Gili Air

No cars or motorcycles, just humans and ponies. And cats, lots of cats, many born with stubby half-tails. Gili Air (which means “water island” in Indonesian) is the smallest of the Gili Islands, a group of idyllic little lumps of sand between Bali and Lombok, Indonesia.

Gili Air-20We were lucky enough to spend 16 days wandering around this miniature paradise. Being the rainy season, there were even fewer tourists on the island than usual. It also didn’t rain all day every day, and the rolling clouds provided frequent and much needed sun breaks for Jane’s skin.

Gili Air-32The days were spent relaxing, reading, snorkeling, and swimming. The water was the most improbable-looking shade of aquamarine, and a beautiful backdrop for the many schools of tropical fish darting around in their coral homes. We were also lucky enough to see a friendly sea turtle while snorkeling in shallow water, and we swam with it for a while as small fish nibbled bits of algae from its neck (unfortunately, photo unavailable). Also, aquatic ponies:

Gili Air-17Most nights were fairly cloudy, but the ones that weren’t provided some incredible views of a gorgeous full moon and more constallations than we’ve ever seen before.

Gili Air-3Gili Air was a gem of a place, and we had a great time getting to know our vacation-neighbors while eating a beachfront breakfast every morning. The day of Jane’s 26th birthday, we went to H2O Yoga for a luxurious hour and a half of open-air yoga and stretching, and had mango-dark chocolate ice cream cones for the walk back.Gili Air-39We finished up the day with a flower-covered cake from our friends at Star Bar, a strawberry daiquiri, and some hermit crab races courtesy of our 13-year-old neighbor Celeste. The next morning we headed out early for a few days on the island of Lombok before starting our journey to the city of Ha Noi, Vietnam.

Ubud on Foot and Bali by Bike

Our time in the small town of Ubud was relaxing and enjoyable. It’s small enough to go pretty much anywhere on foot, which is good, because there really aren’t any taxis (or taksis as they’re spelled in Indonesia) or public transportation. Desak Putu Putra Homestay was one of the nicest, friendliest, and most pleasant hotels we’ve ever stayed in. The closest American analogue to a homestay would be a bed and breakfast, and the breakfasts here were quite good. Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-1 Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-5

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-24Just a few doors down from our homestay was a delicious restaurant where we ate almost all of our meals, Mama’s Warung. Mama and her staff were so welcoming, and the food was so good, that we ate all of our meals except breakfast there while we were in Ubud. Jeff especially loved the tuna satay, with extra spicy peanut sauce, please! Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-31   Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-2 While we were in Ubud, in addition to visiting the monkey forest and scaling Mount Batur, we also took a bicycle tour of Bali. There were several interesting stops along the way. We were very fortunate that our tour guide, Doty, spoke excellent English and was happy to answer all the questions we had about daily life in Bali. Before embarking on bicycles, the tour took us to a traditional coffee farm where coffee and other produce is grown and beans are roasted over an open fire before being processed using a tremendous mortar and pestle.

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-8A unique kind of Indonesian coffee called Kopi Luwak is possibly the world’s most expensive coffee. The beans are gathered from the droppings of a small, catlike animal called a palm civet, and the digestion process supposedly lends a unique and spectacular flavor to the finished coffee. We tried a cup, and it tasted rather… bland. The palm civet, however, was quite cute.

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-6Doty showed us a traditional Balinese home, which was laid out in the same way as our homestay, with a covered area in the center for ceremonies and family relaxation; a temple area where offerings are made for prosperity in life; a kitchen and dining building; a building with bedrooms for each family member; and a large garden full of greenery (and a cow). Doty told us that while most of Indonesia is Muslim, Bali is 90% Hindu, although the Hinduism practiced here has nods to traditional animism as well.

The weather on the day of the tour was cloudy, with rain threatening all day. This is the rainy season in Indonesia, and rain can come quickly; scattered clouds can change to a monsoon-like downpour in a matter of minutes. Luckily, the only hard rain of the bike trip was while we were stopped admiring an extremely old and tremendous banyan tree. Its sprawling 500-year-old branches and large leaves were the perfect cover.

