Archive for the ‘Peripatetic Mood’ Category

AMBON’S SHANGRI-LA

Ora Island_scenery 1Lunch was already underway at the restaurant on water right across the bungalow I was sharing with Theresia’s family and friends. I settled for a table near the entrance facing the string of mountains its zenith ringed by wisps of clouds. Snatches of a conversation from across the table parallel to mine floated in the sea-kissed air as I stared at the mountain.

“It’s always chicken and fish,” remarked Heidi.

“Have you tried tempeh?” sounded a deep voice.

“Yes, the one with peanuts. We’ve tried it,” replied Heidi, “but they don’t have it here.”

Boomed that deep voice again: “They don’t like it here. If there’s no fish, there’s no food.”

I had met Heidi the night before after a long, vertiginous journey – ferry, SUV, and speedboat – starting from Ambon city. Heidi said she and her husband, Harry, were in Indonesia for a month, and alluring Ora, for the second time round, was the nth stop in their itinerary. Ora was simply too hard to resist. Raja Ampat was the last stop after Ora for 20 days then it was back to Brussels.

Heidi’s right. Resisting the charm of picturesque Ora Island is absolutely futile and imprudent. Only a fool who wants to take a leave of absence from the world would turn her back on Ambon’s Shangri-la. It didn’t take more than 10 minutes for Theresia to convince me to join her instead of flying off somewhere during the long Hari Raya holiday. The crystal clear water and majestic mountains, swathed in fluffy swirls of cotton, of Ora were beguiling and beckoning you to abandon the concrete jungle you were mired in. They hypnotically whispered, “Come to Ora and live. Come to Ora and breathe. Come to Ora and relax.”

“It’s like the Maldives, Ms,” said Theresia, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “We will stay in one of these bungalows at Ora Beach Resort. Join us, lah, Ms.”

This is Ora Island. Selamat datang!

This is Ora Island. Selamat datang!

It's a beautiful morning in Ora.

It’s a beautiful morning in Ora.

Ora Island is paradise welcoming anyone – families, couples, friends, wearied souls, and city slickers – with open arms even in the dead of night. Energy-sapping schedules are non-existent except for meal times. Technology takes a backseat to the natural canvas enveloping the island serenaded by the susurration of the sea breeze. Everywhere your gaze lands is Mother Nature in its immaculate form – walls of mountains standing royally from a distance, stucco-colour sand, sea, cool wind, and sun. The gentle lapping of the miles and miles of clear water is music to the ears long strained by the cacophonous din of urban living. Ducking your head underwater reveals a seascape of various schools of fish and the vast number of bulu babi (Indonesian for sea urchin) that resembled rambutan.

Mornings at Ora Island

Mornings at Ora Island

Your residence when you're at Ora Island

Your residence when you’re at Ora Island

Early afternoon in Ora Island

Early afternoon in Ora Island

Mornings are heavenly. The vista is unparalleled: nature’s wonder teeming with positive energy that gently nudges you to unfurl the yoga mat you lugged all the way from Bekasi on the balcony-foyer. You inhale deeply, hold for a few seconds, and breathe out slowly. The breathing is smooth, not ragged. You feel unencumbered. As the hours pass, you find yourself sitting on the balcony reading and glancing every now and then at the picture in front of you. At times you find yourself searching for the one who jumped into the water as you hear a splash only to discover it’s a fish doing a back flip. Later in the afternoon you walk to other side of the island and back with the group who’s just return from their snorkel trip behind the island. It is a golden opportunity to indulge in the frustrated dream of being a super model. Then you sit at the dock and wait for the sun to set. Along with the natural scenery, Ora’s sunset – ah, the sunset – is the ne plus ultra of the island’s magnificence with its mesmerising interplay of colours – changing like a kaleidoscope as it recedes from the sky. Although Ora is plunged into darkness as the last ray of sun disappears behind the mountain, the ambience is not sombre; there’s a vibrancy ringing in the dark mantle pierced by the lights from the dock and the restaurant. Dinner awaits and the thought of tomorrow rings with aspiration.

It's a perfect day for yoga.

It’s a perfect day for yoga.

yoga 2yoga 3

Still in yoga mood at the dock

Still in yoga mood at the dock

It's always dining with a view at Ora Beach Eco-Resort.

It’s always dining with a view at Ora Beach Eco-Resort.

Panoramic shot of Ora Island capturing the restaurant and the bungalow

Panoramic shot of Ora Island capturing the restaurant and the bungalow

Ora Island_chilling at the bungalow

And your speedboat is ready to take you on an adventure.

And your speedboat is ready to take you on an adventure.

Sakaa Village is your departure point for Ora Island.

Sakaa Village is your departure point for Ora Island.

Care for an early morning dip?

Care for an early morning dip?

Ora is my reward for the arduous trip that began with a ride to the port of Tulehu at the crack of dawn to catch the ferry, but only to learn you’d missed it. And this was after braving the heaving throng of ferry-goers who had gathered at the gate and were getting agitated at being barred by the local police from entering. The police finally lift the barrier as the angry shouts punctuating the early morning sky grows more frequent, and a mad scramble ensues. It was if the deities were keeping an eye on our sleepy-eyed group, we were stopped midway and told the ferry we were running to was sailing to Saparua Island.

Several hours and anti-motion tablets later, I set foot on Ora Island wrapped in a pitch-dark mantle.

Nobody ever said that journeying to nirvana is a walk in the park, but it’s a trip I’d gladly undertake again if only to bask in Ambon’s Shangri-la’s charisma again.

