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Indonesia: So many islands, so little time

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Into Indo... Happy Nyepi!

Ubud, Indonesia


Hello friends and family...

Tim and I have been in Ubud (Bali) for 2 days and are LOVING the beauty and kindness this country has to offer. I am having difficulties uploading photos, so I can only offer a few - when I get to the next reliable connection, I promise to share more.

We arrived in Denpasar on Wednesday, just in time to celebrate Bali's New Year celebration. We didn't know that this coincided with our travel here, so we felt lucky to be a part of it. Our hired driver, Sukarena, picked us up at the airport and told us all about the history and rules related to the Hindu celebration. The following day, Sukarena drove us to a beautiful temple on the coast. We laughed at the monkeys and enjoyed watching people prepare for the holiday. That night, there were ceremonies and parades in the streets across all of Bali to celebrate thisand on Nyepi, ALL of Bali is closed down. They put a tarp up across the entrance to our hotel and we were not allowed to go anywhere. The hotels still served food and offered electricty (gotta cater to the tourists), but the locals stayed at home and did not cook, work, or turn on any lights. It was a nice break from the hustle of the tourist circuit in Kuta.

On Friday, Sukarena gave us a ride to North Bali with his family and we saw more beautiful countryside, temples and monkeys... the monkeys are the only "pickpockets" we've seen in Bali - they will steal your hat or purse if you aren't careful! We Stayed in Lovina that night and got up very early to take a boat our to see the dolphins. We thought this might be a bit of a hoax, but we saw A LOT of dolphins. I was willing one to jump over the stern of the boat, but they didn't get close enough to touch. After a couple hour drive south, Sukarena dropped us off in Ubud and we said our goodbyes. Ubud is known as the artist community in Bali and I tell you, it's been difficult to refrain from shopping. I very much like Asian art, so this place is right up my alley. We found a great little reggae bar last night and managed to coax Tim onto the dance floor (photos to come soon). We also found a room for $6 a night, so we are happy to see our dollars going a little farther. we've enjoyed Ubud very much.

Tomorrow, we take a bus to the coast and then a ferry over to The Gili Islands. The plan is to kick it on the beach for a few days - perhaps do some snorkeling or diving, but not a whole lot more than that. After the islands, we will go to the mainland in Lombok and try to find some hiking. After Lombok, we will go to Java and Sumatra before heading up to Malaysia, so 4 islands in one month... phew.

We will report back after our island stay. We miss you (as always) and a very happy Daylight Savings Time to you all! We are now 15 hours ahead of you, so please don't be mad if we accidentally call you at 2:30 in the morning!

Love, love, love,
Jen




permalink written by  TwoSouls on March 10, 2008 from Ubud, Indonesia
from the travel blog: Indonesia: So many islands, so little time
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Two Tickets to Paradise

Lombok, Indonesia


We are digging out toes into the sands of Gili Trawangan, a small island off the coast of Lombok (Indonesia). This place has by far exceeded our expections and landed on the top of our "Holy Shit, This is Amazing" List. You'll have to excuse my language, as I've been hanging around backpackers for over 3 months now. Oh, and there are no police on this island, so there is a sense of freedom that slightly outweighs my desire to be politically correct. Isn't it marvelous?

So what is it that qualifies this place as Paradise? It seems it would be a magical blend of ingrediants that can only come together under special circumstances. For instance, I'm sure Gili T. would be near perfection without considering our fellow travellers, but because the stars lined up just right, we managed to find this place alongside a group of very, very cool people. They know who they are, and fortunately for us, they find us to be quite brilliant as well. Not brilliant like Einstein, but like... well, like London. Whatever the case, it's quite nice being seen as briliant and I might just have to incorporate the word into my daily jargon.

Paradise... ingrediants include:

1. Water. On all sides if possible. You surf there. Snorkeling is best over there. Swim just across from the guy that sells the woven bracelets. Diving is just a boat ride away. And it sparkles, no matter where you stand. A brilliant blue with hints of the reef below. A jellyfish sting isn't particularly fun, but the waters are sheltered and warm with a whole other world to discover just below.

