Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nepal - Around Manaslu
Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Australia - Olympics
Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Thailand - Bangkok
Vietnam - Central and South
Vietnam - North
Egypt - Along the Nile
Egypt - Touring and diving
Israel and Jordan
Brief return to the USA
Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
We awoke to our final morning of utter pampering. After breakfast we turned on the Women's Semifinal action in the US Open. The exciting Williams vs. Hingis match inspired us on the treadmills in the fitness center.
Checking-out went smoothly and soon we were across the river. The bell boy called to get a radio-taxi. This perplexed us for a few moments since there seemed to be a long line of taxis waiting. Soon one of these drivers approached us, offered to take us for 400 baht (more than twice the fare). When we refused the offer and acknowledged that we knew the correct amount he started yelling about how long it would take and other lies about road construction. It is strange to realize the number of tricksters in Bangkok.
Our taxi arrived, and we had a smooth, uncongested ride to the airport. We wandered through the duty-free area and checked email before boarding a huge 747 for the flight to Denpasar. Most of the passengers were enroute from London and looked quite tired.
On arrival in Denpasar we waited int he long customs line, then waited for ever for our baggage. Three ATMS were conveniently located around the baggage carosels, but the most that we could withdraw was 600,000rupiahs ($72). An hour after landing, we walked out of the arrivals building. A huge mass of men were outside with signs for hotels and shouting offers. We were not certain that Megadives would be there to meet us since they had not sent a confirmation email, but faced with this throng we hoped that they were there. Tom spotted their tiny sign, and we were quite relieved.
The drive was longer than we expected. It took 3 hours to reach Amed even though it was night and we did not hit any traffic. Not far from Kuta, however, the road narrows and slowed progress. In fact for awhile huge piles of dirt filled one side of the road limiteing it to one-way traffic. This was confusing since they drive on the left side of the road. Thankfully, we were not driving.
In one town we noticed many Balinese walking in beautiful clothing. Even the men wore a style of colorful skirt with white jackeets. Many of the woman had huge fruit baskets perched on their heads. We asked the driver and he told us that they were attending a funeral. At that moment we drove by the local temple. it was filled with people. We had read that a funeral is a happy affair here, and witnessed it.
Later on the driver pulled over in front of another, empty temple. He quickly made an offering then we were on our way again. he used his broken English to explain that many of the Balinese are quite religious and implied that most are Hindu.
The road narrowed and wound along the coast. We pulled into Amed Beach Cottages and were greeted with charming thatch roofs and candle lit pathways. Our bungalow was charming and we fell into bed, exhausted.
The dive master knocked on our door this morning just after 8:00 to start the day. We had breakfast then suited up. It was a short 20 minute drive to Tulamben and we were the second group to arrive at the beach so the sight would not be crowded. The sun shone out of the clear blue sky, but it was not nearly as hot as what we experienced since arriving in Israel.
This dive operation was a bit less professional - we had no briefing, and he didn't even ask to see our certifications. The nice part was dressing on the rocky beach, and seeing the wreck of the Liberty as soon as we got in the water.
Liberty wreck, Tulamben
We both wore 3mil shorties & booties. Tom carried 3kg and Louisa 3.5kg which seemed to be the right weight for both of us. We had 200bar air each dive. The warm water felt great so we had long dives.
The Liberty was a cargo ship sunk during WWII about 10 meters off shore. We swam clockwise around the wreck. The approach was through cool electric blue neon damsels and garden eels. We started at the deep end, with big soft coral, and large barrel sponges. Louisa saw a blue-spotted ray, and we both saw giant clams, neat anemones that retract when approached, and colorful nudibranches. There were lots of small delicate plants, and a big school of bigeye jacks. The divemaster fed banana to large parrotfish & seargent majors. Towards the end, we saw the hugest butterflyfish ever, nearly 1m long and as tall.
During the hour in between dives relaxed near the beach. The beach here is made of black lava rocks. While they are smooth from the ocean, they still do not make for a comfortable bed. Instead we read under the shade of a plam tree. Every ten minutes a t-shirt of necklace vendor wandered over trying to sell their goods. The vendors in Bali presented a different attitude. Everyone of them started up a conversation as part of their selling spiel.
At high noon we were suited up a gain for the second dive, this time going through the wreck rather than around it.
