rose it became more common to see rice scattered out in heaps the middle of the road, much like you would see sand scattered on an large oil spillage back in the uk. Like Bobby Charlton the rice needs a comb over now and then, but rather than serving a purely aesthetic purpose (unlike Bobby's), the rice comb over was to enable it to dry throughly using the heat generated from the sun and retained by the tarmac
During the 2 hours or so on the bikes we only had 3 very short but brutal inclines to overcome. These would have been more manageable if the bike I was on didn't seemingly have a phobia of anything uphill, completely throwing off it's chain in a strop when any real force started being applied through it and leaving me with nothing else to do except either swear, shout and hit it with a branch that had been conveniently left just off camera to the right, or just push it up the bloody hill. Over all though a good experience which has left a lasting impression, mostly on the back of my left hand as it caught the sun badly from resting in the same handlebar position for a prolonged period of time.

Mutiny on the buses.
Less of a pleasant excursion was a day trip to see the temples around the local area. With 5 of us in a mid size van we had plenty of space and comfort, but all of us were suffering from the heat as the driver seemed to have an aversion to putting the air-conditioning on, meaning that each time we returned sweltering from one of the temples with caves bereft of air or a climb of seemingly endless steps, we returned to a van which might as well have had a selection of vegetables cooking in it (which you could argue was very soon the case). Unfortunately though you are a tourist and these trips undoubtably take you to places in order for you to part with some cash. The view from Mahagari resort where we stopped for lunch later that day undoubtably had a fine view of mount Agung and the surrounding vistas, but the food there is bland, soulless and expensive. The coffee plantation where you get to try some of the chocolate and coffee that is grown in Bali is interesting enough, but as usual ends up in the onsite gift store where expensive goods visually fight other expensive goods for your attention. "these products are only available here" after all. Before the end of the tour the overall feeling among all of us was that we had all just seen enough for the day. The last 2 places the driver tried to take us to we decided that we weren't that interested in, and decided just to push on back to Ubud and write that one off.

White Water Rafting on the Ayung river
A better experience was White Water Rafting on the Ayung river, although a more accurate description would probably be river rafting as there were no major drops or anything to cause any major fear or concern, still a good trip though. After being kitted up in a blue and yellow lifejacket and passed my safety helmet I realised that my decision to wear a yellow and blue t-shirt had now made me look like someone going to a despicable me party in costume that had been hastily put together. A short waddle later followed by a steep decent over steeply dealing rock cut steps we arrived at the river, received basic instructions from our guide and set off down stream. We passed around and over rocks, descended mild drops facing either forwards, backwards or sideways, continuing to paddle forwards through scenic setting after scenic setting for the next couple of hours, under rope bridges, past carvings that had been cut into the cliffs and drifting under waterfalls both natural and ones created by little pipes that could be seen protruding through the foliage, at times momentarily ruining the illusion of being surrounded by natural unspoilt nature . The river is busy with lots of people doing the same thing, but rather than being an unwanted distraction this leads to an almost ancient desire to acheive naval superiority, silently approaching unsuspecting rafts before launching a salvo of water scooped ferociously from the river with much oar and a side dish of verbal abuse. The cool water being a shock to the unsuspecting victims, but the return volley is usually a welcome relief from the heat the would building up all the time. The end of the trip ends at a deeper part of the river where you are able to fall in and just drift down stream for little to cool down completely, a much needed couple of hours break from the almost constant onslaught of the Balinese temperature.

So a mixed few days really, some good, some bad but all experiences I can put down to have had.

One thing that can't be disputed is the quality of the food I have eaten at many different places in Ubud. All Varied, All different and several making the grade as "The best I've ever tasted".
It may be too early to declare this yet, but I would imagine that the one of the main things hat will stick in my mind from Ubud is the amazing quality of the food here. Topped only by the amazing hospitality I have received from the owners of the homestay that I have resided at for the last few days. They have offered me a far better experience and stay in Ubud than I would have in many other places I'm sure and given me guidance and suggestions of things to do whilst here. Its people like that who help make place worth going to.

All I have to decide on now, is where I jump to next...

* paraphrased as i can't find the original source.