2. Locals. These guys are textbook friendly and the bartering can be a whole experience in itself. Full of smiles, history and good recommendations, they are intoxicating. And they don't at all seem the type to steal your sunglasses while you take a swim. According to Rafael, there isn't much theft here because any such incident would be reported to their president and they would be promptly asked to leave the island. Maybe he'd like to run for president of the USA?
3. Nightlife. The restaurants and bars have agreed to take turns hosting a late night party a few times a week. We happened upon the dual-DJ party at the Irish pub earlier this week and only returned to our room once to get more storage for photos and again after watching the sunrise over a chain of volcanoes in Lombok. We drank and danced and laughed and met fellow partiers from across Europe and beyond. We saw at least 3 people fall off the bar and boogied down as our friend Joe took a go at the turntable... and to think that I almost didn't rally for this one. Tonight, the party moves to Rudy's, known for it's killer pizza and mushroom shakes. Will I be able to pull another all-nighter? Probably not, but one can try.
4. Cheap digs. We did not go for the $6 rooms, cuz for less than twice that, our room is generous for the price, with air con, a patio and hammock, a table for letter writing and a king size fanned lounge bed. We shoo away mosquitos in our outdoor shower, but it's absolutely a perfect place to lay our heads after a long day of doing close to nothing. And breakfast is included with oh so strong Bali coffee. Yes, paradise. And for those that want to really do it up, there are 5 star accommodations up and down the main drag for $45 - $100 US a night... something for everyone.
5. Yummy food. It's cheap, well-cooked and available until after midnight. They have huts set up right on the beach with lounge pillows and romantic lighting - just the two of us or smoosh in with friends, they are lovely. You can get a banana split for $1.80 and there are no lack of funny waiters... we've found the shorter the better for some reason. And just in case we need a break from the curry and fried noodles, we've got a can of pringles, a pack of oreos and 4 large bottles of water in our room. Lots of cold water for sale, so we are careful to hydrate in the humid heat.
6. Sun. Up in the sky with a place to escape it if necessary - a hut, a fresh water pool in the fancy hotels, floating under the pier a few feet off the beach, swinging in a hammock, in your air conditioned room. And cold beer helps too... friends, meet Bingtang. Bingtang, meet friends.
7. Shopping. Enough shopping to pass the heat of the day, but not so much that it's distracting. Cheap sarongs, surf shorts, hand-made art and jewelry.
8. Quiet. There are no motorbikes here like the mainland. You can walk, rent a bicycle or hire a horsedrawn thinga-ma-gig. The air and sea are clean, except for your occasional horse pooh and empty beer bottle. You can easily escape the bartering and drinking scene by walking in any direction... or simply lounging in front of your room. You can also pick from shelves of movies to watch in the comfort of your own cozy hut on the beach. While Tim often likes to be in the middle of the party, I sometimes prefer to listen to it's echos from afar... we can both have our way and our comfort here. And watching the sunrise on the beach - nothing but the sound of the waves and the jingle of the boat lines. Priceless.
9. No bonehead tourists. This place is just a tad off the track, and the tourists, therefore, are perfectly laid back, friendly and not in a hurry to go anywhere. I wouldn't describe it as hedonistic, but perhaps in the way that you are highly encouraged to do whatever it is you please. If you love sun and surf, you hit the beach. If you want to explore the reef, take an intro dive course and have a gander down below. If you are trying to escape the job, the divorce, the family obligations or stress of the city, grab a book and chill by yourself in your room or by the pool. And when you are feeling satiated with whatever it is you seek, you shower, shave, prop a flower behind your ear and wander the strip for a meal at dusk. There is a soft buzz in the air and everyone is happy to see you. One Love.
10. My best friend. I get to experience this magical place with my best friend Tim. How frigging cool is that? We gush over each other to friends we've met or simply gaze into each other's eyes before sleepy time. We wake up intertwinded and excited for a new day of exploration together. Love feels stronger here and closer to our fingertips with a multitude of reminders around us. And I am hopeful that I will be able to feel this long after we've left.

Now don't you all rush off at once to find the next boat to Gili T... there are pockets of paradise in our own backyards. I would certainly recommend a trip to Indonesia, if not just to stand at the shore with your toes dug in the sand. Dyann - you would love this place... and if we call you from Rudy's at 3 o-clock in the morning, it will be noon in Santa cruz and you will know exactly how we are feeling - blessed to be right here, but missing you all Very, Very Much.

Peace,
Jen



permalink written by  TwoSouls on March 14, 2008 from Lombok, Indonesia
from the travel blog: Indonesia: So many islands, so little time
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Gili Trawangan: Tim's Version

Lombok, Indonesia


Forward with pictures first...

I started this blog by just showing photos, which I think I'll leave in place and add even more. We have so many pix of this gorgeous little island, I'd rather see them in a blog than in the storage bin.

Really...Jen did a wonderful blog on Gili Trawangan already, but I feel it's necessary to share my side as well.

Despite the fact that Jen and I got along marvelously during our stay here, we spent alot of time apart doing our own things. (Maybe this is why we got along so well...lol) I regularly took off to go scuba diving or snorkeling and hang out with the locals. Jen was quite happy just relaxing, walking, reading, shopping, and exploring the island.

