The End (For Now): Bali Beaches & My 3 Day Journey Home…

THE END! Days 97-102 in Southeast Asia (May 1-6, 2016)

Motorbiking Seminyak & Beach Day

Sunday morning, Maddie, Michelle and myself decided to rent a couple of motorbikes for the day. We rented each for 50,000IDR from a place down the road, and filled up on gas for around 20,000IDR. We rode the bikes towards the beach area in Seminyak for a quick breakfast before heading to the beach. The beach was a bit hard to get to from where we were though, and once we got there it was really crowded and not particularly amazing.

We ended up farther down the beach towards Kuta, quite far from our hostel in the end, but lay in the sand and enjoyed the water nonetheless. The waves here are MASSIVE, and it’s not hard to see why people come to Bali to surf. The water is beautiful and the waves are perfect… and it’s cheap for both rentals and lessons. We swam a bit and laid in the sun reading and relaxing, but the wind started to pick up after not too long, and we were getting so much sand all over ourselves that it became more uncomfortable than anything, so we rinsed off in the water and went over to one of the beach restaurants for some lunch and shade.

Motorbiking South to Uluwatu Temple

After lunch, Maddie’s friend Lovi met up with us, an Indonesian girl from Jakarta who had moved to Bali a few months ago for work, and who Maddie met on a backpacker website a little while ago. She offered to guide us to Uluwatu temple in the South of Bali for the sunset, and to take us out for dinner after. After our introductions we hopped on our bikes and hit the road.

The drive took us close to an hour and a half, but there was only really traffic in a few spots, and we got to go on the highway which was pretty awesome…and fast. When we arrived at Pura Luhur Uluwatu, we paid the 30,000IDR entrance fee, and walked through swarms of monkeys (the temple is infamous for them), and down towards the walkway along the edge of the cliff. The entire cliffside is bordered by a retaining wall just low enough to peek over and see the crashing waves far below.

In one direction was the viewpoint overlooking the small temple on the farthest peak, and in the other direction was the temple (which you can’t really enter or get a good look at other things from across the cliff) and the performance area for the dance that takes place each night (if you pay). Every few feet in between the two ends are tons of monkeys ready to pick your pockets or snag your phone or water bottle if you’re not careful… In my experience though, as long as you keep your distance a bit and respect their space (and don’t have food or drinks with you) they’re pretty good and will leave you alone.

Eating Local With Lovi!

After the sunset (which unfortunately wasn’t much to see since it was cloudy all evening) the four of us returned to our motorbikes absolutely famished. Lovi said she’d be happy to take us somewhere cheap, delicious and local for dinner, so we followed her on our bikes and arrived at a little restaurant about 20 minutes or so later. It was somewhere that I probably wouldn’t have picked out on my own, and looked like every other small restaurant in Asia, nothing special. That’s the thing around here though, two restaurants side by side may look exactly the same to any tourist, though one might be the best spot in town and the other might be infamous for getting people sick.

Only the locals really know the difference, and without Lovi it surely would’ve felt like a gamble. The place was busy though, which is always a good sign, and we had faith that Lovi wouldn’t take us somewhere she wasn’t proud of. Once we opened the menu, it all made sense. Everything looked amazing and it was SO CHEAP. There wasn’t a single item over 30,000IDR ($3.00CAD), and most were closer to 10,000IDR ($1.00CAD). I ordered a soup with beef balls and noodles recommended by Lovi, while Maddie got the spicy tempe and tofu cakes with rice, and Michelle a fried rice dish with seafood.

Everything was delicious, so much in fact that we each ordered a second dinner, along with a homemade iced tea and a dessert, which was a fruit bowl sweetened with milk and sugar, and a frozen scoop of ice and frozen milk in the centre slowly melting, creating a sweet cold soup that I would never have tried or thought I’d enjoy had Lovi not been so insistent. She also insisted on helping us book a place in Kuta for the following two nights since she works for a booking agency, and got us a great deal on a hotel room right by the beach.

By the end of the meal I was stuffed, satisfied, and thrilled having spent a grand total of 37,000IDR ($3.70CAD) on the entire meal and drinks. We thanked Lovi for the amazing food experience and help finding us a hotel in Kuta, and got back on our bikes to head to our hostel, which was still about an hour away. When we arrived at our hostel, bellies full and hair a mess from our long day of beaching, temple-ing and motorbiking, we showered and went to bed, exhausted and ready to check out the famous Kuta beach the following day.

A Bitter Taste Leaving Seminyak

In the morning, we returned our motorbikes, grabbed breakfast, and checked out. Unfortunately I’ll have to say that I was not impressed with the customer service at the hostel (Capsule, New Seminyak). The day before I had woken up to find that my rental towel (which are 10,000IDR plus a 50,000IDR deposit) was not on the hook by my bed where I had left it… And after remembering that a really obnoxious girl had checked into the bed above mine the evening before (she left “personal” garbage everywhere and was so incredibly loud nobody could sleep), I noticed the corner of a towel hanging from her bunk and got curious… Sure enough, it was mine (they pin small tags on the towels with names on them so you know which is yours).

That day I went straight to the reception and explained what happened. They told me I had to pay another 10,000IDR for a fresh towel but after explaining again that I wouldn’t need a fresh towel had she not used mine, they said they’d charge the fee to her room key, and gave me a new towel. Now however, at check out, they were asking for the money saying that the girl checked out just before me and denied stealing my towel, so they did not charge her for my replacement. I told them that of course she would deny stealing it, but that I had no reason to lie and they already agreed to not charge me when I spoke with them the day before.

I asked if they really wanted to make a customer unhappy over the equivalent of one dollar, and the man at the desk was incredibly rude and told me either I paid or it would be deducted from his salary… so of course I paid, and got out of there as fast as possible. I also should mention that the girl had left her key card on my bed and I returned it to the front before all of this, which saved her from paying a 50,000IDR lost key fee… Karma messed this one up.

Kuta Beach, Please!

Anyways, I was annoyed but decided not to let it ruin my day, and we hopped in a taxi for about 30,000IDR to take us to Pop! Hotel on Kuta beach, the place Lovi had booked for us at dinner the night before, which was really nice and clean with aircon for only 9300IDR each per night ($9CAD),and we all would be sharing one big bed, but since we had good aircon we really didn’t mind. At 2pm, Maddie and Michelle’s friend Kara from Australia met up with us at the hotel and the 4 of us went to the beach for some relaxing time in the sun.

This time I opted for a chair, which kept me from being plastered in sand and made the perfect spot for an afternoon snooze.

Afterwards we went for dinner with Kara, and grabbed a few beers before heading back to our room to clean up and get ready to meet Lovi for drinks. The 5 of us went to Alleycat, a famous backpacker bar for a few cheap drinks before heading to another club in Kuta. It was fun, but a fairly quiet night in Kuta from what we had been told to expect.

On our way back towards the hotel at nearly 2am, we passed Sky Garden, one of the biggest and best clubs in Bali, but we knew it was expensive so hadn’t gone in earlier. When we went up now to see just how expensive, we were given free entry by a guy in front of us… I’m still not sure but I’m pretty confident that he worked there and heard us say that we weren’t going in when we found out it was 150,000IDR, ($15CAD). We went into the labyrinth of a club through several areas with different music and DJs before deciding that the rooftop seemed like the most fun. We danced and sang til 4am when the place started dying down, and eventually found our way back to the hotel.

My Final Beach Day & Surf Lessons!

The following morning I peeled myself out of bed early enough to get to the beach for a full day in the sun… Today would be my final day, not only in Bali, but of my entire trip before starting the journey home the next morning. Michelle joined me on the beach and we grabbed a couple of chairs and a couple of coconuts as we chatted with some local kids who were assigned to practice their English with tourists on the beach. They were so shy and far too sweet, we couldn’t say no. We talked, took photos with them and they thanked us for our time.

We also chatted for quite a bit with Jaya, or J as he prefers to be called, one of the young Balinese men running the surf lessons nearby. He made us promise to take lessons from him later on and we agreed since it was something we had planned on doing anyways. We also taught him how to speak Canadian… So now he knows the proper use of “eh?” in a sentence, as in “know what I mean?” or “right?” and we made him promise that the next time he met a Canadian in Bali he’d say, “It’s really hot today, eh?” We all laughed as he practised it with us.

