A Hindu Island in an Muslim Country

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January 15th 2010
Published: March 12th 2010
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My two girl besties on the ship and I are about to part in our professional relationship. Brittany is a 3rd Mate and Sarah is a 1st Mate, Merchant Mariners who have kept me in touch with my feminine side while forward deployed. We're the only gals our age in an already miniscule ratio of women to men on this ship. Brittany leaves in a few weeks and I depart at the beginning of March. Sarah is pretty pissed about us leaving her, but she can definitely hold her own without us, so we're not worried... just a bit sad. Our fun times range from a mani/pedi to a much needed beer, dixie cups of wine to a 5 course meal. These gals aren't high maintenance but still like to be girly sometimes, I can be myself around them in other words. I don't feel intimidated. Can you tell I’m going to miss them?

For months, Brittany and I had been talking about hitting Bali over a long weekend or maybe departing the ship together and stopping at the island on the way back. With her watchstanding schedule and decision to leave the ship a bit early,
On Vacation!On Vacation!On Vacation!

Oh yeah, be jealous.
I didn't think it would happen. Then I realized that a 3 day weekend was in the near future... I convinced Sarah to work on getting Brittany off and they figured it out. We're going to make a good effort to get to Bali! Okay, so the logistics... we've got books and the internet. On your mark, get set, GO!

We spent a few days trying to find deals, our books turned out to be VERY worth their meager cost. We found 1-way tickets from two different airlines that turned out to be cheaper than a roundtrip one, though I imagined that we would look like terrorists (yeah, until they see us stroll into the airport). I buy one way, Brittany buys another and Sarah gets the hotel rooms. For some reason, Brittany decides to be cute and adds titles to all of our names in the reservations. Sarah is Captain Daleo, I am Professor Pelstring and Brittany tries to make herself Doctor Rossi. I, thank goodness, change hers to Professor... I mean, what if someone has a heart attack or something? "Doctor Rossi, please come to first class, we have a live one." No, that would not be good, I would have a better time of it with my limited vet knowledge. Professor does have a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

One other factor, we've all just bought "Merchants of Bollywood" tickets, a show based on all the Indian dramas of Bollywood that is playing Friday night. I had talked everyone into buying these prior to Christmas (you know me and Indian culture), including my boss, so we had to try to figure out a way to sell them or trade them. With my boss gone for a few days, I had not had a chance to tell him that we wouldn't be accompanying him to Bollywood, nor that we had schemed a way to ancient Bali. I'm very good at sticking my foot in my mouth, but thank goodness he is awesome and knew this was a limited opportunity prior to me detaching the command. We found no buyers for the tickets, so we gave them to two of my guys and a couple of the deck cadets from the Maritime Academies (Kingspoint and Mass Maritime). Things can work out it seems, karma has a way of helping at times.

Yes, you know what we were doing here.

As the departure day approaches, we’re all ready to get off the ship. That’s normal no matter where we’re going, but the excitement level is much higher. Why are we still here? We keep looking at our watches and clocks, hoping the time goes by faster than it normally does. A watched pot of water never boils scenario, it was painfully slow. Finally, it’s time to go, we’ve only just packed that day so the paranoia of forgetting something keeps us a bit on edge too. “I need a drink.” I look at Sarah as she says this and Brit and I slowly nod our heads in agreement. I respond with, “don’t worry, we’ll take care of that on the plane.” As I write this, though not obvious at the time, foreshadowing.

I’ve convinced everyone to take the train to the airport, it delivers right into one of the terminals, but the time between stations adds to our drink desirability factor. DDF, I think I might have to coin that... probably already done by someone else, but whatever. Finally, after a few smelly passengers and a 80 minute train ride, we’re at the
Holy GuardiansHoly GuardiansHoly Guardians

Anything holy has a sarong tied around it.
terminal. Uh, which terminal do we go to? Crap... I should have known. No worries though, I’m a fast walker and determine that things are still fine. We get to our terminal 15 minutes later with time to spare for a quick food grab. Hmmm... what do we have here? Spicy, Chinese pork jerky? Yumm... I’ve been meaning to go to Chinatown to get some of this and I’m not disappointed. I think possibly the passengers, who would now have to smell my breath, were though.

