Back to the Beginning

Posted in Travel Blog on August 29, 2010 by Dan Jahns

For those of you who are just stumbling, digging or Googling your way to this blog for the first time, welcome.  It’s great that people are still finding their way here.  I have to admit that I also come back here from time to time to reminisce about our trip.  The honest truth?  We wish we were still traveling.  But we both found excellent jobs that we love in Los Angeles and we’re happy here…..until Round The World: Part Deux!

The purpose of this entry (6 months after we returned from our travel odyssey) is simply to lead you all back to the beginning should you care to start from the top.  So click below to re-start our journey with us….the date is September 29th, 2009…….


Or if you prefer to go to a specific posting from a specific city or country, click here for an index of postings by geographic location.


If you’d like to see a “trailer” for all of the places we visited just scroll down a bit further and watch the short “welcome to” video.  Then go back to the beginning and read how it all happened.

Welcome to……

Posted in Travel Blog on February 25, 2010 by Dan Jahns

I know I said that the previous posting was the final one, but I lied. Sorry.  🙂 Just one last short video to post.  I had forgotten that Francesca and I had recorded me saying “Welcome to [insert country name here]” in each of the countries we visited.

As many of you know I enjoy doing accents and so the game was to attempt (the operative word here) to imitate the accent of whichever country we were in at the time.  I think we got all but five countries. It appears we did not do one for Malaysia, Thailand or Australia and for the life of me I cannot find the ones I know we recorded in Turkey and the UAE.  Oh well.  I hope you enjoy the rest of them at least as much as I enjoyed making it.  Okay, probably not that much….

Disclaimer: I apologize in advance if any of my attempted accents offend anyone….I tried my best.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: The Final Eat, Play, Love Posting

Posted in Travel Blog on February 22, 2010 by Dan Jahns

This is the final posting from our Eat, Play, Love round the world journey.  It is one of reflection and also a listing of places we’ve been and other fun stats.

Hohenshwangau Castle, Fussen, Germany.

Since we’ve been back in New York we have been asked similar questions by friends and family alike so I thought I would use these questions as a jumping off point for my reflections of our trip.

1. What was it like to travel for so long?

I actually thought traveling for four months would wear on us more and that we would grow tired of living out of a suitcase and rushing through airports. But surprisingly we didn’t and both Francesca and I wished we could have continued to travel. In fact, we did brainstorm several ways to extend our trip to South America, one of two continents (along with Antarctica) that we did not reach on our journey.

It is interesting to note that four months is considered a long time to travel only by Americans. In Europe and Australia/New Zealand it is not uncommon to travel for 5 or 6 weeks for a normal vacation from your job and an RTW trip of eight to eighteen months is the norm.  On our trip we met many travelers who were on quit-your-job-and-travel journeys of six months or more, but none that were on journeys of four months or less. They all looked on us with sympathy, shook their heads sadly and said “Only four months?  Awww….you poor Americans.”  Of course, in our case it was a lack of money and not a burning desire to get back to work that limited our travel time.

Sultan Cafe, Istanbul, Turkey.

2. How did traveling together for so long affect your relationship?

Francesca and I are getting divorced.   JUST KIDDING!  Our relationship and marriage is very much in tact and in fact we are now worried about what we’ll do when we get jobs and don’t get to see each other 24×7.  Can you say codependent?!

In truth, it wasn’t all champagne and roses and we definitely found ourselves with shorter fuses, bickering over little things more than we had previously. But we tried to remain conscious of the fact that it was the stress of travel and the constantly being together with very little “me time” that was the cause and that would often diffuse any tension.

Many people asked us if we ever got to a city and went our separate ways for the day, but other than a solo jog here and there and a shopping trip in Ubud for Francesca while I visited the Monkey Forest, we really went everywhere together.

I think it may have been healthy to split up every now and then, but we are generally on the same page as far as things we like to do and see and are very flexible with what we want to eat, etc. so it was never really a problem to stick together.  Plus, Francesca is my best friend and I wanted to share every amazing moment of this trip with her.

Villa Cipressi, Lake Como, Italy.

3. What was your favorite place you visited?

This is a difficult question to answer, but we knew we would get it so we thought about it in advance.  Of course there is no one answer to this question because there were numerous places that were favorites for different reasons.  For example, the Amalfi Coast in Italy was a favorite for the landscape, while Luang Prabang, Laos was a favorite for the fellow backpackers we met and still, Queenstown, New Zealand was a favorite in terms of adventure sports and livability (yes, we considered staying there!).

We also found an inverse relationship between our expectations for a certain city and our enjoyment of that city.  For example, we had very low expectations for Budapest, Hungary – bleak, former Iron Curtain country, what could it possibly have to offer? – but we had one of the best single days of our entire trip.  We’re thankful we didn’t let our expectations dictate our itinerary or we would have missed this gem of a city.

City Park, Budapest, Hungary.

Here is a list of countries and cities we visited as well as some other interesting stats we kept a record of during our four month sojourn. [Apologies if this comes off as boastful, but I wanted to have this recorded for posterity and it was fun tracking the numbers as we went along].

For those of you interested you can see a complete listing of countries and cities by visiting our “Countries & Cities & More” link from our home page or by clicking here.

Countries: 22*

Cities: 76*

Languages Encountered: 25

Currencies Used: 18

Plane Flights: 31

Airlines: 19

Buses/Mini Buses: 15

Trains: 12

Boat/Ferry: 12

Taxis: 8

Rental Cars: 7

Subways: 5

Trams: 4

Cable Car/Funicular: 3

Bicycles: 3

Scooters: 3

Tuk Tuks: 3

Chair Lift: 1

Horse: 1

* We included a city as long as we left the airport and went into the town to do or see something (even if we didn’t stay overnight).  So Dublin is included, but Doha is not (since we just had a several hour layover in the airport).

Adventure activities engaged in on our Eat, Play, Love RTW Trip:

Dune Bashing in Dubai

Great White Shark Dive in Kleinsbaai, South Africa

Horse Trekking in Sossusvlei, Namibia

Sand Boarding in Swakopmond, Namibia

Safari in Mkuze Falls, South Africa

Sea Kayaking in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Zipline in Queenstown, New Zealand

Jet Boating in Queenstown, New Zealand

The Lost World, Abseiling & Caving in Waitomo, New Zealand

Harbor Bridge Climb in Sydney, Australia

Surfing in Lombok, Indonesia

Mountain Biking in Bali, Indonesia

International Friends** made on the trip:

** As defined, of course, by whether or not they are now our Facebook friends.

Andrea, Elenor & Nika, from Croatia (owners of Villa Elly in Dubrovnik)

Martina, from San Francisco (met at La Perla Hotel in Praiano, Italy)

Sharon and Norm from Michigan (met on boat to Capri)

Allison Bryan from Oregon (we met Allison and her sister-in-law Gina in Tuscany and latter met up with her in Prague where she is living as a teacher).

