The Multi-Layered Genius of Natisa Jones

 The utterly delightful and talented Natisa Jones in her studio in Denpasar, Bali

The utterly delightful and talented Natisa Jones in her studio in Denpasar, Bali

A charming Bali painter welcomes us to her Indonesian art studio in Denpasar.

I’ll admit it — I’m a sucker for well-designed things. Maybe it’s my arts background and my ingrained appreciation for aesthetics. But when I found an issue of Design Anthology, a quarterly magazine with thick, matte-finish pages focused on Asia’s architecture and design world, on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, I didn’t hesitate to purchase it.

With a quick search on their website using the keyword “Indonesia,” a Q&A with the artist Natisa Jones appeared. After reading it, I wanted to know more about her work. I found her Instagram account and hit the follow button.

Shortly before our trip to Bali, I sent an inquiry to see if there might be any galleries displaying her work in or near Ubud, where we would be staying.

Natisa replied to my email and invited my husband and I to visit her at her studio. When we met recently, we were running a bit behind our agreed meeting time. I don’t think either Wally or I realized how intense the traffic can be in Bali.

 Wally, Natisa and Duke goofing off. Natisa felt like a kindred spirit from the moment we met her

Wally, Natisa and Duke goofing off. Natisa felt like a kindred spirit from the moment we met her

I’ll admit I was a bit nervous to meet her; I felt a bit like a starstruck fanboy. But once she opened the door to her workspace, her expressive eyes and kind demeanor immediately put me at ease. She was wearing a small silver Barong pendant and apologizing for having paint on her hands (she was working on a few pieces for an upcoming show in Jakarta). Her personality was undeniably contagious, and Wally and I were instantly smitten.

“You’re the first people outside of my immediate family to see what I’m working on for my next show,” she told us. We felt honored.

  A Field of Roses , 2017

A Field of Roses, 2017

Q&A With Natisa Jones

The Bali-based artist Natisa Jones’ emotive drawings and paintings are a flurry of bold, expressive strokes and an earthy color palette. Evocative in an almost primitive way, her pieces are a peek into her secret world. They often incorporate text and reveal the shadowy side of the human condition.

 

What was it like growing up in Indonesia? How has this influenced your work?

Even though Indonesia always was my base, I did spend my time growing up away from it as well. I spent my high school education in Chiang Mai, Thailand and my tertiary studies in Melbourne, Australia. I returned to Indonesia at 22 to start working in graphic design and illustration.


I like to imagine that your parents caught you drawing on the wall of your bedroom when you were a little girl.

Funnily, my parents didn’t catch me drawing on the wall — they encouraged it. When we were still living in Jakarta, my mom would take me up to the rooftop of our house, where we’d dry our clothes. She’d bring chalk and crayons and draw on the walls up there with me. I have fond memories of spending time doodling with her there.

Then when I was about 7 years old, we moved to Bali. My parents let me draw all over my room as well. It was a good way of making new friends think I was cool — because they would be allowed to draw on the walls, too, when they came over.

  Don’t Drop the Soap , 2017

Don’t Drop the Soap, 2017

At what age did you have an interest in art? Do you remember what the subject of your first drawing was?

I picked up the brush and pencil as soon as I was able to. I have pictures of a 2-year-old me painting on the balcony in Jakarta, where my mom had set up an easel.

As soon as I could identify shapes and control lines better, it was more often than not a human figure. Looking back, I realize my drawings were always self-referencing. My mom kept a lot of my drawings from when I was a child up until high school, and I would often draw people I knew, or myself. And if not, it would be a human figure that aimed to express what I felt.

 

You mentioned that you began as a graphic designer. What was your a-ha moment, when you knew you wanted to make the leap to multidisciplinary artist?

I was making illustrations for fashion magazines, and it was easy. People were satisfied with what I would give, and it didn’t challenge me creatively. I also began to realize that my sense of idealism is stronger than I assumed. I really thought that after art school, the “pure art life” wasn’t for me. I liked the idea of having a desk job and a community to come to, where I get to draw all day and go home, and be done. But I started to feel unsatisfied very quickly with what I was doing. I felt wrong using my skills to push these limiting beauty agendas and shallow trends to 14-year-old kids. So I decided that the best way I can contribute to society in a positive way was to utilize my talent the best way I can. And that was that. I was much happier.

 

How do the cities you travel to influence your work?

I am very responsive to my environment, so wherever I am and what I go through always makes its way into my work, whether it be directly or indirectly. It can come in color, mood, phrases I hear, events that occur. Absolutely anything.

  Fudge You , 2017

Fudge You, 2017

During our conversation at your studio, you mentioned how you were working on several pieces simultaneously. What does a typical day in the studio look like?

I usually start with going into the studio, reading, writing or sketching for 45 minutes to an hour. And then I will go at it, onto works I have been working on or start a fresh sheet of canvas. Some days I will go into the studio and nothing happens but one stroke on a painting I have been stuck at. Those days I would just read or watch documentaries and stare at all the pieces around me, having conversations with them in my head. But those days are work, too. They are just as important.

 

I love the layers and colors of your pieces. Are there particular colors you are drawn to, and do they have a symbolic meaning for you?

I think over the years I have subconsciously established my own language with color. I seem to reserve certain colors to denote certain emotions or expressions — but this also depends on the gestural strokes they are accompanied by. But these representations are often layered and never one-dimensional. So the color + stroke + imagery creates a dialogue between each other, and depending on that dialogue, each element exists to serve one another.

Within the process of creating, I am not always conscious of why my colors appear the way they do. I mix and match my colors as I go, and it really relies on my mood that day or moment and what emotions I was trying to express. It's not unlike the feeling of when you wake up and you just know that today you want to wear that green sweater. It’s an impulsive gut feeling.

Sometimes though, I have to admit — it is the art student and graphic designer in me that refers back to the color wheel to see what colors will best solve a creative problem.

  May It Bloom , 2017

May It Bloom, 2017

One of the canvases we saw in your studio has a large figure with a haunting gaze that reminded me of Michelangelo’s Delphic Sibyl. What artists are you inspired by, and do you find that they shape your personal style?

As a former art student, I am aware and do refer back to art history and at times do engage with it within my work. But often it is not fully my purpose. I think studying them, there are gestures in poses and also influence in color that are imprinted in my mind from many different art movements that indirectly end up on my canvas.

In terms of personal style, I think the most influential movement in the context or art and art history lands more to abstract expressionism and the New York school era. As I get older though, I am starting to go back further and further in time, back to modernism and then even further to the Renaissance. But I think as an artist, that’s your job. To explore all the artists and context of art before you, and move back and forth in time to better understand your own.

“Art goes into the future, while the art lover goes into the past; they meet in the present.” as J.L. Siesling writes in Art Is More.

 A work in progress in Natisa’s studio, with some good advice she’s written on the wall

A work in progress in Natisa’s studio, with some good advice she’s written on the wall

How do you start a painting?

I kind of go without a plan, and it shapes itself as I go along. It reveals itself to me slowly. Some days I will have an idea and start with that — most likely ending up nowhere near the initial idea! Some days, when the last thing you want to do is be confronted by a massive canvas and talk about feelings, it becomes very technical, and I force myself to start with a stroke, and then I keep responding from stroke to stroke, shape to shape, color to color. And voilà! Might not be genius, but it’s a start.

