I know it’s been a while, but greetings from Indonesia, friends! Wow. There’s something I never thought I’d be typing. As I begin my first post from this side of the world, I overlook the Indian Ocean and all of her stunning shades of blue and green. The small waves quietly crash onto the shore in front of me, perfectly accompanying the Jack Johnson album playing in my earphones. The mountain-lined island of Lombock sits almost directly in front of me, making for quite the writing view on this perfect Tuesday afternoon on Gili Trawangan. And yes, I had to look at a calendar just now to see what day of the week it is. So, what? I’m back on island time and it’s a beautiful thing.
The last time I wrote I was celebrating a year of life-changing travel. It really was one of the best years of my life and I am blown away by the responses I have received since deciding to live this dream. When the blog began, my intention was to allow friends and family to keep up with me, while hoping a few of them might even be inspired enough to cash in on their own dreams. I came up with Amelia as my nom de plum, as it was a more latin version of my actual name. Since I had plans to travel through Central and South America, it felt like the perfect fit. I have to laugh a bit now as “Amelia” writes from Asia. I really never thought that a year or so into traveling I’d be in Indonesia. But the not knowing — that’s the best part. My favorite part, actually. So, here I am. I started my trek to Bali on August 19th with my travel buddy and roommate, Shira. We left from my parents house in south Florida after a week of just lounging around, catching rays and eating amazing seafood. Shira already had plans to go to Bali, and they just so happened to fall right before my planned trip to The Philippines in September. You already see where this is going, don’t you? It was quite simple. Shira basically said, “Well, you should come to Bali with me and then you can just fly from there to the Philippines.” Hard sell, I know. So that was it. This summer I worked at a gastropub in Atlanta until I couldn’t take it anymore — literally. It was probably one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had. I was serving instead of bartending for the first time since I was 20. Even then, I only served for 3 months. Let’s just say, I’ve had better summers. I knew I had to hit the road and get out of Atlanta though. The motivation wasn’t hard to find. I spent a lot of my time on MARTA (Atlanta’s failed attempt at a metro system) and on my bike. Well, let me correct that. I had plans to spend a lot of time on my bike, but within 2 weeks of my awesome new job, it was stolen. Yup. Crappy job, no bike and not much money. Since selling my car before leaving for Honduras last year, I was prepared to resume pedestrian transit. I could live without a car, but when my bike was stolen, things got a little tough.Thankfully, Shira let me borrow her car and always helped me get to and from work. Without her and Dani (who’s house I was living in), Amelia would not be in Indonesia. I have amazing friends — there’s no doubt about that. By the time August crept around, I was more than ready to put in my 2-week notice and head to Florida to spend some quality time with my amazing family. While there, I was able to knock out overdue dental work, heaps of errands and even apply for my British Passport! (Speaking of which, it is sitting on my parents’ counter as I type.Yew!) Ahhh, the perks of having a British Father. My time in Florida was perfect. I got to see my little sister for the first time in ages. It was special and full of laugher. A LOT of laughter. Shira joined the party the last week there, then we were off! Bali had our names written all over it.
We left my parents place via the Melbourne, Florida airport on a Monday night. We had quite the trek ahead of us, but the excitement pulled us through. We flew from Melbourne to Atlanta, then rushed to another concourse before grabbing our plane to Detroit, where we would stay one night before the International travel began. We arrived late that Monday night and went straight to the amazing hotel my sister hooked us up with. We didn’t even have to leave the Detroit airport. Double win. It was perfect and quite swanky.
View from the hotel hallway. I could wake up to that every day. Easy.
