Sunday Afternoon at the Beach

Sunday afternoon is a busy time on the beach in Amed. Nadine and I took a walk down to the point along the black sand at the edge of this horseshoe of beach. I sat in the water as she sat on a big black volcanic rock where we could see all that was happening in the village. Nearby was a young couple sitting on some rocks. Sometimes they were close together but not touching. Other times they were on their own rocks, staring out at the ocean. Courting, Bali-style?

Just down the beach, a group of people dressed in their temple garb were doing a ceremony on the beach. There was an altar of sorts made of palm fronds close to the sea. We could see the priest blessing things with the holy water – always three times. People wearing their sarongs and sashes sat in the sand. I’m not sure the occasion. The day before we had seen a ceremony right on the edge of the road near a small stream. People were kneeling along the edge of the road in their finery. I think it was a baby ceremony. In Bali, children’s feet don’t touch the ground until they are 3 months old. With multi-generations living together, we often see the grandmothers holding the babies but an uncle or cousin or anyone else helps care for the children too.

Further down, there were local people swimming in the sea next to a few tourists wearing snorkels, fins and masks. The coral fills this cove and I’ve seen hundreds of fish of many varieties in my forays into the sea here. There are dive shops all along the street and a group of international divers were at the next table as we ate dinner last night, conversing in French and accented English, almost all smoking and with beer bottles all around. A chicken perched just above us all.

The big action was around a fishing boat that had just arrived. Men of all ages were helping to pull in the large green nets. Two men sat at the edge repairing holes with thin fishing line. There were lots of shouts as they wove the nets onto the shore hand over hand. There was a reason for their muscled bodies. At the same time, the boys swimming nearby found a new perch on the edge of the boat to practice their flips and dives. Earlier they had been jumping off an older boy’s shoulders. The scene could have been at any U.S. summer camp.

A woman approached in her sarong and sash carrying a basket of offerings. Oblivious to all the action around her, she carefully lit the incense and placed offerings on the boat balancing herself on the thin rails. On the shore, she left another offering on a big pile of netting. This morning as I write, another boat is unloading their cargo and reeling in the nets. I can hear their chatter. A boy of about 10 just came through the restaurant holding three big silver fish to bring to the kitchen. We’ve been eating fresh fish each night, grilled to a delicate perfection and covered with spicy Balinese sauce or garlic butter or a simple tomato sauce. Served with rice and sauteed vegetables, it makes for a tasty dinner. They have called the fish tuna and barracuda but I’m not sure they are the same varieties as what we name them since the fish seem much smaller.

Around the boats on the shore, mother hens lead their chicks through the tasty bits around and under the boats. Chickens and chicks are everywhere in Bali and whenever I hear the peeps, I’m right back at my classroom in the spring, hearing the peeping after the chicks hatch. There are also basket cages of roosters along the roads, the chorus I hear each day. The ones in the baskets are for cock fights. Technically illegal, cock fighting takes place in each village, I hear.

Further down the shore, there is the usual soccer game taking place on the beach. I’ve seen children playing soccer around the island and noticed that the little shops near the schools have balls for sale.

This being Monday, young children are dressed in their school uniforms, ready to hop onto a scooter or begin the walk to school. I’ve already greeted my new friend Wayan, this morning, who attends the junior high in the afternoon. And yes, I gave in and bought a handmade box made of palm fronds from her, filled with salt processed here on the beach. Each little stand has large bags of salt for sale. Processing happens during the dry season, so I haven’t seen it, but the evidence shows a huge quantity is made here.

And yes, I gave into the massage too. $5.00 bought an hour lying on a chaise on the beach. It wasn’t the quietest setting with the family’s toddler playing with a hose nearby, chatter from the older women sitting on the steps and a few tourists sipping drinks at the restaurant. My muscles were happy though.

Earlier that day, Nadine and I had done a mountain bike ride. We started near the top of a volcano in a forest. It was mostly a narrow dirt path to start, going steeply downhill with some occasional steep uphills. Nadine, being from the flat Netherlands, had her challenges but as we descended into the rice paddies and villages below, it was easier. We could see the trees where the abundant tropical fruit grows. Our guide pointed out the durians tied to the trees way up high. The ties are to prevent them from falling and smashing on the ground when they ripen as these fruits aren’t picked. They are famous for their locker room smells, and illegal in some taxis and hotels,but the inside is a creamy tasty sweet treat. They say when the durians fall, the sarongs go up. Such a pungent smell for an aphrodisiac!

Once again, seeing Bali by bike was great. This time we were the only guests and we were much further away from the roads most of the time. Children waved as we passed and we stopped for our snack of fresh bananas and rambutans (a prickly red fruit with a translucent middle) on the edge of the rice paddies. We could see the volcanoes in the distance, almost like a child’s drawing with their perfect symmetry. Our ride finished down an incredibly rutty road to a beautiful white sand beach. The water was a gorgeous aqua and the waves were fierce. As I waded out into the ocean, I got dragged under by a surprisingly big one, filling my bathing suit and hair and body with fine white sand. It was all worth it, though, as we ate our lunch by the sea.

My bags are packed this morning as Nadine and I share a ride south back to Sanur. Just a few more days in Bali before I fly to Thailand on Friday. Still time to soak up this reverent and sensual place.

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From Ubud to Amed

I shed a few tears as I left Ubud yesterday. After living in the family compound for over 10 days, I felt like I was part of the family. I had also grown accustomed to the other people that were staying there and, as many of you know, I don’t do goodbyes very well. Each day I shared meals with new friends, had a chat in the evening after our days to exchange experiences and greeted each other upon returning “home”. It was a busy time in Ubud and I’m a bit overwhelmed to write about all of it!

One day our threesome hired Abut, the oldest son in the family to take us to Lovina which is on the north shore of Bali. It was an all day trip up and over the mountains on twisty mountain roads. We stopped at a waterfall to hike out a bit. Like almost everywhere in Bali, there was no shortage of people wanting us to buy from their little stalls. The dialogue is always the same: “What’s your name? Where are you from? Where are you going? You like buy…. For you, I give good price.” Then, depending on the time of day, “First thing in the day, good luck, for you special price”. Or, “Slow day, for you special price”. Or a litany of descending prices without even any conversation.
To be fair, the Balinese are also very friendly, usually with a smile as I pass by or “Hello, where are you going?” just as a pleasantry.

