Indonesia - October 7, 1999
Hi all! Greetings from Indonesia. I've only been traveling for a month
now (with my friend Christine), but Silicon Valley already seems like a
world away. This lifestyle is more appealing than I ever could have
imagined. I hope to experience this type of freedom many more times in
Indonesia is huge. I'd like to have two years to travel this vast
country, but since we only allocated four weeks, we chose to travel
through Bali and Lombok. Even that wasn't nearly enough time for such
interesting places. With the unstable political situation in East Timor
it is better that we didn't go to Java where there continue to be
demonstrations. Fortunately there doesn't appear to be any hostility
towards Americans here and the majority of the people just want to see
East Timor become independent as it has caused a lot of trouble and been
a financial burden to the country for a long time.
Bali was one of the most amazing places I've ever been, mainly because
of its beauty, diversity across such a small island, and the generosity
of the local people. Lombok was also especially interesting because it
is still not a big tourist destination. We found ourselves to be quite
the attraction in some villages. Once we stopped to buy water and
gathered a crowd of about 20 people who just wanted to watch! The
handicrafts (woodworking, pottery, weaving, etc.) on both islands are
unique and of impressive quality.
I've been working on my Indonesian, which makes it so much easier to
start up conversations with people. I adopted the name "Wayan" while in
Bali which means child number one. My travel companion, Christine, is
"Made" since she is number two in her family. The locals got a kick out
of that! They would introduce themselves and ask us our names. When we'd
say "Wayan" and "Made", they'd have a surprised look for a moment and
then see our smiles and laugh with us. The traditional Balinese use
certain names for the first child, second, third, fourth, and the fifth
starts back again at the first name. Wayan is the most common name used
for the first born.
Although I've never had a serious interest in learning how to play the
guitar, I was inspired by the number of people we met who played the
guitar for us at beach parties and small gatherings of friends. I had a
couple of casual lessons at these gatherings - enough to pique my
interest in learning how to play. Today I bought a guitar and a "how to"
book (only about US$60 for the guitar). I hope I can figure out how to
move my fingers into these pretzel positions!
I've been taking daily notes in a journal (for the first time in my
life) about my experiences traveling. I think I will always have very
vivid memories from Indonesia as the sights, sounds and smells are so
unique and captivating. Below are some of these notes. I think they
paint a fairly good picture of the Bali and Lombok I experienced.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS OF BALI AND LOMBOK
Dancers in ornate colorful costumes
Making graceful precise movements to exotic gamelon music
A seemingly primitive stick fight in one village
Cheering and gambling on the cock fights in another
Business bustling in the market
The sweet aroma of slow cooking curries
Quickly masked by the stench of fish
Baskets overflowing with bright colored chilies, fruits, spices
Ponies trotting down the street carrying carts full of people
Roaring motorbikes zipping by
Lush green rice terraces ascending the hillsides
Orderly fields of coffee, tobacco, soy beans, and other local staples
The bright sun scorching through thick, wet air
Farmers hunched over hard at work, almost covered by their woven hats
Cows and waterbuffalo help to plow
Women move slowly along the roadside, loads piled high on their heads
Hills dense with banana and coconut palms
Bamboo huts and small shelters scattered throughout the countryside
Monkeys scramble in the forest willing someone to throw peanuts
Always a rooster crowing or dog barking
Distinct funny calls from the geckos
Colorful fishing boats line the coast and horizon
Quiet rippling of palm trees swaying with the breeze
Glistening black sand beaches, gentle lapping of water
Fisherman wading almost to their chests, patiently waiting
Spectacular sunrises and sunsets
Painted skies changing every few minutes into a new picture
Dolphins dancing in the waves
Beach fires, guitar music, friends gathered
Talking, joking, laughing, singing, being together, enjoying life
Below are the highlights of my travels. I enjoyed everywhere we visited, but Eastern Bali was my favorite.
Kuta is a tacky beach area in the south near the airport in Denpasar with a zillion people trying to sell things to the tourists, but it does have some redeeming qualities - a beautiful beach, great surfing and gorgeous sunsets. Nusa Dua and Sanur are beautiful, but big tourist destinations and where you can go to see big hotels and pay US prices.
Once we got out of the south, I felt like we were able to experience the
"real Bali". Although also a big tourist destination, Ubud is wonderful.
It is the cultural center where I fell in love with the traditional
Balinese style of paintings that often depict village life. We loved the
Balinese dances with the ornate costumes and intricate hand and eye
movements. The gamelon music is also very soothing and accompanies most
of the dances.
