Saturday, January 29, 2011


Okay, so it has become clear why everyone loves this place. BECAUSE IT'S AWESOME! It's beautiful. It's cheap as chips. The food is incredible. The people seem genuinely friendly (or at least know how to pretend to be genuinely friendly). We've lived like freakin' KINGS here for a fraction of what it would cost in the western world (and that's in Bali, one of the most expensive parts of Indonesia).

The view from our very cheap and very, very nice hotel room:

Yesterday we started the day by having breakfast delivered to our balcony in Ubud. Does it really get any better than that? Wait, IT DOES! Because then we went to a monkey forest sanctuary! I've never seen such absolute evil disguised in such absolute cuteness. The monkeys like to steal glasses, earrings, wallets, that sort of thing, so you have to be very careful. They are attuned to the sound of a purse opening and they target pockets with particular panache, those sneaky bastards. And when you try to give them a banana, they will JUMP ON YOU to get it because they're so impatient. And, you know, because they're monkeys. We saw all kinds of monkey shenanigans. There was a small monkey pool where all the monkeys were running around at warp speed, dive-bombing each other, and generally wreaking havoc. Other monkeys slept in the temples (a little TOO adorably - I'm on to you, monkeys). One monkey was playing with a bottle and some plastic wrapping in a way that suggested tool use (evil tool use). Babies stumbled around clumsily. Mommies were humped. Daddies fought. One monkey was violated pleasured tickled in his nether regions by a staff member. (You can see how conflicting and confusing that part was for me). Just your typical day in a monkey forest sanctuary.

Children, avert your eyes!

After lunch, we wandered around a museum of Balinese art. Then we were offered tickets to go see a traditional Balinese "fire dance", so we obviously had to see that. "Fire dance" conjures up images of people swallowing flaming knives, dancing with poi, general sexiness. Add to that the concept of "Balinese," and you've got an obvious winner, right?

Well, it turns out that what they meant by a Balinese fire dance was quite different. The show started out with about 150 half-naked guys sitting on the ground in a circle, around a tall candlestick holder lit with about 20 candles (this was the only fire in the entire show), chanting "Chakachakachakachakachakachakachakachakachakachaka" and swaying side to side while doing different hand movements (Jazz hands!). Then two very ornately dressed women stepped into the middle of the circle and moved their arms reeeeeally slowly while making very subtle and precise finger-movements, which you couldn't really see because it was so dark.

For the first 10 minutes, it was very entertaining. It was different, and kinda funky, and I was really enjoying it. Seeing something from Balinese culture! Yeah!

But another 10 minutes passed, and they kept doing the same thing. And I figured, maybe I'm just missing the historical context? Maybe I should go home and read up on the significance of this dance, and it will be a lot better. They're probably telling some sort of ancient spiritual tale!

But then another 10 minutes passed. And another. And another. And I STARTED GOING INSANE. They just kept chanting "chakachakachakachakachakachaka"! And the women kept moving their fingers imperceptibly! THEY WOULDN'T STOP! WHYYYYYY WOULDN'T THEY STOP, WHYYYYYYYYY?! Ahem. And we kept trying to be culturally open-minded, but it was all too mind-numbingly, painfully, un-fucking-believably boring. After 45 minutes we couldn't take it anymore. We left. We strolled past the door about half an hour later, and they were STILL CHANTING AND MOVING VERY SLOWLY. I wonder if they're still going now?

Perhaps Balinese fire dances are just really not our style. (I later found out that it's called Kecak dancing, but reading up on it unfortunately didn't make my memories of this experience any better.) Or perhaps we just happened to go to a really terrible example of this sort of dancing (which tends to happen when you accept the first offer you get without shopping around or doing any research), and we should try it again tomorrow in a more renowned venue. But we've been scarred once... I don't know if we can handle it again.

Today we're attempting to shop again. Hopefully this time we will have the patience to actually buy something, because seriously, this whole heat thing is no joke. We may actually come back with a slight tan.

More pictures here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Too Humid To Think of a Better Title

So! We are now in Indonesia, bitches!

Our guidebook made a huge deal out of how absolutely batshit insane the Indonesian customs people are. If you bring drugs into the country, you get the DEATH PENALTY. You're not allowed to bring in pornography or videos that aren't censored. (No radio cassette players! WTF?) No alcohol or cigarettes. And look nice, our guidebook stressed, and you'll be more likely to get through without any trouble. "More likely."

All of this scared the crap out of me. It's not that we were planning on bringing in any heroin or midget porn or anything, but all of a sudden I was extremely paranoid. The labels of my prescription meds have rubbed off during our travels... Are they going to put us in jail for that? We still have some spices left over from New Zealand for cooking... Oh dear god, they're going to send us back to New Zealand! Noooo! And look NICE? I'm a backpacker, I don't have any nice clothes! And my hair's not done! And my arm is peeling!! That's it, we're done for. I actually had Ross scratch my arm to get off as much of the peeling off as possible, but to no avail. I was one burnt mofo.

