Bali, Indonesia–Early-versary!

When Ryan surprised me with a horse ride on the beach for our four year wedding anniversary, I couldn’t believe it!  Not only is our anniversary not for another month, but Ryan is not a big fan of horses.  I wasn’t aware of the horse scene here in Bali, but it’s here and Ryan found it for me because that’s how much he loves me.  It was such a wonderful surprise!  I sang “I get to go ride horses” to the tune of Willy Wonka’s “I’ve got a golden ticket” all the way to the stable, because that’s what it felt like.

Apparently I was too excited to notice whatever was on my lip…

Although Ryan wouldn’t be joining me on the ride since the local horses are small and he exceeded the 90 kilo weight limit, I think he preferred it this way.  In fact, he seemed almost as happy as I was when he dropped me off at Kuda P Stables and continued on his way.  His plan was to go exploring and it was by complete coincidence that he ended up at the same beach just in time to capture all my wonderful memories.  He told me that he came around the corner–after having parked the scooter at a different entrance–and the first thing he saw was me racing towards him, covered in sand and smiling from ear to ear.  I couldn’t believe my luck!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Upon my arrival at the stable, I got all checked in.  The staff were friendly and very thorough while fitting me for an appropriately sized helmet, a task that is always difficult given the unusually small size of my head.  After that, things moved along very quickly.  I was led to a beautiful grey mount named Crystal that just so happens to be the poster child of Kuda P Stables.  I was also introduced to my groom.  I’m embarrassed to admit I could never properly pronounce his name, so for the purposes of this blog, I’ll call him Antonio because it sounded similar.

Antonio was great and he went out of his way to ensure that I had a wonderful experience.  He stopped to pluck flowers from trees that I had admired and he took pictures throughout the adventure.  Although I’d arrived shortly before another couple, he still took me out separately which I appreciated.  Ryan had registered me as an experienced rider and Antonio pretty much left me alone and let me do my own thing, especially once we arrived at the beach.  He was a legitimate jockey from Java and he smoked me when we raced.  His horse kicked up enough sand that Ryan laughed as soon as he saw me.

Look at my neck!

After walking in the surf, galloping from one end of the stretch to another, and of course getting in as many rematches against Antonio as poor Crystal could handle, we returned to the stables where I was presented with a much needed towel, a soda of my choice, and a plate of freshly fried bananas.  It was an absolutely wonderful experience that fulfilled a dream I’ve had since I can remember.  Thank you so much Ryan Vredenburg!  I am a very lucky lady.  I won that golden ticket the day I met you.

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Bali, Indonesia–Fly A Kite

One of my very favorite things about being in Bali is that everywhere you go, you can see people flying kites.  Whether it’s a single solitary farmer in one of his rice fields or a couple of kids running along the narrow street, everyone seems to have a kite.  This was especially evident when we made our way to the nearby beach.  Pantai Masceti is only a 30 minute scooter drive from our place in south Ubud and it appears to be very popular with locals.  I’d never seen so many kites in one place!

These aren’t just your everyday average kites.  They are huge and they come in some unusual shapes as well.  We got to the beach around dusk and it was a great time to not only watch the kites flying high up in the air, but also to watch them being pulled back in again as their owners prepared to leave.  This showed us just how big and long some of these kites actually are.  My understanding is that they can be 1,000 feet long!

Watching everyone have such a good time flying their kites made me want to try it out for myself.  I bought a kite at a local shop for IDR 50,000 (about $3.50 USD) and we eventually made our way back to the beach to give it a go.  It took me a couple of tries but I finally got the hang of it.  After several consecutive successful launchings and landings, I decided that flying a kite is a lot like fishing.  It’s fun to cast off and reel in, and even more fun when you get a bite, but for the rest of the time it’s mostly just waiting.  That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the experience.  It was a great way to enjoy the beach and the nice ocean breeze on a lazy afternoon.  I may even do it again.

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Bali, Indonesia–Wild Things

Pura Besakih (aka Mother Temple)

Purifying ritual at Tirta Empul Water Temple

Bali has the largest Hindu population of all the provinces of Indonesia.  This can be seen in Bali’s beautiful temples of which there are many.  It is reflected in the interesting water purification rituals and cremation ceremonies performed by the locals and by the offerings they leave outside their homes.  It is also apparent by the fascinating statues that guard almost every entrance.

