My Life as a Traveler

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Becoming Balinese, Part 3

Me, Manik and Mitsuyo in front of temple

Mitsuyo is leaving today. She’s been my Bali companion for the last 3 days and has introduced me to this place, the food, and we’ve been Hindu together. But before she heads out, there’s one more ceremony to be had.

Offerings on the sidewalk in front of every house today have yellow rice

The morning starts out with a lovely massage after breakfast. Did I tell you that Kadek the wonder woman is also a trained masseuse? Yeah. Is there nothing this woman can’t do? And she’s only 25! My massage happens in the 2nd floor open-air loft of the Nest. Quite private from below, but the perfect temperature. I’ve made peace with the chickens and consider them part of the atmosphere. It’s daytime and they are mostly clucking, anyway. Somewhere behind us there is a group practicing the gamelan, the traditional Indonesian instruments. Beautiful. It’s Sunday and I hear some chanting. Is that some kind of ceremony, I ask Kadek. No, she says. Chickens fighting. Oh. I’d rather like to think they are chanting, so I think I’ll go with that. Nevertheless after a hour and a half massage and scrub, I’m feeling lovely.

Offering for the pandita (Hindu priest) handmade by Manik. We need to put a little money on top.

Now it’s time to go back to Manik’s for one more ceremony. Mitsuyo dons her lovely kebaya and I throw on my beach blanket sarong and change my shirt from yesterday. We find Manik at the restaurant, she has some offerings prepared for us, and we are back to see our friend the pandit. This time he is wearing a sash across his bare chest, a special hat, and colorful pants. We see him and he smiles at us. When it’s our turn, we go through the same drill as yesterday, headband and all. This time, we are offered special yellow rice to eat (actually Kadek made us some and left it this morning), which is what you do on this particular day.

Manik’s beautiful family in kebaya and temple garb

We then hung out with her family, waiting for a special blessing to someone who is pregnant. In the meantime, I’m having a great chat with one of Manik’s nieces who lives in Dublin and works in IT, but is also trying to start a family Bali Chai business. The men are watching boxing on a tv placed on the front porch of one of the homes. Can’t stay too long, though, because Mitsuyo needs to get back to go. Balinese are all about the family, and it was more than wonderful to be welcomed so warmly.

Hanging out at 2nd prayer station, guy on left kneeling is offering prayers

Before Mitsuyo goes, however, we have a couple of new arrivals. Marsha, a school teacher from Canada, and Christopher and Kim (I think it’s Kim, apologies if not!) from Atlanta and Chicago. Marsha is returning to the Nest, so to speak, from her travels around the island. She’d been here last week and now she’s got a couple of days before she continues on to Hong Kong. Christopher and Kim are here because they found the same $537 deal I did and are doing a two week Southeast Asia blitz. Marsha says we need to go to the Balinese dance performance at the Ubud Palace. I suggest we go for sushi happy hour, since Toro Sushi is right across the street from there. After a bit of a stroll around town, I meet the gang and we head to sushi. More mojitos, more sushi, no complaints. Marsha bows out as she has already seen the show. She had mentioned earlier that she was going to climb a volcano the next day and would I be interested in joining her. Sure! Why not? Oh, and the point is to get there at sunrise. Lovely! Which means we have to leave at 230am. Uh, ok. Not sure what this all entails, but I’m just going with the flow on this trip, so hey, I’m in.

Balinese dancing

We arrived at the Palace just a bit late and had a second row seat. But the music was mesmerizing, the dancing intricate, and the costumes beautifully detailed. I wish I would have prepared a bit more and read the Mahabharata (Google it to find the Cliff Notes version), but it wasn’t hard to get lost in the beauty of the show. Back at the nest, there is another newbie, Gus. We share just a hello before I head off to bed. It’s going to be an early day tomorrow!

This looks hard to do

The scary mask guy

Costumes are gorgeous, gamelan orchestra in the background


Becoming Balinese, Part 2

After the home Hindu ceremony with the Pandit, yes, I’m soaked!

