The Crocotta and Other Monsters

The villains of Supernatural, Season 3, Episodes 12-14 include the old standbys demons and ghosts, as well as Thomas Edison’s spirit phone.

 The crocotta, seen in this illustration from the  Aberdeen Bestiary,  lures its victims by sounding like someone they know in need of help

The crocotta, seen in this illustration from the Aberdeen Bestiary, lures its victims by sounding like someone they know in need of help

Rip out the crocotta’s crystal eyes, put them under your tongue — and you’ll be able to tell the future!
 A demon found at Ostia, as depicted in  Demonology and Devil-Lore

A demon found at Ostia, as depicted in Demonology and Devil-Lore

S3E12: “Jus in Bello”

Monster: Demon

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: There’s something demonic in even the most appealing of gods, argues Moncure Daniel Conway, in his 1879 work Demonology and Devil-Lore. “Man found that in the earth good things came with difficulty, while thorns and weeds sprang up everywhere,” he writes. “The evil powers seemed to be the strongest. The best deity had a touch of the demon in him. The sun is the most beneficent, yet he bears the sunstroke along with the sunbeam, and withers the blooms he calls forth.” In fact, “deity and demon are from words once interchangeable,” Conway points out.

What it does: We’ve covered demons before, and their propensity for possessing people.

In this episode, demons are beelining for the Winchester boys, surrounding the sheriff’s office they’re in. “It’s like we got a contract on us,” Dean says, adding, “I think it’s ’cause we’re so awesome.”

How to defeat it: You can get matching pentagram sun tattoos, like Dean and Sam. They’re cheesy as hell, but hey: They keep you from being possessed.

 A snouted demon, also from  Demonology and Devil-Lore

A snouted demon, also from Demonology and Devil-Lore

You can also use a rosary to make holy water in the toilet. And, of course, there’s good old salt. Which leads to this funny exchange with the FBI agent:

Henriksen: Fighting off monsters with condiments. So, turns out demons are real.

Dean: FYI, ghosts are real, too. So are werewolves, vampires, changelings, evil clowns that eat people.

Henriksen: Okay, then.

Dean: Makes you feel better, Bigfoot’s a hoax.

Henriksen: It doesn’t.

The boys learn about a “big new up-and-comer” named Lilith. “And she really, really wants Sam’s intestines on a stick.” Grilled sausage, anyone?

Dean and Sam contemplate a spell that will vaporize all demons in a square radius — but it requires the sacrifice of a “person of virtue,” which is just another way of saying “virgin.” Not up to cutting Nice Nancy’s heart out of her chest, the Winchester Brothers decide to fight their way out, with the help of an exorcism over the PA system.

Demon Ruby gives them black mojo bags to throw Lilith off their trail. For now…

 Some ghosts are trapped in continuous loops that play out their deaths

Some ghosts are trapped in continuous loops that play out their deaths

S3E13: “Ghostfacers”

Monster: Ghost

Where it’s from: Morton House, a haunted house possibly in Benton Harbor, Michigan

Description: This ghost looks remarkably lifelike.

What it does: The phantom returns every four years. Some call it the Leap Year Ghost. A crew of ghost hunters is filming an episode of their show Ghostfacers, and of course the Winchester boys show up masquerading as police to take on the evil spirit as well.

An apparition of a gangster gets gunned down. It’s a death echo, Dean explains. They seem to be an invention of the show, though there are plenty of reports of ghosts caught in neverending loops.

 The  Ghostfacers  crew has some competition, including Josh Burger and Stan Maczek, shown using an electromagnetic field (EMF) detector

The Ghostfacers crew has some competition, including Josh Burger and Stan Maczek, shown using an electromagnetic field (EMF) detector

There are multiple death echoes, including a man hit by a train. These people didn’t die in Morton House, though. So why are their spirits trapped there?

Turns out the home’s last owner, Daggett, was a janitor at the hospital. He brought the bodies home “to play with them.”

Sam disappears. He and Corbett the intern are in some creepy kitchen while “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to” plays over and over. Poor Corbett, who was in love with Ed, one of the Ghostfacer crew, gets poked through the neck and dies.

Daggett is wearing a party hat. He gets lonely, you see. But Dean has no sympathy. “He’s never heard of a RealDoll?” he quips.

How to defeat it: “You gotta be gay for that poor dead intern,” the other Ghostfacer host tells Ed. He concedes and is able break Corbett out of the death echo and convince his spirit to take down Daggett. Remember, people, as Ed says, “Gay love can pierce through the veil of death and save the day.”

 The crocotta looks like a big wolf-hyena hybrid, seen in the illuminated manuscript the  Rochester Bestiary

The crocotta looks like a big wolf-hyena hybrid, seen in the illuminated manuscript the Rochester Bestiary

S3E14: “Long-Distance Call”

Monster: Crocotta

Where it’s from: India and Ethiopia

Description: In folklore, the crocotta is a mishmash of animals, often described as a giant wolf-like hyena with cloven hooves. On the show, though, it’s a humanoid who lives in filth. In both versions, the monster has a unique means of luring its victims: It can mimic human speech and will call out someone’s name and other personal information, pretending to be someone in trouble. It then devours the poor suckers with the bone ridges it has instead of teeth.

Fun fact: Rip out its crystal eyes, put them under your tongue — and, by Merlin, you can tell the future!  

What it does: A man gets a call on the phone from a woman named Linda. She wants him to join her. They love each other. He pulls the phone out of the wall, but it still rings. “Okay, Linda, you win,” he says. And blows his brains out.

The man’s wife confesses that she picked up the phone during one of these calls — and she only heard static.

The caller ID on the phone reads, SHA33. It’s actually a phone number that’s over a century old. Ten different homes all got calls from that number in the past two weeks, including Dean, who spoke with what sounded like his dead dad.

Which leads us to a red herring — but a fascinating one nonetheless. The Winchester boys are in Milan, Ohio, the birthplace of Thomas Edison. The inventor told The American Magazine in 1920 that he had been working on a spirit phone, “building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us.” He thought that a scientific device could detect the “life units” that get scattered throughout the universe when we die.

 Thomas Edison tried to invent the spirit phone, which would let us speak with the dead

Thomas Edison tried to invent the spirit phone, which would let us speak with the dead

The killings all turn out to be the work of a crocotta: in this case, a man at the phone company. He’s a bit of a Luddite, offering up this meditation on the modern condition: “You’re all so connected. But you’ve never been so alone.” Preach!

How to defeat it: Ramming its head into a metal hook will do the trick. –Wally

What’s It’s Really Like to Walk the Camino Frances

Everything you need to know about the Camino de Santiago, from the difficult first day to the frustrating ending — with all the serenity in between.

 The Camino Francés is the most popular of the pilgrimage routes that end up in Santiago de Compostela, where Saint James the Great’s body is said to be buried

The Camino Francés is the most popular of the pilgrimage routes that end up in Santiago de Compostela, where Saint James the Great’s body is said to be buried

Walking for 35 days. A 500-mile trek through northern Spain. It’s not everyone’s idea of a vacation. So what got our friend Susan to decide to take on the Camino de Santiago?

 Susan decided to hike the Camino de Santiago by herself

Susan decided to hike the Camino de Santiago by herself

Blame Oprah. At least in part. You see, Susan saw Winfrey’s special about spiritual belief, and was intrigued by the camino. She was going through a transition in her life and wanted to do something epic.

There are at least eight different routes to choose from, and Susan decided upon the Camino Francés, the most popular option.

Here’s what this intense pilgrimage entails.

 

Why did you decide to do the Camino de Santiago?

I had heard about the Camino de Santiago back in 2011 when I was living abroad in Ireland. I always had it in the back of my head that it sounded really cool. I was burnt out as a lawyer and wanted to do something that was completely out of my element. I decided to quit my job and go back to school. I had about five weeks from my last day of work before my master’s program started, and the camino seemed perfect because you can do it by yourself and it’s safe. You can walk alone, but there are also lots of opportunities to meet other people from all over the world. When I told everyone I was going to go to Spain to walk 500 miles, they all said it sounded crazy — but also really cool.

The first day was uphill through the Pyrénées. It was raining and muddy, and I was thinking to myself, “What have I gotten myself into?!”

I didn’t know if I was going to make it.
 In the spring, the camino is less crowded than in the summer

In the spring, the camino is less crowded than in the summer

When did you go?

There’s a ton of people in June, July and August, but not in May, when I was there. There are stretches where you don’t see anyone.

 

How long was the hike?

About five weeks. It took me a few days to get to the starting point. I flew into Biarritz, France. The walk starts in a town called Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The overall route took me 32 days to walk 560 miles.

 Some days involve hiking uphill in the Pyrénées, though some people find it even more difficult going downhill

Some days involve hiking uphill in the Pyrénées, though some people find it even more difficult going downhill

What’s it like when you start the Camino de Santiago?

Scary. I didn’t prepare much. When I met people along the way, they had done so much research. I ordered hiking shoes and a backpack, and booked my flight. I got into Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and I was terrified. I didn’t know what to expect. The first day I got there, it was pouring rain. I got up at 7 a.m., put my backpack on…and just started walking.

 

How was the French leg of the journey?

You only spend about a day and a half in France. Unlike in Spain, where everything’s well marked, there are no signs in France. Within the first 500 feet, I took a wrong turn, which I’m gonna blame on this girl from Hungary. I followed her, and after a while, we were like, this doesn’t look right. So we had taken an hour-long detour.

The second half of the day was uphill through the Pyrénées, so it was very difficult. It was raining and muddy, and I was thinking to myself, “What have I gotten myself into?!” I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make it through the whole thing. And apparently, this was the easy route! We had heard horror stories from people who had done the harder route.

Things got so much easier after that. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know about the huge incline ’cause I would have been really anxious about it.

 

 Look for this icon to keep on the camino

Look for this icon to keep on the camino

Was it easy to get lost on the camino?

There’s an app for the Camino de Santiago — which I didn’t realize until the third day. The app tells you all the different places you can stay, if it’s flat, if you have inclines or declines.

