Sunday, June 22, 2008

Visa Run...Success!

Whew. After partying, puking all day, and sleeping on the most uncomfortable bed ever for 3 nights, I was ready for a shower and a comfy bed. Oh, by the way, we found out that our visas had expired a day sooner than we thought, so we needed to get the hell outta Dodge! We booked our flight to Malaysia a few weeks earlier and had neglected to realize that our 30 days was up on the 19th, not the 20th. Whoops. Nothing a little $20 can't fix. It turned out to be no problem at all. I did have my doubts though...

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia early on Friday morning. After a shower and a nap, we jumped on the Monorail for a great view of the city. KL boasts that they are home to some of Asias biggest things. The twin towers of KL were the biggest in the world at the time of completion in 1980 and they have the biggest mall I have ever seen. We spent all day on Saturday in the mall and didn't buy anything except food, Imax tickets and candy!) The thing has 10 floors, an indoor theme park complete with roller coaster, and the biggest movie theater in SE Asia. KL is a pretty upscale, really clean city that is competing with Singapore for the titles of biggest, strongest and best in Asia. There is a large Indian population there as well, which made for some interesting meals as well.

Though KL was a quick stop-over in order to renew our visas, I'm glad i got to check it out. It served as a good contrast to the experience that we are about to embark on...10 days in the jungle as far away from civilization as you can get in Indonesia.

Tomorrow we head out on the over-night boat to the Mentawai Islands, which are just off the coast of West Sumatra from Padang. We have organized a 10 day trek with Ed (from Bukittingi) who has been taking tourists there for years, and has a wife there as well. He claims that it is the most remote trek we will ever do, no matter where we travel in the world, and I believe him. I can't wait to see what the next 10 days brings. I've read reviews from other travelers, and I really think I am in for the time of my life. We are fully prepared, and should be just fine, although there is a threat of Malaria there. We have been taking malaria tablets for a few weeks now, so we shouldn't have a problem. The people of the Metawais are very primitive and are one of the few primitive peoples in Asia still living the way they did hundreds of years ago. I plan on writing a really in-depth essay including pictures about it for anyone who is interested.

So, with that, I will be out of contact for at least 2 weeks. I will certainly write when I have the chance. Please keep me in your thoughts and send some good positive energy to this side of the world for me. I can't wait to tell you all about it!


Reggae in Indonesia...with Cinta Cinta!

In the last 6 days, I've had some very different experiences, so much so that, once again, I need to split them up into two blogs. First things first.

From Bukittingi, we got directions from a local guy names Ed (who will also be our guide on our 10 day jungle trek in the Mentawais) to his friend Teddy's (not-so) brand new guesthouse in a fairly remote part of Western Sumatra. The selling point about staying at Teddy's place was that we would be the first Westerners to stay there, so naturally, we were in! As I explained in my last blog, the place also has a surf break or 2 that haven't ever been surfed. This also means that the village has rarely seen a foreigner (maybe even never) and have certainly never seen a surfer before. I think that pretty much sets the scene.

So we arrive at the bus station in the pouring rain, and manage to explain (with the name written on a piece of paper) where our final destination would be. We got on the right local bus, and headed 4 hours west to Muaro Binguang also known as Teddy's Place. When we arrived at the bus stop, we were greeted with looks of sheer confusion. Especially when Mick pulled his surfboard off the roof. When Teddy came over and greeted us, he offered a warm, firm handshake. Teddy didn't look like most other Indonesians. He had really nice curly shoulder-length hair, a small face and a very genuine smile and just seemed so happy to receive us. We knew right at that moment that we would become good friends with Teddy.

As we walked over to his motorbike, he explained to us that we still had another hour or so ride until we got the house...and, yes, it's still pouring rain. So, Mick hopped on the back of Teddy's bike with his surfboard under his arm, and I jumped on the back of Teddy's friend's bike and we were off. Right away, I noticed that road was really sketchy. It was just a mess of potholes and dirt speed bumps, which given my past experience, made me very nervous. I clenched the shoulders of my driver and asked him to please "Hati Hati" (be careful). He smiled, and laughed a bit, and continued on very slowly, which eased my mind a bit. Just as I started to realize that we were going too slow to do any real harm, I noticed that Mick and Teddy had turned off, and we continued on straight. We were a bit ahead of them, so I simply couldn't oppose...great. Now I am on the back of a motorbike with a stranger going down a dodgy road in the dark and it's friggin' raining cats and dogs I can't communicate with the driver who doesn't speak a lick of English. I sigh, and ask internally what I had gotten myself into this time. Every bad thought you could imagine went through my head, and I tried not to panic. I kept looking back and looking back, and still, no sign of them.

