Travel Tales. A simple title for a breathtaking three weeks spent in paradise.
I returned from my trip about 2 and a half weeks ago but I have been so busy with planning Halloween parties, celebrating Loi Krathong (a beautiful Buddhist holiday in Thailand), and making a trip to Chiang Mai to reunite with some fellow Loggers that I have been unable to write a blog post.
Now to remind you all I headed out for a three-week vacation to Indonesia and the southern islands in Thailand after finishing my first semester of teaching. It’s impossible to put this entire trip into words and I wish that I could describe each and every magical day for you. Instead, I have taken some short excerpts from my journal I kept along the way. I think this will give you all an intimate look at some of the thoughts I was having while traveling while also revealing some of my greatest adventures.
Now, keep in mind—Number One: These entries do not include all of my adventures in my trip, including a rafting trip and an early morning volcano hike in Ubud, Bali. I will try to include pictures of some of these obviously wonderful things I am keeping out. Number Two: This was a three week trip with many breathtaking moments and thus this post is VERY LONG; brace yourself.
And as always, enjoy.
October 7th Jogjakarta, Indonesia
We rose at 4 am this morning to see the sun rise on the top of Borobudur, an old abandoned Buddhist temple just outside the city. My flashlight weakly lit the stone steps as I ascended. My legs already burned from the short exertion at such an early hour. Once at the top, we waited, quiet and patient. I was a bit nervous as it began to brighten that it would be one of those sunrises devoid of color, the clouds slowly growing brighter until the sun appeared and the day began.
But it was not so. It was a subtle sunrise, certainly; not one so vivid with color that my camera could pick up every hue and tone in the sky. But it was in its softness, its quiet and humble way it seemed to dissipate the sky and light up the day that I found its beauty.
Fog hung heavy on the ground, the thick steam rising to fill the gaps between every tree and make the once hard edges of the mountains surrounding us soft again, so you didn’t know where the mountains started and the sky ended.
My camera clicked as I tried to snap every picture I could, but I turned frustrated as none of them came out. They were all too dark. They were blurry. They showed the stupas black but the sky bright white. After too many tries, I gave up. It didn’t matter. Even if I got a good picture, I could never truly capture this. I could never in a picture show the steam rising from the earth; the exact soft pale pink of the sky that looked like human flesh, as if the yet unseen sun were attempting to breath human life into the new day. I could never capture the extreme sense of peace I had, leaning back on one of the 72 ancient stupas that filled this temple, a statue of a Buddha kept hidden inside each one.
Even now, I know these words don’t give justice to what I have experienced this morning. But I hope I can hold on to that feeling of peace that overcame me on the top of that temple. I hope I can hold on that feeling of uninhibited gratitude as the sun finally poked through the clouds over an hour later, slowly rising in the sky, a pink glowing disk unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I hope I can remember that feeling of my easy breaths and thoughtless mind as I saw the sun shed its pink glow and shine bright white, a line of stupas becoming clearer and even more beautiful in the light.
stupas lit up by the rising sun.
the entire temple
October 8th Jogjakarta, Indonesia
There is so much culture here, with girls in colorful headscarves and others in long patterned Batik skirts, thick fabrics with printed flowers and embroidered geometric triangles and lines running vertically. This city is a clash of Spanish, Arabic, semi-African, and a little Asian—at least this is how it feels to me. The English alphabet surrounds me and the meals of white rice and fried chicken are so reminiscent of my time in Chile that I can’t help but feel the Latin American vibes of this city. But then I hear the call for prayer and as I pass one of the dozens of mosques that dot the street, I see an older man in his small cap, kneeled on a mat, his head to the floor, and I cannot forget the deep Muslim roots that run through this city. And somehow, despite the fact that I have never been to Africa, I feel as if these crowded street roads with children playing in dirt colored clothes and cheap plastic balls is reflective of children with much darker skin playing in similar streets in similar cities half a world away. This is all so different from Thailand in such a refreshing way. There are things here I have never seen before, religions I have never interacted with. After only one day of driving through the streets in an air-conditioned bus I am utterly in love with this mysterious yet enchanting city.
a few pictures from the parade/festival celebrating the anniversary of Jogjakarta
October 9th Jogjakarta, Indonesia
I don’t know what it is about this city, but I really feel at home here. It’s a little rough around the edges with dirty streets and store front windows that look like they are straight out of my high school textbook that taught me the definition of a third world developing country. I think I must feel at home because the people are incredibly nice.
We went to a festival last night that celebrated the anniversary of the founding of the city. Amidst all the passing costumes, dancing puppets, and kids roller blading in the street, we met a woman named Das, who after talking to for about an hour or so, invited to take us around the city and introduce us to Indonesian food.