It’s called Buen Camino, which is what everyone says to you when you pass them. It means “good way.” You see yourself as a little yellow dot, so you can see if you’re straying off the path.

And once you get to Spain, it’s fabulous. The paths are marked with the shell that’s the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Every so often you’ll see a cement pillar with a shell on it. And when you’re in towns, there are yellow arrows.

 

What’s the terrain like?

At first it was a path through the mountains, but most of the camino is gravel. There are other days when you’re in the forest or have to walk on the street. It’s beautiful. At some points, you’re walking through vineyards. I liked the smaller towns more than the cities. It was so peaceful and nice. I tried to bond with nature and take in my surroundings.

 The first thing you see in every village is the church tower

The first thing you see in every village is the church tower

Who else was on the camino?

I didn’t meet a lot of Americans — mostly Europeans, Australians and Koreans. You have all ages, women, men. Most people were by themselves, though you did have some couples. Some people did it for religious reasons, but most were doing it as a spiritual experience, trying to take a break from their lives. Some people were really fit; some people didn’t last the whole time.

People formed little groups. Most of them stayed in the albergues, the hostels.

 

How difficult was the hike?

About seven days in is a town called Logroño, and there’s a big hospital there. And that’s where they say a lot of people’s bodies break down. They have shin splints, plantar fasciitis, knee injuries.

The declines are actually the worst. You’ve got a heavy backpack on, it’s gravel, and you have to support yourself and not fall forward.

Some people ended up taking shortcuts because they physically weren’t up for it. I didn’t take any shortcuts!

I was surprised I held up as well as I did. But I live in Chicago and don’t have a car. I walk a lot. I had some blisters, but that was doable — I just put some band-aids on those.

The training plans are pretty intense. They say you should walk an hour a day and then six hours a day on the weekend with your backpack. I didn’t do that.

I’m not a hiker, but I would say it’s a moderate trek. I’d say a third of it is more difficult: up or down, rocky terrain.

 

What kind of shoes did you get?

I didn’t have any light hiking shoes, so I ordered some cute pink ones. I did a lot of reading on discussion boards, and I knew I didn’t want anything too heavy. People thought they looked like running sneakers. I ordered them a month before, and wore them every time I’d go out to walk the dog to break them in.

 What’s Susan got in her bag? A couple extra outfits, toiletries, a hat, a portable charger, an extra pair of shoes, PJs, a rain jacket and a fleece

What’s Susan got in her bag? A couple extra outfits, toiletries, a hat, a portable charger, an extra pair of shoes, PJs, a rain jacket and a fleece

What was in your backpack?

They say to bring only two outfits — I brought three.

 

That would be the hardest part for us. We would’ve brought like 10 outfits.

There are services where you could have your backpack transported. I didn’t have a hiking backpack, so I bought one that was 34 liters. I brought tank tops, three pairs of stretchy yoga pants, small toiletries, a small sleeping bag — which I ended up ditching. You only need it if you’re staying at hostels. The second day I ditched a lot of stuff in my pack ’cause you just want to get it as light as possible. Bring a portable charger, just in case you’re in the middle of nowhere and your cell phone dies. I had a hat and an extra pair of shoes, one pair of pajamas, a rain jacket and a fleece, which I wore to bed a lot since I got cold. I had some pairs of thin hiking socks but ended up buying thicker ones when I got there that gave more support.

I ended up cutting two pairs of my pants and made shorts, ha ha. No shame! It’s one of those things you’d normally never do.

A lot of people that go in the summer get up early to hike before sunrise to avoid the heat. They bring headlamps to see in the dark, but I couldn’t imagine doing that on some of the terrain.

 Gravel paths, paved roads, stony mountain passes and dirt trails through the woods — every day on the camino offers something different

Gravel paths, paved roads, stony mountain passes and dirt trails through the woods — every day on the camino offers something different

Take us through a typical day on the camino.

I’d wake up — I’d have all my stuff laid out and I’d take a shower the night before. So I’d grab my backpack and go, around 7 or 8 a.m. The night before, I’d look at the app and all the towns and figure out how far I was gonna walk. I’d always book beforehand online. A lot of people just walked until they got tired and would find a place. I liked to have the security of knowing I had a room — a lot of these places were in the middle of nowhere.

I never ate breakfast, so I’d head out. Around 10 a.m., I’d find a place to stop and get a café con leche and a croissant. There wasn’t a lot of great food — these are tiny towns that cater to the pilgrims, as they call us. And none of the pilgrims are looking for good food; they’re looking for cheap stuff. The menu was the same at every place.

I’d eat around 8 p.m. and go right to bed. And then do the same thing the next morning.

It was kind of like “Groundhog Day” — but I loved every minute of it.

Every time you come up to someone — I’m a fast walker and would pass everybody — you would say hello, “buen camino.” If they seem like they wanted to chat, I’d walk with them for a bit. You’d see people you’d seen before, so it was very social. But I did spend a lot of the time by myself.

I would usually get to where I was going between 1 to 3 p.m. So I didn’t eat until I got there. A lot of people who stopped to eat breakfast and lunch got there much later. I liked to get there and relax — not that there was a lot to do there most of the time. But I’d walk around, and if I saw people I knew, I’d hang out with them.

I’d eat around 8 p.m. or so, and go right to bed because I was exhausted. And then do the same thing the next morning. It was kind of like Groundhog Day — but I loved every minute of it.

caminovineyards.JPG

Where’d you stay?

You can pay 8 euros for a bed at a hostel, and dinner was €10. You can do this super cheap — for about €30 a day. For me, getting a private room, I’d pay about €20. In a bigger city, like Pamplona, Burgos, Léon and Santiago, I’d stay at a hotel and pay up to €75 euros.

The smaller villages were very downtrodden and economically depressed. I wanted to tell these people, “You should raise your prices!”

 

How about pee breaks?

I didn’t take a lot. There’s not a lot of places to go to the bathroom. Maybe every 15 kilometers, there’ll be a small coffeeshop you could go in. I’m not a person who can pee outside. So this is going to sound weird, but I didn’t drink a lot of water during the day. I’m sure a lot of people would say that’s really bad. When I got to where I was going, I’d drink a ton of water.

 

Most people do pee outside, though?

Yes! I saw a lot of people peeing outside. It’s acceptable to do so. I saw people’s asses. I felt like people should have had a little more discretion.

 

Were there differences between the French and the Spanish?

I don’t want to offend anybody. The French just weren’t as welcoming, though I was only in France for a day and a half. They don’t want to speak English to you. I don’t want to be an ignorant American saying they should speak English, ’cause I don’t think that. I felt like they were, why are you in my country? But maybe that’s not representative of everyone one else’s experience.

In Spain, everyone tried to speak English. They know what you want: You get your passport in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and you have to get it stamped at the hostels and cafés. And that’s what they inspect when you get to Santiago de Compostela to prove you did the whole thing, and then they give you a certificate called the compostela. I waited in line for two hours to get this. You have to walk at least 100 kilometers to get one — and what annoyed me is that it’s the same certificate, whether you’ve walked 100 kilometers or the entire 800 like I did.

 For many, the Camino de Santiago is a spiritual journey — just don’t get bummed if you don’t “find yourself”

For many, the Camino de Santiago is a spiritual journey — just don’t get bummed if you don’t “find yourself”

Was it a spiritual journey?

It’s funny — you’re walking 15 to 20 miles a day and are in your own head. But it’s not like I had all these deep thoughts and came to these epiphanies, which I thought I might! I was hoping to find myself, ha ha. A lot of your mind is taken up with thinking about the next town you’re getting to, following the trail, talking to people. I thought I’d have a lot of time to figure things out, but I didn’t contemplate life as much as I should have, maybe. You think you’re going to work out all the things in your life and come back perfect.

 

What’s it like when you finally get to Santiago?

It’s anticlimactic. You walk into Santiago and you think there’s going to be trumpets or a parade — you just walked 500 miles! It’s so crowded; it’s so commercialized. It’s very stressful. It wasn’t a good experience. Everyone ends up going to the Pilgrims’ Mass at the cathedral, where they say your name. But I didn’t end up going because I was in line to get my certificate.

 The camino is technically a pilgrimage, so locals try to get you go into the village church

The camino is technically a pilgrimage, so locals try to get you go into the village church

What then?

I didn’t think I was going to go anywhere else after Santiago. But I ended up doing it in less time than I had planned. You can keep going another 60 miles to the coast, an extra three days. And it was absolutely beautiful, a place called Finisterre. It’s right on the ocean and they call it the End of the World. That’s where the 0 Kilometer pillar is, so that’s cool. There wasn’t a lot of people there, and there’s a lighthouse and a guy playing bagpipes. There’s a beach with seashells. It’s very peaceful. It’s a great place to reflect and feel rewarded, rather than Santiago, which was so dispiriting. I got a room at a hotel that had a beautiful view of the ocean that wasn’t that expensive. It was such a fabulous way to end the trip.

 Keep walking! Susan recommends going beyond Santiago to Finisterre, a lovely, more calm way to end the epic journey

Keep walking! Susan recommends going beyond Santiago to Finisterre, a lovely, more calm way to end the epic journey

A lot of people, if they’re not going to walk, they’ll take a bus. I took the bus back to Santiago since I was flying out of there. I ran into the Hungarian girl I met on the first day and other people, so I went out with them.

 

What surprised you about the Camino de Santiago the most?

I’m not a huge athlete or anything, so I was surprised by how effortlessly I was able to do it — apart from that first day.

I had always heard about the culture of Spain, but I was surprised by how poor a lot of the towns were. They’re all centered around the pilgrims. The places I stayed were acceptable, but I heard a lot of stories about people staying in albergues that weren’t. But when you’re paying €8 a night…

There was a lot of dirt and stray animals — it was a lot less glamorous than I expected. I didn’t realize how economically downtrodden this part of Spain was. But at the same time, the people were very generous and welcoming.

 You can hike the Camino de Santiago very affordably — as low as 30 euros a day!

You can hike the Camino de Santiago very affordably — as low as 30 euros a day!