After about 15 minutes or so, I saw a headlight in the distance. Then I heard Mick laugh. Ahhh, I relaxed my jaw and thigh muscles, and shot an angry look at the two of them. "You Okay Krissy" asked Teddy? "Yeah, I was getting worried" I replied (that was obviously a tremendous understatement. Turns out, the two of them had stopped to retrieve the very thing that would dictate the happenings of the rest of our stay at Muaro Binguang...TUAC!

Tuac is a fermented coconut wine, that has a serious knack for creeping up on you, and is the local drink of choice (probably because it's so cheap!) When we arrived at the house, there were 2 other foreigners there already! They had arrived just 1 hour before us (damn it!) but they were excellent company. Carlos (from Spain) and Pedro (from Portugal) greeted us with warm and loud salutations. We all sat around, and it began. Out came the first pitcher of Tuac, and it didn't go down so smooth. It's really hard to describe the taste of it, but Tuac smell-tastes kind of like rotting something. I guess it's fruit, but that doesn't do it justice. Let's just say, it ain't that pleasant. After the second one, it's not so bad though....until you have too many. After many-a-glass of Tuac, we realized that the house we were staying in was home to an Indonesian Reggae band named Cinta Cinta. The guitars and percussion instruments came out not too long after our 2nd glass, and it was a good old fashioned jam session! Me on harmonica, Teddy on reggae vocals, Mick on the Djembe and the other guys on percussion and guitar. What a blast...and these guys were really good!

It's hard to make this long story short, but I will sure try. The next morning, we all went to the beach to watch the maiden surf voyage. We had to go 3 at a time because you have to take a hollowed out canoe across the lagoon for about a half hour and then walk to the surf about 20 minutes from there. A local family watched as I swam in the water and Mick caught a few small waves. They were just taken aback. They didn't quite know what to think of these two whities splashing around in the water. They were silenced when Mick stood up and carved a turn in the first wave. Within a half hour, all the kids were in the water with me, and they were all cheering Mick on. Talk about an ice-breaker!

That afternoon, we went clamming in the lagoon with 3 other local guys. Ori, who is also in the band and lives at the house and two of his friends showed us how to do it, and we emerged with enough shellfish to feed an army! After a sunset swim, we waded back over to the house where the gang was waiting for us to take us to a wedding rehearsal...I know, crazy day huh? It just gets better...

We arrive at the house of the wedding rehearsal an hour later to discover that we are pretty much the guests of honor. Teddy and the band agreed to play (in a very casual style) at the celebration through a friend. Before the music, we are all invited into the brides home, and are shown to the dinning room. This is not your typical dining room, it's actually the very room that the ceremony will take place in tomorrow. It is clad in gold and red, and there is a throne fit for a king and queen at the center. On the floor lies an amazing feast to be enjoyed by us with the accompaniment of the groom. We all sit on the floor Asia style, and are asked to begin. There were so many dishes to choose from, and a heap of rice of course as is tradition. I sampled some non-threatening dishes, and tried to be as polite as possible when the groom asked if I wanted to try the traditional dish. Then I made the mistake of asking what it was...Goat heart. How could I say no to the groom? So, I did it. Yuk. And I payed for it the whole next day.

The rest of the night was comprised of, you guessed it, Tuac and music. It made for a really fun celebration, and as I was later told, the first of it's kind. Cinta Cinta, which is the name of the band, plays Reggae, a genre of music that is not really recognized by most Indonesians. Of course, the loved it (despite the old-school men who just wanted to hear something they knew...universal). As I cheersed with my neighbor, I looked around and noticed that I was the only girl at this celebration. Perfect. I can only imagine what they must have thought of me! So funny. We had a grand old time, drank way too much, and got a ride home in the flat bed of a local's truck. It was a bumpy ride on the same road we had come in on, and I was quick to bed when we got back, already beginning to feel the negative effect of the Tuac.

The next morning, I was sick as a dog...all day long. I think it was the combination of Tuac an Goat Heart that did it. I stayed in bed pretty much all day, and the men of the house took good care of me feeding me Honey ginger tea and antacid tablets. The next morning, I felt fine, thank god, because we had to leave.

That's the really quick version of the story. I wish I could go into detail about each of the people that I became friends with and how much of an effect the band, and the ideas behind their music had on me. I had a really special experience at Muaro Binguang. I've got some photos that I will post later that might help you get the picture.

