Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Heart and Soul of Bali. Ubud.

Now that I'm so far behind on my blog, I'll have to backtrack a bit, but it's okay. I've been keeping a diary! Now I am in Java (as of last night) and just climbed an active volcano, which was...amazing of course, but first things first.

After leaving Ubud, the next stop was another amazing surf spot, but more on that later. I simply cannot skip over the best part of my trip thus far...Ubud, Bali.

Leaving Ubud was bittersweet. It's always nice to continue on in your travels, but when you stumble on a place that "feels right" to you, parting is such sweet sorrow. There were so many routines and nuances about Ubud that I really enjoyed. Getting to know the people and the ins and outs of the place was so exciting.

Balinese people, in general, are like angels. If someone catches your eye, it's almost always followed with an immediate hello.The Balinese really go out of their way to make you feel special. Even the Polisi shook our hands and asked where we were from before insisting that we bribe him for our mistake in driving without an international driver's licence!

The "homestay" or "guesthouse" was quite hospitable as well. The staff was so friendly, they made you feel like family, literally!Their attention to detail in Bali is extraordinarily as well. Exotic flowers accompanied ever breakfast dish and the employees swept the ground 5 times daily in order to remove any debris that may have collected from trees and plants. All this, including breakie for just $4 per night!

Ubud, as I mentioned before really takes pride in their cultural background. One night, we attended a traditional Balinese dance performance known as Kecak Fire Dance. This is one of the several dances said by numerous locals to be the best of the best. Upon arrival, I accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up backstage where I was intercepted by one of the performers. Ended up getting the VIP tour complete with music and explanation of the Balinese story behind the performance. Amazing. I was almost in tears! They really made us feel like we were part of the show, it was a really special moment! The whole time I was in Ubud, I felt like I was just that, "part of the performance". It is surely a place that will always have a special spot in my heart.

So, I had been counting down my days of tree plating with a vision of spa treatments and immaculate beaches lingering in the forefront of my mind. Some days, that was the only thing that kept me going! My spa day wasn't quite as I'd imagined it, but I must say, it was pretty good value for the one. Let's just say that I should have stuck to my work and checked out the insides of the place I would choose for my day of luscious pampering...Momma always said, you get what you pay for! And damn, was she right. While parts of my indulgence left a bit to be desired, the majority of it was actually pretty darn good. While the mani and pedi were pretty much non-existent and I could have done without the hair cream bath (which was actually a really painful scalp massage) and flower bath in a dingy tub, the facial, body scrub and massage were actually quite nice. All I had to do was go into meditation and try to block out the sound of the whizzing motorbikes and anxious street vendors. I did realize something about my adult-self however. I'm a lot less modest than I used to be! Boob massages and stripping naked are pretty much second nature to me these days. I used to be so uncomfortable with nudity, and now, it's nothing! I guess spa-treatments and women's locker rooms are the same when you get older. You'll show your whole kit and caboodle to pretty much any other woman with no problem!We've all got the same thing under there, don't we?

More time is running out and I've gotta catch a bus to the largest Buddhist temple in the world in 45 minutes! So much more to tell...


Monday, May 26, 2008

Beauty Overload!

I have never seen more beautiful people in one place in my life. Uluwatu, or as the locals refer to it "Ulu" is basically a paradise for surfers and spectators alike. The world-class surf break boasts gorgeous bods, and even more gorgeous waves. There are multiple breaks (most of them are lefts for those of you who understand the surf-lingo) which make for an absolutely dream-like surf spot. Darnnit I wish I was a real surfer. It was basically like sitting in the lodge of one of the best ski resorts in the world on a 3 foot powder day sipping hot chocolate. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the show. Mick got out and surfed twice a day and I sat on the coral sand beaches and watched surfer after surfer get "barreled" time and time again. I made friends with some of the local ladies selling handicrafts and massages on the beach. Funny story, when I was sick of getting hassled by the same old Balinese lady (she must have begged me at least 5 times before I got annoyed) I turned over on my stomach and pretended to be sleeping. I thought I was doing a good job, until the volume of her voice got louder and louder shouting "ecccuuuuse me! ECCCuse MEEE!" and then BAM! She squeezed, and I mean really squeezed my left and right but cheeks with both hands! So much for personal space! I guess I'm pretty used to it by now after having traveled in Asia for a few months!
So Ulu was amazing. You can see 4 or 5 volcanoes if you get up at sunset, which I did one day, and boy was it worth it. The restaurants sit right on the cliff overlooking the surf. You can choose whichever bamboo hut you like to dine on a $2 to $3 breakfast or lunch, and just feast your eyes on the hot bods walking to and fro. Photographers make a killing there catching surfers in their prime and selling them photos of themselves for $10 a pop. Make those poor little old ladies offering 1hr massages for $2 look kinda like cheap prostitutes! But, that's how it goes...

Ulu also has a bit of culture. The appropriately nick-named "Monkey Temple" sits high atop a cliff also overlooking the surf (of course). Monkeys (some rather aggressive I might add) anxiously await fruit-bearing tourists to feed them their favorite snacks. Sometimes, tourists end up feeding the monkeys more than they bargained for. I saw this one Korean lady loose her reading glasses. The monkey swept them right off her face, and took them to the scenic ledge to have a chomp or two. The woman bribed the monkey with numerous treats hoping to distract him long enough to snatch the glasses back. After 3 or 4 minutes, she was successful...however, I don't think her glasses were in such good shape! Oh, those cheeky monkeys! I got a few good photos as well.

