Saturday, July 31, 2010

Indonesia Part 3.1 - Gili Gede

After 4 nights, we left Gili Air and moved to Gili Trawangan. Gili T (as it is commonly called) is the party island and has been overtaken by a psychedelic vibe that we might have appreciated more if we were 10 years younger. We only stayed one night, but also decided we would definitely do the live-aboard dive cruise. Unfortunately, it was Wednesday, and the trip didn't start until Sunday. And we really didn't want to stay on Gili T for four more nights.

We asked around and a local guy informed us there are more Gili's in southwest Lombok. This is also when we realized that "Gili" just means "small island". We did some research and found the Secret Island Resort on Gili Gede. We made a call on therese's iphone, made a reservation for the next night, and planned to embark for Lombok immediately. We found a place to stay in Senggigi for one night, rented mopeds the next morning, and drove Lombok's western coastline southwards.

The drive was three hours total, but the two hours after passing Lombok's capital of Mataram were simply gobsmackingly brilliant. We rode the coast the whole way and were treated to panoramic views around every corner. Traffic was light, weather was amazing, and the roads were totally adequate.

The journey was punctuated by one incident which ended up being kinda fun. We were stopping at all the "gas stations" looking for a good price for a refill. The smaller islands in Indonesia don't have many gas stations, per se. Instead, most little shops have gas available for about $.60 a liter, and it's stored in glass bottles,which end up looking rather like urine samples. Anyway, therese was trying to get my attention and pull over at the same time to check the price at one place. She hit a patch of sand and wiped out, but was unhurt. While on the ground, four generations of the family that ran the shop came out to help her. Actually, they would have come out anyway to watch the white girl buy gas, even if she didn't wreck in the process.

We made it to Secret Island Resort and the boat met us on the mainland to take us to Gili Gede. After a short boat ride, we had found our new paradise. The resort is brilliant, with nice touches everywhere. Peter, the American owner, owns the place with his Indonesian wife and has great tastes in furnishing and style. He plays chill latin grooves or downtempo house music from his stereo all day long, and plays a mean harmonica. We settled in with a pot of coffee and a Bintang, and met Lincoln and Alicia, a nice couple from New Zealand. We would end up drinking with them on the patio that night long past when everyone else went to bed.

For it's large size, relative to most other Gili's on Lombok, the island only has a few hundred inhabitants. Like most of Lombok and Indonesia in general, the native population are largely Muslim. We took a short walk to the nearest village to check out the scene. We were instantly stars as a dozen children mobbed us for attention and play, not money. They never really asked us for anything, they just wanted me to take photos of them and speak what few English words they new. Therese sang songs with them, while i showed them pictures i'd taken. We got the impression they don't see too many tourists around here. Yet. Lombok is opening an international airport later this year.

Therese singing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider". They were mesmerized.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Indonesia Part 2 - Gili Air

Gili Air is the smallest of the three Gili Islands, off the coast of Lombok. Our four nights there were spent relaxing on beach-front hammocks, reading, sipping cocktails or a cool Bintang, and diving. Therese competed her PADI Open Water Certification, and the diving was spectacular! We did four dives in the area and encountered a dozen huge Green and Hawksbill Sea Turtles, a few white-tipped sharks, blue-spotted stingrays, clown fish, giant sea bass, a poisonous eel snake, rock fish, frog fish, and countless varieties of glorious tropical fish.

We found a great two story bungalow in a central location at Nina Cottages. An open living area, two hammocks, and a bathroom on the lower floor, balcony and bedroom upstairs, including breakfast cost us $20 a night. We booked it for 4 nights, from Friday through Monday night.

Therese had a slight head cold on the first day, so she did all her PADI course material on Saturday while we relaxed and fell in love with paradise. And, as expected, paradise is pretty sweet. Mostly we relaxed in hammocks, read and enjoyed a drink or many.

Motorized transportation is not allowed on the island. To get around, you take a horse-drawn carriage or you walk, often barefoot. You can walk the entire island in about 90 minutes. We decided to cross straight through the middle for a taste of village life. We found kids playing soccer, a wedding reception for a local couple, and plenty of villagers going about their day. There's no running freshwater on the island, except maybe for the few highest-end places. Showers are taken with ambient temperature saltwater, either straight from the ocean or filtered slightly. I don't think i've ever lived without freshwater, but it is slightly liberating. You learn to just accept that you aren't going to be clean how you are used to. This is how people on islands all over the world live. Welcome to the land before modern conveniences, and enjoy it.

Every beach-front restaurant has hammocks or large pillows for sitting and lounging while you chill. The food was excellent and cheap. We enjoy delicious banana pancakes and coffee for breakfast every morning. Therese has been calling this trip Indonesian Adventure or BANANA PANCAKE MANIA. Common Indonesian fare in these parts is seafood, tempeh, curry, or fried noodles/rice with vegetables and chicken. You can get a hearty, satisfying meal for only $2. Or $5 with a large Bintang.

People on Gili Air are really friendly, and not like they only want your money. Some do, of course, but even when you tell the no, they still just smile and chat you up. Everyone is very relaxed. I asked this guy if i could take his picture and he was like, "sure man~ why not! :) everything is happy here!" or something like that.

There was a full-moon party one night, and at 4 am we could hear an unique blend of earth-pounding Drum n' Bass, rooster's trumpeting, and the Muslim call to prayer from the mosque in Lombok. We didn't make it out for the whole party, but i caught the end and the sunrise. That's Mt. Rinjani of Lombok in the background. Spoiler: Lombok will become important in Part 3.