Tuac Oi Oi Oi Oi, (Tuac, my my my)
Tuac Oi Oi Oi Oi, (repeat)
Tiga Ribu, (30 cents)
Hagi Satu Bottle (it costs for one bottle)

That's the song of the time. I don't think I'll ever drink Tuac again...unless, of course, I have to!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Indonesian Nuances..FUNNY ONE!

This is one of my favorite things to write about. When you travel, you just come across so many things that seem strange to you, but are just a part of everyday life in the countries you travel in. Here in Indonesia, there are many customs that are different to the rest of Asia, and many others that carry over from Thailand and Vietnam.

One that seems to be pretty standard across the Asian board is traveling in local buses. For example, whether it is a mini-bus, or a large local bus, they always fit as many people as humanly possible into the thing. What I mean is that the number of seats on the bus does not, by any means, equal the number of passengers. Sometimes it's doubled leaving people sitting on laps, floors, even rooftops of these buses...not so safe, or easy for large westerners with long legs. It does, however always make for an entertaining trip every time. Even when you think they can't possible fit another body in there, they do. You get pretty up close and personal with your neighbor!

This next one only occurs in Indonesia (thank God). As you know by now, there is quite a large population of Muslims here in Indo. Well, Muslims are very dedicated to their religion. So much so that they are expected to pray 5 times a day starting at 4 a.m. It all kicks off with blaring intercoms located everywhere (and I mean everywhere, even in Harau Valley) with recorded voices chanting for an hour and a half. As you can imagine, when searching for a place to stay, the first thing you look for is the nearest intercom-bearing Mosque. The place I'm currently staying at is right next door to one. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep this morning. That's just the beginning. Remember, I said they pray 5 times a day, which means, there are prayer places sprawled across the city and countryside. The funny part is where you find them sometimes. Two of my favorite "Mushollas" so far have been in the gas station and the airport. The gas station one is hilarious. The big illuminated sign outside reads (in Bahasa): Petrol, Snacks, Drinks, Toilet, Musholla (prayer room). The Jakarta airport one was actually pretty depressing. It was just a glassed off 20 foot long area with a brick wall. 6 people were crammed in there with their shoes off praying to a bunch of brick...I guess it doesn't matter where it is for the Muslims. Just as long as they can fulfill their duty.

Another good one that again spans across Asia, is that there doesn't seem to be a driving or smoking age. Every boy here smokes and drives. I've been the passenger in a small local (short-distance) bus with a driver as young as 10 smoking a cigarette and blasting American Pop-Rock.

Oh, this one is hilarious. Did you know that Indonesia has Dunkin Donuts? Yep, and KFC too...everywhere! We don't even have Dunks in California, and it's made its way all the way to Indonesia! Weird. The other funny thing was that when we flew from Java to Sumatra, everyone was bringing huge boxes of doughnuts to their loved ones!

Speaking of food, the local food here in Indonesia is a cultural experience all in its own. Remember how mom used to always tell you not to eat with your hands? Exactly the opposite here, in fact, it's encouraged! This is a little sketchy sometimes because, much like India, Indonesia has a "food hand" and a "poop hand". Left is poop, right is food, and don't mix 'em up or else you'll come down with a swift case of Hepatitis. You may want to wash your hands after shaking with a local too, you just never know. Anyways, the food. So they serve you a huge heaping bowl of white rice and anywhere from 5 to 25 plates of various dishes to flavour your rice with. You then dip your right hand into a bowl of water, ball up a bit of rice and mix it with your choice of tasty (and sometimes really spicy) Indonsian cuisine. It's usually something along the lines of a curry or a fried fish, chicken or beef dish. It's actually quite good, and really fun in a rebellious kind of way!

The markets in all of Asia are quite impressive as well. The good ones have everything, and I mean, everything! From live chickens and rotting fish, to hand made jewlery, clothing, jilbabs (Muslim head coverings) of every color and woodcarvings, you can usually find it all in one small, congested series of corridors that seems to be never ending. Good luck finding your way out of these markets. Most of the vendors sell almost exactly the same thing in every shop. Sometimes they are divided up into departments, and other times, not so much. Most of it is junk, but you can find a diamond in the rough sometimes. Basically, you have to know exactly what you are after to make it worth your while.

My favorite Indonesian nuance is the greeting that you get in Indonesia. Whether you are male or female, young or old, there is one sweet greeting that lets you know that you are in Indo. "Hello Mister". You'll hear it 20, 30, 40 times a day, and it gets old real fast. I like responding back with the same "Hello Mister" in a high pitched voice. That seems to get a laugh...

