PS – I logged onto my administrator’s side of this blog and I had a message from WordPress. Would you believe it?? I registered this blog site three years ago today! If you know me at all, you know my obsession with signs. This, my friends, is a clear. cut. sign. Of what, I have yet to find out. But wow. Talk about intuition.
It’s 12:55 am and I am sitting at my dining/kitchen room table. Sperry is fast asleep on “his” chair (formerly known as “Katelyn’s favorite chair” or “Katelyn’s pride and joy big-purchase treat to herself after college chair… but now it’s Sperry’s. What’s mine is definitely his. I am reminded daily). I’m listening to the incessant drilling of the jack hammers handled by the clearly over worked (but maybe highly paid.. hmm.. new career?) construction men on the highway behind my apartment. I have no idea what they are doing up there, and probably never will. But nevertheless… their drilling has not only distracted many a thought of mine over the past couple of months, but has now managed to detour this pointless paragraph through another pointless seventy-seven (seventy-nine.. eighty-one…) words. Onto the point already!
Here I sit.. in the wee small hours of the morning, attempting to lure my brain into shut-down mode. Aimlessly surfing the internet, reading blogs, catching up on my ever important Pinterest boards (tonight’s focus was house renovation); and then it hits me. It hits me much like it always does: out of the blue. No rhyme or reason. No real focus or purpose. But it hits me. That gut wrenching, eye rolling, face slapping torturous guilt of “oh my gosh.. I have still not finished my blog posts from my backpacking trip.” That was… wait for it (no really.. wait for it.. I have to look at the calendar and actually think about this because it’s been so long)… three. years. ago. June.
June 19 will be three years. Okay well we didn’t actually get back until close to mid-August. So let’s call it August 15.
August 15. I’m deeming that the official date of blog failure.
So I could wallow in this pathetic misery, pour myself a glass of red and toast to my undeniable success at ultimate procrastination perfection; or I could just suck it up and finish what I started. So here goes, folks. For the measly three or four of you still holding faith in my blogging efforts (Hi Mom, Dad, Jen and Aunt Bev!) and to the two or three of you who just never cleaned out your blog update subscription lists… this, my friends, is for you: my promise to finish this blog of travel. It might take me a year still, but I promise to get it finished. In the meantime, I will use this as a way of updating you on the fascinating life of Katelyn: an HR Generalist turned Pastry Chef.
This evening we are leaving Singapore for Vietnam. Singapore, although just a “transfer point” for us, was enjoyable and worth the time and money spent. Coming directly from Jakarta, land of poverty, bad food and 31 hour bus rides (no I am still not over that), Singapore was a haven of commercially urban comfort. We’ll be coming back to the city again before we go back to the states; so for this trip, we could afford to enjoy a leisurely visit, not rushing to fit in all of our Singapore to-do’s.
We arrived at the airport later than expected on Tuesday night (delayed flight from Jakarta.. go figure) and Kelli’s friend Catherine was there to greet us. The two met when Kelli was teaching English in China during college. Since then, Catherine accepted a job in Singapore and has been patiently awaiting our visit every since.. or at least, Kelli’s. I’m just an added bonus, I suppose.
We checked in to our hostel, the Inn Crowd in Little India around midnight then wandered across the street for a bite to eat, eventually staying to watch the Spain vs. Portugal game and win a bet with our bartender for a free pitcher of Sangria. Surrounded by backpackers from all over the world, watching the World Cup in a Tapas Bar in Little India. One of the best nights (err.. mornings..) yet.
The next day, Kelli and I explored the city, sipping passion fruit juices at Bugis Street, trying on hippy clothes at a tiny shop off the main drag and having lunch in Chinatown. After a walk through the streets of Chinatown, we met up with Catherine for dinner before indulging in overpriced cocktails at Clarke Quay.
