Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tim Burton - Down the Rabbit Hole with Alice

Several nights ago, I received a call from an account of mine that carries a smattering of my designs on their web site. The owner had just been contacted by Tim Burton, wanting to purchase my complete Alice in Wonderland Charm collection for his wife, Helena Bonham Carter. I'm not up on pop culture, but I did know who Tim Burton was. I have just learned that he is producing a new film, Alice in Wonderland and that his wife, Helena Bonham Carter will star as Alice. Johnny Depp is playing the Mad Hatter. Perhaps I will sell a gold Mad Hatter to Johnny Depp?

I have been hesitant to post many of my story book charms on my web site not knowing which ones belong to public domain . I now gather that the classic version of Alice in Wonderland is part of the public domain. I created the charm collection in 1983. Later tonight, I hope to post my entire Alice in Wonderland Collection on my web site.

Deck the Halls with Magic

Our home is bustling with holiday chaos but much of the bustle is in getting orders packed and shipped for other's Christmases. We are thrilled to be so busy and in between the daily trips to the post office we are decking our own halls with Christmas cheer.

Last weekend we drove to Bonny Doon to cut down our Christmas tree at Crest Ranch. We always begin the day with great cheer and expectations. Choosing the perfect Christmas tree should be a joyful and bonding family experience, but seldom can we agree on which tree to cut. This year was no exception and we wandered the forest of trees indecisively. There were many wonderful trees, but one can not choose the first one that calls to you. There might be a tree over the horizon that is even prettier. Tension was growing by the time we found one that the three of us could agree on and Art and John quickly cut it down and carried it back to our car.

Our asymmetrical tree is finally decorated, the star tilting off to one side. Our fat cat, Godzilla, watched her foolish humans play with lights and bobbles

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Segue - Bali and Beyond

Our stay in Bali was magical and it was sad to leave paradise. We woke to this glorious rainbow one morning.

A serene morning in Ubud, Bali. I would wake before Art or John; coffee would be delivered to my outdoor terrace and I would write my blog overlooking the lush jungle beyond.

When I returned home from Bali, I hit the ground running. I was still jet lagged when I set up for the Los Altos Art and Wine Festival at 5:00 A.M. on July 12th. I had good intentions of writing about our final week in Bali, but the reality of the summer shows took precedent. I had scheduled 4 shows in a row and by mid August, when I had a momentary break, my memories of Bali had faded.

Many of you know that for over 25 years, I have sold my work at the Maryland Renaissance Fair outside of Annapolis Maryland. This show runs for 9 consecutive weekends from the third week in August through the third week in October. Preparing inventory for the show is a daunting job. Not only must I have the inventory, but also it must be counted, entered onto spreadsheets and tagged. Even with the help of Alisha and Katie, it takes over a month to prepare for the show. The prices of silver and gold were skyrocketing this summer, making it all the more stressful. When I finally shipped the inventory, I was cross-eyed and cranky from it all.

With the Maryland inventory shipped, I had a brief period of time to create new designs, but it never enough. Still, I was able to finish several one of a kind dragons and octopus’ wrapping arounsund shimmery opals and fire agates.

In September, my son John entered 9th grade and with that came a new schedule of homework, tutoring and chauffeuring John to his classes at Pacific Edge Climbing gym. Fall is always my busiest season and September was a blur of back-to-back shows, replenishing the inventory sold at the Maryland show each weekend, and parenting. Alisha and Molly would stop by many afternoons to help, but Molly (at 2 years old) would negate any help that Alisha could lend. Nevertheless, I looked forward to the late afternoons when I would see both my daughter and granddaughter and we would laugh, love, and juggle work and play.

In late September I flew back east to attend a weekend at the Maryland Renaissance Fair, oversee my shop and make my annual appearance. After all these years, I have an enthusiastic following and I look forward to seeing my friends and collectors.

The afternoon joust at the Maryland Renaissance Fair.

The Marty Magic Shop at the Maryland Renaissance Fair.

A collector proudly showing off his newly purchased skull ring. An awesome choice with his flame tattooed hand.

In early October, I managed to squeeze in a mini road trip with my father. He is 91 years old, a little wobbly, but still sharp. He is a geologist and an avid traveler and although he can no longer travel alone, with me as his chauffeur we revisited the Sequoia National Park. The journey was much of the reward and I have vivid memories of the stark and dramatic landscape traversing the passes between Santa Barbara and Sequoia. Seeing the giant redwoods is always awe inspiring, and sharing it with my father was the best. Much of my wanderlust spirit is due to my father and the many amazing, off the grid places that he and my mother took me to as a girl.

A dramatic vista on our road trip to Sequoia National Park

My father in Sequoia National Park.

October morphed into November with craft shows nearly every weekend. My favorite holiday, Halloween passed unceremonious between the shows, special orders and getting my web site ready for the upcoming holidays.

Alisha at the Halloween Parade where she teaches.

Rain, rain, go away! Molly in her ladybug costume with an umbrella that is much too big for her.

Thanks to those of you who encourage me to keep blogging. I've just learned how to post photos, so hopefully this will make it more visually interesting. I hope some of you will add comments to my posts.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Maumere City -Monday June 30th

I love this photo! I'm not certain what the plight of the chicken is; but this young boy was all smiles.

We saw countless truckloads of young men during our week in Flores. They were packed into every sort of vehicle, often with plastic cans of gasoline tied to the undercarriage of the vehicle.

Maumere City -Monday June 30th

Our plane back to Bali isn't until late afternoon so we hire a taxi to take us into Mamere. Our destination is the only internet cafe in town and we are dropped off in front of a small and shabby grocery store with an adjoining room housing about a dozen computer stations. Once connected, Art is content in the dimly lit room lost in cyberspace, and John and I leave to explore Maumere. The sun is blinding, the day hot, dry and dusty, the town bustling and noisy. We walk across to the water front and stumble upon an open air fish market, putrid with rotten fish and garbage. A dozen wooden tables stand on the slimy cement floor of the covered fish market, each one offering just a few whole fish and butchered fillets. I see no ice, but the fishermen lazily scoop handfuls of water from buckets to deter the flies and keep the fish fresh. There is not an abundance of fish to be bought or sold and I ponder over the minimal catch. A vegetable market stretches off to one side of the fish market, crowded with women and children, seated on the dusty street, wilted vegetables displayed for sale. The women all look tired and worn. The older ones chew beetle nut, their mouths stained with the red juice, their teeth rotten. The younger women talk among themselves, keeping a watchful eye on their children playing in the trash filled street and watching John and me with curiosity. I want to take their photos, but I hesitate to ask. It has been easy to take photos of the children in the countryside, their innocence and pleasure so obvious when they see their images captured inside my camera, but here, I see abject poverty and the harshness of these peoples lives.

Vendor selling Betel Nut

The streets of Maumere City

Women at the Maumere City vegetable market.

When Art is finished with the internet, we all wander Maumere together. We poke into dark stores crammed with cheaply made household goods, machinery, clothing and bolts of fabric. The shops are relatively cool inside, most without electricity and insulated by thick walls of cement. The sidewalks are uneven and cracked and the drainage ditches along both sides of the road are overflowing with trash and garbage. We are hungry, but afraid to eat at any of the food stands or restaurants, so we eat ice cream bars, drink Fanta and bottled water. The traffic is a sea of motor scooters, small cars and buses. Art points to one of the buses, crammed to capacity with passengers, goods tied to the roof and young men hanging off the back. There are a dozen, 5 gallon plastic jugs of gasoline tied all around the sides of the bus, a disaster waiting to happen. We see that many other buses also carry surplus gasoline tied to their sides to carry them on long trips across Flores.

