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Indonesia

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Mt. Bromo Sunrise

“Mom,” my youngest daughter said, “if you fly out of LA on February 13th you’ll arrive in Melbourne on the 15th, it would be like February 14th never existed.”

Perfect. On my flight from LA to Melbourne, somewhere over the Pacific, what would have been my twenty-eighth anniversary disappeared. Just like my life had.

At the beginning of my trip I figured I’d just disappear too—somewhere in the world. It was an idea that gave me great comfort. What disappearing would look like, I wasn’t sure. One thing was clear, I needed to end the pain. A pain I nicknamed the black hole. A pain that had nearly consumed me when I boarded the Quantas flight. Before disappearing, I’d spend all my money on a journey to make one life-long dream come true.

I remember how scared I was when I said goodbye to my friend Dee in Melbourne. Her family had been so gracious during my stay. From that flight on, I’d travel alone. The idea fascinated and terrified me. In reality though, I traveled alone in life for a very long time, and hadn’t even known it. Perfect strangers I’d meet taught me more about compassion, love and friendship than I’d ever known. An ocean away from the trauma, I met myself in the world.

My life-long dream to do research for my screenplay took me to the island of Java, the island where my dad grew up. The trip would inform the setting of the true World War II story about how and why my dad, a Dutch colonial boy, had been taken prisoner by the Japanese. I interviewed Dad off and on for over ten years when my plane touched down in Jakarta. Together, we unearthed dates, places and situations long murky in his mind. Our talks brought us closer in ways difficult to describe. I still had so many questions. About Dad’s experience. About my own. Destiny would take me to the island where my father fought for his survival as I was having to fight for mine.

When we first separated, my now ex-husband came to me every night in my dreams. Not in a creepy way, just in the way a great love would when love falls apart. A sad sort of comfort. We’d known each other for thirty years. Grown up together. Because we’d had them so young, we grew up with our children too. There wasn’t one place, thing, song, phrase that didn’t recall tragically happy memories. I needed something of my own.

My roommate Hannah and I sleepwalked into our clothes. Together with our traveling companions, we piled in five jeeps to take the dizzying, nighttime drive to summit Mt. Bromo. I sat in the far back seat of one of the jeeps. Every twist and turn sent mystery metal digging into my hip or thigh. My friends and I had braved many adventures on our tour together. This one was the earliest. After a short hike to the summit we waited, having no idea what beauty we’d witness. What wonders sat in the darkness below.

I saw The Southern Cross for the first time. My friends and I sung the Crosby, Stills and Nash song of the same name. As I sang, I understood why I came to Java— the truth I ‘d been running from was so strong, it was as big as the promise of the coming day.

In the pink and purple smoke of many shrouded volcano peaks, at the summit of Mt. Bromo, the sun rose. Illuminating beauty out of the darkness. It was my sunrise. All mine. A new beginning. An invitation to do the very same thing within my own life. To illuminate the darkness. I am the sunrise. In that moment, I decided I’d always go big. This big trip, this big sunrise called me to trust my big dreams. I’d no longer need to doubt or be frightened by them any longer. I’d bravely keep on dreaming. Keep on living, to discover myself and my passions in the face of catastrophe.

 

There were a million reasons not to summit Mt. Bromo at dawn and stay stuck in fear. To pull back, especially in the face of so much pain and uncertainty. Going big will always be my North Star. I believe love is like volcano smoke. Sometimes it’s thick. Sometimes it’s thin. It takes different shapes and isn’t always what you’d expect. Love can surprise and overwhelm and thrill. It can survive and even transform, becoming more beautiful in destruction.

