Thursday, November 20, 2014

If you're looking to Eat, Love and Pray; Ubud is the place

I had been looking forward to Ubud, though I did not know much about it, I knew this is the area of Bali that Elizabeth Gilbert spent much of her time while in Bali.  Elizabeth Gilbert is the Author of the New York Times Best Seller book ~ Eat, Pray, Love where she recounts her journey through the 3 I's - Italy, India and Indonesia, seeking peace, balance and healing in her life.

I read the book during one of my first solo international trips to Europe.  I absolutely loved her writing, her adventure and her honesty.  She helped me learn to 'let it go'.

Ubud is a bustling city, with a LOT happening.  I mean a LOT!  Popular for writers and Yogis alike, the city center is healthily crowded with temples & tourists, markets, boutiques, artists, handcrafted jewelry and clothing, cafes and more shops.  It's amazing!  On the outskirts of the city center are hundreds and hundreds of shops creating all of the amazing pieces you see in Asian import shops, Pier One, World Market and others.  The BEAUTIFUL hand crafts furniture and mirrors, headboard, lamps, coffee tables, tapestries, dining sets, decor, colorful trinkets and on and on and on.  It's mind boggling, and quite impressive!!!  On the outskirts of town is where you'll find the farmlands, full of mainly rice fields.  Such a tremendously beautiful site they are.  So perfect, still and so lush.

Bird cage anyone?

Market fare

Hillside Rice Fields

Kool shades

Goofing around in the market

After a fair bit of island hopping, I was ready to stay put for more than a few nights and call Ubud my home for the week.  Scooter rentals were $5 a day, and I was finally ready to master this driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road business!

My days were filled with slow rising mornings, coffee & breakfast by the pool while catching up on work and emails.  The rest of the days I spent wandering the markets bargaining with the vendors, taking photos and people watching.  I enjoyed the artist studios and handmade jewelry, clothing, shoes and leather works.  Temples upon temples and awe-inspiring,  picturesque rice fields for days.  In the afternoon I'd find myself in or near the pool with a cold beer and a good book. 

A beautiful temple, right beside Starbucks!

Market trinkets

Snakeskin fruit.  It was odd, but delicious!

Hotel pool

The scooter adventures were amazing.  Each day I grew a bit braver than the last, and ventured farther and farther away from the center of Ubud.  I eventually made it all the way up a mountain, which grew quite cold very rapidly!  The rice fields had me in awe, amazing that for so much work growing, tending and harvesting; that rice is still so cheap.  Think about that...

When you gotta pray, you gotta pray

Proof that helmets are sexy!

My new friend Sheree.  She chased me down on my scooter, hopped on the back, and took me on a tour of her father's rice field.  Then she invited me to her house to teach me traditional Balinese dance and have dinner with her family.

My cute lil scoot scoot

Rice fields

One afternoon I spent my day at the home of a local silversmith named Wayan.  He owns Chez Monique Jewelry.

He holds classes in his home where you have the opportunity to design and create your own jewelry.  I LOVE jewelry, so this was a no brainer for me.  I just had no idea what I wanted to make, and as usual, a very indecisive mind.  It took my a long time before I decided on a necklace pendant in the shape of an anchor, with a twist.  I drew the bottom of the anchor to look like ocean waves, which inadvertently turned out to be a heart as well.  It took 3 or 4 hours to design and implement the piece.  It was worth every minute though, I am so in love with my special piece of hand made art!

Cutting out my design

The finished product
Another day I embarked upon an amazing day of river tubing.  The scenery was magnificent, I could have stayed on that river for days.  Each person had their own river tube or a board that resembled something much like a boogie board, with handles.  The boogie boarders were required to gear up in MUCH more protective gear than the tubers.  I had the opportunity to try the board, and I completely understand why!  It's just you against the rapids.  I was perfectly content in my double walled hearty tube, complete with plenty of handles as well.    At one point, we sailed through an Indonesian family bathing in the river, all of them stark ass naked, right there in the middle of the tour.  They were just as surprised as we were!!!  The guides were amazing and knew every rock, boulder and current in the river, so they were prepared for everything and took very good care of us!  Afterward, the part they didn't mention, was getting back to the car...  about 500 steps uphill later... we arrived.  Lunch was waiting for us, as were the pictures the photographer snapped on the river's edge.