Singapore, like many other major cities, expensive, urban and can be easily compared to the next with its metro system, high rise residential buildings, shopping malls, outdoor markets and sky scrapers. What sets it apart from the next is any of the following:
a. The shopping malls are endless. They’re everywhere. Everything from Gap to Juicy to D&G. There is a whole area committed to shopping malls. Overwhelming.
b. Distracting the eye from the typical skyline of Singapore is its brand new casino. Upon driving into the city, one can easily be caught doing a double-take, attempting to catch a longer glimpse at this preposterous (my opinion) structure. Besides the fact that entrance is free for foreigners and $100 for Singapore citizens, who would ever be attracted to such a thing? (No worries.. Kelli and I plan to go check it out when we’re back in town…)
c. The outdoor markets are proper outdoor markets. Not just seafood, or fruits and vegetables. One can easily walk down Bugis Street for the entire week’s shopping. You’ll find everything from bath towels to clothing, seafood to produce, cuts of meat laid out on the table, leather goods, jewelry and pretty much anything else your heart could desire.
Today we didn’t have enough time for any excursions so we hung out in the common room of the Inn Crowd and chatted with other travelers before metroing to the airport for our flight to Vietnam.
Well thank goodness for our quick decision to travel to Jakarta a day early. We boarded the bus in Bali at 3:05 pm on Sunday evening. 31 hours later, we harrumphed ourselves off the bus and heaved our bags into a taxi to the Backpackers’ district which consisted of one (okay maybe two) street of dilapidated motels and outdoor bars crowded with staring locals. “You need room? I have room! AC and hot water!” It’s somewhat difficult to blend in at all, let alone in times like these when it’s late in the evening and we’re two girls walking up and down the street with giant backpacks and lost looks on our faces.
Eventually we settled on a cheap room and crashed for the night. Lulled to sleep by the violent screams of cat fights (no literally.. cats fighting.. all night), we kept as still as possible in hopes of soaking up any bit of breeze manufactured by the weak air con unit above our window.
After waking up and enjoying our breakfast of eggs and toast (what else is new?), we decided that it was too hot and we were too uninterested in Jakarta sites (what few there are), so we stalled in our room for a bit. After all, check out wasn’t until noon and we had gotten up at 10.. oh wait no, 9. Yeah we didn’t realize that there was a time difference until around 11:30 am. Cool.
Our flight out of Jakarta was 7 hours away, but we had nothing to do and no clue how to actually get to the airport so we set out for another adventure. We took a mini vehicle of sorts (a wooden crate running on diesel fuel, steered by a man in his 70’s) to the bus/train station and spent the next 45 minutes standing awkwardly in the middle of the station, debating whether to purchase something from Dunkin Donuts or have another go at communicating with one of the locals. Soon enough we found a few Europeans who were happy to point us in the right direction.
With 5 hours to spare, we went on a search for non-Indonesian cuisine, preferably some sort of fast food. We had consumed enough Nasi Kampur for the month. We asked for McDonald’s and were directed to Tony Jack’s.
“Tony Jacks. Same same” (This is another Southeast Asian thing.. “same same”… I think this is the first English phrase they learn).
“Same exact? Different name?”
“Yeah yeah.. same same McDonald.”
Hmmm… we trekked to the other side of the terminal and ordered chicken pattie sandwiches, seemingly the safest alternative to a good ol’ 10-piece nugget meal deal. As usual we were let down, left with an uneasy lingering hunger. The upside was our tiny cups of Coca-Cola. Ice cold. I mean, with ice. It was a treat.
After another four and a half hours of waiting at the airport we were finally able to check in and board our plane, which arrived approximately 55 minutes late.
Up next: Singapore!
I’ve been sitting on a bus for 29 hours. Twenty. Nine. Hours. I smell, my nose is stuffy from breathing dirty circulated air, my backside is asleep from trying various different sleeping positions (most of which involve scrunching down in my seat with my knees up in the air.. this seems to be the best position for bus sleeping…), my stomach is queasy oh… and I’m wearing a bathing suit. Let me attempt to explain exactly how I got myself into this mess.
