Wednesday, January 25, 2017


We love escaping the overwrought holidays 
 with their traditional obligations
[usually involving some gleeful threat of snow...]
Whenever we can free ourselves.

Thank you, my Sweetman, 
for your irritating wisdom 
about planning!

After our last trip four years ago, 
we hungered for a more tropical solstice.
We flew to visit our friends Joel & Nirgrantha. 

They host guests at Villa Vajra
in the village of Sebali, near Ubud, an artistic center on Bali, 
only one of the many islands collected as the country of Indonesia 
in the the South Seas.

After nearly 30 hours of door-to-door travel we arrived in Bali just before the Solstice... Mostly escaping the frenetic holiday energy, although Christmas is a commercial event with decor widely seen even in Buddhist & Muslim countries.

Our 13-hour flight from Seattle, left for Taipei just after midnight Saturday/Sunday, crossing the International Date Line to arrive early Monday. We flew EVA Elite so we enjoyed slightly more spacious seats plus, quite nice service & good food.

Meals on the flight to Taipei consisted by our choice of mostly Chinese foods, avoiding the western load of gluten: pasta & bread. I especially enjoyed the breakfast presenting multiple bowls, a variety including “congee”... as written on the menu, but verbalized by the hostess as “porridge”... a soft rice, more liquid than not, with additions including a packet of fluffy flavoring powder delightfully, aptly, called “fish floss". I want more!

I have a memory of being introduced, decades ago, to a similar breakfast a friend from Singapore called “jook”. I realized too late that the pickled salad was intended to be added, as Tinnee had taught me in those Sedona days. I prefer savory breakfasts.

Another 5-hour flight brought us to Denpasar, Bali where our friend Joel met our plane & drove us... while rain threatened... an hour more up to their Villa Vajra near Ubud…  putting us, for the first days of this visit, in the larger guest villa, which is usually rented to paying quests, but tourist times are tough on Bali and in much of Indonesia, due in part to overbuilding by expats.

Joel had arranged to have a masseur ready to welcome us with wonderful body-work before a simple dinner. What a delightful treat to have the wrinkles of traveling deliciously ironed out! During my massage there came as well the welcome of a first delightfully booming thunderstorm!
This was the view from the massage table on our bedroom's covered deck looking down into the living/dining pavilion... two stories of open space with drop-down weather shades.

We had indeed leapt ahead of time by flying over the International Date Line... so we went directly to bed, quite ready to sleep into our jet-lag.

I began a journal on the plane which continued to evolve fulsomely throughout this entire travel. I have a rather checkered history with such travel journals, which often find themselves neglected in all the movement. This one informs this text.

Remember that I am rather a hermit meditating in a fast lane. I've become comfortable choosing to miss some excursions to enjoy instead rare qualities hovering 'round the solitude essential to savor dancing so lively in time & place. Travel has many complexions...

Waking from deep sleep accompanied by intense frog-song, we joined Joel &  their sweetly aging dogs, Abelard & Heloise for their regular morning walk along the nearby ridge familiar from our last visit four years ago...
The grass growing along the ancient stones is what becomes the traditional material for thatched roofs, which are increasingly more rare due to their shorter lifespan than iron-wood shingles, which, while more expensive, last years longer.

A treat was to see a small, low growing, version of Passion Flower...
At the trail head is this demon's mouth doorway, 
carved from the wood of a tree root system...
Back home for a gorgeous breakfast with Nirgrantha in their delightfully efficient villa. A lovely plate of fruit: banana, kiwi & the incredible, richly flavored mango & papaya which are in high season.

A lovely wild native orchid blooms in front of their sofa:
On the wall of their courtyard garden is a zig-zagging black pepper vine, which I identified in answer to Nirgrantha's quiz, having seen them in India.
The rich exuberance of plant life in the tropics is exemplified by even simple moss on a lovely pot...
I might wish to attend the sale of his textile collection which Nirgrantha intends, such as this jacket on their bedroom wall.
Or... this sarong patterned to guarantee making any movement an undulation... I doubt I could afford such treasures as he has collected in his years here.

Joel suggested lunch at a vegetarian/vegan restaurant he’d recently discovered, accessible only along a rough road followed by a bit of a walk, which made it impossible for Nirgrantha to join us.