Guiseppi from southern Italy (met at B&B in Florence.  Studying to be a doctor).

James Abraham and his wife from the United Kingdom (met in Plazza del Michaelangelo, Florence).

Massimo Bernadini from Italy (owner of Cantine Bernadini in Lucca, Italy)

Bea Juvancz from Hungary (Wharton/Lauder ’98 & friend of JL we met in Budapest)

Michaela Ponweiser from Austria (JL’s friend in Vienna)

Ruthanne & Nate Heyward from Wisconsin (met in Vienna and Prague)

Micheal Kavan from Pittsburgh (met in Prague)

Eva Leitner & Schnaps Ziggy from Austria (met in Prague on Halloween night)

Sabine Berthele from Germany (met on the train from Munich to Fussen)

Seda & Nisa Kilic from Turkey (met in Istanbul. Friends of John Lusk)

Rona Shedid from Egypt (met in Dubai, fellow Wharton grad a few years behind me)

Aparna Verma from India (met in Dubai, brother of my friend Ashwin)

Nadine Orossa from the United States (met in Dubai, friends of JL)

James & Emma from the United Kingdom (met in Kleinsbaai, South Africa on our Great White Shark dive)

Anja Becker from Namibia (she was the guide on our overnight horse trek)

Emmy Andersson & Julia Lindesson from Sweden (met sandboarding in Swakopmund, Namibia)

Ron & Cora from Holland (met at the Mukuze Falls Private Game Reserve)

George Marchetti from North Carolina (met in Morandava, Madagascar)

Mike Fitton and Sarah Laundy from Canada (met at a Luang Prabang, Laos cooking class)

Duncan Murray & Alysan Higgins from the United Kingdom (met in Luang Prabang, Laos and met up with in several other cities)

Elisabeth Gager & Andi Mertl from Austria (met on our Halong Bay tour in Vietnam)

Eugene Arutyunyan & his wife from Russia (met in Kuala Lumpur)

David  & Charlie Smith from the Channel Islands (met on our Waitomo Caves adventure)

– Jan Russell & Avi Hazuria from Ireland and India (met in Bali, Indonesia where they founded a magazine called Kabar for expats and run a publishing business in Ubud)

Brian Aldinger from Queens (the owner of Naughy Nuri’s restaurant in Ubud, Bali)

Mike & Kim Krupnick from New Mexico (met in a yoga class in Ubud, Indonesia)

Bayon Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

We hope you all enjoyed following along with our journey.  It was great to keep in touch with so many friends and family while we were away and to share with you all the stories and images of this amazing voyage.

Our round the world trip is over for now…..but keep an eye out for RTW Redux some time in the future……

Hong Kong & The Last Sunset

Posted in Travel Blog on February 21, 2010 by Dan Jahns

Even though we only spent about ten hours here we get to include Hong Kong on our list of cities visited on our RTW trip since we did stay over night. We arrived around 10pm, checked into the Bishop Lei Hotel on Robinson Road in the mid-levels and immediately went back out to meet my good friend Dominick Falco, my former boss at Morgan Stanley when I used to live and work in Hong Kong.

Dom, Me & Francesca at one of the trendy Italian restaurant in the mid-levels.

I have known Dominick since I was 22 years old working for Morgan in Tokyo and spent 2 1/2 years working for him in Hong Kong before Britain handed it back to China.  Dominick, a New York native, has been jumping back and forth between Japan and Hong Kong ever since.  It was great to catch up with him, albeit briefly.

The morning came too soon and Francesca and I lugged our bags into a taxi for the last time before we hit US soil four months after leaving it in October. Hong Kong runs as efficiently as ever and as the taxi door opened automatically to let us out at the train station and the Airport Expresses whisked us quietly away towards Check Lap Kok Francesca and I squeezed each other’s hand in acknowledgement that our longtime dream of traveling around the world was coming to an end.

In the airport I got one last thrill ride – we had our bag shrink-wrapped at one of those machines.  I have often laughed (to myself) at travelers who get their suitcases wrapped in this fashion as I see it as largely unnecessary, however, we had a large, cheaply made duffel bag that we bought in Bali filled with breakables so we figured this would be the perfect opportunity to use the shrink-wrap machine!  And we had just the exact amount of Hong Kong dollars to pay for it.   Boy what fun!!

I even took a video of it.

Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean Francesca and I fell asleep and woke up to the Captain’s announcement that we were approaching John F. Kennedy airport.  Home again….

Sunset from our Cathay Pacific 747 somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

Teva, We Salute You!

Posted in Travel Blog on February 21, 2010 by Dan Jahns

Me and my Teva Rivas in Tuscany, Italy

Those of you who read our first posting know how excited we were to get sponsored by Teva with a “pro deal” for our around the world trip. A pair of Tevas were the only shoe that Francesca and I brought with us and boy did they go through a lot.  I kept trying to find a suitable place in the blog to give a formal shout out to my Tevas, but each time I thought it would not be doing them justice to tuck mention of them in another posting that might steal their well deserved limelight.  So this posting is my homage to Teva.

Teva Riva

My Teva Rivas are THE MOST comfortable shoe that I’ve ever owned. And they are versatile as heck. My Tevas have been around the world and back, protecting my feet from the cold cobblestones of Europe, the hot desert sands of Namibia and the wet jungles of Southeast Asia. They have stood on volcanic rock in Cappadocia, Turkey and in underground river systems in Waitomo, New Zealand. They kept my feet warm and safe and dry.

The Teva logo (right) looks very similar to the hand of this Buddha wood carving in Laos.

They are an amazingly comfortable walking shoe AND surprisingly supportive running shoe. These babies were on my feet during several runs including ones through the canals of Venice, the sandy streets of Madagascar, the mountains of New Zealand and the beaches of Australia.

Teva Sunkosi

Francesca wore the Teva Sunkosi amphibious shoe and was equally pleased with her choice.

Francesca and her Teva Sunkosis taking a rest in Sossusvlei, Namibia.

Now what?  Our original idea in taking one pair of shoes on our trip was to abuse them for four months of daily wear and then chuck them figuring they would be completely dead by then. However, we are definitely both keeping our Tevas because (1) they are still in excellent condition and (2) they are the most comfortable shoes we own. Actually, I may end up cheating on my Rivas because I also got a pair of Sunkosis which have been waiting patiently for my return.

Our Tevas at Hohenschwangau Castle in Fussen, Germany.

I want to give our friends at Teva, Jaime Eschette and Peter Warren, a big shout out for helping us fulfill PART our round the world travel dream.  Our Tevas have been to FIVE of the SEVEN continents.  Guys, we’ll be contacting you for our RTW Trip #2!  🙂

My Teva Rivas overlooking Lake Como in Italy.

Become a fan of Teva on Facebook by clicking here!