Fortunately they let us in without arresting us or anything, and they even let us keep the spices! Not that we're planning on cooking anytime soon... Amazing dinner for $3? Yes please! Just 2 days ago we were paying $10 for one glass of wine in New Zealand. Ridiculous. And here they even manage to give us free, unlimited, reasonably fast internet, which was apparently too much for New Zealand to handle. (I'm ashamed to say that this actually ruined the country slightly for us.)

Anyway, now we're in Legian, one of the touristiest beach resorts on the whole island. About 20 seconds after getting here, we realized that we have no clothes that are appropriate for this intense humidity. So we attempted to go shopping. Turns out, the hawkers here are even more numerous and persistent than in South America. My brother warned me, but it's still overwhelming. I will never get used to the feeling of being a giant walking dollar sign. (In the end, we decided to hold off on buying anything until we get somewhere slightly less touristy. The first store we went into tried to sell us shorts for 30 dollars. HA! I can deal with sweat stains for a few more days.)

Despite all that, I absolutely love it so far. We're finally back in a strange, exotic land, and that makes me all happy inside. The architecture is designed in a very ornate and intricate style, with precise attention to detail. Once you get off the main streets, there are these tiny little alleyways with high walls that you walk through, which makes it feel like you're wandering around a maze. A maze lined with tiny shrines filled with flowers, and guys on motorbikes trying to squeeze through, and it's just fantastic. There is poverty, but you get the impression that the people here actually care deeply about how their city looks. Of course, we've been here about a day and a half, so it's obviously too early to tell, but so far I've found it delightful.

I'm definitely looking forward to the next few months. Tomorrow we're going to a city called Ubud, the "cultural capital" of Bali, and then perhaps to see the Komodo dragons! Or orang-utans? Or temples? OhmygodI'mexcited! Squee!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Beautiful crayfish

Not 24 hours after putting up that last post, we decided to switch our flight so that we'd only have another week in New Zealand instead of two. We decided... fuck it. New Zealand has not impressed us. We're impatient. And the best part is, we're saving more than $500 by doing this. Now it's really tempting to blow all that money in our last week here. Crayfish and skydiving for everyone! Weeeeeeee! (At first I went with 'caviar,' but for some reason crayfish is really popular where we are now, and it's like $60 for half a crayfish. I don't even know what a crayfish is, but that is a lot of money for HALF of something. They should just eat guinea pigs.)

Today I want to talk about bus drivers. We've had an inordinate number of crazy bus drivers in New Zealand. I don't want to say that the profession attracts lunatics or anything -- I'm just saying, the correlation is there.

The cheapest and most extensive bus network in New Zealand is called Intercity Buses. The only downside of Intercity buses is that the bus drivers are apparently contractually required to provide "commentary" during the ride. At first we were like.. sweet! Bus ride AND tour for the price of one! But then we realized that you pretty much get what you pay for. Typical commentary goes something like this (and I am not making this up):

"Now we're passing through a nice little community called Kaikoura. Kaikoura has a population of about 4,000 people. It's not a very big city... but by New Zealand standards, it is actually pretty big. We're passing a hill over on the right here, and we're about to go over a bump in the road. I'll just get into the right hand lane now... Okay. Now I'll tell you a little more about Kaikoura. Kaikoura is known for its beautiful crayfish. You can get some of these beautiful crayfish at Polly's Crayfish Palace, or from Crayfish 'R' Us on the corner over there. Most restaurants in Kaikoura sell them, actually. Kaikoura has a lot of nice shops and restaurants. Mmm... crayfish..."

It makes me wish that I were a bus driver with a microphone. I would also enjoy tormenting entertaining people on the bus with my inane funny and witty ramblings:

"Now if you look to the left, you'll see a blue car. I really like that color of blue. That's the color I was thinking of painting my bathroom. But then I ended up going with a nice bright yellow. I like yellow, it really perks up the room. It wakes me up in the morning when I'm getting ready for work. Sometimes I'll go to the other bathroom though, if my husband is in that bathroom, and it's just not the same..."

ANYway. So that is a typical bus ride for us down here. But TODAY! Today we got a driver who, I'm just guessing here, graduated top of the class in bus driving school. He first really pissed me off when, while boarding the bus, he told us we were not allowed to get on the bus with any food. Having just spent $50 on groceries, we really did not want to put the groceries with the luggage and have it get all squished. He nevertheless INSISTED, and did not believe me when I said I would not eat on the bus, because apparently I'm 2 years old and can't be trusted with food.

The bus ended up breaking down halfway through our ride. (At this point he further sealed himself onto my shit list by pulling out a sandwich from his GIANT lunchbox while waiting for the new bus to arrive. So much for "no food on the bus.") We milled about for a while, switched to the new bus, and finally continued on our way. When we arrived at our destination, he shouted something to us about our bus connections, but half of us couldn't make out what he said because he didn't turn off the bus before shouting at us. So, after getting off the bus, a bunch of us crowded around him to ask questions. Apparently this was too much for him to handle. He freaks out and screams: "Can everyone PLEASE just give me FIVE MINUTES!!! I've been under a LOT OF PRESSURE!!!!!!!!!" and walks away.