As we sat at an outdoor table by the beach, with few tourists in sight, a woman first approached wearing a pile of folded sarongs on her head. (If you know the story Caps for Sale, she reminded me of the hat peddler). She proceeded to lay out her wares, making comments about their beautiful colors and her great prices. Then, a man joined her sharing his jewelry. Then there were three girls of ages 7 and 8 with their plastic bags of necklaces. “You like? You buy?”. As we ate, they all sat and watched and after we were finished, the real sales pitch began. I found a sarong that I liked and we did some furious negotiating starting at her outrageous price of 250 rupiah. I counter offered with 40, I think, since I knew the sarong prices. I ended up paying 65 for a batik sarong. Then, the real pressure began as she laid her sights on Nadine who had eyed a green sarong. The woman followed us to the car, laying sarongs on our laps leaning into the car. Nadine got the benefit of my purchase as the price went down to 50. She also got a new sarong.

At my new digs here in Amed on the coast, as we settled into chairs by the sea after a wonderful swim and some easy snorkeling, the sales pitches began again. First, it was the older woman offering massages. Then, there was a young girl who sat patiently in the sand nearby. Later, she started talking with me as Nadine read nearby. “Where are you from? What’s your name”. She was selling little heart shaped boxes filled with salt which is produced here in this village. She had written an explanation in English in a little notebook for me to read about earning money to go to school. I politely declined. Then, a young boy joined her. He was a persistent salesman with an answer to anything, selling necklaces. I engaged them both in a long conversation about their lives here and sharing pictures from home. Her favorite subject is English and his is sports. They are both in junior high but in different classes – one goes in the morning, the other, the afternoon. I’m sure they will be back again later today.

In Bali, children are first named by their birth order. First up is Wayan, next is Mede and so on. The girl was Wayan, the boy, Katuk, the fourth child. If there are more, they just start again. When a man becomes a father, he is then known as “father of Wayan”. There are no family names but everyone has a nickname. They are also given a name by the temple at a ceremony.

One night in Ubud, the three of us got dressed in our new sarongs and sashes and walked to the temple down the road. Formal dress is required to enter. We took a spot in the back as we watched women carrying in huge offerings of fruit and cakes piled into huge pyramids. Datar, the owner of our homestay, and I had a conversation yesterday morning about how the offerings have become more elaborate and expensive as he gets older (he’s my age). He is a natural storyteller and I read a book of stories collected by a British man who lived with Datar and his family many years ago.

Offerings are carried to the temple in woven baskets, placed on the altars and offered to the gods during the prayers, and then brought home to be eaten. Datar stole something from an offering as a child and he said it was especially delicious (forbidden fruit). When he was caught, he asked his grandmother why the food tasted better before it was brought to the temple. Her explanation was that the gods took the flavors.

The flavors for us were especially delicious the other day when we signed up for a cooking class. We went to the market with our guide, tasting and learning about the various fruits, vegetables and spices. Here there is a temple just for the market where vendors make their offerings each day. We stopped at a rice paddy to learn about the cycles of cooperative rice farming and the meetings next to the rice temple to resolve any issues. Then, we donned our aprons to begin the preparations for an incredibly delicious and huge meal. Many of the Balinese meals contain a special sauce made of chopped garlic, shallots, fresh ginger and tumeric, shrimp paste, chiles and some other ingredients that I wasn’t familiar with. We used a Balinese “blender”, a stone mortar and pestle, to grind up peanuts and the ingredients for a peanut sauce. We cooked fresh tuna in banana leaves over a wood fired steamer and grilled over coconut husks. We stir fried vegetables in coconut oil (a very fragrant process) and cooked bananas in coconut milk. I mixed the contents of a chicken satay with my hands and we formed the meat around bamboo sticks. All of our dishes were served on plates lined with banana leaves. I also saw those used as huge umbrellas by people walking along the side of the road. By the time we consumed so many dishes, we were all exhausted and full. It reminded me of Thanksgiving evening with the effort of cooking and the full bellies making it hard to do the dishes. In this class, all that was done by the help. Bliss.

Leaving Ubud with Rudy, Datar’s brother, we had a 3-4 hour car ride to the east coast where Nadine and I are staying for a few days. Marion joined us for the ride. We made a few stops along the way – twice for Rudy to make offerings at roadside temples to pray for a safe journey. One temple was across the street from the beach where people were kneeling on the sand in prayer. The other was as we entered the mountains. Rudy bought the offering from a vendor as we watched the monkeys cavort up in the trees above.

We stopped at a huge water palace where I got to walk from stone to stone in the water viewing the various monuments. The other stop was at an ancient village which is like the “old” Bali. They open their homes to share their two sided weavings and demonstrate how they do it all there from dying the fibres, spinning the yarn and weaving the cloth on hand-held looms. They also sell lonton, which are stories inscribed on palm leaves specially prepared for the process. Pictures are carved with sharp knives and then rubbed with a charcoal. They are detailed and beautiful and fold up into a little scroll. I’m sure I paid a good price.

Here in Amed, on the east coast, Nadine and I are each in our own little bungalow across the street from the beach and the restaurant facing the ocean. There is only cold water but there is a shower, a big bed, a flushing toilet and a little porch with chairs and a drying rack. From the cafe, you go down a couple of steps to the volcanic black sand (which is really hot so wear your shoes!). There are chaises to rest on and spider like boats lining the sand. These are used for both fishing in the early morning and to take divers out during the day. The fish here is freshly caught each day. Last night we had some grilled tuna with the characteristic Balinese chile paste on top. Fresh makes a big difference in fish and it was really tasty. Since we can’t drink the water here, we try various fruit drinks – pineapple, banana, lemonade – or the local Bintang beer. I have stayed healthy so far. In Ubud there was a big jug of bottled water I could use to fill my Nalgene bottle but here you have to buy water one bottle at a time. Instead I use my new steripen to kill the bugs with an ultraviolet light. It takes 45 seconds to clean a liter of water and saves both money and unnecessary plastic bottles which accumulate quickly in the heat.

Just off the beach, there is a coral fantasy. Tiny florescent blue fish dart along the shore and just further out – no more than 10 feet – are fish over a foot long. I recognize some from aquariums like yellow and black angel fish but they come in a rainbow of colors. My two favorites so far are a long, tapered bright yellow trumpet fish and a brilliant blue sea star with legs each over a foot long. Having rented snorkel and fins for my time here, I can just jump into the sea for a 10 minute snorkel to cool down. It’s a unique experience to snorkel and still hear the sounds of chanting from the temples or the gamelon music played on a restaurant sound system.

This morning, after a nice dip in the Bali Sea, Nadine and I walked up the steep hill nearby where we saw the sunset last night. We walked down to the next village where we found both a funky place to do yoga and a bike tour company. I’m signed up for a yoga class this afternoon and we are doing a bike tour tomorrow. Between things, the decisions involve whether to swim or sit, read or write, have the massage or buy the necklace, or where to take the next snooze. Beach time in Bali – I’m blessed.

