Holiday from my Holiday

Sometimes when you are feeling very emotionally drained you just have to put your thoughts aside and do something to relax. Watch a movie, go for a walk, call a friend or eat some yummy food. After my two nights alone in Munduk and some intense reflection I decided I could really use some social interaction to get out of my head. I drove my motorbike down the mountain to Lovina, a long stretch of beach in scarcely populated Northern Bali. I quickly discovered that almost overnight the high-season had come to an end, there was a lot of good, comfortable accommodation available and a great backpacker vibe with restaurants, bars and cafes. I quickly manifested my desire to meet people, befriending an Australian at lunch who had been traveling for 15 months already to many of the places I am intending to go. We had a great conversation, agreeing to meet up later with a few other people for drinks. Turns out its quite a small town and after 24 hours I had formed a clique of people at my hotel- myself, an Irishman, a French woman and a German woman, with occasional appearances from a Canadian and another Australian. Planning on staying 2 nights, I remained for 4. I enjoyed the regularity of having people to dine with, lounge on the beach with and to go on random adventures together like snorkeling, fishing and bar hopping.

IMG_2036My days were very routine – sleep in, breakfast, Internet, swim, lunch, siesta, beach, yoga, sunset, shower, dinner, gambling on the beach with the locals, drinks 🙂 I kept myself out off of the computer other than to Skype family and friends and away from the guidebook. I sought some intellectual stimulation through Sudoku and conversation. My final evening I overheard someone say “I need a holiday from my holiday“ and instantly had my blog title! And Lovina truly was that – a place to rest, mingle with locals, make friends and enjoy great cuisine. I allowed myself to be OK with idle time (something I generally struggle with), go with the flow of the other travelers and spend time conversing with locals even when 9 times out of 10 you know they just want to sell you something. Nothing very exciting to blog about – probably the most interesting thing I saw was a modified game of roulette translated as ‘fair ball’, where you gamble on colors and numbers. We were entertained by the game and the locals were entertained by us. We would get all excited and they generally remained very cool, despite some of them losing half a months salary in an evening…

I must admit I’m leaving Bali with some great memories. Never intending to come here in the first place, I ended up stretching out my visa to its final day. I’m already wishing I had purchased some of the amazing art work or crafts and definitely wish I had taken more pictures! The problem was I generally was cruising on my scooter cruising by at 60k. I saw women with what looked like 75 lbs balanced on their heads, ceremonies everywhere, families of 5 plus their gear on the same scooter, cocks fights on the side of the road, men carrying unimaginable loads of wood or bamboo, people IMG_2050constantly at work with their sickles, and much more. Off the tourist track it was very easy to glimpse the real Bali, watching village and family life unfold before your eyes. Even in the smallest villages someone could speak a little English and point me in the correct direction. One of my favorite scooter memories was leaving Munduk and driving through the villages where clove, nutmeg and vanilla were drying on the sides of the road – delicious! Also my final day on the motorbike I followed a guidebook recommendation and drove this absolutely amazing windy road  through the hills, passing volcanoes, rice paddies, waterfalls, and small villages while breathing in the crisp air. The children on their way home from school would all wave or chase after me in their colorful uniforms and every time I stopped to gain my bearings someone would almost immediately help me before I could ask.

The people truly are happier and friendlier than almost anywhere I’ve traveled. They are also close to the poorest. We all know that money doesn’t by one happiness, but there is a general standard of living that is generally necessary to provide a so-called ‘happy’ life. Yet despite the majority falling significantly below IMG_1466this standard, they were living a life of peace and love. There are many factors, more to go into with my limited view. One that struck me the most was the constant offering process, always paying respect to the gods and the spirits. Meaning that despite how poor you were, there was still a concept of a connection to something larger that you recognized and respected through these offerings – material offerings and offerings of their time through ceremony. Another powerful thing was that extended families lived in ‘family compounds’, each having their own temple and it was not uncommon to see 4 or even 5 generations together in the same place. Who knows the secret formula – but its worth investigating! Put Bali and Indonesia on your travel list, you will not be disappointed.