Our taxi returns for us at the appointed hour, driving us back to our hotel for our luggage and then to the airport. Airport security and check in is simple, but we have an hour and a half to wait and our blood sugar levels are low, and our tempers short. There is very little food to be had so John and I settle for packaged cups of spicy noodle soup, a safe bet when made with boiling water. Art refuses this simple fare, but an hour later, I glance up from my writing and see him on the far side of the waiting room, eating a cup of noodle soup and I know that he will be only too happy to leave Flores behind forever. The plane departs on time, making a short stop on another island before landing in Denpasar Bali. We are met at the airport by a guide and driven through rush hour traffic an hour and a half back to Ubud. We arrive at Tabra's at 7:00 P.M. happy to be back in the luxury of Bali and among friends. We enjoy a lovely dinner together at an ambient restaurant and Tabra patiently listens to the tales of our adventures told from two different view points.

Sunrise at Kelimutu - Sunday, June 29th

Sunrise at Kelimutu - Sunday, June 29th

My alarm goes off at 4:00 A.M. and I turn it off and crawl back into bed curling up beside Art. I have a few precious more minutes to sleep before John and I will go with our driver and guide to watch the sunrise from Kelimutu Volcano. At precisely 4:30, Mansor knocks on our door and
John and I follow him to the waiting car. This early morning excursion feels a bit eerie, and Art walks with us to the car to see us off. He tells us to smile, and with our back up camera he takes photos of us all. He returns to the warmth of the bed, anticipating a leisurely and solitary morning.

John sleeps in the back seat and I doze, my head against the cold window as we drive over bumpy roads, the 45 minutes to the base of the volcano. Mansor, John and I begin a 30 minute hike up an uneven pathway in the dark. I find it disconcerting that Mansor is not prepared with flashlights, since this excursion is on our printed itinerary, but Tabra has lent us flashlights and John and I use these to navigate the trail. Mansor uses his cell phone to light his path. Mansor and John hike quickly and I do my best to keep pace with them, but as the trail steepens, I fall behind. Stopping to catch my breath, I notice that dawn is casting a faint light on the trail beneath my feet. With renewed enthusiasm, I stride ahead and reach the summit. A 20 food diameter, tiered cement platform, crowned with an obelisk is erected between two of the volcanic craters. We climb the circular stairs to sit and wait, anticipating the sunrise.

The pre-dawn sky is blossoming with vermilion and orange. I rest my camera on one of the cement risers and take time exposures of the horizon and sky. This is not my expertise, but I hope that the captured images will be half as striking as what is unfolding before our eyes. A weathered man appears from nowhere wearing a hand woven Ikat sarong and carrying the makings for coffee in a grimy Ikat shoulder bag. He gestures, asking if we would like coffee and I accept enthusiastically. The man spoons finely ground Bali coffee into two smeared glasses and adds hot water from a thermos. He passes us a jar filled with clumped sugar and I spoon some into the hot mixture. The tepid grainy coffee is some of the best I have ever tasted, and we sit and watch. I notice that other travelers have joined us at the summit and my emotions surge when I see a young woman in her wheel chair and her partner together, at the edge of the crater. The two men, hired to carry her the long distance up to the summit rest beside us. The lovers sit together, hand in hand, watching the sunrise. There is a crater on either side of us, one filled with morning mist, the other a pool of opaque turquoise water. As I understand it, the black lake, covered with mist is the resting place for spirits who die in old age. The turquoise lake is the resting place for those who die young, and the brown lake, that we hiked passed earlier, is for all of the other spirits. We are two of a dozen multicultural travelers, reverently watching the dawn break.

The trail to the Volcano Kelimutu

Others have gathered to watch the sunrise and drink the strong coffee carried to the mountain by this villager. John sits on top of the obelisk overseeing it all.

The downhill trip to our waiting car, takes only 15 minutes and we see our coffee man walking at the edge of the road. We haven't passed any villages and I wonder how far he must walk each morning to do his small coffee business? John tells me that after I set my empty glass down, the man picked it up and poured more hot water into the settled grounds, handing the glass to another traveler just arriving. I take comfort that we arrived first at the summit, so even if the glass was not clean, our grounds were at least not recycled. Back at our hotel, we join Art for breakfast and he explains that he took our photos earlier as a precaution. Had he been particularly concerned about our safety, he would have gone with us to the Volcano, but he wanted photos of us, the driver, guide and the license plate just in case.

We have a 5 hour drive ahead of us today before reaching Maumere City. Our first stop is at the Lio Hill tribe to see a traditional thatched ceremonial house. Maria greets us warmly and takes us inside the belly of a large thatched building. She is entrusted to keep the culture and enthusiastically explains the many sacred and official functions of the house. Mansor translates badly, but we get the vague gist of it all. We share a general disappointed with our guide. His English is minimal, his perspective narrow and his preparedness careless.

A dozen IKat weavings hang outside of the ceremonial house and I fall into the trap laid for us. Maria leads me over to them and as I finger the hand woven cloth she nimbly slips a sarong over my head, and ties another around John's waist. Art, well versed on hand woven Okinawa fabric, asks careful questions about the process and she takes us into her family compound to shows us two looms already tied with the warp, or is it the woof? She will begin the weaving tomorrow, but today is Sunday and the women in the village do not weave on Sunday. John always encourages me to spend money and he helps me choose two pieces of the Ikat cloth. After making our choices, I proceed with the expected bargaining and we agree on a price and then re-negotiate so that John may have a woven strip of the Ikat to wear as a belt or wrap into a head covering.

We continue our drive, watching out of the window as the channels change between the "Chicken and Rooster Channel", to the "Pig and Goat Channel." The programing is not quite as compelling as it was to us three days earlier, but we still watch the passing panorama with interest. Many of the goats wear bells and have long sticks tied horizontally under their throats, preventing them from going through gates. It is an ingenious solution to a land with broken fences and we watch with amusement as bewildered goats vainly attempt to fit through small breaks in the fences.

We strolled along a beach outside of Maumere City and soon a dozen teen age boys were following us. We were a curiosity, and John soon made friends with this group of kids.

This is one of my favorite photos. The local kids were doing handstands and somersaults in the sand and soon John was joining in the fun.

After taking each digital photo, I would share the captured image with the kids. The image, frozen inside my camera was a wonderful ice breaker wherever we went.

The beach on our way to Maunere City. John attracted the local kids like a magnet.

We stop at a simple beach front restaurant for a late lunch. Although the restaurant sits on the sand with a view of the beach just steps away, the place is in disrepair. Sections of the thatched roof need replacing and the wooden facade of the restaurant is missing boards. We order from the standard, uninspired menu and dine on stir fry noodles once again, and then stroll onto the beach beyond. The three of us attract attention immediately and within minutes, John has become the “Pied Piper” and a hand full of boys follow us down the beach. John is without his t-shirt and wears his jeans low on his hips, the top of his underwear showing. I notice one of the boys, tug at his pants, settling them lower on his hips. Another group of teen age boys are doing hand stands in the sand and motion to me to take their photos. I happily oblige snapping many pictures and sharing the frozen images with them on the back window of my camera. I am having a wonderful time; my camera and my son connecting us all for a few brief few minutes. Eventually John joins with them doing hand stands, and I capture upside down boys from two different worlds united in play. I am sad to leave this beach and feel the watchful eyes of the many children as we vanish from their lives forever. On this beach, these young lives look idyllic, but I have watched other, just slightly older boys, clinging to the back of buses, going somewhere, going nowhere, searching for a future. The poverty of Flores is overwhelming to my western mind.