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-14

Later on in the tour we stopped by a workshop where ornate door frames and doors were carved by hand. Each door can take a month to carve, depending on the complexity of the designs. It must take a tremendous amount of skill and patience…

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-18

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-20The tour wound 25 km through the hills of Bali and past countless shops, markets, homes, schools and rice paddies.

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-12Doty was a fantastic and informative guide, and the bike tour was a fun and energizing way to see quite a bit of the green, life-filled island of Bali.




Sunrise at Mount Batur

The morning after Jeff’s birthday, we awoke at 2:00 am to get ready for our pre-sunrise trek up Mount Batur, an active volcano about an hour’s drive from Ubud. Our guide picked us up from the hotel right on time at 2:30 am, and we made our way to the base camp, where we had a cup of Balinese coffee and got our flashlights ready for the pitch-dark climb. The trek started out fairly flat through the forest at the base of the mountain, but quickly turned steep as we got higher into the rocky cliffs. We were very glad to be the only two climbers with our guide, as we definitely needed some help navigating up the steep and sandy volcanic rocks. It was a long and difficult climb, and towards the end it was best just to take one step at a time and not think about how much further we had to go! We arrived at the peak of Mount Batur just as the sun was peeking through the clouds near Mount Agung, which lies to the east.

Mount Batur Sunrise-1

Luckily, the view from the top turned out to be extremely worth our hard work, and we celebrated with a Sprite from a vendor who climbs Mount Batur every morning to sell his backpack full of sodas at the top.

Mount Batur Sunrise-15

Mount Batur Sunrise-6

While we marveled at the view from every direction, our guide prepared us a scrumptious breakfast, including eggs cooked in volcanic steam, sweet buns, and a delicious fruit we’d never seen before called mangosteen. They’re the purple fruits next to the bananas.

Mount Batur Sunrise-20As the sun rose over the mountains and through the clouds we could see all of Bali bathed in golden light.

Mount Batur Sunrise-22We also saw a few more crab eating macaques at the peak.

Mount Batur Sunrise-25The descent back to the bottom was faster and less tiring but rather hard on the knees. It was a relief to make it back to flat ground.

Mount Batur Sunrise-27The rest of the day was spent in a state of disoriented relaxation, having scaled and descended a mountain before noon. An exhausting, incredibly beautiful day.

Sacred Monkey Forest

Our travels have brought us to Ubud, Bali, which is home to the Sacred Monkey Forest; a park and temple complex that’s home to hundreds of crab eating macaques.

Sacred Monkey Forest-11

Visitors have the opportunity to feed, interact with, and hopefully not get bitten by these little cats-with-hands monkeys. They’re quite comfortable with humans, and it’s easy to get close enough to touch one. We had to keep reminding ourselves that they’re wild animals, and probably wouldn’t enjoy being petted or touched, and do possess sharp teeth and strong jaws.

Sacred Monkey Forest-6There were macaques of all ages, and it was interesting to observe their social hierarchy. There were meek little baby monkeys, playful adolescent monkeys, and some much larger, grumpier, and more aggressive king monkeys.

Sacred Monkey Forest-17

The park itself was incredibly gorgeous. Indonesia has a fully tropical climate, so the growth never stops. The green mosses growing on rocks were such a bright and saturated green it almost looked fake in places.

Sacred Monkey Forest-21

There’s a small waterfall and river running through the lower level of the temple complex, which was flowing quite nicely due to a brief but heavy rain shower earlier in the afternoon.

Sacred Monkey Forest-23

Sacred Monkey Forest-31

We spent a pretty magical few hours on the evening of Jeff’s 26th birthday wandering around, looking at all the intricate stone carvings and lush jungle in the forest, which would have been pretty special even without the added bonus of adorable monkeys at every turn.

Sacred Monkey Forest-3

Sacred Monkey Forest-2

It was really fun to watch them expertly open bananas using both their hands and hand-like feet, although it was less nerve-wracking not to actually be the one holding the bananas. The monkeys were not afraid to demand the goods, and we saw several monkeys jump onto the backs, shoulders and even heads of visitors who were attempting to hide bananas out of reach. After one startled Jane by tugging on her pant leg like Aladdin’s Abu, we decided to go the safe route and hand them down as quickly as possible.

Sacred Monkey Forest-4

It was a great introduction to the tropical island of Bali and the next leg of our adventure!