When the sun sets at Ora Island

When the sun sets at Ora Island

 

Travel note: Getting to Ora Island is a long journey so have breakfast and bring a bottle of water if you’re the type with a tummy condition. If not, you’ll survive on the boiled peanuts, banana chips, and Popmie noodles vended onboard the ferry. Head to Tulehu port in Ambon for a two-hour ferry ride to Masohi Amahai and from Masohi, board an SUV (this should be pre-arranged prior to your arrival in Masohi) for a two-hour drive to Sakaa Village. From Sakaa Village (Saleman Village is another departure point), board a speedboat ride for all of 10 minutes to Ora Beach Eco-Resort.

Additional photos by Lidia Wagiu and Theresia Kafroly Sabono

 

 

BARONDA AMBON

Natsepa beach in mid-afternoon

Natsepa beach in mid-afternoon

The direction was simple: make for the banana tree – it’s behind it. I looked at where she was pointing and, spotting the banana tree, made a beeline for it. But I found myself circling the sheet of corrugated steel erected on the ground behind the banana tree. She must have been mistaken. I ran back to the group to clarify the direction.

“It’s behind the banana tree, right?” I asked, consternation enveloping my face.

Laughter roared through the air.

“Come, I will accompany you,” said Ibu Liertji, a huge smile across her face, as she led the way to the banana tree.

She continued, obviously delighting in my anxiety: “The ground absorbs everything for business number 1.”

My jaw dropped and Ibu Liertji let rip another fit of laughter.

“Don’t think about it. Just close your eyes and go,” was her matter-of-fact advice (said with a wide grin) in answering the call of nature with the very traditional toilet that we found at the top of Pintu Kota.

The business of the bathroom can be daunting for city slickers used to tiled water closets as the journey takes one further away from Ambon in Moluccas, an hour and 40+ minute airplane ride from Jakarta. Ambon is citified enough with its shopping malls (e.g. Ambon City Centre and Maluku City Mall), minor traffic snarls, and ubiquitous BreadTalk and JCo franchises. Telecommunications isn’t far behind unless you’re an XL subscriber in which case your hand phone signal drops intermittently or, worse, you’re in a dead zone when you leave the city. Ambon is full-on Telkomsel territory. Coffee-lovers would have to forego their Starbucks fix because you have to literally leave the island to get your Asian Dolce Latte or frappuccino. On a high note, Excelso assuages the caffeine fix which has one outlet at the Pattimura airport. Fast food lovers would have to contend themselves with KFC of which there are only two outlets operating throughout the island.

Pintu Kota

Pintu Kota

selfie opportunity at Pintu Kota

selfie opportunity at Pintu Kota

It's a different kind of beach at Pintu Kota.

It’s a different kind of beach at Pintu Kota.

Go down the stairs and walk to your left to get to Pintu Kota.

Go down the stairs and walk to your left to get to Pintu Kota.

Theresia with her favourite Ambonese snack, rujak

Theresia with her favourite Ambonese snack, rujak

Going around the city is possible with angkot that puts the ones at Bekasi to shame. Ambon’s fleet of angkot is far from the array of dilapidated vehicles that ply the streets of Kalimalang. They’re well-tinted, fitted with cushioned and levelled seats, clean (the inside is dust free), shiny (good paint job), and with Ambonese music blaring from the huge speakers at the back. Ambon, after all, is the city of music. An alternative to the angkot is chartering an SUV – driver included – for a fee. There’s no listing for this; you just need to ask around. Petrol kiosks are far and between so entrepreneurial citizens have taken to selling gasoline packed in one-litre+ water bottles by the roadside.

The cityscape is a déjà vu of cityscapes in my memory bank. One night, on the way back to Amaris Hotel after a city tour, the panorama that opened before me pulled me back to a past trip to Daly City with its lights as the car sped on. The other time while I flashbacked to a jaunt along San Francisco on a turn in a serpentine road.

Moving away from Ambon city leads travellers to a vista of beauty that slowly peels away the layers of jadedness wrapped around the city slicker. Beaches are ever-present although the journeys might take longer than usual which, as this citified traveller discovered, were well worth it, vertigo and all. Natsepa is one of the beaches within Ambon city with little wooden huts dotting the shoreline all selling savoury snacks. They also provide shelter when brief and sporadic rain showers pelt Ambon. A stroll along Natsepa is invigorating – you inhale fresh sea air, marvel at the cottony landscape above, feel the sea wind brushing against your cheek, and exhale all the bullshit in your life. It’s beach therapy at its best.

Welcome to Natsepa beach

Welcome to Natsepa beach

Natsepa beach_me

Natsepa's natural landscape

Natsepa’s natural landscape

Beach therapy continues at Pintu Kota although walking the shoreline and letting your feet sink into the sand is impossible. This time you ride the rolling waves vicariously as they rush to the shoreline like lovers running towards their reason for living. You gaze at the white foam billowing and fading like a CD on loop and synchronise your breathing with its rise and fall. A sense of marvel permeates the air which you breathe in and out slowly, and dissolves the egocentrism saran-wrapped to your mortality.

Namalatu beach is the last stop for the beach therapy. With the sun, wind, sand, and gentle waves, it’s a soothing meditative end to banishing the mean-spirited thoughts. You brim your soul with sangfroid and, channelling Eduardo Briceno’s philosophy, a growth mindset.

Breezy and sunny Namalatu beach

Breezy and sunny Namalatu beach

Liang beach, on the other hand, offers a different kind of beach therapy. It has a more frenzied less ruminative vibe than the past beaches. This is the beach to let loose: get on a banana boat, paddle in a catamaran, drift in a floater, or simply jump into the water. On dry land, lovers cuddle, others take selfies, and picnickers laze on the ground eating Popmie noodles, corn, and sukun bought from the roving vendors or kiosks.

Liang beach - the centre of fun and water activities

Liang beach – the centre of fun and water activities

Care for a banana boat ride?

Care for a banana boat ride?

Or rent a floater?

Or rent a floater?

