Monday, September 6, 2010

The last of the pics

Here is the last of my pics (for now).

These from Penisula Malaysia:

And these from before mom, in Laos

I'm going to be adding some to the old Thailand album too, so check that in a few days.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Borneo's up

Another set of pics is up

Friday, September 3, 2010

The first pics are up

The title really says it all. I've only got one album done so far, Cambodia.

Some of you already know this, but one reason I haven't gone on the pictures is that I've been spending some time getting a job...and I was succesful!

I'll be starting up at OHSU working in a lab that researchs TB and start the 13th. There's a whole story that goes with it, but that's the short of it.

More pics later...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

And then it was all over...

So first a little surprise/disclaimer....
I've been home for 3 days!
Sorry to all those I've been misleading, but I came home a week early in an attempt to surprise some of you (hopefully I've been successful). As an added bonus I'm now able to put together a coherent sentence. As you'll see below, that is an achievement.

When we last heard from me, I had returned to Bangkok and picked up some more clothes during a rainstorm. Later that night I was able to catch up with a friend of Steph's (actually the teacher she replaced; I had hung out with her a fair amount in Udon). It was fun to talk to a fellow backpacker; with traveling with mom and then a week on my own, it had been a while. We ended up planning her travels to India until nearly 12.
Which didn't seem late except I never really got sound asleep and woke up at 6am, and due to motorcycles and a hard bed, didn't fall back asleep. Which was probably good since Steph called at 7am asking which room we were in! I knew she was getting in at 7am, but I thought that was the bus station not my room!

After waking up a bit, the 4 of us (another one of the teachers I'd met before had come down too) went off to a palace (one of several in Bangkok) which included a huge wooden mansion that had been constructed as a 5-yr temporary house for the royal family. This thing was HUGE! And kind of unique because it was built in a Victorian style, but with Thai influences. And the whole building was constructed with out a nail; I was impressed.
Next up was heading to a massive weekend market. We're talking 35 acres of absolutely anything you could want. The prices were pretty decent and while there was a bunch of poor quality things, a lot was also pretty good. I managed to finish off my clothes shopping (minus shoes, but my feet are definitely not Asian-sized!). It was fun just walking around and it was really good to reunite the Duo!

After a little nap time we headed out. We had a lot to celebrate, Steph's b-day was the next day and it was my last night in SE Asia. The highlights (that I'm going to share/can remember) were going up to the top of the highest building in Thailand (thank you Steph's dad for the tickets!), and then heading back to Khao Son Rd for some drinks and dancing.

Apparently it was a little too much drinking and a little too much dancing because the next thing I knew I had missed my bus to the airport! Yeah, that's not good! But luckily, with a huge amount of help from Jemma and Steph, I got another bus and managed (I don't know how) to get to my flight to Singapore where I promptly passed out. My time in Singapore was mostly just riding the transit to pick up my bag (I swear that thing got heavier) and then back to the airport where I spent a night trying to sleep on a cold concrete floor (all told maybe 1.5hrs) before checking in around 4:30am. I was greeted with the news that I had to pay $250 because my ticket was moved, though my travel agent assures me he already talked to United and I wasn't supposed to. It made no difference to me though since I was going home!

My flights were: ~7hrs to Tokyo, enough time to get to the next gate and then 9hrs to San Fran (managed maybe an hour of sleep there), followed by a mad dash through the airport that got me to the gate for my PDX flight, only to find the gate was closed, but because they were waiting to fix a seat I made it on and got home to Portland about 5 hours after I had taken off from Singapore (crossing the dateline does wonders!).

So all told, I traveled around 10,000miles, in 3 days, on less than 10hrs of sleep! Now you see why I haven't been calling all of you to talk just yet!

I suppose I should do some big wrap up about my time abroad, but that will need to wait for another time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The last trip

Another post-dated blog; this one was from the 20th or so.

Leaving early in the morning from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi (~3hrs) was a pretty nice/easy train trip; plenty of room with alternating views of fields and little cities along with some, of course, ornate temples. I was surprised by some of the squalid living conditions we passed, but I've actually seen much worse.
The ride from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok (~2.5hrs), along the Bridge over the River Kwai and the 'Death Railway' wasn't anything special. The museum at Hellfire Pass was really good however, and provided a lot of information about the 'Death Railway' (briefly, during WWII, the Japanese felt they needed a land connection to their new territory in Burma. The subsequent construction of a railroad was completed by POWs and 'hired' locals. 3 years later or so the nearly 500km of track were finished at the cost of over 100,000 lives). The museum was not too big, but informative and well laid out. Walking the railroad wasn't anything too special, but pretty amazing to think they did that all by hand in such conditions; I wish I'd had more time to walk as the views were pretty nice.

Finishing up there, I returned to Kanchanaburi. I was less than impressed with the town unfortunately (a wanna be backpackers hangout, but just seedy), but was able to get a nice place right on the river for cheap. The town was too empty to be fun and no other solo travelers or place to meet. I did have the best papaya salad I've ever had though: crispy fried fish and a salted egg as well as the sticky rice I'd been craving since leaving Laos!

The next day was out to Erawan Falls which was nicer than I thought it might be. The place was very well trodden and not as nice as the one in Laos however. Getting to the falls was a nice drive as it reminded me a bit of Brazil in the scenery as well as the numerous little places to stay (pousadas in Brazil). It was also nice to see that Thailand did have some nice scenery and relaxed places considering all I had seen was the southern beaches and Bangkok.
The bus ride out to the falls was quite an experience and took longer than I expected, but that was ok as I never paid for the bus ride. While still in Kanchanaburi I ran into a French mom and her son who I knew were going to the falls. They were waiting on the side of the road, and had tried to stop the bus a couple of times, but to no avail. The next thing I knew, a Thai woman that had been helping them was picking us up in a truck to take us to the bus station (we guessed, she didn't really speak English, but she pulled the clothes in the truck out so that we could hop in and we took off somewhere). We arrived at the bus station and she then made it obvious that she wanted us to get back in the truck with mention of '2 minutes'. We ended up being able to catch the bus (that had left 2minutes before us) and she got us on! All of that and I don't know any of those people's names!

The scramble up to the top of the falls was more difficult than I really expected, but lack of food made me a bit tired; I ended up slipping at one point and bashing my nose on my hand which was on a rock in front of me, ouch! My lack of food also made me less than social most of the time I was around Kanchanaburi, but also my timing of things is not making me social. I can see then end coming and I just don't care to meet many new people.
There were also way too many Frenchies at the waterfall being loud and annoying. It was nice to take in the serene setting of a gorgeous 7-tier waterfalls getting a free foot cleaning by fish... until I was inundated by shrieking and yelling French teenagers (I can accept that) and middle aged vacationers (you're 35, stop). Nonetheless, the experience was a memorable one. The entire stream was full of the fish that they use at the spas to clean your feet; it was a really weird feeling (sort of a sucking sensation mixed with some nibbling...definitely freaky at first), but if you got used to it and relaxed, it felt pretty nice, and my feet did come out cleaner!

The last night it looked like a huge storm was coming in as I was sitting in front of my room right on the river watching the sunset (tough life!), and it sure started like a major storm, but it never really materialized.
The last morning I walked all the way down to see the Bridge over the River Kwai, and was, as I expected, not too impressed (just a railroad bridge). That was after having a breakfast of some fiercely spicy vegetable soup with noodles: I was crying, but for some reason I ate the whole thing, much to the enjoyment of the old woman selling. I then ended up getting to Bangkok in the early afternoon and getting caught in the down pour which just meant I needed to shop to pass the time. Also had some really good dim sum, Chinese chives was the best, but the others were all really good, better/less greasy than what mom and I had in Melaka.
Next up was a reunion of the Duo for Steph's B-day, but that will wait for the next post...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I'm writing this one out of order a bit since I haven't written about Melaka, but that one needs a little more time since it is the last one with mom. Also, I have all my Bangkok thoughts on the mind...and I've only been here 24hrs!
But what a 24hrs they've been!

The ridiculous-ness that is Bangkok is only rivaled by such stunning cities as Jakarta and Manila. Bangkok is incredibly big, hot and noisy, and pretty dirty (mom, you would have freaked out), but for some reason, I like it. Maybe it has more to do with me and where I'm at after so much time in SE Asia, but the craziness didn't get to me; I kind of enjoyed it!

My flight to BKK with Malaysian Air was really nice, it only took about 2hrs, but we still got a meal with some wine. It was so short it was easy to forget it was actually an international flight.
I got into the very nice new airport Bangkok has and eventually got a bus into the city center. The bus is just one example of how hard the Thai gov't seems to be trying to make tourism easy and appealing here; I don't know if it has anything with trying to re-image the city after the riots, but I've not seen nor heard mention of those.
Hopping off the bus at the backpacker mecca of Khao San Rd, I was able to walk the 5mins directly to my place where I was happily surprised with a double (though I paid for a single) with windows out over the street and very clean surroundings.
That night I went straight away back to Khao San Rd where, after some bargaining/heckling with a few different shop owners, I walked away with 2 t-shirts of good quality, thick well made 'Diesel' jeans, and a nice, 40-liter 'Deuter' (a German company) day-pack. If all of that had actually been real (i.e. not counterfeit), you're looking at a hefty price tag. the jeans alone would have been more than what I paid for all of them! But I checked the quality pretty carefully and it seems good to me.
With my important purchases done (I needed a day pack since I had sent mine home with mom), I got some noodles at one of the many shops (price tag: $1) and talked to an interesting, dreadlocked Israeli girl. She was traveling for 4years make and selling jewelery as she went to pay the bills. The people watching at Khao San Rd it unbelievable. The only other place I saw anything near that diversity in age, class, sex, appearance, etc was at Mardi Gras and this blew that away!