He is confined to the interior of their walled villa's two roofed sections... living & sleeping... with a garden & pool between. Such architectural incorporation of the tropical bio-system becomes lovely logic.
Moksa (the restaurant) is another open pavilion set well above & overlooking its garden planted in the river-bed’s fertility. I was entranced by the graceful swirls creating beds shaped with puzzle-nobs of paths interlocking soil. All bordered with a staccato of coconut husks, sensibly allowing the middle of them to be easily accessed… delighting this gardener!

The plates were deliciously inventive… served in / on pottery made by the partner of the owner who runs the front-end. I got to meet the other partner, who is the chef, to compliment him on the raw squash “spaghetti” I had so enjoyed sauced with a turmeric dressing... which I finished with a spoon!

We ought to have visited the potter’s studio/store, but we had too little time… Joel wanting to get back to check on Nirgrantha. We did stop to change money, each rather instantly becoming millionaires several times over, in the local Rupiah, for a $200.00 investment!

Both of us napped more deeply than intended… waking in the jungle twilight just before dinner. Grilled Mahi-Mahi & poppingly-delicious small potatoes roasted with rosemary… plus the Brussels sprouts which we’d brought from home at their request, being impossible to get in the tropics. A holiday feast!

Another deep sleep, with curious dreams, brought me to waking just before dawn, to watch the fireflies blinking like morning stars above the mosquito netting of our bed. I got up to enjoy the coming of the light on this Solstice morning.

Solstice still is important here, almost at the equator… just enough below to make some noticeable difference, according to Joel, as the longest day of the year.
Leaves from their Bodi tree... genetically a true scion of the Buddha's... hold deep truth.

We decided not to follow our original plan to go into Ubud for lunch & to shop. It seemed it would be too crowded. Instead Joel suggested lunch at a new eco/farm restaurant higher up the road where he’d celebrated his recent birthday. The half-hour drive took us through an area frequented by tourists, so there were numerous open shopping places for all sorts of schlock around a once picturesque rice terraces… now looking too shoddy for that traffic to even want to photograph… illustrating what he explained as the rapid deterioration of local culture.

At Basanta we were met as we parked by a guy with walkie-talkie bringing a young woman who turned out to be our guide [& later our server]  through the rather newly developing gardens, showing us the two strains of coffee [Arabica & Robusta] which they sell as “Luwak”… which I will explain later to those not too faint for adventure. We ate in one of several typically open thatched pavilions overlooking a lush valley.

Joel & I had interesting avocado smoothies laced with chocolate, pretty, but I might prefer a spicier addition rather than such heavy sweetness. They were too much like dessert! Stephen’s drink was made with beets… a lovely color. We were put-off by the plastic straws, after having a more beautifully organic version made from stems of papaya… a clue to how clueless we ultimately found much of this operation.

One starter was deep fried spinach… a variety with large densely textured leaves. I’m curious what was the batter’s binder, making an equally sturdy crispness… eggs, perhaps. The other was a timbal made of fruit & veggies enclosed with long thin petals of sliced cucumbers, another technique I wish to try at home. Main courses were a fruit & vegetable “paté” contained in a collar of banana leaf stitched with a pick of bamboo, a similarly wrapped bundle of batter-fried potatoes, perched horizontally atop, floating in an orange sauce. We shared a second preparation of red rice served with a basket of various sauces, small salads & bits of flavorful preparations & sambals, all contained in a tight composition of more stitched banana leaf vessels.
While all was fine in its elaboration, the meal did not seem so well tended as the lunch the day before. The entire experience seemed contrived toward the notion of the curious coffee, which involves collecting the beans after being processed through the digestive systems of civets [a weasel-like animal] which supposedly works some wonder worthy of exorbitant price. We did not like the idea, seeing the rather cruelly caged animals & samples of the the end of the process. Such curious excess of obvious & overt-marketing seemed another example of what “eco” & “organic” are not really about. The gamelon music was boringly repetitive & the rackety walkie-talkies the entire staff carried at full volume were distracting & disturbingly insensitive.

We would not recommend it over Moksa… or indeed at all!

