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.

Bali Unfolds - Wednesday, June 19th.

We check out of our convenient, lack luster hotel, stow our baggage and began our morning walk to forage for food. Our normally charming son, is sullen and Art follows suit making this the mood for the day. Without too much trouble we find a cafe and order 4 morning sets. Two may be able to live as cheaply as one, but add a growing 15 year old boy into the equation and his food consumption doubles ours. We wander the side streets of the Ueno district, into a market district with open air shops selling everything from T shirts to cosmetics. Clustered together are several high end T-shirt and jacket shops, catering to the military and to tourists. The bold graphics of the T-shirts and the heavily embroidered silken jackets of dragons, tigers and koi fish draw me in. The young man attending the stall targets Art and John as possible customers and is surprised when I buy myself a striking dragon T-shirt, styled like a body tattoo. We leave the market in search of an electronic store and spend an hour purchasing needed converters and USB cables to take with us to Bali.

John and I walk through the Uneo Park while Art checks on the train schedule back to the Narita Airport. Acrobats are setting up for a performance in the park and John and I dawdle a bit watching them warm up. When we return to the hotel, Art is anxiously standing out front with all our luggage. We dash through the ticket turn-styles and board our train with just 5 minutes to spare. Slightly over an hour later we are at the airport. We are ahead of schedule, the check in line is short and I remember to check to make certain that our seats are together. They are not and the courteous attendant reassigns us, asking if we would prefer the top or bottom deck? Never having sat on the top deck of an airliner, John enthusiastically requests seating there. With some time to spare, we browse the plastic display food in the windows of the airport restaurants, eventually settling on one and eating a late, mediocre lunch. The security check is painless and two female travelers from New York drink small bottles of saki just inside the security area. Although they will not be allowed to take the liquid onboard, J.A.L. is courteous enough to give them time to consume it if they wish. We are the first group to board and John carries my luggage up the steep stairs to the top deck of the airplane. Our luggage is too fat to fit in the overhead compartment, and the stewardess graciously stows it in a nearby closet. John is ecstatic that each seat back has it's own personal T.V. and he and quickly plans his movie marathon. The plane takes off on time, complimentary drinks are served shortly and the dinner is actually good. I watch two movies; John and Art watch three, the overhead lights come on; I fill out our landing cards and before we know it we are landing in Denpasar.

With just carry on luggage we are quickly off the plane, hurrying towards the immigration check point. We pay our $25.00 each for our 30 day visas and then wait through a painfully slow line to enter Bali. 45 minutes later, with our passports stamped, we pass through customs, exchange $200.00 and exit the airport. Tabra and her driver are waiting for us and quickly whisk us off to the waiting car, a small S.U.V. I haven't seen Tabra in nearly 13 years, but she looks very much the same; beautiful, exotically dressed and adorned heavily with her lovely silver bangles. For the past three months we have exchanged e-mail and the conversation flows easily. It is after 11:00 P.M. and we drive through the darkened streets of Denpasar towards Ubud. I am focused on conversing with Tabra but John is alert to all that passes outside our window. Art sits in the front seat beside Wayan, our driver, when suddenly, a flash of white blurs across our path and the motor scooter directly in front of us veers, tips sideways, spins and the riders, crash onto the asphalt. Wayan manages to veer left avoiding the two downed riders and quickly pulls over to the side of the road. Thankfully, the two riders are wearing helmets and the passenger, a woman rises, and moves shakily to the center divider but the driver is seriously injured. Within a minute, we are standing with Tabra, along side of the road beside our luggage and the injured driver is loaded into the back of our S.U.V. Wyanne drives quickly away, off to a nearby hospital. Young Balinese men appear carrying a bench over to us and we talk with them waiting for our driver to return. The night is warm and the smell of diesel fuel wafts our way as the traffic speeds along side us. There are many motor scooters, almost all with passengers and many with children sandwiched between their parents. I think of my granddaughter Molly and wish for their safety.

