Indonesia

Back in Jogya

Jogyakarta, Indonesia’s center of Javanese culture looks remarkably different from when I first came here more than 10 years ago. It’s much busier now and Malioboro Street is lined with a few malls and some swanky hotels like the Ibis. Nevertheless, it still retains its provincial feel with people having picnics on the sidewalk on a Saturday night and loads of bakso food carts. I arrived in this city late afternoon last Thursday after an epic 15 hour bus ride that started at 1am in Jakarta airport. It was a loong journey that included 2 toilet stops, a breakfast and late lunch stop and a tour of Borobodur.

With me are a few colleagues and a busload of student performers for the Southeast Asia Music Education Exchange (SEAMEX) at the Yogyakarta National Museum (which isn’t a museum at all but an events venue). The road trip wasn’t boring though as it was just like taking a tour of the Indonesian countryside with rice paddies and little kampung. Of course, the stop at Borobodur was the aaah moment of the day.

The magnificent 9thc temple was still a sight to behold. Even the students enjoyed themselves immensely.

Fortunately, there weren’t many people when we arrived as it was close to noon time.

It took another 2 hours to Jogyakarta where we were finally dropped at our hotel

The past few days have been spent between the SEAMEX events and walking around busy Malioboro which was bursting at its seams Saturday night.Bought some toy gamelan instruments at super crowded Hamza Batik which has a good collection of all the stuff you’ll ever want to purchase for souvenirs. For large-sized people like me, they have a rack of batik shirts that are besar enough.

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My Favorite Rice Field Walk

Today’s my last day in Ubud and I decided to spend my morning on the rice field walk that passed through Cafe Pomegranate, famous for its rice field location. It was quite cloudy which made for a good time to be outdoors.

The path was easy to find and follow as I just looked it up at Google maps. From Jl Raya Ubud, I turned right at Jl Campuhan which was the uphill paved path after Pur Dalem. It was actually just before Ibah Villas, the marker for the path to Campuhan Ridge. As it turned out, the rice fields on this walk was just on the other side of the ridge. Seated later at Cafe Pomegranate, I could see people walking on the ridge.

Heading up the steep path. I came to Angsa Bungalow on the right, thus I knew I was correct. I followed the pavement which turned left and then split. The wider path led to the field and for a second I thought of following it; but I remembered a blog that made mention of a narrow path separated by a concrete wall. There were also numerous signs to homestays that pointed to it. I followed this winding path past some homestays and it eventually opened to the rice fields.

Unlike the Campuhan Ridge Walk, this one took me closer to the fields as the path actually ran through it. The fields were also prettier than the ones at the Kajeng Walk.

There were quite a number of cute cafes settled among the fields. Cafe Pomegranate wasn’t open yet so I headed further up the path to Warung Boga Sari, the cafe run by Sari Organic. Ordered a Balinese coffee (Rp 15) and Balinese crepe (Rp 35) and settled at a corner table. Relaxing.

I could have stayed there forever just reading the book I brought along with me but decided to head back to Cafe Pomegranate and snagged one of the precious tables in front facing the fields.

Had the guacamole with pita bread. It had a hint of coconut cream which kicked- up the flavour. But what really amped up the experience is the setting. You’re really sitting right next to the rice field amidst the ducks and the cool breeze.

I must have spent 3 hours there just alternating between quick napping, reading, and watching the ducks. I also ordered a margherita pizza which was flavorful and had a nice thin crust. It was big too. I could really have stayed at my spot forever. It was another “I should have done this earlier” moment. Oh well. When I return to Ubud, I’d love to stay in one of the accomodations there. Really peaceful.

Of the three walks I did– Kajeng, Campuhan, and this one— rhis was my favorite as the path was really pretty. The path gets narrower until it becomes a single lane. I wonder what lies ahead?

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Ubud Eats

Ubud is a foodie’s delight and part of the excitement of coming here and just walking the streets are discovering nice restaurants, quaint cafes, and cheap warungs.

STILL MY FAVORITES

It’s been four years since I was last here and it was good to see that my favorite haunts are still up and serving good food.