 

Do you listen to music while you work?

Yes, music is very important — it helps me channel my creative flow, as it does for many artists, I’m sure. Silence is also good sometimes. It depends on how you woke up that day!

 

How do you know when a piece is complete?

The age-old question of “when do you know a piece is complete” is a really difficult thing to explain. There is definitely some sort of learning process of letting go. For me, since I’ve done this most of my life, it’s roughly a feeling of satisfaction or exhaustion. Either I’ve exhausted that expression and I don’t need to work on that feeling within myself anymore, and am done; or I have an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction with a piece and I have to pull myself back from fixing things that don’t actually need fixing.

It is difficult to know when it’s done, but I think the difference is: If it feels like it is complete, then it probably is. But when it is not complete, it usually is very obvious only to me and I would not be able to send it out into the world like that.

  Sitting at Home , 2016

Sitting at Home, 2016

Have you ever put a piece aside or completely reworked it?

Almost all the time and every piece. Working on multiple pieces all at once allows me the space to bounce from one expression to another. It creates less pressure for me. But eight out of 10 pieces go through 100 stages and images before they reach their conclusion. I have maybe five pieces in my entire life of canvas works that have been completed in under 24 hours and stuck to their initial forms.

 

Have you ever regretted selling a piece?

When I first started selling work, I have to admit it was difficult to let go, because it was a concept that was so foreign to me. When I was working in graphic design, I understood the dynamics very clearly. I was good at something, and they needed that skill, and I was there to serve their vision first and not mine. Or at least that’s how it was for me at the time. I was thick-skinned with rejection when it came to commercial work and felt I was always good at reading what people wanted from my work.

But painting was different. It was a concept that I had to get my head around as I went along. My painting was my therapy and served me and only me growing up. To come into a profession where your feelings and psychological states were up for sale and judgement was definitely a big pill to swallow. It was quite literally the idea of someone buying what I felt on a Tuesday. So at the beginning this was hard.

 

Okay, here are a couple of silly questions. Durian: love it or loathe it?

The smell, the texture, the shape — what’s not to love?

 

Kopi luwak (a coffee made from beans that have been pooped out of the lusaka, or civet cat)?

Like it, but also not, for the way it is made. Not the poop part, but how some of these farms provide horrible living conditions for the lusaka and definitely aren’t animal-friendly.


What are you working on currently?

I am currently working on four shows and one big solo show in Jakarta.

  Moon , 2014

Moon, 2014

Follow Natisa on Instagram!  –Duke

Spa Day Heaven: Padma Spa at Plataran Borobudur

If you’re in Java, relax with a massage and scrub — though it’s all about the volcanic stone tub and epic view.

 Our treatment room overlooked the jungle-covered mountain

Our treatment room overlooked the jungle-covered mountain

Indonesian hospitality is in full effect at Padma Spa at Plataran Borobudur Resort. The exotic teakwood villa that houses the space sits perched like a Javanese treehouse on a hillside overlooking a dense forest of teak, casuarina and rasamala trees.

The facility offers a wide range of options and features six treatment rooms equipped with bathtubs carved from volcanic stone taken from nearby Mount Merapi as well as a relaxation lounge, nail salon and gym. They also have a small but well-curated assortment of items for sale in the reception area.

Among the elements incorporated into the spa’s design are intricately hand-carved teak fretwork window panels reflecting the region’s cultural heritage.

The first thing we noticed was the volcanic stone tub, big enough for both of us.

The room offered floor-to-ceiling views across the jungle valley to the temple of Borobudur.
 The spa is on the grounds of Plataran Borobudur

The spa is on the grounds of Plataran Borobudur

Java Nadi Massage

Our visit began with cool towels and cups of ginger tea. Wally and I opted for the 60-minute Java Nadi massage. The spa director suggested we add a body scrub from the treatment menu. We agreed to add the 45-minute Lakshmi scrub — and were glad we did.

When we entered our treatment room, the first thing we noticed was the freestanding Merapi stone soaking tub, big enough for both of us. Flooded with natural light, the room offered floor-to-ceiling views across the jungle valley to the ancient Buddhist temple of Borobudur in the distance.

After we had changed into our robes, our feet were placed in basins of warm water to soak. Each therapist added bath salts, kaffir lime wheels, lemongrass, dried pomelo slices and peppermint essential oil, which gave off a delightfully revitalizing aroma.

 Various natural ingredients are used in the spa’s treatments

Various natural ingredients are used in the spa’s treatments

We were asked to lie face-down under the top sheet on our massage tables. The tone from a single-note energy chime resonated as it was tapped three times before beginning.

The word “nadi” refers to the pathways or channels of energy that run throughout the human body. Java Nadi is a healing technique rooted in centuries-old traditions. Its aim is to restore balance and energy to the body.

A unique combination of slow, fluid movements, incorporating deep kneading and thumb pressure, this hands-on holistic treatment eases muscle and joint pain while increasing circulation.

When our massage had concluded, we experienced the hammam-like Lakshmi scrub: an aromatic combination of sandalwood, ground rice, lemongrass, candlenut and grapefruit that left our skin silky smooth.

 Wally didn’t want to ever get out of the volcanic stone bathtub

Wally didn’t want to ever get out of the volcanic stone bathtub

 Duke relaxes in the milk bath after the massage and body scrub

Duke relaxes in the milk bath after the massage and body scrub

We finished by relaxing (OK, there was some goofing off as well) in the dramatic bathtub, which was filled with a lemongrass milk soak. As we gazed out the window, it felt like we were hovering over the landscape. Eventually, I was able to convince Wally to leave the tub.

I wanted to take home the earthenware teapot, batik robes and energy chime — but I didn’t want the bad karma. We loved every minute of our experience, and it put us in a deep state of relaxation. –Duke

Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa
Dusun Tanjungan
Borobudur, Magelang
Jawa Tengah 56553
Indonesia

The Splendors of the Tirta Gangga Water Gardens

Take a day trip from Ubud through Heaven and Hell and discover the enduring appeal of this royal Bali water park.

 The last raja of Karangasem built these gorgeous gardens

The last raja of Karangasem built these gorgeous gardens

Our Bali itinerary was already filled with a week’s worth of activities packed into a handful of days. Then, on a whim, Wally suggested we add Taman Tirta Gangga, the lavish mid 20th century water gardens owned by the royal family of Karangasem, located two hours east of Ubud.

We had decided the night before to eliminate a few spots from our checklist, as we both quickly came to a realization from a previous day’s excursion — getting around on the two-lane roads on Bali is not the easiest, as they weren’t built for the amount of vehicles now using them.

If you bathe in the waters on a full moon, you will miraculously be blessed with youth and cured of illnesses.

We had found and hired a driver that Wally liked because he was wearing a traditional sarong. Besides being affordable, our driver Made (pronounced Meh-day) cost about $50 for the day. I was resistant to visiting Tirta Gangga at first, but in the end agreed it’d be worth making a road trip.

 The stepping stones in the Mahabharata Pond at Tirta Gangga get a bit crowded

The stepping stones in the Mahabharata Pond at Tirta Gangga get a bit crowded

The Royal Water Gardens of Tirta Gangga

Tirta Gangga, whose name translates as “Blessed Water of the Ganges,” is surrounded by emerald green rice fields and rests upon a natural spring.

