Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nong Khai, Thailand

Monday morning I packed my bags again and headed to Don Muang International Airport for my flight out of Bangkok. After an hour long flight, I arrived in Udon Thani and took a van for an hour long drive to Nong Khai. Nong Khai is a town in the Northeast of Thailand right on the Mekong River.

Our first stop was the Friendship Bridge, which is the border crossing to Laos. With the exception of the driver, another girl and myself - everyone got out at this stop. The girl, Rachel, and I introduced ourselves to each other and proceeded to find out we were both staying at the same place, doing the same yoga course. Rachel and I finally arrived at the Mut Mee Guesthouse, a lovely place at the end of a lane consisting of some thatch roof bungalows, some little houses and some patio areas overlooking the Mekong River and Laos in the near distance.

It was an intense week. Four of us, Jesse & Mical from Canada, Rachel from Ireland and I, signed up for a 7 day intensive yoga course. I ended up doing this course at Pantrix based on the recommendation from my friend Teba. Our days were long, yoga practice twice a day, theory, meditation and more. At times it was difficult both physically and mentally but I am so happy I did the course. Pancho and Beatrix, who run the course, are incredibly special people and I am blessed that I could spend some time learning with them.

So along with lots of yogaing, it was a fairly quiet week. Breakfasts and dinners overlooking the Mekong, strolls along the river and through the markets, and a few nights hanging out at Gaia, the floating bar and lounge.

We celebrated Loi Krathong Festival. The festival is to venerate the river goddess and for good luck. It is also to venerate Buddha and symbolic of letting go of one's grudges and anger so one can start life again fresh and new. Very interesting. Rachel and I made our own Krathongs. Krathongs are little shrines out of pieces of banana trees that are decorated in banana leaves, flowers, incense and candles. The Krathong is lit, a wish or prayer is made and then the Krathong is launched into the river. It was a full moon and a magical night with all these shrines and candles floating down the river and the smell of incense permeating the air.

We finished our course on Monday and on Tuesday it was another day of sad goodbyes. For me it was time to go down to Bangkok again and off I went.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bangkok, Thailand - Part 2

Sunday I got on the Skytrain and went down to the river where I caught a tourist ferry boat and took a bit of a tour. We passed the luxury hotels, Chinatown, some Wats (temples), lots of dilapidated looking buildings and the Memorial Bridge. I got out at the stop for the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, where the sacred Emerald Buddha is kept.

I first stopped for lunch at The Fishermans Seafood Restaurant, where I had a fantastic seafood curry while overlooking the river. After lunch I went off towards the palace, I walked past hundreds of street vendors, got caught in an afternoon downpour but I eventually made it to the grounds of the Palace and the Wat. The Palace buildings glittered with gold and the gardens had beautifully manicured trees and lawns. It almost felt like being in Disney World - it was so clean!

I went to Wat Phra Kaeo first and I bought some incense, gold leaf, a candle and a lotus blossom. I have never prayed in a Buddhist temple but I sort of watched what the locals were doing and went for it - it is quite a beautiful ritual. One lights the incense and holds the incense, the flower and the unlit candle between your hands in prayer. After you have said your prayer, you take the gold leaf and stick it on one of the Buddhas in the prayer area. The prayer area is outside in an open courtyard or covered by a small roof, it is not in the main temple where these rituals take place for the common people. After saying my prayers I went to look around and saw the famous Emerald Buddha.

I strolled around the palace grounds and eventually made my way to Wat Po to see the famous Reclining Buddha. The Wat is the oldest Buddhist temple in Bangkok and the Buddha is amazing, it has to be way more than 40 feet tall and over 100 feet long and it is covered in gold. In the same room as the Buddha are 108 bronze bowls, you make a donation and get 108 coins to drop in the bowls for good luck. After seeing the Buddha and dropping my coins, I went to the main chapel, left my shoes outside (as one does) and walked in. About 25 monks in saffron robes were praying and chanting along with the lay people. A spectacular experience. After some prayer and repose I went to the massage school attached to the temple and got a foot massage. Quite the treat after all that walking.

I had wanted to see the famous flower market, so I hired a tuk tuk (sort of like a 3 wheeled motorbike contraption) to take me there. I saw dozens and dozens of roses, lotuses, carnations, orchids and a variety of other flowers I don't even know. I felt like the only Westerner for miles.

