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I realized sadly today that I last blogged on August 25th. So much has happened since then – both in Indonesia and the US. This blog will only scratch the surface, perhaps by providing some background and filling in some gaps in the narrative.

In June and early July, after traveling around Vietnam with Tom and then alone, I began the adventure of teacher education in Bintan, Indonesia. I’ve blogged about this experience a bit; it was a great way to start what will be a long working relationship with Tunas Bangsa School.

Bintan is where I first fell in love with Indonesia and its people. People in the town were friendly and helpful. The teachers of Tunas Bangsa school are dynamic, energetic, and enthusiastic about their students and teaching. We worked hard together to affect changes in their teaching that would be implemented with students in the upcoming school year. From the moment of my arrival to my departure, I was taken care of by a group of people I’m proud to know and be able to call colleagues and friends.

Colleagues and Friends

While my time in Bintan was pretty sheltered and just scratched the surface of the experiences I would have with Indonesian culture and people, it whetted my appetite for my next teacher education gig and many more adventures. I was definitely teary when I left, and I can’t wait to go back next year.

The Bintan Ferry dropped me off in Singapore, and within hours I was on my way back to Indonesia: to Makassar, where my second Indonesian teacher education experience would begin. Even though I was not new to Indonesia, this big city and its frenetic pace was extremely intimidating. Even getting a taxi to my hotel was a little tricky. This experience made me thankful that my first foray into Indonesia was in a small, fairly sheltered place with such caring hosts.

The hotel I chose online was awful and I slept horribly. This fact made me fret because the next morning I had a ten-hour bus ride to Tana Toraja. I didn’t know exactly where the bus station was and neither did anyone at my hotel. After a bit of research the front desk manager figured it out and sent me on my way in a taxi. The taxi driver was very friendly, apologizing for not speaking better English (shouldn’t I be apologizing for not speaking his language?!?) At the bus station, which was really like an open office storefront in a muddy, rubbish-filled field, the taxi driver walked me in and made sure I had a ticket.

This is one more of the many, many times Indonesians have taken responsibility for my safety, which was quite touching to me, especially considering how uncomfortable and anxiety-ridden I was about this part of the trip.

I settled into seat number 1 on the bus (front row, window seat on the left); and then my seat-mate, 75-year-old Ester situated herself.

By the time we made MANY stops every seat in the bus was full, with a “driver assistant” standing in the area between the two seats in the front.

Winding our way around the city, the bus pulled into a bus station and we were all ordered out of the bus. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew that I was being separated from my luggage – one of the top no-nos in international travel. While there was nothing in the bag that was vital to my survival, I would have no teaching materials or appropriate clothing if that bag vanished.

All the bus passengers were herded towards the bus terminal and directed to a window where some sort of fee was to be paid; I was confused – I knew my host in Tana Toraja had paid my bus ticket in full, and she had told me to BE SURE not to pay anyone any more for my transport. What was this? How was I to ask what it was? Before I could figure it out, a family – mother, father, and two teenage children – “adopted” me and escorted me through the check point, also paying my fee. They wouldn’t let me pay them back. Again, someone taking care of me when I was clueless and vulnerable.

Back on the bus, driving out of the terminal, I saw these goats in the road:

We then began the long, beautiful, winding ride to Tana Toraja. I was happy to sit next to the window to be able to look at the market, roads, and houses in the city, and the amazing landscape once we left the city. The road wound towards and away from the ocean, and we stopped at an oceanside cafe for a lunch break. It was a LONG ride, but it was lovely.

Ester kept me safe and well-fed, which was a relief, espcially when we got closer to Tana Toraja and I had no idea where I was to get off the bus. This incident was detailed in a previous blog; it was resolved quickly and I settled into my hotel and began the business of teaching.

