Leaving Indonesia/Kuala Lumpur at a Glimpse

Let me start by saying that yesterday Wayne informed me that I’d been misspelling “TrawaNgan” for… the entirety of the time I’d ever mentioned it ever. Even though it was blatantly on maps, even though our dive center was called Trawangan Dive (and as I was sure to mention, twice, we were given a T-shirt with the name on it! I have a T-shirt proudly heralding “Trawangan Dive” and I consistently left out that poor, unsuspecting ‘n.’), even though I must have done about a trillion searches on things to do/places to stay/etc etc on the island. No wonder I only got second place at that spelling bee in 6th grade (did you know ‘commotion’ has 2 m’s? Me neither.) So if you’ve been secretly laughing at me from behind your finger tips (you know, Asian-style), the jig’s up, and I think I’ve gone and corrected all of my errors (except, however painfully, in the title frame of my snorkeling video). *hangs head in shame*

I’m also not thrilled about how I’ve chosen to throw these two independent events into one hodgepodge post, but there weren’t substantial photos or stories for each one independently and really I’m just trying to get all this tomfoolery out of the way at this point.

Leaving Indonesia was a bit of a race against the clock that saw us in variety of vehicles (little boats, big boats, horse-drawn carriages, minibuses, airplanes, buses, taxicabs), on three islands in two countries in eighteen hours, all while a fear-inducing earthquake was going on in another area of the country (unbeknownst to us until hours later in the Bali airport, though there were some significant swells on our Lombok-Bali crossing). The needed funds for diving didn’t come through until the morning of the day we needed to be on our way to Malaysia (albeit on a midnight flight). At this point we were really kicking ourselves for pre-booking that “slow boat” return trip, because we realized that we’d really be pushing it if the trip ended up taking us another 12 hours.

Thankfully it didn’t. There weren’t any of the same delays and in general the return trip seemed to go much smoother (in spite of the fact that there were subaquatic tremblings just a few islands away? Okay, I’m definitely making things sound worse than they were… the quake was off the coast of Sumatra, which is really really far from where we were. In fact, we’d have been closer if we’d still been in Thailand!). I supposed it helped that I was completely immersed in Catching Fire for much of the journey.

couldn’t very well leave the lombok area without a ride in one of these could we?!

more lombok rice.

taxi through lombok.

lolzlolzlolz. suppose they’re in no danger of being sued then, hey?

photo from the lombok-bali ferry. these girls were so cute to me. and with the baby? precious.

another leg completed.

So yes, made it to the airport with plenty of time, slept like a rock on the 2 hour flight to KL, and woke up to the wee hours and yet another bus-then-taxi to Chinatown, where we’d planned on making our base. We’d made no prior reservations and finding an affordable-enough-(for-us) place at 3 in the morning was no pleasant chore, but we were eventually successful.

breakfast at the nameless place we stayed the first night. the focus of this picture was the pepper paired with ‘sauce salty,’ (aka soy sauce, as a salt replacement. not exactly what i was imagining on my veggie omelet… ohhh china[town])

Our first morning, at breakfast on the balcony overlooking the famous Petaling Market street, was awash in China memories for me. Certain smells, lots of sounds, the lanterns, the iconic characters (some of which I was still able to recognize after a desperate attempt to learn to read a bit of Chinese in my last 2 months there. Disclaimer: it’s recommended to allow oneself more time than this to learn such a language.)… I can safely say there was a good deal of nostalgia happening.

amazing! i only just noticed the ‘economy rice homeland various fried’ sign.

i think i captured everyone in this photo at their absolute best.

This only increased as we walked around the area in search of a new place to stay. We ended up choosing Ribbon Stayyz Guesthouse, as seen on Travelfish.org, which was… okay. I’d surely be singing their praises if they’d actually posted me the forgotten items of art we left in the room, as they sent me an email assuring me they’d do, but the package has never arrived and any subsequent email has gone unanswered so, I’m sticking to “okay.” We stayed in a dorm room (with no windows) the first night with a Malaysian couple, and were moved to a much less-well-taken-care-of double room (with no windows) the second night, and were paying about the same that we paid in Ubud and more than we’d been paying on Gili T. Which made this:

(small scrolls of art we’d hoped to have sent to us hiding somewhere in those discarded bags…)

just a little disappointing. But I suppose that’s the big city for you, innit?! Oh, did I mention the entrance to the guesthouse was tucked in the back of a convenience store?

