Off to Gili T

Wow, I’m falling so behind! I just sorted all my pictures this morning to find that, including this post, I have at least 5 others simply to conclude the Indonesia/Kuala Lumpur adventures. More for Jack and Grace’s visit and subsequent jaunt to Koh Jum and Tonsai. One more for our strange but exciting adventure to Krabi with a Thai friend (as tagalongs on his IT company getaway? I feel like it’s fine.). Nevermind that, to draw from that old Muse ditty, our time is running out from a “have-to-go-to-school-but-not-actually-do-anything-school-oriented” perspective. Have picked up extra classes at a local learning academy, maybe start our adult classes back up today, begin teaching the local policemen this Thursday, and real classes resume next Thursday. Oh free time, I hardly knew thee…

So without further ado. After five-or-so glorious days in Bali, it was time to explore one of Indonesia’s other 16,999 islands: Gili Trawangan. The Gili Islands had come strongly recommended to us from a number of sources, particularly if we were keen to do some diving, which we most definitely were. Though “Gili” simply means “island” in (one of) the Indonesian language(s), “the Gilis” refer to three little islands between the larger islands of Bali and Lombok. Of these Gili Trawangan is the westernmost, the biggest, the most happenin’, and contains the most syllables so henceforth will be called simply “Gili T.”

We (read: Wayne) had done some research on the best way to get from Bali to Gili T. Judging from the map above, it doesn’t look too bad, right? Well, sure… we could have done it in +/- 2 hours direct (I never ever ever saw or heard of an option to do it in 1 hour, 15 minutes, despite what the map suggests)… if we had a profession other than teaching, in a place other than Thailand, receiving a currency that was even moderately desirable to the Indonesian moneychangers. And you know, even with all these factors in place, I think it would have been likely we’d have dished out double fare for the “fast boat” if anyone in Bali had been honest with us about what the “slow boat” would entail. But we don’t, and they didn’t, so we didn’t. Twice.

(In layman’s terms, we paid half price for what turned out to be a 12 hour journey, having been assured it would be no more than six. And before leaving the first time, were conned into upgrading our one-way tickets to return journeys; they swore tickets would cost more on Gili T and this sounded logical to us. As it turned out Gili T was surprisingly affordable in almost every way, considering that everything, including fresh water, must be imported.)

So how, exactly does that seemingly itty bitty journey take up half a day? I guess, really, it’s a problem of semantics. It’s just that “slow boat” is a bit of a misnomer. “Slow boat that leaves two hours late, takes four hours, drops passengers on Lombok + Rickety ‘taxi’ to take passengers on a tumultuous hour-long journey to another pier on Lombok + Another hour wait at that pier + Longtail boat that drops passengers at Gili Air before proceeding on to Gili T” would be more accurate, but I suppose it is quite a mouthful.

Still, it was an adventure, we met a nice English chap on the first boat who works on yachts and had lots of entertaining stories, and got to see snippets of Lombok (even it was just briefly and slightly terrifying). I guess I shouldn’t complain too loudly.

saying goodbye to ka-de-ka, our bff at sagitarius guesthouse.

funny zodiacs at the place that convinced us to buy a return ticket. i now suspect them of having put them there intentionally to distract us and keep us from making good decisions. still got a chuckle, and the synopsis is pretty accurate for me (minus the ‘tidy’ part…)!

sorry wayne, all girls are finish. but i now understand why you’ve taken towards leadership amongst children and small anymals.

view from the boat. nice scenery, anyway.

Oh! Jeez, before I forget I have to share another example about why the whole trip was a big boatload of bizarre (no pun intended, the alliterative opportunity was too much for me to pass up). We sat up front in the air-conditioned section– a privilege one man tried to suggest was not free when he came around taking a collection. He had no uniform and didn’t push the issue when we raised our eyebrows at him in skepticism, so we figure it was a con. Next thing we knew there was a horrible racket coming from the un-airconditioned portion of the boat that we couldn’t identify. It grew louder and louder until a man entered our room– simply shouting and making horrible, indistinguishable noises with his mouth, and asking for money. We couldn’t tell if he was demonstrating deafness (honestly or otherwise) or if he was just hoping people would pay him to shut up. Eventually he left but it was a very strange series of minutes. Also there was a food-selling woman outside as we were waiting for the boat to arrive who kept insisting that Wayne and I kiss each other and offering us discounts on bottles of water for each kiss (I can’t remember if she made good on such promises or not). Weird, wild stuff

at our first pier in lombok.

passed loads of rice fields in lombok.

