GUUUUUUUSTY!!!!!!!!!! TAKE ME BACK TO BALI!

When I said I was moving to Indonesia, the few people who actually had heard of it/knew something about it said, “oh, Bali?! Eat, Pray, Love?!”    Alas, no, I do not live in Bali, but yes, it is as wonderful as they say.  Bali is what most people around the world think of when they think of Indonesia, and yet it couldn’t be more different from the rest of this massive country I live in.  It is like this oasis of delicious food, drinks, art, music, and shopping.  Completely tourist driven, yet in the off-season of February (when we were there), it was still pretty calm and at times felt even a bit deserted.  We could wear whatever we wanted without feeling like we were being offensive.  This might seem trivial, but in SUCH a hot country, it really is amazing to be able to walk around in shorts and a tank-top without worrying.

I did not experience the wild, beachy, party part of Bali.  My friend Holly and I only went to Ubud, because she had been to Kuta and the beachy parts, and I frankly didn’t really have much of an interest in those parts.  (We had a few beaches waiting for us on the Gilis after Bali anyway).

Image

Another reason people know of Bali is because of “Eat, Pray, Love”, which has spurred even more tourism around the area.  Well we did at least one of those verbs incredibly well—EAT.

Now, I don’t want to complain about Indonesian food too much, because I do love Indonesia, buuuuuut I’m going to anyway.  If I have to look at one more plate of rice and some animal part one more time…. No, but really, Holly and my trip revolved around what we dubbed “feeding time”.  So many OPTIONS.  And, as it is a majority Hindu island, there was pork!

To rewind a bit, we landed in Bali from Makassar, where Holly had phoned a guesthouse in a guidebook to see if we could book a room.  The guy on the other end, soon to be our famous ‘GUSTY!’  was somewhat incomprehensible.  However, she figured out that he promised to pick us up at the airport and drive us the 2ish hours to Ubud.  When we arrived, we were greeted by a jumping-bean of a guy, frantically waving his arms in greeting with a sign that read “Hooly”.  We took it as a good sign that he and his assistant were so happy to see us.

Image

Holly & Gusty’s assistant-trainee guy.

The drive to our guesthouse confirmed our suspicions. Gusty was nuts. And completely adorable.  He talked a mile a minute, and had so many stories to tell us.

(The guesthouse is right beside the monkey forest).  One of Gusty’s nuggets:    “Sometimes monkeys bring me good luck and sometimes bring me bad luck”.

‘what do you mean?’ we asked.

“Good luck is when the guests say, ‘GUSTY! Can I stay here 3 more nights?! The monkeys are so cool!!! Bad luck, the guests say, ‘GUSTY I can’t take the monkeys anymore! Where is my bathing suit?!’ “

He informed us how some guests will complain to him about their stay.  When we inquired as to their reasoning, he told us.  “Sometimes we forget to warn them about the monkeys.  The monkeys will steal your bikinis and bras.”  Then, out of the blue, he shouts out, “GUUUUSTY!!! WHERE IS MY BUG SPRAY?!” and completely deadpan, answers himself, “in the forest.”

If this whole Gusty story is complete nonsense to you, too bad,  I must write it mostly for Holly and I to always remember this man who made our trip so much more hilarious.

Our guesthouse was so fun.  We loved our first room and its balcony overlooking the courtyard and pool, but the heat was pretty unbearable.  Air conditioning really is necessary sometimes.  So we moved to another room, with a balcony, but not as wonderful a balcony.  HOWEVER, we were not constantly sweating.  A fair trade-off.  Our guesthouse was right up against the monkey forest, and so our view from the window the next morning included monkeys running across the roof of the next building and walking along telephone wires.   The mas’s (young guys) who worked at our guesthouse walked around in the mornings (when the monkeys are more active) with slingshots on ‘monkey patrol’.  They didn’t have anything IN the slingshots though, so it is ok.

Image

Monkey duty using a slingshot

Image

Image

view from our balcony

Image

We got right to business with our feeding times.  We found a Cuban restaurant with amazing burritos and mojitos and settled in to the difficult 5 days ahead of us.

ImageImage

Ubud has so many tours and activities available to its tourists.  There are cycling tours, jewelry-making classes, cooking classes, yoga studios, hikes, etc.  We had planned to do them ALL, but of course laziness got the best of us; however, our first day we really did accomplish a lot.

We paid to join a downhill cycling tour of the local countryside.  “Downhill” is key here.  There was very little exercise involved—there were moments of sheer terror when I wondered whether or not I could still really ride a bicycle, however.  It was a cool way to see the countryside of Bali and the villages and temples that are dotted around the island, but it was also a long day.  The cycling part of the day didn’t even start until around 1 or 2.  That morning we got picked up from our guesthouse by the cycling tour guide, and we drove to a coffee plantation with the five other tourists.  (Canadian, Chinese, Dutch).  We walked through the coffee plantation and saw the plants growing, the civets caged up, the coffee being ground, and then we sampled a number of different coffees.  We tried Kopi Luwak (Civet coffe) which is made from the poo of civets.  Cat-poo-ccino as our hilarious tourguide punned.  It really just tasted like coffee to me.  We cycled through rice paddies and tried helping some women harvest it.  They were really sweet.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

 

Image

 

 

 

 

A lot of Indonesians we met were super impressed (or were they?) by my Bahasa Indonesia which is funny because it really isn’t very good—or nearly as good as it should be.  But if you throw around a few topics and sentences they think you’re brilliant.  It does wonders for my ego.  That being said, I have caught them saying “woooow you speak Indonesian so well!” after you simply say “terima kasih” (thank you) which every tourist probably knows.  So actually it is probably just that Indonesian people want to make you feel good because they are just nice people.  I’ll take it.

Havin a chat with some Ibus

Havin a chat with some Ibus

Image

After our first day, we got the best surprise EVER when we found that our friend, Autumn, was going to join us!  It was amazing.  We found the most amazing restaurant EVER called Taco Casa and it fulfilled all of our wildest Mexican food dreams.  Mexican food is probably my favorite food, and it is impossible to find in Palembang or most places really. So we were basically like three little kids unleashed in a candy shop.  We got really over-excited and were that annoying group of girls, but that’s okay.  It’s fun to be ‘those people’ sometimes.

ImageImageImage

Having Autumn helped motivate Holly and I to get off our bums and do something—and she had been to Ubud before, so she helped us gather the courage to go into the Monkey Forest.  We had heard about people getting flip flops stolen, having monkeys fall onto their heads, having monkeys grab at jewelry, and even getting a bit of a smooch from one and promptly becoming quite ill.  SO, we were a little nervous to go in.  We didn’t buy any bananas at the entrance, because the little buggers are smart enough to latch onto your bag if you’ve got bananas in there.  However, it didn’t take too long before I decided I REALLY needed a monkey on my head.  I paid a Bapak to help us get some monkey-love, and the result was a range of hilarious photos.

ImageImageImage

ImageImageImageImage

Image

ImageImage

ImageImage

We also did a silver jewelry-making workshop thing.  My pendant ended up looking like something I would have made in elementary school for my mom, and she would have loved it, because I made it.  And that is why I love it.  Because I made it.  I love Hand-related things obviously so once I get a chain I shall wear it with pride, even if it’s a bit of a Fat Hand.

ImageImageImage

Our days of café-lounging, shopping, and hanging out with monkeys unfortunately had to end.  However, Holly and I (and our friend Tabitha) will be back with a vengeance in June to run a half-marathon and are hoping to see GUSTY and the monkeys again.

Image Image

ImageImage

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Becording to me, Tana Toraja is Terrific!

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi

Tana Toraja is world famous for having its own incredibly unique culture—especially when it comes their rituals surrounding death.

A bigger group—seven of us, traveled to Tana Toraja together, but not before meeting up in Makassar, with 3 other Fellows who had just visited Tana Toraja.  We met up at Bu Liz’s house—one of our Senior Fellows.  We had the day to hang out because our bus didn’t leave until 9:30 that night. 

So to pass the time…we tried durian! Finally, I have tried durian.  Durian is the most famous fruit from Indonesia.  And let me tell you, I wasn’t missing out.  This stinkiest of stinky fruits is often seen on hotel and elevator signs with a big red slash through it (=NO DURIAN).  It is THAT stinky.  It smells like feet.  People say you either love it or you hate it (I’ve also heard it takes 3 times to like it).  Regardless, it’s all a lie!  After all the hype, I didn’t know what to expect other than eating stinky socks, so I have to report that it wasn’t as terrible as I’d expected, yet I would be happy not to eat it again.  The texture is something like custard, and (TMI) you can taste it the rest of the day.  They say the trick is to drink water out of the outer layer of the fruit after you eat it, and that way you won’t taste it for the rest of the day—so I did that.  However, that was yet another lie.  But we survived—and I wasn’t the only one who had been holding out this long.