The enclosed recreational gardens occupy 2.5 acres and were built in 1948 by the last raja of Karangasem. An imaginative and budding architect, he was influenced by a visit to the gardens of Versailles, France.

During construction, it was a great surprise for visitors to find the raja spending his days knee-deep in the mud, steadily working alongside local craftsmen.

In this water garden, the source of its many water features is located beneath a sacred banyan tree named Rijasa by the villagers. Like the local river Ganges, it’s considered holy.

 Duke and Wally on the bridge leading to Demon Island

Duke and Wally on the bridge leading to Demon Island

 The waterspouts at Tirta Gangga depict various creatures

The waterspouts at Tirta Gangga depict various creatures

Local lore holds that if you bathe in the waters on a full moon, you will miraculously be blessed with youth and cured of illnesses.

When we arrived on a clear blue afternoon, the place was already a bit crowded. The gardens provided a glimpse into the Bali of old. The courtyards of Tirta Gangga are laid out on three levels, representing the Hindu concept of triloka, the mortal plane, the divine world and the lower realm of demons. Each level contains water features and sculptures that visitors can walk around and admire.

The first thing we saw when we entered was the monumental 11-tiered Nawa Sanga Fountain, which resembles a lotus and is Victorian in style. This fountain, together with the lower swimming pool and Mahabharata Pond, form the mortal bwah level of Tirta Gangga. The eight deity figures encircling the fountain represent the guardians of the cardinal directions and are positioned around the powerful central deity of Siwa, or Shiva, here represented as the fountain itself.

 The 11 tiers of the Nawa Sanga Fountain were designed to resemble lotus flowers

The 11 tiers of the Nawa Sanga Fountain were designed to resemble lotus flowers

We followed the footpath leading directly to the auditorium pavilion, which is perched on the higher northern level, swah, the divine world and flanked by a pair of statues, reproductions of the original benevolent beast Barong, his humanlike feet playfully poking out in front.

 Barongs, their feet sticking out in a comical manner, guard the back of the gardens

Barongs, their feet sticking out in a comical manner, guard the back of the gardens

Just beyond, in the garden’s northwest corner, lies a small meditation garden, with eight figures depicting samsara, the continuous cycle of life, death and rebirth, including three benevolent deities, a mortal man and mortal woman, and three horrifying demons.

 Two Rangdas don’t make a right

Two Rangdas don’t make a right

 Beware the demon queen!

Beware the demon queen!

 One of the demons in the meditation area at the back of Tirta Gangga

One of the demons in the meditation area at the back of Tirta Gangga

Realizing we would most likely not attain enlightenment, at least not in this lifetime, we wandered over to the swimming pool. Wally was overheated and I agreed that it would be pretty special to cool off in a pool whose waters are considered sacred. After figuring out where the entrance was, we paid a small fee to take a plunge. Wally went in for a swim, while I dipped my toes in the bracing but refreshing spring water. Admittedly, I was a bit jealous that I hadn’t joined him, though I was amused by the antics of a group of college-age French boys.

 Wally took a dip in the Lower Pool

Wally took a dip in the Lower Pool

 A mythological creature spews water

A mythological creature spews water

After our swim, we visited the Mahabharata Pond. The octagonal stepping stones enabled us to walk across its surface and admire the large koi fish swimming in its crystal-clear waters. This feature is very crowded, and it’s a bit nerve-wracking letting people squeeze past you on the tiny stones as you pause for a photo. Sometimes people had to backtrack all the way to the start because they met up with someone going the opposite direction.

 Duke is steppin’ out

Duke is steppin’ out

 This celestial nymph is actually Wally

This celestial nymph is actually Wally

There are several stone sculptures spouting water into the pond. Other sculptures depict the mythical creatures of the Indian epic from which the pool got its name. The raja’s former country house, located just beyond the Versailles Pond, has been converted into an inn.

We eventually arrived at Tirta Gangga’s largest water feature, the South Pond, which is located to the left of the gardens’ entrance and incidentally bhur, the lower realm, where monsters reside. The pond contains the provocatively named Demon Island, which can be reached via a pair of bridges featuring ornately sculpted Balinese dragons.

 Dragons perch atop the arched bridge to Demon Island

Dragons perch atop the arched bridge to Demon Island

 Demon Island isn’t scary at all. It boasts a series of elegant quatrefoil-shaped fountains

Demon Island isn’t scary at all. It boasts a series of elegant quatrefoil-shaped fountains

The gardens were abandoned in 1963, when Mount Agung erupted unexpectedly after having been dormant for the past century. An ambitious restoration process began in 1979, led by the raja’s son, Anak Agung Made Djelantik, and was continued by Widoere Djelantik, the raja’s grandson, who has returned the gardens to their former glory.

Although the road trip to Tirta Gangga was a bit long, we both agreed how impressive it is and that it’s a special place worth visiting in Bali. –Duke

Tirta Gangga
Ababi
Abang
Karangasem Regency, Bali
Indonesia

The Chicken Church of Java, Indonesia

Bukhit Rhema is such a bird-brained idea that it’s a kitchcy — and dare we say egg-cellent — side trip to the temples of Prambanan and Borobudur.

 Known as the Chicken Church, it’s actually neither a chicken nor a church

Known as the Chicken Church, it’s actually neither a chicken nor a church

The Lord moves in mysterious ways.

And sometimes that means a church that’s built to look like a dove actually comes out looking more like an ignoble chicken.

To add insult to injury, the building known as the Chicken Church wasn’t ever supposed to actually be a church.

It’s the type of rundown place you’d imagine some doomsday cult taking over.

In fact, it’s rumored to be haunted by vampiric female ghosts.

I know the man behind this unusual structure had a different vision in mind, but the end result is really quite comical. The “dove” has liberty spikes atop its head, crosses on its eyes and what appears to be a studded collar, giving it the look of a blotto punk rocker.

 This is what it looks like when doves cry: The now-run-down structure was the vision of a man who was called to build a house of prayer

This is what it looks like when doves cry: The now-run-down structure was the vision of a man who was called to build a house of prayer

This unusual structure has taken roost in the middle of the jungle in Magelang, Indonesia on the island of Java, near the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan and the Buddhist temple of Borobudur.

Cars must park down the hill in a lot. A bit up the hill, you’ll see a ticket booth (the admission price is 10,000 rupiah, less than a buck). Then it’s a five-minute walk up a steep hill to get to the chicken. Think of it as a mini-pilgrimage.

Duke had seen images of an abandoned interior, covered in dust and graffiti, and to be honest, that’s what he was hoping to find. But the building has been renovated — though don’t expect too much.

 The building would make a lovely setting for cult meetings

The building would make a lovely setting for cult meetings

The cavernous interior is still quite bare-bones, featuring a cluster of seats in rows but no altar or anything else, in fact, that recalls a place of worship. It looks like a depressing concrete community center. The tilework on the floor is the most impressive part. It’s the type of rundown place you’d imagine some doomsday cult taking over.

It wasn’t ever fully furnished because its builder ran out of money.

It’s rumored to be haunted, home to kuntilanak, vampiric female ghosts from Indonesian folklore.

 Heavenly rays of light illuminate the decaying interior

Heavenly rays of light illuminate the decaying interior

Whose birdbrained scheme was this, anyway? The idea came to Daniel Alamsjah in what he describes as a “vision from God.” One night after praying, he saw a dove with snow-white wings resting at the top of a hill. A voice asked him to build a house of prayer for all nations.  