We continue driving the windy coastal road towards Maumere City, our final overnight destination on Flores Island. Mansor and Cita will drop us off at our hotel and return immediately for the grueling drive back to Labuan Bajo where they will pick up a German couple and begin their trip over again. Maumere is large by Flores standards and we drive through the sprawling dusty town, amid throngs of honking motor scooters and buses, bouncing over potholed streets, past faded and crumbling buildings and open air markets, to our beach hotel. Soa Wisata Cottage sits directly on the beach but as all our other accommodations on Flores, it is in a state of disrepair. Mansor leads us through a large open air lobby, sparsely outfitted with a worn overstuffed couch and chairs, a small television and a ping-pong table. He proudly unlocks the door to our beach front bungalow and shows us our accommodations, a large two room cottage just steps from the sand. In an effort to please him, I smile and effuse enthusiasm, looking past the worn carpets and drapes, sagging beds and the front door lock, which hangs precariously from one wobbly screw. The front room is a sun porch and I note that I will be able to write comfortably at the simple desk, looking out to the beach beyond.

We settle into our cottage quickly and walk back to the lobby to say good bye to Mansor and Cita. It is time to tip our guide and driver and Art and I agonize over what is appropriate, knowing that what we tip them will probably be more than they have been paid for the entire week with our family. Even though we have been less than satisfied with the competency of our guide, we have been more than pleased with our driver and we tip them each generously. It is a relief to finally be on our own, but Art was looking forward to connecting at an internet cafe and he is unhappy to be stuck far away from town in this crumbling beach resort.

John and I walk up to the pool where an Indonesian family is gathered and having a wonderful time. John literally dives right in and within a few minutes the family is taking photos of John alongside of their teen children, arms flung around each other and wide smiles on everyones faces. I attempt to write under the shaded deck alongside the pool, but the chairs are all without cushions and soon my behind grows uncomfortable balancing on the hard struts of the chaise and I return to our sun room to write.

The gecko channel is especially exciting at dinner tonight and John and I watch two varied species of gecko compete for the insects attracted to the bare florescent lights in our open air dining room. Perhaps because we are on the coast and near a large city, the menu here is more varied. Art and John order shrimp and I watch them tear off the legs and shells and am happy that I chose the tuna fillet. John drinks two strawberry Fantas and Art and I wash our meals down sharing a large Bintang Beer and return to our bungalow to read and to write.

Bats! June 28th

Bats! June 28th

Breakfast is less than stellar, but I appreciate that yesterday, Mansor picked up plain rolls for this mornings breakfast. A thin wrapped piece of processed cheese rests in the center of each of our plates and cold fried eggs are in a covered serving dish. We spread magenta jelly and margarine on the rolls, and sandwich our egg and cheese in between. I wash it all down with two cups of the strong grainy coffee.

Cita drives us to the dock and we board a small wooden boat, much smaller than the craft we took to Komodo and Rinca. I am surprised when a pretty 30+ year old blond woman climbs onboard until Mansor explains that she lives in Ruing and has made the arrangements. She owns a bungalow complex for travelers and has left the high presser banking world of Switzerland to make Ruing her home. Two boys make up our crew; one of the boys is about Johns age and the other is 11 or 12 years old. We motor across calm clear water and I squint from the reflection of bright sky and full sun bouncing off of the water and pull my hat down low to shelter my eyes. We sail pass small golden carpeted islands, floating mirages on the glassy ocean. We are going to the Pulau Kalong nature preserve to see the bats. As we near the bat colony we can hear the high pitched chatter of the millions of bats. They are resting in the tops of the mangrove trees surrounding the island and the trees are paved black with their bodies. As the motor of our boat disturbs them their calls crescendo and many take flight. The Swiss woman and the two boys begin beating the boat with stick and yelling to make all of the bats take flight, but it is difficult to focus my camera on the moving targets and we regret that our crew has been so inconsiderate of the bats well-being. With Art's backing, I eventually get courage to suggest that they not do this, and as the bats settle back into their roosts on the trees, we motor in for a closer look and I am able to take some amazing photographs of this most remarkable and magical bat colony.

We watch the bats for nearly an hour before motoring a short distance away to the Pulau Tujuh Belas nature preserve, a small island where we will snorkel and a have a picnic lunch. As we near the island, we see the white crescent of pristine beach with intoxicating turquoise water off its shore. We moor up onto the sandy beach and wade ashore. The fine white sand crunches softy beneath our feet and we stow our belongings under the minimal shade of a small covered thatched table. The blond woman, points to a snorkeling spot at the curve of the island and John is off in a flash. I watch him wade slowly into the ocean, his swim trunks a flash of red against the turquoise of the water and the cloudless sky. He adjusts his mask and snorkel, submerges, and is off to explore the magic of this reef. I feel an immense love, great joy in this moment, and fear for the fragility of life.

After struggling with my mask and snorkel, I wade offshore into the calm and tepid ocean, swim a short ways out to join John, and float easily above an underwater garden of living coral, brilliant fish and spiny sea urchins. There is almost no current and the water is only a few feet deep. We watch territorial clown fish protectively guard anemones from the masked monsters floating above. Clown fish actually darts up towards John's mask in an effort to chase him away. Beds of spiny sea urchins cluster on the sandy bottom and colonies are wedged between coral formations. I make note to be careful where I might step, since their 8" spines are threatening and most certainly toxic. We see small tridachnid clams, their scalloped edges fringed purple to lure unsuspecting guests into a deadly trap. Psychedelic star fish decorate the reef and the reflected sunlight shimmers off the beds of pastel coral. Art still sits on the shore and I surface and implore him to join us. Reluctantly, he dons his mask and snorkel and is soon captivated by the beauty of this living reef. Time seems to stand still and I imagine that I could float over this reef indefinitely but the trance is broken when we are called to lunch. Surfacing, I wonder whose hands and fingers are attached to my wrists, my fingers puckered and my skin a mottled blue-white. While we snorkeled, the Swiss woman barbecued marinated pieces of fresh squid and we sit together in the shade of our thatched table and eat our lunch. The squid is chewy and flavorful, and she has prepared a Juliann salad and rice.

After lunch, John and I walk around to the far side of the island, where mangrove trees meet the sandy shore, and he finds hermit crabs scurrying in the sandy mud between the roots of the mangroves. We watch the antics of these crabs and John picks up several and blows his hot breath into their shells, urging them to make an appearance. The crabs here are all small, but we remember with fondness, the giant hermit crabs we found on the beaches of Okinawa. We loose track of the time and when I glance up I see Mansor pacing at the curve of the beach and we hurriedly walk back and climb aboard the wooden boat for the return trip to Ruing.

