Archive for ‘Indonesia’

April 8, 2012

The Gilis

by Anna

If Lonely Planet describes Takaka, New Zealand as “laid back to near horizontal,” then I think Gili Air must be upside-down! It is definitely the most laid-back, chilled-out place we have been on our trip and was the perfect remote island destination for the final week of our travels.

“Gili” literally means “small island,” and the archipelago of three tiny islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air, have come to be known collectively as “the Gilis.” They are so tiny that all three have sandy paths bordering their perimeters and can be walked around in about an hour.

One of the most charming (and appealing) aspects of these little islands to us was the non-existence of cars and motor scooters, replaced instead by horse-drawn carts called cidomos, and bicycles…no horns honking, no diesel fumes and no revving engines…just the sounds of coconuts dropping, waves lapping and locals playing the guitar. And if the peace and quiet and coral strewn beaches weren’t already enough, the islands have the added bonus of being surrounded by magnificent coral reefs brimming with fish of all shapes, colors and sizes, as well as hundreds of sea turtles! We could literally walk out of our room in the morning, throw on a snorkel, swim out about 100 feet and almost be certain to be swimming with a giant sea turtle a few minutes later…amazing!

We chose to spend our time on Gili Air, the mid-sized of the three islands  with a reputation for being mellow and relaxing while also having good eating and lodging options. We loved our bungalow at Italian-owned Biba Beach and also loved their super authentic thin crust pizzas! All of the locals who worked there were so sweet, and their friendly smiling faces made the beautiful surroundings that much better. We spent our time reading, lounging, snorkeling, drinking fresh coconuts, eating local curries and chicken sates, taking walks around the island and through the local villages in the middle of the island and watching the sunset. We also spent a lot of time reminiscing about the past nearly 11 months of travels…all of the incredible sites, wonderful and unique people and memorable experiences that we have been lucky enough to share. It was a perfect place for self-reflection.

The boat ride over to Gili Air, balancing on a giant basket of bananas!
Cidomo The “main street” on Gili Air
Johnny getting into the island groove at Biba Beach
Johnny and Juan More delicious banana pancakes!
Breakfast at Biba
View of neighboring islands from Gili Air
Walking the sandy path around the island The beaches were covered in coral
We shared the beaches with cows and a handful of other tourists
Tourism, coconuts and fishing are the Gilis main sources of income Local climbing for coconuts
Beautiful day on Gili Air
The interior of the island was just as pretty as the sandy perimeter
Johnny’s favorite young papaya curry…delicious and about $1.50! Magic Mushrooms, anyone?
The island is well-equipped for sunset-viewing

We also went on a snorkel trip one day to see the coral gardens and other good snorkel spots closer to Gili T and Gili Meno and had lunch on Gili Meno, the smallest of the three islands. Its white sand beaches and even more deserted feel made us wish we could have stayed there a couple nights as well. The snorkeling was the best I’ve ever seen…I couldn’t believe the varieties of coral, quantities of fish and crystal clear waters. We also ended up befriending a German couple on a four-month long travel adventure. They had been in South Africa, India, Thailand and Bali, and were headed for Australia and then California! We had such a good time swapping travel stories and decided to meet up again on our last night for some pizza and Bintangs at Biba.

For our final morning, Johnny and I took advantage of Biba’s prime view of Lombok’s Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s second highest volcano, and woke at 5:30am to watch the sunrise.

Heading out to snorkel with the turtles We saw turtles through the glass bottom boat too
There were also some awesome surf breaks around the islands
Sea turtle nursery on Gili Meno Cidomo on Gili Meno
One of Gili Meno’s lovely white sand beaches
Our last night under a full moon With new friends, Franziska and Dominik
Sunrise over Indonesia’s 2nd highest volcano, Mount Rinjani
April 6, 2012

Paradise Found

by Johnny

Anna and I had envisioned spending the final couple of weeks of our trip lounging on tropical beaches, and we had read that the area around Kuta, Lombok (not to be confused with the party ghetto of Kuta, Bali) boasted some of the best undiscovered beaches in Indonesia. For those who don’t know (I certainly didn’t before researching this trip), Lombok is the island directly to the east of Bali, and, with the exception of Gili Trawangan, is largely ignored on most Indonesia travel itineraries. Thanks to a brand new airport only 15 minutes away, Anna and I were able to forego the 6-hour ferry ride and 2-hour taxi ride previously required to get to Kuta for a $30, 30-minute flight (albeit a pretty bumpy one). We checked into our guesthouse, rented a scooter for the next four days, filled it up with a 40oz of fuel from the kid next door, and set off to explore the coast of southern Lombok. I doubt our pictures or my writing can do the area justice.

