A Travellerspoint blog


When You're at Raka's, You're Family

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By the time we arrived back in Ubud, late evening, Nanette was already feeling sick. We were lucky to get a room at Raka's, as he was full, and did us a favor by turning away someone else who contacted him earlier. Nanette was on the toilet most of the night, and vomiting as well. The bathroom looked like a war zone in the morning. We struggled to make it a block and 1/2 to a nearby medical clinic. They were very nice, but more or less confirmed what we were already doing. Keep up the Cipro and stay hydrated. They gave us a powdered form of Gatorade to balance the electrolytes. Miraculously, I seemed to have ducked the bullet on this one. Perhaps it was the jaffles, a kind of grilled cheese sandwich, that Nanette ate at the airport, and I did not. Hard to tell. The next several days were not fun. She was very weak and had trouble even keeping down the rice pudding that Raka made himself. "Not to worry,? he said. "Raka take care of you just like family."

And he did.

Raka With Offerings

His Grandaughter

For Nanette this was the final straw and she was ready to go home. After several hours on the phone I was able to book her a flight to New York through Singapore, using the same number of frequent flier miles. I planned to go to southern Laos for another few weeks. I had previously explored some of the northern parts of the country and loved it. This was my chance to spend more time with these lovely people.

One day I met Miriam in the local warung (eatery) right on our little alley.


She is a few years my junior, French, and in the usual way that travelers do, I asked what she was doing in Bali. Somehow she did not seem like a typical tourist, and indeed she wasn't. In halting English, she told me that she has volunteered in Ubud for almost six months with disabled people. Then, in what seemed like a very short time to impart this kind of information, told me that her husband and daughter were killed in a car accident two years ago. She is hoping to go to Calcutta in the next few weeks if she can straighten out the visa issues there. I offered to help since her, and together we went to off to the tourist office. It didn't do much good. For whatever reason the Indian consulate in Jakarta only wants to give her two months instead of the usual six. She is obviously still in a fragile state, crying and easily upset when they told us this. I worry about how she will fare in India since Bali is a far easier place to deal with.

The following day we left. Nanette, who was feeling somewhat better, departed for Singapore, and I for Bangkok. I went back to the hotel near the airport to avoid the hassles of downtown, not to mention the increasingly dangerous political demonstrations. From there I intended to fly to northern Thailand and then into Laos by bus.

Posted by jonshapiro 13:56 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Sapit, Indonesia


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I know all of you out in the blogopshere have been wondering what happened to me after my last post. Well, I have more or less been totally preoccupied with renovating my kitchen, a project I could not have even contemplated without the incredible efforts of my friend Bill. I won't bore you with too many details. Suffice it to say that we are working on the final third or so, and I have begun to emerge to resume blogging, among other aspects of my life. In case you have never had the experience, a kitchen renovation is disruptive, as everything has to come out of the cabinets and then is stored wherever you can find a place for it. Cooking is an interesting task among all the tools and missing plates and silverware.

But without further ado:

After Tette Batu, we continued on to the other side of Lombok to Sapit, high on the side of the volcano, Rinjani. The views of the mountain and rice fields on one side, and the ocean, the island of Sembawa, and other small islands on the other, were simply stunning. Clouds rolled in every afternoon though the rain held off for a few days. Higher up it was a different story.




No other tourists here and the locals are obviously not used to seeing us. Wide smiles from the women and children and older men, while the younger men seem more suspicious.



Our host, Adit, speaks English well, having lived in Chicago for three years. Originally from Borneo, he was raised in a middle class family, and it seems as though most of his many siblings have good jobs and two live abroad. Nanette is feeling somewhat burnt out with the rigors and discomforts of travel, and made it clear that she doesn't want to spend 12 hours on a bus and another 8 to 10 on two ferry rides to get to Flores, our original destination. I rode on the back of Adit's motor bike to check things out in town, which was a very bumpy hour ride away. We stopped at a travel agency, but the agent was not particularly helpful. There is a flight to Flores, but no one seems to know when it leaves and returns. We have discussed the possibility of Nanette returning to Ubud while I go on. Private transportation is difficult to arrange here, and expensive. Local transport is extremely difficult to access, and very slow. You can't get there from here, or you can, but nobody knows how, and it will take all day in any event. The food is not particularly good, at least by Thai standards, and relatively expensive compared to other third world places, and the 4 AM call to prayer continues to wake me up too damn early. On the other hand, there are beautiful walks on the mountain trails and the town is unspoiled.

View From Balelongga


Over Rooftop

The menu says:

We are often no money

Sometimes no guests

But enjoy life

No risk, no fun.

