29 May 2010

Honeymoon, Part 3

As was becoming the trend on this trip when moving from place to place, we were both filled with a bit of sadness for what we were leaving behind, but also with excitement for the unknown of what was to come. We made it back to Bali by boat (thankfully sans the bongo playing Australian family), and met our driver. We planned on heading to Ubud next to explore a bit more of an urban center and some more of the Balinese Hindu heritage. I was super excited about getting back into some Hindu temples as I had not been in any since time I spent in India in 1997. I was curious to see how different this form of island Hinduism was compared to what I had seen in the past. We also planned on staying in a much nicer guesthouse. As this was our last real destination, we wanted to treat ourselves. However before we left, our good friends Spencer and Courtney informed us that they had already paid for our 4 night stay at the place we had chosen! Definitely an unexpected and amazing wedding gift.
The place was super nice and we had an entire wing of it to ourselves. It included a master bedroom, large bathroom, outdoor shower, huge veranda, and a little canopy hut sitting in a pond of lotus blossoms. To top it all off, as we approached we had heard the sweet, sweet whir of an air conditioner. After spending 9 extremely hot nights living in bamboo bungalows, sleeping in bug nets that did not necessarily allow any breeze, we were pretty giddy to get in the AC. However, there was one slight concern that we both had about the place. When we decided to stay there, we were excited to read about the views of the rice paddies from our veranda. However, what we did not realize was the there would be people working in the rice paddies from sun-up to sun-down, and only a very low wall separating things. We would both feel a bit guilty (and kinda colonial to be honest) as we sat out playing cards and drinking beers, while the villagers worked their asses off feet from where we were.

The next morning, we arranged a car to take us into Ubud. I had a list of temples I wanted to see, but first wanted to get into the Monkey Forest. Hanuman is the Hindu monkey god who rolls around with Lord Rama and swings a huge-ass club around at his enemies.

He is not my favourite (he is Ray’s though) and I was excited to get into this monkey preserve that both honors him and is home to a rather large band of Balianese macaques. Kathleen was as nervous as I was excited. Mere feet into the park and meeting some of its inhabitants, she began to mutter “I don’t like monkeys. Don’t like the monkeys” again and again. She loosened up after awhile, but they must have heard because one of them peed on her. Unfortunately the temple in the middle of the park was closed, but we got some pictures.
After the forest, we wandered through the city a bit and were thoroughly underwhelmed. Now Ubud is the setting for the awful (in my mind) book and forthcoming movie, Eat, Pray, Love. I never finished it but supposedly Ubud is where her final awakening occurs and she goes on and on about how amazing and spiritual it was. I am not sure if our perspective was tainted by Balian and Gili, but the place was just filled with tourists and people harassing tourists. This place seemed pretty much overrun and overdone. We did manage to check out a few super cool temples and a market, but ended up taking a very leisurely lunch.
After our exploration, we quickly realized there was no way we could spend 4 days here and began to seek out a new destination. But where should we spend the last 3 days of our once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon? Should we go back to Balian? Should we go back to one of the Gilis? We both decided we wanted to go to a beach, but were apprehensive about going somewhere that we had not researched. We also wanted to continue to pamper ourselves a bit (we talked to Mandala Desa and they amazingly agreed to refund the remainder of our stay so we could put it to our next destination). After discussing it a bit, we decided to go all out. It was our honeymoon after all and what couple does not deserve a 5-star resort stay for at least part of their trip? After a bit of on-line action, we booked a 3 night package at Ayodya Resort.
The Ayodya is located at the end of the island on the Nusa Dua peninsula. Our guidebook described it as ‘a gilded (gated) ghetto of enormous hotels. There are no independent developments, no hawkers, no warung, no traffic, no pollution, and no noise.’ We had prepared ourselves for the fact that we were essentially leaving Indonesia for this nation of upper-class conveniences, but we were OK with it. Apparently as we arrived and checked out everything the place had, I kept repeating excitedly “there’s no shame in my game.” The place had pretty much everything: pristine beaches, amazing bedroom, beautiful outdoor verandas and fountains, a humungous swimming pool, a big lake filled with 2 foot long aquatic lizards, and a great selection of bars and restaurants. We spent the next few days just taking it easy and enjoying things. We read, played a lot of cards, had some amazing games of poolysthide, and drank a fair amount.

We hit happy hour a few times and were even embarrassingly serenaded by a group of musicians whom we could not figure out if they were Indonesian or Mexican.
As the last day of our honeymoon unfolded, we reflected a lot on our trip. We had found an off the beaten path beach to stay and surf at. We learned how to scuba dive. We biked. We ate amazing food. Kathleen read 78 books (at least). I saw the sun rise over Indonesian mountainous islands repeatedly on during my morning runs. We explored temples and markets. Generally we laughed the entire time. And now we had pampered ourselves to the limit. It was super nice to be waited on and to live in this bubble of exclusivity, but we really could have been anywhere in the world. Kathleen and I both loved all the adventures we got into in Bali and Gili Trawangan, and they were by far the richer parts of our trip. I am absolutely positive all couples say this, but as we waited at the airport to board our flight, we agreed it had been the perfect honeymoon. Coupling this trip with our mini-honeymoon to Paris, we couldn’t think of anything that would have made it better. But by now I think you all know we were wrong and had some more surprises waiting for us…