I realize this isn’t the most inspiring entry I have written in some time so I apologize for the drab, update and detail variety. I’m now back in Bangkok, spending a couple of nights taking advantage of her wonderful offerings and then shipping out north on a course for China and Mongolia. A friend from high school, Wei, who I haven’t seen in 10 years was waiting for me at the airport and we’re going to team up for a while. She just started an open-ended, round the world journey of her own. Through the magic of Facebook we uncovered that riding horses in Mongolia was a life-list thing for both of us – so off we go.

Freedom of Choice

I’m typing this from the porch of my bungalow in Munduk, Bali. Munduk is a sleepy mountain town with a cool, misty ambience set among lush hillsides covered jungle, rice, coffee, cloves, vanilla and almost every kind of fruit imaginable. I can hear several waterfalls raging through the gorge below me. So why exactly was I jumping at the bit to plan my next destination? As I poured through Lonely Planet, looking into the island of Java, reading about Bromo as well as other destinations in Bali, I suddenly had to stop and remind myself of something my Zen teacher says – “No other location”. A flip of words on the overused “Be here now”. 

In one week I will be headed back to Bangkok to start a long march through Burma, China and Mongolia. What is so wrong with sitting tight, enjoying the mountains and then a few more days on the beach? The serious alternative I was researching meant driving a moped that stalls every 15 minutes hundreds of kilometers in order to find greener grass and ultimately turn around and have to truck back to the center of Bali to catch a flight. Thank you dear blog for helping me see the ridiculousness of this and agreeing to enjoy central and northern Bali for a few days at a slower pace. Once again, I have to understand that this is not vacation, I am not out to see as much as possible, and there are points during this journey that I will treat as work days, blogging, emailing, job searching, etc. Often it is these times when you surprisingly get to know a place by getting your face out of the guidebook and into the community.

In my post about One Hundred Years of Solitude I bring up the freedom of choice, and its often paralyzing effect. I believe this at the root of many issues for people in the West, the endless freedom of options. I mentioned the characters in the book and their acceptance of fate – the last two months I’ve seen a lot of this. This morning, the woman raking the cloves or the teenage boys carrying hundreds of pounds of bamboo up a steep hillside or the duck herder (literally) aren’t thinking “should I go back to school to get that graduate degree? Should get my massage today and then go to the movies tomorrow? Which of the 20 restaurants within 2 miles of my home should I go to tonight? Which of my 50 articles of clothing am I going to where today?” No they don’t. And I’m not arguing that this is the lifestyle I want – clearly poverty plays a big role in simplifying choice. However there is something to be said about the way these people live when faced with limited choice. Simply, peacefully, and lovingly from my observations.

Where am I going with this? Back to my plan to explore half a continent in 6 days- through endless choice and so called freedom, we can avoid the present moment. Our mind jumps ahead to these potential paths our life might take – as simple as where to eat or as complicated as marriage or career. In the past I actually set up my life to create as much flexibility as possible – not committing too deeply to my career, to other people or a location, etc. In fact I am still doing this now, living temporally, having created the ultimate freedom of a daily choice of what to do and where to be. The truth is I think this trip is an apex for me – an apex of this exploration where I begin to move down the other side, accepting more aspects a permanent existence, once where the choices narrow and I find a deeper poise in these limited choices. Krishnamurti uses the term choiceless awareness – where when we are acting truly from a position of wisdom and clarity, our so called choices are not really choices, they are an act of truth based out of love.

A Chinese sage once said “ Why go on being like goats, picking up things at random and putting them in your mouth? Or another metaphor is that we act like a fly in a glass jar, seeking liberation through everything we see but ultimately just bumping into a piece of glass. What we don’t realize is that the top of the jar is open, and if we are quiet, truly listening to the world we can fly out into the true beauty that is actual existence.

