Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

32 DAYS IN BALI - Part One



It’s 5 p.m.  The sun is setting.  The call to prayers at a nearby mosque can be heard drifting on the breeze along with the ever-present smell of incense, satay being cooked over an open-flame grill and the too-sweet smell of rotting fruit.  

The Balinese language is a muddle of sounds played on a musical scale that rises and falls.  Temperatures hover in the high 80’s with rain falling almost daily, either a brief shower or a torrential downpour, with the humidity level averaging always close to 100%.  Just a hint of a breeze is a gift to be stopped and enjoyed.

What am I doing on this hot, humid, tropical country for a whole month?   Why did I choose to end my 11-month sojourn of the South Pacific on this Indonesian island?  Honestly?  Because I, like so many other women, fell in love with and hoped to find ‘something or someone special’ here after reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray Love.  Stupid reason to visit a country, isn’t it?  And of course, I haven’t seen anyone who comes close to looking like Javier Bardem to say hello to, let alone who could possibly lift me off my feet!

I’m sweating.  I’m always sweating.  I can only manage the heat with two-to-four showers per day, not counting my daily running jump into the pool at my homestay. 

Let me take a moment a tell you what a homestay is, compared to a hotel,  resort or AirBnB.  A homestay is a Balinese family-owned compound.  The depth of a family compound runs from the street it faces to the street behind and can be as wide as 1/2 a city block.  One extended family, their relatives and employees all live happily(?) together in the many structures that are enclosed within the walls of the compound.   

There is always a small temple in the center where these very observant Balinese Hindus pray and give offerings each day.  Structures have been added during recent years to accommodate paying guests.  The one I am staying in is a typical addition.


At the rear of my homestay is a three-story structure that has 9 very large rooms - 3 per floor.  The beds are enormous, 1 1/2 times the size of an American king.  Several of the rooms have an additional twin or a daybed in the room.  There is an armoire for your clothes, a sink, a shower/tub combo, a toilet and mini fridge. The beds are enclosed in mosquito netting, a must, as there are no screens or windowpanes. 

Rhuma Roda entrance
My room is the top floor - left side




My bedroom, desk & outside seating area.


Looking down at the pool                                        The family Temple.
                                       
Though my homestay is located within an easy 10-minute walk to the very center of Ubud, wth their huge marketplace and the Palace (residence of the current ceremonial-only King of Bali) it is located on a fairly quiet street- if you don't take into consideration the dozens of roosters who crow all day AND ALL NIGHT or the many street dogs who join in with their howls and barks at all hours of the day and night.  And then there is the putt-putt and roar of the main form of Balinese transportation - the motor scooter.  Quiet in Bali is relative.

Yep, there is a scooter under there
Parked in front of Temple for service

Two guys just bought a new wheelbarrow, pulling it behind
                                          
They are everywhere, used to transport anything and everything.  There are no rules or at least it seems like that.  They dart around and pass you on both sides of your car, they drive the wrong way on one-way streets, they cut between buses and trucks with only inches to spare.

Though the age for a scooter license is officially 17, children from the ages of 8 or 9 drive scooters to school every day. Parents put babies in a backpack, two other children sit between the driver and the passenger and one standing between the handle bars.  I kid you not, that's a family of 6 on a scooter - and that's normal!

And yes, I've put my life in the hands of a scooter driver as it's the cheapest and fastest taxi service in Bali.  I could get a ride to anywhere in Ubud for $10,000IR - that's 75 cents in USD.

The day I arrived was the March Festival of the Full Moon, a traditional Hindu celebration.  Darta, my host, and head of the family in whose compound I am staying, immediately invited me to attend and photograph this event with his fellow family members and friends.

It is necessary for women to dress properly when entering a temple or attending a ceremony.  I was given a traditional sarong, normally of colorful batik cloth, which one of the women tied for me so it would not fall off and then a scarf is tied around the middle.  Women normally wear a white kebaya, or blouse, but I did not have one so my shirt, because it had a small sleeve, was passable. You will see from the photos that the women's kebayas can be extravagant, very sheer, lacy, colorful and are worn with a corset underneath.

