Day 1: Are we there yet?
My friends and I were very excited to go to Bali last month during our spring break. It is a beautiful island. Let me tell you about it… I had to be at the Hong Kong airport ahead of my friends so I could stop by the Cathay Pacific Airlines office to pick up a refund for the damage they did to my luggage during my last trip from Los Angeles to China. I met the girls early in the morning for a little mani-pedi pampering to get our nails beach ready. After nails, I headed home to collect my bags and get to the port for the 2:15pm ferry to Hong Kong. When I got in, I packed a few more things and called my mom to give her my flight details. I took a taxi to the port where I boarded the ferry to Hong Kong. When I reached the ferry station on the Hong Kong side I of course stopped for two bags of chocolate caramels from Marks & Spenser’s. After that, I went to Maxims Cakes for my ham and cheese bun but they were fresh out. Sad face!! I settled for a BBQ pork bun from Aroma Bakery. Sad to say their BBQ pork bun was not on the level of Maxim’s but I ate it anyway. From the port station I took the airport express train for the first time. The train ticket was $100 Hong Kong Dollars ($13 USD) but the trip was extremely fast. I was impressed by how nice the seats were and how empty the train was. Once I arrived at the airport, a security guard directed me to the Cathay Pacific offices where they very quickly settled my complaint with cash. Getting cash was a great way to begin my trip. After that I hurried to check my bags and get through security. Once I found my gate I ordered a sandwich, fresh fruit and a juice. I guess I was still kind of hungry. I managed to eat my food and get in the boarding line well before my friends arrived. I thought I was going to have to cause a scene of some sort to delay the plane if they didn’t hurry. Luckily they arrived just as the second group boarded the plane. They all took a page from the China play book and cut in line with me instead of going to the end. We boarded a rather packed plane where I somehow was seated a dozen rows back from the rest of my friends. I of course was seated next to the nastiest people on the plane.
About 15 minutes into the flight the couple across the aisle from me pulled out a rather large bag of the funkiest snacks anyone could think of bringing onto a pressurized confined space like a plane. They proceeded to open three different kinds of sausages and a packet of spicy tofu, each more stinky then the next. The combination of food smelled like shrimp, feet and spicy dog or cat food. About an hour into the flight the skinny man to my left began picking his nose and eating his boogers as he read through the in-flight shopping magazine. When he finished snacking on boogers he started picking at a bump on his forehead. I was so discussed by my fellow passenger’s behavior that I thought it best to close my eyes and tune everyone out. I decided to put my music on, wrap myself tightly in my blanket and hope that it would provide an impenetrable barrier from my nasty neighbors. About this time I paused the music to start writing this post while these disturbing behaviors were still fresh in my mind. About 10 minutes into writing, the booger guy on the left passes some terrible gas. I am in total shock so I plug my nose and look at him crazy. He continues reading the magazine like its all good. Now I’m leaning all the way to the right, into the aisle. I just think to myself Kai try your best to get some rest. You will be on the beautiful beaches of Bali in a few hours. I watched a movie and soon I was in a busy and beautiful Bali airport. It was after midnight when we landed and 1:30am before getting out of customs. I knew we had a pretty long ride to the hotel from the airport so all I could think of was buying water and using the bathroom before getting in a van for more than an hour. Jasmine found our van driver and he walked us to a parking lot across from the airport where we split up into two vans for the drive to our Ubud homestay. The ride was very long and dark. We were all so tired but the small amount of crazy in me wouldn’t let me go to sleep during this ride. I felt like I needed to pay attention to where I was and what was going on. I had a somewhat irrational fear that we would be kidnapped and possibly have to fight our way to freedom. Not sure if this fear was due to exhaustion or maybe I’ve just seen to many crazy movies were the unsuspecting expat plays the victim. Anyway a little over an hour later we arrive at a very empty street and our drivers directions to enter the neighborhood he was pointing too and follow the signs to Dewa House Bisma. So we paid our driver and wait for the second van to arrive with the rest of our friends. The second van pulled up about 15 minutes later and we dragged our tired selves and our bags down a paved trail flanked with flowing water and rice fields towards our homestay back from the main road. Our host met us at the gate and showed us to our rooms. It was dark out so we only got a small glimpse of the beauty of the place. Katie, Joscelyn and I arrived to the rooms first so we took the downstairs room in front of the pool. It was about 3am when we got to the room so we all showered and hit the sack quickly.
Day 2: The beauty of Bali…
Sunday morning the girls got up early and got in the pool. My body and mind were moving slow so I joined them outside about an hour later. I was amazed at the view when I stepped outside. It felt so peaceful. In that moment I could see how people come to Bali, fall in love with the place and never return home. I could absolutely live in that place for a long time. I felt extremely grateful right then. I sat down with my book and watched the girls swim when one of the house ladies walked up and asked if I wanted tea or coffee with my breakfast. I enjoyed my poolside breakfast before changing into my swim suite and joined everyone in the pool.