We have 15 minutes to shower and pack before beginning the 6 hour drive to Moni. It is 1:15 P.M. when we start our drive. We drive along the southern coast of Flores Island, our driver competently maneuvering around pot holes and ditches, avoiding children and live stock, motor scooters and buses. Our car is not equipped with seat belts, but we feel surprisingly safe as Cita speeds along the obstacle course unfolding at every turn. He drives by honking, speeds around the many blind turns and passes buses and motors-scooters on the single lane road. I grow anxious as daylight turns to night, but John and I sing folk songs and then the theme songs to some of the classical T.V. sitcoms. John asks questions about the early T.V. programs that Art and I watched as children and the conversation flows easily in the darkness of the car, the road jostling beneath our seats. Shortly before 8:00 P.M., we pull into our hotel in Moni. The facade and entrance is under construction and we duck under scaffolding and enter an inner courtyard. The hotel is very weird, but we have become accustom to this and I try to be appreciative of our room. The room is very large and appointed with a rickety king sized bed. The windows are covered with voluminous ruffled curtains and the walls of the bathroom are paved with the same blue pebbles we saw collected on the beach several days ago. Someone brings in a mattress and makes up a makeshift bed on the floor for John. There is only cold water, but the water doesn't run in the sink or the toilet. A deep tiled tub, already filled with water and a plastic scoop sits beside the toilet for flushing. We have a late dinner in the hotel’s vacant restaurant and order fried noodles, but they are out of noodles. We change our order to rice, but are informed that the rice isn’t cooked, so we settle on bowls of chicken soup with mixed vegetables and return to our room to sleep.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Bena Village - June 27th

Bena Village - June 27th

Banana pancake mornings are a distant memory and this mornings breakfast consists of white toast, margarine, and a artificial colored magenta jelly. The coffee is grainy and when I ask for milk, a can of chocolate condensed milk is brought to our table along with three hard boiled eggs. I am grateful for what is provided now that I have grasped that the tourism infrastructure is virtually non existent and that we are being provided the best that is available.

We begin our drive towards Ruing passing through an impressive forest of giant bamboo. We stop to walk along the narrow road, the grove towering above and morning sunlight streaming through the immense stalks. The stalks of bamboo are so thick that one can't wrap ones hands around them, many with a circumference larger than a basketball.The bamboo forest is on the way to Bena, which according to our itinerary is a traditional village located below an active volcano. I have no great expectations but my breath catches when we round a final curve and see the village in the distance. The unusual steep roofs of the houses are all thatched and surround a central terraced common space. The village is built on a hillside and large blocks of volcanic rock have been quarried to terrace the village and build the formidable rock stairs leading from one level to the next. Megalithic stones point upward at the entrance to the village and it is an effort to ascend the steep uneven stairs. We are the only visitors to the village and our guide explains the meaning of Ngadhu and Bhaga, the male and female symbol erected atop each thatched roof delineating whether a marriageable man or a woman resides within. Two rows of thatched wooden structures, erected on stilts, line both sides of the common space and sets of eyes follow us. The single doorway to each house opens onto a railed bamboo deck and elderly women sit outside, their mouths red with beetle nut juice, their teeth decayed and rotton. I smile and they readily smile in return, their mouths gaping slashes of red, their faces weathered from the elements. The surrounding stones are splashed red with the spittle from the beetle juice. Racks of buffalo horns, displayed after the feast, are hung on the outside walls of the buildings and pigs and chickens take shelter in the shade underneath the houses. A scattering of trinkets are tied to some of the railings and the old women offer me tiny bundles of vanilla for sale. I buy 4 coconut shell dishes and spoons from one old woman and ask if I may take her photo. She seems pleased with my request and when I show her her images in the back of my camera and she is delighted. Other family members seem to want their photo taken also, and I am only too happy to comply, each time showing them the captured image and sharing in their amazement, amusement and delight. I gain confidence as I climb my way further into the village taking photos in all directions. Mansor tells us that this village is 500 years old and has looked very much the same throughout it's existence. At the far end of the village are stairs leading up to a shrine and a dramatic vista overlooking the valley below and we are surprised to see a 4 foot plaster statue of the Virgin Mary in a sheltered alcove. He tells us the village is Catholic, but still practices it's traditional beliefs and rituals. Returning down to the village we watch women heating immense vats of water in a common cooking area. They are boiling water for drinking and preparing for todays festival. In the cloistered darkness inside one of the common buildings, I can see the villagers dressing for a ritual dance. Our guide tells us that we are lucky, that this is not a dance for the tourists, but the beginning of a two day celebration. I ask if I may take photos and Mansor tells me to wait and he will ask.

John and Art have vanished and I go to look for them and find them sitting with an elder on his front porch. Art motions me to join them and I climb the wooden stairs to the porch and am offered a block of wood to sit on. Joseph is 81 years old, the oldest member of the village, and he mixes hot water from a thermos with ground coffee into three glasses and pushes them across the bamboo plank floor. He tells us that he is so old because he drinks a mixture of arak, a distilled palm alcohol, special waters and herbs. He speaks little English, but smiles readily and is sharp and wiry. We gather that the few tour groups that come through, must pay the village a small fee which is used to support the village and make it possible to keep their culture. They further supplement the village income with sales from their handicrafts, vanilla and beetle nut. We sit for some time and I listen to Art and Joseph talk all the time watching his family watch us from the far side of the front porch. His family consists of 10 people who all sleep in this 10 x 30 foot, single story house. When it is time to go, I ask if I may take a photo and am again obliged and take photos of his family as well. I finger three unusual pendants hanging from the railing and ask how much one in particular is. It is expensive and he makes no indication of wishing to bargain so I turn my attention to the pretty coconut shell dishes and buy another four, each costing approximately .60 cents each.

When I return to the common area the dancing has already started. The men and women are colorfully dressed in tribal attire. The lead male dancer, is middle aged, tall, weathered with chiseled features and he and proudly wears a massive strand of cowrie shells around his neck, a striking headdress and a sarong. He holds a machete sword and the other male dancers follows him in an undulating line. The women follow in the dance, dressed in yellow sarongs, yellow head dresses and with their hair beautifully tied up. Children, fully attired, the boys carrying bamboo swords, dance along in the line and the villagers laugh in delight.
After more than two hours it is regretfully time to leave and we climb back into our waiting car, just as a mini bus with several blond passengers pulls up to the base of the village.

We drive for an hour and come to the Soa hot springs where we are to swim and have a picnic lunch. The grounds are in disrepair, the walkways cracked and crumbling, the grass dry and brown and the hedges unkempt. Litter is strewn on the ground and the vacant hospitality pavilion tilts, seemingly sagging from lack of care and the afternoon heat. We are the only visitors and we make our way towards the hot springs. The hot spring surges up forming a deep clear pool that empties into a rapidly flowing river beyond. Shade trees hang over the pool and Art and John immerse themselves in the hot sulfur water while I watch our belongings having no desire to partake on this sweltering afternoon. We sit on cracked cement stairs to eat our boxed picnic lunch of cold fried rice mixed with vegetables and squid tentacles. Art and John take a quick after lunch dip before returning to the car to drive three more hours to Ruing.

The afternoon drive is an easy one with many photo stops. At one point our guide stops at a simple hut along side of the road so that we can see how arak is distilled. Arak is a liquor made from a palm fruit and this family has it's own still and sells small recycled plastic bottles filled with the 40 proof liquor for $1.50 each. A small fire heats a large terra-cotta jug filled with arak juice and a long bamboo pipe connected to the steam vent slowly drips the distilled liquor into water bottles. We are offered tastes of the liquor and they set some of the liquor on fire to prove its alcohol strength. To be supportive, we buy one of the small bottles, and I joke with Art and Mansor that we will have to have a party tonight, but notice a disapproving look Mansor's face and quickly ask if women drink alcohol? He curtly responds that of course, women do not drink, and I retort that that it isn't fair, immediately regretting my lack of respect for his culture.