Though I think it’s safe to say we were a bit rundown and worn out by the time we made it to KL, we still tried to enjoy the city to its fullest. Had some great meals and saw some of the city’s major sites (including the Times Square mall, where we watched The Hunger Games on the big screen. Simple pleasures!). Note: the dazzling Petronas Towers are getting their own post.

kickapoo joy juice. in retrospect we really should have given this a go.

shame, we never got to see the inside of the famed jamek mosque. first it was closed and then it was too rainy to make our way back!

the times square mall has a theme park in it.

turns out there’s another ‘famous’ tower in KL… the ‘KL tower,’ as it were. but i mean, it’s tough competition in this city…

day 2

wait… they don’t love you like i love you.


Riding Around Gili T

photos of passersby during one of our last lunches on the island

Though Gili Trawangan is quite a small island, it’s not a bad idea to rent a bike as a more efficient (and enjoyable!) way to get around the island. In fact, sometimes it fels as if there are more bikes than people as you make your way past and between the handlebars and wheels, or are forced to jump out of the way for the millionth time when yet another shrill dingding harasses you from behind. I suppose at this point it doesn’t bear repeating that there are no motorized vehicles of any kind on the island, so if the feet are starting to feel tired bikes and horse-drawn carriages are the only options on the table. I saw rental prices ranging between 20,000Rupiah and 50,000Rupiah, so don’t be afraid to shop around and negotiate. (We only inquired into a horse-drawn carriage once and found it to be a non-negotiable 50,000Rupiah– for one ride– if you were interested. Not sure what other drivers were charging.)

As I mentioned earlier, we actually had a slight mishap with our bikes… Our friends had assured us they hadn’t been locking their bikes and had experienced no problems. So, when stopping for one quick happy hour drink, we decided to follow suit. And returned 30 minutes later to find Wayne’s bike gone. Amazingly, the next day he was able to spot it tucked away in another bar’s ‘parking lot’ (for lack of better term) and we were able to enjoy the bikes the way God intended– by taking leave of the tourist-ridden perimeter of the island, and instead entering the maze of local agriculture (and normal culture, I guess) in the island’s interior. I will say I had scenes from Ladri di Bicicletti (The Bicycle Thief– or perhaps its oft-heralded parody, The iPhone Thief) coursing through my head for the near entirety of the search. Guess that’s what happens when you major in History and minor in Media Studies, even three years after graduation (whoa, I think tomorrow might be the official anniversary? Blood still runs blue and orange!)…

Anyway after re-securing what was rightfully, temporarily, ours it was time to let our intrepid natures take over and see what was awaiting us in the lush labyrinth of Gili T. We found a completely different side of the island… quiet, rural, and perfectly charming. It was a nice surprise as someone had assured us there was ‘nothing’ awaiting us there! (Though I guess maybe it’s a matter of semantics…)

can’t tell you how many different spellings of ‘laundry’ we encountered…

most of these pictures were taken from my bike, so excuse the blurriness… though i feel it almost adds to this one?

they start ’em early in the sticks.

a close encounter!

he was searching for something in the brush.

The next day we decided to go for a ride around the circumference of the island– something that only took one long, taxing hour on account of the few sandy stretches we’d always attempt to power through even though nine times out of ten it would require getting off the bike and pushing. It was still a neat way to see everything the island had to offer. (Okay, maybe not everything.)

entering sandy territory…

lombok visible in the distance (or is it bali?)

flip flop tree

island goats? i’ll allow it.

here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

my bike in all its glory, with a cute sea turtle emblazoned building.

So that’s that. Slowly but surely reaching the end.

And now I gotta run– testing out Jess and Danny’s balsamic salmon recipe and it’s almost time to throw it in the oven! Can’t waitttt.