On the day before training was to begin, Merda, my wonderful host, and her husband Chris took me to a buffalo fight staged in honor of a person whose funeral was in the following days. I smashed my ankle jumping over an irrigation ditch (no one’s fault but my own); this injury was very dramatic-looking

and ended up affecting the beginning of my time in Bali quite a bit. But that’s another story…

After an amazing ten days of teacher training and incredible cultural and educational experiences in Tana Toraja created by Merda, I journeyed back to Makassar where I had yet another bad experience with a hotel. From now on when I travel to Makassar I will stay with the family of one of my new Indonesian friends – so many have offered since I told them about my discomfort there!

When I first arrived in Bali, I had a reservation in a VERY nice hotel on Poppies Gang I, one of the busier tourist lanes in Kuta. Later research told me that this extravagance was not necessary (though it was nice to be a little pampered after the roach motel in Makassar); my budget told me that if I wanted to stay and have fun in Bali, it was not possible. I stayed in luxury enjoying two nights at this hotel and then began a series of moves which, by September, landed me in my favorite budget (less than $20 a night) hotel.

Meanwhile, I found my home on the beach. After walking around on my painful sprained ankle for a while, I figured out that all the beach umbrella/ chair renters charge basically the same amount; the best way to choose a spot is to find people working on the beach who are friendly and who approach you without putting on the hard-sell. I found Andri, Jungle Brother, Yoko, Sugus, and Mama Angel and her family; this group eventually became my family away from home. Again – locals who made sure I was safe, happy, and entertained for the majority of my time in Bali.

Along the way I also met some amazing girl friends – Nina, my parter in crime in the Gili Islands and Nusa Lembongan; Valerie, a gentle, spiritual soul who continues to live in Bali and who I will perhaps work with in the future; Kellie, who keeps making me smile from thousands of miles away; and others. Adventures with these women created some of my favorite memories of being in Bali.

In mid-August I took a trip to Jogjakarta, the old cultural capital of Indonesia. I have written about this in another blog and won’t go into too much detail here. The best thing that came out of that trip was meeting my guide, Aji, who connected me with another teacher educator who wants to collaborate on teacher training next summer. This makes THREE sites for teacher development next June.

And speaking of teacher development, I also had the opportunity to follow up with the Bintan teachers in August, and they were doing GREAT implementing the methods we had explored together.

Back to Bali, and life slowed down a bit. I could finally surf, which I attempted, and I spent a lot of time relaxing and just enjoying my time there. I also began thinking about starting a business to help fund my teacher education passion, or even trying to find a job teaching abroad for a year or two.

Okay, so fast forward about a month. What happened in between is important, but details of that part of this journey are pretty mundane and culturally uninformative: life in Bali is fabulous, it’s easy to get lost there, I did; I met a lot of great new friends – both Indonesian and from all corners of the globe – and then I went home, sad and heart-sick for Bali.

A week later, after talking things over with Tom, getting instantly bored and stifled by my life in Denver, and neglecting responsibilities and friendships, I returned to Indonesia to explore some more. I felt there was a lot I had missed – loose ends to be tied down – and I wasn’t ready to go back to real life. Call it impulsive; call it crazy; call it selfish, destructive – whatever you will – but that’s that part of the story.

When I returned to Bali I reunited with some good friends and started kicking ideas around. One thing I’d missed (and I felt it was a BIG miss) was Sumatra – particularly Lake Toba. In part because many of my Indonesian friends are from North Sumatra, and for so many other reasons, I had researched the island during my time in Bali – specifically, how to get there and see what I wanted to see without spending a fortune. Because it was Ramadan, high-season for travel in all areas of Indonesia, during August prices to to get there were prohibitive. Then in the weeks post-Ramadan, when people tend to travel home to be with family, prices were even higher. And then it was time for me to leave. Bummer. So getting to and seeing Sumatra was high priority on this second trip.

The scenery and weather in Sumatra were incredibly beautiful. The people there were friendly and I had an amazing experience – an experience which would have been impossible without my local guide. (More about this trip in a future blog).

And then I returned, once again, to Bali and started to get serious about either finding a job or creating a business opportunity for myself. I did a little surfing, and had quality time with friends. Once again, I got ready for my departure and my return to life in the US. I was sad to leave this time, but was able to come home feeling like I had addressed many of the things I had left undone in September. I also did some long-needed soul-searching and actually learned a bit about myself. On the day of my departure a friend gave me a ride to the airport where mother nature up-staged my departure with an earthquake. Of course.