The first beach we visited was Tanjung Aan, about 5km east of Kuta, where we posted up at a little beachfront restaurant called Sama Sama and took full advantage of their lounge chairs and fresh coconuts. We had the entire place to ourselves until a couple more tourists showed up in the afternoon. A giant bay with endless white sand and turquoise water, Tanjung Aan was one of the most beautiful beaches we’d ever seen.

On our second day, we drove to the west of Kuta down a dirt road that made South Africa’s roads look brand new to a beach called Mawun, which must be Indonesian for “Johnny’s paradise.” Seriously, it’s like my daydream visions of a secluded, tropical paradise, where rolling green headlands slope into white sand and azure water, materialized right here in the south of Lombok. I could probably search for the rest of my life for a beach as beautiful as Mawun and not find it. And the best part is, with the exception of a couple fishermen, their kids and a couple locals who kept an eye on our scooter, we had the entire beach to ourselves. After a few hours of basking in Mawun’s awesomeness, we navigated our way to an amazing lunch at Astari, where our salads were just as good as the view down the entire coast.

The last (but definitely not least) beach we rode to was Selong Blanak, located even farther to the west than Mawun. However, due to the terrible road conditions, we took a detour inland, passing several tiny villages along the way. Half of the villagers we passed greeted us with blank stares, while the other half (mostly kids) would yell, “Hello Mister!” and try to high-five us as we rode past. Either way, we got the feeling that a couple white people riding through these villages was a rare occurrence. We drove for about an hour, not knowing if we were going the right way, until we finally arrived at Selong Blanak. Hoh-hum…another picture perfect beach we had all to ourselves except for a few local kids having a blast in the water. This time, however, dark clouds came rolling in right after lunch. We tried our best to race home, but as soon as we started up the scooter it just started pouring on us. I’m talking Indonesian rainy-season tropical downpour. Getting drenched to the bone while riding past naked kids playing in puddles was definitely one of those “where are we and what are we doing right now?” moments.

When we weren’t busy exploring the most beautiful beaches in the world, we enjoyed hanging out in the tiny town of Kuta. It’s basically a one-road town right on the beach consisting of a handful of restaurants, shops and guesthouses catering mainly to visiting surfers, a mosque (it was crazy hearing the call of prayer for the first time since Turkey) and a rowdy Sunday market.

With a brand new international airport making the south of Lombok accessible to the masses, who knows how much longer the area will stay “off the beaten path.” One thing’s for sure, we felt lucky to find our own little undiscovered paradise there at the moment in time when we visited. With literally thousands of islands in Indonesia, though, we can’t help but think how many more treasures remain out there waiting to be discovered.

April 5, 2012

Bali Road Trip

by Johnny

During one of our days in Ubud, Madde’s nephew took Anna and I on a driving tour of Bali. Unfortunately, we were both feeling pretty miserable that day and spent most of our time in the backseat blowing our noses, but it was still really cool to get to see some other parts of the island, particularly the tiny villages we passed through in the middle of nowhere.

Our first stop was a nearby coffee plantation, famous for its kopi luwak (aka cat-poo coffee). Similar to Vietnam’s weasel coffee, this coffee is named after the civet (luwak) that feasts only on the ripest coffee cherries. The still-intact beans found in the civet’s droppings are then used to produce a super strong (and expensive!) blend of coffee. While we didn’t get to taste any of this cat-poo brew, we did sample a selection of the plantation’s other coffees and teas as well as tour the garden where they grow all their ingredients.

After getting our caffeine fix at the coffee plantation, we made our way out of the rice paddies and into mountain country, finally arriving at Lake Bratan and its Pura UIun Danu Bratan (aka Temple on the Lake). Built on tiny islands and surrounded on all sides by the lake, this temple has to be one of the most picturesque in Bali. The half-Hindu, half-Bhuddist temple is dedicated to Dewi Danu, the Water Goddess, and ceremonies are held here to ensure an adequate supply of water for the rice harvest.

