Thursday, June 24, 2010
I never thought I’d get affected by a train strike in France. We always hear about these strikes in the news. But since we’re thousands of miles away, it never really affected us.
I should be in Bordeaux by now. But unfortunately, I’m stuck in Hendaye, the first train station after the border between Spain and France.
Everything was going as planned. I left Madrid Chamartin at 10:30 p.m. and got off at Valladolid Campo Grande at 1:20 a.m. to change trains. Then I boarded the train for Hendaye at 1:54 a.m. It all worked like clockwork. Trains left on time and arrived on time.
We were scheduled to arrive in Hendaye at 7:10 a.m. where I was to change trains for Bordeaux. I was a bit groggy but I noticed we stopped moving at about 7 a.m. at Irun, the last station of Spain.
By 7:10 a.m., passengers were getting restless. Obviously, we all had trains to catch in Hendaye. Then came in one of the train staff announcing that the train could move no further and would not be able to proceed to Hendaye because of a train strike in France!
We were advised to get off and take a taxi to Hendaye which was nearby. The taxi cost was €11,50 which I got to share with three other passengers. We crossed the invisible border, so invisible in fact that I did not realize were already in France until the driver pointed to the Hendaye Station. So I’m stuck here in Hendaye, no train to Bordeaux, hoping to get on board a 2:10 p.m. provisional TGV to Paris that will pick up all the stranded passengers along the way.
Unfortunately, there are no buses. I had this wild idea since I saw an Avis car rental across the street. But there were no available cars. Crap! I’m really stuck!
Update: The TGV did arrive and I'm now in Bordeaux!
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
If you've noticed, updates have been quite scarce. That's because I'm currently in Europe and I'm using all the time I have to explore. Plus Internet access is not easy to come by. Anyway, I represent the Philippines in the ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee (ICTC). And every year, the committee meets, usually in a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The ICOMOS ICTC 2010 Annual Meeting was in Lamego in the Douro Valley, Portugal. It also coincided with the International Conference on World Heritage Status: Opportunities for Economic Gain for Tourism Destinations – The Case of the Douro Valley which we also got to attend last June 17.
I'll tell you more about the trip in the coming days. The good news is, the 2012 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS ICTC will be in the Philippines! I'm very happy our colleagues voted to accept our invitation.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The Kuta and Legian areas are the tourist centers of Bali. The area is very popular for both its nightlife and surfing. As soon as I arrived in Kuta from Ubud, I set out to find some budget accommodation near Poppies Gang 1 and 2 which are two popular alleyways where many of the budget accommodation are located. I found a reasonable hotel right beside the Bali Bombings Memorial.
Being a very popular tourist attraction in Indonesia, Bali was most definitely prone to terrorist attacks. And the unfortunate incident happened in 2002 killing 202 people, 152 of them foreigners. Bali has moved forward from then and is very much alive and kicking. A monument now stands in what was Paddy's Pub on Legian Street. At the memorial, the names of all the fatalities are carved on a large black marble plaque in the memorial.
I spent the rest of the night walking around the area with its vibrant nightlife.
The next morning, I explored Legian Beach (some refer to it as Kuta Beach) where most of the surfing activity happens. It's quite obvious that surfing is a major thing in Bali since there are dozens of shops that sell surf boards, surfing equipment or offer lessons. Plus the beach is lined with piles of surfboards and trainers offering lessons to those around the beach. And one look at the water, you'll see hundreds of surfers waiting for the next wave.
To bad I couldn't really do much that morning since my flight back to Kuala Lumpur was later that day. But Bali is most definitely one island you must visit in your lifetime!
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Pura Besakih or the Mother Temple of Besakih is the most important Hindu temple in Bali. Located on the south slopes of Mount Agung, Pura Besakih probably dates back to the 14th century.
This was the last stop of my road trip around Bali, northeastern Bali to be exact. Being the most sacred of temples, a sarong is definitely required. To blend in with the locals, I also got myself a traditional Balinese head scarf.
The driver dropped me off at the parking lot and warned me not to entertain the offers of ojek drivers to the top since they will overcharge me being a tourist. It was quite tempting actually since it's quite a walk from the vehicle parking up to the main entrance of the temple. The hike will definitely let you break a sweat.
