Archives for the month of: August, 2011

A couple of days ago, friend Valerie (from Belgium) and I very quickly planned and completed a trip that covered a LOT of Bali. The main goal for her was to get up to Lovina, on the northern coast of Bali, to check out the area and possibly see some dolphins. As Lovina was on my list of places to go in Bali, I was excited for the trip as well.

We hired a guide who brought a friend (rather unorthodox, but it made it fun) and were off at about 9:45 Sunday morning. First stop: the Monkey Forest in Ubud.

I had been to this Monkey Forest before with Helga and Nina, but it was fun to go again. Strangely, the monkeys were more active this time, even though it was almost the same time of day.

We watched them for a while, then continued on to Tirta Empul, a water temple that I had also seen, but where Valerie wanted to bathe in the holy spring water.


Next stop: Elephant Safari.

As you can see, this was not exactly the kind of elephant experience I had last year. While I’m glad we went – Valerie is starting a travel company here and wanted to visit it as a potential site – I would not recommend it as a very true, meaningful experience with elephants. But I am spoiled:)

We then were on our way for a quick stop in Kintamani, overlooking Gunung (volcano) Batur and its beautiful lake.

Then we had a long, winding drive to Lovina, where we arrived well after dark. Tired and hungry, we quickly found a hotel that Trip Advisor had recommended, made plans to see the dolphins the next morning, ate excellent local seafood, and collapsed, exhausted, into bed.

The dolphin trip started at 6:00 and is a big attraction in Lovina. Small fishing boats that can carry 5-10 people all set off from shore in the same direction at the same time. On the day we were out, I counted 44 boats; the hotel owner said there had been over 100 boats the week before.

Okay, so when 44 boats are out looking for dolphins, you can imagine the chaos when they are spotted – all the boats go charging in that direction so the guests can see them. Apparently the boat operators have been told repeatedly to NOT do this. You can understand the terror the dolphins must feel with so many boats bearing down on them. While we did see some, Valerie and I were more impressed by the sunrise and a little disappointed that the boats didn’t just drop anchor and wait quietly for the dolphins to come.

After the tour, which ended early, we had some time to enjoy this nice hotel in this great spot on the black sand beach. Valerie had a massage, and I enjoyed TWO warm showers in the 1 1/2 days we were there. It was a nice little retreat from Kuta.

We then went to the Sing Sing Waterfall/ Lookout, which was beautiful¬†but almost dried up – apparently it’s best during the wet season, which makes sense.

Back to Kuta, which was another long, winding trip, where our guide took us to a restaurant that served “real” Balinese food for dinner. After we finished eating, said guide had the last laugh when he re-assembled our chicken(s), head and all, in a creative artistic display.

Maybe that’s not so funny to my readers, or maybe it’s a “you had to be there” kind of thing, but we were pretty hysterical and it even made the server crack up.

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I blogged, and how much I’ve done since then! Time stands still while it flies here…

Needing a Visa renewal, and wanting to visit the Bintan teachers for a few days, I flew from Jogjakarta to Singapore, then ferried down to Bintan. I had to fund my own stay this time, so I chose the cheapest resort in Bintan – the Nirwana Beach Cottages. It was a lovely little place right on the beach where I could put my feet up or go for a swim at the end of my HOT days in the township with the teachers.

It was fabulous to see the teachers – full-circle! I was able to observe all but one teaching; they are really putting into action the ideas we talked about. Meeting the students, seeing who was “brave” to speak English with me, and watching their teachers help them to really participate in class and the materials was a real treat.

There are two new teachers – on in the elementary school, and one in the kindergarten – and it was nice to be able to meet them and work with them a bit as well.

The teachers were wonderful hostesses as always, and it was a very satisfying trip.

