Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ubud in July

Despite having higher prices than I am accustomed to for Indonesia, Ubud is a gorgeous and wonderful place and this is why I booked a one full week of yoga and other yummy goodness here for my final memories of Indonesia. It is also a great place to meet other travelers, an easy place to be a solo traveler so I've never felt lonely and on the flip side, I've had plenty of opportunity to have my privacy and spend time alone: Perfect balance. I've had a full belly the whole time I've been here in Ubud. It's been a source of comfort to me. I am still homesick and I still wish to return home soon but knowing that I am in just a couple of days, I'm releasing to the daily sensations as best as I can. Living in the present moment is not easy, especially as I don't want to fall into complacency nor lose my insight into possibilities.

I booked this trip over a month ago, having already settled my departure date from Indonesia with the ELF program but before knowing whether or not I was going to visit Thailand. I remember the night I clicked those few icons that appeared on the screen of my laptop confirming my registration. It was a hot evening in Banjarmasin, sticky and sweaty. I was hearing the rats play in the kitchen and was thankful that the power had come back on. Feeling a need for escape, I found Balispirit while googling "Yoga Barn" "Ubud" and "retreat." It was the best thing I could have done for myself: A weeklong package including my simple bungalow room, clean and with hot water and a handful of meals at my favorite Ubud restaurant called KAFE. I was given a class pass for 12 yoga or meditation classes of my choice, 2 private yoga lessons with this wonderful teacher named Jane and I added on a bike tour through the rice paddies with Bike Baik.

It was on this spectacular bike tour that I met Katherine and her 7 year old son Tané. Katherine and Tané are from Ireland, Tané is half Maori (New Zealand) and his name means "man." We instantly clicked as a small traveling group, enjoying our bike ride together, Katherine offering her back pack as a place for me to keep my camera and water bottle. Tané has a gentle curiosity about him intermixed with 7 year old boy energy. He rode ahead a lot, took a spill on a tight turn in the road and bounced up like he was a rubber ball, hopping back on to lead the troupe onward. He was always ready with very insightful questions about Indonesia and America, wondering how far things were, how long plane rides were and comparing my answers to his more recent experiences of flying first to Jakarta then traveling across Java with his mother.

The day after the bike tour, Katherine and Tané were planning to see Ketut of the Eat, Pray, Love fame. They invited me to join so tagged along. "Sure, why not?" I was curious myself after having read the book last summer, a gift given to my from my Indonesian American friend, Nani. If you are reading this Nani, yes, I finally went to see Ketut! I passed on the reading however, still feeling satiated from my Dukun experience two months ago in Solo, feeling like I can read myself so much more clearly now. But it was still a fun adventure. We trekked to his family compound both of us worried that maybe he has big neon signs pointing the way but it's still an old hanging sign from the same main road my guest house is on.

We entered his compound and he was in the middle of a reading with some other westerners so we waited patiently for about a half an hour. Tané kept saying he hoped Ketut would tell them that he'd have a brother or sister. In the little courtyard there were two people measuring the buildings and pathways and jotting down dimensions on paper. I told Katherine that I had heard recently they were planning a film based on the book wondering to myself if these people were involved with this somehow. As it turns out, they were measuring the compound and taking photos to send to the studio in New York that will be producing the film. They told me that they will actually film some in this courtyard. I asked if Ketut would play himself, they said they didn't think so.

Ketut's 10 year old granddaughter, an amazing little saleswoman, came out to greet us while we were waiting. She had a small portfolio of Ketut's drawings of a traditional Balinese nature with the creation scene with Brahma and some other scenes. She also had a folder with some of her own done with pastels. They (meaning hers) were amazing, whimsical, colorful AND irresistible so I bought one without bargaining or batting an eye. Somehow I just couldn't tell her "mahal sekali." I'm not disappointed with my purchase in the least. It was inspiring that a 10 year old can sell her artwork with so much charm while insisting that her grandfather's paintings contained magic but that her own did not. I beg to differ. I'm certain my drawing from her has some secret power even if just in its beauty. After we talked with her a bit about her drawings, her learning English both in school and from her grandfather the conversation came to a close, we wished her well and she said "okay see you later alligator." We all said in unison "after awhile crocodile."

Katherine got her reading while I talked with a young Dutch couple who arrived, also waiting for Ketut, the young woman having also read what was being referred to in this courtyard as "the book." One of the 'surveyors' stated to me that if I got a reading from Ketut, he would tell me that I'd live until I was ninety five, get married twice have 2-3 kids…. Katherine pretty much confirmed that came out of her reading BUT that she will live to be over 100. Tané was excited to learn that he will have a couple of brothers or sisters, his mother laughing at the thought. I was excited to learn that Tané has a lotus symbol on his back as part of his positive energy. Yeah, I can see that…

I said hello (and goodbye) to Ketut as we were leaving. He asked where I was from, I told him in my best Bahasa that I had been living in Kalimantan. He asked what I was doing there and I told him. He smiled at me with a big half toothed grin and then looked over my shoulder scanning the crowd of Japanese tourists and the Dutch couple who had gathered, waiting for his healing/reading services.



Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chiang Mai to Krabi and Stuck in KL

Chiang Mai

The remaining days in Chiang Mai ended up with rain and gloomy skies. That was fine for the spa day but I was suspicious about the day we had set aside for the zip line adventure through the jungle. Feeling a need to relax a bit more, I decided to sleep in, read, hang out with the resident Tri Gong dog named money (who I found out is pregnant!) and was glad for the break. When Susannah, Katie and Ellen returned (and returned early at that) they were soaked to the bone remarking that it would have been more fun if it would have stopped raining.


From Chiang Mai we flew down to Krabi in the south. This area is known for beaches, boat rides, kayaking and slightly less developed than Phuket but in reality, it had everything we could have wanted and much we didn't want. It looked oddly familiar, a lot similar Indonesia but much more developed than Banjarmasin. The waterfront was lined with small shops selling everything from cheap souvenirs to floaty things you can bring in the water and restaurants boasting menus of western and Thai food. And of course it wouldn't be a complete tourist destination without the obligatory Starbucks and McDonalds. A big surprise was the amount of custom tailor shops where from their stoops and bordering sidewalks every evening we'd hear "Hello Madam, would you like some beautiful clothes?"


It was the off season, so there were more vendors out than tourists. It's the trade off, not much competition for beach space nor crowded activities, but it also means the vendors were like hungry tigers pouncing on all who walked by. We went out on one of the big snorkel dive boats, being low season, I had the dive master all to myself and the entry off the big boat deck was not a big stressful crowded even with divers bumping off one another. My unexpected stress during my dive was entirely unrelated.

I was very excited to dive, neither nervous nor anxious beforehand. However, within minutes of going down I felt a well of panic, something I hadn't felt since I received my certification years ago. I felt claustrophobic, my throat went dry from the air and although there were no problems with my regulator, I started to feel like I couldn't breathe very well. I told my guide, Punch who was amazing, that I wanted to go up, so we did and I started feeling better as soon as my head was out of the water. We gave it a second try after at minute and again I was fine at first but the panic crept in. We weren't even more than 14 meters deep! This first dive before lunch, I don't think we were down more than 25 minutes total. Again, Punch was fantastic, making sure I was okay and letting me try to figure out why I was feeling so panicked and claustrophobic. I thought maybe it was because I was using their gauges because my computer was on the fritz, or maybe I didn't drink enough water beforehand and was just a little dehydrated, also the visibility was low and everything was so blue, maybe that was disorienting. But it wasn't until the second dive that I figured out the crux of the problem, a problem opposite of many divers: water temperature.

The water was 30 Celsius. Although I wore only my spandex skin, no wet suit, I overheated as soon as I submerged. I always run warm in the water. In Monterey where my dive buddies need to return due to getting too cold to fast, I'm happy as a seal. I like the warm water diving too, but rarely need to wear a wet suit. At Phi Phi, it was just that degree too much for my body to feel comfortable. I was able to stay down the full hour on the second dive. It helped that there were thermo clines we swam through that refreshed me, and that there was an AMAZING sea turtle that swam right by us that the boat's videographer caught on film. But the feeling of warm water fully covering me felt unbearable at times that I had to stop Punch during the swim so that I could just breathe slowly to cool down.

My last full day in Krabi was spent with the ladies kayaking along the big cliffs of the area and through a mangrove swamp. Maquaq monkeys came out to stare at us and fell in love with a couple from Wales partly because they spotted a bag of "crisps" in the kayak. One monkey jumped on the front of the boat and rode with them for a while, staring intently, waiting for another round of food to appear.

Delayed 6 Hours in KL

As I hammer out these notes of my last week in Thailand, I'm sitting in the Kuala Lumpur Airport waiting for my delayed flight back to Indonesia to announce that it will be boarding… hopefully sometime today. I had higher expectations of the KL airport. The whole experience has been like being in a barn; in fact it looks like a barn. Its expansive, harried and not much rhyme or reason to the shuttling of debarking passengers through the process of going through customs (even for transiting passengers like myself) to claiming baggage, to checking in again, leaving the country through immigration (yes I have a Malaysia stamp in my passport now) AND then to heading towards the gates. Passengers zig zagged and cris crossed through the terminal, all of us travelers with dazed, annoyed looks on our faces as our transitioning from one point to the next lacked intuition to the point of prompting frustrated travelers to stop in their tracks directly in front of others, unaware that over stacked luggage carts were careening directly towards them from just feet away.