I decided to be brave and get some food from a street vendor. It was an interesting exchange, I can only say "thank you" in Thai and the cooks English was limited too. So I had her make me anything, somehow we managed to communicate soup to each other. I sat there in the middle of the flower market, among the locals, who were all eyeing this weird woman who had braved their sidewalk. The food arrives and initially it looked like squid but upon closer inspection I came to the realization that it was chopped up intestines with chili and vegetables. Wow - ok so I thought I better try it. And it was spicy, not the spicy of make my eyes water and my nose run, oh no, it went WAY past that. I managed to eat maybe about a third of the dish and then the cook presented me with some sort of a soup with something that looked like liver in it. Yum. I ate some of the broth but could not manage to choke down the liver.

I had always thought I was fairly brave when it comes to food but this experience proved, not so much. Hey, at least I tried it. It was pretty funny actually, all these Thais were watching me to see how much I would actually be able to eat! After downing my bottle of water, I paid up and caught a taxi to the Skytrain station. After the funky food, I had a major desire for something familiar and soothing, like ice cream. So I hopped on the Skytrain and and went to the mall.

I know, I know - for not being a mall person, I'm spending a heck of a lot of time in them. (Actually I'm not, it just seems like it sometimes.) Anyway, I walked around this super mall, I think it was even bigger and posher than Suria in Kuala Lumpur. I never made it to get any ice cream - I hit the internet cafe and got an iced coffee instead. After a long day, I made my way back in the direction of my hotel, stopped for a Pad Thai at The Copper, where they were playing an entire Jack Johnson CD and I could not have been happier.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Just a word about Thanksgiving. First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family who are celebrating the American holiday of Thanksgiving Day today. Thanksgiving is a holiday about gratitude - something sometimes forgotten amidst our turkeys, stuffing and cranberry.

In the spirit of this holiday, I write today from Nong Khai, Thailand, a few things I am grateful for.

My family and friends who have inspired me and given me unconditional love and support and have encouraged my changes and adventures.

The little challenges I have faced that brought me to a point where I wanted to change my life.

This journey, where I have learned so much, seen good and bad, beautiful and ugly and have made amazing new friends in the process.

My education and upbringing that have given me so many opportunities and blessings millions of people in the world do not have.

Wishing everyone lots of love and a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Bangkok, Thailand - Part 1

First impressions. I arrived into Bangkok on Friday evening from Malaysia. We arrived into Suvarnabhumi International Airport which is the new international airport in Bangkok. I got in a taxi and proceeded to sit in the worst traffic I think I have ever experienced. Bangkok is renown for its traffic and pollution, amongst other things, as I would soon find out.

I finally arrived at my hotel, tired and hungry, the doormen referred me to a little restaurant next door called The Copper. I had my first Pad Thai in Thailand and it was delicious. I also happened to walk past the first Thai "massage" parlor for men only, that I would see.

The next day I got up and left the hotel in search of breakfast. Although it really was not that early, there wasn't much activity on the streets, the food vendors, the prostitutes leaving whoever they were with the night before and me. Interesting.

Back in NY I had been speaking to a friend about my trip and told him that i had plans to go to Bangkok. He made a face and told me Bangkok was a cesspool. I did not stay in a hostel, I was staying in a tourist area - not in a red light district but that day, on Saturday, I had to agree with my friend, Bangkok was a cesspool.

Desperate to find a bit of respite from the riot of pollution and the pervasive feeling of the sex trade being all around me, I went to have brunch at a lovely French crepe restaurant. I sat there for hours, in the garden, taking in the soothing environment. Eventually I went on my way again and got a massage and stopped in at an internet cafe for a while. I thought somehow I was safe but all of a sudden I hear this old American man talking to this young Thai women about the events of the previous night. Suffice it to say I was not that keen on hearing the rest of the conversation and decided to walk back to the hotel.

It was amazing to see the women hanging out on the sidewalks in front of the bars and restaurants, looking for their next client and all the Western men, young and old chatting up these women. I went back to the safety of The Copper for dinner and after dinner on my way back to my hotel, what do I see? An older Thai couple walking a baby elephant! Obviously I had the requisite reaction of "Awwww" but I quickly realized they wanted me to pay them to feed or pet the elephant. I wasn't about to do that.