Scuba Diving off Gili T

Finalement! Internet up and running (though not without another unsightly cable running from the telephone post to our house… though thankfully a bit more discreetly up into our bedroom window as opposed to blatantly forming a trip-wire for Ollie in the living room as it was before), computer holding on for another day (barely), and the behemoth diving post well under way. We discovered Trawangan Dive primarily because we fell for a gimmick: we noticed a swim-up bar along one of the main stretches we found ourselves walking daily, and then realized it was part of a dive center with a cool logo. Since we knew there was a price agreement policy amongst all the dive shops on the island, we knew we weren’t going to have to shop around for the best price (we were told the other advantage of this is that we know no one is cutting costs by skimping on safety measures. Hooray!); instead we were going to leave it up to the “feel” we got when we went and inquired at the shops.

going down!

Before going we’d “tossed around” the idea of going to the next level of PADI certification and doing our Advanced Course. I put that in quotes because by the time we left we were both 97% sure we were going to do it, and upon arriving on the island and seeing the potential the waters held, that had jumped up to a solid 110%. The first guy available when we walked through the shop, Adam, assured us that Advanced Courses were really easy to schedule due to their pick-and-choose nature, but also that he’d just started another guy on his Advanced that very day and we were welcome to join in. When he told us the course came with a free T-shirt we decided we’d definitely gotten the desired “feel” from the dive shop and signed right up. The way the PADI Advanced Course works is that divers must complete five dives, each with a different focus. The two required dives are the Deep Dive (where you reach a max depth of 30 meters/100 feet) and the Navigation Dive (you’re given a compass and must perform a series of navigation tasks underwater). The other three are optional, and we decided we wanted to do a Night Dive, a Nitrox Dive, and a Photography Dive. (For the full list of options and general course descriptions go here.)

so many fishies

The all-encompassing statement I tend to give about the Gili diving is, “It was so good.” Our first dive was the Deep Dive at a site called Shark Point. We’d actually already dived to 30 meters with Eugene over New Year’s Weekend, but who could pass up the opportunity to dive at a location with such a name?! And it didn’t fail to disappoint– we saw two white-tipped reef sharks, as well as some sea turtles, an amazing banded sea snake, and a ton of other stuff that I’ve forgotten in the near-month since it happened.

coral detail

Dive Two, that same afternoon, was the Nitrox Dive. Nitrox can be cool because, for a bunch of complicated scientific reasons, it allows you to stay at greater depths for longer due to the more nitrogen-rich blend of gases in the diver’s tank. It’s usually a bit more expensive, but a good skill to have. As it turns out, we could have probably spared ourselves the extra 100,000 Rupiah for the special tanks and called it a Drift Dive (another of the Advanced Certification options). Drift Dives take place in waters where there is a current– and was there ever a current! In the previous dive there had also been one but for some reason I found it more manageable. On the Nitrox Dive… well the best I can describe the experience as is a mix between the Twister Scene in The Wizard of Oz (only instead of family members and witches flying by there was a variety of sea creatures) and being in the EAC (as seen in Finding Nemo, once Adam had corrected my posture so I wasn’t being so viciously carried by the relentless current and I was able to more properly enjoy the experience). Though we were expecting to have a longer bottom time this actually ended up being our shortest dive, on account of the current bringing us so quickly to our end point and others in our group hitting 50 Bar of air (the lowest amount you should go to before beginning to surface).

At sundown we set out for our Night Dive– something I was a bit more nervous than usual about after experiencing the strong current on the previous dive. I kept having images of me being swept into some black oblivion, never to be seen again. However, I’d heard way too many good things about Night Dives to consider backing out. With Night Dives, it’s all about moving in slow motion– even staying stationary at times– and really closely observing the little things in your direct periphery that are visible with your flashlight. A surprising but perfectly logical factor in Night Dives is that colors that normally get drowned out of natural stand out so much more brilliantly in the close-up beam of a flashlight. Our Night Dive also brought us to a site of ecological bragging rights in the Gilis: one of their Biorock locations. In an attempt to make up for the massive amounts of coral that are dying each year, conservation groups have created enormous wire “cages” with a slight electric charge running through them. Coral, which normally grows at the glacial rate of one centimeter per year, grows five times faster when assisted by this charge. It’s a work in progress, but seems to be an ingenius way of preserving and even creating new coral reefs. Besides, huge fish like to sleep in the “cages” at night, which was a bonus for us.

favorite! hey fishy!