Buy a container of water for Rp2,000 so you can bathe and change.

Buy a container of water for Rp2,000 so you can bathe and change.

The bridge at Liang beach - it gets packed on holidays and weekends.

The bridge at Liang beach – it gets packed on holidays and weekends.

Ambonese are huge foodies and topping their food list is seafood. Grilled seafood restaurants are a dime a dozen in Ambon. Décor-wise, some are better than others but the freshness of the fish is undeniably a standard well maintained by every restaurant owner. There’s always a huge icebox (freezer for those more sophisticated rumah bakar or grill house) that diners have to look into to choose the fish and shrimp to be grilled before heading to the table. Just like the icebox, each rumah bakar also serves its own version of the Ambonese sambal (roughly translated as sauce) called colo-colo (pronounced cholo-cholo) which is a mixture of hot chilli, sliced tomato, shallot, lime leaves, kawangi (basil), and palm sugar sauce. Kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) is a good substitute for the palm sugar. Colo-colo adds that flavourful kick to the palate once it collides with the grilled fish and rice. Also de rigueur in the rumah bakar is eating with one’s hand, but they do provide cutlery if you ask.

Grilling the fish at Bambu Kuning

Grilling the fish at Bambu Kuning

Lunch is served at Bambu kuning grill house. That's colo-colo in the bowl.

Lunch is served at Bambu kuning grill house. That’s colo-colo in the bowl.

It's a feast at Rasa Gurih RM ikan bakar.

It’s a feast at Rasa Gurih RM ikan bakar.

Snacking takes on a slightly different form. “The Ambonese don’t like sweet stuff, Ms,” explained Theresia Kafroly Sabono, true-blue Ambonese and my excursion group leader. “They prefer savoury snacks.”

By savoury snacks she meant sukun that resembles a jackfruit and has the texture of bread. It’s an addictive snack that would have you grabbing slice after slice of the deep fried bread fruit until there’s nothing left on the plate. Other snacks are boiled sweet corn, pisang goreng (banana fritters) smeared with or dipped in chilli sauce, and rujak. Rujak is chopped mixed fruits viz. papaya, mango, and pineapple, mixed with ground peanuts, chilli, and palm sugar. Sans the chilli paste, rujak doesn’t lose its flavour either. It’s just, well, sweeter.

One ear of sweet corn costs between Rp5,000 and Rp7,000.

One ear of sweet corn costs between Rp5,000 and Rp7,000.

Ready for your plate of rujak?

Ready for your plate of rujak?

The momentary jarring of sensibilities of a city slicker who lands at Ambon for the first time with the unsettling bathroom issue casting the first assault is a fleeting moment. It’s like a slight pinch on the arm that’s quickly forgotten the moment one opens up and takes in everything about Ambon – the landscape, food, the language (very different from the Indonesian spoken in Jakarta), and, not to forget, the gorgeous men with their strong, well-defined features.

Danke Usi su baronda di Ambon,” said Theresia.*

Saya menikmati baronda Ambon. Danke Usi Theresia,” I quipped proudly having picked up a little bit of Ambonese lingo.

* Thank you, Auntie, for going around Ambon.

Additional photos by Lidia Wagiu and Theresia Kafroly Sabono

SOAKING WET

Wide passage ways leading to the various slides and the food court at Go! Wet.

Wide passage ways leading to the various slides and the food court at Go! Wet.

Which way to go at Go! Wet?

Which way to go at Go! Wet?

Others would simply cringe at my bizarre idea of escaping the Asian sun: a book, a nice cup of Joe, and a shaded area. Like fish to water, friends, relatives, and colleagues generally prefer to head to where the nearest beach is. Unfortunately, in Jakarta, the nearest beach entails a hellacious journey to Ancol (pronounced An-chol) given Jakarta’s infamous traffic jams.

Lucky for the water babies in Bekasi, which is 45 minutes away from Jakarta on a good, almost once-in-a-blue-moon day, a water theme park has opened. Called Go! Wet, it is located in Grand Wisata Bekasi, and boasts intricate, heart-thumping water slides all the way from White Water Canada that would satisfy every pseudo-aqua man or mermaid yearning to beat the heat. Further water adventures can be experienced in Go! Lazy, a river landscape that features rapids for the intrepid swimmer who might want a little more than gentle swaying of the waves. The gentle waves are at the Go! Wave section where you sway to and fro while seated on a huge, green floater. And for those who really yearn for that elusive adrenaline rush, there is the Go! Twist that features a curved tunnel for a heart-thumping, scream-inducing trip from the top to the bottom.

Go! Splash slide greets park goers after they go through the turnstile.

Go! Splash slide greets park goers after they go through the turnstile.

A meal or a drink can be had at the food court.

A meal or a drink can be had at the food court.

My view of Go! Wet from my table at the food court.

My view of Go! Wet from my table at the food court.

I found my temporary niche at a table at the food court facing the water slides while my friends and colleagues from Global Prestasi School (GPS) scattered about the 7.5 hectare water park. Go! Wet was this year’s venue for the annual teachers’ gathering to mark the end of another school year, and as a way to enhance – or maintain – social ties among the teachers from the three units of GPS (i.e. elementary, junior high, and senior high), support team, and management.

So, as they got themselves soaking wet, I stayed dry and relaxed at the food court, sipping my white coffee from Old Town White Coffee while perusing Pisani’s Indonesia Etc.

Go! Spin (forefront) and Go! Twist

Go! Spin (forefront) and Go! Twist

Wave pool (left) and other slides

Wave pool (left) and other slides

Beat the heat at the wave pool.

Beat the heat at the wave pool.