The end result went a bit fowl (#sorrynotsorry), and locals started called the structure Gereja Ayam, the Chicken Church.

 The angels out front are a nod to the builder’s Christian beliefs

The angels out front are a nod to the builder’s Christian beliefs

“Perhaps because of my Christian faith, people thought I was building a church,” Alamsjah told the Jakarta Globe. “I was building a prayer house, not a church, but a place for people who believe in God.”

In the 1990s, he was able to purchase the land, which was said to be offered at Rp. 2 million (a mere $170 at the time).

 Looking back at the tail feathers from the lookout on the bird’s head

Looking back at the tail feathers from the lookout on the bird’s head

Bird’s-Eye View

Duke and I wanted to do the head first, so, upon entering the building, we turned to the right and began climbing up the back staircase. On the first landing, we were delighted to find a series of brightly painted cautionary tales, much like those tiny free comic booklets missionaries hand out on street corners (apparently they’re called Chick tracts). Inevitably, they’d have a scene where some poor sap suffered the flames of Hell, coming to the realization — too late — that he didn’t accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior.

 The mezzanine is covered with brightly painted murals that display bad behaviors

The mezzanine is covered with brightly painted murals that display bad behaviors

From there, we continued our climb to the inside of the chicken’s skull. To access the lookout, you have to head up a tottering spiral staircase and step out onto a small platform atop the bird’s head. Thin metal guardrails encircle the lookout. My vertigo sent my head swimming, so I stayed as close to the center as I could (except, of course, to pose for a picture with a volcano in the background).

 Duke and Wally atop the chicken’s, err, dove’s head

Duke and Wally atop the chicken’s, err, dove’s head

Two girls were also on the platform and asked if they could take our picture. We found that the kids on Java were fascinated by us — at the tourist sites, we couldn’t go 5 feet without being begged to pose for a photograph.

 Looking out one of the windows on the ground floor

Looking out one of the windows on the ground floor

After practically tumbling down the spiral staircase, Duke and I headed to the first floor to check out the chicken’s butt. Toward the back of the building, there’s a strange area with dirt and an exposed wall. Photos of people touching the wall, ecstatic glows upon their faces, revealed that they believe there to be magic lying within.

Perhaps they’re scenes from the Chicken Church’s past: A dozen unfinished chambers lie underneath it, which were once used for rehabilitation.

“The rehabilitation that happened at this prayer house was for therapy for disabled children, drug addicts, crazy people and disturbed youth who wanted to fight,” Alamsjah says.

The “dove” has liberty spikes atop its head and crosses on its eyes, giving it the look of a blotto punk rocker.
 This truck will take you up the hill if you don’t want to walk

This truck will take you up the hill if you don’t want to walk

We climbed up the back stairs, gave a girl our ticket for a free local treat that came with our price of admission. The snack turned out to be bahn cay, fried cassava root, the Javanese version of home fries.

We munched our carbs, gazing out at the lush green hills beyond, glad we made time for this quirky stopover.

Don’t be chicken: If you’re hitting Prambanan or Borobudur, make a chicken run (can’t stop making puns!) and include a visit to this unintentionally goofy site. –Wally

 The Bukit Rhema was supposed to actually resemble a dove, the symbol of peace

The Bukit Rhema was supposed to actually resemble a dove, the symbol of peace

 “Take me to my leader”

“Take me to my leader”

Bukhit Rhema
Gereja Ayam, the Chicken Church

Dusun Gombong
Kembanglimus, Kurahan, Karangrejo
Borobudur, Magelang
Jawa Tengah 56553
Indonesia

Taksu Spa: A Wellness Wonderland in Ubud

Try the Esalen massage at this gorgeous spa that offers healthy meals, yoga and other treatments.

 Wally relaxes on the bridge at Taksu, after his amazing Esalen massage

Wally relaxes on the bridge at Taksu, after his amazing Esalen massage

Like the wardrobe that leads to the magical realm of Narnia, the unassuming building at the end of the lane doesn’t even begin to hint at the wonders that lie behind it.

Then came a massage unlike any other we’ve experienced.

It was as if a Balinese dancer (or, more appropriately, a four-armed Hindu goddess) was moving her arms in all directions at once.
 The buildings at Taksu are nestled in lush greenery

The buildings at Taksu are nestled in lush greenery

The Quiet Stretch of Buddha Street

The night before our appointment, Duke and I found ourselves wandering around Ubud. It was still new to us, each street opening up like a flower, revealing its own personality. We had just crossed Jalal Dewisita, strolling down Jalal Goutama, which I nicknamed Buddha Street. Suddenly we were filled with a sense of calm. The restaurants that were open didn’t blast music. Conversation was subdued, respectful. Everyone seemed to have come to an agreement that this stretch of the street would offer a quiet oasis.

I turned to Duke and said, “I feel like this is where Taksu will be.” Sure enough, about five steps farther, we saw the sign for Taksu off to the right. As my dad, who tends to get words adorably wrong, has said, “ESPN runs in the family.”

 There’s a very zen feel to the spa

There’s a very zen feel to the spa

Taksu Spa: A Hidden Oasis in Ubud

Once you step beyond that unassuming façade at Taksu Spa, you enter another world. The grounds are situated in a small valley, which a river literally runs through. The rains were so intense recently, the spa had to raise the bridge that spans the ravine.

 Statues of the Buddha are tucked into various nooks on the spa grounds

Statues of the Buddha are tucked into various nooks on the spa grounds

Paths wind through zen gardens, ending in a small copse with a Buddha statue. Go off in another direction and you’ll pass a building that houses one of the two yoga schools or the Hindu shrine for the staff to worship at.

 These poles are part of the hydroponic garden, growing herbs and veggies

These poles are part of the hydroponic garden, growing herbs and veggies

 Enjoy a quiet meal or snack at the café

Enjoy a quiet meal or snack at the café

Other trails lead to a hydroponic garden growing basil, lettuce, mint. Then you’ll come to the chill out zone and café, meandering past water features and an affordable all-you-can-eat salad bar in front of the open kitchen, where the smiling chef waves amidst his culinary creation.

 Namaste

Namaste

Taksu is one of those foreign words that has no direct translation. It acts as a linguistic suitcase, packing in a lot of meaning into those five letters. One way of defining it is as the essence of the spirit, explains Jero, the spa’s marketing advisor, who took us on a tour of the complex. It’s often a trait performers search for: a divine inspiration channeled into the ability to captivate an audience.

 This cool waterfall feature is the centerpiece of Taksu, and helps create the relaxing atmosphere

This cool waterfall feature is the centerpiece of Taksu, and helps create the relaxing atmosphere

That idea of wellness pervades everything at Taksu, from massage to yoga to healthy food options. In fact, they plan to open a wellness center as well, to help people live a wholesome lifestyle, learning what foods to eat and good behaviors to follow.

 We had our massages in a building at the far end of the bridge

We had our massages in a building at the far end of the bridge

Our First Esalen Massage

Jero led us across the bridge, under a curtain of banyan branches, to a group of rooms at the far end of the grounds. Duke and I were shown into a room and told to change into those black mesh panties that fit as flatteringly as a shower cap.

We let the masseuses know we were ready and lay side by side. And then came a massage unlike any other we’ve experienced. It was as if a Balinese dancer (or, more appropriately, a four-armed Hindu goddess) was moving her arms in all directions at once.

