Monday, May 23, 2011

Easter in Bali

Easter morning I again woke early, even before Colin and Liam. I snuck out for my morning walk. I was surprised by the heavy traffic on the tiny road past our villa to the beach. Motorbike after motorbike whizzed by. Some motor bikes carried families of four – dad driving with one baby in his lap and mom riding on the back sidesaddle with child number two, cradled in the crook of her arm, sandwiched between her and dad. Workers in pointy straw hats were already bent over in the rice fields along the way. They were tending the rice fields, cutting grass and re-tethering cows. I thought 6:30 am was early, but the world around me was wide-awake. Everyone seemed busy with the day’s work.

I was completely blown away by the beach scene. Thursday and Friday morning I had nodded to the occasional fellow beach walker. And, there had been a handful of surfers tiptoeing across the sand and paddling out to the breakers. But on this morning there were literally thousands of people up and down the beach as far as I could see. The beach access and sand dunes were clogged with motorbikes. The strangest thing was how calm, peaceful and quiet the scene was. There were so many people and so little noise and commotion. I started my walk down the beach weaving through family groups having breakfast picnics. Some people sat at the water line letting the waves wash around them. Children in hushed tones played in the shallow surf. Hundreds, may be thousands, of offering baskets dotted the beach in bright fruity and floral colors against the black sand. I couldn’t help smiling at the happy scene and everyone smiled right back with a small nod and Namaste gesture, which I returned.

Back at the villa, the staff explained that the beach gathering I witnessed was part of the Saraswati celebration. People including our staff, because they had to make breakfast for us, started heading to the beach around 4 am to participate in the cleansing ritual.

My walk to the beach was the highlight of the day, and one of the highlights of the trip. It was so powerfully happy and beautiful.

By the time I snuck back up to our guesthouse, Doug was just waking up and the boys were bouncing off the walls, ready to begin the Easter hunt. Each had found the end of yarn tied to their bed. Colin had blue and Liam’s yarn was green. Both knew the other end of the yarn was tied to their Easter surprise. Yarn crisscrossed the guesthouse and yard, out windows, over the balconies, across the pool, through the trees, under tables, and in and out of cabinets. So as the rest of the villa tried to sleep, the hunt began! We discovered at the end of the hunt that there were yummy, dark chocolate Easter ducks, instead of eggs or bunnies, in Bali.

The hunt and some pool time was the extent of our activity for the day. Our friends all took off for shopping and touring, but we hung by the pool all day, playing games and reading and napping. It was a perfect day.

By late afternoon, everyone returned for massages en masse and we headed to David and Jed’s for Easter dinner Indonesian style.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pera Penataran Agung

Day Two, we had a full group trip. We again jumped in our caravan of minivans. Natutu, a lifelong Indonesian friend of David and Jed’s became our car mate. Natutu has actually lived most of his adult life overseas and San Francisco is his current home, but he was much more knowledgeable about Bali than any of us and became our go-to-man for all questions on local geography, customs and trivia. We really enjoyed hanging out and getting to know Natutu! Though he doesn’t have children, he was a great sport traveling with our rambunctious family!

I am not going to give a lot of background info on our sightseeing because quite frankly I am a bit sheepish about my Bali knowledge. I was not as researched this trip as I usually am. None of us were. This trip snuck up on all of us at the end of a hectic semester. We were all in the mood to go with the flow and absorb the sight and sounds and to enjoy time with each other and our friends. We were learning about Bali on the fly. We luckily had an advantage of sightseeing with friends who shared their love of their home. But now I have definite thoughts on where and what I want to see and do if I am ever lucky enough to ever return to Indonesia with more time to explore. I will share these ideas in my last Bali post.

On this outing, we first headed east winding our way 3000 feet up the side of Gunung Agung to Pura Penataran Agung , described as Bali’s biggest and most important temple. It is actually part of a complex of over twenty temples.

Our friend David was actually at this temple in 1963 for the Eka Dasa Rudra ceremony, which is performed every 100 years to purify the world. David told a wild story of racing down the mountain with thousands of others and ultimately jumping in a stranger's vehicle to escape as an angry Gunung Agung erupted. The temple was untouched by the eruptions, however thousands of people in the surrounding areas were killed.

The day of our visit was Saraswati, a day devoted to the Goddess of knowledge, art and literature. Special offerings are made on this day for wisdom and knowledge. At first glance photographs may seem to show the temple covered with litter. Actually, the contents of thousands of small, square offering baskets were scattered everywhere as people stepped through them and stray dogs scavenged for treats. The offerings are beautiful. Most are little baskets holding flowers and fruit with an incense stick emitting tiny wisps of spicy smoke. Some are much more extravagant towers of treats and flowers. They are everywhere in the temple, but also in driveways, in shop doorways or on a rock at the edge of the beach all over Bali.