Liberty wreck, Tulamben
The wreck was not too enclosed, so we never got claustrophobic. We first saw a small buried ray in the sand. On the wreck were more colorful coral and anemones with clownfish. The overall effect darker because of the black volcanic sand bottom. The wreck had lots of interesting protruding ribs and pieces encrusted with life. On the way, we saw a few starfish, some thorny oysters that would close on approach, and turnicats.
During the drive back to Amed Beach Cottages we chatted with the young German man who had iven with us. We were starving and the three of us sat down to a meager lunch. Tom ordered a second meal to end his hunger.
After lunch we retired to our bungalow for a leisurely afternoon of reading and napping. After 4pm we surfaced and walked along the beach in the late afternoon sun. Some young boys were swimming in a river that opens onto the beach. They had two young cows with then. They were quite friendly, shouting their hellos. They loved the pictures that we took, and performed a number of acrobatics.
A toddler walked along the beach. The adorable little girl already knew how to say hello. Her mother smiled and demonstrated typical Balinese friendliness. As we walked along, man launched their perahus (outriggers) into the water for an evening sail/motor. We could see about 100 of them in the distance and wondered if they were fishing.
Amed provided the tranquility that we sought to find in Bali. As the sun set behind the mountain, we returned to the bungalows qutie relaxed. We cooled off in the vanishing edge pool for awhile before returning to our books.
After showers we joined the dive masters on the beach. They had purcahsed an eight kilo fish for our dinner. It was huge. They cooked it over a corn husk fire on the beach and served it with a Balinese sauce of garlic and chiles. Yum! It was quite an impressive sight. In fact, a woman visiting from the bungalows next door asked for them to cook a similar fish for her, only to find out that they did not have more. We had plenty and offered the second half to the German couple for their dinner.
We were incredibly content with full bellies and good conversation. By 9:30 we had retired to our bungalow to journal and turn in for the night.
The friendly women cooked up a fair breakfast which we ate in the open air restaurant 10 yards from the water. After suiting up, we hopped in a jukung (traditional outrigger) with our dive gear. The captain steered us for 3-4 minutes along the coast toward Tulamben and we jumped in along the Amed wall. The boat was so narrow it was impossible to put our BCs on in the boat, so we had to suit up in the water, but with a little help, we managed.
The clear blue water allowed visibility of at least 30 meters. Thousands of of fish swam around. The sea bottom and wall were covered with beautiful coral in a variety of colors.
Dive log: Cemeluk Wall
We somehow forgot to log these two dives for several weeks, so we are going by fallible memory here. The coral wall was spectacular, although the fish life was not as prevalent. We recall the beautiful colors and huge barrel sponges. Diving from the jukung required some agility - we had to put on and take off the BCs in the water.
We climbed back into the jukung for a quick ride back to the hotel. The captain steered the boat perpendicular to the beach, revved the engine and we surfed in on a direct course. The design of the boat is made for this - the landing was smooth. The outriggers balance the boat through waves creating quite a comfortable ride overall.
We dried out for an hour poolside then went out for a second dive. This time to the far side of the bay, so 6 minutes on the jukung.
Dive log: Cemeluk Garden
Gorgeous dive! We saw 5 or 6 blue-spotted eagle rays. Fantastically colored fish swam around us in great numbers. The coral formations and colors grabbed our admiration. At one point we cut across a deep part and really saw the deep blue below us. Fantastic dive site! We did not want to come up!
We had quick showers and gobbled lunch, and then the car was ready for us. Tom had haggled the price earlier and had agreed on $10, but for some unknown reason they waived the price as we went to get our bags - okay with us!
One of the dive guides rode with us to Ubud. Along the way he and the driver pointed out particularly picturesque vistas. We stopped at an ancient water temple at Tirta Gangga for a short break. Built by a local monarch in a melange of styles, it was serene and beautiful. We were glad to have seen it as a convenient side stop.
We were tired, so we declined invitations to stop at other temples. Louisa even napped in the car during the 3 hour ride. The traffic filled the roads, especially as we neared Ubud.
The Kokokan Hotel did not have our reservation, but gave us the internet price with no problem. The hotel was full except for one room, a deluxe which we moved into for the first night.
The room was large with very little in it. The bathroom was even stranger, and proportionately larger. One part was the largest throne room we had ever seen, at least 10ft by 10ft, with only the throne in it, surrounded by empty space. The shower was in a two story stone rectangle lined with moss and plants. It simulated an outdoor shower in a rain forest. But overall the room was strange.