Then we went through these flooded streets:

Not pictured: Stopping to pick up the driver’s sister, brother-in-law, and baby nephew on the side of the road (the van was already quite full).

Also not pictured: The stomach-churning hairpin turns of a brief mountain journey, or the monkeys seen along the road that served as the silver lining.

these little guys were seen throughout lombok. how charming! (kind of… until you saw how emaciated some of the horses were…)

ready for the last leg.

sittin on the dock of the bay…

goodbye lombok!

The biggest problem with our longer-than-expected journey was that our friends weren’t teachers in Thailand and so had no qualms dishing out the big bucks for the quicker journey; we’d arranged to just meet at 3 o’clock at the pier. Unfortunately we only arrived at 7 o’clock with no way to contact them. The island’s quite small with only one main road, so (after settling for a room in the first guesthouse we came across [henceforth known as “the Stank Room” for self-explanatory reasons but with a charismatic owner named Romi who consistently referred to us as his “[expletive] best guests!!!!“]) we figured if we sat in a prominent place it wasn’t unlikely that they might come strolling by at some point.

What luck! We’d just finished some delicious fish and a happy hour mojito (happy hours generally last a long, long time in Asia) when Greg appeared just down the road. The girls apparently were tired and wanted to stay in, but Greg was happy to stay out with us for the weekly Wednesday night bonanza at “the Irish Bar” (it had another name but knowing it wasn’t necessary… you just had to follow the crowds to find the party). Luckily he had a convenient way to shoot back quickly to relay this information to his companions…

there are no motorized vehicles on the gilis! bicycles and horse-drawn carriages it was. this little thing was lent to him by one of the employees at the restaurant.

(for the record that’s my bathing suit top that you can see…)

reunited and it feeeels so gooooood…

good times with new south african and french friends!

Just what we deserved after a long day traveling!


The Tanah Lot Sunset with Old (and New!) Friends

So, truth be told, Bali/Indo wasn’t the original consideration for the April break. No firm plans had ever really been made, but I think we’d always just assumed we’d do some exploring of our own fine peninsula and its surroundings… See what all the fuss is about over in ‘Nam (is that… an acceptable thing to say these days?), pop into Angkor Wat in Cambodia (did you hear they’re ripping it off tipping their hats to it over in India?), maybe check out Laos while it’s still considered “undiscovered” so we could pretentiously refer to “those days” with a glimmer of nostalgia in our eyes at some point in the distant future…

But when Wayne got an email from an old friend of his suggesting we meet up with him and his fiancée in Bali I can’t say we put up much of a fight against the idea at all. They arrived a few days after us, and in the end we only had one day on Bali with them (as well as the fiancée’s sister and another friend) before meeting up again on Gili Trawangan (We took… slightly different routes. Theirs was better. This will be discussed later.). After our visit to the market we had lunch and promptly at 2 o’clock were picked up from our guesthouse in a van their hotel had arranged for a Sunset Tour. It had been about six years since Wayne and Greg had seen each other (they’re from the same town in South Africa, as are all the girls, but only met each other in London, where Greg and the girls still reside) but they got on like no time had passed at all; and I enjoyed meeting him, Candice, Laura, and Julie as well.

And it’s a good thing, because we ended up spending a lot of time in that van together! First stop was another coffee plantation like the one we’d gone to after our volcano hike, so the newcomers got to sample the famed Kopi Luwak as well. There were other things on offer as well…

a variety of teas and coffees and… arak.

when i was back home working at that lebanese place we also served arak, but i never got a chance to try it. upon further research i’ve just discovered they’re not actually the same thing… the middle eastern arak is an anise-flavored, grape-based aperitif while the south-east asian variety is a liqueur that can be made from a number of things (though i think ours was always from rice). the names do, however, derive from the same arabic word meaning ‘sweat’ or ‘condensation’. thanks again wiki!

a toast to old friends!

and to new ones!

added perk: this plantation gave us local chocolate. my favorite was the orange-infused.