I’m a big fan of these statues.  The sheer variety is impressive enough, let alone the feeling that each statue has a story, and I’m sure it probably does.  I’ve never seen so many interesting statues in one place.  Some are more menacing than others–and indeed my understanding is that their intent is to scare away evil spirits, or at least keep them at bay–but my favorites are the ones that also appear to be somewhat playful.  These remind me of one of my favorite childhood books called Where the Wild Things Are written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

According to some Hindu beliefs (at least as I understand it), things such as trees and statues are potential homes for spirits whose energy can be directed for good or evil.  These things are therefore treated very well.  They are often “dressed” with a bit of black and white checkered fabric (called Saput Poleng) and they are paid respect and given offerings.  The black and white Saput Poleng symbolizes the good and bad spirits working together within every entity.

(Picture borrowed from internet)

I have a very crude understanding of Hinduism, let alone Balinese Hinduism which I’m sure is unique in and of itself, but I find the idea of these statues to be wonderfully fascinating.  If you want to invite a spirit to come and look over your home and your loved ones, give it somewhere to live (such as a statue) and make sure it is well cared for.  Keep it dressed and fed, show it respect, and it will give you good juju.  It seems to me that regardless of your beliefs, a little good juju never hurt anyone.

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Bali, Indonesia–Beautiful Bali

There’s no question that Bali is one of the most beautiful places that Ryan and I have ever been and we’ve taken the liberty of exploring much of the island on our current scooter, Purring Panther.  Everywhere we go, the scenery only gets more and more impressive with bountiful rice terraces, gushing waterfalls, and lush volcanoes towering over glassy lakes.  Locals fly kites on the volcanic black sand beaches.  It’s a truly remarkable place!

Mount Agung off in the distance

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan Water Temple

My favorite drive thus far has been to Mount Batur which is an active volcano located northeast of where we live near the town of Ubud.  We enjoyed the view (along with some tasty beverages) from Kintamani Coffee.  Ryan got to have his beloved affogato, which is a scoop of vanilla ice cream drowned by a shot of hot espresso.  Then we drove around the east side of the lake as far as we could go.  This took us through many small villages along the way and offered more intoxicating scenery.  We were gone all day and we liked it enough to repeat the adventure and explore the opposite side of the lake on our next visit where we saw lots of volcanic rock.

We’ve also viewed Mount Agung while keeping a respectful distance.  Mount Agung’s last major eruption occurred in 1963, killing 1,000 people.  Then, after years of silence, the volcano woke up in September of last year.  A series of small eruptions that persisted over the next five months raised the alert to its highest possible level and caused thousands to evacuate, crushing my hopes of visiting as well, at least for the time being.  I was thrilled when Indonesian authorities lowered the alert status again in February, declaring it safe for locals to return home and tourists to come and enjoy all that Bali has to offer.  We booked our tickets before we could come to our senses.  Although there was a small subsequent eruption in late April, the status remains at “standby” and there’s been no notable activity since we’ve been here.  All things considered, we figured it was safe enough to do a liberal drive-by.

Rice terraces can be found all over Bali.  We’ve driven by more than I can count, but I really enjoyed our visit to the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces.  Not only were these rice terraces a sight to behold–with the tall grainy stalks blowing in the breeze, looking like a rippling sea–but they were a great place to walk around and get some exercise.  There were many well-marked routes to choose from.  We combined the short track (1.47km) and middle tracks (1.7km) and ended up hiking just over an hour.  We stopped to enjoy a couple of refreshing coconuts along the way and admired a woman carrying a heavy looking load on her head.  It was impressive!

We’ve visited a few waterfalls while we’ve been in Bali.  The more touristy ones often have people at the entrance trying to get you to “support local business” by paying for an unnecessary guide, so we tend to skip these.  Luckily there are many options to choose from here in Bali.  The drive to Tibumana Waterfall took about 45 minutes from where we live near Ubud.  The ticket price was a modest IDR 10k (which is less than $1 USD).  Then it was a short 10 minute hike to get to the falls.  I enjoyed the rock art almost as much as the falls themselves.