Today my Balinese transformation begins with a cooking class, by Kadek, of course. Yesterday as we were finishing our omelets, we noticed that Kadek brought something different for breakfast for herself. Rice and some kind of greens and tofu. The omelets are great, but why don’t we have that for breakfast? Hm, after she got the go-ahead from Kevin, she said she would get the ingredients and make it today. Yum! Balinese cooking class!

Boil the peanuts, chilis, and garlic

 

Greens, tofu, and chili mixture before blending

Putting it all together, first tofu, then greens, then sauce. Yum!

 

She starts with cooking the rice. Balinese rice is white, but not processed, a little sticky but not much. There’s a rice cooker here, so that’s easy. Then she puts a couple of cups of coconut oil in a pan and gets it boiling. When it’s good and rolling, she adds some tofu, a special kind made by her neighbor. When that is fried, she removes the tofu and adds some peanuts, a few cloves of garlic, and some chilis, tops on to the boiling oil. This boils for about maybe 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, in another pan she boils water for the greens. This is water spinach, a relative of the morning glory. She cuts the hard parts of the stem off and slices them before dropping them in the water. They boil for just a few minutes. While everything is still boiling, she puts some shrimp paste on a fork and sticks it in the fire under the pan. When the peanut/garlic/chili mixture is good and ready, she drains the oil and puts it in the blender with some coconut water and regular water, blending until it forms a paste, adding more liquid to make a sauce. Putting the rice in a mold and topping it with fried onions in the middle of the plate, she puts the tofu in a bowl, places greens on top, then covers it all with the spicy peanut sauce. YUM. Best breakfast ever.

This is sooo good!

 

It’s pretty rainy today, so we just hang out around here, talking and sharing stories. It’s nap time again. Soon we’re getting ready to go to Manik’s for the Hindu ceremony. However, it’s just pouring outside, that tropical rain that just drowns everything. Mitsuyo has her kebaya all ready made from last week, so she is beautiful. My kebaya won’t be ready til Monday, so I have to cobble together a sarong, belt, and shirt that covers my shoulders (no corset required!), which is not cool for temple but is ok for a home visit.

We walk to Mama’s (Manik’s), see her there, and go across the street to get blessed and offer prayers. There are a bunch of people kneeling and praying in one area and a man in a white shirt and pants sitting up on a platform loaded with flowers and food. He’s the priest, or pandit. We go up to the platform, one step down, and wait for the family ahead of us to finish their blessing. Now it’s our turn.

At Mama’s – Manik’s house is right across the street

We step in front of him and he gives us a big smile before he puts on his serious face and begins to speak. I don’t know exactly what he is saying, being in Balinese and all, but he’s got the prayer voice of a good preacher. First the prayer. Palms together, up between the eyes. Break. Palms together, this time with flowers. Break. Put one flower behind ear. Palms together again, with different flowers. Break. Put flower behind other ear. Palms together more flowers. Break. Find an ear that has room for another flower. Last time, palms together with smoke from incense. First part done.

Family Home Temple – first prayer station

 

Second part begins as we hold our hands open in front of us. The pandit continues speaking. Then he gets a little brush of sticks, dips it in water, and sprinkles it over us several times. We then are instructed (Manik is there, walking us through this) to cup our hands, right over left. The pandit now has a sort of teapot with a long spout and he pours water into our hands. We bring our hands to our mouths and drink. It’s smoky-tasting. Two more times we receive and drink, dribbling a bit in the process. The third time we take the water from our palms and put the water on our heads. The pandit continues his invocation. Hands out again, this time for rice. Grab some rice with your right hand and put it in your left. It’s sticky and a bit wet. Stick some on your forehead, right between your eyebrows. Stick some on the hollow at the base of your neck. Eat some. For the finale, he then takes some long leaves and flowers and makes us each a little headband. That’s it. Big smiles all around.

Then we go down to the second platform and kneel, repeating the ceremony all over again without the pandit. Thank goodness for Manik, or we would be totally lost. Then it’s done. We are wet, but have communicated with the gods, thanking the good and trying to appease the more mischievous. It feels good.

Family compound – second praying station

It’s Mitsuyo’s last night so we go to her favorite sushi place for happy hour. Two for one mojitos and $5 huge sushi rolls. We’ve shared so much, and I’m really going to miss her! Joining us is her friend from Singapore who also stayed at the Nest for a while before doing a bit of traveling. She is interested in visiting a Balinese healer, as am I. We compare notes and want to see the same guy. She introduces me to WhatsApp and we connect. We’ll see what happens later this week.