Men wear a folded white fabric hat, white dress shirt and a darker, muted-colored sarong.  The point of their sarong is always much longer at the front and even drags on the ground.  Darta shared with me that the men do not wear underwear!  In their heat, I could understand why.  My sarong was tied over my pants and within minutes  I so wanted to be able to take them off

I took over 100 photos during the Full Moon's morning and into afternoon celebration.  Here are just a few.  Don't forget you can 'click' on any photo to enlarge it.

The 'band' who would play non-stop all day

 
 The temple with the women presenting their many offerings.

Waiting for the priest to arrive. He has to officiate at all the local celebrations on the same day so normally runs very late!                      And here he is!  Doesn't he look like Mr. Miyake from The Karate Kid movies?

     
The priest changes his outfit and adornments several times during the ceremony while music is constantly being played.  The children are adorable and very well-behaved.
Little girls in traditional dress


           
                                                                                 Young girls doing traditional Balinese dance
f
Folk characters performing 
And one must check your email!  

You realize I have now been in Bali less than 24-hours?  I'm exhausted and hot and think it's time to take a long nap.  But don't worry, I have so much more to share with you about my time in this beautiful country and lots and lots of photos!

Until next time.....

Friday, March 24, 2017

MY LAST NEW ZEALAND ADVENTURES AND FINAL HOUSESIT

Still coughing but no longer running a fever, it was time to leave Auckland and head to Rotorua.

I had been told by everyone that this was one area that I should really take time to visit.  I was told to be sure to take in the evening show and dinner at the Maori Village, see the geysers and be sure and take the plunge into one of the hot baths. If nothing else, I thought it might cure the lingering effects of my cold!

Once again hopping on a Naked Bus, I arrived early afternoon and checked into my SINGLE room at the YHA Rotorua.  When you get out of the big cities, the hostel prices become a lot more reasonable - which meant I could afford not to share my room with 3-8 others - just had to share the bathroom!

Lunch was in order and I had a great one at the Pig & Whistle.  I wandered around town for a bit before deciding I wasn't completely 'up to snuff' and a nap wouldn't be a bad idea before heading to Maori Village for their tour, HAKA dance, and dinner.


 It was enjoyable if pricey and quite 'touristy.'  The best show I have ever seen in all my travels was the multi-island presentation on Oahu, Hawaii at the Polynesian Cultural Center.  This was a very small version of that one.

The next day I had signed up for a full-day tour with Real Rotorua Tours.  Wow!  I cannot tell you just how great this day was!  First, I was the only tour member - for the entire day.  And instead of canceling the tour,  I had the owner/tour guide all day all to myself.

Rotorua in located in a volcanic caldera 16-miles wide.  In the morning we tramped through massive redwood tree and fern forests;  saw streams that were colored the colors of the rainbow at Hamurana Springs; visited Okere Falls and watched the white water rafters tumbling over the Falls; stood between the Blue & Green Lakes which are side-by-side and one is blue - the other green; I was even served homemade hot chocolate and biscuits during our lakeside break.





After lunch it was time to soak our feet in Kerosene (very hot) Creek; watch the mud bubbling at the Waiolapu mud pool, and see where a thermal pool began as it fed down to out last stop - the thermal hot springs.  A bathing suit was a requirement of the trip!





It was a fabulous day - so educational and different and fun.  If you are even in Rotorua, then you MUST sign up for a Real Rotorua Tour!

I ended the evening with a return visit to the Pig & Whistle for dinner and then very early to bed as I had to catch my bus to Tauranga at 5:10A.M!

I had signed up to housesit for Boston, an adorable labradoodle, while moms Helen and Bron went off camping, hiking and biking around the Coromandel.
I had a great view of the local landmark - The Mount - from the deck.  Boston and I bonded and took leisurely walks around the neighborhood and when the Moms returned, we had a great brunch on the shore and watched a surf/lifesaving competition before it was time for my final bus ride that would return me to Auckland for my last 2 days in New Zealand!