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Ocean of Bravery in Indonesia
I am a scuba diving instructor. I work while traveling or I travel while working.
I took me a lot of bravery to first become a scuba diver. I was terrified by the depth of the sea. Years ago I reluctantly did a try dive. From the first breath I took underwater I was hooked to this magical, mostly unknown world.
After this very first dive I could not give up. What I saw underwater was so spectacular that I wanted to see more. I was enchanted by the whole thing. The way I felt underwater was totally new to me. I felt free, I felt relaxed, I felt happy.
I wanted to live underwater. The best way to spend as much time underwater as possible was to become a scuba diving instructor. However, it was not the only reason. When I learned to scuba dive I was a terrible student but I had an awesome instructor.
I wanted to be just like that. I wanted to be an awesome instructor to help people to overcome their fear of underwater. So I did. I worked hard to become an instructor and since becoming one I have taken many people underwater. Beginners and experienced divers alike have been lead by me under the sea.
I have dived and worked in many countries. I have experienced many different diving conditions, from calm waters to ripping currents. From crystal clear to rough visibilities.
Every time I enter in the sea either for fun diving myself or to teach or lead people, I feel like entering a forbidden zone where only few of us are allowed. My heart races at the beginning, I feel humble and respectful towards this immense world.
I feel brave for entering this world of water and fish and corals. The best place I have dived so far has been in Komodo, Indonesia. The best scuba diving in my life and the most challenging conditions I have experienced since scuba diving.
I did not do much teaching here since most of the divers coming were already certified for diving.
The underwater world of Komodo made me brave. Sometimes currents here can be very strong. To lead people underwater is a lot of responsibility, even more so if the conditions are challenging.I remember one dive I did with two experienced divers at Crystal Rock, one of the most challenging dive sites in Komodo. Upon arrival to the dive site we could see the currents charging from the surface. After careful consideration I decided to do the dive because I knew we would have seen LOTS of fish action. And I knew my divers, they would have been able to handle the conditions.We jumped in and descended right away. We had to swim into the current for a bit since we had to reach the rocks to be able to hook. Every few seconds I made sure my divers were ok and could handle the current.
My heart was kind of racing, I was standing very close to my divers watching them carefully for any sign of distress. They were doing great, loving it.
The current was coming towards us and it was so strong that we could not move. We stayed hooked to the rocks and waited. Then We saw them.
A group of five White Tip Sharks was coming towards us on the hunt. My heart was racing and I looked towards the divers. They signaled they were ok. We watched with our eyes wide open.
The sharks kept hunting on a school of Trevallys. They were about 2-3 eters away from us. It was a beautiful display of action. The currents was so strong that the sharks were surfing it. It was magical.
Suddenly two Grey Reef Sharks joined the party. We could not move, not just because of the current but also because what we were witnessing was a once in a lifetime experience.
We stood there for about forty minutes, until one of the divers signaled he was low on air.
At that point we had to fight the current to get to a shallower depth for our safety stop. When we ascended we all had a smile on our face that said it all.
Underwater is the place where I feel the bravest. Underwater is my place. I want to be brave to explore more and to learn more from this powerful element. The ocean makes me brave and makes me humble.

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From the Cliff in Indonesia

Before I traveled to Bali, Indonesia, I thought I knew what paradise was, since I was born and raised on Oahu, Hawaii. The rich, exotic culture, which is steeped in vibrant Hindu traditions, the lush and mountainous landscape, and premier surf spots are only some of the aspects that entranced me. Given that Indonesia is a developing country, I was instructed to be on guard at every moment. Don’t drink the water, mind your passport and money, understand the danger, and don’t disrespect the religion were a few of the warnings. I never felt an ounce of worry while traveling around Bali.

After being in Bali for a few days, I hired a driver to take me to a legendary surf break, Balangan. The driver, Wayan there are five main names in Bali and Wayan is given to the first born, but sometimes people will have “street names” like Harry or Sally, drove me out of Kuta, a congested, touristy beach city reminiscent of Waikiki on Oahu, in a rickety Toyota van. It was evident that he didn’t properly know how to drive a manual transmission because the car jerked in third gear at a crawling five miles per hour. Eventually, we escaped the trafficked area and hit the open road.

He turned off the main road, which slithered up and inland of the cliffs, onto a dusty, pothole-ridden dirt road. The van rattled and I bounced around on the sticky leather seats because of the poor suspension. Then we burst through a cluster of trees and I could see the beach. As soon as the car came to a jittery halt, I leapt out to look at the breathtaking bay. From the cliff, I counted ten people out in the water. Mangy cows lounged next to towering palm tress in the grassy area above the beach. A wooden warung, a modest, family-owned restaurant that serves the bay’s visitors, squatted in the center of the beach. Waves smacked the cliff on the far side of the bay before peeling across the break. The wind was minimal and the waves looked like they were roughly eight feet. I couldn’t believe I was about to paddle out in this picturesque, vacant surf spot.

            I climbed down the stairs to the beach and quickly realized that the waves were much bigger than I originally thought. Sometimes the desire to taste the danger needs to be satisfied. I felt inspired to tackle this foreign break, but wondered if I was in over my head once I paddled out and reached the waves. Surfers dropped in and were continually engulfed by the jaws of the dangerously beautiful barrels. To ride in a tube of moving water and hear nothing but the sound of rushing water as it curl over your head and collides with the surface below, is one of the most amazing things a surfer can experience. I had to ride one of these daunting monsters. I came to Bali to surf.

            A fifteen-foot wall of water approached me. I faced towards the shore and dug my arms into the water to get on the wave. Water splashed in my face as I popped to my feet and charged the colossal drop. As I carved down the line, I saw the jagged, dry reef nearly fifty yards away. Out of fear, I decided to abort the wave by diving through the steep, thick wall of water—only I didn’t. The immense force of the wave caught and threw me over the falls.