The undisputed highlight of our tour was the UNESCO-nominated ancient rice terraces at Jatiluwih…which literally translates to “truly marvelous.” Terraces of seemingly every shade of green slope as far as the eye can see, interrupted occasionally by a small temple, shelter or buffalo. Beyond being stunningly beautiful, Jatiluwih is also an example of engineering genius, and Anna and I were mesmerized watching the water move through hand-dug channels and bamboo pipes from one plot of land to the next all the way down the valley.

Next we snaked our way along the road next to the Jatiluwih rice terraces until we reached Pura Luhur Batukau, one of Bali’s holiest temples. After slipping on some sarongs, Anna and I explored the temple (which we had all to ourselves) and discovered similar Hindu-influenced architecture to that which we saw at the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. We also got caught in a little downpour, but sitting under some thatched temple roofs with the rain pouring down only added to Batukau’s spiritual mystique.

Finally, we headed towards the southwest coast to Pura Tanah Lot, one of Bali’s famous sea temples that form a chain along the island’s south coast. Tanah Lot, also Bali’s most visited temple, sits on a large offshore rock that’s been shaped by the ocean tide. While beautiful, Tanah Lot was jam-packed with souvenir stands, touts and other tourists. Anna and I couldn’t make it two steps without being asked to have our picture taken with a group of Asian tourists. Kinda weird. I mean, I know I look just like Brad Pitt, but enough is enough. Maybe we were just cranky from feeling a little under the weather, but we were happy to snap a couple quick pictures and hit the road.

Our driving tour was a great way to see some other areas of Bali…we only wish we had some extra time to see more of what this amazing island has to offer.

April 3, 2012

The Heart of Bali

by Anna

Whether you’re an artist, craftsman, yogi, food enthusiast, health addict, nature-lover, adventurer or just in need of some spiritual inspiration, there is something to fulfill your soul in Ubud. Long described as Bali’s cultural heart, this oasis in the rice paddies is bursting with culture and unfortunately a lot more traffic and congestion than back in the day. But Ubud still retains its aura of creativity and spirituality – the strong identity and creative heritage of the Balinese people rise above the growing tourism and traffic.

As we explored the streets of Ubud over our nine-day stay, we discovered eye candy was everywhere – in the smallest Hindu offering of flower petals and rice in bamboo leaves to the immense technicolor green rice paddies. Balinese Hinduism, which is deeply interwoven with art and ritual, could be felt everywhere and at all times of day. We had to be careful where we stepped on the sidewalks as small colorful offerings were all over, fresh each morning, and it was commonplace to see men and women in beautiful traditional dress carrying offerings to the temples or watch huge ceremonial processions stopping traffic along the streets. The moss-shrouded temples were elaborately carved and adorned with intricate statues, which were often decorated with flowers and sarongs. It seemed walking around town that every few buildings would be a temple or a household built around a temple, giving the streets a very unique appearance. And filling the streets were tons of art and craft shops (even when we wandered into small surrounding villages or out in the rice paddies, you could always be certain you’d find an artist’s shop), delicious cafes serving up organic food and juices, family-run warungs serving local Indonesian fare, galleries, yoga studios and boutiques. Just when we thought we were surrounded on all sides by buildings, we’d turn down a side street and find ourselves staring across the expanse of a rice paddy, or walk into a cafe and find a thick Indiana Jones-style jungle on the other side. Talking with some other guests at our homestay, we could only think of one word to describe Ubud – exotic.

Women carrying offerings to the temple
Buddha with a fresh flower Buddha at our homestay
A walk through the rice paddies
Dinner at Bali Buddha Dinner at Miro’s
Women lighting incense on the street
Colors of Ubud Local craftsmanship
One of many cool art shops in Ubud
The market
Action on the soccer field in central Ubud Monkey Forest Road
Strolling down a quiet side street
The Royal Palace

The Balinese people also lived up to their reputation as being wonderfully sweet and friendly. A look in someone’s direction was always returned with a huge smile and “hello!” Our hosts at Nirwa Homestay, Madde and Ayu, were exactly the same way, and we loved waking up to the sound of ducks bathing in the rice paddies around our bungalow and Ayu’s amazing banana pancakes! Madde would always come over for a chat on our veranda in the afternoons, and he and Ayu would always offer us sticky rice treats that they’d bring back from their temple and tell us stories of other travelers who had stayed with them over the years.