Pura Besakih is actually a complex of twenty-two temples that sit on parallel ridges. It's on the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
You'll definitely see a lot of locals there, a perfect place to observe daily life in Bali as hundreds make their way to the temple daily to worship, pray and make offerings. It's enchanting as well as serene, especially as a thin blanket of fog makes its way down to the temple late in the afternoon.
Again, be prepared for a lot of walking because the walk from the entrance all the way to the top of the temple is no joke. There are some restricted areas though. And unless you know how to speak Bahasa Indonesia or are a Hindu visiting the temple to worship, the guards won't let you in the other parts which is reserved for worship.
Pura Besakih was the last stop on my Bali road trip. It took about two hours to get back to Ubud, just in time for me to catch my bus back to Kuta.
So when you visit Bali, make sure you allot a day or two for road travel around the island. There was still a lot to see like Tanah Lot, Uluwatu and Taman Ayun Temples in the southwestern part of Bali very close to Kuta. Unfortunately, I had no more time. I hope to come back again for another visit!
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Indonesia: Road trip around Bali (Part 2) Mount Batur & Lake Batur, Gunung Agung and lunch by the rice terraces
One of the best views of Bali is that of Mount Batur and Lake Batur (Gunung Batur and Danau Batur) from Penelokan and Kintamani. You can reach these areas when you do a road trip around Bali. The best way to get around is by hiring a vehicle which is both the most convenient and most affordable option.
In Penelokan, the winding mountain road provides grand views of Mount Batur, an active 1,717 meter-high (5,633ft) volcano. We stopped over every now and then for me to take photos of the picturesque view of the volcano and the lake.
At 3,142 meters (10,308 feet), Gunung Agung or Mount Agung is the highest point on Bali. On the slopes of Mount Agung is the holiest of Bali temples, the Pura Besakih or Mother Temple.
Before proceeding to the Mother Temple in Besakih, I had a buffet lunch at the Mahagiri Panoramic Resort and Restaurant in Rendang Village, Karangasem, again by the suggestion of my driver. It offers a fantastic view of the rice terraces at the foot of Mount Agung, and Mount Agung itself. My driver stressed that these were the best terraces in the world. He hasn't been to Ifugao obviously. But he could be right about it being one of the most-visited since they are readily accessible to tourists.
The Indonesian buffet selection is quite good. I feasted on sate as always. The buffet was about Rp80,000. From there, we proceeded to Besakih to visit the Mother Temple.
Friday, June 18, 2010
For my second day in Ubud, I decided to hire a vehicle for a road trip around Bali to get to the different temples and views. Unfortunately, there is no public transportation that will get you straight to the temples. But the good thing is that hiring a vehicle is not that expensive and is actually the best option if you want to see everything in a day.
I spent about Rp350,000 (roughly Php1,750) for an air-conditioned SUV with driver that took me to the various sites around the island. Make sure as well that you get a sarong which you will need to enter the temples. It's quite strict because the sites are holy to the Balinese and very much in use for daily worship. So don't expect to get to enter without one.
Our first stop for the day was Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave which dates back to the 9th century. The mouth of the cave is carved with menacing creatures and demons. The primary figure was mistakenly thought to be an elephant, which is why it is referred to as Elephant Cave. Although there is a statue of Ganesh inside the cave. Beside the cave is a bathing temple which was excavated only in the 1950s. Goa Gajah is in the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage List. Entrance to the temple is Rp15,000.
After Goa Gajah, we proceeded to Tampak Siring, also known as Tirta Empul or the Holy Spring Temple. One of the main features of this temple is a spring which the Balinese believe can heal various of diseases. Thus, it's visited regularly by the locals for rituals and to sanctify themselves. Entrance to the temple is Rp15,000.
Further inside Tampak Siring are more structures which also serve as a place for offerings and ceremonies. Before you enter, you will be asked to wear a yellow piece of cloth around your waist. I was lucky that as I was about to exit Tampak Siring, a Galungan Ceremony or Balinese temple offering was about to take place.