Civet Cat Coffee and the Dreaded Durian Fruit

Posted in Travel Blog on February 18, 2010 by Dan Jahns

Apologies for not having posted in a while and for leaving all of you stranded with us in Bali (although it’s not a bad place to be stranded).  Truth be told we were not stranded in Bali and as some of you know we have already returned to the United States from our round the world tour.  But we had an opportunity to go on a medical mission to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti and we jumped on it.  My job (in case you were wondering where I suddenly came up with a medical degree) was to record the mission in still photographs and video to help create awareness for the charity organization “Unity for Haiti” while Francesca utilized her Physician Assistant skills.

As part of my responsibility I kept a blog (yes, another one!) during the five days we were down there which pre-empted my final Eat, Play, Love postings (click here if you would like to view the ‘Operation Hope For Haiti’ blog).  But now I’m back to get us all home from Bali.

On one of our last days in paradise Francesca and I signed up for a mountain biking tour from the top of Mount Batur – one of many volcanoes in Bali – back down to the town of Ubud.  The route was mostly downhill on pavement – so not your hardcore, single track mountain biking – but it was a pleasant ride filled with many cultural side trips like visiting a traditional village and a rice field trek.  Francesca and I had seen so many beautiful rice fields in Bali that we were curious as to how the cultivation and harvest process worked and this tour promised to educate us in all matters rice.

Tasting different Balinese coffee varieties.

But first we had to wade through a tourist trap in the form of a coffee plantation.  It was actually quite interesting and even though I don’t drink coffee it was fun tasting the different varieties, except for the dreaded Kopi Luwak variety otherwise known as the Civet Cat Poo Poo Coffee.

This variety of Joe is made from cherry coffee beans that have been eaten by these little muskrat looking creatures high up in the trees where they live, then fermented in their stomachs and finally passed out through their….uh… digestive system in tact (and then some!).

Here is a poor Civet Cat in a cage at the coffee plantation.  Their scientific name is Paradoxurus, but they are known as Luwaks in Indonesia (hence Kopi Luwak coffee).  The peanut looking things next to him are his excreted cherry coffee beans.

The Civet Cat is adorable, but his coffee tastes….well, like crap (no pun intended there), although it is expensive and generally liked by the locals.  However, some of our expat friends told us that there is a real problem with fake Kopi Luwak coffee whereby some coffee growers charge Kopi Luwak prices when the beans haven’t been fermented by the civet cat.  Shame on you!

Francesca enjoying the downhill ride through a bamboo forest.

Good thing I had my dry wick shirt on.

We rode past rice fields…..

….and temples…..

We stopped by a traditional Balinese village.

Our guide Ketut walked us through the layout of a traditional Balinese house compound.

Ketut shows us the kitchen……

….and the pig pen.   Apparently the pig is the prize possession of the Balinese family.  Some have more than one (which is good – more is better as far as pigs are concerned).

But no family has both a male and female pig. They only have the female and then when they want to have little piglets they call the one guy in the village with a male pig and he either makes a house call with his pig or they bring their lady pig to his place so they can get piggy with it.

All Balinese houses have a temple or altar type structure in them.

Franny bids adieu to the youngest member of the family.

This little girl spent the entire time in her room combing her hair.  We could see her through the open doorway, but she did not come out until just as we were leaving to wave goodbye to us.

Ketut stopped the group to point out these massive spider webs with dozens of huge spiders living there……

We stopped to watch some local villagers make wood carvings.  These wood carvers get commissioned by companies to make carvings to spec (some days its horses, other days its tigers, etc.).  They do the initial rough carving and then they are picked up and the company finishes them off with a thorough sanding and staining or paint.

It was interesting for me to see these things being carved by an individual because I had assumed that all the vendors in town got the exact same wood carvings to sell from some big company that mass produced them by machine.  It’s nice to know that my wood carving purchase (had I made one) would go to help the lives of one of these local craftsmen.

We also stopped at a street side fruit vendor to taste the infamous durian fruit with its hard, thorn covered husk and pungent order.  While these fruits are illegal to bring into certain countries and onto airplanes due to their malodorous nature, they are revered in Southeast Asia as the “King of Fruits”.  Francesca had wanted to try one since our days in Vietnam and Cambodia, but didn’t have the courage before.

Durian fruit, it’s finger lickin’ bad!

After Ketut helped us bargain her down to an acceptable price – these things are expensive and even more so for tourists! – we dug in.   It was probably the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten.  Surprisingly I didn’t think it smelled badly, but the taste was uncommonly horrendous.  It was somewhat sweet, but had the consistency of a block of sweaty brie cheese.  I couldn’t even finish my one piece.  Francesca had a similar experience and it took us hours to get the durian taste out of our mouths.

We shared the road with other two wheeled vehicles.

After another nice, long downhill stretch we dismounted and started our trek through several rice fields and a jungle to reach the restaurant where we would have lunch.

As we walked through the rice paddies we met some adorable children who were definitely not camera shy…

….and a cast of other colorful characters.

He needs a tooth

She needs a bra!  At least she’s keeping the sun off ’em.

Along the way ketut talked us through the fascinating rice planting and harvesting process.  Many of the rice producing areas, like the one we were trekking through, are made up of land owned by several different rice farmers and they all cooperate to utilize a common water source for irrigation.  This method of common irrigation of rice fields is called the Subak System.

The water source typically comes from a mountain lake and miles of aqueducts are built to get the water to the rice fields.  The flow of water is controlled by weirs or sluices which sends the water to one side of the aqueduct or the other.  In this way the rice farmers stagger their harvesting with one side lush and green…

…while the other is dry and brown from post-harvest.

As you can see in the previous lush photo above, the rice fields are dotted with personal shrines erected by individual farmers (you can’t pray hard enough for a good rice harvest!).  There are also larger temples or shrines erected by the collective group of farmers.

It’s amazing how these farmers make rice fields using every possible scrap of land.  It’s the staple of their diet and while I assumed they would harvest most of it to sell, Ketut told us that most goes to feeding the farmer’s (sometimes extended) family, although whatever is left over is certainly sold at the local market.

Most of the time you see the farmers plowing the field with a water buffalo drawn tiller, but some now are fortunate enough to have a motorized one (above).

After about an hour trekking through rice fields and jungles we finally arrived at the restaurant and enjoyed a bounty of delicious Indonesian dishes.  Then it was off to get one last massage before we left Bali to return to the US.

Country Stats:

Official Name: Republic of Indonesia

Official Language: Indonesian (although several different dialects are spoken)

Population: 240,271,000

Capital City: Jakarta (also the largest city)

Government: Presidential Republic

Current Leader(s): Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (President)

For more information about Indonesia click here.

Pretty Girls Do Yoga

Posted in Travel Blog on February 3, 2010 by Dan Jahns

In truth, attractively challenged girls do yoga too it just didn’t make for as catchy a blog title.  Plus that’s what I noticed as I was looking around my Forrest Yoga class when I was supposed to have my eyes closed, “looking into myself”, or something equally esoteric, as our teacher Kat had instructed.  I scanned the room.  “Hmmm…there are quite a few pretty girls in this class” I thought to myself.  None as pretty as my darling wife of course.  That said she was often still comatose in our bed as I slipped out of the wooden double doors of our villa into the early morning sunshine to head to The Yoga Barn, one of several places of yogic worship in Ubud.