And so this morning she picked us up in a van outside our hostel, a small breakfast of jellied confections for us on the front seat and an itinerary in hand. We headed first to the local Sultan Palace, getting a rapid tour before going shopping in a silver shop with homemade rings and necklaces. After a quick lunch of hundred year old eggs (I’m not kidding) and fried chicken we went to an “ancient” Islamic temple built in 2010 before going to one of the crown jewels of the city—Pramabanan Temple. Pramabanan is a Hindu temple built in 700 A.D. and it was here where Das stopped to talk to three local boys shaking fruit from the trees. She talked to the boys as if they were already friends and before we knew it, she held out three apple-like fruit for us to try. We could barely get four steps before a local woman sweeping the street asked if we wanted more. “I can get a few from the tree,” she said in Indonesian as she pointed to the tree branches above her. Das nodded to her and said no thank you after what seemed like a three minute conversation “just catching up,” Das claimed.
“Do you know her?” we asked Das.
“No,” she said. “That is just how everyone is here in Jogja.”
In front of Pramabanan Temple.
At the top of a volcano which we hiked at 3 a.m. in order to watch the sunrise.
Oct. 10th Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia
We had our first day in Bali yesterday. Wow! How incredible it was. I had forgotten what all of this could feel like—the sand sticking to my legs and arms, getting caught in my bikini so that even after I have taken a shower, I can still feel little gravelly grains on my chest and legs as I dress.
After soaking in the late afternoon sun on the beach, music blasting from the portable stereo we brought, I decided to go on a short run down the length of the beach. The sun was a golden orb beginning to sink into the ocean. The water was drawn out and calm so that when I ran along its edge the sand was hard beneath my toes and almost no footprints remained in my wake.
Muslim women sat on the beach in their full black burkha and blue-rimmed sunglasses. Their husbands (although I only saw one man) sat next to them in tan shorts and a polo shirt. The women seemed silent as their children ran around their feet. Sand brushed over the women’s black silk covers. I felt conscious as I ran across the beach in nothing but a t-shirt and shorts. I didn’t even have shoes on.
October 11th Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia
I played soccer on the beach tonight. Only minutes before I was thinking of how much I missed being able to play almost whenever I wanted to. And then suddenly I saw men, their skin dark and tan and the words from their mouths sounding scrambled to my ears, pulling goals down onto the beach and placing piles of jerseys onto the hard sand. I asked if I could play. When they said yes, I pulled a damp red jersey over my bikini top and slipped into a pair of shorts. The Indonesian men seemed impressed with me—a white girl playing soccer with all the boys. Mind me, I was not the only foreigner to join the match. Both my friend Chris had slipped into a jersey along with a few other German tourists.
The game started. The ball felt slippery when I received a pass. My skin stung a little when I made a pass myself up the beach, the ball bouncing awkwardly on the hard sand to the man near the goal. But as the sun sunk into the sea and my feet ran along the hard wet sand, avoiding shells poking through the ground, I felt supremely happy. I felt as if I was in a dream because something this beautiful, this magical, simply could not be real life.
Oct. 12th Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
I love the smell here—a stream of jasmine incense and flower petals. It hit me as soon as we landed in Bali and I can even smell it now, a soft hint in the air. There is meditative music playing somewhere in the distance. I can only faintly hear it from my spot on the porch of our hotel room. The music mixed with incense creates a dream like atmosphere. I am so grateful for all I have around me—this opportunity to teach, and more importantly, learn in Asia. My pen races across the page and I feel at peace, as if the world has stopped momentarily and I can see everyone around me frozen—stiff and beautiful.
We went to a monkey sanctuary where Chris was mauled by monkeys : )
October 14th Gili Islands, Indonesia
I have just eaten lunch. I am sitting right on the ocean in a bean bag chair and a small table sunken into the sand. I need to keep asking myself what I could have possibly done to deserve all this. I am sitting on what I imagine to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The ocean is a crystal blue, like something out of a movie. Boats painted blue, red, and cotton candy pink bob up and down in the water. Some look as if they have been passed down in fisherman families for generations, their paint chipped and peeling, the wood of the boat seeming to rot in the salty water. Two or three boats have “Life is Good” painted on the side and I can’t help but agree.
We came to the Gili Islands, a small set of islands off the coast of Bali, yesterday. We took a magical hour and a half boat ride through blue skies and even bluer water, my hair whipping in my face and my skin turning red in the sun. I could not stop smiling.
As soon as we arrived on the island, kicking off our shoes and holding our bags above our heads to deboard the boat, not onto a dock but straight into ankle deep water on the beach, I felt like I had walked into the most wondrous universe I have ever seen. It seems like this island has slipped back in time with no paved roads and only bicycles and horse drawn buggies to get around its small perimeter. I feel like I have been removed from the world entirely. And for now I am totally okay with that.
the perfect lunch spot
October 15th Gili Islands, Indonesia
I am in the water, cooling off after reading in the sun. Three local girls, with long stringy hair already wet from splashing in the ocean, laugh and run into the sparkly blue water, the black sand covering their legs washing away easily as they immerge. They swim over and introduce themselves to us—Nana, Lita, and Nila. Beautiful names that stay on my tongue along with the salt water that fills my lips each time I dive under. They bounce in the water. One of their skirts lifts up, the gray fabric floating around her. It makes her seem like an underwater dancer, something painted in a picture that hangs in a small art museum in upper Manhattan. They swim off and I watch as they interact with other tan girls in small colored bikinis, practicing the little English they know. What a strange life it would be to grow up on this tiny island, a western tourist world constantly surrounding you. Blonde girls and big muscular boys walking the lengths of your beaches every day.
