A Travellerspoint blog

February 2009

Lovina to Semarapura

More volcanoes

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In Lovina, on the north coast of Bali, we stayed in a beautiful hotel with a swimming pool, hot water in the basin, a bath, and flowers on the beds. While we were staying in Lovina I dived the Liberty wreck at Tulamben with Franck, another trainee tour leader. It was a reasonably good dive, and we saw a lot of fish. But it was not clear why it should have such an elevated reputation.

From Lovina we travelled to Gunung Batur, the second-highest peak in Bali. On the way we stopped at Gitgit waterfalls.


On the Java-Bali-Lombok tour we climbed to the rim of Rinjani, Lombok’s highest mountain; visited a temple on the slopes of Gunung Agung in Bali; climbed Gunung Batur in Bali; and climbed Mount Bromo in the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park in East Java.


All of these mountains are volcanic. Every hill of any size from the north of Sumatra to the eastern tip of Nusa Tenggara is a volcano, and most of them are active. The biggest eruption in the recorded history of the world took place in the area – and it wasn’t Krakatau.

The big eruption was Mount Tambora on Sumbawa, in April 1815. 160 cubic km of ashes and rocks were ejected, and the energy released was four times that released by the eruption of Karakatau in 1883. The height of the volcano fell from 4,200m to 3,090m in one day – now it is 2,850 m - and over 50,000 people died. 1816 became known as the year without a summer, as ash from the eruption blanketed the Earth, and it was the worst famine in the nineteenth century. Incesant rainfall in Switzerland in July forced Mary Shelley's holiday party to stay indoors and make up horror stories. (Hers was partly inspired by the work of Erasmus Darwin.) The dust-reddened sunsets were nice, though; they may have inspired some of Turner's paintings.

The eruptions and earthquakes are caused by the collision between the Indo-Australian Plate and the Asian Plate. The former is subducted under the latter, which creates very deep trenches south of Java – more on this another time, perhaps.


We stayed on the rim of the caldera of Batur at Kalibaru, about 1,500m above sea level, in a nice hotel called the Lakeview Hotel. Indeed, most of the hotels on the Java-Bali tour were splendid. The hotel is ugly, faced in pumice and looks like a castle or a prison, but there is a balcony looking over the caldera, and a really nice bathroom.


In the caldera is a lake and a volcano, Batur, which last erupted in 1994. The valcano has several vents.


The slopes facing the hotel are dark and bare. The lava looks new, but in fact it dates from 1963. Next to the 1963 flow are older flows, including one that submerged a village; the inhabitants relocated to the caldera rim.


We rose at three o'clock in the morning to climb the mountain. Contrary to the claims of some members of the party, it was an easy climb. It took less than an hour to get to the coffee post, where we watched the dawn.


Then it took us another 45 minutes to climb the loop path around the highest crater. On the walk around the summit we passed fumaroles and hissing, hot rocks.


Around the coffee post macaques fought each other or just admired the view.




The following day we stopped at Puri Besakih, the holiest temple of Bali.


The puri is actually a large series of Hindu temples. Entry to the temples themselves is not permitted to non-Hindus. We encountered another procession.


The temple is situated under Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest mountain.


Gunung Agung erupted catastrophically in 1963, killing thousands. The lava flowed all the way to the sea. As so often happens, the eruption was taken to be a judgment of the gods: the catastrophe also coincided with the most important festival in the Balinese Hindu calendar for a century. It is a mystery why the gods persist in speaking elliptically.


We also stopped off at Semarapura, usually known as Klung Kung. The remnants of the Javanese Majapahit state moved to Bali in the sixteenth century, and their descendants moved here in 1710. Here was the last capital of the last kingdom in Bali, the Gelgel dynasty. In April 1908 the Dutch decided to take over Bali properly rather than running it as a client state. They attacked the palace at Klung Kung. Rather than surrender, the king and all the inhabitants of the palace committed a puputan (a mass suicide), by walking en masse towards the Dutch guns. The Dutch destroyed the palace, and little is left standing.


But there is a museum and a couple of bale (pavilions), with wayang-style pictures that have, necessarily, been heavily restored: pictures fade very quickly in this climate.



Posted by Wardsan 01:57 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Ubud to Lovina

snow 4 °C
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This is not a happy time for me, as some of you may know, and I have not felt much like blogging recently, but today is the two hundredth birthday of Charles Darwin and I thought I might as well note it on the blog. The British media are enjoying a glut of Darwin events this year, and the Natural History Museum has a special exhibition on him; the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge is about to have one; and tomorrow Down House, Darwin’s family house near Orpington, reopens. I can’t get enough of it. Abraham Lincoln was born on the same day as Darwin, but that anniversary is receiving less attention in the UK, and rightly so.

