844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

And so it begins ....

December 2008 - So who am I and why should anyone care? Who I am is unimportant.  Actually, if you are reading this you probably already know who I am. I do not expect anyone to care and few to even view this blog. So why do it? Good question. Why write at all, especially in the absence of a need to do so (occupation, business, etc.)? Perhaps, it is simply an act of vanity or self-edification. Not sure. When it all comes down to it I just feel like doing so.

I've been trying to write a book for some time but it has been a bit like extracting blood from a horseshoe. Maybe maintaining this blog might get my creative juices flowing. Then again, maybe not (Author’s note: As of June 11, 2011 my juices are still a bit pasty). Perhaps, I’ll fill this with nothing but inane rantings or grow tired of it after two days. Time will tell (Author’s Note: I did a fair amount of ranting but managed to keep it up for two and a half years. I am giving myself a good game right now).

I love to travel and have been lucky enough to do a fair amount of it. My next stop is Indonesia. So maybe this is travel blog? Not sure. I have not put much thought into it so I guess I will just babble on and see what happens. I suppose I'll use this as a sort of travel log, documenting parts of my trip and throwing in a few pics for good measure and maybe even some video. I suppose I will also include places I've been and other types of past experiences. Insights, ponderings, autobiographical tidbits may find their place. I have been known to be random on occasion.

The contours of my upcoming trip are a bit amorphous to say the least. I know I am starting in Indonesia sometime around the 12th of January, 2009. At this point I have no idea how long I will be gone, where I will go, what I will do, so on and so forth. You get the picture. My goal is adventure and a wee bit of self-enlightenment, not a vacation.

I hit up The Thorn Tree Forum on the Lonely Planet website in order to garner a bit of info about the visa situation in Indonesia. I approached it with a bit of joviality and playfulness, an approach that was not appreciated by some of the folks contributing to my query. You can check it out the thread here. You may find it mildly amusing. Most of them did not.

About me: I enjoy flying by the seat of my proverbial pants, keeping all my options open, approaching things with a certain degree of levity, and being a bit of a smart ass. For better or for worse sarcasm has become an intractable facet of my personality. You may find it endearing or just want to punch me in the junk. For those that lean towards the latter let me say preemptively, Go f**k yourself! I also enjoy forays into the profane. 

Just an Idiot…

December 2008 - Since the travel log aspect of this blog (i.e. the more interesting portion) will not develop until I leave for Indonesia I am forced to hone my blogging skills with background info and pointless tangents. One may wonder how I have the time to wander aimlessly for a prolonged stretch. Am I independently wealthy, retired, a traveling salesman? Negative. Just an idiot. I spent two and a half years working as a civilian in Baghdad. I was able to pay off all of my debts and squirrel away a bit of coin.

I am not married, own neither a house nor an automobile and basically have no deep roots anywhere. If there was ever a time to roam the earth this would be that time. I am just about to buckle my safety belt. Get ready. Get buckled.

Now I use the word 'idiot' because now may not be the best time to be unemployed. The world economy is in the shitcan (Author’s Note: As of June 11th, 2011 world markets are still pretty much in the shitter. Hindsight is mocking me). Pissing away my savings on Happy World Fun Tour ‘09 may be ill advised. Welcome to my world. Prudence was never really my strong point. I've always wanted to travel at my whim. Here's my chance. Have you buckled up yet?

And now for a bit of random...Did you know that a human head transplant is theoretically possible? It’s been done with puppies and monkeys. I shit you not. In the Soviet Union in the 1950s a scientist (perhaps of the mad variety) named Vladimir Demikhov grafted puppy heads onto the necks of live dogs. The dogs survived for up to twenty-nine days and the grafted heads drank, bit, and tried to tug themselves from the recipients' bodies. And in Cleveland (I knew that place was shady) in the 70s a neurosurgeon named Robert White severed the head of one monkey and connected it to the body of another decapitated one. PETA would be very, very disappointed. Why not humans? According to him (still alive I believe) it is possible. Of course the technology does not exist to reconnect spinal cords which means any person benefiting from the surgery would still be paralyzed from the neck down. Hey, you can’t have everything. Where the hell did I read this? It was a side story in Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. It is worth a read. 

What the F#@% is a plight?

December 2008 - There is a bit of irony with my use of the word ‘plight’ as  ‘plight-less’ would probably a bit more accurate in describing my current state of affairs (Author’s Note: There is even more irony in the fact that I erroneously believed ‘plight’ to be synonymous with ‘quest’ or ‘aim’ as opposed to its actual definition of ‘predicament’ or ‘pickle’.  Although the true meaning is just as, if not more apt than my misunderstood one it does not excuse my ignorance.  It does, however, make me look like an idiot. Somebody spank me…in a disciplinary fashion, not the naughty way).