I should mention, my students did bring a durian-juice/shake type thing to class when Conor was visiting, so technically we tried it then.  It was grosser in shake form. 

Image

Holly & Ron are ol pros with the durian

 

Image

a bit..chewy..

Image

Jen gives it a try

Image

That face means; “It’s not that bad, but I kind of want to spit it out!”

Image

hacking open the durian

Image

Autumn is especially excited at the prospect

We also decided we needed cream baths that afternoon.  I might need to devote an entire blog to cream baths.  I think that is what I will miss most when I leave.  It is not (as I first thought when invited by a girl here) an actual bath.  Nor does it exactly involve cream.  It’s basically a deep-conditioning treatment for your hair.  Every time I have one I’m reminded of Hugh Grant’s character in “About a Boy” who goes to the salon to have his “hair carefully disheveled.”  It feels that extravagant sometimes, yet at the price of about $5—it’s a bargain.  Having someone wash your hair, massage your head, rub conditioner into your hair (that smells of avocado, ginseng, chocolate, or a range of other ‘flavors!’), and then massage your shoulders and arms—holy moly.  Heaven.  So how did I know this would digress into a blog about cream baths?  Anyway, some of us are addicted; others had never tried this joyous tradition, so we went to the mall in Makassar before our bus left for Tana Toraja.  Unfortunately it wasn’t the best place to have your first cream bath, but we coped, and had luscious locks to get us through our harrowing night-bus journey.

Image

Christen & Jackie enjoying their creambaths

 

Image

Is she massaging? or resting? Kate’s face says: “make her stop”

 

Image

An assembly line of happiness

The bus.  Oooooh the bus.  It is a common mode of transportation to get up to Tana Toraja, which is pretty far out of the way from anything.  It takes about 8ish hours I believe, and we were traveling overnight.  We arrived at the bus station ‘just in time’, but of course, since it’s Indonesia, it actually didn’t leave for another hour after it was scheduled to.  The buses themselves appeared pretty great in terms of having room to spread out.  The seats reclined and they had a lot more room in between rows with kind of leg rests so you weren’t smushed.  However, upon entering, it was discovered that the bus had already been claimed by an army of bugs.  Some of us coped better than others… One of us had had a terrible experience with bedbugs at a guesthouse in the Gilis and so was convinced they were bedbugs that were going to eat us alive.  Other bugs included little cockroaches (not the big kind at least) and perhaps a spider or two in there? The little ‘bed bugs’ were the creepiest because we just didn’t know what they were.  It took some people a little longer to sit completely on the seat, and then we got our rain-jackets and scarves out to wrap ourselves up in protection.  We set in for a long night.  One notable occurrence through the night was a stop at the scariest hole of a bathroom ever.  It was this dungeon-like place under a building with spiders hanging from the ceiling, dirt floor, faded light bulbs, holes in the ground as toilets, dark corners with possible creepers and shadows.  Freeeeakyyy!  

Image

“get me the hell out of this bug infested bus!”

We arrived in Tana Toraja around 6am the following morning in a tired stupor.  We lumbered over to our hotel which was really nice (heavenly compared to the bus!).  Christen, Autumn, and I shared a jr suite. Sweet!  It had a big bed, table and chairs—like our own little apartment.

We hit the ground running and spent our first day with a hired tour guide who took us to a typical Torajan village that had amazing Torajan houses.  We looked at the wood carvings being made there, and most of us bought something. 

Our tour guide was kind of hilarious (without meaning to be) and most of us didn’t understand anything he said—but Christen—ever the devoted student—listened attentively, and so he directed most of his statements towards her.  One of our favorite lines was: “Becording to Torajan language _______” (Fill in the Torajan word).  He was rather endearing, attempting to teach us Torajan words when we couldn’t even understand his English words.

Image

“becording to torajan language, I am awesome” says our tour guide

Image

Image

Image

Image

 

More about Toraja:

From the Lonely Planet guide: “A trip to Tana Toraja is like a cultural documentary brought to life.  Sweeping and elaborately painted houses with boat-shaped roofs dot terraced rice paddies where farmers work the fields alongside their doe-eyed buffalo…Life for the Toraja revolves around death, and their days are spent earning the money to send away their dead properly.”  Their Christian beliefs brought from the Dutch have combined with their animist beliefs surrounding death.

Funerals are incredibly important, and families will wait several years to save money after a family member dies.  They keep the body intact and people must buy water buffalo to sacrifice.  The more buffalo you can sacrifice, the better off your family is. 

In Toraja, they are used to tourists coming to view their ceremonies, and as a gift, we were told to buy cigarettes to give the hosts.   We attended a traditional funeral celebration (day 2 or 3).  The funerals are usually several days, and I think we saw it a day or two in.  We watched as a procession of relatives filed through the square.  It was a pretty bizarre experience, because we were basically just crashing someone’s funeral (Wedding Crashers anyone?)  It seemed somber, but not sad.  It was sunny, hot, there were probably a couple hundred people milling about.  The family sat in one covered area and boys walked around with tea and coffee.  There were maybe 10-12 other tourists there spread around taking photographs.  I didn’t go too camera crazy because I felt a bit strange about it.  Although they are used to it, it still felt a bit personal.  That being said, there were so many people there it couldn’t have been completely personal. 

ImageImageImageImage

As we stood by, men walked through into the middle clearing, carrying large pigs, hung up by their hooves on bamboo sticks.  They plopped em down, while the pigs were squealing.  Yep, we knew what was going to happen.  They just left them there for a while during other things.  It wasn’t exactly a ceremony, in that no one spoke or preached.  People talked to each other, but we just took it all in.  We were led to another covered place to sit and brought tea and coffee.  I don’t think any of us knew what exactly it was that we were waiting for.  There are several vegetarians in our group, so we asked our guide when the sacrifices would begin (because we wanted to be gone), and he said “much later”.  So we believed him.  Fools.  They next brought in a huge water buffalo.  We got a bit nervous.  We asked him again, “can we please leave before they sacrifice the animals?”  I’m pretty sure he understood, and he nodded and assured us we would.  And yet…there they came, with their knives, and the slaughtering of the pigs began.  We were sitting in a position where we didn’t have to see if we looked away; but you could hear it.  Next, the water buffalo.  Much bigger. Much louder.  A few of our more tender-hearted veggies started to tear up, and it was really horrible to hear.  And of course I felt a bit guilty about being one of those meanies who eats meat.  It wasn’t as traumatic as it sounds really. It was weird, but it is their culture, and we know the meat gets eaten, the skins get used, and these animals had a good life.  When we wanted to leave, we had to walk by it, hopping over the stream of blood running down the mountain.  It’s reality.  It is important to remember that as an omnivore!  Needless to say, I had a vegetarian lunch that day.  (I don’t remember about dinner…might have been over it by then).

Image

After lunch, we went to another area where there were coffins raised along a cliff and bones piled in areas along the rocks.  Because Lonely Planet can sometimes do it better than I can, “High-class Toraja are entombed in cave graves or hanging graves in the steep cliffs, which are guarded over by tau tau (life-sized wooden effigies) carved in their image—you’ll find these eerie yet beautiful cliff cemeteries scattered throughout the region. “

The hanging graves were a bit creepy, and I think I had had my fill of skulls and bones in Kostnice—‘the bone church’ in the Czech Republic.  There were piles of bones along the walk we took up one of the cliffs.  I think we were all being respectful and good little tourists… but then…

When we were all walking down this mountain, a skull actually fell and bounced down the stairs past each of us, making a hollow, haunting sound. (Or as my friend Jackie noted—it sounded like a whiffle ball).  We all just looked at each other and were like “holy $%&@ did that just happen?!”  We looked to our guide (I thought he had done it for effect) but Jon was behind him, so it couldn’t have been him.  I don’t know where it came from, but it was CRAZY.  We high-tailed it out of there after that. 

Image

the very steps we were walking down when the skull tumbled past us

ImageImageImage

That afternoon we got back to our hotel and we started a karaoke party in our hotel’s restaurant.  They guy on the keyboard was ready for any request and we had a grand ol time.  Goodbye Earl was one of my personal favs. We had passers-by peering in the door laughing at the crazy foreigners.  That might be the second thing I’ll miss most about Indonesia—karaoke culture. Love it. 