Kelli and I checked out of our home stay in Ubud around 11 am on Sunday morning and climbed aboard the noon bus to Kuta where we had originally intended to stay the night. About halfway there we decided that it might be a safer bet to go ahead and jump on the bus to Jakarta that day instead. You see, we had just learned that what we thought was an overnight 12-hour ride was actually a 24-hour trip west across Indonesia.
“24 hours? Can we do it? Are we crazy?”
“No problem. Reclining seats and air con. Very comfortable. Big bus,” we were assured.
We looked at each other nervously. Well, our flight to Singapore is out of Jakarta. I guess this is our plan.
This magical bus of wonders only leaves once a day our of Bali. 3 pm was our only option. This would put us in Jakarta around 3 pm, give or take a few hours of traffic. We had to leave. It was pushing it to wait until the following day.
Kelli and I looked at each other, knowingly, in our bathing suits and cover ups and chuckled to ourselves. “Are we ready for this?” she asked me. “Do we have a choice?”
We taxied from Kuta to Denpasar bus terminal. As our cab pulled up ,we were overwhelmed by welcoming… err.. eager Indonesians ready to take our money in exchange for tickets they weren’t even sure they had. Somehow we pushed our way up to the ticket counter on our own and agreed on a price of 350,000 per ticket. A mere $30 for the ride of our lives.
It was then that we realized we had no cash on us. “ATM? ATM?! Money machine?” frantically swiping the air and rubbing our thumbs and forefingers together as if pantomiming our questions would somehow solves our problem. We got a few vague directional nods and made our way out of the parking lot toward the road. We were not in Bali paradise anymore. That’s for sure. No one spoke English, no one could help us and of course no one felt at all awkward staring us down as we lugged our heavy bags down the road past them. We stopped at three ATMs over the span of a mile until we finally found one that accepted Visa.
We crossed the four-lane highway and flagged down a sketchy blue van with its door propped open… the kind that drives in circles around this area, charging 8 cents to take locals a couple of miles down the street. Ours dropped us off at the terminal again and we were greeted by our local salesmen.
With 90 seconds left on the clock, we allowed an Indonesian Vince Vaughn to lead us to a bus headed for Jakarta. Two white westerners in a sea of local Indonesians, we were easy prey. But had no choice other than to trust our new helper. We heaved our bags into the lower compartment of the bus and climbed aboard our new temporary home. Drenched in sweat and exhausted from our marathon, I let out a brief sigh of relief and sent up a small prayer that we were headed in the right direction.
It quickly became apparent that no one on the bus spoke a lick of English. And really? What should one expect? A 24-hour bus ride from the East to the West, clearing the entire country of Indonesia. Would anyone who could afford any better do that? I think not. Oh… us? No no, we were just in it for the fun experience. We wanted local Indonesia. It doesn’t get anymore curry flavored than this, my friends.
Our bus ticket included dinner. We just hoped that this delicious happy meal snack of a dinner roll covered in melted chocolate and crushed peanuts paired with a cup of water was actually just a tasty amuse-bouche for the real deal. Shall I save this box o’ treats for when I’m truly famished later? Oh wait all we’ve had today is a breakfast of hot tea and toast stuffed with banana slices. That was six hours ago. Down the hatch!
Note: sadly my camera died just after photographing this last masterpiece. I would have loved to supply you with the still images of what was to come, but it will have to be left up to my descriptive language and your daring imaginations.
I tried to stay awake for as long as possible, admiring the ocean side views and volcanoes in the distance on our ride. My ipod provided ample entertainment but had to be rationed wisely, used only in times of desperate boredom.