The fact is I have no clue about what I want to be when I grow up, which is a bit of an issue when you are thirty-three years old (Author’s Note: It is more of an issue when you are thirty-six). My life as a civilian gov't contractor could easily be carried on stateside (as opposed to Baghdad) but it is not really my cup of tea. After more than two years working in a war zone it is break time. After Indonesia who knows? I am hoping for an epiphany where my true path is revealed to me in a dream-like incense induced coma punctuated with colorfully clinquant lights and narrated by David Attenborough (Author’s Note: Still waiting for epiphany). 

Gov't work (i.e. any type of humdrum daily slave to the grind existence) is not where I want my hang my hat. Too many restrictions (especially with a security clearance). Too much structure. I do not want to sit on a couch and take bong hits all day but I'd like to know I could if I wanted to do so without losing my job. (Author’s Note: I have yet to purchase a bong at weGrow). I want to visit Cuba, North Korea, and a bunch of other nations I would not otherwise be able to visit with a gov’t gig.  Dress shirts and slacks can bite me. Bagel Mondays and casual Fridays blow. Nine to five with two weeks of vacation can go F itself. I do not want to talk about how Rachel from Accounting blew chunks into the punch bowl during the Christmas party and then gave the head custodian a hand job in the utility closet. No. No. No.


I know how this sounds. You are probably thinking I should go boo-hoo myself. And you would have a point. It is not that I do not want to work. It’s just I would like to have an occupation that makes me feel somewhat alive and have at least a modicum of satisfaction and fulfillment. Perhaps I ask too much, especially when the economy appears to be swirling down the shitter at an alarming rate (Author’s Note: Still swirling). Good thing my friends have stable lives and, more importantly, houses with spare bedrooms.

So I am at the gym…..

December 2008 - So I am at the gym (Gold's to be precise). It was a leg day. As I am using a leg machine to work my quads I am simultaneously looking in the mirror in order to maintain form (I am somewhat of a form whore). As I am performing this action with the utmost intensity and focus a gentleman of advancing years (no younger than sixty-five) walks by and makes a motion like he wants to fight (i.e. cocks his right fist back like he is going to strike). He then asks, "What are you smiling at?" I was taken a little off guard as you might expect. I interpreted it as a kind-hearted jest (although he was not smiling) and replied with (while still doing repetitions mind you), "Oh no, I was not smiling. I guess I am just grimacing (insert awkward laugh here)". Still not smiling and with no sign of jest he then suggests that I put a bag over my head (Author’s Note: I never did get around to covering my noggin). After this he proceeds on his merry way. I found this encounter very queer indeed (Author’s Note: By ‘queer’ I simply mean odd or strange not homosexual. That would be insensitive).

Where do these people come from? Was he just f'ing with me? I hope so but the evidence sort of points toward crazy. Either way that is exactly the type of shit I am going to do if I ever reach that age. You can pretty much get away with anything. Had he pulled down his shorts and asked me what nut was bigger I probably would not have reacted much differently. We tend to just chalk up instances like that to old age and dismiss them politely. "He was probably just confused and thought he was at the doctor's office", we say to ourselves. Keep this in mind when you get older and let the good times roll.

18 rum and cokes?

December 2008 - I do not really drink that often but lately it seems when I do I tend to try and make up for lost time. My friend organized a Christmas party for the people with whom she works and kindly invited me to tag along. The scene was laid back and her peeps rather friendly. The food was free but we all paid for our own drinks. Each person or couple was assigned a number. I was number five (666 would have been more fitting). Towards the end of the evening (between 10:30 and 11:00 I think) I received my tab. It was an unsolicited bequest. As I glance at the bill I see a tally of seventeen rum and cokes. Seventeen? I arrived at this shindig around 5:00 or so and, admittedly, threw down four or five in the first hour. As I had not taken repast at that point I decided to slooooow down. Considering my inferior tolerance for the drink this was a wise decision. I am roughly 6'4, 195lbs so weight is a factor and I have been known to suck down a rum and coke or two but seventeen is a bit excessive. My estimate was around 12 or 13 at the most.

I mentioned this to the servers who assured me that the number was accurate. So I pointed out that if I had thrown down seventeen rum and cokes in a five hour period the likelihood of communicating intelligibly would be extremely slim. The truth is if that were the case I probably would have been sitting in the corner sucking my thumb in a puddle of my own urine. Luckily, I was not there yet. They persisted. The manager said it was so. In fact he showed me two empty bottles of rum to prove it. Absolutely irrefutable.

As it turns out I was the topic of discussion throughout the evening. Apparently, when I hit twelve they asked the manager if they should keep serving me. When asked about my demeanor they said I seemed fine. Game on. I guess I did not start getting 'louder' until rum and coke number sixteen. So at seventeen I was handed the bill. Muchas gracias.

