Balinese Bliss

Being one of the most popular, exotic vacation destinations in the world, I was interested and excited to experience what this island had to offer and see how it compared to all the other places I’ve been to so far.

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Bali is a pretty well-developed island with all the amenities travelers would enjoy.  The only down-side is that there are lots of tourists that flock to the island.  However, with so many things to do and see, even though crowds of people seemed to be everywhere, it wasn’t too difficult to find a few cozy, quiet places.

I stayed in Seminyak, which is on the South-Western part of the island.  It’s completely walkable with shops and restaurants aplenty.  Ku De Ta beach was only a few minutes away from the hotel and tourist information booths were peppered throughout the town.  Cheap bargain shopping could be found just outside the town center and a variety of foods and cooking styles tantalized the nostrils at every turn.

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Renting a motorbike coast about $5 for the DAY, so an entire day on a motorbike was had!  The drive to the hub of Ubud was beautiful.  Small towns, temples and busy streets paved the way toward this artsy town near the center of the island.

A chance meeting on the days journey led to an impromptu coffee tour and tasting at a family farm.  And yes, I tasked the “Luwak” coffee, or the coffee that is harvested from the beans gathered from Civet poop.  I have to say, it was delicious.  Besides tasting the Luwak coffee (cost $5), all the other coffee’s and teas in the tasting were free.  It was great to enjoy a peaceful afternoon with some delicious beverages.

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Then it was onward to the center of Ubud.  There’s something for every budget in this bustling town.  From jewelry and art to clothing and food, there was a great mix of interesting items for sale on the European-style streets amid handfuls of Hindu temples.

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Needing some rest and relaxation after the aforementioned motorbike journey, and having already spent a day lounging on the beach/hotel pool, I decided to explore the tiny island of Lembongan.  A 30-minute drive to the Eastern town of Sanur and a 30-minute fast boat ride was all the transport needed to get to this tiny island.  And it was most definitely a sanctuary, far removed from anything resembling “hustle and bustle.”

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After getting dropped off at Mushroom Beach, the days trek began.  A delicious coconut pancake was quickly devoured within moments of leaving the boat dock area.  The sleepy hotel/café that I happened upon was so enticing, it couldn’t be passed up.

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The journey to a beach further North took a little longer than expected.  Everyone from the boat dock area seemed to have arranged some kind of public transportation or rented motorbikes to get around.  But with no cars on the island, and very few people, it was great to get some exercise and take lots of photos along the way.  At one point, the road led to a pretty high point which offered spectacular views of the enticing ocean down below.

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After a chance to swim and sunbathe, shop and photograph, it was time to make it back to Mushroom Beach to meet our Captain.  A full afternoon on this island was plenty of time to relax, get some sun, and aimlessly wander the streets to appreciate the beautiful architecture.

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My experience on Bali left me eager to keep exploring this amazing country that is currently my home.  “Eat, Pray, Love” jokes aside, I can easily relate to having a piece of my heart being taken by each new experience here.

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Catharsis

- a purging

- to purify from sin

A few years ago I was going through the saddest part of my life and was left feeling so empty.  I was constantly waiting for someone to be ready to go and do things with, to have exciting adventures with and to share soul-bearing experiences with.

As the reality and permanence of my situation was setting in, I realized that I may never have that one life partner to travel the globe with, to share never-ending education and excursions with.  And in the wake of the most turbulent waves, I was left feeling bereft of something…everything.

Before this point, I had traveled very little.  Almost instantly I began making plans and buying plane tickets.  It was a bittersweet moment because I felt that I was finally exercising all my pent-up desires in spite of my personal life and not because of it.

 

“Sometimes things fall apart so that better things can fall together.”   -Marilyn Monroe

 

I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to learn from that period of suffering.  Perhaps that will reveal itself to me later.  All I know is that my 20’s didn’t develop quite as I had expected, and that’s ok.  My 30’s are mine.  I’m living them for me and I’m choosing to continue my travels to soak up as much healthy, positive energy that the world can offer me.

This blog was started so I could share my experiences with someone, anyone, at a time when I felt that I sometimes had no one.  It’s a purging of my thoughts, dreams, realities and fears.  It was a wish to connect without the possibility of pain.  It has been a friend at lonely moments, and annoying boss at busy moments, and a guru at all the moments in between.

 

In the Indonesian language, “Terima Kasih” is the way of saying “Thank You.”  It literally translates to “receive love.”

 

The past few years have been quite a ride.  I’ve met some amazing people, seen some amazing places and I feel that I’ve done a lot of good while giving myself the gift of education.  I become a better person when I learn about other cultures.  I never blindly believe anything.  I make it a point to do some research, educate myself and make up my own mind, for myself…on any number of topics and issues.  I strive to always set a good human example and touch others in a way that leaves a kiss on their hearts instead of a scar.