            Darkness surrounded me, but I relaxed and let the ocean punish me. Though I wasn’t in the most ideal situation, there is something moving about being alone under a thundering wave, witnessing the sheer power of the ocean. I’ve often thought about dying out in the ocean and I would happily surrender my earthly ties to the ocean, but it wasn’t my time. I had to seize the moment to scramble back up through the washing machine of currents and breach the surface. I gasped and located my board, once I resurfaced. I walked my board to shore in the shallow water and jogged up the beach. Turning around to look at the bay that just punished me, I was proud that I had the bravado to challenge the bay. Even though it punished me, it was no less beautiful; I had more respect for it.

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As the car turns left from some joint in the Tabanan Regency of Bali, we get a feeling of entering a best-kept secret land which is actually not that far away. A Balinese village atmosphere beams right in front of us. The temporary stupas in front of the temples stand tall and elongated made of thatch leaves. Entrance gates to houses have a divinity attached to them, modelled after the structure of Balinese Hindu temples. A couple of convenience stores are juxtaposed between temples and houses. The road lies ahead, so empty barring a vendor woman who carries a basketful of food on her balancing head and a tiny boy on his tricycle precariously riding on the asphalt.

 We have crossed a few kilometres and the left and the right sides open up. No more houses and no more temples. Lush paddy fields, randomly cultivated banana trees here and there and some lined up coconut trees on the alleys between the fields become our stock scenery for the next fifteen to twenty minutes. It’s around 9 am in the morning and the strengthening sunlight spreads its gleam on the green fields so fluently that we can even monitor the tiny birds looting the humans’ hard-earned crop. Not far away from the birds the ladies in the fields do not mind the looters’ daylight ravaging. We only see the ladies’ conical shaped hats clearly as they lean down, busy collecting the crops.

 Our destination is the acres-long property of Alila Villas Soori which lies on the verge of the Indian Ocean and at the end of this calm and peaceful village. But what we are passing by at the moment makes us skeptical and we feel like gullible little children. More sights of paddy fields and lonesome arecanut trees force a question out of us: are we being taken for a ride? The driver holds the steering wheel very professionally; he might have been here a hundred times. But much to our surprise, he brakes, at a Frostian diverging of two roads. Without disturbing us he takes out his mobile phone and makes a call, probably to our villa. Speaking in a very soft voice he makes sure that he got his vista right.

 We resume our journey, along the fields and the trees. The distant farmers, specks on the green fields, have probably started accumulating beads of sweat on their bodies. We had not in our mind one of those off-the-beaten-path expeditions where travellers usually hope to get lost and fumble into serendipitous moments. All we had been waiting for was to dip into the private pool, laze in the heavenly bedroom and spread our wearied bodies in the bubble-floating bath-tub of our million-dollar valued villa. Then, to realise the walking on the black sand beach which we had been savouring from the glossy pictures on the brochure.

 The car takes several turns in quick succession and every turn gives a slideshow of the same sights we have been passing by. We are tempted to ask the driver.

 “Do we need to ask some locals here?”

 “No need. It’s another few kilometres”, he assures us without turning back.

 We reach a cul-de-sac with a wall in front jutting out into the street. We see the name Alila written in the same font as on their website. Our skepticism gives way to impatience. We cannot wait to check in and be three-day residents in a regal villa.

 

 Once inside Alila’s courtyard, we forget the way we took. The sarong-clad ladies escort us to our beach-pool villa. On our walk, we pass by a garden, an infinity pool and a soothing view of the ocean in the background. This is the very place we wanted to be in to get cut away from files, deadlines and desks. We jump into our private pool and the touch of the water affects our feelings salubriously. The jasmine flowers from the adjacent plants keep falling on the pool intermittently. They deck the water’s edges and float in the ripples from our gliding movements.

 We feel being on a vantage point from where we could charm ourselves with the endless sight of the ocean on one side and the green fields and the mountains on the other. Each morning, we take a stroll, either among the fields or on the black sand beach which leads to a temple on a clifftop. The calmness felt is a gift that you cannot buy anywhere near you. The villa, how soothing they are! They are luxurious, yet do not try to entice people by boasting of glitters that is associated with sheer luxury.

 At the barbecues on the evenings, we savour the best of steaks, ogling the deep red horizon that is ours.