While much of the temple is open to tourists, some areas are open only to worshipers. The whole visit was a feast for the eyes with vibrant colors and views all the way to the ocean. David took the four of us into a small temple open to non-Hindus to take part in a prayer and receive a blessing. For our bookworm family Saraswati seemed the perfect day to be there.

On the way home we drove by Gunung Batur (Mount Batur), an active volcano. From the balcony at lunch, we could survey the lava fields wrapping around the base of the mountain. Unfortunately, the two calderas are obscured by clouds in our photos.

Natutu explained that Balinese cultural and society has historically linked to each family's ancestral village and that religion is deeply interwoven. However, at the same time the people of Bali seemed open and tolerant of other religions and people. At least based on the initial impressions of a tourist who was able to wander, photo and observe Saraswati celebrations within a revered temple.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Arrival in Bali

So I am finally uploading the first installment of Bali photos taken the first day of our trip. Sorry for the delay in sending out pictures. Doug and I had a difficult re-entry to home life in New Zealand – he’s been experimenting unsuccessfully with hosting E. coli and I’ve had a sinus infection. We are on the mend. I have finally edited the photos and now can share our adventure with you in daily installments.

Arriving in a new foreign unknown country in an exhausted daze, feeling drugged and dopey and in a fog but trying to navigate through signs and cues in a different language with unfamiliar smells and cadences gives me a rush, a feeling of embarking on an exotic adventure full of unknown opportunities and new sensations.

Looking at Colin and Liam as we stumbled off our third airplane into a hot, humid Denpasar night about twenty hours after leaving Closeburn, I realized that traveling to a foreign country doesn’t have the same whiff of exotic to them. They’ve literally been doing this their whole life. It is their normal. They are so open to trying new foods and roll with sleeping slumped in chairs on or off planes. As a child I always ordered the safe and familiar fried egg over easy. Recently in Malaysia our family had a so much fun at a buffet seeing who could find the most interesting food to try. The boys – Doug, Colin & Liam – are much more adventurous than me. (Hmm, after watching Doug battle an intestinal monster the last two weeks, maybe I am the smartest one of our group.) Liam wrote the beginning to a creative writing piece that gives a sense to his reality. In the end, he felt his airplane piece fizzled out and he took his writing a different direction but I love his opening about airline travel and it is included at the end of this post.

On arrival in Bali, I was feeling fairly punchy. I had only arrived back to New Zealand from Boston Tuesday morning. I had no idea how to translate the local Bali time to NZ time, or Boston time. My body was just as clueless at deciding if it should sleep or wake. In fact, I actually did not even have the remotest idea which direction we were headed. Come to find out neither did Doug. I am usually the family’s well-organized trip planner/tourist guide. I have been preoccupied. I bought a book on Bali in the US but hadn’t been peaked inside it yet. Fortunately our friend Jed had said “just get to the airport in Denpasar” and he would arrange things from there. He did!

As we approached customs, a small woman approached us. She was wearing a baby pink suit though she may have been wearing baby blue. I just remember the suit looked like the color of baby clothes, which is important because we would have to find her in a sea of people later. The women asked if we were the Kirkpatricks and if she could have all our travel documents. We willingly gave her our documents and were swept past the customs lines to baggage claim. She returned to process our entry into Bali. We collected our bags. While we waited for the woman to re-appear, Liam announced he needed a bathroom immediately, took off to the far side of baggage claim and disappeared out of sight. A small voice inside my head noted that I had given away all our family identification, I had lost sight of my oldest son in a literally foreign land and that maybe I should take control of the situation. But then I decided to just sit and rest on the edge of the luggage cart. Both Liam and the customs woman returned.

By the time we exited immigration our family of four had swelled to an entourage of seven. We had the four of us, our customs woman and two porters. We only had five bags total for our family of four. Doug tipped the first porter thinking the two could share the tip but the first porter pocket the tip, smiled and pointed at the second porter. We’d been had but we were through arrivals faster than ever possible in NZ or the US so Doug paid up. I learned later from friends that we were really fortunate to fly through the arrivals process, especially on the Thursday night before Easter weekend. Customs can take several hours without a customs assistant.

Amazingly in the dense airport chaos our customs lady found our driver and off into the dark we lurched.

