Skip to content

Making Salt on a Black Beach

Making salt the traditional way is labor-intensive work. Water is collected from the ocean in heavy canvas bags slung from a pole resting on the worker’s shoulders, then carried uphill from the water’s edge and splashed on a perfectly smooth base of sand. As the hot sun evaporates the water, the salt crystals stay on the surface. After three days the salt is collected, run through a filtering and drying process and is ready for sale.

At this beautiful black sand beach we were able to watch the collection process.

Hauling WaterSpreading WaterPouring Water

I read that a salt farmer can collect about 70-100 kg of salt in a week and sell it for $10. Really hard way to make a living.

It’s All About the Rice

The people of Bali have cultivated rice for thousands of years, and today follow the same rituals, and even some processes, that date back centuries. According to Nyoman, virtually every family has a rice field, and when it’s planting time (as it was during our visit), it’s all hands on deck to get the tender seedlings into the ground as quickly as possible.

Rice is central to Balinese cuisine, from black rice pudding for breakfast to fried rice (nasi goreng) to sticky rice balls filled with sweetened coconut.

Woman with Basket on Head

Rice Planter with ReflectionPulling Weeds

Planter with Seedlings

In some areas they still use oxen to plow the fields for planting, but this man-powered plow is more the norm. We watched these guys move this heavy machine from one paddy to another below — a dangerous and strenuous feat!

 

Over the Edge-2

Over the Edge

Down She Goes

Irrigation canals surround and snake through the fields.

Resting Worker

A well-deserved rest after a back-breaking morning of planting rice by hand.

Joining Our New Bali Family

Our generous guide, Nyoman, and his wife, Wayan, hosted a cooking class, lunch and very special dance experience at their home for each group. The morning started with a trip to their local market, where Wayan selected the produce she would include in the meal and explained many of the foods that were unfamiliar to us — like snake fruit, mangosteen, rambutan, bitter gourd and Chinese long beans.

 

 

Market Stalls

Like many village markets, in addition to foodstuffs, stallholders were selling clothing (including lovely hand-made sarongs), offering elements, children’s toys and flowers. As usual, we were the only Westerners to be seen.

A short hop from the market was the cool enclave of Nyoman’s family. Like virtually all Balinese, he, Wayan and their two children live in a three-generation compound including his parents and his brother and sister-in-law and their children. Each family unit has private quarters, but there is a common family temple used for the numerous celebrations and ceremonies that occur throughout the year. A stone walk wound through a lush garden that opened to a large patio with a covered outdoor kitchen. Anyone who wished to give a hand in the meal preparation was encouraged with instruction from Wayan.

 

P1170534

We cut long beans into shorter pieces and mixed them with garlic and shaved fresh coconut, then stir-fried the lot. Mackerel Nyoman caught the evening before was turned into pepes (which I have undoubtedly misspelled): pieces of fillet topped with a fiery sambal, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled; a paste of fresh tuna and spices formed around skewers into sate, then grilled; chicken pieces cooked ultra-crispy in coconut oil; white rice; tempeh; tofu with curry; bitter gourd sliced and mixed with garlic, then stir-fried; and more sambal to spice up everything. An oversize wooden mortar and pestle was the implement of choice for crushing garlic and chiles for sambal. According to Wayan, this was a fairly typical midday meal like one they would cook once a day for the family and eat from for lunch and dinner.

 

Victor Making SambalAfter lunch we were in for a treat, when nieces, nephews and neighbor children performed traditional dances for us, while Nyoman and Agung ran around with their smoke machines creating atmospheric haze to enhance the show. Two of the boys dressed as the bull or lion in the dance, roaring and clicking to the music. The makeup and costumes were remarkable, and the girls’ eyes so expressive; even though the music was incomprehensible to us, their expressions conveyed fear, surprise and dread as the story unfolded. The Barong, king of the spirits (and a fearsome looking beast), represents good, and his enemy, Rangda, stands for evil. The dance enacts the ongoing battle between the two forces.

Back to the Monkey Forest

Taking our second group to the Sacred Monkey Forest gave me the chance to capture some better monkey business. On our first visit, the light was challenging — dappled, with deep shadows. The overcast on the second trip was so much more favorable, and it might be my imagination, but it seemed like the monkeys were a bit more accommodating too. These are Balinese macaques, and I saw quite a few more babies than the first time around.

The expressions on their faces were so human, and it was fun to watch their rituals: grooming each other, or mom hanging onto the baby’s tail so he wouldn’t scamper away. Their Mohawk haircuts were very dashing! The baby in the last picture was so new he still had his umbilical cord attached. I love his crazy hair and wrinkled little face.