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It was a very tired office week. I felt that I have no energy left to face another day. Out of the sudden, a friend from my college called and asked me to go to Mt. Bromo with him and another friend. I instantly agreed because of one reason.  I’d never been to Bromo, period. In addition to make a perfect excuse, It was just the right time to escape for a while from work activity. “It’s now or never, let’s do it!” I said to myself to overcome my doubt, since I learned from several reviews that the track is difficult. We decided to go there the next week after.

The journey was never been easy. We had a lot of disagreement almost in everything, like who will be the driver for the night shift, where to stop to buy meal, which way was the shortest way, and some other ridiculous things. Despite of that, I felt that the different characters among us complete each others along the journey. One thing that still unites us until now is the passion to share the experience and togetherness. After 12 hours overland trip from Jakarta, we finally arrived at Ngadisari village, the nearest village to Mt. Bromo. We got a best deal to book nice and cozy backpacker hostel at the slope of the mountain, which was only Rp 75.000 per room for one night (USD 7 per night). We also had an arrangement for the jeep tour at reasonable price. The local villagers were very friendly and communicative. Nice cold weather combined with the villagers’ friendliness made us very enthusiast with our journey.

On the next day, we woke at 3 AM and rode a 6 passenger four-wheel drive jeep to catch the sunrise. It was about 45 minutes to reach Mount Penanjakan, the first stop that was the perfect spot to see the sunrise. It was very bumpy and winding track, but it worth every inch as we reached the destination.  It was magnificence and breathtaking. At that time, a lot of food stalls was already in service. They offered boiled noodle, steamed corn, fried banana and hot drinks. Local people also make money from selling or renting jacket since it was very cold and the wind was so breezy. In about 5 degrees Celsius, we all drowned in silence while watching the first ray of light appeared from behind of the mountain. Camera was the most wanted gadget and nobody wanted to miss their pose in that dramatic moment.

As the day turned into a bright morning, our tour guide who also our jeep driver once again told us to ride the jeep heading to Mt. Bromo’s crater. However, the jeep only brought us to a spacious parking area right below the crater. From there, we still have to walk about 30 minutes to reach the first step of the crater’s stair. We saw a lot of horses with passenger on its back; it had been a favorite choice for tourists who don’t want to get tired of walking. Still, everyone had to walk along a hundred of stairs with 60 degrees angle to reach the top of the crater. As we got there, we never stop gasped and amazed by the scenery. The layer of clear blue sky, white cotton mist and grey gigantic volcano rock was spread perfectly in front of us. God made this beautiful view as a reminder for human being to appreciate His creation, to keep grateful with His gifts; the soul we live and the air we breathe. It made me realize that lately I never thank enough to God, I always complaint in most of my time. The source of the negative attitude was because I have married for 4 years but have no children yet. The moment after, I called my wife on the phone and said that she is the most precious gift that God had sent to me and told her that everything will be alright as long as we have each other. My wife, clueless, only answered:”I love you too”. My friends told me I was so sentimental, but aren’t we all?

It was a journey that we would never forget.  It might not be served with luxury facility, but we got all we need, we got the views and a reminder to keep positive in live, so it’s priceless. I wish I could visit Mt. Bromo again with my wife so we can share and embrace that amazing moment together.

About the author: Albert Budi is a financial advisor who loves to travel and explore new culture. He and his beloved wife travel actively to new destination in Indonesia or other country. They pursue their passion to have their own travel blog and agency.

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So we as a family want to set apart one holiday exclusively for beaches, calm beaches. We even gave it a title – ‘Beach Tour’. There we head to the shores of Lombok archipelago. The Gilis had always been in our list. The only child in our 4-member group, 5 year-old Evy, my niece, is so jubilant that she wouldn’t mind jumping down the landing plane right into the blue ocean!

 We stay at the Senggigi area with plenty of restaurants and hotels and a lovely beach where taking a morning stroll is a great experience. It’s calm, it’s only for us, and for Evy. We have the whole beach to ourselves on our first morning. There is a feeling of desertedness as we scan the wide arch that is Senggigi beach. But soon it is happiness and Evy’s ululations of excitement which dominate our moods. She needs to be given the best of times this holiday. And we need Lombok’s great beaches to realise that.

 On our way to Gili Trawangan on the second day, our guide takes us to a nearby beach called Nipah from where we would be ferried across. There is no plan to linger around at this ‘transit beach’. However, the blue water and a desolate state charm our exploring minds. We delay our ferry ride. An abandoned wooden log on the beach and the only waiting ferry on the water with the background of hills in the distance is quite a stately setting for some DSLR moments. Signs of sought-after loneliness.  Evy wants to sit on the wooden log. We say yes.

Then the Yamaha sputters smoke briefly and the boatman sounds the siren. We cruise along on the calm waters of early morning.

