The Final Countdown

Yep. My two months in SE Asia is coming to an end. Part of me is looking forward to my next adventure (thee months of work on the ships in Costa Rica/Panama and Baja, Mexico with two one weeks breaks in between contracts to recuperate) and part of me wants to continue to explore. I have a feeling I’ll be back, though, especially to the yoga retreat on Koh Samui.

As usual, I have a little catching up to do. After Yogyakarta we were supposed to head up Mount Bromo for a night so we could do a sunrise hike to the top of the crater on Christmas morning. But, alas, the gods must not have been in a good mood because Mount Bromo started erupting and we had to change our plans. Not for the better either, unfortunately. On Christmas eve we had an 11 hour bus ride to Malang, a city in east Java. We really didn’t have much time to explore the city because the next morning (Christmas morning) we got back on the bus for an 8 hour journey into coffee land. We were to spend Christmas night at a resort in Kaliburu, a tiny town in the mountains and jungles of East Java. The hotel was nice and after we dropped our bags we went on a tour through the coffee plantations and surrounding villages. Java is famous for its coffee and there are two main coffee plants that grow here – the robusta and the arabica. There’s another type of coffee that I haven’t tried yet, but I did buy enough to make two cups of brew. It’s the most expensive coffee in the world, one cup at a coffee shops will cost you $10+ and a kilogram is over $50. It’s called Luwak coffee and it’s only found in this part of the world. The Luwak, also know as the civet cat, eats the ripe, red coffee berries, but since it cannot digest the coffee bean, the bean passes through its digestive system whole. But as it passes, it is processed and fermented by special enzymes in the Luwak’s stomach. Once the beans are graciously deposited onto the jungle floor, they are eagerly collected by the local villagers and sold for much more than undigested coffee beans. I can’t wait to try mine!

Along the walk, our guide pointed out several spices growing in the area, such as the white pepper plant, vanilla tree, nutmeg and clove trees, and lemongrass. We also saw how they make palm sugar by boiling the sap of palm trees. It smelled very similar to maple syrup!

Christmas dinner that night was a mellow affair. I had the Indonesian special, called Gado-Gado, which is a pile of mixed steamed vegetables and tofu and tempeh with peanut sauce over the top. Yum!

The next morning we boarded the bus (again) and drive two hours to the ferry that would take us across to Bali. After the short ferry ride, we boarded the bus (again) and drove 4 hours to Sanur where we would be spending the night and meeting five more travelers who would be joining us for the Bali tour. They’re all really nice and we chatted over dinner at a nearby restaurant.

The next day we took a two hour bus ride north to Ubud, a town made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-seller Eat, Pray, Love. We stopped on the way to visit a seaside temple, which was pretty, but crowded.

Bali is amazing (despite its jacked up tourist prices). The landscape is mostly terraced rice paddies, which are beautiful, but what I like most are all the temples and Bali architecture and stone statues covered in green moss that sit interspersed amid modern day developments. Elaborately carved doorways open into courtyards with statues of Ganesh, Hanuman (the monkey God), and other Hindu figures. Walking down the street there is store after store selling replicas of Buddha, batiks, hippie-Indonesian clothing, handmade soaps, and other interesting items. Karen, if you’re reading this and you ever come to Bali, leave your credit card at home or bring extra duffle bags to carry everything back. There’s so much cool stuff. I don’t shop much, but I did buy some shoes and another (bigger!) bottle of coconut oil that I’ll remember to pack in my checked bag. For lunch the next day, Dara, our guide took us to an amazing organic restaurant in the middle of a rice field. It was an adventure in itself to get there, but once we were seated, I was in vegetarian heaven. They even had kombucha! I ordered a sampler plate that had a tempeh and tofu curry, sauteed green beans and carrots, a mixed salad with pickled vegetables and seaweed, tofu pate wrapped in a grape leaf, sweet crispy tempeh, a fried potato pakora, and red and brown rice. It was so good!

That night Sarah, my roommate, and I had an interesting experience. Let me first say that our hotel in Ubud isn’t the most luxurious and it could use a through cleaning. Anyway, at 2 am Sarah jumps out of bed screaming and me, being fast asleep and having no idea what’s going on, start screaming as well. Then I ask her what the f*** happened (exact words I used, I think) and she replied that a mouse just ran over her head. We both started laughing hysterically and half-heartily looked for the culprit before going back to sleep. Two hours later, at 4 am, Sarah jumps out of bed again and announces that “the mouse came back.” She couldn’t go back to sleep in the same bed, so I offered to switch and lay down with my head at the foot of the bed. No mice bothered me for the rest of the night.

Today, after yoga practice overlooking the rice fields, Sarah, Cordelie (from Seattle and a third year med student at Michigan), and I visited the Monkey Forest. It was aptly named because even before we entered the park, we were surrounded by macaque monkeys eating bananas, swinging from tree limbs and watching us with curious expressions. Inside the park was quite an experience as well. Monkeys were everywhere and they let you get pretty close to take pictures. Not too close though, because then they either bared their teeth in a menacing way or tried to steal your camera out of your hands. Those who bought bananas at the entrance or had other treats had monkeys climbing up their legs or jumping onto their backs. I preferred to keep my distance. There were several temples in the forest as well, all seemingly dedicated to Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. The stone figures were covered in green moss and the vines of the banyan trees hung down in sheaths with roots sprawling across the ground in every direction. It was beautiful. After watching and photographing the monkeys for a good hour and a half, we ventured down Monkey Forest road to do some shopping. I bought two pairs of shoes, which I desperately needed and a bus ticket to the airport tomorrow. My flight to Singapore doesn’t leave until 9:30 pm, so I have most of the day here in Ubud. I’m already planning in having lunch at the organic restaurant. Then, once in Singapore, I spend the night at the airport (good times to be had…) and my 48 hour travel marathon to Panama City, Panama begins!


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