Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day Trip with Made

Our last full day of the week we took to explore a number of temples and attractions around and to the north of Ubud. It was to be a jam-packed day. Alison made friends with a man named Made (Mah-day) who works at Pradha, a hotel in central Ubud. Right away back in February, Made was excited about the prospect of taking us on a trip to see these local attractions. This day trip was a long time coming.

We kicked off the morning by going to what we thought was a village barong performance, but turned out to be a tourist-to-the-max 1-hour abridged version. Almost the entire crowd came from three or four big tour buses out in the parking lot. I definitely prefer the performances I saw in Ubud, but it was interesting to see this touristy spin on things, and watching people in the crowd was fun, too. A group of four guys in their early 20s sat a little below us rocking sunglasses, Bintang shirts and Bintang swimming trunks. It was very Kuta. You can sort of see them in this picture:

After the show, we went to see woodcarving. I was hoping to see woodcarving in action, but it was more like an extensive woodcarving showroom with lots of Balinese guys dressed up to sell huge pieces and furniture to loaded tourists. It was still cool, though. Here’s some furniture:

One of the main rooms – almost all the carving we saw was animal work:


I want this:

Next stop on the whirlwind tour was the Goa Gajah caves – the Elephant caves. Carved from the ancient stone, the cave was pretty old-looking. You’ve got to love how they dress the statues in little sarongs:

A lower area had some pretty landscaping in the jungle:

Bananas, in case you’ve never seen how they really grow:

This little lady was working what was supposed to be the Buddhist Temple. I’m not really clear on the differences, but she seemed pretty Balinese Hindu to me. At least, the offerings didn’t look any different. Neither did the temple, really. I didn’t see any buddhas. Alison got to participate in giving an offering. “Donation! Donation!” she squawked at us as we tried to walk away. I guess if you leave rupiah out for the gods, it’ll make them happy. Do you think the gods expect more if the exchange rate gets better?

I always wanted to go deep into the Jangle:

Next up was the Rocky Temple. This one involved even more stairs than Goa Gajah, and it was hot out! But it was pretty cool. Rice fields on the way down:

A bridge over a pretty river.

Umbrellas at the temple:

A little shrine:

More ancient rock formations, dug out of a hillside on the opposite side of the river. Notice how small the people are in comparison:

They didn’t make Alison put on a sarong, but she did have to wear a yellow sash:

A fountain:

More terraced rice fields on the way back up:

By the time we got back to the top, we were sweaty and exhausted. We re-energized at this little cafĂ©, where we realized that Gunung Agung, Bali’s largest mountain, was visible in the distance:

Next was the Water Temple. I felt like I was playing Zelda: Ocarina of Balinese Temples. This temple is built around a freshwater spring. They made it so the spring is in one stone pool section, and then the water comes out through these fountains into stone pools where people can cleanse their souls, or something like that.

Here’s one of the pools:

People bathing:

We bathed our faces, at Made’s suggestion:

Curiously, some Muslim women wanted to get in on the soul-cleansing. Veils are very out of place in Bali – Muslims comprise only a tiny minority. Again, very different from Java:

Alison and Made himself! He is a great guy, very genuine, big English skills:

The bubbling spring:

Praying at the temple:

Touristing at the temple. Look at that patch of grass on top of the temple – doesn’t it kind of look like the temple is growing hair?

Between the upper hills here you can spy a fancy-looking bridge. It joins buildings in a compound that includes Indonesia’s first president’s Balinese residence. I thought the president overlooking the shrine from the hilltop was a fitting metaphor.

After the water temple we drove to the main feature of the day trip: the bowl-shaped valley that holds both Gunung Batur and Lake Batur. It was freaking epic! The valley is gigantic and we could see everything. Made said we were lucky we had a clear day. These pictures are from the restaurant where we ate lunch:

On the way back to the Ubud area from Batur, we stopped at a coffee/everything imaginable plantation. I had never seen a coffee plant before.

Me trying to be funny:


This is a pineapple plant, if you’ve never seen it. I thought this was really weird – I had always assumed they would grow like on a tree, not like a little bush:

Cocoa! Those fruits are huge:

This is the animal that the locals call luwak, the famous supporting actor in the world’s most expensive coffee: kopi luwak.

These jungle ferret-cats love to eat from the coffee plant. The bean undergoes a complex process that includes some fermentation and emerges in the little buggers’ droppings on the forest floor – wholly intact. I’m not sure any of these particular luwaks’ droppings ever make it to the forest floor, but you get my drift. Catch a cat, feed it coffee beans and voila! $50 cups of coffee in chic New York restaurants!

They were even growing Aloe Vera:

To make coffee, you take the beans and dry them. Then you fry them and crush them, like this:

And there you go. Here are the three stages – dried, fried, and coffee:

As if the plantation hadn’t been enough of a treat already, they gave us free samples at the end! From left to right – bali coffee, hot cocoa, ginseng coffee, ginger tea, and lemongrass tea:

It was all delicious, especially the stuff I hadn’t had before – the ginseng coffee and the teas. Ginseng coffee is absurdly good.

And yes, we did order a sampler cup of the coffee luwak, for only 30,000 rups (3 dollars). It tastes like…dark, rich, tasty coffee. There wasn’t anything particularly distinctive about it really. I’d drink it again, but it seems like for the price it’s mostly a novelty thing.

We finished up the day at some spectacularly terraced rice fields. Bali is full of these dramatically steep ravines leading to their rivers. I’m no geologist, but it seems to me maybe the stone and the soil here are soft, which allows the water to cut through easily. Here they’ve terraced the whole thing:

It was a nice finish to a good day of Balinese sightseeing.

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