A mile or two away the pictures of a typical tropical island gain clarity. A lanky, white man is holding his huge surfboard and walking along the beach. Evy points towards snorkellers popping out of water now and then – “See, like dolphins, hahahah”.My wife Lina and her sister Rita get busy preparing our things before we disembark on the beautiful Gili Trawangan.

The guide helps us put on our snorkelling gear. The fish are a bit shy at first, it seems, but then they swim in, in their dozens, in many hues. After spending a full hour under and above the water we take shelter in a beachside restaurant for brunch. The beach activities, the sunbathers, children designing sand castles are our entertainment while savouring salad and macaroni.

Itching to get more of the island, we move to bicycling. We hire 3 cycles, with me carrying Evy on mine. This is probably the best part of the island trip as we stop by nearly 10 spots on our way. Each spot gives a different view of the beach, the mountains and the coral waters. We pass by outdoor lounges of star hotels, posh al-frescos and souvenir and tattoo shops. After about 5 kilometres the path gets isolated. This is when we start stopping here and there randomly. Horse carriages keep overtaking us, some pass by us.  I don’t like the idea of using motor cycles here as noise doesn’t go well with the purity of idyllic silence.

We park our bicycles under some palm trees and check out the shallow coral waters. At a distance is a mountain spread. It is sizzling hot, but that doesn’t dampen our spirits to bicycle further and stop at another spot where we come across an empty traveller’s rest area. From here the view reveals the end of the mountains. Beyond that point it is only the Indian Ocean, all the way. A full two hours before getting back to the crowded beach area where the boatman is ready again, for the return journey. Evy hasn’t had enough.

We comfort her with the promise of hitting yet another beach the next day. We are back at Senggigi  in an hour and fifteen minutes. Tomorrow is Kuta beach, Lombok’s Kuta, not Bali’s.

Bali’s cousin here displays coral waters and a very calm scene where sunbathing and relaxation are the most ideal things to do; without the crowds. But we do sea walking! The shallow waters during low tide here stretch to nearly a kilometre into the ocean. As you walk along the sea you are connected to a cove with boulders and big coral rocks which make up a spectacular scene. It is totally calm now. There is no one here barring us.

Our love affair with beaches can’t get any better, especially when we have beaches to ourselves, with only the waves and the wind being accompaniments.  The best part of it all was, Lombok makes Evy happy.  That makes us happier in turn.

About the author: Pramod Kanakath, a teacher and a travel writer, and a photographer. Currently based in Indonesia.

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At this very moment, I work the ‘front office’ at a hotel made solely with old authentic teak, a destination you may not be aware on a crater-like mountain range in Indonesia. In other words, I am a receptionist at a hotel but I always like to say “going to the office now” to my girlfriend and friends to hide the truth of my wasted potential. “Stop hiding the fact that you’re a receptionist at a hotel Jem” is the final conversation after my look of evil eyes as she said the comment and some laughs, followed by me driving 90 km/hour on my bike getting to work early rather than late thinking about how free I am flying and enjoying the ride of my life.

I do love life; I live it driven primarily by curiosity with a pinch of clumsiness. Thankfully I have had my fair share of experiences getting involved in the best and worst of situations, living through all that I stumble upon – one of them being; dropping my GoPro camera in a den of wild dogs! “Oh James! Not again” was my family’s reaction on the occasion when we were enjoying the African Safari as I almost got everyone in the jeep mauled to death.

There is no such thing as coincidence in my belief, everything has its reason, wild dogs are a very hard find during Safari gaming; the family was lucky enough to get an up close and personal upside down ‘selfie’ of one in particular during my exploits! The ranger called ‘Promise’ got my camera back and he will forever be my GoPro hero.

I motivate all travelers to experience the safari games in South Africa at least once in their lifetime; I must also say the ‘amarula’ is the choice of beverage there. In Safari Gaming you can sit on a jeep for hours staring at an animal and feel at peace. I am a traveler myself; starting this year I can honestly say that I have been to 6 continents of the globe. I just need to witness the Aurora in both Arctic and Atlantic and then I may be called a world traveler.

Currently I rest my head on a rock called ‘Batu’, which metaphorically does mean a rock in my language. I found this now recent Tourist city of Batu, 4 years ago after travelling 4 years in both New Zealand and Australia, then finally United Kingdom. I was in search of farming which is my dream. ‘Money can’t buy life’; so from a young age I dreamt to have my own farm and live on it. When I found Batu, I was on the way to Mt Bromo to visit the ‘Tengger’ farmers who live there. The Tengger people have a radical way of farming and way of life. As you enter the Bromo area you can see all around you the vertical farming that goes on, all over sides of mountains and even on cliffs! I found the place I was looking for at last in East Java.