Before proceeding to Penelokan for a wonderful view of Gunung Batur and Danau Batur (Mt. Batur and Lake Batur), my driver brought me to a coffee plantation in Temen which is visited by tourists because of the luwak coffee (alamid or civet cat coffee).
The public area has a garden which shows the various crops in the plantation such as cacao, vanilla, and of course the coffee, both arabica and robusta. They also demonstrate the processing of coffee beans. And you could also try out the luwak coffee which is not cheap! From there, we were off to Penelokan.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Ubud is one of Bali's major centers for culture and the arts. I decided to make that two hour road trip from Kuta to Ubud to enable me to explore more of Bali.
As soon we entered Ubud, the first thing I noticed was row after row of art shops. Indeed, Ubud was a major arts center for Bali. At the drop off point, there were touts offering places to stay. While I usually avoid them, I realized they might be a viable option to find cheap accommodation. After asking the rates for the rooms which were much cheaper than Kuta, I decided to check out the place being offered. It was quite decent and worth the cost.
Anyway, the person who took me to the lodging also offered to take me around Ubud and its environs on his ojek. After negotiating the rates, we were off. Our first stop was the Ubud Royal Palace.
The Ubud Royal Palace or Puri Saren Agung was home to Tjokorda Gede Agung Sukawati, the last "king" of Ubud. The architecture is a showcase of what is truly Balinese with its intricately carved wooden pavilions and stone gates and demons.
We also got to visit the Ceking and Tegallalang Rice Terraces. The rice terraces in Ifugao are much more extensive than those in Bali. But because of accessibility, the rice terraces of Bali get more visitors. Our last stop was the Tegenungan Falls located in Gianyar before we proceeded to the Kecak Dance performance.
Having seen this in National Geographic and other television shows, I made sure to watch a Kecak performance. Kecak is a Balinese dance primarily performed by men wearing checkered cloth around their waists who form a circle of 100 or more performers chanting cak while throwing up their arms in a rhythmic display. Kecak is also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant.
Because this performance is highly-sought by tourists, there are several nightly performances of both the Kecak and Sanghyang Jaran (Fire Dance) which features a fire walk by a performer in a trance. When in Ubud, you just look for an ojek to take you to one which are usually in the outskirts of the town. I spent Rp80,000 for a ticket to the performance.
The good thing about this whole itinerary was that I was able to visit all these places in and around Ubud in less than half a day with the help of an ojek. For the next day, I had made arrangements to hire a vehicle for the next day to take me around Bali's other major attractions.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Since I'm on the topic of Indonesia, I realized I had not written about my trip to Bali last year. So hopefully, I finish that this week. Bali is a culturally exciting destination. The richness of its culture and heritage, so much different from the rest of Indonesia, is most definitely worth the trip.
It's also famous for Kuta Beach which is teeming with tourists, particularly surfers. Since my flight arrived quite late in the evening, I ended up having to rely on the taxi I rode to help me find a place to sleep. I told him Kuta when I should have said Legian which is where most of the cheaper accommodation can be found. Kuta is both a district and a village. Kuta District contains the villages of Kuta and Legian.
Anyway, the taxi took me into one of the small side streets where there were several hotels. I was expecting it to be cheap but unfortunately, the rooms were a bit pricey for budget travel. I ended up having to spend a lot for the room since it was late and I was too tired to look for one.
The next morning, I realized why even the rooms in the interior were pricey. I was in the high-end resort area of Kuta Village. After walking around the beach, I planned my next three days. I decided to take a van to Ubud, Bali's culture town, which would serve as my base as I explore the rest of the island.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
In a previous trip to Jakarta, I had a hawker food overload in Kelapa Gading. There was a lot of stuff I really enjoyed. So during this trip, after dinner with SSEAYP friends, I made sure to drop by again.
Unfortunately, on the way there, it started to rain really hard. So by the time we arrived in Wisma Gading, the warung were closing shop much earlier than schedule (it was a Friday night even) since the rains had prevented people from trooping over for yummy servings of warung food.
Good thing there was one warung open which served dessert roti. The warung kopi served roti panggang or grilled bread. Yes, you heard me right, grilled! It's the basic loaf bread sandwich with fillings that include chocolate, pineapple or strawberry jam, peanut butter, egg, corn or cheese or a combination of these. Then the sandwich is grilled to a toast over hot charcoal.