After four nights in Bintan, I ferried back to Singapore where, in the airport, I once again had to deal with credit card theft nonsense on a pay phone in the airport (you know those “call us collect” numbers on the back of the cards”? They do you no good if no one knows how to make a collect call:) Let’s just say Capital One, who will NOT remain nameless in this case, is going to get an earful when I get home. It’s not fun having a credit card number stolen and used to buy $600 of cosmetics in Illinois when you’re half way around the world. But I digress…

Back to Bali, to the lovely Komala Indah I, my little no-star dive hotel I’m using to store my belongings and rest my weary head. Knowing that I had three more weeks here in Bali and don’t want to just sit around on the beach (really!), I had to make some plans and put myself to some tasks. That’s when I got REALLY motivated to surf.

Another digression is in order here to explain why, at the OLD age of 42, I’ve decided this is a sport I need to learn. I have attempted to surf before, and it’s not been a great experience. I’m terrified of the waves, don’t like cold water, and am not a particularly strong swimmer. That said, it seems like everyone who snowboards at least attempts to surf at some point in their life, and I most definitely snowboard. So I put on my big girl pants, mustered some courage, sought an instructor and a board, and the fun began.

After six days in the surf I can say (and my instructor can concur) that I’m just not that good. I can paddle into a “wave” (white water, at this point), stand up, ride for a split second, then fall down. Depending on where the tide is at that falling down moment, I either smack my butt or knees on the bottom, or get a little thrashed by the waves. Then I head out to try again. I can only do this for about twenty minutes at a time before I’m exhausted; I take a rest for a minute (or an hour) and then I try again. Experiments with different sizes of boards and stances have been met with differing amounts of success.

My knees are killing me and are battered; I have bruises on the side where I push the board out into the water – not really paddling out yet because the waves are a little unpredictable and I could easily get smashed. But I’m having fun and will go do it again today!

Two days ago a new friend Valarie and I went on a little adventure around Bali. I have stories and photos to share, but right now I have to get out to the waves!

20110808-114248.jpg

Jogjakarta has been a magical little side trip for so many reasons. I knew I would like it here, but wasn’t sure quite why it would be so important. As I contemplate leaving tomorrow, it’s easier to understand.

This is the first of many changes of locale when I was completely “on my own” in Indonesia when I didn’t feel anxiety or unsureness about the transition. When one travels this much, it’s easy to learn how to make these transitions “safe” and relatively seamless: look for a hotel with free airport transport; have a friend/ colleague who is kind enough to make these arrangements on your behalf; know your way and how local taxis work, etc. This time I had none of the aforementioned luxuries, and yet somehow was not intimidated.

I arrived in Jojyakarta very early in the morning. Anticipating that I would not be able to check into the hotel until MUCH later, I had nothing but time on my hands.

After I retrieved my checked bag at the airport, I went to the information counter and asked for a tourist map. Then I asked about public transport or buses. By taking the public bus and walking for 10-15 minutes, I could save at least 47,000 rupiah. Done!

Of course, at the airport taxi drivers swarm newly arrived visitors. It’s tough to tell these drivers from well-meaning “helpers” and others who are at the airport to sell things. I shot past them all, then looked for the TransJogja bus line. The people who work for this bus line are remarkably helpful and not only told me what bus I needed and where to get off – they made sure I got on and off the bus at the appropriate stops. Easy.

From the bus stop, map in hand, I set off for my hotel in exactly the wrong direction. Once I figured this out it was a relatively straightforward – albeit HOT – walk to my hotel.

Hotel Wisma Ary’s is a lovely little inexpensive guest house away from the hustle and bustle of the more touristy area. While I was a little bummed about the location at first, the service and hospitality of this guest house have more than made up for the fact that I have to walk a little further than I would like to in order to be a tourist. They greeted me warmly, offered me free breakfast, and had my room ready before 9 am! Having three days of motorbike tours has made the slight inconvenience of the location negligible.