I spent 3 years as a farmer and I can honestly say it is the calmest, relaxing and peaceful experience I have lived through, just to be one with nature and to be able to see all the beautiful nature which grows step by step around you. I hate vegetables; unless I was the one growing them from the start then I love them! A lot of people in my country take organic farming for granted and the dream I have now is to successfully influence growing organic in my country, better economy for the farmers and a lifestyle that does not need to be expensive. I am starting from home this revolution, I have a green house outback and I created a farming ‘co operative’ promoting organic farming through tourism and selling produce which is affordable and chemical free.

My heart is where I call home, I am where I belong; my heart is the country which is my own, called Indonesia. There are around about 17,000 islands to visit; some parts are not even explored yet! Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world and my dream is to sail the islands, taking all travelers from around the world as guests on my future Phinisi schooner. In hopes to help travel seekers worldwide to find the beauty within, encounter the enchanted Indonesia. From snow capped mountains to the depths of sea floors, this will not be my last log in our book of travels. No longer shall I feel like wasted potential, all thanks to the future I have here, time is ticking and I want to travel in time.

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Prambanan temple compounds came in as one of the first world heritage sites of Indonesia in 1991. This site was inscribed under two criteria: as a masterpiece of human creative genius, and as an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble that represents a significant stage in human history (i.e., spread of Hinduism in the East). It happens to be the biggest and most extensive Hindu religious site in the predominantly Islamic country.

The first glimpse of Prambanan. I enjoyed the fact that it has a wide open yard.

The first glimpse of Prambanan. I enjoyed the fact that it has a wide open yard.

How is Prambanan assessed?

On one hand, Prambanan may look quite similar to Angkor Wat. True enough, they are both intended as Hindu temples, and that both follow the pointed South Indian Dravidian styles. In closer inspection, however, Prambanan reveals itself as a totally different architectural masterpiece that is unique in its own way. In fact, Prambanan was built over 300 years earlier (9th century vs. 12th century).  On the other hand, Prambanan still faces yet another challenge as it is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor Borobudur. Nevertheless, in ancient times, the former might have looked far more impressive in terms of lay-out, scale of construction, and even its setting as the construction of Prambanan is to be seen as a response of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty to the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty‘s Borobudur.

Often really crowded throughout the day, I visited Prambanan late in the afternoon when most of the tourists have already left  (it turned out later on to be an uncalculated risk as it rained some few minutes after!). One thing that I noticed immediately upon entering the gate is its vast, well-manicured yard. Not far from there, and I started seeing the magnitude of the damages this site had to endure: endless — and now meaningless — piles of rubble scattered everywhere.

View of the smaller temples housing the vessels of the Trimurti. Shot taken just before it started raining.

View of the smaller temples housing the vessels of the Trimurti. Shot taken just before it started raining.

The Prambanan temple complex — or what remains of it — is pretty small and easy explore. It has to be understood that temples currently standing in the compound hardly make up 15% of what used to be there. Originally, more than 240 temples comprise the compound  yet only a handful remains today. Below is a photo showing the model of the compound’s original composition – thanks to Wiki! Several centuries of earthquakes (the last strong one being the May 2006 shake) and bouts of volcanic eruptions by Merapi further added damages to the already abandoned and neglected royal religious site since the early 10th century – yes, the temple was relatively short lived as an active place of worship.

A model of the Prambanan Temple Compounds (photo courtesy: Wikipedia)

A model of the Prambanan Temple Compounds (photo courtesy: Wikipedia)

Its central main towers are almost total reconstructions via anastylosis. Nevertheless, strict measures are still being observed such as prohibiting public access to the towers’ interiors. The management body no longer plans to reconstruct all of the temples – the tons of rubble are there to act as a reminder of the site’s painful history in confronting the destructive forces of nature. Moreover, some stones are already missing as locals used them in building their houses nearby, rendering massive rehabilitation a definite impossibility.

Ruins of the peripheral temples. There were about 220 of these minor shrines before.

Ruins of the peripheral temples. There were about 220 of these minor shrines before.

It being a Trimurti site, Prambanan is dedicated to the highest three Hindu gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The commanding 47-metre high Shiva temple (or Loro Jonggrang), the largest in the area, lies at the center. Here, a local myth is also highly intertwined with Prambanan: Loro Jonggrang is a legendary Javanese princess, and it is believed that she is depicted in a statue inside the Shiva temple; hence, the Shiva temple is often referred to by locals as Loro Jonggrang temple as well. This legend is worth knowing when visiting this temple.