24 May 2010

Honeymoon, Part 2

The day before we planned to leave Balian, Mark and I had a sudden thought – sure, we’d arranged for a car to take us from Balian to Benoa Harbour, and a ferry to take us from Bali to Gili Trawangan – but how would we get from the ferry to our hotel? We sent an email and had our reply in a few minutes – ‘Just hop on a horse cart and tell them to take you to Hasan’s place!’
Mark and I looked at each other and laughed – a horse cart?! But we were game, and at 5AM the next morning we wheeled our suitcases up the dirt road and waited for our car. The people at Pondok Pisces were so worried about us that they had someone wake up to keep us company, and when our car ran late they sent another person out to the main road to help the driver in case he was lost (he was). It was just another kindness out of many that made Mark and I so affectionate toward Pondok Pisces and Balian Beach – and made us promise, again, to return one day.
The car ride was insane – because the driver was late to pick us up, he didn’t want us to miss the ferry – and included higher speeds and running a few red lights. But we made it to the ferry along with a few dozen other passengers (including a gigantic Australian family who had kindly equipped all of their children with Bongo drums which made for a particularly noisy trip) and took off for Lombok and Gili Trawangan.
Dewi and and her husband Hasan own and run Gili Hideaway, the next stop on our journey. They had come highly recommended by a good friend who had lived in Indonesia and knew Dewi from their work with an NGO in Jakarta, and so we had been very excited to arrive and get an insider’s advice for things to do and see.
We disembarked from our horsecart and wandered into… the incorrect entrance to the hotel, waking up an off-duty gardener. But once the confusion had settled, we found ourselves in a little piece of paradise.
Immediately, Sam, on the hotel staff and an awesome help each day, set off to get us rental bikes for the duration of our stay. We were shown to our bungalow, which was adorned with a variety of handmade reed and flower decorations – the gardener had made them all himself, in honor of our honeymoon.
We immediately set off to explore the island, and decided to bike the perimeter. We made it about ¼ of the way before finding ourselves in deep, soft, unbikeable sand – so after a brief dip in the turquoise water, we turned back and grabbed a few refreshments.
There was a lot that we loved about Gili, not least the amazing food we ate or the views we had, but my favourite was the SCUBA diving. It was something I’d always desperately wanted to do, but was afraid that I wasn’t a strong enough swimmer, or that I would become claustrophobic. But after hearing one person after another extol their amazing experiences under the water, I knew we needed to do it. We confirmed our reservations with Big Bubble that afternoon, and brought our books home for a bit of poolside studying.
I don’t know how it happened, but by virtue of our off-season visit and our Tuesday start to classes, Mark and I enjoyed private tutoring for our Open Water dive course. We woke each morning to the sound of a few confused roosters crowing before the sun rose, and Mark would go for a run while I showered. Once we were both dressed, we’d emerge for strong coffee and omelettes or banana pancakes, then pack our backpacks and climb on our bikes to head to school. We had a brief instruction by a rather stern French man (and the complete stereotype from every Carribean SCUBA diver you’ve ever seen in a movie), but then switched to Andy, a Birmingham-born instructor, and Jin, our trainee instructor. This basically meant one-on-one attention in our pool sessions and under the water, and we had a completely relaxed and amazing time. We joked and laughed during the practice sessions, but I was almost hyperventilating as we took the boat for our first dive, that first afternoon. After a bit of a panicked descent (I tried to equalize my ears but ended up getting water in my goggles), I calmed down and looked around.
It was like being in a BBC documentary – but better than anything I’d ever seen in HD.
These photos are from some snorkelling we did (right off the beach from our bungalow), but it captures a bit of what we saw. We couldn’t take the camera with us to the depths we dove (12 and 18 meters, a total of 4 dives), and so you’re missing some of the more spectacular coral formations, giant turtles, and myriad fish and sights we glimpsed… I think both Mark and I were amazed at how much we enjoyed ourselves, and we would talk about each dive and plan for the next day at each meal. We slept hard, exhausted from the exercise and homework, but woke each morning excited for what we would see beneath the waves.
Additionally, diving has given us a renewed appreciation for ‘insider lingo,’ and we try to incorporate as many of our dive ‘signs’ as we can in normal conversation. It’s easier than you might think…
(also, for those non-strong swimmers out there, I did manage to pass my swimming test, although it was slow, alone, in the rain, while being watched solemnly by a large crew of hard-drinking German tourists)
Evenings were spent over leisurely meals and dark bike rides home across dirt paths and through deep puddles (there was a bit of rain while we were there). We would take a late-night dip in the pool, play a bit of cribbage or, once he grew more comfortable with us, get tutored in dinosaur facts by Dewi and Hasan's adorable four year-old son, Alfie, before crawling into bed. 

Our last day we puzzled over what to do. The sands of the coral island weren’t too amenable to simply staking out a spot with a blanket, and we could only wade about 15m before encountering living reefs (at about knee-depth), so we decided to bike up island. There, we spotted a barely inhabited resort with a pretty spectacular deck and a great selection of reasonably priced beverages.
What else could we ask for on the best honeymoon I could have ever imagined?

The next morning was a bit harried, due to some confusion about payment (we forgot the hotel couldn’t accept credit cards), resulting in a mad dash by Mark to the island's only ATM, and probably some reluctance to move on to our next spot. But on the ferry ride back to the mainland, Mark grabbed my hand and squeezed it a few times. I think we’ll be back.