Tag Archives: Indus

Bali told in pictures and prose and Mount Agung finally erupts!

I just returned from Bali and had an amazing time. I wrote about my adventure last year, following a trip to the Indonesian island nearly three decades after I first set foot on it.

As good fortune would have it, I was able to go back this year and provide a recap of my journey below.

Before the trip, there was Mt. Agung

As was the case last October, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival was the impetus for the trip. I booked my festival tickets in the summer to take advantage of an early bird price for the five-day event. I looked forward to leaving the cool summer of Toronto for warmer climes, but before I could even think of getting on that plane, a hiccup by the name of Mt. Agung emerged, more than a hiccup really. Mt. Agung is a volcano and also the highest point in Bali. It had shown signs of erupting around early September, a month before my trip. The last time it erupted was 1963, killing more than 1000 people. Back then, there was no forewarning. This time, however, the warnings ramped up fast and furious. On a scale of 1-4 severity, Mt. Agung was classified “4” and slapped with a twelve-kilometer exclusion zone around the mountain.

Getty Images

The governor issued a state of emergency at the end of September, and scientists speculated daily about when the volcano would blow.

Tourists were cancelling their trips.

There was a heightened sense of panic when another volcano (Mt. Sinabung) erupted in proximity to Mt. Agung, killing ten people.

Mt. Agung continued to spew smoke leading up to my trip, causing tremors in surrounding areas. It led to the evacuation of more than 180,000 people.

The Canadian government issued a travel advisory about Bali and the potential danger of Mt. Agung, but it did not outright say “DO NOT GO.”

I knew how much the Balinese depended on tourism, especially during the time I was going — their rainy and low season. After weighing my options, I decided the risk to me was small. I was staying outside the exclusion zone anyway, so worst case scenario would be if the volcano erupted as I was flying into Bali. The volcanic ash would disrupt air traffic and likely reroute my plane, but what were the chances of that happening?

Ultimately, I did not want to cancel my trip, so I rationalized it in my favour (With logic involved, of course!).

A farmer tends to his land at the base of Mt. Agung – Getty: Bay Ismoyo

It’s old news now, but Mt. Agung never did erupt while I was there. Not only that, a week after I arrived, authorities lowered the alert level from 4 to 3 due to a decrease in volcanic activity.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 21

Today, I just learned Mt. Agung has finally erupted. I started writing this post a few nights ago, so how things can change! The good news is the eruption is small. There are no new evacuations and the airport remains opened. I am relieved and will stay tuned.

A cloud of ash rising from Mt. Agung Nov 21st. (BNPB Indonesia)

Hopefully, the evacuees will be able to return to their homes soon, and no new eruptions will occur.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 26

Mt. Agung has erupted again and now the aviation warning in Bali is RED. The Lombok airport is now closed. This means a larger eruption is imminent or underway with significant emission of ash into the atmosphere. 😦

UPDATE NOVEMBER 27

Ngurah Rai, the international airport has closed in Bali and stranded thousands of travellers. The warning for Mt. Agung is back up to its highest level as more ash spews into the atmosphere. Once again, we are hearing of a major and imminent eruption.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 28

Bali’s international airport remains closed, and Mount Agung is showing increasing signs of a possible full-scale eruption.

Kuta for Green Tea and Poppies

My first stop in Bali was Kuta, a beach and resort area in southern Bali and one of its first tourist spots.

Kuta beach at dawn

Kuta was also the site of two terrorist bombings—one in October, 2002 and another in October, 2005. Over 225 people died as a result of the two attacks. Thankfully, it has not had another incident since.

Kuta remains best known for its party-centric atmosphere and unrivalled sunsets. With a long broad Indian Ocean beach-front, it is also a surfer’s paradise.

Kuta beach aka Sunset beach

I would not normally have made a stop in Kuta, but I was there on a mission—green tea!

If you recall, I fell in love with a particular green tea, Ohkuraen, which I am addicted to! I found it at a bakery near my hotel in Ubud last year and bought three bags to take home. When I returned to Toronto, I contacted the company and connected with their foreign shipper. She and I are now friends after I ordered a large supply of teas from their plant in Japan. It should have lasted me a couple of years. It did not even last me one!