Most massages focus on one area at a time, starting with the right shoulder, then on to the left shoulder, followed by the lower back, then moving down to the legs… But during this massage, the masseuse would simultaneously sweep up my leg while kneading my back. She’d work on one of my shoulders while somehow massaging my arms at the same time. The massage felt holistic, especially compared to past treatments, and you never knew what was coming.

What was this magical massage technique? I wanted to know. It’s called Esalen, and those long, sweeping strokes, the stretching, the acupressure, even an exchange of energy that sounds reminiscent of reiki — it’s all part of a school of practice created in the 1960s in Big Sur, California.

 Post-massage smoothie, juice and amuse-bouche

Post-massage smoothie, juice and amuse-bouche

 The shrimp was spicy and sweet — and delicous

The shrimp was spicy and sweet — and delicous

 Duke and Wally became obsessed with cold soups in Ubud — they’re refreshing and can be found on many menus in town

Duke and Wally became obsessed with cold soups in Ubud — they’re refreshing and can be found on many menus in town

Afterward, as Duke and I enjoyed smoothies and a light lunch of chilled soup and spicy honeyed shrimp, we felt utterly recharged, ready to explore the bustling town of Ubud and its surrounding jungle.

You’d never guess that all this lies at the end of a quiet street in Ubud. Part of the appeal of Taksu is that magic of discovery, though there are plans to renovate the spa’s façade, to give a better hint at the gorgeousness just beyond. –Wally

 Wally, with that post-massage glow

Wally, with that post-massage glow

 A refreshed and reinvigorated Duke

A refreshed and reinvigorated Duke

Taksu Spa
Jalan Goutama Selatan
Ubud, Kabupaten, Gianyar
Bali 80571
Indonesia

Plataran Borobudur: A Luxury Resort in a Dream Setting

Looking for a Borobudur hotel on Java? Pamper yourself at a private villa with your own pool in the hills above the scenic Buddhist temple.

 Our villa at Plataran Borobudur

Our villa at Plataran Borobudur

The Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa ticked all the right boxes for Wally and me. From its proximity to the iconic 9th century Buddhist monument Borobudur, which could be seen in the distance from our private villa’s very own infinity pool, the decision was easy.

 The private infinity pool had a view of Borobudur in the distance

The private infinity pool had a view of Borobudur in the distance

Owned and developed by Indonesian entrepreneur Yozua Makes, the secluded Plataran Borobudur Resort, part of the Plataran hospitality group, is a one-of-a-kind luxury retreat nestled in the hills in Tanjungan Village in Central Java.

 When Wally saw this tub, he knew he’d be taking a bath in it before the trip was over

When Wally saw this tub, he knew he’d be taking a bath in it before the trip was over

Even though it was late at night when Wally and I arrived, weary from our delayed flight, after a 90-minute drive from the Yogyakarta International Airport, we were greeted with a smile and offered cool towels and welcome drinks at reception. While completing the check-in process, I heard a melodious chirping and asked if it was a nocturnal bird. I was informed that it wasn’t birds at all — it was geckos!

 Wally mimics the Buddha in front of a bell that evokes the stupas of Borobudur

Wally mimics the Buddha in front of a bell that evokes the stupas of Borobudur

 Wally and Duke chat with the charming and helpful Mia, the resort’s manager

Wally and Duke chat with the charming and helpful Mia, the resort’s manager

The concierge assisted us with our luggage and escorted us to our Executive Pool Villa, which would be our oasis for the next few days.

 The villas have these doorways in the middle of the jungle with steps that lead down to the room

The villas have these doorways in the middle of the jungle with steps that lead down to the room

Set back from the path leading to the villa were a pair of weathered wood doors, with stone steps beyond that led down to our private courtyard. The spacious, airy interior featured minimalist décor, a king-size bed and a bathroom with a dramatic tub and rain shower. The bottled water wrapped in natural cotton fabric sleeves atop the dual washbasins was a nice touch.

 Wally peeks from wooden doors that lead to our villa complex

Wally peeks from wooden doors that lead to our villa complex

A pair of sliding wood shutter doors leading into the villa regulates the amount of sunlight when closed and allows daylight in when open while still maintaining privacy.

 Wally basks in the sun

Wally basks in the sun

 Duke also enjoyed having a private infinity pool

Duke also enjoyed having a private infinity pool

On our first day, we decided to keep our itinerary open and barely left our villa. When we awoke that morning, it was the view that struck us first. Mist hung heavy over the lush greenery surrounding our villa. The sun’s rays bathed Borobudur temple in golden light, and one of the local volcanoes, Mount Merapi, made a brief appearance before coyly disappearing behind the clouds.

Birds splashed in the water at the edge of our private pool while butterflies fluttered by and dragonflies whizzed through the air. We didn’t waste much time before changing into our swimsuits and jumping in.

 This planter once served as a signpost

This planter once served as a signpost

 Even the ceiling of this open-air pavilion was impressive 

Even the ceiling of this open-air pavilion was impressive 

The name Plataran means “God’s favorite courtyard,” and it’s easy to see why. Hidden amongst the palms and towering teak trees, each of the 21 standalone villas blends in with the stunning local landscape, and are modeled after the traditional Javanese joglo house. Their steeply pitched pedestal clay tile rooftops are built to resemble stylized mountain peaks.

We opted to spend the afternoon exploring the grounds and stopped off at the reception lobby to confirm the details for our sunrise visit to Borobudur. A gamelan musician with a serene smile was playing a xylophone-like instrument.

 A gamelan musician played soothing tunes in the lobby

A gamelan musician played soothing tunes in the lobby

 This structure offers Muslim staff members a place to worship during the call the prayer — which seemed to happen quite often

This structure offers Muslim staff members a place to worship during the call the prayer — which seemed to happen quite often

Each location offers a variety of pre-arranged tours including a driver and guides. Wally and I threw in 60-minute spa treatments. If you’re going to relax, you might as well to go all in, right?

While wandering the grounds, we stumbled upon a menagerie of animals at the foot of a hill, including a flock of adorable spotted deer, a bashful peacock, a strutting male turkey that Wally named the Colonel and more than a few wild grouse roaming freely.

If you’re interested in horseback riding, a stable and riding compound is available. It’s visible from the reception area.

 The horse run and stables off to the side of the reception building

The horse run and stables off to the side of the reception building

 We’re not sure if this is the horse that tried to bite Wally or not

We’re not sure if this is the horse that tried to bite Wally or not

We did of course leave our room every morning for the impressive breakfast buffet served at the Patio Joglo, an open-air pavilion with a telescope smartly positioned for viewing Borobudur. This amazing spread included assorted pastries, fresh tropical fruit and juices. One of my faves was the jamu kunyit, a blend of galangal, tamarind and turmeric. A main course of traditional Indonesian or Western fare is included.

 The scruptious breafast buffet

The scruptious breafast buffet

 The adorably tiny eggs benedict Wally ordered one orning

The adorably tiny eggs benedict Wally ordered one orning

Breakfast was served with coffee, and Wally’s request for an iced latte was happily accommodated. On our first morning, we met the lovely Ni Komang Darmiati, the resort manager, who goes by Mia. While deciding what to get, she suggested an off-the-menu item, the delicious nasi goreng magelangan, a local riff on the country’s national dish. The aromatic meal included a mix of rice and glass noodles topped with a banana leaf hat. Small but potent green peppers were distributed into the dish and packed a pleasantly surprising amount of heat.