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A Day in the Life in Ubud

I wake up each morning to a Balinese symphony. Unlike a Western orchestra, this one consists of the sounds of roosters crowing, birds singing, insects chirping, an occasional lizard’s song, a woman sweeping the compound floors with a palm frond broom, dogs barking, scooters passing by and the family in the kitchen preparing breakfast. I’m living in a guesthouse that is part of a family compound for all of about $20.00 a day. A tall wall faces the street but behind that wall are the many buildings that an extended family has shared for many years. When you enter from the street, barely wide enough for a car, you pass the kitchen to the right and greet whomever in the family is cooking. To the left, is Darta’s, the father’s, office, a desk on the platform where family members gather and chat. Just ahead on the left is another covered platform where an elderly uncle hangs out, sometimes helping to cut up food, other times asleep. This is also a ceremonial platform where bodies are laid out before cremation ceremonies and other family events. Continuing back away from the door, I follow a path lined with tropical plants on the left and a little cement pond on the right. The whole compound is open to the sky, so it can be a soggy walk when it rains.

The guest rooms are in the back. There are 3 floors with 3 rooms each. I’m on the second floor in the middle with neighbors from the Netherlands on either side. There is a large balcony/porch in front where we each have a rack for drying laundry and a sitting area. Being outside, it’s easy to get to know the neighbors. I struck up a friendship with Marion who lives downstairs, from the first day. She’s 71, originally from NYC but now of Panama, and traveling alone. We have eaten all of our dinners together, either at our own family’s restaurant (where we also start the day with breakfast – banana pancakes with fresh coconut and palm syrup with fresh fruit) or at a restaurant down the street in town. Since Nadine, my 25 year old neighbor, arrived from the Netherlands the other day, she has joined our merry band.

Marion wanted to buy a gong for her apartment in Panama so Darta arranged for his son to take us to an instrument maker this morning. We drove to a neighborhood outside of town, passing wood carvers, cement sculptures, and a variety of open air shops along the way. We entered the family compound and were taken to the back where there was a huge workshop. Men were making the gamelons – the colorful percussive instruments we heard at the dance and are part of every evening’s symphony here in Ubud. One man was using a drill to carve the intricate pictures, others were painting the details in bright red and gold paint. In the very back we entered a shop where there were huge and small gongs for sale as well as the gamelons, their hammers and some drums and flutes. Marion tried to bargain for a gong (all prices are negotiable here) but between the cost and the shipping, they were too expensive.

Later this afternoon, we stopped at a local music shop where we played with a huge variety of mostly percussion instruments. These are the times that my small bag and large shipping costs dash my desires. I could just imagine pulling some of these instruments out at school and the delight my students would have in making jolly noises.

On that walk, the three of us also discovered Bali Bhuda, a cafe and small shop that was very much like the Brattleboro Food Coop on a much smaller scale. I enjoyed a delicious lunch, complete with a chai/banana shake and fresh organic veggies. Bliss.

On another walk, Marion convinced me to try a fish pedicure. I put my feet into a tank of fish that eat dead skin cells; delicious for them and softer feet for me! Their nibbling felt like an electrical kind of buzzing until I got used to it. A half hour later, I pulled my feet out and was shocked at the effectiveness of the “treatment”.

Yesterday, as we were walking up the street, I convinced Nadine to have her first massage. It was a very basic setting – no fancy relaxing music except the sound of the birds and people and scooters going by – but the price was easy. It was about $7.00 for an hour. I think she’s a new massage convert.

We don’t spend all of our time together. I love the new yoga studio I found and have made the trek there for wonderful classes. Since yesterday was Saturday, there weren’t any classes so I decided to take myself for a hike. I found a 4 hour walk described in my guidebook that looked interesting that would take me to the same area where the yoga studio is. The directions warned that it might be challenging to find some of the paths or streets. They weren’t kidding!

I started out early before it got too hot. At one point, I headed down a path that roved around the backs of several family compounds. I spotted all colors of chickens and lots of Balinese dogs wandering with me. I ended up in some rice fields, greeting the local farmers and then realizing I was at a dead end. I navigated back to the street where I met a couple of American women. They looked at my map, told me I was crazy for walking so far and that the hill ahead was dangerous to walk due to the traffic. I hopped on the back of one of the scooters and got a ride down the hill. She made a mistake too, though, in misunderstanding the map and pointed out the wrong road. I headed out in the wrong direction, still an interesting walk but not where I had intended to go. Some who wander really are lost.

I met a young man along the road and showed him my map. He offered to take me through the rice fields and to the river for a nice view. I declined, not wanting to pay for his guiding and started out. Very quickly I realized I had no idea where to go and went back and said I’d take him up on his offer. It was a wise decision. He showed me through the fields and we talked a lot as his English was quite good. He is the father of two girls. His family compound has 15 people including his brother’s family. Men never leave but bring their wives into their family place.

About an hour later, sweating in the heat, we came to the river which was the destination of my original hike. It was worth the walk. The views down were of the river at the bottom and terraced rice fields. It was a brilliant green everywhere I looked. My guide helped me to descend down a steep and slippery path. When he said we should go all the way to the bottom, I hesitated as it was a scary route. Later, we decided to go back up and take a set of stairs to the river. That was a lot easier. We could hear screams on our descent and at the bottom, I saw several rafts of Japanese teenagers, splashing each other in a grand water fight.

We walked a kilometer or so north along the river’s edge, gradually ascending through fields of rice and tall grass. We startled one snake (and yes, there are poisonous ones here in Bali) which made me wonder again about this plan but all was fine. At this point when we were close to a village, I decided 4 hours and several miles of walking was enough in the mid-day heat. We called my guide’s brother to be my taxi, negotiating heavily about his guiding price and the taxi.

Just inside the village, we realized we wouldn’t be going anywhere any time soon. It was a holiday in the village and everyone for miles around was part of a huge procession to the temple. I stood to the side, the only Westerner around, as people of all ages passed in their temple finery. The gongs played as various groups walked by carrying giant animals, black and white umbrellas, golden casks, flowery offerings and yards and yards of fabric over their heads. I don’t know what it all meant but it was a fascinating sight.

That’s one of things I like about Bali, never knowing what’s around the next corner. Eventually, my guide’s brother showed up through the traffic that had backed up behind the procession and got me back to town. No wonder that massage felt so good!

I’ll add a few pictures here although they never seem to capture the whole experience. Add the smell of incense, the sounds of the gongs and the scooters and the sweet taste of palm syrup and coconut and that will get you close!