 

Image

Image

Our adoring fan (s?)

The next day we went for a bumpy ride (terrible roads) up the mountain and visited a café about halfway up and had an awesome view with our tea or coffees.  Then we walked maybe two miles further up the mountain along a pretty calm road, passing through more Torajan villages and seeing more tombs along the way.  It was really beautiful walk.  There were spectacular views of the mountains and everything was so green—and it wasn’t your typical sweltering Indonesian weather.   We passed kids playing soccer and walking home from school.  We talked about the fact that for those kids, this is just normal.  The views, the beauty and everything are just part their regular lives.  Isolated perhaps, but beautiful.   We had lunch closer to the top and had another awesome view while we ate.  We were also harassed by cats.

Image

ImageImageImage

Image

Image

probably the best intro to a menu I’ve ever read

 

Image

Image

Image

Our night bus ride back to Makassar was much less traumatic.  I remember looking out the window at the stars and thinking I had never seen so many or such a wide open sky. 

We arrived at Makassar airport at 5am—with most of us not leaving until after noon (4PM for me & Holly), so we set up camp at the Starbucks, and completely took over a corner of the café with the seven of us and all our bags.  It was actually kind of fun, and I applied for a job and wrote a blog in my free time. 

Image

Thank you Starbucks

Image

Way too much fun. Gotta sleep

 

Bye to the island of Sulawesi—it’s been real!

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Kupang, West Timor & Kendari, Sulawesi

Following beautiful Flores, we headed to Kupang, West Timor.  We flew from Labuan Bajo to Kupang, landing in Maumere along the way.  The small planes out East are like buses, making stops and dropping people off and picking people up along the way!

Kupang is a city at the bottom of the island of West Timor

Kupang is a city at the bottom of the island of West Timor

In Kupang, we had another Access Camp to do, and we hurried right to it after landing.  This time, our camp wasn’t at a beautiful beachside resort, but at a convent!  (Kupang being another predominantly Christian area).  I believe this was my first time in a convent, and when I’d settled into my room, I felt like Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, with the Virgin Mary staring at me from my wall.  There were several special things about this convent; first, all of God’s creatures had decided it was a nice place to live.  Never in my life have I experienced so many mosquitoes in one place.  BUT, they were very strange mosquitoes—even though the pure amount and noise of them was enough to drive any person insane, they weren’t particularly bite-y.  Our beds were draped in mosquito netting, so while sleeping we were ‘safe’, although boiling from the lack of AC or fans.  Another especially horrible creature that found us was the LARGEST spider I have ever seen in my life, which (thank God) decided to take up residence in Jon’s room.  We gathered around, trying to see it, Jon pondering the ethics of killing anything in a convent….finally, he decided to give the room up to the spider and move into another room.  He might have had nightmares.

My convent room

My convent room

Mosquito protection

Mosquito protection

Anyway, the camp itself went well, and the kids were sweet. We had new Fellows helping though—we had Tabitha and her visiting friend, Erica (a balloon artist!), and Jess.  We did similar activities, but we also got to learn how to make balloon animals/cellphones.

Happy campers

Happy campers

Just call me on my car phone

Just call me on my car phone

Smores! (Made with saltines and pink marshmallows)

Smores! (Made with saltines and pink marshmallows)

On Sunday, after the camp was over, we (me, Holly, Jon, Tabitha & Erica) headed into the city of Kupang, and stayed at a dungeon-like hotel.  It was right on the beach, but without windows or really any place to enjoy the beach.  That night, we headed down the main street to find a bar/restaurant we’d heard of that was right on the beach and that also housed two hedgehogs.  We arrived there after a looong walk of yells and shouts.  We found the hedgehogs, some Bintang, and ordered food.  It was really pretty to look out on the beach.  After a few hours we left. We had karaoke on the brain, and wanted to go exploring to find a karaoke spot, so we set off, not really knowing where or if we’d find a place.  Along a side street of the main street, there were a lot of people out at food stalls, eating dinner and socializing.  On the main street right around the corner (perpendicular) there was a guy who had a TV set up and some DVDs out for sale.  So we wandered over to his stall, and browsed the DVDs, looking for some karaoke DVDs…aaand JACKPOT!  Well, not exactly jackpot, because he had a pretty crappy selection, but we decided what better place for a karaoke dance party than the main street of Kupang?!  The guy running the spot was all for it, and when we discovered his microphones weren’t working, he ran off home to get some batteries!  We did some slow rock ballads, and we were having fun;  a few Indonesian guys were watching, probably wondering why we were so weird.  But the mood wasn’t quite right—too slow, it didn’t represent our excitement at singing street karaoke.  So, we found it.  The key to happiness in Asia.  Gangnam Style.

Now, if you don’t know this song—you’re probably of my parents’ generation and I forgive you.  If you are of MY generation and you don’t know it, (ahem, Christen!) then you need to go get on youtube IMMEDIATELY.  This song went viral across the world, and here everyone knows it.  At our national Access Camp, the kids (close to 200 of them?)  went out onto the field and did the dance and sang along to it.  People go nuts.

So do you see where I’m going with this?  We put this song on, the bass starting thumping, we started dancing, and the kids flocked to us.  It was like the pied piper.  We were jumpin around, singing, and we turned around and there were like twenty kids staring at us, questioningly.  It took a few more intrepid kiddos to join the dancing, and then we decided to put it on again (one more time!) and the rest followed.  It turned into a massive dance party of foreign adults and Indonesian kids dancing and singing to Gangnam Style in the middle of the street, with their parents watching and laughing.

Having a karaoke dance party in the street!

Having a karaoke dance party in the street!

Gangnam Style!

Gangnam Style! (I can’t upload the video with all the kiddos! 😦   )

This song turned out to be my and Holly’s theme song—it came back to us in Gili T.  Thank god.

So after that epic adventure, we called it a night.

The following day, Tabitha & Erica headed to Yogya, so Erica could enjoy the rest of her vacation.  Jon, Holly, and I had a few days of blah-ing about.  We didn’t quite know what to do with ourselves, and were exhausted from traveling and working.  Jon had hurt his arm, and we were generally a bit lame.  We all were reading a lot and we found a DVD store and watched Lincoln on Jon’s computer.  Holly and I lost ourselves in  a Fabric store—like two kids in a candy shop, and came out with some awesome fabric (to make clothes out of).  For the rest of our month together, she and I would show anyone willing to look our fabric.  “Do you want to see our fabric?!” became a popular question with us.  We might have asked some people twice.  We had a “Magnum Day”, and then felt a little sick afterwards.

We also met a drunken, old Australian man who liked to talk to (bother) us while we tried to relax at the beach-side restaurant/bar.  Apparently he was wanted by immigration for overstaying his visa.  He talked a lot of rubbish, including asking me my name ten times (not comprehending ‘Deirdre’) and then settled on calling me “D”. Fine.  He got a bit angry at times–claimed to know many famous people and be famous himself.  (Maybe he was?) At one point he looked at Jon and said, “I’m gonna tell you about the time I was locked up in an immigration prison in Bali.  I met these two twins.”  Jon nods, saying “ooooooh” (We know where this is going). But do we?   Old man goes on to say, “They were four year old girls, and guess what their names were?! Guess!”  Jon guessed some regular Indonesian names.  And Old man says, “No, they’re named after a great soft drink”.  Jon catches on, “Coca and Cola?”  “BINGO!”  Ooooh another brilliant story from sad drunken old man.  He is a much funnier character looking back–at the time we just wanted to be left alone.  After a little while of ignoring him, he nodded off.

Our Australian 'friend' asleep at the table

Our Australian ‘friend’ asleep at the table

One day we decided to be adventurous and get a ferry out to this island off the coast—but we’d need the fast ferry because we had to be back in 2 days for our flight to Kendari, and the slow ferry plus a bus ride on the island wouldn’t be worth it time wise.  So we arrive to the harbor and there are no fast ferries.  Alas, plan B.  Ask our driver from the hotel about a nearby beach and if there is anywhere to stay on said beach.  According to Lonely Planet, no, there is nowhere to stay and nothing to eat, so bring your own supplies.  According to driver, yes there is somewhere to stay.   SO, we go to this random spot about an hour away down the coast and come upon these bungalows in a field overlooking the sea.  “Sweet” we think, yet, where do you sleep?  Jon heads down to the bungalow with the guy working there, and we see the guy hitting something over and over with a large stick, while Jon walks up this ladder leading…??? Watching from the car, Holly and I create all kinds of scenarios in our heads.  We had no idea what was going on down there.  Did he expect us to sleep on the roof? But the roofs were slanted?