We enjoyed a welcome drink on our private patio that overlooked a stream and adjacent rice paddies, then we walked around the hotel grounds. All of the buildings are modelled after Balinese temples. The paths have statues of gods and other religious figures and most receive offerings throughout the day.
The hotel sprawls over a hillside with the ARMA museum buildings and restaurant on the top. Most rooms overlook rice paddies, which seems to be considered a huge marketing point on Bali. We walked up to the museum and wandered through - we were the only ones there. There were not even any guards, nor anyone to take or ask for a ticket - it was eerie.
We wound our way through the exhibits displaying 100 years of Balinese art. We were not drawn to much of it until the modern era. We also found out about a Kecak dance tomorrow night, on their open stage. Back down the hill, we marvelled at the construction of a new restaurant for the hotel. Trucks would drop loads of concrete blocks in the parking lot, and an army of women with cloths on their heads would carry two at a time 200m up a hill to the construction site. Talk about labor intensive! After watching a little, we headed back to our room, showered and took the free shuttle into town.
We had dinner at Ary's Warung in an attractive, subtlely elegant atmosphere. We sat on the balcony and were greeted with an extensive selection of delicious dishes. They advertise a Balinese-fusion cuisine, and we liked what what they had to offer. The service was impeccable which added to the meal. To top off the meal, we enjoyed a divine minted chocolate shake for dessert.
After dinner we walked along in search of the Jazz Cafe that is supposed to have good live jazz music in a comfortably-elegant bar, but we missed it somehow. We wandered through the empty streets of Ubud. The streets are lined with shops, most of which we closed at this hour (8;30pm). We browsed through an excellent used book shop before returning to the main corner for the free shuttle back to hotel. We turned in quickly and enjoyed being in an air-conditioned room
We enjoyed a good breakfast by the pool. We changed rooms being downgraded to the standard room where we relaxed for awhile. Our motorbike arrived, and we hopped on wearing the antique helmuts they supplied.
The bike was almost out of gas, so we asked for directions. Louisa got one set, and Tom another which started the adventure. Gas was incredibly cheap at 1000 rupiah for a liter, so approximately $.45 a gallon. We ordered three liters, but the bike only took 2.5. We wondered how far that would get us, and were surprised at how little we used during hte day.
After gassing up, we decided to go on an adventure. We did not have a map so just chose a direction and went. We followed roads randomly and ended up on an hour long loop south of Ubud. We passed by many garden furniture shops, some other shops for locals, a few rice fields and a temple or two. As we rounded a corner and realized we were just south of town we headed in for lunch.
We returned to Ary's Warung. Iced cappuccino floats began the meal of delicious Indonesian food. After lunch we headed out on another adventure this one to the Northwest of town. We drove along roads that wove through villages and rice fields. In one village a troop of musicians dressed for a ceremony carried their instruments along the road toward the temple. The roads were uncrowded and the difference between the level of development was striking. This countryside seemed practically untouched.
We enjoyed our independent adventures on the motorbike. Tom was an excellent driver and received many comments of 'native' from passenger Louisa, when performing particularly daring or unusual maneuvers.
Back in town, we looked at some of the shops selling wicker purses and batik sundresses. Then headed south again to look at some of the garden furniture. We stopped at a few along the road but were not impressed with the quality or styles.
As we headed back to the hotel, Tom spotted one shop that looked more expensive. We walked in and immediately liked the furniture. We talked with the friendly managers for awhile, a French couple. We were thrilled to find attractive, well made, good quality furniture at Pondok Padi Design. The strange thing about the furniture is that it almost costs more to ship it all home than it does to buy it so we need to figure out exactly what we want.
Back at the hotel we went for a swim, showered and headed up the hill for the kecak dance performance at the ARMA Open Stage. Fifty men with torches chanted and jumped on the stage for about an hour. The stage was stunning with a stone temple arch covered with flames. The 20 meter high arch and stage were surrounded by tropical foliage making the setting complete.
The men chanted in various rhythms of 'kek'. Two main characters yelled and screamed, sounding like a bad Japanese martial arts movie. The pandemonium continued for 45 minutes. The dance did not follow the storyline provided in the brochure and did not seem to present much in the way of art, tradition or sense.
We crossed the street for a mediocre dinner at Exiles after which we returned to the hotel for an early bedtime.
After another delicious breakfast we stopped at the front desk for some advice. They called the tourist office and got the name of the village holding the cremation ceremony today, and sent us along the road in the right direction..
