Monday, April 21, 2014

All Around the World: Indonesia (AKA that time I looked like a drug dealer, lost my luggage, and climbed a mountain in the dark)

Wanderlust: A very strong and irresistible impulse or desire to travel the world.
SARA DRAKE
Ever since the day I got to the "Love" section of Elizabeth Gilbert's best seller Eat, Pray, Love, I have been planning my trip to Indonesia. I just never knew I'd have so much of an adventure in one trip.

I booked a nine day holiday with Intrepid travel, a company I've used once prior for a trip to Peru. The itinerary had everything I wanted, plus a little more. It focused around Ubud, where I wanted to spend most of my time, and took me to Bedugal to see a temple I've been dreaming of visiting for a while. In between all of that, I was pretty much game for anything.

First things first, though. When going to any foreign country, it's important to figure out the currency used and how much you need. Since I was traveling alone, and thinking I wouldn't necessarily be around a lot of currency conversion places based on the itinerary, I ordered what cash I thought I would need. Normally, I get large bills, but this time I decided to get small bills because, clearly, I'm a genius and I had really thought this out.

Upon arriving at the bank and announcing I was there to pick up my money, groups of tellers gathered around me. Peculiar, yes, but maybe it was just training day. Maybe they had never seen foreign currency (FX) before. Maybe they too were Bali fans. Maybe.

Normally, FX is shipped in little FedEx bags or envelope holders. So when they brought out a box (I repeat, a BOX) of money, I knew something was wrong. Apparently, I had ordered something like 6.5 million rupiah, roughly $600 US dollars...in ones. I'm pretty sure I wiped the entire bank clean of Indonesian currency for just my trip alone. I say this because I tried to exchange it, but uh, they told me they'd sent me everything they had available. I had no choice but to take my box full of money home and figure out how to pack it.
Just some of the money, since it wouldn't all fit in my purse. 
Turns out, a red duffel bag was the answer. Literally, a bag full of money and, just for the hell of looking normal, some snacks for the plane ride. I thought for sure I was going to get questioned and probably arrested, so I had my bank on standby to explain the situation. I mean really, people, I took a bag full of cash onto a plane, Hollywood style. Never before have I felt or looked so much like a drug dealer. You better believe I slept with one eye open that whole plane ride.

Upon arriving in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia I went to get the bag I'd packed and checked and get to the meeting point for the group. The entire trip, AZ to Indonesia, I had this very bad feeling about my luggage getting lost. Bad to the point where I checked with each airport to make sure my bag was safely en route. Turns out, it wasn't. This was the first time I'd ever lost my baggage and, normally, I wouldn't freak out too much, but we were leaving the next night to go to a different town and I was pretty sure there would be nowhere for me to find shoes for the mountain hike, let alone any regular-ish clothes. I was right. After shopping for exactly 12 minutes, the only time I had until my group left for their first stop that night at the local Gianyar night market, I had secured some square sandals, really funky yoga pants, a mumu dress thing to sleep in, and three pairs of underwear that turned out to be very much the wrong size. I was screwed. Not all the rupiah in the world could get me what I needed that night, and I had plenty.

But my Guardian Angel of Traveling had my back, because the group I was placed with was amazing. The kindest, funnest group of strangers turned friends ever. One in particular, A, who was my roommate for a good half of the trip, saved my butt big time when I had no luggage. She loaned me her hairbrush, bug spray, and even told me I didn't look that bad in my mumu. That's a real friend for you.

For reference, in case you disregard this story and decide to still get small currency for your trip to Bali, I also tried to exchange my currency for larger bills when I arrived, but they could only take 1 million rupiah in total at the airport because they had no way to handle exchanging more. To say that jaws dropped would be an understatement. Over the course of this trip, I became a self-serve bank for anyone who needed small bills, as small currency isn't that common. My lovely tour guide told all her Bali Facebook friends about me because, let's be honest, this type of thing never happens. Except to me.

The good news, and also for reference for any of you that may lose your luggage here…I got it back right before we had to leave for the next stop. The airport there did a really nice job helping me out and delivered the bag to my doorstep, a full hour's drive away. Really, really great customer service on their end.

See the red bag off to the left side? That was full of my money and some gluten free granola bars.
I missed you so much, suitcase. SO MUCH!
While on our first stop in Ubud, we went for one of the nicest walks I've ever gone on in my life. This path, which I believe is called the Trekking Campuhan Ridge, was one of my very favorite things that I've ever done on any trip. It feels like you're walking a path between worlds. I've never felt so free before. We passed gorgeous rice fields and even stopped at a little cafe to have a drink right from a coconut!
Lead Me On
Melia Metikos Society6
The art of Indonesia was breathtaking. Everything, down to the frames the pictures were held in, was so detailed and delicate. I'm a sucker for art work from other countries!



Indonesia
One of the stops on the tour was Sideman. There, we went on a bike tour, my favorite thing to do on any and all vacations. A bike tour is not only good for you after sitting on a plane for hours on end, but gets you to places you would never discover on a bus tour or even on your own walking. For example, while we were bike riding we came across a very rare cremation ceremony. I can't remember the exact details, but these special ceremonies only take place every few years, and here we were, witnessing it just because our bike path had lead us through it.