Ubud, located in the mountains to the north on the island of Bali, is about as diametrically opposed to New York City as you can get.   The pace is slow, the local people are outwardly friendly and all the Westerners (expats and tourists alike) seem to be on a quest for healthy living; eating vegetarian, drinking daily wheatgrass shots (only slightly less disgusting than a shot of Jaeger), getting massages, and, of course, practicing yoga.

Francesca and some of the “tight white guys”.

The first class I took was called “Tight White Guy” and the tag line was “You don’t have to be white, you just have to be tight.”  Since my hamstrings are about as tight as a tube top on an opera singer I figure I qualified on all three requisites.  Francesca joined me while Brett, our American yoga teacher, took us through a series of poses that stretched out our entire bodies and got us into a relaxed state of near meditation.

One of the main goals of yoga seems to be to correct poor posture and Brett was constantly reminding us to lengthen our spine saying things like “pretend someone has a string attached to the top of your head and is pulling you up by it.”  He would also have us stretch out our feet and legs long and our arms over our heads calling it “the yogic rack.”  He was continually telling us to breathe into a stretch until it “felt juicy”.  I had no idea what a juicy stretch should feel like, but I got a kick out of him saying that.

The Yoga Barn

I definitely enjoyed my first class, but it didn’t seem like hard core yoga and I needed more to be convinced if it was really for me.  Francesca and I met a girl named Sharon at Jan and Avi’s party the night before who encouraged us to take the 7am Pranayama yoga class taught by “Skye” as it was a great way to get your day started.   We winced as she mentioned the start time and she laughed and said “people in Ubud get up around 6am.”  The next morning I dragged myself out of bed at 6:30am and donned the only wardrobe I thought would be yoga-acceptable – a pair of loose, brown drawstring pants purchased in the Night Market in Laos and my favorite yellow t-shirt from Bangkok that read “Free The Weed” on it.  Francesca respectfully declined so I set out on our scooter by myself to cover the short distance to “The Barn” (as the cool kids call it).

Sharon – who did not show up that morning – was right.  It was an excellent way to start the day and I felt invigorated and alive.  I was glad that I took the Tight White Guy class the day before as I felt more confident in knowing some of the basic poses.  During Skye’s class I also improved my siddhasana pose, essentially sitting “Indian style” (although that’s probably not p.c. anymore).  As you can see from the photo below I was still not very flexible (ideally my knees would be touching the floor), but I was now able to sit up tall and straight on my Ischial Tuberosity (aka “sits bones”) for a longer period of time.

Tight White Guy

What made the class seem more authentic than Brett’s TWG class was that for one, Skye was Indonesian and two, she would use the Hindu terms for all of the postures and chant mantras during certain poses encouraging us to chant along with her.  That said, it was mostly a stretching and breathing class and we only got into a few of the basic yoga poses, but I was hooked nonetheless.  I couldn’t wait to return the next day for the 8:30am Hatha Yoga class which was a hugely popular (and apparently more difficult class).

The entrance to The Yoga Barn from the inside looking out.

That night we went out hard with our local friends Jan and Avi and didn’t get home until about 4am so needless to say neither Francesca nor I made it to the 8:30am class, but I managed to drag my alcohol reeking body to the 10:30am Forrest Yoga class.  This class was taught by an American girl from Boston named Kat.  (That sounds like a very yoga teacher name doesn’t it?).  Forrest Yoga is, according to the blurb in the brochure, “about breath, strength, integrity and spirit” and is essentially a core workout.

I was curious to know more so I googled “forrest yoga” and found the following entry. It seems to have been invented by a former bulimic, alcoholic, epileptic.  Wow, now I get it.

Forrest Yoga is the invention of west-coast yoga teacher Ana Forrest. Known for her acrobatic, dance-like yoga demonstrations, Forrest drew upon her personal history of abuse, epilepsy, alcoholism, and bulimia to create an intensely physical vinyasa-style practice that aims to heal psychic wounds. Forrest incorporates elements of Native American healing, encouraging students to go deep within and to use their yoga practice as therapy. Forrest Yoga pays special attention to abdominal work and breathing. Vigorous sequences of poses are intended to build heat in order to sweat out toxins and release emotions stored in the body.

Looking up at the ceiling of The Yoga Barn from savasana or “corpse pose”.  I like this pose.  It’s just resting.

While I found myself getting into yoga I still didn’t feel completely at ease with the jargon.  Kat would say things that I just didn’t know what to do with.  For example, she would say “breath into your pelvis” or “find your truth” and I’d look around the room like “WTF, does anybody know what the heck she is talking about?”  Of course I’m sure the majority didn’t, but much like surfing, looking cool in a yoga class is the primary goal of many practitioners it seemed.

Zen fountain in The Yoga Barn courtyard.

Francesca and I did make it to the 8:30am Hatha Yoga class on our last day in Ubud and it was definitely the most challenging session yet.  This class is taught by a British woman (who’s name I did not catch) and it is a very popular class, always a packed house.

Hatha Yoga class.

This class was definitely more hard core as the teacher took us quickly through the basics (child’s pose, cobra pose, upward facing and downward facing dog and camel pose) and then into some more challenging poses (like warrior poses I & II, tree pose and eagle pose) and finally to ones that my body had no business attempting (like cow-face pose, shooting bow pose and lotus pose).  I definitely felt like a tight white guy during that class.  To make matters worse the teacher would come around and force my body into positions and hold it there. Isn’t that illegal?  In a soothing, mellow voice she would say “let me know if this is too much”, but of course she had bent my body into a pose that cut off my windpipe so I was unable to inform her.

Francesca not happy about having to wake up early for a yoga class.

But we lasted the entire class and I felt great; stronger, more flexible, more empowered.  I found by the end of the week that I was walking straighter and taller and with more confidence.  There may actually be something to this yoga thing after all.  Both Francesca and I think we’ll continue with yoga once we get to Los Angeles.  Then again, maybe we liked it so much because of the zen-like environment we were in.  Doing yoga in a thatched roof hut looking out over rice fields definitely adds to the experience.

View from The Yoga Barn studio.

Eat, Pray, Liyer

Posted in Travel Blog on February 2, 2010 by Dan Jahns

I have never put much stock in spiritual healing, but we were in Ubud, den of tranquility and I had taken a couple yoga classes so I figured what the heck.  Plus, how could I name my blog “Eat, Play, Love” after the Elizabeth Gilbert novel (of a slightly different name) and not take the opportunity to go see Ketut Liyer, the healer slash medicine man who helps save her from her personal torments?