Go! Wet

Grand Wisata Bekasi Jl. Southern Boulevard Kav 1

Web: http://www.gowet-grandwisata.com

Hours: 1000-2000 (weekdays) | 0900-2000 (weekends and national holidays)

ESCAPADE 1: SINGAPORE

Channeling Erika of the "Daimos" anime  at Alive Museum

Channeling Erika of the “Daimos” anime at Alive Museum

It used to be a frequent occurrence, these escapades that Fistri and I embarked on. Whenever our schedules would permit, we’d fly off somewhere. We’d escape from our respective realities and let our problems hang for a while. I distinctly remember trips to Lombok and Manado, where we unplugged and took in the local culture and landscape. Now the set-up is slightly different, as I’d relocated to Indonesia so schedules have become even more difficult to synchronize.

Fast forward to Friday mid-morning in September. I am in a Blue bird taxi – one of the most reliable taxis in Indonesia – heading to Soekarno-Hatta airport from Kalimalang, which is at the opposite end of the airport. Traffic is nice and easy until we hit Tebet and everything crawls not like Disney’s Turbo before the transformation. It has been more than months since I’d been into town and the traffic situation has, apparently, deteriorated; it is only 1030 in the morning and it is rush hour traffic. After an hour or so, it was smooth cruising to the airport that I even had more than enough time to enjoy a bowl of udon at Sakana Japanese Restaurant before heading to the check-in counter.

 

I am finally taller than a basketball player.

I am finally taller than a basketball player.

Gal-pal Fistri gets a quick shower from the grumpy Merlion.

Gal-pal Fistri gets a quick shower from the grumpy Merlion.

Singapore is an idyllic weekend escape destination because, first, it is such a short flight – close to an hour and 25 min – from Jakarta and, second, there is always something new to do within the next 72 hours. Alive Museum, explained my gal-pal Fistri, is one of the latest attractions to keep visitors busy in the Garden City. It wasn’t a disappointment. As Fistri commented in her Facebook page, “…I definitely recommend them than the Trick Eye Museum (in Sentosa) – more space to move and more exhibits, and the door guys (at the entrance) are really nice. They tell you that the exhibits take an hour so they tell you nicely to go to the loo, which is just next door.”

Freezing in Singapore!

Freezing in Singapore!

I got to stop a bus loaded with the global head honchos; hang on for dear life from a pole suspended above the city; and soar through the air in a house with the cute kid from the movie Up among other quirky situations.

Stop the bus! I want to board!

Stop the bus! I want to board!

OMG! How did I get up here?

OMG! How did I get up here?

Ironman flies by Singapore

Ironman flies by Singapore

Mary Jane wouldn't mind or would she?

Mary Jane wouldn’t mind or would she?

How many can fit in my bag?

How many can fit in my bag?

Here we go again! How did I end up in this house up in the air?

Here we go again! How did I end up in this house up in the air?

The downside is when the museum gets packed and taking snapshots means having to wait for the multitude before you to finish or bear with the photo-bombers who unceremoniously enter the picture frame.

The latest mermaid of the kingdom under the sea.

The latest mermaid of the kingdom under the sea.

New food places are also part of the Singapore landscape. Fluff Bakery is at the corner of Jalan Pisang. From afar, one can see if a queue is in place, but, fortunately that Saturday afternoon the queue was remarkably absent much to my glee. I rushed in like a lover rushing to the arms of her beau – cupcakes work up my romantic, simile-writing side – and proceeded to gawk at the bakery. Then Mama Fluff – owner cum baker – materialized from the kitchen and I was star-struck, which is quite a rarity on my part. She was the bubbly baker I imagined her to be; her bakers were equally exuberant as they greeted and packed cupcakes. Fluff Bakery is only a buy-and-go bakery. A few doors away from Fluff Bakery was a serendipitous find. Cake Love offers shoppers and tourists alike a haven to cool their heels after walking about the city. Although they also serve cupcakes and cakes, my curiosity was piqued by the Red Velvet waffle topped with ice cream, which proved an excellent choice. Together with the chocolate syrup and scoops of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, the waffle was not par for the course. It was sweet but not to the point of saccharine, and crispy with every bite.

Fluff Bakery

Fluff Bakery

Red Velvet waffle from Cake Love

Red Velvet waffle from Cake Love

Catching a show was part of the escapade to-do-list, and I finally caught “Potted Potter: An Unauthorized Harry Experience”, a parody of the hit “Harry Potter” books by JK Rowling. That the show condenses the seven books into a 70- minute show and has an interactive quidditch game piqued my interest, goading me to book a ticket to Singapore and book a seat Raffles Hotel’s Jubilee Hall months in advance. There is also the fact that I had missed the show twice – when they performed in Singapore some time back and when they also performed in the Philippines. It was a riot – the good, side-bursting kind.

Benjamin Stratton says hello before the start of the show.

Benjamin Stratton says hello before the start of the show.

Jubilee Hall at Raffles Hotel was the venue for the Potted Potter show.

Jubilee Hall at Raffles Hotel was the venue for the Potted Potter show.

James Percy, the other star of the show, gets ready.

James Percy, the other star of the show, gets ready.

Escapade completed. It is truly imperative to escape from a world that is teeming with bureaucracy, inanity, and whatever makes a place untenable. An escape over the weekend is, without a doubt, what a doctor would suggest when you’re just about ready to hurl the red ball pen at the next person that knocks on your office door despite the aroma of lavender fragrance oil wafting through the air. Escapade two should be just around the corner.

A VILLAGE CALLED PEMUTEREN

Gunung Ser loomed large as the banca sped through the sea.

Gunung Ser loomed large as the banca sped through the sea.

“It is called frangipani,” said Redy, one of Tirta Sari Bungalow’s staff and invited guide for our fishing trip at 4, which also included a viewing of Bali’s awe-inspiring sunset.

“Did you know that dried frangipani can fetch a high price? A kilo costs Rp75, 000. A lot of people collect the frangipani and dry them,” he continued with his vignette.