After relaxing for most of the day in the sun, we met up with Maddie and grabbed lunch at the restaurant across from the beach before heading back to test the waves. The 3 of us agreed to pay 130,000IDR each ($13CAD) for an hour lesson, each with our own instructor and including rentals. J let me wear his shirt that said Let’s Go, and Maddie and Michelle suited up in bright yellow tops. We looked like superheroes… though we were all fairly confident we were about to make asses of ourselves.

We practised first on land getting up on the board and Mo, Amed and J laughed as they ordered us to do pushups on the boards until we got it right. Finally, we went out in the water. It was already around 4:30pm, and the waves were getting decently big for someone who has never surfed before. Maddie and Michelle had tried once before in Europe but claimed that they barely got up at all, and suspected that today would be no different. J reminded me of the steps as he helped push me out into the water, far more confident than I was in my abilities, but I figured I’d give it my best shot so at least I could say I tried…

I KILLED IT! J let go and said “UP!” and I stepped up on the board from my stomach into a low squat as the wave pushed me along. Maddie and Michelle cheered me on all the way to the beach until I stepped off of the board onto the sand, barely able to comprehend that I had ACTUALLY just surfed without injury. Not only that though, I was actually pretty good! It felt natural, and I swam back out on my board to J who told me how great I did… I told him it was only because I had such a good teacher.

I climbed back on and tried again, I stood up and made it once again the full way to the beach. Michelle and Maddie yelled a lot of “What the hell!?”s as I laughed, hardly believing it myself. Soon though, Maddie got up as well and by the end of our lesson Michelle was right there with us. I had only fallen 3 or 4 times (and taken one hard hit upside my chin after turning the board sideways in front of me accidentally) by the end of the lesson.

It actually lasted over an hour and a half even though we only paid for an hour, but the guys kept telling us “one more!” every time we fell, and as the sun began to set we made one last go, and called it quits, entirely exhausted. We thanked the guys, who invited us to come back to the beach for guitar, music and drinks later, but it was already getting late and I knew that I still had to pack for my flight and get some rest once we showered and had dinner.

We grabbed a bite nearby, shopped a bit, got some dessert to celebrate my last night in Bali and went back to the room. I packed, prepared and got some rest, knowing I had a long trip ahead of me.

Goodbye, (For Now)

In the morning I said my goodbyes to Michelle, who would be staying another 10 days or so in Bali before heading home, and Maddie, who I had spent the last 102 days with since Jan 23 when we left Toronto together. She would now be continuing her travels without me through some more of Asia and likely Australia, with an unknown return date as of yet.

It was a bittersweet goodbye as I tossed my luggage into the back of the taxi, though as sad as I was that my trip was over, I knew what I had waiting for me back home, and it was hard to feel anything but excitement for it. Besides, if there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that this won’t be my last trip, and that going home was more of a refuelling period than an “end” to my travels. I think the goodbye might actually have been harder on Maddie than myself, only because she knew that once Michelle left, she’d be alone for real, but I told her she’d be okay, and to try not to lose or break anything without me around to look out for her. If there’s one thing she’s proven to me over our time together though, it is her independence, and I have the utmost confidence in her ability to survive, flourish even, as she continues on after we’re gone.

The taxi dropped me off at the airport some 30 minutes later (on the meter for only 30,000IDR) and I took a deep breath as I walked into the terminal, excited and terrified for the journey ahead of me. If you’re wondering what the terrified part is about, I can assure you I have no fear of flying, nor of being patted down at security (which is always very thorough after my insulin pump is brought into the mix).

My 63hr 55min Journey Home

I was terrified because once my flight left at 12pm, I would be beginning the 63 hour 55 minute journey to Toronto… Yes, that’s right. I would spend the next 3 full days almost between flights and airports… and no this has nothing to do with time changes, this is based on actual hours counted. Trust me, I checked three times. Of course I have no one to blame but myself for the madness ahead of me, since I alone made the decision to book a round trip ticket to Bangkok initially, and fly now from Bali to Bangkok the day before so that I’d make my flight with plenty of time to spare.

The strategy was purely because of money of course, and I would plan it the same way again in a heartbeat knowing that I saved nearly a thousand dollars by doing so. Still, 64 hours to Toronto is a damn long time for someone who has self diagnosed mild A.D.D. (I actually have been told by my mother that several teachers throughout my youth had mentioned that I seemed to have trouble paying attention, keeping focus and sitting still, but that there was no reason to seek help or medication since my grades never suffered… Which seemed to require hours and hours more than other students to complete the same tasks, possibly making me the hard worker I am today, and resulting in my task-oriented nature in art, photography and writing… You’ll never find me bored or truly relaxing. If i am, I’ll find a book.)

Anyways… Like I was saying, 64 hours.

First was my flight from Bali to Bangkok (DMK, the smaller airport in Bangkok, not the one I’d be leaving from the next day). The flight was only about 3 hours 15 minutes and I arrived at DMK at 2:15pm, Bangkok time (an hour behind Bali time). My next flight would leave the following morning at 8:55am, giving me  18hrs and 40mins to get to BKK airport and sleep. I ended up stuck in line at arrivals at DMK until nearly 5pm, and luckily had the company of Isabel, a girl around my age from Amsterdam who was heading home after 10 months of travel. Her company was the only thing stopping me from ripping my hair out in the time we spent in line.

Afterwards, we grabbed our bags and went to the shuttle bus, which leaves every 30 minutes-1 hour from DMK to BKK and is completely free with proof of another flight. The shuttle took almost 2 hours in traffic, and finally at nearly 8pm we found ourselves sitting in BKK eating some overpriced and much needed dinner. Afterwards, we slept in a quieter area of the first floor across some benches until Isabel left to check in for her flight at 11pm.

I said goodbye, thanked her for her company, and went back to sleep under my sarong until around 5:30am. When I got up, I waited in line for 2 hours, checked in,  went through security and border control and finally got into my gate, just in time for the first leg of my flight to Helsinki, Finland. The flight would be 10h 10min, followed by a 16h 55min layover overnight. Next would be my flight to London Heathrow Airport which would take only 3h 10mins, followed by a 4h 5min layover and a final flight to Toronto for 7h 40min… for a grand total of 63h 55min. I would then arrive at the airport in Toronto at 3:55pm, May 6 (I will have slept 3 nights basically but gained a day because of the 12hr difference from Bali).

Realistically, the flights were all nice and I don’t have much to complain about. I spent most of the time sleeping, reading, writing or watching movies, and a small portion getting excited to arrive in Toronto, but I tried to cut that off quickly so I didn’t make the flights feel even longer for myself. Call me Viktor Novorski, because I feel like my home is now between airports (that’s a reference to Tom Hanks’ role in The Terminal, one of my favourite movies, where a guy is stuck living in an airport for months… Watch it if you haven’t).

Home Sweet Home

Getting home was bittersweet. I have missed my family, my friends, my Alex and my dog Marley more than I can put into words, and I have even missed my Jobs, both as an artist as well as my part time gig at The Beer Store, where I have a boss whom I love like a big brother and awesome people I have the pleasure of calling both my coworkers and my friends. I’m sad to leave Asia, but I’ve definitely got unfinished business here and I know I’ll be back in no time. For now it’s time to recharge (mentally, physically and financially) before I hit the road on my next adventure.

Never Have I Ever…

So here I am, 104 days later after spending 101 days backpacking my way through Southeast Asia, looking back at how much I’ve seen, done and felt, so much of which I had never experienced before… Have you ever played the drinking game “Never Have I Ever”?… Here’s how it works: The verbal game is started with players getting into a circle. The first player says a simple statement starting with “Never have I ever”… anyone who HAS done what the first player stated they have not done, has a drink… My mission if you will, is to have to drink for just about everything… I want to have done it all! I used to live in a very small world, as most kids do, unaware of how much more there is to life than what we see on a day to day basis, and there were a lot of things I could say “never have I ever” about. Today, that list is shorter than ever, and still shrinking. Here it is, the good the bad and the ugly, every major new experience of my trip through Southeast Asia.

