Indonesia. Its better down here.

In many ways it is. OK, not in EVERY way. But the culture of Bali, the deserted beaches of Lombok, incredible sunsets and unbelievably friendly and welcoming people have made me decide to stay all the way until my 30 day visa expires. Ironically I was never planning on coming here, but the pilgrimage is always adapting. The only negative – and I will get it out of the way now so I don’t feel like I’m beating the horse too much is that July and August is the high-season here, and hordes of French, Dutch and Australians are here for the holidays. Prices of lodging are often quoted at twice what the guide-book says, and you feel this constant pressure to find lodging early in the day and quickly. Many of the locals have said that this is the busiest summer they’ve seen in 10 years (prior to the 2002 Bali bombings). Outside of not getting great value for the dollar and sometimes seeing locals at their worst (blatantly ripping off tourists), Indonesia has been very good, and I am meeting some fantastic characters.

We arrived at the airport in Kuta after a nice, sleepy flight from Bangkok and took a taxi directly to Ubud. The very first thing we did was shove our rain gear into the bottom of our packs – it doesn’t rain a drop here in August and the temperature fluctuates between 75 and 85. Rough, I know. :)  Just the drive to Ubud was incredible – we passed amazing art galleries – carvings, paintings, tapestries and many other crafts. The colorful nature of everything compared to a far left-leaning place like Laos just hit me immediately. Finding ourselves quickly in Ubud we found a small cafe called Three Monkeys with ponds, fish, waterfalls, teak furniture, gardens, and fluent English staff. Oh and amazing organic food. For a moment I thought I was eating breakfast at Foolish Craigs in Boulder…

We did struggle to find accommodation (about 2 hours and 10 places) but the one we eventually found ended up being one of our favorites of the entire trip. It was the penthouse of Candra Asri, with beautiful views to the west of the rice paddies and village homes. We quickly learned that breakfast is included in Bali with most lodging and that the staff are extremely patient and helpful. We stayed in Ubud for 3 nights, enjoying the amazing culinary options, temple hopping and simply relaxing after the madness of getting here from Laos. Ubud has the unfortunate rap of being the city where the main character from Eat, Pray, Love ends up for the love portion of her book (I haven’t read it). Lonely Planet sums it up well:

You see them everywhere these days in Ubud: women of a certain age strolling the streets with that look. A mixture of self-satisfaction, entitlement and too much yoga, with maybe just a hint of desperation that they haven’t yet found their Felipe. You know, a rich Brazilian who can bed you silly for entire month.

But wait! All you have to do is replace Ubud with Boulder and the sentence still makes sense! A little piece of home, south of the equator, in the middle of Indonesia.  Seriously, the energy is really good here. It feels like a very conscious town, promoting the arts, the local community and the environment. I hope if I dig into it that is actually the reality as I all too often see the local community left out of the equation (a blog entry in itself).

The highlights of Ubud (I’m certain Autumn would agree) were the Monkey Forest Sanctuary and the Legong Dance we watched at the Ubud Palace. The monkeys in the sanctuary IMG_1325were a riot, proving hours of entertainment. We bought bananas and grapes and they would take turns running up and trying to grab them from you, quickly running back to the woods to what  appeared to be a never ending cycle of eating, fornicating, grooming and sleeping. I broke the cardinal rule which is never to take food from a monkey. The alpha male snuck up behind me and ripped my plastic bag getting ALL of my grapes as was attempting to equitably distribute grape to the many hungry little guys. I reached out to take them back, and he quickly showed me his 2 inch fangs and made a little move towards me. Averting international incident between American man and Indonesian monkey, I took the higher ground and backed away peacefully and left Chief Monkey with his 20 grapes…

The next night after a long afternoon of wandering in the rice paddies outside of town, we made our way to a performance ofIMG_1379 Legong and Barong dancers at the Ubud palace – it was fantastic. The story barely made sense, something along the lines of good versus evil and crazy shamans and monkeys and dancing  elephants, but the performers were spectacular. Camera batteries where dead that night, so you’ll have to leave that one to the imagination.