 


I'm always asked what it is about traveling that keeps me on the road.  Other than my natural sense of wanderlust (not being able to sit still in one place for a long length of time!) it's learning the history of the countries I visit, the cultural differences - and similarities - we ALL share, and most importantly, it's the people I meet along my journey.

One afternoon, while I was just wandering through the upper floor of the TePapa Museum in Wellington, I met two sisters with their 90-year-old mother discussing a display of bobbin lace.  Since I had become a great fan of this extremely difficult craft while living in Brussels, I eased dropped on their conversation with the docent and eventually joined in. It turned out they were from Auckland and when I said I had yet to really see Auckland (ah-choo!) they said one of the things I must do was take a Red Boat River Cruise and have lunch at the historic Riverhead Tavern - which just by chance, the youngest sister and her husband owned!

I thought this sounded like a great way to spend a day.  The sisters and I had even emailed and found a date to meet at the Tavern for lunch.  And then I caught 'the cold!'  But here I was, back in Auckland with 2 free days and the first thing I did was call the sisters and rebook my river cruise.

The weather was perfect - the sun shone, there was a light breeze and the waters were tranquil and it was so relaxing to cruise for an hour and a half (right past Tom Cruise's massive ocean-going yacht with a helicopter on top! - he was in town filming) to the Tavern, enjoy a delicious lunch of fish 'n chips and a good glass of New Zealand white wine while visiting with the sisters.

             
I took the train into the city center and had to catch a cab to the wharf where I got the Red Boat.  I had to share the shot of Auckland's main train station.  So bright & clean.






Tom's helicopter

Cruising under the Harbor bridge with the city skyline in the background



            The Riverhead Traven










I cannot believe 9 months have passed since I arrived in New Zealand.  The Kiwi's are some the nicest, most warm and welcoming people I've ever had the privilege to meet.  I leave with the great honor of having made life-long friendships - and have even been invited to come back real soon!

My airport shuttle arrived in the pouring rain at 4:00 A.M., the start of what would be a massive storm that created havoc, flooding and lots of damage to roads all over the North Island.  I was lucky and my flight to Brisbane and then onto Bali departed on time - but it was with a sad heart that I was leaving what had been a wonderful 'home' for so many months.

The Auckland Sky Tower

Farewell New Zealand......until next time

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

RETURN TO THE NORTH ISLAND - Part 1

Peaceful-Design

Pretend it's now February 6th.  My time in New Zealand is drawing to a close - just one month a 2 days before my Visa expires and I my leave my home of the past 9 months.

The first thing I did after landing in Auckland was to catch a bus to Thames  - the town in the Coromandel where I had started my New Zealand adventure.  My 'girlfriends' had invited me back for a return visit.

The lovely Jeannette had put a Sold Out sign on her every-busy AirBnB room and I was thrilled to be her guest for 5 days.  We had so much fun 'playing' in her quilt/sewing studio.  I had a delicious dinner at Jean and Frank's in TePuru, went to my morning exercise class at the Elam Church and Jenny, Elizabeth, Pat and I attended the Scottish Highland Games in Paeora.  Had my fill of bagpipes for another year!
 
←Jenny  ↑ Elizabeth & Pat
 I'm amazed at Pat's courage as her sight continues to fail and she 'just keeps going!'  



From Thames it was back on the bus to Auckland where I had one night downtown at the Attic Backpackers Hostel and time for a great Free Walking Tour of Auckland.

 

 

The next day I was joined by my good friend Kelly from Wellington.
Before I had departed her fair city, we had arranged to meet-up and bus to the northernest portion of the North Island - The Bay of Islands.

We left in sunshine but arrived in Paihia in rain - lots of rain!  Our hostel, Capt'n Bob's Beach House, was not quite as close to the bus station as we were lead to believe. We had to drag our suitcases up and over and around a hill - about a 2km walk - through the rain.  We arrived wet and hungry but were happy with our large rooms, great lounge, and big kitchen.

