Sunday, September 27, 2009

Idul Fitri in Jakarta

These last few days are lazy days. It's the end of Ramadhan, with the feast days of Idul Fitri and Labaran making for a whole week of slowed business and an air of vacation and many take off work for the whole week.

Most of this time I have been doing preparatory work for the new project in Bali, whence it looks like I will be moving in the first full week of October.

In the free time, and when Ilham was free from his own family obligations, we biked around Jakarta looking at some sights that I hadn't seen or hadn'te visited for a while.

On the Thursday (September 24th) Ilham suggested we go and see the old Dutch era cemetery, which is now a museum (or as he cleverly says, a 'musuleum'. Many havy old slabs, heavily engraved in Dutch proclaiming the qualities and origins of directors and captains of the Dutch East India Company. All of these mostly dead by the age of fifty, just as in Malacca. Other than these, the Victorian cast iron monuments to piety (as perceived by the pastor), the fine marble plaques of the Belle Epoque and simpler cement ones cast around with no sense of care.

We also stopped by the once-Dutch, now Catholic, cathedral. There is an active Christian community in Indonesia that dates back to the first Portuguese traders. A distinct minority, their descendants are quite evident at the church here.

The structure is still austere as the few baroque ornaments the Catholics have fixed to the walls barely impact the somber Dutch feel. What does stand out is the chocolate brown wooden ceiling, its planks arching overhead like an upturned boat. The one touch of lightness is outside as the two spires are a white painted open lattice of iron fretwork.

I jumped off the bike to go inside a park and snap a foto of what Ilham told me is the liberation struggle of/for Papua. A desolate park of cracked concrete and unhinged marble tiles, used now by some equally abandoned souls for god knows what purpose. Reminds me of many other liberation monuments set up by liberation governments who then moved on to the next theme of the political season.

On Saturday (September 26th) we went to old Batavia once more as I wanted to take some sunset shots of the harbor. Just a bit too late in getting there, but having a look around sunset isnt the right time to be here - dawn is.

However, sunset and the early evening is a great time to be in the main square of Batavia. It was full of students and street traders, just as I remembered from my visit last year. Ilham went one way, I went the other and managed to take a couple of OK fotos.

In the course of my wandering around six teenagers came up to me and asked if I would speak English with them. This doesn't happen frequently, but for sure most times when Im out many teenagers will shoot phrases at me to practice. Good sign, that. So these six girls pulled me into the light of a food stall, started to ask me questions and even began videoing the whole 'lesson'. I'm famous!

Sunday dawn (September 27th) found me back in the old port of Sunda Kelapa, shooting for the warm pastels of the fishing vessels moored against the harbor wharves. Timing is OK, but its way too early for most people so there's almost nothing going on. Just boats at rest, the occasional fisher with his craft in the breakwater beyond and one or two sailors caulking the hulls of their boats.

Sunday evening brought us to the obelisk in Merdeka Square, Jakarta's iconic tower with viewing platform that dominates the center of the city. The park was absolutely full of families spending the last day of the holidays in picnicking, kite flying and general relaxation. It was too late to join the queue to go up the tower - and anyway the queue was way too long.

As we walked around the park, the late afternoon turned quickly into sunset, twilight and night. Still the children played, the music played, the muezzin chanted in the distance.

For me too the long period of preparation is over. One more week to set some things moving, sort some other things out - and then I'm set for Bali.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A second trip to Bali

The last five days I have been in Bali on work related matters (this blog isn't about work, so don't worry I won't bore you excessively). This does mean, of course, that I wasn't wandering around like the tourist I was last time.

It wasn't planned to be so, but in the end I spent my four nights in the same hotel, which is actually quite a nice place and in a good location in Kuta. The Agung Village Hotel is only 100 meters or so from where the bomb exploded in 2002, killing upwards of 200 people. Nowadays there's a monument to the victims on the corner, which has turned out to be the gathering place for many tourists that some to visit.