We chose the Roti Serikaya which is grilled coconut custard sandwich, and Roti Tape Pisang Spesial. Tape is fermented cassava while pisang is banana. They grill the tape and bananas first before placing them between the bread together with butter, cheese and chocolate sprinkles called meises (influence from the Dutch chocolade hagelslag). Then they grill the sandwich and slice it into bite-sized pieces.
It's damn good! And you could really taste the fermented tape. Eating tape is actually an acquired taste. So if you're not an adventurous eater, you're better off with the safer choices.
Anyway, since I was frustrated that we didn't get to binge on more warung food, we tried to look for hawker stall or food outlet that was still open. And we saw two across the street. One was a Chinese restaurant which served food very common in Medan. Contrary to popular belief, they do serve pork in Jakarta, particularly in areas where there is a high concentration of Chinese.
The restaurant is called Kaca Mata. We had a sampler plate which included Bebek Panggang Peking (grilled Peking duck), Siobak or Babi Panggang (roasted pork belly which tastes more like lechon kawali) and Chasio Garing Madu (honeyed barbecued pork which tastes like tocino) and Chasio Biasa. Cha sio or char siu is barbecued pork which is very popular in Medan.
Thanks to Ron Rada for this food adventure in Kelapa Gading and the previous one in 2007! For an even more comprehensive feature of food in Kelapa Gading, check out Indonesian food trip.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Three years ago, when I first visited Jakarta, I was introduced to the sate stalls of Jalan Sabang, a popular hawker street in Jakarta. For the lack of a better way to describe the peanut sauce that accompanied the sate ayam (chicken skewers), it tasted like heaven! I have had a lot of sate in my various trips around Southeast Asia. And nothing comes close to the peanut sauce I had in Jalan Sabang.
So I made sure to visit Jalan Sabang again during this trip. Unfortunately, I could not remember which stall we ate at previously. So I picked two stalls, one recommended by my friends and the taxi driver himself at the street corner, and another along the street where I saw a lot of customers.
The sate ayam along the street costs Rp16000 for 10 sticks which includes glutinous rice called lontong (something like suman) which they cut up into small pieces and include with the sauce. It was really good. But I remember it being richer the last time I had it.
At the street corner of Jalan Sabang, I got ten more sticks of sate ayam at Rp14000, and ten sticks of sate kambing (mutton skewers) for Rp30000. They serve nasi putih (plain rice) here. But I decided to forgo on the extra carbs.
That was worth the trip. Unfortunately, food in Indonesia is surprisingly more expensive than in the Philippines. I spent Rp68000 for that street food meal which is about Php340. Well most things are.
Anyway, for an even more comprehensive feature of food in Java, Indonesia, check out my previous post Indonesian food trip.
Monday, June 07, 2010
One of the cities I missed visiting during my previous trips to Indonesia is Bogor. The main attraction of Bogor are the Kebun Raya Bogor or Bogor Botanical Gardens and the Presidential Palace which can be seen from the gardens.
From the Gambir Station in Jakarta, I took a train to Bogor which takes about an hour and costs Rp11000. From the Bogor Train Station, which was built in 1881 (the good thing about Indonesia is that their old train stations have been preserved), I walked to the Tourist Information Center a few meters away to ask for a map and directions to the Bogor Botanical Gardens. Basically, from the entrance of the station, you make a right. You'll see signs pointing towards the information center.
From the Tourist Information Center, it's a one-kilometer walk to the Kebun Raya Bogor. Along the way, you'll see a number of Dutch colonial buildings. There is only one open gate to the botanical gardens. Entrance fee is Rp9500.
The 80-hectare garden opened in 1817 and today contains over 15,000 species of trees and plants. It continues its tradition as a major center for botanical research. Noteworthy in the collection are 400 types of exceptional palms and 3,000 varieties of orchids.
Unless you have a private vehicle, be prepared for a lot of walking. And make sure to have lunch at Cafe de Daunan, a restaurant in the middle of the gardens. Its pleasant location up a hill offers a refreshing view of the plants and trees.