We also  went on a hike through the forest and rice fields you see in the picture above, and came upon a deserted luxury resort in the middle of nowhere. Several years back there was a safety scare to tourists visiting thanks to a terrorist bombing in one of the night clubs. This once rather awesome spa getaway, which was solely supported by tourists staying here, is now nothing but a beautiful abandoned building, ever since tourism took a nose dive. If any of you are wealthy and you'd like to own this resort, it's for sale. It is a secret paradise, and with some work, could be absolutely amazing again.
After the hike, we stopped by a waterfall and ate lunch. The food is pretty kick-ass and very gluten-free friendly.
We continued on our way to our next destination. Here I was told this lovely mountain you see on the left was the one we'd be climbing. In the dark. At 4am. And maybe, just maybe we'd be lucky enough to see a sunrise. I guess when I read about this climbing a mountain thing, I pictured a smaller mountain. More hill like, than mountain like. I also didn't realize we'd be climbing it in the dark and that people have, you know, fallen off the mountain and died and all that jazz. Obviously, I read through my itinerary in great detail.

On the Mt. Batur hike, also known as the "climb-a-mountain-in-pitch-blackness-with-a-flashlight-and-not-die" day, we hiked for almost 2 hours to see this. A bunch of fog. That's the railing on the ledge to keep us safe and sound, by the way.

However, the Bali gods must have heard our collective sigh of despair, because just as we were about to give up on seeing anything at all, voila- the sun.

As you can see, it was worth it. We also got an up close and personal view of monkeys who, by the way, will steal from you if you're not careful. Someone lost a passport. Someone else lost some chapstick. Watch out for the monkeys, all of them, especially the ones in Ubud, and especially for adorable little baby monkey hugs, like below.
Sunrise at Mt. Batur
Melia Metikos Society6

After climbing up the mountain we, of course, had to go back down. I thought up was hard until I realized down was slippery. This would also be known as the time every single person in my group fell on their butts, repeatedly. My only recommendation if you want to climb the mountain is to bring real, legit mountain hiking boots. Sandals, tennis shoes - none of that will cut it. Hiking boots and one of those helmets with a flashlight on it should do you good.

Our slipping and sliding paid off, because at the end of the mountain we went to one of the most amazing hot springs I've ever been to. Also, the first one I've ever been to, but I digress. Toya Devasya resort and spa, to be exact, gave us the rest of the day full of ahhh-mazing relaxation. All the aches and pains of the early portion of the day melted while we all relaxed in this tropical paradise.

Next up, the little town of Lovina. It was small, but oh-so fulfilling. A and I took a day off from the planned activities to have some serious spa time. And by serious I mean multiple massages, reflex sessions, facials…everything on the menu. I did this creme hair treatment thing that left my hair feeling like pure silk. Ohmygoodness, friends. Seriously. If you go to Lovina, get yourself the hair treatment at the Earth Bound spa and boutique. And did I mention it was only like $7 US dollars for an hour long massage? So we had roughly 9 spa treatments over the course of our trip. I'm not exaggerating either. On this day in particular, along with the massages, we wandered the black sand beach, shopped at every little store we could find (there aren't many) and had a great lunch. Did I mention the awesome graffiti we saw? Amazing!
I Paint My Love in Pictures
The next day was the sunrise dolphin watching extravaganza, which was honestly a little terrifying for the dolphins, if you ask me.


After we concluded our time in Lovina, we headed off to Bedugal, home of the Ulun Danu temple. You've probably seen pictures of this before. If you Google "Bali" this temple will pop up 9 out of 10 times. Like I said, I've wanted to see this temple in person for years. It did not disappoint. While we were there we stayed at the amazing Strawberry Hill hotel. If you go to Bedugal, I HIGHLY recommend this place. It's luxurious and adorable, all in one.
After the temple, we went on a lovely garden tour at the Bali Botanical Gardens. It was fantastic. I mean really, have you ever seen tree stumps this beautiful before? I'm thinking no.

Coming to the end of our trip, we headed back to Ubud.
A religious ceremony
A and I crammed in as much sight-seeing and shopping as possible before we had to go back to our respective homes, on opposite ends of the world. I miss my dear friend, but we're in the midst of trying to figure out when we can meet up again.

So the question is: Should you go to Bali? Simply answered, hellz yes!

I loved the entire trip, all the good and bad combined. The people are fantastic, the sights - oh the sights! The shopping, the food, the culture…go now. Go immediately. And go alone.

Going on a group tour by yourself might sound daunting, but those are some of my favorite. You end up making such great friends. Would I ever have met these people or spent quality time with them if I'd gone with my family? Probably not. And that would have been a horrible loss.
Ubud will always have my heart and I would love to go back and spend a whole week there, just wandering the streets. There is so much to do, see, and experience in all of Bali, and I've only recounted just a bit of what I saw.

In case anyone is planning a trip there soon, here are some of the other places I shopped at, ate at, stayed at, and visited on my trip:

Last, but never least, if you're interested in supporting a great cause, look into these two foundations in Bali. Heath care for mothers and babies is sparse and Bali has incredibly high rates of infant mortality. We visited the Bumi Sehat Foundation, which strives to make midwife services, general health care, and maternal care a priority. This great group of people is making a difference in the future of Indonesia and can use your support. There are also a lot of dogs roaming the streets of Bali that need medical attention (and love) and this local service, the Bali Dog Adoption Rehabilitation Centre, works to take care of our beloved four-legged friends. 

All photos credit of Melia Metikos

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