We dried off, shook off the raincoats and umbrellas and headed out once again. This time it was another 2km wet walk to tour the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.  This is the most historical Maori-English site in New Zealand, where the treaty was signed making New Zealand an English colony.  We had a guided tour of the grounds, a performance of Maori music and dance and a very nice movie detailing the treaty.

 
Flagpole designates the spot of the signing. 
A hand-carved waka, traditional Maori boat.

The next day, still damp with light showers and cloudy, we scratched plans to spend the day on the water and took the ferry across the bay to Russell.  Russell during its heyday was where the whalers and prostitutes made their home, while the god-fearing Englishmen lived in Paihia.  To this day, Russell is a much more fun place to visit.

We took a fabulous Russell Mini Tour with a great guide named Bob!  This hour-long tour took us around and through and up to the highest point with a grand view of the entire Bay of Islands.  (Which I am sure is much better when it isn't cloudy and wet!).  Back down into town and time for a hot, delicious bowl of seafood chowder at Sally's before wandering around the town.

 


Love how Sally's signs her name (in heavy cream) in the bowl of chowder!



Halleluiah!  The sun has returned.

We awoke to a bright, blue sky and decided to split up for the day.  Since I had done so many tours on lakes and sounds, I chose to see something truly unusual (thank you, Susan Hayden, for the suggestion) while Kelly chose to spend the day boating around the islands.

I hired a taxi to take me to Kawakawa,
the home of the Hundertwasser Toilets. Yep, I went out-of-my-way and had to hire a cab to be able to see a public toilet! But oh my, what a toilet.

Known as an international work of art and a huge tourist attraction to this small town, the toilets were designed by the expatriate Austrian artist, Fridensreich Hundertwasser using recycled materials from the local community.

Seen from across the street
 

                   
                             
                                                             
Women
Men
This was a total delight to the eyes! And what was sad to learn was at the time the 'city fathers' really didn't appreciate Mr. Hundertwasser's work, so when he volunteered to do more installations in other locations throughout the Bay of Islands, they turned him down.  What a shame, as they now see large numbers of tourists visiting their fair town specifically to see 'the toilets!' Now, of course, the town has now embraced the mosaic art form and other pieces of artwork fill the streets and line the walls!

 
            
When my taxi driver returned me to Paihia, I chose to ferry back to Russel and have a leisurely lunch overlooking the water.  After lunch, I did a little shopping, toured the original church and it's graveyard while falling in love with their congregation-needle-pointed seat cushions,  then just sat in the shade and read a good book!

 
My 'smiley' ferry boat. (click to see a bigger photo and read the sign)  And as you can see, I was not the only who chose to lunch on the waterfront.



 


Kelly's cruise boat dropped her in Russel at the end of the day and we had a lovely glass of wine and nibbles at The Gables (overlooking the water) before we found a really wonderful wood-fired ' pizza garden' hidden in an alleyway where we enjoyed dinner before taking the ferry back to our hostel for our last night in the Bay of Islands.  Early morning return bus ride to Auckland in the morning.

 

I  planned to finally spend the next 4 days before my tour to Rotorua and final housesit began exploring New Zealand's largest and busiest city. That didn't happen.

Thanks to tromping through 2 days of rain, for only the 2nd time in 9 months I came down with a terrible cold - and fever - to the point where a trip to the emergency room became a necessity.

 I was staying in one of the loveliest AirBnB's in the beautiful Auckland suburb of Remuera with a wonderful hostess named Judie.  She was kind enough to move me to a room (away from everyone else!) and made sure I had plenty of tea and good care.  When it was time for me to head to Rotorua, the antibiotics had kicked in and I was finally on the way to getting well.

This has gotten much longer than I thought it would be - and my friends at Starbucks are looking at me like it's time to move on....So I will add a Part 2 within the next day or two.  It will be my farewell to New Zealand!

Until next time.....