As the discussion took on a slightly acrimonious undertone I was invited behind the bar where my tab was brought up on the touchscreen. There it was in black and white. If the computer says so it must be true. No way could a human input a drink in the wrong account. Not possible. Just more irrefutable evidence that completely castrated my defense.

Now I am not going to argue I was sober. Clearly, I was not. At this point I had not the energy to struggle any longer so I said something like, "F it! give me another one." So they actually handed me my eighteenth. Seriously? I just finished arguing over the bill, a bill they apparently gave me to cut me off and here they are offering me more juice. Are you shitting me?

A friend of my friend steps in, takes the drink from my hand, and says, a bit more diplomatically, WTF!!! She defended my position and then asked what the hell they were doing. I applauded her for this for she did what I know longer had the strength or mental stamina to accomplish.

But, alas, this revitalized me and the exchange continued, much to their chagrin. Reno 911 was invited to stop by and mediate. When they appeared I did my best to explain my position, pointing out that had I drank the amount they claimed I would probably not be having that conversation. They were having none of it. They said I had two choices: Pay the bill and take the tavern to civil court or not pay the bill and be taken to jail. I chose the former and completely backed off when the 5-o with the less pleasant disposition kindly offered to Taser me. Now I know I was in an excited state made all the more irrational by eighteen rum and cokes (thirteen real, five imaginary), but I can assure you that I had not earned the privilege of being Tasered (Don’t Tase me bro!).

Sooo I backed off and paid the bill ($80). One of our servers informed me in hushed tones that perhaps the alcohol was not of the pure and unadulterated variety. Super. So I probably drank as much water as I did rum. No wonder I felt hydrated.

I love the Christmas season. Nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than being able to spread my unique brand of joy by being 'that guy' at the party. I don’t even work there. Excellent.

Giddy as a School Girl

January 2009 - Soooo... it is the night before my departure to Indonesia and I'm as giddy as a school girl. Well...not really but the excitement is building a bit. Not really sure what I am going to do when I get there but I'll probably figure something out. I am hoping to wrestle a Komodo Dragon and tickle an orangutan (Author’s Note: I saw both but did neither).

I have one carry-on bag. It is nothing short of a packing miracle. I am not sure how long I will be gone and I packed one pair of pants. You might think it’s crazy but they are awesome pants. Awesome.

I leave tomorrow morning (Jan 12th) and arrive on the 14th. It is going to take somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 hours to get to Bali. Half a box of Benedryl ought to help. Maybe a little sudoku to mix it up. I can't wait. Buckle up.

Singapore Airlines

January 12th, 2009 - So my actual flight itinerary is Orlando – San Francisco – Inchon – Singapore – Bali. Shoot me. Singapore Airlines is decent but the seats are designed for little Asian people. Perfect for lower back pain. I might be more comfortable if I stuffed myself in the overhead compartment. It really is almost impossible to guess an Asian woman’s actual age. I can narrow down most of them to somewhere between 16 and 60. I’ll tell you what is cool (literally) and that is the serving of ice cream sandwiches for lunch dessert. I don’t think I’ve ever had ice cream on an airplane. I’m a fan. There is nothing like being served a delicious ice cream sandwich by a petit Asian woman at 35,000ft. Nothing. They ought to work that into their ad campaign.

Indonesia Facts (U.S. Department of State)

Geography
Area: 2 million sq. km. (736,000 sq. mi.), about three times the size of Texas; maritime area: 7,900,000 sq. km.
Cities: Capital--Jakarta (est. 9.7 million). Other cities--Surabaya 2.8 million, Medan 2.1 million, Bandung 2.4 million.
Terrain: More than 17,500 islands; 6,000 are inhabited; 1,000 of which are permanently settled. Large islands consist of coastal plains with mountainous interiors.
Climate: Equatorial but cooler in the highlands.



People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Indonesian(s).
Population (2010 est.): 237,6 million.
Annual population growth rate (2010 est.): 2.7%.
Ethnic groups (2000 census): Javanese 40.6%, Sundanese 15%, Madurese 3.3%, Minangkabau 2.7%, others 38.4%.
Religions (2000 census): Muslim 86.1%, Protestant 5.7%, Catholic 3%, Hindu 1.8%, others 3.4%.
Languages: Indonesian (official), local languages, the most prevalent of which is Javanese.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Enrollment--94.7% of eligible primary school-age children. Literacy--98.3% (2010).
Health: Infant mortality rate (2007)--34/1,000. Life expectancy at birth (2009 est.)--70.76 years.
Work force: 117.4 million (2011). Agriculture—39.3%, industry—20.9%, services—47.8%.

