Pura Ulun Danu Beratan
The much-photographed 11-tiered meru – the thatch-roofed tower shrine – at Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is dedicated to Dewi Danu, the Goddess of the Waters, and features on Indonesia’s 50,000Rp note.
If you want to be a successful traveler, it pays to do your homework.
For example, checking the expected temperatures all around a region – not just on the coast – and packing accordingly!
This was not the first time I’d been caught out by weather in Asia: last year, my husband and I “forgot” that Vietnam is far enough north to get seriously cold in winter.
Bali, on the other hand, is just 8 degrees south of the equator, with average year-round tropical temperatures in the region of 30°C.
Unless, of course, you head into the mountains – in the wet season.
My husband and I had been enjoying some time in the coastal resort town of Sanur Beach when it became apparent that he needed to travel to Kuala Lumpur. Rather than join him, I decided to wait out his return near Candikuning. My plan was to do some yoga, go walking, catch up on work, and visit the temple of Pura Ulun Danu Bratan.
I hadn’t counted on the rain: three days of cold, ceaseless rain that knocked out the internet where I was staying and rendered my clothing – especially my shoes – woefully inappropriate. English language and tourist information fell away as I climbed the mountain to Wanagiri. Walking any of the local hikes was out of the question in the pelting rain and with the wet, slippery grass underfoot. No heat, no tv, no credit cards, and no internet: it didn’t take long for me to finish my book and to exhaust the “menu” in the wet, blowy common area. It turned out that the only transportation I could get down the hill to an ATM in the closest town was a motorcycle, making the idea of carrying my cameras seem pretty fool-hardy.
Still, you make do with what you have!
Fortunately, I had a plastic raincoat in my bag. I rolled up my pants so they wouldn’t get too soggy, grabbed my iPhone6 and my umbrella, got on the back of a small bike, and hung on for dear life.
Bukit Kembar BacPaker Room
I’m pretty sure the ad I read when I booked my simple room emphasised the “EcoTourism” rather than the “Bacpaker” aspects of my accommodation. Be warned: eco-tourism is often code for “no infrastructure”. Although, to be fair, the local coffee (although gritty) wasn’t bad, and the water in my shower was nice and hot.
Overlooking Lake Buyan
This is, no doubt, a lovely spot in good weather.
The Road Ahead
It was about 10 km of steep, winding mountain road, lined with jungle, macaques, and the odd house, back to the town of Candikuning.
Entrance to Pura Ulun Danu Beratan (Bratan)
I tried to organise for my motorcycle-taxi to meet me somewhere different, so I could go for a walk into town, but it was evident that we weren’t communicating clearly. I settled for assigning a time, and having him meet me here, where he left me.
Guardian at the Gate
This combined Hindu-Buddhist temple was built in 1633. Some of the features in the grounds – like the fierce dvarapala or gate guardians – are typical of Bali’s Hindu temple (and home) design.
Other features – like this extraordinary eagle – were like nothing I’d seen before.
Shrines of varying sizes and shapes are dotted around the grounds. The mountain in the background disappear into the rainclouds.
A typical feature of Balinese temple construction is the entry gateway, or Candi Bentar, which looks like an intricate tower that has been split into two.
There is no entry to the inner sanctum of the temple, except to those who are engaged in genuine worship.
When the richly-carved doors are open, however, you can see the draped temples within.
Visitors to the Deer Sanctuary
Deer have a special place in Buddhist lore, representing Buddha’s disciples.
The barking deer (muntjac) is a protected species in Indonesia because of their diminishing numbers in the wild.
The 11-Storey Pelinggih Meru at Pura Beratan
Pura Beratan is a major Shaivite water temple complex, part of the UNESCO-listed Subak water management system. The 11-storey Pelinggih Meru is dedicated to Shiva and his consort Parvathi, and also enshrines a Buddha statue.
Visitors to the Temple
A brief pause in the rain allows visitors and their Balinese guide to walk around the site.
A giant fish lives in Danau Bratan, which is also known as the Lake of Holy Mountain because of the area’s fertility.
Worker on the Site
Sacred Fig Tree
Wrapped in a black and white checkered cloth which symbolises the balance of good and evil in Balinese Hinduism, a giant fig commands a central place on the lawns.
Boats for Hire
There are no takers for the hire boats in the wet weather.