Then it was time for the rice terraces. We were excited for this because we’d been too tired to go to the ones that were included in our volcano hike. However, we began to doubt the credibility of our van driver when the ‘terrace’ he took us to involved simply stopping in the middle of the road and taking a few pictures… made us doubly glad we’d gotten adventurous and taken that coffee break at the Sayan Rice Terraces on our own a few days before.

storm’s a-brewin’

still pretty (we have these flowers in our garden! i stole two from the side of the road ages and they were looking quite nice until ollie got to them (of course). but then we came back from indo and there were two new ones in totally different places! hurray for… wind? spreading seeds?)

hard at work.

me, wayne, laura, greg, candice, julie. now you have the back story as to why we have a picture together on the side of the road, dad!

The driver proceeded to continue to work his way towards a vote of no confidence after getting seemingly lost or turned around a few times, and then attempting to bring us to two places that charged their own entrance fee (on all the other tours we’d done or heard of, the cost of the tour was meant to cover all the fees included). The weather, as you can see, was not looking too promising so we were wondering if we were actually going to get a sunset at all. Which is when we looked on the map and actually bothered finding out where these mythical “Tanah Lot” place was.

far-ish. (okay google maps is telling me it’s only around 35 kms away, but the directions have literally–and i don’t use that word lightly–27 steps. not exactly a direct route… i think it took us about an hour-and-a-half to get there.)

But at this point in the affair we found our time to be well spent! Tanah Lot is a little coastal town with some impressive rock formations and, at least in our experience, one hell of a surf. The waves came crashing, Wayne managed to get soaked, I took way more pictures than necessary (Waves are a difficult subject, you know? They just won’t hold still…) hoping to get a few good ones. I got lucky a time or two :).

phew, we’ve made it past all the hawkers. crossing the threshold!


We watched the sun set over an overpriced (as expected, given the location) Bintang, serenaded by a band doing acoustic, Island-style versions of “Sweet Child of Mine” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Certainly not the most unpleasant of witching hours! We then headed back for one last dinner in Ubud before setting out on what ended up being a very tumultuous journey to Gili Trawangan the following morning. More on that later.

The Ubud Market

I must admit that these photos hit me with just the slightest degree of regret, but only in the most circumstantial of ways. After looking forward to a visit to the Ubud Market with great anticipation, we ended up buying next to nothing after deciding we’d come back to Ubud after a few days on Gili Trawangan. Better to see what was available on the other island, and also how much money we had left afterwards, first, right? Except… we got a bit stuck on Gili T and lost our shopping day. In the end it probably worked out because we didn’t exactly have a surplus of funds after the trip as it panned out, but there was an item or two I’d had my heart set on that I suppose will just have to wait until the next visit.

We have put together an unlikely team of misfits, and we’ve been training like crazy all summer. Yeah, it’s a motley crew that you’d think would never be able to win a single game. We had a kooky training period where it seemed like, it seemed like nothing was gonna go right. But, guys, somehow we made it to the finals.
So I say, when those anonymously evil campers from Tiger Claw get here, we give it our best shot, and we try to come from behind at the last minute with some weird trick play that we made up and we win the game.
What do you say, team?

it sounds like pretty well-worn territory.

that actually has nothing to do with the market; i just happened to see the little tykes playin some footie and never miss an opportunity to reference a moment in wet hot american summer.

also has nothing to do with the market, but seemed photoworthy. you see, i’d attempted to go to yoga that morning, only to find the class was canceled. so i wandered around town a bit and put the $10 initially set aside for yoga towards a new dress instead.

Okay now for market pictures really.

from the outside.

also not from the market: the lotus pond outside of white lotus– where we’d wanted to dine for wayne’s birthday, but had no reservations. notice the pretty pink one in bloom!

To put this day (morning, really) in context, it was our last full day. Wayne’s friend from London (plus his fiancée, her sister, and another friend) were arriving in Ubud as we meandered through the market, and after some tricky Facebook workings we were able to meet up with them for another tour that afternoon. The next day we all set off for Gili Trawangan to commence the Beach Holiday (read: scuba diving!) portion of the trip.

But in an attempt to not bombard with photos in a single post, and because I need to actually get a course design for last term ready to hand in (read: any amount of papers with anything written on them… we’re fairly certain no one actually reads what we’ve been giving them in exchange for salary each month, but it’s still of utmost importance that they get submitted) in order to get my moneyz for last month. So ta for now!

A Special Sunrise on Mount Batur (Spoiler Alert: With More Monkeys!)

You’d think after a week of no-work-at-work I might not get so excited about Friday (only click that if you’re really prepared for what you must know you’re going to find), but that’s not the case. I’m so excited!