Finally in Bali

After a 6 hour delay where the flight scheduled after my own left 3 hours before I did, I made it to Ubud, by 1 AM. It was quite the experience. Tired parents let their children run amok, Air Asia didn't have enough meals for everyone to purchase and didn't think to offer anything for free, not even a bottle of water. In the vein of trying to stay positive and hopeful in my final days in Indonesia, I am closing this post. Home is just a short few days away and I've still plenty of interesting tales to share.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

From Indonesia to Thailand

After leaving my last ELF project presentation in Surabaya I embarked on my SE Asia Holiday adventure. So far it has been amazing. I started in Bali for two days of diving with my favorite group, Bali Scuba. They took me up to Amed which is along the east coast of Bali, north of Sanur where I was staying but still south of Tulumben where I previously saw the U.S.S Liberty wreck. In Amed there are some great coral walls but what made my diving here unique was jukung entry into the water. There are a couple of ways to enter the water when diving, one is a shore entry where you swim out, with all your gear on, to the point you drop down, and the other is a boat entry where you enter either by a big step off or a backwards roll wearing all the scuba equipment. A jukung boat is a Balinese outrigger canoe made from a hollowed out log and the rigging made from bamboo. To dive in Amed, we rode on a jukung out to our dive site. Once there we entered the water with only fins and mask and put the rest of the gear on in the water.

The second day of diving consisted of going to Nusa Penida, an island off of the south east side of Bali. There we went down to see the huge mantas at Manta Point. They circled and hovered over head like giant spaceships. It was eerie but beautiful. Our next dive was in search of the Mola Mola, sun fish, but once again, this special fish didn't come to greet us but many others did including sharks.

From Bali I went to Singapore for a one day stop over on my way to Thailand. It was a burst of high tech modern culture. Having lived in Indonesia for so long, I had kind of forgotten how much fun it was to ride subways and stroll around highly developed shopping plazas. Although I wasn't interested much in lingering in this type of environment, it was refreshing. I stopped in Little Italy for lunch and reveled in the smells of all the Indian spices. On my second evening there, I walked into a supermarket and was amazed at how many choices of cheese there were.

On June 30th, I met 4 other teachers from my ELF program in Bangkok. We spent a full day there looking at the palace, gilded temples and statues, the reclining Buddha, and viewing the city from tuk tuks and a water taxi up the river. I never thought Bangkok would feel so clean. I heard stories about the pollution, the noise and the traffic but during the time we were there, it really wasn't that bad. Furthermore, compared to Banjarmasin and Jakarta, this large city was a sparkly gem! Even smoking indoors isn't allowed in Bangkok and it made a huge difference when we all went out our first night there.

From Bangkok we headed up to Chiang Mai where I am now. It's been great here too. So far we've learned how to cook Thai food at the Thai Farm Cooking School, we've walked along the streets looking at temples, eaten great food and yesterday we did a day long tour including an Elephant ride, hike to a waterfall, visiting hill tribes (which was set up as a bizarre living display of tribes from Myanmar now living in these northern Thailand mountains). We ended the day getting drenched while river rafting.

The Elephant ride was probably the greatest adventure. I shared a ride with Kendra and Katie, sitting in this metal rack seat that had a padded plank, all securely strapped to an elephant. It was pretty high up and felt a little dangerous, especially since our seat didn't' have a metal safety bar to hold us in. The ride down the hill was the most disconcerting as the elephant's weight shifted forward also pitching our perch forward. We held on tightly to the sides of the seat in order to keep from sliding into the muddy path. Once down the hill, it was much easier but our elephant, named Mei Ai (I'm not sure exactly how it was spelled) was a little ornery. She didn't want to follow the rest of the group, she kept stopping and it didn't help that at one point the trainer jumped off walked away (we think to use the restroom) leaving us up there. He did return but we couldn't stop laughing about it. At one point it seemed like Mei Ai was laughing with us.

As it turned out, Mei Ai was pregnant. We were told that she was 2 years along and that she will be giving birth in another year however this information demonstrates an entirely different perception of time that we are accustomed to in western culture. The gestation period of an elephant is closer to two years, not 3. But no wonder she was reluctant to carry us around! I think this experience was representative of the hardest part about being in a foreign country where the customs are so different than mine. First off, we really don't have many elephants in the U.S., but even so, rides on a pregnant animal seems strange and cruel. Encountering different standards for treating animals and human rights without getting too emotionally involved has definitely taken its toll on me this year.

Aside from my constant underlying battle with my personal judgements, so far Thailand has been refreshing and comforting with more food choices, a comfortable degree of cleanliness and lots of great vacation activities beckoning our money. Despite my disagreeing with some of the ways things might be here, I can tolerate it much more easily having lived in Indonesia for so long.