Dried frangipani is used as incense in the numerous rituals in Bali. It is an offering to the gods who take delight in smelling its bewitching aroma, unable to partake of the other earthly yet scrumptious offerings that run the gamut of fresh vegetables to the famous roasted Bali bebek (duck).

Tirta Sari Bungalows was the place that immediately called to me as I scrolled through the website for accommodation in Pemuteren. The journey to the village was to meet up with holidaying French couple-friend, the Corres, who were joyfully immersing themselves in the local culture, blue skies, surf and cuisine of The Island of the Gods that happens to be one of my favourite places on the planet. But the furthest I had ever been to in Bali is Ubud, which Putu, my resort driver, said is a very short 20+ minute trip from the airport. Putu drove with adroit ease, boredom shrouding his face as he went through the dizzying route. It was, after all, a long day for him. He had left Pemuteren for Denpasar to pick me up as early as 2 am and had to wait because my Sriwijaya flight was delayed. Twenty minutes is, obviously, nothing compared to the four-hour long, serpentine ride, peppered with a few ups and downs through hills, to Pemuteran.

Heels off! Time for sandals and shorts for a quick getaway from the city.

Heels off! Time for sandals and shorts for a quick getaway from the city.

A quaint boutique resort located in Singaraja, Pemuteran, Tirta Sari’s nondescript facade was a disappointment upon seeing it after a long drive. But it actually belied what really awaited a weary traveller once its entrance is crossed. A manicured garden and cemented walkway drawn with tribal patterns led to18 spacious, high-ceilinged bungalows with canopied beds (fitted with a bathroom with a view) on both sides and a pool circled by trees of frangipani and papaya, and shrubs of bougainvillea and hibiscus. Soft gamelan music sashayed from underneath the clear blue sky and snaked through the foliage only to be broken by the chirping of birds. Mewling cats, together with streams of sun light sneaking through the window uncovered by the curtain, greet the mornings. The spa, its menu boasting of my fave Balinese massage, is a few steps away from the pool at the back, and obliquely to the pool is a pathway leading to the beach and a dive centre.

“Tirta Sari only had five rooms four years ago,” said Putu, whose tattoos and thick steel earring were incongruous with his soft voice and friendly demeanour. “Now, there are many rooms and a pool.”

Continued Putu, who has been at Tirta Sari close to four years: “The owner is Balinese. He is only 33 and he already has a big business – the resort, restaurant, warung, mini-mart, dive centre and spa. My sister works in the spa.”

Tirta Sari Bungalow is the perfect haven for divers and those wanting to escape the city blues.

Tirta Sari Bungalow is the perfect haven for divers and those wanting to escape the city blues.

Everyday should be spent lounging in or around the pool.

Everyday should be spent lounging in or around the pool.

Meals are fresh and flavourful at the restaurant.

Meals are fresh and flavourful at the restaurant.

Sleepy wouldn’t quite capture Pemuteren’s essence notwithstanding the stark absence of big malls and ubiquitous franchises like McDonalds and Starbucks from the green landscape. Roads are devoid of lampposts, its lighting only coming from a few establishments – several warung, a bar-restaurant called Frangipani and a convenient store at the mouth of the unpaved road leading to Tirta Sari – and motorbikes and trucks plying the road. Through the eyes of an individual long mired in the miasma of city living, Pemuteren is best described as selcouth. A sense of the marvellous permeates the air, which is as refreshing as the cool breeze on one’s face. I paused and pondered – something was missing and the answer was at my fingertips. But, of course! The heavy jadedness that accompanied me in Bekasi, when the mixed din of construction work, cars and screaming children punctured the day, was nowhere to be found.

Pemuteren basks in selcouth silence – the lulling, soothing kind as opposed to foreboding. Thoughts don’t collide; they march in rhythmic motion, no jostling or hustling. There is time to ponder on what to do next on this brief sojourn without feeling the need to do everything. There is no rush, just meditative motions that slowly usher in that sense of the marvellous. So amidst the piped in gamelan music wafting through the al fresco breakfast hall, Claude planned our activities.

“Would it be possible to change the trek’s departure time from 8am to 6am?” Claude asked Redy in that wonderful French accent. “Perhaps we could see more animals before the sun comes out.”

“Let me find out first, sir.” And off he went and was back even before everyone had had a sip of their Balinese coffee. Yes, six was possible and they – my couple-friend – were to wait at the lobby for their guide, Pak Yoyo. Meanwhile, I was set for a Balinese massage.

“What about your entertainment for this afternoon?” Redy asked.

“What is there to do in the afternoon?” replied Claude in return.

“You could go fishing and watch the sunset around 6pm,” suggested Redy.

Fishing was a marvellous idea to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon in Pemuteren. The last time I held a fishing rod – a bamboo rod – was when I was an elementary student at JASMS Quezon City during the annual fishing day organized by the late horticulture teacher, Modesto Manglicmot, whose love of plants, particularly bonsai, and the outdoors had his students experiencing life outside the classrooms for themselves until the fishing and farm area were sold to a condominium developer.

Pak Wayan helms the banca for an afternoon of fishing and sunset-viewing.

Pak Wayan helms the banca for an afternoon of fishing and sunset-viewing.

I would brook no interference with my plan – not my vertigo and fear of water – to marvel at the sea and sunset so I gamely, after Pat and Claude, stepped onto the motorized banca, which dropped anchor two kilometres from shore. Before me rose the stately vision of Gunung Ser.

“No one lives in Gunung Ser, but there are people who live behind it,” explained the 24-year-old Balinese while he hooked tiny fishes on the hooks.

Pat tries her hand at fishing, which lasted for a few minutes.

Pat tries her hand at fishing, which lasted for a few minutes.

The men-folk wer left in charge of that night's dinner.