Waiting for Jon to come back from his adventure looking at the bungalow

Waiting for Jon to come back from his adventure looking at the bungalow

Jon came back and said, “it’s so cool!”  “Oh, and the guy had to kill  a snake at the bottom of our bungalow”.  Oh. Ok. No big deal.  But we still didn’t understand where we were sleeping.  We walked over and found a ladder going up under the roof, kind of like a loft/attic.  It was pretty cool—they had some mats up there, and although it smelled a bit like pee (Holly insisted dudes were up there peeing out the hole to get in, while Jon insisted it was the smell of wet straw).  We may never know.  BUT, we spent most of our time below, in the open part looking out to sea.  Now, they weren’t expecting us, so the lady who ran the place had to come back from Kupang with food.  And this is when we realized we should have listened to Lonely Planet and brought our own food.  Holly and I hadn’t eaten breakfast—not being able to face another morning of fried rice or fried noodles.  (I just want some cereal, damnit!) And so we had a day of hunger.  We kind of made ourselves a bit sick I think, from not eating all day.

Below the bungalow

Below the bungalow

Relaxin all cool

Relaxin all cool

We planned our matching outfits clearly

We planned our matching outfits clearly

Basically we were a miserable bunch, with Jon’s arm still swelling, and Holly and I starving.  Holly and I wandered down to the beach with chairs and books, only to come upon another trash-strewn beach (very common in Indonesia).  Then the rains came.

Trashy beaches in the rain

Trashy beaches in the rain

IMG_3419

It was a cool place looking back, and I got a lot of reading done, and it was really peaceful.

The night was fine—only got a little bit rained on.  The rain came through the straw roof in a couple spots, so I used my rain jacket as a blanket.  We came out a bit soggy, and headed back to Kupang later the following afternoon.

Havin some drinks

Havin some drinks

We flew from Kupang to Kendari, on the island of Sulawesi.  Looking at a map, you should be able to just go straight up, but of course, we had to fly over to Surabaya to get there.  However, redeeming factor: Starbucks in the Surabaya airport! Score!

Kendari

Kendari is the red dot!

Kendari was great because we got to meet up with a bunch of other fellows that we love! Autumn, Kate, Bu Liz, and Jackie.  Neither Holly nor I were doing the Access Camp in Kendari, but we were just along for the ride.  Jackie and I did a teacher training workshop at the local university the Friday morning, and I finally experienced seeing my face on a banner.   It was pretty epic (and yes, I still regret not taking that banner with me).  That evening Jackie, Holly, and I had a glorious night in our dark (but clean) hotel hole—watching movies on TV and eating pizza and being completely lazy.  It was great.

Faces on a poster. We've made it. AND been promoted to "professors"

Faces on a poster. We’ve made it. AND been promoted to “professors”

Teacher workshop

Teacher workshop

Saturday we joined the others at their camp—which was definitely so far the roughest living camp-wise.  One room, no electricity, not much water, kids who run around all night, along with a possibly mentally disturbed kitchen-woman who paced and talked through the night.  Our fellow Fellows were looking a bit tired, but happy. The kids were great there as well, and there were three Fulbright ETAs to help.  We ended up having about a one-to-one ratio of camper to ‘counselor’.  Their location WAS right on the beach though, and it was beautiful.

They had a sand-castle making workshop, led by Bu Liz, and Holly and others searched for beach ‘treasures’.  Holly is an excellent treasure hunter, I realized after spending more than a month with her.

Fellow fun!

Fellow fun!

Treasure hunting

Treasure hunting (Holly’s got the Indo squat down)

We weren’t the best tourists in Kendari, but at this point, I was (maybe meanly) thinking you’ve seen one Indonesian city, you’ve seen ‘em all.  It was nice to be with the others, and nice to be a bit lazy in our hotel for two nights.

After Kendari, we were off to Tana Toraja, and I had no more work-obligations, just pure vacation. I know what you’re thinking, “what? This wasn’t vacation?”  Well, yes, it was. But TECHNICALLY I was working some too!  😉

Posted in Trips | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frolics around Flores: Part 2 (cross-island, Labuan Bajo, Komodo, Rinca, and in a boat in the sea)

We arrived in Labuan Bajo after a one-night stopover in Ende and a seriously long (12 hour) drive across the beautiful island of Flores.  We left from Maumere—it took about 5 hours to reach Ende, where we stayed overnight (me, Jen, Holly, Jon, Adam, and Adam’s friend, Dave, visiting from the US to take footage of the camps for a video).  We roamed about Ende in search of a recommended restaurant in Lonely Planet, only to find it no longer existed and so we settled on an Indonesian version of fast food: kripsy chicken. Yep, Kripsy.  Not Krispy.  I don’t know why I’m even writing about it. Gross. Even grosser in Ende, were the five cockroaches Jon had to kill at our hotel. So we left there pretty soon!

Image

Me & Holly on our roadtrip across Flores. Holly & I were together for more than a month of travels!

The following day, Jon, Jen, Holly, and I had arranged for a van to drive us to Labuan Bajo—an 11-12 hour drive that we were anxious to get done with.  We got on the road a bit later than planned (drivers fault!) but we made it.  It wasn’t as terrible as I’d expected, but it was a very long and tiring day. We did make a few stops at particularly beautiful places to take photos!

Image

Volcano in Flores

Image

Friendly ibus & the solo bapak near a place we stopped for lunch

We finally arrived in Labuan Bajo and we met up with our friend Bryan and his friend visiting from the US.  They had been in town for a few days already so they had the place scoped out for us and arranged for us to stay where they were staying.

Image

View from our guesthouse in Labuan Bajo

Image

Jen modeling our delicious breakfast of soggy toast & omlette haha.

Labuan Bajo (every time I type that I automatically type banjo—I need to get back to Virginia!!)  Anyway, Labuan Bajo is the town that’s the jumping off point for people who want to go to Komodo Island.  It is this groovy spot on the Western tip of the island of Flores that is still very Indonesian, but has some touristy comforts, including an awesome Italian restaurant with a sea view, beanbags, amazing food, and drinks!  In our 4 days in town, it became our spot, and we’d run into each other there without planning on it.  You can see that living in Indonesia for 5 months had made us really appreciate the little things (like a cool restaurant).

Labuan Bajo

Labuan Bajo

IMG_3230

We wandered Labuan Bajo and checked out the cool bars and restaurants—everything with an amazing view.

IMG_3234

sunset in Labuan Bajo

IMG_3228

Jen watching the sun set.

IMG_3240

Laughing at Adam’s baby photos

Adam in the hat

Adam in the hat

We enjoyed being in a touristy place for a bit, and then we booked a boat to take us out to Komodo and Rinca islands.  (Rinca is the island between Flores and Komodo that also has just as many komodo dragons on it).

I’d been recommended by my friend, Annalisa, to rent a boat for 2 days and a night—she said it was a really cool experience.  Plus, Komodo Island is a bit further out than Rinca, so we’d be able to do both islands at a more leisurely pace—PLUS we’d get to sleep on a boat!

Now, I was really excited to live on a boat for two days, and I didn’t let the thought creep into my mind (too often) that I’d gotten sick on a ferry out to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland in college.  I was a little nervous, but I’d bought some seasickness pills at the pharmacy in Labuan Bajo—so I was ready.

We got onto our boat Wednesday morning, and tried not to have boat envy of our neighbors.  There was a pretty awesome pirate ship nearby.

Home sweet home!

Home sweet home!

Life on the boat was pretty awesome.  We had three guys with us—oh captain, our captain, and his two mates. I never figured out who was first mate and who was second mate.  They were all pretty chummy.  One of them was a pretty great cook though!

Wednesday we set off from Labuan Bajo and marveled at the spectacularly green little droplets of islands nearby.  We read, napped, took photos—I wrote down our goings on so I would remember all our adventures!

Jon and Jen relaxing on the boat

Jon and Jen relaxing on the boat

View from our boat

View from our boat

nearby islands

nearby islands

Girls on the boat

Girls on the boat              

Writing about all the exciting adventures

Writing about all the exciting adventures     

We went to the island of Rinca first (which is part of the Komodo National Park), our boat dropped us and our 1st or 2nd mate walked us up to the ‘office’.  It was pretty intimidating to arrive on Rinca and KNOW those beasts were out there waiting…lurking… okay, dramatic I know, but those things can kill a person!  So we got to the office, and we had to sign some stuff and pay a bit, but we got discounts with our KITAS (card that shows we live and work here).

Welcome to Rinca!

Welcome to Rinca!

