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Indonesia - October 7, 1999
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Hi all! Greetings from Indonesia. I've only been traveling for a month now (with my friend Christine), but Silicon Valley already seems like a world away. This lifestyle is more appealing than I ever could have imagined. I hope to experience this type of freedom many more times in my life!

Indonesia is huge. I'd like to have two years to travel this vast country, but since we only allocated four weeks, we chose to travel through Bali and Lombok. Even that wasn't nearly enough time for such interesting places. With the unstable political situation in East Timor it is better that we didn't go to Java where there continue to be demonstrations. Fortunately there doesn't appear to be any hostility towards Americans here and the majority of the people just want to see East Timor become independent as it has caused a lot of trouble and been a financial burden to the country for a long time.

Bali was one of the most amazing places I've ever been, mainly because of its beauty, diversity across such a small island, and the generosity of the local people. Lombok was also especially interesting because it is still not a big tourist destination. We found ourselves to be quite the attraction in some villages. Once we stopped to buy water and gathered a crowd of about 20 people who just wanted to watch! The handicrafts (woodworking, pottery, weaving, etc.) on both islands are unique and of impressive quality.

I've been working on my Indonesian, which makes it so much easier to start up conversations with people. I adopted the name "Wayan" while in Bali which means child number one. My travel companion, Christine, is "Made" since she is number two in her family. The locals got a kick out of that! They would introduce themselves and ask us our names. When we'd say "Wayan" and "Made", they'd have a surprised look for a moment and then see our smiles and laugh with us. The traditional Balinese use certain names for the first child, second, third, fourth, and the fifth starts back again at the first name. Wayan is the most common name used for the first born.

Although I've never had a serious interest in learning how to play the guitar, I was inspired by the number of people we met who played the guitar for us at beach parties and small gatherings of friends. I had a couple of casual lessons at these gatherings - enough to pique my interest in learning how to play. Today I bought a guitar and a "how to" book (only about US$60 for the guitar). I hope I can figure out how to move my fingers into these pretzel positions!

I've been taking daily notes in a journal (for the first time in my life) about my experiences traveling. I think I will always have very vivid memories from Indonesia as the sights, sounds and smells are so unique and captivating. Below are some of these notes. I think they paint a fairly good picture of the Bali and Lombok I experienced.

Dancers in ornate colorful costumes
Making graceful precise movements to exotic gamelon music
A seemingly primitive stick fight in one village
Cheering and gambling on the cock fights in another
Business bustling in the market
The sweet aroma of slow cooking curries
Quickly masked by the stench of fish
Baskets overflowing with bright colored chilies, fruits, spices
Ponies trotting down the street carrying carts full of people
Roaring motorbikes zipping by
Lush green rice terraces ascending the hillsides
Orderly fields of coffee, tobacco, soy beans, and other local staples
The bright sun scorching through thick, wet air
Farmers hunched over hard at work, almost covered by their woven hats
Cows and waterbuffalo help to plow
Women move slowly along the roadside, loads piled high on their heads
Hills dense with banana and coconut palms
Bamboo huts and small shelters scattered throughout the countryside
Monkeys scramble in the forest willing someone to throw peanuts
Always a rooster crowing or dog barking
Distinct funny calls from the geckos
Colorful fishing boats line the coast and horizon
Quiet rippling of palm trees swaying with the breeze
Glistening black sand beaches, gentle lapping of water
Fisherman wading almost to their chests, patiently waiting
Spectacular sunrises and sunsets
Painted skies changing every few minutes into a new picture
Dolphins dancing in the waves
Beach fires, guitar music, friends gathered
Talking, joking, laughing, singing, being together, enjoying life

Below are the highlights of my travels. I enjoyed everywhere we visited, but Eastern Bali was my favorite.

Southern Bali
Kuta is a tacky beach area in the south near the airport in Denpasar with a zillion people trying to sell things to the tourists, but it does have some redeeming qualities - a beautiful beach, great surfing and gorgeous sunsets. Nusa Dua and Sanur are beautiful, but big tourist destinations and where you can go to see big hotels and pay US prices.

Central Bali
Once we got out of the south, I felt like we were able to experience the "real Bali". Although also a big tourist destination, Ubud is wonderful. It is the cultural center where I fell in love with the traditional Balinese style of paintings that often depict village life. We loved the Balinese dances with the ornate costumes and intricate hand and eye movements. The gamelon music is also very soothing and accompanies most of the dances.