What’s been more of a challenge are the NUMEROUS loud wake-up calls from the mosque across the street. I chose to travel during Ramadan and I really can’t complain about it – merely report that it’s tough to sleep when prayers and other calls to worship loudly punctuate the night and early morning hours. Having met many Muslims who are fasting right now, I have massive respect for the holiday and those who make this commitment to renew their faith every year. I can’t imagine how people work through the heat of these days without anything to eat or drink. My guide, Aji, has been gracious and uncomplaining while carting me around (although he REALLY perks up once he has broken his fast).

The first day here I took a very ambitious walking tour around the city. I should know this from experience, but the walking tours put together by Lonely Planet are even a bit much for me, an amateur athlete. Working in the round-trip walking, getting lost, stopping for directions, and stopping for attractions, this tour is 6+ kilometers and took me more than three hours. I cheated and took a bus part of the way back. But with all that walking and the heat, dirt, and grime of the city, I was more than ready to be finished when I was.

I saw:

The Water Temple (Taman Sari)

20110808-115002.jpg

The bird market

20110808-115348.jpg

The Sultan’s Palace (Kraton)

20110808-115603.jpg

And the local market/ shopping street. By this time I was hungry and tired, and the walk came to an abrupt halt for lunch.

After finding ViaVia that evening, I had Aji, my tour guide, lined up for Borobudur and the next few days.

Paringritis Beach was spectacular but definitely not a place for swimming or sunning.

20110808-120100.jpg

When Aji could break his fast we ate at a very traditional seafood restaurant on Depok beach. I had fried squid which was excellent; he had a grilled fish. It was cheap and so fresh!

Seeing Parambanan and some surrounding hidden temples yesterday was a treat.

20110808-120709.jpg

But then, today, the REAL magic happened when I met Aji’s mentor teacher, Rini.

Rini is a program coordinator at the best junior high school in Jogjakarta. She is a truly visionary teacher – seeking to “empower” other teachers to be active in their teaching, and her students to be active in their learning (are you starting to see a pattern here?!?) We had a great conversation about defending “idealism” to fellow educators and superiors; graduate school; getting students to think analytically and critically; and so many other topics. She wants to collaborate to do teacher training in Jogjakarta next summer while I’m here – which means that I now have THREE teacher training sites for next summer! She and I both want to involve Aji in the training – little did he know what he was in for when he introduced us:) I felt a real connection with Rini and can’t wait to get to know her better as we work out the details for the training.

So things are really falling into place here. I honestly can’t believe the people I’ve met (many of whom I haven’t even mentioned here!) and the network of incredible educators I have the privilege of knowing. Now I just need to figure out how to make it all happen again next summer. Thank goodness I have time to work it all out!

Tomorrow I’m back to Bintan to see the very first Indonesian teachers I met work their own magic in their classrooms. Full circle!

My head is swimming with ideas about where this adventure could go in the future. Right now, as usual, I’m feeling lucky and thankful for this rich experience, and for the love and support of all my wonderful family and friends back home.

If I had done more homework I would have known a lot more about this city, its people, and its richness of culture. And I just might have discovered that there are over 300 universities here (1/2 of them not accredited).

But I didn’t do a lot of research when planning this trip. Hence, I learned quite a bit this morning from my moto-tour guide, Aji.

To back up, I was connected with Aji randomly, through a restaurant/ hotel/ tour company called ViaVia. I ate  here based on a mere Lonely Planet recommendation and its proximity to my hotel.

The descriptions of the tours that were hanging on the wall of the restaurant were appealing. I liked the vision of the restaurant – which

  • engages in “fair trade” practices;
  • employs local people (especially students);
  • returns part of its profits to the community;
  • and holds respect for the local people in high esteem.

The tour to Borobudur that I chose was described as taking a “beautiful alternative route.” That was a good thing considering that these tours tend to herd guests through the same series of mundane, “most acceptable” (read: boring!) stops. I get weary and tired on these kinds of trips. They are not physically challenging, but are tiring nonetheless because there are so many long, boring explanations, stops, and too many people.