The carvings and reliefs in the temples are quite different from those that I have seen in Angkor, though both depict Hindu characters,icons, and stories. I can say that the images and artworks there are more “pure” in the Hindu sense of the word; in contrast, Angkorian art is made in the image of the Khmers.

Carvings depicting Hindu celestial nymphs in the exteriors of Loro Jonggrang, the central temple in Prambanan.

Carvings depicting Hindu celestial nymphs in the exteriors of Loro Jonggrang, the central temple in Prambanan.

Prambanan never failed to enchant me. Despite only having a little less than an hour in seeing this site (thanks to the rain!), it definitely left a lasting impression on me: the temple compound is really simple  and it may not even boast much given the state it is in right now  but it never fails to assert its right as a ‘classic’ monument the world will forever be proud of.

Last man out. Guards patiently waited for us before they called it a day. I think they understood I was on a mission.

Last man out. Guards patiently waited for us before they called it a day. I think they understood I was on a mission.

On a separate day, I also went to  the nearby ruins of the 8th-century Ratu Boko palace. Actually, it happens to be on the tentative list of Indonesia for a possible inclusion to the WHS list, too! Ratu Boko palace — oh, I’ll be writing a separate note for this site as it deserves one of its own — is nestled in the Boko Hills, some 3km from Prambanan temple compounds. Given its altitude of 196 metres, the site offers a commanding view of the Prambanan plains and townscape with the Merapi as the background. In the evening, the beautifully glittering Prambanan temple dominates the skyline, subtly suggesting that it is there to stay and that it will never be forgotten again.

Prambanan fields as seen from Ratu Boko Palace ruins. Prambanan temple compounds shine like gold, dominating the view.

Prambanan fields as seen from Ratu Boko Palace ruins. Prambanan temple compounds shine like gold, dominating the view.

Surf’s up!

I’ve been in utter lust with all things surfing as far back as I can remember. However, it was my choice to make ours a long-distance relationship; I worshipped board-carrying athletes from afar. How I wanted to learn! However, the barriers against me were too formidable.

First off, you have to do this sport in the arch enemy of females: a bathing suit. That precluded me from attempting it for all of my teen years and throughout my twenties.

Body issues aside, my thirties made me wiser. This meant that instead of admitting the truth (fear was making me too terrified to even try it), my reasons to avoid learning became more clever. I’d offer up seemingly rational excuses like not having health insurance, the time and costs involved or, something that anyone can understand: not wanting to humiliate myself. Under my “reasonable” exterior was a scared-y cat. These justifications allowed me to put aside any thoughts of me surfing. Still, I loved the sport. Often I went to the beach and watched, I took in surf movies, but my relationship remained a long-distance one. And so it seemed destined to always be. Until “fate” intervened.

They say that one can often find courage when he leaves his “normal” environment. I am proof of that. Vacationing in Indonesia, board rentals and lessons were only a few bucks. Finally I had summoned up the courage: the waves were perfect and no one knew me here. The day had arrived! I was so excited (and scared). While walking on a plank in the road, it gave way and I hurt my shin. It wasn’t going to happen this trip after all. Worse yet, I had myself believing that it was a “sign” from above to never try this hazardous sport. My love got shelved.

Two years later, I was again on holiday, but this time in Mancora, a lovely beach town in Peru. I was doing what I do well. Sitting on the sand and observing the amazing athletes. Something caught my eye. A teensy bikini-clad girl, lugging a board that was bigger than she was, ran past me. Fearless, she dove into the ocean, paddled out and waited for the wave. She looked so confident and regal atop her surfboard. I couldn’t believe it. That little girl was keeping up with the much older and more experienced guys! She inspired me so much that I decided to get a lesson, even as my sage self reiterated old obstacles, pointing out that she was young and limber.

Melo, my gorgeous instructor was charming, but his promise that “If you don’t stand up, you don’t have to pay” clinched the deal.

He made the whole thing like a fun adventure. The moment that I stood up remains one of my happiest memories.

“Yessssss!” I screamed. Ah, shoot. Now I’d have to pay the owner.

Melo looked at me and beamed. He high-fived me, “Mi Reina!”

Could it be that I was a natural? The next time, when I almost kicked Melo in the face, I realized he was behind me, holding the board, stabilizing it for me. We both had a good laugh.

Without his assistance, it was much harder. After a few tumbles, I did eventually get the hang of it and was able to stand up on my own. The peacefulness, the sense of accomplishment, the feeling of being one with the ocean. The moments that I am surfing are the most liberating I have ever known.

When surfing, you are forced to be in the moment. If you start to let all that monkey chatter take over, you lose your concentration and go down. You could crash against rocks or bam into another surfer. Surfers die every year; I don’t want to be one of them.