Inside the family compound

You might be thinking, where are the pictures of beautiful scenery and the awesome temples? That’s for Tourist Julie, and right now that’s not where I’m at. Tomorrow, the Hindu ceremony continues as we are invited to return to Manik’s.

 

Sushi and mojitos!

 


Becoming Balinese, Part 1

Let’s go! Off to the fabric store!

 

Usually, when I travel, I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do each day, where I want to do it, and when it will be done. I’ve done tons of research and know just about all of the options. I create and follow a loose, but busy itinerary that will cover every sightseeing opportunity and eating experience to get the maximum “benefit” of each place.

This trip is different.

I have almost three weeks in one place. And not one thing planned. With all of the stuff I had going on these last few months, I have had precious little time to devote to travel planning. I wasn’t even sure until two weeks before departure that I was going to be able to go here at all. I know that there are many things to do, but heck, some people do Ubud in one day, so I figured I’d have lots of time to rest and see what comes up.

The one thing I most wanted to do was to try to be Balinese. I wanted to immediately transport my experience from tourist mode to “I live here” mode. I wasn’t sure exactly how that was going to be done, except to begin in a guesthouse, rather than a hotel or hostel. A guesthouse where my host was someone who actually lived here and knew their way around.

Staying at The Nest was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And it’s funny, although I’ve learned a bunch from my expat host Kevin, my first real Balinese teacher/friend/tour guide has been the lovely Kadek, who makes our breakfasts, cleans our rooms, and sets out the offerings. We had a talk yesterday and made some plans to go to some of the Hindu temples during the upcoming 2-week full moon ceremony period. Most Balinese are Hindu, so that’s where I’m going to start as I become Balinese. I really know very little about the Hindu religion, except that it’s extremely colorful and they have many gods and great stories for every one of them.

But first, to go to the temple during the ceremony, you need special clothes. Kadek brought some of her mother’s clothes for me to borrow, but alas, they were too small. What to do? Have one specially made, of course! When she was done with her work around the Nest, we hopped on her motorbike and made our way to the market. Not the touristy Ubud market, but the local Gianyar market, about 20 minutes away.

The motorbike ride was a thrill in itself. There are more motorbikes than cars here, and almost everybody has one. Before I left Virginia, I had thought I might rent one just to zip around on, even procuring the required International Driver’s license from AAA. However, after careening down the road on the left side, sometimes almost knee to knee with the motorbike riders next to us, cutting in front of trucks or going around practically on the sidewalk, I think I’ll take a pass. I’m holding on to Kadek for dear life!

We park the motorbike at the market and it is a burst of vendors, colors, and smells. Not rotten or sewery smells, though, Bali smells sweet and full. We wind past the fruit vendors to the stalls inside until we get to her friend’s fabric shop.

Kadek and her friend Mamek at the fabric store

So many choices!

Blue is for jacket, orange is for sarong, orange belt on top, black corset underneath

The kebaya (what women wear) is made up of 4 main pieces. We begin with the lacy fabric for the jacket, the one thing that has to be custom made. What color do I like? Blue. Ok, which blue? So many choices!! Finally we find a color that suits. Now we need a sarong, a big piece of fabric wrapped around like a long skirt. Searching through piles and piles of possibilities we find a gorgeous match. Now the belt, which pulls the whole outfit together. Kadek’s friend finds the perfect one. Last but not least is the underwear. Since the top is lacy and see-through, they use a corset, black, to make sure the shape over the skin-tight jacket is, uh, womanly. Sort of a Balinese spanx, there’s a band around my midsection that must be pulled tight and hooked up, then zip up the middle, flattening the belly while enhancing the bosom. Wow, all this for less than $50.

Balinese tailor

 

From here, we buy some mangosteens (yummy fruit, I get a lesson on how to choose the best ones) and back on the motorbike, out of the market, back to Ubud, and out to the rice fields where the tailor’s shop is located. It starts to rain, no biggie, just pull out the poncho and we’re good. My grip on Kadek’s hips has relaxed to the point I’m not even really holding on anymore. Just lean into it, yeah.