Now I’m home and tossing around ideas for the next phase of my life. I’m observing pre-service teachers, recovering from a massive head cold, and madly brainstorming about ways to take my passion for teaching, travel, and writing to the next level.

With the help of Tom, great friends, and a life coach who also happens to be a dear friend, I’m hopeful that I can find a fulfilling way to live the next chapters of my life. It’s definitely going to look different than it does now, but I’m ready, and I’m open to your ideas and thoughts:) Thank you for caring enough to read this, and to follow me through this trip. It has meant the world to me to know so many people have been with me, yet again, as I bumble through this journey.

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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!

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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)

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The bird market

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The Sultan’s Palace (Kraton)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Outside Candi Mendut there is a massive banyon tree

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Where I just had to do a Tarzan swing

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(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

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and another amazing suspension bridge

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This one was under repair by some jolly Javanese workers.

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(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.

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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):

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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.

Nina, her friend Helga, and I decided that the best way to see some “highlights” of Bali was to take a day tour. While Nina and I had thought about spending a couple of nights in Ubud, neither of us was really that excited about it. This way we would see Ubud on our way to some other sights, while also experiencing a different side of Bali.

We hired a Balinese guide who said he would take us to all the “must see” spots. While we thought this tour was basically ours to plan, he had other plans. Although he asked us what we wanted to see and thrust a map into my hand, he had a bit of an agenda. I guess this is how tour operators make a little more money (from commissions when he takes us to someplace and we buy something), but at times it was annoying. Regardless, we saw a ton and had a great time.

First, we did the obligatory tours of the batik, silversmith, and wood carving factories. We didn’t buy anything, but it was interesting to see how all of this was made – even if it’s pretty much just a show for tourists, the “artisans” set up a bit like zoo animals.

We were then pretty close to Ubud, where we went to the very famous Monkey Temple.

This little guy held Helga’s hand for a minute before we went inside.

For the most part, the monkeys aren’t aggressive, and they are playful and remarkably unperterbed by the many many tourists who invade their home every day. We spent about an hour watching them and looking at their environment and the temple. At one point we did see a young woman get bitten by a monkey, which was scary enough for me to steer clear and not make eye contact:)

We saw many rice fields

and toured an organic farm where they make the very famous “poop coffee” (kopi Luak). This coffee is made from beans that have been ingested and, well, pooped out of the Luak, which looks like a mink or weasel. We tasted this coffee – quite strong but good.

We then traveled to a viewpoint for the Batur Volcano and had lunch.

Back into the car for more driving, and we stopped at Tampaskiring Temple (Spring Temple) which is constructed with a bunch of baths around a spring that is considered very holy. While it was interesting to watch the people bathe and worship, we got the best treat of the day when this massive procession or worshippers of all ages and many costumes came through.

It was a long drive home and a long touristy day. We were back in Legian just in time to watch another lovely sunset – one thing that never gets boring here.

Today Nina left Bali. It was a sad morning. We have had so many amazing adventures since meeting in Gili Trawangan. Where to begin…

We came back to Kuta to get organized, thinking we would take a trip to Nusa Lembongan and another little trip to Ubud. The planning for the trip to Nusa L was easy and after a little fun and games in Kuta, as well as a little mis-communication and confusion about our transport, we were on our way.

We had no plan for accommodation, as we were told many times that you basically walk along the beach until you find one that suits your desire for comforts and your budget. Once we found Agus Shipwreck, Nina and I were settled. We put on sunscreen and our swimsuits and went out for a walk to explore.

And found piles and piles of drying seaweed, garbage, and a rather quaint fishing village.

After exploring a while on foot and not finding much, we decided it was “Bintang Time” and headed back to our hotel. We reveled about this island – described by so many people as “amazing,” “breathtaking,” “incredible” and the only word we could come up with for it was BORING (but beautiful).