Thursday, 19 November 2015

ubudder believe it - 19/11/2015

The second pack is always the hardest. That first move from the first place you stay after you arrive to the second, as you struggle to fit everything you had initially packed into exactly the same space, but no where near as easily. Last night I took a bag full of laundry to the express cleaners just down the road from the next place I am going to stay so I didn't have to find room for it in my bag in the morning, but  even without those items the repack was still tight. God only knows how I'm going to get it all squeezed in for the next move, but maybe thats the point, I probably won't.

It's probably already time to jettison some of the bulk and the first item that crosses my mind are the Jeans. I was wearing those from the U.K and they do take up more space overall than a couple of pairs of shorts and my mankini, and its unlikely I will be wearing them here in this heat for a while to come yet. But experience tells me that they are an item I should keep around. Many temples across Asia and Indonesia expect you to cover up as a sign of respect (the mankini doesn't cut it, well...not in that respect) so until I track a cool pair of longer trousers, the jeans get to stay.  More likely to go will be t-shirts and socks which I think I packed far too many of anyway, erring on the side of caution as I so often do. White t-shirts in particular are in abundance and having been here 4 days already and not worn a single one, I think 5 may be a little excessive. My knee high socks can also go, or they could if I had brought any. In hindsight maybe I should have brought some just to make the deselection process a lot easier at this point of the trip.

The last couple of days I have been mostly stumbling around, getting over the time difference and trying to regain control of the diabetes, which seems to have hated the journey down here as much as I did and is like a naughty child refusing to behave completely, sat there with its little moody downturned lip refusing to play nicely. In myself though I am feeling pretty good after just 2 full days, which when compared to last time where I was quite badly out of sorts for a good week or so, is a much more positive start. I feel as long as I can get myself eating regularly enough, it should help my diabetes cheer up quickly and it's hardly been a chore to eat here. Part of the problem when your not feeling 100% is your lack of appetite. Luckily here there is an abundance of food types on offer so even when your not feeling like eating, you can usually find something appealing enough to give it  a try. At every place I have eaten so far I seem to declare at least one of the dishes as "the best I have ever eaten". The food here, both in quality and the choice is really just absolutely incredible. Not everything is sweet either, with iced tea coming with a little jug of sugar water as separate side, so you can add to taste if you like, which makes managing my naughty child a little bit easier.

Apart from eating I have also had the pleasure of seeing a Balinese long tailed macaque weeing on a tourist at the Monkey Forest and have had time to take in a couple of the museums and temples (of which there are many). Balinese art (both modern and traditional) seems to vary in style quite a bit, from being very distinctive and dark in its subject matter and stylistically unique to this region, through to pieces that display quite obvious similarities to art from other cultures, such as Japanese masked demons or images of hinduism.  

A quick note about my first hotel stop, Initially it looked great but the cracks started to show over the coming days and the only things  I cant really fault there were the staff and the bed (very comfy) I came back on the second day to find a puddle of water in the room under the air con (bad news on a tiled floor), the answer to which was to turn the aircon off and mop the floor. The water pressure was tempermental to say the least changing from super fast to literally non existent, one time shutting off completely in the middle of a shower and another taking about 2 hours to fill the cistern back up in the toilet, not really ideal. As for the advertised Wi-Fi, I'm guessing that it was attached to a 28k modem and feeding the multiple guest rooms that were on site making my decision to buy a sim card with 6gb data allowance a wise move indeed.

So a wise move is what I need do next, I have booked a place to stay which is nearer to the centre of Ubud than the previous affair (which would take twenty minutes to walk in silly degree heat). The ratings and reviews online have been very positive so hopefully it will be an improvement on the place I have just left. Just for reference, Puri Garden was booked at the time of my flights by the travel agent in the UK at 25 pound a night, this next one is rated much higher and will cost me 1,200,000 IDR for 4 nights, which roughly equates to just under 56 uk pounds, or half a night at the luxurious Travelodge, Hengrove Park.   