I mentioned at the end of my last post that we had to be up at 2 in the morning in order to climb Bali’s second-highest volcano, Mount Batur. Why, you might ask, did we have to be up at such an ungodly hour for the event? Because it was a Sunrise Hike; an important element of which being that we were at the summit before sunrise, which was 6:30 am. An hour’s ride in a Jeep to get there, a 2-3 hour hike to reach the top (depending on fitness and stamina)… yeah, it seemed like 2 in the morning was a safe bet.

We arrived at the base of the mountain and met our guide, Ketut. I remembered that the fortune-teller-from-EPL was named Ketut (don’t hold this against me… though don’t think it’s lost on me that going to Bali completed my own Rome/Indian Ashram/Bali trifecta), and had noticed in the art museum in the Monkey Forest that a lot of the artists were named Ketut, and remarked to Wayne that, “Man, there are a lot of Balinese people named Ketut!”

At which point he shared with me this very interesting tidbit of information: In Balinese families of a certain class, the first born child is named Wayan. Second born is Made, then Nyoman, and then Ketut. Should a family have a fifth child, they go right back to Wayan! The names work for both genders. Incredible, right? Of course, there’s a little more to it than that, if you care to you can read about it here.

If you’ve been following at all, you’ll have realized that the hike up the volcano occurs before sunrise, and is therefore very dark. Ketut supplied us each with a flashlight and we began our ascent first through the government vegetable fields growing in the fertile volcanic ground, and then up the sometimes steep slop of not-always-secure volcanic rock. With only our little flashlights to guide us! I mean, that makes it sound slightly more dramatic than it actually was; the time passed quickly and we finished in right around two hours. Ketut kept us entertained the entire time with funny little stories; he also explained that the volcano is still very much active. In 2000 it ‘erupted,’ but only in the form of smoke and a bit of ash. The last lava-ridden, fire-spewing, visions-of-the-apocalypse-inducing eruption was in 1964. I asked Ketut when the next eruption would be. “I don’t know. Maybe today.” (Wayne has since told me he read conflicting information to Ketut’s concerning the eruptions. I know the responsible thing for me to do would be to fact check myself, but instead I’ll leave you with a “Don’t shoot the messenger,” and the dates Ketut shared.)

We got to the top and were given a breakfast of a boiled egg (I read somewhere it was actually cooked with volcano steam?) and a peanut butter sandwich, and then had to wait an hour in the cold (way colder than we expected to be in Indonesia!) before sunrise. Guess they should have actually determined the level of our fitness and stamina before getting us up at 2 in the morning after all. But when it did rise it was worth it! Lake Batur, the largest lake in Bali, was sprawled out below us; and we could see the only Balinese peak taller than the one we stood on, Mount Agung, just ahead of us. Gorgeous colors filled the sky and yes, eventually we warmed up.

he’s thinking, “i’m so hot for her! i’m so hot for her! i’m so hot for her… and she’s so cooooold!”

with ketut

thanks wayne! (my camera was dying so many of these are his.)
thanks wayne! (my camera was dying so many of these are his)

volcanic pups. feel free to use that as a band name, since i’ve long since given up on my own music career.
crater monkeys. sooo docile!
volcanic steeeeam.

barbed wire don't keep no monkeys out the crater.

if only i could remember what he did…

hahaha, so someone left a bottle of coke on the ground, and a big mean monkey made a beeline for it. he picked it up, threw it viciously to the ground so it spewed everywhere, and then began to lap the spilt coke up from the stone. meanwhile this little guy ran up to the abandoned bottle, ran a little ways down the hill so the other monkey wouldn’t see him with it, and began drinking properly from the bottle. it was priceless.

the view we didn’t get on the way up. (we found hiking in the dark to be surprisingly rewarding… you never know how far you are from your goal, so you just focus on paying attention to every precarious step. a metaphor for life, perhaps?
ketut helped us take a ‘surprise picture’. we are very strong.

tomato fields next to the mountain. we also passed onion and pepper fields. apparently the earth is very fertile here.