From the beginning-

The boat we took from Bali to Gili T was a rustic but well maintained little ferry operated by Perama. The journey took about 4 hours but was very enjoyable. We spotted dolphins and flying fish en route, and the views back toward Bali were stunning.

Rounding Gili Trawangan the jetty and main strip came into view, looking like something right out of National Geographic. The color of the water was a brilliant clear turquoise, colorful fishing boats and dive boats lined up along the shore, horse-drawn carts and locals selling their wares were moving about on the street. It was (is) perfect!

Once ashore, we scurried off in small groups to try and find the best and cheapest place to stay before the next guy...and lucky for us, a guy named Jackson came along and led us to Sama Sama restaurant and bungaloos- very close to the center of town. Ironically, this is also the reggae bar on the island and comes with a live band (the only band on Gili). I knew I was home!

We were shown around back and down an alleyway to Coconut Dream, a sister bungaloo that was built just last year. Very posh on our backpackers scale and with air-con a reasonable Rp 150,000. We'll take it!

By the time we settled in, it was dark. Really craving a swim, we walked up the main road about 10 minutes and found a beach with a spotlight. Once in the water, which is the perfect temp, we embraced and decided that 4 days would not be enough. Let's stay a week or more. Brilliant!

To be continued.....

We are catching a train in an hour...gotta pack!

Peace and Love!
Tim




permalink written by  TwoSouls on March 26, 2008 from Lombok, Indonesia
from the travel blog: Indonesia: So many islands, so little time
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Lombok to Java: Patience is a virtue

Yogyakarta, Indonesia


Our island magic is now just a memory and we are abruptly thrown back into the madness of the mainland. A little under the weather (both physically and spiritually), we took a ferry to Lombok and were greeted by a plethera of touts trying to pry the money from our wallets. They are friendly enough, but very sly... if they even touch your backpack, they demand a small donation. We managed to brush them off, only to step into another group of them while we waited for the bus to our destination.

Sengiggi is certainly nothing to write home about. Outside of some entertaining bartering during our beach front breakfast and a very friendly local that helped us get to the airport, it was really just a place to nurse Tim back to health and rest of weary heads. We made our way to Mataram the next day in hopes of catching a flight to Java, but after loitering around the ticket window for a couple hours, it was clear that we were stuck in Lombok for one more night. Mataram felt a bit like the Twilight Zone, perhaps only compared to the backpacker friendly Gili T... we ventured out to find a bite for dinner and found ourselves lost in a web of commercial buildings, army barracks, dingy back alley flats and rustic food carts on every corner. No one spoke more than one or two words of English and the locals seemed to find us rather odd. They either ignored us, tried to run us down with their motorbike (I exaggerate here a little) or sent their children running to the streets to wave and practice their English - "good morning" they all say, no matter what time of day it is. We managed to find the "mall" and chowed down on McDonalds before heading back to the hotel for another so-so night of sleep. Any town that forces you to eat at McDonalds is not one that we will see again.

The flight to Surabaya in Java was delayed, the airport was bland and we were both annoyed and ready to leave Lombok. Unfortunately, Surabaya was more of the same. The second biggest city in Java, it was hustle and bustle with no real place to comfortably drop our bags. We hopped on a bus to the transit station, ran to the (leaky) city bus in the middle of a heavy thunderstorm and arrived to the hotel drenched from head to toe. The hotel was empty, over-priced and shared a wall with the night club around the corner... you can tell how happy Jen was, no? We put in our ear plugs, got a little shut eye and found our way to Mt. Bromo the next day.


Ahh, happiness again in Cemoro Lewang, a little town on the rim of Mt. Bromo, one of Java's most impressive volcanoes. The bus ride up the steep and winding hill was, well... something we continue to laugh about. To save money, we took a public mini-bus and found that what appeared to be a 12-seater was slowly, but surely filled with 22 people... and there may have been one or two dudes riding on the roof as well. Classic. We arrived at Cafe Lava with battered knees, but in good spirits. After a well-deserved night of rest, we skipped the recommended sunrise walk to the summit of Mt. Bromo and opted for a late breakfast and a stroll along the outer rim. That afternoon, Tim was caught in a serious storm and flash flood - I was in the middle of a nap and awoke to the crack of thunder, so it was a bit of a worry session for me (Tim was fine outside of some seriously wet boots). It was this storm that delayed our trip down the hill the next day... the bus couldn't get more than a few miles our of town due to the landslides, so we put our backpacks on and walked down the hill, which ended up being a really nice way to see the landscape.
After the final decent down the hill on the bus, we transferred to a van with 4 folks from Spain and made the 9 hour trip to Solo... a 12 hour day of travel total. We've found that travel days are some of the toughest times for us. One or the other of us is usually hot, tired, bloated, cramped, smelly or all of the above. It's also a crux which demands decision making - in a quick and confident fashion as to avoid the dozens of transportation and hotel operators ready to intercept us as we de-board the train, bus, boat, etc. We are not particulary good at decision making, so our relationship has been tested in these situations time and again...