So, to my 44 followers and all the others who have simply made my page a pit stop on their daily online journey, I must say “Thank You.”  Terima Kasih.  Please receive my love and do me the honor of passing it on.  I am a simple girl who is always far from loved ones and always wanting to have a farther reach, so pass on all that I have to give, as I never feel that I can adequately do enough on my own.  Thanks for being my travel companions through this exiting and humbling period of my life.

I appreciate everyone who thinks that my words are worth reading.  That notion alone holds more meaning than you could ever imagine.

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A Weekend in Semarang

On a random weekend in June, I joined a friend on a journey to visit some family.  Armed with little more than a bag of donuts, we headed West to the Provincial capital of Central Java.  The six-hour train ride brought us to the city of Semarang.

I expected this city to be cool, beautiful and peaceful due to the miles of rolling hills, rice patty fields and glimpses of ocean and mountain along the way.  And…my expectations were met…and then exceeded.

This “village” had clean, crisp air, winding roads and no big buildings, unless you found yourself “downtown.”  Everything felt spread out and spacious, basically the opposite of Jakarta, which was quite refreshing.

After an evening of driving around the area, enjoying the local parks and eating beef sate, it was time to hit the hay.

The next day was full of adventure.  The first stop was Bandungan.  This was a mountain top, local tourist trap, and it was stunning.  The entrance fee granted visitors access to the mountain-top network of 9 Hindu temples.  Once inside, we could choose to pay an additional fee if we wanted to choose a temple route and explore on horseback.  Of course we chose the longest horseback route, because…why not?  The temperature was perfect, the scenery was breathtaking and I lost count of how many photos I took.

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Later in the afternoon we headed to the Sam Poo Kong temple.  This is really a Chinese temple complex and it shouldn’t be rushed through.  At the entrance you are greeted by lots of paper lanterns hanging from trees near the seating area.

The other buildings are massive and spread out in three directions.  Although visitors can’t go in the buildings, it’s easy to admire the color, the design and all the beautiful decorations.

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Just before sunset we went to see Lawang Sewu.  This is a historic building and Semarang’s most famous landmark.  It’s known as “Thousand Doors” and it is thought to be haunted.  This big complex was once the home of the Indonesian railways, but during WWII, Japanese occupation of the building led to dungeons of interrogation and gruesome atrocities.  It’s no wonder there may be some pissed-off spirits!

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I’m so grateful for all the amazing things I’ve gotten to see in such a short period of time.  I’ve only scratched the surface, so I’m sure a repeat trip will be in order before too long.

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A Hungry Girl Surrounded by Food

I live in the largest Muslim country in the world and I’ve made some amazing connections with people who continue to educate and enrich my life.

Before coming to Indonesia, I really didn’t know much about Ramadan.  In the past few weeks I’ve done some simple research and asked a lot of questions to educate myself since this year’s Ramadan was approaching rapidly.

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, and during this month all adult Muslims are obligated to fast.  I found that “the act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities.  Ramadan also teaches Muslims how to better practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity.”

What better way to think of those who are less fortunate, than putting myself in a position of hunger?

From dawn to sunset no food or drink may be consumed  The usual routine is for everyone to get up before sunrise and eat, then go back to bed, then continue the day with no additional food or drink until after sunset.  I wanted to experience fasting, but since I’m not a morning person, I do NOT get up to have a pre-dawn meal.  I just get up when I need to, go to work and eat at night after sunset.  Lucky for me, life near the equator grants me a consistent sunset time of about 6:00pm.  Plus, I work in the evening, so I can conveniently eat during my school’s “dinner break,” which is a 20-minute break at the half-way point in our teaching schedule.

I’ve completed 9 days of fasting so far.  I began a little early to try it out…I wasn’t sure that I would be able to successfully perform this day-long task.  I allowed myself to have one cup of water in the morning, just because I live in a hot country, I’m usually dehydrated anyway, and I did not grow up conditioning my body to survive under fasting conditions.  The last 3 days of my fasting “trial” I was, in fact, able to survive without even drinking any water.  I consider that a complete success.

I am taking a break from fasting since I am leaving for an upcoming vacation, but I plan on continuing this physical, mental and emotional journey upon my return.  This experience wasn’t as hard as I was expecting it to be, which I was thankful for.  It did take me about three days to get used to the changes though.  I’d feel tired and I still craved sugar…because I usually eat sweets everyday….  But after those three days, I felt my body getting used to the schedule.  I had to slow down and take things easy, but that is a good lesson in itself.  Plus, I had plenty of time to think about those who never have enough and don’t have the luxury of eating every day.

