Eye to eye with a Great Horned Owl.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

2013 Travel Dispatch #26 (Bali Rice Fields)

The highlight of our auto tour of Bali was a visit to an area of terraced rice fields ascending up the side of one of Bali's still active volcanos. The rice fields are at some of the lower elevations, obviously because the highest point on Bali is almost 10,000 feet (how about that you 46'rs?) Think about it. Bali is an island you can drive around the perimeter of in less than a day and yet it sports a mountain peak topping out just under 10,000 feet -- almost twice the height of Mt. Marcy. The clouds were hanging low that day so the mountain peak was never visible, but the terracing was very reminiscent of agricultural practices in Peru.

There's a lot of similarity in these shots, they're all of terracing and rice fields after all, but in combination they offer a better sense of just how the area looked. I found it to be incredibly picturesque and apparently other concur. It was a feature of the majority of island tour packages and you have to pay a "Park Fee" just to drive into the area.


There is a well established and comfortable walkway allowing easy access to overviews of the fields. But I choose to venture off the prescribed path and into the fields themselves. In addition to gaining a more interesting vantage point, I chanced upon a group of farmers working in one of the many paddies. They very happily agreed to let me photograph them and I was able to get some shots that are more than just interesting landscapes.

It's one of the contradictions of that fascinating little island. A very poor place filled with happy, hard working people. They have so little and work in ways little changed from what their ancestors did centuries ago, yet they seem content with what they have. I'm certainly not in a position to draw any revelatory conclusions from any of that, but the sentiment of "Less is more" seems to have some relevance. A lesson we seem unable to absorb in our western world, but one that is especially relevant as we rush headlong into another commercially overcharged holiday season.

In this one photo, there are paddies full of rice ready for harvest, banana trees loaded with fruit and palm trees dripping with ripe coconuts. Such abundance and so well tended for by people who have learned to honor the land they depend on.

In reviewing this post before publishing it, as I recall the grey of an overcast day in Paris, I note the seeming unreality of the colors of these fields. They are not "photoshopped". The colors were really that vibrant and that intense. Think of the richness of autumn colors in the Adirondacks when everything is wet from a recent rain. The greens of these fields fairly popped. Perhaps it's why painters on the island have such a preference for strong, primary colors. It's the world they live in. That's it. I've finished Bali. Perhaps Paris tomorrow.

2013 Travel Dispatch #25 (Statuary in Bali)

I think Bali may have one of the most artistic cultures I've ever encountered. Art, design, decoration and care in arrangement are evident everywhere. There is more public art on display than I've ever seen anywhere. Part of it is because there are so many temples and the temples are all minor to major works of art themselves. In this post, instead of focusing on the big pictures, I'm looking at some of the smaller pieces that work together to make up the whole.

The shot above is a detail of one the many large statues located at major intersections in the area. They are all different and all very elaborately designed and crafted. Here are front and back views of the same statue.

Maybe a bit over the top for some people's taste, but it is art and in Bali it's writ large.

We saw it and felt it everywhere we went. We were greeted by it when we walked into our room and were greeted by these pieces that shared our room with us.

A couple of stone carvings on the steps of temples near us.

Different neighborhoods in Ubud had their own artistic specialties. Some were doing painting, some wood carving, some ceramics, some jewelry, etc. Whole neighborhoods devoted primarily to making art. It's part of their tradition. But it's a tradition that sadly is being lost. Many talented Balinese artists are finding that they make better money doing other things than they can get from their art products and have stopped making art. We had several different people independently make this claim and they are saddened by it but don't know what to do about it.

Not all temple figures are stone. Here's one that's carved from wood. 

We saw shops filled with wonderful carvings. A lot of schlock, of course, but a lot of nice work too.

The above piece is life sized and has a wonderful "feel" to it. It felt like it could easily just begin moving and stand right up. We were at the Louvre earlier today, and this had as nice a feeling about it as some of the pieces in the galleries there.

More examples of temple carvings and a shot of some of the "tourist" art offered at one of the street markets.

I conclude today's post on Balinese statuary with a shot of one of the figures that was perhaps the most prominent of all -- a carving of the Hindu god Ganesh.

One more post to come from the material collected in Bali and then it will be on to Paris. We did the Louvre and some walking today and I must say this is one very easy city to take pictures in. I'll try to be discriminating when I get around to choosing examples. The way things are going, I may be home before then anyway.

Friday, November 29, 2013

2013 Travel Dispatch #24 (A Bali Hodge-podge)

So here we are in Paris, after a long, long day of travel with some really "interesting" experiences as we passed through a number of different countries en route to here. We're in Paris, but have yet to post about Bali. So fried as my brain is what with time changes, sleep depravation and normal decline of function, I'm going to attempt to string some pictures together to create at least a passing impression of our brief time in Bali.

We were only there for a brief three days and small as that island is, three days is not nearly enough to do it justice. As with the diving photos, I've decided to divide these up a bit and do several posts (three to be precise). The first one will be a quick collection of some of the highlights of our visit to this beautiful but challenged country. I'm working with a foggy brain here so I may just let some of the pics speak for themselves.