I ordered a plate of Rijsttafel, which is a little of everything: rice served with various dishes of fried chicken (ayam goreng), marinated beef, sautéed bean cake, spicy egg and shrimp, traditional vegetable dishes, and spicy potato and peanuts. For drinks, I had Es Kelapa Muda, which is coconut juice with vanilla syrup!
I walked towards the Orchid House where some really nice blooms were on display. But the bulk of their collection of Indonesian species is actually in the green houses behind the main display.
Lucky for me, a Rafflesia patma was in full bloom today in another section of the garden. The flower only lasts a few days and is rarely seen. It was such a big thing that they were installing signs that day pointing visitors to the rafflesia flower.
While you're there, also make sure to check out the Presidential Palace which can be seen from the lake of the gardens. It's where you take those "I've been to Bogor" photos.
I didn't stay too long and took the train back to Jakarta before dark. Unfortunately, I was met by Jakarta's notorious traffic. And I learned that taxi meters in Jakarta are very sensitive to traffic if you know what I mean!
I'm back in Jakarta, Indonesia. And one of the first places I visited was Jakarta Old Town (Kota Tua Jakarta), also known as Old Batavia (Oud Batavia), the seat of government of Indonesia under Dutch colonial rule. It's a heritage district which is very much intact, having been saved from any WWII bombings which devastated Philippine cities like Manila. Sadly, most of the buildings are unused and in a state of decay. But a visit to the old Kota District makes an interesting walking tour.
I asked the taxi to drop me off close to Taman Fatahillah (Fatahillah Square) where the former Stadhuis (city hall) of Batavia still stands. This structure built in 1710 houses the Jakarta History Museum (Museum Sejarah Jakarta), which is also called the Fatahillah Museum or Batavia Museum.
Among the items you'll find in the museum are objects from the Dutch East Indies Company, historic maps, paintings, ceramics, furnitures and archeological objects from the prehistoric era. Entrance to the museum is Rp2000.
Also around Fatahillah Square are two other museums namely the Wayang Museum and the Fine Arts and Ceramics Museum.
The Wayang Museum is a showcase of Javanese wayang puppetry. The current building is located in a site previously occupied by the Old Dutch Church built in 1640. The church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1808. The garden of the Wayang Museum is the former yard of the Dutch church, the burial place of Governor General Jan Pieterszoon Coen and other governors general.
The current building dates back to 1912, initially functioning as a warehouse of the Geo Wehry and Co. The building got its current look in 1938 when it was adjusted to Dutch colonial architecture.
Inside the museum are various kinds of wayang, such as wayang kulit and wayang golek. Entrance to the museum is Rp2000.
The Fine Arts and Ceramic Museum (Museum Seni Rupa dan Keramik) is a showcase of paintings of local artists and ceramics of Indonesia. The building where it is currently housed was completed in 1870, and was used as the Court of Justice. Entrance to the museum is Rp2000.
I took an ojek (motorcycle for hire) to Sunda Kelapa, the old port of Jakarta which has been in continuous use since the 12th century. It was the main port of Sunda Kingdom of Pajajaran. The old Sunda Kelapa port only accommodates pinisi or Makassarese schooners, a traditional two masted wooden ship. There are guides in the tourist information office who can take you up the boats. But you'll have to haggle for the guide fee.
Nearby is the old Uitkijk Lookout Tower which offers a great view of the Sunda Kelapa Port.
I took an ojek back to Kota (Rp10000) and was dropped off at the Jakarta Kota Train Station, another heritage landmark. The station, completed in 1870 and renovated in 1926, is a combination of Western Art Deco and local architecture styles.
Outside you'll notice some of the traditional modes of public transport in Jakarta, the bajaj (pronounced as bajay, their local tricycle) and the mikrolet (the local version of the multicab).
Walking around, you can see a lot of the buildings still standing. In 1972, then Jakarta governor Ali Sadikin issued a decree that officially designated the Jakarta Kota area a heritage site, as part of efforts to preserve the city's architectural heritage. Slowly, the different buildings are being restored. But the slow progress has left many of the buildings in a state of decay.
At least Indonesia is lucky it still has something to restore. For Manila, not much is left. Which is why we fight hard to preserve the little that is left. It's close to impossible to bring back what is no longer there.