Monday, October 25, 2010

Bali: Gunung Batur

The north-central region of Bali has several volcanoes which are the genesis of the island.  Several  of the volcano peaks can be seen from some areas of Ubud.  Gunung Batur (Mount Batur 1717m high (one map says 1412m) is one of the larger peaks.  The volcano last major eruption in 1963 causing several deaths.  Lava fields of Gunung Batur can be seen in the picture below, which are now quarried for the lava stone, used in construction and stone carvings.  The stone carvings are one of the export craft products of Bali.

Gunung Batur--  The volcano is 1717m high and had its last major eruption in 1963.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Palou Bali: Balinesian Batik

Bali's major industry is tourism, followed by the creation and export of handicrafts.  Agriculture fits in somewhere.  One of the crafts known for Bali, and Indonesia is batik.  Batik is a means of creating a dyed pattern on cloth.  Both silk and cotton batiks are manufactured in Bali.  While in Bali we toured a small batik mill in the village of Cili (pronounced "Shilli" ) near Ubud.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Palou Bali, Indonesia: Kopi Luwak

Southeast Asia, and in particular Indonesia, is a prime region for growing coffee, or "kopi" in Indonesian.  There are several varieties grown--  Coffea arabica, Coffea liberica, and Coffea canephora, with the latter variety the most prevalent variety grown today.  Coffee is a major export crop for Indonesia.  Perhaps more interesting than the varieties grown are the various means of processing the beans, with none more exotic than luwak coffee.It goes by different names in SE Asia, but Luwak is the name used in Bali and Indonesia.  This coffee is quite expensive to buy, and is to coffee conniseurs what a bottle of a fine rare cabernet is to the wine conniseur.  A single cup of coffee, served in the POSH coffee houses of London have been known to cost as much as 50 pounds sterling.  (About US$79).  Beans sell for US$100 to US$600 per pound.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bali: Ubud-- Eat, Prey, Love (yada, yada, yada)

After leaving Amed, we headed for the central village (actually collection of villages) of Ubud.  Ubud is in the heart of the terraced rice fields and craft centers of Bali.  It is a nice location to use as a base to see many other parts of Bali, while taking in some really good restaurants upon return to base. 
Ubud has also become the rage as the place to visit following the book-come-movie, Eat, Pray, Love.  (Apparently Ubud is the "Love" segment in this trilogy).  Sure enough, there are many tourists in Ubud, and many Westerner expats who have come to Bali to find themselves, or to lose others.  Admittedly I haven't read the book, but the story line seems strikingly similar to that of  "Under The Tuscan Sun", which helped boost the "coolness" of having your own villa in Tuscany.  Ubud may be going down that path too- on the cusp of becoming a resort area for the mega-wealthy and chic, who have villas built in the middle of rice fields.  It is illegal for foreigners to directly own land in Indonesia (we were told), but a common means around this is to find a native Indonesian to proxy ownership for a "sponsor".  We ran into at least two circumstances like this (one in Amed, and one in Ubud).
In Ubud, a wealthy American had sponsored the construction of a vacation villa on the compound of a Balinesian family (our driver in Ubud).  The property had beautiful vistas of rice fields out the back.  In exchange the property, including the housing of the Balinese family had obviously been upgraded with an infusion of money, and was one the nicest compounds in the village (Kampong).  The arrangement appears to work well, but I suspect only when the sponsor is a benevolent one.  It is likely many of the resorts in Bali are constructed under similar sponsorship.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Palau Bali, Indonesia: Amed

After our overnight stay in Sanur we hired a car and driver to take us to the small village of Amed for four nights of R&R, and two days of SCUBA diving.  Amed is a fishing village on the Northeast coast of Bali, and is very much away from the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities of Kuta, Dempasar, and Ubud.  It is also home to some small boutique resorts, where one can relax and enjoy a pampered holiday on the ocean front.

Our drive took perhaps four hours, and might have taken less had we not stopped a couple of times, including one stop for lunch.  The price of a lunch for the driver is (apparently) part of the fee for the drive--  no worries here, the fee was not great, and we effectively had a tour guide as well as driver for the afternoon.  If you go to Bali, hiring a rental car and driving yourself would not be my recommendation, as driving there is not for the faint of heart.  There are no particularly good maps available,  there are very few road signs, and as near as I could determine, there are also no rules of the road.  Since the roads are relatively narrow, with obstacles along them (stopped cars, motorcycles, chickens, cyclists, piles of dirt, etc) the center line becomes only a suggestion for which side of the road one drives.  Passing slower traffic (requiring driving into oncoming traffic) is continuous, and the horn is used about equally with the steering wheel.  It is used to assert your position on the road, and convey to others you are passing or have passed.  If you are sitting in the front passenger seat watching the oncoming traffic feels like a near-death experience.  Certainly an E-Ticket ride.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (and Lungs)

The Gray Haze--  Our view of downtown Singapore (Chinatown) from our kitchen window.  Air quality has degraded recently with smoke coming from fires in Indonesia.
In recent days the air quality in Singapore has taken a turn for the worse.  It brings on a little home sickness, as it is a reminder of Boise in times when there are forest or grass fires burning in the region.  Not a particularly good reminder, however.  As Boise is located adjacent to mountains, the smoke is drawn down into the valley in the evenings with the cooler air.  It is also reminiscent of the skies of Shanghai, which always had a gray haze in the days while we were visiting.
In Singapore the smoke is coming from the Riau province of Sumatra, Indonesia with the prevailing south westerly winds, where according to the news report, there are currently "80 hot spots".  (Hmm... no kidding.  I guess where there is smoke there IS fire.)  The Pollution Standard Index (PSI) reached 72 today, which places it squarely in the "moderate" category (range 51 to 100).  Seems worse than "moderate" to me.

Singapore NEA (National Health Agency) web site shows PM10 (PM10?  Is that "smoke"?) as the major pollutant.  The PSI reached 72 on 20 October.
There is no indication in the news report of WHY there are 80 hot spots burning-- whether these are naturally caused fires, or human caused.  However, according to my brief research the Riau region has experienced considerable population growth in recent years, and significant deforestation.  Fires are frequently set to clear land for palm tree plantations.  Palm oil is a major cash crop for southeast Asia.

FIRMS (satellite web site for fires run by NASA) mapping of fires burning in Sumatra, Indonesia on 20 October, 2010.  These are apparently the "hot spots" causing air quality issues for Singapore.
I suspect anything greater than a PSI of "moderate" will require chewing air rather than breathing it.

Palou Bali: Tropical Paradise

Our good friends Keith and Candy recently [September 9] came to visit us in Singapore from Boise.  It was Candy's second visit to Singapore (a previous business trip), and Keith's first.  We sweetened the deal by suggesting we travel to Bali (Indonesia) together, only a 2+ hour plane flight from Singapore.  This was under the guise of celebrating our respective 20 year anniversaries that happened this year in an exotic location-- their anniversary date separates ours by one week.
Palou is the Indonesian name for island, and Bali, one of many islands comprising the nation of Indonesia is a popular and favorite tropical resort destination.
The trip was great!