***** (One day later) *****

I remained true to my word, sitting tight in Munduk. I went for a walk, ate at a few local restaurants and found amazing strawberries at the market. I spent the evening listening to the sounds of the hillside and woke early to exercise and meditate. I started thinking again about my temporal existence – while it is in fact true that I have an unbelievable freedom of location and action, the normal daily distractions are very absence. I’m typing this many miles from any internet connection, I haven’t seen a television in 2 months, I can’t pick up the phone which I don’t own and call a friend at any time. All of this boils down to spending a lot of time with my own thoughts and self, the true purpose of this journey. The biggest opportunity to distract myself is movement – riding the scooter, taking the bus or boat, exploring a new area and figuring where I will eat and sleep. Of course that will be part of any trip – I just need to balance movement and stillness, ensuring when I do move, it is because I am ready to move on, not because I need the distraction.

Lombok, Rinjani, and One Hundred Years of Solitude

I’m back in Bali after about 10 days on the island of Lombok, Bali’s lesser known neighbor. I’ve officially eaten a banana pancake for breakfast, 17 days straight. I alluded earlier to being sick in the Gili Islands which was a big bummer for my first 3 days. There wasn’t enough lodging so tourists without fat wallets were sleeping on the beach, sharing rooms and even sleeping in staff quarters. I will never go back during the high season (July 15-Sep 15), but I IMG_1764 would highly consider going back any other time. Beautiful white sand, fantastic snorkeling, no motorized vehicles (only horse drawn carriages), fantastic food and a decent night life. I’ll admit I have a bitter taste as I was just then alone for the first time in a month AND sick, but trying to be objective it really was a magical place. I was only on Gili Trawangan, the most developed of the three islands, with Gili Meno and Gili Air yet to be explored (the guide book described Meno as the perfect place to fulfill your Robinson Cu fantasies).

Seeking a place to recover I found Senggigi, a small beach town on the west coast of Lombok. I stayed in a rudimentary bungalow at a place called Siti Hawa, run by an Australian expat and his Indonesian wife. His Muslim name was Hussein and he was known all over town as the garbage man, tirelessly working for the past 20 years to clean up the area and provide adequate trash receptacles for the locals. I enjoyed hearing his insights about living in a mostly forgotten part of Indonesia for so many years. My favorite thing about Siti Hawa was that it was on a deserted beach IMG_1795with amazing sunsets, beautiful swimming and friendly locals. I would go out each morning to meditate on the beach before swimming and for my final two days a local man came and joined me.  It was nice having a mini-Sangha for a couple of days. We chatted a bit about Buddhism and Islam and his family and mine. It was nice as he was one of the first people who didn’t try to sell me anything, and it reminded me to that its important to keep my wall down in order to have such local interactions. I have a separate blog entry started where I discuss the ‘tout’ versus the friendly local. Its a complicated comparison that has given me a lot to think about!

I rented a moped to get to and from town and researched my planned trip to the Rinjani volcano at my favorite cafe with Internet access, Cafe Wira. I was very disappointed to find out that due to a recent eruption, trekkers were not allowed to go down to the volcanic lake or to the summit on the classic 4 day trek, but only an up and down 2 day trek to the rim. Better that than nothing so I had Hussein set it up for me and off I went. You are required to hire a porter and a guide so I ended up with a group of about 10 all headed up the next morning. The hike was brutal – no switch backs and a lot volcanic sand that IMG_1904made for two steps forward and one back. My GPS says we ascended 7000 feet in 6 miles. Hence the reason today I am typing away at my computer as my calf muscles literally feel like they are about to burst and I can barely walk up and down stairs. In the end it was worth it. During the walk up we were mostly in the clouds but when we finally made it to the camp at the rim, the sky started to clear and we were provided an amazing sunset, views of the active volcano down in the lake, truly something out of Lord of the Rings only in Indonesia. I befriended a group of French and we had a great time together. Francois actually saved my life with  an extra sweater as I was woefully unprepared for the 40 degrees at the top in the evening. my blood apparently thinned by too much time near the equator. All night we enjoyed the sight and sound of the erupting lava.  The next morning we woke up to spectacular clear skies, seeing into the crater, down to the ocean, and even the to the volcanoes on Bali in the distance. We found out that our tireless guides worked for $10 a day andIMG_1921 the porters worked for $8. Some of them were carrying nearly 100 lbs of gear in baskets slung over their shoulders and connected with a piece of bamboo slung over their shoulder. None of them used any padding and they would hike either barefoot or in flip flops. They cooked us fantastic meals on open fires and managed to always be in a good mood, despite doing the same thing 1000 times tirelessly.  After breakfast we trudged back down the same path, and I took a nice long nap after a cold beer. Rather than rush back to Senggigi, I spent an extra day in Senaru, visiting nearby waterfalls and recovering the next day. I debated between returning to Bali or visiting one more town in Southern Lombok called Kuta, ultimately deciding I wanted the comfort and beauty of Bali. After a layover at Siti Hawa in Senggigi where I slept with a mosquito net on the beach because they were out of rooms, I took the boat to Bali and I’m now back in Ubud, pampering myself with good food and massages. The plan is to spend a couple of days here and then head into the central mountains on a moped for some adventure.