After the hike we were a bit exhausted, but everyone kept telling us about the coffee plantations that were Stop Two in the Mount Batur Tour. Though they tend to cultivate many things (such as ginger, galangal, cacao, and cinnamon) in addition to coffee, their specialty is indeed a particular type of coffee that is a bit… strange to us foreign types. It’s called Luwak Coffe (or Kopi Luwak), and is made with the assistance from a small mongoose-like rodent called a civet. Namely, the civets are known to select only the best ripe coffee “cherries” for their own consumption. They eat these, digest them, and then… ‘eliminate’ pods of allegedly perfectly cured coffee beans. We were initially a little put off at the thought of drinking mongoose poo, but, you know, when in Rome. We decided the plantation was worth a stop.

you can see the poo-ey pods in the front middle basket.
ready to consume…
this coffee smells like shit!

it is shit, austin!

oh good, then it’s not just me.

Actually, I can’t call myself a coffee connoisseur by any means, but in my opinion it tasted just like good old fashioned espresso. Which, of course, isn’t a bad thing, once you can get past the fact that it passed through the digestive tract of a small mammal. They also had other goodies available; ginger tea, lemon tea, ginseng coffee, vanilla coffee. Though we enjoyed that stop (aside from the parking lot: Wayne had ever-so-generously donated his hiking boots to Ketut after seeing the state of disrepair the sneakers he was wearing were in, but the parking lot was all stones so did not make for a pleasant walk! No good deed goes unpunished.), we couldn’t bring ourselves to visit the rice plantations that were next on the agenda… we could barely keep awake in the car! Even without it the tour was quite enjoyable.

Since I just quoted it:

And since I quoted it earlier (however senselessly… though I was cold!), and because it’s just one of my favorite music videos ever:

Guess it’s doubly sensible, what with the “bleeding volcano” line. Alright everybody, rain seems to have calmed down outside so let me seize this opportunity to hop on the ol’ wheels and pedal home! Happy weekend everyone!

Sayan Rice Terraces and Jegog Dance Show

One thing I’ve failed to mention here, but have made a point of telling everyone who cares to listen, is that the Indonesian (and Balinese, in particular) people we encountered were all so incredible. I mean, Thailand’s known as the “Land of Smiles,” but I’d say Bali definitely gives it a run for its money. Everywhere we went people were friendly, chatty, helpful, and just exuded this sense of contentedness. It was definitely a nice atmosphere in which to be immersed!

Though all of the staff at Sagitarius were pleasant, one guy stood out above the rest: Ka-de-ka (though I’m sure that’s a horrible rendition of the actual spelling). From the moment we arrived he made a point of learning our names, greeting us by name whenever we saw him, inquiring about the other whenever he caught Wayne or myself on our ace, asking if there was anything we needed… he was awesome! And one of the things he was very persistant in arranging for us were tickets to a traditional Jegog dance show. We didn’t really know what to expect, but were really keen to see what seemed to be one of the cultural highlights of the area.

Before the show, however, we had a few hours to kill, and still had the motorbike, so we decided to head over to the Sayan Rice Terraces we’d seen listed in an obscure corner of our map. It was a fun drive (though not without an inexplicably wrong turn or two that were easy enough to sort out) and ended up being a gorgeous, if a bit misty, location for a quick coffee.

you can see bali's two biggest volcanoes (and another big... peak) in the distance. spoiler alert-- we climbed one!

We made it back to the guesthouse in time to have dinner and a quick Arak Attack cocktail before shooting off to the venue with Ka-de-ka. Though I imagine there are many places in the Monkey Forest Road area where there’s traditional dancing to be seen, this one was a bit outside of the town center and Ka-de-ka seemed to know a few of the participants, which gave it a more personal feel. We were given programs and found that, unsurprisingly, the music is as big a part of the production as the dance, and there are some very unique bamboo instruments involved. (For more info on this, once again, I’ll refer you to Wiki.)

We also learned that the various acts of the hour-and-a-half long show display the different stages of a harvest; the sowing, the waiting, the ducks dancing, the culminating buffalo race. You know, normal harvest things. It was a bit difficult to take photos because of the lighting and the movement, but I was able to get a few good ones!

the wide eyes seemed to be a big part of the effect. lots of postcards with similar images. wayne and i had fun for the rest of our trip (and still to this day) mimicking the big eyes, angular gestures, and jerky movements.

this girl was definitely our favorite. we weren't able to tell if the one-eye closed was intentional (see previous photo; everyone else closed both when the moment was right), but we liked her style.

enter farmers.

the ducks. these costumes were fabulous!

water buffalo

farmer coming to round up the buffalo

or are the buffalo rounding up the farmers? (our program instructed us to pay attention to the male/female interactions in this act...)

they created a human chariot for him and actually raced around the stage! amazing!

the big bamboo pipes come out.

we were instructed to approach the stage to 'feel the music with our bodies-- maybe even our souls.' i felt it man!

view of the other bamboo instruments, which had been used throughout the show, from the stage. notice the musician's little head!

wayne and i posing with the ensemble. what an honor!