I'll keep em comin'!

Harau Valley...A.K.A. Ewok Villages

Harau Valley was just what the doctor ordered! We were getting pretty sick of the hub-bub of city life (which I write about in my next blog titled "Nuances") and needed to make a b-line for a quieter, more relaxing atmosphere.

Harau Valley is located about an hour to the north of Bukittingi and is just breathtaking. To get there was a bit of a mission, I must say. 4 buses, and a side-car motor-taxi later, we arrived in what I think was ultimate paradise.

The valley itself sits beneath 600 foot limestone cliffs (ideal for rock-climbing) and lush rice paddies. There is only one home stay in the whole valley, appropriately named "Echo Homestay". In the morning, the valley is filled with the sounds of whooping Gibbons (the black monkeys with that cool little bubble under their chin) and peaceful bird calls. Not many tourists find their way to Harau, which made it even more perfectly relaxing. Days were spent cruising around taking in the amazing scenery on the back of a motorbike, doing yoga in the musholla (make-shift mosque), floating in the pool of a waterfall watching local climbers, children and monkeys scale the cliffs with no ropes and bare feet and playing chess with the locals in the evening. We did a really beautiful trek to the top of the cliffs (despite my excruciating cramps) with our friend and local guide Ik that we made at Echo. We had some great conversations with him as well about American Politics, and world domination!

The property itself was simply amazing. Traditional Mingkabu (Sumatran) houses are adorned with beautiful soaring rooftops that resemble bull-horns. The guest huts are made of flattened bamboo and come equipped with outdoor bathrooms...perfectly simple.

Three nights there was just the right amount. Feeling quite refreshed and really starting to feel strangely at home here in Indonesia. I've picked up a bit of the language, mostly the numbers and basic greetings and necessities, and can now communicate (a little bit) with the locals. It's not so intimidating

Today we are heading to a friend of a friend's home stay on a beach on the Indian Ocean. We will be the first foreigners to stay there, and Mick might even get to name the un-surfed wave in front! We're told that there is plenty to do including canoeing, fishing, surfing, playing guitar and trekking in the jungle! The owner is really looking forward to having us, so it should be a pretty good way to spend our last few days before we take the flight to Malaysia on Friday to renew our visas (hopefully!)...

Pictures to come, I promise. Nobody has CD Rom drives here, so loading them is a bit of a problem...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Metawais in the Near Future

Well, the boat that we were supposed to take across to the Mentawais cancelled. They changed their schedule, so we can't head over there until after we get back from the visa run to Malaysia. It's too risky to get over there and not know when the return boats will leave, so we figured, we'll just hang around Padang, Sumatera until our flight to Kuala Lumpur on the 20th.

Right now we are in Bukittingi, which is a pretty beautiful mountain, or should I say, Volcano town! Bukittingi is home to Sumatra's most active volcano called Merapi. Don't worry, the last eruption was 30 years ago. Today we hiked through a beautiful canyon to the so-called "silver village" which basically consisted of one house with one guy that makes silver jewelry. A little disappointing, but I gotta say, the hike was great! Last night we saw some traditional martial arts, dance and beautiful music. Quite the performance really!

Today we are off to Harung Valley where we will stay in ewok houses for a couple of nights and trek to some jungle waterfalls. Gibbons (monkeys) are indigenous to the area as well as water buffalo, giant beetles and a few snakes.

You've gotta be a flexible traveler I guess is the moral of the story. Great news though, not only did I get my tax return, but I also got an extra $600 from the federal government! Guess I'll stay in Indo another month! You gotta love it when it works out that way!

Love Love

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pangandaran, My Home in Java

Pangandaran, located on the west coast of central Java, is a VERY special place, and will forever remain in my heart. In July of 2006, Pangandaran was devastated by a 3 meter high Tsunami that tore the beach town and the hearts of it's inhabitants to pieces. An earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale set off the Tsunami that came without ample time to escape. Many did manage to climb to the top of some local buildings or flee to the nearby hills, but still about 550 were killed and nearly 50,000 lost their homes and businesses (many of which were established literally ON the beach catering to tourists). While much of Pangandaran was rebuilt in just a few months, there are still visible signs of the havoc caused just 2 years ago.

The long stretch of beach with 3 excellent surf breaks seems eerily quiet during the week, which makes for an excellent tourist destination. The local economy has suffered tremendously due to the natural disasters and the Bali Bombings of 2004. Tourism is now merely a trickle of what it once was just 5 years ago in this beautiful resort town. As a result, the locals are incredibly helpful and friendly, and with that, we meet Yoga.