Outside the restaurants, more fish operates as a fountain.
Umbrellas in the Rain
From inside one of the restaurants, I can stay dry while watching more visitors as they leave the site under their colourful umbrellas.
I was lucky: the restaurant had reasonable prices and a free wifi signal; I dragged out my lunch as long as I could so that I could stay dry and check my mail and Facebook for the first time in two days.
Eventually, however, I had to roll up my pants again, don my plastic raincoat and brave the elements to meet my motorcycle driver for the long, wet ride back to my modest room.
Such is travel!
A Quiet Bench
There is something very “English” about a wood and iron bench sitting amid wet grasses and spring daisies.
“Spring” – that season of new life and fresh growth – is a concept originating in the temperate regions of Europe.
There is nowhere quite like an English country-garden to herald Spring in all its traditionally subtle beauty. The gentle rains – for which the countryside is so well known – coupled with slowly increasing sunlight, give rise to fresh budding leaves and an abundance of flowers. When the sun is shining, it is easier to believe in the ideas of rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal, and regrowth.
In practical terms, the arrival of spring, after a long, cold, grey winter, signals that it is time for people to get outside – either into their own small patches, or into those wonderfully expansive gardens of the old stately manors, preserved under Great Britain’s National Trust.
And so it was, one day last month while I was in Hereford, that we all grabbed our cameras and donned our sensible shoes, and went for a walk along the Wye River in The Weir Garden, a National Trust property just 8.0 kilometres (5 mi) west of the city.
This 10 acre (4 hectare) garden was designed by the prior owner, Roger Parr, and his head gardener William Boulter. In addition to the riverside walk, which follows the river banks over the old retaining wall, there is a traditional walled garden, dating back to the early 19th Century, and a Victorian glass house, added in the 1920s.
It’s a lovely place to visit, but you might want a raincoat or an umbrella!
Everything is spring-green, as we enter the Weir Garden property. There is a small entrance fee, unless you are a National Trust member.
The paths along the riverside are pebbled and dry, but most Brits always have their Wellies in the car, so they can put them on “just in case.”
A Quiet Bench
There are plenty of places along the riverside to sit and watch life – and the Wye River – go by.
I love daisies! They may be rugged and simple, …
… but they are so cheerful.
Purple Campion (Silene)
Valerian (Centranthus Ruber)
Clusters of flowers hang over the river as it winds past us.
Daddy and Daughter
Narrow steps lead down to the water’s edge, where a father and daughter check for passing fish.
Canoes on the Wye
Thanks to the local canoe rental, you can easily follow the waters down-stream.
Child in Nature
Youngsters are at their happiest in nature, climbing trees and getting grubby.
On the Tyre Swing
Near an open area with plenty of lawn chairs, there is a natural play ground built from ropes and wooden stumps; the tyre swing was a huge hit. I think it was only the promise of ice-cream at the near-by self-serve shop that got this little one to loosen her grip.
Green on Green
The grass and woods surrounding the upper path are impossibly green …
… with pink daisies stretching out from the verges. (iPhone6)
Admiring the Wye River
The upper path looks over the old retaining wall and the river banks.
Sheep in the Meadow
Freshly-shorn sheep graze in the neighbouring meadow, as we move from the Riverside Walk to the Walled Garden.
Common Red Poppies (Papaver Rhoeas) at the Wall
The 19th Century Walled Garden protects lots of freshly-planted kitchen vegetables, but is also colourful with the spring flowers.
Columbine (Aquilegia) Flowers in the Rain
Carnivorous Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia)
In true Victorian style, the heated glass house contains some real exotic specimens!
Bees in the Onion Flowers
Back outside, a light, misty rain …
Bees in the Onion Flowers
… doesn’t prevent the bees from going about their business.
We were heading back to the car when one of my companions got excited about what he could see in the trees.
I had to look very, very hard before the small, fast-moving treecreepers became remotely visible to me!
Canadian author Margaret Atwood has said: In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.
Dirt, flowers, and maybe a little ice-cream.
Until next time,
Dirt Roads West
It’s a long drive west across Mongolia, and for much of the way, the roads are more of a “suggestion” than an actual motorway.
It was a long day.
Long, bumpy, and noisy.
