To 'New England' and back to Asia

The pool in Tirta Gangga water palace, Bali. Picture: Courtesy of Paolo Coluzzi

Sunday, March 28, 2010

AT 6.30 pm on Thursday the 11th of March, my coach arrived in Armidale, a small town of about 25,000 people in The New England, north of Sydney. It took a little longer than eight hours to get there, travelling through a beautiful green landscape among the mountains of the Great Dividing Range.

A very different landscape from the stereotypical one of the Australian outback, the more arid area in the interior further west. Nicola, my friend and former colleague at Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), was at the station to pick me up; she started her new job at the local university in September and now lives there. My first impression is that Armidale's climate is very different from Sydney's, more changeable and colder (it is 1,000 metres above sea level), even though it is still summer.

After a visit to the small town centre, which nevertheless showcases beautiful colonial buildings from the 19th century, and the interesting Aboriginal Centre and Keeping Place, the next three days we spent driving around the region to explore the bush, the Australian countryside, with its impressive gorges and waterfalls and Aboriginal rock art.

While driving along the long deserted roads, the vegetation around and the animals we saw were so different from what I'm used to that sometimes I was under the impression I was exploring a different planet.

There were beautiful birds everywhere: big black and white magpies, colourful Eastern Rosellas to name just two. But the highlight of these rides was my first sighting of the animals that are the symbol of Australia: on Saturday we spotted a couple of brush tailed rock wallabies, the small version of the kangaroo, observing us curiously from a distance of about six or seven metres, and later on some big grey kangaroos who similarly stopped to study us before hopping away among the fields. I feel so happy to have had a chance to see these beautiful and exotic animals in the wild.

Back to Sydney on Monday the 15th and off to Bali two days later. Hopefully this should be the last time I take a plane during my trip. Not that I dislike airplanes, but they prevent you to experience and enjoy what is there between the two destinations, missing a very important element of what travelling means.

A taxi takes me from the airport to a small hotel in Denpasar, the administrative centre of Bali. The contrast between two cities couldn't be bigger: Sydney is clean, organised, very green; Denpasar is chaotic, noisy, rather ugly and on top of that extremely hot. I didn't expect much, but having been in the beautiful Balinese town of Ubud before I wasn't really prepared. But never mind, I was only passing there. There is one place I wanted to see in Denpasar, though, and that is the Indonesian Institute of Art, where thousands of Indonesians and even some foreigners are trained in traditional Indonesian and particularly Balinese performing and fine arts.

This is one way the Balinese retain their incredible culture, their fine dancing, traditional gamelan music and shadow puppet theatre. One whole day in Denpasar is more than enough and the following day I took three bemos (the tiny buses that are the commonest form of transport in Indonesia) to reach Tirta Gangga (the water of the Ganges) in Eastern Bali, a small village at the foot of Gunung Agung, one of the many volcanoes on the island. What a contrast again! I found a beautiful hotel high up from the road. From the veranda of my small chalet surrounded by lush vegetation I had an amazing view of hills, forests and terraced paddy fields below me, the sea further down and the island of Lombok on the horizon! After leaving my things in the room I went for a walk in and around the tiny village, visiting the Taman Tirta Gangga water palace, whose garden is laid out with statues, flowers, fountains and large pools of fresh water. One has a path in it made of octagonal stones separated one from the other rising perhaps a centimetre from the water, which allow one to actually walk through the pool!

Sehingga minggu depan!

The Brunei Times


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