As soon as we checked into our amazing hotel room, we headed down to the beach, where we were followed by Yoga, a local surfer/Renaissance man. His intention (as requested by the owner of our hotel) was to inform Mick that the surf is quite dangerous due to the very heavy rip tides. Before Yoga had finished his shpeel, Mick was already paddling for the huge wave that locals had broken many-a-surfboard on. Most of the local don't even surf this spot anymore because they can't afford to repair or buy a new board if theirs breaks.

Mick came down hard as the wave closed out and crashed on him and his board. He came up unscathed, and Yoga and I breathed a sigh of relief. Yoga thought Mick was crazy, and then began our friendship. When Mick came in, he was greeted with a handshake and respect from Yoga for taking such a hard fall. Yoga told us that we needed to meet his Belgian friend David that also liked to surf this spot, but didn't like to go out alone. More on David in a bit.

As we were discussing the awesomeness of the crash, a body boarder came peddling down the beach on his bike with his board and fins in the basket. He immediately greeted Mick with a handshake and said that he too, saw the crash, and wanted to make sure that Mick knew that someone saw it...that it wasn't all for nothing. This fella's name was Darren...and then, there were four. David, Darren, Mick and I.

As i mentioned before, Yoga was quite well-rounded. A 28 year old native Javan, Yoga is very friendly and a pretty hard worker. When he's not surfing the local spots with his surf buddies, he's entertaining tourist by taking them on tours through the National Park, giving surf lessons, renting out his motorbike to pay for his loan, and organizing transportation to and from Pangandaran. Because he was so friendly and his English was so good, we became immediate friends. He really treated us like family the whole time we were there. He took care to make sure that we were happy and had everything that we needed. Yoga introduced us to all of his friends (foreign and local) and showed us all the surf spots. I think he really liked us too, because every day that we spent in P'daran, he was with us. He would come by in the mornings to see what we were up to, and keep in touch all day long to make sure that we could all hang out at night as well. Yoga and I got to have some pretty in-depth conversations about politics, religion and travel as well. I think our conversations got his mind turning as much as it did mine! Yoga became a really good friend, and he is the reason that we made friends with the other two guys, Darren and David.

Darren, or Daz is the Australian body border who we met on the beach the first day. What a special guy. As soon as we met Darren, we knew that we wanted to spend more time with him. His cool, collected and almost adolescent smile was so inviting. We knew immediately that we were on the same wavelength, and hoped that we would become friends. Sure enough, the next day, Darren and Mick went for a surf in the morning together, and had a blast. That evening, I really got to have a great conversation with Darren. He accompanied Mick, Yoga and I to the fish market and we laughed and talked the whole time. The next day, as we were sitting on the beach having a great spiritual conversation, Darren revealed that he studied as a monk for 2 1/2 years in Burma. I knew there was something special about him! He also told us that he had an 8 year old daughter named, brace yourself, Lily. Perfect. We had lots of good times and laughs with Darren, and hope to meet up with him again in Australia.

That leaves David, whom we spent a lot of good quality down time with. David, the one who liked to surf the big waves that Mick did, was very special as well. He was our age, and from Belgium, and had a certain quality about him that makes for and instant attraction. He was very smiley, carefree and patient in conversation. The kind of person who's company you can always welcome, and never get sick of. He taught us how to make hats out of coconut leaves, and did so with so much patience. He accompanied us on all of our adventures in Pangandaran and surfed with Mick and Darren every day as well. I think we may meet back up with him again soon.

I have some great pictures of all of these people, and will do my best to load them on as soon as I get a chance.

From P'daran, we took a bus to Jakarta, and flew straight out from Jakarta, the capital of Java (and also the most populated city in the world), to Padang, Sumatra where I sit now. Today we will take a 15 hour ferry to the Mentawai Islands where there is some of the best surf and trekking in the world. The islands are so remote, that finding accommodation is difficult. We basically have to find someone who looks friendly, and ask if we can stay at their house for the week. Should be interesting, and I should come back with tons of photos and stories. this will surely be the most adventurous part of our trip thus far. If you have a chance, Google the Mentawai Islands, Sumatra.

Ahhh, traveling!