From Ubud we traveled north to Batur, which is an active volcano
erupting many times a day. One morning we woke up at 4:00am to hike to
the top of Batur and see the sunrise. It was gorgeous. We saw the
volcano erupting while it was still dark! It was an amazing
demonstration of nature with red fire shooting into the sky. The lake
just below the volcano is also spectacular and was especially beautiful
as the sun rose. The eruptions continued so we experienced several of
them up very close. We cooked our breakfast of bananas and bread in the
steamy, hot volcanic crevices before heading back down.
We spent several nights in Lovina outside of the main town on a very
quiet beach. There we met some fun young locals who invited us to their
beach parties and cooked us an amazing dinner. This was probably the
best dinner we had in Bali. We sat on the floor of the one-room home
they all shared, sweating like crazy from the heat and very spicy
dishes. Even though it was very uncomfortable, the meal was exceptional.
The beach parties were awesome and wonderfully mellow. The guys would
take turns playing the guitar and we'd all sit around the fire singing
and drinking Arak (the local palm wine which is very nasty and leaves
quite a hangover). My other awesome memory of Lovina was the morning we
went out in a fishing boat and saw tons of dolphins.
From Lovina we traveled east. This part of the island was my favorite.
We stayed in Amed and Tirta Ganga. I loved both and they were extremely
different. Amed is on the coast with beautiful black sand beaches and
very colorful sailboats that look like giant spiders. We met generous
and fun locals there who took us on their motorbikes to our first cock
fight (very popular in Bali). They also took us to visit friends who
showed us how they manufacture table salt from the sea. It is a very
manual and tedious process that pays very poorly.
Tirta Ganga is inland. It's a region of gorgeous green hills covered
with rice terraces. Designed this way to make efficient use of the water
supplies for the rice paddies, they seem like they were built that way
just for their beauty. We spent two days trekking in those hills
visiting several small villages and an amazing water palace.
From Bali we took a slow ferry to Lombok but it was nice because it was
the first time we cooled off in two weeks. We stayed in Sengiggi for
several nights. I do not recommend Sengiggi except as a convenient base
for day trips to many other parts of Lombok. It's beautiful beach and
nice bungalows are its only assets. It is too touristed with too many
touts. This was extreme compared to the rest of Lombok where I felt like
many people had never seen a westerner before. We made day trips to
beautiful and quiet Kuta beach in the south, and nearby villages that do
woodworking, pottery and basket weaving - all which are beautiful. It
was interesting to see the locals at work. Everything is done very
slowly and carefully. I was impressed with the craftsmanship of much of
One day we were invited to have lunch with a local family;
it was our other best meal in Lombok. It was also the first
time we ate like the locals - with our hands. Silverware
or chopsticks are not used in Bali or Lombok. Instead, they
use their fingers to pinch the meat or vegetables and spread
it on rice, then they scoop up the rice in the palm of their
hands, and use their thumbs to help push the mixture into
their mouths. We will require more practice to get proficient
at this but we didn't do too badly for our first try. I
also took my first guitar lesson in Sengiggi one night when
we were invited by a band to their "after hours" party.
I learned a few cords and for the first time started thinking
that I would like to learn to play the guitar.
Our last stop in Lombok was Senaru in the north to see the beautiful
waterfalls. We discovered a village on the way called Gondang and
stumbled across a beautiful and quite place with a handful of bungalows.
It was like a small paradise. The design and craftsmanship of the
bungalows was spectacular and the beach was totally private except for a
few fishermen. We stayed two days and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude,
beautiful beaches and drinking the juice out of huge coconuts.
From Lombok we took a very small boat to Gili Meno, the most remote and
quietest of the Gilis, and ended up staying there for the rest of our
trip. It was so incredible and we loved the people we met there. They
were so fun to hang out with and as we had for the past few weeks, we
were able to listen to them play guitar and sing every night. I felt
like I could really "drop out" and live there for a while. It is the
most peaceful place with the nicest people. The only thing I missed was
getting a fresh water shower.
Now we are getting ready to head to Nepal for a few weeks of
trekking. We just had our first hot shower in weeks, and our hotel here
even gave us towels and toilet paper - a real luxury! Having a western
style toilet that flushes and a room fairly free of bugs is also a nice
change. I have no complaints though. This is one of the best experiences
of my life. We are mainly staying in low budget bungalows and
guesthouses for prices of around US$5.00 a night, which includes
breakfast! Most are very simple and not always very clean, but they all
have beautiful gardens and we are always served breakfast on our patio.
I'm getting pretty attached to these banana pancakes. Yes, life is
I suppose it is obvious, but I am so impressed with this part of the
world and with the people. I hope you all get a chance to visit Bali and
Bye for now,
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