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Beautiful Bali

Thousand of dry-fit pegs are all that hold these boats together
Only dry-fit pegs hold these boats together

08 October 2006, Java Sea, Indonesia

Dear Friends and Family,

A delicious SE breeze scoots Ocelot happily along the shallow waters of the Java Sea, and the full moon lights our nights.  We are four days into the gentle passage from Bali to Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo).  After dodging literally hundreds of Bali "spider" fishing boats on our way north, we stopped for a rest at a quiet anchorage off the north side of Bawean Island (S 05°44', E 112°40') for 2 nights en route.

Since leaving Komodo Island a month ago we've sailed over 500 miles west, skirting the north coast of Sumbawa and Lombok.  At the east end of Sumbawa we saw an interesting village building 6 huge traditional boats right on the beach.  These 100' (30m) long monsters can be 30' (10m) high from keel to deck and are built using only dry-fit wooden pegs - thousands of them - but no glue or metal fastenings at all!

Our track through West Nusa Tenggara

Beautiful intricately terraced rice paddies
Beautiful intricately terraced rice paddies

On Lombok, enterprising young Mohammed paddled out to Ocelot in an outrigger canoe and we negotiated buying diesel, a trip to the local market, buying black pearls, and touring Lombok, "the Bali of 30 years ago." The economic contrast between the islands of East Nusa Tenggara (Timor, Flores, Sumbawa) and Lombok was evident in the well-paved roads, and the homes and offices built of sturdy concrete with elaborately carved window frames and doors.  High in the forested hills we stopped to feed peanuts to a troop of macaque monkeys perched on posts by the road.  We enjoyed a glorious lunch high in the hills under towering volcanoes, amidst blossoming bougainvillea, frangipani, and the lush green landscape of terraced rice, peanut, chili and tobacco fields.  At sunset we walked around the formal gardens and pools built by the last Balinese king to rule Lombok.

Amazingly complex weavings using crude but complex back-strap looms
Amazingly complex patterns are woven
using crude but complex back-strap looms

Lombok is known for its fine pottery and textiles.  Whereas crafts are done at the family level in Timor and Flores, Lombok has full villages devoted to one craft or another.  A young Muslim woman took us through her village of stilted bamboo homes set around a communal well and small stables - horses and buffalo kept for transport and plowing.  In each home a woman sat at a back-strap loom weaving intricate "songket" cloth of cotton and silk threads died yellow, red, blue, green, silver and gold.  At a pottery village we watched artisans apply crushed eggshells or sand to the dark brown plates and bowls, creating patterns in bas-relief.

Gili Air is a small, sandy bit of paradise off NW Lombok and has no motorized vehicles, only "ben hurs" -- highly decorated pony-drawn carts that ply the sandy tracks carrying tourists or villagers and their goods around the island.  The beaches are white and the water clear and warm.  Lining the beach are dozens of bamboo and wooden covered platforms, tables and chairs, decked out in colorful cushions.  Chalk boards announce the day's specialties: seafood or chicken curries, gado-gado, fruit smoothies, cold beers and even $2 Piña Coladas.  Jon enjoyed a delicious $5/hr massage on a covered platform above the beach, with the warm, gentle afternoon breeze wafting over him.

Bali, with our sailing and driving tracks marked
Bali, with our sailing (dotted) track and driving (black) routes shown

For 4 days we ate out 2 meals a day, never spending more than $10 for the three of us, even for the huge jumbo prawns, butterflied, grilled, and served with garlic butter.  Amanda and Sue joined other cruising women for a $5 each cooking class in a small concrete kitchen with 1 fridge, 2 gas burners and 2 woks.  They learned to grind, stir, boil and cook up 4 different curries and coconut/peanut dishes, then sat down to feast with their families.  On another day the local dive shop asked for volunteers to help with International Coastal Clean-up Day, and the three of us spent a day underwater collecting fishing line, nets, plastic bags, and bottles.  While we yachties try hard to be green travelers, it was satisfying to make the extra effort to actually improve the beaches and waters.