Today I got off to an early start and did my usual walk everywhere and cover way too much. Though I did cut myself some slack and not do any more temples after I went to the Grand Palace. Before that though I had walked and found some, what I considered at the time, ornate temples and monuments. At that point I didn't realize that pretty much every temple in Bangkok (and there are a lot!) are decked out. I eventually ended up at the Golden Mountain where I walked up the 329 (by my count) stairs to the top for a pretty good view of the city (damn, it's huge).
What I neglected to mention is that I got there only after fighting off 3 different guys running the same scam (though I think the last 2 were in connection). So in less than 12hrs I've had the full Bangkok experience: bought faked clothes and come this close to hopping in a tuk-tuk with a guy who was trying to scam me (the gist was that today was a big special day so the temples were open at different times and he would take me all over the city to time them out right, and as a bonus, the gov't was giving him free gas so he'd do it all for less than $0.70). Maybe there was some truth to it, but it seemed too good too be true and then I found out one of the temples that was supposed to be closed was in fact open. I stuck to myself the rest of the day.

The highlight of the sights was the Grand Palace. 'Amazingly ornate' doesn't even begin to do it justice. I probably took a few hundred pictures because everywhere I turned there was something else gorgeous and amazing. The little museum I passed through housed all the national treasures of Thailand and the delicate gold carvings jam packed on every square millimeter of the pieces was stunning. The entire compound is very well maintained and the colors and 'sparkle-y-ness' of the various buildings is unlike anything I've ever seen; just wait for the pics. Even for a cheapskate like me, the palace is a must see.
Included with the palace grounds, and probably the biggest attraction is the Emerald Buddha. This Buddha figurine (which is actually jade) has a bit of a history passing back and forth between Laos and Thailand. It has been firmly in Thailand for a few hundred years now however, and the temple where it is housed is considered one of the holiest sights in all of Thailand.

After forcing myself through the last of the palace I couldn't take any more temples or walking around so I instead headed off to get my ticket for my next trip. With all of one day in Bangkok I decided I should head out while I still have positive thoughts so I went and bought a train ticket to Kanchanaburi which is the town that includes the Bridge over the River Kwai. I'll kick around there for a while and see the sights before meeting Steph for her B-day celebration back here in Bangkok. Then...who knows?
Getting to and from the train station was a bit of an adventure, but I'm glad I did it today because now it'll be much easier tomorrow morning. I then ended by walking city tour with a hair cut! The guy paid incredible detail for a $2 haircut!
Now it's time for some more noodles and probably some more shopping.

What a city, what a day!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cooling off in Cameron

So my initial impression with Cameron Highlands was spot on! Great food, cool temperatures, cheaper prices and scenery that reminded me more of home than anywhere else I've been in SE Asia.
For spending 3 complete days there, mom and I didn't do all that much. We spent a lot of time just hanging out and enjoying not sweating. We did manage to eat a lot of delicious Indian food (so much naan, and roti canai with dahl!) and, get ready for this, fresh STRAWBERRIES! Mom assured me the berries weren't anywhere near as good as Oregon berries, but for someone who hasn't had any for 2 years, they tasted pretty damn good to me! And oh yeah, scones! Oh, how could I forget steamboat, that was a real highlight. Basically steamboat is like a soup fondue. We got two plates filled with vegetables, noodles and a bunch of sea food that we then cooked in the boiling broth of the soup we had. Not only was it delicious it was entertaining too!
We did do enough walking to deserve all that food though. The biggest walk was when we hiked through the jungle to the top of Mt. Brinchang which stands at over 6,600ft. The walk up was really nice, through a more temperate rain forest (i.e. we weren't completely drenched in sweat and the mosquitoes weren't in clouds). The last part of the climb was pretty difficult, but mom hiked up it like a champ (and it was me with the sore legs the next day).
When we reached the top we were greeted by some nice views, but also a ton of radio/cell towers and tourists coming up the road on their package tours! Phshh, lazy bums! We had a much better appreciation for the view.
On the way down we walked to a tea plantation that also included a tour of a tea factory. I had no idea that's what went into making tea. And now I can't drink tea-bag-tea without thinking of rubbish!

Our return was supposed to be another 4km down (I wasn't looking forward to that since the previous 3km straight up and 7km down had fried my knee) and then a bus ride back to town...then it started to rain...then it pored! To shorten the story, the result was mom and I hopping in the back of a truck from the tea plantation that was going to town. That was a new one even for me, but yet again mom was leading the way and loving it!

Those were the highlight stories of our time in CH, but it was really just the relaxing atmosphere that was what made the time there. I'd definitely recommend it, especially anyone who's been in SE Asia for a while and needs to cool off a bit.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Escaping the heat (and the bed bugs)

The last posting I commented about how much difference a day makes, well about about 8 hrs?! The post I put up was written around 6pm before mom and I went for a AMAZING seafood meal right on the beach with a great sunset and (gasp) actual service (not a common thing in SE Asia). Honestly that was probably some of the best restaurant seafood I've ever had (that leaves room for some of those ikan bakar meals I had in Indo), The seafood salad had big prawns on it as well as half a crab and some fish. My plate was the best toger prawn I've ever had as well as perfectly cooked mackerel and barracuda. Yum! Mom worked hard and thoroughly enjoyed her curry crab too.
Life was good!
...until about 2 am
It was at that point that I woke up to bed bugs crawling on me...and mom woke up with stomach troubles...then I tried to turn on the water heater to take a shower...that flipped the circuit breaker for the entire resort...which meant no power until about 7am. On the upside the lack of power meant that the fan and or AC were no longer making obnoxious sounds!
Needless to say we were ready to go as soon as we could. I have to say the owner was as helpful as could be expected and we ended up paying 50RM for the two nights. Maybe he should have speant his time giving the place some maintenance and care though! I can honestly say that was the dirtiest/worst place I have stayed at in all of my travels!

Yesterday was spent on traveling to here (the Cameron Highlands). The travel took longer than I expected, but the 3hr wait we had in Ipoh was actually a nice break considering that we found a really good Indian buffet and spent our time there. I've been eating a ton of Indian food lately (lunch and dinner yesterday and lunch today), that alone makes Malaysian food better than Indo food for me (though I am missing all the tasty ikan bakar, itik, and vegetable soups).

The full report on Cameron Highlands will have to wait since today has really just been a relaxed day (after 2 nights of not really sleeping I needed the nearly 11hrs I got last night). So far CH has made a great impression with the scenery, cool temps, cheaper prices and tasty food (scones!)

That'll have to be enough for now

Sunday, August 8, 2010

One week left

This one is post dated: Aug 8th

That title is for mom, since she is leaving on the 16th and that day will be all travel.
We've seen a lot though in the 3+weeks she's been here.

Since the last post we landed in Penang, checked it out, and came down to Pulau Pangkor for one last beach trip. We spent all day today laying out on the beach, and I'm red enough to prove it!

We arrived here on Pangkor after a day of travel yesterday only to be greeted by a dingy small room and hordes of locals here for the weekend. Let's say I was less than pleased even though the beach was pretty nice. It was a little hard to appreciate it with people tearing around on JetSkis and screaming jilbab'd women in the water. Nonetheless, we hung out on the beach for quite a while hoping for a sunset, but mostly because we didn't want to go back to our dingy little room.
What a difference a day makes though! This morning we packed up our bags because the very helpful owner of Seagull Resort agreed to move us to a nice room and charge us the same cheap price since there had been a mis-communication (I didn't knowingly book us into the ultra-budget place). The night before they had been too full to move us, but they were nice enough to let us switch. The morning also got off to a good start because we slept in later than we had the whole trip and were greeted by a whole tree full of green doves and hornbills! The morning also greeted us with some good weather which held out for our entire beach day. The Coral Beach we were camped out at was completely different without all the local tourists around. There were a few in the morning, but by the afternoon the place was pretty sedate and beautiful; pretty nice even for a spoiled beach snob like me!

Before Pangkor we spent two pretty full days in Penang. Having flown directly from Kota Kinabalu, we took a bus into Georgetown (the old historic area on the island) and walked to our hostel, which was a little eclectic, and had some THIN walls, but certainly served its purpose well.
The next day we got up and literally saw about the ENTIRE historic district! Needless to say that was a little much for one day! I was a little surprised by the historic area because it was still a big, busy city (not necessarily such a good thing!), but I was impressed with Penang due to its diversity. On one block I saw a mosque, followed by a Chinese (huge influence there) Buddhist temple, followed by an Indian food restaurant, a British\colonial style building and a Hindu temple. The Boon San Tong Khoo Kongsi temple was the only one we paid to enter, but was far and away better than any other we saw. The wood carvings and the general decoration as well as the information was impressive. Another good temple was the (something) Teow temple. I also had never seen anything like the clan jetties: basically Chinese houses built out over the water organized by the various clans the families belonged to.

The next day, feeling a little overwhelmed, we started a little later and instead left the city proper. But that wasn't until after going to check out Fort Cornwallis, the starting point for the British on the island. The fort was about as I expected: not a whole lot, but I was glad to have gone in and seen it nonetheless. It's kind of weird in that the city now seems to use the place as a event location.
After that we spent the day on public transport, first heading up into the ritzy part of the island and eventually got to the National Park in the NW corner of the island. Having spent the last 5 or 6 days in the city both of us, but particularly mom (who is still WAY overwhelmed by the crazy absurdness that is SE Asian cities), were glad to get out into some peace and quiet for some walking around.
Our next goal was to get to a very spectacular looking temple outside of Georgetown that we'd seen pictures of lit up at night when it looked even more spectacular. We didn't however look at any fine print and thus missed that the place closed at 5:30pm! Oh well we got to see another part of the city!

