Archive for August, 2013

a little downtime

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even though i had a free round trip ticket to the Gili Islands burning a hole in my pocket i was not quite ready to go there.  not only would the place be bubbling to the brim with mid-August tourists, i was in need of some recuperation time.  that’s right, i needed to recuperate from that vacation i just took from traveling.  one could easily come to the conclusion that the immaculate beaches, breathtaking sunsets and relaxed paces that the Gili’s are famous for would be a more than acceptable place to recuperate, but i am a different sort.  i was a traveler needing to make the transition from vacation mode back into travel mode and hopefully recycle much of my wanderlust in the process.  this could not easily be done while surrounded by other tourists and insanely beautiful things.  i needed a non-special place where i could hang my hat for a while, preferably large enough to establish a living-like routine.  it needed to be hard but not too hard.  so after a minute or two of careless researching i decided to use the first leg of my free Gili trip to go to Mataram: Lombok’s capital city.

after a couple of days of roaming aimlessly without purpose (my absolute most favorite thing to do) i came to the conclusion that Mataram was perfect for my needs.  not only was it just the right amount of not special, it had a worn-out olympic-ish sized swimming pool only 15 minutes walk from my homestay.  i spent the next 10 days forming and clinging to what could resemble a routine.  this involved waking up and getting served my complimentary breakfast of coffee and a fried egg sandwich, followed by an hour or two of swimming laps (using the speedo and goggles i just so happen to have brought) either with or without a pool full of naked screaming children, then eating my 3 favorite dishes at my 3 restaurants of choice, then back to my porch to drink the water they call beer and fully escape into the wonderful world of audio books.

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i ended up getting pretty tight with the mother/daughter team that ran the homestay.  mom liked to fish recyclables out of the near by stream and daughter seemed to be prone to seizures.  one day mid-conversation she suddenly went limp and fell out of her chair.  her fists clenched up and she began to drool.  mom came to the rescue without hesitation.  then a moment after she regained her consciousness she headed to the garden to pick flowers as if it never happened.

on the second day of recuperation i woke up to realize that i was covered quite literally head to toe with itchy red bumps.  this would be my first of a few beyond annoying encounters with the tiny black ants that seem to infest many parts of Indonesia.

20130818_115717 (copy)around day six i decided to take a break from my recuperation from my vacation from traveling.  i rented a motorbike and drove like a mad man around the entire lower half of the island.  i visited the hippie-surfer-bum beaches of Kuta, the rural fishing villages on the southeast peninsula and then headed half way up the east coast and shot straight through the middle of the island with the sunset in my eyes.  all in all i found it to be quite different from its Balinese brother.

by day ten i woke up ready for the Gili’s.  after paying my sizable bar tab and saying a sad goodbye i boarded a bus followed by a boat to Gili Air.  Gili Air is the island of chill, while the other two Gili’s are purposed for honeymooners and party animals.  at about 1.5 kilometers in diameter there is nothing quite like being on an island of this size.  i could easily wander its circumference in 90 minutes at a stroll.  the west coast of Air was the most desolate as well as the most beautiful at dusk.  from there you could look out at the other two Gili’s at low tide while the setting sun colors the sky a blood red and back-lights Mount Agung on Bali.

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i befriended two Brits and an Aussie who had arrived a day before me to seek refuge from two solid weeks of partying on Gili Terawangan.  we did some snorkeling, tormented some crabs and starfish and then found a restaurant that would serve you an entire chicken and show you a film via projector screen on the beach.  that night’s attraction was the original Blues Brothers!

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i guess the moral of the story is that traveling the world isn’t always peaches and puppies… but sometimes it’s quite a few peaches and puppies.


my summer vacation

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do you ever just wanna get away from it all?…  to take a break from the hard pressures of living and unwind?  perhaps you like to chase the beach honeys and work on your beer gut.  perhaps you like to curl up with a good book and pretend like you don’t exist.  whatever your fancy, a good vacation can be just the thing to rejuvenate your soul.  i was in need of such a vacation just last month.  that’s right… a vacation from traveling.  and what better way to embark on such a thing than to fly from hectic Kolkata, India to beautiful Bali, Indonesia?

actually, my decision to goto Bali was a little more premeditated than that.  as it turns out, my dear friend and ex-coworker Dj was already planning on a Bali getaway of her own.  so between the perfect timing of that, my desire to cross Indonesia off the travel docket and the ever worsening Indian monsoon, it was a no-brainer.  so to Bali i went!20130720_161938 (copy)

Bali is the perfect mixture of tourist traps and clandestine masterpieces.  from the soulless upscale resorts clogged to the brim with tourists along the shores of Kuta to the pristine rice fields and rural farming villages that rest among the high mountain lakes.  there is something here for everyone… unless of course you are a cheapskate backpacker, than your options are to either leave Bali or temporarily set your habits aside and give in to the pampering.