(I’ve heard that some of you who subscribe by e mail don’t see the pictures. Just go to the website and you’ll see a few. I wish I could post them all but internet access is prohibitive. I took almost 200 in just the last two days!)

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Biking, Dance and Yoga in Ubud

I can’t believe it. I just finished writing a long post and it disappeared when I hit publish. Expletive deleted here…

Things are different here than what we are used to at home. Blog posts disappear. Credit cards aren’t used anywhere except the fancy tourist shops. Plans are made to meet by talking and setting times. Instead of driving, I walk everywhere. I’ve seen people washing clothes and dishes in the water running through the ditches and I’ve seen others bathing and using them as a toilet. In the family compound, I learned to eat with my hands like the family does.

Ubud, though, is filled with westerners. Restaurants have not only Balinese food (quite delicious) but also western comfort food. It also has spas, shops filled with sarongs and souvenirs, taxi drivers on every stretch waiting for a fare (“Taxi?”) and yoga studios. Yesterday I tried one out with a couple of young people I met who had never taken a class. We did a beginner’s class at a studio in town that was fine but only exciting by its setting.

This morning, I walked almost an hour to take a class at a different studio. I got lost again, easy to do in this place with no street signs and “roads” that are paths through rice fields. I was about ready to give up this morning after knocking on doors and asking for directions when I spotted two people carrying yoga mats. Sometimes the universe does provide just what you are looking for. The class was worth the trouble. It was held in a studio high above a rice field surrounded by tropical vegetation and with windows open to catch the occasional Bali breeze. It was an intense 2 hour advanced class but I left feeling both relaxed and invigorated.

On the way back, I stopped at the Blanco Renaissance Museum. There I saw paintings famous for their depictions of Balinese women with gorgeous breasts. Apparently, carrying offerings and other things (I’ve seen women with cement blocks on their heads at construction sites!) develops the pectoral muscles in a very nice way. Women no longer walk around half naked but they still carry things on their heads everywhere.

I’ve been to two Balinese dances recently where I saw other women dressed in elaborate, colorful costumes. The first one was accompanied by about 60 bare chested men, chanting in a sort of acapella chorus of percussion sounds and melodies. The second one had a gamelon orchestra. These are percussion instruments much like a glockenspiel played with axe like hammers. There were two young women dancing as spritely deer and a few young boys who were the monkeys wearing masks. I could see them cavorting backstage looking very monkey like without the masks too.

The first night I also got to see the Fire Dance. After the first, opera-like dance was finished, a man dumped a basket of coconut husks on the pavement in the middle, proceeded to pour a gallon or so of fuel on top and then lit it. Fire leaped up into the air as a young male dancer entered trancelike. He got to the pile and kicked the burning pieces right toward me, landing just a foot or so away. Then, to our astonishment, he started walking on the burning coals. He kicked the coals into all four directions, they were swept up and then it started all over again until the coals burned down. Life is definitely different here.

One of my favorite ways of experiencing a place is by bike. I signed on for a bike tour the other day. A dozen of international cyclists rode in a van to the top of a volcano. We had a breakfast buffet before riding down the mountain about 25 kilometers. We stopped at a coffee plantation for tastings and a tour of native plants. I saw a man roasting coffee in a wok (not quite like your roaster, Jackie), tasted different coffees and teas, saw which plants produce which spices (like cinnamon, cardomon, tumeric and vanilla) and got to sample my favorite fruits again.

We also stopped at a village family compound. This one, like all family compounds in Bali, is laid out in a specific way but had dirt floors, pigs and chickens in back and a rustic fire fueled kitchen. Our guide told us of Balinese customs and ceremonies like the tooth filing ceremony held when children reach puberty, and yes, it hurts!

When we reached the lowest part of the ride, having passed through several villages, past school children calling hello, dogs wandering by, seeing rice being harvested and grown and the little shops along the way selling fuel for scooters in Absolut vodka bottles among other things, we were given the option of riding the last 10 kilometers or getting in the van. I was one of two who opted to bike to the restaurant for our Balinese lunch buffet. It was a hot uphill ride but I was glad to still be on the bike, despite the sweltering heat. I admit I was also glad to be riding much stronger than the Dutch man who came with me. Every time we waited for him I had a chance to take another pictures. We were applauded as we came in for lunch. Who were these crazy sweaty people? Ah, that would be me.

Having lost my writing already today, I think I’ll end here. Time to get back to my leisurely Ubud life, living moment to moment and day to day. Don’t worry. I know my way home from here.

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Holiday weekend in Bengli

I have been very fortunate to have the chance to experience the “real” Bali. Thomas said yesterday that I have seen 99% more of the country than most tourists and I have only been here a week. I am now back in the land of the internet and westerners but for the last couple of days I was one of 3 white faces in a village. Describing my experiences there as “unique” seems like a huge understatement.

Before we left for Bengli, Sylvia and I took a taxi to Denpassar to purchase fresh fruit to bring to the family. We went to the traditional market where we were packed in with hundreds, if not thousands, of other shoppers – no Westerners that I could see. Much of the market was outside with stalls packed together and a narrow alleyway between them. In this small space, people jockeyed for positions to choose their fruit or materials for their offerings. There is a huge market for incense, flowers and bamboo to make the daily offerings. Baskets of flowers were filled with colorful blossoms – pink, bright purple, orange and yellow. There were ready made bamboo hanging offerings to buy, a bit more ornate than usual for the holiday, as well as bamboo sheets to make your own.

Before we purchased our fruit, we went across the street to the part of the market where fabric is sold. Sylvia led us to a shop with the most gorgeous samples of colorful fabrics of cotton and rayon. We looked through many samples before choosing some. I picked out my typical blue/green/purple colors to make a pair of capris and a twirly skirt for traveling and dancing. Sylvia got several fabrics to make a variety of clothing including some white lacy fabric to make a new blouse to wear to the temple. Back in Sanur the next morning, we visited a tailor who took lots of measurements and helped us decide exactly what we wanted. When I get back there in a couple of weeks, I’ll have not only what I planned, but also a matching shirt and a dress made from fabric Sylvia already had. Total cost for the fabric was about $5.00 if I remember. Too bad I can’t carry more home. I also picked up a ready made sarong for another $8.00. They can be worn at the temples but also can serve as an impromptu towel, shawl or table cloth among other uses.

The vendors were generous with samples of their fruit. Much like wandering the aisles of Costco before the Super Bowl in Hawaii, Sylvia and I ate our way through the market. Instead of chips and dips, I tried many varieties of fruits, mangosteen (which I have already developed a passion for), snake fruit with its reptilian skin, little bananas, rose like dragon fruit, huge breadfruit, little prickly red fruits with an opaque white center and a white mango. The ones that are considered special (which we purchased for our gift) are apples still with their product of Washington, USA stickers on their sides. No need to try them.

