Friday, 31 August 2012

Michi Retreat, Ubud





Michi Retreat is an amazing place, quirky and whimsical. Arches, paths, doors and gates, rooms, steps up and stairs down. Some paths lead somewhere and some don't. Our rooms are right at the end of the complex, two rooms upstairs and one bedroom with a foyer downstairs - and a plunge pool. Always the sound of the torrent roaring below. Eating breakfast one morning we spied a young man swimming in the rapids. When he finished he stood on the rocks and stretched, oblivious to us watching him from far above. He dressed and scampered up the steep side of the ravine opposite to Michi. We saw children swimming there some days and building bridges with bamboo.

Our suite, my room on the right
The path to our rooms had a low wall with many different and eclectic statues and art pieces. Next to the entrance to the hotel a large dark stone Buddha keeps watch. I love how the statues are dressed daily with fresh frangipani flowers and small offerings; sometimes the columns are wound around with checked fabric. I used to watch out for the Balinese who do this with such reverence, never a hastily done chore.

Reception area
On our first night, Robbie and I were locked out of our suite. In fact the lock was broken, we hadn't lost the key. Wayan, the lovely hotel manager/concierge was not phased when I went to call her. She climbed up on the stair railings and swung herself over my balcony, through my room to open the door from the other side! The lock was fixed the next day.  I had to laugh when she kindly offered to bring my meals to the room as I was "... so old". Needless to say Michele and Robbie teased me about my decrepitude. The rooms are huge and a big balcony too. The furnishing is traditional and each morning I noticed a pile of fine sawdust on the floor beneath the luggage bench. The wood-borers are active, that's for sure, and the mosquitoes are always hungry!

I woke early one morning and took this photo from the balcony of my room. That is Mt. Batur in the distance. 

Sunrise at Michi Retreat
The Yoga Room at Michi Retreat is beautiful; the windows open directly over the drop to the Wos river and the noise of the water is breathtaking. Having our Yoga practice here each day was truly awesome. On a couple of occasions, Michele included a Warrior sequence I had taught her many years ago. How lovely to be acknowledged by one of my teachers in this way! After Yoga class one evening we decided to take a short cut to the dining area. We ended up in a grotto cut into the hillside and had to retrace our steps!

Once or twice we saw the Japanese professor who owns the hotel. He is elderly and quite eccentric, looking the epitome of how an ancient Japanese professor should look. One of his PhD students was staying in the hotel and we spoke to her briefly but I can't remember what her field of study was and I never did discover the professor's speciality either.

From central Ubud (i.e the Market) to Michi Retreat is a fair way and the road twists and turns. When you leave the main road, unless you turn off at the right moment you have to continue along a residential road behind the hotel with no apparent place to turn between the high walls that surround the houses. How do I know this? Well, it happened to us! The taxi driver had to do some tight manoeuvring to get us going in the right direction again, which is to say, back the way we came. On the one side there is a concrete wall that separates the road from the hotel and the sheer drop to the ravine below. This wall is not in good condition and has the odd gap! We gasped (well, I did) when the taxi driver went to turn through one of the gaps. 

A highlight of Ubud, for me, was the meal at Sari Organik. Sari Organik is a vegetarian restaurant in the paddies behind Ubud. Walk along the main street and then take a turn through what looks like a building site; follow the path and because this is another magical Bali portal, in no time you are in among the paddy fields. The path is paved at the start but soon becomes a dirt track.


Some people get to Sari Organik on motorbikes or motor scooters but it is a lovely walk with lots to see. The wild herbs and flowers flourish all along the path. I think it must be a couple of kms from the road. Since last time I visited, there has been quite a lot development. How strange it looks to see a house built right in the middle of paddy. Sad, too, because once developed there is no going back to being a paddy. 

Michele and I had Nasi Campur (vegetarian) with red rice; a memorable meal, one that I will remember for a long time. Robbie had grilled vege salad and that looked delicious too. To drink we had snake fruit wine, brewed on the premises! Robbie had a coconut so Michele and I had to drink up the wine. It was quite potent and added another dimension to the delightful meal and made the walk back to Ubud very entertaining.

Nasi Campur
Roasted veges












Michele & Robbie at Sari Organik
The best meals I had in Bali on this trip were at Putri's in Candidasa, the one at Amed and the one at Sari Organik. I had some fairly average food at other places and one or two that I'd rather forget about. Generally the food was good, fresh, inexpensive and delicious. 