I was relieved to discover that the pool was all one depth and I could stand in it flat footed. I cannot swim and absolutely panic in water so this was comforting for me. After our swim we showered and went for lunch around the corner from homestay. I was astonished by the crazy exchange rate. I paid 94,000 Rupiah for my chicken avocado salad and juice. During lunch we also got to see a woman feed the gods at one of the many outdoor alters. I am always pleased to see people take pride in worshiping God, even if it isn’t the God I believe in.
Day 2 Continued: Monkey Attack!
After lunch half of us took a taxi while the other half walked to the nearby Sacred Monkey Forest. As you might have guessed, I took the taxi. So Katie, Sean, Tiffany and I arrived to the forest at a different gate from the one Jasmine, Joscelyn and Erin arrived at. I have a hate-hate relationship with wild animals so it I was not totally surprised when I was attacked by a monkey shortly after entering the park. It was a traumatic experience so I will only say a few words about it. Keep in mind, I had no desire to touch or feed the monkeys so I was not carrying any food or drink with me. I was there purely as a non-participatory bystander. As I discovered later, I was apparently videotaping a baby monkey trying to hijack a corn cob from a cage when the Monkey attacked me. Another monkey climbed up my right leg and latched on to my arm and backpack. I remembered little else about the attack until I saw the tape. I believe my thinking was that the monkey that was now sitting on my shoulder grabbing at my head was going to rip my hair from my scalp and scratch my eyes out. So according to the videotape, I apparently thought the best course of action was to close my eyes, scream profanities at the top of my lungs and spin slowly in circles. These actions alerted the entire park that I was in distress but unfortunately only Tiffany came to help me. She tried to grab the monkey on my shoulder when it jumped off. I opened my tear-filled eyes and ran to Sean in a hysterical laugh-cry. Immediately after the attack a man approached me and said “That was the funniest thing I have ever seen, you made my trip!” Yeah I was blown away by his lack of sympathy too. I am extremely surprised I had the willpower to continue my walk through the park but I did. Unfortunately the video is full of profanity (my apologies) so it will not be included in this post. In my defense I thought I was going to be grossly disfigured by the monkey. After leaving the Monkey Forest, we ate gelato and shopped for a while. Then we split up. I stayed to shop longer with Erin and Jasmine while the others walked back to the homestay. Later that night we walked down to the main street to a temple to see a traditional Balinese dancing show. The costumes were beautiful but the heat was distracting. We were all sweating like crazy. We stayed about an hour and a half before we couldn’t stand sitting there any longer. We crossed the street and ate dinner at International Ristorante. We all ordered seafood. It was over cooked but the flavors were okay. I had my first drink of the trip, a red wine sangria. We were all pretty pooped and we had a long and hot trek planned for the following day so we headed back and to bed after dinner.
Day 4: The Death Trek
Okay so about this trek… Let me start by telling you that I was skeptical about the tour company’s explanation of the trek and my ability to complete it even before boarding the plane to Bali. This trek came highly recommended from viator.com. When Joscelyn mentioned it for some reason it sounded fun. Looking back, I am not sure why I ever thought that. A day of walking in the heat with trees and grass and bugs does not sound fun but it turned out to be even worse than that. I will preface this explanation with the thought that this may have been an enjoyable experience for someone; that someone just wasn’t me. Let me start by telling you what the tour company said about the tour and maybe that will help explain why we all agreed. The tour promised a view of the sunrise at Mt. Batur, one of three inactive volcanos we would see, trek through the rice terraces of Lemukih Village, a swim under the cascades at Sekumpul Waterfall, complimentary snacks, drinks and lunch with hotel pick-up and drop-off. Sounds nice right? Wrong!!! It felt like a death march in the wilderness. I literally ran out of gas mentally and physical at least four times during this ten hour trek/tour. The tour company picked us up at 5:45am, twenty minutes later than advertised. We drove to our first destination all the while thinking we would miss the sunrise at the volcano since it went from dark to light outside during our hour long drive. We made it just in time to rush out the van and snap a few pictures of the sun breaking through to hills of the volcanos. As peeved as we were at our late arrival the beauty of the moment settled our spirits. I once again felt a peace and calm inside, the way I felt looking at the view of the pool and countryside from my breakfast spot at the homestay. We posed for a few pictures, ate the breakfast provided (two cheese croissants, tea & an orange) and said hello to a few local families that were dressed exquisitely in their festival attire. We learned from the tour guide that the locals were all celebrating a holiday were families dressed up and gave offerings of fruits and veggies to the gods. We saw large processions of worshipers on our drive to the rice terraces.