I just finished Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude after a voracious amount of reading in about 4 days. I read it once in the past but once again it remains in my top 5 – his magical realism is just so enthralling it was nearly impossible to put down. My appetite for reading is high right now and I’m hoping to trade this one in for something else at the local book store today. The life of the Buendia family is an incredible story – their relationships, decision making and fate. It spawned a thought for me about choices and freedom in our life. Many of the characters simply make decisions or have something outside of their control affect them that changes their life forever. They simply go forward from there. I often find in our western world of endless choices, paths and information we are actually paralyzed by indecision. Rather than accept the fates that a more simple life provides we pride ourselves in being able to move anywhere, do anything, say anything in any moment. But is this true freedom or just another form of chains? That is for you to decide, dear reader.

Laos, Interrupted

I’m writing from a rooftop bungalow in Ubud, Bali (Indonesia). Arrived yesterday from Bangkok. How did we get here you ask? Trains, planes, boats and automobiles. And walking :)  Autumn and I spent a total of about 10 days in Laos – not quite enough to see and do everything I had planned on. About a week ago we had to make some difficult choices. Originally we had aspirations of visiting Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia AND Bali. Not sure what we were smoking as Autumn only has a month out here and unless you have the funds to fly everywhere, there is no way you’re going to see 5 countries in 5 weeks. Autumn’s one ‘must’ was Bali, so we decided to cut Laos short, skip Vietnam and Cambodia and booked a flight to Bali out of Bangkok where we’ll spend her final week before she heads back to the states. I know I’ll get back to Laos and Vietnam at some point – I still want to spend time in the far reaches of both countries. It actually makes good sense – the height of the monsoon season begins in SE Asia this month which makes travel and trekking very difficult. It would make much more sense for me to come back in a few months when the trails dry up. Plus Bali is absolutely perfect in July – high of 85, low of 70 and no rain. Every single day 🙂 And its Bali.

A rundown of the highlights in Laos:

  • Riding a slow boat for two days along the Mekong river


  • Spending 4 days in Luang Prabang, the slow-paced, French-inspired city in Northern Laos


  • Three nights way off the beaten path in Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi


  • Looking for the full solar eclipse the day after it happened (more on this later)
  • Exploring ancient caves that villagers hid in during the recent wars


  • Waking at 5am to give alms to the monks in Luang Prabang


  • Waking on my 30th birthday in a small riverside bungalow in a town without electricity or roads, then traveling back to Luang Prabang for an amazing dinner and to watch a performance of Lao traditional ballet.



Our epic journey to Bali consisted of the following: A 2 hour boat ride , followed by a 4.5 hour journey on a 12-seat van with 18 people in it (No AC, a girl having seizures in the front seat and an engine that had to take any hill greater than 5 degrees in first gear). Then the next day a 12 hour bus ride to Vientiane in a broken seat that reclined into the persons lap behind me (meaning I had to sit upright the entire time), followed by a night-train (actually really cool when you splurge for first class!) to Bangkok and ultimately a 4am wake-up call to catch a flight to Bali…. I thought I’d share some of the more painful aspects of world travel – its not all cultural immersion and blissful bungalows. :)  But the truth is over time your comfort level and expectations change, you learn to be still, to not let little inconveniences upset you as they would easily do at home. I consider myself a patient person already, wait until you see me after this trip!