Siestas were crazy, too. Everything in town closes from 2 to 5 p.m. Hotels and restaurants tended to be open, but no grocery or clothing stores. I’d go to the store when it opened and get snacks for the next day.

Sometimes restaurants would be open, but the kitchen would be closed from 6 to 9 p.m. You could get drinks, but there wasn’t any food.

Religion was everywhere. Whenever you’d come into a town, the biggest building there would be the church — the first thing you’d see is that cross. So church bells were ever-present during my trek, which I really enjoyed. People would be there, trying to get you to go into the church.

 

 Susan didn’t do a whole lot of planning for the trip — and it all worked out

Susan didn’t do a whole lot of planning for the trip — and it all worked out

What was the laundry situation?

I did a lot of sink-washing. But a lot of the places have washing machines, but not dryers. People would hang their stuff outside. But you’d have to get there first. Most of the time, I’d wash my stuff in the bathtub with shower gel.

It was simple. You don’t have creature comforts, but you have everything you need. Normally when I go on a trip, I bring big suitcases and all this shit. It was so nice to put everything into one backpack and that was it. I survived. Now I’m just gonna bring a backpack everywhere I go.

 

Really?

We’ll see.

 

Any final advice do you have for people who want to walk the Camino de Santiago?

Don’t plan too much. Take it as it comes — don’t overcomplicate things, because it’s all going to work out totally fine. –Wally

It’s acceptable to pee outside. I saw people’s asses.

I felt like people should have had a little more discretion.

Klungkung, the Hellish Comic-Paneled Water Palace of Bali

Head to Semarapura to see a monument to a mass suicide and illustrated ceilings that depict gruesome demons.

 Monstrous statues, lily-covered pools of water and pavilions filled with comic book-like artwork come together at Klungkung

Monstrous statues, lily-covered pools of water and pavilions filled with comic book-like artwork come together at Klungkung

 A mythic creature watches over the pavilion

A mythic creature watches over the pavilion

 The Hall of Justice depicts various torments — like having your nether regions scorched

The Hall of Justice depicts various torments — like having your nether regions scorched

I had always been intrigued by one of the photos Wally had taken when he first visited Bali 17 years ago. The image is a detail shot of a small naked one-eyed male creature with a high ponytail. 

I later discovered that he took this photo at the Klungkung Palace. This was my first time to Bali, but Wally’s second and I was truly excited to have found more than a few places he hadn’t been to. Klungkung wasn’t one of those places, but was so different from the other sites in our itinerary that we simply had to visit. Of course Wally didn't mind, which is one of the many reasons we make a great couple — we’re both drawn to the unusual and fantastic mythology of other cultures.

The panels portray the various forms of hellish punishment awaiting those who are found guilty in the afterlife.

We arrived in Semarapura, the capital of the Klungkung Regency and purchased our tickets to enter across the busy thoroughfare from the pavilions.

 If the Puputan monument looks like a giant phallus, that’s because it kinda is! This memorial is a linga-yoni, a representation of the Hindu god Shiva’s, er, divine energy

If the Puputan monument looks like a giant phallus, that’s because it kinda is! This memorial is a linga-yoni, a representation of the Hindu god Shiva’s, er, divine energy

Overlooking the town’s main intersection is a towering memorial resembling an upside-down cannon barrel constructed of black volcanic stone. The monument is known as the Puputan Klungkung and commemorates the ceremonial mass ritual suicides known as puputan. The word comes from the Balinese puput, meaning “to finish” or “end.” And that’s exactly what occurred when the Dutch invaded Semarapura in 1908 and brought the entire island of Bali under colonial domination. Miniature dioramas inside the memorial depict scenes from historic local events, including the battles with the Dutch.

 Two pavilions and a ceremonial gate are all that remain of a former palace in Semarapura

Two pavilions and a ceremonial gate are all that remain of a former palace in Semarapura

Klungkung Royal Palace

Across the street from the Puputan monument are what remains of the former royal palace complex of Puri Agung Semarapura. Built at the end of the 17th century, sadly many of its structures were destroyed during the Dutch conquest.

 A brick path forms a bridge to access the Floating Pavilion

A brick path forms a bridge to access the Floating Pavilion

Wally and I entered the Klungkung grounds through a side gate where a group of three women, ready to pounce upon unsuspecting tourists, were attempting to sell a variety of clothing, from sarongs to short-sleeved men’s dress shirts. We politely told them we weren’t interested and walked to the restroom located on the opposite side of the complex. When we emerged, one of the women who had split from the group awaited us and followed us around, trying to sell us an extra-large men’s batik shirt. Honestly, it was a cool shirt and we would have bought it from her if she had the right size.

 The Hall of Justice is literally covered with illustrated panels

The Hall of Justice is literally covered with illustrated panels

 Justice was once meted out from this table

Justice was once meted out from this table

The Kertha Gosa Hall of Justice: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Among the few buildings that remain is the Kertha Gosa. Situated in the northeast corner of the compound, the raised pavilion served as the kingdom’s Hall of Justice. Inside sits a table and six elaborately carved wooden chairs. Painted in red and gold, the raja’s chair features the image of a lion, symbolizing his position as chief of court. A second has a cow image and was used by a Brahman priest who served as both lawyer and advisor to the raja. A third chair bearing a dragon, was for the secretary.

 A lion, dragon and cow decorate the chairs in the Hall of Justice

A lion, dragon and cow decorate the chairs in the Hall of Justice

Here, the raja met visiting dignitaries and presided over a court comprised of himself and three Brahman priests. Disputes that could not be reconciled at the village level were heard and mediated within the Kertha Gosa Pavilion.

Looking up, the vaulted ceiling is covered with highly detailed narrative stories painted on wood panels, many of which are popular tales from shadow puppet theater. Their traditional style of visual storytelling is known as Kamasan or Wayang painting and were produced by generations of artists from the nearby village of Kamasan, who served as artisans to the royal court.

 The ceiling is covered with illustrations — it’s like a Balinese comic book about a trip to Hell

The ceiling is covered with illustrations — it’s like a Balinese comic book about a trip to Hell

Highly detailed images of gods, humans and demons rendered in red, indigo, ochre and white are arranged to illustrate the coexistence of the natural and supernatural.

The main subject of the paintings is Bima, a strong warrior from the Mahabharata, who journeys to the underworld to save the souls of his parents. Scenes portrayed in these panels are associated with the various forms of hellish punishment awaiting those who are found guilty in the afterlife.

 Klungkung consists of two main structures, but golly, they’re fun to visit

Klungkung consists of two main structures, but golly, they’re fun to visit

The Floating Pavilion of Bale Kembang

After gawking at the ceiling and taking numerous photos, Wally and I continued on to the Floating Pavilion of Bale Kembang. Surrounded by guardian statues, the structure rises from the middle of a pond in the center of the complex. The pavilion was greatly expanded by the Dutch in the 1940s and was originally a smaller, lower structure which served as the base for the raja’s guards.

 One of the guardians of Klungkung. Too bad they couldn’t have saved the local kingdom from colonization by the Dutch

One of the guardians of Klungkung. Too bad they couldn’t have saved the local kingdom from colonization by the Dutch

 Lichen covers many of the statues on Bali, lending an ancient otherworldly air to them

Lichen covers many of the statues on Bali, lending an ancient otherworldly air to them

One of the narratives within the Bale Kembang depicts episodes from the story of the Buddhist king Sutasoma, who defeated his enemies through passive resistance. Also portrayed is the rags-to-riches folktale of the humble Pen and Men Brayut and their 18 children, who through their tireless labor, no pun-intended, achieve wealth. Bordering these panels is the palindon, an earthquake calendar foretelling the indirect effects of divine power should seismic activity occur during the corresponding month.

Overwhelmed by the variety of demon and exotic fauna before me, I barely noticed the male and female artists seated on the floor of the pavilion who were putting the finishing touches on single-scene Kamasan paintings. The man was doing the drawing and the woman filling in the color with a small brush. Stacks of these paintings and hand-painted fans, for sale as souvenirs were placed nearby.

 Two artists create Kamasan style paintings, fans and Balinese calendars

Two artists create Kamasan style paintings, fans and Balinese calendars

In a bit of a daze by what we had just seen (or perhaps it was just hunger and the heat), Wally and I left the Floating Pavilion. One of the aforementioned women we had passed upon entering the complex approached us, delicately extracting several hand-painted eggs from a white plastic bag. Our resistance worn down, we purchased a few as gifts, agreeing to keep one for ourselves. We were glad we did, as we now have a souvenir of our experience at this magical place. –Duke

klungkungfloating2.JPG

Klungkung Royal Palace
Jalan Diponegoro
Semarapura Kangin
Central Semarapura
Klungkung Sub-District
Klungkung Regency
Bali 80761
Indonesia

Pura Kehen: The Fire Temple of Bali

The parts of a Bali temple explained, from the bentar to padmasana to kulkul, in this most sacred of temples, which sports a truly giant banyan.

 Pura Kehen is dedicated to the Hindu god of fire

Pura Kehen is dedicated to the Hindu god of fire

On our fourth day in Bali, we arrived at Pura Kehen, an impressive state temple located in the village of Cempaga in the Bangli Regency. Although it’s the largest and most sacred of the region, the temple was blissfully beyond the tourist radar and appealed to our desire to experience the quieter side of Bali.

 A glimpse of the village down the hill through the main entrance of Pura Kehen

A glimpse of the village down the hill through the main entrance of Pura Kehen

 Smaller shrines on the temple complex are resting places for ancestral spirits during temple ceremonies

Smaller shrines on the temple complex are resting places for ancestral spirits during temple ceremonies

 You have to wear a sarong like Duke when visiting a temple on Bali

You have to wear a sarong like Duke when visiting a temple on Bali

The ancient temple compound was erected during the 9th century and was known as Pura Hyang Api, dedicated to the supreme being Agni, the Hindu god of fire. When sages moved from one ashram to another, it was customary to carry fire along. A couple of centuries later, the temple was renamed Pura Hyang Kehen, derived from the Balinese word keren, which translates to “flame.”

