Bali - Monkeys, Mangoes, and Motorbikes

Its amazing how much cultures can change with a short plane ride. Jodie and I have had a bit of a culture shock since leaving Australia and arriving in Bali. It has been very interesting, entertaining and refreshing.
Really the only thing that hasn't changed is the heat, in fact it seems to be a little hotter here, and maybe even a bit more humid.
90+90=sweaty. 90 degrees plus 90 percent humidity makes for a very sweaty Eli, and even Jodie who is not much of a sweater herself is starting to glisten a bit. That is really the only part of Bali that we don't care for. The people are wonderful, the scenery is terrific and the food is delicious.
Shortly after getting off the plane, I became a millionaire with a swipe of my ATM card. Thats right, I took out a cool 1.5 million Rupiah, or the equivalent of $150 USD. We are still adjusting to the mental strain of lopping 4 zeros off of all the prices to convert them to a familiar value. Things are markedly cheaper here, which is a relief to our budget and my inherent thriftiness. After spending a month and a half in New Zealand and Australia where we were blowing our budget everyday on nothing luxurious by any stretch of the imagination. However, here in Bali we are managing to stay right on or below our budget everyday and we have definitely upped our standard of living. While in Cairns, we were staying in a hostel ($30 for both of us sharing a room with 2-4 others, cooking at least two meals a day, and when we did go out to eat it was usually fast food because that was the cheapest option. We might have a $3 beer from the store which was a treat, or share a $6 beer from a bar if we wanted some entertainment. Today in Bali, we spent $10 for our own room with a bathroom, private porch and breakfast included. We spent $6 on lunch in a restaurant with fresh food, and fresh fruit juice.
Dinner was another $6 I had fresh snapper, Jodie had a seafood combination of calamari, fish and shrimp. We also managed to fit in a couple of full body massages for $4 a piece. We are happy.
We started off our time in Kuta, which is a very interesting place. It is the heart of tourism in Bali, and its bustling with restaurants, tons of motorbikes, and a million stores that seem to be selling the exact same stuff. It stretches out along a beach in front of nice resorts and many restaurants. Kuta reminded me very much of the beach towns in Mexico that cater to American spring breakers, like Rocky Point or Ensanada. The only difference is instead of rowdy Americans, there are rowdy Australians. It has a raucous night life with lots of bars and even a strip of high end shopping stores. Its a nice enough place but it didn't feel very Balinese to us. Every ten steps there was another shop with a eager to make you deal merchant trying to sell you sunglasses or t-shirts. Luckily for them I just so happened to need some sunglasses. So after walking away from about half a dozen merchants selling the EXACT same sunglasses, I finally found one at the end of the day that I worked down from 250,000 Rupiah ($25) to about 3,000 ($3). Jodie said it couldn't be done, but I found $3 sunglasses.
The beach was nice but very hot, and the bath warm water didn't provide much refreshment. It was by far the warmest ocean water we have ever felt. We did feel very safe while in Kuta, except for the rat that somehow managed to run across both of my feet while walking down a sidewalk at night. I almost pulled a hammy as I jumped in the air and screamed like a little girl. Also while in Kuta, we did manage to meet up with a friend of a friend of Jodie's sister Tanya, who lives here. Her name is Wendy and she is a British expat who moved here 17 years ago. She was very helpful on what we should see and do while in Bali. Following her advice we left Kuta after a couple days to explore some more of the island.