River Rafting!

 Ubud was certainly another lifelong memory in the making.  The beauty is insurmountable from top to bottom and all around you.  I can't wait to go back someday and explore some more!

Sculpture in the City Center

A shrine to leave offerings and prayer

Local boys spending time at the beach, on a special religious holiday

The breathtaking black sand coastline

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I cried.

Nusa Lembongan is approximately 8 square kilometers in size with a permanent population estimated at 5,000. Twelve kilometers of the Badung Strait separates Nusa Lembongan from Bali.

The quaint, quiet hotel sat on a sleepy little bay where hundreds of boats moored every evening.   Beyond the slew of boats and a silly tourist attraction built upon a barge , Mount Agung dominated the view.  Mount Agung is an active volcano, reaching over 10,000 feet into the sky.  It truly is a sight to see.

The diving in Nusa Lembongan was some of the more advanced diving I have done, and I loved it.  The Thermoclines were intense, in other words, the water temperature was often unpredictable.  At one point the temperature started at 82 degrees, and as we sailed through a healthy current, I watched my dive computer (and felt my insides) fall fall fall all the way down to 73 degrees.  About the time I decided to ascend a few feet to try and move out of it, the intense coolness was gone and the temps were back in the 80's.  We hit a few ripping currents, which can be a lot of fun, and is some of my favorite diving.  Just picture the turtles in Finding Nemo, flying down the 'EAC' at an intense speed; that is what it feels like.  You don't have to move a muscle, as the current takes you sailing by the scenery, just kick back and enjoy the ride!

Crystal Bay was the name of the dive site that literally brought me to tears.  The most vibrant and colorful array of coral I have ever seen.  Everywhere you look, it's bounding in vibrant greens, pinks, purples, yellows and every other color in the rainbow.  The shape of the most dominant coral in Crystal Bay reminded me of the famed Chihuly glass, spilling over each other and into the deep blue sea.  Little Nemos fluttered about, protecting their anemone and the coveted Nudibranchs we are often searching for high and low on Roatan, are everywhere you look!

Can you believe the color and similarity to an actual feather??

'Chihuly Coral'

I found Nemo!

Nudibranchs are incredibly unique in their color, size and appearance

Heading back in after 3 dives, with Mt. Agung in the background

The time spent on Nusa Lembongan was wonderfully relaxing and breathtaking.  I enjoyed meals in the famed 'Mushroom Bay', lined with just a handful of restaurants and coffee shops.  A sleepy little island, Nusa Lembongan did NOT disappoint.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Island Hopping, Bali Style

After a few glorious days spent spoiling myself with breathtaking dawn dives and happy hour ocean views from the hotel's infinity pool, it was time to move on.  This time, I set out to a new island, with plans to meet Krystal and her travel partner, both friends from Roatan.

The weather was beautiful and the ocean was very calm on the fast boat transfer to Gili Trawangan, where I found myself standing on the back of the boat almost the entire ride, taking in the beautiful sites and sounds, while occasionally checking the boat's wake for Dolphins ;)

Bali from the ferry

Ferry Fastboat.  There were 4 passengers total.  and 3 Crewmen.

The best 'seat' in the house

Gili Trawangan Welcomes You!

The 'Taxi'

Looking towards Lombok

At the dock we were greeted by our 'taxi' drivers, who carried our luggage up the walkway to their horse drawn buggy-ish thing.  There are no cars on Gili Trawangan, just horses and bicycles.  I figured it must be safe-ish, as the horse carts were flying up and down the cobble and dirt roads carrying tourists, produce, construction supplies, you name it!  I held on for dear life, and the cart tilted back a bit, and just felt quite un-natural to say the least!  It wasn't 5 minutes into the journey down the road, when I heard a familiar voice call my name from inside one of the beachfront restaurants.  Krystal and Matt had arrived the day prior.  I lifted my grip just long enough to flash a wave, before it went right back to hanging on for dear life!

