A Year of Living Dangerously

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

PLEASE - No Massage!

People often ask me why I’m alone, to which my response is that no one else wanted to come, but I still wanted to go – so there I am! This surprises a lot of people. They say I have a lot of courage. I don’t know if it is courage or just plain stubborn – I want to see something and dammit, I’ll do it all by myself if I have to! Well, this was exactly the situation with Bali – so there I was all alone for 7 days.

But, traveling alone is always a great adventure. If you keep an open mind, you often end up having great conversations with really unusual people. And people, in general, are incredibly open and friendly, as long as you smile and say hello.

This past trip to Bali was certainly no exception. I let a lot of nice people and ended up doing things and seeing things that wouldn’t have happened if I weren’t friendly and keeping an open mind.

Leave Jkta Monday morning
Picked up at the airport, drive to Waka Shorea (4 hours)
3 nights at Waka Shorea
Thursday - transport to Ubud (4 – 5 hours)
3 nights Guci-Bali Homestay
Fly home Sunday night

The Waka Shorea resort (www.wakaexperience.com, www.wakadive.com) is a tiny, exotic place located in northwest Bali, in the middle of a national park. It is the only resort in the park and there is no road leading up to it. There is one small track that a motorcycle could use, but otherwise, everything needs to be brought to the resort by boat. There are a total of 14 bungalows (sleeps 2) and 2 villas (sleeps 4?). That’s it.

Because it is in the middle of the park, the resort developers were very restricted in what they were allowed to affect. There is no gardening – everything is left completely natural. Pathways to the restaurant, activities (dive) center, the spa, and to the bungalows have been cleared. Aside from that, everything is exactly as it was before the resort was constructed. (It must have been difficult to build without affecting things.) And let me tell you, the natural environment there is drop dead gorgeous.

The climate is very different from what I was expecting. It is not in a tropical rainforest. The northern side of Bali is actually dry half of the year. The southern side is less effected by seasonal weather changes – they enough rain year round to keep dense, thick foliage blooming. The northern side has monsoon season and dry season. This is the height of the dry season and it hadn’t rained there in the past 2 months.

Because of the climate, the ½ dry, ½ wet years, the foliage is really unique. The plants have to be able to deal with not getting any water for a year. Many of the trees loose a lot of their leaves and then come back to life when the rain hits. This and the breeze off the ocean means that there are very few mosquitoes. Very nice.

Since it is in the middle of a park – there is a lot of wildlife. The embroidered wall hanging in each bungalow politely clarifies the do’s and don’t’s of dealing with the animals. All over the resort, there are deer trails. But the dear are shy and will run at the site of you. If you do run into a wild pig though, just keep still and they will leave on their own. Tuck your mosquito net under your mattress – this will keep snakes and lizards out of your bed. And always close and lock the door to your bungalow – to keep the black monkeys from stealing any shiny objects.

The staff is small and extremely friendly. And they know your name before you even step off the boat onto the dock. “Hello, Miss Nathalie! Ibu Nunung called us and we spoke about your diving instruction in Jakarta and your open water experiences here. Would you like to plan your dive? How about tomorrow at 10?”

Most of the guests are European – mostly Swiss and French. This was fun because I was able to speak German with many of the Swiss. I was the only single person at the resort. There were a few families, but mostly the people were couples – many on their honeymoons. And, this would be a really beautiful place to spend a honeymoon.

Oh I found the resort just browsing on-line and was attracted by its isolation and proximity to really good diving. I then subsequently emailed and asked about rates and the owner (Andy) emailed me back and offered a really good deal. He also organized his own driver, Paul, to pick me up at the airport and transport me to the resort AND introduced me to Ibu Nunung in Jakarta, from whom I took my scuba lessons. Very nice.

The first day, I arrived. I learned that Andy, the owner, would be showing up that Thursday. So, upon arrival, I spoke with the manager and extended my stay at WS for one night so I could meet him. No problem. I’d be spending 4 nights at WS and 2 in Ubud.