All right time to go for (hopefully) a sunset and a 'mom-treat' for dinner

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Moving on from Borneo

I can't believe it's gone this fast, but this evening mom and I will fly from Borneo and head back to the Peninsula of Malaysia!

Since I last posted we went to and returned from Uncle Tan's and then bussed up to Kota Kinabalu. In all honesty, Uncle Tan's was a bit disappointing. I was going in with very high expectations to be fair, but I was definitely hoping for more. I certainly do not blame the guides or the company itself. Everyone was fantastic and the guides were great at spotting anything that was there, the problem was that there just wasn't much wildlife. The camp is set up on private property between conservation bubbles that are connected by 30m-deep connections along the river. The result is that while you cruise down the river (which we did a lot!) you're seeing trees, but right behind them there is a bunch of daylight or even worse visible palm oil plantations. This isn't the case everywhere, but the majority for sure.
Even with that we did manage to see some things I had never seen before. In total we took a night cruise, two morning cruises, a (rainy) evening cruise, a night walk and a mid-morning walk. And during all that time we saw (just the highlights, to me) Bornean Gibbons, civet cats, a bunch of hornbills and kingfishers, some crocs, proboscis monkeys, and a bunch of other monkeys/macaques and birds.

Along with that we got fed lots of good food and met some interesting people. The guides were a blast. Exclusively young guys, they were always smiling and having a good time playing games and singing a lot. I think mom had a good time meeting all the other travelers too (it's been fun to see her become a SEA traveler), but I was/still am a little over that, and after the normal pleasantries I just kinda hung out; basically I'm tired of not really getting to know people, but instead just getting the basics and their travel info.
Then again it could have just been being tired that made me less social. I've been fighting some sort of cold lately and sleeping in open jungle huts with 6 other people didn't exactly rest me up. We each had our own mattress and mosquito net and then our hut was connected to the board walk to the dining hall as well as the smelly bathrooms. A lot of other people were commenting about the basic conditions, but I didn't think they were all that bad...I was still glad to get back to Sandakan afterward and get a hot shower though!

Sandakan was a bit nicer than I expected as most people we talked to made it sound pretty bad. We didn't really do much there, just spent the night and then caught a bus here to KK where we were going to do a white water rafting trip, but after 7hrs on a bus we decided that the trip (which was 8hrs of traveling split by 3hrs of rafting, didn't actually sound that good). So instead we just walked around yesterday, saw a few museums, and mostly just have been killing time. One highlight was the best Italian food I've had in over a year, and really the first meal I've had in a while too (I mean not just eating, but staying there for a few hours, over several courses and with good conversation, etc).

But now we're done with Borneo and Mom will stay a little less than 2 more weeks...time is flying by!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Swimming with the fishes (and so much more)

Ok hopefully I don't get kicked off this time! And if I don't, I may add to the last post so go back and check that when you get a chance.

This post is coming from outside of Sandakan, Sabah (which is the Eastern 1/3 of Malaysian Borneo) in the B&B/base of Uncle Tan's. UT's is a wildlife/jungle tour company, and one of the things that I have been looking forward to the most. The other thing I was really looking forward to was the snorkeling we did out of Semporna. I've done a fair amount of snork'ing lately, but with the exception of the ridiculous-ness of Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef, this was the best I've ever done. The number of what I would call exotic or rare species/sightings was awesome. I had always wanted to see a lionfish...check (2 species, several times)!. Turtles? Greenback and Hawksbills, several times! Eels? At least 3 species (including the Great Moray), several times. I also saw my first Scorpion fish, a ray, a green shrimp or lobster (not sure which!) and of course tons of the 'normal' reef fish, but also some really big examples of those. The coral was pretty good in spots, but the fish life was definitely the highlight.
All of this was organized with Scuba Junkies which did a great job organizing things while still being friendly. And their gear was better than other stuff I had rented. The 6 times I went out were all off of Mabul Island where we stayed for 1 night. It was interesting to see that there were still some local villages and sea gypsies despite this location being such a tourist/diver 'hotspot' (constantly called one of the best dive sights in the world).

I can't believe it, but mom is about half way through her time here. That means I have a month-ish left! It's going to be really weird to be home after a year abroad, but I think I'm going to need it. I've been feeling really run down lately even though we aren't traveling as hard as I had been before, not keeping me from enjoying these incredible sights though!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Big caves in Borneo

Another quick post to let everyone know that we made it into and out of Mulu and it's stunning caves. The trip ended up being a bit (ok a ton [to me]) more expensive than I had expected, but forgetting that it was really fantastic! Deer cave is the biggest thing (not just cave) I have ever seen and a couple of the other caves were packed with some stunning formations. Deer cave was also cool because of the Abe Lincoln profile (wait for my pics) as well as the Garden of Eden. I enjoyed Lagang cave largely because it was much less touristy than the others and we needed flashlights to actually see anything, and the formations we did see were some of the best I've ever seen. The cave was also cool because you could really see how it was formed (melting limetstone and flowing water).
I've done a fair amount of caving elsewhere so some of the novelty had worn off, but then again it made me appreciate how amazing some of the sights within the caves were too. The novelty had also warn off on some of the jungle trekking, but it was pretty fun to see mom see it all for the first time. I was a bit disappointed with the rangers there though as they seemed mostly interested in rushing us along. For instance, on the night hike we did, I found the vast majority of the 'wildlife' we found (mostly insects). Oh well, we jut didn't pay for it!
The bat exodus was a also a great experience. We ended up having to go two nights, but it was worth it I thought as I had never seen anything like that. Literally million upon millions of bats come out of Deer cave, but they don't come out all at once, instead coming out in groups and the circling waiting until they hit some sort of critical number and a bunch of them leave. That's when it gets really cool because this huge mass of bats comes up and is literally a pulsating, twisting/turning ribbon of bats. Definitely a unique experience!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Angkor Wow

Sorry about the horrible pun to start things off, but our time in Siem Reap really was that good! After spending a day touring around Phom Penh and introducing mom to what a real SE Asian big city is like, we took a bus up to Siem Reap. The next two days were spent jam packed with temple'ing. I can't even begin to do it justice here in a quick post, but both mom and I really enjoyed our time. You could see a lot in just one day, but to be honest that wouldn't really be worth all the trouble of getting there. That being said if you're going to go back for another day (which you could, there are more than enough interesting temples), you might as well stay for a week, because 2 days and we were both temple'd out!
I didn't really know what to expect of the whole thing, but the temples were much more impressive than I expected. I was also surprised by the lay out of everything. You have to buy a ticket to enter the area, but the temples are spread out all over (some an hour tuk-tuk drive away, others even further).
I couldn't even begin to pick a favorite temple. Angkor Wat itself is massive, and the carvings very impressive considering they're 900 years old! The best carvings were at Bantrey Srei, the famous tree taking over the temple is from Ta Prohm, but I really liked Bayon with it's ~200 giant faces. Our time was really made because of the good guide we had. Kerry took care of everything for us (even rec'ing Jasmine Lodge, the great place we stayed (minus the flood that happened, but that wasn't really their fault)).

Ok sorry to rush it, but we've got a flight tomorrow morning first thing flying to Miri then on to Mulu for a cave adventure. After that it's even more Borneo. It's going to be expensive, and I'm having a hard time to travel like I'm on vacation with mom than as a backpacker, but I'm doing my best and she is humoring me. All the great experiences should keep me occupied!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Time is flying by

It's been a while since I had time to put up a blog, but that's because I've been enjoying myself too much!
Rather than trying to fit everything in here, I'll give a quick hits list...
Nong Kiau was an interesting if quiet town. I ended up meting an Irish girl that I did a STEEP hike with the next day and took her advice to go up to the next town on the river. That was a weird little place in that it still felt very remote and a bit primitive, but it was jam packed with tourists. I did a bit of hiking there as well, but mostly just chilled out.
The next main stop was Phonsavan which I headed to for the Plain of Jars. In the end, the jars weren't all that spectacular, but I was really glad I went as I got to see some much different scenery in Laos, and also enjoyed the tour I did there which took us to some bomb craters'. I didn't expect to actually be moved or impressed, but I was both. To see just how many craters were still obvious in a country that wasn't even really in the war (the US bombed the hell out of the area to break up the Ho Chi Minh Trail). The worst part was that they are still finding unexploded bombs here and every year at least 300 people are injured. In fact, we found a bomblet on our tour! I didn't believe it at first, but it really was. All in all the tour was very good (I'll have to give more details later).
My last stop in Laos was a backpacker hangout that I could have missed, but all in all I found Laos to be a very nice place, and one quite apt for solo backpackers; the whole time I was traveling 'solo' I was with people, just different people on different days.

Leaving Laos meant going to KL to pick up mom! We were able to make connections no problem and then spent the next day and a half sight seeing in KL. It is the 2nd most western city I have seen in SEA (behind the runaway winner, Singapore), but that was good as it served as a bit of a stepping stone for mom getting accustomed to the pandemonium that is SEA. The city did have some highlights including the National Museum and the Islamic Arts Museum,

We've since left Malaysia and are now in Phom Penh, Cambodia. This city is much more along the lines of what I have seen throughout SE Asia; I think mom is understandably a bit overwhelmed. She has been doing really well though; I don't think I could have jumped off the plane and started sightseeing like we've done. She's even had street food already, and with no ill effects!