We booked seats next to one another, so now that we’re actually on the plane, we’re very giddy and can’t sit still. OMG! We’re going to Bali... it’s really happening! “This weekend is going to be epic,” I tell them. Those of you who haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love... first of all, you have to, and second, well, it’s a book that describes me in a multitude of ways. Instead of the 3 countries she visits in the book (Italy, India and Bali), I look at my similar quests in the U.S., Japan and Singapore. To be able to go to Bali somehow adds a 4th quest to my own
Beautiful colorsBeautiful colorsBeautiful colors

I loved all these fabrics.
“Eat, Pray, Love” life, this quest of finding, experiencing and actually enjoying sister-friend love.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the women of my family and this doesn’t really apply to relatives, but I’ve always had this difficulty with making girlfriends. Reasons? I dunno... growing up around all men, being a tomboy of modest proportion, science/math/engineering education without many (if any) of my gender, military with around 10% women in the fields I chose. I found men easier to deal with in my social circles too, less catty and fewer sappy, emotional responses to life in general. Sorry, I don’t like to generalize, but if you tell a man that he’s being stupid and tell him why, usually he gets over it and talks to you the next day. A woman on the other hand, holds very long grudges and has a harder time clearing the air, burying the hatchet or whatever else you’d like to call it, usually there is too much crying involved too. I’d managed to get around all that with these two, but a road trip is a sure way to test a relationship, even if just platonic.

Taste TestTaste TestTaste Test

The girls trying different drinks.
so it goes, the flight attendants make their way through the aisles. Water, tea, coffee? Sarah to the rescue... “ wine and vodka”. Uh oh. Brit and I have wine, Sarah has the vodka and a little wine too and the 2.5 hour flight ends fairly uneventfully, just a little giggly. Then there was the Denpasar airport. An interesting aroma of coffee, hippie body odor and cigarette smoke (yes, they are smoking inside the airport) greets us and we quickly retrieve our bags, hoping to find our hotel transportation outside. Hahah, yeah, not so much, good thing I don't have high expectations. We end up talking to Madé, who speaks great English, and he agrees to take us to the Balisani Suites Hotel, for a small fee, in his taxi. You would think this is enough to keep us happy... then Brittany (again, foreshadowing here) “Do they sell beer at the Circle K?”. Whoever thought of putting a convenience store at the airport is a genius. As I wait with the driver, he lights up a cigarette that smells amazing, apparently all the local cigarettes are clove. Upon Brit’s return, I learn that Bali sells two sizes of beer, the

A Civet who provides great coffee.
normal bottle size that Americans are used to and the giant size that apparently the Australians must consider as the more economic choice. We get a bottle for each person, trying the local beers, Bali Hai and Balintang.

Five minutes into our drive, we see ornate, 100 foot tall statues lining the streets dedicated to numerous Hindu deities and stories out of the Bhagavad Gita. I’m a lightweight when it comes to booze, so I’m happily recounting what I can about these stories to no one person in particular, Madé quite surprised and adding tidbits here and there. Ten minutes into the ride, we’re wondering where the music is at... 15 minutes in, we begin our own karaoke. 30 minutes in, we’re all in love with Bali, the taxi driver and our beautifully magnified singing voices. One word... drunk. 45 minutes, a large beer and $20 total later, we’re expected to walk up the steps to the hotel’s check-in area. Did I mention we still had bottles in hand? We must have been a sight.

The hotel, located in Seminyak, is mostly open to the elements, the reception and restaurant have enough
The Bike RideThe Bike RideThe Bike Ride

Really need that water, keep it coming.
breeze to not warrant windows or even walls. The bell boys take our luggage to our rooms and we mindlessly follow, just happy to not have to carry it ourselves. We miraculously managed to check-in without the need for additional adult supervision and we check out our rooms and decide to stroll down for a look at the beach. It’s about 11pm and we heard the waves as soon as we stepped out of the taxi. As we approach the sand, we realize this is not a spot to go swimming (at least not at the moment), as the waves are out of control and scary to be honest. Well, there is no one at the pool, lets swim there.