 Nasi goreng magelangan combines rice and noodles

Nasi goreng magelangan combines rice and noodles

The resort’s signature dining restaurant, Patio Colonial, overlooks the resort’s pool and was constructed as a Dutch Colonial plantation house with a wraparound porch. Filled with historic memorabilia, it serves a tasty mix of Indonesian and international cuisine.

 The main restaurant at Plataran Borobudur is modeled after a Dutch Colonian plantation house

The main restaurant at Plataran Borobudur is modeled after a Dutch Colonian plantation house

 The dining room

The dining room

 The bar

The bar

Complimentary afternoon tea is served with a variety of Indonesian snacks on the open-air rooftop deck atop the three-story reception building, offering compelling views of the Menorah Hills and Borobudur.

 Tea is served every day on the rooftop terrace

Tea is served every day on the rooftop terrace

 In addition to tea and coffee, snacks are provided, incluidng chips, hors d’oeuvres, fruit and sweets

In addition to tea and coffee, snacks are provided, incluidng chips, hors d’oeuvres, fruit and sweets

Wally and I were well taken care of by the friendly and courteous Haris, one of the servers we spoke with on more than one occasion during our stay. Like all the staff at the resort, he consistently and courteously replied, with an ever-present smile, “My pleasure” after every request.

 Duke and Wally snuck into the Kastil, a private event space

Duke and Wally snuck into the Kastil, a private event space

 The Kastil proved quite photogenic

The Kastil proved quite photogenic

Our four days at the Plataran Borobudur was the relaxing break that we both needed before heading back to reality. The wonderfully helpful Fuad and Merry made us feel as though we were guests at a friend’s luxurious estate for the duration of our stay.

 A fruit bowl at our villa

A fruit bowl at our villa

 Stepped pathways wind through the hills in the jungle throughout the grounds of the resort

Stepped pathways wind through the hills in the jungle throughout the grounds of the resort

You could stay at the hotel adjacent to Borobudur, or you could pamper yourself at a first-class resort with your own private pool. Really, the choice couldn’t be more simple. –Duke

Portugal’s Pastry Penises

Cock an eye at the phallic pastries from Amarante, Portugal, which, strangely, honor a saint.

 Doesn’t this penis pastry look simply mouth-watering? Hopefully it's cream-filled!

Doesn’t this penis pastry look simply mouth-watering? Hopefully it's cream-filled!

Portugal’s pastry penises, they pop up (sorry, couldn’t resist) everywhere. Darling small ones covered in sugar. Massive ones big enough to share. Some are filled with, what else, cream. Porcelain ones, can openers, corkscrews line up on store shelves like soldiers at attention. It’s a penispalooza!

You see them all over the country, but they actually come from Amarante east of Porto. A lovely town where everything — the church, the bridge, the convent, a street — is named after the same man, Amarante sits at the western entrance to the Douro Valley, home to the port wine industry.

Modestly dressed women giggle as they confront an anatomically correct penis dusted with powdered sugar.

There is that awkward moment of deciding whether to use a knife and fork or pick it up and nibble away.

In the 13th century, long after the Romans built the bridge that bears his name, a priest, now canonized, São Gonçalo, had “matchmaking abilities.”

There is no word on his personal equipment size. Given the doces fálicos (phallic sweets) or bolos (cakes) that commemorate him, however, it must have been quite something.

The fact that he was run out of town for some long-forgotten reason fuels speculation as to why he is so vividly remembered eight centuries later. Also no word on why he’s revered with pastry — malleable, rise-able, edible…shouldn’t go too far with the metaphors.

 Portugal’s penis obsession extends to other products, including bottle openers

Portugal’s penis obsession extends to other products, including bottle openers

The pastries are given as gifts in January so that the recipient will have a fortuitous and fertile year. But the really big celebration is the first week in June, around São Gonçalo's feast day, when Amarante goes penis crazy.

There’s a procession, fireworks, penis bunting, fetching penis deely-boppers and a lot of pastry penis presents to single women looking for love. In other words, the world’s largest bachelorette party.

 Phallic baked goods are a common sight in Portugal, especially the town of Amarante

Phallic baked goods are a common sight in Portugal, especially the town of Amarante

The rest of the year, modestly dressed women sit in cafés throughout the country, sipping espresso and giggling as they confront an anatomically correct, carefully circumcised and fully, shall we say, inflated penis dusted with powdered sugar. There is that awkward moment of deciding whether to use a knife and fork or pick it up and nibble away.

Otherwise, if you miss the festa in Amarante, if you’re new to Portugal, if you haven’t seen anyone eating the equivalent of a phallic doughnut, you are left standing in the middle of Porto’s open-air market, staring into a bakery shop window thinking, “That’s not what I think it is. Is it?” –Rebecca

Herb Library: One of the Best Restaurants in Ubud, Bali

A standout farm-to-table restaurant experience so good we visited twice during our five days in Ubud.

 Looking for a place to eat in Ubud? Stop into Herb Library

Looking for a place to eat in Ubud? Stop into Herb Library

The laidback ambience of the open-air dining room was just what Wally and I needed after a full day of exploring Ubud and its surroundings. Situated at street level in front of the Alaya Jembawan hotel, the signature restaurant is an extension of the retreat’s wellness concept and a short distance from the bustling Jalan Raya Ubud, the main thoroughfare that runs through town.

 Look for this sign — and enjoy a delicious locally sourced meal

Look for this sign — and enjoy a delicious locally sourced meal

Drawing inspiration from the culture and character of its surroundings, the interior has been expertly layered by designer Zohra Bouka, incorporating a mix of pale blue and celadon green, juxtaposed with curvaceous woven rattan chairs, lending the space a relaxed boho-meets-Bali vibe. Even the drinking water was beautiful, served from a glass pitcher, infused with what appeared to be a mix of shaved carrots, cucumber, lime wheels and coriander.

Le Cordon Bleu alumnus and raw food advocate Diana von Cranach has spent decades perfecting her own interpretation of the living food movement and brings her considerable creativity to Herb Library, with its craveable variety of health-conscious cuisine. There’s a range of inventive local and sustainably grown plant-based meals for herbivores, with responsibly sourced fish and chicken options for omnivores.

There’s a range of inventive local and sustainably grown plant-based meals for herbivores, with responsibly sourced fish and chicken options for omnivores.
 Our sandwiches, the Unbelievable and the Cheese Sambal

Our sandwiches, the Unbelievable and the Cheese Sambal

After checking out their menu online, I decided that I wanted to try the Cheese Sambal, a grilled tempeh sandwich oozing with parmesan and cheddar cheese, shredded cauliflower, lemon basil and tomato sambal. I became completely obsessed with the fiery, chili-based Indonesian condiment after we sampled at least three distinctive sambal varieties at Plantation, the restaurant at the Alila, where we stayed while in Ubud. I had only previously been aware of sambal oelek, the most widely available type in the United States.

 Wally enjoys his refreshing adult beverage

Wally enjoys his refreshing adult beverage

 Duke found his coconut, ginger and banana thickie downright heavenly

Duke found his coconut, ginger and banana thickie downright heavenly

On our first visit to Herb Library, Wally and I made the rookie mistake of ordering too much food. We had arrived in the late afternoon and I was on the cusp of being hangry.