The bug-eyed, fang-baring disembodied head of Bhoma prevents malevolent spirits from entering the temple grounds.
 The main staircase of Pura Kehen features frightening guardian statues from the Hindu epic, the  Ramayana

The main staircase of Pura Kehen features frightening guardian statues from the Hindu epic, the Ramayana

 Duke was enamored with Pura Kehen, though Wally would say it’s B-list

Duke was enamored with Pura Kehen, though Wally would say it’s B-list

Built upon the slope of a hill, the temple is reached from the street by a steep 38-step staircase flanked by a pantheon of stone guardian statues from the Hindu epic the Ramayana. At the top, overlooking the grand gateway, is the bug-eyed, fang-baring disembodied head of Bhoma, whose purpose is to prevent malevolent spirits from entering the temple grounds. We were sure to follow proper etiquette and wore our sarongs, which our driver Made (Mah-deh) expertly tied for us several times throughout our trip.

 We loved spotting Bhoma’s head at temples. He’s the offspring of the deity Vishnu as Vahana, a wild boar, and Dewi Pertiwi, the Earth goddess

We loved spotting Bhoma’s head at temples. He’s the offspring of the deity Vishnu as Vahana, a wild boar, and Dewi Pertiwi, the Earth goddess

 Bhoma, with only his head left, guards temple entrances

Bhoma, with only his head left, guards temple entrances

 Smaller candi bentar gates divide courtyards on the temple complex

Smaller candi bentar gates divide courtyards on the temple complex

 Weather-worn statues, ornate detailing and lichen-covered stone are typical at Balinese temples

Weather-worn statues, ornate detailing and lichen-covered stone are typical at Balinese temples

Just beyond the entrance, you’ll find an assortment of blue and white Dutch Delftware pottery, including plates and bowls, embedded in the exterior walls surrounding the second courtyard — a relic of the Dutch occupation of the island. I paused to admire one that depicted an idyllic farm scene, including a watermill, ducks and oak tree.

This wall, like the main gate, is designed to deter menacing ground-dwelling spirits from gaining entry. The enclosed courtyard beyond includes a pavilion for gamelan musicians and is used for traditional dance, feasts and puppet performances during festivals.

We entered the third and most sacred courtyard through an elaborate symmetrically split gate known as a candi bentar. The gate resembles a jagged triangle separated vertically and split in two. Its sides symbolize the balance between the positive and negative forces of the universe. There’s no decoration on the inner parts of the gate.

 Candi bentars are dramatic features of many Balinese temples, and represent the split halves of Mount Meru

Candi bentars are dramatic features of many Balinese temples, and represent the split halves of Mount Meru

 Candi bentars are, not surprisingly, also called split gates

Candi bentars are, not surprisingly, also called split gates

 There’s no ornamentation on the interior of these gates

There’s no ornamentation on the interior of these gates

The gateway is flanked by fearsome sword-bearing bedogol, the Balinese name for the guardian statues standing on either side of the entrance. Of course Wally was immediately drawn to these diabolical figures. I later learned that the pair are typically characters that complement each other, such as younger and older brothers.

The impressive principal shrine of Pura Kehen is located here. Known as a Meru tower, the elaborate 11-tiered pagoda symbolizes the mythical Mount Meru, the Hindu holy mountain where the gods dwell. The number of levels are always odd, three, five, seven, nine or 11, and reflect the importance of the patron deity. Eleven is associated with the highest order or supreme being. Mountain gods enter and inhabit the Meru through an opening in the top when visiting the Earth during temple ceremonies. Each tier is covered with thatched black hair-like fibers obtained from the trunks of arena palms. According to Indonesian folklore, the spirit known as Wewe Gombel nests in this type of palm, where she keeps children she has stolen away from neglectful parents.

 The taller the Meru, the more significant the deity

The taller the Meru, the more significant the deity

Adjacent to the Meru tower in the northeastern corner of Pura Kehen is another sacred monument known as a padmasana, dedicated to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The uppermost feature is an empty stone throne, known as a lotus throne, which reminded me of a holy version of the plastic booster seats used to elevate small children at a restaurant table. This seat is reserved for the immeasurable and formless Widhi Wasa, the All-in-One God. The entire structure is covered with bas-relief and rests atop the stone shell of a cosmic world-carrying tortoise, Bedawang Nala, whose perpetual movement is thought to be the cause of the island’s frequent earthquakes. A pair of snakes coiled around the turtle’s body represent our earthly needs: safety, food, shelter and clothing.

 This intricately carved padmasana shrine, or lotus throne, is dedicated to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

This intricately carved padmasana shrine, or lotus throne, is dedicated to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

 The door detail on the entrance gate shows the god Vishnu, riding his eagle mount Garuda and battling a pair of  rakshasa  demons

The door detail on the entrance gate shows the god Vishnu, riding his eagle mount Garuda and battling a pair of rakshasa demons

A curious feature of the pura is its unusual drum tower. The kulkul, a slit, hollowed log that resonates like a drum when struck, is suspended high upon a platform amongst the intertwined branches of the largest ancient banyan tree we’ve ever seen.

 Wally climbs in the roots of the largest banyan tree he’s ever seen

Wally climbs in the roots of the largest banyan tree he’s ever seen

 This no-longer-working fountain might bear the icon of Dewi Sri, the Balinese rice goddess

This no-longer-working fountain might bear the icon of Dewi Sri, the Balinese rice goddess

 A shrine surrounded by bidadari, celestial female spirits, emerging from clusters of lotus flowers

A shrine surrounded by bidadari, celestial female spirits, emerging from clusters of lotus flowers

One of the most beautiful temples of our visit, it’s well worth venturing out to. We arrived about an hour before Pura Kehen closed, and we were alone, aside from two other foreign couples wandering through — and an elderly local woman whose insistent calls tried, unsuccessfully, to draw us over to see what she was selling. –Duke

The spirit Wewe Gombel nests in arena palms, where she keeps children she has stolen away from neglectful parents.
purakehensepia.JPG

Pura Kehen
Cempaga
Bangli Sub-District
Bangli Regency
Bali 80613
Indonesia

Witnessing a Hindu Festival at Pura Samuan Tiga

We stumbled upon a full moon festival of Siat Sampian at a local temple near Goa Gajah, Bali — glimpsing a fascinating ritual but missing the big fight.

 Pura Samuan Tiga, during the precursors to the Siat Sampian festival

Pura Samuan Tiga, during the precursors to the Siat Sampian festival

Our driver seemed to be trying to dissuade us from visiting Pura Samuan Tiga.

“It will be very, very crowded,” he told us, “because of the festival for the full moon. Not a good time to go.”

But hearing there was a festival only made us want to visit all the more.

Temples popular on the tourist trail are always worth seeing, but we recommend finding at least one local temple on every trip. It’s a fascinating glimpse into another religion — especially when it’s the ever-enigmatic Hinduism, the major world religion I understand the least.

 A man and his children pause under the elaborate temple offerings

A man and his children pause under the elaborate temple offerings

 Fences close off areas of worship at Samuan Tiga

Fences close off areas of worship at Samuan Tiga

Duke, a total Ravenclaw when it comes to research, will spend hours poring over websites and books when building out our itineraries for a trip. He found Samuan Tiga and suggested a stopover en route to the nearby giant mouth cave of Goa Gajah. Located in the village of Bedulu in the Gianyar regency, the temple is about a 20-minute drive from Ubud, where we based ourselves.

Pura Samuan Tiga might not be one of the most visited temples on the island — but it gives you a great feel for what these sprawling Hindu temple complexes are like. Especially if you’re lucky enough to happen upon it during a festival.

 Bhoma guards the temple from malevolent spirits

Bhoma guards the temple from malevolent spirits

 The statuary in the temple was originally carved from volcanic rock

The statuary in the temple was originally carved from volcanic rock

 One of the outer courtyards at Samuan Tiga, which was much less crowded than those within

One of the outer courtyards at Samuan Tiga, which was much less crowded than those within

 The vast, bustling temple complex evokes the feel of a village market

The vast, bustling temple complex evokes the feel of a village market

Built between 988 and 1011,  the temple sports typical Balinese religious architectural design, with its soaring orange brick gates, weathered teak open-air pavilions, volcanic stone carvings of bulging-eyed monsters and thatched triangular rooftops. While most temples on Bali (pura in the local tongue) have three courtyards, Samuan Tiga is much larger, with seven.

There’s some debate around the reason for the temple’s name, which translates to “the meeting of the three.” Local lore holds that three warring Hindu sects came together to resolve their issues. The royal priest decreed that each kingdom would have three main temples, which represented not only the Hindu trilogy of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva but the mountain, village and sea as well.

 One area of the temple was filled with offering baskets

One area of the temple was filled with offering baskets

Like a National Geographic Article Come to Life

We had stumbled upon one of the oldest Hindu rituals on Bali: Siat Sampian (War of the Offerings), which takes place every 10th full moon. While we saw many crowds praying in the various courtyards, apparently we missed the battle that would take place later, when hundreds of pilgrims playfully “attack” each other, throwing arrangements called sampian, which consist of woven palm fronds pointing out like the rays of the sun.

That’s the trouble with knowledge sharing, even in this age of the internet. It was tough even discovering the name of the temple — and we didn’t learn about the details of the festival until we were back home. I wish our driver or another local had known more about Siat Sampian, and we could have tried to time our visit with the frenzied fake fight. Sigh.

There was still much to see, though. Women carried stacked woven baskets atop their heads, all dressed in long-sleeved lace tops, most of them white, paired with brightly colored sashes around their waists and ankle-length floral sarongs. Children, also in vibrant sarongs, munched on snacks.

 Women carry their loads in woven containers atop their heads

Women carry their loads in woven containers atop their heads

 Some of the men have adopted this means of carrying offerings

Some of the men have adopted this means of carrying offerings

 Children probably spend hours at the temple during the festival and snack throughout the day

Children probably spend hours at the temple during the festival and snack throughout the day

 Samuan Tiga sports seven courtyards — more than your typical Balinese temple — and they were all quite crowded

Samuan Tiga sports seven courtyards — more than your typical Balinese temple — and they were all quite crowded

In certain parts of the temple, facing raised platforms, people crowded into tight spaces, sitting down to pray — a vast sea of worshippers, most of whom wore white shirts, the men also in white headbands with a sort of bow in front. Everyone sat quietly, arms extended in front of their faces, their hands pressed together. This is the purification process before the comedic war to come.