Traffic in Bali is like no other. Like many places, Bali traffic is manic and congested to a standstill and clogged with motorbikes on all sides. However, it is without angst and aggression. The horn is used in tiny polite beeps to warn motorbikes that you are approaching and passing. I have never been in such slow, patient and friendly traffic.

David and Jed organized a villa just down the street from their place for all of the New Zealand guests. Our friends were asleep when we arrived but staff greeted us with chilled wash clothes and fruity cold drinks we guzzled as we tiptoed past the other guest rooms to our two-story guesthouse just beyond the pool at the end of the walkway. We all showered away the airport grime and crashed.

As I always do in a new place, I woke with the first light to take an exploratory walk. And, as usual, I headed for the water. Walking briskly the ocean is nine minutes down the one-lane road. The waves are huge and crash thunderously onto the beach. I was at Echo Beach. Back at the villa, I googled Echo Beach to discover it is a popular surf beach which was obvious with all the surfers. I found the video below on YouTube. I also figured out we were in Canggu, northwest of Denpasar, about 20 minutes from Seminyak.

Sorry there aren’t any pictures of the boys from our first day. The boys wanted to avoid all travel. They skipped the trip to the temple to hang out at David and Jed’s and play in the pool with their giant water-loving golden retriever named Milo. They were in good hands with David and Jed as well as their staff. The boys rested, lounged in the villa, played in the pool and ate ham and cheese sandwiches and sodas. Doug and I with the camera headed out in our caravan of dark SUVs and minivans to brave the Bali traffic and visit Pura Luhur Ulu Watu.

Pura Luhur Ulu Watu is perched on the cliffs at the southern tip of Bali. It is one of several temples to the spirits of the sea. A Javanese priest first established a temple in this spot in the 11th century. Swirling seas and swells surround the temple’s peninsula and I felt respect and awe for this place that honors the spirits of the seas.

We were warned to remove hats, glasses, jewelry or anything a monkey might fancy. Monkeys wandered all over and around the temple. I had never seen a monkey outside a zoo. I discovered they are smart, sneaky and not necessarily cuddly. The first couple of monkeys were cute, like a mother monkey playing with its baby along an old stone wall. We ohhed and ahhed. Then we saw a monkey eat a guy’s hat. He was not giving it back. As we left the temple, we watched a human mother carrying her daughter. A monkey reached up, grabbed a pink croc off the toddler’s foot and then the girl’s hat right out of the mother’s hand. The monkey climbed up on the wall to finger its catch. The little girl started to cry. A man, trying to help, made a swipe to grab the hat. The monkey screeched and gnashed with huge, long and sharp canine teeth exposed. Nobody else dared approach the monkey. Finally, a savvy local woman came along and traded some fruit for the hat and croc. A stray dog bit Colin in Mexico several years ago and Colin went through the whole series of rabies shots. Rabies is rampant in Bali in the monkey and dog populations. I respectively watched the monkeys from a distance.

More tomorrow or very soon, if I get distracted. All you Grands, I promise.

Liam’s take on airline travel:

“Last call for Air New Zealand flight 5 to Auckland.” And once again, I am in the air. Seat 54 A currently is not the place to be. The tray table is slightly sticky, a reminder on a long gone apple juice. The seat has lost all its color from years of use. Smudges distort the TV screen. A lunch consisting primarily of rubber and plastic is slowly making its way down the aisle.

As I sit here chewing on particularly plastic piece of fruit, I watch one TV show for the third time in an hour, I smile. I picture stepping of this plane and seeing my family. I realize that school is over and I have a whole summer before me. Then the toddler in the seat behind me kicks my seat and I am jerked into the present.
Then the lights fade to be replaced by the constant drone of the engine and the buzzing of devices all around the plane. Two rows back a flight attendant cleans up dinner. I settle into a sleeping position. And my back hurts. So I move. Then I can’t fit my legs.

Many movements later, the lights come on. How the night passed I do not know. It seems days since I entered this long metal tube. I am tired and want to go to bed, but another meal, this time with the fragrance of the apple I found in my bag two weeks after I had lost it there. This is accompanied by a cheap juice in a cup that crumples as I hold it.

The TV shows a small airplane slowly moving in on a dot labeled destination. As the plane inches towards the end of its journey I just sit here staring at it. I would like to read my book to change to another channel or to listen to my IPod but I am slightly comfortable and too exhausted to move. Then the captain says our landing is delayed.