 The dragonfruit-based Red Dragoon and coconut ginger banana thickie

The dragonfruit-based Red Dragoon and coconut ginger banana thickie

We each started off with a “thickie,” their version of a smoothie — a delicious blended drink that was a meal in itself. I had the coconut milk, banana and ginger and Wally had the dragonfruit. He particularly liked the vibrancy of his and made sure I photographed it.

 The cold Carrot & Healing Roots Bisque is refreshing on a hot Bali day

The cold Carrot & Healing Roots Bisque is refreshing on a hot Bali day

Wally and I had also ordered cold soup, assuming it would be served in a small bowl. I chose the carrot and healing roots bisque and Wally, the green gazpacho. What arrived was a small tureen of each that we could have easily shared.

The generous portions of food were delicious and full of flavor. By the time our main courses arrived, we were both incredibly happy and full and ended up taking our leftovers back to our hotel. –Duke

Herb Library
Jalan Jembawan
Ubud, Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia
Hours: 7 a.m. - 11 p.m. daily

Girls Trip to Tulum, Mexico

The best restaurants, bars and things to do in this Riviera Maya hotspot.

 Girls gone wild! What a day in the sun (and too many margaritas) can inspire you to do in Tulum #freethenips

Girls gone wild! What a day in the sun (and too many margaritas) can inspire you to do in Tulum #freethenips

It was the picture of a line of topless girls on the beach (seen from behind) that really got me.

I asked my former colleague and friend Megan if she’d be willing to write up a post about her trip to Tulum, Mexico. When I visited about 15 years ago, it was a sleepy getaway from Playa del Carmen, popular with backpackers and yoga enthusiasts. Then the Hartwood came.

The water is so vibrant it practically burned my retinas. We took to the ocean immediately and dove in and out of the waves, channeling our inner mermaids.

Megan really captured the spirit of the coastal town that has grown up so rapidly in the past decade. –Wally

 Megan, a swinging single having a blast in Tulum

Megan, a swinging single having a blast in Tulum

Paradise Found

After spending weeks resisting responding to a chain of emails with the subject “February girls trip to Mexico!!!” I gave in and bought a flight on New Year's Eve. I didn't think I really wanted to go to Tulum with 10 girls I didn't know, but I'm easily persuaded by champagne. The girl organizing the trip was a close friend of mine, but everyone else was either an acquaintance or someone I'd never met.

 The amazing Airbnb the girls found in Tulum (the hot neighbor was an added bonus)

The amazing Airbnb the girls found in Tulum (the hot neighbor was an added bonus)

Fast-forward to February 2018, and we descend upon Tulum from every corner of the U.S. and Europe (thanks to The Organizer having friends in California, Massachusetts, Florida, Virginia, Illinois and Germany). We rented a wicked Airbnb with a pool, two kitchens and a really hot next-door neighbor who was sunning himself in the communal pool upon arrival (we aptly named him Mexican Jesus, to give you a visual). We all decided we like this place and I decided these girls are probably pretty cool after all.

 Photos can’t fully capture the cerulean beauty of the Caribbean

Photos can’t fully capture the cerulean beauty of the Caribbean

Setting sight on the Caribbean coastline of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula after a grueling 12-hour trek from L.A. was when Tulum really hit me. The water is so vibrant it practically burned my retinas. We took to the ocean immediately and dove in and out of the waves, channeling our inner mermaids. Tulum has a spectacular natural landscape, with lush jungle on one side and wild cerulean ocean on the other. Pictures can't do it justice.

 The girls hunkered down at Aura beach club all day, then changed into their party dresses for nights on the town. Look closely: You can see one of the gals flirting with a hot Spaniard

The girls hunkered down at Aura beach club all day, then changed into their party dresses for nights on the town. Look closely: You can see one of the gals flirting with a hot Spaniard

It didn't take us long to figure out that getting cabs with 10 girls was a nightmare. As dope as it was, our house was far from the beach bars and clubs Tulum is known for. We managed by taking everything we needed for the day and night to the beach with us to minimize our commute and maximize drinking time. We spent most of our days bunkered out at the beach club our Airbnb host recommended, Aura. It wasn't anything too fancy, but it was run by three tattooed Spaniards who brought us an endless supply of margaritas and giggles, so we were happy.

 Not a bad place to spend your days…

Not a bad place to spend your days…

Megan's Best of Tulum

 The tasty ceviche at La Zebra, washed down with a great local IPA

The tasty ceviche at La Zebra, washed down with a great local IPA

Top Restaurants

La Zebra Hotel: Gorge views, great for breakfast, lunch or dinner, even if you're not a guest.

Hartwood: Wood-fired restaurant with hyperlocal fare. Dinner only.

 

Top Places for Drinks

Gitano: Chic jungle restaurant. Slip on a sexy dress and be ready to dance.

Papaya Playa: Good old-fashioned beach party, from what I remember (not much).

when you happen upon the perfect daybed in the jungle #elevatedlounging

A post shared by Megan Dawson (@megpandawson) on

Top Pool

Casa Malca: Pablo Escobar's old digs turned funky-sexy hotel. Great photo op.

 Seven girls swim into a cave… No trip to Tulum is complete without an exploration of the limestone sinkholes called cenotes

Seven girls swim into a cave… No trip to Tulum is complete without an exploration of the limestone sinkholes called cenotes

Top Things to Do

Tulum ruins and cenotes with Sergio: Private tour of the beachfront Maya temple complex and limestone sinkholes in an air-conditioned van stocked with snacks and beer with the coolest local.

Biking along the beach strip: So much more efficient than taking cabs and also a fun way to explore.

Mayan Clay Spa: Get a mud treatment at this spa — it's insane. They massage warm mud into your whole body, including your face and hair, and then you rinse it off in an outdoor shower in the jungle.

 Go glamping! Megan peeks her head out of her “tent” at Nativus Tulum

Go glamping! Megan peeks her head out of her “tent” at Nativus Tulum

Top Place to Stay

Nativus Tulum: Glamping locale I stayed at for a night when the first round of girls left. You're literally in a tent, but a big nice tent, with a full bathroom that's outside. It's incredible, and they serve an amazing breakfast. Plus it has a private cenote and is on the beach road you'll want to be located on.

 Yes, the waters of the Caribbean are delightful — but it’s nice to have a private pool as well

Yes, the waters of the Caribbean are delightful — but it’s nice to have a private pool as well

Top Tips

  • Brush up on your Spanish — you'll need it.
  • Stay within walking or biking distance to the beach.
  • Get to the ruins very early in the morning to avoid crowds (and heat).

 

Favorite Moments

  • Taking the spontaneous topless photo with all the girls after too much sun and too many margaritas.
  • Trying to score weed with Mexican Jesus and failing miserably.
  • Running into my older brother, his husband, and my nephews by complete coincidence.
Tulum has a spectacular natural landscape, with lush jungle on one side and wild cerulean ocean on the other. Pictures can’t do it justice.

Vampires, Pagan Gods and a Ghost Ship

Belsnickel, the magical uses of meadowsweet and the Hand of Glory play a part in the monsters of Supernatural, Season 3, Episodes 6-8.