Warung Sandat

On my trip here in 2014, I stayed at Taman Mesari Homestay on the same street, Jl Sandat, which meant taking several meals there. It’s still as reliable as ever. Good food, low prices, and friendly service keeps me coming back. For such a simple warung, the couple that runs it still make some effort to plate the food quite nicely. Think of heart-shaped rice. The nasi campur is very good value.

Cafe Wayan

Skipped the famous Sunday buffet this time as I wasn’t to keen on stuffing myself. Just had the popular lime tart and tea. Yup, it still is good.

The garden is attractive and the staff evermore gracious. I actually felt honored being there even if all I had was the tart.

Caramel Ubud

I have fond memories of this place as I was one of their regular customers who visited almost everyday when they had just opened years ago. The only patisserie in Ubud that’s worth its name. Always delightful.

NOT MY FAVORITE BUT VISITED AGAIN

Warung Bernadette

Famous for its beef rendang (Rp 75) which comes in a set that includes rice, crackers, soup, vegetables, and a corn fritter. Tasty and filling. The place is decorated with whimsical metal decors that you can buy. If the wooden chairs were just a little more comfortable, I could have sat there forever.

NEW DISCOVERIES

Warung Kopi

It was my go to place whenever I was too lazy to go too far from my homestay at Jl Hanoman. Supposedly serves organic food. Prices are a little higher than your usual warung. Their gado gado was the best that I had. The vegetables were steamed nicely and there huge pieces of nicely-fried tofu and tempeh. The peanut sauce was also very good and more than enough. At Rp 40k, it was the most expensive gado gado I had but totally worth it.

Warung River View

I lunched here primarily because of its nice spot set back from Jl Rayad Ubud overlooking the river. Nothing special about the nasi goreng nor the kolombok (fried pork in pineapple sauce). The large plates only made the small servings even smaller. Will probably only go back to have a drink and sit on the small table by the corner.

Pizza Bagus

It had good reviews at Trip Advisor and in a place swarming with pizza places, it was the cheapest. I ordered a margherita pizza and a spaghetti limone which arrived close to 45 minutes later! You could fall asleep waiting for your order. The spaghetti was very good– al dente noodles and a light lemony sauce. The pizza, however, was disappointing. It was dry and tasted like something I just made at home. The tomatoes looked so dehydrated. The portions are filling, though. If you just wanna satisfy your pizza craving and not looking for a gourmet experience, it will do. But then again, is ir worth the loooong wait?

NEW FAVORITES

Unlike the other new discoveries, these ones deserve repeat visits.

Warung Ijo

This padang style eatery is good for stretching your budget while filling your tummy.

Kedaton

Stumbled on this coming from ARMMA. An upgraded padang style eatery with solid wooden tables and seats. The food is inside glass display cases and you point to the staff what you want. The dishes aren’t the usual curries and vegetables. There was sate lilit (Rp 3k) for one and delicious shredded chicken dish in a spicy reddish sauce. They also seem to cook new viands when one runs out as I saw piping hot dishes coming out from the kitchen. If it weren’t quite a distance from my homestay, I would have returned.

Kebun Bistro

My mouth waters just saying it. The interiors are cozy though the a/c could be turned-up a bit. My favorite spot inside is the corner table looking out the window. The dishes are heavenly and well-proportioned. Considering the quality of the food, the prices are reasonable. Besides, this is one restaurant you won’t feel bad spending on. I had an early dinner here on New Year’s Eve and I just wanted to stay and taste everything on the menu. The French pressed coffee is good.

Warung Pondok Madu

Why I only decided to check this out on my second to the last day in Ubud is something I will never forgive myself for because I could have had the grilled pork ribs on nasi goreng everyday. Large size (Rp 145). It’s that good. Perfect blend of spices enhanced by the delicous sambal.

Cafe Pomegranate

Mainly for the rice fields and to relax amidst the sound of ducks. The guacame which had a hint of coconut milk was good, though.

GREAT FOR WORKING

Yes, I do some work while on vacation as it’s one way for me to make sure that the holiday doesn’t get thrown out of the window by the sheer amount of work I’m faced with when I get home. Plus, one of my goals really is to work on my dissertation. Aside from the balcony of my homestay, Ubud has lots of fantastic cafes that were perfect— strong wifi, outlets, good coffee, and staff that won’t bother you.

Cafe Angsa

Just across my homestay. Nice corner table with a ricefield view. With Balinese coffee only at Rp 20k, it was my cheapest workspace. No outlets, however.