And everyone just stares silently before breaking out into giggles. Wow. I think "I'm under a lot of pressure" is going to be my new response to everything for a while.

Looking forward to being in a place where I have no fucking clue what the driver is saying.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Zealand as!

Helloooo from the land of the Hobbits! I apologize for not posting sooner. Not to point fingers or anything, but this time I have a legitimate excuse. Technology has completely failed us on this trip - after having to replace 2 credit cards, the Kindle, and Ross's phone, now the hard drive of our laptop decided to just die for no reason. ACK. Once we got that fixed, we discovered that the internet here is SO EXPENSIVE that it feels like we're spending half our budget just to stalk people on Facebook ($2 for 20 minutes? Are you joking me?). All of that is to say that I haven't spent a lot of time on the computer since we've come here, and it feels very wrong. I'm not sure how people here cope. Don't they long to waste their lives away watching videos of cats playing the piano?

Okay, enough with the excuses. I'm finding New Zealand a bit difficult to write about because (not to mince words) I've found it a bit boring here. That is the last thing I expected to write about a country that several people have called the most beautiful place on Earth. The problem is, I think during this trip I've become addicted to traveling to places that are culturally very different. In South America, just the act of getting somewhere was fun and interesting because it was all so new, which made the actual destination almost not matter. On the bus, you'd see a guy with a guinea pig on his lap, or a grandma with a very tall bowler hat pinned to the top of her head, and you'd already be happy. Every interaction was fun, albeit frustrating at times. But here, that part of it is gone, so the destination is all you have. And destinations, no matter how good they are, are often a bit disappointing. (Wow, I'm so optimistic.) Of course, New Zealand has been pretty, even stunning at times, but that pales in comparison to the excitement of trying to travel and live in an entirely different world. In light of that, for the rest of this trip we've decided to extend our stay in Asia and shorten the amount of time spent in Europe. I think our wallets will also approve of this decision.

There have also been a lot of little annoyances here and there that aren't a big deal on their own, but have started to add up. For example, there are lots of pointless signs everywhere. While standing next to a tractor, we saw a giant, official-looking sign saying "MULTIPLE HAZARD AREA." No shit? It's a tractor. First of all, if you can't figure out that a tractor is a multiple hazard area, then you deserve whatever's coming to you. We should just let nature take its course on that one. And second, everywhere is a multiple hazard area. A plane could crash into our dorm RIGHT NOW. EVERYBODY PANIC! What a waste of time and money. I feel that no one in South America would have deemed it necessary to put up such a sign. (Also seen anywhere where there are forklifts: "Warning: Forklifts in Use!" What am I supposed to do with this information? "Oh, a forklift is in use... RUN!!")

Other annoyances deserving mention: mosquitoes and sandflies are everywhere. Fortunately they go for Ross first, so I've been spared. It's also EXTREMELY touristy. If I see one more hippie with dreads and flowy pants playing guitar while waiting for a bus, I'm going to go all multiple hazard on his ass. There also seems to be an almost blind veneration of all things Maori. Learning about their history is fine and everything, but putting a sign up in a museum saying "This rock is imbued with a spiritual essence" without qualifying it with the phrase "According to Maori beliefs" is a bit much. And I really don't need to know the Maori names for everything. "This cereal is known as Te Koutou Pehea Haere Ra in the Maori language!" No. Let it go, man. Just let it go.

Anyway, now that I've bitched my little heart out, I feel better. All of that negative stuff aside, we've seen some cool stuff here. My favorite so far has been "blackwater rafting" in an innertube through the Waitomo Caves, a series of underground caves that have glowworms in them.

Once we were in the caves, our guides confessed that they're actually not glowworms, they're the larvae of flies... which make them maggots. It is their intestines that glow in the dark when they're hungry ("Shiny maggot shit!" our guides delightfully informed us). They extend little strings underneath them ("maggot snot!") with which they catch insects. They live in this stage for about 60 days, and then they hatch into flies that don't have mouths or stomachs. But they don't mind that too much because, as flies, they live 3 days, just long enough to have a lot of sex and lay a lot of eggs, and then they starve to death. Basically, they are one of the most badass animals of all time. Getting into the caves required a bit of agility - at one point we had to jump backwards, in our tubes, off of a small waterfall - but it paid off. Once we got inside, we turned off our headlamps and silently floated in the pitch black darkness, illuminated only by the galaxy of glowing maggots above us. Magical.

We also did our first winery tour here. We rented bikes and rode around from vinyard to vinyard and they just gave us free wine for some reason! Oh wait, it's because we ended up buying 2 bottles and giving them $40 anyway. Damn sneaky wineries. Either way, it was fun, even though my butt is still hurting 2 days later because of the awful saddles on our rental bikes. I'm pretty sure we've sustained some permanent butt damage and I would definitely sue if it weren't for all this wine dulling the pain. Damn sneaky bike rentals.

Maybe things will get better as we explore the interior of the south island, as that is supposed to be much more beautiful than the north island. We'll see. We have another 2 weeks here, then Bali!

Pictures coming soon.