Tibumana Waterfall

We also found our way to Dusun Kuning Waterfall (or the Yellow Waterfall).  The entrance fee for this waterfall was IDR 15k.  This hike was much longer–I’d say 30-45 minutes–with a steep staircase and some muddy, washed-out stretches of path, but it was a beautiful walk and a great opportunity to get some exercise.  We didn’t pass a single person on the trail and once we got there, we had the falls all to ourselves!  I wish we’d thought to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy along with the view.  It was the perfect place to just relax and take in the scenery, along with the sound of rushing water.

Dusun Kuning Waterfall (The Yellow Waterfall)

Ryan and I are both more mountain people than water people, but we’ve stopped at a few beaches during our wandering.  I most enjoyed the sight we encountered when we made our way to Pantai Masceti and saw people flying kites.  This beach was very popular with locals and we got the impression that they weren’t used to seeing many tourists here.  It was a little off the beaten path and somewhat hard to find.  The volcanic sand was black and reminded me of the sand in Montserrat.  It was a nice place to watch people pull their kites in as the sun set.  They had the most amazing kites I’ve ever seen!

Ryan’s tan lines continue to crack me up.

The traditional clothing that Balinese women wear is also worth mentioning because it’s absolutely gorgeous!  The outfit is called a kebaya and it consists of a colorful ankle-length kain or sarong and a long fitted (often lacy) blouse.  A sash is tied around the waist and seems to flatter most shapes and sizes, although I discovered that a corset is often worn under the semi-transparent blouse, so I’m sure that makes a difference as well.  Still, of all of the traditional clothing we’ve seen throughout our travels, I think I’d been the most keen to wear these.  With a huge assortment of colors and patterns, the possibilities are endless, just like the beauty of Bali itself!

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Bali, Indonesia–Butterflies!

Ryan and I haven’t been in Bali long but we’ve done a lot of exploring and we’ve seen some amazing sights!  One of my personal favorites so far, although it’s on the touristy end of things, was visiting the Kemenuh Butterfly Park.  They have a nice facility with some of the most beautiful butterflies I’ve ever seen!

The facility is not large, but I still could have spent hours following around one beautiful butterfly after another.  There was a wonderful variety of colors and shapes and sizes.  Some of them were very busy, fluttering from tree to flower, while some of them were more quiet and cooperative when it came to posing for photos.

There was a pupa section that had some humongous and colorful moths.  The attendant was very knowledgeable and he talked about the life cycle of the moth and butterfly.  He showed us moth and butterfly eggs that would soon hatch caterpillars.  There were some big, juicy caterpillars in the pupa room.  There were also many pupae, from which butterflies and moths would soon emerge.

The environment was wonderfully tranquil and a pleasure for all the senses.  Soft music played in the background.  The trickle of a waterfall could be heard.  A cool spray of mist floated down from the air which was fresh and fragrant.  There was color everywhere from the gorgeous array of flowers and decorations, and of course, from the butterflies themselves.

After we had explored to our hearts’ content, and I tried to make the stay short and sweet for Ryan’s sake, we enjoyed a meal at the restaurant.  The food was good and we had a nice view from our table.  I took advantage of the restroom while we were there, and then were were off on our next adventure, certainly not light as air, but we certainly felt the breeze blowing through our faces.

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Phuket, Thailand–Operation Songkran

Ryan and I were fortunate to be in Thailand for Songkran, which is the Thai New Year’s festival.  Although there are many different traditions, including visiting local temples and making merit offerings, this holiday is well known for its water festival.  As you drive down the road, people will toss icy water on you from the curb or squirt you with squirt guns and hoses.  Meanwhile, a truck will pull up on your other side and dump buckets of water on you.  It’s a wild (and wet) time!

Ryan had done his research and so we had a pretty good idea of what was in store for us.  We purchased a squirt gun–they were selling them all over the island–and loaded up on Blue Betty ready for battle.  I had two jobs.  The first was to be Ryan’s gunner girl.  I squirted people as we approached or retreated (although I think the latter was more my style).  The little ones were the funnest to engage because they were so stinkin cute!  My second job was to film the festivities as they unfolded around us.  I’m not sure I was very good at either, but I had a blast!