Monsieur Spoon

Added a French twist to my day with strong coffee and a butter croissant and a good crumbly raspberry tart. The place is quite busy, though.

Ary’s Book Cafe

This was such a delightful find. The frontage doesn’t look much but once you step inside, it’s spacious. There’s even a garden! The coffee is good and goes well with the lime tart. I really like this place as it’s a quiet oasis along tourist-choked Jl Rayan Ubud.

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A Walk on the Campuhan Side

Just like the Kajeng Rice Terraces walk, the Campuhan Ridge Walk is near, easy, and satisfying. The day dawned with blue skies today so I headed out a little past 8 in the morning following Jl Raya Ubud until Ibah Villas. Followed the small faded sign by the driveway that pointed to the downward path to the hills. You can’t miss it. Besides, in case you do miss it, there’s a barrier to the entrance of the villa telling you that you aren’t supposed to be heading that way. At the bottom of the path were steps (again, another sign) that led to the side of a temple. It’s a pretty path as you have the moss-covered temple walls on one side and the ravine on the other. With the gurgling river below you, it’s easy to forget that the busy road is just a few meters behind you.

Followed the sign again and emerged on to the paved path on the ridge. Yehey!

The sun was out and I had forgotten to buy some water but I figured it wouldn’t be too tiring. In any case, there was Karsa Cafe at the village a bit midway into the walk (the entire walk goes for about 10k). Many others were out for a walk but not too many as to be crowded. Yes, you can still take your Instagram pics without too much angling to cut the people out and make it appear to your social media friends that you have the ridge all to your self. The gently rolling path cut through nice views of the hills and was so peaceful.

It was green and more green everywhere.

On one side of the ridge, you could see some villas perched on the hills.

Perhaps, when I have more money, I’d stay there for the views and the peace and quiet.

I finally hit the small village which was home to some villas, painting shops, and cafes. Ordered a cup of Balinese coffee at Karsa Cafe and took a seat overlooking the lily pond.

Again, if I had more money, I would have gotten a massage at the nice spa with interesting treatments— Reike, anyone?

The walk back was, of course, faster as there were many gentle downward slopes which was easier with a little downhill run. Came across many people still starting the walk. Finally back on the road and to the buzz of central Ubud.

So, now I’m having nasi goreng and kolombok (fried pork in a sweetish sauce) at Warung River View, a nice eatery set back at Jl Raya Ubud with outdoor seating overlooking the small river behind the road.

Peaceful morning.

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Walking at Kajang

Except for the shrines, I could have been back home in the PH at any countryside.

I really just needed to walk my legs and see some greenery.

After seeing shop after shop, cafe after cafe, warung after warung, yoga studio after yoga studio, homestay after homestay at Jl Hanoman, Jl Raya Ubud, Jl.Monkey Forest, and all the little jalan in between, I needed to go where the green things are and the walk to the Kajeng rice fields fitted the bill. It was near the town center and was easy to go to. Simply follow Jl Kajeng to the very end where Luxe Villas is or veer of to the left to Sweet Orange Cafe. I chose the path more travelled by — straight ahead to the villas then backtracked my way back to Ubud center.

The rice fields aren’t really pretty as some are a bit rundown but it still makes for a nice walk.

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Happy Galungan

I had unknowingly arrived in Bali the day before Galungan, one of the most important religious celebrations in this Hindi island. Occuring every 210 days, the Galungan is on December 26 this year while Kuningan, the last day is on January 5. Being a holiday, many commercial establishments, mostly the family-run ones are either closed or open half of the day.

Yesterday, At the homestay where I am at, the family was busy making offerings. Out on the streets long bamboo poles decorated with offerings called “penjor” were being erected.

The statues that adorn many homes and temples also seemed to be wearing new or at least, newly-washed sarong.

Throught the day today, Ubud’s streets were made more colorful with the locals in their beautiful Balinese wear. Temples were filled with families making offerings. I had to buy a sarong at a shop near a temple just so I could enter the complex as it is customary even for foreigners to wear one.

Groups of children also paraded the streets playing gongs while the “barong” (a lion-like creature in Balinese mythology who represents good) “danced” (the “barong” used by the children is not the sacred one used in temple dances but the one used for practices).