Government
Type: Independent republic.
Independence: August 17, 1945 proclaimed.
Constitution: 1945. Embodies five principles of the state philosophy, called Pancasila, namely monotheism, humanitarianism, national unity, representative democracy by consensus, and social justice.
Branches: Executive--president (head of government and chief of state) elected by direct popular vote. Legislative--The People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which includes the 560-member House of Representatives (DPR) and the 132-member Council of Regional Representatives (DPD), both elected to 5-year terms. Judicial--Supreme Court is the final court of appeal. Constitutional Court has power of judicial review
Suffrage: 17 years of age universal, and married persons regardless of age.

Eddie & Indo (Slideshow a la Indonesia)

At Long Last (Bali, Indonesia)

January 15th, 2009 - Bali at last. Upon arrival at the airport in Denpasar I immediately hopped a taxi to Ubud, supposedly the cultural hub of the island. Jet lag is fun. After arriving at my lodging I had intended to take a small nap and soldier on until nightfall. Nuh-uh. I crashed like a speed freak after a weekend in Vegas. It is 2 am and I am wide awake. Stellar.

A few observations. The group of tourists I arrived with at the airport was not at all what I expected. I guess I envisioned the twenty-something live free or die demographic. Instead I was presented with what I can only describe as the Eastern European version of white trash. Terrible I am.

No judgment as to character, only presentation. There was the woman in front of me with the tight-ass jean shorts (complete with little hunks of ass protruding from within) and a tank top. I had all I could do to contain my inner sexual beast. There were numerous males at varying stages of mullethood and females with hair that I’m fairly certain was never ever in style. Gold chains, wily chest hair, and manboobs all made an appearance. It’s like the whole trailer park won an all-inclusive vacation to Bali.

Massage and Mackeral (Ubud, Indonesia)

January 16th, 2009 – Today, I received a foot massage from a Balinese man named Wayan. My second hotel (Kebun Indah, still in Ubud) has a shop that sells various types of crafts and offers massages, reflexology, and what have you. It was raining and I had nothing better to do so when the woman working in the shop asked if it was a good time for a foot massage I thought, Is it ever a bad time for a foot massage? I guess I thought she would be doing the honors but it was her male coworker’s (Wayan) turn. It wasn’t bad but a foot massage is kind of like a tease for the rest of the body. I thought about explaining this to my new friend but I seriously doubt he would have appreciated the nuances of my humor.

Unfortunately, I did manage to get a full massage later that day. Now for those of you thinking shady massage parlor this is not necessarily the case. Health and wellness-type establishments area as common as souvenir shops in Ubud. From what I’ve read you can seriously pamper the hell out of yourself here. So far I wouldn’t know. When a gentleman outside one of these places said I could get a massage for roughly six dollars I thought, I’d be an asshole not to. What I did not realize was that I was about to be vigorously caressed by another man for the second time in one day, two times too many I should think. Perhaps, there is a societal taboo here against massaging members of the opposite sex (Author’s Note: Nope. Guess I was just lucky). 

So there I am lying on a table practically naked (except for some rather flattering paper tissue bikini underwear) getting oiled up by Indonesian male massage guy (I did not catch his name). Talk about relaxing. All I could think was, This needs to end NOW!! But it kept going, mostly because I rarely have the courage to hit the eject button in situations where misunderstandings might lead to hurt feelings. Basically, I did not want to insult the guy and felt the language barrier would prevent me from explaining myself effectively. I would be lying if I said he did not come dangerously close to the kids and I have to believe that the occasional brush of his elbow against my konker was completely inadvertent.  Please let that be true. Please.

No homophobia here. Gay As You Wanna Be! That’s my motto. However, a woman’s touch is just so much more relaxing. It’s like black licorice. I hate it. The very smell makes me want to vomit. Can’t do anything about it. It is part of my psyche. And so it is with receiving a massage. Nothing like a woman’s touch.

I am writing this from the Pundi Pundi restaurant. I ordered the garlic mackerel. It smells like smashed asshole. Yum.

My Balinese ‘Hog’ (Ubud, Indonesia)

January 17th, 2009 - I decided to rent a motorbike. This was not a decision taken lightly as riding through the streets of Ubud on one of these ‘hogs’ is akin to running across a four way intersection blindfolded. I believe in the existence of a twenty minute window of death. If you can get through the first twenty minutes on one of these bad boys without serious bodily injury you will probably be okay . . . . . probably. 

As I mentioned before adherence to traffic laws is not a Balinese pastime and it’s nothing for fellow motorbike enthusiasts to be driving down the wrong way of a one way street. (Author’s Note: It turns out that the ‘One Way’ designation only applies to larger vehicles, not motorbikes. Why would it?). It seems ludicrous until you start doing it yourself. Yesterday, I was getting passed by nine year old girls. Today, I was pushing Mach 1 (40 mph).