After a few days of surf and sun, we have headed north into the mountain (or maybe I should say Volcano) town of Ubud, which is absolutely spectacular. It is really a cultural oasis here. There is so much to do and see, and everything is so damn cheap! We rented a motorbike (yes, I got back on a bike with Mick again. We went very, very slow!) and headed up to a Volcano today, and sat overlooking the beautiful center cone and valley that surrounds it. A few shopping stops and scenic rice-paddy terraces, and it was time for a rest.

Ubud, even though I've only been here for about 24 hours, may be my favorite Asian community so far. Traditional Balinese Kecak Fire Dance is on the agenda for tonight. Oh, and I think tomorrow is a spa day! $32 for head to toe treatment, hair and all! Jealous yet???

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Surfer's the city

So far, Bali is pretty much how I expected it to be...well, except for the fact that we are one of the major cities of Indonesia. Kuta, Bali is a city filled with food, shopping and a ridiculous amount of surfers. It kind of reminds me of Bangkok, only much smaller and with a beautiful beach lined with surf-stands, elderly beach massage therapists, and fruit stands galore.

Yesterday, I got an eyeful of Balinese culture. In the morning, we stumbled on a ceremony of sorts including nearly a hundred Balinese dressed in their finest garb, watching some sort of comedy and eating a buffet of local food, which they offered us as well. The Balinese version of clowns is pretty funny, I must say!

In the afternoon, after 2 lunches costing a total of about $5 USD, we strolled down to the beach and came across an interesting situation. As we walked down the street, buses full of what appeared to be "tourists" hooted and hollered at us through the windows. We ran into the group of school children on the beach, and they were indeed tourists, but from nearby Java. Half of the students were Muslim, and they were so enthralled with our white skin and blond hair. We stopped at least 10 times on to take photos with them. Once one group saw that we allowed them to take photos, another would quickly approach. I don't know what it was, but we sure did feel like celebrities!

That being said, yes, much of Indonesia is Muslim. The rest of the country is mostly Hindu, but there is indeed a great population of Muslims, especially in Java, which is the most densly populated country in the world. I will indeed be careful, and conceal my American Citizenship when necessary, but I've gotta tell you, seeing all of those extremely polite Muslim students, really made me think...

Next stop is Ulawatu, a beautiful surf spot just south of Kuta, where I sit right now. In just an hour, we will hop in the car with our driver and take a one hour trip to a beautiful cliff side beach with world-class surfing...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Map of Indonesia... T-minus 2 days!

                  MAP OF INDONESIA

This is the next stop! Australia is just there on the bottom right hand corner, and as you can see, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam just to the north across the South China Sea. We'll be flying into Denpasar, Bali, and traveling around from there. 

Flora and Fauna Photos

(L) An Emu! How cool are they? Kinda like an over sized Ostrich...only more colorful!

(R) The Iconic Australian Kookaburra. You should hear their call...they sound like monkeys believe it or not! Look at the turquoise feathers!

(L) A couple of Drummer make for a pretty tasty dinner! 2 Kilos...not too bad for a rookie!

(R) Border Ranges National Park. Pretty much a picture perfect rain forest. Exactly how I pictured it!

(Left) A Family of Roos! They were literally only 20 feet away, and so tame!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

8 days to go!

Well, just 8 days left of tree planting, and then, I'll be trading in my tree belt and spade for a sarong and a pina colada! God I can't wait! This time around has actually been pretty fun, I must say...despite the hard work and excruciating long days that is!

We've got a great crew (and quite a large crew) of 14 international workers. 4 girls including me, and 10 boys. The 3 girls are from Scotland, and they are just adorable. I've really gotten to know and like them more and more every day. On lass in particular called Emma is just a hilarious. She is seriously non-stop comedy...I don't know where she gets half the stuff, but she has the whole crew in stitches for the better part of the day. Love her. The guys are from everywhere from Germany and England to New Zealand, Canada, and of course Australia. We've had some pretty good times including a rockin' party this past weekend. Let's just say I had a few cocktails and got loose with some 90's music. Two words...VIDEO JUKEBOX! It's brilliant! All of those great music videos from growing up all at the touch of a button!

My living situation has been quite interesting. Some of us are staying above the bar with the video jukebox and others (myself included) have been camping out...not so great when you have to wake up at 4:30am. It's just wrong waking up before the sun and coming home when it's dark out...and downright cold too! The weather has actually been pretty nice as of late. It's been around 20 Celsius (I'm swift on metric now!) which calculates to around 68 Fahrenheit. Pretty perfect weather really. I'll be excited to give up the camping this weekend when the crew moves to a different location with better accommodations. Hopefully I'll be in a share house with 3 or 4 others. It's kinda like college, only instead of schoolwork, it's manual labor...and you're making money, not spending it. Oh, and the people are much more mature...well, not all of them!

Gosh I can't wait for a massage...I think I'll get a mud bath, pedi, mani and a massage actually...after all, I've earned it! Especially because it will probably only cost me about $10 all up! Gotta love Asia!