Ubud was our next stop, and we really liked it there. It is a smaller town, about an hour inland from Kuta. We took a shuttle bus which was nice to get a view other than the city. We passed a lot There were a few less tourists there, and it had a very different feel. It was a lot quieter and the town seemed to have more character. Our first stop was at the Monkey Forest near the center of the town. We walked around watching monkeys lounging, playing and waiting for banana hand outs from passers by. They were very entertaining but we didn't let them climb on us because of the warning signs at the entrance of the park that said they could get aggressive, and if they did climb on you to drop your stuff and slowly walk away. We walked around for the rest of the day checking out the various shops which were selling lots of paintings, wood carvings and other artsy stuff. After pricing out various massage places, we picked one for $6 an hour and it was fantastic. They specialized in reflexology which I guess means poking and prodding you in the feet, but it felt great. The one part I didn't care for as much was when the guy literally started punching the bottoms of my feet, but overall it was very nice. We awoke at our bungalow the next morning and were soon greeted by one of the employees who served us the typical bungalow breakfast of banana pancakes, fresh pineapple, watermelon and papaya, and some really strong sludgy coffee. Since most Balinese are Hindus, every morning little offering baskets are prepared and left all over on sidewalks, store entrances, and stair cases. They usually consist of a small weaved dish made out of palm leaves, and filled with flowers, incense and usually some sort of food, mainly rice. It's nice to walk around in the morning watching the people setting these out and sprinkling water on them by dipping a flower petal then shaking it above the baskets with a strong smell of incense in the air. That night we watched a traditional Balinese dance. The chanting and dancing was made more entertaining by the stray dogs that wandered around amongst the dancers with a confused look on their faces. We have noticed many dogs that look remarkably like our dog Marley which confirms our suspicions that he is 100% mutt.
Padang Bai was our next stop, about one hour east of Ubud on the coast. We really like it here. The town is a sleepy fishing village that serves as a port where ships leave for the next Island to the east, Lombok. The town has a narrow beach where all of the traditional fishing boats are sitting, it is very scenic. There isn't very many tourists here, which is nice because we can walk in any direction from where we are staying and within 2 minutes, you feel like you are the only non Balinese around. Things seem to be even cheaper here compared to Ubud and Kuta. We have had some excellent seafood here, like barracuda and mahi mahi which cost us around $3 per plate. Our favorite part of Padang Bai is a small beach in a cove called Blue Lagoon. There is a reef not to far out which has some great snorkeling and lots of tropical fish. Like most of the beaches here in Bali, there are always locals wandering the beach selling stuff and offering massages. We took a lady up on her offer and it was very relaxing. We planned on renting a motorbike (scooter) today but after talking with the lady at our bungalow, she said I needed an international license or the police might stop us and we would have to pay fines. That was strikeout #1 for the day. Then we decided we needed some more cash for the rest of the day, and we found out that the only ATM in town was not working so we had to drive an hour and a half round trip to the nearest one. I'm not sure if the guys across the street broke the ATM, but it is definitely good business for them, because we needed a ride and they just so happened to offer us one. I bargained them down from $15 to $6 to take us to the next town. That was strikeout #2. When we returned to Padang Bai we decided to find this other beach that was supposed to be nearby but we got as many different directions as people we asked. So after wandering around for 45 minutes we gave up, bought our daily 60 cent mango and headed to the Blue Lagoon. Not a bad compromise. Strikeout #3. However when we got to Blue Lagoon and went out in the water, I managed to cut the bottom of my foot in two spots when I stepped on some coral. What's more fun than cutting your foot on coral? Seeing how much sand you can cram into those cuts walking across the beach. Good thing I brought a nurse along, Jodie patched me up well and thanks to super glue I'm as good as new. Even with the setbacks, our day still turned out fantastic. We befriended a local bartender who talked with us while the power was out for three hours. He gave us a lot of insight on the local culture and was very friendly. Overall we have enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of Padang Bai, but we are eager to see some more of Bali so we are setting out for Padang Padang on the south point of the Island.