Today I can no longer say, “Never have I ever…”

Partied on the famous Khao San Road in Bangkok drinking booze from a bucket.
Eaten scorpions, crickets, entire fried fish (including the head and skeleton) and larvae.
Gotten a massage for $6.
Taken the sky train in Bangkok.
Seen the city of Bangkok from one of the highest points at a skybar.
Cliff jumped at the Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai.
Watched a Thai boxing match.
Played with elephants in a rescue centre.
Climbed a “Sticky Waterfall” with my bare hands.
Taken a Thai cooking class.
Swam in natural hot springs and played in the mud.
Watched the sunset from the Grand Canyon in Pai.
Had a friend smoke a cigarette out of my spacer (earring) hole on a bet.
Survived a two hour freezing cold bike ride in the mountains of Northern Thailand after dark.
Learned to ride a motorbike and driven hundreds upon hundreds of km by the end in almost every country we visited.
Spent the night in a Laos hospital after a nearly lethal food poisoning & low blood sugar combo.
Seen countless caves and waterfalls that were unlike anything back home.
Visited probably hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu temples boasting incredible architecture and artwork.
Taken a two day slow boat trip across a border.
Gone tubing down a winding river between the mountains in Vang Vieng.
Been in a hot air balloon in Vang Vieng above limestone karsts.
Dealt with the backpacker nightmare that is bedbugs.
Haggled my way through tons of markets and shops for the best deal.
Hiked for two days through rice terrace-covered mountains in Sa Pa.
Caught a peeping tom using a camera through a window in our bathroom.
Jumped off of the second story of a boat on the Castaways Tour in Halong Bay.
Gone tubing between the karsts in Halong Bay.
Helped several friends through awful food poisoning episodes.
Taken a paddle boat ride through Trang An Grottoes under low caves and between giant mountains.
Walked up thousands of stairs and rocks collectively to see the best temples, waterfalls, caves and viewpoints.
Walked through part of the longest dry cave in Asia and floated in the mud in one of the longest wet caves.
Went down the longest zipline in Vietnam.
Gotten clothes tailor made in Hoi An.
Trusted total strangers and new friends with my most valuable possessions (which never backfired).
Learned about the history of different countries from locals and tours.
Accepted free motorbike rides from strangers.
Went canyoning (waterfall repelling) in Da Lat.
Watched a movie at a cinema in Ho Chi Minh City.
Got my debit card swallowed by an ATM, and then got it back from a bank in Cambodia.
Educated myself on the tragic history of Cambodia at S-21 and The Killing Fields.
Suffered a sand fly attack in Koh Rong.
Driven a motorbike through an abandoned resort on a mountain.
Stood in awe before the Temples at Angkor in Siem Reap.
Watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat.
Slept in countless rooms with no air conditioning, flushing toilets, toilet paper or soap… And one with cockroackes.
Watched the sun rise and set over the karsts on Chiao Lan lake (Khao Sok National Park) from a boat.
Rock climbed on natural rocks/cliffs in Ton Sai.
Celebrated Thai New Year (Songkran) in a country-wide water fight.
Stood on Maya Beach from Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Beach.”
Completed my PADI Open Water course, and went diving 6 times including 2 fun dives after the course.
Got a bamboo tattoo on Koh Tao.
Survived the Full Moon Party In Koh Phangan.
Celebrated Passover with a Jewish friend.
Learned to speak a bit of Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, Khmer, Indonesian and even Hebrew.
Climbed a mountain/volcano in Bali before breakfast.
Navigated my way alone by motorbike through Bali in the dark.
Successfully tried surfing the famous waves of Kuta, Bali.
Survived a 64 hour journey home to Toronto.
& made a ton of lifelong friends from all over the world who I hope to see again someday…

Looking Back

In the end, my most fond memories aren’t the ones you’d expect. Not watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, the view from on top of the Mount Batur at sunrise, or the gorgeous beaches of Thailand, Cambodia and Bali… What I’ll remember the most from this trip are the people I’ve met, and the in-between moments in which I felt myself growing and changing into a smarter, stronger version of myself, trying something I hadn’t before or taking risks and putting my faith in the unknown.

To me, the trip meant a lot of things. It proved to me that after a year of saving and pinching pennies on a lower income than most of the people I know, even I was able to make this dream a reality, something that I knew was possible but had heard so many people say they could “never afford” that it seemed like it may be beyond my reach. It also proved to me that wherever you go in the world, you will never be truly alone, and that if you’re open to it, you’ll find that friends are all around you. I can say today that I have friends from all around the world… In Alaska, Israel, Texas, Germany, Scotland, England, Wales, Amsterdam, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, The Czech Republic, New York, Romania, Bali, and all over Canada… Each of whom I met while travelling, and has stolen a small piece of my heart… You all know who you are.

Some of my best days were spent playing cards or sitting in restaurants chatting with people I never would have met had we not all been travelling, learning not only about the country we were both travelling through, but also about their home country as well.

The trip also confirmed to me that even as a diabetic, long term travel is possible. I haven’t yet worked out the logistics for timeframes exceeding 3-4 months, but I now know that even with nothing but my backpack, I can make it happen for at least that long, which isn’t something many people would try to do with a preexisting condition that requires so many supplies and so much work. Lastly, it confirmed something that I had already learned in meditation back in India, and have continued to grow from since… The fact that once we accept impermanence in all things and work towards breaking down our egos, happiness will follow. Happiness is not a big mission, checklist, dollar amount or “thing,” it is predominantly a matter of the mind.

Outside The Palace

One of my friends whom I met in Thailand sat beside me one day and introduced me to a simple concept that changed the way I thought about travel. He looked at me and said “Would you rather live inside the Palace, or across from it?” At first I didn’t understand the question… And with a puzzled look on my face he elaborated (and I am paraphrasing), “The people inside the Palace never really get to appreciate the beauty of where they live, they’re stuck inside most of the time without any reason to leave, and when they look out the window they look down upon the other people of the city, from the middle class to those living in poverty… But the people across from the Palace would wake up every day with a million dollar view that cost them nothing. They are surrounded by other people, often unaware of the “poverty” around them from up close, living happy lives outside of the Palace walls.”

As I have travelled, I’ve heard the words repeating in my mind daily. I have stayed in places that cost me an average of $10 per night, some that felt like luxury suites, others with cockroaches.

In the end, I spent more time outside than anywhere else, especially when our rooms were “modest”… It’s easy to believe that the more we have, the happier we’ll be, but it’s simply not the case. I’ve seen kids running around with nothing but a few makeshift toy cars made of water bottles, caps and string, laughing and smiling far more than any kid I’ve seen with an ipad back home. I’ve seen people celebrate their faith in the most modest ways possible, having little more than a shrine of flowers and a small statue in place of a grand temple, happy as can be… and I’ve spent some of the best days of my trip in modest bungalows without air conditioning or flushing toilets, playing cards and talking to some of the best people I’ve ever known, truly as happy as I’ve ever been.

Once we remove the idea that MORE stuff will make us MORE happy, we realize that once you’ve got the essentials, the rest is gravy. Sure, some extra above what you need is nice, but you must always know when you’re crossing from need to want. Somehow, awareness alone of how much we have that we WANT vs. NEED is already something that changes one’s view of the world for the better. Suddenly the pressure for a better job, bigger house, nicer car, better clothes, bigger paychecks, fancier hotel… It fades away, and what is left is a life in which you are free to live without constant fear that NOT having these things will damage your reputation/status/ego, making others believe you to be less happy because of it, and also leading you to believe that you’re unhappy because of the things you lack that others have and believe you should want too.

Only once we remove our desire for the undefinable and never ending “more” from the equation, knowing that the only thing that matters is each present moment, can we find contentment and peace. No ego, no attachment to the past or future, just pure present joy… from outside of the Palace.

I can’t begin to explain how much I’ve learned in the past 104 days about myself and others, individuals and countries, old friends and new friends… but I have grown immensely, and this trip won’t be something I’ll ever forget. Even more importantly… It won’t be my last.

Where to next, you might ask?… I guess I’d better start dreaming!

