Welcome to Indonesia: Bali!

While doing some research about where to go after Thailand, I learned quite a bit about Indonesia. Seventeen-thousand islands over a three-thousand mile span! How did I almost overlook such a huge country? Filled with natural sites such as numerous active volcanoes, Komodo dragons, orangutans. Indonesia is the world’s 4th most populated country with about 230 million people, 87% being Muslim (as of 2010).

I choose my first destination in Indonesia to be Bali, a place I’ve heard quite a bit about from friends: stunning views of rice terraces, tropical beaches, and a largely Hindu population. I was in for a treat. I go straight to Ubud, the most spiritual part of Bali. There’s not too many hostels here, but I find one called The Happy Mango Tree. Across the street is The Honeymoon Cottage, and there were many more romantic cottages and resorts throughout town. IMG_2601 On my first day I walk down Monkey Forest Road to visit the Monkey Forest Sanctuary. I have heard a lot about mischievous monkeys here, snatching food from people. As I pay for the ticket, I make note of a warning, that states, “Do not smile at the monkeys. Displaying teeth is a sign of aggression.” Fine, I won’t smile. As I walk inside, I enjoy the lush greenery, temples, and moss-covered statues.IMG_2388 IMG_2407I notice a lot of tourists smiling at the monkeys, or getting too close to take a photo; naturally the monkeys hiss. Luckily, I don’t see anyone getting bitten.IMG_2399 A temple inside Monkey Forest.IMG_2397 I like the juxtaposition of such a beautiful statue against a “no parking” sign.IMG_2410 I leave Monkey Forest and wander through the streets. After wandering around for a bit, I begin to get hungry. I try to find a restaurant recommended to me called Sari Organic. I fail. I’m about to give up, when one of the many moto-taxi drivers asks me where I’m from. This starts the usual conversation where I say I’m Indian, but raised in California. He then asks where I want to go, and I say Sari Organic. He says, “oh too far!” I’ve heard this line too many times before, so while I doubt him, I’m hungry. We haggle over the price, and in two minutes I’m on his motor-bike en route to Sari Organic. Along the way the scenery changes from busy streets to beautiful rice fields.IMG_2650I arrive, and I’m seated to enjoy this view with my meal. The environment immediately instills relaxation.IMG_2417My order arrives, fresh and delicious vegetarian food, some it grown in the fields that surround me. IMG_2416 The following day, as I walk around the streets of Ubud, I feel amazed at lush greenery, the giant lilies, the beautiful architecture of Balinese temples.IMG_2512 IMG_2513 In the Royal Palace I encounter the following shrine after a large religious ceremony. As I look closer I smell something afoul, and I’m amazed to see the head of a pig. Definitely way different the the Hinduism I know from India.IMG_2499 IMG_2497 I continue wandering around the streets (wandering is like a hobby now), and I find an interesting sign for Hubud. Curious, I decide to walk up the stairs and check it out.IMG_2600 The first person I run into is a Usability Researcher from San Diego. Whaaat?! As I speak to her I learn she has re-located from San Diego to Ubud, and does consulting from this co-working space, Hubud (seriously, click the link and tell me it doesn’t make you want to relocate to Bali for work).IMG_2592 I walk around the space, it feels like a co-working space one would find in San Francisco, except it’s set in a tropical climate, and there’s lots of bamboo. EPIC! And immediately, my mind begins to have dreams about living in Ubud, a place where I can work and play.IMG_2597 I continue my wandering, admiring the beauty, the art; below is a pattern of leaves and flower petals floating in a large fountain in front of a store.IMG_2590 I enjoyed dinner many times across the street from my hostel at Uma Pizza. I haven’t had such good pizza in months, and to top it off Uma’s pizza is baked in a wood-oven.IMG_2493 I find it endearing how chili sauce is dispensed through these baby bottles.IMG_2494 Later in the evening I stumble upon a Ramayana dance show. The audience is seated on simple fold-out chairs in a quad in front of a temple. As the show begins, I get super-excited realizing the chant is from Baraka, a must-see artistic film if you’ve never seen it. While the dance is based on the Ramayana, an Indian epic story I know, I hardly can follow it; the Balinese-style throws me off. It’s very enjoyable nonetheless.

