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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’?”

“Uh….”

“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.

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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.

Lombok, the Unspoiled Bali

Posted in Travel Blog on January 30, 2010 by Dan Jahns

Lombok is what many people expect Bali to be; undeveloped and raw with beautiful beaches, terraced rice paddies and jungles.  Francesca and I found this to be true for the most part, although there are some differences that make me want to say “Sir, we know Bali and Lombok is no Bali.”

The major difference we found is the people.  The Lombokians are not nearly as friendly and outgoing as the Balinese.  They also come off as a bit lazy, although I suspect it is just that they are not as well versed in the art of customer service as those on Bali, but that is understandable as they have not had the exposure to tourism that Bali has.

There is only one major hotel chain in Lombok’s Kuta area (the Novotel) which is an hour and a half from the airport.  I suspect things will change though when the new international airport is completed which will reduce the transport time to twenty minutes and, no doubt, bring more hotel chains to the island.  I am sure that in ten year’s time Lombok (or at least certain areas) will be built up and resemble its cousin across the “Wallace Line”, which marks the biogeographical division between the flora and fauna of Indomalaysia and Australasia.  It was discovered by Alfred Russel Wallace who some argue developed the theory of evolution at the same time or slightly before his contemporary Charles Darwin.

Novotel Lombok

View from our window at the Novotel.  You won’t find many major hotel chains with this rural a view on Bali’s beach towns. [Although there are some in the mountains of Ubud].

Lombok was our chance to enjoy a luxury hotel with all its amenities and the Novotel didn’t disappoint.  Their infinity pool overlooking the beach provided a nice cooling spot for the blazing hot afternoons.

Chillin’ on the beach reading our Kindles.

We were still on our 10 day detox program (see previous posting), but we were able to enjoy some tasty juices on the beach. Unfortunately we had to fetch the drinks ourselves from the bar because they did not have any waitstaff beachside.  To be fair, if you corralled one of the towel boys they would get you a drink, but I feel this type of thing should be standard at this type of resort.   They also did nothing to prevent local kids from loitering on the beach selling coconuts and Tim Tams to guests.  Color me cruel, but when I want to interact with the locals (and I often do) there is plenty of opportunity to do so outside the gates of the hotel compound, but I don’t want to hear their incessant, high pitched whines imploring me to purchase stuff that I don’t want.  Neither saying “No thank you” nor ignoring them seemed to cause them to move along.  Perhaps a small price to pay for paradise?

I mentioned in my last posting that we had planned to do a three day “juice fast”.  Well, once we got to Lombok those three days turned into two days and then were quickly reduced to one.  But we embraced that one day with determination and pride only having a glass or two of fresh fruit or vegetable juice for our three meals.  On our non juice fast days we found delicious vegetarian dishes to consume.  One restaurant, called Ashtari, served up great views along with its great food.

View from Ashtari.

We also did some “playing” on Lombok.  In addition to getting my surf on (separate posting coming soon) we went scuba diving for the first time on our RTW trip.  Franny and I love to dive and have enjoyed some spectacular dive sites in the past (Belize, St. Lucia, Hawaii, Bhol (me), Great Barrier Reef (Franny)).  However, we hadn’t been diving in four years so we opted out of the grand daddy of all Lombok dive trips (the amazing, but very technical, “Magnet”) in favor of the more placid local dive at Kuta.

We had to walk through what was essentially a murky garbage dump to get to the beach and our scuba boat.

Girls playing in the murky garbage dump.  These two loved posing for the camera.

The Dive Zone was the only game in town for scuba (actually there was another local operator, but we decided it was more prudent to go with the German helmed operation).

Nick was our dive master.  He was an affable twenty year old from Slovenia.  He came to Lombok three months previously and has been working for free to get experience so he can get paid for his next diving gig.  His age and lack of experience would have been a bit worrisome if he wasn’t such a likable guy.

Sven, a German dive instructor emphatically teaching a couple of French divers who were also on our boat.

The Frenchies dropping backwards into the warm Lombok waters.  This method of entering the water was popularized by Jacques Cousteau and is now standard operating procedure.