Boy were we wrong. We watched a most spectacular sunset, booked a snorkeling trip for the next day, and turned in early. Agus Shipwreck is a great place for sleeping; we both reported having the most amazing sleep since arriving in Indonesia.

Refreshed and excited, we met our boat captain, Wayan (child number one in Bali) who was full of smiles and not a lot of English. One other man, Stephano from Italy, joined us, and we were off.

The snorkeling was great – probably a little better than in the Gilis, but it did present an interesting issue with currents in the water. At our second diving point, we had to swim REALLY hard to get into the current; once in the current took us for a serious ride. There were amazing corals an fish everywhere.

On the way back, our trusty captain spotted a group of dolphins which was a huge highlight – one of the animals we had hoped to see in our travels.

When we got back, Stephano said he was going to rent a motorbike and tour the island and asked if we like to join him. Nina is an experienced motorbike driver; I am a reluctant passenger (more about this later, because in Indonesia one CANNOT escape being on a motorbike for many reasons). So, we said, “what the heck! This island is a bit of a snore so far – let’s make the most of it and go along.”

So, Nina drove the two of us, and we were off again for another adventure. Stephano had a bit of a plan, so we were basically following him. Once he realized that Nina was a careful, slow driver, he waited for us.

A little of the way down the road to the western side of the island, we encountered this woman:

Now, we don’t quite understand if she’s affiliated with the temple in the photo or not, but she certainly is in charge of the road past it. She stepped RIGHT in front of Stephano’s motorbike and demanded money for us to pass. He promptly paid up (a true gentleman) and then she got really nice and insisted we have a photo with her in front of a temple. Not a bad trade for about 2000 rupiah (30 cents).

We were on our way again, heading across a very scary suspension bridge to a place called “Jumping Point” where, we heard, you could jump from 8 or 11 meters into the ocean (for a mere 50,000 rupiah for 3 jumps). This place was stunning, and with the high seas no one was jumping.

So we relaxed and took a little break from the motorbikes, and took a ton of photos.

After exploring there, we looked for the “Secret Beach” which was so much of a secret that we could barely find it! At this beach there is an abandoned guest house that looks like it could have been quite an amazing spot had it been finished.

We saw these three guys on the road both on the way to and from the Secret Beach.

When we first passed them they yelled “honeymooners!!!” at us which of course made us laugh; on the way back we stopped for a chat and realized none of them spoke English, but they were sure full of jokes, which, of course, we all laughed at. (This is a kind of thing in Indonesia – joking around is a HUGE part of the culture, and if you don’t have a sense of humor or don’t think their jokes are funny, you’re in for a bad time here:) I happen to think they’re hilarious and have laughed until I cried on more than one occasion).

More motorbiking around, and we got to Sunset Beach where, of course, we watched a sunset.

And then we had a FABULOUS seafood dinner and, once again, turned in early for an AMAZING sleep and departure early the next morning.

Nusa Lembongan was a great trip – highly recommended to anyone lucky enough to see this part of the world.

I continue to count my blessings and squeeze every last drop out of life every day.

Where to begin about my experience in Gili Trawangan? You’ve seen the bike and the story about how I got here; now I will attempt to capture the experience in photos and some brief explanation.

First day I explored the island on bicycle. It’s not large, and getting around is pretty easy. I stopped often, taking photo after photo of scenery that I can only describe as “stunning.” It was so nice to have the mobility of a bicycle after almost three weeks with this stupid sprained ankle!

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I found a comfy spot on the beach, laid down with a book, and lounged the afternoon away in the sun.

When I wanted to check my email, I found Cafe Gili (recommended by another traveler) and settled in for a beer.

A few minutes later I was admiring the salad the woman next to me was eating, and a few minutes after that we were fast friends and travel buddies. Amazing how things work out.

Anina is from Switzerland. She is a teacher (speech therapist) on holiday, also traveling by herself.

As we talked, we realized we had similar notebooks, where we record

  • similar travel stories,
  • schedules,
  • new words,
  • email addresses and names of people we meet,
  • and other little tidbits, such as little pictures drawn by anyone.