I’ve said it before: Cross-country travel in Mongolia is not for the faint-hearted – or for those who are weak of bladder! The Russian UAZ (Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod) four-wheel-drive vehicles that are tough enough to negotiate the matrix of mud, rocks, dirt and potholes that pass for a road network across the expansive steppes of Western Mongolia are not designed for passenger comfort.
We – a small group of photography enthusiasts organised by Within the Frame and managed by local guides G and Segi – were on our fourth day driving west from Ulaanbaatar (see: Gandantegchinlen Monastery). Our ultimate destination, the annual Golden Eagle Festival in the far-western province of Bayan-Ulgii Province was still a few driving-days away. In theory, we were driving so that we could immerse ourselves in the local landscape and culture. In practice, we saw the land from the windows of our 4x4s and mostly stopped well away from any settlements: our evening camps were dictated by the few accommodations open as the tourist season waned, and our lunch- and “comfort-breaks” took place wherever we happened to be.
I spent a lot of years on the Canadian prairies, so I have an affection for open plains with dustings of snow and mountains in the distance. I reflected on those days of driving across the winter wheat fields as I sat watching the steppes bounce past outside my UAZ window. The difference was that the prairie highways were smooth and straight; Mongolian roads pitch worse than a bad-tempered camel or a small boat in a storm.
We had been warned: it would be a long drive from our ger camp at Tosontsengel to our “hotel” on the shores Khyargas Lake.
And it was…
… with its own unique beauty.
Snow and Mist on the Steppes
We weren’t long out of our ger camp at Tosontsengel before the view out of our UAZs disappeared into snow and fog. (iPhone6)
Snowy View from the Truck
It amazes me that our drivers could keep track of the vaguely marked-out dirt roads under the falling snow. (iPhone6)
Much of the landscape is open and empty; a pile of rocks indicates it is time for a comfort stop!
UAZ Vans on the Empty Road
It is low-season; we have the roads pretty much to ourselves.
UAZs racing on the Flats
Our drivers amused themselves on the long drive by taking up impromptu challenges with each other. As we came alongside Telmen Lake, they fanned out three across and made their own paths. Bumping, pitching, and curving, they dodged giant holes and herds of cows and sheep. We started singing the theme to the TV show Bonanza as our driver raced the other vans across the flats.
Bridge to Nomrog
We were going to have our lunch at the side of the road, so we passed through the small town of Nomrog without stopping.
Snow on the Foothills
Yaks on the Steppes
With their shaggy coats and bushy tails, the herds of domestic yaks are a sight!
Yak on the Steppes
Their short legs disappear into the tall grasses …
Yak on the Run
… but they move pretty quickly when they want to!
Horse on the Steppe
I was excited to see a fabled Mongolia pony through my UAZ window. (iPhone6)
Mongolian Nomad on the Steppe
Nomads on horseback herding their sheep and goats are dotted all over the open landscape.
The Road Ahead
As we continue westward, the road deteriorates further.
UAZ on the Road Ahead
Sun and rain alternate as we continue to aim for – but never quite reach – the mountains.
The afternoon sun shines on the herds of well-fed ponies that I watch through my truck window.
UAZs on the Road
Snowy mountains float in the distance as we drive into a landscape …
Landforms in the Distance
… that makes me think of prehistoric times and Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series.
New roads are being built – but not in time for us! The contracts for new highways have been won by Chinese contractors who bring in their own construction crews.
View from the Truck
We drive a short stretch of gravel road-base before being tipped back out onto the dirt. (iPhone6)
The sun dipped below the horizon before we reached our destination; it was a good excuse to stretch our legs and momentarily escape the noisy vehicles.
It was dark before we reached our hotel – which was possibly just as well! The old Russian building (called by one French blogger “an ancient Soviet (Internment?) Camp”) looked like a high school, but lacked internal plumbing or any other creature comforts. The toilets were holes over pits at the petrol station next door, and the washing station was a walk in the other direction, at the cold-water tank. I thanked my lucky stars for my headlamp: otherwise, I would have had no chance of negotiating the rocky, obstacle-laden paths in the dark.
As chance would have it, the one person in our group who saw a mouse is deathly afraid of them. She was persuaded that mice don’t climb stairs, and that she’d be safe on the second floor. Those of us on the ground floor tucked into our beds with hard and lumpy horsehair mattresses and crunchy barley-filled pillows, and took our chances with the mice.