Leaving aside the learning curve it is actually a great way to get around Ubud. For the past day and a half I’ve been cruising all over and getting lost in the countryside. I met a kid on the side of the road who happened to be a guide. He took me for a short jaunt through rice fields down near a river and to his village. And yes, I thought it perfectly reasonable to go tramping through the countryside with a kid I met on the side of the road. Never mind the fact that I visited the ATM and had three million rupiahs in my pocket (roughly $300 US at the time). He did show me a large Banyan tree (one of the biggest trees in the world according to my new friend). It looks like a small forest of individual trees but is actually one organism connected by single root system. Many of the roots hang like vines from the branches and take hold once they reach the ground, so on and so forth until you have what appears to be many individual trees. Of course, he probably made that up to screw with me. I’d have taken a picture but like a doof I forgot my Nikon. Dumb.

Monkey Forest (Ubud, Indonesia)

January 18th, 2009 - I went to Mandala Wisata Wanara Wana (or Sacred Money Forest Sanctuary to the layman) today. It is right in Ubud and is a bit of a tourist trap but it does have monkeys. Everyone wins with monkeys, especially when they are aggressive nasty banana/fruit hoarding little bastards. Inside the forest is Pura Dalem Agung (Temple of the Dead). Unfortunately, I did not happen to see any dead people walking around which is a real shame as I have a lot of questions. Maybe next time.

I refrained from feeding the monkeys as it is clear doing so turns them into raging assholes. However, if I was going to feed the little heathens I would sure as hell buy only the ‘official’ Monkey Forest bananas. Frankly, they are the only bananas I trust and, more importantly, the only ones the monkeys trust. Do yourself a favor. Do the monkeys a favor. Buy the official fucking bananas.

Bali Belly and o-BAMA! (Bali, Indonesia)

January 21st, 2009 – Yesterday I was sicky-poo. Nothing too serious, just a slight feverish delirium punctuated with nightmares and bizzaro dreams. A little bit of weakness and a fair amount of diarrhea completed the circle. Better now but still a little weak. I have managed to avoid crapping in my pants, a significant achievement.

I went rafting (actually it was quasi- kayaking ) the day before last. No adrenaline rush there. Borderline Class II on a windy day. It was still an enjoyable trip down the river through the jungle. And there were the Russians, a raft with four of them cruising along in my general vicinity. At one point it turned into some sort of contest. In the end my two man kayak was too quick for their bulky raft but they did best me in a splash fight. Damn commies. One of the more comical moments involved my guide screaming, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” only to earn the reply, “RUS-SIA! RUS-SIA!” from the opposing guide. It then turned political when my guide started to scream, “O-BAM-A! O-BAM-A!’ which, of course, drew “PU-TIN! PUT-IN!” in response. The cold war is back. Brrrrrr…….

Speaking of Obama they love him here, as much if not more than in the US. He attended grade school in Jakarta so many Indonesians feel a fairly significant connection to the US Pres. I suspect he may even be more popular than their own president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY).  Perhaps, his popularity diminishes somewhat outside Bali. I really wish I’d thought to bring an ‘Obama Rocks!’ t-shirt. I probably could have traded it for a vehicle or maybe even a pig.

I was eating breakfast on the veranda outside my room (at Alam Indah, my third hotel) the other morning when an audacious, if not insolent, macaque monkey emerged ninja-like out of nowhere, nonchalantly strolled up to my table, and removed a piece of fruit from the bowl sitting there. My screams of,”Heeey!! Get outta here!!” followed by a slew of threatening gestures did absolutely nothing to deter my little friend. It only served to make him fumble with the fruit a second longer than necessary and grimace with annoyance. He then went on his merry way as if he and I had established this routine long ago. Maybe if I had it to do over again I would tackle the fruit pilfering miscreant just to get his attention, although I probably would have found myself on the losing end of that wrestling bout. 

Bali: Masterpiece of the Gods (NatGeo)

Gunung Kawi, Me, & Enri (Bali, Indonesia)

January 22nd, 2009 - So I spent the day with a French dude. We had a lovely time. Encountering another solo traveler is not so common here. Lots of couples, families, and groups but loners such as myself have been few and far between thus far. I visited a few holy sites today to include Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave), Yeh Pulu, and Gunung Kawi. I ran into Enri (actually his name is Emorie but Enri just feels right) at Gunung Kawi.

I could bore you with inane details but let’s just say these sights are fairly ancient and that no one is quite sure what the hell they really are. At Yeh Pulu I had an old woman smile at me, compliment my sarong (I did look rather fetching), bless me with holy water, ask me for a donation, and then dismiss me as if there was nowhere else for our relationship to go. I felt used and dirty.  