Obviously I'll need to post a LOT more details at some point, but that honestly won't be until I get back (6 weeks left) and have a chance to catch my breath...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Luang Prabang: Nice balance

I'm hiding in one of the few cool places right now and certainly one of the cheapest Internet cafes I could find.
Since I posted last I've arrived in Luang Prabang and been loving it ever since. On the ride up I met up with 3 travelers who themselves had just met the day before. The result is that I was able to save a good chunk of money on accommodation here as well as a ride to a SPECTACULAR waterfall yesterday. It's looking like pictures will be harder to get up before I return home so just trust me, it was great!
I have really enjoyed LP largely because of the feel here. The city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, mostly for the large number of temples (or wat) here. There is also some interesting colonial architecture and the places to stay or eat range from local food stalls and cheap guesthouses to fancy, nearly 5-star hotels/guesthouses. The result is a pretty interesting mix of tourists to watch!
Tomorrow morning I'm headed out though, not exactly sure how (if there is a boat I'll take that, but no one knows until tomorrow morning), but I do know I'm headed to a small village up north that is just starting to show up on the backpacker, tourist radar (i.e. there is info on the Internet and it's in the guide books, but not much more than a name and a few places to stay). I'm hoping to get some trekking in and then end up at Phonsavan for the Plane of Jars. More than likely that means no Internet until I move on from there. So until I return to civilization...

Friday, July 2, 2010

In another country

Here's the first posting from Lao!
I arrived in Vientiane yesterday afternoon after saying goodbye to Steph taking a bunch of different buses and such, but eventually getting across the Friendship Bridge arriving in Laos. I was pretty out of it yesterday )not enough food, and too much Thai whiskey the night before!), but stumbled into the cheapest place in town, walked around a bit, was over charged for some food and tried to pass out (the heat and mosquitoes had other ideas).
I woke up in the morning without a definite plan, but groggily made one. I decided to head up north on a night bus to Luang Prabang (I leave in a few minutes). The downside was that I missed out on meeting up with Steph who was ironically enough coming up to Laos this weekend on a last minute plan to get her visa squared away.
With my plans decided (and me of course still thinking about them and how I could change them) I set out to explore the capital city of took me about 8 foot! I like Vientiane, but let's say there isn't a whole lot going on considering that it's a national capital. It is a nice place though with several worthwhile tourist sites. I walked first to the Lao version of the Arc de Triumph (yikes, that spelling), which the sign on it describes as more of a 'concrete monster' (I'm not disagreeing, but I thought that was a bit harsh). From the top of the monster (all f 7 stories up) you can look out over the top of all of the city. Yes, that's right, the 7th floor is pretty much the limit of the capital city! The rest of my time was spent walking (at least 5 miles, maybe 6 or 7) to various temples and museums (you can find wats everywhere!). One of the weirder highlights was the Buddha Park, you'll just have to wait until I put up pics.

Ok gotta run or my bus will leave me!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Here are some pics:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Time to go solo

I'm taking advantage of my last free access to a laptop and internet here at Steph's new spot in Udon Thani, Thailand.
We arrived here in Udon after a LONG stint of traveling.  It started after killing a day / recovering from the Full Moon Party.  We then hopped on a boat that was basically a floating dorm.  Each of the two levels of the boats held ~100 mattresses and pillows/rocks in pillow cases.  It was a pretty weird set up, but a good way for us to travel since we didn't really want to spend a night in Surat Thani (the mainland port).  The boat was really slow, taking 7 hours to cover a slightly longer route then the ferry took 2.5hrs to cross.  
Our travels were just starting though.  We arrived at the dock at 5am where we were ordered into a van (that's only a minor exaggeration) that would take us to the airport.  Or so we thought.  In fact the van took us around the block (after we paid) and we were then told to get out and wait an hour.!  We convinced them that actually we were ready to go now thank you very much.  So instead we transferred to a personal car.  The result was that Steph and I were dropped off at the airport at about 5:40...with NO ONE around.  The place was absolutely deserted!
To cut the story short we ended up getting in 45mins later, cleaning up a bit and then waiting for our flight that was changed from 8:40 to 11 (aargh!).  We were sure that meant we were going to miss our connecting flight to Udon.  Not to worry though!  Nok air came through and canceled our flight, moving us to one at 5pm (they were nice enough to feed us while we waited for 4hrs though).
Eventually we arrived into Steph's new town around 6pm and were picked up by her school which was gracious enough to put me up at her apartment (well Steph was gracious enough actually) and then take me out to dinner as well.

I've been really impressed with Steph's situation so far.  The school is very well equipped and as ridiculous as teaching 3-4yr olds English sounds, it seems to work really well (it's basically a language immersion preschool/kindergarten).  The best part for Steph, in my opinion, is that there seems to be a really great group of 20-something girls already here teaching (from 1yr-6-weeks experience). We've gone out with them both nights now and they've all been very friendly and helpful.
So now I'm getting ready to head out on my own.  I was imagining that I would stay here a bit longer and help Steph get settled in, but I don't think I can do as good as job as they can!  I'm think I'm now going to head out either tomorrow afternoon or Friday morning (Steph is of course cheering for Friday) and go up to Laos.  Traveling with Steph has made the experience so much more easy, but more importantly, enjoyable, but I am excited to set out on my own for a few weeks and then of course excited to welcome mom to SEAsia!

The blogs may now be fewer and farther between (without Steph's laptop), but I'm sure the fun and sights won't be!  

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A holiday from the vacation

This posting might not be my most coherent; if that's the case, my apologies.  You'll have to understand that a night at a Full Moon Party will leave you... tired.

For those that have never heard of a Full Moon Party, it's developed into a bit of a legend in the backpacker/traveler culture with imitations all over the world.  There's only one original of course and that just happens to be the Island of Phangan where Steph and I have been for the last 3 days.  The island is full of nice beaches and some jungle, but more than that it seems to be jam packed with Brits and Aussies (many fresh out of college or high school).  The party is more than a little ridiculous with one particular beach lined with bars and drunken people from all over the world dancing to rave music and playing with black lights.  I didn't make it as late as I hoped (those booze buckets (and yes I do mean a bucket) are deadly), but the party was still going at 8am apparently.
Our time on the island went pretty quickly and without us doing a whole lot.  The first day we did rent a MoPed and checked out the western half of the island.  It was a lot of fun, once I realized that Steph wasn't going to crash into anything (actually I was more concerned about the other tourists crashing into us!).

Before getting to Ko Phangan Steph and I had made a stop at a really nice jungle national park called Khao Sok.  We only spent one night there, but it would be a great place to check out more.  We took a canoe trip down the river as soon as we arrived.  I think Steph enjoyed it more than I, as the jungle is a little less of a novelty to me now.  Seeing some snakes and frogs was new though.  As was nearly flipping the boat!

Khao Sok was basically just a way to break up our travels from Phuket to the big party.  Phuket was nice enough, with some beaches and we also did a tour out into the bay which is filled with limestone islands.  The islands were very beautiful, but after El Nido I just wasn't as impressed.  The water wasn't nearly as nice, but the limestone was a little different and just as stunning.

Probably my biggest complaint with the tour and really all of Thailand has been how touristy it is.  There are more bule than locals it seems.  To be frank, I haven't really cared for Thailand.  Granted we have only visited the tourist locations, but the vibe here just doesn't fit my style any more.  A big part of this is my dealing with coming out of Indo.  Just lately I've been realizing how special of an adventure I have been undertaking, but a 'downside' is that now I like to travel 'on the beaten path'.  I actually feel out of place and more than a little awkward being in a big tourist location.  It's a really catch-22, but I'm a tourist that doesn't want to be a tourist.  Like I said, I think this is at least partially about my reverse culture shock, but so far Thailand has not been by favorite.  It certainly is a very nice place, but I think it's better for someone who doesn't want to explore as much or is new to the travel bug.  My assessment of the bay tour we did pretty well fits my whole opinion of Thailand: it's beautiful and I like it, but I feel like I'm 30 years late.

Oh well poor me right!  What problems I have to deal with!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Into Thailand

Just a quick note, we've arrived in Phuket, Thailand.   It seems like we've been traveling for about 3 days and my head is still trying to catch up with my body (the cold is not helping).  We did some serious walking around Singapore (little India and the food was great!) before sleeping in the airport and flying to Phuket yesterday.  We met Dani, one of the other ETAs, who handed off a bunch of Thai info before she left last night.
Right now we're just waiting out some rain and going to head up to the north of Phuket.

That's all for now...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Finishing up The Philippines

Who knew seeing such beautiful settings took it out of a person so much, but I’m tired!  I’m writing this from Puerto Princessa where we just arrived.  

After El Nido we bussed over to Taytay for a little quiet time.  We were the only tourists in the entire town, and while there wasn't a ton to do we had a good time meeting some locals (and having beer bought for us!) and also taking an adventure out to a jungle lake where we borrowed some local guy's dug out canoe!  The rest of the time was really just spent enjoying the quiet little town and it's beautiful sunsets.

Next up was a longer than expected ride down to Sabang and the longest underground river in the world which is also the only underground river in the world which drains directly into the ocean.  It was very cool, but after the seclusion we've been having, the 90 Koreans that swarmed to the place right after us was a bit overwhelming, though it did mean that we pretty much got a private tour, but that could have been better if the guy had cut out the corny jokes and let us enjoy the caves. Oh well I'm getting picky now!  The hike over to the cave was also really nice, if a little sweaty and surrounded by mosquitoes!

Upon getting back we decided we were in no hurry to get back to civilization and enjoyed the nice beach and comfy hammocks!  Luckily most people come from Puerto Princessa for a day tour of the caves, meaning the town was very quiet, though we did manage to find some more Filipinos to buy us beer (traveling with a girl has its perks)!

Oh I also managed to find time to try another interesting food.  Nicknamed adidas (after the shoe) I munched down on some grilled chicken feet...yum!

We’ll spend tonight here and fly tomorrow evening and then to Singapore the next day and onto Thailand the morning after that.  Lots of flights!