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Cultural Places of Cental Jakarta

MONAS

After two failed attempts, I finally made it to the top of MONAS, or Indonesia’s “National Monument.”  It’s not the most impressive building I’ve ever been to, but National sites are important and so much pride surrounds the monument, that I felt I had to make it to the top.  A birds-eye view afforded me excellent glimpses of the lawn, park and greenery.  It was beautiful and I was happy to finally check that off my list.  The best part though is the price.  For just about 50 cents you can have this experience too, but get there right at 9am when there is no line.  At 9:30 there is already a significant queue and the heat starts to build!

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ISTIQLAL MOSQUE

Not far from MONAS in lies Istiqlal Mosque.  (Please don’t ask me how to pronounce this….)  This happens to be the largest mosque in Indonesia and Southeast Asia and the 4th largest in the world.

The rules for this mosque are a little more relaxed compared with my visit to the Grand Mosque in the UAE.  For this visit, I did NOT have to cover my hair.  I was given a Batik robe to wear, just because I was wearing short sleeves.

Tours operate by donation only and I was led around for about 45 minutes while taking pictures and receiving lots of juicy education.  It was a beautiful place to experience.

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JAKARTA CATHEDRAL

Basically across the street from the Mosque is the Jakarta Cathedral.  This is a beautiful Catholic church on a beautiful street, surrounded by city hubbub.  There is a park-like area just outside the church’s side doors where visitors can find relief from the sun under some shady trees.  And inside the church is even more beautiful than the outside.

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With so much unrest in the world and so many places unable to attain religious freedom, I found the juxtaposition of these two buildings reassuring.  Hopefully, at some point in my lifetime, I will get to see the people of the world being able to worship how and what they like, with nobody else interfering in anyone else’s business.

My fingers remain crossed….

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Lovely Lombok

I must admit I’ve been very blessed to see a handful of amazing places around the world, but this recent getaway has made me redefine the meaning of paradise.

I was itching for a getaway where I could have peace and tranquility and do lots of reading. Luckily I had to look no further than the island of Lombok.  Nestled just to the East of Bali, Lombok is a fairly large island that still has a slow, slightly undeveloped feel. This was great for me. Huge crowds are really not my style, so having the main conveniences available and being able to enjoy them solo was simply divine.

After a short 2-hour flight, I hopped onto the local bus for about 1.5 hours that took me to the city of Senggigi. The drive was filled with lush views of rice patty’s and glimpses of azure ocean around every hill.

On the main road, I was dropped off in front of Hotel Graha. Just to the left of the entrance I saw the sign for my homestay. I had to follow the signs for a while before Indah Homestay appeared before me, and what a slice of heaven it was. A simple room, lovely open-air bathroom, breakfast included and free wifi for $20 a night!

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After a shower and a nap I headed out to the main road for dinner. I walked slow to take notice of all my options. It was hard to decide where to go because I actually had a handful of choices and every location was empty. Since I was on vacation I decided to eat the foods I don’t have very often, so I picked a place where I could get spring rolls and a vanilla milkshake. Delicious.

I was pretty tired from traveling that day, so I headed back to my homestay for a relaxing evening of reading…something I never get to do enough of.

The next morning I made sure I got up to eat my complimentary breakfast before heading out to find a beach. I was offered a ride to a beautiful beach about a 10-15 minute drive up the road. The view continued to be impressive and majestic as the motorbike climbed and crested each new hill, providing peeks of the tantalizing water.

Finally, the beach was before me and I took advantage of the cool water. After a dip I walked along the sand and took countless photos of the cliffs, the water and landscape.

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On the ride back, I took the opportunity to stop and admire the rocky coast at one of the lookouts. I have nothing but respect and awe for what the power and force of water are able to do to solid rock.

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I elected to be dropped off at Pura Batu Bolong, a Hindu temple that was built into the rock face on the beach just a 20-minute walk from my homestay. It was a small temple, so it only took a few minutes to see all the statues and platforms, but I could have stayed there for hours, just admiring the view and breeze on that extremely hot day.

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After another afternoon of showering and napping, I again headed out to hunt for a delicious dinner in view of the ocean and earshot of the live (and good!) music at the neighborhood tavern.

I chose Lina Restaurant and quickly decided on a crab omelet and fresh pineapple juice to devour as I listened to the crashing waves and a beautiful rendition of ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door” filled the air.