Three dives in one day left us pretty knackered indeed, and I know I was feeling some mixed emotions having done all that but knowing I only had two dives left the following day. Still, I was really excited for our Photography Dive the next morning since… well you know how I love taking pictures so, and I’ve really been eager to bring back some concrete memories from the depths. Adam informed us we were in for a treat– we were going to be diving at a site between Gili Meno and Gili Air called Hidden Reef, with lots of gorgeous coral as well as some interesting fish. In other words, a great site for taking photos. In a 40 minute dive I took 150 photos… Here are my 74 favorites :). (Oh, and please, if you stumbled across this blog and have a knack for identifying fish and other marine life, please feel free to clue me into the names of any and all of these things! I’m useless!)

Finally, we were taken to the Bounty Wreck for our fifth and final dive– the Navigation Dive. We completed our navigation tasks easily enough and enjoyed another gorgeous and leisurely dive in the vicinity of the wreck, which was a sunken pier as opposed to an unfortunate ship of some sort. I think the highlight of that dive for me might have been the shy octopus… it did its best to avoid our glances but the way it moved– nay, slunk– around its coral fortress and some lightning-quick color changes made it really memorable for me. There was also a massive school of some… fist-sized orange fish (haha, maybe I really should have done a Fish-ID specialty…) with their translucent juveniles creating an iridescent wall in front of an already-impressive piece of reef that had me really mesmerized for a bit.

everything okay!


Then there was the whole… expired-credit-card fiasco that kept me running back to the dive shop with my tail between my legs for the next three days to explain that the holiday was making it so that I still was lacking the necessary funds for the dives, but eventually they came through and we got our photos and books and official certification (and, of course, T-shirts) and it was a wonderful day for everyone! Thanks so much to Trawangan Dive for such a special experience.

Snorkeling on Gili Trawangan

So teaching those ol’ coppers is taking up much more time than expected. On a good note, we got internet at home today (kind of… it seems something was less than ideal about our phone/DSL connection so the temporary fix has been to run a cable directly from the post outside, over our gate, through the living room window, clipped to the ceiling of the terrace with a clothes pin so Ollie won’t munch on it overnight. Endearingly ghetto, I like to think) so hopefully I’ll be able to catch up on my posts more efficiently now (today marks exactly a month since our return and yes, I still have a long way to go). It doesn’t help that my computer itself is giving me a good degree of strife and so I’ve been unable to edit or upload any of the diving or biking pictures I wanted to.

Luckily Wayne’s dipped out of the house momentarily, giving me time to upload this video I’d been working on on his more reliable machine! Snorkeling on Gili Trawangan… a nice sneak peak, really… Just imagine what will come up in the diving photos! (Spoiler alert: No sea turtles or sting rays. But there are sea turtles and sting rays in this video!)

(Weeks-late edit: I know “Trawangan” is misspelt in the video, and I am humbled because of it.)

Gili Trawangan

Though we arrived on the island too late to really appreciate the beauty of the surroundings on account of the darkness, come morning it was easy to see why it is so popular (and the potential it held for diving). Crystalline turquoise water, white sand (though not without its fair share of sharp coral in some places!), and self-proclaimed “Turtlle (sic) Points” where majestic sea turtles (and sting rays on one special occasion) could be seen when snorkeling really made for some unique opportunities for us.

By day there were many activities in and out of the water to keep visitors busy: surfing, snorkeling, diving, renting a bike to explore the island inside and out (it only takes a day to do so!), yoga, boat trips to the other islands, or just lazing around with a good book. By night things livened up… there were tons of bars and restaurants to suit any appetite and budget; a central food market with lots of fresh seafood and local fare; and special parties every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at set locations. We were even “lucky” enough to be around for a Full Moon Party! (Explanation of quotes to follow.) I’ll include that when researching the island beforehand we read that as per its reputation as a “party island” we should expect to encounter many offers of drugs during our time on the island; we were indeed approached on occasion by people hawking a variety of narcotics, but it was far from in our faces the entire time and easily avoidable.

Unlike my million-post recap of Bali-by-event, I’m going to bombard you with all of my “general” Gili T pictures from the 5 days we spent there now, with shots from diving (we did a photography dive as one of the Specialties for our Advanced Course… one of the better decisions of my life) and some of our island bike rides to follow in later posts.

not a bad view to wake up to! (not that this was exactly seen directly from the ‘stank room;’ we’d gone to breakfast at a nearby venue.)

one of the bungalows we’d looked at before going was listed at being ‘behind the turtle hatchery’… but for some reason i wasn’t actually expecting a turtle hatchery?