Before I continue and you think I’m a total drunk heathen, doomed to bring others to my Hedonistic ways, let me point out just a few things. One, I’m with a couple of girls my age. Two, we’re in relatively stressful jobs, living away from home for most of our careers, perpetually in desperate need of a REAL vacation. Three, it’s the no-tourist season in Bali. Four, I’ve had 2 glasses of wine and a large

Where are we going?
beer over the past 3 hours, remember lightweight here. Five, there is a beautiful abandoned pool with waters beckoning to us like dark chocolate. What would you have done? Yes, we went skinny dipping, something I haven’t done since college (almost a decade ago) and that was in a river while I was camping in the middle of nowhere. To add to our shenanigans, someone had left 2 bottles of wine next to the pool. No glasses, so we drank out of the bottles. This was definitely a bad idea. So, we gossiped, drank wine, swam, hugged and took pictures (that were later screened or deleted, surprisingly no inappropriate pink parts exposed) and generally had a blast, no interruptions at all. Okay, time for bed... or so I thought.

Brittany and I shared a room with 2 twin beds and a lovely bathroom. We were both pretty hungry, so we greedily eyed the room service menu. As I read, my stomach got angrier and angrier with me. No food for me. Brittany, on the other hand, drunk dials the front desk for a cheese pizza. They were confused, she was confused, I was confused... but nonetheless it came 20 minutes later. One of us managed to get out a “put it over there”.

In the morning... one pizza slice eaten, a small nap next to the porcelain god for one of us, and a long line of pizza-hungry ants to clean up... ugh, we had terrible headaches. And no wonder, it totally served us right. No more alcohol for Krysten in Bali. I stuck to that... booze and air trips do not mix... beware ALL who read this. 0800 - take an Aleve, 0900 - clean up the room so that you aren’t embarrassed to have housekeeping clean up, 1000 - try to eat free breakfast to recover the little bit of your tummy that’s hungry. Picking the 1st day in a 3 day weekend in Bali to drink too much and be hungover... stupid (definitely not priceless).

So what are we going to do today that won't induce my stomach into self-emptying spasms? Visions of the Beatle-like vultures come to mind... “I dunno, what’chu wanna do? Now don’t start tha’ a’gain.” We had taken some brochures from the airport, so we knew there were many interesting adventures to find.
Holy treeHoly treeHoly tree

With our Mountain Bike guide
How about a bike ride through the countryside? Book at the front desk? 8 hours for less than $30 per person? Uh, ok... that was easy. They will pick us up from the hotel at 1330, but what should we do in the meantime? I know! Let’s go downtown and check out the shopping! (obviously not my idea) We start to hoof it, not really knowing where to go.

“Transport? Are you in need of transport?” It’s interesting to see that to sit around all day and wait for stupid tourists to need a ride constitutes a good business decision in Bali. We pay $4 to go to downtown Legian and Seminyak and are floored by how busy our brains suddenly become. Whoever thought to combine shopping with shrines is a genius, at least to me. Every shopkeeper has a shrine and/or offering out the front door of their shop. At a minimum there is a food, flower and incense offering sitting about 10 feet in front of the door. Pretty much everything is handmade: silver jewelry, paintings, bracelets, belts, hair accessories, shoes, wood carvings, bathtubs, light fixtures, statues.

I felt like I’d finally found some country that identified with my sense of style, in both personal adornment and home decor. I came across a silver store with the most incredible bracelet, with a large hand-carved Mother of Pearl Ganesh. It was the most expensive item I found in Bali, about 3 or 4 times more than anything else. Of course... I would want the most expensive thing... $270 in Bali is really high. I held off, thinking that I would find something else later. It was only my first day after all. I need to get a feel on how to haggle here first. It’s almost time to get back, we’d better peel ourselves away, get lunch and scoot.

We didn’t know it, but we were only a couple of blocks from the beach. We found a cafe there and tried some local curries with watermelon juice, bottled water and strawberry juice. I never in my wildest would have imagined a wi-fi connection. There surely was, so i obtained the password and posted to Facebook to let everyone know they should be unreasonably jealous of me. I know, I shouldn’t rub it in... I’m just so excited. Okay,
Herding Ducks?Herding Ducks?Herding Ducks?

Young men have responsibility too.
okay, time to go. Let’s see if we can haggle with the taxi drivers. Brit, give them that sweet innocent look and then go in for the kill. It works every time. We get back to the hotel at the perfect time to meet our driver for the day. And we’re off! This is just going to be non-stop, I can feel it. We have to cram a month into this weekend...