It was definitely one of many highlights of our Ubud experience– the next being the volcano hike, for which we had to be up at 2 the next morning! Bought a bootleg copy of Moneyball (Brad Pitt! Philip Seymour Hoffman! I know I’m behind but what a spectacle!) and headed straight back to the guesthouse for an early night.

Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest

Day Two at school and we’re still the only teachers to be seen! Looks like I’ll be able to get another post in:).

One of the names you’ll see again and again when you start doing research on Ubud is “Monkey Forest Road.” It’s one of the central points that makes a big loop through one of the more popular areas to stay in Ubud (where we stayed, as it were), and it’s true: at the very bottom of this loop there is indeed a Monkey Forest. Not just any Monkey Forest, mind you– a Sacred Monkey Forest. We walked by it on our first day, but waited until the following day to splash out and spend the 20,000Rupiah ($2) to actually enter the forest. For another 10,000Rupiah you can purchase bananas with which to spoil the little primates, who are much nicer than the ones Laura and Wayne encountered in Hampi. It’s actually quite a big place, with a temple and some intricate stairs leading down to a stream of allegedly holy water.

the shnozzberries taste like shnozzberries.

this monkey was pretty relentless... kept tugging wayne's pantlegs for bananas.

monkey getting fresh with me...

still begging.

happy monkey with his 'nana.

little baby.

i'm excusing the severity of my double chin for the otherwise pricelessness of this picture.

friends again! or are we?... what you don't know is his sneaky right hand is removing my pearl earring as i'm snapping the photo. he proceeded to put it in his mouth, and then kept showing it to me as if to tease me until wayne distracted him with a stick and he dropped it!

naturally there was a rice paddy tucked in there somewhere.


gettin' his drank on.

sacred water

christ-position monkey.

Wayne’s Birthday in Ubud

After a not-so-brief hiatus, we’re back! The trip was incredible, and the figurative cake was iced by a visit from Jack and Grace and a few more days of toodling around Thailand before coming back to work. Which is where I sit now, first day back, after receiving a bit of strife from some administrators about taking the time off to travel (which, mind you, we’d been told months before that we could take). And of course for the past hour Wayne and I have been the only ones here.

No worries though… I just consider it to be more blogging time, of which I’m in desperate need right now! Alright. We arrived in Ubud just in time to celebrate Wayne’s birthday in the third fun-and-exotic place in as many years (two years ago found us in Hangzhou; last year in Bangkok). Since it was our first full-day in town we thought we’d just do some wandering in the morning to see what we might find.

sneak peak at the sacred monkey forest (which will only appear next post). get excited!

"creation of adam." same same... but different?

he has a broken-off motorbike mirror. so funny. "shhhh! i think she's onto us!"

more rice paddies

in ubud there is beauty everywhere.

every morning you'd see women going around and placing these square bundles of flowers and incense on the street, on cars... pretty much everywhere.

wandered into another gorgeous homestay and couldn't help snapping a few shots in their garden as well.

we were really excited to see an announcement for the bali spirit festival in the airasia magazine on the plane, stating that we were coincidentally going to be in ubud at just the time of the festival! when we finally found someone in town who knew about it (a harder feat than you might imagine) we knew we had to go. rented a motorbike and were on our way… only to find out that entrance was over $100– and the day-time portion was full anyway. too bad…


i want to paint this?

shame... never actually ate here.

from the motorbike.

