Friday, June 08, 2007

ARMA, Fire Dance and Batur Volcano

Next morning (!), breakfast again then a nice relaxing swim before I head out to try the internet at a café which promises a free hotspot. The speed is terrible. When I say terrible, I really mean it. As in checking text-based messages through Gmail's basic interface is slow to the point that I give up even trying to read emails. One girl there suggests it may be a dial up we're all sharing. Another suggests Bali 3000 café, the other side of the centre, as being the best.

Anyway, I leave that for now and walk round past the football pitch to Milano Sauna for my first massage. This place is recommended by LP, and seems to be a hairdressers / beauty place and massage spa. I ask for a full body massage, which costs 60,000r, or about UKP 3.50 for an hour! It's very good, with everything from my toes to scalp being repositioned and rubbed into submission.

After massage, I head down to ARMA, the Agung Rai Museum of Art, passing Bebek Bengil 1, or the Dirty Duck Diner, which sucks me in for lunch.

It's a great spot, as the diner just goes on and on out back, extending right into the paddy fields with raised platforms, tables and chairs, or traditional "sit on a cushion round a low table" options. Quite enough of that in Korea, thank you! I wanted to just have a duck salad or something light, but they talk me into having their signature dish, the crispy half duck. It's very crispy, but tasty.

The view

The nosh

At ARMA, which is more of a cultural centre than just gallery, I've turned up at the right time to see girls practicing traditional dances. It is lovely to watch.

There are a mix of ages, with some girls so small you wonder how long they've been walking for, certainly not long enough to have the coordination to dance.

Older girls are quite good, and have mastered all the actions and the eye movements (some of which are quite striking) that go with the dance. The music seems very monotonous though, and after twenty minutes or so, I've had enough, so wander off to look at the art, which generally is more mural-based than Neka, and hence not so interesting.

Walking back into town, I notice that I automatically deploy my mp3 player wth noise-cancellation as an anti-taxi-tout device. I've had so much of it now that I don't even acknowledge their existance. Along to Bali "3000", the best internet place in town. Apparently they have a 256k connection. Not joking. Plus they charge by the minute, with a 3mb total bandwidth cap! Not that you're likely to saturate this at any great pace! I give up, blog will have to wait till I get to Malaysia!! Sorry all!

Typical Bali scene

Back to my hotel for a genuinely-quick snooze, then out to the Kecak Ramayana and Fire Dance in the evening, which Made from my hotel drops me at (Pura Dalem) with his motor-bike. Kecak, or the Monkey Dance, is basically a legend told by a few actors in dance, accompanied by about 50 blokes chanting "cak cak cak" repeatedly. There is a story, which the leaflet explains, but it's way too complicated to work out, involving scores of characters, plot twists, and various battles, so I, like most others I suspect, just enjoy the show.

Just when we thought it was over, they piled up and lit (fuel assisted) coconut husks in the middle of the stage that we were seated around, then a chap came out riding a wooden hobby horse, and suddenly started kicking the burning embers at the crowd! Cue yelps and squeals as still-burning bits of coconut land on your feet!

The girl next to me, Yuri, picked up her bag of shopping off the floor and held it on her lap! I'm not sure how hot this stuff was - the guy charging about (presumably doing "the fire dance" was bare-footed, but maybe he was tough! The official explanation is that he has been lulled into a trance by the chanting (or gamelan suara). This was apparently the Trance Dance, or Sanghyang Djaran.

Anyway, it was a good ending to the show, as to be honest the Kecak was beginning to get a bit tedious! The main characters were wearing beautiful costumes but it was so dark on the stage that one could hardly make out what was happening. Certainly not good photographic material. This dance is one of several traditional dances that are on show regularly, so perhaps I'll try another one later.

Gunung Batur
There are a couple of decent-sized volcanoes not far from here. The tallest, Agung, sounds a bit involved (multi-day trek with compulsory guides etc) to head up, so I instead decide to head to Batur. Many people do this as a day trip - heading to the edge of the crater for lunch and a photo, then return. I want to go up! It's not clear exactly how to get there - one recurring theme in Bali is that everyone has their own opinion as to how to get somewhere, and frequently along the way you'll be told that your information isn't right, and you need to head back and try a different route. Given that travelling single-digit miles can take hours, this can become a trifle frustrating.

So, I take a bemo, or little mini-bus, from the market to Payangan. The mini-bus is crowded with old ladies who had been at the market in Ubud, all with big trays filled with fruit and vegetables that they would carry on their heads, often balanced perfectly with bags in their hands too.