Nusa Lembongan: Diving & Sunsets & Meeting Michellle in Seminyak

Days 94-96 in Southeast Asia (April 28-30, 2016)

Ubud to Nusa Lembongan Island

After finally getting a full night of much needed sleep since our mountain climb, Maddie and I were ready to leave Ubud (well, as ready as anyone ever is, so not at all…) and head to Nusa Lembongan, a small island to the East of Bali (still part of Bali), just off the coast near Sanur. We booked a shuttle bus to take us to Sanur (through our hostel) for 60,000IDR ($6), and we arrived an hour or so later at around 1:30pm. When we got to Sanur, we went to a booking agency nearby and booked the ferry that would take us from Sanur to Nusa Lembongan.

The ferry cost us each 515,000IDR ($50) for an open ticket, round trip to the pier at Jungutbatu (the village/beach area where we wanted to stay). At 3pm the ferry left, and only took about 30 minutes to get us to the island. When we arrived, we were provided with “free” transportation to the home stay we had looked at ahead of time online, however when we were dropped off, the driver was insistent that we pay him 50,000IDR each, which was not what we were told. We were prepared to walk the 1 and a half km or so to the home stay, but the man running the booking office at the pier told us that our ticket included a taxi to our accommodation, and to hop in.

Normally I wouldn’t make a huge fuss over a matter of $5, but honestly we had very little money on us, and weren’t sure if there were ATMs anywhere nearby. Plus, we had made it clear that we were going to walk if the taxi wasn’t free. Eventually, the driver gave up after asking us one final time to pay him, to which we replied “Sorry, no. The man at the office must have made a mistake and told us it was free. We are not paying.” I felt bad, but also frustrated at the situation, especially since the ticket for the ferry was so insanely expensive (all of the ferries around Bali are).

Booking A Dive & Sunset On The Beach

After we settled into our accommodation for the night (at Surya Home Stay, which cost us each 105,000IDR ($10) per night for a private air con room for the next two nights), we walked just across the street and down the road to Blue Corner Dive, a dive shop that had been highly recommended to us, run by Canadians apparently. We booked ourselves for two fun dives the following morning with a guide. We were really excited to put our new PADI Open Water Certification to use, and to hopefully see some sea turtles or manta rays, which are very common here.

Unfortunately, the dive shop said that because the swells were so high in the water at the moment, there were no mantas and very few turtles, but that the reef and fish were still beautiful, and more than  enough reason to go diving… We didn’t take much convincing. We grabbed a bite to eat at the dive shop after booking, walked along the beach for a beautiful sunset overlooking Bali and Mount Agung in the distance, and called it a night, enjoying the Wifi and air con back at our room and resting up.

Diving With Blue Corner Dive

The following morning we went to the dive shop at around 10, and got our equipment together and ready to go. The boat left at 11am and was back around 3, and it cost us a total of 1,165,000IDR ($110CAD) including equipment rental, for two dives (about 45 minutes each), and lunch. We excitedly hopped on the boat with Eka, our guide, and a few other groups of divers and instructors.

Eka would be guiding us as well as a couple of other divers, one who we quickly realized had little experience or natural talent for it. Our first dive site was Buyuk, near Nusa Pedina (a larger island, right beside Nusa Lembongan), where we saw incredible sloping reef and magnificently coloured fish for the entirety of the dive. We even saw a lion fish, and several “Nemo” fish.

I also saw a trigger fish, huge colourful fish that are extremely territorial and will swim at you quickly and aggressively, even bite you if you appear to be getting too close… I was. Eka swam up behind me as I started kicking to swim backwards away from the fish as it charged towards me, and signalled to me to stop kicking. He slowly pulled me back, and the fish backed away. My heart was pounding, but after a few minutes I shook it off and continued to enjoy the dive.

The only part about the dive that wasn’t spectacular (because it really was spectacular) was the other pair of divers with us. The woman diver was extremely inexperienced, and I think it may have even been her first dive, so Eka spent the entire dive following her where she drifted (the current was strong), and signalling for us to follow him, so we basically spent the dive following her and Eka, and cringing as we watched her kick the reef with her fins and stir up tons of debris, scaring away the fish and damaging the aquatic life below. It was painful to watch. The first dive was 45 minutes, and our maximum depth was 16m.

Afterwards, we went for a boat ride and sat around for an hour enjoying lunch before suiting up for our second dive at Mangrove Point, off of Nusa Lembongan. The second dive was even more beautiful than the first, and while we didn’t see any sea turtles or manta rays, we did see a moray eel and a massive puffer fish, along with several beautiful sea anemones, and reef that just cannot be captured properly with a photograph. We stayed down for 40 minutes at a maximum depth of 15m and then made our way back to the boat, impressed,  amazed and wishing we had enough time and money to do it again every day for the next week.

An Evening At The Beach

After cleaning up back at our room, we walked down the beach for dinner and watched the sunset from a nice restaurant we found nearby. We relaxed and listened to the music for a bit before walking back towards Blue Corner, where we stopped at another restaurant that had cheaper beers, and sat to enjoy a few.

Not long after, a couple of guys joined us at our table and introduced themselves. Janes (from Germany) and Alex (from Maryland, USA, but also with a German speaking family) had met on the road and been travelling together for the past little while. We chatted and drank, and made our way over to Blue Corner Dive, where everyone seems to go on Fridays on the island.  We grabbed a few more Bintangs and enjoyed chatting until fairly late. Eventually though, Maddie and I were crashing after such a long day in the sun and water, and we decided to say our goodbyes and head back.

Mission to Seminyak

The next morning, we packed up our bags and arranged our return ticket to Sanur. The 30 minute ferry left at 9:30 and arrived not long after 10. I’ve honestly really grown fond of ferries/speedboats.  I have learned that relaxing up top (when it’s allowed), listening to my ipod and feeling the warm sun and cool breeze has proven to make for a very peaceful ride.

Today was no different, other than a Chinese couple who were so obnoxious they had everyone on the upper deck infuriated. For the first half of the boat ride they sat across from each other (about 10 feet apart), each on one side of the boat, taking photos of each other… hundreds in the same pose, with the camera volume so loud it was audible even over the wind and waves… but whatever, who am I to judge? Take your photos, do your thing… Then the ride got bumpy.

The girl started yelling and screaming, scared of the waves, and honestly looked like someone out of an old school horror movie; hands on her face, crying and screaming and laying dramatically on the deck. Her presumed boyfriend decided to walk across the boat to comfort her. I had just turned up my ipod and closed my eyes again, and he stood up, started walking across the deck, and FLEW across to the other side because of the waves, landing with one foot forward… all of his body weight… straight on my foot.

I screamed and grabbed my foot as it throbbed, praying that it wouldn’t debilitate me for the last few days of my trip, and saw that he had actually landed so hard that he ripped off the top layer of skin from several spots on my foot. He apologized as the crew members ran over to ask if I was okay, and they then screamed at him that this is exactly why there is no standing on boats while they’re moving.

I was pissed… and within 5 minutes the dramatic girlfriend was smiling again and posing up on the railing for more photos as her boyfriend stood up, AGAIN, to walk back to the other side. I just about lost it as he stumbled back over, and the crew members along with every other passenger yelled for him to sit down. Finally, he did, and I could not get off of that boat fast enough when we reached the pier at Sanur.

Seminyak!

Once we got there, we haggled for a taxi to take us to Seminyak for 50,000IDR each, and just under an hour later we arrived at our hostel, Capsule Hostel (118,000IDR/$11CAD per night for a mixed dorm), dropped off our bags, and went out for lunch and to hang out somewhere until check in opened at 3pm. We sat at a bar/restaurant, ate lunch, read and relaxed all afternoon and finally made our way back to the hostel where we checked in, cleaned up, and waited patiently for the arrival of our friend from back home, Michelle. She would be visiting Bali for the next 2 Weeks from Canada, though of course I’d only be spending a few days with her before I headed back home on my own, and her and Maddie carried on.

We were all thrilled when she walked into the dorm room, and quickly got ready and settled before taking her out to the main street for some dinner and drinks to celebrate. It wasn’t long before the jet lag kicked in though, and Maddie and I were feeling tired as well, so we decided to save our partying energy for another night, and went back to bed at a reasonable time. Maddie and I were very excited for the latest addition to our team, and couldn’t wait to check out the gorgeous beaches around here the following day and to give Michelle her first real taste of Bali.