Disappointingly, the diving was average at best.  There was some nice coral and a few pretty smallish fish, but nothing to write home about.  It was particularly disappointing because I had researched dive sites on Lombok and had wanted to go to another site having read that Kuta was, well, average at best, but Claudia, the young German woman who managed The Dive Zone convinced me that Kuta was a spectacular dive site.  Since we’ve been trying to “bright side” during this trip, I will say that it was just nice to be back under water after so long.  Diving for me is very calming and its alright if we don’t see hammerhead sharks (Lombok is full of them).  Just floating along, listening to the sound of my breathing is enjoyment in itself.  Kind of like being in a womb full of amniotic fluid.  Or at least what I suspect it would be since I don’t actually remember my own experience.

After scuba we took a road trip on our rented moped to the town of Praya as we needed to withdraw money and Praya, at forty minutes away, was the closest ATM machine.   We were in the sticks ladies and gents.

On the way there we passed through some beautiful scenery.

Bought petrol from a street side hut selling it out of old Absolut Vodka bottles.  These petrol sellers are ubiquitous in Lombok and Bali and are where every scooter jockey fuels up.

And witnessed some unique sights including the guy above who was stuffing and sometimes even throwing live chickens up into cages that were stacked on top of trucks.  They seemed to be equally amused with us as we were with them.

Praya was a dump (sorry, but I’m running out of polite words for poverty), but we enjoyed one of the most delicious meals we’ve had yet in Indonesia.  It was a “restaurant” called Ria that was recommended to us by one of the local guys working at The Dive Zone.

We had chicken sate (okay, we fell off the vegetarian wagon on that one) and spicy green beans and tempe.  Awesome eats and for a total of about $8.

Franny and our Sasak village guide.

On the way back to the Novotel we made an impromptu stop at a local Sasak village.  The Sasak are the indigenous people of Lombok and comprise about 80% of the Lombok population.

A little Sasak kid playing a homemade guitar.

The saddest looking money we’ve ever seen (and we’ve seen a few monkeys in our day).  Our guide said he was their “security monkey” and a “display piece”.  But he was chained by his neck to a short leash and looked so depressed it was heartbreaking.   Out of solidarity and sympathy we refused to buy any of the villagers’ clothes or crafts.  That’ll teach ‘em.

Villages all have an elevated rice hut to keep the animals out and a lot of cats and dogs around to keep out vermin hell bent on getting to that rice.

So perhaps I have been pretty hard on Lombok so far, but I have to give credit where credit is due.  Lombok has the most amazing sunsets that we’ve seen on the Eat, Play, Love RTW tour (and as you’ve seen there have been some spectacular ones).

It’s just getting started.

When I posted this shot on facebook a couple people accused me of using photoshop to enhance the colors, but this is exactly how the Lombok sunsets looked night after night.  The sky just lights up magic!

The beachside bar was standing room only for the sunset happy hour.  We got pole position on our last night with two comfy chairs with an unobstructed view of the show.

In Southeast Asia I acquired a bunch of local beer t-shirts just for a change of wardrobe from the clothes I had been wearing for the previous two and a half months.   Enjoy my Southeast Asia Beer T-Shirt Montage.

I leave you with a pic of the many flavors of Pringles snack chips available at the Lombok airport.  Take particular note of the Grilled Shrimp and Soft Shelled Crab flavors.  Hell yeah we bought them! Of course we couldn’t eat them until after our 10 day detox program concluded which would be our first dawn in Ubud on the island of Bali and our last stop on our trip.

Bali: Paradise Found…..Weight Lost

Posted in Travel Blog on January 28, 2010 by Dan Jahns

Young Balinese girls greet guests at the Amandari resort in Ubud.

Bali is sometimes referred to as the “Land of Paradise” and I truly believe this.  I don’t think it is a place I could live in for an extended period of time – I like temperate climates and I think I’d miss my creature comforts (like 2,000 cable channels) – but it is truly a beautiful, paradisiacal place.  Not Tuscany vineyard beautiful or striking gothic cathedrals of Budapest beautiful or bright red mountains of  Namibian desert sand beautiful, and not even Laotian impoverished beauty.  It’s simply a visually stunning place with some of the kindest, friendliest local people you will ever meet.