The place we stayed was exquisite. Easily the nicest place we were in during our trip.

The view from our patio. One feature of this trip that was a bit of a challenge was the frequency of relocation. We never spent more than three nights in any one place. The room we had in Bali was one of the three night stays and we enjoyed every bit of it.

Since we hadn't visited a temple since all those weeks ago in Japan, it be time to put a temple on the agenda and Bali is the place to do it. As many temples as we saw in Japan, Bali has more. The grounds of this one were immaculate.

This one is for Diana.

A trio of temple cats.

Had to recharge after the temple so we found a place for lunch. Diah was our waitress and very graciously allowed me to take her picture. 

The Villa we stayed at provided a free tour of island locations and one of the places we stopped during the tour was a butterfly park. In the park we discovered some very amorous butterflies . . .

And a large Leaf Insect.

He seems to be little ahead of the season. Actually not, since Bali only has two seasons: Wet and Not-so-wet. He may be waiting a long time for fall and leaf change.

Bali is very wet and very fertile. Things grow really well there. This just a shot I took of some of those growing things.

Another stop we made was to a very large and very impressive Art Gallery. This was essentially a cooperative gallery similar to the Guild, but this one was representing over 150 artists and the place huge -- room after room after room. We did our bit for the local arts and bought some paintings.

Here's a shot I just couldn't pass up. The incongruities of it tickle my funny bone. Bali is the most excessively decorated place I've ever seen. That Crocs sign amid all that careful craftsmanship seems out of time and out of place.

All that intricate stonework, carvings and construction yet this is how they still work. A lot of the basic, family level building is done in this scale -- lifting thing up a story one bucket at a time.

One thing Bali doesn't seem to lack, along with the rain, is lots of fresh fruit. Fruit in quantities and descriptions we can hardly imagine. For instance, I have no clue what those red/pink things in the upper right hand corner are.

Where ever I go, I engage in a personal quest. I have to find a source for Gelato. Bali was no exception. I quested and I found.

The lovely girl behind the counter was amused when I asked her to pose so I could get a shot of her and her Gelato cap.

The gelato was very good too. But then it pretty much always is.

Passing through the market place, we happened upon this woman from Australia and her companion, "Dahling".

This is just to illustrate the principal from of transportation in Bali. There are a lot of car and trucks too, but most people use motorbikes. I saw a family of five on one motorbike. And have we mentioned the traffic? Let's just say that venturing into Bali traffic on one of these things is an incredible act of faith.

Bali seems to be a land of old and honored tradition that is also trying hard to modernize. It's going to be an interesting journey. Next post I'm going to spend more time looking at and talking about some of the art of Bali.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

2013 Travel Dispatch #23 ( Atherton Tablelands)

Our last day in Australia we drove our rental car up from the coast north of Cairns into the Atherton Tablelands -- a distinctly different climate and feeling than on the coast. Our route up there was a "lovely" little road known as Gillies Highway. The above photo is looking back down from whence we've come but is only a very little way along the way.

Here's the same picture but in color and with the track of the roadway highlighted. It continued just like that and worse for another thirty to forty kilometers -- and very steeply upward. It would be a fabulous road to do on a motorcycle and was really quite fun in a car. That's from the driver's perspective, maybe not so much as a passenger. You'd have to ask Fran about that.

Then we got to the top and the end of the curves and there was a scenic overlook so we could enjoy the fruits of our twisty climb. This was what we saw from there.

And looking back down the road, we saw this...

Aw well....    Shortly after getting back on straight roads, and out of the clouds, we followed signs that led us to the "Cathedral Fig Tree". There is nothing special about these photos. This is certainly a case of pictures being about the subject and not the photo. But the subjects are remarkable.

It's one of those living beings that you just can't help but stand and marvel at. Supposed to be around five hundred years old, it is a magnificent sight. Following are some shots that attempt, unsuccessfully I'm afraid, to adequately capture the glorious presence of this marvelous life.

It is aptly named the Cathedral Fig because there is a very strong spiritual feeling within it's aura.

Just another sample of the life that abounds in the shadow of the Fig Tree.

We visited another example of these wonders of the rain forest called the Curtain Fig, for fairly obvious reasons.

We followed a path through the rain forest near the Curtain Fig and encountered this somewhat familiar looking bird.

I have no idea what it's actual name is, but the locals call it the Bush Turkey. I do believe this one is likely to survive the holiday.

Still on the Tablelands we stopped by a waterfall, of which there are many but we only got to this one, and enjoyed watching these two young ladies cavorting in the pool below the falls.

And so ends our sojourn Down Under. Early the next morning, very, very early, we lifted up and away from Australia en route to Bali. I hope to get Bali sorted and reported during our travels toward Paris. We will be up in the air, literally, during much of Thanksgiving. So a Happy Thanksgiving to you all and to all a good morning.