Friends of ours had gone to see him when they were in Ubud and had recommended the experience.  They suggested making an appointment as he is a very busy man and otherwise we might have to wait a while to gain an audience with this holy man.  Although our friend Avi had given us Ketut’s phone number, we decided just to wing it and show up unannounced.

A friendly neighborhood good samaritan (who, it turns out, wanted to sell us a tour somewhere or transportation and wouldn’t leave us alone) helped us locate Ketut’s home down a dirt road side street.  There was no waiting.  We were immediately ushered in to join Ketut who was sitting crossed legged outside one of the buildings in his home compound along with another older man and a young boy who appeared to be his side kicks or translators or something though that was never really made clear.

I’m not sure how I expected our meeting with Ketut would go, but Francesca had read an interview with him saying that the popularity of Gilbert’s book has not changed his daily life at all and that he still spends his days receiving visitors and reading their palms telling them exactly what he sees in their future, good or bad.  He tells the interviewer that in his religion he would go to hell if he did not tell the truth and he does not want to go there.  Fair enough.

Ketut introduces himself and asks our names, where we’re from and what we do for jobs.  He tells us his name is Ketut Liyer, which we already knew.  Then he tells us Liyer means “bright light” which we didn’t know.  He says “Do you understand ‘bright light’?  We assure him that we do.  Ketut is a diminutive man of about eighty years or so (or maybe the sun has prematurely aged him?) with dark eyes that sparkle and about three teeth in total that he displays as part of his constantly beaming grin.  He sports a traditional Balinese hat and a shirt that says “cock fight”, which, by the way, are prevalent, but illegal in Bali.

He asks us in slow, measured English if we have read the book “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Figuring he might not enjoy all the attention the book has brought him we down play the book as our reason for being there and mention that a friend had recommended that we come see him, which, of course, was true.  Ignoring our answer he produces a copy of the book seemingly out of nowhere and opens it up to an earmarked page where the author describes him.  He slowly hands me the book and asks me to read it out loud instructing me on where to begin and end.  Several times he stops me to ask what a word or phrase means and I do my best to explain, but silently wonder how he doesn’t already know the meanings if he asks all of his visitors to read this passage which I suspect he does (probably even to those who come clean about  their familiarity with the book).

I do my best to add a little pizzazz to the reading, using my performance voice and pausing periodically to engage all the members of my audience.  Perhaps Ketut thought I was stealing the spotlight from him too much because he puts his hand over the page before I am through reading, reclaims the book and with a smile shows us the inscription on the front page by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she has written “To my teacher and friend.  Love, Liz”.   “To my friend” he repeats slowly staring down at the book. “To my friend”.   He seems pleased that he knows such a famous woman.  Francesca and I have a lot on our agenda today and so I am about to try to change the topic to something more spiritual when he snaps out of his trance and announces that he will now read our palms.  Then he rattles off the same disclaimer about going to Hindu hell if he doesn’t tell the truth that he told the magazine journalist.  Okay, we’re ready.  Lay it on us Ketut.

Ketut then takes Francesca’s hand in his and begins to read her palm.  He tells her that she is beautiful with sweet lips like sugar and smart like a queer.  Or at least that what it sounds like to us.  Off our confused looks he says:

“Do you understand ‘queer’?”


“You know, like a princess with a crown?”

“Oh ‘queen’!!  Yes, yes, we understand queen”, we tell him.

Then he tells Francesca that she will live to be 100 years old, will only marry once and will have two children.  He says to her “You are very intelligent and will be success in anything you try to do like owning a hair salon or something”.  He says this after she has already told him she is in the medical field.

I actually videotaped his entire reading of Francesca’s palm (with his permission of course) so I figured I’d post it so you could hear him in action.

I left the clip unedited for the most part to preserve it for posterity so if you don’t want to watch all 8 minutes be my guest, but if not, if you at least watch the first minute or two you’ll get the flavor.

Then it’s my turn and he proceeds to give me the exact (and I mean word for word down to the last detail) reading that he gave Francesca – I am so handsome like a king with lips as sweet as sugar and I will be success in anything I try (although he stops short of saying owning a hair salon).  Incredibly I will also live to be 100 years old (when he tells me this I nudge Francesca and tell her that it looks like she’ll be on her own for the last eight years of her long life) and that I too will only marry once.   I ask him to check my marriage line again, knowing that I have already been married twice, but he assures me that I will only be married once.  Swing and a miss on that one.  He tops that off by adding, with great severity, that I must stay with Francesca because if I do not then I will be financially devastated while together we will be rich.  Francesca loves that one and grins smugly in my direction.

At this point we have been with Ketut for about thirty or forty minutes and I have not felt anything spiritual about him so we look to make an exit.  As a wrap up question I ask him what is the secret to a happy marriage setting him up for a deep and meaningful reply, but he only repeats that I must stay with Francesca or be financially ruined.   Okay.  I got that.  Thanks.

We graciously thank him for his time and for allowing us into his home.  We hadn’t heard or read anything about how much to pay him, but we figure he makes his living dispensing advice to tourists and locals so, despite feeling like we got a canned palm reading, we are prepared to give a small donation.  Francesca and I hadn’t discussed an amount ahead of time, but I had been thinking maybe 50,000 to 100,000 Rupiah.  That’s only $5-10 in US dollar terms, but carries a lot more purchasing power than that in Bali.

I am unsure about how to broach the subject of payment not wanting to insult a spiritual man who probably has only basic needs for money, but before I do so he whips out a guest book and proceeds to flip through several entries from various admirers over the years and asks us to read them out loud to him.   They are all effusive in their praise and thanks to Ketut promising to keep in touch, some giving their email addresses or even leaving photos of them or him or them with him.  I wonder if these people got a better palm reading than we did?  He then tells us that many of these people gave him 250,000 Rupiah for each person. I have to admit I am a bit taken aback.  I did not expect him to come right out and ask for money.  I figured maybe he would have his side kicks do the asking or at least refer to it as a religious donation, but he piles on the guilt trip by telling us about his niece who is sick and he needs money for her.  We have heard similar stories from many other locals in Bali as well as the rest of Southeast Asia and while I am not saying Ketut wasn’t being genuine, it just left a bad taste in our mouths about the whole experience.  I ended up giving him 150,000 Rupiah total which seemed to disappoint him.  He repeated again with a gentle smile on his face that often time many people give him 250,000 Rupiah per person.  I felt like saying we should only have to pay for one since he gave us both the exact same reading, but instead I just begged his forgiveness saying that is all we could give him and excused ourselves.

Later when recounting this story to our yoga friends Mike and Kim they tell us that they have heard that many of the spiritual healers of Bali have become obsessed with making money and have resorted to pressuring tourists for more money.  When I get back to New York City I think I’ll have someone read our tarot cards, but I’ll be sure to check the price beforehand.

Rice Paddies, The Healer and Downward Dog

Posted in Travel Blog on February 2, 2010 by Dan Jahns

Fittingly our round the world journey ends in the same Balinese village where Elizabeth Gilbert concluded her journey in the book “Eat, Pray, Love”.  [If you haven’t read the ‘About Our Trip’ page on our blog click here to find out the connection.]