 The crowds got downright claustrophobic in quite a few areas

The crowds got downright claustrophobic in quite a few areas

 People worshipped in different courtyards

People worshipped in different courtyards

 This area was right off of the Barong pavilion

This area was right off of the Barong pavilion

Offering baskets were everywhere, small square trays woven from palm fronds and filled with rice, flowers and fruit.

 An elaborate floral offering

An elaborate floral offering

 Beautiful offerings for the gods

Beautiful offerings for the gods

 Fruit is a popular offering

Fruit is a popular offering

 Worshippers create small offering dishes filled with flowers and food

Worshippers create small offering dishes filled with flowers and food

An entire pavilion was filled with masks of Barong, who, despite his sharp fangs and wide eyes, is actually the personification of good.

 Barong masks receive offerings 

Barong masks receive offerings 

 As frightening as he looks, Barong is actually reprepsentative of all that is good

As frightening as he looks, Barong is actually reprepsentative of all that is good

 Masks of Barong lined an entire pavilion at Samuan Tiga

Masks of Barong lined an entire pavilion at Samuan Tiga

In one corner of the temple complex, we stopped to listen to an entirely female gamelan troupe. I had always heard of the percussion-heavy, xylophone-like instruments being played by men and wondered if this was a new phenomenon.

 An all-female gamelan band

An all-female gamelan band

As they played their jarring and discordant yet strangely hypnotic tunes, a man in costume approached for a dance. Covered in layers of colorful fabric with shimmering gold designs, barefoot, boasting long nails like claws, he descended the stairs. As he got closer, what caught my eye most was his frightening visage: a wide, wrinkled brown mask with a sweeping black mustache. Its features seemed pinched from the nose, lending an overall appearance of a rodent, not softened by the floral headband framing his face. If anything, it looked like foliage that had caught as he burrowed in the dirt. He made slow, sweeping movements, only his hands twitching rapidly, like the fluttering wings of a raven.

We think the character might be Topeng Bujuh, a comic figure in Balinese performances.

 A creepy costumed character danced to the gamelan music

A creepy costumed character danced to the gamelan music

As we wandered through the courtyards, most people were extremely happy to see us. They grinned, said hello, greeting us with a sembah (a gesture of respect, similar to the Thai wai, where you place your palms together in front of your chest and bow). I took the opportunity to snap quick photos of the worshippers and almost every time, they smiled back at me, unoffended, much to my relief. It seemed they were happy to share their experience, that they were glad a couple of Western tourists had felt their sacred festival worthy of a visit. –Wally

 Pura Samuan Tiga is one of the largest Hindu temples in central Bali

Pura Samuan Tiga is one of the largest Hindu temples in central Bali

Pura Samuan Tiga
Jalan Pura Samuan Tiga
Bedulu
Blahbatuh
Kabupaten Gianyar
Bali 80581
Indonesia

Alila Ubud: A Luxury Resort Nestled in a Jungle Valley

Can we just talk about the amazing infinity pool at this Bali hotel? And the amazing food? And the monkeys scurrying about?

 This was the breathtaking view we awoke to every morning

This was the breathtaking view we awoke to every morning

By the time I began looking for places for Wally and me to stay in Ubud, Bali, I was faced with an overwhelming amount of choices. I wanted to be close to the town’s cultural center, temples, shops and restaurants, but far enough away that it would feel like a retreat from the inevitable throngs of tourists. One look at an image of the epic infinity pool overlooking a landscape of tropical jungle greenery on the Alila Ubud website and I was hooked.

The infinity pool consists of a slim rectangle of water whose edges disappear into the terraced jungle hillside.
 The resort is comprised of groups of villas scattered throughout the compound

The resort is comprised of groups of villas scattered throughout the compound

When we landed at the Ngurah Rai International Airport, it was well after midnight and buzzing with new arrivals. Apparently we weren’t the only flight to reach the isle of Bali so late at night — or early, depending on how you look at it. After collecting our luggage, we met our chauffeur outside the terminal and asked if the airport was typically this crowded. He replied with a smile, “Yes, always.”

 The pool really is the star of the show at the Alila

The pool really is the star of the show at the Alila

Alila Ubud

Our base for our Bali trip was the Alila Ubud, which is just over an hour’s drive from the airport. Located high up in the mountain village of Payangan, our real adventure began once our driver turned onto a private meandering road that led to the resort. It was well after 2 a.m. when we checked in, following a nearly 24-hour journey from Chicago. The concierge warmly greeted us at the reception pavilion, offering us cold towels and jamu, a traditional Indonesian healing tonic.

 The open-air lobby at Alila, where helpful staff are always on hand

The open-air lobby at Alila, where helpful staff are always on hand

The concierge escorted us to our room and instructed us to secure the patio doors leading to the balcony to prevent a wild monkey infiltration. “Does it have a name?” Wally asked. To which the concierge replied, “No, there are many.”

 This group of monkeys gathered on the wall outside our room

This group of monkeys gathered on the wall outside our room

Alila, formerly the Chedi, was conceived by the acclaimed firm Kerry Hill Architects. The sprawling, tranquil complex is surrounded by rice terraces and is roughly 15 minutes from Ubud, the enclave that exploded exponentially after Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir and subsequent movie, Eat, Pray Love.

 There’s lush tropical foliage in every direction you look

There’s lush tropical foliage in every direction you look

The hotel’s layout was inspired by traditional Balinese hillside villages and has been adapted to the site’s topography. Paths meander past the property’s rooms and private treehouse-like guest villas. Stepped walkways evoke the surrounding terraced rice paddies. Paying respect to traditional Balinese architecture, local materials have been thoughtfully incorporated into its design, including hand-cut volcanic stone, alang alang grass thatch and coconut wood. Stones from the Ayung River were used in the steps and exterior walls. As a result, the Alila’s earthy palette harmoniously blends with the landscape surrounding the resort.

 The neutral tones of the buildings at Alila blend in well with the natural environment

The neutral tones of the buildings at Alila blend in well with the natural environment

The elongated open-air dining pavilion, Plantation, is located beneath a grass canopy supported by soaring palm pillars and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The executive chef behind the signature restaurants creations is Erwan Wijaya, whose menu features regional Balinese and international cuisine using locally sourced seasonal ingredients. Service was friendly and impeccable. We had the pleasure of being attended to on more than one occasion by the lovely Marianthi.

 The Plantation restaurant pavilion

The Plantation restaurant pavilion

 A typical breakfast at Alila: fresh baked goods, a trio of smoothies, coffee and nasi goreng (pink sunglasses Wally’s)

A typical breakfast at Alila: fresh baked goods, a trio of smoothies, coffee and nasi goreng (pink sunglasses Wally’s)

 Exotic fresh fruit, including snakefruit, starfruit, pomelo and pineapple

Exotic fresh fruit, including snakefruit, starfruit, pomelo and pineapple

 Wally likes pink drinks best

Wally likes pink drinks best

Breakfast options changed daily and we were always excited to try the trio of shareable juices and smoothies, tropical fruit plate, assorted pastries and varieties of nasi goreng. Plus, the coffee was excellent and brewed to order. We tried to exclude Western fare, but one morning we did cave. I tried the bostock brioche French toast with almond cream and Wally the eggs Benedict, which were equally delicious.

 Our room at Alila. Wally particularly loved the mosquito netting

Our room at Alila. Wally particularly loved the mosquito netting

A Room With a View

We stayed in an understated superior room, which was cozy, with its vaulted thatched ceiling and limestone floors. Our king-size bed was shrouded in netting, which Wally loved to close in the evening, picturing himself, no doubt, as a Victorian-era naturalist traveling through the tropics. Also sharing our room was a gecko who chose to evaluate us from afar, perched high upon the wall. One night, we were awoken by a couple of monkeys fitfully skittering across our rooftop.

 Curious George pays a visit to our balcony

Curious George pays a visit to our balcony

Our room included small touches with a big impact, including refillable glass bottles of water that were replenished daily and eco-friendly reusable bamboo straws.

After sightseeing and wandering Ubud, the private balcony attached to our room was the perfect perch to unwind and enjoy a quiet moment to read. We were happy that our room was centrally located, near the pool and restaurant. The complex, which seems to stretch for miles, required a few guests to be transported in golf carts to reach their rooms.

We hired a driver and ventured out daily, but if you decided to stay on the resort grounds, the Alila offers bikes for exploring the outlying area, an art gallery that features regional arts and crafts, a small boutique and a spa.

 Every morning before breakfast, Wally and Duke had a swim in the pool as the sun rose

Every morning before breakfast, Wally and Duke had a swim in the pool as the sun rose

 Duke leans on a wall near the resort’s spa

Duke leans on a wall near the resort’s spa

To fill in time between meals and relaxing, the Alila offers complimentary afternoon coffee and tea with an assortment of bite-size desserts. They even offer nightly entertainment, including movies by the pool.

 The stairs are lit at night

The stairs are lit at night

 The Cabana Lounge opens to the infinity pool

The Cabana Lounge opens to the infinity pool

 The bar in the lounge — also where they set up tea, coffee and nibblies in the late afternoon

The bar in the lounge — also where they set up tea, coffee and nibblies in the late afternoon

The hotel’s shuttle service has fixed arrival and departure times, but we found it fairly easy to hire a cab for about $6 to return us to the resort. The staff was personable and always wished us a good morning. When we would return after a day’s exploration, they welcomed us back, addressing us as Mr. Duke and Mr. Wally.

 A group of chaises longues at the edge of the valley

A group of chaises longues at the edge of the valley

To Infinity and Beyond

The infinity pool consists of a slim rectangle of water whose edges disappear into the terraced jungle hillside. Our room’s proximity to the pool made it easy to have a quick swim every morning before breakfast, steam rising from the water as the sun rose.