Ubud: Temples & Rice Fields & Climbing Mount Batur

Days 91-93 in Southeast Asia (April 25-27, 2016)

Motorbiking From Ubud

After sleeping in until close to noon and finally feeling like we had recovered from our long journey to Bali, Maddie and I decided to head down the street to find a motorbike to rent. We had originally planned on renting a car/jeep in Bali for something new and fun to try, but after getting into Ubud, we realized that the traffic here is pretty terrible, and not in the fun way that it can be on a motorbike sometimes weaving around cars, but in a sit-still-in-a-taxi-for-20-minutes and then slowly crawl through traffic and narrow streets kind of way… plus, they drive on the left side of the road here, which is something we’re not particularly used to.

We decided that we would start with a motorbike in Ubud to get used to the driving here, and that maybe later on in the week when we went South we’d re-evaluate and consider getting a car. We rented a bike for the following 24hrs from just around the corner from our hostel for 50,000IDR ($5), and headed North about 45km for our first bike ride through Bali on our way to Pura Ulun Danu Bratan (a beautiful temple by lake Danau up in the mountains). The driving here is gorgeous, lush bright green rice fields on either side of the road for most of the drive, and towering trees filled with massive leaves and vines hanging down over the streets.

On our way headed North, a Balinese man drove up beside us on his motorbike and started waving and smiling at us. We smiled and waved back, and he saw that I had a GoPro and signalled for me to take a photo of him from the back of the bike, I did and he smiled and gave thumbs up, and then proceeded to take a photo of us giving thumbs up as well as we drove by. He asked us where we were going, and I yelled over the name of the temple. He waved for us to follow him, so we did.

As we climbed higher up the mountain, the sky began to cloud over and get quite dark. Soon enough, we could feel a bit of rain. We pulled over at a lookout point that the man stopped at, and got some photos of the view from up on the mountain, not completely sure if we should continue since the rain was picking up and didn’t look like it’d be getting better anytime soon. The man took us to a small stand near the top where he sat with us, bought us each a cup of hot tea and took some photos with us. He even added me on facebook and had uploaded the photos within a few minutes of us sitting down, smiling and laughing the whole time (he spoke extremely limited English).

One of the gentlemen running the stand came out and began speaking to us in English, translating a bit for us as we talked to him and the other gentleman about where we were from and how we were liking Bali so far. We sat for about half an hour and asked him if he thought that the rain would let up anytime soon, to which he replied that it might be a better idea to come back tomorrow… we were disappointed after driving so far (it took us close to an hour and a half to get there) to hear that we might have to turn back. We decided to sit and wait a few minutes, and sure enough the rain started to slow down a bit. We decided we had gotten so close that we might as well try to make it to the temple today, and even if we still had to turn back because it was raining it wouldn’t have cost us much more time than we’d already lost.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan (Temple)

By the time we got to the temple, the sun was peeking out and the rain had stopped. We paid 25,000IDR ($2.50) to get in, and it did not disappoint. The beautiful temple sat on the water perfectly peacefully, surrounded by mountains in the distance around the calm lake, with incredible gardens and trees leading up to the temple that were fit for a palace, perfectly maintained and trimmed with astounding symmetry and attention to detail.

The entire area felt peaceful and beautiful… up until the paparazzi found us. As we took photos of the temple, we were interrupted by groups of young male tourists from Indonesia wanting to take photos with us and ask us where we were from. One of them even asked for Maddie’s name on Facebook, which resulted in about 15 friend requests for each of us the following day… We didn’t mind much though and found it more funny/flattering than anything, though I will still never understand fully why this is a thing around Asia.

As the sun began to set, we decided we’d better hurry back to the bike so we wouldn’t be biking back too long in the dark. It was a chilly ride back without the warmth of the sun, in our shorts and tank tops that were still damp from the ride there. By the time we got back to the main road in Ubud, we rushed to drop our bike off at the hostel and went straight out for a nice dinner and hot tea.

A Night Out In Ubud With New Friends

Afterwards, we sat and had a few beers back at our hostel bar, where we met Ryan (from England) and Christian (from Romania), who had both been travelling for a while (separately) and recently became friends on the road. The four of us decided to walk to Chillout Bar, a 20 minute walk down the road and around the corner, where we had heard they played great music and had decent drinks (and a free shot with every cocktail purchase). We sat and chatted for several hours about travel, life, home and friends. It was a pretty awesome night, and we told the guys about our plan to hike up the mountain in a couple of days, and they said they planned on doing the same, and would hopefully be joining us.

Pura Tirta Empul (Temple) & Tegallalang Rice Terraces

The following morning, Maddie and I headed out to Pura Tirta Empul (the famous temple in Ubud with the holy fountains for bathing) about half an hour by bike from our hostel. We paid 15,000IDR entry, though we decided not to bathe and just to watch, knowing that we had a lot we wanted to see that day and not a ton of time to do it.

Our second stop was Tegallalang rice terraces, some of the most famous in the area, only about 15 minutes away by motorbike. We drove to the street that my map said the terraces were on, and ended up walking down a little dirt path to try to find them behind some houses. Sure enough, when we came out the other end of the path we could see them, though I think we may have entered through someone’s actual backyard and maybe missed the real entry point. Regardless, we walked into the fields and along the edges of the terraces, enjoying the view and taking photographs.

The terraces here were a much different experience than those in Sa Pa. They were smaller, on hills rather than mountains, and lush green with rice in all stages of growth (whereas Sa Pa wasn’t peak season while we were there, so the rice had either not yet been planted, or only small buds were visible). Also, the terraces here were surrounded by jungle and palm trees, and the sound of cicadas and other wildlife filled the air. This is the Bali from the postcards.

Solo Mission to Pura Taman Ayun (Temple)

After the rice terrace, Maddie was feeling pretty tired, and it was almost time to return our motorbike, but I still really wanted to see some other temples. I renewed the bike on my own for another 24hrs, dropped Maddie off back at our hostel, filled up on gas and zipped off towards Pura Taman Ayun, a temple just under 20km West of Ubud. I was fine to ride the bike on my own, and actually enjoyed having a bit of time to myself, though it got a bit difficult at times when I wasn’t sure where I was going and had to pull over every 5 minutes to check my MAPS.ME app (offline maps… a traveller must-have app that saves my butt on the daily).

I think it probably took me about an hour to get to the temple, much longer than expected, but it was still a beautiful drive and gorgeous weather, so it was hard to be mad about it. The temple cost 20,000IDR entry, and was filled with gorgeous tiered structures throughout the enclosed area. The garden area in front of the temple was full of beautifully set up tables and chairs as hundreds of women dressed in white walked around rehearsing for a ceremony that would be taking place that evening. It was interesting and beautiful to watch the preparations, and had I not been dressed in shorts and a tank top and completely covered in sweat by the time I was leaving, I might have been inclined to stay a while and watch, or even participate in the event if I could.

Almost everyone visiting the temple was accompanied by a guide, including a Canadian couple I met who asked if I’d like a few photos in front of the temple to which I said yes. They were from Toronto, and we chatted for a bit before I went on my way, passing several other tourists and guides along the way.

Several guides stopped and commented as I got on my bike that I was “brave” to be motorbiking by myself through Bali, though I hardly consider it brave so much as something I’ve found essential to travelling if you’re on a budget and want to see as much as possible without paying for a tour guide and transportation. Plus, it allows for flexibility in your plans when you’ve rented your own bike as opposed to hiring a guide/taxi for the day, and I truly believe it to be a much better experience than any other form of transportation as far as sightseeing goes, removing any temptation to fall asleep in a comfy air conditioned van between destinations.

After leaving Taman Ayun, I realized that it was already about 4:30pm, and that I had told Maddie I would aim to be back between 6-6:30 for dinner. I told her not to worry and to just go without me if I wasn’t back in time, knowing how much longer drives take around here than you’d expect, with traffic and winding roads up and down seep hills for much of the drive, not to mention my stopping time to check my map. I had to decide at that time whether I wanted to continue West another 20km or so to see the other temple I was dying to check out, knowing I’d be later than 6:30, or if I wanted to go back to the hostel. I chose the former.