if there is one thing you should know about Bali it’s that it’s littered with tens of thousands of temples.  all very ornate and carved out of stone, many of which are monkey infested.  take a large concentration of these temples, pepper them with trendy handicraft shops and mediocre restaurants and you have Ubud (stop #1 of our circumnavigation)  in the center of town is a delightful monkey forest where you can turn your body into a jungle gym if you have bananas.


one of the more impressive sites we saw was Klungkung Palace east of Ubud.  it has a floating pavilion with a painted ceiling from the mid-nineteenth century which depicts different punishments in the afterlife.


collage of the painted afterlife

in the western outskirts of Ubud near a town called Tamen we found immaculate rice fields that stretched as far as the eye can see.  there we spent countless hours frolicking about, pestering the local farmers and pretending we were in the land of make believe.

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one intriguing yet hard to stomach pastime we stumbled across was cock fighting.  trap two enraged roosters in a ring and you can watch them slowly peck each other to death, but also strap sharp 2-inch blades to the backs of their feet and now you have a sport!  a couple hundred Balinese men huddle in a concrete pit and holler out their bets while two men rouse their cocks in the center of the ring.  the hollering comes to a crescendo and the men release their cocks who then charge at each other, jump, kick and slice each other to death.  the winner gets to keep the dead one and 10% of the all winnings goto the corrupt government so they will keep looking the other way.


our next stop was a yogi surfing village called Cenggu to “hang some ten and barney the barrel” (AKA: try my hand at surfing for the first time ever).  to my surprise the getting up came easy for me, especially when my beginner board is the size of a boat and there is a very nice, very strong Balinese man choosing my waves and pushing my board behind me.

IMG_2426 (copy)a pizza house near where we stayed (one of our favorite hangouts) was having their one-year anniversary during one of the nights we were there and everyone who was anyone was attending.  they had a live karaoke band and served complimentary wine.  they also held a drinking contest that involved four contestants in a race to pound a single 12 ounce beer.  the first to finish and place the upside-down empty bottle on his head would win a free round-trip ticket to the Gili Islands.  when the open invitation came for the four contestants to come up i was already standing on the stage before i even had a chance to think about it.  two decades of alcoholism was finally about to pay off and i was quite thirsty in addition to that.  we were each given a brief introduction and then handed our beers.  after a short countdown i tipped the bottle into my mouth and drank its cold bubbly contents as fast as gravity would allow, all the while feeling the familiar burn in my throat.  when all was consumed i placed the overturned bottle atop my head and let the residual froth leak down onto my face.  i looked over at my rivals to see them still burping down their first sips.  i left that stage with a mixed sense of accomplishment and shame but more importantly i also left that stage with a free round-trip ticket to the Gili’s!

20130812_104650 (copy)speaking of alcoholism, if there is one more thing you should know about Bali it’s that it’s extremely difficult to get a decent beverage there.  foreign spirits are taxed so heavily that even the rich and desperate would think twice before throwing money at the problem.  that is if you are lucky enough to find a shop that sells the spirits.  due to the high Muslim population, in many areas you will only find plentiful amounts of an extremely light beer called “Bintang”.  the only domestic spirits made there is a semi-illegal moonshine called “Arak” made from the sap of palm trees.  sometimes you can find Arak in a labeled bottle but in most cases you’ll find it in giant jugs behind shop counters if you ask the right questions.  it’s also a well known fact that many un-trustworthy Arak operations will cut their product with methanol.  however, even without the methanol any Arak you find will be sure to knock you on your ass and make you wish you never bothered in the first place.

from Cenggu we ventured north to the mountains to explore two crater lakes.  Lake Batur rests in a valley with the giant volcanically active Mount Agung towering over it.  from there we traversed the tops of several ridges near the volcano via some dangerous off-roading, discovered a sinking village and got blessed in a temple completely by accident.

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Lake Bratan to the west is a smaller holy lake with the beautiful temple “Pura Bratan” built into the water off the shore.  this lake was surrounded by an odd mixture of Muslim villages, strawberry farms and giant empty resorts in various stages of neglect.

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and to our surprise the place we stayed had it’s very own karaoke room!

we ended our journey in Pemuteran at the northwest end of the island where we found the best beaches and the most inviting accommodations.  there we attained a whole new level of relaxation (like tourists in hibernation) for our remaining days.

on the final day after saying a sad goodbye to Dj, i properly packed my trusty travel bag, slung it on my back and felt its full weight for the first time in a month.  then i made my way east to Lombok Island.

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a final pose with Dj dearest on our last day in Bali