No matter, 
by the time we arrived home all was again refreshed 


One important part of this travel to SE Asia was to visit two ancient archaeologic temple sites near Jogjakarta,...on the island just west of Bali... we flew to Java on Christmas Day. Java is predominantly Muslim, while Bali is mix of Hindu & Animist.

Borobudur is Buddhist. Prambanan is Hindu. Both were built in the 9th century. Each is unique to the style of religious, philosophic or artistic  manner... particularly in silhouette... yet with notable resonances in detail suggesting notions toward friendly co-existence at that time, in this place...

Our cab driver from the airport offered us a two day package including both sites... plus, as it turned-out, several more adventure-not-predicament stories!

We accepted... he delivered us shortly at Prambanan.
Remember, this was Christmas Day [look at the left side of this photograph]...
... at a Hindu Temple complex... a Muslim country...

 We were antique or at least aging moderns in free-fall...

In the orientation pavilion there was this handsomely stylized model of the 
basic architectural form...
 Another model shows the scope of the entire site, a series of terraced courtyards enclosing the three main towers, 
Devoted to Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.
In all there were some 200 smaller temple structures surrounding the central towers, presently still seen as piles of unsorted stones awaiting restoration.
This ninth century Hindu temple complex is a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site which has been only partially restored after several huge long ago earthquakes tumbled its un-mortared stone towers. 
Particularly on a day dancing under lively lovely clouds these make a sharply jagged silhouette with the tallest being some 47 meters 
[approximately 140 feet] in height. 

All the surfaces are elaborately carved with borders & decoration. 
An impressively huge effort, both in the original building & in the reconstructions during the last century by a series of international archaeologic efforts.
 Steep high steps lead up through several levels of narrow terraces 
around which one can circumambulate to view the distant landscape between sculptural elements or 
look down 
to carved stone panels
 telling stories from the Ramayana… 
an ancient Hindu holy history.

 Near the top were deep dark chambers housing large sculpted images
 We took our turns at the crowded doorways to allow others to enjoy their arrival inside the heart of these structures. My eyes needed time to adjust, coming in from the bright sunlight, also I enjoyed sharing some intimate moments.
Because of the universal end-of-year holidays the sites we have come to visit are quite crowded... mostly local tourists, rather than western ones… many families & student groups... assuredly almost none celebrating the holiday we were there to avoid, yet all knowing the nearly universal aspects of the commercial Christmas Mythology.


We, being the rare Westerners, attracted attention... numerous shy smiles from young students… encouraged & emboldened by our own easily responsive smiles... demonstrated they were eager to practice their English.

They inevitably began by asking where we are from. Upon hearing “USA” they got even more excited & wanted to have us pose with them for selfies… or… grouping around us, one trading places in turn with another, to join the merriment of spontaneously friendly photographic moments.

We must accept we are millionaire stars of some variety...

I think of the old notion that photographs could “steal” souls… which might then suggest that part of our souls are captured in faraway albums doing this kind of cross-cultural work!

Nearly everyone, older as well as young, has a cell phone & were making frequent shots just as I was doing with my Nikon.

While we all were collecting soul from the ancient art, we were collected as well in the present opportunity enjoying how humans naturally communicate.

Happily we were also captured by a group of young men to pose in their shots… Stephen handing his phone to the one shooting saved that moment’s soul-energy for ourselves!
Some groups were wearing identifying tee shirts or hats, but also many dressed beautifully in lovely, fashionable color-coordinated head scarves, Stephen caught some of them in a candid moment...
Echoing the interesting contrast of graceful curves gentling the very steep steps.
Some details were happily almost whimsical!

I found these illustrations of the several restorations quite interesting, showing various modes of reconstruction techniques:

The site is quite impressive, complex in its original construction & even more so in its reconstruction & restoration. It will long remain to be a huge puzzle!

Our driver asked if we were interested to stop at a batik shop, which indeed we were… wanting more shirts in this complicated craft of wax-resist dying for which Indonesia is famous. It turned out to be the same place Joel & Nirgrantha had suggested we visit!

We spent a happy hour with two helpful women wearing matching headscarves… the uniform of the store… finding gorgeous additions to our own wardrobes of shirts… these being very well made of high quality work in both the lovely dying & fine tailoring… we also bought a few for gifts. It is easy to spend our millions!
At last, after hours from our early start, long drive to the short flight, tour of the temple, we arrived at our hotel, where we were happily gifted our room earlier than usual... we were ready for a nap!


