Monday, June 23

Lombok, Indonesia

(see on map) - mike: Due east of Bali lies the island of Lombok. Our first stop here, Sengiggi, supposedly was a happening resort town in the 90s. Now it is oddly empty. Aging resorts, some abandoned, populate a nearly deserted beach. Restaurants and bars were offering us enticing discounts to be the first in. Hawkers (guys selling stuff like rings and sunglasses) outnumbered the few tourist we saw probably by 2:1 and had an aura of desperation.

Regardless, the four of us made the most of it and in the end enjoyed our private beach and inexpensive drinks.

Where are all the people?

Shaun arranged our second Lombok destination; a three day trek to Mt. Rinjani crater. Similar to the alternate trail for Machu Picchu we would be led by a guide and have porters (vs. horses in Peru) to carry everything but our clothes. (see on map)

Day 1: Shuttle from Senggigi to the mountain town of Senaru. Meet up with guide and porters. Hike uphill for several hours to just below the crater rim.

Similar to the San Pedro Volcano hike in Guatemala (entry), there are hardly any switchbacks, just lots of straight up hiking. Thankfully we stopped several times to rest and eat snacks.

The porters carry gear with these teeter-totter style baskets connected with a branch. They make it look easy. It took me just a few seconds to appreciate the difficulty. It was heavy and awkwardly painful on my shoulder. Our guide mentioned the porters can go as fast or faster, carrying 100 lbs in sandals, than we can with no packs and fancy hiking boots.

Cemara Lima, the camp we stopped at. I'm trying to dry my grossly sweaty shirt.

Day 2: Wake early, hike up to the rim and down into crater. Visit hot springs. Return to previous night's camp.

Mt. Rinjani!

The new volcano in the center (Gunung Baru) was created during a series of eruptions in the mid 90s.

Reaching the rim was easy, next came a long, sometimes very steep (see above), descent.

We shared the hot springs with vacationing Indonesians who come here to fish and soak in the pools. Trin and Ang definitely turned their heads entering in bikinis, not in a good way though. All of local women were bathing fully clothed.

Here we are back at the crater rim. Several local kids were also hanging out.

It was freakishly windy on our last night. The sound of flapping tent fabric was super loud. Suffice to say we didn't sleep well.

Day 3: Hike back to Senaru and catch our shuttle to the port town of Bangsal, ferry hub for reaching Gili Islands.

We made it! Our guide (bright blue pants) and porter team.

Wednesday, June 18

Bali, Indonesia Part 1

(see on map) - trin: I just want to start this entry by saying I have wanted to visit Bali for more than half my life and was a little afraid that it might not live up to the expectations established in my childhood mind. While it was different in someways, it really is a special place and the Balinese people are probably some of the nicest we've encountered.

On Bali, our friends Shaun and Angela joined us which was great. Hanging out with our friends is one of the things we miss the most.

We arrived late. So, we spent the night in nearby Legian. The following day we went to the beach and walked around the town for a bit before heading to our ultimate destination, Ubud. We stayed at family run hotel called Ketut's Place. Anyone who has read Eat, Pray, Love will know that Ketut is the fourth child in his family. Regardless of sex, all children in Bali are named according to their birth order: Wayan (first), Made(second), Nyoman (third) and Ketut (fourth).

Like most places in Ubud, the grounds at the hotel were ornate and immaculately maintained.

Twice a week Ketut's wife prepares a sample buffet of Balinese food. We were lucky and arrived on one of those nights. Here we are visiting with other travelers over dinner.

There are many, many ceremonies in the Balinese culture. One of which is the beautiful offerings left around entrances several times a day.

Another ceremony that all of the people in Ubud were proud to tell us about was the upcoming cremation ceremony. I am not going to try to explain the procedure or significance of the ceremony because I haven't actually seen one and I am afraid, I wouldn't do it justice. (youtube video example)

The entire village was busy preparing for a king and one of his relatives cremation. On the same day, villagers who had died in recent years would be exhumed and cremated as well. Families often need to save up for years to cover the cost of the ceremony.

The frame and head of a villager's cremation bull.

The king's cremation bull. The village was planning to take down all of the power lines so this massive bull could be carried in a procession through the streets of Ubud. Not only is it enormous, it is also very detailed. There were paper mache veins on his hind legs.