We didn’t know totally what to expect, but the drive sure took a while. Naptime! No, I couldn’t do it, I didn’t want to miss a thing, so I stared out the window the whole drive. We passed a number of interesting statues, buildings, temples and villages. One town was known for skull carvings, really pretty actually, though it sounded creepy until I saw one. They take an animal skull and carve beautiful designs into them, a bit witch doctor-esque, but again, ornate and unique. They easily create hair pins and other items out of the broken pieces. Each village had its own story and its own specialty.

To meet our Balintang Mountain Biking guide, we first stopped at a small coffee, spice and fruit farm. We all looked at one another in surprise, we weren’t exactly expecting this. So many smells and textures, colors and tastes. We see a man crushing roasted coffee beans by hand after his wife roasts them in a large wok-like open pit. In beautiful English, the owner sits us down at an outdoor table to taste test their various products: Lemongrass tea, ginger tea, hot chocolate, Balinese coffee and a mocha. “Would you like to try the Luwak coffee?”

Huh? What’s that? Well, I’m sure most of you have seen “The Bucket List” with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Remember the pretentious, expensive coffee that Nicholson’s character drinks? He has no clue of the beans’ origin. Anyway, in Indonesia, there is a cute little raccoon-like animal called a civet. They’re nocturnal critters that eat coffee beans as part of their natural diet, among other fruits. Well, if you’ve ever seen a real, live and growing coffee bean (not trying to sound superior here, I only first saw a coffee tree when I went to Hawaii a couple of years ago), it’s a really hard little bugger with an almost berry like look (though
Beautiful SunsetBeautiful SunsetBeautiful Sunset

Check out the colors and the swastika at the top of the door, originally a sign of peace in Buddhism and Hinduism.
it’s a hard shell). So that hard shell gets processed off while inside the civet’s stomach and they poop out the coffee bean in its entirety. After a cleaning, roasting, grinding and percolation... you’ve got luwak coffee. Luwak is the Indonesian word for the civet. Yeah, we called it poop coffee too, but did you know that they sell this coffee for $30 a cup? Yeah, and I thought Starbucks was expensive!?! We looked at one another to gauge a reaction. All of us? What the hell, you only live once. Besides, the cup of coffee was going to only cost us about $2, making it the most economical place to try poop coffee. Bring it on.

So, what did it taste like? Coffee, silly! Pretty good coffee to be honest. It’s said that the stomach enzymes of the luwak are passed on in the flavor of the coffee, but Balinese coffee is also fantastic to begin with. They do taste different from one another, though made from the same coffee trees, but I’m not going to get in the habit. Coffee is still coffee to me. Another new item we tried is called snake fruit. Yeah,

Supposedly vacation, we get up to climb a volcano.
it brought images to me of the Wild West and Snake Oil too... but totally unrelated. Growing from a dangerously spiky tree, this fruit looks like it has a snake skin rind... even has the feel of shed snake skin if you’ve ever touched that. The inside fruit is white in color, garlic clove in appearance, and a pineapple taste, though less juicy. I fell in love with this fruit, I couldn’t get enough of it. Unfortunately, it only grows in Southeast Asia, plus with my lack of coordination, I’d probably poke an eye out harvesting the fruit. Some of those thorns are about a foot long!

By this point, I'm pretty much over my headache from the morning and feeling good after some coffee and fruit. Now it's time to bike through the villages. It has been a while since I've ridden, but I'm fairly confident in my athletic abilities. We take the next couple of hours to bike through some of the most beautiful countryside. Terraced paddies, hills, valleys, villages, temples, shrines, children playing, water buffalo... holy trees.

The banyan tree is sacred in South Asia, particularly to Hindus and Buddhists,
I don't know, I don't knowI don't know, I don't knowI don't know, I don't know

I don't know where I'm a-gonna go when the volcano blow. Yes, this was the sunrise we climbed up there for.
representing eternal life and there are many stories about it in those religion's respective ancient literature. The tree supports its expanding canopy by growing aerial roots from its branches. These roots hang down and act as props over an ever widening circle, reflecting the Sanskrit name bahupada, meaning 'one with many feet'. In the 'Bhagavad Gita' or 'Song of the Lord', Krishna uses the banyan tree as a symbol to describe the true meaning of life to the warrior hero, Arjuna. Banyan is viewed by Hindus as the male plant to the closely related peepul or bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa). It is regarded as a sin to destroy either of these trees. In Bali, they cover the base of the tree with holy cloth and people of all religions use its great leafy canopy to meditate or rest. They are beautiful to behold, giant and thriving, beloved by the Balinese.