Ubud has changed a lot in the three years since last I was there. It is much more Westernised now and, in my opinion, that detracts from the ambience. Michele's attitude is that this is a passing trend and puts it down to the popularity of the book Eat Pray Love, which I've never read and have no intention of reading either. 

Winding down to the end now, only one more episode before I sign off on this particular blog thread. Watch this space!




Monday, 20 August 2012

over the mountains to Ubud from Lovina


on the road to Ubud
After morning Yoga and another yummy breakfast at Villa Jaya, we set off with Gede on the road to Ubud. Gobang and Komang came by to say farewell and then chased after us as I had left my water bottle on the platform outside the hotel. These raised platforms are a feature in the more rural parts of Bali: they are situated all around places where people gather to wait or pass the time. They are usually a simple open, wooden structure with a roof. Hawkers wait there for a likely looking punter to come along; men pass the time of day, smoking and chatting and perhaps gambling. Gede was waiting for us there.
Gede

The winding roads took us over mountainous central Bali. Occasionally we would come across a full-size luxury tourist bus negotiating the hairpin bends! All the traffic would have to wait. These buses come across from Java and are full of wealthy *domestic* tourists. Our first stop was a Kopi and spice plantation near Munduk, high up in the mountains.

The speciality at Kubu Kopi is coffee brewed from beans that have passed through the digestive system of a Luwak - a civet. There was a tired looking civet in a small cage and that made me sad. The beans are cleaned (thank goodness) and are roasted in a wok-like pan over an open charcoal fire. Before we tasted the kopi we had a conducted tour round the plantation.

Apart from the coffee bushes, there are a variety of spices such as cinnamon, vanilla and a host of others. Apparently the season had not been good and the crop was poor. We were intrigued at the informality of the planting; no formal beds and borders here! The only structures were terraces to stop everything from landing up in the valley far below. If you missed your footing the chances are that you would also land up in the valley. I took this photo from the eating area of Kubu Kopi and while I was doing that, Michele took the photo of me with my new pet!
View from Kubu Kopi


The butterfly was on the floor and then suddenly flew up and did some aerobatics before landing on my shoulder! I quickly passed my camera to Michele and she took a couple of shots before it flew off over the valley.

Robbie and I had a pot of the Luwak pooh coffee and it was delicious! The coffee pot was made from a coconut and so was the cup. Robbie is an adventurous eater and even ate some leaves on Mejangan because Wayan told us they were a tonic of some sort. I was worried that maybe you had to cook them first and that Robbie had inadvertently poisoned herself - but she was fine! The mosquitoes here were fierce and although I was covered in DEET I still managed to get bitten a few times.

Further along the road we stopped at a junction where we could look out over two of the volcanic lakes. The scenery here is awesome. There was a man with a massive python draped over his shoulders and, for a fee, he would drape it over your shoulders! Not me.

When there were no tourists around the python lives in that box just behind him. The man also had some large bats and an iguana that I thought was a sculpture, so still did it keep. The huge banyan tree here had a shrine inside.
view over the volcanic lake and a raptor

shrine inside banyan tree
From here the road winds down toward Lake Butan. On this stretch we passed one of Bali's mysterious places, the Ghost Palace. This unbelievably enormous building was intended to be a luxury hotel. The timing for this could not have been worse as the Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005 reduced tourism to such an extent that the hotel has never functioned as such. Apparently it was built by Tommy Suharto but went bankrupt the day it was meant to open. Indeed, the beds were in and everything ready to go but now it is crumbling and unlikely to ever function as a hotel. The road winds round the edifice for a number of kms and, Michele, who has actually been inside, told us that you can see the ocean from the uppermost parts. It reminded me of the castle in Mervyn Peake's trilogy Gormenghast - a trilogy worth reading if you have the time. According to Wiki, a valid classification would be to place Gormenghast in the genre of the grotesque, with marked gothic and surrealist influences. It may also be considered a fantasy of manners. That seems to fit both the books and the Ghost Palace.

Lake Butan was another stop, manicured gardens and many domestic tourists. I was surprised at the size of the lake. Michele found a lion statue and posed in simhasana perched on its back! Next stop was Candi Kuming markets where we had lunch and did some market shopping.