The men-folk were left in charge of that night’s dinner.

Fishing is undoubtedly an affair that demands patience in waiting for the unsuspected fish to take the bait. Redy had it while mine only lasted for more than five minutes after which I relinquished the fishing pole to the men – Pak Wayan, fisherman-guide, Redy and Claude – who proved luckier than us, as Redy interrogated the women.

“Are you married?” Redy quizzed Pat, as he waited for a fish to take his bait.

“He is my husband,” answered Pat, pointing to Claude who was busy reeling in his line at the opposite of the banca.

“And you?” asked Redy, turning his attention to me, as he hooked new bait on his rod.

“I am friends with them.”

“Oh, I thought you were wife number two!” he quipped cheekily.

Laughter erupted throughout the banca.

“I was just joking. Are you married?” continued Redy with his inquisition.

“Am single.”

“With boyfriend?”

“Nope, no boyfriend,” I replied flatly.

Redy then suddenly broke out into Rihanna’s Umbrella, his smile and demeanour reminding me of Pepe Le Pew. Everyone erupted in laughter again. In any other context or time, such conversation would have had me pushing Redy off the banca without preamble, but everything is part of Pemuteren’s selcouth charm: playful banter is simply playful banter.

Amidst Redy’s ear-splitting cover of Rihanna’s song, Pat and I soaked in the scenery. The view is majestic – Gunung Ser on one side and the vast ocean on the other. It is, in fact, more than a view; it is an experience actually that pulls you back to the ultimate reality of the sublimeness of life lost on city folk who are hemmed in by buildings, stuck in enervating traffic jams or locked in virtual worlds. To feel the wind on your face and the heat of the sun on your back is an epiphany: life is a calm sea void of narcissism, pettiness and consumerism.

Pak Wayan steered the banca into calmer waters in the hope of increasing the catch. Not much luck, but serenity helped eased queasy tummies and swimming heads. From a distance, the sun was slowly beginning to set, its rays bathing the sky in a jaw-dropping backdrop of yellow gold and orange, turning into a pinkish-purplish hue. The breeze became cooler. Within minutes, the sun was gone and everything was swathed in a light tinge of grey, which was quickly turning into charcoal black. On cue, Pak Wayan readied the banca to head back to shore then the anchor got stuck. I was half-expecting curses to float through the air, but the marvel of Pemuteren reigned. Showing no agitation, Pak Wayan calmly instructed Redy to get the knife from his rucksack so they could cut the boat loose.

No other sight at Pemuteren takes one's breath away than the brilliant sunset at sea.

No other sight at Pemuteren takes one’s breath away than the brilliant
sunset at sea.

Still marvelling at the cool heads that prevailed, I now wondered at how Pak Wayan would be able to berth the banca at the correct spot. There were no tell-tale landmarks on the shoreline before us except for the round lights that didn’t do much to differentiate one resort from the other. But he found the berth without hitch and, after an effusive goodbye and suksma (thank you in Balinese), we three city-folk made our way back to Tirta Sari Bungalows.

“It was such a marvellous experience!” exclaimed Claude.

I couldn’t agree more.

 

MUSEUM VISIT

Photo by Shyryl M. Falcunitin

Photo by Shyryl M. Falcunitin

Harry Potter, Titanic and The Mummy – these are the some of the exhibitions at the Arts and Science Museum in Marina Bay Sands that took the hum-drum out of the usual shopping and eating in The Garden City. Dinosaurs: Dawn to Extinction made a compelling reason to travel to Singapore last weekend. The exhibit, curated by Dr. Patricia Vickers-Rich, a Melbourne- based expert on birds and prehistoric life, showcases fossils, specimens and artworks that illustrate the geological timescale spanning 650 million years ago to today. I walked through the late Precambrian period, sauntered into the Paleozoic era then made a beeline for the Mesozoic era to gawk at dinosaurs of different shapes and sizes. My jaw dropped when I got to the T-Rex.

ticket and catalogue

Photo by Shyryl M. Falcunitin

Photo by Shyryl M. Falcunitin

My mind was reeling from two startling facts after the exhibit. First, it’s difficult walking like the terrible lizards: on tip toe and body leaning forward. The second fact was even more mind-blowing. It debunked the age-old theory that dinosaurs are extinct with its pronouncement that people have been constantly seeing them albeit in its newer form. And that form – drum roll – is a bird (a.k.a. avian dinosaur). I had to pick my jaw from the floor after I read the explanation board.

“The dinosaurs are still alive,” I mumbled to myself.

The timescale of how the dinosaurs came to be. (Photo by Shyryl M. Falcunitin)

The timescale of how the dinosaurs came to be. (Photo by Shyryl M. Falcunitin)

Fortunately, photo-taking is allowed, but no flash photography, and the exclusive edition exhibit catalogue should make a good reading material for my future classes.

Walking  isn't that easy for these terrible lizards.

Walking isn’t that easy for these terrible lizards.

It is an edifying experience to see an exhibit at Arts and Science Museum. You walk away with nuggets of wisdom to ruminate upon. It feels good to be a student again gazing at the artefacts on display and reading the explanation boards. The mummification workshop during The Mummy exhibit was a huge help in my lessons on Egyptian mythology. My lecture, a pastiche of history and myth of ancient Egypt, helped to shape the fragmented knowledge of my students as they read through Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of Ancient Egypt and Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid. Taking pictures of the mummy – on loan from the British Museum then – didn’t appeal to me.

Jaw-dropping display deep within the exhibition.

Jaw-dropping display deep within the exhibition.

Walking through dinosaur land in winter in my havaianas.

Walking through dinosaur land in winter in my havaianas.