Watching the sun begin to set over the rice paddies is surreal and can inspire story, song and especially emotions. Am I really doing this? What did I do in a previous life to warrant seeing all this beauty and culture? Our tour guide offers a walk

Tired after our climb, our true personalities truly show here.
through the fields and I'm happy to keep sweating along. As we move to the edge of the field and towards a valley of jungle like growth, we get a little bit nervous. It's almost a Deliverence feeling. The sky is getting dark and we're going into the jungle? Where is this guy taking us? We continue towards the sound of trickling water and try to avoid falling into a deep stream canyon. We came across a man as he had just finished bathing, a little awkward, but friendly smiling at us. We ended up in a small village, walking towards what we found out later is our guide's home.

As the sun continued it's journey to sleep, the already relaxed pace of Bali takes on a different feeling. Families come together for prayer, dinner, relaxation and community. Our guide shows us his home, discusses the division of homes into threes. One third of the home is dedicated to God and prayer, one third for the family and a third for the garden. As families grow, a new spot is added with the same thirds. This makes for beautiful villages, a statement of culture and life. We

Stay away from our backpacks!
got back pretty late, but with wonderful food in our bellies, it was a great end to a wonderful day.

What now? Well, we peruse through some literature and find a volcano hike that puts you at the summit right before sunrise. That sounds like a great next step. We call... pickup at 1am? Really? Well, I guess we could sleep in the car. Let's do it! Yes, we get up after a couple hours of sleep, notice the watch picture. We arrived at the base of the volcano at about 3am and proceeded our adventure as the first group up the mountain. Things were great, though very dark. We had a guide who kept us on the right path. We arrived at a shack about an hour prior to sunset. Sounds great, we get to scope out our spot, right? Well, the mountains are cold and we've just exerted a tremendous amount of energy and sweat to get up there. Wind plus sweat plus hiking clothes and no jacket? Freezing!!!! We start snuggling together in our attempt to get warm and I pace back and forth to set up my camera for a sunrise snapshot.

On the way back down.

During the sunrise, we got a pretty funny photo that shows the personality of each of us. Sarah the New Yorker, Brittany the crazy girl, and me, the conservative "it is what it is" look of exasperation. Besides seeing steam vents and crazy monkeys trying to steal our packs, we found a holy cave where many monks come to sit and meditate or pray. After the long hike back down the volcano, we stopped at some hot springs for a swim. As if that weren't enough, we then had a spa treatment. A spa treatment that included a scrub, massage and flower bath. I never expected to have to share a room, or a tub, with Brittany, but there it is. Oh well, it made for a funny story, that's for sure. The entire day, it was about $40 per person. I know. It's hard to believe, isn't it? Getting back very late once again, it was straight to bed for us.

The last day we tried to make the most of our time, eating breakfast and getting into town for some shopping. I had already made a mental list for myself. Idid go back and get the Ganesh bracelet, I couldn't resist. What an epic weekend it was, as planned. I'm sure going to miss those gals!

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 29


Much needed relaxationMuch needed relaxation
Much needed relaxation

My shared bathtub. That was strange, but whatever.
Our "Couples" RoomOur "Couples" Room
Our "Couples" Room

Uh, we're not a couple, I swear.

Artfully rendered.
Bali'd outBali'd out
Bali'd out

Yes, I just turned the country's name into a verb.

12th March 2010

Oh my gawd!
Great story of what sounded like a fantastic time!! But I was ready for a nap after reading it! Its been such a long winter with cold/wet here in South Carolina - worst anyone, no matter how old can remember - that I was actually wishing I was there on some of the less tiring activities!! At least it was warm! But this weekend and next week, just great or so they say. All is well here, back to doing some work soon it looks like, not full time of course. Where are you off to next, fill us in when you get a chance. Love Capt Ray
18th March 2010

You know you loved sharing a bathtub with me, DREAM COME TRUE!!!!! Miss you!

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