The Hotel Phoenix, where we stayed in Yogyakarta, was built in 1918 as the home of a spice trader & is now a registered historic building. It was purchased in 1930s by a Dutch gentleman who urned it into a pensioner’s hotel named The Splendid. After the Japanese occupation [1943-45] it became the Chinese Consulate. It was, by hearsay, supposed to have become the  residence of the first president of the Republic Of Indonesia, Sukarno. 

In 1993 it was remodeled & added onto in handsomely matching manner to become 144 rooms, all with cast-iron railings on their sweet balconies. Ours overlooked the original courtyard where we enjoyed the elaborate breakfast buffet, 
We relished the restored antiquity of the Phoenix, with delightful stained-glass clerestory windows & a graceful glass doors etched with ginkgo leaves in Art Nouveau style. 

The first morning we got up to meet our driver at 4:00 in order to be at the Borobudur temple site in time for sunrise at its pinnacle… each with our “breakfast-in-a-box” offered by the hotel. I'd requested mine to be gluten-free, of course. I discovered only later it must have been packed by the janitor! A tiny tough, sour apple with a matching orange, a better banana & three dried-out slices of rice bread… no butter, nor any of the nice cream cheese which Stephen got with his pastry… & no napkin nor even a plastic knife to cut the fruit into pieces my dentures could handle… nothing to punch into the peel-proof safety-seal on the bottle of juice… “Gluten-free” seemed to imply I’m a monkey!

But... for the two following mornings, the breakfast buffet below our balcony more than made-up for that lapse. European offerings of pastries, cheese boards, smoothies & omelettes... or the Asian offerings including a traditional Javanese breakfast, presented by a woman, seated on a low dais to serve spicy rice dishes & exotic juices... or fine rich chicken soup ladled over rice porridge, made even more savory with choices of garnishes like dry fried onions, toasted soy nuts & sweet soy sauce. Javanese food is generally sweeter than my usual taste, but delightfully spicy as well. Always there were wonderful selections of tropical fruit!

A handsome young waiter kept us well “kopied”… this is a land known for its coffee [kopi], including the familiar Java & Sumatra.

A European fountain, original to the house, spouted water from the mouths of four curly-horned Pan heads, held up by a bevy of naiads, into a sweet small pool where the original swimming pool had been, now making space for small dining tables on the surrounding terrace. All is a well tended throw-back to a colonial century ago. Just fine for us!

Because we have been so busy moving about, much slowed by the extremely heavy holiday traffic, we enjoyed lovely late afternoon naps, waking to take refreshing showers & have a cocktail in the quiet bar before our dinner outings. We’ve mostly enjoyed simple local food as our choice. The city has numerous universities & colleges, so is full of student energy.

Our driver successfully got us there in time to watch the sunrise from the second site we planned to visit… the Buddhist temple complex called Borobudur.

It has become well advertised as a place to watch sunrise on a special ticket, so we became part of another crowd of tourists, this time more international. Being given a flashlight to facilitate the trek to the top of its broad pyramid in the dark we joined the pilgrimage to the base of the looming low pyramid… a very different silhouette or profile than the steep angles of Prambanan.

I have long nurtured a reputation for being lazy in the morning…
However, I have rather often been caught getting up in the “middle of the night” on this trip,
either because of jet-lag or for these adventures.
I'm happy for them!
This actually was the main attraction to us for this excursion to Java… I had studied it in college art history classes, remembering its distinctive bell-shaped stupas, 
but having little notion of its enormity. 

Equally ancient as Pramanan, the site we visited yesterday, Borobudur has also been involved with the same vicissitudes of earthquake disruption & volcanic intrusion over centuries. Long forgotten under cover of volcanic ash grown over with jungle until the 17th century Dutch discovered remnants of carved stone under what looked like just another hill.

Several centuries of various excavations revealed much more… numerous Buddha heads being broken-off & sold as souvenirs in Europe. Eventually it too became a World Heritage site & has been much restored by the efforts of UNESCO. It may be the largest Buddhist temple in the world.

Winded a bit by the hasty climb, we joined more than 100 others from all over--Indonesians, Japanese, Australian, European & North Americans. We share the same planet circling the star we had come to watch bringing a new day… may it be peaceful! 