Around 9:30 pm, our bus pulled into a rest stop… err…prayer station… Indonesian buffet? It’s dinner time. Kelli and I followed the seasoned travellers as they clipped a dinner coupon from their bus tickets. We entered the dismally lit cafeteria and stood in line to be handed a dirty bowl to fill with delicious dishes of the day such as white rice, cabbage stew, soggy chicken skins and chili noodles. No thank you. We both tried, but settled with a nice beer stein of luke warm spiced tea. Before we climbed aboard the bus again, we stopped at the store for some non-parishables to sustain us on our journey. Not sure of how many meals we would be allotted, I skipped over the dried seaweed, pork fat and shrimp flavored Pringles and splurged for the real stuff: tortilla chips (aka a questionably flavored assortment of Fritos) and fruit mentos (to calm the stomach).
About 30 minutes later our bus joined the line of vehicles waiting to board the ferries across the river. We were happy to purchase an imitation Cup Noodles from local vendors lined up outside our bus. Two hours later, our bus finally squeezed its way into the confusing puzzle of vehicles aboard the ferry.
Two hours must have been an unusual amount of time to wait because as soon as we hit land again, our bus driver took off like a bat out of hell. With our bus, lit only by the dim purpley-blue aisle lights, streaming down the winding back roads of who-knows-where, I felt like I was on the nightmare boat ride of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, minus the whimsical detours and delicious treats. My saving grace was that the bus wasn’t so full, so Kelli and I each had our own two seats on which to “spread out.” These luxury accommodations were more comfortable than our LAX-Sydney flight.
At some point in the night/early morning I finally felt the effects of the liter of water I had chugged hours before. I teetered my way to the back of the bus, past the smoking room and to the bathroom, a tiny space with a “sink” filled with dirty dishes (from where, I’m not sure) and for the toilet, a hole that looked down to the road below.
The worst, but perhaps most memorable parts of the voyage were our all-too-frequent breaks at various rest stops along the way. These depressingly lit curry-scented cafeterias were the high points for local travellers; but to us, the 30-minute breaks were like short stints in a scary overnight camp. We were stuck. Where are the greasy drive-thru burger joints, the happy meals and play areas for overly active children? I guess Ronald McDonald hasn’t quite made it that far through Indonesia yet.
Today was a bit rainy again but not as bad as the days prior. We were told “at the beach in the south, it alway sunny. Happy.” so we went for it. Took a chance and hopped in a shuttle from Ubud to Kuta, the more touristy part of Bali. Apparently Kuta is to Aussies what Cancun is to Americans. No matter, it was a nice break from the recent days of touring, wandering and forced sporadic exercise, fleeing from evil monkeys. We even met a couple of fellow travelers who invited us to a late lunch before our bus back to Ubud.
Tomorrow we’re planning to check out early. Yande has promised us our money back for the fourth night for which we will no longer need the room. We’ll spend the night at a nearby beach, then hop on the 12-hour overnight bus to Jakarta on Monday afternoon. This will put us in Jakarta by Tuesday morning… plenty of time before our evening flight to Singapore.
Today was our big adventure with Usrok. This morning, we woke up around 8:00 and were served a breakfast of fried egg, toast, fruit and instant coffee on our front porch. After we got ready, we met Usrok and were on our way. Within the first five minutes, as we were complaining about taking out more money at the ATM, we had already been blessed with Usrok’s first bit of Balinese wisdom: “Money always never make you rich. Always make you crazy.”
Our sage friend first drove us to his ex-girlfriend’s market shop to buy sarongs for our visit to the temples. One must cover his/her legs when visiting the sacred temples and our short western shorts were not cutting it.
Surely you are not too surprised to learn that Kelli and I were to cost-conscious to actually pay for a tour guide to show us around at each site; so we just wandered around by ourselves, admiring the views, the obvious history (and what we could read from our tour book) and the intense exercise from the 700 steps taking us up and down the mountain sides of each temple.
Winded and exhausted from our journeys in the on-and-off rain and hot sun, we agreed to skip the third temple, going straight to the coffee plantation in hopes of a culinary education and some caffeine energy.