I showered, changed, sat down by the pool, ate a club sandwich and promptly fell asleep for 3 hours. It was so pleasant.

Dinner was awesome and served down on a deck, among trees bordering the beach and 20 feet from the water. Despite the high prices charged for the hotel rooms, the menu was quite reasonable – and really good. I bought a bottle of decent white wine ($15 - made in Bali), which I had a couple glasses of that night, and finished the next.

I passed out by 9 PM and didn’t wake until 8 the next morning.

I woke up in the morning because I thought there was an animal in my bungalow. I slowly peaked out from behind my mosquito net and, nope, no animal in my bungalow. There was, however, a bunch of black monkeys playing on my roof and on the deck outside. Then I saw this shadow leap up and slap itself against the window three times, screaming, and then jump away. Yep, national park. Black monkeys are very shy though and not aggressive at all, where grey monkeys can be periodically. And they were just playing. I was not worried at all. I did get a good video of one of them though.

Breakfast, also served on the beach deck, was great. Fruit, juice and pastries come with the room, but eggs and such are á la carte. Of course, Indonesian prices - $2.50 for a mixed omelet with roasted potatoes, toast, a piece of bacon, a sausage, a roasted tomato, and a slice of ham. SO good.

Went to the dive center and met my dive instructor – July (a man, but pronounced like Julie). The dive center, by the way, has 2 baby turtles in buckets on their deck. They rescued the eggs and helped them hatch, but the turtles are still too small to be released into the ocean. Another month they said. The little guys were each about the size of a Big Mac.

Thirty years old, Indonesian, with shaggy, longish hair. Walks around all day barefoot, in board shorts and no shirt. Multiple tattoos. Permanently bloodshot eyes. Speaks good English. Big smile and loves to laugh and joke. Has been the head dive instructor at Waka Shorea for the past 5 years (since it opened). He is from a local village and lives there with his girlfriend – coming to the resort every day by boat. July is awesome.

Anyway, I stayed at Waka Shorea for 4 nights – 3 full days. Each of the full days, I had a great breakfast, went scuba diving at 10 AM (2 dives), back by 2 or 3, showered, cleaned up, relaxed and had dinner. It was really a great life.

Scuba diving rocks. It’s a totally different world. And this area literally rivaled Finding Nemo. There were so many fish, it was so cool. There were millions of fish all over, big, small, so many. Lobsters. Sea horses. Bright colored fish. Camouflaged fish. Corals of all different shapes, sizes and colors. Garden eels. Garden eels are really cool. The shrink into their holes as you approach and then come up again slowly after you pass. I’m going to look to see if I can find a picture of them on the internet.

Oh, and lots of my favorites – clown fish. I love watching them play in anemones, in and out, and so brightly colored. And some of them were friendly! I got close enough slowly to a few that they let me touch them and say hello. They swam up to my mask, almost as if they were saying hello. SO GREAT! Unfortunately, at one point while I was checking out a clown fish, my knee accidentally brushed some fire coral. I got a pretty severe burn that blistered over on my right knee. It was worth it though. I love clown fish.

I was only supposed to do 4 dives, but since I extended my stay a night, I got to do an extra 2 dives that 3rd day. So great. I have a new passion!

The third evening/late afternoon I was there, I went walking on the beach in the afternoon. I went down along the shore and sat under a tree. I sat there for at least an hour and a half, just pleasantly enjoying the fresh air and thinking. I was out of sight of all man-made objects and people. It was just me, the water, and the beach. It was very soothing.

Unfortunately, it started to rain. So I went back to the dock and sat on a chaise lounge under a bamboo awning, and continued to be idle. One of the activity center guys, Supar, came over to chat and I invited him to sit down.

Supar is really tall for an Indonesian – probably 5’ 11”. 26 years old. Decent looking. Totally single. He speaks about as much English as I speak Indonesian – which made conversation fun. We taught each other a lot of words. He has also been working at WS for 5 years – as a snorkeling and mountain biking guide.

