Thursday, 30 October 2014

Heading Down Under

We purchased the cheapest flight possible from Bali to Darwin. This meant checking out of our B&B at 11am then hanging about in a restaurant with our bags, slowly stretching our remaining rupiah over eight hours until our taxi to the airport left at 9pm. This life on the road isn't all excitement you know! 

We bought some airport bottled water for the flight and then were told as we arrived at the gate that it couldn't be taken on board. So we downed the bottles and felt uncomfortably bloated. Our flight left about 2am and arrived in Darwin at 5am (it's +1.5 hours). Chris was very excited about arriving in Australia. It has always been a country he'd wanted to visit, to experience the genuine true wildness and explore the bush. However stepping out of the plane at 5am and being hit by the tropical heat at that time of the morning took him by surprise. We began to wonder if spending the next 24 days in a tin can crossing this continent was a sound idea. 

First thing we noticed was the coating of red fine sand licking every surface. Then the availability of so much space became apparent. Building planning in Darwin seemed to be conducted in a most leisurely fashion as we had the impression of endless land. 

Bleary eyed, more sitting around occurred until the campervan place opened at 8am. To our annoyance the van wasn't ready and (why didn't we realise) there were other 'extras' like insurance premiums to reduce the excess, payment for second driver etc. to discuss and agree upon. Finally we where introduced to the vehicle and set off to find a supermarket. 

It was called Woolworths, it's not like the UK Woolworths of old as there was no pick 'n mix. The food prices are higher than the UK, apart from the beef steaks. Stocked up with more tinned food than the Famous Five off on a super exciting bank holiday expedition we set off. 

Leaving Darwin we headed along the Arnhem Way to Kakadu, a 3.5 hour drive. It is the end of the dry season and very hot in the Northern Territory. It was 38C in the shade so Sarah was very pleased she'd insisted on a van with aircon.

The roads are wide, straight, empty and long. The landscape was drier than sandpaper which had been further desiccated hung over an Aga. The evidence of bush fires was prevalent. We later found out that most of these were managed fires. The landscape reminded us of Central Africa. There are many thin weed-like trees struggling through the blood red rocky soil and tall dead grasses are baked silver and gold. Termite mounds stand like grave stones. On closer observation they are in fact longitudinally finned, presumably to help with cooling. The view was homogenous until it was occasionally broken by crossing a dry creek bed or passing a sandstone outcrop. 

After a while the heat and lack of sleep was too much for Sarah, who succumbed to dreamtime. Luckily coffee-addict Chris was driving. 

Eventually we reached Kakadu National Park, bought our permits and settled at Merl Campsite in the East Alligator Region. The site was pretty empty. Chris liberally seasoned the beef steaks we'd bought. It was a real treat to devour a good slab of meat again as in SE Asia meat was always more of a garnish than a portion size. What a very pleasant end to our first day in Australia. 

What a beauty - the van's pretty good too!

Three hours after leaving Darwin we enter Kakadu National Park - 20,000 square km of wilderness

Home sweet home - our first camp with a couple of stubbies to celebrate

Blown Away

Cruising around Ubud on our motorbike we spotted a sign for glass blowing and followed it to the Horizon glass workshop. Founded 11 years ago by Ron, an American and former carpenter with dreams of art and a passion for glass. Ron and his team of 4 Balinese apprentices produce fantastic, unique pieces of glass art, functional glassware and even painted pictures encapsulated in blown glass. We ended up spending a happy couple of afternoons watching and chatting with Ron and his team as they created wonderful works right before our eyes. Thanks for the memories Ron.

Check out more of Ron's work at

The team working hard in the workshop producing lamp stands for an exclusive local hotel

Ron turning the glass whilst his chief apprentice adds strings of glass to the body of the work

Ron tells us that "blowing glass is all about temperature control, too hot and the shape and structure is lost, the glass can't be worked, but too cold and the glass could blow or shatter. Its all a matter of practice and trial and error - a lot of error!!"

Ron collaborates with other artists, here below is a collaboration to reproduce a glass replica of the Java Man. This is the popular name given to early human fossils discovered on the island of Java (Indonesia) in 1891 and 1892. They were classified as Homo erectus in 1950, placing them directly in the human evolutionary tree. Estimated to be between 700,000 and 1,000,000 years old, at the time of their discovery the fossils of "Java Man" were the oldest hominid fossils ever found. Every component of the skeleton below and his burial artefacts has been made from blowing and sculpting glass by Ron and his team - truly incredible.

Ron and his team are overlaying a glass vessel, painted with a special lead-based paint, with molten glass and then blowing them up to 3 times the size. The painting is then trapped within the layers of glass. The characters are for a new children's book and magazine series due to be released shortly.

V cool!

Once finished the works are placed into an oven called an annealer which slowly cools the glass over 18 hours to ensure they don't fracture

Monday, 27 October 2014


Leaving the Lanza-grotty style beaches of Kuta and Lenigan behind we headed inland to Ubud the home of Balinese Hinduism and the Bali Royal Family. Once a peaceful religious retreat, Ubud is now a thriving tourist attraction, however it has retained a peaceful, calm air about it, particularly in the evenings once the day trippers have boarded the coaches and returned to their luxury resorts.