Continuing My Solo Mission to Tanah Lot For Sunset

At nearly 5:30pm I arrived at Tanah Lot (on the West coast, 35km or so from Ubud) as the sun was beginning to set, knowing already that it would be dark by the time I was back. Still, I planned on getting to the temple, taking some photos quickly, and hopefully getting back not too much later than I had originally anticipated. After paying the 30,000IDR entry fee and walking through the main entryway, however, I realized that it wasn’t gong to happen.

The temple was beautiful, parked up on a cliff on the West coast of Bali, surrounded by rocks, both low and high with waves crashing up along the shore, and hundreds of people standing on different dry spots or rocks enjoying the view as the sun lowered in the sky, painting the clouds and the water with light pinks and oranges and blues… taking a few quick photos and running out of there simply wasn’t an option. I accepted that my ride back would be a painfully long and dark one, and I began walking around the temple.

The temple itself is not for entry, but the area surrounding the temple is the main attraction, and visitors may line up beneath the temple to be blessed with holy water and receive a small flower and some rice (I think) pressed onto their forehead if they wish. I had been chatting with a couple of young German travellers by the water and we decided to join the line, originally thinking it was a line to get up inside the temple.

It was still a neat experience though, and we were surrounded by many Indian people who I’m sure travelled to Bali specifically to see the magnificent world famous temples of the predominantly Hindu island (while Indonesia is mostly Muslim population, the island of Bali is unique in that it is almost completely Hindu, making it a popular destination for many Hindus from around the world, and anyone with an appreciation for spectacular temples in general…like me. I chatted for a while with the German gentlemen, and watched as the sun set over the rocks. I took some more photos, watched as thousands of crabs scurried up along the walls of the rocks, almost unnoticed unless you knew to look for them, and finally decided to hit the road at about 6:30pm, when it was already almost completely dark, dreading my journey back.

It took me almost 2 hours to get back, and since I had about 5% battery left on my phone I was basically just slowing down by groups of people and yelling “Ubud?!”, and driving off in the direction they pointed me in, yelling “Sook suma!” (“Thank you!”) as I zipped away, stopping every 20 minutes or so just to make sure I was going in the right general direction… I usually was.

Back to Ubud

Finally, at nearly 8:30, I was back and heard Maddie yell “Oh My God you’re alive!” from the bar, the second I walked into our lobby area… By then she had left and come back from a restaurant where she had sat for some tea and tried to message me, and was getting pretty worried, though she knew I was a pretty good driver and that I DID say it might take me longer and not to worry if it did. Still, we were both equally happy that I had survived the journey back, and went out for some food at a restaurant nearby to celebrate.

Booking Our Tour To Climb Mount Batur

After dinner we hung out at the hostel for a quiet evening since we had booked our mountain climb for the following morning. Climbing Mount Batur in Bali was something I had been planning on doing since before we left Canada, though I’ve honestly been just as terrified about the idea as I have been excited. After my second knee surgery on my left knee in October (and third in total… I’ve also had one on my right knee), it would be really easy (and understandable) to say I couldn’t/wouldn’t do it. However, I know that it really is just a bit more challenging and slightly more painful for me because of it, and that realistically I wouldn’t be messing up my knees much more than they already were.

As for the physical challenge aspect of the climb, I obviously haven’t been training for it, though I do consider myself to be in decent physical shape, and it’s not exactly Everest here… I figured that regardless of what the outcome might be, it was something I wanted to do, and I had to say I tried.

The mountain climb is a popular tour for adventure-seekers in Bali, so it was easy to book it through our hostel. The tour costs 300,000IDR ($30), which is about the same anywhere, and it left at 2am. I was so excited about the hike that I couldn’t really sleep early, and got to bed at about 11:30pm… and was back up at 1:30am to get dressed and ready to go.

Climbing Mount Batur For Sunrise

We left just after 2am from the hostel, and drove North to the base of the mountain, where we arrived at around 3:30am. We were handed our breakfast (which we would eat at the summit), water and a flashlight, and were introduced to our guides: Dede (17 years old), Yuka (19 years old) and another whose name I unfortunately can’t remember because our group was split up a bit. We began the hike shortly after, walking in the cool morning air (though we warmed up pretty quickly) up the gradually inclining path leading up to the mountain.

Christian was also in our group (who we had met a couple nights before, who was lively and provided us with plenty of commentary during both the ascent and descent). At first, it felt like any other walk uphill: slightly tiring, definitely a workout, totally doable. 20 minutes or so later, things got steeper, and 10 minutes after that, it was serious. The path became rocky, and rather than walking uphill we were now actually stepping up, like you would a staircase. We took breaks often for water and to catch our breath, and for the group to all catch up to each other. I was in the middle of the pack for most of the climb, though I’ll admit I struggled during the final third or so, and my knee was in a decent amount of pain.

Yuka could tell at one point that I was struggling, silently stepping up, breathing heavily and looking up ahead at the others who were pulling ahead. He reached down from the step above me, grabbed my hand, and pulled me up a few steps and asked if I was okay… honestly it is something I’ve had to remind myself to do sometimes for others, ask if they’re okay. It sounds silly, but even when you’re not, or maybe you are OKAY but you’re definitely not GREAT, sometimes it is just so nice to be asked if you’re okay and know that someone cares, that it makes the not-being-fully-okay thing seem like it’s not so bad. I smiled and said I was okay, just tired. Yuka held my hand and said “Okay we are past half way there now,” and he continued to update me and the rest of our group on how many more minutes to the top as we went, and held my hand for pretty much the entirety of the second half of the climb, which really helped me out when my knee became so sore that I couldn’t keep my balance while pushing upwards on some of the steeper steps.

As with many of the challenges I’ve had to face in life, I remembered what I learned in Vipassana, “Anicca” (Impermanence)…nothing lasts forever. It wasn’t about how many more miles until we were finished, it was just a matter of hours/minutes, and if there’s one thing  that I learned from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (awesome show on Netflix if you haven’t seen it), it’s that all you have to do is survive the next ten seconds. If you can make it through the next ten seconds, you can do anything. Then you just start on another ten seconds… I counted to 10 a lot during the climb.

When we reached the first peak of the mountain at a stopping place, we sat and watched as a few clouds rolled in above us, blocking our view of the summit. The guides asked us if we wanted to continue to the top for a better view (but only if the sky cleared up for sunrise), or if we waned to stay. A few of the people in our group stayed below with the third guide whose name I couldn’t remember, and the rest of us went on with Dede and Yuka to the top. I’ve always enjoyed gambling, and I figured we had come this far so why not? Volcanic ash…that’s why. The final stretch took us close to 30 minutes of hiking what was basically a vertical cliff covered in ash (the volcano last erupted in 2000) with the odd rock mixed in.

Two steps forward, one step back. Thank god for Yuka, he grabbed my hand again and smiled, and gave me a second wind. I think that my biggest struggle with the climb wasn’t being out of breath, sweaty, in pain or exhausted, it was being okay with the fact that I did need Yuka’s help, and accepting it openly without letting my ego get in the way. I think that sometimes as we struggle we get so caught up in overcoming something alone to prove a point that we forget that it’s okay and even healthy  to ask for help sometimes, and in many cases (including mine) you’ll only make friends by doing so.

Finally Reaching The Summit

After around 2 hours of climbing, at close to 5:30am, we reached the summit. We sat, drank hot tea (served at the top), ate our breakfasts, and enjoyed the view of the lights below us dotting the area around the lake like stars in the darkness, and a small thin trail of twinkling flashlights leading all the way down to the bottom from other groups of tourists making the same climb. Soon enough, the clouds had cleared and the sun was beginning to rise. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and it was made better by the sense of accomplishment we all felt having completed such a tough climb to 1717m. The sun slowly rose in the distance over the clouds, revealing the towering silhouete of Mt. Agung, the highes peak in Bali, and a few distant mountains on the island of Lombok. It was incredible.

The way down was much more enjoyable. Dede and Yuka both helped us as we literally slid (for sometimes several feet at a time) down the volcanic ash, to the crater in the middle of the mountain. I can’t even begin to explain how different the view was from the climb up and at the top. The way down looked like something from New Zealand, rolling green hills for miles around Lake Batur in between the mountains. The crater was massive, and we were surrounded by clouds up at the top. Monkeys followed us along the way and climbed up on Dede who had some treats for them, and we could see the the huge area of land beneath the mountain still completely black from the last time the volcano erupted.