The sound-track in this expectant moment was dominated by the clicking of camera shutters over the voices murmuring in many languages… taking photos seems to have become the dominant universal language. Actually, here it was nearly impossible to take a shot without including someone else making their own photo! The ubiquitous selfie sticks would unexpectedly pop up into the composition I had framed for its momentary illusion of a lack of humanity... “ruining” my hope for something more pristine. 

As I studied in the increasing light, it became obvious this was a giant antique form of lego blocks: nearly identically carved stones locked together by tenons fitting into sockets so well that they could be re-assembled. Stones sported varying patinas from the numerous places they had fallen-out of the original exposure, variously oxidized or sun-bleached yet becoming a new version of that original in a patchwork of subtly differing colors. After a bit of initial disappointment, being slightly annoyed that there was no pristine coloration, 

I gradually became impressed by an ancient technical design skill 
I had not expected.

Thus the all-ness forever practices being perfectly unstable. They might once again & yet again become tossed & reconstructed in future seismic events.
A new appreciation for me!
Each stupa sheltered a meditating Buddha facing facing every direction...
Unfortunately many of those sculptures, particularly their heads, 
were long ago carted-off as souvenirs. 
Some stupas now contain headless Buddhas, others, nothing at all! 
Fitting, perhaps, to the formlessness 
which that practice seeks.
Nonetheless quite sad artistically & archaeologically,
Still... here is spirit.
Several have been left open to demonstrate.
This one faces the still regularly destructive volcano.
 Now it is very popular prize for photographers... increased, perhaps, by a group of Japanese folk.
 Devotion of some seemed obviously staged for the camera's lens...
My coup de grace was making a photo
of Stephen, making a photo of a woman, making yet another photo... 
of the Japanese woman we'd been noticing 
posing in various prayerful attitudes for quite some time… 
in deep devotion to ego it might seem.
 I love the story... catching my version of their versions
in a triptych of photography.

I became fascinated by the grotesques at the tops of stair rails... 
never quite knowing whether their tongues were lapping us in welcome. 
Or spitting us out as intruders...

It became a lovely experience enjoying holiness of people in place... 

 We enjoyed, as well, our own moments
 playing poseurs!

At ground level, in daylight, we could better realize 
what supported our experiences above in dawn's light.
Even at short distance, one can realistically imagine how 
a couple of earthquakes,  
plus a heathy volcano spewing ash 
could create a jungled hill 
hiding history for centuries

 I first heard "No Scratching" in the exercised voice of a woman 
climbing up the those steep steps onto the level where I stood puzzled
scratching my bald head...
until I began to notice the numerous signs admonishing against graffiti!
Of course, it became a gentle joke 
 The lower terraces present wide corridors with reliefs telling stories...
interestingly similar to the Hindu site.

I still puzzle the bell shapes called stupas, accepting them as probably not actually referencing bells so much as airy enclosures in which the Buddha sculptures meditate in some perpetually stony resonance… still, my bell maker can imagine an eternal resonance impossible in any physical other than some sense of holiness. I am happy to ponder all that in the eternal moment which this place brings as a gift from deep past…

Looking down we celebrated having seen this before the crowds arrived.
As the gates opened to the throngs without early tickets,
we began to move down, exploring side terraces with friezes telling stories 
resonating with those at Prambanan. 
It is suggested that these two religions existed in some kind of easy communication 
during time in this place. 

At short distance one can see how a couple of earthquakes, 
plus a heathy volcano spewing ash, could easily construct a jungled hill.

Continuing down the wide walkway to the exit we met arriving groups of school girls, who, emboldened by our returning their smiles of curiosity... would chorus almost in unison “Hello, mister!”… once adding “we love you”!

So was the feeling of admiration & respect for our answering their “where do you come from?” questions with “USA”… “Ahhh… Ooo-S-A… very big country!” then often mentioning the presidential personalities… loving Obama, of course, yet often mentioning the “new president” with several attitudes… sometimes questing our opinion of him. Usually we would all agree to a wait & see attitude. They study about us, yet we know so little about them...

Returning our flashlights got us a batik scarf, coffee & snack before meeting our driver to eat those boxed breakfasts the hotel had packed for us…