We travelled quickly along the roads on the motorbike. Traffic did not slow us down since we could weave through it. As we neared the town of Klung Kung we started to ask directions to the village. A few people could not tell us, but the policemen stationed at major interesections directed us and in less than an hour we came upon the main street with a few floats standing ready.
While waiting for the festivities to begin, a persistant sales woman tried to sell us sarongs and sashes to wear for the cremation. Louisa was properly outfitted, but Tom was going to need something to enter the temple. We resisted the temptation to buy, however, which was eased by her outrageous prices.
Musicians played on one corner, a relentless, repetitive sound that sounded eerie to our Western ears. More Balinese congregated and just after 11:30 the activiities began. Groups of 20 or so young men carried each of the animal-shaped floats.
Immediately the action began. The floats surged and bucked as the young men lifted and ran with them. The idea is to create noise and pandemonium to confuse the evil spirits. They really got into it, shouting and heaving their float around as they ran up and down the street.
The musicians played throughout, getting more frenetic as the action built. Soon a water truck got into the act, spraying the floats and participants with a fire hose, and adding to the confusion. Soaked, laughing, and yelling, the men headed back up the road towards the cremation grounds.
Things calmed a bit after that, as the action concentrated around the remaining tower-shaped floats that would carry the bodies. The musicians played more quietly as the white-sheeted bones were carried to the floats. We counted 9 bodies, and as each set of bones was put on one of the towers a family member placed a photograph on the outside.
Once everything was loaded, the well-dressed and solemn men lifted them carefully to carry them to the cremation grounds. Preceding them were lines of women, carrying offerings on their heads. We followed as the slow procession walked several blocks up the road to the cremation temple.
We found a spot under a tree near the wall from which to watch and wait. The bodies were carefully brought down and moved into the cremation towers. The musicians still played occasionally, but the action seemed to be quite slow.
We were hungry by this time, so we went back to our moto and looked for something to eat. The restaurants were all closed, but a market was open, so we got some peanuts and cookies to tide us over, and headed back to the cremation temple.
We timed it perfectly. Just after we arrived, they lit the first tower. We watched the animal-shaped float burn, with the head somehow lasting until the very end. Three were lit at the same time, then as they burned down, more began arriving. As we left, we passed more rowdy groups of men tossing and shaking their floats towards the temple, as the second wave started to arrive.
The return ride to Ubud passed quickly. Our route was slightly more direct, and more rural as we passed through more rice fields and towns rather than following the commercial route.
In Ubud we lunched at Batan Waru. It was delicious. We started with sticky rice and chicken cooked in banana leaves which was outstanding. Tom enjoyed a seared tuna sandwich and Louisa a grilled chicken sandwich, both of which were fantastic. The iced tea was served with sugar water for sweetener - a novel solution to the problem of granulated sugar not dissolving easily in cold drinks.
While Tom paid, Louisa popped into a couple of shops. We returned to the hotel to cool off. We swam in the pool for awhile before showering and relaxing. We read through the late afternoon.
Tom drove us into town for dinner at Terazo, a sister restaurant to Baran Watu. It was nice, but not as good as lunch, nor any of the meals at Ary's Warung. After dinner we drove the few blocks to Jazz Cafe for dessert. A decent woman sang bluesy jazz with good accompaniment. Unfortunately they took a break shortly after we arrived. We enjoyed the tracks they played during the break before returning to the hotel for bed.
After breakfast we jumped on the motorbike to look at furniture that many tout as being a bargain on Bali. On the road to the south of town we stopped at shops selling garden furniture. The first place seemed rather salesy and the prices were higher than we expected.
We continued along the road stopping in at a few other shops. Most of them offer the same exact furniture. Interestingly, the final price for our 'order' ended up at the same number while the prices of the individual items varied.
We headed north of town to find a more upscale store and compare the goods. On first glance the furniture appeared similar, but little design and workmanship improvements were noticable. The service level was significanlty higher and the owner much friendlier. Amazingly the pricing model held to be about the same. Hmmm...
We lunched at Batan Waru for day number two. Today we both ordered the delicious chicken sandwiches and brewed iced tea. We decided to drive the hour to Kuta and check out the furniture stores. Due to our lack of a map we took a rather circuitous two hour ride through insane traffic, but found the strip of furniture stores on the by-pass. We even located the one recommended by Seth and Heidi. The goods were exactly the same as those along the road south of Ubud, and the prices higher! We returned to Ubud tired, but knowing where to get the best deal.