I got a calm vibe from Ubud from the get go.  Perhaps I was influenced from reading that Ubud was a place where people live healthy, spiritual lives while practicing yoga and meditation.  The village of Ubud was founded in the 8th Century by a Buddhist holy man named  Rsi Marhandya.  He felt a positive, healing energy from this place, meditated on it and declared it a holy place (I think that sort of thing was easier back then.  Try doing that in Bayonne!).  He named it Ubud which is a derivation of the Balinese word Ubad meaning medicine, so it has always been a place of healing.

Fresh from our ten day detox program and eager to continue losing the gobs of weight we gained during our first three months of travel (damn you Italian pasta!!) Francesca and I dedicated our week in ubud to the pursuit of the meditative arts.  That included yoga, working out, eating healthy and, of course, daily massage therapy.  As noted in my earlier posting you can get awesome traditional Balinese massages for only $6 here!

But before any treatments or workouts we had to find a place of lodging that would serve as our zen home away from home.  We found it in a place called “Artini 2”.  At $50 a night this place was mid priced for Ubud.  Putting aside the $400+ per night luxury resorts like Amandari and the Royal Pita Maha, you can find very comfortable lodgings for $30-70 per night.

Many of Artini 2’s rooms are less than $50 per night, but we paid up for what we called “The Artini Temple”.  It was a single unit at the far back of the Artini compound in a standalone building raised up on a platform with steep steps leading up to it which was reminiscent of a jungle temple.

There are two main streets in Ubud and Artini 2 is located right in the center of one of them; Jalan Hanoman.  But like many of the properties in Ubud its busy street front façade masked a garden of earthly delight.  Upon entering the premises down a steep flight of stairs which borders a rice field you travel down a long pathway through neatly manicured gardens with a few villas off to the left.   Descending another flight of stairs it opens up into the main courtyard that houses the reception and restaurant adjacent to a refreshing, blue watered pool next to a cliff etched with stone carvings from which a waterfall trickles gently down.   There is also a Balinese pagoda by the pool where Francesca and I often ate and took advantage of the free wi-fi with our netbooks.

The garden path that leads to The Artini Temple where we stayed.  You can barely see its orange tiled roofs through the foliage.

Continuing down another flight of stone steps (past a statue of a monkey with an enormous penis – see the Artini montage above) brings you to a long path surrounded by lush gardens that leads past the two story building of rooms to The Artini temple.

The view from our sitting area just outside the Balinese wooden doors that enter The Temple.  Each morning I would sit out there and have a cup of tea and watch a group of elderly Italian women as they practiced yoga on the closely cut grass below.

We were keen to get our own yoga on and eagerly began sifting through the plethora of Ubud’s yoga establishment brochures.  We ended up purchasing a multi-session pack from “The Yoga Barn” primarily because it was the closest to the Artini 2. [In case you were curious, Artini 1 is a home stay across the street and Artini 3 is a resort and spa down the street.  We looked at both, but thought Artini 2 was the best].

They also had a delicious, organic food restaurant called “Little K” in back of the yoga studio.

Stay tuned for a separate posting with my thoughts on our yogic experience.

We also got a one week membership to the Ubud Fitness Center which is, as far as we could discern, the only western type gym in Ubud.  There is a lot of wellness going on in the Ubud area, but not so much cardio or weights it would seem.

Franny studied the zen-like art of shopping…..

…while I got my fill of Ubud culture (and primates) by visiting the Monkey Forest at the start of the appropriately named Jalan Monkey Forest street.

The Monkey Forest is a 27 acre forest reserve housing three temples that the monkeys (Balinese Macaques) are supposedly guarding.  They (the park staff, not the monkeys) make it very clear in the literature you receive at the ticket office that we are guests in the monkeys’ home and should conduct ourselves accordingly.

You are encouraged to purchase bananas from vendors at the entrances to the park and dole them out (no pun intended) liberally to the monkeys.  They also advise you not to leave your sunglasses on your head or even in a loose pocket as the monkeys are infamous for stealing them.  They further warn that the monkeys are wild and can become aggressive if you try to hide food from them.  A definite no-no.

Pura Dalum Agung Pedangtegal, the main temple in the Monkey Forest.

When the monkeys weren’t accosting tourists for food they could be found playing in one of the pools or sitting quietly grooming each other.

They would meticulous groom each other.

Not sure what this guy is grooming for, but I don’t think he enjoyed the paparazzi catching him in the act.

These two guys had located the motherload of potatoes left by the park staff and seem to be imploring me not to divulge their location to the other hungry monkeys.

While the larger monkeys dominated the tourist attention I tried to make sure that I gave some of my bananas to the little guys.

But the big guys would not tolerate that for long and would climb up on me to ensure they were given some of my tasty treats.

Further into the forest there was a sacred bathing temple with carved statues covered in beautiful moss.

As with several other destinations on our trip we were blessed in Ubud by the generosity and kindness of some local friends.  Jan and Avi are a married couple who have been living in Ubud for the past year having moved from Jakarta where they established a travel magazine called “Kabar” which is a Balinese greeting.  Jan is the sister of a good friend of mine from business school Eddie Russell an Irishman who now lives in New Jersey with his American wife Julia.  He put me in touch with Jan and both she and Avi (of Indian parentage, but raised in Jakarta) could not have been more hospitable.  On our first night in Ubud they invited us out for a coffee to get acquainted and we then met up again that evening after dinner so they could introduce us to the Ubud nightlife.

Ari, Jan, Avi & Franny

Along with Ari, their friend and colleague at the magazine, we talked and drank the night away in a small, but lively bar.  Having not rented our scooter yet, we stumbled back to Artini 2 on foot at about 4am.

The next day was Jan’s birthday and they invited us to their house for a party Avi was throwing for her.  So in preparation Francesca and I both got mani-pedis for $6 in a nearby salon.  I didn’t get mine colored though as Franny wouldn’t permit it.

Daughter of one of the salon workers.  I could not take enough photos of this cute, little princess.

Jan and Avi also invited us to a purification ceremony that Avi had arranged before her party.  We were the only other non family guests (aside from Ari who was staying with them) and we were honored by the invitation.

The ritual lasted about two hours (although we arrived with about 30 minutes left as instructed) and was presided over by a very holy looking priest who among other things conducted a sacrifice of a live chicken.  I will spare you the photos of that poor bird.

The birthday girl was a vision to behold in her white, traditional garb and flower in her hair.

The children of Jan and Avi’s landlord were also on hand to participate in the event.

They were friendly, but seemed to be a bit wary of me, which is probably understandable.

Jan and Avi’s place was absolutely AMAZING!  It was called “Garden in the Sky” and was a huge compound off of Jalan Hanoman accessed only after traveling down a long, twisting, narrow alleyway which, unbeknownst to us, is not wide enough for a moped to travel on safely with a passenger on the back.  We made it through unscathed, but were met with shocked surprise from our hosts when we told them.  “No one ever tries riding through with a passenger!” Jan told us.