Rice field just outside our villa in Kerobokan.

Bali is one of over 17,000 islands that make up the Republic of Indonesia, but it is unique in that the predominant religion is Hindu, not Muslim like most of Indonesia.  Tourists coming to Bali settle into a handful of villages.  There is Kuta for the young, backpacker party crowd (dominated by Aussie surfers), Nusa Dua for the five star hotel properties, Ubud, up in the mountains for a more spiritual, healing experience and Sanur for families with children.  Francesca and I stayed our first week in a village called Keroboken which is still largely undeveloped with no large hotels and only a handful of quaint villas sprouting up between rice fields.

Franny at the stone gateway to the Dewani Villas in Kerobokan. Notice the white ‘thing’ on the ground (just above the word “play”) and see photo below.

It is a ritual in Bali to place offerings, called canang, at the entrance to your property several times per day.  Walk, ride or drive anywhere in Bali and you will invariably see men or women placing these offerings (food, flowers, trinkets made from bamboo, etc. placed in a container made from palm leaves) on the ground along with incense.  The amount of offerings placed depends on your financial situation, but generally it is thought that the more you offer the better protected you will be against evil spirits.  You can see massive offerings at any of the four or five star hotels in Bali.

The Dewani Villa courtyard.  Our room was the top floor of the round building with the conical roof.

After months of ravaging our bodies with too much food and too little exercise Francesca and I decided to enjoy a healthy 10 day detox program and colon cleanse and figured the isolated Dewani Villas in Kerobokan would be the ideal place.

Garden path to our villa.

For those of you who have never tried a detox program (or think I am referring to sobering up from a drug binge) I will present the basics for you.  Detoxification is designed to help support the function of your digestive system and help your body eliminate waste more effectively, or at least that’s what it says on the Blackmore 10 Day Detoxification packaging we picked up in Sydney.  The package continues with five ways in which this detox program works:

  1. Maintain healthy functioning of the digestive system
  2. Assist sluggish liver function (we sure need that after all the drinking we’ve been doing)
  3. Balance and maintain healthy gut flora (I had no idea my gut had flowers in it!)
  4. Gently help cleanse the bowel (yeah, gently my ass! No pun intended)
  5. Assisting the removal of dead skin cells via exfoliation

At each meal during our day Francesca and I would take, as instructed, Milk Thistle (liver), Acidophilus Bifidus (Intestines), Digestive Bitters (stomach – totally nasty tasting liquid!) and Blackmore’s patented Colon Care (colon) which helps ease the discomfort of your loose bowels.  Every other day we would put on these electric blue exfoliation gloves and rub ourselves silly, all in the name of healthcare of course.

Me using the Dewani Villas’ outdoor kitchen to cook up a tasty tofu and veggie stir fry meal.  The secret, kids, is in the generous use of soy sauce.  I purchased the ingredients at a small, local roadside warung (like a bodega) near our villa.

In addition to the pills and potions there was a diet regimen to adhere to as well.  It was essentially a true vegetarian diet (no chicken or fish either) and no dairy and limited carbs.  Having been carnivorous gluttons for three months we thought this abrupt diet change would cause us problems, both physically and mentally, but we found the side effects to be largely benign.

The Pulp Art Spicy Baked Tempe Wrap was our favorite.

On a walk around our neighborhood on day one we discovered Pulp Art, an amazing organic wrap restaurant where we ended up eating the majority of our meals (sometimes dining in their free wi-fi zone, sometimes getting take out).  While we tried many delicious wraps, our favorite was the Spicy Baked Tempe Wrap.  Tempe, as I found out, is a cake form of soybeans originated in Indonesia which tastes, surprisingly, a bit like chicken (but not really).  We ate a ton of tempe while in Kerobokan.

The winding, country road that leads to Dewani Villas.