I was so disturbed that evening by the little bit that I saw of the rampant exploitation of women and animals. I emailed some friends who have some extensive experience traveling in Asia and my mother, who had been in Thailand 35 years ago. My friends told me that it is often "normal" for country girls to enter into a few years of prostitution to help their families or they go into the city to become seamstresses and end up getting tricked into prostitution. Maybe some of these girls and women voluntarily have gone into this line of work but none of them looked happy to me, they all looked hard and sort of hollow, no matter how beautiful they were. My mom was understanding of my feelings and suggested I take a boat tour on the river the next day.

I never intended to post any social or moral commentaries on this blog. I really always intended to keep it for entertainment only but as one of my friends put it, it is only by bringing awareness to the problems that anything will ever change.

I mean have you ever been in a hotel that has a sticker on the safe that says "If you think a child might be at risk of sexual exploitation, please contact hotel management."???

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Part 2

Day 2 in Kuala Lumpur, I got up, had a breakfast of noodles, dim sum, sushi and fruit. Strange but all part of the breakfast buffet.

After breakfast I walked to the Petronas Twin Towers and had a look around. I had intended to go to the skyway (the bridge that connects the towers) but the tickets were all gone for the day, so I just walked around inside instead. Attached to the towers is the Suria Mall. I am not a mall person by any means but somehow I was intrigued by this super mall and went to check it out. (James - you're loving me now!) I walked by Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Prada, Ferragamo, Armani, Jimmy Choo (who by the by is Malaysian) and kept walking.

I found a little museum on the third floor with Malaysian artifacts - old pictures, antique jewelry, swords and statues. Its very interesting to see the mixtures of different cultures in Malaysia. The museum was filled with Chinese, Malay, Indian and Islamic artifacts. Much like all the stores and people. There were women with their heads covered with scarves, the scarves are actually held in place with beautiful pins. You see all types of people, Indian Sikhs with their turbans, Chinese teenagers, Malay school kids. The only thing that scared me were the ladies in their abayas and veils, this is the Muslim style of dress where all you can see is the eyes of a woman. (Correct me if I am wrong anyone). So I saw two ladies in this style of dress accompanied by their men and the women's eyes looked so terrorized it freaked me out. Maybe they are ok with their custom and I respect that but somehow it just scared the crap out of me.

Anyway, I've gone off on a tangent. After the museum I went to the Gallerie Petronas next door where they were exhibiting Malaysian women artists. A great show with some really lovely pieces.

I kept walking through the mall, found a foot reflexology place , a bookstore and a cafe where I spent the rest of my afternoon. I don't know if it was the rain outside, my lingering cold, or the intense humidity later but I was pretty spent. I made a night of it with room service and the Discovery Channel. (James - now you REALLY love me.)

On Friday morning I got up, packed, had breakfast and went to the Petronas Twin Towers again. Once again, I missed the tickets for the skybridge, so I opted to get on the subway and take a trip around town on public transport. I took the subway to the central station where I walked to the monorail station. I took the monorail through the Golden Triangle area - once I got on the monorail Kuala Lumpur looked like a lot of other big cities, maybe not as bad as some in certain parts of Africa or South America but it definitely had its "economically depressed" looking areas. Maybe it was just the architecture.

I turned around and went back towards KLCC, got out at Jalan Bukit and walked to Jalan Ampang, past the rubber museum, past the Pakistani Embassy and eventually made it back to my hotel where I collected my bags, got in a taxi and headed to the airport for my flight to Bangkok.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Part 1

This is the Bali beach where we surfed, not Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur was an interesting experience. I left Bali on Wednesday afternoon, after another early morning surf. Despite the big knock on the head the day before, it was good to get in the water the next morning. Anyway, the quickest way to get over any fears is to just jump right in again.

I flew to Malaysia on Air Asia and caught a taxi to KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Center) where my hotel was. For a good portion of the way we passed a vast expanse of palm groves, with the songs Rhinestone Cowboy by Glenn Campbell and Love Is Strange by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers playing on the radio - I KID YOU NOT. (By the way I looked up the details for these songs on google - just in case anyone is wondering.) Anyway, the palms are used for cooking oil and now are also being used in bio fuel technology.

