14 Great Arts Courses in Ubud, Bali

3 Nov

Yves Picq's image of Rice terraces in Bali

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Set amid the rice fields, temples and river gorges of rural Bali, art comes naturally in Ubud. And it’s one of the easiest destinations in the world to get in touch with your artistic side, thanks to a myriad day, half-day or longer arts courses just waiting for the taking.

Before you begin the perennial quest for cheap hotels in Bali, it’s worth planning some time to be creative. Here’s just some of the arts you can learn in Ubud:

1: Silversmithing Continue reading

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Hearts and Minds

29 Oct

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We meet Cam and The Big O on a WWII amphibious landing craft in a coconut grove outside the island’s capital. They are surrounded by a curious semi-circle of locals, a nice complement to our own substantial entourage, who trail back through the tall palms and young bananas for several hundred yards of scrubby grass.

The Big O is a lovely kid. His compact frame decked out in stripy surf shorts, boxfresh T-shirt, mirrored aviators and oodles of sunscreen, he can work a look as well as his English idiom.

An idiom inherited, like his dreams of Miami Beach, from the time the US Navy came to town. A formative experience for The Big O, the highlight of his 23 years on the planet.

Formative, also, it appears, for much of the population of what is, fundamentally, a small, conservative and largely Muslim island. Continue reading

The Last Soldier

27 Oct Wikimedia commons image of WWii japanese flag

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]In parts of Halmahera, they remember Teruo Nakamura as the good Japanese. You know.

The one who didn’t rape and kill and pillage. Didn’t enslave workers to dig pits for war gold, then bayonet them when the work was done. (When treasure hunters on Halmahera find an Indonesian corpse or two, they know they’re getting close.)

In fact, Teruo met his wartime girlfriend when other soldiers were trying to mutilate her, and he recognised the magic which prevented them…

But this story’s not really about Maria. Though she’s alive, still. 105 years old, her magic as strong as ever, living the quiet life in Western Halmahera.

It’s about Teruo. Teruo Nakamura, the man who fought the Second World War until 1974. Continue reading

Nine Things NOT to Pack for Your RTW

26 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]1: Luggage Locks
Worried about valuables being nicked while you sleep? Why not stick a small metal sign on your pack saying: “Expensive stuff in here”? It’s not like these thieves have knives, right?

Alternatively, put the stuff you can’t afford to lose (passports, cash, card, electronics) in a daypack and use it as a head-rest. Let’s face it. It’s unlikely anyone’s going to want your clothes.

2: Mosquito Net
Newsflash! It’s not just you who knows there’s mosquitoes where you’re going. The guesthouse owners do too. Continue reading

That Rockstar Feeling

25 Oct

Z's face cropped against sea background

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]We saw some amazing things from the roof of the slow boat the other day.

Flying fish. Not just the big, silvery ones, threading running stitch across the sea like giant needles. But little dark critters, gliding low, low over the wavelets like flocks of aquatic sparrows, slender wing-fins carrying them for as much as a hundred metres before they splash into water which seems –- well, quite the wrong element for them.

No dolphins or turtles, this time, though on every other boat journey around Maluku we’ve seen one or t’other.

But, here, just north of the equator, an entire pod of killer whales, soaring and playful as dolphins, their giant dorsal fins pincushioning the water, gigantic black and white shadows sliding under the boat, hissing mushroomy fountains of spray…

Photo opportunities aplenty (had one a camera). And our fellow passengers had their mobile phones out in force, shooting for an entire hour.

Their subject, gentle reader? Not the wildlife. Ten a penny here.

But us… Continue reading

King of the District: Part 2

23 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Governor Hain’s clove cigarette fizzes hypnotically, dipped in the incense, and from the utter darkness the ancestral Moro talks the Tobelo language in an old, old woman’s voice, the men around me reechoing jo… jo… jo… hypnotically.

It’s like an alien plainsong.

He comes in goodness. We all have good hearts. He will do us no harm. The Moro’s name is Adolo, Adol before he was baptized. We are not to be afraid. He is Christian. There is only one god.

Hain speaks first, asking advice on the governance of the island. Then the professorial, black-clad man besides me.

I’m told he is a powerful magician who has flown from Jakarta to be here with a question about a sacred kris, though the snatches of dialogue I think I understand seem to deal with national issues.

When Hain draws on his cigarette, a dark shadow appears in outline on the opposite wall. Hooded. Continue reading

The King of the District: Part 1

21 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false] Governor Hain’s people pick us up early. 9.30pm, not 10.

It’s a big, slick, maroon people-carrier, a Toyota, I think, not quite as pristine as his personal vehicle, but it stands out a mile among the motor-rickshaws, scooters and mikrolet on the streets of Tobelo, Halmahera.

They call him the King of North Halmahera, Hain. He’s run the top of the island for the last decade and now he’s heading into his third term. There are two books on him in print: one sixth of the population of the capital, or thereabouts, will turn out for his (long-planned) reelection party.

But we’re not here to talk politics. We’re here, sitting in the back of this big, slick car, trundling through the dark, to meet the Moro, the long-vanished ancestors of all nineteen tribes on Halmahera. Continue reading

Like Jane Austen But Not: The Single Gal’s Guide to Travelling Asia

19 Oct Z and me in Georgian silhouette, Penang, Malaysia,

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1: Avoid Spaghetti Straps
Shoulders are an erogenous zone in many cultures. Particularly shy ones. In South-East Asia, nothing, and I do mean nothing, says “hooker” more than spaghetti straps. OK. Maybe fishnets, Perspex platforms and a basque. And if you packed those, lady, make like the real fetishists and change before you leave the disco. Mm?

2: Hold the Back Bars of a Motorbike, not the Driver
In most cultures, pressing your breasts against a chap you’ve never met is a recipe for mutual discomfort. Continue reading

In Which We Dive an Undersea Volcano

17 Oct tendrilly fan corals in scarlet and orange off halmahera, indonesia

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Indonesia is not, let us say, short on dive sites.

And, when you can snorkel with giant manta rays, turtles and jellyfish defanged by evolution off Pulau Derawan in Borneo and see pretty much all the Togian islands have to offer (bar the plane) without fronting up for cylinders and BCD, it makes sense for any traveler with more time than money to be a little picky about where they actually dive.

An active undersea volcano, fringed with bright corals, falls well into the “yep, I’ll dive that!” category. One of almost 50 newly catalogued dive sites off Halmahera in East Indonesia, it nestles just offshore from Galela, only a couple of hours by dive boat from Tobelo.

The pure black sand beach, glittering with shards of mother of pearl, fringed by coconut palms and encircled by rocky coves full of lobsters, submarine hot springs and coral means there’s plenty for snorkellers too.

But descending into the crater itself? Wow! Continue reading

The Adventure Island You’ve Never Heard Of: Morotai

15 Oct Flickering flames and logs against a pitchblack background.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Ever heard of Morotai?

Nope?

You’re not alone. But, when it comes to desert island bliss, this smallish island off northern Halmahera in Indonesia’s Spice Islands (Maluku or the Moluccas) packs some serious punch.

Over the last four days we’ve splashed by night in luminescent water on the soft white sand of our own private island (accommodation free), got up close and personal with critically endangered dugong, the origin of the mermaid myth, visited a pearl farm, and handled Japanese bayonets and American dogtags from World War II battlefields.

Also? We’ve seen some turtles, the odd dolphin, 6-metre saltwater crocs. And eaten fantastic crabs.

And there’s much, much more to Morotai. Continue reading