Monday, October 4, 2010

These boys don't know the meaning of cold

We were on our way to Mt. Hutt for the South Island Championships several weekends ago but the races were cancelled. Gale force winds closed the ski field. We u-turned for home. The boys were disappointed but I was quietly relieved to avoid a six hour drive in the snow. The boys put on their togs (Colin w/ goggles) and raced outside for a jump on the trampoline - their version of a snow dance celebration! Afterwards they had hot baths, we popped popcorn, made a fire, curled up to watch a movie as huge snowflakes swirled around the house.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day 5 - Cruise on Milford Sound

We woke with sore muscles, but relaxed knowing that the big event for the day was a cruise on Milford Sound. We only had to walk downstairs for breakfast and then up the road about ten minutes to the boat terminal. Colin, Liam and I cruised Milford Sound with the Reed grandparents last February, but it was Doug's first time on Milford Sound.

In Fiordland, the mood seems to change dramatically with the weather. We cruised Doubtful Sound with the Kirkpatrick grandparents in April 2008, Milford Sound with the Reed Grandparents in February 2009 and then Millford Sound for a second time at the end of our Milford Track walk in December 2009.

With the Kirkpatricks, the day was wet and misty. The dark clouds never lifted. The whole world was wrapped in shades of grey and deep blue. Waterfalls flowed from every crevice. The water was inky, dark, and impenetrable. The sounds were a spooky, haunted, wild kind of beautiful.

On our recent cruise, the sun shone and the sound sparkled in vibrant colors. The water shimmered Caribbean blue. Green cliffs in the foreground popped against the deep blues of the distant mountains. Rata trees blossomed bright red amongst the beech. The sound looked ready for Christmas!

Our trip with the Reeds offered a mixture of both sun, cloud and mist.

The common question is which should I visit, Doubtful and Milford Sound? I think that there are two factors to consider. First, how much time do you have or want to spend? Second, how remote do you want to feel? Both sounds are stunning and breathtaking. There are fewer boats and almost no air traffic on Doubtful Sound. Doubtful feels more isolated and remote. To reach Doubtful Sound, however, requires a boat ride across Lake Manapouri and then a bus ride over Wilmot Pass. I think the roundtrip is about 8 hours. On Milford Sound there are several day trips, one is about an hour and a half and the other is about two to two and a half hours. There are also overnight cruises on both sounds. We did an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, which seemed worth the extra time and expense because the trip to the sound was so long. Out on Doubtful Sound late at night without lights or sounds of civilization, except for a few stars blinking between clouds, was magical. On the overnight trip, there was also an opportunity for a short kayak. When I return to one of the sounds, I would like to do a kayaking trip.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day 4 - The Milford Track

Wekas were the highlight of the Day 4. The first weka of the day was shy, poking under the bushes along the trail and completely ignoring us. We couldn't get a good look at it. I wouldn't have even seen it if another walker hadn't shown it to us. The next weka was just strutting down the middle of the trail, like a hunched old man. Lucy almost walked right up to it, but I glimpsed it over her shoulder ahead on the trail. Our two-family group madly snapped photos and at the same time tried to stay still and quiet. Our final weka of the day was hanging out on a bridge giving the impression that it was accustomed to the steady flow of walkers and wasn't going to change plans on our account. The weka reminds me of a Kiwi with a shorter beak.

Mackay Falls didn't have the raw power of the Sutherland Falls, but it had symmetry, sweeping lines and seemed to glow and shimmer in the early morning sun and mist. The kids were more taken with Bell Rock, but I spent our break gazing at the falls. Unfortunately, we didn't get a good photo of it.

Colin seemed powered by conversation. He walked and chatted with each person he met on the trail. He sped up to stay alongside, initiating conversations that seemed more free-association musings and questions.

I heard him ask one fellow hiker, "so, do you think I have drank enough water in my life to fill an entire car?'

Not waiting for an answer, he continued on about "how much better it was to hike in Milford with water everywhere than on the Lycian Way in Turkey where Liam almost died without water and the water was brown and dirty. In fact, my mom found a wasp nest in my bed."

Eventually Colin would slow down and fall behind his trail companion. But soon another victim would try to pass him and off he'd go walking at top speed in conversation again.

Several miles before lunch, Colin was running out of conversation topics and hikers when our guide Donna came along and suggested they try to come up with type of chocolate for every letter of the alphabet. Down the trail went Donna and Colin. "Cadbury chocolate." "Dark chocolate." "Extra dark chocolate." "Frosting chocolate." Donna also mentioned we were having chocolate mud cake for the celebration dinner at Mitre Peak Lodge, which helped to reinvigorate Colin.