As our purchases added up, the bags we brought were getting quite heavy. No problem. There were young girls, maybe 10-12 years old, who carry big baskets on their heads for a small fee. We ended up with a delightful young lady, pointing out things we might be interested in and carrying our things with a big, beautiful smile. We wandered past other stalls selling raw chickens with their heads and feet intact, children’s clothing, remotes for electronics, and big colorful balloons for the children. The crafts market was closed, which was just as well, as my senses were already on overload. Our girl found us a taxi and we were on our way.

That evening, Sylvia and I skipped dinner and indulged in massages and a body scrub in a nearby spa. After a yoga class in a bamboo hut by the sea in the morning, we were relaxed and ready for the holiday with the relatives.

We drove north about an hour or so to Bangli where Thomas’ Balinese family has their family compound. It looked somewhat like a suburban street lined with fences until you opened the gate. There are separate buildings within the compound holding different bedrooms, a kitchen and a shrine. Everything is open to the air and there are many plants lining the walkways. Here, everyone takes their shoes off outside the buildings and then there is a step up (to foil the low gods). We were greeted by Meme, the matriarch with a huge smile and sense of humor. She doesn’t speak English but her warmth comes through in any language. She is quick with a pinch or a poke as she teases. Thomas said when he was first there as a student, she sent him to the market to look for “big breasts”. As the people in the market laughed at his request, he realized he had been had. I felt very welcome there.

The visits to the relatives had already happened before we arrived so there was time to hang out before the evening festivities began. The children were watching T.V. so Sylvia pulled out some cards and we taught them Lucky 7 and gin rummy. They speak a little English but it was still quite an ordeal and Thomas ended up translating the finer points. It felt a lot like Thanksgiving afternoon in any family – people hanging out, sharing stories, teasing each other. There were several generations, including a baby who was passed around. The cousins laughed and teased, pulling each others fingers and even doing some thumb wrestling. I got in on that and was soundly defeated.

Thomas, Sylvia and I needed to pray at the family shrine as a show of respect. One of the relatives is a high priestess and she led us through the Hindi ceremony. I was dressed in Sylvia’s temple clothes and we sat barefoot at the shrine. We each had a stick of incense burning in front of us. We held our hands above our heads in prayer holding a variety of items – flowers of different colors, ancient Chinese coins, a bamboo offering filled with flowers and ferns. Each represents something (that I can’t remember). Then we were sprinkled with holy water and 3 times water was poured in our cupped hands (right hand on top) and sipped. The fourth time you put the water on your head and the last you rub it on your face. Then you get a small bit of rice to stick to your forehead, your temples and your chest. You swallow a few grains raw. Ceremony complete.

The next morning, we went to an ancient temple with hundreds of other people to pray again. We were still the only westerners. I noticed some of the children staring at us but mostly we were ignored. This time, we repeated the ceremony 3 times in different outdoor spaces with many others young and old. Even the smallest children participate, holding their hands out to sip the water. Offerings were placed in baskets on the altars and then gathered up to take home later. We each had our own collections of flowers, coins and the bamboo nosegays as well as a stick of incense for each place. No wonder the market was so busy with its sales.

The time I was really out of my normal league was in the evening. As it got dark, we walked in our special clothes to the crossroads in the village. The women had offering baskets on their heads, the children all dressed up for the occasion with little boys wearing head scarves to cover their 3rd eyes, girls in sarongs and sash ties and the men dressed in white. The crowds found places along the road, each village in one of the 4 directions in the middle. All of a sudden, the music began with gongs and flutes and drums. The men paraded in with a huge puppet bull. There were crowds everywhere and suddenly there was screaming. Some men were in trances in the “parade”, one eating a live chicken, but as the music played, the incense offerings scenting the air, various men and women would suddenly be possessed by evil gods and start screaming and aggressively charging the crowd. Big men in black were tasked with keeping them and the audience safe and would wrangle them. Shortly afterwards, the women would be slowly dancing and the men wandering around, sometimes becoming aggressive again. I was watching from a place up on some steps but I was still scared at times. I spoke with a young woman the next day and asked her what it was like to be a child in that village at these celebrations. She admitted fear when she was younger but is fine now. Thomas said that was one of the tamer evenings. I’m glad I got the beginner version.

Yesterday, on the way back, Thomas and Sylvia met with a couple of their friends for lunch. One, an older German man, is making a film about Bali and the other is a renowned mask maker from England. Later, we sat with a couple who run a textile business, creating top of the line fabrics and supporting local weavers and dyers. As exotic as my travel seem to people at home, these are the people who are really living the expat life, creating lives in interesting and challenging places. Bali does seem to grow on people and many have made lives here in Ubud, a place known for its many cultural arts. There are crafts people and art galleries everywhere, as well as dance performances, clay classes and batik classes. Ubud also has several spas and places for yoga. It is the biggest center for tourists and has its share of touristy gift shops and hundreds of guest houses and B&B’s.

I’m settled into a guesthouse in a family compound. I have already met other travelers and had two invitations to share a table at dinner. Last night, I sat with a young couple from Canada, already 6 months on the road. This morning I woke up early and walked through Ubud before most of the shops were open and things were a little cooler and quiet. I saw parents dropping their children at school by scooter, girls practicing soccer, and shop keepers putting out their daily offerings. I visited the monkey sanctuary before the tour buses arrived, wandering the mossy lanes where hundreds of monkeys groomed each other, nursed their babies and ate sweet potatoes and coconuts.

I’m writing at an outdoor organic cafe situated in fields of rice paddies. Here, everyone is white except the servers but I can hear French, Dutch, German, Aussie/New Zealand English, and other heavily accented English. I had an avocado,egg pizza with a banana, mango smoothie and an extra ice tea while I wrote. I got really lost getting here, wandering along rice paddy canals that narrowed to a single path, geckos scurrying into the bushes as I walked and sweating in the heat. I asked several rice farmers for directions when I realized I had must have missed the turn and was offered coconut water from each of them.

Now, it’s time to find my way back to my room and the internet to post this. I hope I find a faster way back as it’s very warm and muggy. Thanks for reading this long post and for your comments and e mails. It’s always nice to hear from home in such a different place. The pace should slow down a bit while I’m here. I hope you enjoy your vicarious time in Bali too!

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Hanging Ten and the Hash

Pity my poor thighs. I knew they would get a workout in the mountains of Hawaii and Nepal, but I had no idea how hard they were going to work here in Bali. If they hadn’t been trained, I’m not sure I would have made it through yesterday as well as I did.

