Friday, April 14, 2006

Tulamben's Nyepi Festival

Laurac and I ventured to the stunning island of Bali at the end of March and stayed there for about 5 days. While there, we stayed at the Scuba Seraya Resort and took the PADI diving course with our kick ass instructor Renaud and his wife Marielle. The owner of the resort is Patrick, a really sweet Swiss man. He is very laid back and took care of us as if we were family. The bungalows were in Tulamben, which was about a 2-3 hour drive from Denpasar, the main airport.

As I mentioned, Bali is gorgeous. It's is the first place I have ever visited with black sand, and such deeply dark volcanic soil. Because the vegetation is so lush, and the backdrop is so deep, the green on black color of the whole island is beyond amazing. I loved it, even though it was raining the whole time we were there. And, I managed to get food poisoning from my very first meal! hurrah! We arrived on the 28th and two glorious days later was Nyepi, the day of silence.

The night before Nyepi was the best part.

Tawur Kesanga (the day before Nyepi)
Exactly one day before Nyepi, all villages in Bali hold a large exorcism ceremony at the main village cross road, the meeting place of demons. They usually make Ogoh-ogoh (the fantastic monsters or evil spirits or the Butha Kala made of bamboo) for carnival purposes. The Ogoh-ogoh monsters symbolize the evil spirits surrounding our environment which have to be got rid of from our lives . The carnivals themselves are held all over Bali following sunset. Bleganjur, a Balinese gamelan music accompanies the procession. Some are giants taken from classical Balinese lore. All have fangs, bulging eyes and scary hair and are illuminated by torches.The procession is usually organised by the Seka Teruna, the youth organisation of Banjar. When Ogoh-ogoh is being played by the Seka Teruna, everyone enjoys the carnival. In order to make a harmonic relation between human being and God, human and human, and human and their environments, Tawur Kesanga is performed in every level of society, from the people's house. In the evening, the Hindus celebrating Ngerupuk, start making noises and light burning torches and set fire to the Ogoh-ogoh in order to get the Bhuta Kala, evil spirits, out of our lives.

I was lying in the back of the resort van for a good portion of the celebrations, but when we were wandering the streets, what we saw was amazing. The young men of the village would lift a brightly painted demon effigy over their heads on a bamboo float of sorts, and run around in circles. They fell into the gutters a few times, and looked like they were going to get dizzy and keel over. The little boys of the village all had torches and walked on the sides of the road illuminating the madness. After they parade through the streets for a few hours, they take the effigies, set them on fire, and hurl them off a cliff into the sea. We saw some remains the next morning when we were diving near the cliff.

The next day was actually Nyepi, and we finished all our book work for the license, since we couldn't dive. The 31st was three dives and completion. In our four dives, we saw lionfish, sea turtles, parrotfish, garden eels, scorpion fish, sea cucumber, spotted rays, etc. The diving is supposed to be phenomenal, I can't wait to compare it with other dive sites.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bali and Western Honshu... check!

I left for Bali 2 weeks ago today (I think). Laurac and I got our PADI diving certification and saw numerous pretty fishies. More on that later. Less than 24 hours upon my return, J and I set off on a 5 day roadtrip. We saw nearly all of Western Honshu, and hit 13 ken. If you look at the lovely map I have provided, you can see we started just north of Fukui and hit the following:

Miyazu (Amanohashidate, one of the 3 great views of Japan)
Tottori (Tottori-sakyu, famous sand dunes)
Izumo (Izumo Taisha, the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan)
Tsuwano (Taiko-Inari-jinja, fox shrine on top a hill on which you have to walk through 1100 red torii (gates))
Fukuoka (Tocho-ji where the biggest wooden buddha presides, and Shofuku-ji the oldest Zen temple in Japan)
Iwakuni (Kintai-kyo the 5 arched Brocade Sash Bridge, and happened to be having a festival when we came)
Kurashiki (old black-tiled district that serves as a craft centre and lies along a stretch of moat, and where we finally found birthday presents for each other)
Okayama (U-jo (crow castle) we got to see it at night and in the daytime, and Kouraku-en, one of Japan's 3 finest gardens)
Bizen/Imeda (town known for its distinct pottery)
Himeji (white egret castle, most famous in Japan (I had seen it before, but Josh never had, so we took a quick detour), and wicked falafel at an Iranian restaurant I found last time I was there)
Eihei-ji (one of the two head temples of the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism founded in 1244 the surrounding town was also having a festival when we came, mmm... chocolate dipped banana!)
Tojinbo and Ojima (rock formations similar to Giant’s Causeway in N. Ireland, and a grilled squid on a stick!)

I crashed in Toyama on Sunday because I am a lazy bastard and J is a saint. More details and pictures when I get my camera back from the blackhole of Sunshine 88.

Coming to school on Monday was like walking out of the calm eye of the hurricane into the chaotic debris flinging madness.