45 minutes later, Wyanne returns and tells us that the motor scooter rider will be alright and we continue our drive towards Ubud. After passing through the downtown streets of Ubud, we turn off the main road. The jungle foliage is lush and sweet and the night air pleasantly cool and humid. We stop at the end of a narrow road, unload our our three small bags and walk together with flashlights down steep cement stairs, over a gully and through rice paddies. The moon is full and the unfolding scene is magical. Wayan unlocks a padlock on the carved doors of our rented bungalow and we are amazed and delighted. Decorative Stepping stones span an illuminated water garden and the koi fish swim to greet us. Removing our shoes, we step up on the marble veranda, wicker chairs gracing the open air space and fresh flowers fragrant in the night air. He swings open another carved door revealing a bedroom with a 4 poster bed draped with gossamer mosquito netting. The floor to ceiling window looks out upon the water garden and steep stairs lead up to a second bedroom, also appointed with a large bed draped with gossamer netting. An open air veranda juts off the upstairs bedroom overlooking the rice paddies below. Tabra excitedly shows us the large open air bathroom, a small utilitarian kitchen and our private pool in the courtyard. The illuminated pool shimmers invitingly and on the far side of the pool is a large thatched open air veranda with yet another mosquito netted bed befitting a prince. Another small, raised pagoda stands along side of the pool, bedecked with silken lounge cushions. We wander our villa, exclaiming our delight and amazement. The price for this luxury, including our breakfast is just $45.00 a night.

We say goodnight to our friends and then have the difficult decision of deciding where we want to sleep. John chooses the netted bed on the veranda and Art and I fall exhausted into the downstairs bed, the fountains of the water garden, and the chirping of the gecko's lulling us to sleep.

Tokyo Immersed - Wednesday June 18th

Tokyo Immersed - Wednesday June 18th

I wake early and write my blog quietly while Art sleeps. At 15, John could sleep all day, but we manage to wake him and head out, stopping first for a breakfast set at the train station. Art buys us each a metro pass and we take the train to Tokyo Mid Town Mall. The stylish and upscale mall doesn't open until 11:00 A.M. but we window shop the elegant shops. Art makes a call to Miho, Mizuho's publicity woman and friend. There is no answer and Art leaves a message. A monumental amoeba-like steel sculpture stands in the garden below the shopping center and we wander over for a closer look. From there we walk the short distance to the National Art Center, a spectacular,voluminous structure of steel and glass. The upper floors of this skeletal steel structure house art exhibits and stylish cafes.

Returning to Tokyo Mid Town we are surprised by Miho, who has come looking for us. It is lunch time and she suggests a terrace restaurant overlooking the garden below. The restaurant is upscale and rather expensive, but the view is lovely and the sushi sets and lunch box sets we each order are elegant, mindfully prepared and delicious. From lunch we walk to Roppongi Hills and the Mori Museum. A Monumental steel spider sculpture stands in the inner courtyard of this shopping center. For $1500 yen each we access the sky tower and Mori Art Museum. This is the tallest building in Tokyo and the 360 degree roof top view is hazy but impressive. The museum is less impressive and we are disappointed by the Turner Award Retrospective Show.

At Miho's suggestion we taxi to the new metro station, modeled to feel like a space station, but we are not impressed. From here we take the metro to Harajuku, taking a coffee break at an ever present Starbuck's Cafe. The bustling streets of Harajuku are teeming with young people and Gothic and "Bo-Peep" fashions spill forth from the shops lining the streets. I buy Alisha a trendy, butterfly cut out T-shirt and we continue our walk to Kat street in the Shibuya district. Miho's feet hurt as do mine so we rest along side the road and watch humanity pass by. Somewhat revived we get lost in Shibuya, with it's many small boutiques and picturesque side streets, eventually winding our way back towards downtown Tokyo where the statue of the dog serves as a meeting place for locals and travelers alike. The immense square, surrounded by high-rises and flashing billboards feels somewhat like New York's Time Square. Deciding that we should eat dinner before going our separate ways, Miho suggests an upstairs Izakaya. The decor and menu is traditional Japanese and we share small plates of food. The food is excellent but minimal and we order numerous dishes before we are sated. We part ways, returning by the metro, back to the Ueno district.

Tokyo - Tuesday, June 17

Tokyo - Tuesday, June 17

We arrive at Narita Airport at 1:50 P.M. It's Tuesday June, 17th and we have lost a day between time zones. We have been here many times before and all is familiar and easy, especially since Art speaks the language and takes care of most everything when we travel within Japan. John and I stand watch over the luggage while Art purchases three Sky-liner train tickets into Tokyo. Although the skies are grey the temperature is in the mid 70's. We find seats on the train and watch green fields dotted with red and blue tile roof houses zip passed our window. As we near Tokyo the countryside morphs to urban high-rises, crisscrossed by a spider web of utility wires turning the view outside into a cubist painting alive with the bustle of humanity. An hour later, we arrive at the Uneo Station. We easily wheel our carry-on luggage out of the station and across the street to our hotel. Art reserved this hotel because of it's easy location and relatively reasonable price. (Two rooms cost us $170.00) Our rooms are extremely tiny and dark, papered with an embossed mustard colored paper permeated with the smell of smoke. Nevertheless, two freshly washed and folded kimono's are neatly arranged on the bed and the tiny pod of a bathroom is immaculately clean.