Australia - Crocs, the Outback, and Wally

Eli and I have been in Cairns and the surrounding area for the past week and a half. The population of Cairns is about 100,000 but it feels like it is mostly full of tourists.
It is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Even though it is on the coast, it is 10 miles from the nearest beach and when you do get to the beach via bus, you can't actually swim in it during the summer (Oct - March).
Well that's not entirely true...you can swim in a blocked off area where they have stinger nets protecting the innocent swimmers from the deadly box-jellyfish that are present this time of year. Eli and I braved the small area of "safe water" for about 30 seconds before we both decided it wasn't worth it. I noticed that the waves carried water right over the floating devices holding up the stingernets and I'm no engineer but I'm pretty sure those nets couldn't stop all those jellyfish. Luckily, Cairns has catered to the lack of swimable beaches by building a large lagoon (public pool) that overlooks the ocean. Pretty much the whole town hangs out at this lagoon. Eli and I spent 3 afternoons there to escape the 90 degree muggy heat too.
After a few days in Cairns, we got antsy to get out of the tourist scene so we rented our smallest car yet (stick shift) and set out for a few days. We first headed towards Cape Tribulation to check out some rainforests. We camped 1 night in Daintree National Park near the ocean.
The wildlife did not want us to sleep that night. The brush turkeys and wild cockatoos squawked endlessly. Once again Eli and I thanked the inventor of our most valuable travel possession...the mighty earplugs. While in the rainforest we took a boat tour up the Daintree River. We were guided by a very knowledgeable croc enthusiast. We saw 2 large crocs and 1 baby croc and lots of mosquitoes. It was worth it!
Ever since we landed in Australia Eli has been anxious to see some authentic "Outback." We were amazed at how quickly the terrain changed from tropical rainforest to dusty outback. We headed to Mt Surprise and the big surprise for us was that there wasn't a dang thing there, let alone a mountain. But it was all Eli hoped it would be. I enjoyed it as well as it did represent my preconceived notion of what Australia would be. The one good thing about this blink of a town was the dinner/gas station/general store. We ordered burgers there and we were delighted to get big juicy beet garnished burgers like none I have had before. Delicious. I was thoroughly disappointed that we did not see herds of dingos but we did see lots of kangaroos, most of them seemed to be napping right on the side of the road. Hmm, what kind meat was in our burgers???
After quickly escaping the outback, we headed towards the Atherton Tablelands. The tablelands have lots of waterfalls and a few extinct volcanic crater lakes. We cooled off by taking a swim in Lake Eechum. That night we camped at Lake Tinaroo. When we arrived there, we discovered that this campsite only allowed pre-booked campers. The sign told us to go online or call to register and pay for a site. Easy enough, not! Without a cell phone or Internet at the tips of our fingers, we faced a moral dilemma. After seeing that the campsite was literally empty, we concocted a plan to set up our tent late that night and take it down early the next morning, before any park rangers might patrol and give us a fine.
The plan worked, however, we both tossed and turned most of the night with bad dreams and we frequently checked our one watch to make sure we didn't sleep in too late.
Since we couldn't sleep, we busted out of camp at a cool 5:30am and went on a search for a cup of coffee.
The Laughing Kookaburra birds laughed at us as we drove away. After 3 or 4 unsuccessful stops at cafes (nothing opens here until 9am usually) we found ourselves in a little town called Kuranda. Eventhough it was still only 7am we found a local hippie-run coffeeshop, we were the first customers of the day, and we ordered the "Godzilla Mochachinno." Eat that Starbucks! After getting a coffee buzz, we walked through Barron Gorge National Park. We were amazed to see the waterfall in this park as it was about 900ft tall! We also came across a Lace Monitor Lizard climbing a tree.
He was at least 3 feet long. I love lizards.
The rest of the morning, we stayed in this happy little hippy town and surveyed the assortment of didgeridoos, crocodile dundee hats, and painted boomerangs in the market. We also stopped in the Aboriginal art galleries and saw some beautiful paintings but we decided we could find a better way to spend $34,000 dollars than on a painting of dots. Yes I did write $34,000 dollars for dots. We then drove a little ways out of town and found a campsite for the night. When we got to the campsite, we realized it was still only 1pm but since we had been up so early, we didn't feel like doing anymore sightseeing. Since it was too hot to take naps and since our newest insect nemesis, the huge biting fly, was pestering us, we sat in our tent playing chess. Nerd alert! We did sleep good that night after it cooled down.
The next morning we headed back into Cairns eager to get out to the Great Barrier Reef. We booked a trip for the next day and found a hostel to stay at for the remainder of our time in Australia. The 2 of us, along with 120 other eager reefers, set out for the 1.5 boat ride to the reef. The boat was nice but a little cramped so we were very happy to jump into the bright blue waters and snorkel on the reef. The coral was fascinating! We saw countless types of brightly colored tropical fish differing in size from a fingernail to a wheelbarrow. One of the most interesting fish we saw was turquoise and pink, about the size of a very large watermelon. This fish liked to snack on the coral and we could literally hear them chomping away while we floated above. The biggest fish we saw was "Wally" a Maori Wrasse fish, a local friend of the boats. When he came up to the boat I was quick to get in the water as he let people pet him.
Totally awesome. While this was almost the highlight of the day, my favorite thing was when Eli discovered that his beloved newly grown mustache was causing his snorkel mask to leak and he was forced to use his leatherman to cut it off. Poor Eli. Poor Mustache. Overall, the reef meet our expectations as one of the natural wonders of the world!
Our time in Australia is coming to an end as we prepare for Bali. We realized how vast Australia truly is and we might try to return here someday to explore the other 99% of the country.