You must have a guide when you visit, and ours was this older Indonesian man, who carried the pitchfork-like stick that all the guides carry.  He led us on our ‘long trek’ (we had a choice of short, medium, or long and he asked us MANY times if we were sure we wanted to do the long trek.  I think he didn’t want to—which I don’t blame him for.)  We arrived around 1pm, the hottest part of the day, and it was supposed to take two hours.

We set out from the area with a few guesthouses and a kitchen and there were about 4-5 komodo dragons just hanging out by the kitchen. They looked so lethargic.  They were creepy and scary because you ddint’ really notice them at first, they blended in so well with the ground.  One did stand and walk a bit, and watching it move was super freaky—almost human-like (but obviously on 4 legs).

Check out that TONGUE!!!

Check out that TONGUE!!!

CREEPERS

CREEPERS

It’s a good thing they have some of the dragons by the kitchens because it’s pretty hard to see them in the wild, even though there are supposed to be a  several thousand of them out there.  Shortly after we started walking and had once again reconfirmed our desire to take the long trek, our guide stopped us and told us to wait there, while he shot off into the woods.  It really was pretty scary at first, because you just think they could be lurking around anywhere—and they’re so well-camouflaged!  He came back and said to come on.  (I wonder if it was part of his act).  He told us that when baby Komodos are born they live in trees so they don’t get eaten by other Komodos.  So he took us to this big scary looking tree (like an evil tree from a Disney movie) and pointed one out on a branch.  Only problem—non of us could see it.  After staring and him trying to explain in his low-level English where it was, Holly finally saw.  He took pictures, zoomed, Holly tried to explain, then Jon saw it—attempted to explain AGAIN. Finally Jen saw it, and there was just blind me.  But I got there in the end.  It was pretty hilarious that it took us that long—and I still think I actually saw it at first but then thought our guide was talking about another one.  (Yeah, right, Deirdre).

IMG_3284

Trying to explain the exact location of this komodo in the tree

I spotted a wild boar which was really cool—PUMBA!  Then, when we were walking, a tree branch off a palm tree made a huge noise and broke right as we were walking under it—sending us scattering (and me yelling a bad word).  CREEPY ISLAND!

pumba!

pumba!

We saw some water buffalo and had an awesome view from the top down to the sea and of the surrounding islands.

everybody has a water buffalo!

everybody has a water buffalo!

We saw one Komodo dragon in the wild—chillin on a rock where he must always be, because our guide knew.  Still pretty freaky!

Komodo in the wiiiild

Komodo in the wiiiild

IMG_3292

Jen standing guard while our guide gets close to take photos for us

trekking

trekking

So we survived Rinca.  We got back on the boat, went on past more islands—so many islands!  (Did you know Indonesia is made up of around 17,000 of them?) Well now I believe it!

Our boat guys took us to a good snorkeling spot, and we swam around, looking at all the fish.  It was really beautiful.  I did inhale a lot of water at first though, which was a bummer, but which Holly found amusing at least!

After that, we went on towards Komodo and anchored near some other boats in the middle of the water.  Soon, some canoes started paddling towards us.  Jon and Jen thought they were bringing dinner, but no—they were bringing lots of stuff to sell!  Pearls, wooden dragons, etc.  A very persistent group—many of us retreated to the bunks.  They finally go the hint.  We went on the roof of the boat and lay down—looking up to try and see some starts through the clouds that are pretty common during the rainy season.  It was so beautiful, the moon lit up the islands around and there was an occasional distant flash of lightning. I fell asleep on a mat for a little bit, but then went down to dinner.

sun setting at sea

sun setting at sea

mau beli?

mau beli?

Canoeing towards us

evening activities

evening activities           

I slept on the top bunk and woke when the sun was rising. It was such a cool view from the window of the cabin.  (Another enjoyable sunrise experience! Uh ohhhh).

Sunrise at sea

Sunrise at sea

Thursday we were right by Komodo Island where we had docked. (THEY CAN SWIM, TOO!) We got a bit closer, and we actually spotted one walking along the beach.  (romantic, eh?)

Komodo Dragon walking along the beach

Komodo Dragon walking along the beach

Komodo Island was pretty similar to Rinca island—and Rinca was a bit more exciting actually—trekking and through the mud and hot fields.

We didn’t see much on Komodo until the end when there were 3-4 dragons hanging out by the kitchen—just like Rinca.

We did go on another trek though—and had some cool views, and got our photo with some dragons behind us.

killin jon on komodo

Killin jon on Komodo

Group shot on Komodo

Group shot on Komodo

He 'eeet a baaabyyy'

He ‘eeet a baaabyyy’

these are our scared faces!

these are our scared faces!

Afterwards, we got back on the boat and did some more relaxing.  We were perfecting this art.

IMG_3306

Holly our bohemian queen

IMG_3307

Still workin on War & Peace

IMG_3309

Deer on the beach

Deer on the beach

holly chillin

Holly chillin like a rock star              

We arrived back in Labuan Bajo Thursday late afternoon, and had one more chance to hit up our Italian restaurant before flying out the next morning.

Farewell to our favorite restaurant

Farewell to our favorite restaurant

We all survived the Komodos, the threatening sea, and eating ourselves silly at the Italian spot. Well done, Fellows.

Now, on to West Timor!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Frolics around Flores: Part 1 (Maumere & Moni)

Following more than a month of traveling during my semester break, here I sit in Palembang trying to muster the energy to even begin to describe my whirlwind tour of Eastern Indonesia.  So yes, my life here may appear to basically be an extended vacation, but trust me, we were out there doing productive things as well.

The U.S. Embassy here supports an American program called the Access Program which serves “non-elite” teens living in Indonesia who participate in this after-school English and American culture program.  I helped at a National Access Camp some of the other Fellows organized back in November, but for our semester breaks, fellow Fellow, Jon, organized a weekend camp at each Access Center across the (massive) country.  Stop 1: Maumere, on the island of Flores.

Image

Flying into Maumere was in and of itself, exciting.  Looking out of the (tiny) propeller plane, you could see the mountains in the distance—under us, only water.  Up until we were on the runway, I still believed we were landing in water.  The landscape is so dramatic—there is sea, and right beside us, there are mountains.  It was an incredible sight just walking down the tarmac.

But we had no idea what awaited us.  The reception we (Jen, Jon, and myself) received upon our arrival at Maumere airport was insane and slightly terrifying.  As soon as we reached “baggage”, which resembled a shelled out bombsite, SWARMS of ‘taxi drivers’ bombarded us, yelling “TAXI” “TAXI”, getting in our faces, putting their hands on our arms, attempting to claim us as their’s.  It’s their sad job to wait at the airport for the one plane that lands and then hope they can bag a tourist. It was pretty scary and eye-opening.  You can say no many times and yet they persist.  It took ages for our bags to come out—the baggage was brought by some dudes in a pick-up truck who threw it through the hole onto the ‘conveyor belt’ which did not convey.  The belt didn’t move and it didn’t go around in a circle—it was just a straight, short line, so passengers had to pass bags and boxes down the line themselves.  While waiting for the bags to come, the drivers were still there, inches from our faces, saying, “TAXI” “TAXI”.  It is hard to describe the assault (ok strong word) we faced, but my friend and fellow traveler, Jen, summed it up this way:

Our reactions to the onslaught of men in our faces harassing us to choose them as our driver:

Jen: silent, tears welling

Jon: stoic, shut-down

Deirdre: angry, yelling at them to go away

It was pretty amusing in retrospect but seriously stressful at the time. Finally we just picked the lucky driver and got the hell out of there.  Now, we had arrived three days before Camp started, so we were going to head to Moni—a village about 3-4 hours outside of Maumere.  Figuring out how to get there, on the other hand, was not so obvious.  Our guidebook said you could get shared taxis (basically tricked out SUVs/vans) but it didn’t specify where one would find them.  I had asked the lady sitting next to me on the plane and she had said in front of a hotel.  So we had the taxi drop us there, and asked them.  Our Bahasa Indonesia skills must have drastically improved over the following month of trying to figure out what was going on.  At this point, one of the men who was sitting watching TV (working) at the hotel, got up, said some stuff, and walked out to the main road.  Jon followed, Jen stayed with the bags, and then I went to make sure Jon didn’t die.  So basically the guy from the hotel just called out on the road, waved some dudes down, and a crowd of about 10 guys come over with their big van.  Slightly uncomfortable, and very relieved that Jon was with us, we were told this was our ride to Moni.