Go ahead. Make my day.

In accordance with another tradition, we had chalky mixtures rubbed on our cheeks and neck.  As I understand it, the chalk marks one’s blessings and also symbolizes good luck for the new year.  The chalk came in many different colors and there were different scents as well.  One reddish-orange mixture smelled strongly of menthol.  Another had a distinctly spicy smell.  I was grateful we were wearing sunglasses and didn’t get any in our eyes.  I felt like I wearing war paint!

You should see the other guys…

When all was said and done, we returned in pretty rough shape.  Our spirits, however, couldn’t have been higher!  Songkran was one of the most interesting and exciting holidays I’ve experienced abroad.  People were so joyful and gracious.  Many even made attempts to wish with us “Happy New Year” in English or Thai, or a combination of the two.  I felt welcome and included.  It was a wonderful experience and I’m so glad were were able to celebrate Songkran with the good people of Phuket, and with each other.

Wow, that was pretty intense.

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Phuket, Thailand–Monkey Madness

Earlier today, Ryan and I took a short scooter ride from our house in Phuket and visited Monkey Hill.  I was very happy to have Blue Betty not only so we didn’t have to make the climb on foot, but also in case we needed to make a hasty getaway.  The monkeys of Monkey Hill are notoriously brazen and they can even be aggressive when you don’t give them what they want.  I was surprised how many there actually were up there, along with dozens of stray dogs.  They all (monkeys and dogs) appeared to be well fed and flourishing.  I’m sure it helps that they have many visitors to keep them fattened up.

Although they seem to have food in excess–there were piles of unopened, uneaten bananas ripening away in the hot sun–the monkeys were curious to see what new gifts the recent groups of visitors had to offer.  We were not among them.  If fact, we were lame.  The only things I brought were my camera and my party whistle to use in case of an emergency.  The monkeys didn’t take much interest in us and I was happy.  It was enough to watch them interact with more fearless travelers.

There were monkeys of all shapes and sizes.  Every now and then someone would feed one by hand.  Meanwhile, a mother would case the parked scooters carrying an infant around under her belly.  There were groups enjoying an afternoon grooming session.  Some were taking naps while others swung from branches in nearby trees.  I hung out with a relaxed group of mothers and their babies.  They were very tolerant of my presence and I enjoyed just sitting quietly nearby observing them.  It was a wonderfully mellow scene.

When all was said and done, Ryan and I made it out without an incident.  Neither of us were frisked, scratched, bitten, or maimed.  No feces were thrown.  There were no surprise attacks.  I didn’t even have to use my whistle.  While it probably helped that we exercised some caution, I’m sure that there was a certain amount of luck involved as well.  Some–and I’m assuming that these were the ones with the especially delicious treats–were not so lucky.

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Phuket, Thailand–Fight! Fight! Fight!

Ryan and I recently attended our first Muay Thai fight here in Thailand.  Otherwise known as “Thai Boxing”, Muay Thai is a full-contact combat sport that combines stand-up striking and the use of the fists, elbows, knees, and shins, along with various clinching techniques.  For this reason, it is known as the “art of eight limbs.”

The event began at 9pm and was held at the Bangla Boxing Stadium in Patong.  Tickets were sold at the door, ranging in price from $1700 TBH (for stadium seating) to $2500 THB (for VIP seating).  This is about $57-$83 USD.  We’d done enough looking around different parts of the island to know that these prices were legitimate and weren’t highly elevated for tourists.  Here in Thailand, that is a lot of money, which shows just how highly the sport is valued.

People come from all over the world to train and compete in Muay Thai.  On the night we attended, the competitors were from Thailand, France, Russia, China, and Israel and they ranged quite a bit in age as well.  We got the “cheap” stadium seats but it worked out nicely because we sat high up directly below the fans.  From here we could take in the whole ring at a glance.

The event began with a fight between two youngsters who displayed serious determination and great sportsmanship.  It included (among many others) a brutal battle between female competitors that ended with bloodshed–no surprises there.  It concluded with two different championship fights (I’m assuming in different weight classes).  Everyone had a slightly different style which kept things interesting.