This stop, unlike the others so far, was free and most insightful. Bali is home to the exotic Luwak animal, the crucial ingredient in Kopi Luwak, one of the most expensive coffees in the world. Kopi Luwak coffee is made from the bean of regular Arabica coffee plants; but the difference is that these beans have passed through the Luwak’s digestive system.
Yes. It’s what you think. The cat-like creature roams the coffee plantation, feeding on coffee beans. While the skins of the beans stay a bit longer in the animal’s system, the inside bean exits the body in the Luwak’s fecal matter. This, my friends, is the good stuff. These beans are then cleaned, dried, roasted, ground and sold at outrageous prices (approximately $300 per pound) all around the globe.
For simply being on the plantation, we were able to splurge for a discounted cup at the price of 30,000 rupiah ($3). We were also offered a free sample platter of other local specialities: female coffee, cacao hot cocoa, ginger tea, lemongrass tea and ginseng coffee. Our favorites were the ginseng coffee and hot cocoa made with real cacao plant.
On our way to the next stop, Usrok explained his plans for the evening: attending his sister’s daughter’s birth ceremony. He explained how each Balinese child has three ceremonies at the beginning of their life: one at 6, 12 and 18 months, each for a different purpose. All of the relatives get together and celebrate this person’s next steps in their young life.
Unfortunately the rain made the volcanoes invisible behind the fog surrounding the mountains. Usrok told us that this type of fog is unusual and reminded him of the type of weather used for local village cremation ceremonies. Local lesson #2. Each village has their own cremation calendar; but every five years, on a specific day of the year, the deceased are retrieved from their burial sites and cremated. Everyone in the village attends these ceremonies, then spreads the ashes in their own specific holy areas, ending at the ocean. This represents time for the recently deceased to transition into their next life.
Usrok drove us by a few rice terraces on our way back to Ubud but was not able to elaborate much on how they work. “I not know much of this.” That will be something I’ll hope to learn in Vietnam.
On our way, we asked our new friend to take us somewhere truly Indonesian for our late lunch. “Where would you go?” we asked. We were looking for that hole in the wall, side of the street stall where tourists would never find on their own. “Ah yes! I take you good place! Big buffet with great view. 100,000 rupiah!” No, no, no… we were not looking to spend $9 on good that someone had altered to fit the tourists’ tastebuds. Eventually we got this point across to Usrok and he took us to the exact type of “restaurant” we were looking for, complete with dirty tables, friendly flies and glass cases displaying pots of meats that had surely extended the four-hour room-temperature time safety limit: a local warung, meaning “casual restaurant.”
At Usrok’s recommendation, we ordered Nasi Kampur (“Mixed Rice”). This was a plate of white rice, piled high with curry tofu, chicken, soy bean root, pork and fried egg. With our 90-cent meals, we each enjoyed a packet of crackers which very closely resemble packing peanuts. Yes… the Styrofoam bits of packing material used to secure fragile items during a move.
Right now, we’re back in Ubud, settled into our new favorite spot: KAFE, a hippy cafe on the main road. KAFE is owned by the same person as the Yoga Barn. Selling tasty and organic meals, this chill spot is a popular one for westerners. At first, we were hesitant to go non-Indonesian but we quickly capture by its comfort, charm and free wireless internet. It’s peaceful here. This is the true essence of Ubud. It’s a quiet place with a hippy vibe where almost anyone can feel relaxed.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, captures it perfectly when she writes about Bali. All of the visitors here seem to own a pair of capris or linen pants… or linen capris as it may be. The sweet smell of incense billows through the street as shop owners fan their offerings up to the gods “above.” for the gods of the ground, they put out palm leaf squares with rice and coconut. The ants seem to enjoy these treats as well.
The peaceful, calm spirit is contagious here, everyone sitting around, sipping green tea or mango juice, staring into space, writing in journals and conversing with other hippies. It’s more than enough to make you wonder why you’re living the way you are, and why haven’t you moved into a small Bali bungalow for $200/month yet?