We talked about his family and his work at WS. He invited me to go mountain biking. I told him I was planning on diving the next day, so it would have to be early in the morning. He said that was no problem, what time? I said, uh, 6:30 AM?

Well, 6:30 the next morning, I was on a mountain bike, off along a trail with Supar. The trail we took was flat with the exception of a few little dips – so it wasn’t a lot of work going up and down hill. But, it was really bumpy and rather slippery. There are a lot of land crabs that make baseball-sized holes all around – that resulted in the majority of the bumps. Then there was one short portion that had a lot of roots.

First we went down one really narrow path (I got scratched enough by the bushes to draw blood on my left arm and leg) and saw the sun rise on the beach. SO beautiful.

We saw monkeys and deer and then, 2 iguanas! So cool. Supar said that was very unusual. It was probably because it was very early morning. One of them was really big.

Then we went all the way down to the closest village and through farm land – banana trees, coconut trees, chili bushes, and a bunch of other crops I didn’t recognize. Past some cows. On to the main road and we stopped at a temple.

Then, much to my surprise, Supar introduced me to his father. His father tends the temple. It’s their family’s temple. His father has a really really great face with lots of character. I wish I could have taken a picture. It was so naturally friendly and wise. And then his mother came around the corner and said hello as well. She then cooked us breakfast of fried rice (most Indonesians eat fried rice for breakfast), served with Sprite. So thoughtful. Not part of the standard mountain biking tour I’m sure.

Did I mention I haven’t ridden a bike since high school, at least? I really don’t remember the last time I rode a bike. Getting started, my right foot slipped and I now have 2 big bruises on my right leg (in addition to the coral burn). Well, I was totally fine all the way out, and all the way back – well, at least until we got back to the resort. As soon as we got back, I promptly took a header. Handle bar in my chest. Also jammed my shoulder and that was stiff and sore for the next few days.

After mountain biking, took a quick shower and then went scuba diving for the final time. I was totally beat that afternoon.

That last night, I went down to dinner and met up with Andy, Ari (Andy’s cousin), Maurice (general manager of all the Waka resorts), and Rafeal (visiting from Spain, a friend of Maurice’s). I was not expecting such a large group.

Andy is Indonesian – a mix of Indonesian and Chinese blood though. About 5’ 9” and 37-years old. Another friendly smile. Went to boarding school in the states, followed by both undergrad and MBA from George Washington University. Quite the entrepreneur and comes from one of those Indonesian families that have all sorts of businesses. His family has an elevator business, a couple of steel mills, a resort, and a few other things. He and his brother run the business. What’s nice is all of the people who work at the resort really liked Andy and kept talking about how much integrity he had – a demanding boss, but rewarding as well. That was very cool. He loves outdoors sports, partying and meeting new people. Always buying drinks for people sitting near or around him or just filling up their glass with the bottle of wine on the table.

We enjoyed the great barbecue served down by the beach and then took a couple bottles of wine and a bottle of champagne out on the dock. We sat on pillows, drank wine and talked. Much of the conversation was about business and ideas about the resort, but it was all interesting and fun. It was a really great evening and I finally retired a little after 1 AM.

Andy had been insisting that we all get up at 7 the next morning for breakfast and then snorkeling (at his favorite snorkeling spot) before I took off to Ubud. I got up at 6 so I could pack and prepare. Of course, everyone was hung over and moving slow (me included) the next day. We didn’t make it to snorkeling before I left – but the (the 4 men) saw me off and went afterwards.

The road to Ubud was very windy. Being hung over with 5 hours of a really twisty road sucks. Andy’s driver, Paul, also took me to Ubud. He’s another cool person – friendly, honest and efficient.

By the time I got to the Guci-Bali homestay, it was about 4 PM. From the street, I was a little concerned that I had made a mistake. There is a tiny cement path pointing the way down a walk and there was a huge tree in the path. The whole thing looked sketchy. But I decided to at least have a look before bailing. The place is totally cool! Gorgeous on the inside. Beautiful gardens.