Being a Harry Potter follower, the exhibit was like a walk behind the scenes of the films. At least, that was how I was imagining it as I looked intently at the costumes and sets while listening to the audio tour. Future costume and set designers would have been in seventh heaven! It was a peek at how the pros worked – each detail like button on a shirt or a simple shawl carefully chosen to complete the ensemble and make the character come to life. The artists’ meraki was simply awe-inspiring. Too bad – photography wasn’t allowed.

DInosaurs on the rise (Photo by Shyryl M. Falcunitin)

DInosaurs on the rise (Photo by Shyryl M. Falcunitin)

Meanwhile, the Titanic exhibit left me reflective. Thoughts of how the passengers felt as the gargantuan ship sunk to the bottom of the ocean zipped through my mind.  How do you begin to comprehend such a tragedy? Then the feelings came. The panic I imagined that gripped them at first had my stomach twisting into a huge knot; the rising fear that would have followed next stabbed at my heart. Did the passengers quickly accept their fate? Or put up a fight until the very last end? The recreated deck, engulfed in darkness with a few stars sparkling from a distance, emphasized the ominous end of the ship.

On a lighter note, the simulated cabins clearly showed the distinct social classes of the passengers. First-class passengers (like Rose in the movie) had well-furnished suites reminiscent of top hotel suites while economy-class passengers (Jack’s kind) had nondescript rooms. The crockery unearthed along with the personal effects of the ill-fated passengers like perfume bottles (a perfumer hoped to make his millions overseas) and spectacles reminded me of the personal effects of the prisoners on display at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. A room of luggage, shoes, spectacles, scissors etc. filled one area of the museum. The difference is Titanic was a tragedy of semi-force majeure proportion while the Holocaust was a tragedy caused by one man who was acting like a deity.

View from the boney butt of a dinosaur

View from the boney butt of a dinosaur

Every Titanic-exhibition-goer was handed a “passport” before entering the gallery. When I reached the room near the end, a throng of people were gathered in front of a wall, some standing, others were seated on the bench. They were all looking at the “passenger manifest” posted on the wall that revealed if the holder of the “passport” survived or not. I “survived”; my gal-pal didn’t.

A day with dinosaurs (Photos by Shyryl M. Falcunitin and Agustina Benata)

A day with dinosaurs (Photos by Shyryl M. Falcunitin and Agustina Benata)

Visiting the museums brings a new dimension to a brief Singapore sojourn. The country has a stupendous line-up of museums: Peranakan, Singapore Art Museum, Asian Civilization Museum, Philatelic Museum and the National Museum. Arts and Science Museum is a new addition on the list – and it’s always a new adventure to walk its halls.

Dinosaurs: Dawn to Extinction runs until July 27.

IN & OUT POLK STREET

My walk always starts on this side of Polk Street on a sunny day.

My walk always starts on this side
of Polk Street on a sunny day.

Further down Polk street is a walk past eye-catching establishments.

Further down Polk street is a walk past eye-catching establishments.

One street seemed the same as the other looking at the perfectly arranged streets of San Francisco. But then that’s where most travellers go wrong. They may seem the same given the, for instance, uniformed street sign designs and carefully measured sidewalks but there’s more than meets the eye. Polk Street, running parallel to Van Ness Avenue, is an eclectic mix of restaurants, boutiques, and coffee places. Its eclecticism lends enough colours to the long street but without jarring the senses.

The gym, occupying the old Alhambra movie theatre, is already buzzing, its clients suited in smart work out togs ready to hit the treadmill or the punching bag. A few doors down is Russian Hill Bookstore that buys and sells used books, fine note cards alongside newly published books. My purchases included Dashiell Hammett’s The Dain Curse and Woman in the Dark, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Warlord of Mars, and anthologies on Hammett, Celtic and Polynesian myths, and horror writer HP Lovecraft. The hours went by as I went from one aisle to another.

My loot from Russian Hill Bookstore.

My loot from Russian Hill Bookstore.

Second hand or brand new, Russian Hill Bookstore will have it for you including stationery and other bric-a-brac.

Second hand or brand new, Russian Hill Bookstore will have it for you including stationery and other bric-a-brac.

Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee and Tea are already teeming with early bird coffee-drinkers, dog-walkers,   and whatnot on a glorious sunny day. Their pet dogs laze on the clean sidewalk oblivious of the passers-by, but completely basking in the sun. When Starbucks becomes a little too crowded for comfort – hearing the conversation of the person at the opposite table is a sign to leave – Peet’s Coffee and Tea is a welcome watering hole. Inside or outside, its ambience invites you to savour your coffee and pastry in leisure, as classical music plays overhead. Over in one corner, a man concentrates finishing the birthday note he’s writing while another man quietly peruses the paper at the long bar. A table a little beyond the display counter has two women exchanging stories within my earshot as I look surreptitiously beyond the glass at a young Asian seated alone. He bobs to the beat only he can hear as he sketched people and buildings with a blue pen on his notebook in between sips of, possibly, coffee. The waves of coffee-drinkers change as gently as the foaming of the sea at shore. No strident din is heard from the baristas, only chirpy greetings and light banter.

The earthy colour scheme, I think, lends Peet's a calming aura.

The earthy colour scheme, I think, lends Peet’s a calming
aura.

Peet's calls it Freddo or ice blended chocolate drink with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Yum!

Peet’s calls it Freddo or ice blended chocolate drink with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Yum!

It's a good start to a morning looking out into the street from Peet's while enjoying breakfast.

It’s a good start to a morning looking out
into the street from Peet’s while enjoying breakfast.

A walk to next door is an exercise on self-control. Everything in the store is on sale – from baubles, accessories made in Indonesia, books to kitchenware. On Half is close now but they’re opening in August or earlier, depending if they’re ready or not. The whole month of June was a clearance sale. I grabbed some presents for my high school gal-pals’ two sons – am sure young boys are into dinosaurs and pirates – and other little presents for friends.