Morning yoga classes overlooking the pool were held at the Cabana Lounge, where guests can take in views of the forest while holding a warrior pose.

 The infinity pool seems to flow out into the valley beyond

The infinity pool seems to flow out into the valley beyond

A minor criticism is the internet system, which required entering a complicated code for every use. This is particularly irritating on a smartphone, when you are logged out every time the phone goes idle. On top of that, the signal was weak at every time but the middle of the night. Our jet lag-induced insomnia was the only time we were able to use wifi.

 The Alila is surrounded by gorgeous, green rice terraces

The Alila is surrounded by gorgeous, green rice terraces

 Paths wind throughout the complex and its environs

Paths wind throughout the complex and its environs

 Maybe it’s because Wally is a Taurus, but Duke is obsessed with the Nandi bull

Maybe it’s because Wally is a Taurus, but Duke is obsessed with the Nandi bull

Looking out at the mist-covered tropical greenery as we left on our final morning, Wally and I reflected upon our stay, knowing we had been somewhere special, a place we wouldn’t soon forget. –Duke

 Our rooms were conveniently located near the restaurant and pool

Our rooms were conveniently located near the restaurant and pool

alilaubuddetails.JPG

Alila Ubud
Desa
Melinggih Kelod
Payangan, Gianyar
Bali 80572
Indonesia

Altered Reality: Witchcraft, Lucid Dreaming and Mystery Spots

Supernatural Season 3, Episodes 9-11 cover the Malleus Maleficarum, African dream root, tricksters and hex bags.

 Don’t sabbaths look fun?!  Hexen , or  Witches , by Hans Baldrung, 1508

Don’t sabbaths look fun?! Hexen, or Witches, by Hans Baldrung, 1508

S3E9: “Malleus Maleficarum”

Monster: Witch

Where it’s from: All over the world, including the Middle East, Europe and America

Description: While they sometimes are depicted as being hideous, with long, warty noses and greenish skin, witches are just ordinary people. In fact, many, if not most, of those accused of witchcraft during the medieval Inquisition in Europe were simply natural healers, who fell victim to the patriarchy’s refusal to allow women in influential roles.

 Be careful what you wish for:  The Witch of Endor  by Martynov

Be careful what you wish for: The Witch of Endor by Martynov

One of the first mentions of a witch is the Witch of Endor, in 1 Samuel in the Bible, believed to have been written between 931 and 721 BCE, according to History. King Saul convinces the witch to call up the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel to help him defeat the Philistine army. She’s reluctant to help, as practicing witchcraft at the time was punishable by death. But Saul assures her she’s safe, so she performs her dark arts, and Samuel’s ghost appears.

Things don’t work out too well for Saul, though. Samuel is all doom and gloom, and sure enough, the next day Saul’s sons perish in the battle. Saul, in despair, commits suicide.

 The trouble with predicting the future is that sometimes it sucks:  Saul and the Witch of Endor  by Edward Henry Corbould, 1860

The trouble with predicting the future is that sometimes it sucks: Saul and the Witch of Endor by Edward Henry Corbould, 1860

Even though the Witch of Endor isn’t depicted as a villain — in fact, you could argue that she performs God’s work — there’s another Old Testament verse, Exodus 22:18, which decrees, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”  

The name of this episode of Supernatural refers to a medieval treatise, the Malleus Maleficarum (Latin for The Hammer of Witches) by Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer (and possibly Jacob Sprenger). Published in Germany in 1487, it instructed magistrates how to identify, interrogate and convict witches. The writers endorsed executing witches.

 This book, which tells you how to identify and exterminate witches, was all the rage in medieval times

This book, which tells you how to identify and exterminate witches, was all the rage in medieval times

The book was a hit — it was the second-bestselling book, behind the Bible, for almost 200 years.

What it does: “I hate witches,” Dean whines. “They’re always spewing their bodily fluids everywhere.”

On Supernatural, a coven is masquerading as a book club. They cast some Arabic-sounding spells, cut their hand, drip blood onto a victim’s toothbrush — and her teeth fall out and she dies.

 Witches cast spells to get their way and curse their enemies

Witches cast spells to get their way and curse their enemies



Hex bags are used to curse people. On the show, they’re relics of Old World black magic, containing bird bones, rabbit teeth and something the victim owned. Here are a couple of other versions:

How to Make a Hex Bag

Gather four symbolic items to include in the hex bag.

1. Intent: One ingredient that represents the purpose of the hex bag.

After the bag is created, you can “feed” more of these items to it to strengthen its power.

2. Spirit: Something that belongs to the possessor of the hex bag — and has never belonged to someone else.

3. Life: A plant, herb, seed or natural oil associated with the intended purpose of the bag. You can also use once-living items, like bone, hair, fur, antlers, claws or snake skin.

4. Sacrifice: One item that shows what you’re willing to offer to have the bag do its work.

Source: Sorcery and Shamanism

 

Black Magic Hex Bag

You’ll need:

  • Small black fabric bag
  • Pieces of dragon blood resin
  • Dried rue, basil, wormwood and nettle
  • A pentacle made of metal or wood

Focus on your target as you put the items into the bag.

Ideally, bury the hex bag outside their home, but if this isn’t possible, put it in their locker, desk or somewhere close to them.

Source: Spells of Magic

How to defeat it: Burning the hex bag negates its power.

 This shaman might be dreamwalking, but he’s certainly tripping his balls off

This shaman might be dreamwalking, but he’s certainly tripping his balls off

S3E10: “Dream a Little Dream of Me”

Monster: Dreamwalker

Where it’s from: South Africa

Description: Xhosa shamans of the river valleys on the eastern cape of South Africa are said to possess the power to enter other people’s dreams.

 Some shamans can take over your dreams

Some shamans can take over your dreams

What it does: The Winchester Brothers’ buddy Bobby is trapped in a dream. Someone’s entering people’s dreams (dreamwalking) and killing them. As the saying goes, if you die in your dream, you die in your sleep. It’s all very A Nightmare on Elm Street.

 The horror icon Freddy Krueger killed people in their dreams, and they died in real life

The horror icon Freddy Krueger killed people in their dreams, and they died in real life

How does one dreamwalk? It can be surprisingly easy.

A white flower called undlela zimhlophe, which translates to “white paths,” grows in South Africa. Its blooms only open at night, emitting a mesmerizing aroma. The plant, more commonly known as African dream root (Silene capensis), induces psychedelic, prophetic dreams.

 African dream room, which helps you lucid dream, is available for sale. Wally knows what he’s asking for Christmas!

African dream room, which helps you lucid dream, is available for sale. Wally knows what he’s asking for Christmas!

For the Xhosa, dreams are seen as gifts from the ancestors, characterized as drifting white winds or ghosts, in which they impart healing guidance or other knowledge to their descendants, according to World of Lucid Dreaming.

“This dream root is some serious mojo,” Sam says. “You take enough of it, with practice, you can become a regular Freddy Krueger.”

So how do they find this homicidal Sandman? Dean wants to know.

To control someone’s dream, you need to drink part of their body. The boys put in some of Bobby’s hair. Eww.

Bobby’s being tormented by a woman in a white nightgown with holes in her chest — who turns out to be his wife. He had to kill her — she was possessed, rabid. This horrific experience is what got him into hunting.

The villain turns out to be Jeremy, one of the subjects of a medical experiment — he’s basically a god in the dream world.

How to defeat it: Enter the dream and confront the dreamwalker. Remember, he’s dreaming, too. Use his subconscious fears against him.

 Mystery spots defy the laws of nature

Mystery spots defy the laws of nature

S3E11: “Mystery Spot”

Monster: Trickster

Where it’s from: Various parts of the world, though the Greek god Hermes and the Norse deity Loki are two of the best known

Description: There’ve been some strange goings-on at the Broward County Mystery Spot.

What it does: These mystery spots are popular roadside attractions in the U.S. They’re said to defy the laws of physics, where gravity doesn’t work, and perspective is skewed.

 Next time you’re at the Oregon Vortex, try the popular  Titanic  pose

Next time you’re at the Oregon Vortex, try the popular Titanic pose

Dean’s not having any of it: “Sam, joints like this are only tourist traps, right? I mean, you know, balls rolling uphill, furniture nailed to the ceiling — they’re only dangerous to your wallet.”

But Sam thinks locations that bend space and time are a distinct possibility: “There are spots in the world where holes open up and swallow people.” He mentions the Bermuda Triangle, part of the Atlantic Ocean between Miami, Bermuda and Puerto Rico, where dozens of ships and airplanes have disappeared, as well as the Oregon Vortex, one of the most famous mystery spots.

 Numerous vessels have been lost forever in the Bermuda Triangle

Numerous vessels have been lost forever in the Bermuda Triangle

What it does: Sam’s living his own personal Groundhog Day. Could you imagine a more frightening way to repeatedly start each day than your alarm going off to Asia’s “Heat of the Moment”?

Poor Dean keeps dying: He gets shot by the owner of the Mystery Spot; he’s run down at a crosswalk; then he’s smashed by a falling piano. And that’s just the start. This cycle goes on for over 100 days.

It turns out to be the work of a trickster. A man who recently disappeared didn’t believe in wormholes — so the naughty god thought it’d be fitting to throw him in one.

 Mischievous Mercury (the Roman equivalent of Hermes) lulls a watchman to sleep so he can steal a cow:  Mercury and Argos  by Abraham Hondius, late 1600s

Mischievous Mercury (the Roman equivalent of Hermes) lulls a watchman to sleep so he can steal a cow: Mercury and Argos by Abraham Hondius, late 1600s

Bobby says they’ll have to perform a summoning ritual. They’ll just need a gallon of human blood. Sam coldly agrees to kill someone for it — but then stakes Bobby. He knows his hunter buddy would never suggest such a bloodthirsty plan. And sure enough, the trickster god reveals himself.

How to defeat it: Beg. The trickster, in his sick and twisted way, is actually trying to get Sam to accept life without Dean. But Sam doesn’t want to imagine that (awww!), so the trickster lets Sam leave his virtual hell. –Wally

The Picture-Perfect Tegallalang Rice Terrace of Bali

Your photos of these gorgeous rice terraces will make your friends green with envy.