Solo is a cute town in Central Java and we decided to spend a couple of days here to accomplish a few errands - you have no idea how bad it can get after wearing the same few outfits for 3 weeks in this humidity! Laundry, another package sent home and plenty of walking through back alleys that have much more to offer than one would think. I took a half day batik course while Tim worked away on the computer. We had good food and our hosts at the Istaya Guaya Hotel were wonderful. We boarded the local train on Thursday and headed to Yogjakarta, the cultural capital of Java.

Since Tim is waiting for me to finish up and we are having little luck uploading photos from here, I will say goodbye for now. We have a 7 hour journey to Pandangaran tomorrow where we will relax on the beach for a couple days before heading to Jakarta and then into Malaysia. Once we get to Kuala Lumpur, I will share our photos from our visit to Borobudor today - it is a blog topic of it's own, so maybe Tim will volunteer (despite the time it takes him to blog, he gets more excited about it every time).

A belated Happy Easter to you and warm thoughts from a far...

Selamat Malam,
Jen

permalink written by  TwoSouls on March 28, 2008 from Yogyakarta, Indonesia
from the travel blog: Indonesia: So many islands, so little time
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Borobudor and Beyond: Our final days in Indo

Yogyakarta, Indonesia


Greetings. We are TRYING to get caught up on the blog scene, so I will attempt to fill you in on our experience at Borobudor in Java and the few days that followed.

We had the honor of spending a few hours roaming around Borobudor, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Thankfully, we decided to chip in for a local guide and it was well worth it - we learned about the discovery and restoration of the temple, as well as the stories that are depicted through the detailed carvings on each level and what the traditional Buddha positions mean. It was fascinating, and despite the extremely warm weather, we wished we could have lingered for a while (one of the the downsides of a tour). If you are interested in the history of Borobudor, I have provided a link with some details below... it's quite fascinating.

http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/boro_nav/main_borofrm.html

I have to admit that it's always been a little tough for me to grasp the true historical value of such sites... I was often in la-la-land during my history classes in highschool and college and I don't often find myself researching old events or stopping into museums. But this was a special place. The workmanship was palpable and the spiritual vibrations were strong. I separated myself from the group many times to stop and breathe in deeply... to reflect on the mindset of those who build the structure... to give thanks and acknowledge the greatness and mystery around me... it helps me embrace humility.

I'm having some difficulty expressing my thoughts on the experience, as it is not something that is easily described in words. So I will include a few of my favorite photos that helped capture the experience. I hope you enjoy.

We enjoyed the rest of our stay in Yogyakarta, and then hopped on a bus to the southern coast of Java to a place called Pangandaran. Even though you couldn't initially see much damage, this was one of the cities hit by the tsunami in 2006. We were lucky enough to hear about it from Lee, one of the survirors that chose to stay in the city afterward - she still has nightmares from time to time, but says her decision to stay and rebuild her home and business was the right thing to do. Pangandaran was quaint and the water warm. We spent some time playing in the surf together, took a walk in the near by National Park, ate some delicious hand-picked seafood and relaxed under the guidance of a local masseuse. It was a relaxing last stop before heading out of Indonesia. After an overnight bus to Jakarta and a few more transfers, we flew to Malaysia and said hello to our second country in Asia.

We hope to return to Indonesia soon - one month is not enough to see all that these islands have to offer and we left many stones unturned. We made many, many friends here and even offered to sponsor our masseuse from Pandangaran if he would like to come to the US to teach his trade and save money to build a home for his family. We would feel honored if we had the opportunity to host any of the people we've met on our journey and certainly feel blessed for those that have shared so much with us.

So we keep moving along...
Jen

permalink written by  TwoSouls on April 7, 2008 from Yogyakarta, Indonesia
from the travel blog: Indonesia: So many islands, so little time
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We are going to explore the unknown and there's no turning back now. Why explore? Here are a few reasons why we start on this journey...

- To breathe deeply, appreciate the moment and SLOW DOWN
- To let go of our fears
- To rebel… prove that we can live outside the system
- To challenge...

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