After our morning of walking and riding around we headed back to the guesthouse to chill out for a little bit. Wayne had seen something about the Elephant Cave UNESCO World Heritage Site nearby, and since we had the bike we thought we might as well check it out. The directions we got were pretty straightforward (“Turn left, go straight, go straight, keep going straight and you’ll see it.”) but after a lot of straight-going we did not see it. Let it be known that the Balinese name is Goa Gajah, and that’s the only name you’ll see on the signs in the vicinity, should you also make the trek. It was definitely a cool place, though I must admit I didn’t walk away with a lot of knowledge pertaining to it (but maybe Wiki can help you out).

there were only 2 rules: everyone must wear sarongs, and under no circumstances could a woman enter if she was menstruating. and that's the gospel truth.

not pictured: the waterfall behind us. whoops.

good to know we wouldn't starve if we got lost.

cacao pods.

we got a little lost when leaving?

there were these grotesque figures all around the island... we heard it was for a hindu festival (while indonesia is the world's largest muslim country, while there we discovered that the balinese are largely a hindu people).

big spider

When we finally found it out of the maze that became the exit route from the depths of Goa Gajah, it was almost time to choose a birthday dinner location! (Well, in my case, first a proper garment for the occasion needed to be found, then dinner considerations could be made.) An unexpected bit of rain had begun, the place we’d intended to go was booked solid, and we remembered seeing a vibey Cuban place during our meandering the night before. Café Havana it was! And no regrets at all in this respect… the food (and sangria!) was great (I’ll do a comprehensive food post at the end of all these other posts, don’t worry), and the atmosphere was as lively as we could have ever wished. The live band was playing the likes of Buena Vista Social Club, Manu Chao, and Gipsy Kings flawlessly and energetically; and to top it all off the members of staff kept abandoning the floor to salsa with one another. I can’t say any of the customers seemed to mind! A definite recommendation for anyone traveling to Ubud, even if it’s not exactly what you might expect to experience in Indonesia.

another happy birthday:)

Ubud, Part One (and Getting There)

I’ve been intending to make this quick post to announce that we arrived safely and to give a quick sneak-peak into Bali life for about three days now, but bad computer and Internet conditions have made it a bit difficult. Now, three days into the trip and several hundred pictures later I’m a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of Bali blogging in general, but I thought I’d go through with Post One as planned.

The trip got off to an interesting start from the very beginning, on a moderately comfortable bus from Thung Song to Phuket. Despite the plush(-ish) reclining chairs, sleep was reluctant to come on account of the traditional Thai shadow-puppet show they were playing for the entire 5 hours of the trip, with all its high pitched instrumental interludes and occasional squawking of the characters. I suppose I understand wanting to offer a bit of entertainment on public transport, but why it must come at such volume I may never know.

Our moods didn’t improve much upon arrival, as everyone seemed to be asking 600 Baht for the 30 km taxi ride to the airport (where we were intending to stay/sleep until our 7 am flight, despite it only being around 10 when we arrived). We found this excessive and so saw fit to wander the streets, away from the bus station where I imagine all farang are supposed to be suckers, in hopes of coming across a better rate. We were successful, but it all happened in a very unlikely way—we stopped at a shop for water, and Wayne seized the opportunity to practice a bit of Thai. He started chatting with the shop owner, asking if we really were being overcharged for the journey.

Before she was able to speak two words a shirtless man appeared from the back room going off about how Phuket was very expensive, and farangs especially were targeted, but we were teachers (he must have been listening in from the wings) and surely we should get an exemption to this preposterous overcharging. Or,at least that’s what I imagined the ramblings to sum up to. It then became clear (more or less) that he was arranging for someone to drive us for our desired rate of 400 Baht—I suspected a friend or a son. But next thing we knew he was throwing on a shirt and pulling his car out from the side-street. The shop owner’s husband himself would be our chauffer! And once again I broke the traditional “Don’t get into cars with strangers” advice given to all young children, and had few to no qualms about doing so.

About ten minutes into the trip we pulled over and two girls hopped in the car. The first beamed at me and said, “My name is!” I waited for her to complete the thought, only to realize she was asking me for my name. I told her and I learned that they were Oil and Ohn, the man’s 19-year-old twin daughters, who were delighted to be embarking on the journey to the airport with the strange travelers.  At some point the father must have come into the knowledge of how long we had until our flight departed and decided there was time enough for a nighttime tour of Phuket. I think we must have driven the near circumference of the island (okay, exaggerating here) and we saw some of the major beaches, one of which we stopped at for some photos. It was around midnight by the time we made it to the airport, and though a bit exhausted we were happy for the man’s kindness, his daughters’ company, and of course, the 200 Baht saved.

wayne and our impromptu and delightful chauffer, just past patong beach.

with ohn and oil

Then it was another relatively sleepless 5-hour stretch in the airport, on account of the freezing conditions and noisy floor-waxers. But eventually we were on the plane and Bali bound!

shots from airplane windows are generally terrible, but i always risk it. i guess i just love me some clouds.

finally getting some sleep! (more than i could say. hellooooo crossword book)

the island we’d like to one day own.

how’d those icebergs get there?!

first glimpses of bali. don’t think we’ll make it to those cliffs, but they look awesome.