So we made it into downtown Kuala Lumpur and the traffic came to an absolute standstill, much to the aggravation of my insane speed racer taxi driver. We drove past the Petronas Twin Towers, which are the second highest buildings in the world. They are really very beautiful, they sparkle like diamonds when the sun hits them or when they are lit up at night. It was really weird to be in a big city again and I was somewhat strangely energized by it. I checked into my hotel, dropped my bags in my room and went to find a place for dinner.

I found a great restaurant called Top Hat. It is in an old colonial house that has been converted to a restaurant. The decor is colonial, the floors terrazzo, and the music? Well the music was Cuban! Candela by the Buena Vista Social Club - if it were not for the Malay, Chinese and Indian staff, I would have thought I was somewhere else in the world.

I had a starter of "top hats", a phyllo like dough shaped into little top hats and filled with a spring roll like filling. The top hats were delicate and delicious. I then had a smoked salmon tartare salad. Salmon with mango, creme fraiche and lemongrass sauce. My inner foodie did rejoice. Besides the food at the Surf Goddess Retreat and the banana pancakes, I was not that taken with Indonesian food which was surprising because I eat almost anything.

Anyway, I made sure to leave room for dessert as I spotted panna cotta on the menu and could not resist. The first time I recall having panna cotta was in Switzerland. My aunt who everyone loved so much, had passed away. After her funeral we had a big luncheon commemorating her and panna cotta was served for dessert. Somehow I just associate it to family now. Anyway, so panna cotta is like a vanilla flavored pudding with a jello like consistency, this one was served with starfruit and watermelon. Fantastic.

Being that I had been up since 4:45am, I was pretty exhausted and I walked back to my hotel, had a bath and called it a night with the down comforter.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Legian, Bali - Part 3

The last few days I took a bit of a break from surfing. I have been trying to take care of my cold and my shoulder and doing a whole lot of nothing.

Saturday I met up with Alain, we hopped on his moped and drove to Redz, a surfboard shop. We had stopped there on our way back from the beach on Friday and checked out some boards. I had no intention of buying one but when I heard the price Alain was getting, I decided to join him on Saturday. So I ordered my surfboard and Marcy will kindly pick it up for me next week and hold it, while I make my way through Malaysia,
Thailand andHong Kong, until I get back to Bali in December, when I will be able to christen the board in Balinese waters!

After the exciting outing, we came back to town and I had a rest at my hotel. Later I met up with Alain and Dan at Melinda and Marcy's bungalow for afternoon tea. Alain had brought over a fantasticPont l'Eveque cheese that he brought from France, I brought American grapes, Melinda supplied the crackers, tea and coffee and Dan and Marcy brought their stellar personalities. We had a lovely and highly sophisticated afternoon at the beach bungalow.

Sunday I read a book and met Chelsea and Melinda for a few mango daiquiris and some dinner at Lanai.

Monday my day started like any other, breakfast of papaya, watermelon and pineapple by the pool. I eventually made my way to Tri, my massage therapist, who Melinda set me up with to work specifically on my shoulder. Tri proceeded to stick about 10 acupuncture needles in my arm and shoulder and hooked up the needles to this electricity transmitter. Needless to say once he turned the current on I looked like I was having a seizure. After 20 minutes of twitching, the needles came out and it was time for massage. Now this is not a spa massage, this man goes to work- this is
deep tissue work that brings tears to your eyes, but for $15, less shoulder pain and an extended range of motion it was well worth it.

I was supposed to go for a surf after but my lesson got canceled due to bad conditions, so we rescheduled for this morning and I went off to do some sidewalk/window shopping, headed off to theapothek (pharmacy) for some cough medicine and made my way to Lanai to watch the sunset and have some dinner.