I wholeheartedly agree, but after a few days, things started to get a bit weird with Adit. He kept giving us different information about climbing the volcano, seemingly whatever we wanted to hear, except the price, which remained high. This was the tail end of the rainy season when it was considered too dangerous to climb, but it was about to change. We asked what day the mountain would be open, and Adit would say that we could climb whenever we wanted to, even though the park was officially closed for another week. When we pointed to the clouds obscuring the top third, he would say that it was not raining. When Ryan and Cassie, our American friends, inquired about a taxi to the airport, he first said it would be about about 16US and then suddenly the price doubled because his driver was sick. It was hard to know what to believe. He seemed very helpful one minute and then wanted to cheat us the next. A Dutch couple showed up, staying nearby, and they said that return flights from Flores to Bali were highly erratic, and in the end, they had to take a three day uncomfortable boat ride to get back. So without good information we decided to go to the airport with our American friends, Cassie and Ryan, and head back to Bali, while they went on to Singapore.

The ride to the airport was harrowing. Our driver, the same one who had brought us to Sapit from Tette Batu, drove like a madman, weaving in an out, and cursing whenever anyone got in his way. He then demanded an addition $10 despite the fact that he had already agreed to the price. In the end we gave him half, but felt ripped off and pissed off, though lucky to have made it in one piece. It seemed to us as though many people in Lombok are rip off artists and scammers, charging whatever they can whenever they can, and then harassing us if we objected. At the airport, we found out that the flight to Flores didn't leave for another week. Our friends left, while we had to hang out for most of the day waiting for our flight.

We ate dinner at a local restaurant, and our waiter was a charming and innocent college student. He reminded me somewhat of our our monk friend in Burma, Nianee. His family were poor farmers , but he studied English and tourism in Mataram. paying his own way through waiting tables. He was eager to talk with us and openly acknowledged what we said about some of the people in Lombok trying to rip us off. It was good to meet him. It is so easy to judge a place and its people with a few unpleasant experiences. Umar provided a more balanced view.

Posted by jonshapiro 08:21 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Tette Batu, Lombok

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Lombok is a short boat ride from Gilliair, and is the closest major island to Bali. As such a fair number of tourists come here, but nowhere near the numbers that Bali sees. It is Muslim, as opposed to Hindu, like most of Indonesia, and has a very different feel. We made our way to Tette Batu by hiring a car with our young American friends, Cassie and Ryan. It is somewhat cooler especially at night, because of the altitude, 600 meters. Tette is a small village, poor and ramshackle with concrete and brick buildings, overlooking the twin summits of Rinjani, 3750M. The narrow roads are full of potholes with motor scooters buzzing to and fro. The surrounding countryside is lush and beautiful, as are the children.



Our small guesthouse is a simple place, with a raised bamboo thatched patio/cum restaurant overlooking the nearby rice fields.


Right now there are no other guests. It is run by Hon, a most interesting man, who was one of 15 people chosen by the government to study tourism abroad. He went to Germany for five years where he married a German woman and had two children, 15 and 13, who still reside in Germany with their mother, who is a therapist. He is remarried now, to a more traditional Indonesian woman with whom he has one child with another on the way. Hon has long hair, plays guitar, smokes dope, and looks rather like Bob Marley, hat and all. Not exactly your typical Muslim man, his father in fact was Catholic from Flores, the Portuguese island. Both of his parents died when he was young, and he was more or less raised by his older brother who stressed the importance of education. Very open minded in his thinking, Hon no longer really fits into his own culture. His friends are most often Europeans, or else Indonesians who have lived abroad. Clearly in this small village, he is anomaly. We very much enjoyed chatting with him as we reclined on large pillows on the floor of the round restaurant.


Rinjani From the Guest House Restaurant

The sound of the water running down the irrigation ditches from one field to the next is very present, as are the croaking frogs and crickets, as day moves into night.


In the morning, 4:30 AM to be precise, we are awakened, as we were on every morning, by the loud and insistent Muslim call to prayer. One call would have been okay, but it goes on for an hour. Why is it that the electricity never fails during this time? Perhaps each mosque has its own generator.

Among the things we discussed with Hon was the current political climate in Indonesia He thinks that the Muslim extremists are not popular in most of the country. On the other hand, there are some areas where they have a following and the government is afraid to touch them.

Today we went on a hike through villages and rice fields up the slopes of Rinjani. Our guide was a cousin of Han's, who plans to go to Malaysia to pick coconuts as there is no work for him in Tette Batu.




Our destination was a high waterfall in the national park. The water was cold and delicious after a few hours of sweating in the sun.



Posted by jonshapiro 12:50 Archived in Indonesia Tagged postcards Comments (3)

We Can Only Wish

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The carcass lies barely two meters below

And very close to shore, rusty since the war

Six swaying yellow angels guard the bridge

While the trumpet fish sounds its silent call

There are no bones left around here

Gone is the sweat and stench of fear

The dead have long since gone away,

To haunt their killers another day

Left is the bluegreen water, coral and fish

Let us not destroy them, we can only wish

From Amed we took an hour long speedboat ride, bumpy and expensive to Gilliair. Unfortunately most of the coral there had apparently been dynamited in years past, in a facile attempt to catch fish. Although much ballyhooed in The Lonely Planet and by many travelers, it did not live up to billing.