I started the day with a quick breakfast with Sylvia. We met up with two of her expat friends for a paddle board/surfing lesson on the beach here in Sanur. I had seen paddle boards in Santa Cruz this fall and in Hawaii. Now it was my turn to give it a try.

We started by standing on the surprisingly stable boards and paddling out to where the waves break. It took some balancing but I was able to stay on the board until the first wave came toward me and I plopped into the sea. There was a leash connecting me to the board so it (or me) wouldn’t get lost and I hopped back on, this time in the kneeling paddling position. Our teacher, a young man with a good way with bule (foreigners), helped us each get ready for riding a wave. Having been in the outrigger canoe in Hawaii, I knew the position in the water is important as well as furious paddling to get onto the wave when it came. On my first wave, I stayed down on my knees, paddling for all I was worth (my arms got a workout too), and felt victorious as the wave carried me almost all the way back to shore. Wow, that was fun! I paddled back out for my next turn.

Over the course of several waves, I took my fair share of dunkings. One time I was too far forward and caught the tip of my board and went down in the churning water. I flashed back in my mind to the huge surf in Hawaii and had even more respect for the surfers there. These waves were tame, enough for a novice, but not overwhelming. After a few tries on my knees, our teacher encouraged us to stand up, yelling “Stand Up! Stand Up!” as the wave carried us. My first try ended with me flying off the board but eventually I was able to balance myself precariously and with shaky legs on top of the wave. I wouldn’t win any prizes for form but I did it! We spent a couple of hours paddling out and riding the waves back to shore. A few times I succeeded in standing and I got much more comfortable falling off the board. It took a huge amount of energy to clamber up, paddle and balance on the waves. If I did this every day, I’d be in great shape!

Soaking wet and with huge grins on our faces, we drove back to Sylvia’s. I returned to my guest house, took a quick swim in the pool, and packed up my bags. I carried them around the corner to Thomas and Sylvia’s house to settle in to their guest room, a separate building with an outside bathroom. We were going to meet up again at 3 to drive to the Hash. Sylvia headed off to work.

The day before, Sylvia had taken me to the office by bicycle. Although the offices are ready in the upstairs part of the building, the rest of the building is under construction. It will become their house (they are renting here) but lots of work needs to be done first. On my way back alone on my bicycle, I got completely lost. The streets are narrow and full of scooters, driving on the left side. Traffic is completely crazy. The center line is just a suggestion, cars and scooters passing each other with only centimeters between. The noise of the engines is a constant and it takes vigilance not to ride on the wrong side of the road as you turn a corner. I decided not to worry about where I was going and just enjoy the ride. I didn’t have a schedule to meet and there was so much to see!

One of the distinctive things about Bali is the offerings everywhere. There are statues along the roads, little bamboo baskets filled with flowers, incense and other things placed on the ground (for the low gods) or up high on posts. The streets are filled with little shops open to the air carrying a few groceries, some tables for eating or scooter parts and gas in bottles. As you get to the tourist areas near the beach, there are lots of souvenir stands with clothing waving in the breeze and swimming floats for the children, just like in so many other places. There are also lots of spas, massage and reflexology places. I decided to stop for lunch at an open air restaurant and bought some very spicy chicken fried rice and a bottle of water. My bill was about $2.50. Next door was a spa with several young women sitting outside chatting. I parked my bike and went in. Ever since I finished the Northern Tier ride I have wanted to treat myself to a massage. After all those hours in planes, I decided it was a good way to start my time in Bali.

The menu of services was several columns long. I opted for the 60 minute aromatherapy massage with lavender. I was led into a room where I was given a cup of ginger tea to drink while my feet soaked in warm water filled with flower petals. The woman massaged my feet with scented soap. After, I settled myself onto her table where I blissed out under the therapist’s able hands. The cost was all of $10 including a generous tip.

All that muscle relaxing was almost completely undone yesterday. After a bit of rest, we headed north for the Hash. North in Bali means towards the mountains – not a geographical north. We picked up Shane, a coworker on the way, and were in the car for maybe an hour. I was mesmerized driving along, eyes wide open, mostly to the traffic. Cars came at us in our lane, scooters buzzing around everywhere, as Thomas gave Sylvia directions. Turns were especially exciting, going across the traffic to each road. The sights out the window were of stores, homes, and businesses lining the busy, narrow roads. It was a long time before we reached any sort of countryside. Thomas pointed out the many shrines that were now wrapped in black and white checkered cloth. This is for the huge holiday of Galungen, a 10 day new year’s/thanksgiving sort of festival that will culminate on Saturday. It is about good winning out over evil and the black and white symbolizes the balance between the two. Everyone returns home to their villages to celebrate with the gods who come to earth to celebrate. On the last of 10 days, people give thanks and say goodbye to the gods.

As part of the celebration, huge bamboo poles with a curved top are placed at the gates. These are called penjors and are decorated with lanterns and flowers. Several of the ones I saw enroute were quite ornate. It’s kind of like decorating a Christmas tree and will be taken down and burned later as an offering.

We made it to the Hash late. These are international events that were started many years ago by British expats at local hash houses. It’s a lot like a cycling group in that people gather at a regular time to run or walk the course. There is a long version and a short version laid out in advance by bits of shredded paper and occasionally, silver paint on the foliage. Thomas and Shane went out ahead of us to run as Sylvia and I brought up the back with the other participants already on the trail. I had no idea what we were getting into!

The route started out fairly innocently through jungled paths. We passed a cow tied up here or there and simple dwellings in the woods. Soon though, we were headed downhill through incredibly slippery brown mud grabbing onto whatever foliage we could find to keep us from sliding into the water at the bottom. Crossing the slippery rocks was a challenge as was trying to get uphill on the muddy paths on the other side. The temperatures were probably in the 80’s and the humidity was thick. Between our efforts and the weather, the sweat was sliding down my face and wiping it away with my muddy hands made me look a bit like I was on a Survivor show. It sure felt like one! I put away my glasses before too long as I was likely to lose them sliding down my nose on the sweat. I was also glad for the wipes in my backpack so that I could clean my hands at times enough to take some pictures.

Eventually, we made our way out of the jungle to a beautiful set of rice paddies. The green was brilliant from the young rice and fields with shrines went off in all directions. We followed the bits of paper through the paths, seeing rice in various stages of planting and greeting the people in the fields along the way. I can’t imagine what they were thinking as they watched us pass.