We arrive in Ruing about 4:00 P.M. and are pleased with our accommodations. The room is simple and clean and the bathroom has three towels, toilet paper and even soap. Surprisingly, here is air conditioning but no hot water, which I have come not to expect. We navigate our way down to the waterfront. It is low tide and the houses in the fishing village, all built on tall stilts have pigs, chickens and mangy dogs scavenging under their shade. Kids play volley ball with their feet and a group of teen age boys play and sing to a guitar. The afternoon light sets the scene aglow and a distant row of stilt houses is reflected in a shallow inlet of water. We walk out onto the small pier and I am awed by the clear beauty of this afternoon, the ocean, this simple harbor and village. I wish that I could carry the perfection of this moment home with me.

With minimal expectations, we walk a dirt road to an open air restaurant for yet another dinner of fried noodles, gristly chicken pieces and mixed vegetables. The cuisine in Flores is all the same, unimaginative, greasy and bland. Hot sauce does very little to perk up the meal, but John and I have found our entertainment on the ceiling above us. John refers to it as "The Gecko Channel," and the two of us watch a dozen geckos congregated around the bare light bulbs. The light attracts insects and when a moth flits near a bulb, the geckos tense and stealthily move an inch or two closer. Smaller bugs creep on the ceiling and the geckos freeze and then dart and make snacks of them. The Gecko Channel is a life and death suspense program that throughly entertains us. We've been watching this "channel" most nights since arriving on Flores Island, but I neglected to write about it earlier on. I will be sad to return to a world of mainstream television, this is far superior.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Flores Road Trip - Thursday June 26th

Flores Road Trip - Thursday June 26th

Mansur arrives at our hotel promptly at 6:30 A.M. and Cita our driver comes at 7:00 A.M. It is the start of a long day on narrow jungle roads. Cita drives on the left side of the road, although most of the time the road is just wide enough for one car. He honks his horn around every corner and motorcycles whiz past, veering to avoid collision. Children step back, eyes wide with curiosity and wave as we pass; livestock scatters and miraculously we avoid any accidents. Except for a few buses there are few other cars on the road. These small, colorful busses are piled high with young men sitting on-top of the roof and hanging to the back and sides of the vehicle. As we round corners, I can take pictures of them and the men smile and wave, seemingly to enjoy the attention and the game. John and I are fascinated just looking out of the window. Rice paddies fill every valley and terrace the hillsides. The landscape is lush with coconut and Banana trees . We drive past dense jungle with clusters of houses interspersed. Women and children sit in the doorways of simple wood framed homes on low stilts, dirt swept clean in their front yards. They wave and smile as we pass. Clusters of children are everywhere, and when we stop for a photo, they materialize from seemingly nowhere to see who we are and what we are doing. At first I am shy to take their photos, afraid that I will offend them, but when Art reminds me that I can show them their picture in the back view screen of my camera, it becomes a game where I can give back to them. I kneel and they gather around me, pushing and laughing with delight when they see themselves captured inside the camera. Women and children sit on covered wooden platforms along side the road selling fruits, vegetables, drinks and gasoline. I am in wonder at the liter water bottles full of gasoline until in one town, I witness a line of cars and trucks hours long, waiting to refuel at a petrol station. The small road side stands selling the liter bottles of gasoline are for the convenience of the thousands of motor-scooters that frequent the roads.

Just before lunch we stop in Cancar, hike up a steep hillside and through a family compound to see a spider web rice field. The sun is directly above and although I can admire the geometric beauty of the rice field, the direct light is not good for photographs. I wish we were here in the early morning when low, slanted light would give contrast and drama to this amazing patchwork of rice paddies. We stop at Ruteng for lunch, a hot, dirty and dusty town bustling with humanity. The restaurant serves Chinese food and we order ginger beef and stir fry noodles with chicken and walk outside while we wait for our food to be prepared. John, running to catch up with us, stubs his small toe on the uneven sidewalk and we butt heads when I insist that he wash and bandage the bloody toe. The toe incident shadows the next two hours until John finally concedes to my wishes. With medicated and bandaged toe, or drive continues peacefully. We stop to view Ranaica Volcano from afar and to peer in Ranamese Lake, a caldera filled with water. The weather cools dramatically as we wind up and up into a cloud forest and I wonder that Cita can see to drive through the dense cloud fog. When we pop out of the clouds the sun is low on the horizon and Inerie Volcano glows in the late afternoon sun, a picture perfect moment.

It is dark when we arrive in Bajawa and the first hotel is full. We are confused and annoyed, since we assume reservations to be part of our package, but Mansur finds room in a near-by hotel. Although there is room in this inn, candles flicker in the lobby and I soon surmise that the hotel is without electricity. We have been driving all day and are tired, our physical batteries low, as well as the batteries within our camera and computer. Art vents his dissatisfaction to our guide Mansur, telling him that he hates being stuck in a car all day and that there has been some motor "under his butt" since we started this tour. He explains that the cost of our tour is excessive to the quality of accommodations and food. I suffer Manur's discomfort, but understand Art's point of view. Our room is shabby and although I am getting used to the bathrooms in Flores, this one leaves much to be desired. The room itself is the shower, no tile, just faded blue and grey cement. A shower wand hangs above a single cold water valve. Hot water simply is not available. There is no soap or towels, which may be a mute point since a cold water shower isn't high on my list. Bajawa is high in the mountains and tonight is the first cool evening we have experienced since our arrival in Indonesia. After this "discussion," we pile in the car to drive to dinner, but the street is blocked by a delivery truck who's driver has left the scene permanently. We get out and walk to dinner, which is not far and not really a problem, but our patience is wearing. The restaurant has electricity so I charge batteries while we eat a mediocre meal. We are allowed to order anything on the menu, but the menu's are limited and I am tiring quickly of stir fry noodles with chicken. Our experience on Flores is that every dish is cooked individually resulting in painfully slow service and tonight is no exception. We are relieved when dinner is finally over and that our driver is waiting for us, the delivery truck having moved.

To our delight he electricity at our hotel goes on minutes after we return from dinner. We prepare for bed, each of us brushing our teeth and then using the toilet. John is the last to use the toilet which has a valve to control the flow of water into the tank. John might prefer that I omit that he now has diarrhea, thus his need to make sure that the toilet flushes properly. He uses the shower wand to expedite the flushing and the valve breaks within the wand and he is unable to turn off the flow of water. He cleverly resorts to tying the hose in a knot to stop the endless flow. We need not have worried because minutes later the water is turned off permanently for the night. Art, already in bed, calmly asks me if I notice anything about the lights? I retort that I do not and he points to the glass transit pane above our room door. Now that the electricity is on a bare light shines directly into Art's eyes so I climb up on a chair and do my best to use John's sweat shirt to block the light coming through the transit. (When I remove the sweatshirt in the morning, it is covered with dead bugs and spider webs.)

More Komodo Dragons! Wednesday June 25th

More Komodo Dragons! Wednesday June 25th

I would love to write that I wake to a glorious sunrise, but in fact I wake to the sound of water sloshing, tooth brushing and spitting. A cool grey dawn is breaking as I lie quietly on my mat and listen to our crew of three prepare for the day. I take comfort that they are washing up before preparing our breakfast. Art wakes beside me and we watch the grey light turn pink and blossom into a spectacular sunrise. I went to bed without brushing my teeth last night because I didn't know the protocol. I pay attention to the crew this morning, gather up my toothbrush and toothpaste go to the front of the boat where a 50 gallon plastic barrel is secured to a wooden strut and half filled with what I now surmise to be fresh non potable water. A quart sized plastic scoop is tied to the barrel by a long light rope, and floats within. I fill the scoop with the fresh water, and with water filled scoop in hand, lean over the side of our boat and proceed to brush my teeth. It somehow seems wrong to spit over the edge of the boat, but I follow the example of our crew. I slip on my sandles and walk the short distance to the bathroom at the back of the boat. Three sets of eyes follow me and I close the warped wooden door behind me, and survey the toilet situation once again. The bathroom is wet, but seemingly clean enough. A large bucket filled with fresh water sits beside the seat-less toilet. A plastic scoop floats within the bucket and I now understand that this water is for "flushing." I peer into the toilet and see the ocean below and silently multiply our tiny boat, times millions of tiny boats, and worry about the health of our oceans.