Wanting to pack as most into our Tokyo experience as possible, we leave our hotel quickly and ride the metro to the Ginza district. The Ginza is a fashionable district with high end boutiques and couture shops. The architecture is exciting and the bustle of the district excites our senses, but we are hungry and all the restaurants in this district are expensive. We circle back a few blocks back towards the train station and along the way, find a stylish restaurant still serving it's lunch special for another 15 minutes. It is 4:45 P.M. and we are graciously escorted to a table alongside a wall of glass, just above street level. There are several specials ranging from about $18.00 - $30.00. Art and I order two of the less expensive ones, but John chooses the most expensive. We suffer a few minutes of irritation over John's choice, but when hot green tea is brought to us in tiny lotus cups and saucers, we begin to relax. The food comes quickly, is beautifully presented, ample and delicious. We are sated, pleased with our choice and return to the Ginza district to stroll and window shop.

Leaving on a Jet Plane - Monday June 16

Leaving on a Jet Plane - Monday June 16

As Art backs out of our driveway, leaving our small downtown Victorian house in Santa Cruz behind, my mind whirls, rechecking hundreds of things on my departure list vital to our families escape to Tokyo, Bali and the Komodo Islands. I slip my hand into the secure zipper of my purse and once again feel three passports and three tickets. Have I remembered to tell Alisha all that she will need to know to run my business smoothly in my absence? A good friend will take care of the house and the pets, and yes, he has the keys and all of the emergency contact information. The static within my mind diminishes with every mile and within 50 minutes Art pulls our 8 year old Acura into the Mountain View train station. We each have just one carry on suitcase, plus the purse on my back that holds all of our tickets, passports cash and credit cards. I have made copies of most of these important documents, but our printer went down a few days ago and in my haste, I flash that have yet to back up our credit card information. A wave of concern sweeps over me should a worst case scenario arise and I make a mental note to do this by hand.

Yesterday, Art gave his friend, a second key to the Acura and he will pick our car up after his work tonight and drive it back to Santa Cruz. Art telephones him to give him the parking space number, we buy tickets for the 7:57 A.M. train, lift our small suitcases aboard and are off, sandwiched between the hoards of Monday morning commuters. I find a seat upstairs, but Art and John stand for the first few stops until we are able to get 4 seats together. I gaze out the window happily, backyards and the cluttered back lots of industrial zones whizzing past me. The mind static is almost gone; I am on the road again. John, our 15 year old son, lanky and sleepy eyed, leans back into the seat with his black sweatshirt hood pulled up hiding much of his handsome and chiseled face. Art's brow is still furrowed but he softly comments on the contented look on my face, and tells me that someone should package "it."

At Milbrae, we change from the train to Bart which feeds into the S.F.O. international terminal. We are ahead of schedule and find our place in the long check in line at United Air. John, always hungry, heads for the Airport food court while Art and I stand in line. A few minutes later, getting my attention, John calls out "Marty," gives me a happy thumbs up and sits across from our snaking line, a tray piled high with food. When he takes his place in line with us, he gives me $3.00 change from the $20.00 bill handed to him earlier. Art grimaces and I hope that in Bali, our dollar will stretch far.

I travel easily and take long lines, security checks and cramped flights in stride but this flight puts even me to a test. Our seating assignments are not together and the plane is completely full but just before departure, we are able to switch seats with a late arriving passenger and sit together. The service is curt, the food bad and the in-flight movies are aired on small overhead screens, not personal seat back consoles. John is getting sick and he coughs and sniffles and complains about the pressure in his ears. Several hours into the flight, after dinner and two movies, we each take a sleeping pill and manage to get some rest.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tokyo, Bali, Komodo Islands trip

I am taking a three week trip to Tokyo, Bali and the Komodo Islands. I know that I will be inspired by the fine arts and crafts that Bali is renowned for. I am especially excited about meeting the Komodo Dragons and I plan to create a Komodo Dragon Charm before the end of the year. My daughter, Alisha, will be running the office and taking care of all of the shipping of the orders during my absence. Marty

segue one year later

more than a year has passed since leaving Okinawa