No one at the tailor’s speaks much english, but they are all smiles and we exchange names. I get properly measured as Kedak gives her directions. The sewing machines are old Chinese models that are operated by treadle. Soon we are finished and with a flurry of thank you’s and goodbyes we are back on the motorbike heading back to the Nest.

Mitsuyo is waiting and we chat a bit then head off to early dinner. This time, it’s a different Mama’s, same street, but a few doors to the right. Mitsuyo is sort of a regular here and knows the owner, Manik. Manik is the 6th Mama sister, the other Mama sister is the 2nd. We eat another incredibly delicious Balinese meal and share stories. A rainbow appears. Wow. We find out that this full moon ceremony begins this weekend with people going to pray at a home temple. If you live in a Balinese family compound, there are 4 or 5 homes surrounding a courtyard where there are various small temples and at least one large one. Manik lives just across the street and we are invited to her home tomorrow for our first ceremony. We’re on!

Back to the room for an early night. I’m starting to feel less western already.

Coconut pineapple chicken soup

 

 

Mama’s gado gado, peanut sauce in the middle

 


Kadek, Kevin, Mitsuyo, and Mama

 

Bali alarm clock

 

Sleep does come, eventually, and I wake up early to the sound of those infernal chickens. I check my email and finish the very entertaining and informative Balilicious by Becky Wicks, meditate a bit, and then Mitsuyo is up. We chat as she shows me how to make the Bali coffee, rather like instant but super powdery. Two teaspoonfuls in a cup and fill with boiling water. Wait until the sludge settles, add some sugar and milk if you want. It’s quite good.

The lovely and talented Kadek making our breakfast

Kadek is the wife of my driver Ketut, and she’s the one who is the house cleaner, cook, and god appeaser at The Nest. When she arrives, she makes us a breakfast omlette, then makes the Hindu offerings that are placed in the kitchen, at each entrance to a public space, and in the road. She’s sweet and we chat about going to the temples when they are having one of the many Hindu ceremonies. Kevin arrives and is welcoming. We chat a bit, share our stories, and as he goes, Mitsuyo takes over. After three days of relative silence on airplanes, conversation is welcome.

Our illustrious host, Kevin

I want to walk into town but I’m sooo tired. I’d been burning the candle at both ends in Virginia to prepare for this trip and my upcoming move to Oregon, so I am wiped. Back to the room for a nap.

 

Mitsuyo and Me

When I wake, it’s early dinnertime. Mitsuyo wants to take me to Mama’s Warung (Cafe/Restaurant), the closest place to eat from Kevin’s. It’s less than a 10 minute walk. This is how you get there: out the door, turn right, go past the jungle river (a small stream, really, where people bathe and wash clothes and fish), pass the water temple, then see chicken coop left and chicken coop right, and the Gauntlet of Dogs. Mama welcomes Mitsuyo and I with open arms. Since the internet is sporadic for her at Kevin’s she brings her iPad. I am too busy breathing in Bali. Our lunch overlooks her family’s compound, an assortment of small cottages, temples, and gardens. The rain rolls in and we can see lightning in the distance. Orchids hang off the balcony. Magic.

Mixed plate for dinner, rice in the middle, some greens with spicy peanut sauce, marinated tempeh, fried tofu with sauce, and a chicken cake.

Dinner (mixed plate) is $1.39. Add an avocado salad for another $1.39 and a mango lassi for another $1 and you’ve got yourself a meal, complete with rainstorm. After our early dinner, there’s time to take a walk down the main drag and check out the action before dark.

It’s an assault to the senses. Just watch your step. Back to Kevin’s and more chatting with Mitsuyo before bed. Earplugs tonight!!!

 

First go by the river (sometimes people bathing at the bottom of the stairs)

Then past the water temple

 

Up through the Gauntlet of Dogs (can be as many as 5 here)

 

The view from Mama’s – rain is on the way

 

Watch your step!