I met Yuaman, the artist/owner guy (he walks around in a sarong around his waist, no shoes, no shirt). He was watering the garden when I came and promptly showed me to my room. I was supposed to have a bungalow, but they were all full – so I was to stay in a house (normally 40€ per night where the bungalows are 12€). I took the upstairs room in the house – fully open air. Table, chairs. Queen sized bed on one side with mosquito net around it. View of the gardens to one side and un-tamed jungle-y land to the other. It was gorgeous. And the 12 € includes breakfast. Wow. www.guci-bali.com (found through Lonely Planet)

I promptly took a nap on the couch. I really wasn’t feeling very well and think I even had a low fever that afternoon, followed by stuffed-up, coughing and sneezing that night. I think it was just too much sports (diving & biking) the day before followed by a long night and an early morning. I went out that evening just for dinner and then came back and went to bed early.

Ubud is an artists colony in the higher, mountainous area of Bali. It is known for not being touristy, but for being more quaint and for having great shopping. I had no particular goals for visiting Ubud except to enjoy the atmosphere. Well, that and shop of course!

The one thing I did want to see though was the Monkey Forest – a park in the center of Ubud, which is a sanctuary for grey monkeys. Tourists (and there are a lot of them) are warned not wear any jewelry, not to tease or provoke the monkeys and not to hide any food from them (they will find it).

I didn’t wear any jewelry the next morning when I set out from the homestay. And I didn’t buy any food. It was just me with a small purse and bottle of water. I bought a ticket and quietly walked into the forest. Nothing was in view as I came in, but then I turned a corner and saw tourists gathered around an area and monkeys just all around them. Like a hundred of them. Old ones. Young ones. Mothers with babies. They hung out and scampered around, fighting for bits of food brought by other tourists.

I went to a benched area, sat down and just watched. I set my water bottle and papers down next to me on my right side. I hadn’t been there 2 minutes, when one of the older monkeys came up and took the water bottle. He clearly knew to take the plastic top off to get at the water. I just sat and watched. Stunned. I didn’t realize that the monkey would be interested in my water bottle. I thought about helping the monkey open it, but decided against that – it was a wild animal and there was no way to know how it would react.

Well, since I didn’t move or back off, I think the monkey was concerned I might try to take the water bottle back. The next thing I knew, it attacked me! It grabbed my right arm, bit it, and scratched my face. I, of course, shouted “Hey!” and the monkey took off with the water bottle.

One of the local men (a sort of Monkey Forest park ranger – dressed in a sarong and an embroidered polo shirt) came around and surveyed the situation. Looked at me, decided I would be just fine and kind of chatted with me for a bit.

The bite on my arm didn’t break the skin at all. My face kind of stung a little though. A few minutes later, I put my finger up there and felt it – it was bleeding very lightly. I would go seek out some attention after the park. I did sit there and watch the monkeys for a little while longer – all the while being very careful not to all one to come within 6 feet of me. Some of them were really cute though – especially the babies. But not the older, mean ones. Grrrr. Damn monkey.

I stayed maybe another 20 minutes and then walked to the nearest pharmacy. The pharmacist lent me some rubbing alcohol and a mirror and then sold me some iodine. I also just happened to have some antibiotic ointment in my purse (left over from Nias – Wolfgang gave it to me then for my leg). Alcohol, iodine and ointment later, I was all cleaned up. Since it was just a scratch from the monkey’s paw, he said I had nothing to worry about. If it were from a bite, I would need to get a rabies shot and be highly concerned about infections. The scratch would be just fine.

Side note: It is now 5 days later and the scratch is healing just fine. It won’t leave a mark at all.

I spent the rest of the day poking in and out of shops and bargaining at the market place. I did stop and have a really nice lunch including a seared sea scallop asparagus salad, a tempura noodle dish, dessert and a mai tai ($25 total). It was lovely.

