I had looked forward to the start of July to restart writing on this blog–the beginning of the second half of the year seemed like a convenient and appropriate marker to start, I guess, any habit that one wishes to keep for the rest of the year or even longer, sort of like New Year’s resolution at midyear.
I’ll go ahead by stating the obvious–for everyone else I am quite certain–the first half of the year has been defined by the coronavirus pandemic and our collective response and experiences around it. Besides that, I am sure so many other things have happened in our respective communities, societies, and our personal lives. As to my own, I don’t know where to start. It isn’t even just the first half of the year that I’m making up for lost recollection–it’s the entire year since my last blog entry in June of 2019. This includes the entire time I was in Paris as a graduate student, the defining experience of the last twelve months.
Perhaps that’s where I should start with this brief recap. A few weeks ago I had just officially completed my Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree at the Université Paris II – Panthéon Assas. (The last three months of which I spent at home in Manila, through online classes with our professors. I chose to fly home for refuge last March after everything went coronavirus haywire in Europe and Asia). My year in Paris was a remarkable experience I sincerely wish I had kept in better posterity in an online journal, with photos and well-written prose, rather than through bits and pieces of tweets and Instagram posts and private snapshots on my phone. More than the masters program, it is the experiences with new friends in Europe, and the many travails of trying to adapt in a seemingly impenetrable society in Paris, that truly made a lasting impression on me. I will try to write more about these experiences through bits and pieces of recollection in future blog entries perhaps.
Note: This is an antedated post (actual date of photos)
April 2, 2020. It has been more than two weeks since I arrived back in the Philippines from Paris–thus completing my ‘self-quarantine’ period with no symptoms whatsoever. This afternoon I had to run an important errand outside the house. I took it as an opportunity to take one walk around the Academic Oval of the deserted University of the Philippines Diliman campus at sunset.
June 11, 2019. This was my penultimate day in Bali. My friends and I booked our flights separately, and we were to return to Manila on different days. I was going ahead because I wanted a full recovery day before going back to work the next day.
So on our last day together in the island, my friends and I spent a good part of the afternoon exploring the Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) Park in south-central Bali. GWK is a cultural theme park centered around the gigantic 21-story tall monument depicting Hindu deity Vishnu riding the legendary bird Garuda. The entire complex felt like a modern theme park complete with standard theme park amenities and shops, minus the rides. It’s a relatively new development on the island, and I think they plan on setting up more amenities in the next few years.
There is an hourly cultural show at the amphitheater where Balinese dancers perform different sets of dances, depending on the schedule you get to watch. That afternoon, we were able to catch the Barong Keris dance, which depicts the mythological tale of a half-lion spirit beast and a Bali noble family. To be honest, I had to rely on the pamphlet to understand what was going on.
June 10, 2019. Not a lot of travelers go to Bali to trek its jungles and hike to its waterfalls. I realized it’s one of the things I that makes Bali a great travel destination–there are activities that cater to different types of travelers. For the more adventurous types, there are numerous cascades to trek on the island. For this particular adventure, we chose Sekumpul.
Before narrating further, I note that the night prior, Robby, one of our friends arrived from Manila to catch up with our trip. He couldn’t make it sooner, so for the first two days, it was just Rap and I. Henceforth, there were three of us buddies exploring the island.
We started our day early because it takes three hours to drive from Seminyak (where our hotel was) to Sekumpul far north of Bali. That morning, Joe, our driver, was sure to make a stop-over halfway through the drive, at a roadside shack that resembled your regular Filipino sari-sari store. There was your typical junk food and snacks. We had, aside from coffee, ta-da, more pork skewers! What’s with Joe, or Bali in general, and their penchant for babi (pork)?
Anyhow, after three hours on the road, through verdant rural landscapes and mountain passes, we arrived at Sekumpul. It was around midday, but we decided to postpone lunch and begin our trek into the jungle. It wasn’t really a trek trek, because much of the way has been paved with concrete. Although the climb down to the valley to the base of the waterfall and the hike back up was still as strenuous as it could be because a hundred vertical meters is, still, a hundred meters of pure physical effort.
June 9, 2019. We had originally planned on a whole day excursion to Nusa Penida, an island east of Bali known for its picturesque beaches and cliffs. However, considering that we were still exhausted and that a trip to the offshore island would take an entire day, we decided to change our plan and opted for a more relaxed day at a beach club near our hotel in Seminyak and explore some of the nearer towns.
That morning, we skipped hotel breakfast and asked Joe to bring us to a place where locals love to eat. He decided to bring us to another “babi” (pork) place called Pak Malen where they serve babi guling (see photos below). True enough, even though we were there a good half hour before opening time, a horde of customers and Grab delivery riders were already waiting. Apparently, in Muslim-dominant Indonesia, Bali is one of those places with a big fascination with otherwise haram (forbidden food) pork.
How was it? The dish was hella spicy for me and it turned my face into a giant waterfall of sweat. It’s like lechon kawali, Bali-style, but make it tongue- burning with chilis and spicy sidings. Halfway into trying to finish my food, my tongue had numbed I couldn’t really decipher the other flavors anymore. I would, later on, learn upon further inquiry that it was possible to get a non-spicy version of the dish.
After breakfast, we decided to go to Canggu, Bali’s hipster and laidback surf town north of Seminyak.
June 8, 2019. My friends and I only had four whole days to spend in Bali, so we decided to do just some of the “essential” destinations for first-time vacationers on the island. Two ticks in the checklist were sites in Ubud, a town in central Bali, regarded as the island’s cultural heartland and a temple in Manukaya right next to Ubud.
I had previously followed the referral of another friend who recommended a local driver to take us around our desired destinations for a flat fee per day. His name was Joe. It is essential to have someone drive you around Bali since there doesn’t appear to be any mode of public transportation convenient enough for tourists to go about the island on their own. The only other way is to rent scooters or motorbikes. None of us knew how, so that was not an option. I coordinated with Joe days before the trip and agreed on an itinerary.
From our hotel in Seminyak, Joe drove us an hour to the interior of the island along rural sceneries typical of tropical Southeast Asia–meaning, nothing too unfamiliar to Filipinos like us–rolling hills, rice paddies, terraces and vegetable gardens flanked by towering coconut trees and clusters of village homes.
But first, breakfast! Joe drove us to an obviously tourist restaurant called Bebek Joni. It was your typical tourist trap, but hey, whatever–we were hungry. We were there for breakfast, so the chartered tourist groups have not arrived for lunch, and we were the only guests around. Set in the middle of rice paddies and duck ponds, it had a very peaceful and provincial ambiance. I had a combination plate of satay, fried chicken, and some morsels of scrambled egg with my nasi. It came with Bali coffee and some rice crackers.
After breakfast, we drove a few more kilometers to Tegalalang, still in Ubud, for its famed rice terraces. We dropped by the Instagram-essential Alas Harum agro-tourism site. It was a privately-owned resort with perfectly-manicured rice terraces running along a small valley with a freshwater stream in the middle. The basic entrance ticket allows you to roam around the garden for as long as you please, but for some additional rupiahs, you can avail of their other activities such as luwak coffee tasting, the sky bike, and the Instagram-famous swing. It is what it is–a beautiful garden with plenty of spots to take great vacation photos.