This morning Marcy and Melinda picked me up at 5:45am and we went for a surf at the break in front of the bar KuDeTa, I have been advised the correct name for this break is Poofies.
In any event, it is a long paddle out past some pretty heavy shore break but once you got to the outside the waves were really nice, not too fast and not too steep. I caught the first one on my own but I went left instead of going right (on therighthander ) like I was supposed to. Duh! I kind of exhausted myself with the paddling and the rest of the waves were a combination of me paddling and Marcy pushing me. You'd think all this time in the water I would be a stronger paddler by now! It gets a little frustrating. Anyway so towards the end of my lesson there's a big wave coming my way - I ditch the board and dive under. Well, somehow me and my board went in the wrong direction and I had a head on collision with one of the fins. Yes I covered my head, but apparently not well enough. So once I popped up to the surface Marcy was all "Are you ok ??" I just rubbed my head and said yeah I was fine, I just knocked my head and I ask him if I'm bleeding. He says yes! I figure he's just being full of it and touch my forehead. Sure enough, blood! So I got out of the water, Marcy got me some ice and we got the bump back down to non alien like levels. I did suggest we amputate, as my dad used to say when we got a cut when we were kids, but Marcy was not too much into surgery. Ha ha ha

So after a shower and suitable application of antiseptic for cuts, tiger balm for sore muscles and arnica for a number of bruises, I had some breakfast and made my way to the internet cafe. I'm off to Kuala Lumpur after a morning surf tomorrow.

Note 1: Not sure if the monitor is bad it if it is the compression of the photos that is making them look crappy. Will fix them once I get to a proper high speed connection.
Note 2: To my family, I'm a little banged up but I'm OK, don't worry - it's not like we have to amputate anything and I've got a hard head anyway.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Legian, Bali - Part 2

Sheila left back to the US on Tuesday and I was on my own again, it was a bit sad after making such great friends, to see them all go.

Wednesday I had another lesson with Mr. Marcy Sir and all of a sudden, what do I feel? A sore throat! Oh no! I sort of expected to get a cold after leaving NY, but I figured it would be in the first few weeks, but OH NOOOO! My body said NOW you really have time to rest, WHAM! So in addition to being slightly crippled with a minor shoulder injury (several months ago I was a bit overly ambitious with a forearm stand in yoga class) now I'm sick too! As one can imagine, excessive paddling tends to aggravate the shoulder. To make a long story short, I made my way to the Circle K for some cold medicine and Melinda hooked me up with some nasal drops. After suitably drugging myself I hibernated in my room the rest of the day.

Today Marcy, Melinda, Alain (another one of Marcy's students) and I made plans to drive up the coast and surf a different break. I willed my body to recover and it did, not as fully as I would have liked but good enough. Marcy and Melinda picked me up at 5:45am (yes, I said 5:45AM), we picked up Alain and off we went. We drove through all these small villages and past lots of rice paddies. After about an hour, we made it to the beach. A desolate place of black volcanic sand with a small warung (a Balinese sort of little restaurant, kind of like a shack) and nobody but a few chickens, a rooster, some dogs and us.

Marcy unpacked the surfboards, we suited up, put on our sunblock (SPF45 for me Mami) and walked around the cliff to the other side of the beach where a small lefthander was breaking. Man, it was amazing! It was a misty overcast morning and we have cliffs and palm trees behind us, the ocean in front of us, a big rock jutting out of the water to our right and a religious ceremony to our left. We paddled out and it was totally surreal to be in the water hearing the traditional Balinese music accompanying the ceremony and seeing the local fishing boats on the horizon.

The swell was nice but smallish, rolling and fairly glassy but it was not my best day in terms of performance. I was on a smaller board, a bit sick and seriously lacking in my paddle power but man, it was a highlight of my trip and I would not have missed this morning for the world.

Legian, Bali - Part 1

So I made my way back down to the beach on Saturday. Sheila and I had decided to go dancing but due to a massive downpour and the club only opening at 11pm we scrapped that idea. We were quite the sight at dinner, the two of us yawning away at 9pm. I just don't have the energy I did at 21!

Besides, we had a morning surf lesson with Marcy, Melinda's boyfriend, the next morning. Marcy, aka Yes Sir! Mr. Marcy Sir, was quite nice to me the first day, however subsequent lessons proved he is quite the paddle nazi, lots of "paddle, paddle, paddle, harder, faster, eyes up, chin down!" Ha ha ha!

Anyway the last few days with Sheila were great. We took in some lessons with Marcy, a few massages, a bit of lounging at Lanai (a beachfront restaurant) taking in the sights and sounds, checking out the guys, a good time all around.