Following an awkward confrontation with an idiotic man talking crap, we (some of us reluctantly) got in the SUV.  There was the driver, a guy in the passenger seat, and 2 guys in the way back, with Jen, me, and Jon in the middle row.  So I am writing this after the fact obviously, but as we were sitting and riding out of town, Jen was freaking out, thinking we were going to get raped, Jon was uneasy and was sitting kind of sideways so he could see what the guys behind us were doing, and I was clueless and happily chatting to the driver in Indonesian.   After the fact I realized I maybe should have been more concerned, but what are ya gonna do?  What followed was literally the windiest, curviest road I have EVER been on—for 3 and ½ hours straight.  There were massive boulders on certain parts of the road that had fallen off the mountains, and downed trees cutting of one of the lanes so that you had to honk and hope no one was coming from the other side.  There was some feeling of carsickness all around.

Image

One of many fallen trees across the main Flores highway

Jon said later (after our safe arrival) that he thought we might get murdered and it didn’t help when Jen asked the passenger to stop smoking, and I asked the driver to turn down the pulsing house-music that really only belongs in a crappy disco.  Oops!

Despite the ‘scary’ driver/passengers and car-sickness, the drive was absolutely beautiful—the mountains, valleys, and glimpses of the sea, along with small villages we passed and people out walking & working, the goats, cows, horses grazing along the road all made for very beautiful scenery.

We finally arrive in Moni and the crazy guys dropped us off at Bintang Guesthouse.   A guesthouse named after a beer? Sold! Although technically bintang means ‘star’.

Jen and Jon revealed to me over dinner the deep fears they had in the car.  Who knew?!

We arranged at our guesthouse to have three ojeks (dudes on motorcycles) pick us up at 4AM the next morning for the drive to Kelimutu, which is this spectacular place with 3 volcanic crater lakes—one pure bright blue, one black, and the other a deep blue.  The ojek drive took about 30-40 minutes, and then you walk about fifteen minutes up, and you can watch the sun rise over the mountains with a view of the lakes.  It was probably one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen. It actually made me worried that I’ve been missing sunrises all these years (I truly hate waking up early).  The ojek drive up the mountain was amazing too.  It was pitch dark, but so exciting driving under trees and it felt chilly like an autumn morning—and I had one of those moments where I just truly and utterly appreciated and loved my life.  (ohhhh mushy I know).

Back to the Kelimutu sunrise.  It was amazing and insanely beautiful.   And it actually got chillier as the sun came up; a man came up to the lookout point to sell coffee which of course I bought.  It drizzled as we stayed watching it, and we saw a rainbow and then Another one formed! (Double rainbow!)

Image

Image

Kelimutu sunrise

Image

He’s King of Kelimutu

Image

I feel like this should be a folger’s ad or something

Image

Double rainbow!!!!

Image

Our ojek drive back down the mountain

When we got back to our guesthouse we just had a lazy day of naps, lunch, reading, writing, I did some yoga in a corner with a colony of ants, and then dinner.  We thought we’d be adventurous and walk up a ways to another restaurant, only to find out that they had the exact same menu and food there.  Ah well.  They were positioned right by a waterfall, so that was cool to see.

Image

afternoon quiet time at our guesthouse

Image

waterfall, and how some people cross the water to get home

Image

After dinner we went back to Bintang to have a bintang (Indonesian beer).  Flores is a majority-Christian island, so seeing people drinking alcohol was different, as was not hearing the call to prayer at 5am.

Jen at dinner: being serenaded by ukes

Jen at dinner: being serenaded by ukes

After our fun in Moni, we caught a much calmer van back to Maumere to get ready for the Access Camp!

Image

Jon, waiting on the side of the main Flores highway to flag down a van to take us back to Maumere

Holly and Adam joined us there, and we were super excited to find that our ‘camp’ was beachside in this cute resort, with cottages along the beach!

The Maumere students were just so darn lovely.  They were enthusiastic, musical, happy, and so ready to do anything you suggested.  We set up 4 teams with me, Jon, Jen, and Holly as team leaders.  We got settled in, made team chants and flags, and had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for snack time.  (To introduce them to an American treat).  Jon and I sang the peanut butter jelly time song, but the kids looked confused. It’s a strange song.

Image

Maumere Access Camp: learning American football on the beach

Image

Tug -a-war!

They were SUCH musical kids—all little rock stars.  The camp included dramas, skits, art, tug of war, American football, poetry, eating hourly—fried Indonesian ‘treats’?  Hot sickly sweet coffee and tea that is going to make my teeth fall out.  The kids were awesome and we all had a great time.  We had one cute little camper (although she is like 15) in tears when we left, and requested to call Mas Jon, “daddy”.  Bless her heart I about died it was so cute.  “Mas Jon, May I call you daddy?!”  and with her little accent, so adorable.  She gave us all little gifts—mine were groovy earrings made with paper clips as the backs.

Image

The awesome Maumere Access students and the counselors

So far, Flores was rockin my socks off… and we hadn’t even gotten to Labuan Bajo yet…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers

This happened about a month ago, but it so deserved a blog.

So I arrived back in Palembang from Australia, a little bummed at leaving my brother and family…BUT, I had something spectacular to look forward to: Starbucks had arrived in Palembang while I was gone!! So needless to say, I was pretty thrilled to get to my nearby mall and chill out with a frappuccino in a city where I sometimes feel like there are very few Western treats.

I went on a Friday, when I had lots of things to get done on my computer–taxes, emails, flights to book, and I was super excited to do it in a coffee shop nearby.

As usual, to get to this mall, I took a becak (pedi-cab) to the mall. Usually I have to walk a ways to an area where a bunch of them hang out, but occasionally I’ll catch one pedaling by near my house that I can catch. Apparently it was my lucky day, because there were a few right outside the entrance to my road. They weren’t the super eager becak drivers you usually get though, who look at you and ask, “Becak?! Becak?!” These two dudes were pretty lethargic; one didn’t even acknowledge my request. The other–a very old man, who looked like he was slightly drugged, with a few scraggly white hairs popping out on his face, slowly agreed to drive me to the mall. Usually you haggle with becak drivers for a cheaper price, but I just named mine–15,000rp ($1.50) and he agreed without haggling back–a first!! This was probably my slowest becak experience ever. I honestly was a little concerned he might fall off his bicycle in the middle of the road and leave me to oncoming traffic.

So we arrived at the mall, and I headed in with my bag, laptop and supplies for a day in Starbucks (how sad that this was so exciting), went in and ordered a coffee and muffin (another rare treat!).

I sit down, open my bag, arrange all my stuff and get myself situated, and start looking for my phone. That all familiar dread of thinking you have lost your phone overcomes me (we’ve all been there, right?). I unpack everything, thinking it is just lost in my enormous bag…but nothing. Unless I left it at home (unlikely), there is only one place it can be: in the becak. So I call my phone from Skype on my computer. Someone picks up. I say hello, try to get a response: nothing. I try to call again, and the same thing happens. I turned to two Indonesian girls sitting next to me, and asked if they spoke English. I explained the situation and they called the number, and tried again while speaking Indonesian. Still no response.

So my phone had been stolen. Although I had to admit that he didn’t technically steal it, as it must have fallen out of my stupid pocket. Blast those pants! The girls were probably in college and they looked more well-to-do. We started talking and I was trying to figure out how to rescue my phone. I had heard about these smart phone apps that help you locate your missing or lost phone, but I didn’t have them. The girls had two other friends come join, a couple–a boy and a girl, and the two girls quickly explained the poor foreigner’s situation to their friends. The guy looked like he might know how to find it, because he started doing something important looking on his fancy smartphone.

After about 20 minutes of us all searching and trying to figure out how to track my phone, he figured it out! It is actually kind of scary, cause that means stalking me would be easy, so I’m not going to tell you how he did it, but he ended up with a tracker on my phone that showed exactly where it was in Palembang–near the pond by my house (where the becaks hang out). I thought I could find the becak driver. But obviously I was not looking forward to it. My new friends seemed concerned, and the guy asked if I had “someone to accompany me”? And of course I said no, and they agreed to take me to confront the becak driver. We walked out to the parking garage and got into this guy’s fancy car–all five of us.

We drove toward the pond, and they asked me if I remember what he looked like. I thought about it and was relieved to recall that I kind of did. Now, I have told people for ages, I would be the worst I witness of a crime EVER. I am so unobservant I feel quite guilty sometimes. I don’t notice what people are wearing, I probably don’t even know what color eyes some of my closest friends have. My neighbor in Palembang, Daniela, rearranged her whole living room and I had no idea. So usually, I have no idea what my becak driver looks like. However, because this guy was so different–reallyyyy old, white hairs poppin it of his chin, slightly drugged looking, and about the slowest driver I have ever had, I really did remember him.