The crew slept on a raised platform within the enclosed steering room and through the window I can see our captain make our morning coffee. He fills glass mugs with large scoops of ground coffee and adds hot water from a thermos. The coffee is strong and grainy but when I add sugar, it is delicious. He sets a large plate of a fried starchy vegetable on the rickety table before us. The slightly sweet fried discs are good, tasting like a blend between banana and potato. Komodo Village is just off shore and we motor slowly towards the National Park Pier arriving at the dock around 8:00 A.M. Again, there are two boats tied to the dock, both similar to ours, one with several American's onboard and the other with a small group of Europeans. Although we saw the Komodo Dragon on Rinca Island yesterday, we have been told that seeing the dragons on Komodo is difficult and we are again reminded that it is their mating season. Having already paid our conservation fee on Rinca Island we are assigned a ranger with forked dragon stick and we set out for the long trail loop around the island. Mansor, suggested the medium loop, but I want to spend as much time as possible exploring the island so I push for the longer trek. We follow our ranger along the trail and notice that the vegetation here is more lush than on Rinca. I am the only one wearing sandals and there are poisons snakes on these islands and I wish that I had brought enclosed shoes along on our trip, but our quest for dragons takes my mind off of the snakes. We hike along a dry river bed and our guide points out dragon nests dug into the soft river banks of along the wash. We hike for nearly two hours and on the return loop we spot a young dragon ahead in the curve of the trail. I focus my camera and take a couple of long distance shots when our guide motions me to hurry on ahead. I begin to fast walk and the dragon speeds up, in a comical undulating run. When we return to the park center the other two Americans have spotted a large dragon in the brush. The dragon begins to lumber off into the thicket, but our guide circles around him, urging him back in our direction and we are able to observe and take pictures of this impressive Komodo Dragon.

We sip cold drinks at the visitor center, buy John an over priced T shirt and return to our boat via a string of local vendors selling their wares. I regret that I didn't buy another carved Komodo dragon last night when our boat was visited by the local men and now is my chance. I am deluged with aggressive dragon pushers and I quickly survey my two dozen options, and choose two dragons from the first vendor. Although the overall quality of carvings is not high, there are some that

better than others and John helps me choose. We make our escape to our boat past shouts and waving arms clutching pearl strands and carved abalone amulets.

It is nearly 3:00 P.M. when we start back and we have a 2 hour ride back to the Labuan Bajo Harbor. Art stretches out on the deck, John lounges on the wooden bench and I sit on the deck, leaning on the low edge of the boat watching islands float by in the late afternoon light with visions of dragons spinning in my head. The serenity of the return trip is cut short when we enter open water, cutting across the waves at an oblique angle. Ocean spray rouses Art and John and we are all soon drenched. My initial amusement quickly turns to a gut wrenching worry as the boat bounces and tilts with every wave. Although I can see Islands in the distance, the current is swift and I know that should we capsize, we would not be able to swim ashore. Tied above us to the wooded struts supporting the roof of our small craft are 5 tattered life vests and there are 7 of us onboard. I note that the knots tying the vests to the struts are tight and grimy, most likely having been put there some years ago. I wonder how we would get them untied in an emergency without a knife. Art unzips his backpack and hands me his yellow wind breaker and I slip it on and pull the hood up over my windblown, wet and tangled hair. I try to take comfort that the crew is unconcerned with the choppy waves and the bouncing of the boat and I ride out the hour of angst. The ocean calms as we near land and in the late afternoon sunlight the islands are a golden glow, carpeted with Savannah grass, palm trees dotting the hillsides and mangrove swamps outlining the shoreline.

Our itinerary states that we are to spend tonight in Ruteng, but Mansor explains that the drive to Ruteng is three hours and asks if we might prefer to spend the night here? He suggests that instead of driving through much of the scenery tonight in the dark that we make an early start in the morning so that we will be able to see the spider web rice paddies. We agree to his suggestion and spend the night in Labaun Bajo in a very simple room with three saggy beds. Our hotels open air restaurant overlooks the harbor below, but the sunset is just out of sight, so we walk up the road to watch the sunset, hearing the evening call to prayer. We watch Muslim women and children, heads modestly covered with the hijab, descend the uneven pathway below us heading to their evening prayer. We eat a simple dinner at our hotel's restaurant, take cold showers in our minimal bathroom and fall into bed.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Komodo Dragons! Tuesday June 24

Komodo Dragons! Tuesday June 24

We leave our lovely bungalow at 6:15 A.M and after coffee and banana pancakes, walk with our luggage to Tabra's. The pick up van is waiting to drive us to the airport in Denpasar. The check in process is slow and tedious, but with time to kill, Art manages to call Alisha. It is Monday night in Santa Cruz, California and all is well.

Our 10:15 flight to Labaun Bajo leaves on-time and an hour and a half later we land on Flores Island. A slightly built man, who I assume will be our guide, presses a piece of paper to the exterior of the terminal window, our names printed on it, but until we claim our two bags, we cannot exit. I watch three hot and bored men slowly unload the luggage from the plane, and eventually three carts are pushed across the hot tarmac, and reunited with our bags, we exit the terminal and are loaded into a small S.U.V.Toyota. Our English speaking guide is Mansor and our driver is Cita. It is just a short distance between the airport and the harbor, and within minutes we are aboard the small wooden boat that will be our home for the next two days. We have a captain and two crew members. The captain is a crinkly faced man that I imagine to be about our age. He smiles easily through absurdly crooked teeth. Our two barefoot young deck hands nimbly untie the boat and we are on our way to Rinca Island. It is a two and a half hour boat trip to Rinca and many small islands dot the horizon. The sea is calm and the light, reflecting off of the water is blinding. Lunch is served on a wobbly wooden table, covered with a stained plastic table cloth. We cautiously eat cold baked fish, cold and spicy stir fry noodles, and a cold vegetable salad. The warnings of our travel doctor whirl in my mind and wonder how long it will take for our guts to rebel to the cuisine. I say a silent prayer and continue to eat the unappealing meal spread before us. Art dozes on the wooden floor of our boat, John stretches out on a rickety wooden bench and I sit on the uneven deck and watch islands float by. Indonesia is part of the ring of fire, and it is obvious that these craggy islands have been formed by volcanic activity but I am surprised that they are carpeted with golden savanna grass, mangroves growing along the waters edge.

Eventually we arrive at Rinca Island and tie up to the small dock. Two other boats, similar to ours, and carrying several tourists each, have arrived before us and several small covered fishing boats are moored alongside the mangroves at the waters edge. I peer curiously into one and a weathered old woman huddled under the canvas cover, her mouth red with beetle nut juice, looks steadily back at me. Mansor leads the way to the ranger station, a simple wood building, constructed on raised wooden stilts. We climb the few steps up and into the building where two formally dressed government officials sit behind desks collecting passport information and conservation taxes. Several young dragons are rummaging through garbage piles beside the small huts where the rangers live. A young English speaking ranger, with forked dragon stick in hand, leads us into the scrubby dry forest in search of adult dragons. He tells us that June and July is the beginning of the dragons mating season and that the dragons are difficult to find this time of year but minutes later, our guide spots an adult dragon in the brush along side of the trail. We are ecstatic and I approach cautiously, snapping photos as quickly as my camera will allow. Our ranger stands close with his forked stick poised should he need to ward off an aggressive dragon. The large and powerful dragon lizard seems bored with our attention, but watches us, continually flicking it's forked tongue, tasting and smelling our scent. Some minutes later he makes a slow and undulating turn and waddles off into the brush, his powerful legs and body swaying gracefully.