The following morning we made the short walk to the Delta checkin counter and we were on our way. Our names were cleared from the standby list and we were the new holders of confirmed boarding passes to Manila, Philippines — in Business Elite. I almost feel guilty just typing that. Both of my parents retired from Delta Airlines, which now allows our family to fly for non revenue prices. If we’re lucky, we get the first class upgrade. Well, we were f&^%$# lucky this particular day. These Business Elite seats would run a paying passenger thousands of dollars — one way. I won’t even bother telling you what we paid because it’s almost nothing. If you know me, you know how cheap I am. In other words, you know I would never pay anything close to full price for something like that. All of this being said- it was an amazing experience. If you ever get the chance to fly on a Delta 747S Internationally, do everything in your power to make it happen. My mind was blown. I’m quite the airplane junkie, coming from an airline family, so I was geeking out a bit. Imagine not wanting to get off an airplane after 14 hours. It’s that good. We were offered champagne while boarding and the flight attendants were just the absolute best in the world. They even let us go upstairs (that’s right, we were on “one of those upstairs planes”) to sit in the cockpit. I was flipping out, champagne glass in-hand (of course). The pilots got a kick out of us and let us take photos, like little children. We were off to quite the start. Our seats were more like little suites with enough seat position options to confuse even the most decisive person. The menu ranged from sushi to steak to rosemary chicken — and it was good. All of it. We ate and drank our way over the Pacific for 14 hours until arriving in Nagoya, Japan for a quick layover. After that, we headed back onto the same plane for a 3.5 hour flight to Manila. There, the luxury ended. The dream was over and if we wanted to really travel, we had to do it the right way. We had to rough it.
It was about 10:30PM when we finally arrived in Manila. We were exhausted and jet-lagged. All of that is an understatement. We had been flying for about 18 hours and were now an entire 12 hours ahead of our east coast time zone. We headed straight for bag pick-up and immigration and it may have been the most pleasant customs experience to date. The Flilipino Immigration officer was chatting it up with me and was so eager to help me find a good place to sleep for a few hours before catching our early morning connecting flight to Singapore. It was the perfect welcome to Asia. We found a couple of chairs and tried our best to sleep. The night went by quickly enough and we were off to Singapore via Tiger Airways in no time. We had a 3 hour airport layover in Singapore before heading to our final destination — Bali. We explored some food and shopping before boarding the last of 6 flights. Yes, six flights. After 3 more hours of flight time, we arrived in Bali. In 2 days and too many time zones to count, we had gone from Florida to Atlanta to Detroit to Nagoya to Manila to Singapore to Bali. That’s 5 countries in two days. I’m tired just thinking about it again. You can get to Bali a lot easier, but since we were flying standby on Delta, we had to be clever. We spent more time in transit, but in exchange, we saw more and saved a lot.
Amazing noodle bowl at a little shop in the Singapore airport. Hot, spicy and loaded with flavor. I already loved Asia.
In Denpasar, Bali, we were so kindly greeted by the longest, most unorganized immigration line ever. It was absolute chaos. I won’t even go there. The tiny, overgrown airport was packed with heaps of Australians on holiday. For a minute I wasn’t too sure whether I was in Bali or Sydney. It was hilarious, actually. That, coupled with the signs that read “If you bring drugs into Bali, you will face the death penalty,” made for some good laughs as we patiently waited out the 2 hour immigration process. We finally got through and were free of airports and airplanes for a while. Whew, freedom! From Denpasar, Bali, we had arranged a pickup via the homestay we booked in Ubud. Homestays, not hostels, are the way to go in most of Bali. They are cheap, generally clean and come with breakfast every morning. They are perfect for the budget traveler. Even after our 2 hour immigration holdup, the owner/operator of our Homestay was patiently awaiting us outside, sign and all. We grabbed a soda and were quickly in an air-conditioned car headed to a homestay in magical Ubud. We arrived in about an hour and a half to a beautiful property lined with all things Balinese. It was exactly as I had dreamed. The gold, the temples, the statues, the smiling people — it was everything you see in the movies.