Still, it was warm.
May all your roads be less bumpy!
Happy travels –
Tulip Tree Flowers
Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) are native to eastern North America, and in these Appalachian cove forests, they can grow to almost 180 ft (24 m). The trees don’t produce their unique tulip-like flowers until they are 8-9 years old.
You could spend weeks – or even years – exploring the scenic views, the mountain trails, the towns and villages, and the flora, fauna, music, culture and craft along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Meandering along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains in America’s Appalachians, the National Parkway starts at Rockfish Gap, Virginia, where it continues south from the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park (see: In the Virginia Woods), and runs 469 miles (755 km) to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina.
It was this time last year, late in an American spring, that my husband and I were driving south along this “National Scenic Byway”. The timing of our trip had been determined long before by family functions, not by the parkway’s peak blooming season. Shrubs and plants come into flower according to whim, location, and weather; but we got lucky: various ground-dwelling wildflowers were in bloom, and the flowers on the rhododendron and azalea bushes and the mountain laurel and tulip trees, were out in full glory.
We had only a little over three days – which sounds like a lot for the relatively short distance, but when you consider that the very maximum speed anywhere along the Parkway is 45 mph (72 kph), and when you factor in all the excuses to stop, we could have used more time. Still, we did manage lots of scenic breaks for flowers and views, explorations of historic and cultural sights, a few walks, and time out for wild berry pies and other Appalachian treats.
Join us for the first part of our journey.
Humpback Rocks Farm Visitor Center
We were not very far along the Parkway (Mile 6.1) when when we made our first stop at a Visitor Center. There is a walk to Humpback Rocks from here, …
Blue Ridge Instruments
… but we satisfied ourselves with a look at the static displays …
Outbuildings and Vegetable Patch
…and a walk around the old Appalachian farm buildings.
Wood Anemone (Anemone Nemorosa) in the Vegetable Patch
I always marvel at how hard early farmers had to work, and the ingenious solutions that they came up with for food preparation and storage, in the days before electricity and refrigeration.
Fence Posts and Ivy
Split rail fences were common in these heavily-wooded regions. (iPhone6)
Built from easy to split, rot-resistant wood, they last a long time – but not forever!
Afternoon Sun at Ravens Roost
By the time we made our next stop, at Ravens Roost (Mile 10.7), the afternoon sun was angling lower in the sky.
Ravens Roost Marker
From this overlook, sitting at a height of 3200ft (975 m), you can see north to the Shenandoah Mountains and south to the Great Smoky Mountains.
All along the roadway, rhododendron blooms lay where they have fallen.
View from a Parkway Overlook
Everywhere we pull over, the trees and mountains extend off into the distance.
Definitely a laurel, I think this is too pink to be the “mountain” variety, and I’m guessing it is Kalmia angustifolia, which is found all over eastern North America. Either way, the buds are lovely.
White Tailed Deer
Small, timid white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) feed on the verges as twilight drops over the road.
We were treated to and old-town sunset as we pulled off the parkway to find our bed for the night. (iPhone6)
Rhododendron on the Roadside
I never tire of wild rhododendron! We were not long in the park on our second day – after an overnight break in Bedford just north of Roanoke – when we stopped the car to explore the flowers.
This day fits us just that bit further south, and the blooms are plentiful. Short bushes with their huge flowers cling to inhospitable-looking granite boulders.
I was especially excited to find the endemic Appalachian flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) in full flower.
Another of my favourite plants native to the eastern United States, is the very pretty mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia).
Tulip Tree Flowers
I remember seeing a picture of tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) in a book when I was a child in Canada, and not believing that they could be real. I still think they are pretty amazing.
Smart View Loop Trail
Determined not to sit in the car all day, we stopped at Smart View (Mile 154.5) to walk the short (2.6m/4.2km) loop trail …
Smart View Loop Trail
… though the wet …
… and impossibly green …
… Virginia woods.
Fungus in the Shadows
The sheltered ground is home to fungi …
Frog in the Leaf Litter
… and tiny frogs are almost invisible in the leaf litter at our feet.
We finally reached the cabin that was home to the Trail family in the 1890s. We are meant to have a “right smart view” here, but the dogwood blooms are finished, and the clouds are coming in.
Rock Castle Gorge (Mile 170)
The rains are starting to roll our way again when we stop at the overlook near Rocky Knob.
