Wednesday, April 28, 2010

At Last, A Beach Vacation

During the last two weeks we have been lucky enough to relax thoroughly in some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. A quick update.

Our longest and most otherworldly stop was the small island of Gili ("small island") Meno, where we spent a week. For most of the 4 hour boat trip from Bali we suffered from some very severe sea sickness, due to stormy weather, but we both rebounded quickly once we reached land and had perfect weather for the rest of our stay. It takes about an hour to walk all the way around Meno, which has a population of about 300 and is surrounded by gorgeous beaches and coral reef. Jeremy learned to snorkel, despite suffering a bumped shin, and we spent much of our days exploring the varied fish life and stunning coral practically within arms length our of beach bungalow. In the evenings we ate fresh grilled fish and watched Mount Rinjani (Lombok's active volcano across the shore) erupt.

After this indulgent and peaceful week we visited yet another beach,, near Kuta, Lombok, with crystal-blue bays, white-sand and apparently almost no one to enjoy it.

Compared to these near-utopias, Lovina beach, a black sand beach we'd visited in Bali, was a bit shabby. However, the dawn dolphin-watching trip we went on was not. Our boat and about twenty others chased hundreds of dolphins for several hours and watched in delight as they appeared in between the waves.

Our first stop after leaving the monkeys of Ubud was Munduk, a tiny mountain village. Heavy rains, cool temperatures, and fog confined us to the comfy balcony attached to our room where we could read and watch the valley below. Ali never wanted to leave.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Small Monkey Story

As we were approaching the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud, which houses several Hindu temples and a few thousand monkeys, Ali dashed off to take some pictures of a particularly cute mama monkey and her baby cuddling on the side of the road.

Jeremy, meanwhile, had been instructed to remove all food items from his bag before entering the forest, and was busily munching away on the first of several leftover chocolate chip cookies. Even outside the sanctuary, though, the monkeys wasted no time in locating the source of the scent.

With one cookie to go Jeremy suddenly found himself surrounded by about 10 menacing-looking monkeys, who seemed prepared to take his cookie by force. An attack was imminent, and he morosely threw his cookie into the crowd before fleeing the scene.

This was an ominous start to the day. While Jeremy enjoyed watching the little critters in their various forms of play, ripping apart whole coconuts, biting each other's tails, tending to each others wounds, and otherwise vying for dominance, he kept a measured distance.

Ali, however, found amusement in befriending small monkeys who came to sit on her lap. They would clasp her hand, grab at her dress, and then bound off to rough house with their friends. When a slightly larger monkey jumped on her lap (see below picture), Ali was a little hesitant, but did not protest. It monkeyed around for a little while and then quite unexpectedly reared on its hind legs, bared its teeth, and grabbed ferociously at the tie to Ali's dress. Luckily Ali was quicker than the monkey and had only recently taken a martial arts class, so she was left unscathed.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Welcome to Bali: Island of the Gods

After a night spent sitting in a concrete patio outside the Densapar airport, leaning against a wall that cockroaches and red ants also claimed as their home, we proceeded gratefully to Teba House, a sweet little guesthouse located up a small hilly road in Ubud. A province comprised of 14 small villages, Ubud has an unearthly concentration of massage parlors, dress boutiques, health food cafes, art and dance venues, and toned, tanned wheatgrass-drinking, yoga pants-clad expats. These new-age types (what is it about new-age soul-seekers and Hindus??) have become all the more abundant in the past few years due to the immense popularity of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love where she writes about how she found healing, meaning, and love in Ubud. The local population here seems to hold a certain derision towards this book.

Still, the Balinese and the tourists and ex-pats seem to get along well enough. Life in Ubud, amidst rice paddies and monkeys, is pretty relaxing and the Balinese religion and culture--a mix of animistic and Hindu beliefs that, for a variety of reasons, is a very popular topic among academics--is beautiful and intriguing. A Hindu island in a sea of Indonesian Islam, Bali isn't shy about it's differences; people set small offerings of flowers and incense outside their shops and homes every morning and engage in all kinds of bold artistic endeavours.

Even though the wet season has technically ended, our days have been structured around the rain. Most afternoons feature at least one torrential downpour and a thunderstorm, which we enjoy with tea and rambutans from the patio outside our room (see below picture of the rainstorm in the courtyard).

Bali (and Lombok) is our final destination, and we are trying to soak up this time together as much as possible before spending the next year in different cities (Jeremy at UC-Davis and Ali doing her first year placement for Smith in Denver).

Click here to see pictures from Malaysia and Singapore

Thursday, April 1, 2010

An Unexpected Snow

Malaysia has been really hot this past couple of weeks. At 100 degrees and humid we have been waking up at dawn just so we can have some livable hours in which to explore the city.

So imagine our surprise when we woke up this morning to snow. Big, soft, fluffy flakes of heaven. We put on all our clothes and ran out into the flurries, happy as puppies. As we have been reminded again and again, in Asia anything is possible.