We arrived at Michi Retreat in the afternoon. Once again we had to pass through a magical Bali portal to find the hotel and could hear the sound of he raging waters of the Wos River as we arrived. The river roars through the ravine on whose banks the hotel is perched. Michele had told me I would appreciate the quirkiness of the hotel but even that did not prepare me for the reality. So, next entry will be Ubud and in particular, Michi Retreat.
Michi Retreat














Sunday, 12 August 2012

Pulau Mejangan



Sitting here on a cold, windy and wet Sunday afternoon in Mandurah, I open iPhoto and find this photo of Robbie, Michele and myself and the anonymous boatman, (surely Ketut?) on the boat heading over to Pulau Mejangan. This small island is part of a National Park and is actually in Java.

We headed out from Lovina fairly early as Robbie and Michele were hoping to snorkel once we reached the island. In the event, we got there a bit late and the wind was coming up. The drive along the north-west coast took over an hour and then Michele had to negotiate with Wayan (our guide and official National Parks Ranger) for the ferry ride from Bali over to Mejangan. Wayan was an excellent guide, very talkative and full of tall tales to tell us. The boatman merely drove the boat.

The mountains of Java were so clear I felt I could touch them. This part of Bali has white sandy beaches - not the darker volcanic sand found elsewhere.


The water is deep here, I asked Wayan how deep, "57 metres" he told me, and added that the drop-off from Mejangan was sheer. As we approached the island we could see how the colour of the water changed from the dark, deep inky blue to a light turquoise colour. There were other boats already moored and many people snorkelling. You can see quite clearly in the photo below, which I took from the path above the cove.


Nobody lives on Mejangan but there are a number of temples dedicated to various deities - including a large one dedicated to Ganesha. The temples look old and weather-beaten but Wayan assured us they had been built fairly recently! The paths and various access points are fairly risky and there isn't much in the way of barriers even near steep cliffs. Nevertheless, we tramped around and looked at the flowers, birds and insects. When there was an easier option to climbing around a temple, we took it.

Ganesha Temple from the ocean

There were a few other people walking on the island including a couple who were keen bird watchers. Wayan assured them that they would be able to see many birds if they got there early enough! Mainly, though, the tourists visit Mejangan for the snorkelling. Local people come here to make offerings at the temples.

After walking around for a while we boarded our ferry on the other side of the island. The boat access here was unstable and Wayan told us that a German man had fallen there, only the day before and had to be transported to Denpasar to the hospital. The logistics are frightening as there would be the ferry ride back to Bali which takes a nearly an hour and then road transport across Bali back to Denpasar. Needless to say we watched where we put our feet and took any helping hand that was offered!

As we left the island, we went past the bat caves and could see blankets of bats clinging to the sides of the caves. Then the ferry turned back toward the Bali coast where we met Gede (our driver) waiting patiently to take us back to Lovina. Of course we stopped for a meal on the way.

There is so much more to Bali than the average tourist gets to see and experience.
Next entry will be about Ubud and the strange and exotic hotel in which we stayed ... Michi Retreat.


Saturday, 4 August 2012

Still in Lovina

We practiced the salute to inner calm every evening. This is a beautiful sequence. It was one I was going to bring home to my daily practice but I've not done so. Maybe from this evening? I wrote in my journal, "I do know it and will sketch it in full soon - before I forget". Well, I didn't sketch it and I have forgotten it! Lucky to find the link on the Internet.

Each morning we practiced 6 rounds of Suraya Namaskar with chanting. I can remember when I would be puffed after a couple of rounds but even the 3 fast rounds with the Bija Mantras were good. The main thing is to keep one's focus on the movements and not let the mind wander.

I managed to get water in my ear at the swimming pool so booked in to have ear-candling. It was lovely and I felt so much better afterwards. I can't bear that deaf/discombobulated feeling when the ears are full of water. I had an aromatherapy massage as well at the spa. How delightful! In fact this was the first massage I had on the holiday.

Michele lent me The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan. I can't imagine why I haven't read it before as I am a big fan of hers. I did try and make it last but read it as quickly as usual! Lovely to chill by the pool and read. Since I've been home I've managed to read another one of her books and have 2 more waiting  to be read.

There are quite a few mosquitoes here and I have been diligent about applying Rid; nevertheless, I've bitten quite a few times and so damn itchy.

It must have been about this point of the trip that I lost count of the days and the date! I think that is necessary sometimes!

Ganesha

Next episode will be the trip to Pulau Mejangan and the Ganesha Temple there.