Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More touring

After kicking back in Ubud (Island of Bali) in Indonesia and experiencing the rich culture there, we set off for some Island touring in our rented van with Aaron and Dee. Jordan enjoyed the challenge of driving on the left and blending with the maniacal condensed traffic on the Island's narrow roads. What's interesting and immediately evident upon leaving Ubud is how the small town is literally set amongst the area's abundant rice paddies.

Our 1st stop that day was the Elephant Cave. The ancient origins of this site, also known as Goa Gajah, are not known but it has been around since at least the 11th century. The Dutch discovered it in 1923.

Before entering the site, we were all required to respect certain customs and had to don colourful sarongs, supplied with the entrance fee. Another requirement, strange to the modern traveller, was noted by a sign at the entry that women who were menstruating were not allowed in.

After descending a multitude of steps to a lower plateau, all of non-menstruating visitors could obviously see the cave entrance which was through the cavernous mouth of a demonic carved face in the rock. Quizzically, carved fingertips surrounding the mouth hold back other odd carvings.

Aaron at entrance (courtesy of Dee)

The Cave's small interior held diminutive unexplained alcoves. (When no explanation, just think "Probably used for human sacrifices.") The courtyard next to the Cave had 2 bathing temple pools that were not unearthed until 1954. These pools, believed to ward off spirits (or human sacrifices), had 6 carved female figures holding waterspouts that gushed water into the pools.

From the Elephant Cave area, paths and steps invitingly led us to streams and a small river with intermittent falls. Then we spotted an arrow sign pointing further to a jungle path heading down the river. So we thought "Why not?" We hiked the rocky path descending to where we were hugging nooks and crannies of a cliff wall...eek...don't look down! Thankfully the scary areas were only for a couple of metres. We soon came upon a suspended bridge with a wobbly wooden side-rail over a fast moving river.

Brave-hearted Jordan

On the other side of the bridge were ancient niches carved in the stone wall that fell below the river level. There had probably once upon a time been some sort of figures in these niches (or human sacrifices who were probably menstruating).

Then as Willie sang "On the Road Again", we continued on about 20 km from Ubud to another impressive ancient monumental site where the entire area has been nominated for UNESCO recognition. As we descended the steep, 300 stone steps to the river, we bypassed stalls of locals selling their wares, anything from small hair trinkets made from woven reeds to large homemade bed coverings made from small pieces of brightly coloured cloth intricately stitched together on both sides. Just beyond the stalls and sculpted into the hillside, once again we saw the picturesque terraced rice paddies making this a tranquil setting.

The stairway next cut through an embankment of solid rock where you could, if you wished, sprinkle yourself with the local equivalent of holy temple water. Better safe than sorry, so we sprinkled - it was also cooling!

Dee, Judy, and Aaron - 300 steps down

Once at the bottom, we gazed upon 9 of the 10 ancient memorial shrines of the king's concubines and his family. Cut into the sheer cliff face in sheltered alcoves, they stand 8 metres high. Jordan looked miniature in front of them (just to the left of the centre flowers below). The 10th figure is about a kilometre farther through the lush green river valley and rice paddies.

Can you see Jordan? (courtesy of Aaron)

Jordan and Judy

Travelling further, we next made an impromptu stop at Holy Hot Spring (Batman) called Istana Tampak Siring where the water flows from a sacred spring. The pools were definitely not hot, barely warm. As it's said to have healing powers, many people come and splash themselves from elaborately carved, gargoyle-like, mossy spouts as they work their way along from 1 spout to the next.

Aaron, Dee, and Jordan with other tourists and locals

Continuing, the road ascended to the high rim of the extinct volcanic Mount Batur. The weather had turned so our view was partially blocked by rain and fog. At the bottom of the mountain is a lake and village which perhaps we can visit in the future when the sun is shining...

Aaron, Jordan, and Judy all bundled up (courtesy of Dee)

As the afternoon drizzled rain, we descended to the north coast and to the small town of Lovina where a local motorcyclist, after spotting us looking at a roadside motel, directed us to a classy looking and inexpensive motel closer to the centre of the cute town. This was a great choice. The bungalow-type rooms' exteriors were classically and ornately crafted and had ample interior. And did we mention very inexpensive?

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