By the time I heard Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” I knew I had to stay a little longer. That song reminds me of my time in North Carolina…another magical experience in my repertoire. So naturally, I took that as a sign that I was supposed to order dessert! There were only a few choices, but it only took me a second to pick a thick banana pancake and a cup of traditional coffee. I savored that strong cup (with the grinds mixed in) for another hour as I read my Kindle in the glow of the restaurant’s outdoor pavilion. A beautiful day and a beautiful evening.

For my last full day in Lombok, I wanted to take a tour of the Gili’s, which are 3 small islands just off the coast of Lombok, near the area where I was staying.

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Gili Trawangan (or simply “Gili T”) is the biggest, and most developed, with a definite “beach town community” feel. It takes about 4 hours to walk the perimeter of the entire island, so you can imagine the “town” is pretty small. But since my stop was only about one hour, it was easy to fill my time with shopping, and inspecting every beach-side café while trying not to get run over by the horse-drawn carriages that roam the cobblestone streets…I love islands that don’t permit cars!

Next up was Gili Meno, the center and smallest island.  This beauty is known for its great snorkeling spots and its camping opportunities.

My boat captain moored our boat and I hopped in the water to try this new adventure. For someone like me who can’t really swim very well, this experience made me a little nervous. I had never attempted a water activity like this before, I had no life jacket, no flippers and basically no instruction. Despite all of these factors, I still got in the water and stuck my face into the beautiful blue sea in an attempt to take a look at what lay beneath. Needless to say this new experience did not last long, as I was paranoid I would hyperventilate from constantly breathing through the mouth piece. But I did enjoy myself and I was able to see some beautiful coral formations an schools of fish in the area near my boat. I’m sure my next attempt will be even more fruitful and last a little longer.

After we beached our boat I had about an hour to enjoy the pristine coast to work on my tan.

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Gili Air is the last island in the bunch. I was going to stop here as well, but I had spent so much time in the sun that I didn’t think I had the energy to swim or sunbathe any more that day. So we circumnavigated the island and headed back to the Senggigi port.

After yet another (now ritualistic and necessary) shower and nap, I headed out for my evening prowl, to hunt for dinner. I wanted to try the restaurant in Hotel Graha. They have a restaurant on either side of the street, directly across from each other, which offered different types of cuisine. I crossed the street to enjoy the ocean front and the European selection of food. I started my amazing meal with an iced lime tea and spaghetti carbonara and finished with pineapple and cherry crepes with vanilla ice cream. So delicious!

That evening I reveled in peace and tranquility, for I knew the journey back to East Jakarta was going to be crowded, loud and tiring the next morning.

Although I only experienced a small part of Lombok, I would eagerly return to and highly recommend this island. Couples or singles alike will find anything they’d want or need. And even though amazing values can be had, the peacefulness ad comfortability are priceless.

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An Indonesian Wedding

I was beyond excited to be invited to a traditional wedding.  Probably the most ritualistic event a person can experience, the wedding is filled with days and nights of preparation with each ceremony being very different from the last.

For this wedding, I attended what I would consider “the reception.”  Traditional weddings can have a few different vow ceremonies which can take place at home or in a mosque and are usually attended by close family and friends.  Sometimes days or weeks later the “reception” happens, and is much the same as what I would expect in the USA.  The bride and groom are dressed in traditional outfits, the wedding party is all dressed in a color of the brides’ choosing, and guests are there to eat and be merry.  Upon signing one of the many guest books at the hall’s entrance, we were put in the path of  large white “ballot” boxes for guests to drop their envelope of money for the bride and groom and then we were given our party favors before entering the crowd.

The food was buffet style and everyone was able to walk around, get a plate and mingle.  There were two types of rice, chicken and vegetable stir-fry, fried fish, beef “BBQ,” seasoned hard-boiled eggs, and cucumber salad in yogurt sauce just to name a few items.  And everything was more delicious than the last item.  The bride and groom remained on stage as a huge receiving line of friends and family came to give congratulatory messages and pose for the photographer.

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Traditional batik patterns could be seen everywhere.  Generally, the men wore batik shirts and the women wore batik skirts with beautiful Kabaya’s on top.  Prior to the event I needed to go Kabaya shopping.  Thamarin City is a shopping area in Central Jakarta around all the huge malls.  Inside were large maze-like configurations where one could purchase Kabayas of every color and design, among other things.  They ranged in style from very traditional to very modern and in price from simple = reasonable to extremely intricate beadwork = very expensive.

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I settled on a simple, modern, black Kabaya with silver trim, while Emma (I was her + 1), chose a beautiful batik skirt with gorgeous purple bead and sequin detail that she got for a steal.

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At the reception, there was also a live band, a beautiful flowered archway, and a “photo booth” area where we were given tickets to have a picture with friends taken as another memento of the event.

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