A word about fees. At these sites they pretty much charge you for everything. I paid to park, paid an entrance fee, and paid to piss. One guy was charging people to fondle his python (reptile that is). I declined. Now all of these fees combined were less than a dollar but it really turns into a minor hassle as small denominations are sometimes hard to come by. Life’s a bitch.

I had a rather involved political discussion with a guide about the Palestinian-Israeli situation, not the first one I might add. The Balinese really like to stay current. I also had another ‘How-awesome-is-Obama-on-a-scale-of-one-to-ten’ conversation. If I get myself into trouble I need only scream ‘OBAMA FOREVER!” and I believe all will be well. I am so glad he was elected. He increased the ease of Americans travelling abroad by a factor of five zalliion (roughly). GOBAMA!!

A Peek at Mt. Batur (Bali, Inodnesia)

January 23rd, 2009 - Yesterday, I went for a spin north on the motorbike to Gunung Batur. This is one of the numerous volcanoes on the island. Although I do plan to climb it at some point this was more of a scouting mission. I just felt like riding. On the way a local woman stopped me at an intersection in order to bequeath the requisite blessing and extort the requisite 10,000 rupiah. 

Afterwards, a gentleman on the side of the road informed me that I got screwed. Normally, blessings run 1,000 rupiah. Maybe I needed the more potent version. After all, my soul is ablaze with countless indiscretions.

It is the wet season which means of course that the tip of the volcano is frequently obscured. I did get a picture but it is not so crisp. You will also see the one of me on my hog. Born to ride. Born to raise hell (hence the necessity for the deluxe blessing).

I took a detour on occasion down roads that few tourist appear to venture and received the well-recognized ‘What-the-hell-are-you-doing-around-here?’ glances. Some rather cute little girls beguiled me out of a few rupiahs. Diabolical.  It was worth it as one of them graciously allowed me to snap a photo. Generally speaking, it is a terrible idea to hand out cash to anyone as it sets a bad precedent but they melted me like butter. I handed over less than a dollar but they were extremely appreciative. What can you do?

The whole area around the volcano is covered in lava rock. There have been numerous eruptions over the years, although I believe it has been some time since a major one.

Rhino Rarity (National Geographic)

Absolut Petrol (Southern Bali, Indonesia)

January 26th, 2009 - Drove all over the south of Bali today. I would like to reiterate that driving a motorbike here is just a tad nerve racking. I am flabbergasted about the conspicuous lack of mass casualties on the roadways. Pleased, but flabbergasted. I think they start riding before they start walking. Imagine stacking your entire family (father, mother, two kids) on a moped and going out for a casual spin.

And you know you are good when you can negotiate traffic at 40mph while chatting on the cell phone or with four mattresses somehow rolled and strapped to the back. Or how about chickens, a food stand, or ten to twelve crates? Ain’t no thang.

How can driving the wrong way down the highway seem like a good choice? Are they intentionally playing chicken with whitey (i.e. me) or is it normal to come as close as you can to a head on collision before swerving? Dunno, but it sure gets the heart pumping. What do you do when there no actual gas stations nearby? Sell gas out of Absolut Vodka bottles, silly.

Sulawesi Funeral (National Geographic)

Tegallalang (Bali, Indonesia)

Jan 27th, 2009 – Whilst trolling the streets of Ubud on my 125cc mega-hog I cannot fight the urge to hum the theme from Sanford and Son (Listen here). It is irrepressible and I do it relentlessly. Kooky. I did a little rice paddy hopping today in the vicinity of Ubud (Tegallalang to be precise)….which was lovely. I have a tendency to detour frequently, exploring the nooks and the crannies I see along the way.

My deviations usually occur right after thinking, ‘Hmmmmmm….I wonder where that goes?’ It is mucho divertido but I normally end up riding down some small village road rarely seen by tourists (at least that’s how it feels).
Curious glances from the locals abound. I suppose I might react the same way if a stranger made their way down my little back road in Upstate NY doing three miles an hour on a moped and gazing around like a toddler in a fun house. Being a mega-mutant (by their standards anyway) probably does not help.

As I was taking a photo today a gentleman came out to the road and invited me to his home for coffee and bananas (In the immortal words of Gwen Stefani, That shit was bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!!). Ketut was proud of his bananas and I have to admit they were delicious. And Balinese coffee is quite good as well, if not a bit strong. It was interesting to speak with him. His English is not all that good but we could communicate well enough. I am attempting to mutilate another language (this time Indonesian) so it was useful to be able to ask him how to say this or that in his native tongue. 

Self-Stabbing (National Geographic)

Balinese Tallywacker (Bali, Indonesia)

January 28th, 2009 - Saw a Balinese man’s tallywacker today. Didn’t mean to. As I rounded a corner on my motorbike I encountered a man standing basically in the road going wee wee. It just so happened that as I came around my eyes rested squarely upon his junk. Awesome. Sorry, no pictures. I seriously wish I could erase the one in my head. Blaaaaahck!