We arrive, and in Payangan I ask for a bemo to Kintamani. Oh no, they say, no bemos to Kintamani from here. Always on offer, however, is the "special price", for a direct journey, always much inflated. No, I want bemo. Ahhhnooo, no bemo. I don't trust them, so wait around a while. People come and go, trying to persuade me to take a special direct offer. After a while, I am beginning to wonder whether they are right, and so agree to 45,000r (2.50UKP) for a motorbike ride direct to Toya Bungkah (I remember it as Cowa Bungah), which is where I want to go. At least no more changing the plan.

So sitting on a clapped out bike, we start off, but almost immediately, my driver diverts off the main street, and I worry about getting robbed. He stops somewhere, and tells me to wait. I wander across the road and buy some soba snacks, which seem to be dried noodles that you just eat. Interesting. My driver emerges with a helmet for me, which doesn't really fit but is appreciated. We ride on, it's quite far, and we're gradually ascending, and his bike struggles, when it gets steep he manually shifts gears which is so violent a process it almost throws me off the bike, every time. He asks me to sit forwards a bit and hold him round the stomach, something I'd rather not do when sitting behind an unwashed smelly type.

Eventually we reach the crater rim, and one can immediately see why people come here. It's absolutely beautiful.

Gunung Batur, with Toya Bungkah just visible on the right

Lake Batur with Kedisan on the right

There are lots of big restaurants perched here on the rim of the caldera, catering for the daytrippers, overlooking an enormous crater, with a lake and central cone rising up, with large dark patches of volcanic rock still covering much of the valley. The central cone, at 1717m, was formed by an eruption in 1917, with various smaller ones formed by eruptions in 1926, 1963, 1974 and 1994. Yes, this is a pretty active volcano!

The area on the west side of the cone is still very active, with explosions of steam and hot lava, unstable ground and sulphurous gases. I plan to go up from Toya Bungkah though, which is the safer route. So on the bike we drop down to Toya, which is a village right at the base of the volcano. I head to LP-recommended Under the Volcano 3. Nyomung shows me the room, simple but fine for my purposes. Massage girl pounces on me, 30.000. Very cheap! So I agree, and it's very good, though after I do suspect she has taken off a fair bit of my skin!

View from my window

A Swiss couple are staying in the best room, which looks straight out over the caldera lake. The whole spot is pretty though, overlooking vegetable plots, and to the lake. The hotel gossip is that there is an Indonesian couple who are both married, though not to each other, apparently having an affair, as they turn up once a week or so and spend the "day" in one of the rooms. Interesting!

Nyomung suggests I head over to another of their hotels, Under the Volcano 1, to eat lunch. I try lake fish, ikan mujair which is tasty though there's not much flesh to it, and chat to a nice French couple who have just finished their meals. The fish is supplemented by a bit of chicken, and I order a couple of lime juices - need to keep the Vitamin C up as I'm beginning to feel a bit of a flu-like virus coming on. Bird-flu perhaps? There's an outbreak in KL at the moment!

After eating, I escape the restaurant as quickly as possible, as there are so many damn flies - it's incredibly irritating having to swat them pretty much continuously. I wander up to explore the paths for the climb the next morning. My plan is to climb up alone, but there is a local guide agency, HPPGB, who by all accounts are a nasty bunch of people, who try to stop people climbing, including use of physical threats and violence, unless you engage one of their expensive "official" guides.

The infamous HPPGB

Note that you can't even use your own guide from the area - it has to be an HPPGB person. Naturally I refuse to do this - it's not an especially high hill anyway, so I need to try to dodge them. Nyomung in the hotel has given me a few tips as to how to avoid them, but also, as I'll be climbing up in the dark, I had better know roughly where I'm going.

The path heads up through fields, and houses, up to a temple. This is one of the prime "cover story" elements - if caught, I'm going up to see the temple. I note that the weather here is much much less humid than Ubud, still hot, but very pleasant. Round the temple, I see no one past this point, and further up into a forest, I'm on the main path here. Then the trees clear, and it's not so far to the summit, so I carry on. The sun is setting so I had better hurry up - I don't want to be caught up on the mountain in the dark with just a t-shirt on, and no water!

Even before reaching the summit, it is a beautiful spot. I feel like I'm back in South America. The thought goes through my mind - what if the volcano blows now, what will my obituary be?! How long would it take them to twig - I am totally alone up here and no one knows I'm here! I reach the top, it's quite windy, but has the most beautiful view over the large crater. From here I can also see inside the cone's inner crater.

Looking in, and the dangerous western side, prone to gaseous explosions

Doesn't seem to be much happening - no steam. There's a warning sign in Indonesian. Wonder what it says!

Something's dangerous around here on top of this active volcano.

Looking back over the valley below, I recall what LP says about Bali - you will exhaust your vocabulary for describing greens. Here as the sun sets, it is turning the land a beautiful golden shade, and the shadows grow long, including that of the volcano I am sat atop. Time to head down!