The ceremony is truly a group effort. Each day villagers would spend several hours working on the preparations.

After checking out the bulls we headed into the rice paddies. It was a beautiful walk and we were greeted by locals along the way. They would always ask, "where are you going? where are you staying?" Just like in Eat, Pray, Love.

After our walk we ate at the Lotus Cafe which sits along side a water temple.

The following day we went rafting through a lush river valley with rice terraces and waterfalls. The rapids were small compared to California but it was still scary as our guide took us down the river backwards most of the time. Plus, there were several low foot bridges and we had to lay down in order to pass underneath.

Everyone in Bali rides motor scooters. It is common to see a whole family on one scooter.

We saw two Balinese dance performances; Legong (youtube video example) and Kecak (youtube video example). We all prefered Kecak. The music is created by men chanting Kecak at different tempos. It sounds awesome.

The main road in Ubud is called Monkey Forest Road and at the end of it is of course a monkey forest.

The monkeys are accustom to people. This one is just checking Shaun out. Later on, one tried to jump on his back.

Most of the monkeys are born in May and June. So, we got to see lots of little baby monkeys. Some still had their umbilical cords while the older ones were already playing/swimming in the pond.

One of my favorite pictures. I call him little Buddha monkey.

Anyone who watches the Anthony Bourdain Show may recognise this place. They only serve one thing, roasted pig with rice. When the pig is gone for the day they close. So, they are only open for lunch.

There were mixed reviews from our group but I really liked it. I even ate all of my pork rind. It is was nothing like those pork rinds in the bag at home. Yuck.

We ended our time in Ubud with a shopping/pub crawl. There isn't much night life but we managed to find a place that served champagne and toasted our travels together.

Saturday, June 14

Tokyo, Japan

(see on map) - trin: We had intended to see both Tokyo and Kyoto while in Japan but we were having such a great time that we decided not to rush it and spent the whole week in Tokyo. As of today, it wins the Best Big City Award of the trip. So, for this entry we're going to change it up a bit and list the TOP TEN REASONS Mike and Trin Love Tokyo.

10. Public Transportation

9. The Japanese do not feed pigeons.

I absolutely hate walking through a sea of pigeons and when I see people feeding them and letting them land on their heads. It totally grosses me out.

8. Crazy Fast Internet

10x faster than home

7. High Tech Toilets

Heated seats and more...

6. Vending Machines & Plastic Food Displays

The vending machines are everywhere and the selection of goods is amazing.

Ordering sushi from a vending machine at 7am.

5. Japanese Gardens

Imperial Palace Gardens

My favorite, blue hydrangeas.

Hama-rikyu Gardens

4. Free Sights

Many of the sky scrappers have free observation decks where you can take in the city from above. Plus, there are often restaurant and you don't have to pay a premium for the view. They're just regular restaurant.

Imperial Palace Gate

Daily Fish Market Auction. The bidding starts early. We got there at 6am and caught the last few rounds.

Asajusa. Visitors making their way to Sensoji Temple.

Mike yucking it up for the camera at Sensoji Temple.

Side-story: Shortly after this picture was taken. A shy teenage girl asked Mike "can I have my picture with you?" He said "sure." She handed me the camera and then eight of her friends jumped into the picture too. We don't know who they thought he was and I am still kicking myself for not taking a shot with our camera. I am just not use to being a celebrity's wife.

3. No sights needed. Just walking around in Tokyo is interesting.

Fry's of Japan. Eight stories of anything and everything to do with electronics.

Stopping in at an arcade for little Street Fighter II action.

Mike is a little rusty.

Shinjuku district at night. We kept having to remind ourselves to look up. It is a vertical city.

Prayer cards at the temple in the Yoyogi Park. The cards are hung to a tree and collected by the monks and nuns each day who then present them to the priests.

2. Awesome Wedding Anniversary

in Shibuya. It's just fun to say it.

Ordering dinner on my touch screen menu. I am totally guessing. No letters just characters.

1. Sushi - We ate it every day.

And last but not least, an honorable mention goes to the Ghibli Museum in the suburb of Mitaka. I just loved it.

Standing with the Iron Giant in the roof top garden.