After a couple of hours or so, the trail led down a steep ravine in the jungle to cross more water. It was about a 8-10 foot drop without much to step on or hold onto. We tried to scout an alternative route but found none. Seeing no alternative, we headed down and somehow navigated our way across and up the steep bank on the other side. Slippery and triumphant, we started to get a little punchy as we followed the easy trail through the village back to our starting place. We could hear the drunken cheers from the other participants celebrating the finish with beer (hmmm, just like some cyclists I know) and joined in with the crowd of mostly Balinese and a few expats.

We were the last ones in but discovered on our arrival that Thomas was missing. Shane said he had left him not far from the end. It was getting dark and Sylvia was worried that he had fallen somewhere or was lost. Knowing he is fluent in Balinese helped somewhat but how to find him was a big question. Eventually, after a couple went out on scooters to search, he came in. He had taken a wrong turn (easy to do) and had ended up bushwacking through some bamboo forest causing an intense itching from insects and scratches. He wasn’t concerned but we were grateful that he was back.

After a nice dinner back in Sanur, I settled in to my little cottage for a welcome slumber. This morning I woke again to the sound of rain but after an outside shower in the rain (an interesting combination) the sun is back out. Thomas had a business meeting here at breakfast where I had my first taste of a durian. This fruit is forbidden in many taxis and hotels for its pungent smell. I found that if you can ignore the smell, the taste is quite creamy and sweet. Sylvia and I spent some time going through piles of travel brochures and one of my tasks this morning is to make some phone calls to arrange my time in other parts of Bali.

We will be going to celebrate Galungan with Thomas’ Balinese family tomorrow in a village north of here. He lived with them over 30 years ago and has stayed close. After, I’ll head to Ubud for some time. My other task is to get my laundry done. I have been handwashing but with the constant rain and humidity, laundry is hard to dry. This morning I walked up the street and left my clothes with a woman and her children. They should be ready in a couple of hours before the holiday festivities begin. Imagine asking someone to do your laundry on Christmas Eve. I just squeaked in.

My thighs this morning are not happy when I go up and down the little steps here. Maybe I should head back to one of those spas. Just a thought…

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Hello Bali

Dealing with lots of zeros after being awake for over 24 hours is a challenge. Unable to find Indonesian rupees in either Honolulu or my quick dash through the Seoul airport, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to pay for a taxi ride to my guest house when I landed. I needn’t have worried. There were at least a dozen money changers at the airport here, all calling out to me and it was almost 1 a.m. I chose the one that had an offering with burning incense and flowers by his stand. I was supposed to meet my friend Thomas, who was arriving at the same time from Jakarta but somehow we missed each other and I ended up with one of the many taxi drivers jockeying for my attention. The cost was 100,000 rupees, which sounds like a lot but is only about $10.00. When I put the bills together from my wad in the back seat, I realized I was missing a few zeros but I figured it out in time.

The driver had some trouble finding this place in the narrow jungly streets of Sanur. As we got close, I spotted Sylvia under an umbrella in the pouring rain, concerned that I hadn’t found Thomas. It is a gift to have friendly faces in such a different place. Tom worked with them in Vermont many years ago in their spice business and I knew them from teaching at the school that their children attended. They have long and deep connections in Bali which became even more clear as I shared breakfast with them at their nearby house this morning. We had two fruits that were delicious, rice and vegetables and sipped both ant’s nest tea, which is supposed to cure anything but AIDS, and a tumeric drink. Sylvia has piles of information of places to visit and see here and they seem to have friends doing all kinds of interesting things. I’m glad I have 3 weeks!

I spent yesterday flying Korean Air. Penny brought me to the airport early to avoid the traffic, under a beautiful full moon. As soon as I stood in the longest and slowest ever security line, I realized I was one of only a handful of white people. Planes were leaving for Japan and Korean at that early hour. Once onboard the huge plane, I looked around and saw I was the only white person. Most, I think, were vacationers returning to Korea after holidays in Hawaii. Announcements were made in Korean first and then heavily accented English. When they brought my lunch, (meals still being served on international flights along with free headsets, drinks and paper slippers), the flight attendant gave me an instructional sheet. Add rice to the bowl (with bean sprouts, meat and some other things), add chili paste, add sesame oil, stir. My seat mates laughed at me trying to mix things with a spoon. They took my bowl and worked it with a fork for several minutes. They spoke no English but we shared bits of our stories with sign language. When I took the instruction sheet as a souvenir, they laughed again and we took pictures of this crazy American. I better get used to being the odd one out.

I watched 3 full movies in the inflight system as well as a documentary about the volcanoes of Hawaii. It was almost 20 hours in the air during the two flights with a quick dash through the airport in Seoul, just making my connection. I spotted a quartet of young classical musicians in the airport there. Everything was clean and slick with a heavy preponderance of “fancy” stores like Gucci and fine jewelry.

My room here is perfect. It has a canopy bed with fresh flower petals on it, a little chair and clothes armoire, a basic bathroom (with hot water) and a beautiful carved wooden door. Outside, there are fountains running, a courtyard and a tiny kitchen where I can make tea. All this for about $30.00.

I’m off for a bike ride around the town with Sylvia in a few minutes so I’ll end here for now. I’m taking advantage of the sunshine during this rainy season. Apparently it rains for an hour or two each day and it was pouring when I arrived last night. No complaints here though. Muggy humidity and sunshine in February is fine with me!

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Goodbye Hawaii

Sue is on her way to the airport to fly back to Vermont. The Superbowl party is over. The sushi and Korean ribs are all gone. The extra chips and guacamole put away. My bags are all packed, ready for an early getaway at 6 tomorrow morning. I’ve spoken with friends and family today on the phone before that phone gets put away until June. The 3G on my ipad shuts off tomorrow and I’ll be back at the mercy of internet cafes and wireless hotspots.

Penny made sure that our last days in Hawaii were not idle ones. Yesterday we started the morning visiting a lagoon where 6 male dolphins made their home. The women who work with them there gave us lots of time and attention, answering our questions and showing us the life of her wards there. We also fed 2 Hawaiian sea turtles that will be released into the ocean sometime next year.

As we left, we had to climb up a small set of stairs. Our thighs reminded us of how we had started our day the day before with a climb up the 996 stairs of Coco Head. Like Diamond Head, Coco Head is a volcanic mountain that juts up on the horizon facing the sea. During WWII, men were stationed at the top as lookouts. In order to get up there, they ran a funicular trolley up the side. Now, the trolley is long gone but the trestle steps and rails are there, albeit not in the best condition. Unlike Diamond Head, there were few tourists who attempt the steep climb. It starts out fairly gradually and then is more like a ladder straight up to the top. The many athletes in this area use it as a training place (much like the stairs at the ski jump that I trained on before I left home). That training certainly helped but I was still a sweaty mess when I triumphantly reached the top with its 360 degree view. It was worth the effort! We could see the bay where we had snorkeled the day before, the view of the city and Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean on all sides. We searched for the whales that are often off the coast with our binoculars but without success.