The next day we hired a guy named Mr. Big to take us to the Amed area, an area on the far east coast of Bali known for it beautiful beaches, snorkeling and diving and relaxed atmosphere. Plus, after 4 weeks on the road it was time to hit the beach! We arrived early, yet found ourselves in the scramble to find a room – anxious backpackers walking up and down the street checking availability and prices. We splurged on the first night, settling into a beautiful bungalow 20m from the beach. Sounds like an amazing place to just relax right??? Well we were feeling adventurous and rented our first scooter. And did the adventure ever begin! We drove windy roads along the coast, cruising by an intriguing mix of old and new. Resorts, dive-shops and restaurants would be interrupted with wooden huts and and stands that served as the local populations’ homes and shops. Every couple of kilometers you would pass over a large headland, providing distant views of the ocean all the way to Lombok when it was clear. After a half hour or so Autumn wanted to have a go at the scooter and here’s where things went down hill (literally!). Somewhere in the transition, there was some confusion between brake and throttle and before I could blink an eye I am watching Autumn chasing a quickly accelerating scooter. Thankfully she let go, but the scooter had enough momentum to go another 20 feet, crash into a tree, fall onto its side and then roll over a cliff tumbling 10-15 feet barely missing a family’s prize pig!  In the 15 seconds it took us to get over the shock of what happened and walk down to turn off the engine, the entire village of about 40 people assembled to see what the silly white people had done this time.  In another 3 minutes, after many apologies and thank you’s, we had the bike back on the road, started, and headed in the other direction. The wheel was pulling a few degrees to the left, the front fender and headlight were badly cracked and oil was spitting out of the muffler when we drove up hill. But other than that she was as good as new! Ok not really. That’s when the guys words who rented it to me came into my head…”please be very careful, no insurance…”! uh oh! Our first inclination was being out many hundreds of dollars as if we were in a car wreck in the US…

Rather than rush home we decided to have a drink and watch an amazing sunset, strategizing our plan of action. Ultimately we decided to go meet the owner, a guy named Newman. It was interesting watching my emotions going into the meeting– I was prepared like an American, ready for conflict, harsh negotiation, etc. And there were nothing but laughs and smiles. Newman was extremely gracious, honestly seeming IMG_1838more concerned about our well-being and the quality of our holiday than the scooter. He gave us another scooter to use and had to walk the original 2km to the shop the next day because it wouldn’t start any more.  In the end, the cracked fender and headlamp were $40 and the cost for a mechanic to realign the bike, open and clean the engine (oil in the gas tank from being upside down), replace the filter and plugs was a stiff $13. We gave him some extra business by hiring him for a ride to the next town and enjoyed hearing his thoughts on Balinese Hinduism, meditation and ultimately love. Its a constant theme for the Balinese, that Love trumps everything. Most of us know this. But they LIVE it, and you can tell.

We remained an additional 3 nights in the Amed area, moving 10km down the coast to the final hotel – a placed called Meditasi, where IMG_1607there were supposed to be yoga and meditation classes. No such luck, as the guru happened to be in India, but we found it a very tranquil, quiet, and place ripe for contemplation. The bungalow had an extra bed outside, which I loved as it meant waking up to the amazing sunrises over ocean and Lombok’s Rinjani volcano in the east as the fishermen would come in with the morning catch. We spent the final 3 days snorkeling, swimming, talking, sipping cold beer and driving the scooter around the windy coastal roads.

For Autumn’s last night we moved towards the airport to a town called Pandangbai, a small fishing/diving town and the principle port for ferries to Lombok. At this point, time seemed to be accelerating, and suddenly she was being whisked away in a car towards the airport and I was standing there alone, having my beautiful travel partner suddenly taken away. I spent one more night catching up on e-mail and decided it was best to move on, booking an afternoon boat to the Gili’s where I enjoyed being ill for 3 days (see below).

I’m now on mainland Lombok recovering, looking for enough energy to climb the holy 3800m Rinjani volcano in the next couple of days. No problem that I haven’t exercised in two months! Its going to hurt…

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