By the way that's Sheila surfing not me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Ubud, Bali - Part 2

Sheila left back to Seminyak on Thursday and I decided to stay on in Ubud for a few more days. I moved to a new hotel, Artini Cottages 2; Artini reminded me of lots of miniature palaces surrounded by lush gardens filled with white frangipani flowers, hot pink hibiscus trees and purple bougainvillea plants. I had booked a regular room but the staff at Artini
hooked me up with the honeymoon suite at the back of the hotel. A
lovely room with an expansive view of the gardens and cottages.

On Friday I decided to take a jewelery making class. Other than playing with beads and string as a child, I had never really made any jewelry. So I booked a class with the awesome
people at Studio Perak. The other students definitely had some designs in mind and one was quite intense about his work. I, on the other hand, had no design in mind but I eventually got some sort of idea as to what to make. With lots of assistance from my instructor Ketut, I made a ring that I am actually quite pleased with. I am calling it my lesson in going with the flow.

After class I meandered through town, stopped at the crowded market, bargained with a girl for some gorgeous silk batik scarves and made my way to the Lotus Cafe for lunch. I had Mie Goreng, sort of an Indonesian version of Pad Thai.

Lotus Cafe overlooks the back gardens of Pura Saraswati (Temple Saraswati). The temple, despite looking quite ancient, was built at the end of the 19th Century and dedicated to the Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of water, learning and creativity. Her name, Saraswati, literally translates to "the one who flows", kind of cool. After a stroll through the lotus filled garden, it was time for my daily
reflexology session and dinner.

I had dinner at the cafe "Kafe" which is under the yoga studio and met of all things, Swiss tourists (She from Basel and He from Solothurn - just in case anyone was wondering). Anyway so I hear them talking and can not resist piping up and telling them amount Yani,
the Swiss speaking Balinese tour guide. I'm not sure what tripped them
out more, a Swiss speaking Balinese or a Swiss speaking New Yorker/Miamian.

The next day after a yummy breakfast of Balinese coffee and banana pancakes, it was time to head back to the beach.

My ode to banana pancakes, oh how I love thee. Seriously they are AMAZING. I am no big fan of bananas, I appreciate their nutritional value but I have been the victim of potassium overdose in the past (specific people will know what I am talking about, yes you James). Anyway in Bali they make these light, crepe-like pancakes and fill them with a sliced cooked banana. Oh my god, they are SO delicious. I have a whole new appreciation for bananas.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ubud, Bali - Part 1

After some sad goodbyes on Sunday; Karen, Sheila and I ventured up to Ubud for what else, but of course more spa treatment! When I read about Ubud I knew I wanted to come up here, it is the heart of the artistic community in Bali. Karen found us a boutique hotel and spa called Taman Rahasia. The resort was small and intimate, sort of like a jungle paradise. We booked a crazy six hour package. Karen booked hers over a two day period since she was going back to Hong Kong on Monday but Sheila and I decided to take the six hour session in one shot. It was called "A Day of Sheer Indulgence", one would think that I have had enough indulgence but hell, why not go for a little more? The package included a body scrub, a massage, a soak in a flower petal filled tub, lunch, a facial, a manicure and a pedicure. All for under $75US! Who could resist that?

After our blissful spa experience Karen went back to Hong Kong and Sheila and I went to go look for a place to stay. As lovely as Taman Rahasia was, $90US per night was a little out of our budget for an extended stay. After a couple of attempts at various places we came to Sania's Homestay, where we got a lovely room for $25US per night. Sania's was a small hotel within a family compound, we essentially walked through their outdoor living room and past the family dog and bird every time we walked in or out of the hotel. This hotel felt like we were in a temple with ornate doors and terraces all over. We stayed at Sania's until Thursday doing a lot of hanging out around Ubud.

Sheila believes I have perfected the art of just hanging out. Essentially sitting around in cafes or on terraces chatting about this and that for hours at a time. We took in a couple of yoga classes, one of which was in Japanese! Stephanie you should have been with us! Sheila and I also found a great foot reflexology spot where we luxuriated in having our feet massaged. Heaven. We had some interesting moments at a particular internet cafe, we did some shopping down Jalan Hanoman where lots of men constantly offered transport. I don't know if most of the tourists take taxis in Ubud but we were happy to navigate the broken sidewalks and walk.