 All in all Palawan was absolutely horrible.  Make sure you never come here, the beaches aren't gorgeous, there aren't really nice people, the snorkeling isn't pretty good, the scenery isn't stunning and the prices aren't really affordable.  So please don't come here!  I however, will try to suffer through and return sometime soon!

I'm trying to update the pictures when I can so check the same facebook album.

Becoming a beach person...

When Steph and I started this trip she mentioned that she was a beach person, and I said I was definitely a mountain person; I may stand corrected!  Our time in El Nido was that fantastic. 

We initially flew into Puerta Princessa and were able to get a good deal on a hot water and AC room as well as a share mini-van with AC up to El Nido.  After checking with literally every place in El Nido we found a decent cheap room.  Our next step was to book a tour; that’s the deal in El Nido (a small tourist town right on the water and up against some limestone cliffs), all the various tour operators, and there are a lot, run more or less the same tours with the same letters.

While we were walking around we happened across a place that offered an overnight trip on a private island; after getting some more details we jumped on it.  With the food, and a combination of all the tours as well as one night accom the deal was about 2x what you could have done on the ultimate budget, but it was worth every cent (~$100/person)!  Not only did we get 5 great meals, a night in a private village on a tropical island, and a combination off all the tours (covering pretty much the entire Bacuit Archipelago) the best part was that we had the boat to ourselves and were able to avoid the ‘crowds’.  Literally the entire time there was only one sight that I even noticed other people; basically we felt like we had the entire archipelago to ourselves!

The first day started off with breakfast on board and a small lagoon all to ourselves; this was one of my favorite moments because it gave us such an intimate introduction to the stunning limestone rock-forms.  I think the limestone would be stunning anywhere, but when you put it in such a dramatic setting and throw in some white sand-beaches the result is truly excellent.  I could go on and on, but just look at pictures once I get them up.

Along with just cruising amongst these gorgeous islands we also spent some time swimming into ‘Secret beach’es, hidden and extra secret (i.e. we just stopped and explored them on our own) caves, as well as 10meter cliff jumps!  The other main activity was increasingly improving snorkeling that cumulated in good coral, a great diversity and number of small reef fish, and crystal-clear, bathtub-warm water.  Other than that this really boring 2 days included a solid spread of fresh fruits and vegetables and delicious seafood as well as spending a night on our own private beach fighting mosquitoes and finding bioluminescent plankton and fish.

By the time we got back into El Nido the evening of the second day, Steph was sunburned, I was in an infinitely better mood (and couldn’t stop smiling) and we were both exhausted from a truly unforgettable trip!

We left El Nido the next morning, but that story and those that follow will have to wait for another posting.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More from Manila

I'm taking advantage of the time and internet to get the latest pics up. These will at least give everyone a taste of what we've been doing and seeing.

Has it really only been a week?!

Ok no I guess 9 days, but wow the Philippines has been amazing.

And I’m saying that 3 days after getting pretty bad food poisoning (at this point I’m kind of an expert on ranking severity), and the evening after spending a night in a pay by hour hotel. Obviously I have some ‘splaining to do…

Last we joined The Duo they were just returned from 2 nights in Batad hiking amongst stunning rice terraces. Immediately after that we hopped a local bus to Bontoc for perhaps my favorite bus ride of all time. We got to the bus stop an hour early only to be told that the bus wouldn’t be coming for 2 hours. Less than 10mins later the bus came around the corner and we hopped into surprisingly comfortable bench seats at the back. The next 2hrs were spent listening to good country music (I don’t know, or care, why, but the soundtrack in Php is much better than in Indo), as we drove along a road that skirted along the edge of VERY steep mountains. The road was in great condition and you could peer down the mountains, where they had blasted the road in there were easily 200ft drops in a matter of 5 horizontal feet, and the road was basically right on the edge. I absolutely loved it and was entertained the entire time! It almost felt, to me, like I was in the Andes, or how I always pictured the Andes.

A jeepney ride later (just as beautiful to me) we were into Sagada a mountain town that has, for the past 20-30 years, become a tourist spot. The vibe really reminded me of Lake Toba, but less developed; no less hippy however! The first night Steph and I just scouted out the town after finding a twin room with a shared hot water bath (though we were the only ones in the entire hotel) for $5/night! I was really impressed with the dramatic limestone formations and the sheer mountains as well as the pine trees and general cool, mountain climate.

The next morning we picked up a guide for some pretty intense caving. I was expecting more of a stroll through a hole in the ground glancing at stalagmites/-tites. Instead we were crawling through gaps that were tight for me, climbing up and down ropes, peering over perilous drops, wading through chest deep water inside the cave and generally trying not to fall to our deaths! Steph’s slip count was at least 3 times, once her tumble ended around my leg and another time our guide caught us just as she was about to fall off a 10 ft initial drop followed by many more. There were several times I had to just go and not think about it too much; there wasn’t really an alternative. The cave was really beautiful and the fact that you had to work to get there just made me appreciate it all the more! And all of that was without any harnesses, training/preparation or insurance and for $10! Not gonna get that in the US!

It was that night that I got sick unfortunately and I was out of commission for a day and a half; missing Steph’s trip to a nice looking waterfall, subsequent abduction by ‘devil-children’, and a delicious meal.

The following morning, still feeling a little weak and tired Steph and a Swiss guy we met set out the see the Hanging Coffins of Echo Valley. The coffins were interesting (how did they get some of those up there!), and we had seem some in the cave as well, but I found the limestone formations more interesting. After that Steph and I took a trek, got a bit lost, had to make a U-turn, but were rewarded with some beautiful views of the landscape (mountains, terraces, etc).

We chilled out that night and then took a bus first thing in the morning to Clark…which is where we reach the pay-by-hour hotel. In full disclosure this is a hotel chain that is fairly prevalent in Php and is very clean, simple, cheap, and logical (do you really use a whole day?), but the situation was sketchy because of the location: Clark, a former US Air Force Air Base, and easily the seediest place I have ever seen! The population along Fields Ave, was largely middle aged Euro men and young Asian girls…you figure it out.

We had come to Clark because we wanted to hike to a local volcano, but the prices were just a little too ridiculous and we were too last minute to properly plan. Instead we just spent the night in the actually very nice and cheap hotel before continuing on to Manila.

Some other quick notes that hopefully I will have time to explain later:

· Steph’s addiction to Yoghurt House in Sagada, particular their cookies

· I would like to do a driving tour of Northern Luzon, the region is beautiful, the weather nice, the people friendly, and the roads well-maintained.

· My nice-to-scam-tour of Manila

· I ate balut, a partially formed duck embryo

· Meeting Christina, a private museum owner in Sagada

· Some interesting introspection on my part.

I’ve been taking plenty of pics, but don’t have them up yet. At some point I will and I’ll let everyone know. Steph has also been taking a ton of videos so we’ll be sharing those somehow, sometime!

Ok that’s enough for now. Steph and I fly down south to Palawan tomorrow afternoon and the internet, as well as the electricity, will be even harder to come by so there may not be much more until we’re back on the 19th.

Until then…!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Leg one of the leg one

Phew, it's been a whirlwind tour lately.

I enjoyed my time in Singapore and eventually got to see some of it: Dani and I walked around the Arab quarter, which is an interesting mix of Singapore's organization and the culture of the area. We then caught up with everyone that was around and had one last night hanging out eating and drinking.

I was up early the next morning and flying to Manila!
All of that went pretty easy, but I wasn't able to meet up with my fellow intrepid explorer until the evening because she was off seeing sights like a good backpacker should! Eventually we got caught up at her hostel, Friendly's which lived up to its name and let me hangout there while waiting.
The next thing we knew we were on a grungy, but AC bus up to Banaue. The bus took longer than we expected, but we got in, grabbed some breakfast and then started the most extensive hiking I have done in along time.
The landscape here is VERY steep, yet 2000-4000 years ago the local people decided that they needed to make some enormous rice terraces. I'd seen pictures, but they didn't do it justice at all!

Our first walking was around Banaue. It was very impressive, but in retrospect it paled in comparison to our next stop: Batad. The hike to get to Batad was grueling in itself because we missed the Jeepney and had to walk up to the saddle (i.e. mountain pass).
We eventually got down there and got ourselves a place. We were lucky and found some fellow travelers from Germany who went with us the next day as we hiked ALL OVER the area. You'll have to wait to see the pictures, but the area is astounding. It's described as amphitheater like and it really is, but the elevation change is somewhere around 1500 feet! I was also a little surprised by how remote it was. There was electricity, but everything that wasn't grown there had to be packed in by foot on a 45min hike down from the saddle.

You really have to see the pictures to appreciate it, but the area was gorgeous and after 2 days of non-stop up and down, my legs are fried. The drugs have kept my knee from being too sore, though I had to go really slow downhill and was always bringing up the rear with my weird one foot at a time. I was able to redeem myself by hauling ass up the hill, particularly this morning when Steph and I weren't sure if we were going to make it to the Jeepney back to Banaue; where we are now waiting for a bus to Bontoc and hopefully on to Sagada.

The fun has just started!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Good Morning from another world

I had a minute this morning with fast internet and waiting for my friends to wake up (not everyone is on pesantren time!).

Since I last blogged, I've had my going away party from the school which was surprisingly emotional and certainly heartfelt (if a little corny at times). I was a little surprised at how attached I felt there, but the excitement of beginning these travels over took those. As I was leaving at midnight though, at least half of my students walked me to the pesantren gate, it was a very cool moment.
From there it was a bus and two planes and next thing I knew I was in Singapore!
Talk about a scene change. I came through Singapore on my way in, but I certainly did not appreciate it like I do now. It's...western...clean...organized... in other words, completely un-Indonesian! The prices are also un-Indonesian, but I'm dealing!