“no naked”. hahaha!

rainbow over on gili air! a nice addition to any afternoon.

night market.

had dinner there one night… black pepper squid and some delicious snapper, courtesy of this sassy lady!

horses in the moonlight.

we did our diving with trawangan dive and were really happy with the experience. as i said i’ll do a full post about the diving but in the mean time i’ll include some shots from the boat.

look at that water! i mean, look at it!!! ridiculous visibility…

the infamous “stank room.” we left it and dear romi after 2 nights to move onto greener pastures.

our new digs at blue star bungalows!

the view. definitely an upgrade!

did i mention we were right next to the turtle viewing point? we must have seen at least four or five while we were staying here. amazing creatures!

So I’d hinted at the possibility that maybe we actually weren’t so “lucky” to be around for the Full Moon Party. It’s not that we weren’t lucky or it wasn’t fun. I just feel that so many people come to Thailand and like, plan their vacations around attending the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan and there’s a lot of hype concerning it and therefore the wrong idea might have been conveyed. First, though the Thai Full Moon Parties have already lost their luster for me anyway, this was nothing of that caliber (complete stretches of bucket vendors along the entire beach, 10,000 people, tons of DJs playing any kind of music you could want to hear, etc etc). There was a bonfire, one bar (that was overpriced and wayyyy too crowded for our liking so whenever it was time for another drink we headed to the nearby Rudy’s Bar, which provided a nice reprieve from the madness), a DJ booth, and (granted) a big crowd of people getting sloppier as the night went on. We had fun, but I wouldn’t call it a crowning moment of the trip by any means. Actually, that makes it quite a lot like the Full Moon Parties I’ve been to in Thailand!

our crew at the onset of the full moon party (please note the guy in the back. though we all look fairly dazzling here i must say he’s my favorite part of the photo.)

gavin (in the middle) did his advanced diving course with us and his friend paul is on the left. not sure on the identity of the indonesian guy haha.

the shark from nemo!

one shot of the full moon haha.

The night of the Full Moon should have been our penultimate night on the island. Should have been. We finished and should have paid for our diving that day, leaving us one last day to enjoy our surroundings before heading back to Ubud for one more shopping day.

Except… we decided to put the courses on my credit card, and, as it turns out, my credit card was expired. (whoops) It so happens that I have a wonderfully generous mother who always comes through in the clutch who was able to transfer me the needed funds at a moment’s notice, but even so, it was Easter Weekend and it took an extra day for them to go through. (whoops) But as Adam, our dive instructor noted, there were worse places we could have been stuck. Can’t really complain about an extra day in paradise, right?

haha, oh yeah! we’d rented bikes the night of the full moon party, and didn’t lock them up because our friends assured us they’d had bikes for 2 days and there was never a problem. plus we were just grabbing one happy hour drink so the risk was low anyway. except wayne’s ended up being taken! (we’re sure it was an accident; there was one just like it at the place we had a drink, but the hotel owners wouldn’t let us take it because we couldn’t prove there had been a mix-up.) so we had to drive around like this for a day until, by some amazing stroke of luck, wayne happened to see his own on the side of the road the next afternoon. how charming though, right? (even if it made for a bit of a sore bum…)

yes please?

sunset on our last night.

one last amazing seafood dinner…

in addition to no motorized transport there are no dogs on gili t! but there are tons of kitties. also if you’re admiring those flip flops i got them in ubud for 25,000 rupiah ($2.50). then someone at the market tried to charge me 80,000 rupiah for the same ones not 30 minutes later! and then ollie destroyed one last week… you’d think after 3 other pairs i’d learn…

So that’s the not-so-brief overview of Gili T…

On a completely unrelated note I’m terrified that the coffee shop in which I currently find myself is closing. I have only my bicycle, and no rain jacket, and it’s completely pouring outside! Guess this gives me time to plan my lesson for the police officers we start teaching tomorrow (assuming the café stays open and I’m not forced to destroy my computer more than it’s already destroyed on account of my dropping it a few months ago…).

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.