The hike down was more of a challenge for me. With slippery dirt and gravel and some rough steps, we had to sidestep down parts. I challenged myself to walk on the trestles where there was a 20 foot drop underneath (something we bypassed on the way up) and celebrated quietly in my head when I made it across.

This morning, we did get to see the whales as we did a 2 1/2 hour hike around the perimeter of Diamond Head along with many Sunday athletes running, walking and biking. We could see several blow spouts and some of the humpbacks weaving their way through the water off the coast. I love seeing them out there. There were lots of surfers in the water as well, catching the waves. The beaches were full of people settled in for the day by the water and the shops of Waikiki were busy as usual. We had done some exploring there a couple of times having questions answered at the Apple store and sampling at the Honolulu cookie store (twice, I confess).

Judy had asked that we go to an authentic Hawaiian luau while we were here. On Friday night we went to Paradise Cove for a fun evening. We got there as they opened at 5 for the “games”. We each got a braided palm frond with flowers in our hair, matching turtle tattoos on our ankles, a turn at spear throwing and a calm ride in a canoe in the lagoon there. We were given shell necklaces and two free drinks while we wandered the gorgeous grounds with musicians playing for our entertainment. Before dinner, there was a ceremony with beautiful girls and muscled men who pulled the cooked pig from the pit. We ate outside with a huge buffet of mostly delicious foods to choose from – pork, chicken, fish, salads and a variety of desserts both healthy (fresh fruit) and decadent (coconut and chocolate cake). During dinner, there was lots of entertainment with the traditional hula dances as well as a variety of Polynesian dances and music. We all started to fade about 8:30 and slipped out a little early to beat the traffic home and get to bed early. There is always another busy day waiting for us here.

Tomorrow, the alarm will go off early but this time I won’t be climbing any mountains or swimming in the sea. The day has come to head off for the next chapter of this adventure – 3 weeks in Bali. I have a long 11 1/2 hour flight to Seoul, Korea and then another 7 1/2 to Bali. I’ve put a couple of movies on my ipad, have a couple of books to read, music to listen to and sleep to catch up on.

My next post will be from south of the equator, somewhere I’ve never been, and the other side of the Pacific. It’s scary, exciting, and all new. Thanks to all of you for your support and comments and I apologize for not being able to respond to them all. I’m ready now to move on, after a great time here in Hawaii. Now, if only the Patriots had won the Superbowl, life would be all good.

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Camp Penny – Oahu

Before I left for my first cross-country bike ride in 2008, I had many moments of anxiety. Could I really ride over 3000 miles? What would it be like to travel for 8 weeks? Who were these women I would be living with across the country?

I never dreamed that those Southern Tier women would become some of my closest friends. This week (and last), I’ve had the privilege of spending time at Penny’s beautiful home in Honolulu with Judy, Sue and until yesterday, our honorary ST member, Denise. Penny has kept us on a busy schedule and it’s all good. From our delicious fresh fruit filled breakfasts in the morning to our chocolate acai berries for desert (they are full of healthy antioxidants so the calories don’t count), our days have been filled with activity.

Today, for example, we started our day snorkeling in a gorgeous horseshoe shaped bay. We could walk right into the water, put our heads down and see huge and colorful fish, right near shore. I was amazed at how many we could see with so little effort. There was a big sea turtle rescued right near our spot on the sand with 2 fish hooks and line in its mouth. The crowds gathered as the turtle was turned on his back and covered with a silver space blanket waiting for the marine rescue to arrive. We learned later that the staff had named the turtle Stupid as this was the 3rd time this year he had been rescued.

From one beach, we drove to another at the Outrigger Canoe club. Penny had arranged for Kala, a man known for his expertise on the water, to take us out in a 4 person outrigger canoe to ride the waves. We took turns paddling out into the ocean (with a whale and sea turtle just beyond). Following Kala’s instructions, we waited to catch the biggest waves and ride them back to the shore. It was a thrill to ride in with the power of the wave underneath us (and not like the 30 foot ones we saw the other day!) and just as thrilling to ride over them back out away from shore. The dips up and down were like some sort of amusement water park ride and we got just as wet from the splash.

After a long and easy ocean swim, we showered and settled ourselves at the beachfront restaurant to enjoy drinks and the sunset, complete with the “green flash” as the sun disappeared. Just another day at Camp Penny.

Yesterday was just as full. We had an early start for the drive to Pearl Harbor. I had goosebumps right from the start listening to the first person accounts of the survivors on my audio guide. The museum was full of information and artifacts and the audio guide supplemented the exhibits with interviews and background history. It was a personal experience as well as my parents had visited there several years ago. I wish I could ask my dad his memories of that fateful day as he signed up for Navy not long afterward, even before he finished high school. He crossed the Pacific in a Navy ship where I will be flying in just a few days.

We took a boat out to the Arizona memorial, a structure built over the sunken battleship where over 900 men lie underneath in their watery resting place. The crowds were respectfully quiet and many of us were moved to tears thinking of the hell that so many suffered that day and in the following years. It was an informative and moving experience there at Pearl Harbor.

From there, Penny took us to Chinatown where we poked around the markets, tried the infamous Spam/rice/seaweed combination (surprisingly good), saw piles of shrimp, and had lunch at a Dim Sum restaurant where we were some of the few white people. I’m not sure exactly what we ate, but it was all delicious.

No, the day wasn’t over yet! Off we went to a “little hour hike to a waterfall”. After an hour and a half of hiking through mud, over serious roots, over a stream and up several stairs, we still hadn’t reached the waterfall and had to head back so Denise could catch her flight home.

We made one more quick stop to watch the hang gliders soaring from the cliffs. They stayed in the air swooping with the currents as we enjoyed the amazing views of the folded mountains that reached close to the sea. Just another day at Camp Penny.

All of this wonderful time with friends is challenging me to think of crossing the Pacific myself on Monday for my visit to Bali. Last night, I suffered nightmares, waking Judy up with my moaning. Thinking about traveling in foreign countries without my friends suddenly seemed like a crazy idea. With the light of day, though, I know that part of this adventure is to stretch my comfort level. Like leaving for the Southern Tier ride, little do I know of the people I’ll meet, the places I’ll see and the experiences I will have. It’s time to keep the faith, enjoy my days here and then move on. As my dad used to say, “Every day is a gift and you have to live them all”. That’s my plan.

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