Because they don’t sell their teas in Canada, I knew I had to make a trip to buy a large supply of it while in Bali, one of their main importers.

My friend in Japan connected me with Grand Lucky Supermarket in Kuta, and I messaged the store to ensure they would be fully stocked while I was there. The manager actually emailed me pictures to ensure we were talking about the right brand! Considering I was travelling nearly 16,000 km to buy the tea, I really appreciated his diligence and attention to detail! 

In the end, I didn’t quite empty their shelves of the tea, but I bought a lot. Hopefully they last me another year—at least. Many thanks to Kimie and Grand Lucky Supermarket for their wonderful help!

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Poppies Cottages is an institution in Kuta. It’s a reasonably priced hotel that has been around since 1973. Thatch-roofed cottages are nestled in gardens of hibiscus, jasmine, and frangipani. It’s an oasis away from the noisy, busy streets of Kuta and is charming as can be.

Poppies restaurant

One morning, I went for a walk along the beach and there were runners getting ready for a marathon. It wasn’t even 6AM yet. Below is a picture which shows the start of the race against the backdrop of the Bali bombing memorial. The memorial is made of stone, set with a large marble plaque and bears the names and nationalities of each of those killed. It is flanked by the national flags of the victims.

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Tirta Gangga

After leaving Kuta and before heading to Ubud, I took a side trip to Tirta Gangga – a royal water palace in East Bali. At the time, there was concern about whether Mt. Agung might erupt. I was heading toward the volcano, not away from it for this trip.

Along with the gardens, there is a hotel and a restaurant on the grounds, and the complex is perched on the south-eastern slope of Mount Agung.

Tirta Gangga also saw a series of restorations following the destructive ash from the 1963 Mount Agung eruption.

A little background about Tirta Gangga, it was built in 1946 during the reign of the late raja of Karangasem, Anak Agung Anglurah Ketut Karangasem (1887 – 1966). The lavish water gardens owned by the royal Karangasem family feature 1.2 hectares of pools, ponds and fountains surrounded by neatly cut lawns adorned with stepping stones, ornate statues, koi, and tropical gardens.

While I was there, Mt. Agung loomed over the palace behind a ribbon of clouds. Though it appeared extremely close, it was at least 18-20 kilometres outside the exclusion zone.

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Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

Beautiful Balinese greeters of the festival

Among the international authors at the festival were:

Simon Armitage, British poet, punker, and part-time Oxford Professor of Poetry.

Canadian Madeleine Thien, winner of the Giller Prize and Booker short-listed author for Do Not Say We Have Nothing. 

Simon Winchester, British author of non-fiction texts including: The Professor and the Madman and Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded.

Jung Chang, Chinese-born British author, best known for her family autobiography Wild Swans.

Ian Rankin, Scottish crime fiction author of the Inspector Rebus novels.

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I really enjoyed my time at the festival this year. Aside from the great line-up of authors, I had a sense of familiarity with the event, which made navigating the different venues an easier process.

At the start of each panel, an announcement was made for evacuation procedures should Mt. Agung erupt. Even with the prospect of a natural disaster, a sense of calm and joy pervaded the atmosphere. From festival organizers to authors to readers to volunteers, everyone seemed happy to be there.

Bravo to Janet DeNeefe, founder of the festival—in its 14th year and going strong!

A side trip to the Neka Art Museum one afternoon also made the list for me. You’ll see I shared the space with some loud, feathery creatures!

My outfit matched the signage!

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♥ Ubud 

All I can say is the weather this year in Ubud was fantastic. There was only a few hours of rain during the night while I slept, otherwise, it was sunny and hot the entire time. Amazing clear skies and warm, humid air lasted from dawn until late into the night.

For the sake of posting this blog in a timely fashion, I will end it here with a few more pictures. Ubud is an experience, and there is nothing that can convey it like actually being there. I’m addicted to the sights and sounds and smells, so much so, that I did not take many pictures. I didn’t want to spend time capturing the moment when I could be living it. I’m not much for selfies, and Instagram and I don’t quite get along.

Regardless, I am happy for a few photos of my trip to share with you and hope you’ve enjoyed taking this journey with me. 😀

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