These Javanese Eyes are A-Smilin'

As soon as we found our seats on the train, I noticed an adorable Javanese face smiling at me from across the aisle. This young boy (probably 7 or 8 years old) was just striking. He had mischievous, yet angelic eyes. I felt an immediate need to make an effort to communicate with him, and he must have received my telepathic request loud and clear. He seemed to me like an old soul. These types usually stand out to me for some reason. Within 5 minutes, he was sitting in the empty seat across from me watching our chess match intently.

I remembered that I had packed 5 English children's books, and reached into my backpack and pulled out what I thought to be the perfect book for my little friend "Peter Pan".

He accepted the book graciously, and, to my great surprise, began reading it English! I smiled warmly at him and he looked up at me (numerous times) with this little eye-wink and spry as to say "yeah, that's right, I'm reading!"

After he had carefully studied each picture and read all the words on each page, he closed the book, and let out a very adult sigh of relief. Then, he picked it back up, and patiently thumbed thorough it again. What a great kid!

When he was satisfied with his reading time, he continued to watch our game closely. He pointed out to Mick that he could get me in "check mate" with one move, which Mick did, and won the fame. After this professional advice, we were certain that the kid was a child-chess prodigy, so I let him sit in to play my opponent. Turns out, (perfectly) that the kid actually had no idea how to play! He must have just been lucky?? Weird.

Since he chose to make a permanent seat in our row, we shared our snacks, and I pulled out all the non-English speaking games I could think of. I had to revert back to my time a the orphanage in Cambodia. We played Tic Tac Toe, some drawing games, and what appeared to be an Indonesian version of TTT...though we couldn't quite figure it out!

The boy rambled on the entire ride in Bahasa-Indonesia language, despite the fact that we told him we don't understand. I can only imagine the stories he was so vividly telling us! Complete with expression, and hand gestures galore! i just responded with a smile or a laugh when I thought appropriate, and he kept on going!

HE fell asleep for the last hour of the train ride, and his dad woke him up when we had reached our final destination so that he could say goodbye. He came over, tapped us on the shoulders and offered a firm handshake and thank you. He waved to us until we were out of sight, just like in the movies, and we watched his little face fade off into the distance. What a sweetheart. There's something so special about communication without words. In my Asian travels, I've learned so many times that words are not necessary to communicate. Kindness and open-mindedness, however, is.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Natural Disaster Area

Still backtracking here, but I'm getting closer to being caught up! When I entered this into my diary, I was sitting on a beach in Pangandaran, Java (my favorite place so far) watching my new friends surf big waves a drinking a nice cold Bintang Beer at sunset. More on Pangandaran later...

Our first stop in Java was in the town of Probolingo, from where we caught an overpriced minibus at 1:30am to Ganung (volcano) Bromo. I must pause here a moment to explain how many natural disasters have occurred in this part of the world, especially on the island of Java.

In the past 10 years, there have been numerous devastating earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, a mud eruption and, of course, the 3 meter high Tsunami the claimed the lives of over 1,000 people in 2006. We stayed in the town where the Tsunami originated (Pangandaran) and saw some of the repercussions first hand. Because of it's location, Java is a hub for natural disaster. It sits just on top of ever-shifting tectonic plates, making it highly susceptible to seismic activity. That being said, as you can imagine, there a quite a few really impressive volcanoes, and disaster-ridden villages peppered among the beautiful natural jungle and volcanic black sand beaches.

Okay, back to Bromo. So 1:30am, and it's dark, misty, and quite cold. We catch an extra hour of sleep in the minibus before we embark on our journey through the sulfur rich air. We bought some water and sound a flashlight to rent because the approach is absolutely impossible without a bit of light. We carefully followed our flashlight beam as we navigated across the dried up riverbed with thick mist and an extremely bad smell of sulfur in the air. It was so thick, that when we got near the top, we needed to cover our nose and mouths just to be able to take a breath in! We laughed when Bromo finally appeared after an hour of following tire tracks, footprints and horse droppings ever so carefully. Turns out, Bromo is surrounded by a big open field...that just gives you an idea of how thick the air was! She was massive, and incredibly breathtaking.

We enjoyed the sunrise from the rim of the steamy caldera and then partook in yet, another Javanese photo shoot. Once the photos had ceased, we walked half-way around the rim of the volcano in order to see the many impressive landscapes that Bromo had to offer. Every 20 steps revealed a new vista, bitter than the last. The sketchy footpath was made of packed volcanic ash, and slipped out from under our feet in a few delicate places making for a rather adventurous walk. Nothing too risky though! Bromo was certainly one of the most beautiful natural wonders that I have ever seen, and my first Volcano! What a great one it was. I got some beautiful pictures like the one I included a couple of posts ago.