Jan’s birthday party was a veritable who’s who of the Bali expat community.  Everyone from artists to teachers to filmmakers and business owners were in attendance.  Francesca and I have never met so many interesting individuals in one night.  And they all have incredible stories.  Like Nea, the pretty, young American woman from St. Louis who had never been out of the Midwest before graduating college when she traveled to Bali, met a Balinese man who was a surfer and a tattoo artist and never went back.  They are now married and have a beautiful baby boy.

An then there is Douchon, the Renaissance man and former Hollywood recluse who was once accused of scuttling a big Hollywood film by punching out Jean Claude Van Dam (he claims this is untrue and they are good friends).

Note the “New York Sate” on the chalk board menu behind Francesca.  We asked Brian, the owner, what was New York about the sate and he told us “the portion size”.  That must be some large sate!

We would end up getting together with Jan and Avi several times during our short stay in Ubud including our second to last night when they took us to a place called “Naughty Nuri’s”, a delicious steak and ribs joint about a ten minute scooter ride from Artini 2.

Naughty Nuri herself barbequing some tasty spare ribs and chicken.

Me, Franny and Brian, the owner of Naughty Nuri’s.

The owner, Brian Aldinger, came by to say “hi” to Jan and Avi, who, despite being vegetarians, are frequent diners here.  Francesca and I hit it off with the Queens born, Montclair, New Jersey raised Brian and talked for several hours with him about things American, things Balinese and his interesting story.

Francesca (wearing Avi’s glasses) and Brian at a live music house next door to Naughty Nuri’s.

Brian had come to Bali fifteen years earlier after realizing he didn’t want to have a nagging wife, four kids and live in a small house somewhere in Jersey (it wasn’t until later that he did not have such a life before, he was just speaking hypothetically of what he didn’t want).  So he obtained a passport (never had one before) and traveled to Bali where he met a young local girl named Nuri as they were passing each other in the street.  He says it was love at first sight and that love contributed to him opening up the restaurant to indulge his wife’s passion for barbeque cooking.  She has three children from a previous relationship and they now have a baby daughter of their own.

Brian enjoyed our company so much (as we did his) that he insisted we all continue drinking together down the road at a live music house with an amazing Indonesian cover band who sounded exactly like whichever artist they were covering.  They encouraged people to get up and sing, karaoke style, with them, but I was the only one to take them up on it singing my signature tune “Brown Eyed Girl” (which, fittingly I also sang with the band at Jan’s brother Eddie’s wedding years ago).

Rain drops on the Artini pool.

Franny geared up for riding in the rain at the entrance to Artini 2.

We got lucky with predominantly hot, sunny days while in Ubud, despite it being the rainy season, but the skies did open up on our last day there.

The snails were out in force before the deluge.

We couldn’t leave Ubud without trying the famous pork barbeque at Ibu Oka, a crowded touristy, but tasty hole in the wall restaurant opposite the Palace near the Ubud Market.

BBQ Pork and a frosty Bingtang Beer.  Ahhh.

A new pig is brought to the restaurant about every hour to satisfy the rush of customers at lunch time.

We also felt we had to pay a visit to Ketut Liyer, the Balinese spiritual healer made famous in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat, Pray, Love”.  So after filling ourselves with barbeque pork we set off on our scooter to find Ketut’s house.  Stay tuned for a separate posting on our visit with Ketut.

An interesting note about Balinese names.  Generally speaking there are only four first names in Bali.  Wayun which means first born, Made, second (literally “middle”), Nyoman, third and Ketut, fourth child, or literally “the tail”.  If a family has more than four children they start again with Wayun and add Balik after it, then Made Balik, Nyoman Balik, etc. Apparently it is very rare these days for a Balinese family to have more than three children with the result being that there are fewer and fewer Ketuts running around.

What about girls you ask?  Same, same, but different.  For girls, they order of the names is the same, but they add “Ni” to it so the first born daughter is Ni Wayun, the second, Ni Made, etc.  While an interesting naming convention it definitely poses problems when looking for a Balinese person.  It was very frustrating when Francesca and I were looking for our driver when we went to Jimbaron Bay and people asked us what his name was and we only knew Wayun.  That didn’t help much.

Learning to Surf in Three Easy Steps

Posted in Travel Blog on January 31, 2010 by Dan Jahns

I have never before surfed in my life, but I figured how hard could it be?  I am fairly athletic and I can snowboard which is pretty much the same as surfing, but on snow instead of water, right?  Actually, wrong, it turns out.   But of course I learned the hard way.

The road to Grupuk.

On our last day in Lombok Francesca and I hopped on our rented scooter and headed for a village called Grupuk about fifteen minutes from the Novotel.  Nick, our scuba dive master, informed us that this was the best place for beginners to try surfing.  He described it to us in his good, but broken, English, but his description didn’t nearly prepare us for what we encountered.

One of several “surf huts” in Grupuk.

We figured there would be a bright, sunny, albeit crowded tourist beach like on Kuta in Bali, where we could find a local to rent us a board and give us an introductory lesson on small, calm starter waves that gently rolled ashore. But Grupuk was a tiny, dirty village with no beach in sight and if not for a couple of hand painted “surf” signs on a few thatched roofed huts there would be no indication that any would-be surfing English speaking tourist ever set foot on this ground.

The surf shop guy waxing up my board.

We parked our bike at one of the huts with “surf” marked on it, but found no one inside.  After about five minutes a man appeared from a side alley and between his broken English and my sign language we brokered a deal for two surf boards, an instructor and transportation to the surf spot (which it turns out was a twenty minute boat ride away from the village).  He charged us fifteen US dollars which we figured was a lot, but we didn’t have much time to comparison shop as we had to be back at the Novotel in a few hours for our ride to the airport.

While we were waiting for our surf instructor (a different guy) to swim out to our outrigger boat with a canteen of gas and our surfboards we enjoyed the above group of enthusiastic Grupuk kids as they hammed it up for the camera.

Then we were on our way.   The kids all tried to hang on to the pontoon despite being scolded by the surf instructor (who happened to be doubling as the boat pilot).  The cutie in the shot above held on the longest and then calmly let go and waved as we headed out to lasso us some waves.  Yeehah, bring it on!

Francesca had planned to surf as well, but as we headed further out to sea and the water got darker and more menacing her hyper active fear of deadly sharks got the best of her and she decided to bow out volunteering instead to take camera duty (an unselfish and noble gesture to be sure).  Plus she had surfed before in Hawaii and therefore had nothing to prove.  Me on the other hand…..

Here I am trying to look calm, cool and collected, but really on the verge of squirting in my board shorts (and not the colon cleanse induced kind of squirting…..not that there is any good kind of squirting).