 


Arrival in Bali

After a lovely 7 hour flight from Seoul, I arrive in Denpasar, Bali. Greeted by the Balinese Gamelan orchestra entering immigration, I only wait a few minutes in line to pay my $35 visa fee (no need to get one in advance), pass through customs, and exit into the airport. There are hundreds of people holding signs with hotel names, company names, and people names. At first I wonder how in the world will I find the driver who is sent to pick me up? If I don’t find him, then what? There’s no real address to my Airbnb house and I really don’t know where it is. I search the crowd.

Ketut, my ride to The Nest

I see my name. Julie. It’s just Julie. Could I be the only Julie with a driver today? I wave, he waves, I exit though the gift shop (can’t get out without passing through the airport shopping), and we head out toward the parking lot. With a stop to exchange money ($100 makes me an Indonesian millionaire!), I wait for Ketut to get his car. About a couple hours later, we reach Kevin’s house, otherwise known as The Nest.

It’s dark. We park and walk down a road past pigs, chickens, and ducks. On one side is the jungle. On the other side is my Bali home, The Nest. We unlock the door. Nobody’s here. I’m shown to my room and told the kitchen is available. Then Ketut is gone and I find a note from Kevin, my host, welcoming me and telling me to make myself at home. Well, ok then. I rummage through the fridge to find some vegetables near the end of their life and make a salad. I boil some corn. Then the front door opens and I meet the lovely Mitsuyo, who is the only other guest here at the time.

My room in the corner

 

 

As glad to see me as I am to see her, she tells me about her adventures in Bali during the last three weeks she’s been here. Pulling her iPad out, she shows me marvelous pictures of temples and food and the two little cats that live here at Kevin’s. Before I know it, it’s midnight. I go off to my room and unpack. So tired. It’s hot, but not uncomfortable hot. But noisy. Chickens, frogs, cicadas, CHICKENS. At 1AM?? The chickens sound like the tortured souls of hell chanting and calling back. The room is open at the ceiling, so there’s no relief. How will I ever sleep?????

Open shared kitchen with gas range

 

Living area shared by all, complete with jungle view

 

My room from bed, bathroom on the left, door on the right

 

 


The Crazy Cat of South Korea and other impressions

Alu, the Crazy Cat

I've made it across the Pacific and to Gemini's (pronounced jay-mee-nee) house, a quick 15 minute taxi ride from the airport. He's tall, over 6 feet, and is an artist. I admire the pieces he's crafted from driftwood, animal skulls, and pieces of metal.

He tells me the good news is, I have my own bathroom and do not need to share with him and his girlfriend. However, I do have to share it with his cat. Oh, I said, for one night I can have a litterbox in the bathroom, no problem. Don't worry, he said, there's no litterbox. You'll share the toilet. Huh??

This cat, who I will call Alu because I can't remember his name, is quite precocious. He can use the toilet as long as his special seat is down. He can open doors, too, so if I want privacy, I need to lock mine. And he generally causes mischief all about the house.

Since I have two cats at home (one with issues that we won't get into right now), I figured this would be a non-issue. Interesting, really, how Gemini took months using a special litter box for the toilet and then a special seat to train this cat to poo and pee in a place that never needs to be scooped. In fact, while I was writing my last blog entry in his kitchen, he called me to come look as Alu was doing his business (apparently, Alu can only open doors, not close them.) Looking into the bathroom, I could just see the front edge of the toilet and the cat's head above it, seemingly saying, “Whaaat? Can't a guy get a little privacy here?” Too funny.

Imagine seeing a cat face looking around the corner!

So off to bed I went.

Morning came early, 4am. (Thank you, jet lag!) After about half and hour of staring at the ceiling, I decided to get up and take my computer to the living room, the only place with good internet. I put my socks on (no shoes allowed in the house) and padded out to the deserted room. I'm trying to be as quiet as can be, since everyone else was asleep. Well, almost everybody. Here comes Alu, probably fresh from his 4am poo, alive and well. He meows a hello, but I shush him, trying to keep the noise down. I do so want to be a good guest.