We decided to arrange our own transportation to the next stop, which would be the cultural center of Java, and the old capital of Java called Yogjakarta.

After about 9 hours of travel by local bus, we arrived in Yogja exhausted. We got a really cheap room ($3) and looked forward to sleeping in and relaxing after a couple of days of early rising and travel, and Yogja was just the place to do it!

After breakfast, we set out on foot past the central market, selling everything from batik to leather to Jesus on a cowhide towards the Sultan's palace. Java still has a Sultan, although he is not an active part of the government anymore. The president makes the political decisions, while the Sultan and his family act more as a royal presence. His dwelling wasn't all that impressive, but our guide was. He was very informative and gave us all kinds of good tips for our stay in Yogja.

We followed his advice and took a becack to the Batik workshop and picked up several beautiful batik paintings for really cheap. One in particular that I absolutely fell in love with made it's way into my backpack, despite the fact that it was way too expensive before I bargained the artist down to less than half the price!

The next morning, we set out for the world's largest Buddhist temple, "Boroubador". Due to the fact that we were still a bit sensitive about getting ripped off, we again arranged our own transportation via, you guessed it, public bus, and made the trip almost in time for sunrise. Although it didn't hold a candle to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or the Grand Palace in Bangkok, BBador still had quite a bit of charm. Despite getting swarmed, yet again, by local students, we managed to escape the crowds long enough to appreciate the sheer beauty of this very holy place. It's cement lattice enclosed Buddhas and multi-tiered stupas were magnificent. Not to mention the 3km of carved reliefs that adorned the temple walls.

That evening, we attended the Leather-Puppet show...BIG mistake! We should have known when we were 2 of 4 people that had turned up for the performance that it wouldn't quite live up to our expectations. The puppets were incredible, but the performance was BO-RING! The fight scenes were the only saving grace. Much like the Gamelan musicians themselves, we were getting tired and irritable, and decided to leave after an hour (we were the last ones standing!)

The next morning, we were off. Up early for breakie and Internet, and then a quick exit to the train station destined for Pangandaran.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Muslim Java

My favorite Asian form of transportation to is by local bus. This was our choice to Gillimanuk, the border town to Java and then the local ferry across the Bali Strait to Java. You can choose to do this journey in much "safer", quicker, touristy/expensive ways, but that takes all the fun out of it!

Traveling via public transportation is always a journey in itself. It gives you a real chance to mingle with the locals and experience apart of their everyday life. There are always "street singers" or bus singers as I would call them that hop on and off the bus throughout the day playing a tune and asking for change. At some of the bus stops, local vendors jump on the bus with a variety of snacks and drinks for you to choose from. The treats vary from Quail eggs to candy to full meals, and can be a pretty good way to satisfy your hunger on a long ride.

I was, for some reason, a bit apprehensive about our arrival in Java. Perhaps it is because 90% of the population is Muslim. The other 10%, quite interestingly, is made up of 4 other religions; Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Protestants. I was a bit worried not only about my religious affiliations (not that I am a practicing Catholic anymore) but also my appearance and Nationality upon entering Java.

Once we Disembarked the ferry, we hopped into a Bem0 (privately owned van) to the next bus station where we would continue on from. We crammed our gear (2 surfboards, 2 backpacks, and 2 rather large western bodies) into the van with 2 Muslim Ladies, one young and one old. I felt bad for cramping their space, and could only imagine what must be going through their minds. At first I avoided eye contact with both, but then, my eyes were intrigued with the teenage girl. I was contemplating how different our lives were. Here I was, traveling the world, completely free and independent, and there she was, quite the opposite, forced by her religion to cover all skin and hair on this hot summer day. The only visible parts of her body were her hands and face. Imagine what it would be like to walk a day in her shoes. To wear her neatly pressed school uniform and jilbab (head-dress) day in and day out with my only freedom of expression lying in my choice of footwear. It was then that she caught my transfixed stare. She responded with a sweet, wholesome, immaculate smile. Beauty radiated from her chocolate brown eyes. I wanted so badly to ask her the questions that weighed on my mind, but there it was, once again...the language barrier. Perhaps I could ask her if she spoke any English. Surely she must be learning some in school, but I didn't want to overstep my bounds. I wanted to respect the Muslim cultural "norms" and didn't know if it was okay for me to converse with her. The bus stopped. We were at our destination, and my chance had passed. At least I thought it did...