Sue & Amanda enjoyed cooking lessons
Sue & Amanda enjoyed cooking lessons

The mysterious cone of Gungung Agung, Bali's tallest volcano, beckoned to the west, and in late September we joined about 30 other Rally boats for 10 days of a kaleidoscope of culture.  Set apart from the rest of Indonesia both religiously and culturally, Bali is a world unto itself where the Balinese Hindu religion permeates daily life.  Ancient and elaborate gilded temples are everywhere, as are "puja", offerings of flowers, candles and food put out on doorsteps.  Sue missed most of the rally events to fly home to be with her family as her mother was gravely ill, but Jon and Amanda enjoyed several days being escorted around the island, exploring volcanic hills and lakes with their many temples, enjoying the intricate Balinese dancing, and watching the sun set behind a sacred temple island.

Sacred Tanah Lot temple on Bali's west coast
Sacred Tanah Lot temple on Bali's west coast

Bali is crying for tourism after the bombings in 2002 (that killed ~250 including 88 Aussies, ~20 Indonesians, and only 6 Americans, the presumed target).  The Rally folks contacted the local tourism boards and organized several free tours for us, including elaborate meals and intricate dance shows.  We saw several small backyard curio factories: Casting small coins (Chinese replicas), paintings, carvings, even decorating 3" diameter brass cannon-shell casings!  We visited an art museum and studio which included a couple dances as well as music (all female band) and snacks including a "snake-fruit" that we'd never had before - like a slightly astringent spicy apple.  Then off to an old castle for some male dancing (no expressions - they wore masks) and a very spicy dinner.

Beautiful, stylized Balinese dancing
Beautiful, stylized Balinese dancing

The dancing here is just like you see on TV, finger twitching, slow, elaborate stylized movements, wide unblinking eyes, "Barong" lions, the whole bit - but we're sitting front and center for it all.  High quality carvings, weavings, batiks, paintings, clothes, furniture, huge kites, etc. are very inexpensive, but the expected negotiations are tiring and time consuming.  One could furnish and decorate an entire house in high style for next to nothing.  Food and accommodations are also very reasonable.

On another day we went to a local queen's cremation.  After several hours of prayers and incense, the casket was put half way up a 50' (15m) ornately decorated tower that was then carried by 250 guys down the street for a mile (with a fire-truck spraying them down to cool them now and then).  The casket was then transferred into a 10' (3m) high black cow before being torched with surprisingly little fanfare.

Queen's cremation tower
Queen's cremation tower

The bus trips were ... crazy.  We had police escort and therefore didn't stop for anything as plebian as stop-lights.  Siren's blaring and lights flashing, we bombed right through it all, taking our half of the road in the middle (really!) the whole way.  If oncoming traffic didn't show sufficient deference and move to the curb, the police car would charge them(!) until they did.  We passed any vehicle we came to, with the cops just herding them to the side of the road.  If traffic was backed up, we just commandeered the opposing traffic lane!  This got pretty hairy, as the lanes are not wide, not everyone was paying attention, and Jon and Amanda were sitting in the front seats of the BIG busses.  I think the driver only smacked a side-mirror once...

Brilliantly colorful temple procession
Brilliantly colorful temple procession

The morning after Sue returned we braved the roads in a rental car to enjoy the hill country with its rice paddies and temples.  We all dressed in sarongs and were invited to enter Balinese temples where 2,000 people had put out elaborate offering baskets of fruit and (cooked) chickens.  We followed a temple procession for about 30 minutes with their cymbals, drums, women in bright sarongs with fruit baskets on their heads, and brilliant yellow and gold and white umbrellas over all.

We are now on passage across the Java Sea, headed for the jungles of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) for a few days of river travel to see the wildlife, especially the orangutans.

Fair winds and calm seas -- Jon, Sue and Amanda Hacking

Indonesia Letters: Up | Xmas in Raja Ampat | Raja Underwater | Raja Ampat | Crossing the Equator | Arrive Raja Ampat | To Morotai | To Sulawesi | Jungles of Borneo | Beautiful Bali | Dancing & Diving | Venting Volcanos | Indonesia Arrival | 24 July 06 | 22 July 06

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