Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Biking Around Bali

Back in November, Sarah and I took one week off of work. The destination: Bali. That place in Indonesia that everyone's heard of.

This is the view from our room the first night.
We arrived in Bali on a Saturday afternoon, and went right to Ubud. Ubud is the cultural center of Bali, with tons of touristy beautiful places to visit. We saw music, dancing, enjoyed good food, took a cooking course, and spent lots of time walking around on something very novel to us Surabaya-ers: sidewalks. After a couple days, we rented motor bikes and started venturing out of Ubud to see the beautiful rice paddy terraces.

As we ate breakfast on our patio, we saw a monkey right in front of us having a banana breakfast.
The Palace in Ubud.

Bali is a Hindu island, as opposed to Java (and most of Indonesia), which is Muslim. It feels like you're in a different country.

One thing that is very apparent is the offerings people leave everywhere. You will see banana leaves, shaped into a tray and filled with flowers, food, trinkets, and incense everywhere. It smells wonderful.

One thing I have been very excited about since before we came to Indonesia is the gamelan music. You almost constantly hear the drone of gongs and metal pots, or bamboo flutes.

This is where the gamelan orchestra performs at the Palace.

Sarah narrowly escaped being this monster's dinner.

The beautiful Water Palace. We didn't get a chance to see a performance here, unfortunately.
One of the most amazing things we saw was the kecak fire and trance dance. It's not accompanied by any instruments, but instead a choir of many men who sing, chant, and sway around on the floor. The dance tells the story of Ramayana. I won't attempt to tell you the story because I'm sure I'll get it all wrong. I did record the entire performance on my mp3 recorder and I will try to post it as soon as possible. It's amazing. You need to hear this.

 The kecak fire dance is followed immediately by the trance. In this dance, they build a fire out of coconut husks on the floor, and [a man dressed as] a horse is lulled into a trance by the gamelan voices and walks over the fire, kicking burning coconut husks all around the stage. Two other men sweep it all back into a big fire and the horse repeats it all.

This man has no shoes or any type of protection. Here is picture of him and his toasted feet afterward.
In our cooking class, we learned to make some of our food staples here: nasi goreng (fried rice), mie goreng (fried noodles), and gado-gado (a fresh salad with peanut sauce. Plus, we learned how to make a delicious dessert: dadar guling, which is a green pancake (it's green because of the pandan leaf, not from food coloring) filled with toasted coconut.

Sarah flipping her pancake!

The finished meal. Yum!
We left Ubud reluctantly, but eager to see more. We drove up into the mountains to a little town called Munduk. The drive itself was wonderful. The landscape is, in a word, picturesque. Palm trees, mountains, rice paddies, Hindu temples, and of course, monkeys. We stopped a cafe with beautiful views for a cup of coffee.

And we naturally stopped to hang out with the monkeys on the side of the road.

It looks like he's attacking me with a banana, but just retreating quickly from the human after getting said banana.
Just hanging out, watching the traffic.
I'm pretty sure that's not a Siamese monkey.
 We stayed a couple nights in Munduk, at two different places, both with great views.
The view from our first room.

Sunset over Sarah's bike.
Praying Mantis

This is the view from our second room. It's hard to see in this picture, but you can see the ocean off in the distance.
 In Munduk, we visited a couple waterfalls.

Sarah got a little thirsty.
 At the second waterfall, there was a beautiful little cafe beside it. It was so quiet and we had this waterfall all to ourselves. We also tried our first cup of Luwak Coffee. This is the most expensive coffee in the world, and let me tell you why. There is a small cat-like, raccoon-like animal called a civet that lives only in Indonesia. It is an animal of very refined taste. It eats only the finest berries in the jungle...including the perfect coffee berries. It won't settle for any of those "nescafe" coffee beans, no, no - just the premium stuff. In the civet's stomach, the coffee beans are neutralized (or something - I'm not entirely sure) by the stomach acids, taking away the often bitter taste of coffee. Well, as with all animals, after food passes through the digestive system it ends up left behind. Some Clever Trevor along the way, decided it would be a good idea to turn these poop coffee beans into, well, coffee. And thus was born the world's most expensive cup of coffee. In the US, you'll be lucky if you can find a cup - a cup, not a bag - for twenty bucks. We tried a cup for about four dollars, and it was pretty good, actually. Now, I can proudly say I've imbibed of something that was in something else's stomach first. It's good shit!

Sarah relaxing with the views.
Enjoying the view. You can see the ocean in the distance.

Sarah caught it! She caught the sun!
 After a couple days in Munduk, we pushed on, heading north toward the sea. We left the chilly air of the mountains and drove down, down to the hot, humid tropical sun we know so well. The next stop was Lovina, a beach town along the north coast. Lovina was our least favorite place we visited in Bali - busy and touristy, with lots of street hawkers - but we found a really nice bungalow with an even nicer pool. So we spent a couple days relaxing by the pool and enjoying the ocean sunset.

One other nice thing about being in a Hindu area is.....PORK! Mmmmmmmmm sate babi (pork satay).

Enjoying one last sunset.

And what vacation would be complete without some Diet Choke???

 It was very sad to leave Bali, but by the end of the week, we actually started missing home. Well, mostly we missed our little (OK, not so little anymore) kittens.

And now it's almost vacation time again. Christmas is just a few days away. And while it seems nothing like holidays back home, what with the unbearable heat, the mosquitoes, the lack of Christmas carols everywhere, and the mosque calls to prayer, it feels great to be heading to the beach in a few days. We are traveling with some friends - the same ones from the Gilis trip, plus a couple more - to a tiny island called Pulau Derawan. It's off the beaten path and likely to be very quiet. They don't even have electricity after dark. It is known for its world-famous diving. It's home to a rare species of green sea turtles, and apparently you will see several every time you head out snorkeling. There should be many new stories and photos to share after this trip.

I leave with this excerpt from a Mad Lib I did with my students today, based on The Night Before Christmas:
When, what to my wondering nose should appear,
But a short tree, and 4000 sexy reindeer.
Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Gilis: A Week in Paradise

Gili T

Way back in September, we had one week off of work in honor of Idul Fitri, the end of Ramadan. Sarah and I, along with our friends Will, Zac, and Dani, headed out to the Gilis. The Gilis are three tiny droplets of white sand beaches, coral reefs, and sunshine. They're located right off the coast of the larger island, Lombok.

Here's our original plan: Fly into Lombok and catch a boat to Gili Trawangan (or just T), spend a night there, then head to the next island, Gili Meno, then head to the third island, Gili Air, for the third night. After that, we'd head back to Lombok, rent bikes and explore the deserted white sand beaches and artist communities in the south of Lombok.

Here's what we did: We headed first to Gili T, as planned, and were in awe. One of the most amazing things we noticed: no vehicles. No cars with black fumes, no motorbikes speeding past. It was quiet. Gili T has the reputation of being the "party" island. It was quite touristy, but we were able to enjoy it enough to spend two nights there. Next, we headed to Gili Meno. Gili Meno is the "quiet" island. It's the smallest and least populated. Once we got there, it took hours for us to decide that we weren't leaving. We scrapped the original plan, and beached it for the rest of the week.

Gili Meno. Sarah and Dani looking out toward Lombok.
 We spent our days looking for different beautiful spots on the beach, eating at one of the few restaurants, and snorkeling. It was the most amazing snorkeling I've ever done. By far. The islands are surrounded by coral reefs that are brimming with tropical fish. Within minutes of starting we saw our first sea turtle swimming around looking for food in the coral. It was amazing. In addition to lots of other fish I can't identify, we also saw a beautiful lion fish.

Now enjoy some pictures of our paradise, with a smattering of comments.

Ahhhhhh...my travel hammock served me well.

Will, relaxing with a book on the beach.

Yes, that's a beautiful rainbow.

Mermaid boat

Oh, chilis, the source of so much pain.

The view from Sarah's and my front porch.

Coconut milkshakes

What?? A cow on the beach?!?

Watching sunset our last night. That's Gunung (volcano) Agung in Bali next to the setting sun.

Our motley crew. Couldn't ask for a better group of travel buddies.

To view the above sunset, we had to head around to the west side of the island (obviously). From our room, Sarah and I walked around the north end of the island and it took maybe twenty minutes to find the Sunset Cafe. Will, Zac, and Dani met us there, arriving by a horse and buggy. There are no motorized vehicles on the island, but there are plenty of these little carriages, that go flying by you on the dirt paths. Well, after sunset, we decided to take them back around to the other side. They wouldn't let us all ride in one (they're small), so we got two of them. Zac and Dani climbed into one and we three grabbed the other. As soon as we got in, our horse starting going berserk. It started bucking and swinging around side to side, meanwhile we are looking at each other, like "What the hell is going on?" The driver kept assuring us it was OK, but he obviously couldn't control this huge animal. When the horse backed up (with us in the carriage behind him) straight into the other horse and buggy, nearly impaling Sarah on a wooden post, we jumped out and walked away as quickly as you can before it's considered a run. The guy tried to get us to come back, saying it was OK, but we'd seen enough. That was really scary. We were in real danger from this poor, miserable animal. It scared the you know what out of us. So we starting walking back around the north end, adrenaline flowing and nerves on high. Minutes later, we hear the 'jingle-jingle' of the horse buggy coming up the path toward us. In our frightened state, we immediately decided it was a good idea to hide in the bushes. We hid in the bushes! From a horse! We were still scared it would know we were in there, maybe smell us, and come charging at us. Luckily, it went right on past. Of course. So we kept walking. After a few more minutes, we got to another restaurant, and lo and behold, there was the horse and buggy waiting there. We had to walk by in shame. The driver surely must have known that we hid in the bushes. How else could he have passed us on the small path? Well we completed our walk of shame, and we made it back safely. Whew. It was scary as hell at the time, but it provided us with lots of laughs later.
And here is sunrise on our last morning.

Masala Dosas! The most amazing food. We liked it so much the first time we ordered it, that we ordered it again. That's the only time I've ever finished dinner and then started over and ate dinner again.

On the boat ride back to Lombok

Zac and Dani, enjoying the ride.

Mountain traffic in Lombok

And what trip would be complete without lots of monkeys?

We pulled over at a monkey-feeding spot and took lots of pictures. I was standing right there next to all these cute little monkeys!

Of course, Baby Monkey, was the coolest.


Alas, our trip had to end. But of course there will be more cool trips. We are headed to Bali in about a week and a half for another week-long vacation. We will explore different parts of the island, including Ubud, the cultural center with lots of gamelan music and other dance and music. And of course, there will be beaches and monkeys.