 If you’re in the Ubud area, make a stop at the Tegallalang Rice Terrance

If you’re in the Ubud area, make a stop at the Tegallalang Rice Terrance

Chances are if you’ve ever done an Instagram or Pinterest search and entered the keyword “Bali,” you’ve seen more than a few images of the terraced rice paddies of Tegallalang and tourists posing beneath the multicolored Love Bali sign.

This highly photogenic and popular tourist destination is located about 30 minutes north of Ubud.

We gazed out, awestruck by the sea of emerald green terraces whose sinuous lines follow the contours of the hillside.
 Get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds and the heat of the day

Get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds and the heat of the day

Wally and I hired a driver and left from our hotel early enough in the morning to (hopefully) avoid the throngs of tourists. When we arrived at the large parking lot, we were not entirely surprised that it was already beginning to fill up. I was confused at first if we were in the right place, as there are large printed banners for Ceking Rice Field. I later learned that this is the name of the village where Tegallalang is situated.

 Duke enjoying the beautiful setting

Duke enjoying the beautiful setting

 Wally’s excited for the adventure to begin!

Wally’s excited for the adventure to begin!

 Even though you can’t see them, there are paths to follow through the rice paddies

Even though you can’t see them, there are paths to follow through the rice paddies

 It’s amazing to think that this rice is gathered by hand

It’s amazing to think that this rice is gathered by hand

Rice Rice Baby

Rice is a staple food for the Balinese, reflected in the endless regional variations of nasi goreng, and a small amount often appears in traditional woven palm leaf offerings. Cultivation adheres to a well-organized cycle initiated by ritual observance at water temples — the nearby Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple is dedicated to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and fertility.

Bali’s tropical climate allows for rice to be grown year round, and the terraces of Tegallalang were lush and green on our visit in late April. It’s humbling to learn that the harvesting process is done completely by hand. The sheaves are thrashed in bunches to release the grains, which are then washed and laid out in the sun to dry.

 The undulating green hills are iconic of Bali

The undulating green hills are iconic of Bali

It Takes a Village

As consumers, when we think of rice, we may only see it as a pre-packaged commodity to be purchased off the shelves of a grocery store. We don’t imagine how it came to be there — namely, the result of a sophisticated agrarian community dating back to the 8th century, whose shared labor, known as subak, encourages farmers to work together to preserve the traditional egalitarian irrigation system passed on from generation to generation. This practice follows the Balinese philosophy Tri Hita Karana, in which humans, spirits and nature are intertwined in a harmonious, mutually beneficial relationship.

Wally and I paid a donation fee of 10,000 rupiah each (about $1) to enter. Standing at the top of hill, we gazed out, awestruck by the sea of emerald green terraces whose sinuous lines follow the contours of the hillside.

 Wally saw a small cave and crawled through it until he came out this end

Wally saw a small cave and crawled through it until he came out this end

There were a few other tourists captured in our photographs, but it didn’t bother us and added scale and color to our images. We hiked down mud steps to the valley floor and walked up the other side, meandering the narrow footpaths that cut through the paddies.

To prevent birds from eating the grain laden stalks, farmers have employed an ingenious technique using bamboo poles and strings. One version creates horizontal movement when the string is tugged and another activates a set of empty aluminum cans that loudly rattle.

 A lotus pond we stumbled upon

A lotus pond we stumbled upon

 You’ll marvel at the sheer scale of what you’re seeing

You’ll marvel at the sheer scale of what you’re seeing

50 Shades of Green

We spent a little over an hour wandering through the terraces and footpaths. Make sure to bring comfortable footwear, suitable for moderate trekking, bug repellent, sunscreen and bottled water, as the landscape is fairly exposed and open.

At one point, we were at the far end of the valley and couldn’t find our way out. Instead of following a group of equally baffled tourists, we backtracked past the swings, where you can swoop out over the terraces for that perfect Instagram photo or video. I refused to do this, as it seemed like something only basic bitches would do. Wally argued that it’s a requisite shot for all the influencers, so I told him he could take one if he wanted.

 These stepped terraces are a marvel of ancient engineering

These stepped terraces are a marvel of ancient engineering

 There’s no clear way to go, and we had to backtrack to find our way out

There’s no clear way to go, and we had to backtrack to find our way out

 Atop one hill, a hen and her chicks toddled around

Atop one hill, a hen and her chicks toddled around

We went back down the valley and took a different fork in the road, eventually ending up on the other side by the road we had originally come from, passing hikers going in the opposite direction.

There are small shops selling I ♥ Bali tote bags, clothing, cold drinks, coffee luwak (which is basically green coffee beans that have been partially digested and defecated by a mongoose) and other assorted souvenir fare along the way. We picked up a couple of Bintang Radler, but we’re still kicking ourselves that we didn’t purchase one of the ubiquitous penis-shaped bottle openers we saw here and in Ubud. They’re available in various sizes, have a set of balls and come in light or dark wood.

 Tegallalang has much to offer, though some travelers visit Jatiluwih instead

Tegallalang has much to offer, though some travelers visit Jatiluwih instead

Why We Chose Tegallalang

Prior to adding the rice terrace to our itinerary, I had weighed the pros and cons of Tegallalang and Jatiluwih. Jatiluwih, although recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, was over an hour from Ubud and a bit problematic when plotting out an efficient route using Google Maps that included the other places we wanted to visit.

 Wally’s never met a hammock he didn’t try out

Wally’s never met a hammock he didn’t try out

I understood that Tegallalang would very likely be more touristy and read reviews where some people had negative experiences and had felt like they were perpetually being asked for donations as they wandered through the paddies. This was not something we encountered, but after learning more about the cooperative subak system, it does make sense, as these are working fields and there’s a lot of creativity and hard work that goes into maintaining the terraces. My advice is to carry a few small bills with you in case a farmer requests payment if you want to take photos and try your best to stay on the designated pathways.

Even though our time in Bali was all too brief, I’m grateful we were able to check Tegallalang off our list. And in case you’re curious, Wally didn’t end up doing the swing by the Love Bali sign — he took one look at the dropoff and his vertigo prevented this from happening. –Duke

tegallalang6.JPG

Tegallalang Rice Terrace
Jalan Raya Tegallalang
Tegallalang
Kabupaten Gianyar
Bali 8056
Indonesia

The Dangers of the Ubud Monkey Forest

The Monkey Forest is worth wandering, but perhaps not with children. It’s fitting that the Great Temple of Death lies within this sanctuary, where people get bitten by monkeys every day.

 Gorgeous stonework and mischievous macaques abound in the Monkey Forest

Gorgeous stonework and mischievous macaques abound in the Monkey Forest

Things might have been much worse if we hadn’t had a somewhat scary encounter the night before we planned to visit the Monkey Sanctuary in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

We were wandering down Monkey Forest Road, right at the turn, near one of the entrances to the forest. A large macaque monkey scampered down a power line and stopped a few feet in front of Duke.

He was looking up at another monkey on the roof of a shop and I snapped a photo. And then, in a flash, the monkey jumped onto Duke, grabbed his water bottle, hopped off of him and scurried down the road a bit. It all happened so quickly, Duke didn’t even have time to react.

The monkey opened its mouth and sank its teeth into the girl’s shoulder, before darting away.

The girl screamed and screamed, yet her banshee-like wails failed to draw the attention of any staffers.
 The moment right before the monkey jumped onto Duke and stole his water bottle

The moment right before the monkey jumped onto Duke and stole his water bottle

We watched in astonishment as the monkey unscrewed the lid, poured some water out onto the street and scooped it up with its palms to drink.

 As cool as it might be to get a selfie with a monkey, we can’t advise it

As cool as it might be to get a selfie with a monkey, we can’t advise it

The last time I visited Bali, 17 years ago, I let a monkey crawl onto my back, and that picture became a now-legendary Christmas card. I might have done so again — but this incident was enough to put the fear of God — or perhaps the fear of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god —  into me.

 The statue by the Monkey Forest entrance hints at what could happen to unsuspecting tourists!

The statue by the Monkey Forest entrance hints at what could happen to unsuspecting tourists!

Entering the Monkey Forest: It All Starts Innocently Enough…

So it was with a newfound sense of caution (and, let’s face it, downright fear of these creatures) that Duke and I wandered into the Monkey Sanctuary. The setting is epic: a glen of primordial trees, bridges that criss-cross a ravine with a river below and not one, but two pura dalems, or temples of death.

 The setting, with banyan roots, bizarre statues, lush foliage and wild monkeys, is quite epic

The setting, with banyan roots, bizarre statues, lush foliage and wild monkeys, is quite epic

We headed to the right, down a path that leads to one of the bridges that span the chasm below. There are a few landings here, with metal railings where monkeys like to hang out. This is a good spot for photos. The monkeys here seemed to know they’re models, and you can snap some shots at a safe distance.

 Down the path to the right is a landing where monkeys strike a pose

Down the path to the right is a landing where monkeys strike a pose

 Hindus, like those on Bali, revere monkeys, in part because one of their main gods, Hanuman, is simian

Hindus, like those on Bali, revere monkeys, in part because one of their main gods, Hanuman, is simian

 According to the park, there are about 600 monkeys in the area!

According to the park, there are about 600 monkeys in the area!

A path winds along the rock face at the edge of the river. It’s narrow and crowded and ends abruptly without a payoff. You might as well skip it.

 Banyan roots have taken over parts of the sanctuary

Banyan roots have taken over parts of the sanctuary

 Wally, who was scared the entire time he was in the forest, thought these were real lizards at first

Wally, who was scared the entire time he was in the forest, thought these were real lizards at first

Following the main path takes you over another bridge and walkway above the ravine before leading you to a temple. Duke and I were delighted to notice the strange, monstrous statues out front. We had arrived at Pura Dalem Agung Pandangtegal, or the Padangtegal Great Temple of Death. Demonic sculptures, including those of the witch Rangda, adorn pura dalems.