As a spectator, I had little idea of what was going on.  I still enjoyed watching, however.  To make things even more exciting, Ryan and I each bet on a contender at the beginning of every fight.  I’m pleased to report that by the end of the night I had beat him soundly 5 to 2.  While I know that this was entirely due to luck, I still walked out of there feeling like I’d won a small personal victory, and I didn’t even have to get in the ring to do it!

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Phuket, Thailand–Sunset Sneak Peek

Ryan and I were recently lucky enough to watch a beautiful sunset here in Phuket.  We drove to Kata-Noi Beach and grabbed some seats on the sand to wait for it to unfold.  As sunsets tend to go, it took it’s time.  I’m notorious for getting bored waiting for the sun to set and more often than not, we go about our business before the show’s even begun.  (What!  We have to wait another 45 minutes?!  I don’t think so.)  Luckily for me, there was a pretty entertaining pre-show leading up to the grand finale.

Starting to set

This light is a really great color on you.

I recently learned about Instagram.  (I know, gasp.)  For those of you who are less in the know, as I tend to be, Instagram is a social-networking service similar to Facebook that deals almost entirely in photos.  I’ve never used Instagram.  However, there are A LOT of people who do.  While we were waiting for the sun and the sky it do their thing, I noticed a couple of girls down the beach taking some interesting photos of each other.  One was even coaching the other on the best way to stand and stick this out like that.

Getting lower

Can you give me more of a pop, please?

After a while I noticed that the couple on our left was doing it as well.  “What are they all doing?” I asked Ryan.  He shrugged and said, “Instagram,” as if that explained everything.  Apparently it did and he got me up to speed.  At last I had something to keep me entertained!  For the next forty-five minutes (and then the next forty-five minutes after that, because let’s face it, it’s a sunset) I had a great time taking pictures of people who were taking pictures of themselves.  Ryan wasn’t thrilled by my newfound source of entertainment–he was just sure that he was going to get blamed for taking the pictures himself when anyone happened to look through our photos–but at least it meant that we were going to be able to stay long enough to watch the sunset for a change.

And lower

Lookin good, Sweet Cheeks.

I’m pleased to announce that the preshow/sneakshow/peekshow was a success!  Eventually the sun did set and the colors came out and completely transformed the sky and it was truly spectacular!  It might have been one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.  I owe a special thanks to Ryan for driving me all the way to Kata-Noi Beach, and for all of those Instagram subscribers who made the wait worth my while.  It looked like the photos they got were worth the wait for them as well!

There it is!!!

Applause!

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Phuket, Thailand–Show Time

Thailand, the land of smiles, is known for having beautiful beaches and lots of elephants.  It’s also known for its ladyboys.  Last night, Ryan and I went to see the Simon Star Show.  This is a Vegas-style show featuring young men and ladyboys dancing and lip syncing to a variety of songs in different languages.  The sets of the show were impressive and the costumes were gorgeous.  We had excellent seating, right in the front row, and I was fascinated by the idea that the beautiful women I was watching had once been men.

I know very little about ladyboys.  It is my understanding that a ladyboy is a transgender woman or an effeminate gay male.  To my untrained eye, it was impossible to identify the ladyboys from the other female performers (if there were any).  Ryan said that he could see a few Adam’s apples, but I had a more difficult time spotting them.  Had I not known ahead of time that the stars of the show were ladyboys, I would never have known.  They were absolutely beautiful and could not have been more feminine.

While I had assumed that the reason for the lip syncing was largely a result of the language barrier, I later discovered that this may not have been the only reason.  Most ladyboys still have a surprisingly low voice–even with training, the pitch might sound odd–so having them sing the songs themselves would have changed the show considerably.   I discovered this myself afterwards when we were invited to take pictures with the performers (for 100 THB).  They were just as beautiful up close, but their voices were somewhat of a surprise.

When all was said and done, the show was a little overdone for my taste and not all of the dancers were great, but it was a fun and interesting evening that provided a small glimpse into a mysterious world that I know very little about.  One thing is for certain.  I have a new respect for the potential results of hormone replacement therapy and sexual reassignment surgery.  The ladyboys of the Simon Star Show were absolutely gorgeous, and in my opinion, they were worth seeing.

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