In the evening, I chanced on this all-boy troop at the streets near my homestay.

They had two gongs (the large one played on the boss and the smaller one on the surface), a bamboo drum called “tawu-tawu,” a wooden drum called “khendang,” and pairs of cymbals called “ceng ceng.”

Two small boys held donation boxes for the barong. It was fun to watch them go down the streets sometimes stopping to rest.

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The Passion of Agung Rai

As I passed through the leafy welcome arch of the Agung  Rai Museum of Art (ARMA), I wished I had come earlier.
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It was about four in the afternoon and seeing how shady the gardens were, I knew it was a place that invited one to linger.
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Get lost in the pages of a nook perhaps. Or just luxuriate in the shady ambience of the moment.
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The grounds contain a temple as well as an upscale resort.
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Three men were working on some woodcarvings in one of the small pavilions and I had a nice chat with them. Good way to practice my Bahasa.

There are two galleries that contain the personal collection of Agung Rai. An art collector with humble origins starting out selling paintings to tourists in Sanur, Rai’s collection is a virtual walk through of the history of Balinese paintings. It was a collection of a man who knew what he wanted. From old wayang style paintings to modern ones, it was a peek into Balinese imaginings.
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I had seen the works of the different art styles in the Puri Lukisan such as those by I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, Bali’s greatest visual artist. But I had not seen that of the German, Walter Spies. After going through the short exhibit on Spies the more I was intrigued. His works blew me away. I especially like how he delineated his figures. His paintings had a magical quality in them that evoked a quiet and sensual mood in them.

An installation.
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Paul Husner’s paintings were also on exhibit. They were playful and colorful depictions of Balinese everyday life, ceremonies, and rituals.
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The museum also housed antique textiles some of which are very valuable such as a gerinsing textile from Tengganan. Gazing at the textile from afar, you can make out the human figures woven into the design.

The ARMA, together with the Blanco Museum,  make museum going so much a sensory experience as it is visual. Where Blanco’s passion was the shapely figures of Balinese women, Rai’s was that of art as a whole. ARMA is a testimony to that passion.

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Bye Bali! Mabuhay Manila!

I’m standing at a very long line waiting to be dispatched at one of those yellow metered cabs. Maybe I should have gone up to the departure level instead. Too late now.

Thank God customs was such a breeze. The officer simply took the declaration form frpm me, took a quick glance at my two really large packs containing the musical instruments I bought a nd let me. In my haste to get away from him lest he decides to take a peek, I forgot to retrieve my passport from him. He chuckled as I went back.

The flight was very pleasant.  Very very smooth.  Just the usual shaking. No real turbulence.

I left Rojas Homestay just before a quarter to five in the morning and arrived at Ngurah Rai airport south of Denpasar at six thirty. The driver, who was dressed in long sleeves and tight jeans, was going a little fast, though. I was too sleepy to tell him “bukan terlalu cepat.”

Harry brought me my French macaroons all beautifully boxed with a ribbon.  There were also three macaroon lollipops!  I really adore Harry and Jessica of Caramel, my favorite dessert place in Ubud.

Anyway, back to the airport.  I really didn’t pay much  attention to the new airport at Bali when I arrived weeks ago. I guess, people don’t really  take note of arrivals areas as foremost on your mind is to get out of the terminal as quick as possible.

The new airport was really spacious and still needs a lot of work. Based on the steep prices for goods and services, travelers are the ones shouldering it. An airport usage fee of IDR 150,000 (roughly USD 15)? Baggage wrapping at IDR 120,000 (roughly USD 12)? A $5 tuna sandwhich? They gotta be kidding!

The crowd was light around that time and I breezed through check-in and immigration in 15 minutes. Cool!

Nothing really to occupy time at the gate excepy avail  the strong free wifi. At around 7.30, the waiting areas at the gate started to fill with people. There were hardly any seats available.  Fortunately,  just before it got insanely crowded, we boarded our flight.

Finally back home.

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Caramel: Where Life is Made Even Sweeter

I could not get enough of this place during my more than two-week stay in Ubud. I’m such a dessert lover and discovering this tiny shop made my stay even lovelier.

Nowhere have I met owners so candid, friendly, and fun. The young couple, George and Jessica are originally from Jakarta where they worked in the Mandarin Oriental. George is a sous chef while Jessica is a pastry chef having taken a course at the Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney. Moving to Ubud to escape Jakarta’s frenzied city life,  the worked at the famous Mozaic then finally set-up Caramel.
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They’re never too busy to engage in conversation with any of their numerous customers.   This is a place that actually makes you want to stay. They’ll even give you the scoop on the best places to eat. Nope, I’m not telling you.  You gotta go there and get it from them yourself. Hehehe.
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I’m flying back home tomorrow morning and their closed today. But since they both know how much I love their French macaroons,  they gave me their number so I can just give them a call and they’ll drop by the store so I can pick-up the box I already pre-ordered. Now THAT is unbeatable service.

I even got to meet Jessica’s mom and sister who were visiting from Jakarta!

Dropping by Caramel is always a surprise because aside from the regular offerings, you wouldn’t know what’s on offer. One time there was a delightful lemon cake called Citrus. It was a very light cream-like cake on a buttery crust. I like citrus-based desserts and this one was so refreshing.

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Red velvet is very popular nowadays and Jessica’s version in a cake has none of the over-sweetness and too-red coloring you see often. The cakes are actually very mild in their sweetness so it doesn’t leave you in a sugary daze. The Ubud Cheesecake is unusual because of its hint of caramel. The texture was very smooth and just had the right density.

 

If you’re looking for something more traditional, there’s Indonesian kek lapis that divine cake made of thousands of layers. Kek lapis is an art and culinary form that is most associated with Sarawak but it originated in Indonesia and was brought there by Indonesian housewives. It’s a simple cake (but not simple to make) and delicious. The cupcake made from tapeh or cassava was most unusual. I thought it would be made with cassava flour but it was actually made of raw cassava. It was buttery and yummy.

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Everything I tasted was delicious!!! I’m not very partial to chocolate-based desserts so I didn’t try them but they looked very tempting especially the Choco Nut which I’m sure my sister would love as it’s made if 56% pure chocolate. The same goes with the chocolate drink of pure milk and cacao. Absolutely undiluted with water.

But the piece-de-resistance for me are the French macaroons. They may not be as round and shiny as the others but that’s because of the correct balance of almond milk and sugar. Those shiny round ones actually have more sugar than milk. Caramel’s French macaroons have just the right amount of sweetness and chewiness.
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The flavors are varied: Java Tea, Chili Chocolate, Rosella, Passion Fruit, Lemon, Pandan, and Vanilla. My favorites are Black Sesame, Red Velvet, and Salted Caramel. The latter is especially good. Perfect perfect combination of saltiness and sweetness. I’ll say it again. Perfect.

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Almost everyday of dropping by I’ve grown really fond of the patisserie. More so because of Harry and Jessica’s friendliness. They run the place themselves. At Caramel, you don’t simply buy. You partake of an experience that makes life sweeter.

P.s. If you’re wondering why I don’t have much pics of the goodies it’s because I mostly take it out so I can savor them at my front porch.

Check them out at http://www.caramel-ubud.com

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Life as Art

For more than two weeks in Ubud, I walked the same paths each time I go to my gamelan lessons at Pondok Bamboo. It’s more than a kilometer of walking but it never bores me.

There are quiet old moss-covered temples.
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Narrow lanes.
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Cute sculptures that greet you at the entrance of family compounds.
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Interesting stuff for sale such as these stone sculptures.
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Beautifully carved doorways that lead to equally beautiful houses.
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And interesting foot paths.
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In a monograph on Balinese painting, I read that the closest word there is to “art” is “life.” Why not? The Balinese, especially those in Ubud, live it and breathe it every single day of their lives. They just don’t call it “art.” It’s just is.
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It comes as no surprise that everything is just so beautifully decorated.

Gamelan frames have relief sculptures.
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Walking down the street, you see beautiful woven decorations such as these.
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Tucked behind the Ubud Market is a narrow lane made bright by the colorful paintings on display.
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The entrance to the compound is like an art gallery.
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Even the entrance guardians have p a in paintings.
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The Balinese love their gods and they express this through colorful offerings.
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Shrines are as gaily decorated as legong dancers.
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I never got bored walking around Ubud as the streets are one big canvass.

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