April 23, 2012

The Honeymooners - Indonesia, August 2010

Prepare yourself - this post is long and picture-heavy. But the pictures are really pretty, so stay strong and keep reading.
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The Trip is going to be awesome. I don't want to have expectations that are too high...but I'm pretty sure it's going to be amaze-balls. So, when I'm complaining about cockroaches or lamenting my lack of a blow dryer or peep-toe pumps, remind me that The Trip is, in fact, amaze-balls.

This gal is probably on a
long trip with her husband.
We're in the thick of planning - we have an approximate route charted for India and are starting to make our pitstop wish list for that country. We've created a schedule/calendar for our cross-country road trip. (See that here.) We're making small purchases for the trip (more on that soon), and I'm slowly weaning myself off of luxuries like regularly shaving my legs. Tom loves this...but I'm a planner...and preparation is key.* My legs are going to be soft with fur on the trip.

All of this planning has us talking a lot about some of our past trips. Unfortunately, we didn't have a super witty and informative blog when we took those trips. Lucky for you, we have plenty of time between now and The Trip, so we're going to tell you about a few of them. Where to start? The best vacation I've ever been on was our honeymoon in August, 2010, to Indonesia.

I shaved my legs this day.
We got married on Saturday, July 31, 2010. It was the most fantastic weekend of my life. I know that sounds cliche, but it really was ridiculously great - more fun and love than I've ever felt. I'm sure that, like me, you're obsessed with weddings, so feel free to check out a few other wedding pics on Flickr. Wedding Pics

And, if just want to skip the description below and check out our honeymoon photos, you can find those on Flickr, too.
Honeymoon Pics

The day after the wedding, we canoed and kayaked down the Russian River with about 45 friends and family members and then, in a frenzy that involved lost car keys, AAA, an unrelenting car alarm and high speeds to the airport, we jetted off for our honeymoon. We left from San Francisco at about midnight on Sunday night/Monday morning and flew the 14 hours to Hong Kong, where we had a quick layover before heading to Denpasar, Bali, in Indonesia....for another layover. Then we flew on a tiny commuter plane to Lombok, Indonesia. There were only about 20 people on that flight and I was 1 of only 2 women. While Bali is about 92% Hindu, Lombok is about 92% Muslim (interesting since you can see Lombok from Bali, and vice versa). I was wearing a long-sleeved, knee-length dress for our travels (modest enough) but, when we boarded this small commuter plane, the predominantly Muslim group of men gave me some very strange looks and made a few undecipherable comments to Tom (obviously about me) and I was incredibly uncomfortable. I quickly pulled on some leggings from my pack and hunkered down in my seat, hopefully out of sight. I was nervous about what that experience might indicate for the rest of our Lombok experience. I did NOT want to be sunbathing on my honeymoon in a muumuu, and I didn't want to be leered at by men, in neither the appreciative nor the disapproving way.

Cidomo on Gili Trawangan
I had nothing to worry about. As it turns out, all island people are pretty laid back. Show respect and you'll get respect. After the short (1 hour) flight to Lombok, a (1.5 hour) van ride to the pier, and a (1 hour) boat ride, we arrived at Gili Trawangan, which can really only be described as paradise. There are 3 Gili Islands (read up on them here), Trawangan being both the most-inhabited and most-visited. We spent 5 nights at KoKoMo Resort. All the places we stayed while on our honeymoon were built in traditional Balinese fashion. Most places (even lower-end) provide your own villa or hut with open living and outdoor space. The villas are completely private with large swinging wooden doors. Entering the villa each time was amazing, and the staff at KoKoMo was friendly and attentive without making us uncomfortable. (We once stayed at a Four Seasons in Costa Rica with Tom's company, and I was weirded out by the over-the-top hospitality. Pool boys spraying your face with Evian water?!?! What a crapload of American privilege.) All three of the Gili Islands are free of motorized vehicles - there are only bicycles and horse carts, called cidomo. It makes for a very relaxing stay.