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After leaving Ubud we went to Lovina, and on the way we visited three temples.

Taman Ayun is a Hindu temple dating from 1640. It is designed in three circles, each surrounded by a moat. It has 11 pagodas, representing 11 mountains. In Bali, good spirits live in the mountains and bad spirits and the dead live in the sea and on the beaches.



As we entered there was a procession, with chanting, drumbeats and song.


Not all visitors were welcome.


Tanah Lot is a Hindu temple on the coast and a big tourist destination.


The swell hits the rocks and bounces up dramatically.



The temple is on an island that is accessible at low tide. A lot of worshippers dressed in yellow and white brought offerings. In return for a donation, I was blessed and dabbed with rice on the forehead, on the temples and in the jugular notch, and a frangipani flower was poked on to my ear. I don’t believe in it, of course, but a frangipani in the ear is always a good thing.


At Tanah Lot there some people offer tourists the chance to be photographed with pythons. A big fruit bat hangs outside a shop.



For 1,000 rupiah you can feed it some mango, and everyone is a winner. When the bat ate the mango it closed its eyes in apparent ecstasy.


At Ulun Danu Batur, a temple on a lake, we encountered Russian tourists wearing virtually nothing: a skimpy bikini covered by a transparent shawl. This is not how you dress in a temple in Indonesia. Time was when Russian tourists were arguably the most cultured in the world, possessed of a Soviet education that was second to none except in matters of religion and economics. There weren’t many Russian tourists in those days, of course. Russian tourists in Bali are the lowest of the low: blond, crewcut rottweilers.




Posted by Wardsan 12:04 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Hội An: further pics

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Boats on the river.


Cyclos at rest


Fujian assembly hall.


Incense spirals at the Fujian assembly hall.


Old town shophouses.








Tourist group from Bangkok.


On the river.




No FT, no comment.


Posted by Wardsan 13:16 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)


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I am supposed to be preparing for an interview, so, naturally, I am doing all sorts of other things instead, including watching Kevin Pietersen bat in the First Test between the West Indies and England.

Here is a paddy field somewhere on the north coast of Bali.


Ubud receives large numbers of tourists, but succeeds in retaining its own character. One place, however, that is overrun is the central market, which sells items only to tourists. The woven items are often rather nice.


Others I am less sure about.


There are a number of temples with very attractive sculptures. Each temple is guarded by sarong-wrapped spirits such as Barong.


This is the old royal palace.


Sometimes the statues seem to be evil spirits. This is Rangda, the demon queen.


The Monkey Forest is full of macaques.


There are about 300 of them in the forest, including 35 adult males, living in three clusters.


Their canines are huge.


They are used to humans. They see humans as a source of food, and they hunt in packs. They will mug anybody, robbing them of any item they consider interesting.


A monkey stole Dick’s videotape while we were looking around the Pura Dalem Agung.



I ran after the monkey and tried to grab the tape back. The monkey bared its teeth and its friends arrived. The monkeys will scratch and bite, and some monkeys in Indonesia carry rabies, so I bravely ran away.




Posted by Wardsan 06:19 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Hội An: more pics

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The last posts consisted of thousands of tedious words with no pictures, so I should redress the balance. Here, a mere eight months after the first, is a second batch of photos from the beautiful town of Hội An, aka Haisfo, Haiso, Cotam, Faifo…

Rower seeks punters.


Japanese covered bridge.


Roof tile, Japanese covered bridge.


Dog guardian, Japanese covered bridge.


Roof decoration at a Chinese temple.


Waterfront of the old town.


Painted turtles at the Quan Cong temple.


Carp gargoyle at the Quan Cong temple. The carp is a symbol of longevity.


Quan Cong temple. There are a lot of temples to Quan Cong in Vietnam. He was, apparently, a Wu general of the Three Kingdoms Period, who died in 249, a talented and virtuous general, celebrated for loyalty, courage, piety and moderation. He is also – and here I am quite lost – the embodiment of Thanh Long (Blue Dragon) and Bach Ho (White Tiger).


Chinese checkers outside the Chaozhou assembly hall. As in many places in southeast Asia, each Chinese congregation in Hội An has its own assembly hall, a combined temple and social club.


Many of the assembly halls are decked with gaudy, indeed kitsch, ceramic roof decorations. They are also pretty lively in Saigon and in Bangkok. Here is the Chaozhou assembly hall.


A street in the old town.


Posted by Wardsan 03:20 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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