Mom Holding Tail

Mom and Baby

Newborn

Okay, Now Where Was I?

Back to Bali…

One of the fascinating things to observe in Bali is the spirituality of the people, 85% of whom are Hindu. Every morning at our hotel, one particular lady fashioned offerings that were distributed around the property: on verandahs, atop little shrines and on the tables in the dining area. One day she was making small baskets of coconut palm leaves to hold the flowers, leaves, pieces of palm and other greenery that comprised each offering. Daily Offering

Single Offering

At different times during the day, staff members would approach the largest shrine, just off the dining area, quietly say their prayers and then return to work.

Altar

During our first week, it was this shrine above that a large monkey visited each morning, picking through the offering, which I guess he assumed was there for him. We all missed getting a good shot of the day he began pawing through the elements like a kid tearing through his toy box, tossing everything over his shoulder as he frantically searched for…what?

Offering baskets like these appeared everywhere we went each day. The lady at the bank with whom I did my frequent transactions had one on her desk; we’d find them on the sidewalk in front of businesses; at the water temple we visited they were arranged above the spouts. Sometimes it would be just the basket of offering, but most times there was also a stick of incense burning, adding a pleasing aroma. The ritual of assembling the offerings every single day is in itself a form of worship.Offerings with Incense

The arrangement of the offering elements is not random, but is organized in a particular design so that each component occupies a specific space on the tray (north, south, east, west) associated with a Hindu god. This daily offering is given as thanks for peace in the world, and the prayers reflect that gratitude. I was moved by the simple devotion of these people, who constantly remind themselves to be thankful. While they worship one God, they also recognize the three major Indian Hindu gods (Brahma, Vishnu and Siva), along with a variety of specialized gods I will never understand unless I study the religion in great depth.

It must be this strong faith that accounts for the serenity of the Balinese people. They are warm, kind, calm, welcoming and accommodating in every way imaginable. Off the resort, in the sheer chaos that is Ubud traffic, this spirit prevails. Despite there being virtually no traffic lights or pedestrian crossings (in fact car and scooter drivers don’t yield to pedestrians trying to cross the street), scooters squeezing between cars left and right and parking on sidewalks, and the general gridlock that prevails at almost any hour of the day or night, there is no road rage. A driver gently honks his horn to alert another that he can cut into traffic or that he is passing (no such thing as no passing zones); no driver gives another the finger or shouts obscenities; and everyone just seems to take in stride what we would consider an intolerably frustrating situation. It is typically tourists blithely renting scooters who end up getting in (or causing) accidents, not the locals!

To Manly and Bondi

After the “southerly buster” Thursday night, fresher air swept in (along with a few showers) that brought the temperature down almost 30F. Despite the constant threat of rain, I stuck with my plan to take the fast ferry to Manly. Maybe it was the gloomy day, but aside from a good lunch (including some fabulous oysters) it was a disappointing venture. The skyline views on a clear day must be something. After a perfunctory walk along the Corso to the beach, where a few surfers were looking for waves, back I went to Circular Quay, and back to Darlo for a good Thai dinner.

4vSt+gYSSB+WPWsa2R2r5Q

The next adjacent suburb to the  south of Darlinghurst is Paddington, or Paddo to the locals. So on this gloomy morning, my last here, I set off to explore this lovely area , with its abundance of gracious wrought iron-trimmed terrace houses facing streets lined with magnificent plane trees. The wrought iron corners look like the doilies my grandmother tatted when I was a kid.

Plane Tree on Paddington

Paddington St Terrace House

I’ll take this one….

Ready for Rehab

Blue Terrace House with Orange Door

The challenge in photographing this scenic area (besides today’s blah grey sky) is the unfortunate electrical wires — big fat cords, poles and ugly transformers placed smack in front of the prettiest façades [sigh]. Not to mention TV antennas sticking out of the rooftops — I thought those were history! So I concentrated on the details.

 

 

 

 

I found Union Street with its row of delightful gingerbread houses built in the 1880s. As I was passing, an older lady with a walker was approaching her gate, and we began chatting about the houses, which are much in demand. Her neighbor came out to help her, and they invited me inside — what a treat! The front door had a stained glass panel, and the interior was like a shotgun house in the Old West: a parlor, and behind that a study, then a bedroom, then a bathroom, and a kitchen at the rear, with a postage-stamp-size garden out back. Just the right amount of space for an elderly person with limited mobility.