Just a normal day on Gili T, biking around the island
Look how happy and relaxed I am.
There's one road that goes around the island but, on the less inhabited parts of the island, the road is mostly sand. It takes about 3.5 hours to bike around the whole thing. On the main strip of the road, where the hotels are, there are lively restaurants and bars. KoKoMo was at the far end of the strip, so it was close enough to be super convenient, but just far enough away from the crowds to make it perfect for a honeymoon. We spent our days on rented bikes (about $5/person/day) traveling around the small island, renting snorkeling gear from locals  (about $2/person/day) when we got the urge and swimming on deserted beaches without another person in sight. We ate early dinners, went to bed before 10pm, and woke up a few times to see the sun rise. Gili T had these cool outdoor movie theatres where they showed pirated movies on the side of a building, and viewers lounged on mats right on the beach. We took a day trip to Gili Meno, which was even more secluded than Gili T. I still long to go back to the Gilis. I don't know if I've ever been more relaxed. Tom really wants to go to new places on The Trip, but I wouldn't mind going back to the Gilis. Our honeymoon was luxury, but Gili T had a huge backpacker scene, so I know there are budget options to be had. I'm going to keep working on him and convince him we need to go back. Do you hear that Tom?!?! We're going back!

This is what we saw when we got to Gili Meno. 
After we left the Gilis, we took a fast boat from Gili Trawangan to Lombok, and then a small plane from Lombok to Denpasar, Bali. This flight was sketchy. First, at the Lombok airport, when we stopped to grab lunch before our flight, the chicken I ordered STILL.HAD.ITS.HEAD.ON. And Tom saw a RAT in the wall/roof above me at the airport restaurant. On the plane, we opened the luggage compartment and saw cockroaches. After we returned from our trip, we researched the airline and, it turns out, the United States advises Americans not to take this airline due to their extremely poor safety record. Just a few months later, a similar small plane from their fleet crashed. From that point forward, we've made sure to research any local airlines we take. After landing in Denpasar, Bali, we were greeted by a shuttle driver for our hotel, the Viceroy, in Ubud, Bali. This was, by far, the fanciest place either of us have ever stayed. We found the deal on Luxury Link - a 5 night package with transfers, daily gourmet breakfast, a 7-course meal for 2, and 3 hours of spa time for each of us. It was still pricey by our standards (and certainly by The Trip's standards), but it was a great deal and our room was INSANE. Insane. Seriously, if you only look at our Honeymoon Pics to see the tour of this room, it would be worth it. We were really tired when we checked in, but when the bellboy let us in and gave us the tour (it's so big that we needed a tour), Tom and I couldn't stop giggling. (Here's the link to the video tour of our room.)

A long-tailed macaques La-Z-Boy
Our time in Ubud was much more adventurous. I'd met someone in SF who suggested I connect with a local Balinese guide named YoYo (short for Nioman, which is the name given to every 2nd born son in Bali). That was a great decision. Our first day in Ubud, we explored the streets and visited the Sacred Monkey Forest Temple which was terrifying. The monkeys there, long-tailed macaques, jump all over the tourists. They're not afraid of anything or anyone and they want what you have. At one point, I was taking a photo of a baby monkey and I heard a yelp from behind me because a monkey had jumped up on Tom's shoulders and tried to crawl on his head. I wanted to love them, and part of me did. But there were so many of them and they were so aggressive and crazy that I really just started to think of them as rats or pigeons.

That's me in front of Ganung Kawi. Absolutely gorgeous.
We connected with YoYo after that and he took us on some amazing tours. We visited Goa Gajah (a 9th century sanctuary outside Ubud), a beautiful garden, Ganung Kawi (an 11th century temple), some local (and less-touristy shops), and some beautiful rice paddies. He drove us up to see Gunung Batur, an active volcano, and introduced us to a special kind of coffee that's made by harvesting the coffee beans that are....um....pooped out by a mammal called a civet (it looks like a mix between a raccoon and a cat).

We quickly became friends with YoYo and decided to spend another day, at least, with him as our guide and driver. Before we left for our honeymoon, I had read that there was a special celebration happening while we were there that happens about once a lifetime - the celebration lasted a few weeks, but the main event was happening while we were there. The Balinese Hindu believe that the Earth sometimes tilts slightly off its axis and this causes problems. They believed this tilt was the reason we have been having so many natural disasters and that the Earth must be purged. For weeks, they pray and celebrate and offer small sacrifices. We really wanted to attend but, as we approached the temple one day (the same temple as the Sacred Monkey Forest), we realized how inappropriate it would be for us to join them. We lacked proper attire and didn't understand the customs. This was not a tourist attraction - it was highly sacred to the people. So we let go of that idea, happy enough to be on the busy streets of Ubud, experiencing the kindness of the Balinese people and the beautiful scenery. So, imagine how excited we were when YoYo told us that his family belonged to that temple and he invited us to attend the big closing ceremony/ritual with him. YES!