The walk to our homestay where we often encountered people bathing in the canal alongside the path
Looking down on Nirwa Homestay Our bungalow at Nirwa
Johnny and Madde chillin’ on our veranda
Ayu’s magical banana pancakes Johnny and Ayu
Madde “gardening”

Some highlights of our time in Ubud included walking through the rice paddies at dusk and watching the sunset over a delicious meal at Sari Organik and then making it back to our homestay by the light of our headlamps surrounded by fireflies; attending a Kecak dance performance where a group of 150 men chanted and sang a cappella while a battle from the Ramayana was re-enacted; visiting the Monkey Forest in the middle of Ubud and being surrounded by hundreds of playful wild monkeys; watching Johnny try the famous local Babi Guling (aka, suckling pig) and deciding whether it compared to the suckling pig we tried with Gustavo and Sarah in Portugal (don’t worry, Goose, I think you’re the clear winner!); indulging at Taksu Spa…can’t beat a two hour-long massage and facial for $30 (!); stretching ourselves out and focusing our chi at beginner yoga classes at Yoga Barn; seeing the morning market in full swing at 6:30am on the way to our 7am ‘early bird’ yoga class; experiencing Nyepi; and hiring a driver for a day to see more of the island (more to come on this in our next post…).

The path through the rice paddies to Sari Organik
The beautiful view on our walk to dinner
Sunset from Sari Organik Trying some homemade snakeskin fruit wine
An amazing sunset over the rice paddies to a soundtrack of chirping frogs
Kecak dance performance
The performance ended with a man dancing in bare feet on flaming coconut shells! OUCH!
The mother monkeys held their babies by their tails so that they couldn’t get into too much trouble
Mama and baby Monkey hangin’ on his elephant
Sneaky monkey
Just monkeying around Monkey see, monkey do
Monkey Forest temple
Babi Guling Johnny savoring his suckling pig
The view from our yoga class at Yoga Barn was pretty awesome
Chickens at the market
Flower petals for offerings Fresh local veggies
The market was the hot spot at 6:30am

Although Johnny and I both spent a few of our days in Ubud fighting off fevers and sore throats (undoubtedly a result of our sleepless travel adventure from NZ!), we still had a wonderful time and could immediately see why Bali holds a special place in many peoples’ hearts. We definitely hope to make it back to Ubud and to see more of beautiful Bali one day!

April 1, 2012


by Johnny

Unbeknownst to us, we arrived in Ubud, Bali two days before Nyepi, the Balinese “Day of Silence” commemorating the end of the old year and the beginning of the next.  It turned out to be a really cool time to be in Bali.  While the actual day of Nyepi is marked by silence and meditation, the entire day before is full of craziness.  For weeks and months prior to Nyepi, every village throughout Bali creates these heinous papier-maché sculptures called ogoh-ogoh, and on Nyepi Eve they are paraded throughout the island.  As the ogoh-ogoh represent evil spirits, the uglier the better…and most of them were pretty darn ugly.  Anna and I took a walk through the rice paddies to a couple small villages where the people were putting the final touches on their ogoh-ogoh and beginning to march them into town.  At night, all the ogoh-ogoh were paraded down Ubud’s Hanoman Street, where locals would chant, bang drums, shoot off fireworks and finally burn the sculptures in an effort to chase these evil spirits from the island.  It was definitely like nothing we’ve ever seen before.


The actual day of Nyepi was the polar opposite of the madness the night before.  This “Day of Silence” is not taken lightly by the Balinese people.  The entire island basically shuts down, including the airport and all ATMs, and nobody is allowed out in the streets.  There are even some policemen patrolling the towns to usher back wandering tourists to their guesthouses.  The whole idea is to trick whatever evil spirits remaining after the previous night into thinking that the island is deserted so they will go elsewhere.  For the Balinese, Nyepi is a day of meditation and self-reflection, and many of the people don’t eat or speak for the entire day.  Luckily for us, our awesome homestay hosts Madde and Ayu were nice enough to cook us a traditional Balinese lunch and dinner, consisting of chicken satay and peanut sauce, tempe, tofu, mixed veggies, sticky rice and, last but not least, some fried bananas.  It was fun getting to know the other homestay guests and learning the significance of Nyepi from Madde and Ayu.  While some people might be bummed about being put on lockdown for a day, Anna and I really enjoyed the peacefulness of Nyepi (which started with a beautiful rainbow), and we both agreed that we could use more days of meditation and self-reflection back home.