We also made friends with another Canadian on the way down names Kristopher, and the group of us chatted quite a bit over the hour and a half or so it took to get back down, smiling the whole way because we knew that the hardest part was behind us. When we got back to the bottom we took a group photo together in front of the mountain, and thanked Dede and Yuka for being such great guides. I gave them both huge hugs, and told Yuka I was so grateful for his help.

We each took a photo of us together, and I knew that he could tell how much his help had saved me. When we got back in the minivan, we were given banana pancakes and driven back to the hostel (just over an hour).

Post-Climb, Exploring Ubud!

When we got back we were completely exhausted, but after a quick shower I decided that I wanted to go explore some more, since today would be our last chance in Ubud. Maddie slept and I hopped on the motorbike to drive to Goa Gajah (only about 15 mins away). I paid 15,000IDR entry  and walked through the area, which was more of a garden in the jungle than a temple it seemed, but it was beautiful and quiet, which was all I needed.

Afterwards I went to the “Botanical Garden” that I had seen on the map about 20 minutes from Goa Gajah. The last time I went to an actual pay-to-visit Botanical Garden was in Ein Gedi, Israel, and it was one of the most beautiful gardens and walks I’ve ever been on, so I figured I’d check it out. After driving the length of the street it was on twice without luck, I pulled over and looked at my MAPS.ME app…supposedly I was there.

I looked to my left and saw an old farmhouse/shed with a for sale sign… I figured I’d go in anyways to see. The lady inside was as surprised as I was that I had found the place, and I paid the 25,000IDR entry fee, which was actually only 17,000IDR since I didn’t have enough in small bills and she didn’t have enough change for big bills. After paying, she explained to me that the garden had been destroyed a few years ago, and she appreciated my donation to help restore the garden to its former glory… There was no garden.

She said I could still walk back, but to put on some mosquito repellent. I walked back into the incredible jungle behind the building, down the stairs onto the path between the towering overgrown trees and vines, looking up at the lush green that blocked out the daylight… and then I looked down. My entire body was covered in mosquitoes… small and barely noticeable as they bit me, but EVERYWHERE. I swatted them away and within seconds was covered again. I flaled around like a maniac and ran back up the stairs to the building. I told the lady that I was sorry but I couldn’t go in, there were too many mosquitoes.

She apologized and said that I could have my money back if i wanted, but i told her to keep it. She thanked me and said that next time I came to Bali there would be a beautiful garden here… I will certainly hold her to it when I come back.

Ubud Market

After leaving the garden, I returned the motorbike at around 3pm and met Maddie for some late lunch. Afterwards, we walked down to Ubud Market, where I went a little bit shopping-crazy, picking up souvenirs for some of my family. It felt like splurging and still I only spent around $50.

At one of the stands selling coconut oil, I looked up and saw Jess! (Alex’s friend from back home who I had met briefly at the airport). We chatted for a few minutes, and Maddie and I tagged along with them for dinner at a raw vegan restaurant called Alchemy, a 30 minute walk from the market (I was exhausted by this point). It was delicious but a bit pricey, though it finally gave me the chance to meet up with Jess, her boyfriend and her friend who she had been travelling with for the past few months.

We had a great evening and swapped stories for hours before heading back to the hostel and calling it a night. I was very proud of myself, and amazed at the fact that I had made it until past 10pm on 2 hours of sleep after hiking a 1717m mountain for sunrise, visiting a temple and “garden,” motorbiking for over an hour, walking all around Ubud for several hours, and managing to keep myself awake and energized long enough to enjoy dinner with some new friends…
If that’s not a successful day then I’m not quite sure what is.

Full Moon Party In Koh Phangan & Mission To Bali

Days 87-90 in Southeast Asia (April 21-24, 2016)

Preparing For The Full Moon Party

“Today is the day,” I thought to myself, rolling out of bed, sweaty as ever and wishing that air con wasn’t so expensive around here. In less than 12 hours, Segev, David, Maddie and myself would find ourselves a part of one of the biggest and most famous parties on earth… The Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. The party happens every month (during the full moon), and tens of thousands of travellers flood the beach, listen to the DJ’s, drink buckets of cheap Thai booze, dress themselves in brightly coloured clothing accompanied by neon paint… and dance.

I was both excited and also terrified. I’ve seen the photos. I’ve heard the stories… “Wear closed shoes, half of the people there end up with broken toes or stomped on feet…” “Watch the bartenders make your buckets so they don’t spike it with drugs.” “Stick with a buddy, and even then, make a meeting point because you WILL get separated…” “Don’t bring anything other than a bit of cash shoved in your shoe/bra/underwear, half of the people there will have things stolen. Don’t even bring your phone…” “If you take your eyes off of your drink even for a second, get a new one, there are probably drugs in it…” WHAT THE HELL DID I SIGN UP FOR!?…

I’m not typically someone who goes to raves or crazy clubs other than the occasional birthday celebration of a friend, and generally speaking I’m the kind of drunk who just really wants pizza and drinking games with friends. Tonight would be the exception, but I was actually pretty excited. I was slightly worried that Maddie and I would get separated if it was just the two of us, and was so glad that we had the guys to double our odds of not being alone in the crowd. Plus, I’d trust both Seg and David in a heartbeat with my life, my firstborn or my secrets, and I knew that they wouldn’t be they types to lose us or each other and just say “oh well”… They’d want to know I made it home okay, and I think they know I would do the same for them.

We spent the day preparing ourselves, mentally and physically, for the night that would follow. We slept in, had naps, ate, played cards, and made plans to meet up with Preston (who we met in Siem Reap), who said he’d love to come drink with us before the party for a bit, but that he was going with a few of his other friends to the beach, so it wasn’t realistic to try to go as a group of 8-10 people in total, which is totally fair.

By the time Preston met us at our bungalow, the only thing left to do was eat some dinner and grab some glow paint and bright coloured clothes. We ran to the store near our bungalow, suited up, painted ourselves in the lobby while drinking a bunch of cheap booze we grabbed from the 7 Eleven next door, and played some games to get things started.

Full Moon Party!

At close to 11, we walked up the beach a bit towards the hostel Preston was staying at, and met up with his other friends. We continued drinking for a bit, chatted and eventually decided it was time to go. Lucky for us, the hostel was giving out taxi vouchers to the party, and we each grabbed one.

We hopped in the taxi with about 8 other people heading to the party and sang and talked the whole 20 minute ride there through the winding roads and checkpoints leading up to Haad Rin beach, just one taxi in a lineup of hundreds headed the same way. We paid 100B entry, chose a meeting point for 3am for if and when we got separated, grabbed some buckets… and went into the crowd.

It took 5 minutes for me to realize I was the first Full Moon Party scam victim… the bucket I got with sang som whiskey, diet coke and redbull (the ingredients are all sealed in the bucket and the bartenders just mix them together with ice), was actually just redbull and regular coke… you can always trust a diabetic to know when their drink isn’t diet, plus my blood sugar felt high and I wasn’t getting at all drunk which is absurd with a bucket… it doesn’t take long to get you there (they have about 12 ounces of hard liquor in each… I rarely get through one in a night and usually share with someone or ditch it). I was kinda pissed, but it was early and the drinks are cheap enough its hard to be TOO mad.

Seg and I grabbed a new bucket, watched them mix it this time, and started drinking. By the time we got back to the stage we had been dancing on with Maddie and David, they were gone. We didn’t mind though, and knew we had a plan to meet them at 3 by the entrance. We walked along the beach to Kangaroo Bar, where we got a view from above of the whole party… it was like nothing I’ve ever seen, people and lights and colours as far as I could see… I wish I could tell you exactly how the night went from there, but the sang som caught up with me and I’ll have to admit that a lot of the night is a blur for me, and most of the following story is known thanks to Segev’s less foggy memory.