From Ubud we traveled north to Batur, which is an active volcano erupting many times a day. One morning we woke up at 4:00am to hike to the top of Batur and see the sunrise. It was gorgeous. We saw the volcano erupting while it was still dark! It was an amazing demonstration of nature with red fire shooting into the sky. The lake just below the volcano is also spectacular and was especially beautiful as the sun rose. The eruptions continued so we experienced several of them up very close. We cooked our breakfast of bananas and bread in the steamy, hot volcanic crevices before heading back down.

Northern Bali
We spent several nights in Lovina outside of the main town on a very quiet beach. There we met some fun young locals who invited us to their beach parties and cooked us an amazing dinner. This was probably the best dinner we had in Bali. We sat on the floor of the one-room home they all shared, sweating like crazy from the heat and very spicy dishes. Even though it was very uncomfortable, the meal was exceptional. The beach parties were awesome and wonderfully mellow. The guys would take turns playing the guitar and we'd all sit around the fire singing and drinking Arak (the local palm wine which is very nasty and leaves quite a hangover). My other awesome memory of Lovina was the morning we went out in a fishing boat and saw tons of dolphins.

Eastern Bali
From Lovina we traveled east. This part of the island was my favorite. We stayed in Amed and Tirta Ganga. I loved both and they were extremely different. Amed is on the coast with beautiful black sand beaches and very colorful sailboats that look like giant spiders. We met generous and fun locals there who took us on their motorbikes to our first cock fight (very popular in Bali). They also took us to visit friends who showed us how they manufacture table salt from the sea. It is a very manual and tedious process that pays very poorly.

Tirta Ganga is inland. It's a region of gorgeous green hills covered with rice terraces. Designed this way to make efficient use of the water supplies for the rice paddies, they seem like they were built that way just for their beauty. We spent two days trekking in those hills visiting several small villages and an amazing water palace.

From Bali we took a slow ferry to Lombok but it was nice because it was the first time we cooled off in two weeks. We stayed in Sengiggi for several nights. I do not recommend Sengiggi except as a convenient base for day trips to many other parts of Lombok. It's beautiful beach and nice bungalows are its only assets. It is too touristed with too many touts. This was extreme compared to the rest of Lombok where I felt like many people had never seen a westerner before. We made day trips to beautiful and quiet Kuta beach in the south, and nearby villages that do woodworking, pottery and basket weaving - all which are beautiful. It was interesting to see the locals at work. Everything is done very slowly and carefully. I was impressed with the craftsmanship of much of the work.

One day we were invited to have lunch with a local family; it was our other best meal in Lombok. It was also the first time we ate like the locals - with our hands. Silverware or chopsticks are not used in Bali or Lombok. Instead, they use their fingers to pinch the meat or vegetables and spread it on rice, then they scoop up the rice in the palm of their hands, and use their thumbs to help push the mixture into their mouths. We will require more practice to get proficient at this but we didn't do too badly for our first try. I also took my first guitar lesson in Sengiggi one night when we were invited by a band to their "after hours" party. I learned a few cords and for the first time started thinking that I would like to learn to play the guitar.

Our last stop in Lombok was Senaru in the north to see the beautiful waterfalls. We discovered a village on the way called Gondang and stumbled across a beautiful and quite place with a handful of bungalows. It was like a small paradise. The design and craftsmanship of the bungalows was spectacular and the beach was totally private except for a few fishermen. We stayed two days and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude, beautiful beaches and drinking the juice out of huge coconuts.

Gili Meno
From Lombok we took a very small boat to Gili Meno, the most remote and quietest of the Gilis, and ended up staying there for the rest of our trip. It was so incredible and we loved the people we met there. They were so fun to hang out with and as we had for the past few weeks, we were able to listen to them play guitar and sing every night. I felt like I could really "drop out" and live there for a while. It is the most peaceful place with the nicest people. The only thing I missed was getting a fresh water shower.

Now we are getting ready to head to Nepal for a few weeks of trekking. We just had our first hot shower in weeks, and our hotel here even gave us towels and toilet paper - a real luxury! Having a western style toilet that flushes and a room fairly free of bugs is also a nice change. I have no complaints though. This is one of the best experiences of my life. We are mainly staying in low budget bungalows and guesthouses for prices of around US$5.00 a night, which includes breakfast! Most are very simple and not always very clean, but they all have beautiful gardens and we are always served breakfast on our patio. I'm getting pretty attached to these banana pancakes. Yes, life is grand.

I suppose it is obvious, but I am so impressed with this part of the world and with the people. I hope you all get a chance to visit Bali and Lombok.

Bye for now,

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