Happy New Year to all my dear ones in the good ol' USofA!
I have just returned from a lovely vacation, first in Northern Sulawesi and then in Bali. I went to Sulawesi to visit my friend Alice who volunteers in a coastal conservation NGO. We spent a few days on the tiny island of Siladen (part of Bunaken National Park) swimming, snorkeling and taking naps on the beach during the day and exchanging tales of misadventure on our bamboo porch eating fresh grilled fish and rice at night. Rain is the only source of water there and all food other than coconuts, fish and a few garden vegetables has to be shipped. This is the kind of place that I dream of living: quiet, isolated, simple and simply beautiful. Not impossible, either. Maybe someday…
Alice and I flew to Bali and met the other volunteers for conference where we discussed our jobs, the situation in Indonesia, evacuation plans and future plans for the program. We also ate pizza!!! Basically, everyone feels pretty safe right now, although we are not under any grand illusions that things will necessarily stay that way. We all agree that it is important for us to stay in Indonesia as long as possible to do our jobs and to provide uninterrupted support. But in the event of direct attacks against Americans in our areas, we will be prepared to leave. Even so, I continually hold hopes for peace.
I know now why so many people from all over the world visit Bali. In Indonesian, I would say it's "enak" or delicious. The further away I went from civilization, the more beautiful it became. I wish I had photos or better words to describe it. Lush rice paddies, volcanic mountains, turquoise sea, blue skies, fluffy clouds, fragrant incense, small offerings of rice on ornately folded banana leaves, sacred puras, morning showers... It was much more organic than Java, probably what Java looked like at one time. It was cleaner and had better infrastructure, benefits of tourism, I'm sure. It was a trip to eat in restaurants, have AC, showers, toilet paper, see white people…wonder what I'll feel like when I get back to the states.
People are still recovering from the bombing and western tourists are slow coming back. But, there could be some good things that come out of the bombing. For example, Balinese are re-evaluating their tourist-centered economy and weighing its advantages and disadvantages. Many believe this is a time for Bali to shift back to traditional and more sustainable ways of living.
My travels took me from artsy-fartsy Ubud to Tanah Lot (a little disappointing- it was under construction!), to Candi Dasa where Alice, Catherine and I spent Christmas. We woke up and were immediately served mango daiquiris by our Australian host. After a few of those we decided to go to the beach. Wearing flip flops we went on a hunt for a beach that was not on resort or hotel property. Our hunt took us over a small mountain following goat trails, down through thorny brush, through someone's farm and finally to an isolated black sand beach. We ventured pretty far from town and after playing in the ocean for a couple of hours we had to go around the backside of the mountain and through a village to get to the main road. My feet were black and blistered and we all were exhausted by the time we returned to the hostel late in the afternoon. We drank a couple beers (something we have been missing since we left Yogya 4 months ago) and decided to take a nap before going out. And that was our Christmas, we slept straight through the night.
From Candi Dasa, we went to a unique village called Tanganan, where they weave geringsing cloth, a double ikat. Then we left for Tirtagangga to see an amazing water palace where water comes from the mountain, through the temple, to the swimming pools and fish ponds at the palace and is funneled down to water all the rice paddies. The most amazing rice terraces are in this area. We hiked around the rice fields (I fell in twice) and took lots of photos. But my favorite place was Amed, a small fishing village on the east coast of Bali. It is barely developed aside from a couple of hotels catering to divers. It rained pretty heavily nearly everyday that we were there, but as soon as the storms passed, we were in the ocean. We stayed here a mere 5 days, but got to know quite a few people. For the first two days we wondered why everyone we met had the same name. For example we met three Nyomans. It turns out that Balinese are given their title according to birth order. So every first born son goes by the same name. We called our friends Nyoman 1, Nyoman 2 and Nyoman 3. Nyoman 1 wanted to have a new years party at the beach in front of our bungalow and asked if that was okay. We said sure. After the rain cleared up that day and we finally cleaned ourselves up from playing outside all day, we were going to see what was happening in town. But Nyoman 1 had already prepared grilled fish and vegetables for us and had invited Nyoman 2 and Wayan to join us. So the party ended up being 3 boys and us 3 girls. Coincidentally, the boys were the exact same ages as the girls: 23, 28 and 32 (even though they all looked to be about 21). Hmm… We had a good time while the boys tried desperately to woo us with their melodious voices, guitar skills and pledges of love. We walked along the beach, looked up at clear starry skies and I saw the southern cross for the first time. Around the campfire, we drank this god-awful palm wine called arak, which the boys insisted on mixing with the beer - gross. I'm not sure why, but we drank it anyway. Midnight came, we all cheered and against a little resistance, we left the boys and went to sleep.
Made it to Kuta the next day, stayed with my friend Hera who I met in Texas. She and her husband Adrian were so generous to put us up. Kuta is a totally tourist city. Managed to find a couple cool spots and buy some souvenirs. Took a bus and ferry to Java and arrived in Tuban at 3 am. Found a becak to take me back to humble little Kompleks Sruni and was a little surprised to feel happy to be home. Sorry for all the rambling. Hope to hear from you all soon.
Hugs and kisses,