Temple Tour Around Bali

One morning I wake up, and spontaneously decide I want to do the Sunset Temple tour around Bali. I haven’t booked anything in advance, but I find out one of my fellow backpackers from my hostel is going, and a van will be here shortly. When the van arrives, I ask the driver if there’s an empty seat; and there is one! I pay $20, and off I am on an eight-hour tour with seven other people. Below is the first temple we visit. IMG_2438 IMG_2446 Temple on the lake.IMG_2458 IMG_2460 IMG_2827 Lunch spot. With an EPIC view. IMG_2454 IMG_2867 Famous temple at the end of the day, where one can also enjoy sunset.IMG_2474 The sunset draws a huge crowd. I’m glad so many people love sunsets.IMG_2476

Hiking up Mt. Batur

A popular thing to do in Bali is watching sunrise from the top of one of the volcanoes. I book a tour with two fellow backpackers. Our van arrives at 2:30am at our hostel to pick us up.

We arrive at the base of the volcano at 4am to begin the hike. We begin the two-and-a-half hour ascent up the volcano, in the dark, our feet slipping on the loose rocks. One would think that such a popular trail would at least be free of loose rocks to make the ascent easier and safer.  I’m grateful for the cool air, a worthy tradeoff to having to do this in the dark.

We arrive at the top. At sunrise, we are rewarded with a magnificent view. IMG_2910

We have a breakfast of banana bread and volcano-steamed eggs. By 7:30am the sun is beginning to get intense, and so we begin our descent back down. IMG_2562 Descending down the volcano is harder, despite it being daylight now. Damn these crumbly rocks. I take it slow and easy not wanting to twist my ankle or risk any other injury.IMG_2568 After backpacking through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, just as I was beginning to think that I had seen it all, Bali surprised me. The culture, architecture, food, and natural beauty. After spending a week in Ubud, I prepare to head off to my next destination, a small island off the coast of Bali called Gili Air.

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Farewell, New Life (Part IV)

In Part III I wrote about weekends at New Life Foundation.

Fourteen days have flown by. At 7am, I eat my last breakfast in silence. Afterwards I go back to my room and re-read the prepared speech I have written.

During the daily 8am morning meeting, sitting in a circle with about forty others, it is asked if anyone is leaving today. I raise my hand, and read the following speech:

I came here to New Life to volunteer for two weeks. I was attracted by the opportunity to work with my hands through organic farming. I’ve learned the hard work of hoeing weeds from soil, and fertilizing the plants.

I was attracted by the opportunity to meditate and do yoga; and I am grateful that I had access to these activities every day. I learned new forms of spiritual techniques, my favorite being Dance Mandala.

I was surprised that I could do so much in a day, and have so much energy throughout. Being able to do farm work during the day, and have the energy to do spiritual activities afterwards. I only slept about six hours a night, but I never felt tired. It was easy to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to meditate or practice yoga. I feel like this demonstrates the energy of this place.

Ultimately, I am surprised by the power of this community. I don’t think I’ve been anywhere before where people can be vulnerable and openly share their deepest feelings. Its so authentic. I’m grateful to New Life for creating this space. Before coming here, I did a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat. After my ten days of silence, I realized there were parts of myself that I didn’t love. Being here at New Life with the community, I’ve began to nurture myself, by removing the feeling of being inadequate, and instead realizing that my playing small does not serve the world. We are all meant to shine.

I am grateful to have met all of you, and I wish you all a full and meaningful life. Every one of you is special; a unique walking story. Be the author of your life. Keep writing your awesome story.

Namaste.

As I read my written speech, my voice quivered ever-so-slightly during some parts, feeling a burst of gratitude for having come and volunteered at New Life Foundation. I would miss and cherish my time here with all the beautiful people I had met.

Below are photos from my last night at New Life. A tradition on one’s last night, a Thai lamp is lit and released to the sky. I expressed gratitude and made wishes before releasing the lamp to the universe, carrying my positive energy to the great night sky. After a few minutes, the lamp was camouflaged with surrounding stars.

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Next post: Leaving Thailand for Indonesia. Hello Bali!