Fortunately we were joined shortly by a group of Swiss guys as I wasn’t relishing being the only shark bait in the water.

After a while a few more outriggers arrived and unloaded a veritable United Nations of tourist surfers.  In no time we had a full house.  I know you’re probably looking at the photo above and wondering “Where is the beach?  Where are the waves?”  Trust me there were waves….and some pretty honkin’ ones for a beginner class.

Not that there was much of a class.  As soon as we anchored, our outrigger skipper / surf instructor tossed his board in the water and dove after it and never looked back.  He didn’t even show me how to put on the ankle strap for the leash or even how to properly paddle the darn thing.  It became apparent pretty much instantaneously that I was just paying him to surf, not to teach me.  It was just as well though because he couldn’t speak English and I figured I’d just learn by watching the Swiss and Aussie surfers.   They looked pretty cool out there so they must know what they’re doing, right?  That was my second miscalculation of the day.

As I paddled out it occurred to me that since there was no beach to be seen the waves must just be breaking over a reef.  Great.  Perfect for a beginner.  But wait, it gets worse.  Or better depending if you are rooting for me to fail or succeed.  As I paddled my way through the crowd it became clear that none of these guys knew how to surf either.  Okay, so here I am in dark (yet thankfully warm) waters that my wife is convinced is chock full of ravenous Great White Sharks, surrounded by a bunch of guys who don’t know how to surf, but are all posturing as if they do and my supposed teacher is off hanging ten on some gnarly six to eight foot wave that I am apparently supposed to be putting my body in front of so that it can smash me to smithereens.

It didn’t help that it was total chaos out there with bodies and boards everywhere.  I tried to catch a few waves towards the end where they were breaking smaller, but after a few unsuccessful attempts I realized I would probably have to paddle into the belly of the beast and try to ride them big ones if I was going to do this.  Go big or go home, right!?  (Actually I thought about turning board and doing the latter, but then I saw Francesca cheering me on (from the comfort and safety of the outrigger) and my ego slowly turned my board back around and pushed me out to join the others lads).

In order to go big I had to have a plan and initially I had thought I would take a zen approach and just try to be one with the board.  But then I thought better of it and decided to tackle the problem from an analytical perspective. So I broke it down into steps.

Step One: Sitting Up on the Board.

A big part of surfing appears to be looking cool while sitting on your board.  I had observed the surfers on Bondi Beach and they seemed to spend an awful lot of time sitting on their boards and letting waves pass harmlessly under them.  Let me tell you people, it is significantly harder than it looks.  Every time I would try to push up to a sitting position I would fall off to one side or the other – sometimes getting my strap caught around my neck and have to untangle myself before clamoring back on my board.  While I said the other guys didn’t know how to surf either, they did know how to sit on their boards and while they didn’t laugh out loud at my ineptitude (that would be against the surfers’ code) I could feel them dying of hysterics on the inside.

Eventually I was able to get to a sitting position and hold it for a few seconds before slowly rolling over to one side with my legs wrapped around the board where I would linger for a moment, under water with my feet dangling in the ocean breeze.  I felt as if I was riding some bizarre, lethargic water borne mechanical bull or something.

I hadn’t completely mastered Step One yet, but time was getting on so I figured I would just skip to….

Step Two: Catching a Wave.

This is also easier said than done.   My “teacher” didn’t go out of his way to help me out, but on a couple of occasions he was near enough to yell out something that sounded like “Paddle! Paddle!” when a large enough wave was heading towards me.  Usually though I would not paddle, paddle because either the wave looked too ferociously large or too far away to start paddling – of course by the time I thought it an appropriate time to start paddling it was too late and the wave just passed right by me.

Eventually I figured out that if you happen to be in a spot right under the wave as it is about to break on you it will carry you and your board along.  “Hey look, I’m catching a wave!”  Of course I didn’t try to stand up at this point.  It was too early for Step Three.  I just clung on to my board for dear life and stared down the crest of the wave as it thrust me at break neck speed towards the reef.

The above photo is blurry (Francesca may have been too worried about sharks to focus the camera), but that blur is me tumbling gracelessly into the sea foam.

After a few boogie board rides I was ready for….

Step Three: Standing up on the Board.

After bailing out at the last minute a couple of times because there were Swiss or Aussie guys right in front of me (“Hey dude, get the hell off my wave!”) I finally caught a big sucker and then attempted to stand up.  As you can see from the photo above I barely got off my knees before I went tumbling headlong into the surf.  I felt like I was in a washer/dryer combo appliance as my body was tossed about under the crashing waves for what seemed like a good day and a half.  When I surfaced gasping for breath I turned around just in time to see another monster wave bearing down on me. It was at this point that I realized it would have been handy to have some instruction on how to get back out past the breaking waves (Step Four?).

As it was I got pummeled by each successive wave only to face another one and another one…and another one.

Me (or more accurately my board) getting hammered by a second wave as I attempt to get back out past the breakers.

I had seen in the movies that the cool surfer guys push the nose of their board under water and cut right through the wave to avoid getting hammered.  I tried this, but the wave would always grab my board as if it were a piece of balsa wood and toss it (with me attached) back towards the reef beach.  Wave after wave I endured, my strength sapped with every blow, until finally I noticed the other surfers were paddling parallel to the shore where the waves broke less.  Then they would paddle back around to catch another large wave.  I was so exhausted by the time I made it back to the pod of surfers sitting tall and cool on their boards that all I could do was lie flat on mine and rest for a good ten minutes.

As I did so I watched as my teacher expertly carved some waves.  As despondent as I was that my instructor wasn’t instructing me, I did have a tinge of pride that he was my guy since he was the best surfer out there that day.  I wanted to brag to the guys next to me “Hey, that’s my guy.  I know him.”, but I thought that might be in violation of the aforementioned surfer code.  Plus, I was way too exhausted to carry on a conversation.

Some instruction at last.

I eventually regained the strength to try Step Three a couple more times, but with the same result.  Just as I decided to call it quits and head back to our outrigger a Swiss surfer (the one guy from that group who actually could surf half decently) cruised up to me and offered me much needed advice on how to paddle more efficiently.  “Lie higher up on za board and raise your chest off za board” he instructed.  I followed his advice and although I felt like I was now in a core body workout class I was definitely able to cut through the water at greater speed.  Did I take this new found technique and head back out there?  Hell no!  I used it to paddle my ass back to the outrigger quicker than I would have before.

Calling it quits and heading home.

By the time I reached the boat I was so exhausted I had to lie on my board for several minutes before I had the energy to haul myself over the side to safety.

Me and “my guy”.

It took a while for me to get the attention of my instructor so he could take us back to shore.  Actually, I’m pretty sure he saw me in the boat, but was enjoying himself and wanted to continue surfing.

Me on the other hand, I made a commitment to myself to never try surfing again.  Well, never say never, right?  But if I do try it again, it will definitely be under more gentle circumstances.

Click here for some good info on Lombok surfing sites.