Dani, John and I spent last night in a hostel a ways out of the city so that Dani and I could take advantage of the free bag storage. Hostel166 is an interesting place, but the owner is certainly a very friendly guy, and I've stayed in much worse places.
John came with us because he flew with us and had no where else to go after he was detained by the police! Ok that was just meant to sound good, but he really was. He had a traditional sword from Indonesia with him and just about anything dangerous or pretend-dangerous is outlawed in Singapore. But as John said 'that was the friendliest arrest you could ever have!'

No real stories here just and update to say that I've made it this short distance, but feel like I've stepped into a completely different world!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Last couple things

This posting is a handful of things I meant to blog before, but I never found a place to fit them in:
• Without prevalent AC and really hot and humid temperatures, I definitely appreciate that people seem to bathe at least 2 or 3 times a day, but I still find it weird that the standard here is to bathe with clothes on. And that isn’t exclusive to the pesantren as I have seen others in the area doing the same thing as well as other islands. That brings up why they bathe in clothes: they’re ‘mandi’ing in full view of everyone at a public or family well. In some cases this is right next to the road (interesting location selection). The result is that people usually clean up in fairly conservative swimming clothes. I guess it works, but yet another oddity of Indo I don’t completely understand. I suppose it has to do with availability of a closed kamar mandi but also the decency standards of Islam too.
• I had an interesting conversation about religion with Daya. I’ll spare the details, but what I found interesting was that we were able to have a lengthy discussion about it; that showed just how far I have come here and the friendship we have formed, as well as debunked some of those myths about Islam being so strict. The conversation ended up coming down to that we had fundamentally different views, but we were able to agree on that and move on; similar to my arrangement with religious friends back home. It was a pretty cool experience.
• During a lot of my previous travels I always came away noticing the positive things of the country I was in. Even more though I usually noticed where they were superior to the US, thus highlighting the shortcomings of the US. This time I’m coming back realizing just how damn good we have it. I cannot wait to back to the Western world!

No longer a guru, and never again Mr. Aaron

Ok so this is it from the Pesantren, I had my last class yesterday and now it's just saying goodbye and wrapping things up. This is the last post from here and the next one will be sent from elsewhere; wow where has the time gone?!

This last week has been spent mostly getting ready, packing things up, giving things away, trying not to be too bored. And also dealing with crying high school girls…

I am really surprised at how hard some of the people here are taking my leaving. I expected Daya to tear up a little bit, but she’s been sobbing at times and many of the students are sad too. I don’t feel I’ve been that close with anyone here, but they seem to feel otherwise! Part of it is certainly culture. People aren’t individuals here, they are part of a collective and people rarely leave (not sure if that is a cause or an effect). The result is that they almost feel like part of them is leaving. Thus, they get pretty upset. This is the opposite of me; I’m excited to leave because I’m looking forward traveling, but also because I have not felt as close to them as they apparently felt to me. That sounds really sad, but I must be honest there just isn’t that connection here. The culture is just a little too different; I have been unable to completely act how I normally would. So maybe that’s why they’re upset, they’ve only seen my ‘nice’ side : )

Also contributing to them being sad at my leaving is the status at which they place me. This is something I really don’t understand. I think it must be a cultural thing, but I cannot fathom why almost all Indonesians get so excited when they see a bule (as evidence: the number of ‘hello misters’). Compare this to the US: do we get excited when we see a foreigner? Hardly! Simply because I can speak English I am treated like a rock star here. Why is that? I really don’t know, but to me it’s stunningly weird. I don’t deserve (or particularly want) all this attention and adoration. And I really don’t want (and haven’t really taken) the responsibility that comes with it.

All of this attention has made it readily apparent, that despite my self-centeredness, it isn’t all about me! In fact my time here really has been about the people I interact with and encounter. But this also brings up another point of my experience here. At times I have felt quite hypocritical because while I realize it’s not all about me, I seem to be babying myself quite a bit, doing whatever I feel like doing, rather than forcing myself to do something that might be more beneficial for those around me. In addition, I’ve found out how important being social is to me, yet I hide in my room and don’t communicate with people a lot (again babying myself/being lazy). It’s kind of a weird situation and I’ve been writing off most of my actions as being in such an unreal situation. I guess I’ll find out if that is true or not pretty soon when I leave here.

Speaking of leaving, here is the itinerary for the next 3 months. I leave the pesantren on the 29th, head directly to the Makassar airport, fly to Jakarta and then on to Singapore. I’ll spend 2 nights in Singapore before flying to Manila, Philippines. There, I’ll meet Steph and we’ll first travel up north to the 2,000 year old rice terraces and surrounding beauty of the Cordilleras. After that, we’ll jet down south to a supposedly pretty remote tropical paradise (ok maybe that’s a bit hyperbole) called Palawan. We’ll eventually be flying out to Singapore where we will take a night in the airport before going on to Phuket, Thailand. We’ll chill in the south for a week before heading up to Steph’s new/temporary home in the northeast of Thailand. After helping her get settled, I’m going to go explore Laos for a week and half or so before flying down to Kuala Lumpur to meet mom on July 14. Mom and I will then check out Cambodia for 5 days and return to see Borneo and Peninsula Malaysia until August 16 when mom will return to the States. At that point I’ll go….somewhere. I’m leaving this open; I’ll find something to do I’m sure! I’ll eventually get back to the US on the 28th of August after 3 months of backpacking!

I’m really looking forward to exploring SE Asia and comparing the different countries to Indonesia. I am particularly interested to see the area not through the prism of Islam. As I think about it, the influence of Islam hasn’t been as strong when I’ve travelled Indonesia as it has in my day-to-day life here in an Islamic boarding school (surprise!). Now, I straight away plan things around prayer times, and taking off my shoes is 2nd nature, as is not eating pork or drinking (oh how I’ve missed you beer and bacon!). It will be nice to be out of here in some ways. As another ETA described it: Indonesian culture is constantly draped over you like a heavy blanket. There’s never anything blatantly said or forced upon you, but after a full day, or 8 months, you find yourself tired and hunched over from its weight. Unless you’ve been here it’s hard to understand.

It’s a little sad to think all of this is coming to an end, but every time I start feeling sad the power goes out or there is a call to prayer overpowering my music or someone screams ‘hello mister’ and I realize that, as is the norm for me, it’s time to move on…

Saturday, May 15, 2010

News updates from SE Asia

I don’t know how much of this makes it back to the other side of the globe, but there has been quite a bit of, on the face of it, unsettling news coming from the places I am staying, or will be traveling to shortly.
The biggest one would be all the unrest in Thailand. I honestly expected that to settle down quite a while ago, but obviously it’s still continuing and perhaps even worsening. The good news, with respect to me, is that it’s confined to places that I am not planning to go with Steph. I would really like to get to Bangkok, but wasn’t going to do that until after mom left, so there’s plenty of time for Thailand to get things sorted out! For you worriers out there, I’ve already registered my trip with the US State Dept so I get all of the Embassy warnings and such.
There is also news coming out of the Philippines following their election on Monday, but to be honest I actually expected worse news. There were some killings, but the presidential win was such a landslide that there weren’t too many complaints. Also, the places I’m headed (Northern Luzon and Palawan) are very calm, with most of the unrest coming in the south east portion of the country (Luzon is the northernmost main island and Palawan the westernmost).
The last bit of news is from Indonesia where there has been a lot of chatter about arresting and killing terrorists. First, where I am in SulSel, terrorism is not even an afterthought; most of the news is from Java. I think that the government really is busting-up terrorist groups, but the interesting part is the timing. The latest case is the most obvious example of what I mean:
One night watching the news I saw that the head corruption investigator in Indonesia had been, surprise surprise, accused of corruption. This was obviously pretty big and very crummy news for a country that is literally crippled by corruption. But I’m guessing you never heard about this little bit of news because literally the next morning the only news coming out of Indo or about Indo was the bust netting terrorists. I honestly never thought anything of it, but when I talked to Imran he seemed pretty convinced that the timing was more than coincidence. Apparently this is routine here, some bad publicity about the government comes out and the next day some terrorists are arrested or more likely, shot. As I think back that has happened at least 2 other times while I’ve been here. I’m not saying they made up the terrorists, just that the timing is…convenient.

Anyways, that’s the news from here with my own personal views on it. I don’t think any of it is worth worrying about, though I am keeping close tabs on Thailand.

Less than 2 weeks now!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bisa atau tidak bisa

I’m down to 2 weeks now! Wow, where has the time gone? I knew it would go fast, but the last 2 months has really just disappeared. Lately I’ve finished up my travel plans which has left me some time to think about the fact that I’m finishing up here. I can happily say that I have definitely made a difference here, and hey some of it has even been positive!
While I’m just starting to get sad, apparently Daya has been getting that way for a while now. Largely because of that she has been trotting me out, taking me all over the place. For instance, the other day she took me to her family’s ‘garden’ (not what you’re thinking, but not a farm either). I even helped them plant some corn (rather than plowing up a whole field they just use a stick to pound a hole). Then today I went to some more of her family’s as there was a holiday (as per usual, no one had any idea what it was for).