Tracy – I ordered the mai tai only because I was thinking about the lunch we had on the north shore of Kauai.

Andy called around 4 and asked me if I would join him for dinner. He would come pick me up in Ubud. I said sure! We were supposed to meet some of his friends, but they ended up being busy. We went to a hole-in-the-wall rib shack just north of Ubud. He said he hadn’t been there for 2 years, but remembered loving the place. It was really good.

We enjoyed beers and ribs and before we knew it, we were hanging out with people from all the tables all around. We had Australians, Brits, Austrians, Indonesians, locals, expats, just a whole big group. We ended up talking and having a wonderful time until 1 AM again. Then Andy (with Paul driving) gave me a lift back to Guci Bali.

Next day, I squeezed more shopping in before hopping a shuttle back to the airport. I loved popping in and out of all of the stores there. Really great boutiques. And I think I pretty much finished x-mas shopping for the year! I know it’s early – but very good prices + cool items = great presents. Plus I won’t have to worry about it in the fall.

Side note: I was chatting with Nenns on IM when I got back and talking about the cool things I picked up for people. She was concerned that I was thinking too much about other people and not getting anything fun for myself. I said, “oh no, don’t worry. One for me, one for the fam, one for me, another for me, one for the fam, another for me!” Just kidding. I did get myself a couple of cool items though.

So, let’s re-cap. On a vacation I planned for relaxation, I have:
- sunburns (really not surprising despite the waterproof 30 SPF coppertone) (also, the sunburns are healing now, so I itch all over)
- 5 open blisters on my feet (the one on my left 3rd toe is infected and orange from all of the iodine I keep putting on it)
- cuts on my left arm (biking)
- a BIG black bruise on the inside of my right thigh (this one looks the worst, but really doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as many of the others) (biking)
- a cut and large bruise on the outside of my right knee (biking)
- a severe coral burn (gotten from a poisonous coral when I was distracted by clown fish) just above my right knee (size of a grapefruit) blistered & swollen
- cuts along my left shin
- cuts on my left arm (bushes while biking)
- tender spots on my left hand where I had to dig 5 small splinters out from under the skin (the dock and the ribs shack)
- my butt (among other things) is really sore from the bicycle seat
- an abrasion and baseball sized bruise just below my right collar bone (biking)
- a very stiff and sore left shoulder (biking)
- AND scratches above my right eye from the monkey

Andy offered me a free massage at the end of my time at Waka Shorea – and I turned it down. It was very thoughtful, but with all of the bruises, cuts, blisters, swollen, and tender spots – I’m not sure what the masseuse would do for an hour. Oh, well – the outside of my right thigh seems to be fine. Maybe they could just work on that for an hour.

Bali was a lot of fun. And I’m proud of my war wounds.

An exhausted, happy Nathalie finished up her vaca in Bali and headed back to Jakarta. Only 1½ weeks left. Pretty crazy. I can’t believe how quickly it has gone and I’m a little nervous about the crazy amount of work I have to finish up. I don’t know really how I’ll accomplish it all.

Bali was an absolutely beautiful place. And if I ever get married – I could see myself renting out all of Waka Shorea and having a very private, small ceremony there, on the beach. That would mean that I have to meet someone I want to marry, but that is just a small detail. The resort is really extraordinary. And Ubud is beautiful and fun as well. I highly recommend both places to people who want a great vacation.

But, what is interesting, is that despite how beautiful it was and how relaxing (and I was catered on hand and foot), it was anti-climatic and almost a bit disappointing after the trip to Nias the week before. The vacation in Bali was beautiful. Nias was really magical. And Nias had so much meaning. While I walked around Bali, I mostly found my thoughts back in Sirombu, re-living moving the families in and seeing the Hinako islands.

Well, I have another week and a half to see what else I can do to help. Indonesia is not over yet! Speaking of which, what am I doing dallying around here? I need to get back to work!