Oh, speaking of movies. Odds are, if you’re reading this and are wondering why Ubud rings a bell, you’re onto something. Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book turned film, “Eat, Pray, Love,” Ubud isn’t the quaint little yoga and rice patty town that it once was. It is booming with tourists from all over the world and a chunk of this can be attributed to the book and film’s success. People travel from all over to see the medicine man, Ketut Liyer — the same one Julia Roberts shared a screen with in the movie. Apparently, you have to get a ticket ahead of time and he only sees 5 people a day. We heard all sorts of rumors about it, but none of them interested us. We just wanted to dig into the beauty that is Ubud. We got comfy in our homestay almost immediately and were sound asleep by 8:00. This was how it went for a couple of nights, actually. The jet lag was winning. We had no choice but to let it takeover and sleep it off. During the days we wandered the streets, carefully dodging motorbikes with every step. It’s organized chaos, I suppose. The shopping is pretty incredible here, ladies. If we weren’t on a budget, I think we both would have had to buy an extra suitcase and just fill it with clothes, shoes, jewelry, statues — you name it. They make the most beautiful things in Bali. It’s hard to not just grab everything you see and justify it later. Alas, we were already maxed out on our backpack weight, so we opted for a few small items and $ manicure/pedicure combos instead.
There are thousands of motorbikes, each way you turn. This is a standard parking lot in Bali.
As you may have heard, Bali is a body-pampering super heaven. You can’t walk two feet without hearing “You want maaasaaaase?” It’s almost overwhelming. It’s also how so many women make a living, so it’s hard to really blame them for constantly trying to rope people into their shops. I’ve certainly been bothered for worse on foreign streets. With a full-body, one hour massage costing about 100,000 Rupiah, it’s not a hard sell. Ah, the Rupiah! This is the Indonesia’s currency, which converts as a rate of about 10,700 to $1USD. It sounds confusing, but within a day or so you are quickly making the mental conversions without thinking. You just round down to 10,000 Rupiah to make it easier. Naturally, the languages spoken here are Balinese and Indonesian. In addition, most people speak English in order to accommodate the millions of tourists piling in and out each year. Although it’s quite broken, you can generally communicate when it comes to directions, locations, prices, etc. The Balinese people are perhaps the most friendly I’ve come across in the world. They are always smiling and I’ve never felt safer. Not even in the good ole’ US of A. I’m not sure if traveling through Central America just gave me tough skin, but I find myself incredibly relaxed here. I never worry about my belongings and rarely think twice before walking the streets at night. It sounds nuts, but this culture is so unique. They are peaceful, kind and helpful. Even the dogs are friendly — another major difference from Central America. The Balinese are also incredibly clean and can be found sweeping the entry way to their homes several times a day. It’s typical for you to remove your shoes before entering houses and shops, with some businesses even requesting so via signage. About 84% of the population here adheres to Balinese Hinduism, which makes for the most amazing midday surprise processions on the streets. They are colorful and loud, and they never get old. This culture is simply magical and Ubud made for the perfect “Welcome to Bali.”
Daily offerings on bike seats. Why not? These offerings take hours to make and are done so by women, by hand. The base is made from palm leaves, then topped with various flowers. They are quite intricate and can be found everywhere — in front of shops, inside of taxis or on top of bikes. They often play host to a burning incense stick as well. By the end of the day they become worn, and are swept up as if they were trash . The next day at around 5 am, it starts all over again.
Like many other countries I’ve visited, all children wear uniforms. They sure do look cute in ’em.
Young Balinese girls practicing for the big leagues. These moves will come in handy in another decade or so when they are dancing with the Gamelan orchestra in nightly performances in Ubud.
I’m well aware that illy is not local. It is, however, amazing. Don’t care where you are in the world — never underestimate the power of a great cup of coffee.