Upon setting foot on the bus, I recognized a familiar face, it was her! My soon-to-be Muslim teenage friend. She recognized us immediately (hard not to) and revealed that she did, indeed, speak English! In fact, she had her English homework with her and was very excited for us to proof her work; which was almost impeccable. She said that we were the first English-speaking people she had ever met and was anxious to practice her conversational skills with us.

We talked (slowly) for nearly 3 hours. We shared music (she liked it when I played the Beastie Boys), photos of her family and normal clothes, and even email addresses. We traded Bahasa (Indonesian) lessons for English ones. I was honestly sad to see her go. She was off to spend her month-long school holiday with her sick Uncle. I'll never forget this very special interaction. Although we all know that stereotypes are not accurate, it's so easy to slip and be fearful of the unknown. This teenage girl helped me remember that (while we do have to be sensitive of the cultural and religious traditions of others) we are all just human.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

And...Some Beautiful Places I've Visited

Uluwatu Beach, Bali
Rice Terraces in Beautiful Ubud, Bali
The Local Market in Ubud, Bali
The Largets Buddhist Temple in the World: Boroubador, Java.

Some Friends I've Made Along the Way!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Medawi, Bali (read Ubud part 2 first!) and Java!

Seated on the west-coast of Bali, a few hours west of Uluawatu, was a sleepy little beach village called Medawi, where the locals are surfers too (uncommon, surprisingly in much of Indonesia), the beach is covered in Volcanic sands and large grey rocks and the surf is surprisingly consistent in the mornings. For me, it was a time to relax, and catch up on some reading and writing...oh, and eating. We found this really, really cheap restaurant/home stay right on the beach, and boy did we eat! A couple of quick memorable moments...

One night while eating dinner, a chicken that was roosting in a stairway just 5 feet from our table got shooed away from his post and swooped into my hair...kinda scary, but I survived. Let's just say I didn't eat Ayam (chicken) for a few days.

I attempted to surf in some really mellow waves that were breaking close to shore. Just as I was having a great time, shoulder did it's weird sharp-pain thing again. Bummer. No surfing for a bit longer now. Don't know what the heck is wrong with it.

Both nights in Medawi, there was a local soccer game that took place at about 5pm. The locals play shirts and skins, and wear no shoes and play alongside cows. Pretty darn cool actually, and when they weren't clowning around with one another, they were really good players. Nonetheless, very entertaining to watch!

Had my first bucket shower. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, well, when there is a squat toilet with no flusher (as is quite common in Asia, especially here in Indo), the supply you with a bucket. The bucket is then filled with water and poured down the toilet. So, if your shower head doesn't work, you can also use the bucket to shower with...mmmmm, yummy! Better that being salty for 3 days though! Met some really nice locals that gave us some tips for west Java, which we are nearing now.

Right now I sit I sit in Yogjakarta, I got here, I will explain in my next blog. Just give me a day or two... STILL SO MUCH TO SAY!

Pictures soon to come. Maybe tomorrow!

Ubud...Part Dua

Okay, I ralized that if I'm ever gonna get caught up with this blog, that I've gotta keep it a bit more short and sweet, so I'll do my best. If anyone wants more details, just let me know...

So after the "spa day", we checked out this really cool Sacred Monkey Forest. Hundreds of Long-tailed Meckacs living among ancient Hindu Temples...pretty amazing. The monkeys there were quite dosile areound humans, but rather rambunzxious around eachother. Saw monkeys engagin in both pre and post-birthing acts. How adorable it was to see baby monkeys clung to the underbellies of theri mothers. Oh, and god, the Banyan treees! So enchanting.

Had to indulge in a traditoinal (and cermeonial) Balinese dinner, so we did. We met the friendliest guy in Bali named Arie, and partook in the experience of smoked duck. Not exactly what I expected, but the company of Arie and the bad dad-jokes certainly made up for the small portions. I tried to adapt my "chicken joke" to Arie's duck, but it didn't go over so well. For those of you who know my chicken joke, the towel was the total wrong didn't look like a chicken at all...more like a...well, nevermind.

The last day in Ubud, was, in my opinion, the best. We rented a motorbike and headed off to the jewlery village where I picked up some beautiful pieces for really reasonable prices. I've got some great gifts for you ladies! After a loing day of shopping and visiting local art stores, we stopped at a local village to watch the Herons land (and poop all over the on-looking bird watchers).

Ubud was simply amazing. I can't even begin to explain what it felt like there, but I can say that it was filled with culture, smiles and left some everlasting memories in my mind. I'd love to go back again with loads more cash and buy things to furnish my life!

Next stop...Medawi. This was a small surf village with hardly anything, save a whole bunch of character!