We stopped at a local hospital to use the restroom during our drive to the next destination. I was astonished that the hospital had no running water. The people there were very nice, they let me roam around and take a few pictures. We piled back into the van and soon arrived at the entrance to what looked like an enchanted forest. You would think I had learned my lesson with forests during this trip. The trek started out rough for me at least. The tour company warned about wearing proper hiking shoes in the advertisement so I purposefully bought a pair of hiking books before the trip which did me little good. Our first half mile of the trek was on paved road covered in slippery damp moss. I lost my footing in the first ten minutes and almost ate concrete. I managed to catch myself but then I immediately had to go pee. A few girls stayed back with me as a relieved myself on the walkway because I was too afraid to go into the thick of the forest. Not one of my proudest moments. I followed the tour guide and local guides for about an hour before my mind had a full on anxiety attack in the middle of the rice terrace. I was so afraid of falling that my body was tensed as I walked, bracing myself for impact. I figured it would get better as we left the concrete for the softer grass of the terrace but I was mistaken. I envisioned myself falling off the wall of the terrace down a five foot drop, planting my feet firmly into the water and mud and then falling over in a way that caused me to drown in six inches of water. That thought terrified me and it didn’t help that the patch of land we walked on was only 1.5 feet wide. Misstep to the left and fall down five feet to the next level terrace, misstep to the right and get stuck in the mud. Tiffany experienced the unfortunate misstep to the right and her foot sunk down into the mud to her knee. With help she pulled her foot out without her shoe attached. The female guide had to dig her arm down into the mud to fish out her shoe. Sometime after that incident, we passed a stream where they both washed the mug off. After having to stop and rest a minute to get my brain and body right the local guide offered to carry my backpack. He also found me a big walking stick to help me navigate the steep terrain. The steps and valleys were so steep that the guide had to walk ahead of me and offer his hand as stability for me to jump down hills and steps. When we finally arrived at our first resting place I was done physically and mentally. I had zero energy. All I could think about was that we were not done going in and how I would not have the energy to get back out of the wilderness. I started to panic a little but was able to get it together after praying for energy and calm. The fresh coconut water helped my dehydration. The owner of the terrace we were crossing climbed a coconut tree quickly and with ease. He dropped half a dozen coconuts to the ground, cut them open and handed us a piece of lemon grass to use as a straw. I was extremely impressed. I thanked him and drank most of the juice from my coconut. He then broke it open and served me the flesh with a coconut shell spoon. I ate some and shared the rest. I felt the beginnings of a second wind, perhaps enough to get myself out of the wild. We left the large rock we were resting on to begin the descent on what seemed to be a never ending steep concrete stairway. I almost fainted when I saw all the stairs. We took the stairs down the equivalent of about 15 stories to a small covered gazebo. The tour guide said we would go to two waterfalls from there then climb the stairs on the other side on to another paved climb back to the van. At this point my head was spinning, my breathing was shallow and I could feel the heat radiating from every part of my body. My brain started to believe that I was going have to be life-flighted out of the jungle. That’s right this trek has now been upgraded to the jungle in my mind. I know there is no way I can make it to the waterfalls and out of the wilderness to the van. I asked the guide how long it would take to get to the waterfalls and if they had to come back passed the gazebo to climb out to the van. She says it will take ten minutes to get to the first fall and about twenty minutes to the next one and she adds “but it will take you about twenty and forty minutes to get there.” I couldn’t even argue with her-she was right and that’s if I made it at all. She also said that they had to pass back by me to leave so I jumped at the opportunity to stay put. At that moment I didn’t care how beautiful the falls were. They could have promised a unicorn at the falls I wasn’t moving. The male guide that had been carrying my backpack and acting as a human cane stayed with me and Sean at the gazebo. After about thirty minutes we started up the stairs. After 15 minutes of climbing we realized that Sean left Joscelyn’s backpack at the gazebo and had to go back for it. I tried to keep climbing while he turned back for the bag. He eventually caught back up to me and we climbed stairs for another 30 minutes before we got to another rest stop where a lady was selling drinks and fruit. I ate some fruit and rested about 20 minutes. While resting I heard the rest of the group approaching so we started up the mountain again. During this last stretch the skies opened up and the rain poured down. I tried to move as fast as I could but the road was slippery. The gel from my hair stung my eyes as it ran into my face from the rain. After walking in the rain for a while we finally reached level ground. Each of us changed into dry clothes and loaded into the van for lunch at our next stop. I was so thankful to have made it out of that trek alive and without incident. I remarked to the group that I faced some serious doubts and fears during the trek and that I was so proud that I made it. About an hour later we arrived at a nice restaurant where we ate lunch outside. When we arrived back to the homestay we all showered and rested out bodies. I was lucky I felt numb at that point but the pain was not far behind the numbness. We dined alfresco that evening we saw another parade of worshipers fill the streets with celebrations and offerings for the holiday.
Soon I will return to tell you about the last few days of my Bali vacation as we left the city of Ubud for Gili T Island. Please continue to read, share and comment on International Super Teacher.