Mt. Agung (Bali, Indonesia)

Jan 29th, 2009 – No trip to Indonesia would be complete without climbing a volcano. That’d be like going to Vegas and not dressing like a preacher before getting stupid drunk and gambling like an asshole. I lost my ‘Ring of Fire’ virginity on Mt. Agung, a still active stratovolcano located in east Bali. It is the holiest mountain on the island and, not surprisingly, the location of the most important temple (Pura Besakih). 

In fact, I was told that there was an important ceremony today at that very temple. It is constantly jamming and, if you can believe Wikipedia (I do implicitly making me an unapologetic wikiot), holds at least seventy festivals per year (a year being 210 days on the Balinese calendar). Mt. Agung is believed to be a replica of Mt. Meru, the central axis of the universe. In other words, Don’t F**K with Agung!



There are two routes up the mountain: the long arduous way beginning at Pura Besakih leading to the highest point or the lite version starting farther up the hill at another temple on the east side, Pura Pasar Agung. I was much more interested in the ‘pain-in-the-ass’ route but I was informed that it was closed as a result of the ceremony. Hindsight being that bastion of illumination I have come to know and love, I suspect I may have been told this in order to save a guide the trouble of going the hard way.

So the guide picks me up at 2 am. That’s right 2 am. The idea is to reach the top in time to watch the sunrise. Yes, the sunrise would be super but considering it is the wet season the likelihood is not so great. And everyone gets picked up at 2 am regardless of ability. I was thinking that since I am alone the going would be a bit faster and we could leave a bit later but who am I to protest? Nobody. One thing you will discover here is that catching the sunrise is of fucking paramount importance. Not attempting to do so makes you a douchbag….even during the wet season….when your chances are smack dab in the middle of slim and nuh-uh.

Teeth Chiseling (National Geographic)


Mt. Batur - Part One (Bali, Indonesia)

Jan 30th, 2009 - Another day, another volcano. This time it is Mt. Batur, an active volcano on the northeast corner of the island. The current volcano is actually at the center of two much larger, older concentric calderas. From the air (i.e. aerial shot) it is possible to appreciate just how massive the older volcanoes actually were. The lake of the same name is located within the boundary of the biggest. In comparison Mt. Batur is just a little guy (or girl if you wish). I cannot fathom the type of geological event that gave birth to its ancestors. Welcome to Indonesia and its portion of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

A government organization controls all guided trekking on the mountain. If you hire a guide he/she must be a member of this organization. From what I have read some of its members can become a little ‘old school Sicilian’ with those wishing to make the hike sans guide. Apparently, they can show up at your hotel, wait by the trail to see if you are guideless, or even threaten people who refuse to hire a guide. I am not sure what they threaten you with as causing bodily injury would ensure no need for their services.

Mt. Batur Part Deux (Bali, Indonesia)

January 31st, 2009 - I woke up this morning, took a look outside, saw the mountain was free of cloud cover and decided to give the volcano another shot, this time solo. I was a little concerned that I might encounter an angry mob of Balinese guides with torches and pitchforks demanding I hire one of them but it did not come to pass, thankfully.  Although I encountered two groups coming down as I was going up neither of the guides said a word.

Nyoman suggested a place away from the guide office to start the trek and that I should tell any discontents that I had already paid for a volcano tour the previous morning. Luckily, I had no problem. 
This was a great decision on my part and one of the best mornings I’ve had in a long time. As it turned out I had the volcano to myself. There was a woman near the top selling drinks and small snacks but besides her it was just I (unless you count the local monkey troop and the adorable doggy). And the views were excellent as the pictures will attest. I did have a minor standoff with Curious George and his crew but after a few threatening waves of a stick and some harsh language the tension dissipated.

I See Dead People (Trunyan - Bali, Indonesia)

Jan 31st, 2009 (Continued) - The second half of the day was an altogether different experience. At the risk of sounding melodramatic I have to provide a warning about these next photos. Some of you may find them rather disturbing. 
On the previous afternoon Nymoan spoke to me about the people across the lake (insert eerie music here) who reside in the village of Trunyan.

The residents are reputed to be descendants of the Bali Aga, the original inhabitants of the island that predate the arrival of Hinduism. They are well-known for, among other things, their unique ‘burial’ methods, which is to say no methods at all. Bodies of the recently deceased are merely placed on the ground in the ‘cemetery’ to decompose naturally. The dearly departed are first laid within a bamboo enclosure and allowed to decay slowly.