During the day a short walk down the back streets brings you out into the paddy fields, which step their way up the gentle ridges into the hills above the town. Here the pace of life has changed little for a few thousand years. Wildfowl fish and swim amongst the rice, locals tend to their fields, traversing the wide pools on narrow earth banks. Rice is still planted and harvested by hand and sold in the markets around Bali. The only major change is the occasional hot and sweaty tourist meandering through the paddies, camera in hand looking for that perfect tranquil photo opportunity!

We spent 4 days staying at the an Ashram meditation and yoga retreat. No alcohol, no food on the premises, no meat, no sex and up at 6am for meditation and yoga! To our great surprise we actually really enjoyed our stay at Anand Ashram! We found the meditation insightful and relaxing and the yoga the perfect way to start the day with gentle exercises, balances and stretching.

The founder, Anand Krishna, set up the organisation in 1991 after a miraculous recovery from leukemia thanks to a Tibetan Lama who provided him with insight into different meditation techniques allowing him to baffle his doctors, and western medicine in general, and heal himself through meditation. Through his foundation he promotes global peace, inter-faith discussions and conferences, addresses radicalism within faith and is recognized by the United Nations as an ambassador for world peace. He has a legacy of almost 150 books to date with more than 1 million copies sold in the past 15 years. People of all faiths attend his talks is a running commentary to his vision “One Earth, One Sky, One Humankind.”

We were fortunate that he was staying at the retreat also and we had many a fascinating conversation with him discussing his motives, approaches, philosophies and getting some handy hints on meditation techniques!

With batteries recharged and minds focused we realised that it was time for a change in our life. So we consulted the map, set a new course and booked a cheap flight to Darwin – Australia here we come.

Another sweaty tourist in the paddy fields

 Unchanged for millennia

A home for more than just fish and rice

The locals haven't changed much either

Well one local has

Who'd have thought? Scarecrows are international!

An ingenious wind operated "clacker" for scaring rice-robbing birdies

The Balinese festival celebrating all things metallic results in motorbikes and cars being washed and adorned with garlands and other decorations for the day

Well a few things have changed - less buffalo and more "Chinese Tractors"

Wednesday, 22 October 2014


Introduced to Britain by the Romans, cockfighting was popular among all social classes in Britain from the Middle Ages until the mid-nineteenth century. Cockpits were common in most villages and spectators travelled from near and far to attend the fights.

Whilst not many folks can remember seeing a cock fight in living memory in the UK, in Indonesia, as in many other countries, it is still a very popular pastime. For those of you of a delicate disposition I recommend it would be best to stop reading here and move on to the next post.

To attend a cock fight we needed to be suitably dressed in traditional attire. A bright longee wrapped around the waist and tucked in at the front and a bright material waste band for a belt.

We found the cock fighting ring in the neighbouring island of Nusa Ceningan, connected by a suspension bridge to Lembongan. Cocks are by their nature aggressive towards each other and the birds are especially bred and fed to maximise their stamina and strength for fighting.

The place was an open sided building, made of wooden and concrete beams and with a shallow sloping pit like floor, surrounded by small terraces for the audience to sit or stand. It was rammed full to bursting of men placing bets on their chosen victor. Although there was a decent breeze it was uncomfortably hot under the tin roof and the air was clogged with cigarette smoke and dust. There was little doubt that this is a mainstream activity and the crowd was captivated. Not a woman was seen, I'm not sure if they are not allowed to attend or are just not interested in this cocky spectacle.

Firstly the birds where shown to each other by their owners, a sort of speed anti-dating, to see which pairings despised each other the most. When a pairing was established the owners then got to choose a blade from within a pre-determined wallet. The blade was attached to the cockerel’s spur by red thread.

Then the betting commenced, the crowd called out their preferred bird, shouting its name or colour. The men in the middle took their bets and eventually the noise level settled and the tension began to rise.

Both cocks were then brought to the middle of the ring. At a point agreed by both handlers the birds were released and the battle began and continued until one bird was killed or severely injured. The crowd shouting out and calling at every strike made.

The victor was paraded around the ring, the loser if not demised was finished off by the ringside cleaver. The men exchanged their cash, the winners shouting and joking, the losers shuffling away grumbling under their breath!

For those that are interested here's a video and some pictures, apologies but some of you may find the footage disturbing.

Looking like locals in our longees, now we can enter the temple to watch the fighting

The ring is busy, noisy and stiflingly hot under the tin roof

Cocks are selected and paraded

Waiting cockerels are stored in wicker baskets around the ring and constantly crow adding to the clamour ringside

Once fighting pairs have been established a spur is added to one leg of each bird

The birds are squared up and the betting commences

The ringleaders take the bets, call for your bird - "brown" or "white"!

Video footage of one of the fights

If it won't play you can view it on you tube at