We spent a lot of our time walking, both for exercise and for transport – even though the Dewani Villas had a complimentary shuttle on standby for quick trips around the neighborhood.

Each rice field has one of these “hooches” where guys sit around all day and try to keep birds away from the rice crop.  They accomplish this in two ways.  One way is to pull on those strings attached to the little hut which in turn waves those white flags and rattles the tin cans thereby scaring away the birds.  Another way is to scream their heads off at the birds until they fly away.  The former is by far the more pleasing to the bystander.

Balinese women working the rice fields near Dewani Villas.  While the men do all the plowing the women are right in there, bent over during the planting and harvesting process.

We also took advantage of the incredibly cheap prices for massages.  There was an upscale “Antique Spa” right next door to the Dewani Villas, but we only went there once because at $25 for a 1 hour Balinese massage it was way more than the typical $6-8 places scattered throughout the neighborhood.

“Antique Spa” in Kerobokan

While the adage “you get what you pay for” generally holds true in most situations, we discovered that this is not true for the massage trade in Bali.  Our $6 massages from the ladies calling tourists in off the streets to their makeshift massage rooms were equally as soothing (sometimes more so) than the full service, upscale spas.  Of course it is nice to have all the accouterments that you get with a full spa – the welcome drink, showers and decor that contributes to a zen-like atmosphere – but since we were on a budget and getting a one or two hour massage every day we figured it made sense to forego these amenities on most occasions.

A traditional Balinese massage always begins with a foot scrub.  Francesca says I have Hobbit feet, but I think they’re gorgeous!

Francesca and I have now tried massages all over the world and many different styles, and we both feel strongly that the traditional Balinese massage is without a doubt the best we’ve encountered.

No matter how low budget the massage place, they will always have flowers in a bowl of water beneath the headrest, a nice touch I think.

The Balinese massage is essentially a combination of deep tissue and Swedish massage with some elements of a Thai massage thrown in.  During the first part of the massage the masseuse will get up on the table and use her weight to push down on several key areas of your back and legs.  Then she’ll proceed to really get in there with some deep tissue action.  Finally, and this part takes up the majority of the hour, she’ll massage the full body (excluding your privates – this isn’t Hong Kong after all!) with long, strong strokes using scented aromatherapy oils of your choice.  Ahhh, heavan.

Most of the Bali massage places provide you with little unisex underpants to put on during your session.  They are flimsy, little garments that resemble a grandmother’s shower cap with holes cut out for legs.  Needless to say not a great look.

Franny relaxing in the Dewani Villa pool after an evening massage.

While we were very good about adhering to our diet we did treat ourselves one evening to a seafood spectacular on Jimbaron Bay beach.  We had heard from our friend Andrew (see Sydney, Australia posting) about the tasty fish served right on the beach.  He advised to skip past the myriad restaurants with their tables in the sand and just go down to the market where you can buy your fish just after its come off the fishing boat and have it grilled up for you. Then you sit on these low, plastic chairs in the sand and nosh away.

I’m not sure if we went there too late, but we never did find any fishing boats or market.  So we doubled back and ate at one of the beach side restaurants choosing the one with the most amount of locals eating there figuring that would be the best.  The food was pretty good, but the dining conditions were less than ideal.  The evening wind whipped up so fiercely that each bite of delicious lobster had the extra crunch of sand grains.  Plus it was apparently karaoke night at this restaurant so we had to endure the locals’ off key renditions of classical Balinese techno pop.  Unlike Filipinos, not all Balinese can sing well we found out.

We did a lot of window shopping for glassware, ceramics and the famous Balinese teak wood furniture, but stopped short of make any purchases because of the ridiculous amount of red tape and expense to get anything shipped to the States….and because we realized we don’t have a house or apartment in which to put it.  It was fun shopping with faux intent just the same.

Japanese tourists taking a beginner surf lesson on the filthy sand of Kuta Beach.  I love that they have helmets on!

I wanted to try my hand at surfing, but I did not do so in Kuta.  I figured I can do that when we get to Lombok Island in a few days.