As I'm checking my email, he moves on. Good, I thought. Then I hear the rattle of a doorknob. Gemini's doors have the long-handled doorknob, not the bulbous kind. It's easy for Alu to get up on his hind legs, place both paws on the handle, and pull down. Cute, kind of, but maybe not at 4am. If it was only one rattle, then maybe it would be ok, but then, it begins again, this time, more insistent. After the third rattle, the intensity ramps up and it sounds like a crazed convict is trying to get into Gemini's room. Omg, what if he thinks it's me?? This goes on for an excruciatingly long 30 seconds. Then silence.

Alu comes back into the living room with a “what do you think of me now?” attitude. I'm mortified that my landlord is thinking that I'm totally off my rocker and ignore that bad cat. Well, he's not having any of that. Whoosh! Down goes the guitar from it's stand to the floor! Down goes a glass left on the coffee table! Not wanting to be caught at the scene of the crime, I scurry back to my room, leaving my internet behind

The scene of the crime

I try to sleep just a bit more (yawn, oh yes, I've been in my room the whole time!), I got up to take a shower. There are in fact a couple of turds in the toilet, so I flush them (apparently Alu is not THAT clever), and put his seat up. I showered, dressed, packed up and once again took my iPad back into the living room. Alu is laying on the floor, stretched out, eyes half closed, still resting from his 4am adventures.

Gemini is up and offers to fix breakfast. Eggs, sausage, beans, tomatoes, and toast made in a pan. Yum. He shows me his modern Korean kitchen appliance, the rice storage bin. Looks like a trash compactor, but when you pull it out, it holds about 20 pounds of rice at just the right temperature and humidity. Press a button and you get a serving delivered to a cup at the bottom. Cool!

Gemini and the Crazy Cat

I hesitate to do it, but I just can't leave without making sure he knows the 4am commotion wasn't from me. Did you hear?… I ask. What? No, he answers. I sleep with earplugs. This door rattling happens almost every night and I don't even notice it anymore. I am relieved and amazed.

The taxi comes and I am whisked back to the airport, leaving that crazy cat and my new friend Gemini behind. Bali, here I come!

 

 


It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia!

I’m going to Bali. Solo.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I thought it was about time to start up the blog again and revive my (only in my mind, I’m afraid) illustrious travel writing career. Actually, I’m hoping that at least this will be a place of amazing photos and then, on the side, maybe some stuff about Bali and traveling in general that you might find useful. So here goes!

It started on a Sunday. I’m extremely hung over from a fabulous yogini party the night (and early morning before – thank you Lisa for the wine, shrimp, singing bowls and friendship!) and am operating on 4 hours of sleep. But I’m on the train, nonetheless. No, the train does not go all the way to Asia, but will bring me cheaply to Philadelphia, where my flights begin. Last October, I found a flight from Philly to Denpasar (Bali’s airport) for $537 and could not resist. I was in yoga teacher training and Bali is an amazing healing yoga spot. So I tried to get some fellow yoginis to go, and some said maybe, but in the end, it’s just me. Which is fine. I haven’t had a solo pleasure trip in 30 years. It’s time.

Sitting on the train, listening to an audio book and looking out the window, I try to see what’s wrong with my phone. It wouldn’t swipe and kept magnifying without my permission. It had been having problems off and on the past few months, but this was bad. I was really looking forward to going straight from the downtown station to my Philadelphia airport hotel and just crawl into bed, but I had to get this fixed. There was an Apple store within walking distance, so I left my big bag at the station and made the 20 minute walk downtown.

Thank goodness It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia!

Of course there were no appointments available at the Genius Bar, but I pledged to wait until they had an Apple pro available. Turns out my phone was broken from the inside and because it was a Verizon phone they could not replace it. Oh well, looks like I have to buy a new one. The staff were extremely helpful and I left sporting a brand new iPhone6. Hooray! They even gave me a discount for my mostly broken phone. Yay.

A quick stop at Hip City Veg for a portobello buffalo sandwich and I’m back to the train station, on the local to the airport, on the shuttle to the Four Points, checked in, got my phone ready for action, printed my boarding passes, and I’m out. It will take 3 days and 22 hours to get to Bali, I have a new fabulous phone that works, and adventures ahead! 

The helpful folks at the Apple Store

  

On a wall in downtown Philly – speaking to me!

  

No cheesesteak here!

  

Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, just a quick, safe 20 minute walk to city center