We both keep said notebooks in grocery bags within our canvas beach bags. As we laughed about this, we shared more stories and trivialities (and strange coincidences) and made plans to meet that evening and the next day for a turtle hunt.

Three days later and we have shared so many amazing adventures, laughs, and lovely memories. We both leave Gili T tomorrow, but we will meet and spend time in Kuta and travel to Ubud together in a few days. She is a gem and a friend for life:)

Here are some photos:

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We had to make sure her friend Freddie got out a bit and had a good time:

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We think he enjoyed sunset point.

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We sure did!

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Sunsets here are stunning.

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Frustrated by our lack of turtle hunting skills, we went on a snorkel trip today and saw some.

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We also saw Gili Meno and Gili Air, where we ate lunch at a restaurant with this great sign.

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And Strawberry, a mush of a cat.

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Tomorrow we leave. We sadly contemplate this fact at Cafe Gili over a Bintang. Life is good.

I wish I had a good excuse for not writing – laziness? Writer’s block? Too busy?

Entering the third month of my trip, I left Tana Toraja and its lovely people and teachers, spent a couple of uneventful days in Makassar, then headed down to Bali. Which is where I have been “stuck” for a little over a week. Not a bad spot to get stuck!

I did a fair amount of beach sitting, eating, and Bintang drinking, wishing that my ankle was well enough to surf. Kuta beach has a pretty perfect beginner wave and would have been a good spot to get back at it.

But alas, it was not to happen. I did meet a great group of locals and travelers – locals who work on the beach kind of “adopt” their customers, and will make sure everyone is happy, fed, and entertained. I feel lucky to have found the group I did, who took great care of me, a Swiss woman, a couple of Germans and Italians, and, yes – even a young American from California. We learned about some places that only locals know, and always had a resource to ask about “best price” for this and that. Honestly, I’m still awed by Indonesian hospitality.

This morning I traveled by “fast boat” to Gili Trawangan. Yes, the boat was fast, and the ride was quite bumpy. In just a few hours I was wading to shore at Gili T, armed with info about a hotel from a nice young Canadian I met this morning in transit. The fact that he said his mother loved this hotel and he thought I would as well makes me both cringe and laugh. It sounded perfect.

So, when one disembarks on Gili T it’s a pretty sure bet that s/he won’t have accommodation. I didn’t, and was re-assured by one person after another that this just didn’t matter. Once I was on Gili T I could basically just start walking into places until I found one I liked. And, of course, I would be approached by people who make a commission to take you to “their” hotel/ guest house.

Having the recommendation from my young friend was re-assuring, though, because there are many “backpacker” and party places that I knew I wanted to avoid, and he mapped out a perfect plan for me.

I went to the Cafe Gili where he told me I could get Wifi; ordered breakfast, Skyped home, and searched for this hotel on Trip Advisor (great site, BTW, if you need travel recommendations). But alas, the Woodstock Homestay was not reviewed. I was a bit worried, and proceeded to search for the others that had signs next to the cafe. No luck either.

I started down the road to The Woodstock, and was almost immediately approached by a local asking if I needed accommodation. I said that I knew where I was going, and he followed me, promising “best price.” He asked where I was going, and I said “The Woodstock,” and he said, “Well, that’s where I work!” I’m still not sure whether he actually works there, but he followed me there and escorted me in. The place was charming and quiet, and I knew I had to stay there.

However, I was right behind three groups who were snatching up the last three rooms. The horror!!!

Then the strangest thing happened: the owner/ manager, Ketut (meaning, the 4th or 8th child in Balinese) said that he would vacate his room for me for the night, then move me to another bungalow tomorrow. Within minutes I was in a cleaned manager cottage getting changed for the beach. Did I mention Indonesian hospitality? No money was exchanged; no paperwork, credit card, or passport. Ketut, the owner/ manager, was happy to lend me his space for tonight. And the rest of the staff could not have been more accommodating either. All this and free breakfast in paradise for a mere $30 a night!

I got some wheels

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and was off to explore this little slice of heaven.

I think this might be the place that cements Indonesia into my heart forever:)