As I near the end of my time in Indo, I’ve been making 2 lists, one of things I CAN do in the US and one of things I CAN’T do in the US. (the title of this blog translates as ‘can or can’t’)

•Unabashedly stare at people
•Considering buying water the activity for the afternoon
•Wear a striped red shirt and green shorts and be told I’m handsome
•Pay $2 for a meal and feel I paid too much
•Be tall
•Live for the price of a water jug (<$0.60) every 2 weeks
•Walk into the room and instantly be the most popular person there
•Be a comedian (people laugh at EVERYTHING here)
•Smell my tap water

•Lie out in the sun without being told that it’s too hot
•Swerve inside a road lane… there are lanes, they’re bug enough to swerve & people stay in them
•Be sound asleep at 5am
•Use my shower to get completely clean
•Cuss (with people actually knowing what I’m saying)
•Not REQUIRE air-con
•Eat bacon
•Drinking fountains!
•Gorge on fresh vegetables and berries
•Eavesdrop without concentrating
•American Football!
•Actually surf the internet
•Say my name normally
•Move heavy objects with no intent to accomplish something
•Drive a car
•Talk about sports I actually care about
•Eat a meal and be able to identify every piece of food
•Pet a dog without needing to sterilize my hand with a blowtorch
•See a woman’s hair
•Pay a set price for something…anything
•Not want to sing, and be normal because of that
•Not have a religion
•Not fake smile all day
•Develop a friendship
This last one seems a little odd I realize, but another ETA made a good point, with the standard/stereotypical Indonesian they ask you ridiculous questions as soon as they meet you, but that’s about it. The result is that you know a person in 10 minutes as well as you do in 10 months. Obviously this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s surprisingly and a bit scarily accurate.

That’s all for now

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Visiting friends

It’s been a while since my last blog, largely because my internet was out for a while, along with the power. Now however, things seem to have returned to normal so here’s an update.
The first weekend in May was spent in ParePare. I went to say goodbye to the older couple I had met there, Justin and Diane because they left for a month in Lombok this week. While I was there besides eating lots of Diane’s delicious cooking I met yet another bule; he was from Brisbane. He’s married to a local and bases his international business out of Pare. Talking with/about him, divorces also came up, and I found out that divorces are fairly common here. It seems people can’t say no to organized or pressured marriages, but they can annul them in a few months. That makes sense!
Justin and Diane are always good for some interesting conversations about trying to help in various locations (they’ve been all over including Africa some 30 years ago; now that’s an adventure!). A far amount of our conversations were spent talking about positive and negative aspects of some cultures. On that front I have long been pretty liberal; thinking that cultures are different not better or worse, but as I’ve spent more time here it’s become pretty obvious that there are some cultures which are better than others at accomplishing certain things that we currently value in this world (I had to soften it with that last bit).

The Monday after I returned from Pare there was no class because there was a celebration for the 3rd classes in the middle and high schools finishing. To the boredom of a normal graduation (hot, uncomfortable chairs, long speeches, etc) now add being able to understand about 1/3 of the words, if you really concentrate. It wasn’t horrible, but pretty bad. I played on my cell phone the whole time. After it was over I was of course in a TON of pictures. Then they took down the metal tent in a serious lightning storm; not kidding.

The graduation party also included some celebration for the Prophet’s Birthday. Those Islam-savvy out there will not that was OVER 2 MONTHS AGO! Despite that, this was the second celebration I had been to for the Prophet’s B-day. The first was in a student’s home and Easter had invited me. It was somewhat interesting, but not my favorite thing considering I got to sit and listen to 3 guys read the Koran for an hour while I sweated away. One thing I liked about the celebrations is the banana Christmas Easter Tree! They take a banana tree trunk and jab lots of sticks into it, forming roughly a Christmas tree shape. Each stick is decorated and on the end of it is a hardboiled egg (hence the Easter part of the tree). What I didn’t see coming was at the student’s house when, as soon as the Koran reading was over, everyone (grandma included!) made a mad rush at the tree to pull out a stick and egg!

Then this past weekend I headed to Makassar to celebrate Jimmie’s birthday. We didn’t really do much of anything, but it was good to catch up, and especially get to a gym! I can still hardly move my arms!
The time in Makassar made it very obvious that I know longer need an itinerary to have a very good time, just sitting talking, zoning out, playing on the internet or simply walking around is an activity now…I’ve definitely lost my American ‘everything must be scheduled’ urge; I don’t miss it very much!
We did manage to get motivated enough to see a CLASSY Indo movie and even listened to some music at a concert. Both confirmed that Indo’s are not very good at trying Western media!

So as you can see, not much has been going on here lately, but the time is winding down in a hurry. I will leave the pesantren late night May 28 which means I have 2.5 weeks left!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Coming to a happy ending?

One thing I was surprised by during the Bali trip was my defending of Sidrap. Several times during Indonesia-bash-sessions, which ETAs, and other ex-pats, are prone to (we’ve got to vent to someone, sometime), I felt really defensive when someone said something negative about my placement.
This is coming from a guy that was all but ready to call it quits and pack up not that many months ago; though the fact that, knock on wood, mati lampu has become much less frequent and I now have internet in my room has helped my placement a lot. I was stunned as I was telling people that ‘No, the situation isn’t that bad at all’ ‘The ride to Makassar goes fast’ and ‘the food is actually pretty good’.
What was I saying?! Just ask anyone that reads my blog and knows how I live here; it’s atrocious, appalling, and abysmal!
Isn’t it?

It’s very difficult for me to communicate the situation I’m in here. I truly value this experience and I have a feeling when I look back in a few months that my feelings will be turning towards loving it here (with time memories grow more fond, right?). But (and there’s always a but) this country/situation has constant aggravations. Depending on my mood (which has a HUGE impact) those aggravations can roll off my back or can cause near melt-downs. It’s really kind of scary the swings in opinion I can have here: sometimes I really love it and appreciate the colossal amount that everyone has done for me, but then at other times I’m really annoyed by all the issues I deal with. Lately however, the issues have become less and I’ve gotten really good at dealing with them; I have become more comfortable and accustomed to life here than I ever would have expected 6 or 7 months ago. This is certainly a unique experience I have been undertaking, and somewhat stunningly, I think I’m going to miss it (once I’m safe, comfortable, clean, and allowed privacy back in the US!).

Re…Renver…Rever … apa?

One thing I was told about before I came, read about and have been experiencing for the past 8 months, but just lately has registered with me is the lack of reverence that Indonesians typically display.
To me, a performance or a presentation and certainly a formal prayer, are, by definition, times when people should be quiet and show their respect. I mentioned it earlier, but here that respect doesn’t come across like that. It is kind of refreshing to see a people not take themselves so seriously as to think that everyone must be quiet and conservative to humor a particular belief. This is especially true considering the rap that Islam occasionally gets in the US as ultra-conservative. It is also a little disconcerting at first however; until you realize there is no disrespect meant, it’s frankly pretty annoying. This idea at least helps to explain my Bali temple experiences too (which was only exacerbated because Bali is a tourist trap).
This seeming lack of reverence reverberates throughout Indonesian culture and I think at times I have mis-indentified it as several different maladies (such as a general lack of maturity (though I still stand by that to some extent), little boys being allowed to get away with anything, being yelled at on the streets, etc.), when in reality it is simply a cultural attitude not to worry too much about anyone thing particularly what we consider ‘manners’. That is not always the case however, and occasionally strict adherence is required for some things (of course I never know what those things are!).

One particular example of this lack of reverence is eating. This in particularly was annoying me until one of the other ETAs mentioned how unimportant meals are in Indonesia. With the exception of feasts/celebrations, meals are not an event at all, simply a time to get the food you need. Even those feasts are not the ornate, well-organized occasions a Westerner may expect. In fact, there is no word in Indonesian for meal (that I’ve found at least). Breakfast is makan pagi (eat morning), lunch makan siang (eat mid-day) and finally makan malam (you guessed it, eat night).
Once I realized this it made me feel more normal about my eating with Imran’s family. I felt a little awkward because rarely did anyone beside a screaming kid eat with me. But it’s just a cultural difference. Food isn’t really a big deal here (apparently explaining some of the lack of delicious food and also why there aren’t many Indonesian restaurants internationally). The main meal is eaten around midday, but typical dishes are prepared in such a way that they can sit out at room temperature for an extended period of time, even in this weather; I know you don’t believe they’d stay good, but as long as you don’t have dysentery, it seems to work.

It’s kind of surprising to me that such a blatant cultural difference has taken me this long to identify, but now that I have, I see it everywhere. Of course this comes just as I’m getting ready to leave…4 weeks!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A touristy experience

I have to say I was actually ready to return from Bali when my plane took off Sunday evening. While Bali is certainly a nice place with some great sights it is way too touristy for me. Constantly being hassled to pay this, buy this, look at this, come here, go there is not my idea of traveling. So while I’m glad I went to Bali, I’m also not disappointed that I left it for last and almost didn’t make it there.
I did however REALLY enjoy the food. In fact this was really an eating weekend. In one day I ate French toast, 2 servings of ice cream, three good beers, a serving of traditional pork (babi guling is a Bali specialty and included tender pork, blood sausage, and delicious crispy skin and crunchy cracklings), a banana nut muffin, rye bread, a chicken sandwich and garlic mashed potatoes! And every other day I had at least one meal of MEXICAN food! So yeah, Bali has some redeeming features!