Duirng a stop at a roadside 'cafe' to rest our bums, we studied the primitive tourist map. We realized that the street signs directed us through many crafts villages, but another road ran more directly toward Ubud. By paying close attention to our progress, Tom maneuvered us onto the road. Immediately the traffic dropped off, the pace slackened and the noise quieted. We rode along through residential villages each with its three temples. Rice paddies filled the rest of the roadside and we were the only tourists we saw for miles.
This route was going to take us north of Ubud and the hotel, Louisa spied a sign towards a hotel near ours and we turned off on the side road. The road deteriorated quickly. There were more potholes than road in most places, progress was slow, but we were heading in the right direction. We passed the hotel and continued, but soon the road turned into little more than a path, we turned around and took a turn directly in front of the hotel. This seemed more promising but suddenly ended. The motorbike in front of us turned onto a stone sidewalk and continued on. We were dubious, it was narrower than most sidewalks in the US, clearly not built for vehicles. A man sat on some steps. We asked him the way to Ubud and he pointed along the stone sidewalk. Another motorbike appeared in the distance coming towards us. This gave us hope and we turned onto the path.
After turning a corner, we came upon two Balinese pedestrians. The girl exclaimed in surprise at the sight of two gringos on a motorbike traveling along the path, but we could not think about that long. A three level stairway was in front of us. Luckily it had a narrow (6inch wide) ramp down the center. Louisa gladly hopped off of the motorbike while Tom smoothly led the bike down. For some reason, Tom guessed that we were in the Monkey Forest, a tourist attraction on the Southern edge of Ubud. At that point, an entire family of monkeys scurried beside the path. We started laughing, but wondered where we would come out and what the admissions collector would say. Fortunately, we emerged and evaded the ticket man. We laughed the entire final kilometer to the hotel. We definitely took the local route!
The hotel shuttle dropped us at Ary's Warung. We enjoyed a balcony table. Across the street a traditional Balinese band practiced, complete with dancer. We had a great view to watch the rehearsal.
Dinner was good, but dessert was exceptional. The chocolate cashew pie with homemade vanilla bean ice cream goes down as a top three for the year. Definitely a great way to end the night!
Up early after many nights of restful sleep. On the motorbike by 9am to talk with two furniture companies. Pondok Padi Design had the winning coffee table as long as it came with end tables. Unfortunately the managers of the shop were not there. We left a note with what we wanted and praised email once more.
Next stop was Palupi for garden furniture. The friendly owner recognized us immediately and called out her main designer to discuss our design modifications. We came to consensus on the design and set up a delivery email date in December.
On return to the hotel we showered and packed. The convenient hotel shuttle dropped us in town just after noon. While Tom investigated other restaurants, Louisa wanted to return to Batan Waru for the third straight lunch. The meal lived up to memory with delicious Indonesian sticky rice and chicken in banana leaves followed by crunchy salads and wholesome sandwiches.
After lunch we wandered through two of the shop bordered streets. Tom traded the travel books into three sci-fi novels he has wanted while Louisa bought a t-shirt. Almost out of money, we stopped in an internet cafe for a serious session. Tom had finished the code for the new and improved web site and Louisa realized that she had not answered emails for awhile. Louisa bowed out early and browsed the shops while Tom powered on for most of the afternoon. On the way to an early dinner, we picked up some early Christmas presents. As a side result we realized that a great bargaining ploy was to claim that your amount was all the local currency you had left. We ended up using this a twice, and both were true at the time.
Walking to Ary's Warung for a farewell dinner, the street was filled with fomally dressed Balinese. The main temple was situated on the corner and it was filled with activity. We secured a table along hte sidewalk at Ary's and soon were presented with Balinese music and an extensive parade. After many colorful flags carried by boys was an entire troop of beautifully dressed little girls, each with a fancy gold headdress. Two rows of women carrying platters of fruit and other offerings on their heads followed. towards the end was a fancy dragon-type creature that they believe scares the evil spirits away. A waiter in Ary's told us that it was the anniversary celelbration of the main temple in town. Quite spectacular!
Dinner was delicious, as usual capped off with the unbelievable cashew chocolate pie. We must remember to email for the recipe! A nice landrover type car picked us up and drove us to the airport. The driver was quite friendly and took the back roads which while dark was still somehow more scenic, and definitely more serene.
We checked in with plenty of time to spare. The flight boarded a little late, but empty. Each passenger practically gets an entire row which is lucky since this red eye is barely 4 hours long.
Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on