We continue our hike through the scrubby forest, our guide pointing out birds in the canopy, wild pigs and deer. When we near a watering hole he motions us to proceed quietly and we see a wild water buffalo knee deep in the mucky black mud. The buffalo watches us curiously but doesn't flee and I am able to take many photos. We hike out of the forest, up to the crest of a mountain, blanketed in golden savanna grass with an amazing 360 degree view of hillsides, valleys and the ocean beyond. A narrow trail winds down the opposite hillside and our guide spots a large dragon moving along the path. The other small groups of tourists is descending the trail and we watch as they spot the dragon and have their moment of close encounter. I wish that we could race down our hillside and up the other to watch this dragon, but it is too far and we watch from afar as the dragon disappears into the brush. We hike back down to the forest floor, walking along a dry wash and watching for dragons, but they are off finding mates and I try to be satisfied with our earlier encounter with the adult dragon. Tomorrow, we will have another chance to see dragons on Komodo Island.

Back onboard our wooden boat we motor another two hours to Kalong Island. Our captain serves us tepid glasses of Tang, which taste extremely good in this setting. The sun sets and it is dark long before we arrive. The last hour of the trip is somewhat eerie since our captain uses no running lights and we speed through the blackened water and dark night unseen. There are just a few other boats in the distance, a single light denoting their prescence. Mansor points out Komodo Village, a dim strip of lights, twinkling along the shoreline beyond. Eventually our captain chooses a place to anchor and Mansor tells us that we will soon be visited by men in boats from Komodo Village, with things to sell to us. I flash back to our trip to China, where men, polling on small river rafts came up along side of our boat with trinkets to sell. I felt uncomfortable then and I was with a dozen other travelers but I know of no way to avoid tonights pending visit. Moments later, two small boats pull up along of us and two young men come onboard and begin removing carved Komodo dragons from a cloth sack and arranging them on the wooden deck of our boat. I am sitting on floor of the boat and three other men from the second boat arrange strands of pearls and carved abalone sting rays on the bench beside me. We decide that we will buy one carved Komodo Dragon and John takes his time choosing and bargaining with the young men. An older man with a blind eye thrust a fist full of abalone sting ray pendants at me and I choose one and begin the bargaining game. Eventually we settle on a price and the men re-board their boats and disappear into the darkness.

Dinner is served, a repeat of lunch but with cold fried pieces of gristly chicken in place of the fish. John wonders what part of the chicken he is gnawing on? I am grateful that the dim light minimizes the soiled plastic table cloth and again hope that our stomachs will withstand the fare. It can't be much later than 8:00 P.M. but the eventful day has tired us and the deck hands bring 5 plastic sleeping mats to the front of our small boat. Art and I get two thickness of mats each and John sleeps on the single mat. They spread printed sheets over the mats and give us each the equivalent of a beach towels for a blanket. The night is warm so we will not be cold, and after braving the primitive bathroom at the rear of the boat, I curl up in my clothes and go to sleep. The crew and our guide sleep together on a raised platform within the small steering cabin. Ordinarily, I get up several times each night to use the bathroom and am anxious that I will need to use this bathroom in the middle of the night, but I sleep straight through the night and I sleep well.

Monkey Forest - Monday June 23

Monkey Forest - Monday June 23

This morning we head for the Monkey Forest. Not surprisingly, it is at the end of Monkey Forest Road and we pay a small admission fee at the kiosk to enter the forest sanctuary. Hundreds of Macaque Monkeys frolic within, many females with babies clinging to them. A paved walkway winds through the park and the monkeys hang from the trees, lounge on the pavement and sit on the low stone wall lining the path. The monkeys seem to have the visitors trained and they snatch banana's and sweet potatoes from outstretched hands. Most of the monkeys are polite, but some are aggressive, jumping onto peoples shoulders and heads. Some of the monkeys are lustful and with no inhibitions the scene is not for the prudish. Just a block away is the bustle of Ubud but within this park is a thriving jungle, the canopy of trees a playground for the monkeys. We meander the path towards the Monkey Forest Temple and before entering the outdoor temple, sarongs are wrapped around our waists, in respect for the gods. I take many pictures within the temple and we circle back to the exit. Art is ahead when John spies a stone stairway leading down to a gorge below. I follow John who has discovered an amazing grotto. Vines drip from huge ficus trees and sunlight streams through the canopy above. We cross an arched cement bridge with carved guardian figures flanking it's ends. A formal reflecting pool is home to a monstrous catfish and and we walk a narrow riverside path winding above the river below. A mossy stairway descends to a shaded grotto guarded by two immense Komodo Dragon carvings. The dragons, encrusted with moss are guardians to a small spring and the ground is wet and slippery beneath my feet. We all feel the magic of this place and linger for the better part of an hour.

Art and John have massage appointments at 1:30 P.M. but I to return to our bungalow for a solitary afternoon and to catch up on this blog. In the late afternoon we walk to Tabra's, send e-mail, check for messages from Alisha and post my blog. Every other Monday night the Yoga Barn serves a buffet dinner and shows a movie. The buffet is served in the lower garden and the movie is shown in an upstairs, open air yoga room. Ex-patriots and yoga practitioners attend this event. The movie tonight is a documentary on yoga and we find a mat on the floor and settle down to watch. A few minutes into the movie I look over and see that Tabra is dozing, my sentiments exactly, and we leave as quietly as possible so as not to unduly disturb the remaining audience.

A New Bungalow in Paradise -Sunday, June 22

A New Bungalow in Paradise -Sunday, June 22

When we return form our Island adventure, we will need to find a new place to stay, since our lovely bungalow villa is reserved by someone else. We spend the morning looking at properties. There are many options, and I enjoy walking along the raised paths between rice paddies in search of our new Shangri-la. We look at two hotel options, lovely rooms overlooking manicured gardens, but two rooms will cost us $80.00 a night with breakfast, and Tabra assures us that we can find something nicer for less money, so we continue our search. Wayan's cousin owns a property very close to Tabra's, a cluster of opulent bungalows nestled in a lush garden setting with a jewel of a swimming pool. We choose this one and pay a deposit. Our two story bungalow sits above the others, overlooking the pool below. Several open air teak decks, covered with terra-cotta tile roofs extend from both the upper and lower floors. A small separate room, with windows on all sides, is connected by a teak walk way off of our second floor master suite. John will sleep here, above the tree tops, enjoying a 360 degree, tree top view beyond and below.

We begin the morning at the Art Museum. I know very little about Indonesian Art but the collection is wonderful. Ancient as well as contemporary art is represented. I am surprised to see that many of the 20th paintings are influenced by the French Impressionists. An upstairs room houses an impressive collection of Balinese Keris, intricately embellished jagged swords. An upscale resort is steps away from the museum and we eat lunch at their open air restaurant. It is very expensive by Balinese standards, but the food is supurb.