Radio Shack is a few steps away and I’m again greeted by Ryan, a young Caucasian, who doesn’t remember that he set up my Kyocera mobile a few days ago.  This time he helps in finding a phone casing – a souvenir for my dad and friend – but is stumped at what an HTC One S phone looks like. One memory of Radio Shack goes back 20+ years and is tied to a brown push-button phone we bought for our apartment in Escondido Village. We’re still using it in our place in Manila. The other memory is that of a good friend, Ryan Hoffman, who used to work there but I’ve since lost touch with.

Bubble tea had been on my mind but when I arrived at Quickly, I quickly walked away. It looked run down although there were a few customers inside despite the unwelcoming vibe of the place. Chatime in Bekasi has a brighter and friendly feel to it. Moving along, a queue snakes out of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant I couldn’t quite make out from a distance. On closer look, it’s a seafood place; plates and trays of fresh crab, shrimps etc line the display window, which, doubles up as a “viewing deck” into an open kitchen. The scenario: a crew hard at work of filling a baguette with crab or shrimp and an 18-seat counter near that door that is fully occupied. Swan Oyster Depot is an institution among restaurateurs; it opened in 1912 and is a favourite among residents and tourists who favour their seafood meal served with panache and charm.  I have yet to beat the line that never ends. I thought I was lucky one time because there was no queue. I was mistaken – the restaurant was close for the July 4 celebrations!

Pearl milk tea with coffee jelly from Quickly is a popular Asian drink in San Francisco. Other stores call it boba tea.

Pearl milk tea with coffee jelly from Quickly is a popular Asian drink in San Francisco. Other stores call it boba tea.

Literally next to it is Nara Sushi that’s sees a steady stream of diners that don’t need to wait long to get a table. I was greeted by a bubbly young waitress who quickly led me to a table and, later I observed, who doesn’t do a shoddy job of literally cleaning tables. Their lunch specials were enticing; at US$7.95 you can mix and match dishes. I chose the chicken teriyaki bento paired with tempura plus a mug of green tea that was refillable. The teriyaki strips were generous in portion and flavourful enough while the crunchy tempura wasn’t oily.

Value-for-money lunch at Nara Sushi means good bento box meal of,  for example, chicken teriyaki with tempura.

Value-for-money lunch at Nara Sushi means good bento box meal of, for example, chicken teriyaki with tempura.

Quiet and relaxed is the ambience at Nara Sushi.

Quiet and relaxed is the ambience at Nara Sushi.

By the window or at the sushi counter - it's your choice where to sit.

By the window or at the sushi counter – it’s your choice where to sit.

Across Quickly is a Thai place I’ve grown to like. Called Thai Spice, the servings are huge and, most importantly, tasty. In all the times I’ve been to the restaurant, I’ve managed to always get the table at the window to the right of the entrance. The natural light streaming in makes it a wonderful spot to dine, read and people watch. One time I nearly spat out my fresh spring roll when I my gaze fell on someone walking a dog – the big blond in a micro mini, heels and tight top was sporting a moustache. Being a creature of habit especially when it comes to eating, Fresh Spring roll was always part of lunch; I alternated between seafood and vegetarian. The restaurant’s peanut sauce is just divine; you have to try one to understand how it enhances the flavours dancing on your palate. Naturally, I always ordered Pad Thai, the plate teeming with shrimp, tofu, ground peanuts, eggs, bean sprout and green onions. Feeling adventurous one day, I tried one of their daily lunch specials of minced chicken with basil. It was a wonderful decision. The portions are generous that lunch becomes dinner most of the time.

Welcome to Thai Spice! San Francisco Chronicle put it in its Top Five Thai Restaurants list.

Welcome to Thai Spice! San Francisco Chronicle put it in its Top Five Thai Restaurants list.

My favourite spot for lunch at Thai Spice.

My favourite spot for lunch at Thai Spice. Lunch today is Pad Thai (foreground) and fresh spring roll.

A choice item made by Executive Chef Wanna Wirat - Crispy Calamari with sweet and sour sauce.

A choice item made by Executive Chef Wanna Wirat – Crispy
Calamari with sweet and sour sauce.

It's fresh, crunchy and packs a flavour when dipped in the peanut sauce.

It’s fresh, crunchy and packs a flavour when dipped in the peanut sauce.

The minced chicken with basil and spring roll combo for lunch is a good choice when you're absolutely famished.

The minced chicken with basil and spring roll combo for lunch is a good choice when you’re absolutely famished.

Walgreen’s is strategically placed on Polk Street. Where I begin my walk, at the corner of Union Street (it lends to a steeper climb unlike Green Street), it emerges after a couple of stores, and as you go further down until you reach the junction of California Avenue and Polk Street, its twin is waiting for you.  From nail polish to San Francisco souvenirs, you’re covered. I traipsed in and out of the store for emery boards, bronzed keychain, mini 2014 San Francisco calendar, cold medicine and Revlon lipstick.

For food stuff, I stumbled upon Big Apple Super Discount, which is several stores before Walgreen’s. I picked up a pack of red velvet cupcakes and boxes of genmaicha tea (these weren’t just available anywhere). The staff generally is cordial but the cashier seemed to have always got up from the wrong side of the bed.

Polk Street’s charm lies in the array of boutiques, stores and eating places that brim with panache, creativity and quality. It also exudes comfortableness dovetailed with a cloud of security hovering over you with every step you make. Being not good with directions or reading street maps, I go by landmarks and Polk Street is my landmark going to and fro from my temporary home on Van Ness. I don’t feel lost when I see the sign read Polk Street. Home is always a few steps away from Starbucks, followed by a left turn, a walk downhill and a right turn.  And everything is always a stone’s throw away from Van Ness to Polk.