A total of 4 of us ETAs stayed in Ubud for 2 nights with one day looking around the city and buying gifts. Ubud is almost as touristy as Kuta (which is not actually Indonesia, but actually an Australian party town moved to an Indonesian island), but in a completely different way. Instead of clubs, and surfing, Ubud is all about cafes and art. It was kind of fun to walk around the city looking in a bunch of stores and galleries (Mom and Leith, you guys would have loved it…and left completely broke), but I spent my money in the local market. After 3 hours of bargaining I was exhausted! I really like bargaining for things, but when it becomes necessary to bargain for absolutely everything and the people you are bargaining with start out at ridiculous prices, it’s really just a pain; at one point the price dropped on something I wanted by 200% as soon as I spoke a single word of Indonesian! I ended up paying less than 1/6 of the original price.
After the day of shopping and eating in Ubud the next day we went on a temple tour which was pretty disappointing to be honest. Even at these temples we were constantly harassed by someone for something. Despite this Pura Besakih (aka the ‘mother temple’) was pretty interesting, once we finally got in past the ‘mandatory guides’ (they weren’t but we ended up paying a guy a little, mostly just to be left alone).
At several of the temples, most of us were struck by how insincere some of the temples seemed. While it was demanded that tourists wear sarongs and sashes, there were other people throwing their cigarettes around and hawkers of all kinds in the temples. I have absolutely no qualms with wearing appropriate clothing, but when it seems like that is required mostly so that tourists have to rent a sarong, that isn’t right. This is supposed to be a holy location, but it turns into a gimmick. I don’t know how else to describe it other than to say that there was not an authentic feel, it seemed the temples were there primarily for tourists to see; though to be fair we did go to the biggest temples that tourists commonly visit.
One slight exception was Gunung Kawi Temple, though there were souvenir stands there too. This was my favorite place we visited; the valley/rice/palm tree views were stunning. In fact, the valley was so lush with growth you could hardly tell there was a draw there. As for the temple, there are numerous temples carved into solid rock. Outside of these older temples there are newer, and in my opinion more sterile looking shrines.

So all in all I considered Bali to be too touristy, though 30 years ago I bet it was a great place to visit. I’m also guessing that if Bali was the only place in Indo you visited you would love it, but after seeing so much else Bali seemed like a hole. Though I did enjoy the touristy-ness in that it allowed me to eat food I had forgotten was so delicious!

Here are some of the pictures:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dancing Horses

Saturday I headed to West Sulawesi with Daya and Yusran (who we nicknamed the domestic bule, meaning it was 2 bule and a tiny woman on a big adventure) on the recommendation of one of the teachers from here. She comes from a city that annually has a, as she described it, horse party, and apparently this year was the biggest ever (100+ horses).
Obviously I had no clue what I was getting myself into, but Daya asked if I wanted to go and she pretty much organized everything so I of course said yes. After leaving at 8am and not arriving to the city until after 12, knowing we were going to return at 4, and not really sure what we were seeing, I was less than thrilled. The drive was pretty nice though and it let me see some different parts of Sulawesi. The city was right on the ocean too, and, as per usual, a good attitude and some patience turned it into a good day. A family member of the teacher (she was in Makassar) came and found us and led us to their home where we were of course fed and stared at (more me than Yusran and Daya!).
To cut the story short, the party turned out to be a parade of ‘dancing horses’ with children riding. The 2 girls from the family we knew had just finished with their reading of the holy Koran; I’m not sure if this was standard for all. There were about 30 horses with boys (wearing, what I imagine as, Arab wear (turban, long white dress-thing)) and 70 or so with girls (some wearing bright traditional Mandar, the local people, wear, others wearing traditional Muslim wear (according to Daya)). Apparently this is a very old tradition, though no one knew how old. There are stories of the Mandar and their horses going back hundreds of years though so I’m guessing it’s old!
In addition to the horses, there were also groups with lots of hide and wood drums usually played by guys from 7 or 8 to 70 or 80. They really got into their music and there was lots of dancing. With all the music, bright colors, and happy people it reminded me a bit of Brasil. In combination with the parade (I really like ‘horse party’ much better) there, in the last few years has been some sort of weeklong sailing competition too (maybe there are ancient ties here, hard to get the whole story, even with fluent translators). One result was that I was not the only bule (not counting Yusran either, Daya called him the domestic bule when he got in the car and then later some random people thought he was a bule too).

I’ve tried to get a video from the parade up with no luck, but I have pictures here in an old album:

Speaking of pictures, the first is a link to the pictures from Jakarta, and the 2nd to the Pesantren album I have going, some new pictures relate to some of the stuff below.

Some other highlights from the weekend:
So last blog I mentioned that I don’t list all the day to day stuff anymore, well day was particular interesting so I thought I share a couple highlights.
First was walking out my back door in the morning to see a bunch of middle schoolers pulling the feathers off of ducks and grilling them up. I shrugged my shoulders, of course took some pictures, and went back to planning travels (I bought a bunch of tickets today!).
Luckily that duck ended up leading to my favorite food here in Indonesia itik! Itik is a type of duck; it looks just like a classic duck to me, but they also have bebek here which is translated as duck also, but is shorter and fatter. Itik is found all around Indonesia, but apparently is a specialty here.
My next weird moment came at dinner when I was eating left over itik (just picking at it really since even when it was fresh, the meal made my stomach feel a little funky). As I grabbed a piece of itik (it is always chopped up into annoyingly small pieces that are mostly bone), I pulled at a piece of meat, not recognizing it (not a new thing, I routinely have no idea what part of an animal I am eating here). After wiping away a bit of the sauce I realized I was being stared at…yeah I was holding half a duck head in my hands!
As I was walking over to dinner Imran’s kids were getting ready to go do some martial arts, I assumed, somewhere nearby. As it turns out it was a large portion of the pesantren and they were doing them on the basketball court (which has been used for everything, but basketball). I wasn’t feeling that great (this sinus infection/cold won’t go away), but I did go out and take some pictures. There is just something a little odd to see a bunch of teenage girls in Tae-Kwan-Do uniforms…and jilbabs.
Oh Indonesia, how I’ll miss your absurd ‘normal days’.

I already had this written, but because my internet is as it is, I hadn't posted it. Then Yusran came and grabbed me Sunday afternoon and took me to see a Rooster competition. That turned out not to be much (it did make for some interesting sentences from him since the translation he knew was cock) so Yus took me out to see some of his family. As per usual I had no clue what I was getting into, but I had a pretty good time and got some tasty snacks.

What an interesting weekend!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Catching up on a couple things

First the biggest and most exciting news for me: my after-grant travels are setting up. I’ll work my way backwards: I moved my US return ticket back as far as I could to the end of August (28th). Which means I’ll have a little time on my own after mom leaves; she’ll be here from Jul 14 to Aug 16. I’ve spent a bunch of time setting up an itinerary for her and I. Usually I like to just have a rough outline, but since it is the tourist hi-season and we have a limited amount of time, pre-booking is a probably a good idea. Before mom arrives though, Steph is going to travel the Philippines and probably Thailand with me for the month of June! I’m also hoping to get Vietnam in before mom comes.
So far, I’ve booked my tickets to the Philippines; I fly out of Singapore on the 31st. AMINEF doesn’t care when exactly we end (between May 27-31) so I’ll probably leave the Pesantren on the 27th or 28th and go to Makassar for a night or two. AMINEF will buy my Makassar to Jakarta ticket and then I’ll fly on to Singapore (the first part of my return ticket). I’ll probably do all that on the 29th or 30th. If I go on the 29th I can see Singapore a little bit. The other news is that I found a hostel in Singapore that will hold my extra luggage for free. So now I don’t have to FedEx it back (big savings!), but I probably should use their hostel for more than a night, though they said I don’t have to.

Next topic: I’ve heard from a couple people that I sound negative on some of my blogs, and reading over some old ones, yeah I can see that. The reason for that is that the blog is my opportunity to vent a little bit, and besides, boring everyday life is not something people really want to read about; granted what I call boring and normal now is probably not so normal in the US. So I guess just know that I really do enjoy it here, but (and I’m paraphrasing this from Katie, she wrote it too well not to) I’m not a skilled enough writer to incorporate all the amazing and fun experiences I have with the day to day challenges and headaches; instead I just list them all in a big group.

NEXT! Coming back from Makassar on Monday night I realized I hadn’t properly described the road between Makassar and ParePare. I may have mentioned that the road was a little broken, but that doesn’t begin to do it justice, and this road plays a big part in my life here as any time I try to escape I have to navigate it. First you need to realize that this is THE road coming north from Makassar; there may be another road on the east coast of our peninsula, but by all accounts it’s even worse. To put it in a little perspective, this road has the importance of say I-5 running from Portland to Eugene.
To be fair, the main reason the road is so bad is that they are attempting to expand it from a normal Indo road to a 4 lane high way; I say attempting for a reason. Right now the drive from ParePare to Mak, which is less than 100 miles, takes a minimum of 4 hours, and those are not pleasant hours. Driving is really just a free for all. All of the drivers just guess which the best way to go is. They have to chose because there are multiple levels, a couple different lanes, and the fact that you of course don’t have any real traffic laws (want to drive down the wrong lane? Go for it!). It’s basically some twisted, perverted, crazy video game. The multiple levels come from the fact that they’re building the new road in about 100ft segments at a time and the new parts are raised about 1ft above the old road. The result is that you end up ramping (gravel, dirt, etc. meaning lots of potholes and not level at all) onto and off of the new segments. So you end up hauling ass on a nice new chunk of road as far as you can, slamming on the breaks so that you can turn of and tumble down the ramp to the old broken/potholed road. It’s an experience to say the least! Oh yeah gotta add that most of the time your stuffed in a SUV that has had an extra row of seats added so that there are routinely 11 people, and as many as 20, jammed in a car with all their bags and such.
One other thing that adds to the experience, and what I don’t understand, is the number of food stands along the road. In particular, there is this stretch of fruit stands selling a citrus fruit that is basically a big, sweeter grapefruit. I’ve gone down to Makassar a lot of times, and not ONCE have I seen someone stop there to buy these things, yet there are over 100 hundred stands each jam packed with nearly a hundred fruits a piece. I just don’t get it! The other entertainment to watch on the way down is the people just sitting along the side of road staring at nothing for (presumably) hours on end. As you can tell, I find this road terribly interesting (yes that is sarcasm dripping out of your computer screen).

Ok that’s enough for now. Hopefully I’ll get another one up before I head to Bali next weekend (22nd to 25th).