 A fiery sunrise could mean a stormy day at sea

A fiery sunrise could mean a stormy day at sea

S3E6: “Red Sky at Morning”

Monster: Ghost ship

Where it’s from: All around the world, particularly England and the United States

 Ghost ships have been sighted for centuries

Ghost ships have been sighted for centuries

Description: This particular spectral ship is a three-masted clipper. There have been reports of ghost ships for centuries, including:

The S.S. Violet, a paddle steamer, ran aground crossing the English Channel in a snowstorm. She was sighted by a lookout at Goodwin Sands at the start of World War II. A lifeboat went out to investigate — but no ship was found.

 The  Griffon ’s maiden voyage was also her last. This ghost ship now haunts northern Lake Michigan

The Griffon’s maiden voyage was also her last. This ghost ship now haunts northern Lake Michigan

The Griffon, one of the first major vessels to sail the Great Lakes, which is said to haunt Lake Michigan. Her maiden voyage in 1679 was also her last. She went down during a storm…but has been seen on the northern part of the lake ever since.



The title of the ep comes from a nautical saying:

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.
Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.

That is to say, that a red sunrise could mean a storm is coming.

What it does: The ghost ship of the Espírito Santo, a three-masted clipper (and an apparent invention of the show), appears every 37 years. Don’t look! If you happen to be one of the poor saps who sees the ship, you’ll end up drowning, like the woman in the shower and the man in the bathtub. The ghost ship will find a way to drown you — even if you’re just sitting in your car.

The Winchester Bros. start detecting a pattern: The ghost ship is targeting those who have spilled their family’s blood.

How to defeat it: There’s a gruesome but super helpful charm known as a Hand of Glory.

(Insert Dean joke here: “A Hand of Glory? I think I got one of those at the end of my Thai massage last week.”)

 This desiccated body part is said to be a genuine Hand of Glory

This desiccated body part is said to be a genuine Hand of Glory

The Hand of Glory has magical properties that make it ideal for thieves: It can open any lock and sometimes makes the holder invisible.

The Hand of Glory

A Hand of Glory is actually the hand (usually the right) of a hanged man who’s still swinging from the gallows — preferably during a lunar eclipse, but any ol’ night will work as well. You pickle it for 15 days, then dry it in the sun. It’s said to have magical properties that make it ideal for thieves: The Hand of Glory can open any lock and allows intruders to enter buildings undetected, sometimes making the holder invisible. The fingers burn as candles that never go out or hold a candle made from the fat of the hanged man in their grip. Once lit, it puts people to sleep or renders them motionless. In some tellings, the thief can only light a finger for each person asleep in the house; those that don’t light reveal that someone inside is awake. The lit fingers ensure that those sleeping won’t be able to be awakened.

Honestly, where can I get one of these for myself?

 A Hand of Glory is a great magical item — especially if you’re a thief

A Hand of Glory is a great magical item — especially if you’re a thief

To break the curse of the spectral ship, the fellas summon the ghost of the brother who killed the captain of the Espírito Santo. The two ghosts destroy each other in a watery sploosh.

 On  Supernatural , vampirism is a blood-borne virus

On Supernatural, vampirism is a blood-borne virus

S3E7: “Fresh Blood”

Monster: Vampire

Where it’s from: Romania

Description: A girl named Lucy gets dosed with vampire blood at a club and turns into a vamp. In the Supernatural universe, vampirism is a virus; if you ingest a vampire’s blood, you become one.

Bright light hurts their eyes — though they do have infrared vision. And they can hear heartbeats from a block away.



A fellow hunter, Gordon, thinks our boy Sam is the Antichrist. So it’s particularly satisfying that a legendary vampire hunter like him gets turned into one of the monsters he so despises. Serves him right, the jerk.

The Winchesters were going to kill Gordon back when he was a human, so it makes it easier on their consciences to off him now that he’s a vampire.

How to defeat it: A shot of dead man’s blood knocks a vampire out.

To kill them, try decapitation or a silver bullet. (Though the novelist Anne Rice, an expert on vampires, told Marketplace, “Vampires are not particularly affected by silver bullets. Traditionally what kills vampires is a wooden stake through the heart.”

 

S3E8: “A Very Supernatural Christmas”

Monster: Pagan gods

Where it’s from: Britain

Description: At first Sam thinks they’re dealing with an evil Santa: “There’s some version of the anti-Claus in every culture. You’ve got Belsnickel, Krampus, Black Peter. Whatever you want to call it, there’s all sorts of lore.”

He continues, “Santa's brother went rogue, and now he shows up around Christmas time. But instead of bringing presents, he punishes the wicked.”

I doubt there’s a demonic counterpart to Santa in every culture, but Sammy’s right that there are quite a few.



 A dark take on Santa Claus, Belsnickel rewards good children but comes up with bizarre punishments for those on the naughty list

A dark take on Santa Claus, Belsnickel rewards good children but comes up with bizarre punishments for those on the naughty list

Belsnickel, a Sinister Santa From Germany

 Santa’s psychotic helper from Germany whips a bad little boy

Santa’s psychotic helper from Germany whips a bad little boy

This Christmas crazy wears a mask and often a wig, dresses in dark furs, lurks outside your house, and knocks on your door or window to announce his presence. He’s been known to give nuts, candy and small gifts to good children — but those who’ve been naughty get whipped and dragged into the woods. Belsnickel makes them pay for their bad behavior by dancing, doing tricks, singing or reciting poems for him.

It’s Sam that makes the connection to paganism.

Sam: Pretty much every Christmas tradition is pagan.

Dean: Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.

Sam: No, Jesus’ birthday was probably in the fall. It was actually the Winter Solstice festival that was co-opted by the church and renamed Christmas. But I mean, the Yule log, the tree, even Santa’s red suit — that’s all remnants of pagan worship.

Dean: How do you know that? What are you gonna tell me next? Easter Bunny’s Jewish?

The Winchester boys come across wreaths made of meadowsweet. Sam explains it as a powerful pagan herb that’s basically chum for their gods. “Gods were drawn to it and they’d stop by and snack on whatever was the nearest human,” he explains.

 Use meadowsweet in spells for love and positivity — or to lure human-devouring pagan gods

Use meadowsweet in spells for love and positivity — or to lure human-devouring pagan gods

Meadowsweet, though, once used to sweeten mead, is actually used in spells for love or creating a positive environment.

 Hold Nickar, the Celtic god of the Winter Solstice

Hold Nickar, the Celtic god of the Winter Solstice

Sam concludes they’re looking for Hold Nickar, the pagan god of the Winter Solstice, who grants clement weather. Ancient pagans (and Wiccans today) worship the Goddess, who takes the form of the Great Mother. She gives birth to the Sun King on Yule, symbolizing a beam of light in the dark of winter, promising renewed life and the return of the sun’s warmth and sustaining energy.

What it does: The Hardy Boys are the pagan gods’ newest tributes. The couple are sticklers for details and are gathering the ingredients they need for their ritual. That includes collecting blood from the Winchesters and prying off one of Sam’s fingernails. After this horrific exercise, we can only hope they’re done. But no: “Sweet Peter on a popsicle, I forgot the tooth!” the god exclaims, heading toward Dean’s mouth.

How to defeat it: Guess these gods aren’t so immortal: Wood stakes kill them…for now, that is. –Wally

Belsnickel wears a mask and wig, dresses in dark furs, and drags naughty kids into the woods, where he whips them.