So Todays plan is to get checked in, then go and find a couple of tours and excursions to get booked onto for the next couple of days, maybe one to take in the more interesting places in Bali and another thats a bit more physically demanding to see how this old body is holding up. It's definitely not a luxury model, and it's had it's fair amount of scrapes and repairs, but all things considered, for a battered, bruised, chipped, fractured and generallyabused example of 1970's origin, it's doing pretty well*.

*apart from the knees, shoulder, eyes, pancreas and wrist and dealing with heat. Remedies sold separately, packaging may not be as described.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

the long and winding road (and flight path) - Bristol -- Bali - nov 15/16 November 2015

Sunday November 15th 2015
It was just after 8 am when I closed the front door behind me, the alarm on my phone had been set for 7 am but my body thought that 4.30 was a far better idea. By the time I had reached Doha I was already dead on my feet, and that was around the halfway point of the entire journey.

Everything I owned has now been cleared out from the house (or more aptly room) I had been living in for the last 20 months or so, with bits and bobs now scattered about in a few different places, but the bulk of it is now in, or waiting to go to Wales to stay with my dad for the foreseeable future, although there isn't anything of any notable worth there. The closest object to have any kind of value to would be a Greek style bowl which has been with me though the rough and the smooth, the porridge and crunchy nut cornflakes, badly cooked meals from the slow cooker and awesome tuna and pasta bakes piping hot from the oven, you don't forget about items like that do you, the things that never let you down. If there was just one thing i would be able  to save, well, that wouldn't be it, but its up in the top 5, along with a pack of old Wills playing cards I have “Rescued” from a dark drawer somewhere. nothing like having your priorities straight after all. As far as the house that I leave behind goes, well, it will most likely be the last time I go back there for a very long time maybe ever (who knows), but I'll just end it by saying that for the last year, all the goings on have all been, well, truth be told, a little bit crap. But there we go.

Aaaanyway, to save me the frustration of trying to use bristol buses in any meaningful or useful fashion (an almost impossible task especially on a Sunday) to get to the central bus station in Bristol, my Aunt had kindly offered to make sure I got to the coach station her self. “You're bloody going and that's the end of it” she didn't say at any point, but got me there she did, right after I had done a last bit of faffing and last minute streamlining and drank a luke warm coffee at the office (it was hot when it was made apparently). So just before 9 am I was grabbing a bacon roll and large latte from the Greggs bakery situated behind the central bus depot before heading back to sit patiently and wait for the slightly delayed 9.30am bus to Heathrow. It was here that I got talking to a nice lady called Pam from Texas, who divulged in conversation about recent events that she was lucky enough that her faith was strong enough for her to believe that things and events happen for a purpose, unfortunately not a view I share. But her beliefs are her beliefs and far be it for me to try and undermine the fabric of her reason for being, and when she said she wanted to pray for me later on for my upcoming travels I thanked her politely and quipped something along he lines of "I guess every little helps". What can I say, it was early and i was tired. However, after an almost holey uncomfortable trip, I really wish she hadn't bothered.

It started off well enough, an incident which led to the M32 motorway out of bristol to be closed led to a stretch of the journey which should have taken 3 or 4 minutes taking nearly an hour but the rest of the ride was smooth and I got to the check in desk with 2.5 hours before take off. A raised eyebrow at the check in desk signalled that the counter staff wasn't entirely happy with the length of time between my arrival in Bali and the date of my flight back to the UK in May but luckily the night before I had booked an internal flight in Thailand for the 6th Feb 2016, which was evidence enough of onward travel from Indonesia inside a 3 month period which I had thought might have been a sticking point. It was all alright after he quickly calculated the duration before that flight on his 12* fingers, without I might add using the same finger twice, It was a role he was simply born to do. I was then free to take my newly printed boarding ticket up to departures, dutifully chucking all my stuff into the scanning trays before beeping convincingly as I went through the snitch gate. The middle Eastern looking security guards eyes lit up as it singled me out, he might as well have hit the big red alarm button and shouted “We got one”. After his P.K meter confirmed that I was real and that jean buttons do indeed beep, I was escorted to a nice comfy room for further "checks". When his colleague arrived wearing a pair of black gloves and snapping the sides to make that iconic slapping noise, I jokily remarked "FOR GOD SAKE MAN, YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO THAT", which was luckily met with smile when it eventually dawned on him what he was actually doing, “It's ok Mate, these are just for checking luggage” he tried to assure me, but still, the term “Luggage” can be a little ambiguous in the certain circumstances. You have to stay relaxed in these situations, so I'm told, and once the beeping was isolated to my Jean buttons they were promptly arrested and whipped of to a secret jail somewhere. I on the other hand escaped to boots the chemist. Relieved to be waiting for the departure gate to open as opposed to my own.