Lunch at Giant Gate Falls helped all of us recharge. The fine mist from the falls kept the sandflies at bay and we sat at the edge of the pool across from the falls. We only had 3.5 miles to go, I encouraged Colin. Funny, on the trail Colin looked exhausted, but at lunch he immediately perked up and joined Lucy and Liam skipping rocks. I have no idea what Liam and Lucy were up to or discussing on the trail because they stayed out front and out of range of the parents.

After lunch, everyone hit the trail with renewed energy. Colin was chugging along, but by the last mile he started to resemble a weka. He was waddling along, muttering to himself or me. At one point, he missed a turned in the trail and started to disappear straight into the bush. Doug and I grabbed the back of his pack and turned him around. I walked the rest of trail hand-in-hand with Colin singing silly songs to pass the remaining miles.

I started the last day of the hike worrying how Colin would manage and wondering whether he'd be able to make the 13-mile (21 km) walk? His longest walk to date was 7 miles. Along the track there are mile markers that tick off each mile. Colin walked marker to marker. Even at the end, when he was stumbling along the last mile of trail, he insisted on carrying all his own gear. I was so proud of him.

Liam was an ox. He walked unfazed by distance or load. He ran the last couple of miles with Lucy and Donna. I am was proud of Liam too, but mostly I am hopeful he'll soon be carrying my load on our backpacking adventures.

Each arrival at Sandfly Point shelter was greeted with cheers and applause from fellow hikers. Seeking refuge from the sandflies in the shelter, we waited for our boat, commiserated about sore feet and joints, and celebrated with chocolate biscuits! Sitting in the back of the boat crossing Milford Sound under a huge blue sky was heaven.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Back to Day 3 on the Milford Track

Sorry for the delay on pictures from Day 3 of the our Milford trek. We began the New Year by heading up north to kayak the Abel Tasman with American friends, Sarah, Morgan, Colly and Kyle Smith. Sarah and I have been friends since before I have memories. Morgan, Sarah, Doug and I all went to high school together. Both our families reconnected in the San Francisco Bay Area over 10 years ago right before our oldest, Colly and Liam, were born. The kids don't have many memories of each other, but I remember baby Colly in every detail. She was the first friend's baby I ever held. The Smiths are in the middle of an amazing family adventure traveling around the world. You can follow their journey on their blog. Sarah also already posted pictures and vivid account of our joint kayaking trip.

Back to the Milford Track. Day 3 was my favorite day. We hiked up and over MacKinnon Pass, five miles up and four miles down. In the group briefing, the guide described eleven major and six minor switchbacks to the top of the pass. The kids kept close count of the switchbacks charting our progress up the mountainside. With most of our mountain pass experience in the Sierras and Rockies, Doug and I were pleasantly surprised how easy the climb was. We were used to gasping for air at high altitude, but the top of Mackinnon pass is only 1154 meters (3786 feet) high. The tundra-landscape, dotted with tarns, reminded me of the high alpine Sierras but greener in the valleys below. Clouds and mist passed and occasionally looked threatening, but we had a dry, windless day of hiking. We had heard the stories about the group two days ahead of us. They had to hike back down to Pompolona Lodge for a second night, because literally gale forces winds were whipping over the pass. A DOC ranger described parents holding kids down on the ground to keep them from blowing off the pass. Instead, our time on the top of the pass was civilized and calm. Our guide Sam had a thermos of hot chocolate waiting for us. We sipped and soaked in the breathtaking vistas in all directions. Our only worries were the thug-like Keas lurking around our packs, looking for something to steal.

The main trail down from the hut was still blocked by snow so we had to take an alternative route which seemed more of a stream bed than a trail, and on a rainy day would probably have been a waterfall. I carefully stepped down the rocks. The kids scampered down without the slightest hesitation. The last sight of Colin was his orange bump of a pack as he bunny hopped rock to rock down the mountain. I wasn't surprised that night when he told me the bottom of his feet were sore and bruised! Doug, like a gentleman, walked with me.

By the time we reached the lodge, Colin, Liam and their friend Lucy had finished a snack and drink. Colin was snuggled in the sun on the sofa in the main lodge. Lucy and her family joined the Kirkpatricks minus Colin for a walk to Sutherland Falls. Colin decided to stay in the lodge and conserve his energy for the final hike on Day 4.

Liam and I put on our swimsuits and planned to take a dip below the falls. I don't know what we were thinking. Sutherland Falls, if not the highest, is one of the mightiest waterfall in New Zealand. It sounded like a jet engine revving for take off as we approached. I don't think we got within 100 feet of the waterfall. It created a fury of wind and water. Even in our rain jackets we were soaked. We only have pictures that glimpse the falls from a distance to keep the camera dry.

The day ended with all of us passed out in our bunks just as the sun was setting.