The woman who signed me up suggested a 6:00 start -ugh! – but she was right on, as you will see.

At 4:30 the daily, very loud, Ramadan call to prayer, made me nearly jump out of my skin and out of bed, just like yesterday. I dozed off a bit but, knowing the tour was early, eventually dragged myself up for coffee.

Aji showed up early and sent me a very polite introductory text message basically saying to hurry up so we could see the sunrise. I liked him already!

I hurried down and was pleasantly surprised to hear him explain, in his near perfect English, that he is a teacher in training at a local university – just finishing his thesis.

20110805-125909.jpg

Yet another strange coincidence in this crazy trip.

We headed out and right away I could see Merapi, the volcano that erupted violently and with much destruction to the local community about a year ago. While I knew the volcano was close to Jogjakarta, I didn’t realize just how close, and how disruptive it had been for so many miles.

I learned this and so much more from Aji as we stopped for photos of both the volcano (which, I’m told, is usually shrouded in clouds) and the scenery. Much to my surprise, the volcano is still smoking.

20110805-011141.jpg

I guess it does this all the time and it’s not a big deal. I would be a little worried living this close to a hot lava geyser, but then, what do I know?

The route we took and the stops Aji chose were all interesting and informative. At one point we stopped near a river where the “cold lava” had destroyed the local ecosystem.

20110805-011010.jpg

Although the people in this area were farmers before the eruption, necessity has changed their vocation to “lava rock harvester.” The rock that comes out of this riverbed is pounded – right there on the shore, by hand – into smaller rock more suitable for building material. This looked like hard, monotonous work – not totally unlike farming, but a huge change for the local people.

A few miles later we reached another river that had been wiped out by cold flow, but in this case, the lava had destroyed the bridge across it as well. The “bamboo bridge) is how we got across:

20110805-012021.jpg

My vast motorbike passenger experience had not really prepared me for a bridge made of bamboo that has to be repaired every day. But then, this was yet another experience of a lifetime – one that would have certainly been missed in a tour bus.

We arrived at Borobudur before the big crowds; seeing them walk in on my way out made me thankful, once again, for this tour company’s choices and recommendations. The temple was quite nice, and I was escorted around it by an incredibly knowledgeable guy.

20110805-012917.jpg

He knew a ton about all kinds of religions. A practicing Muslim, he is currently fasting for Ramadan and shared a lot about that with me as well.

Perhaps his most surprising story of all, however, was that Richard Gere had visited this temple just a month ago. It was shut to the public, and Gere was permitted to enter a part of the temple even the monks aren’t allowed into. “He probably paid a lot of money for that,” explained an anonymous source:) It made me kind of mad, but then, money talks here as loudly as anywhere else.

Although Borobudur is no Angkor Wat, it is a lovely temple steeped in Buddhist history and an interesting story of “discovery,” recovery, destruction (by Merapi) and more recovery. It is beautifully restored and lovingly maintained.

Aji then took me to two less-known, but associated temples: Candi Mendut and Candi Pawon.

20110805-013840.jpg

Outside Candi Mendut there is a massive banyon tree

20110805-014048.jpg

Where I just had to do a Tarzan swing

20110805-014145.jpg

(Karen Boylan – I can hear you laughing about my shorts!)

We then took the scenic route back to Jogjakarta, which included stops to view beautiful panoramas

20110805-014349.jpg

and another amazing suspension bridge

20110805-014623.jpg

This one was under repair by some jolly Javanese workers.

20110805-014754.jpg

20110805-014852.jpg

(Hard hats and steel-toed boots optional).

Riding across this bridge was pretty cool, too.

It was a great morning hosted by an incredible tour guide who will also take me to the beach tomorrow, and to Prambanan and the hidden temples the evening after that.

Once again, I feel so lucky and thankful to have discovered Jogyakarta and to have met yet another educator in this country.