When the process reaches a certain stage or if more space is required (I was told there is room for eleven bodies at a time in separate bamboo pens) the bones are placed in a pile adjacent to the enclosures until most of the flesh has rotted away and the bones are relatively dry. When all the flesh has dissolved they stack the bones in the designated area, lining up the skulls in a nice neat row.

Corpse Lives With Family (NatGeo)

The Russians (Bali, Indonesia)

Feb 1st, 2009 - The Russians are following me. You may remember the quartet (two guys and two girls) from my rafting trip. I have run into them randomly on two more occasions since that outing. I am currently in central Bali (Lake Bratan to be exact) and last night they showed up at my hotel. I think they’re KGB. One of the females is trying to beguile me with her smile, lure me in, and kill me in my sleep. I’m sure of it. But I’m onto them. Maybe I’ll sleep under my bed just in case.

Danau Bratan & Pucak Mengu (Bali, Indonesia)

Feb 2nd, 2009 – Spent the night near Bedugul and awoke early this morning to see Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, located on the shore of Lake Bratan. It is a famous temple dedicated to Dewi Danu, the Balinese water goddess. Pilgrimages and ceremonies are held here to ensure a steady supply of water for farmers all over Bali.  The temple is one of the most photographed structures on the island. I went early to avoid the onslaught of tourists. It was pleasant but it would have been nice to have a sunrise to go along with it. Damn the wet season. I blame Dewi.

Later, I went for what I thought would be a fairly easy climb up a small mountain (Mengu) running eastward alongside Lake Bratan. It turned out to be quite grueling and I doubt many people have been up that path in some time. Of course it rained and everything was wet and slippery but I did enjoy it none the less. At the top was a small temple, Pura Puncak Mengu. As I saw no one on the way up or on top it was actually pretty rewarding. The temple was covered in a light mist which when combined with the rain was a bit ethereal. Going solo made all the difference.

I am not the only occupant in my room. I left some food on the counter and when I returned some of it had been moved and some of it was missing. They took the pastry and left the peanuts. I am guessing rats, rats with discriminating tastes.

Tomorrow back to Ubud. No sign of the Russians.

Not Alone (Bali, Indonesia)

Feb 3rd, 2009 - I moved a candy bar and the peanuts to a coffee table across the room in my guesthouse. I also put some wrappers beneath a glass (no trash barrel in room) to avoid attracting my companions. Didn't work. They actually moved the glasses all the way across the bar and scattered the wrappers. I guess they just wanted to huff the wrappers to get a fix and move on. They got into the peanuts also but only picked at them a little. Finicky bastards. Back to Ubud. Still no sign of the Russians.

I have probably mentioned it a few times but it has been raining cats and dogs for days. Luckily, I am in rest mode so it is not a big deal but I hope it lets up soon. The bones from Trunyan are probably washing into the lake as we speak.

Rainy Rain Rain (Bali, Indonesia)

Feb 4th, 2009 - Today it rained . . .again. That combined with the general vibe permeating Ubud and vicinity is like having a constant flow of tranquilizers pumped into your bloodstream (Author’s Note: Doesn’t help that I was slightly anemic at the time). Naps are involuntary. I am attempting to work out my visa situation as I currently possess a 30 day visa on arrival. I could keep extending month by month here but that is a bit of a hassle and technically illegal. Looks like I will fly to Singapore and obtain a two month social-cultural visa from the embassy there. That is extendable for up to four months inside Indonesia. I should have obtained this visa from the embassy in DC but I did not know if I would be here for that long. I spent today trying to arrange this. Still working……

Tonight I went to a traditional Balinese dance performance known as the Kecak Fire Dance. It was interesting but like an idiot I forgot my camera. I will probably go again tomorrow. My schedule is fluid. 

Giant Undersea Volcano (NatGeo)

Pura Sebatu & Kecak (Bali, Indonesia)

Feb 5th, 2009 - Today I met up with Ketut again (see Jan 27th). He had offered to take me to a cremation ceremony and although I was hesitant at first my Bali Aga Death Extravaganza pushed me over the hump. I doubt this could be more morbid. Well, it didn’t happen. Apparently, there was a scheduling conflict with another ceremony so the cremation was postponed until Feb 14th. I am not sure I really understand that. Where is the recently deceased being stored?

Under a Banyan tree? How does someone not foresee the conflict? “Sorry, Wayan is just going to have to wait. The Harvest Spirit is pissed and we need to appease that ornery prick, pronto. We’ll torch your brother next week. Is the 14th good for you? Put him over there under the tree. And burn some incense, would ya?”

So instead I spent half the day hanging with Ketut. We drank coffee, ate a bit of lunch, and then he took me to a nearby temple for a look around. I am not templed out yet but I imagine I will get there. This happened to be a particular beautiful one so it was well worth my time. This particular temple was ‘functional’ as well. It has a badminton court.  Badminton is huge in Southeast Asia…..real huge.