Apart from a few slips on the fine volcanic rock, I quickly reach the bottom.

Getting dark as I pass the temple

I've done it! And without the HPPGB b*stards. My plan was to go up again in the morning at about 4am, though sore throat, cold and earache all seem to be ramping up - if it doesn't improve, I suspect it will not happen. [it doesn't -Ed]

Back at my hotel, I have a quick wash with the cold water in the bathroom, then head out to the hot spring public baths - which are mayhem, far too crowded for me to try now, and so to Volcano Breeze Café, another LP suggestion. I'm the only one there, but shortly after some others turn up. We chat over beers. One of the guys is a HPPGB guy. I tell him with pride that I went up on my own this afternoon, and that I might tomorrow again. He asks me where I'm staying, presumably a watch will be put on the hotel to catch me!

I ask him about the article in LP describing their tactics, and he says, oh no, this has all changed - this was a few years ago. Okay, so I can go up alone now? No, you can't, they'll stop you. So it hasn't changed at all then! Interestingly, another local guy later tells me that this guy, who is his friend, used to be a really bad guy - violent, robbing people etc, but now he's totally reformed, and joined the HPPGB!! Anyway, the French couple turn up, and I invite them to join me, though I later feel guilty, as the second Balinese guy who joined us is a complete gas-bag and does not shut up for thr rest of the evening. It's my fault that they are trapped too. Another French guy waffles on about meditation, as the café owners light a fire outside and grill some fish.

For food, I have some satay and a gado gado salad, washed down with bintang beer. I retire early in case I'm climbing next day, though in fact it's an excuse to get away from the "talker". As I leave, I notice that the Swiss couple from my hotel are in the corner - the next day they remark on the "lecture" being given to us!! My cold gets worse and I sleep badly, waking up with painful ear ache and a bad throat. It's the first time I've been ill on my travels!

In the morning, the same massage girl hassles me over breakfast, until I am quite firm with her that I do not want another damn massage, and if I knew she'd do this, I wouldn't have tipped her well for the first one. As I leave, I chat with the Swiss couple, who turn out to be really nice. They're on a RTW trip too, and have based themselves here to explore Bali, a good idea as it's so much more pleasant than Ubud, far less humid.

Wandering past the public baths, they don't look very appealing, so I head to the road. Time to start the nightmare journey back to Ubud! So I've been told to get up to the top of the crater, then take a public (big) bus to Batu Balan, then a bemo to Ubud. Eventually I find a truck that will take me up to the top for 7,000.

We head past the black fields of volcanic rock

Enjoying the "race" from the "back seat"!

He drops me at a junction, and as usual I'm pounced on by the usual characters offering me special prices for direct to Ubud. I'm being hassled so much that I miss the first public bus that goes past! The second one, after about half an hour more, is heaving - people are hanging out of the door. I am pushed inside. I wonder whether the conductor is being friendly or planning to rip me off. Anyway, I'm standing on a very hot bus as it careers down the valley.

I watch other people pay. It seems to be a flat rate of 3,000r. I try to pay the conductor, but no no, he yells, you pay at Batu Bulan. Oh dear, here comes a rip off. I'm also in a hole beause I don't really have change - I have 4,500, or a 50k note. I'm not looking forward to paying. I try to pay again, again he refuses.

A little later, I manage to sit on the floor near the driver. He asks me where I'm going. Ubud? No, you don't want to go to Batu Bulan, go to Sidan, and take a bemo from there. Okay then. Then the conductor comes along again. He shows me 25,000r notes and points at me. He wants 25k! No way, I say. I ask the girls sitting behind me, who are smiling, for help, they shrug. The conductor looks angry, and then tells me 20k. He's making it up. I refuse, and say I'll pay what everyone else pays. The driver tells me it's normal that foreigners pay more. Rubbish. I get off, the driver's looking really angry. I push 3k into his hand and walk away.

So, bemo to Ubud. Nope, not possible apparently. Special price available for d.. I cut him short. Public please. Okay, bemo to Gianyar, then change to a bemo to Ubud. Okay, 5,000 I ask? Yes fine, he says, a little too readily. Damn, I know it's too much. Oh well, it's less than 30p. At Gianyar, he pushes me straight into the arms of his mate. By now I'm really feeling ill though, and don't care any more, just get me back to my hotel! Which he does, painfully slowly. I'm back. I grab a quick Nasi Goreng at Sen Sun's before rushing straight back to bed.

In the evening, not feeling much better, I head out to nearby Dragonfly Café for a salad and pumpkin soup. It doesn't seem to help much. Back to bed...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


When are you likely to be in India and which parts?....might be there this summer.