In addition to the constant assault of transport drivers, one regularly receives offers to see traditional dance shows. One night Sheila and I went to one of the temples to watch the Kecak performance. Kecak features a large choir of men wearing sarongs and flowers behind their ears (which is not viewed in any way as effeminate in Bali). The men chant "chak-a-chak" and it is remarkable how they layer their voices. In addition to the men chanting, beautiful and graceful Legong dancers also perform. The performance closed with a fire dance, where a mound of old coconuts is drenched in gasoline, lit on fire and a barefoot man in a horse costume kicks the burning coconuts around, much to the annoyance of his keepers. Imagine a child jumping into autumn leaves after his parents finished raking them into a huge pile. Take note that in all of this we were less than 20 feet from the action. Quite amazing we were not subjected to signing waivers and there were no announcements warning us not to try this at home!

Surf Goddess Retreat - Part 3

On Thursday we had a rest from surfing and went on a cultural tour. We met Joachim, who runs a small tour company, at his family's hotel and stables. Quite the gorgeous place where one can arrange for horse rides in the rice paddies or on the beach. Anyway so our tour began in an air conditioned van (a good thing because Bali is very hot!) and we drove to the region of Tabanan. We were graciously welcomed by the King of Tabanan, Rai Girigunadhi, at his 17Th century palace,where we were invited to join him for iced tea, a snack and a chat. Rai Girigunadhi used to work for the national department of tourism. The country of Indonesia is not ruled by the monarchy from a political sense. We sat with the King and heard his fantastic stories about his travels and trips to California and Hawaii.

After our visit with the King, Joachim turned us over to Yani, a charming local Balinese man, who would be our guide for the rest of the day. One of the most amazing things about Yani is that he speaks Swiss German, not formal German, but the dialect I grew up speaking! Here I am traipsing through Bali, speaking Schweizer Deutch with a Balinese dude!! Amazing and hilarious all at the same time.

Yani and our driver took us further into the hills. As it was full moon, we encountered numerous religious celebrations and processions.
The men, women and children were all in their "Sunday best".

After a bit of a drive through the countryside, we stopped for lunch in a forest clearing close to a little village. The farmer, whose land we were on, prepared a most delicious meal of Balinese food for us. It was amazing to be in such a serene place surrounded by such a variety of fauna and flora. My sister has become an expert in the way of tropical fruit, so I snapped about a million pictures of the local agriculture! All the girls know about her proficiency with exotic fruit so the running joke of the day from Sheila was, "Let's call Carmen, I bet she knows what this is!" It was funny! We even had jackfruit for dessert, which Stephanie pointed out, tastes exactly like Juicy Fruit gum!

After a lovely rest in the bale after lunch, we packed back in the van and drove on. We stopped at the top of a most amazing hill with a tremendous view of the volcano and hiked down the hill through the rice paddies. The steepness of the rice paddies is amazing, its unbelievable to think about the millions of farmers around the world who trek up and down hills to cultivate rice. We crossed paths with a random German tourist, some farmers and some cows. We took tons of pictures and had lots of laughs. Yani truly was a great guide with a stellar sense of humor.

At the bottom of the hill we came to a temple. I am not sure which god or goddess the temple was for but it was spectacular. We covered ourselves with sarongs and entered the temple, where it was just us and a priest. After a look around, we were permitted to join Yani and the priest in prayer and received blessings (like I DON'T already have enough!). I definitely want to learn more about Balinese Hinduism, their rituals are so sacred and so beautiful. Indonesia is comprised of many many islands, all of which are mostly Muslim. Bali is the only island in Indonesia that is predominantly Hindu. After our time at the temple we headed back to our villa in Seminyak and were treated to a class of restorative yoga.

The next few days we continued to surf, do yoga and get our daily spa treatments.

I went on this trip to work on my surfing ability and my yoga practice, but I came away with so much more than that. I came away with the experience of a lifetime that I was blessed to share with five fantastic women. I thank them all - Anne for her grace and calm, Stephanie for her unfailing generosity, Kim for her enthusiasm and chats, Sheila for her beautiful, hearty laugh and Karen for her openness and guidance. Many blessings to you all! Also a million blessings to Chelsea, Melinda and Susan for cultivating the sisterhood!