After the girls leave I continue to swim. The water is clear and my feet dangle beneath me, kicking back and forth to keep me afloat. Fish swim two feet from me, their scales glint in the sun and I am in awe just as they swim away. I point to them as if this will make them more real. But when I look down again they are gone and I ask myself if they were really ever there. The sun is warm, the water cold. This is not real, I think.
October 16th Gili Islands, Indonesia
Tonight the stars were faint pinpricks of silver in a black sheet that extended between our white sand beach and the island next to ours. The water curled to shore, the sound of water rushing on to land and then retreating again, leaving small pieces of coral behind—a gift. If you looked closely there were blue stars that dotted the sand just after the water retreated. It was an algae that stuck to our feet if we walked along the beach, leaving glowing footprints that resembled the liquid from glow sticks that stain your hands after you break them open in a mad 11-year-old rush to understand what’s inside. We dipped our toes in the water, hoping the blue algae would stick to the bottom of our feet. We padded across the sand and waited for the little dots to glow in the dark, a reflection of the night sky right under our fingertips.
October 17th Gili Islands, Indonesia
It is evening and everyone is napping after a long but wonderful day of snorkeling. I saw a sea turtle—a real, live sea turtle. Its shell was so breathtakingly beautiful, as if crafted by a fashion or jeweler designer. When I saw first saw it I forgot to breath for a moment.
The turtle floated slowly through the water, it’s green fins flapping lightly so that you could still clearly make out the geometric pattern sketched into its water prone skin (the same pattern etched on its shell). I floated above it for forty or fifty seconds in awe at its quiet and powerful manner. And although twenty other tourists swam around me, kicking their flippers, their eyes going wide as they saw the turtle for the first time, and a few men above me started snapping pictures with their waterproof cameras, I felt like I was completely and utterly alone with this beautiful and mysterious creature.
October 19th Singapore
We explored Singapore this afternoon between our flights from Bali and to Phuket, Thailand. The city, from the little we saw was superbly clean. At first it was hard to tell who actually lived in Singapore and who was just visiting. Just on the metro ride, I saw what to me seemed like a cultural textbook flashing before my eyes. Women in saris sat next to schoolgirls in headscarves and Chinese businessmen with phones in their hands. White men strolled the streets outside with their white children and the girl across from me with her red hair chatted with an Asian looking man in English. Oh yeah, that’s right, I had to remind myself, English is the national language here. Strange. What I came to realize after riding the metro for about an hour is that this city/country is sort of like a melting pot for Asia, with Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, white expats, and a few other nationalities I couldn’t place right away living here.
We didn’t have much time so we only went to the mall to eat before heading to Bayfront Park where giant statues of mangrove trees stood, flowers and foliage twisting through their metal structures so it seemed as if the trees were really real. On top of these structures were solar panels and inside a boiler that turned organic waste into energy. With a giant modern mall and these beautiful trees around me, I felt as if I had walked into a Western world stuck in the middle of Asia.
Now I’m ready to head back to Thailand and explore the beaches of the beautiful country I have called home for the past five months.
Tree pose in front of a giant tree.
KOH PHI PHI
October 21st Phuket, Thailand
We are back in Thailand. After spending a day and two nights at Kata Beach in Phuket, we decided we wanted to make the additional trek to Koh Phi Phi. What a good decision this was! The cloudy ferry ride this morning ended with us circling Maya Bay, a picturesque cove of giant rocks jutting from the ocean, their cliff faces laced with green foliage. An announcement over the ferry intercom stating that we were approaching Koh Phi Phi made all the passengers creep from their spots on the boat to take pictures on the deck. Couples in matching t-shirts took turns taking photos of one another with the giant rocks in the background. Women in long dresses and colorful sunhats made their boyfriends snap pictures of them with the bright blue ocean behind them, telling them to include a few rays of sun and make sure to only get her good side.
After arriving and getting a hotel room we are now at this beautiful, white sand beach so totally different than Gili, but breathtaking in its own right. We are in a circular cove where it seems like the big ocean swells cannot harm us. The water doesn’t start for another 50 or 100 feet from the beach we sit on, and thus, some boats sit sunken into the soft mud-like sand as they wait for the tide to come in. When I do walk to the water, my feet pad along the strange beach/ocean floor and I can see pock marks in the ground. Crabs peak out from the holes and if I look from a distance I can see them scuttling along the sand, making conversations with another.
When you finally reach the water you must trudge through it for another 25 feet before it even comes to your knees. At this point I we (Haley and Sam are with me) are so exhausted that we plop our sweaty, sun bathed bodies into the water that feels more like old bathwater than the cold blue current we grew accustomed to during our five days on the Gili Islands.
a boat sunken into the sand at low tide.
October 26th Nan, Thailand
We are finally back in Nan. It felt so good last night, even arriving at 3 am on a night bus from Chiang Mai, to walk the tiled floor of the hallway before opening the door to my own room and collapsing on my bed. I have missed this place so very much and it feels good to be home. Yes, I think after being away for so long this place is finally starting to feel like a real home.