Australia - Thanksgiving, Kangaroos, and TimTam Slams

Wow we have been lazy about blogging, now we have some catching up to do.
We are currently 30,000 ft somewhere above the east coast of Australia on our way from Sydney to Cairns. We have been in Australia about a week now and are having a great time.
We arrived in Melbourne anxious to see our friend Rachel from high school and to sleep in a real bed.
It had been a few years since either of us had seen Rachel, and now she is married with a son and another child on the way. Rachel and Mark where very gracious hosts, we had a comfy bed to sleep in, wonderful home-cooked meals and a great tour guide. They are in the process of building a house so we actually stayed at a friends house where they are temporarily living. Their friends name is Ash and he was very welcoming to allow us strangers to stay in his house for a few days. Ash and I had some great conversations about Australian customs, politics and the strange sport of Cricket.
The first stop Rachel took us to was a local wildlife park.
It wasn't terribly elaborate but it was very entertaining. Upon entering the park we bought some kangaroo food and found to our delight that once inside the park, about 40 kangaroos were just roaming around. Most of them were lounging in the shade but the real friendly ones would come right up to you happily eating the food right out of your hand.
I had always assumed that kangaroos were not to be petted, but these ones didn't seem to mind it one bit. We wandered around the park for a few hours checking out koalas, wallabies, wombats, tazmanian devils and the larger Red Kangaroos which some were as tall as myself and they were fenced off in a separate area. Rachel had heard a rumor about a baby kangaroo that had been orphaned and one of the zoo keepers were taking care of it. We asked around and after a few minutes we were introduced to Glen the zoo keeper. He was very friendly and looked very Australian with his short shorts and boots. He went into a room and retrieved a ball of blankets which contained a young joey named "Ruby". She was a little bigger than a house cat and Glen had explained that her mother got her head stuck in tree stump while she was in the pouch and it took a while to get her free.
In fear of her hurting the baby Glen had taken the joey under his care and had been taking it home with him every night for the last several months. He told us he had to feed it every four hours, twenty four hours a day so he felt like a mother of a newborn. It was funny to picture this burly Australian bloke bottle feeding a baby kangaroo in the wee hours of the morning.
As we were taking turns holding Ruby, we were making conversation with Glen and Rachel asked him what he likes to do for fun. Expecting an answer of maybe playing sports, camping, hiking or something, but I should have known better. "Snake catching, I like going into the bush and finding snakes, or people will call me when they need one removed" he told us. I felt like I was standing next to Crocodile Steve. Then Glen told us a story about how he used to live with a guy who had a few tame dingos. He said they really made a mess out of everything and he "woke up one morning and found out that the dingo ate my phone" I never thought I would here that sentence.

We then watched glen feed some of Australia's deadly snakes by opening up the doors on the glass enclosures and dangling a dead mouse in front of the snakes with some forceps. I was keeping my distance, not being particularly fond of poisonous snakes especially when there is no physical barrier between us, but Jodie didn't seem to mind. The snake feedings weren't quite as eventful as I was picturing but I was ok with that.

The next morning we relaxed around the house glad to be able to spread out and lounge. In the afternoon we drove south to a place called the "Twelve Apostles" which was a series of rock outcroppings jutting out of the sea. We waded through the seas of Asian tourists to an overlook where we could see the ocean cliffs and waves crashing below. It was very scenic. On Friday we celebrated Thanksgiving with all the traditional foods. Rachel had some Aussie friends come over who had never celebrated Thanksgiving before, and we all had a good time. We cooked the turkey on the barbie and it was delicious! It almost felt like we were back home. One of my favorite Australian foods that Rachel introduced to us were these chocolate covered wafers called Timtams. She even showed us a special way of eating them called a "Timtam slam". You bite off opposing corners of the wafer and then use it as a straw to suck up some hot beverage (we had coffee). After about two seconds of sucking you shove the Timtam into your mouth just before the whole thing melts. I would put on the order of S'mores as far as deliciousness goes.
We left Rachel's on Saturday to set out for Sydney. We made a quick stop in downtown Melbourne for some lunch with Rachel before we said our good byes and she took the train back to her house. Our plan was to stop in Kosciousko National Park to hike the highest peak in Australia. Of course the next morning the weather was horrible so we decided to instead spend the day in the capital of Canberra. We stopped at the National Museum of Australia which was really fascinating. After a quick drive around the capital we found a rest stop on the side of the road where we slept inside our car once more. This time our car was a little four door hatchback, but we managed to fit with the back seats folded flat and the front seats pushed all the way forward. Pretty comfy actually.
Sydney involved mainly site seeing and lots of walking. We toured around the opera house, the harbour bridge, national art museum, bondi beach and such. The weather was not spectacular, light rain and lots of gusty wind but we had a good time anyway. Our favorite part of the city was the royal botanic gardens. Although beautiful, it was not the plantlife that got our attention, but the enormous bats. They are called Flying Foxes they are so big. There was hundreds of them just hangin' out upside down in the trees. Later on we swore we saw them flying around the city, it really cool. Sydney is a beautiful city but we are anxious to check out the Northeastern coast and the great barrier reef!