 The main temple of death in the forest is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva

The main temple of death in the forest is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva

 Rangda personifies evil — and loves to eat babies

Rangda personifies evil — and loves to eat babies

 What are these naughty babies doing?!

What are these naughty babies doing?!

 Statues of demons surround the temple of death

Statues of demons surround the temple of death

A young macaque with a mohawk posed on a ledge near the temple’s entrance, nibbling on what appeared to be a yam. While we were taking some pictures, a big lug came up beside us and smiled. “Cute,” he said, before telling us that he had just been bitten on the arm by one of these critters. He was just standing there, and a young monkey jumped onto his shoulder, supposedly unbidden. Before he knew it, she had sunk her teeth into his arm.

 This little macaque was hanging out on the temple entrance

This little macaque was hanging out on the temple entrance

I could tell by his accent that he was French, but I still spoke English to him. “You need to go to the doctor!” I told him. He just laughed, and I said, “I’m serious! You could get rabies! You could die!” But he just kept chuckling like I was telling him the funniest bit of nonsense he’s ever heard, before wandering away.

There supposedly haven’t been any cases of rabies from monkeys in the sanctuary, but I don’t think it’s worth the risk — especially since my doctor told me that rabies is 100% fatal. If you get bitten at the forest, don’t take any chances and get rabies shots at the Toya Medika Clinic down the street.

 They might look innocent — but they’re not

They might look innocent — but they’re not

Reality Bites: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Bit

Not long after the French guy told us about how he been bitten, we saw a family allow a small monkey to crawl onto their young daughter for a photo op. It was like a train wreck — we couldn’t look away. When the girl wanted the monkey to get off of her, she tried to shake it off. Sure enough, the monkey opened its mouth and sank its teeth into the girl’s shoulder, before darting away.

The girl screamed and screamed, yet her banshee-like wails failed to draw the attention of any staffers.

We also saw a monkey grab a stack of cards from a woman’s open bag. The man with her literally pounced at the monkey and tried to retrieve the cards from it. We shook our heads in disbelief. It seemed wiser to let the monkey grow bored with its prize and drop it, once it realized it wasn’t edible.

 Statues in the Monkey Forest tend to be grotesque — which Duke and Wally love

Statues in the Monkey Forest tend to be grotesque — which Duke and Wally love

It’s no exaggeration when I say that I was in a mild state of terror the entire time I was at the sanctuary. Any time we passed by a monkey, I’d freeze up and scooch past it as quickly as possible, my heart pounding through my chest.

Down from the temple is a bathing pool, and it was fun to watch the monkeys swing into the water and splash about — from a safe distance, of course.

 Delightfully horrific statues pair nicely with the monkeys

Delightfully horrific statues pair nicely with the monkeys

Beyond this is a ring trail that’s more sparse. The trees aren’t as tall and I felt more exposed. We hurried along the path, horrified, when, at one point, we saw a monkey that had stolen a bottle of sunblock from some tourists. It unscrewed the top and was trying to drink the thick white liquid. The couple watching this were laughing, but we didn’t find it amusing.

At the end of the ring path, we saw a small building with a group of the sanctuary’s staff just hanging out smoking. We couldn’t help but think they should be in the more populated areas, stopping people from doing stupid things and attending to the kids who have been bitten.

 You can skirt around the exterior of the pura dalem and admire the bas reliefs

You can skirt around the exterior of the pura dalem and admire the bas reliefs

 Frieze frame

Frieze frame

We circled back to the Great Temple of Death, bummed that tourists aren’t allowed to enter the temple grounds. We skirted around the exterior, though, peeking over the wall to see the courtyard within.

 The Great Temple of Death inside the Monkey Forest isn’t open to tourists

The Great Temple of Death inside the Monkey Forest isn’t open to tourists

Another trail leads away from the temple, and we followed this down to another area of the nature preserve.

En route, we passed a woman squatting down to allow a monkey to climb onto her lap. When it started tugging at her braid, we had to go. We weren’t in the mood to see yet another person get bitten.

 When you’re ready for the monkey to get off you, it might not be — and if you force it to move, you’ll probably end up getting bitten

When you’re ready for the monkey to get off you, it might not be — and if you force it to move, you’ll probably end up getting bitten

We ended up walking through a creepy tunnel lit by an eerie purple and green light. I kept praying we wouldn’t encounter any primates in that dark expanse, and thankfully, we did not.

 The entrances to the tunnel by the parking lot sport giant faces

The entrances to the tunnel by the parking lot sport giant faces

The tunnel led to a parking lot, so we had to double back and head through it again. We followed a sign that pointed to a cremation temple and found ourselves at another end of the sanctuary, wary of a pack of monkeys nearby but eager to explore the small pura dalem. We couldn’t enter this temple of death, either, but admired the demonic statuary, while keeping an eye out for roving macaques.

 The cemetery near the smaller temple of death is where bodies remain before a mass cremation, which takes place every five years

The cemetery near the smaller temple of death is where bodies remain before a mass cremation, which takes place every five years

At this point, we figured we had seen everything we could and decided to leave the Monkey Forest the same way we had come. We were on the home stretch, the exit about 100 yards away, when a particularly brazen monkey made a jump for Duke’s tote bag. He turned away, clutching it tightly to his body. The monkey made some rude noises and gestures to show its displeasure. But we were safe at last, having emerged from this ordeal with a healthy fear of monkeys. –Wally

 Monkey see, monkey do

Monkey see, monkey do

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
Jalan Monkey Forest
Ubud, Kabupaten
Gianyar
Bali 80571, Indonesia

I was in a mild state of terror the entire time I was at the sanctuary.

The Buddhist Bas-Reliefs of Borobudur

A walk-through of the Borobudur temple carvings that depict the lives of the Buddha as told in the Jataka tales and Avadana.

 The carvings on some of the levels of Borobudur tell the story of the Buddha as well as his past reincarnations

The carvings on some of the levels of Borobudur tell the story of the Buddha as well as his past reincarnations

The incomparable 9th century Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary of Borobudur in Java, Indonesia contains the largest collection of decorative panels recounting the life of the Buddha. The structure rests upon an oversized base, and the body of the monument is composed of six raised platforms, including five terraced galleries. They’re square in form and diminish in scale with height. The uppermost trio of circular terraces are plain in comparison, but are augmented by 72 magnificent stone lattice-work stupas rising to the stupa on the summit. Because Borobudur has no inner chambers, it is considered a pilgrimage site.

 The builders of Borobudur recognized the need for a drainage system because of heavy rains that cause erosion

The builders of Borobudur recognized the need for a drainage system because of heavy rains that cause erosion

Pilgrims would have entered via the eastern stairs to ritually circumambulate (a fancy word for walking around) the sacred manmade mountain of chiseled gray andesite in quiet contemplation. It's here that the stories told in the narrative relief panels begin, with the birth of the future Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama. According to legend, the infant stood and took seven steps. With each step, a lotus flower appeared, to prevent his tiny feet from touching the ground.

The corridors are filled with detailed murals depicting celestial beings, guardian demons, conch shells, jewel trees, durian fruit and a menagerie of animals, including elephants, deer and tree-dwelling monkeys, to name a few.

 Animals are depicted in the carvings — including many that tell of the past lives of the Buddha

Animals are depicted in the carvings — including many that tell of the past lives of the Buddha

Open to the sky, the bas-reliefs adorning the 13-foot-wide passages create a broad platform and are read from left to right, moving in a clockwise direction around the monument, twisting in right angles from one terrace to another. The galleries represent the planes of existence that must be experienced before reaching the uppermost level of spiritual perfection.

Story Time: Jataka and Avadana

The first- and second-level stone reliefs depict tales from Buddhist lore, including the Jataka and Avadana. Wally and I had first seen these stories depicted in the frescoes of the Ajanta Caves in India.

The Jataka tales are about the Buddha before he was born as Prince Siddhartha. Thematically, they illustrate lessons in morality, karma and merit that distinguished the bodhisattva from all other creatures. As a bodhisattva, the Buddha was born and reborn numerous times, alternating from human to animal form, before he finally attained enlightenment.

Avadana are similar to Jataka, but the main figure is not the Buddha himself — the saintly deeds are attributed to other legendary people.

We didn’t experience the reliefs in chronological order, as our guide, Pras, led us down from the upper terraces, after we watched the sunrise.


borobudurtemple.JPG

We paused on the stairway to admire one of the ornate archways depicting the fearsome face and open mouth of Kala.

According to folklore, Kala was created by the god Shiva to eradicate demons, though he’s sometimes identified himself as a demon named Rahu, who is said to have swallowed the universe, only to release it after being decapitated by the gods.

 Be careful when crossing through arches formed by the mouth of Kala — his jaw is said to snap shut on those who have evil in their hearts

Be careful when crossing through arches formed by the mouth of Kala — his jaw is said to snap shut on those who have evil in their hearts

 Locals like to joke that the stone at the top depicts the golden arches of McDonald’s

Locals like to joke that the stone at the top depicts the golden arches of McDonald’s

Why Many Buddhists Are Vegetarian

Pras pointed out a notable tale depicted in one of the panels known as The Hare’s Sacrifice. The bodhisattva was born as a hare. His closest friends were an otter, a jackal and a monkey. He continuously urged his friends to strive for right conduct and to be generous in their daily life. Wanting to put the hare to the test, the god Sakra appeared in the forest in the shape of a brahman who had lost his way and was starving. The otter brought seven fish, the jackal a lizard, and the monkey ripe fruits. The hare, however, couldn’t offer anything. The brahman lit a fire for an offering — and immediately the hare jumped in, offering himself as a meal. The king of the gods admired the saintly deed, and while resuming his own shape, he praised the hare for his self-sacrifice.

Pras explained that this was why many Buddhists are vegetarian, as they would not like to think that they are eating someone who may have been reborn as an animal. –Duke

 Be sure to check out the carvings as you explore the multi-story Borobudur Temple in Java, Indonesia

Be sure to check out the carvings as you explore the multi-story Borobudur Temple in Java, Indonesia

Borobudur Temple
Jl. Badrawati
Kw. Candi Borobudur
Borobudur, Magelang
Jawa Tengah
Indonesia