The Parkway originated during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with work started late in 1935 and mostly finished by the end of 1966. The project required negotiation with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, whose lands were affected, and displaced many existing farm-holding residents and landowners.
Thank heavens for Roosevelt’s effort and foresight! Today, the Parkway is a priceless ecological and historical resource. “The parkway has been the most visited unit of the National Park System [almost] every year since 1946…”
These wonderful green spaces are so hard to recover once lost.
Until next time,
Enjoy the green spaces!
“El Faro” in Albir
It’s an easy walk from the Valencian seaside resort town of Albir to the lighthouse at the top of Sierra Helada, or “Ice Mountain”, in the Sierra Helada Natural Park in southern Spain.
We’d heard the stories about the Costa Blanca (White Coast) on the Mediterranean in Southern Spain: cheap flights from the northern parts of Europe makes this area a playground for “hens parties”, retirees, and school-leavers.
On our recent stay in Alicante Province, Spain, my husband and I met representatives of all these groups. We were staying in the planned resort of Platja de l’Albir (also called Albir, El Albir or L’Albir) – part of the Valencian town of L’Alfàs del Pi – and we discovered (like countless tourists before us) a region with a magnificent climate, good infrastructure, and innumerable reasonably-priced options for food, accommodation, and recreation.
One of Albir’s top attractions is the short walk from the Playa de Racó (“beach corner”) waterfront to El Faro (the lighthouse) in the Parque Natural de la Serra Gelada.
Join us for a stroll.
Anchor on the Mediterranean
A giant sculpture of an anchor give visitors to Albir a distinct sense of place.
Lovers on Playa Albir The Mediterranean Sea entertained us with endless blues.
It is mid-May; the northern-European tourists have not yet arrived in their full numbers, but the beach is already busy.
Costa Blanca – White Coast
As we walk towards the Sierra Helad National Park, we have views over the Mediterranean towards the rocky outcrop at Peñón de Ifach.
There are a number of walking trails in the park.
Tunnel on Ruta Amarilla
Our trail to the lighthouse is on a short, well-marked and smoothly-surfaced section of the Ruta Amarilla (Yellow Route).
Fringed Pinks – Dianthus
The first section of the trail is a little steep – especially in the afternoon heat after a late Spanish lunch!
Fringed Pinks – Dianthus
The many herbs and wildflowers make good excuses to pause for rest.
El Faro in Albir
The lighthouse comes into view 439 meters above sea level on Serra Gelada – Frozen Mountain. The mountain’s name was reputedly given to it by fishermen who though it looked like an iceberg from the sea on moonlit nights.
Wild Daisies – Calendula Arvensis
El Faro on Serra Gelada
The lighthouse is another bend closer, sitting amid its scrubby vegetation. The smells from the Mediterranean heather, thyme, and lavender bushes are delightful on the warm air.
I had no idea thistles came in any colours other than purple! These yellow ones were all along the trail.
The base of the mountain is dotted with caves that were used by smugglers and pirates between the 16th and 18th centuries, and lookouts were built along the ridge tops to keep watch.
Down to the Ochre Mines
The hillside also has ruins from 19th century ochre mining enterprises that you can visit. The stone pylons in the valley were part of the supports for the wagon rails.
Path up to El Faro
Today the lighthouse operates a few hours a day as an information centre, …
… but it was closed long before we arrived.
Marine Mists and Fish Farms
The views from the hilltop are stunning and well worth the walk.
The whole walk is dotted with informative signs in Spanish and English.
Yellow Thistle and Ruins
Spanish Lavender (Lavandula Stoechas)
Spanish Lavender grows wild in this arid Mediterranean climate…
Smell the Spanish Lavender!
… and it smells wonderful!
Looking towards Albir
The walk down was much quicker than the walk up, and before long we could see the town of Albir and the mountains behind through the rock-slide tunnel.
Our final treat was a red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) peaking out from behind an Aleppo pine (pinus halepensus) tree.
Red Squirrel (Sciurus Vulgaris)
I was especially excited because I had never seen one in the wild. The numbers of red squirrels have decreased markedly in much of Europe.
It was a pleasant walk, and we had absolutely perfect weather: sunny and clear but not too hot. I was glad not to be doing it in the heat or crowds of summer!
Until next time –
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