This adventure continues to grow, as does my network here. I’m feeling the start of something much bigger. Although it may amount to nothing, I’m opening my heart and mind to the possibilities and opportunities that arise.

Last year when I volunteered with CCS in Thailand, I had to sign a contract agreeing – right there next to not bringing strange men, drugs, or alcohol into the volunteer house – that I would not take motorbike taxis during my time as a volunteer. Pimsuda and Jack explained that while motorbike taxis were “regulated,” cheap, and everywhere, they were not safe, and I should avoid them at all costs. This seemed like a no-brainer and I was able to avoid motorbikes during my whole last Asian adventure.

Well, friends, I have a confession to make: I have spent A LOT of time on the back of a motorbike this summer. Hear me out on this one; though some of these reasons might sound weak, I feel justified and remarkably safe.

In DaLat, Vietnam, there is a lot to see, and the easiest, fastest way to see it is by motorbike. As I’ve described in a previous blog, this was my first motorbike “hire,” and it turned out just fine. My driver’s little bike could barely haul us both up the hills, much less go fast enough to get us in much trouble. It was a good day and a good first experience on the back of a bike.

My first time on the back of a motorbike in Indonesia was arguably probably not necessary: it was a luxury, paid for by a dear principal who wanted to “treat” me to a ride that would spare me walking up a big hill with a load of junk in my hands at the end of a hot, long day of teacher training. I appreciated Genia’s generosity and gladly accepted the short ride.

Next, principal Dina took me on the ride of my life to get me to a turtle release on time. She was a safe – but fast – driver, and we made it in time to see those little guys walk into the sea.

In Makassar and Tana Toraja I did not use motorbikes for any reason. No need – Merda was my driver or had a driver for us the whole time, which was indispensable. Driving in that area is no small feat, either; I appreciated how much time, care, and effort she put into my safe transport. Merda herself will not ride on the back of a motorbike; her father forbade this for her at a early age, and she has respected his wishes, knowing that motorbikes are definitely NOT the safest mode of transport out there.

Then I got to Bali – Kuta, specifically – where if you could see how the streets are impossibly narrow and full of traffic of all kinds, and you could experience this traffic on foot, by taxi, and on motorbike, you would understand why the motorbike – or motor-taxi – is the vehicle of choice.

Oh, and lest we forget – I started this part of the trip with a sprained ankle. Walking through the busted-up, skinny streets, the song, “you need transport?!?” ringing in my ears as I limped along pathetically, begged the answer, “why, yes. I obviously do!”

Now, don’t go jumping to the conclusion that I have eagerly jumped on the back of every motorbike that was offered to me; I definitely have been thoughtful about this choice. But honestly, when offered free rides for short distances, or even when paying for rides for longer distances, I have gladly been the safe passenger on more than one occasion.

Nina took us on an amazing ride around the islands of Nusa Lembongan. Had we not done that, we would not have seen much of the area.

20110804-062532.jpg

And when we returned to Kuta, there were a number of quick sunset trips that we wanted to make during rush hour – when a taxi would not only have been expensive, it just would not have gotten us there in time (more about one of these trips in another blog):

20110804-062814.jpg

As a solo traveler in Jogjakarta, the least expensive way for me to see the great temples here is by hired motorbike/ guide which I will take tomorrow to Borobudur, and later in the week to Prambanan. This is an alternative offered by every local tour company and, I think, a good plan for me.

I have not attempted to drive a motorbike yet, but, sorry again, that is the inevitable next step, especially if I find a third site for teacher training in Bali for next summer.

In Indonesia, the motorbike is as necessary as the car is to us Americans. If every moto on these roads were a car, this country would be one giant, hopelessly polluted traffic jam. While care needed to be exercised, and the risks and rewards carefully weighed, prohibiting myself from riding on a motorbike this summer would have closed many doors to me. And that option was just not an acceptable one.