I was looking out for him as we passed the becak hang out spot, but didn’t see him. My new friends in the car were obviously excited, I’m sure it isn’t everyday that they drive a foreigner around to find her ‘stolen’ phone. So when we didn’t see the becak driver, the guy in our group refreshed his tracking of my phone and we discovered it was across town, closer to the river! I don’t know how this driver got his burst of energy considering he was kind of out of it when I had seen him, but he was in a different part of town now.

At this point, I was sitting in the middle in the backseat just taking it all in and kind of laughing to myself. My phone is super important to me, it was $100 and is my connection to friends and family back in the US, and I have lots of photos and all the Indonesian contact numbers and information I had gathered so far. So I was feeling really dumb for losing it and wasn’t exactly sure we would end up finding it after all. BUT, it was also kind of hilarious to look around at the situation I had found myself in.

We weren’t that talented reading our google maps, and drove around in circles for a bit, but ended up going the right way after a while. The others were kind of excited about the prospect of finding this guy and one of the girls said to me, “I feel like we are in the FBI!” I guess they get all the good car chasing FBI movies here.. And at one point we drove down the wrong road and we had to back up, so we were basically driving down a road backwards, and the guy driving said, “I feel like Vinn Diesel!”

So we get closer, and you can see our dot (on the phone) getting closer to our target dot (becak driver) as if we are about to run smack into him! It was very strange because I kept expecting to see him, but then we passed the dot and I still didn’t see a becak anywhere. So we turned around and parked and I got out of the car and started walking around. A man who lived nearby came over to us to figure out what these four very well-dressed Indonesians (obviously not from this neighborhood) and a white girl were doing there. My new friends explained to him, and the man and I exchanged some basic sentences in Indonesian, about where I work, a description of the becak driver, etc. Of course the whole neighborhood has come it to see this spectacle, and kids are peering out from behind doors, and men are sitting in their squat position watching from a distance. Now, in case I am not painting an accurate picture–this was not a threatening or at all scary situation, just talking to some people and tracking a phone down–no big deal!

So the man we met thought he knew what becak driver I was talking about (disproving my theory that I would be a terrible witness!) He started walking across the road, and towards a collection of shacks on stilts over this sewage-like marsh. We had to walk across wooden planks, and along rickety bridges made of wood that crossed the marsh and linked the several tiny one-room shacks. He called out, and I saw my becak driver standing in the doorway of a shack, looking as feeble as ever. We started walking across another bridge; the neighborhood man, the guy from my new friends, and me.

We stepped up into the house and I was struck by the extreme poverty this man lived in. I know there are poor people across this country; unbelievably poor with no access to clean water, no hospital nearby, etc. but I have been pretty sheltered from it. My neighborhood is fairly well to do, and although you drive by tiny shacks without electricity sometimes, I had never been in one. So the neighborhood man asked the old becak driver if he had my phone, and the driver stared blankly for a moment, and then slowly pulled it out of his pocket (after I pulled my wallet out of mine). I couldn’t believe it was there in his hand, and I took it from him, so happy. I think he must have never held a phone like that (or maybe any kind of phone), and if he had had a real intention of stealing it, he would have turned it off I suppose. Anyway, I gave him 50,000rp ($5) and we thanked him and left. He was kind of in a daze…maybe senile, maybe drugged, maybe just down on his luck? But I came back from over the scary foot bridges and held my phone up in triumph for the three girls who were waiting on the other side. I gave the man who had helped us find the driver 50,000rp as well and we went on our way! But of course, not before I snapped a photo of my saviors! They dropped me back off at the mall after exchanging Facebook information and taking a group photo with me in it this time. These four college kids were so kind to help me out, and it was absolutely an afternoon I will always remember from my strange days in Indonesia.

4 new friends and the bapak who helped us find the becak driver. (Sorry for messed up pic)

4 new friends and the bapak who helped us find the becak driver. (Sorry for messed up pic)

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Hands on Tour- Part 2: AUSTRALIA

Conor and I had this brilliant idea when I accepted my job in Indonesia… “Let’s go to Australia for Christmas!!”

I’ve always wanted to go to Australia, but not for the typical kangaroo, crocodile Dundee, shrimp on the barbie reasons.  My dad has three sisters who immigrated to Australia around or before the time he himself immigrated to the US, so I’ve grown up very far from a big part of my family.  I’d met parts of each of the three families, including at least one cousin from each family, either in Ireland or in the US, but I’d never met one of my aunts & uncles, and a cousin.  The other cousins I had met years ago –some 10 or 12 years ago, and I didn’t feel like I really knew any of them as an adult.    So this trip was an opportunity to do just that!

Conor and I flew Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur and KL to Melbourne.  We didn’t do the best job in planning where we were going first and all that, so we had just a night and a day in Melbourne at first.  We stayed with our cousin Dave, his wife Kylie, and their newborn son, Louis.  Conor and I have great memories of Dave, because he came traveling through Virginia when he was 26 and stayed with us at our dad’s for about a month and a half.  He was hilarious then, and I’m happy to report he’s still hilarious. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much.  Don’t just take my word for it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYR9svRKTe0

It was great to see him and meet his new family.

We headed up the coast after a day for Christmas with another part of the family, knowing we’d be back in Melbourne for 4-5 days at the end of our trip. And we saw Dave on the plane anyway:

Our cousin Dave in a magazine on the plane!

We got picked up from the airport in Ballina by our Aunt Helen & Uncle Don.  It was great to see them.  We’d spent time with them in Ireland as well as in Virginia, but I hadn’t seen them in maybe 7 years?

We had a great evening catching up on their deck that overlooks fields, with the ocean in the distance.

At aunt Helen & Uncle Don's relaxing

At aunt Helen & Uncle Don’s relaxing

The next day, after an incredible packing-of-the-car, with objects in every possible crevice of the car, we headed to Tenterfield in the mountains, where my Aunt Dora & Uncle Dick live, and where we were gathering for Christmas.

Our 5 days there were amazing.  I felt totally at home, and their property was beautiful.  They’ve got sheep, chickens (or chooks!), a creek, woods, a Celtic rock garden, a massive fruit/veggie garden, a sanctuary built by Uncle Dick with the rocks from around the property, and just loads more.  It was great to sit on their porch looking out towards the mountains—just like being at home.  Except it was summertime at Christmas!  (crazy!)

Uncle Dick herding sheep

Uncle Dick herding sheep

We spent the days there eating lovely food (how I missed nice foods, especially CHEESE), and drinking wine (which I also seriously miss in Indonesia!)  And drinking gallons of tea.  My Uncle Dick one afternoon said, “shall we go in, I’m gaspin for a cuppa tea!”  And for some reason, I find this expression hilarious and amazing, and have adopted it for myself.  That’d definitely be a much more Irish expression than Australian as they’re all from Ireland, but I DID learn some new Australian vocab:

I learned new words like “chook” (chicken), “bogen” (redneck), “eski” (cooler), and most importantly, a call if you’re looking for someone and you want their attention: “cooooooooeeeee”, myself and Aisling, my cousin Brian’s 2 year old daughter, both practiced our ‘cooees’ over Christmas.

On Christmas day, we had presents with Aisling (and everyone), and then went to brunch at a neighbor’s house.  It was amazing, there were stations of food: cereal station, tea station, fruit station, bread station, meat/eggs station. Yum!  And then following breakfast, they broke out the jello shots and champagne!  Whaaaat!? ! Gotta love Australian Christmas!

cheers to jello shots with your aunty!

cheers to Christmas  jello shots with your aunty!

We pulled the Christmas crackers and got an awesome deck of tiny cards which we enjoyed far too much.  My cousin Joey taught her dad how to play 52 card pick up.

Catching Dick cheating at cards!

Catching Dick cheating at cards!

We went swimming in the creek Christmas afternoon—twas glorious!  And it was so strange to be swimming on Christmas day.  Afterwards my cousins Mark and Brian started up a game of backyard cricket, and then taught me how to play.  It’s kind of like baseball, but a bit different.  I rocked it of course.  (sometimes).  It was really fun though.  Christmas dinner was a feast of lamb, chicken, ham, potatoes, sweet potatoes, salads, wine, desserts, yum, I’m depressing myself back here in Indonesia!

Conor the cricketer.

Conor the cricketer.

a Christmas day dip!

a Christmas day dip!