We stayed at Bernard's place, run by a gay expat Frenchmen, also recommended, and deservedly so. Unfortunately with the pool construction and located well off the beach, there was no breeze. Air and fans went off in the middle of the night, supposedly because one of Bernard's men got stoned, and forgot to put on the generator when the power failed, seemingly a daily occurrence. To his credit, Bernard did not charge us for that evening and the 2nd night things were okay. However there were many guest houses and restaurants scattered along the beach, and the place was crowded with tourists and touts.

Main Street in Gilliair

Except for one small stretch, the beach was rocky and not good for swimming. I will say that the open air restaurants were nice, with small bamboo sun shelters and comfortable pillows. A good place to lounge, which we did for most of the time.

Cassie and Nanette

The view towards Lombok and the mountains was impressive, especially at sunset, but after a couple of days we had enough and headed on.


Posted by jonshapiro 11:23 Archived in Indonesia Tagged postcards Comments (6)


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Eventually we left the charms and the crowds of Ubud, and headed for the southeast coast of Bali. Previously undeveloped, it is now home to many small hotels and guest houses with more on the way, especially near the water. The rocky beaches are not the best, but the diving and snorkeling is superb. To get there, we hired an aircon taxi from the hotel where we planned to stay. We shared the expenses with Cassie and Ryan, the young American couple who I mentioned had come off a two year stint teaching English in Korea. It was a relaxing ride that with stops, took the better part of a day. The vibrant green fields were such an intense color that they looked almost fake. What a contrast to the dry, dusty landscape of Burma.



In the afternoon, we stopped at some spring fed pools for a dip and to admire the gardens.



Instead of the original hotel, we decided to stay at Sunshine, just as nice and considerably cheaper. For $25 we got the best in the house, a large ocean-front room with ac, including our own private terrace. The manager at Double One wasn't particularly happy with our decision of course, but he stubbornly refused to bargain with the price even though his place was practically empty.


That's our room on the upper left. Okay, it wasn't perfect. After a day or so the bathroom began to smell a bit like a sewer. I guess they had issues with their septic. It was hot, hot, hot, even more so than in Ubud, and here, in the doldrums so close to the equator, they didn't have the trade winds that I associate with the tropics in the Carribbean. The pool was more like a hot-tub in the height of the day, but cooled off somewhat as the sun went down. As advertised, the dark sand beach right in front was indeed rocky and the water bathtub warm, but the coral gardens 20 feet or so offshore were incredible. I've never seen colors like that, and such variety. Fan and brain coral, red, purple and white, stag and elkhorn coral, lettuce, mushroom and star coral, green, brown and white. Unfortunately I didn't have an underwater camera so I don't have pictures, but it was mesmerizing. And the fish, with their indigo blue and yellow strips....

On the surface, even the boats looked like fish...... or waterbugs.



Other days we checked out more snorkeling spots, including one 5 miles up the road with an old wreck, also right offshore.


Here, I swim with thousands of small fishes,

Green or iridescent blue as the light strikes them.

I reach out my hand and they scatter,

Instantly moving forward in unison.

Bigger black fish appear with blue around the edges,

And those with orange stripes, speckled with gold.

They come near, and are very bold.

And the yellow fish with black bands,

Yellow-black, yellowblack, yellowblack.

On my side, a bottlenose fish,

Or is it a small barricuda?

Below are huge plate coral,

Yellow and black, purple and white.

Coral that looks like corrugated petals,

Fish nibbling on its tiny protuberances.

And darting in,

And darting out.

All of it swaying with the tide,

Slowly, gently, pulsating.

Opening and closing,

Opening and closing.

Effortlessly, I float above,

Wide eyed through toothpaste smeared lenses.

Five minutes, an hour, a lifetime passes.

Slowly, gently, pulsating,

All of it, teeming with life.

The vibe in Amed was, as you might guess, very relaxed, and there were blessedly few people. When we weren't snorkeling, we were mostly hanging by the pool, or rather in the soporific shade near the pool, trying to stay cool. There was a good restaurant right up the street, and we ran into another couple who we met at Raka's. A somewhat unlikely pair, he was a boisterous, slightly paunchy, beer drinking, Aussie scuba diver, and she, a slim, soft spoken, northern Italian, was a snorkeler like us. It was fun for the six of us to have dinner together.

Sunsets were spent drinking beer on our terrace, gazing at the sea. Clouds sometimes gathered force as they moved towards the high volcano on Lombok, and the occasional freighter moved slowly by on the curved edge of the world.



Posted by jonshapiro 10:20 Archived in Indonesia Tagged postcards Comments (4)

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