Admittedly, as much as I had enjoyed our long-distance relationship, this new development takes my love with surfing to a whole new dimension. To have overcome the self-made obstacles at middle age makes the entire affair even sweeter. I recommend surfing to anyone. It’s a road to a freedom that so many never get to experience.

About the author: JC Sullivan has been to over 110 countries and every continent and loves the freedom found in backpacking. Since Peru, she’s surfed in Panama and the Galapagos Islands (Isabella). An award-winning author, JC constantly challenges herself creatively believing that comfort zone is a euphemism for “rut”.

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Rice Fields in Ubud

It definitely wasn’t the love from the first sight. The Island of the Gods phrase didn’t strike me through the first, nor the second, time I visited Bali. Shirtless beer-swilling Australians, bronzed Italian women in their tiny bikinis, Russian-speaking locals echoing the Kuta strip trying to sell anything and everything, the somewhat bizarre wooden penis shops, women on the beach who would insist on braiding your hair despite the numerous times you refuse. Bali just wasn’t the right place for me, I thought. There was no spark, no attraction, nothing in common. So I promised myself to move on and never look back.

But Bali didn’t give up on me so easily. When few attempts to get me back for friends’ birthdays or a  girls’ weekends away failed, it took a more serious approach. I was assigned a project in Bali to work on, this time in Ubud.  I had no choice but to go.

Today I don’t regret giving Bali not a second, but a 3rd chance, because it proved me wrong. I was the one who was ignorant and judged way too fast thinking all there is to Bali is Kuta. In a way, I judged Bali the way people judge potential partners by their looks.

But Ubud, located at the heart of Bali Island, was a whole different story. It opened up to me with its amazing qualities and interesting soul. Here is why I fell for it:

Extremely Friendly People

As soon as my car was maneuvering the narrow dirt roads surrounded by numerous Hindu temples and astonishing green rice fields trying to avoid the wandering duck flocks along the road, I felt that I could like this place. The bright orange sun was slowly setting down putting soft shadows on people going about their everyday lives, be it sweeping temple stairs from white and pink frangipani blossoms or ploughing the rice fields. Everyone with no exception was smiling and people who noticed me waved. I never felt more welcome from the minute I got picked up from the airport to the minute my plane took off to go back, every step was followed by a smile.

Home away from home

Tucked away from all the hustle and bustle, Indigo Tree became my home. With the remains of old Hindu temple acting as a gate to secret garden, Indigo is accessible via winding stone path surrounded by fragrant frangipani trees mixed with tall palm trees and colorful flowers. The open air lounge of Indigo with its bright red plush sofas, bookshelves and traditional Balinese decorations created a very cozy environment. The smell of sandalwood incents was everywhere. Waking up to the first sun rays, opening the glass doors to a mesmerizing blue pool right in front of your doorstep whilst enjoying fresh tropical fruit juice is the best way one can start a day.

Balinese Door
Balinese Door

Like-minded People

Unlike Kuta or Seminyak, Ubud is a spot where artists, musicians, photographers, writers, yogis, healers and other creative and talented people gather. Local boutique cafes are bustling with creative ideas and thought provoking conversations being shared over a cup of organic coffee or a healthy smoothie.  I found so much inspiration in Ubud in just three days that is lasting to date. I never photographed and filmed more, never wrote better, never felt so motivated and inspired.

Bustling Arts & Culture Scene

Punctuated by temples hidden behind ornately carved archways and petal-filled lanes, Ubud is Bali’s artistic hub. Bali is brimming with fire dances, mask dances, trance dances, monster dances and so much more all of which have been refined over the centuries to the point that eyeballs, fingertips and toes all move in elaborate choreographed precision. Beyond the dances, a string of new galleries that offer one-of-a-kind treasures are open all day long. Paintings, photographs and crafts are not only showcased in the galleries, but also are a big part of culture and are key details in many of the hotels, restaurants, spas and coffee shops.

Ubud Arts
Ubud Arts

Recharge your body

If serenity, tranquility and inspiration floating around wouldn’t be enough, Ubud is also a perfect place to recharge your body. Countless amount of outdoor yoga studios are scattered around Ubud, each with incredible views, nature surroundings and world renowned yoga masters while stone and thatched-roof compounds house boutique spas at affordable prices. Ubud is also a paradise for health conscious. You will probably not find a single place where so many vegetarian, vegan or organic cafes and restaurants are gathered.

Healthy Foods in Ubud
Healthy Foods in Ubud

I came back from Ubud madly in love… with its people and culture. Some relationships in our lives don’t spark from the first sight: sometimes they need time, sometimes they ask for a second chance, but in most cases they are the ones that last.

Bali J’Taime!