The Paddington Markets happen every Saturday in the playground between a church and a school. Vendors sell clothing, crafts, plants, jewelry — anything you might want — and there are food stalls with Turkish, Himalayan, Spanish, Greek… and a bakery with the most delectable breads and muffins…

Feeling a bit peckish (and needing a loo) I decided to stop in a café for lunch and then catch my old friend the Big Bus. There are two routes, the red (city) and blue (Bondi), and a single ticket allows you to hop on and off both. Having not taken the trip to Bondi Beach, my plan was to cover this last area of the city today. Unfortunately, my ticket was nearing its expiration time (too complicated to explain here) so I couldn’t get off the bus and check out the beach, or the chi-chi residential neighborhood of North Bondi, where homeowners have expansive views of either the ocean or the Sydney skyline across Botany Bay. I’d take either; I’m not picky. Past Bondi was the lovely Rose Bay, certainly worth a visit next time.

To wind up my visit I made my final hop-off at the El Alamein Fountain, which I had passed numerous times on the Big Bus. Formed in the shape of a dandelion gone to seed, the fountain was erected in 1961 to memorialize soldiers killed in the two WWII battles at El Alamein in Egypt. I was fascinated by the water patterns and had fun playing around with my camera there .

El Alamein Fountain

A fingerpost sign reminded me how far from home I am — 16,026 km, about 10,000 miles  from New York.

Fingerpost

Cafe Giorgio

There was a cute little café, Giorgio, right there, so I grabbed a seat on the patio, ordered wine and stuffed zucchini blossoms and watched the world go by. The flowers were so good that I ordered another glass of wine and pizza for an early dinner before making my way back to Darlo. Tomorrow, home, at last. But this won’t be my last visit to this amazing city of friendly, open, warm people and fascinating sights, of which I’ve only seen a few.

 

 

 

A Blistering Day in Sydney

I don’t know when I’ve ever been hotter than I was today. Temps reached the mid-90s with scorching sun. Back on the Big Bus, I went to The Rocks to explore one of Sydney’s oldest neighborhoods, established shortly after Australia became a colony in the late 1700s. From the outset it was a slum, populated by convicts and frequented by sailors looking for prostitutes. Now it’s a vibrant dining and shopping area adjacent to Circular Quay, where sightseeing ferries ply the harbor and fast boats make the crossing to Manly.

This weekend Sydney will celebrate the Lunar New Year, so preparations are underway in the form of hanging Chinese lanterns and giant inflatable or metal pigs (2019 is the Year of the Pig).

red chinese lanterns

year of the pig

chinese lanterns

There’s an interesting little free museum showcasing artifacts from The Rocks’ early days. It includes implements from a London butcher who was packed off to the penal colony after stealing a £1 note. He married a fellow female convict (though he was already married) who left him a couple of years later when his wife arrived from London. He ditched her to take a third wife, and apparently made a decent living as a butcher in The Rocks before he died a few years later. Life was tough in The Rocks.

Continuing on the theme of convicts, I hopped on the Big Bus with a plan to visit the Hyde Park Barracks, where convicts were incarcerated upon arrival. Having read, years ago, The Fatal Shore, by Robert Hughes, an account of the deportation of convicts to Australia, I was looking forward to learning more about this fascinating part of Australia’s founding as a British colony. But alas, the museum is closed for a major refurbishment and won’t reopen until later this year.

So I sought the comforting shade of Hyde Park and the Archibald Fountain, erected to commemorate the alliance between France and Australia during WWI. Apollo stands in the center, flanked by Theseus slaying the Minotaur, Pan watching after the sheep, and Diana (ta-da!) bringing harmony to the world.

 

By this time my head was exploding from the heat, so (not without some difficulty) I found the Big Bus again to take me to Kings Cross, the closest stop to home.

My flat is on Womerah Street, a gentrifying part of Darlinghurst. While the building  is nothing special, there are several attractive single-family homes along the street that have been rehabbed, and a few more that are obviously works in progress. Charming.

 

I’m also thrilled with the abundance of dining options nearby. Last night on my way home from a day of adventure, I dropped into a cute little Italian place called à Tavola, where the charming Marco served me icy cold oysters with bloody Mary granita and the richest ricotta gnocchi, with roasted mushrooms, sage, pesto and Pecorino. Tonight was Lil Darlin, a happening place that offers a different deal from their regular menu every night. Tonight was pasta for $10 — that’s $7.50 US — for a generous plate of linguine and meatballs that were exceptionally good. I was intrigued by the Screaming Pig rosé, and it did not disappoint!

 

After the nearly unbearable heat the wind suddenly kicked up about 5:00 — crazy wind that rattled the windows of this Victorian building and brought half a tree down up the block. The gusts must have  been 40 mph. The good news is that the wind  brought relief — it dropped from 97 to 71 in about two hours!

All caught up for today…except for that pesky Bali blog that needs major attention. Stay tuned!