Upscale shops like Dolce & Gabbana are not quite the same in Kuta as they are in New York or Paris.  That is assuming it is even authentic D&G.  An expat friend living in Bali told us that while there are copyright and intellectual property laws in Indonesia, it’s the first person or company to copyright a logo or slogan that gets protected, regardless of whether they are the originators or not.  For example, some random Balinese guy copyrighted the Polo Ralph Lauren trademark and logo in Bali before Ralph Lauren did so he can use it and Ralph Lauren cannot. Its sounds incredibly unjust, but apparently that’s the way it goes here.

Kerobokan had some amazing sunsets, but not nearly as spectacular as those we witnessed in Lombok, the next stop on our RTW journey.

We’ve still got a few more days in the detox program – plus a 2 day juice fast that Franny has put on the agenda – but we already feel better about ourselves and have started to fit back into some of our clothes that had, heretofore, been a tight squeeze.

Living in The Land Down Under

Posted in Travel Blog on January 26, 2010 by Dan Jahns

I have always had a thing for Sydney.  She is clean, efficient and beautiful.  I had been there several times before for both work and pleasure back in the 1990s when I was working in Hong Kong and always had a blast.  It’s also a very active city, much like San Francisco.  Each of its citizens and visitors seems to be in a constant state of working out.  The Aussies are all well known for their drinking and partying, but walk down any beach in Sydney and you’ll see runners, walkers, surfers, skateboarders, body builders (yes, there’s a Muscle Beach section of Bondi.  No, I didn’t go) doing their thing.

Bondi Beach

This trip only served to strengthen my endearment to Sydney.  It helped that we lived like locals for a week due to the generosity of our friends Tiff and Adam (whom you met in my Queenstown, New Zealand blog post) who have a gorgeous penthouse apartment overlooking Bondi beach and gave us their spare bedroom and a spare key (thanks guys!).

View from Tiff and Adam’s penthouse apartment.

There is so much to do in Sydney and one week is not nearly long enough to even scratch the surface.  Plus, we had been traveling ourselves ragged for three months we were looking forward to just chilling out and not doing much.  Of course that didn’t happen.  Between our consummate hosts who had arranged a ton of great events for us (but always assured us “you can do all of it or none of it”) and our natural propensity to keep ourselves busy, we ended up doing quite a bit.

We ran and took walks along Bondi beach including a few walks with Tiff and Adam’s Westie Jax…..

Jaxsie!

Bondi surfers

Skateboarders at Bondi’s skate park – an empty swimming pool

While Tiff and Adam were at work one day Francesca and I took the bus to Circular Quay and caught a ferry to the Taronga Zoo, our rendezvous point to meet my friend from business school Akiko Bateman who brought along her adorable son, Henry.

View from the ferry heading towards Taronga Zoo.  Franny and I were all about the public transport.  We bought a week pass for unlimited busses, ferries and trains in Sydney.

Luna Park….we didn’t go, but I liked the big clown face entrance.  Franny thought it looked spooky.

Taronga is a well appointed zoo with all of the major animals you’d expect.

I know photos of an ape at the zoo aren’t all that unique or interesting, but I liked this shot so I put it in.

I love Meerkats ever since I started watching the hit Animal Planet show “Meerkat Manor”.

Who knew we were so closely related to primates?!

Sydneyites will tell you that the Taronga Zoo boasts some of the best views of Sydney harbor….especially from the sky tram.  I’m not sure I would bestow “Best” honors on them, but they weren’t bad.

For those of you who were wondering….I am taller than the smallest bear in the world and quite a bit shorter than the world’s tallest bear (the Kodiak).   I had to elbow a couple of eight year olds out of the way to get this shot. Back of the line kid! 😉

I have always liked zoos even though I have not been to one in quite a long time, but I have to say that, having recently been on an African safari and a bush walk in Madagascar where we saw wild animals roaming free in their natural habitats, it really struck both Franny and me how cruel it is to keep these animals caged up behind bars.  I give them kudos for trying to recreate the animals’ natural habitat, but no matter how much the creature feels at home, it’s still confined to a small space and not free to roam.  Only the gorillas seemed to enjoy putting on a show for the humans.  The rest just seem really depressed….including two of Australia’s own.

