Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Dec. 4 Dispatch

Since this blog has now become my repository for all of our travel postings I realized that I should add a couple from the start of our trip. Here's the dispatch from Dec. 4. Sorry, but I'm not going backwards to add all the photos.

After spending a day in Sanur and Kuta in southern Bali we headed North to Ubud. It's a more cultural place in the middle of the island. It was very nice, but still very touristy. The calls of "transport" followed us whereever we walked, with Indonesian men making the sign for driving, pretending that their hands are on a steering wheel. It's annoying at first, then amusing, then just annoying again.

In Ubud we stayed at a small place in the middle of some rice paddies. Our host arranged for tickets for us for a Kecak dancing show for that evening. It was fabulous. 100 guys sit in a circle and for over an hour they make music through coordinated chanting while a dance showing the triumph of good (Rama) over evil (Ramaya?) happens in and around their circle. Then there was a dance by two young virgin girls who danced for probably 20 minutes fully coordinated with one another, with their eyes closed the whole time. Very impressive. And lastly a guy danced on burning coconut husks. Ow!

The next day we went for a hike through the fields and hills to the north of Ubud. It's beautiful, except the walk back came along the main road, which is a little nasty and congested. Even on the beautiful small island of Bali thre's over 3,000,000 people. We were accosted half way up by a coconut selling bandit, which was somewhat amusing and somewhat disturbing. I'll leave that story for telling live. Later in the day we went to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, just at the south end of town, where hundreds of Balinese Macaques run wild. It's an incredible place with 3 fourteenth century Hindu temples within it. Even though it's just out of town it feels like you're in the middle of the jungle stumbling upon lost temples with statues of gods consuming children at the front entrances. Plus, while we were there incredible thunder and rain clouds rolled in overhead. Very Indiana Jones.

The next day we got the hell out of Bali. It's beautiful, but the two places we'd been were just a little two busy. So we caught the Perama bus to a harbout and got a boat to take us the five hour journey over to the Gili Islands. Amusingly, this was the top recommended safe boat company. It had taken three tenders to get everyone on board the boat, about 40 people. And when I looked around, there was one small lifeboat that might have held 10 people. There was seating on the boat for maybe 15 people, so Colleen and I camped out on the wet sand covered floor near the lifejackets. I know, it sounds terrible, but it wasn't so bad.

Our island of choice, Gili Air, was the third of the three Gili islands that we stopped at. And we arrived in the dark after watching a phenomenally beautiful sunset. We caught a horse and buggy, as there are no cars allowed on the island, and checked in at the Lonely Planet recommended Coconut Cottages in the dark and hoped that they would be OK. I woke up the next morning and went outside to read for a bit as Colleen slept. I stepped out onto our front porch into the most beautiful flowered garden area, surrounded by blooming frangipani. It was spectacular.

As we ate our breakfast in the Coconut's restaurant a couple of German girls asked us if we wanted to join them on a snorkeling trip around the islands, since the boat wouldn't take just the two of them. We agreed and went off on a glass bottom boat trip. We made three snorkeling trips, seeing sea turtles, lots of beautiful fish, and giant clams. We had lunch in a relaxing little hut on Gili Meno, the smallest of the Gilis. And had a wonderful day.

These islands are absolutely beautiful. They're exactly what an island paradise should be. Soft white sands. Pristing blue waters. Little huts sprinkled about. And almost totally devoid of tourists. On an island whose primary economic driver is tourism, I would be surprised if there is more than 50 people here. That will change later on in the month, when everyone is off for their Christmas breaks, but we'll be gone by then. Oh, and it's all dirt cheap. Our beautiful hotel - $20 a night. Dinner last night of fresh snapper, prawns and several drinks - $10. Yes, I may not be coming home.

Today we've gone and checked out the local dive shop. We'll be doing a refresher dive this afternoon at 2:00. Apparently there are lots of friendly sharks around here, so I'm optimistic that some will pay us a visit. And I'm hoping to do a few more dives over the next few days. Later on today, we'll just lounge in one of the little shelters by the beach, avoiding the sun and enjoying the hospitality.

We're having a wonderful time, as you can probably tell from this letter. We're safe, although a little sunburned. Accessing money is challenging, but we hope it will turn out OK. Internet access is terribly slow, but that's to be expected in the middle of nowhere in a thirdworld nation. And the food is absolutely amazing.

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