Boxing Day (the 26th of December) started with an Irish breakfast, thanks to Brian who has an Irish butcher in Brisbane.  We played more cricket in the park with Joey’s boyfriend’s family & ended the night with a dance party at the house—complete with Wagon Wheel—my favorite was Dora yelling “more bluegrass!”  She’d fit right in at home in Virginia!

Boonoo boonoo National park

Boonoo boonoo National park

A family affair: Dad, son & daughter! Go Joey!

A family affair: Dad, son & daughter! Go Joey!

Happy cousins!

Happy cousins!

Mark & Joey doing their brilliant dance. big box, little box?

Mark & Joey doing their brilliant dance. big box, little box?

Pose: "Imagine Obama just won the presidency!"

Pose: “Imagine Obama just won the presidency!”

Joey bestowing the fishing award to Brian.

Joey bestowing the fishing award to Brian.

I felt really sad when the festivities were all over (around the 28th?) and everyone headed out.  It was such a memorable week and I truly felt like I had gotten to know my family.  It really sucked leaving, because you never know when you’ll see people again.  Immediate family, yet we leave on opposite sides of the world.  Which is why, when I grow up (shut up, Conor, I know I’m already grown up), but when I grow up, Conor is not allowed to move that far from me.  Although I guess I should watch myself for being the one to live far away…

Hand Family shot!

Hand Family shot!

Me & aunt Helen at Patches beach down the road from their house

Me & aunt Helen at Patches beach down the road from their house

Conor & I went to Sydney for New Year’s Eve, rockin up around 7pm into the airport.  We got the train into town, full of early partiers… we found our hostel with help from a nice man who noticed we looked lost.  We got ready & headed out to dinner at a nearby spot. We stayed in King’s Cross, which apparently is the red-light district!  Beggars really couldn’t be choosers, considering we found like the last room in Sydney 3 days before NYE.

Basically we had no idea where to go or what to do.  Obviously, we wanted to see the harbor for fireworks, but it’s like Time’s Square on NYE—chockers! So I asked a bar-girl where we should go and she said they had already roped off the famous area by the opera house.  So she recommended a nearby park with a  view of the harbor.  It was still around 9pm, so we walked down to check it out, approved, and then wandered up to find a place to have a drink.  We found a bar attached to a bottle shop (where you buy alcohol) and we went in there for a drink.  Mistake.  After ordering our drinks, we quickly realized the bar sucked. Terrible music, terrible ambiance (I know I sound like a tool), and freaky weird/funny clientele.  Some guy came out of the kitchen singing a bad song and we just looked around us and realized it was the crappest bar ever—but luckily this struck as extremely hilarious, so we had a good laugh and downed our drinks and left.  We really are not good planners apparently.

Best New Year's Bar EVER! (not)

Best New Year’s Bar EVER! (not)

We tried another bar-got turned away for our lack of fancy shoes. “Another New Year’s ruined!!” hah.  So we went back to the bottle-shop, got a few cans and went back to the park (even though we found out the cops were looking for drinkers!) What can I say, I live on the edge.  We sat in the park, and then wandered to another part of the park where there was a view of the bridge across the harbor.  The fireworks were amazing—massive.  Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel, only to be informed by the hostel worker that we were the first back!  I cringed, Conor laughed and told me I should go out and make friends.  I inherited the party genes from my dad and apparently Conor missed out.  It’s okay not to have a wild NYE, and anyway, we had a great time.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

welcome 2013!

welcome 2013!

We did the touristy things to do in Sydney: we went to the Opera house, took a ferry, checked out Circular Quay, went to the aquarium.

Hands in Sydney: Opera House

Hands in Sydney: Opera House

Opera House

Opera House

Also in Sydney we found a really cool area called Newtown that was full of cafes, antique shops, bookshops, second-hand shops, and just chilled out one day wandering the streets and reading in cafes.

We met our cousin, Paul, in Sydney as well—he couldn’t come to Christmas, so we wanted to meet him.  It was great to talk to him over dinner, and he had a lot of memories of our Nana in Ireland which were so lovely to hear.

Our cousin, Paul in Sydney

Our cousin, Paul in Sydney

Probably most importantly in Sydney: Conor found Dr. Pepper.

Conor found Dr. Pepper!

Conor and his love-Dr. Pepper!

After Sydney we went back to Melbourne by train.  It was about a 12 hour train ride!  It actually wasn’t too bad.  Slept a little bit, but read most of the time—was great.

In Melbourne, our cousin, Mark picked us up from the train station.  The following day we went to Healesville Sanctuary which has Australian animals—marsupials galore!  When you pay for entrance, they offer you a “Magic moment” with their animals, meaning if you pay $10, you can pet/feed whichever animal you want (except the koals, cause they’ll rip your face off?)  So we bought magic moments with the kangaroos—me, Conor, Mark, & his girlfriend, Bec.  It was the hottest day on record in about 40 years, I think maybe 104 or something?  We attempted the Farenheit/Celcius conversion multiple times, but I quickly gave up. I felt like I was in a microwave.  “but it’s a dry heat” whatever, it’s flippin HOT!

Conor and his new friend

Conor and his new friend

g'day mate

g’day mate

a bit frightening really.

a bit frightening really.

so flippin cute.

so flippin cute.

I saw a wombat for the first time, and I loved her!  Such a cool animal, I want a pet one.

I want a wombat!

I want a wombat!

Another magic moment we had at the Sanctuary was this sign:

CRAPMAN!

CRAPMAN!

After our magical moments, we went swimming in the Yarra River to cool off.  That night, had a barbeque with Mark & his friends at their house that had a pool. Lovely.  The next night, we ate kangaroo!  I felt a little bad after our magic moment with that other kangaroo, but it was pretty tasty.

Yummy kangaroo.

Yummy kangaroo.

In Melbourne, Conor and I rode bikes into the city, and got a bit lost, and ended up taking our bikes onto the train.  The city center was really beautiful. Melbourne is a really cool city—full of art, culture, music, events.  In the city square, they were showing Dr. Seuss’-Horton Hears a Who.  We wandered in search a bookshop… it was funny, no matter what city we were in, Conor & I would end up in a bookshop.  Most were pretty expensive though.

That night we found a cool street (after about an hour and a half of being lost-ish) named Brunswick Street. It was loaded with restaurants, bars & cafes. We were searching for a place with live music, but didn’t really succeed. It was right after New Year’s, so a lot of places were still closed or not too hoppin.  We finally ate dinner at a Greek place, and then went to a cool bar with loads of couches.  I ordered a glass of wine, and Conor couldn’t decide.  He finally decided on a chocolate milkshake, which was hilarious.  I love my brother, he’d rather have a chocolate milkshake than a beer, and that’s a-okay with me.

We went to a movie the next day (another scorcher) and saw Life of Pi at a really cool theater—was like the Lyric in Blacksburg except bigger.  Afterwards we took a tram to St. Kilda Beach and walked around and watched the sun set and then headed home.

Melbourne

Melbourne

Melbourne: St. Kilda sunset

Melbourne: St. Kilda sunset

Our last day in Melbourne, Conor and I went back to Dave & Kylie’s house and had lunch with them and hung out.  We celebrated Kylie’s birthday, and went on a bush-walk.  Dave gave Conor an awesome hat of his, and decided that it would not be another ten years before we saw each other again!

Dave & Kylie & Louis getting ready for bush-walking

Dave & Kylie & Louis getting ready for bush-walking

It was an amazing trip.  I am resolved to stay in touch with my family in Australia, and I WILL see them again.  Getting to know your family is such a gift, one you take for granted if your family lives nearby, or if you get to see them yearly or twice a year (as we’re so lucky to do with our mom’s side).  It let me get to know two of my dad’s sisters better, and see the similarities between myself and cousins, including the same feet as my cousin, Brian! (it’s true!) Similar music taste to Joey & Dora—and Joey also teaches ESL.  My Aunt Helen showed us some photos of our great-grandparents that I’d never seen, and Mark and Dave are so darn musical that I swear there must be that talent deep down in me somewhere!  Also, spending a full month with Conor, with few breaks for alone time (a challenge with anyone), was pretty easy.  We had a day in Sydney and a day in Melbourne where we split off and went solo, but overall we traveled really well together which is a great relief! He’s a much better tourist than me, and made sure we saw the sights.  If it were up to me I’d find the cafes and just sit around and read.  To be fair, he likes that too, but he made sure we saw the good stuff.  Thanks, bro—even if I was a grumpy bugger sometimes.

Thanks for tuning in to Hands on Tour- Part 2! It was a success—and a special shout out to my awesome family in every part of the world where they are; that is my Christmas lesson.  Appreciate your family!

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments