May 25, 2015

execution in Indonesia

the Bali 9 is a drug smuggling ring of Australian guys who were caught and convicted by Indonesia authorities.  two were sentenced to death by firing squad the rest were sentenced to life.  when i mentioned to an Australian friend in Myanmar that i was traveling to Bali she was telling me how wonderful the island was but cautioned me against was doing drugs.  i had heard of the Bali 9 before but she had a connection to the parents of one the men convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  she was telling me about how they have to pay someone to see after their son for the rest of his life in an Indonesian prision.  food, medicine and other things not provided by the prision.  the caretaker has to constantly buy him matresses as they get nicked quite often.

those convictions were ten years ago and the executions of two Bali 9 happened on the day i left Bali along with six others convicted of drug related crimes.  it has been in the news quite a bit and the topic of conversations among fellow travelers.  even in the US the death penalty is used mostly in violent crimes and i can't imagine a drug smuggler being sentenced to death.

of course, outside the US most western countries are horrified at the idea of a death penalty so the conversations were focused on spending travel dollars in countries that have human rights violations.  the Australians are horified because it was the Australian authorities that tipped the Indonesians about the drug ring knowing that executiion was a possible outcome.

the executions were on a different island so there were not any organized protests on Bali. i did notice an increased police presence but when i asked my taxi driver about it he insisted that the police were cracking down on mushroom sales.

it's a horrible outcome and cautionary tale for all travelers.

May 23, 2015

last day in Bali

my last day in Bali was not boring. in the morning i walked down to the beach thinking i'd have it to myself but it was pretty crowded. on the way back to the hotel i stopped for coffee and had a chat with a guy from New Zealand. he said he'd been walking up and down the street because he'd left his rented motorbike somewhere the night before. the 'street' is about 5 miles long and lined with thousands of motor bikes. i finished my coffee and wished him luck as he ordered his third beer .... at 9AM! and that is why i never leave my passport when i rent a scooter.

i wander up and down the lanes and love the street art. Bali seems to have a healthy network of graphiti artists. one last massage and i'm ready to leave Bali.

lastly, i've stayed a lot of places in Bali but the staff and people i met at the Akmani Hotel have made my trip unforgetable.  for anyone, i recommend a visit to the pool on the roof of the hotel although the massages and other services of the hotel are exceptional as well.

May 18, 2015

Gili Air

i circumnavigate the island in less than an hour on a bike i rented.  that included two stops.  one for jumba [something the yoga instructor recommended] and one for coffee.  the bike i rent from the yoga centre is really nice and it makes getting around the island super fast.  most bikes i have rented in SE Asia come with optional pedals and other various missing parts so this is a treat.  the only other mode of transportation on the island are horse drawn carriages which i was able to avoid. 

the island is ringed by an amazing reef and is well known for it's sea turtle population, excellent diving and snorkeling.  one of the expats is complaining about the locals lack of concern about destroying the reef with their anchors and fishing practices but overall Gili Air seems to be pretty eco conscious... some places serve the cocktails without straws [or use bamboo straws] to reduce the impact of plastic on the island.  also missing is a huge trash pile that is common on so many of these beautiful islands.  the perimeter of the island is ringed with bungalos and small guest homes.  there aren't any large resorts on this island. 

beyond the water sports there is plenty to do and there is a party scene after dark although less so on this island than a the neighbor island.  it's about $2US for an island transfer so there's a lot of island hopping but i'm content to stay here so i never venture over to the other islands.  Lombok is culturally very different from Bali with the main influence being religion.  Bali is Hindu while Lombok is Muslim.  having been a guest in both places i can say the people of Bali are much more welcoming and engaging with the tourists.

the place i am staying is great.  except for the rooster that i would have killed had it not been a very fast rooster.  it woke me up two mornings before the sun was even up.  what is reason for roosters anyway?  in a departure from the rest of SE Asia there are no dogs on the island.  there are cats and i find one of them on my door mat several mornings but she's a fickle girl and i spot her napping on other door mats as well.  there is a pool and about 15 or so bungalows.  

there are less expensive bungalows but i opt for this one [$30US] becuase it has a/c which isn't really necessary but i don't like sleeping with the windows open becuase of the bugs and misquitos.  this iydlic island is a cesspool of tropical diseases - if you've heard of it - they've got it.  

the owner is a european transplant and when he leaves for the weekend the local staff turns the lobby into a hangout for thier friends. imagine a group of ten guys laying around on the couches, smoking cigarettes and watching their version of mtv.  so that part i didn't enjoy but i was too lazy to move to a different location.  the staff in general here was a huge adjustment after being treated like family in Bali.

outdoor shower
the first half of my week on the island was filled with sun but a cloud system moved over the island for the last few days.  the yoga platform was open on all sides and made for a magical experience with the rain pouring down on all sides.  because the bungalow shower was outside and the mix of the rain and the warm water from the shower also made for showering interesting.

mango tree in the garden
the Gili Islands are wonderful and after a long week unwinding in Bali, a week relaxing on the island it wouldn't take long before this became a lifestyle and it became impossible to leave.  but leave i do and i take another well organized boat and van shuttle back to Bali where they drop me at the hotel i stayed when i first arrived.  i've got another day in Bali to do some shipping, shopping and last trip to the beach before i leave.

cock that woke me up in the mornings

things i didn't need the last few days
after yoga a group would all meet up on the beach for snorkeling and eating and enjoying the island but the last few days i was using an umbrella more than my snorkel.  still the access to the reef is fantastic and sitting in the beach huts while a storm moves through is equally amazing.  

Gili Air is on the right
the thunder and lighting and pouring rain are bold reminders of insignificant we are to the ecosystem here.  there are no police on the island.  in the event something goes missing you are instructed to visit the village chief!

May 15, 2015

take what you need....

getting from Bali to the islands off Lombok turns out to be really easy.  they have a good shuttle system for tourists so i get a 9AM pick up at the home stay, a 30 minute ride in a van then they drop you at the boat out to the islands. it's really well organized and they even tag the tourists with tags..... my bag and i are both tagged yellow for a drop on Gili Air.  as soon as the boat departs there is an exodus from the cabin to get a place on the upper deck. 

soon the upper deck is packed like a boat filled with african refugees fleeing to europe but the mood is quite different. the crew brings out  the beer and it transforms into a party. i love being on the water.  the salt, the sun, the wind - it all feels fantastic.  the channel crossing here is notoriously bad because the boats they use aren't really designed for any bad weather.  there is an obnoxious group of french tourists  on the deck and my worst fear is being stuck with them in a lifeboat.  i think i'd rather face the sharks.  i take the morning option and get across before the storms come up. the drop on the island is a wet one.  you just jump over the side and wade to the beach.

the island is really tiny.  it only takes 5 minutes to walk to the place i picked out online. it's not even noon so i drop my bag and head out to explore the island.  the first stop is the yoga place next door.

on the board at the yoga centre i found a note someone had posted.  when i walked past at the end of the week almost all the tabs were gone.  it really seems that simple on the island... take what you need.  

May 12, 2015

a day around Bali

one of the men at the homestay set up a guide for a few of us to do a tour of some temples, volcanos and some other tourist stuff.  it was $40 for a car/driver for the day.

the volcano was spectacular but it didn't take long for me to get annoyed at the first temple we went to.  i hate when they charge you for access to a religious place.  then they charge you for a sarong which i felt was unnecessary because i was covered from my elbows to below my knees.  it's like selling tickets to get into St. Peters in the Vatican.  yeah, it was just a few dollars but i vowed it's the last time i'd pay for access to a religious site. 

the temple was on the crater rim and so made for a breathtaking view and we did have a good discussion with the driver/guide on the religious practices of the Balanese people.  every day, all day, you can see women carrying offerings to the temples.  they feel this provides balance between what they get from the gods and what they give. the Balanese seem happy and content and interested in welcoming visitors.

down inside the volcano are some hot springs so i let my annoyance at the temple melt away with the steam and enjoy how beautiful the moment was in a natural rock hot spring in Bali.  did i mention i'm the luckiest girl in the world?

they organize hikes up the volcano side for sunrise and had i'd known how spectacular it was i'd have tried to arrange that.  it's just a seven hour hike and they run trips out of Ubud but i didn't have the proper footwear and i have been nursing a sprained ankle for a few days.  something to do on my next trip to Bali.  inside the crater are old lava flows and multiple new cones but this volcano is considered dormant.

next up on the tour is the rice terraces.  for whatever reason UNESCO has given the terraces some kind of recognition as being culturally important.  so on the side of the hill opposite the rice terraces is a half kilometer of shops and restaurants.  it feels like a manufactured tourist site... like those 'factories' you get stuck going to on an organized tour.  i say it's okay to skip this site.  it made me think of what a lost opportunity there is in the mid west.  if only UNESCO would call a corn field important, we could set up some bars and shops in the middle of a field and make a lot of money letting tourists watch the corn grow.  you could probably even charge extra to let them harvest some of the corn.

anyway, we ate lunch on a lovely platform in the middle of the rice fields and this huge toad hopped up for a visit.  i think this is the largest toad i've ever seen in my life.  bigger than both my fists put together.

May 10, 2015


from Echo Beach i move up to Ubud, in the central part of the island.  i plan to spend about a week in Ubud and every minute is packed.  i check my bag at a hotel and head over to the Yoga Barn which is best sumarized as yoga for the masses.  i took a couple of classes which all had great instructors.  they all have legit yogi names like Bex, Bantu, Gypsy, etc. the one thing they do really really good is that all the classes i took had a consistent style which is rare at any yoga studio.  the part that i didn't like was they cram the classes full.  so the better part of me says, hey, it's good that so many people want to do yoga today.  the other part says, 6cm is way to close for yoga mats.  so ultimately, i find another much smaller studio which is fantastic.  i get a pass that allows me to try lots of different types of yoga practices and every day i can feel my core and arms getting stronger.  interestingly, in Ubud, 50% of the classes were men.  at the barn they even offerred a man class.

garden view from my room
clean laundry $1.40US
Indonesian style homes are unique.  it allows multigenerational families to coexist in the same space.  there is a courtyard and a separate cooking area that is shared but the parents and married siblings each have separate living quarters.  after a disappointing first night in a hotel [why do i continue to book these when they are always overpriced and not at all what i want? - convenince i suppose] i found a homestay with a local family.  it's a typical home stay with a private room and bath.  and breakfast. $14/night. the patriarch in this family was wielding a paint brush on a canvas - in the form of nude women which he tried to sell off as 'a painting of you' .  he was harmless enough but not blessed with natural talent.  there is always a dog or two and kids playing in the courtyard.  flying kites or banging on drums or some other kid stuff.  most importantly, they embrace you as if you are one of the family and for my stay i enjoyed seeing the friendly faces every day.

even better, was the string of vegetarian and vegan restaurants on the street i was staying.  one spot had such good gluten free cake that when people arrive at the restaurant they pick out which dessert they want so it can be held for them.

random pink chick on street

May 2, 2015

reality check

over the last week i've been talking to a lot of westerners and i say things that aren't normal.  like, isn't it magic when hot water comes out of the shower? do you think the bottled water is safe to drink?  do they make bread here?  can i get chopsticks because i can't remember how to use a fork?

saying these things out loud is not good.  usually the reaction i get is a variation of 'why yes, it's magic!' or 'why would you say that?'

every day it seems like it's something different.  the other day it was when i walked into the grocery store to purchase fruit.  i passed the dairy section something caught my eye and turned to look .... there was a whole case full of cheese.  not just one kind or one brand, but at least 10 kinds of cheese.  i stood there trying to look normal but my head was exploding.  

i feel like i need to make a list of things not to say to regular people.  i also noticed that although most locals in Bali speak and comprehend English extremely well and are willing to chat i'm not used to engaging the locals on the street.  in Myanmar the locals mostly just ignore westerners.  the kids still stare at us but they are scared too.  the people and kids on my street and the security guards all talk to me but once i'm out of my street it's different.

the frightening thing is i've been in Myanmar less than 6 months.  i can't imagine what it does to the psyche of people who have been living under the military power for 60 years.