It was great to be back in the water with Krystal and Matt, who are both dive buddies of mine from Roatan.  Krystal and I share a lot of fun together, while Matt resides mostly in London.  We sampled some of the local fare, went on a few leisurely dives, and spent a wonderful evening at their outdoor villa, complete with a private pool and waterfall!

Matt & Krystal's Villa
Private pool complete with waterfall!

Sunset Happy Hour anyone?

Beachfront Dining

The island was packed full of dive shops, beach front restaurants, hotels & villas, boutiques and spas.  Krystal was kind enough to challenge me to join her for an Asian style pedicure, ie: tiny sucker fish all over your feet!!!  If you know me personally, than you know that I have an extremely difficult time with my sensitive feet, pedicures and really anything touching them at all.  You also know that I rarely turn down a challenge.  Thank god there are pictures to prove I went through with it!

We put on quite a show...

People stopped to watch

Our rendezvous in the Gilis flew by much to fast, it was a bittersweet goodbye.  Luckily, I'd see Krystal again in a few short weeks back in Roatan.

Next Stop: Nusa Lembongan

Saturday, July 12, 2014

I never tire of saying the word: Indonesia

It was a pleasant surprise that the heat didn't seem to be nearly as intense as I had anticipated.  I'm unsure if this is simply because my body has changed after living in the warm, humid temps of the Caribbean for awhile, or if the forecast was wrong.  It was incredibly comfortable, and not as humid as home, which was a wonderful reprieve. 

The first 4 days I spent at an amazing resort located a couple of hours North of the airport, near a town called Candidasa.  The Alilah Hotel & Spa is set directly on the beach, stretched over acres and acres, giving the place a nice, spacious, open air vibe.  The staff are hands down the most phenomenal, attentive and friendly people I have ever met.  They practically read my mind.  They greeted me with ice cold, refreshing washcloths for freshen my face, then a nice spritz of Frangipani water and a to-die-for light & refreshing welcome drink.  My room was up on the 2nd floor, and overlooked the beautiful swimming pool.  Dining at the Alilah left me wanting to lick my plate, at every meal.  I loved watching the waves crash on the nearby rocks, while drinking coffee each morning at high tide, and the dragonflies land on the lily pads that sat among the ponds surrounding the restaurant.  Frangipani flowers quickly became part of my every day ensemble in Indonesia.  They are such beautiful, delicate little flowers that grow in bundles on trees.  The best part is they smell UH-Mazing!

Yep.  Almost too good to be true

Alila Mangiss Pool, Bali

Gorgeous Frangipani Tree

Frangipani Style

Bali Tea and local snacks were served every afternoon near the pool, by possibly the sweetest Balinese fella I met the whole trip!  He was seriously adorable!!  A nice break from the excessive lounging that took place all afternoon.

Bali Ginger-Honey Tea and traditional snacks

A little R&R... Okay, a LOT!

Lily Pads at every meal

On day 4 it was finally time to do some diving!  Up the coast to Telumben, and a famous shipwreck called the USAT Liberty, which was hit by a Japanese torpedo in 1942 during World War II.  She sat beached until 1963 when the tremors from a volcano eruption of Mount Agung caused the vessel to slip down the slope to where it now lies.

I literally woke up in the morning, walked to the ocean 30 steps away, where my gear had been carried & set up for me.  All I had to do was wander into the water and dive.  It was brilliant!  Within 10 minutes of my first dive in Bali, my guide had shown me 2 huge purple and orange nudibrach, pygmy seashorse about a half inch tall blended in perfectly to the purple coral fan, a painted frogfish a 1/4 of the size of my palm, another hairy frogfish (which my guide screamed with excitement when he spotted it, which is when you know, it's a BIG deal!), an ornate ghost pipehorse and loads more!  All the things we dream about seeing back home, were everywhere down there!

Beautiful Nudibrach

Painted Frogfish

Hairy Frogfish (image by others)

The cutest little Pygmy Seahorse  (image by others)

Ornate Ghost Pipehorse

The underwater world never seems to let me down.  Always something new and fascinating, especially on this trip!

Stay tuned for the next leg of the trip...  things get even more interesting!