I bought a gorgeous hand-painted sari in preparation and YoYo lent Tom two saris and a turban. The concierge and bell boys at The Viceroy were so excited for us and taught me how to tie my sarong/sari and picked flowers to adorn my hair. We first entered the outer portion of the temple, which was very social - young people interacting, lots of chatting and laughing, and some beautiful, but deafening music played by women in almost trance-like repetition. There were easily a thousand people there, and we were two of only a handful (under 10) of foreigners. We thought that was as far as we would go, and we were fine with that. Then YoYo instructed us that it was time to enter the Inner Sanctum, where we would chant and pray and be blessed by the Hindu priests. No other foreigners entered. (This wasn't uncomfortable though - everyone welcomed us openly and was excited that we were joining them.) Inside, we didn't know what they (and we) were saying, but I know that I knelt on the hard concrete for a long time and it hurt. Men got to sit cross-legged, and I was very envious. YoYo had prepared offerings for us to give to the gods, and two priests came around and offered us holy water. We were given the water several times, the first time wiping our faces with it, the second time cleaning the back of our necks with it, and the third time sipping it from our hands, which I was nervous about, given the quality of the groundwater in developing countries. It must have been holy enough though, because we didn't get sick. We didn't really take photos - it didn't seem appropriate - but YoYo managed to snap this one for us. We have crushed rice between our eyes (our "third" eye), that was placed there by the priests. It was one of the most spectacular and spiritual moments of my life. I felt so incredibly honored to be a part of it.
Horrible lighting, but you get the idea. This was us inside the Inner Sanctum.

So green!
While in Ubud, we also went on a tour with Bali Eco Cycling that I highly recommend. We rode in a bus up to Gunung Batur and then biked the 30-ish miles downhill back to Ubud, through small villages and stunning rice paddies. I'm not one for organized tours usually - just not my thing at all, but this was one of the coolest tours I've ever been on and I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Ubud. We also did some whitewater rafting outside of Ubud on a separate tour. Unfortunately, we didn't have a waterproof camera, so we have no photos of this, but it was really beautiful to raft on the river, through the jungle, with monkeys on either side of us. Really special.

Sadly, our time in Ubud came to an end, and we headed to our last honeymoon spot, Nusa Lembongan, an island southeast of Bali. We stayed at Batu Karang Resort, which is up the hill with an amazing view of the ocean. Lembongan was pretty, but lacked the charm of the Gilis and of Ubud. We have a theory as to why - Lembongan has been a popular surfing destination for a long time - they have a lot of surfing competitions there, so the locals there have been dealing with tourists (surfers and spectators) for longer than the locals in other parts of the region. In general, we felt more pressure from vendors and experienced more hassles than in the other places. Not to mention, the beaches were either rough (big enough waves to surf), or covered with racks for the seaweed farming that makes up the economy there. We're not really "pool people" if we have access to a beach, so this was disappointing. We still had fun on our 3 nights on Nusa Lembongan, but it wasn't really an ideal setting for us. It was difficult to interact with the locals - both because of the colder attitudes and because the tourist areas are more separate from the local areas, and we don't surf. We decided to spend a lot of time at the fantastic pools at our resort and drinks lots of fruity cocktails. It ended up being a great three days. Check out our  Honeymoon Pics to see Nusa Lembongan, but I won't provide any highlight pics in this post.

We were so sad when our honeymoon ended. We had so much fun relaxing and exploring and recounting all of our favorite moments from our wedding. The Indonesians we met were kind and happy and we were impressed by the admirable dedication to religion practiced by the local Hindus and Muslims and that they live in perfect harmony, side-by-side. Some Muslim shops put out offerings to Hindu gods as a show of respect to their neighbors, and some Hindu shops stop business for a few minutes several times a day when their neighboring Muslims pray. Seeing that kind of respect makes me confident we can achieve that in this country. Sigh... At least, I hope we can. The Indonesian people are one of the things I'll remember most about the trip. I'll also remember how bright and colorful everything was - at the beach, in the gardens, in the rice paddies, through the villages. And it makes me wonder if they smile so much because everything is so colorful, or if everything is so colorful because they are such a smiling group of people.

* I'm not really purposely abstaining from leg-shaving. Nor do I expect to abstain from leg-shaving long-term on the trip. It's just been awhile and I am ruthless when it comes to finding reasonable excuses for my failings as a wife.
** And you really should check out the rest of our honeymoon pics - they're gorgeous (even though I don't know how to edit pics.)

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