The rooms of the hotel are clean enough, their doorways and covered terraces all faced in the traditional raw terracotta painted brick and sea grey stonework. The swimming pool is not long, but long enough for a good swim, which I managed most days. The room rate is quite good, even for a tourist trap like Kuta - 300,000 Rupiah a night (approx 30 USD). Staff is most friendly, and adeptly handled my constantly changing plans in the middle of one of their busiest weekends.

Early Saturday morning (September 19th) I was shaken awake as the whole room was shaking. Another earthquake! Unbelievable! This one was much shorter that the one last week in Jakarta and probably a little less powerful where I was. But the room shook more and I could hear some cracking. So out I go again, bag in hand (laptop and camera). This time I waited only a few minutes before crashing back to bed for another hour.

I learned later that, apparently, though Bali can shake a bit, this tremblor was a relative biggie that they only experience once every sixty years or so. What's with me? Why do I drag tremors and quakes around with me?

Saturday evening I went to a bar/club in Seminyak for a drink and to meet up with an acquaintance. He had been partying too long, so I walked him home, which was not far way) just to make sure he didn't fall into anything on the way back. It was late and I had trouble finding a legit taxi; fortunately two other people I have chatted to in the bar passed by on their motorbike and offered me a lift to Kuta, close to my hotel. Yes, its risky, but its just as risky walking the streets in the deep dark of night, so I accepted. And they were great. Just as good, as I had to get up early for a trip up the west coast of Bali on Sunday.

Sunday morning (September 20th) I was driven up the west side of Bali. Which turns out to be both fascinating and beautiful - easily the most beautiful part of Bali I've seen so far, with the exception of the cove at PadangBai on the east side. The trip up, 90km or so, took just over two and a half hours. Really enjoyable, with the scenery constantly changing and activities of the villages everywhere.

First we went through some flat land. the outskirts of tourist development, then very quickly across rice paddies into some rolling hills with their narrow valleys punctuated by fast flowing streams (it had been raining during the night and was still in the air). Here the village stores fronting the winding road are very much tourist oriented, with artisan workshops annexed to the back of most of them.

Then the scenery opened up into a broader plain with wider rivers, the coast in view and rice paddies stretching to the edge of some hills hidden in the mist and rain inland. The villages are obviously agricultural here. Dark stoned temples, shrines and sacred posts in the fields are absolutely everywhere.

The hills creep back to the shoreline and we go back to winding our way through vale and gully, but steeper than before, the rivers raging with angry storm water, villages perched on crumbling earthen escarpments.

Beyond the ridge of hills another plain in which the provincial capital of Negara sits, large temple complexes and enclosed spaces confirming the eternal commitment of the Balinese to their gods.

Not far from here my rendezvous, to see a property development on the coast. And as I ull my camera from its bag to shoot some fotos, the skies open and I'm drenched. Which is why you see no fotos from this tript.

From here I'm taken inland, to the edge of a national park, where hills cede to the moutain chain that crosses the north of the island. The wether is much more clement here. The villages are neatly arranged, tidily kept; flowers and fruit tress are everywhere. Its a garden land, a tranquil place nestled under the cover of deep forest and terraced rice fields.

Very very beautiful up here. There's even a lake, made by the damming of a river. Almost Africen. Almost Caribbean. Almost Pyrenean. A true Arcadia. What a delight!

The afternoon passes too fast; my driver must take me back to the clutter of Kuta.

I spend the evening in the hotel - I don't want to rub the image of West Bali from my eyes.

Monday (September 21st) I was up super early so I could take some fotos at dawn on the beach at Kuta. Of course it faces the sunset and it was still stormy, so there wasn't really much I could shoot.

One guy was taking some shots of a couple, so I took a shot of him. Turns out he's a good photographer - way better than me at portrait work. So here's his link and judge for yourself.

Afternoon flight back to Jakarta. Thanks to the end of Ramadhan the city is quiet so it was a fast trip back to the residence. What happens next?