John came down with a cold a week ago, and now Art and I have sore throats. Ordinarily this wouldn't concern me, but we leave for Komodo Island on Tuesday so Tabra takes us to her walk in clinic. I was hoping the Doctor might prescribe an antibiotic as a precautionary back up, but instead he gives us a gargle and a lozenges. We sped the afternoon wandering side streets in Ubud. It is a beautiful city seemingly in a state of continual festivity. The family compounds are behind stone gates and every courtyard has several shrines. The slanted afternoon sun bathes the streets in a dramatic warm light and I take photos in all directions. We are pressed for time and eat a hurried dinner at a simple cafe before parting ways with Tabra. Tonight we are going to a Big Bamboo dance performance and she has seen several of these already. Wayane drives us to the open air theatre just out of town. This performance is a series of separate dances and although the costumes are lavish, and the dancers lovely, I am somewhat bored. I am surprised and pleased that John is enjoying the dance, enchanted by the lithe and supple beauties with seemingly disjointed fingers that curve upward as they dance. A bamboo "orchestra" accompanies all of the dances, keeping rhythm with bamboo xylaphones. We are invited onstage for a final dace and an immense, floor to ceiling xylophone is unveiled, its powerful sound and rhythm reverberating through the night air.

Komodo Island Angst - Saturday, June 21

Komodo Island Angst - Saturday, June 21

We enjoy another lovely morning relaxing at the small open air cafe, one rice paddy away from our bungalow. We again order banana pancakes, hot coffee and fresh fruit and all is delicious. The morning light is golden as we walk down the pathway towards Ubud, descend the long stairway to the street below where Wayan waits to drives us to Tabra's house. Two large jardineres with floating lily pads and two carved mermaids guard the lush garden pathway to her front door. She lives in a lovely spacious bungalow overlooking the river. The downstairs of her home houses her business with heavy teak work tables, desks and computers. An intricately carved door leads to an adjoining room and a veranda stretches the entire side of the ground floor. An low, over-sized table sits between two long cushioned benches and Tabra tells me that they often work outside, inventorying beads and designing new pieces. Her personal quarters are upstairs, equally lovely with a veranda overlooking the river below. She has created a magical space in which to live and to work. Manicured gardens surround her compound and are shared with several other ex-patriots. We meet several of her employees and are able to check our e-mail. Although I have a printed conformation paper for our Komodo trip, I have no plane tickets or further information. One of Tabra's employes calls the travel office on my behalf and my blood pressure rises as I watch her facial expressions. I speak no Balinese, but I can tell that the news is not good. They have no record of my reservation and I have prepaid for this trip well over a month ago. She assures me that she will fax my receipt to the company and straighten it out if possible.

Our plans are to drive to Tampaksiring, a bone carving village and then on to Mount Batu for lunch. All is exciting and new to us as we gaze out the window at the bustle of Ubud. The old king has died and preparation for his cremation, two weeks hence, consumes the city. Scaffolding towers are being constructed in the center of the square and as a result, the traffic congestion is awful. Prayer flags flutter and floral offerings grace every doorway and today, everything that is made of metal. Today is the day to bless machines and Wayan has placed offerings upon the dashboard of our car. Every car and motorcycle in Bali is seemingly bedecked with a flower offering. In Tampaksiring, Tabra takes us to her favorite bone carving shops. John and I have seen similar carvings at the Tucson Gem and Mineral show and together we choose several detailed pieces. Tabra is searching for inspiration and components for her charms and when I begin to understand her vision, I point out carvings that I think might work for her designs.

We continue onto Mount Batu, and eat a buffet lunch on the terrace overlooking the impressive volcano. The view may be spectacular, but the food is not. This is the first time in Bali, that I feel caught in a tourist trap, with overpriced, mediocre food. We are accosted by vendors, trying to sell their goods as we make our way back to our car. Driving back to Ubud, we stop at a coffee plantation overlooking a lush jungle valley and taste several varieties of coffees and chocolates, but no one pressures us to buy. The afternoon sun shines golden through the foliage and John spots a huge spider suspended in his sunlit web just out of reach. Tabra calls home and the news is good concerning the Komodo, Rinca and Flores Island leg of our trip. Our reservations have been found and plane tickets and an itinerary packet will be delivered to Tabra's on Monday.

We end a full the day with dinner at the Dirty Duck, an elegant restaurant in a garden setting twinkling with lights. Wyanne drops us at the foot of our stairway and we make the climb back up to our palatial bungalow nestled in the rice paddies.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Paradise Found - Friday June 20th.

Paradise Found - Friday June 20th.

I wake to the sounds of roosters and ducks, rise and excitedly explore our villa in the soft early morning light. It is just as lovely by daylight as it was in last nights moonlight. We are surrounded by coconut palms, banana trees and rice paddies and I take dozens of photos. A thatched cafe where our breakfast will be served is one rice paddy away and Art and I walk the narrow path between the rice fields towards our morning coffee. Ducks wade in the stagnant water, slurping and quacking happily. We order Bali coffee, banana pancakes, fresh fruit and a cheese omlet. The Bali coffee is too thick and grainy for my tastes, but the banana pancakes are amazing. Returning to our bungalow, I wake John and he too is mesmerized by the magic of it all.

We meet up with Tabra late in the morning, walking along the dirt path connecting the road to our bungalow. Wyanne drives us into Ubud and we wander together exploring the shops that Tabra recommends. We need to cross over a gorge to the other side of town. Our choice is between a suspension bridge missing many of it's boards where we can see down to the river below or the cement bridge where the cars pass over. Tabra refuses the wooden bridge and crosses alongside of the cars on a narrow cracked sidewalk. Our choice seems to be falling to our death into the gorge or being maimed by automobile. Surviving, we proceed onto lunch at a "hippy-arty" cafe with wonderful, inexpensive food. The furrow in Arts brow is gone and he relaxes into the spirit of the place.

Tabra makes massage appointments for us all at her favorite spa. This will be John's first massage and although we all assume the spa is reputable, we reserve a shared room for Art and John. I am slightly nervous, but the experience is easy and I relax into the therapeutic hands of the young woman masseuse. She knowingly kneads away the tension of the past several days of travel. An hour and a half later, we are all relaxed and smelling of sweet oils. We drink ginger tea together, and pay our bills. Each 1 1/2 hour massage is $12.00.

We have a lovely dinner at Nomads, an open air cafe set on a raised terrace overlooking the main street in Ubud. We order an elaborate tapas appetizer plate to share, and two dozen taste treats are served to us on small leaves arranged on two large platters. We are slightly hurried but indulge in chocolate moose cake and banana creme brule before leaving to attend a Kechak dance. Wyanne drives us to the Keckak on the outskirts of town and we climb a long steep path bordered by impressive Balinese sculpture, theatrically lit in the dark. The setting has the feel of an Indiana Jones movie and a sense of excitement rises up in me. Classical dances are not always my favorite, but the Kechak is unlike any I have ever seen. We sit in an open air theatre and over 50 male performers gather in a circle, a blazing candle-lit alter in their center. The rhythmic chanting begins, a mix of guttural sounds and repetitive melody. The performers vibrate their hands and bodies, dark hand-prints silhouettes black against the blazing alter. We are mesmerized and catch the rhythm and spirit of the pagan dance. I ask what the dance signifies and Tabra tells me the dance is about good versus evil. At times the chanting is soft and then rises to a frenetic crescendo, all the time keeping the rhythm with the underling melody. A fire walk follows and two dancers, holding hairless brooms, spread glowing coals in a circle on the dirt. A third dancer, seemingly in a trance, struts rooster like through the coals, kicking up blazing sparks, brilliant red against the dark night setting. Repeatedly, the two assistant dancers sweep the coals back into a small circle and repeatedly the fire dancer struts through the coals sparks flying high.