The flight to Doha took just under 6 hours, but after a delay waiting on the tarmac at Heathrow the total cooped up time was nearer 8 which in turn led to a mad rush at the other end as I tried to get to the right zone for the connecting flight to Bali. Yet again however I was able to do my 1970's young superman impression as I sped along the powered walkways at a speed not consistent with the movement of my ownlegs. I know I've said it before but someone really should just put an image of a train next to the side or one of these things, maybe with one of those “Old Ruler” effect where the image of a young girl being scalded by her mother for making up lies about someone being able to move that fast alters slightly with the angle you view it at giving impression of a moving image. It's a missed opportunity which becomes more and more niche in its appeal as the years roll by. And lets face it, its fairly niche already as I'm the only one who thinks its a great idea!

So onto Bali, a flight filled with coughing sneezing and a guy sat next to me with an apparently motor neuron disease which controlled his ability to control his elbows properly. The 9 hour flight felt like double as we shook, rattled and rolled over the countries below, I've never felt so i'll on a plane and as we finally came in towards Denpasar airport, the one positive of the flight came into view with the final approach almost skimming the ocean, flying low over a beach and straight down back onto land, is just simply stunning. After disembarking and being processed though an immigration process at odds with all of the information being displayed as you approach the desk, I had picked my bag up from the baggage wheel and went through into the meeting point area where my ride to the hotel wasn't waiting. Jumping on the mild confusion this was causing and the obvious look of FFS that must have been emblazoned across my brow, the vulture like taxi drivers started to nibble and peck, with one stubborn beast in particular trying to snag his fare, and despite my persistent (and increasingly short and rude retorts) he really wasn't getting the idea that I wasn't going to use him. It's basically a rugby scrum in there and the sad thing is that thats your initial first representation of the people of bali, and its not a good one. Probably because I was just over tired and down from travel but I would have happily just turned around at that point and flown somewhere else entirely, apart from the fact that I couldn't face the idea of getting back on another plane that quickly, i had only just about managed to stop feeling nauseous.

After 45 minutes of being hassled and in 30 plus degree heat and wearing the same gear I had left the UK in, with no response to loud speaker announcements and no answer on the telephone from the company that was supposed to be fulfilling the last part of this increasingly arduous trip, I snapped, walked back in through duty free and approached the legitimate taxi company there and negotiated a good price to the hotel, getting a receipt so I can complain to the company back in the UK if I want to. 15 pound lighter and 60 air-con cooled minutes later and I finally reached my hotel in Ubud. The taxi driver was great, gave me a few language lessons and showed me some of the things to do around the island, a sharp contrast to my further noted impressions. Traffic in bali is carnage compared to UK, but nothing in comparison to the other places I have visited such as Vietnam and Thailand. The taxi driver assured me however that there are very few accidents, and through the apperent chaos there again appears to be no sign of road rage or aggrevated cutting up, just cold calculated cutting up with no emotion attached. Much safer.

My initial impression is that its like the places in Asia I've been, Ubud comes fully tooled up with the usual arsenal of hazardous pavements with cracks or giant holed in and looks almost run down in places, thiz usually only applies to the outside of buildings though and insides are often at odds with the outside impression. 

After a quick wash, I venture out for a short trip to get cash and a little food and drink for this night ahead, I do like the feel of it here, although it only took the one trip to the local supermarket to sell me on it. With colours so bright they must be harmful in the decor and the produce, and variations on almost every food type you could possibly imagine after 20 hours worth of travel topped off with staff who are happy to mock you as you trip at the same time as offering you a basket, I clearly rememberwhy I enjoyed it so much around Asia the last time I travelled.

Now just to get over that damn trip and get these sugars back under control.