Remember how we had all these plans to travel Bali and East Java? We've changed them, for therese is now completely hooked on SCUBA diving. We're booked on a 5 day liveaboard dive cruise from Lombok to Flores. This passes through Komodo and Rinca, home of the famous Komodo Dragons and one of the top-ten dive destinations in the world. Needless to say, we are very happy right now.

Holy Crap!


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Indonesia Part 1 - Bali

The long awaited vacation is upon us, and after 3 flights totaling 16 hours, we arrived safely in Bali. The flights were mostly uneventful, although the stopover in Jakarta was a mess. We waited in a painfully slow customs line to enter the county, switched airports with a 30 minute bus ride, waited in a line to enter the second airport, waited in a line to pay the transfer fee, moved to the correct line for the transfer fee, and went through security. The moral of the story: avoid Lion Air's cheap option from Singapore to Bali.

We both managed to get roughly a full night of sleep between all the layovers and flights, so we weren't terribly tired, just physically exhausted. We rewarded ourselves promptly with massages and beer. That night my love-at-first-taste affair with Bintang, Indonesia's local beer, began. I'd be sure to have two or more large bottles a day from there on out.

We spent two nights in Sanur, a sleepy, charming town away from the crazy tourist parties of Kuta and Legion. On day two, we rented mopeds and drove 45 minutes to Seminyak, which is the upscale tourist destination. We found everything to be 2-3x more expensive than Sanur and decided we had made the right decision. We popped into the famed Ku De Ta to browse the menu... $12 a drink sent us in search of other options.

Strolling the beach, we heard a Gamelon orchestra performing a play with Balinese dancers. At the entrance, it indicated you had to be a guest to proceed. We strolled in looking like we belonged, ordered a few drinks at the bar, and took some front row seats for the final few acts of the play. Gamelon is pretty cool music, percussive and lyrical at the same time. It makes me wish i had joined the Gamelon Orchestra at CU when i was there. I didn't take many photos during the first few days, but this was an experience i wanted to capture.

The monkey king was Therese's favorite, but his monkey's will probably be present in all my nightmares for the foreseeable future, what with the distorted faces and unnatural movements and all.

On the third day, we caught an early boat to the Gili Islands and began the process of loving island life. Here's a preview, walking Gili Air's perimeter at sunset.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ab,D! at Jiang Jin Jiu Bar

Autobots, Deploy! has been playing some gigs recently, all of them at a new place for us. Jiang Jin Jiu bar has a prime spot between the drum and bell towers in the historical Gulou neighborhood, surrounded by hutongs. This is the same area as Nan Lou Gu Xiang and Hou Hai. Unfortunately, Beijing is planning some pretty severe renovations of this entire area, and the ancient hutongs will be all destroyed and replaced with malls and parking structures. It's a terrible things to conceive, but at least we're getting to enjoy it now.

Thanks to Tao, we've got videos of our most recent show. Without further ado, here are a handful of the ELEVEN videos he recorded for us.

Actually, yeah, there is further ado. Notice the shirt i'm wearing. Ray and the Rents may recognize this as the Ya Show uniform i once endeavored to purchase. I managed to buy one earlier that day. Love it! I immediately donned my new prize and received the attention of all nearby employees. I convinced some of them i was actually employed there and proved my haggling skills with overdramatic displays of reverse bargaining. At one point, i managed to sell a piece of cheap luggage back to the salesgirl for 100 RMB, but my starting price was 900. She got ripped off.

That's all the ado for now. Jam on.

Hint: hold 'crtl' while clicking the links below to open multiple pages so they can load while you make a cup of Constant Commenttm, mom and dad.
Again, huge thanks Tao!


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Vacation so close, i can taste it

Therese and i have been thinking about and researching Indonesia for almost two months now. The anticipation is building like a snowball builds a snowman. We've been stocking up on lightweight travel gear, planning routes, asking questions... eleven more days.

Our original plan may have been a tad ambitious, as we wanted to get all the way to Flores, a less travelled island three east of Bali. This would have required 3-4 days round trip on a ferry in a relatively short time frame. Since it's our first trip to this area, we figured there's no harm in exploring Bali and it's surrounds completely. Here's our tentative itinerary, and yes, i'm a planner. I get it from my dad.

Click to enlarge.

That's all very tentative, and we both know that once you hit the road it can require nothing short of a miracle to tear yourself away from a temporary paradise. Plans change, stays are extended, new routes are forged, experiences are shared with others and new paradise is found. But man, doesn't that look awesome?

I should mention that after Ubud, we'll be meeting up with my friend Andy Susanto. He's an Indonesian.

Funny story: i met him in the dorms freshman year and we shared a house sophomore year. He's an awesome little guy, an amazing cook, always smiling, and extremely generous. None of my college friends had spoken with him since 1998, twelve years. And it wasn't for lack of trying. He just seemed to fall off the earth, but he's always been in the back of my mind, especially since i'm actually on his half of the world now. How can i find him? Internet: you're my only hope.

After we decided to do Indonesia, i had another go at tracking him down. Facebook brought him back onto the radar. I found a half dozen Andy Susanto's and messaged them all, and just like that, Andy existed again. He's gonna fly to Bali and meet us for the last weekend. Facebook, for the win!

See you soon, Platypus.