Getting Split Up…

We danced and sang a lot, drank, poked a few bodies we found on the beach to check that they were okay and didn’t need help and eventually, after realizing we were already 15 minutes late, headed to our 3am meeting spot. By then, Maddie had already been sick and David and her were looking for Segev and I. Either we all missed each other somehow, or David and Maddie had left just seconds before we got there. We never met up at our meeting point.

Our backup plan if that happened was to meet back at the same spot at 5am, or just go back to the rooms. Seg and I grabbed food (which I don’t remember at all, but apparently I was the happiest person with a kebab Seg had ever seen), and danced a bit more apparently before hopping in a taxi home, where I fell asleep on Seg and kept waking up and smacking my head on the back of the taxi, giving a few kiwi’s who were sharing our taxi a good laugh. Seg was laughing a lot telling me about it the next day and about my drunk commentary throughout the night.

When we got back, Maddie and David were in the room, both a little annoyed that we missed our meeting time, and very drunk. Things escalated pretty quickly and Maddie went from annoyed to angry real quick. I don’t remember the fight in its entirety, but the guys left to sit in the restaurant, and Maddie lost it on me. A lot of things were said, and hopefully few were truly meant. Eventually, I left the room and Maddie went to sleep. I met the guys in the restaurant, slept in a chair until sunrise when Seg woke me up and put me to bed in the room, and woke up several hours later feeling like I’d been hit by a bus, and extremely hurt by the fight between Maddie and I the night before.

We’ve had our differences throughout the trip, which is fine and even expected when you’re travelling for this long with someone. We’ve even had a few fights that ended in tears, but always decided to stay together in the end. This time I wasn’t so sure what was going to happen. Once Maddie was up though, David told her what had happened, and that she needed to have a talk with me. She did.
Not remembering the things that were said, Maddie apologized, and I cried (which shouldn’t come as a shocker to anyone who knows how I handle confrontation of any sort). We talked for a long time, and it was made clear to me that Maddie is ready to be on her own, which I’ve already known for some time, but now it was said out loud.

Making up & Moving on

We both apologized for the times we had butted heads, and agreed that we still cared about each other, but that it was probably for the best that we’d be parting ways in 12 days, when I’d be leaving her and heading back to Canada, we were getting to that point of travelling with someone else (that happens more often that not), where you grow apart. After talking it through, we decided we both still wanted to spend the last couple weeks together and make it count, putting aside any old arguments or annoyances and just enjoying ourselves. We are still friends and we still care about each other of course, all things aside. We also decided that this probably just meant that we had done the Full Moon Party properly, since our night ended a mess, pretty typical to the stories we had heard leading up to it.

We hugged and made up, joined the guys back at the restaurant, and played cards all day by the beach, relaxing and recovering from the night before, enjoying each other’s company, all agreeing that while the party was crazy and fun to start, it was honestly very overrated, and most of the people there were puking before 1am or passed out on the beach alone, which is more sad/scary than fun.

For dinner, we all went out to a fancy restaurant to celebrate Passover with Segev (who is a Jew from Israel if you didn’t know). It was the last night that the 4 of us would have together before Segev and David left for Koh Phi Phi the next morning at 6:30am, and Maddie and I would leave shortly after to Bangkok (en route to Bali). Seg taught us a bit about Passover, Israel and Judaism, and we chatted for hours before leaving the restaurant.

 

Finally we went back to the bungalow, packed our bags, and played cards by the beach for hours despite our exhaustion from the night before. Eventually Maddie went off to bed, followed by David, and finally Segev and myself, after staying up a bit longer and talking until we couldn’t keep ourselves awake anymore.

Saying Goodbye To David & Segev

Saying goodbye for the second time was no easier than the first, and after only 15 collective days together, I had a best friend who I would love always, from wherever we both were in the world. Seg made me promise that I’d get married asap, and invite him to the wedding so that he’d have to come to Canada, and I also promised that I’d come visit him in Israel when I could, a country that I loved the first time I went and would undoubtedly love the second time even more, especially with Segev as my local guide.

Seg had taught me several words in Hebrew over the past week together, including how to say “I’m sweating,” (pronounced Ani Mezia), which I used most frequently of all. He also taught me how to say hello, mother, thank you, backpack, small bag, sorry, party, farewell, princess and love (Ahava). Whether he knows it or not (though I’m sure he does) he left quite an impression on me, and taught me a lot more than a few Hebrew phrases, which he continues to teach me daily over WhatsApp.

In the morning, we all said our goodbyes still half asleep, and I hugged the guys for what felt like hours before finally letting them leave. Though I had personally spent the most time talking with Segev, I have grown just about as attached to David, who at 21 has seen twice as much of the world as I will have by 25. He is what we call a “social butterfly”, making friends wherever he goes with admirable ease, giving his full attention and affection to anyone he calls his friend, and there are many of us.

He is a hopeless romantic, much like myself, and wears his heart on his sleeve, unafraid to let those he cares about know how he’s feeling. A beautiful quality, though a dangerous one, leaving one open to hurt and rejection, which doesn’t seem to have phased him even after countless backpacker ties and goodbyes. He is like a little brother to me, one whom I admire fully, and who has taught me to continue to live openly and lovingly, without fear of hurt or heartbreak, knowing that the world always has been, and will continue to be a beautiful place, full of incredible people and places no matter what. I will miss them both until we meet again.

Leaving Koh Phangan for Bangkok & Bali

At 10:30am, Maddie and I hopped in a taxi and paid 100THB each to take us to the pier, where we’d catch a ferry for 300THB with Lomprayah at 12pm to Koh Samui (a half hour trip). We then stayed on the same ferry using a ticket we had bought ahead of time for around $70CAD (including a ferry, bus and flight) that continued to Don Sak Pier on the mainland, where we caught a bus from 2-3:30pm to Suratthani Airport, and a flight to Bangkok from 7:30-8:30pm with Thai Smile.

When we arrived in Bangkok, we took the skytrain from BKK to get to Viktoria’s place (Maddie’s friend in Bangkok who we had met up with at the beginning of our trip). The train cost us 87THB each including one transfer, and we arrived at Viktoria’s at around 11pm.

We chatted a bit and showered off before catching a few much needed hours of rest. We slept no more than 2 hours though, up and out the door before 3am in a taxi to take us to DMK airport where we’d catch our flight to Bali which we had booked quite a while back. The taxi was 100THB each, and took about an hour. At 4am, we arrived at the airport, got some breakfast, and checked our bags (which cost us each $41.50CAD… our ticket didn’t include a checked bag).

Finally, at 6:15am, we left DMK on our flight with Air Asia for Denpasar, Bali, (Indonesia). I tried to sleep, despite the couple beside me keeping the window open for the entire 4 hour and 15 minute flight, so I spent much of the flight awake and reading. At 11:30am local time (one hour ahead of Thailand, making us once again an even 12hrs ahead of Toronto time), we arrived at the airport, excited and exhausted for the final chapter of our trip together in Bali.

Getting to Ubud & Making Friends

At the airport, I ran into my boyfriend Alex’s friend from home, who up until now I had only spoken with online. Jess had been travelling the same areas as me for quite a while now, but we always seemed to be missing each other or heading in different directions. Not until I walked up to a “stranger” at the airport to ask if she and her friends wanted to share a cab with us to Ubud, did I get the response “Are you Krista? I’m Jess!”… Sadly, she was headed to Kuta, but is actually going to be in Ubud soon, so I’m hoping we’ll meet up then and finally have that drink we had planned on in Vietnam months ago. Small world.

The next strangers I approached, two Canadian girls from Halifax, agreed to share a taxi with us to Ubud for 100,000IDR (about $10) each for the 1.5hour ride, which took quite a bit of haggling after an initial quote of 300,000IDR (the standard rate for two to Ubud city center). We finally got to our hostel at around 2pm, In Da Lodge, which would cost us 110,000IDR (just over $10) per night for the next 3 nights at least.

The hostel is beautiful, with a pool, a bar and a restaurant, and gardens and trees everywhere. We spent most of the day napping and relaxing, absolutely exhausted from the journey, and went for a bit of a walk around town for some dinner and a beer to celebrate our first night of our long awaited travels in Bali. It is the last country I’ll be travelling through this trip, and I absolutely can’t wait to see more of it. Already I am finding that the people, landscape and food here are easy to fall in love with. Here’s hoping it only gets better.