We became that much more grateful for the 200 Baht saved by forgoing a traditional taxi on the way to the Phuket airport because when we arrived at the Denpasar (Bali) airport we found they were giving a terrible exchange rate for Thai Baht. We’d read that it should be around 300 Indonesian Rupiah to the Baht, and the airport currency exchangers were offering all of 200! The taxi to Ubud was also more expensive than we were hoping (though, don’t let hawkers fool you. The listend 195,000R price is for the entire taxi and should be split amongst all the passengers. We didn’t go that route but in retrospect we probably should have), so our stomachs started dropping, thinking maybe the money we’d set aside for the trip wasn’t going to go as far as we’d initially thought. We eventually succeeded in finding a place that gave us a rate of 285 Rupiah/Baht, but maybe a note to future Thailand-to-Indonesia travelers: convert your Baht to dollars (or… anything else, really) before crossing the border!

there are lots of gargantuan statues adorning the roadsides and traffic circles around here.

Aaand… when I began putting this post together, now four days ago, it was partially just to gush about how much I was in love with our accommodation. We were somehow under the erroneous impression that Bali was a small island when we began researching our travels. When we discovered that this wasn’t the case– we’d have to pick a few key spots and run with them, or at least use them as homebase, we were a bit overwhelmed. When a friend didn’t hesitate a moment before asserting that we must stay in Ubud, the “cultural heart” of Bali, we were happy to have the decision made for us. We proceeded to scour Lonely Planet and Travelfish and were able to find a good number of places for around 150,000 Rupiah (+/-500 Baht; $18)/night, which was right around our budget. Before even making it to the first place on the list we were expertly swept into Sagitarius Inn by one Eddie. As one of the linked-to reviews indicates, the room we were shown (presumably the cheapest one, though it ended up ringing in at all of 200,000 Rupiah/night) was “miles” from the main road (read: maybe a 2 minute walk), the scenery along those miles was more than enough to convince us to stay. And with its location in the heart of the central Monkey Forest Road, it’s really met all our needs. The staff here are wonderful, and as with most places around here, a lovely breakfast has been included each morning. There’s (usually) hot water. What more could we ask for?

sneak peak at the sacred monkey forest as we went to find a money changer willing to rip us off just slightly less than the rest

our room. spacious enough with carved teak furniture, vaulted ceilings, and an en suite bathroom with hot water.

did i mention the nice terrace where complimentary balinese coffee appears magically each afternoon?

why so glum little statue?! you’re in bali!

reminiscent of this shot taken exactly a year previous in bangkok

the crown jewel of any outdoor pool: the lactating fountain statue.

Though a bit knackered, after getting settled we decided to briefly explore our area and get a quick bite to eat at a restaurant with some sort of view. We decided being nestled right in a rice terrace would do.

monkey forest road appears to be a bustling little road teeming with cute shops and restaurants…

but it also happens to be nestled among the most charming little rice paddies.

first taste of balinese coffee (though certainly not the last!)

our afternoon snack: raw veg lumpiah with cashew nut dressing. exquisite!

me and my million rupiah. don’t spend it all in one place now… (though at just over $100, you easily could).

After our snack we had what certainly qualifies as one of the top 10 naps in my lifetime after a very hectic 24 hours. Woke up just in time for some last-minute shopping for Wayne’s birthday, which was the next day, followed by our traditional pizza-as-a-first-dinner-in-a-new-town. As well as a very welcome and delicious couple of Indonesian microbrew wheat beers at Bali Pesto, just down the street. We rounded out the evening by tracking down the acoustic music that had been spilling into our dining locale of choice from the nearby Art Café, and what seems to be the standard Balinese Bintang beer. An excellent first day in Bali, with only more good times to follow.

perusing one of the many local art shops in search of a gift.

fiendish-looking monkey statue outside of the sacred monkey forest, which we passed again on our evening jaunt taken to get a feel for our surroundings before dinner.

bintang and peanuts consumed whilst singing along to ‘wish you were here’ at art café after dinner. not pictured: mediterranean pesto pizza and bruschetta at bali pesto for dinner. we’ve been trying to document most of our meals but have faltered a time or two.