When we weren’t busy getting a $7 mani-pedi, we were eating $3 meals or drinking cheap and frosty Bintangs, the local beer of Indonesia. It’s a tasty lager and can be found anywhere in both a small or large size. You already know which one I go for. I’m on a tight budget and every traveler knows that a big beer always packs more value than a small one. Travel tip #1. You’re welcome. Since Ubud is a rather quiet town come 10PM, we spent our nights in our cozy little homestay with a Bintang or two, still hoping to catch up with the time change. Once we felt like tackling some of the touristy to-do’s, we headed for Monkey Forest, famous for the obvious. It was bananas, pun intended. There are hundreds of these things and they are not the slightest bit afraid of humans. Before entering you are told to leave any food behind — and apparently, this included water bottles. Shira didn’t catch that part, and within 5 minutes had a monkey perched on her head, while another hung from her shirt. She tried to get the bottle back, but you would have thought she was trying to steal the monkey’s baby. Shortly after that, we witnessed a monkey bite (yes, bite) the hair braid off young girl’s head, then play with that same braid in front of her with his buddies. It’s as if they were taunting her. I know most people look at monkeys and say “Awww, so amazing!” Well, not me. I think Hollywood nailed it and you all better watch your backs. These ass holes are coming for us, folks. If you doubt me, just take a visit to their plotting headquarters in Ubud. Okay, that’s a little dramatic. Honestly though, I do think they are insane and not nearly as cute as I may have thought at 12 years old. The experience and interaction was amazing and well worth the few bucks. All of that being said, I’m good on the monkeys for a while.
Post monkey forest lunch: Fresh tuna, wrapped in banana leafs. Cost? Oh, about $3.50 USD.
On our last full day in Ubud, we went to see the famous rice paddies. These are practically the source of life in Bali and as a bonus, they are stunning. We were told to just simply take a right out of our homestay and the fields would be up the road on the left. Ahh, how quickly I forget that when a local says “It’s just down the road,” don’t trust it. They aren’t the best with distances and often times confuse 1 Kilometer with about 6 Kilometers. No joke. Long story short, we saw the rice paddies — all of them. After about 3 hours of walking through beautiful fields of green, accompanied by perfect blue skies, we were happy. We took a massive loop around most of Ubud and ended up at our starting point. We saw locals working hard in the fields (rice hats and all), yoga retreats in the middle of nowhere and art being sold from little shacks along the way. It was another perfect day in Bali.
Wifi in the middle of a rice field….in the middle of Indonesia. The future is here.
Our few days in Ubud were sensational. We caught up to our new time zone, stayed at a local homestay, shopped, got pampered, toyed with monkeys, saw temples, ate incredible food, drank the best coffee and saw the renowned rice paddies. As we left Ubud by taxi, our driver thought we should stop off at a coffee plantation. He was hilarious and as friendly as they make ’em. The coffee farm was small, but so interesting. The most expensive coffee (Kopi, in Indonesian) is called Luwak. It comes from beans that have been eaten, then digested, all courtesey of a civet — the craziest cat-like mammal you’ve ever seen. The coffee farm keeps them caged for obvious reasons. These things go through a few pounds of coffee a day, then — you guessed it! Out comes the now digested bean, all ready for the cleaning and roasting process. And how do they go about getting the bean out of the feces, you ask? Oh. Someone hand picks it out — all day long. With a pound of beans costing up to $600 per pound though, it’s easy to see to see why the locals continue producing Luwak Kopi. You can even buy a bag at Harrods for a mere $225. Yes, Harrods.
Fried banana to top off the day. And it was free. What more could you ask for, really?
After our impromptu coffee farm excursion, we were off. It was time to move on and my birthday was just days away. This meant one thing — we were also days away from meeting up with Maartje, my Dutch friend I met in Utila last year. You might also remember her from my trip to Colombia. I was bursting at the seams with excitement and couldn’t wait for Shira to meet her as well. We were headed to the town for all things party, surf and sun. Cue Kuta, Bali. After a few days in quiet Ubud, we were ready for a little madness. Maartje’s best friend, Fleur (also Dutch), was already there awaiting our arrival, along with Maartje’s. Funny stories and awesome memories were just around the corner — and you can read all about that next time. After 3,000+ words, I think we’re both done here. In the midst of writing this post, my computer battery decided to not work for about 3 days. I panicked and threw a silent fit. Then (3 days later), like Balinese magic, it worked again. Guess the blog gods wanted me to finish this bad boy after all. I hope you enjoyed the long read and photos. I am really, really looking forward to writing the next one. Reunions always make for good stories, and this is no different. Kuta gets fun. Like, birthday fun. See you then, world! Love from Indonesia. X