Me, Akiko and Henry after lunch.

Tiff and Adam also took us out to hang with their friends from Sydney including “Mexican Night” with their friends Helen and Julio – he’s Venezuelan, by the way, it was the food that was Mexican.

Helen, Francesca (hidden), Tiff & Julio

Franny had met Helen before on a trip to Venezuela with Tiff who used to work with Helen at Goldman Sachs in London.  Got that?  There will be a quiz later.

Julio’s parents (Julio senior and Julia) and his sister (the lovely Eglys) were also in town visiting.  We ended up back at Julio and Helen’s apartment for some delicious homemade hot chocolate and chili (aye carumba!)….

…..and danced the forbidden dance.

Julia – with infinite patience – teaching me to dance salsa…or maybe it was meringue?  There is video of this, but I am not about to show any of you.  So there.  Julio, apologies because I appear to be staring straight at your mothers cantalupos!

Franny and I also got our culture on with a tour of the Sydney Opera house.

Interior of the Sydney Opera House.

The story of the design and building of the opera house is fascinating.  It was years ahead of its time in terms of design – they started construction before they even had the know-how to build Danish architect Jorn Utzon’s vision – and ended up millions of dollars over budget and several years behind schedule.  If you want to know more about this incredible story click here.

One of the unlikely highlights of our trip to Sydney was seeing James Cameron’s film “Avatar” at the Event Cinemas at Bondi Junction in “Gold Class”.  I’m quite sure I will never see another movie again in anything but Gold Class.  While you are waiting for entry to the theatre you sit in a bar/lounge area and can order cocktails and gourmet food for immediate consumption or you can specify when during the film you would like the wait staff to bring it to your overstuffed reclining chair.  I know we have such theatres in the States, but I had never been before.

Not a great shot, but you get the idea.  Oh, by the way, great film!  Check it out if you haven’t seen it yet.

Sydney Harbor Bridge

We didn’t add much to the list in terms of “play” in Sydney, but we did climb the Sydney harbor bridge which, while not particularly dangerous (and VERY expensive), did require a saftey harness and, in my book, anything that requires a safety harness qualifies as “play” for the Eat, Play, Love RTW tour.

You can see several groups of people climbing the outer arch of the bridge.   We did the sunset climb which provided some great night shots.

I know this looks like we shot it on a green screen or in front of some photographed background, but it is the real deal.  Great shot.

Our tour group.  You get a good look at our Oompa Loompa like jumpsuits……

For those of you into stats, the bridge is 456 ft. high and 3,770 ft. long and was opened in March 1932 after nine years of construction.  Sixteen workers died during construction, but only two from falling off the bridge.  One lucky young construction worker from Ireland survived a 400 ft. fall from the bridge when his drill slipped!  The luck of the Irish!  Back then there was no worker’s comp or an ease back into work program so he was back on the bridge working three weeks after his fall.  Not so lucky.  Click here for more info on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Tiff and Adam also got us tickets to the 19th annual “FlickerFest” short film festival since they know I’m all into filmmaking.  We saw a slate of seven or eight international films in the open air Bondi Pavillion which happened to be conveniently located across the street from Tiff and Adam’s apartment.

Francesca cooked dinner for all of us one night that we ate alfresco in Tiff and Adam’s roof top garden.

Tiff and Adam are big live music fans and so they arranged for all of us to go to this huge music festival in Sydney’s Moore Park called “Days Like This”.  It was super hot, but a lot of fun.  We saw a ton of great bands including the awesome, eclectic Melbourne based band “The Cat Empire” who’s music is described as a fusion of jazz, ska, funk and rock with heavy Latin influences.  Check ‘em out.

On our last day in Sydney we met up with recurring blog characters Duncan & Allie (See Cambodia, Vietnam and Kuala Lumpur postings) who were in town to see the sights and stay with Allie’s aunt in The Blue Mountains a few hours from Sydney.

Famous Sydney Yum Cha with Duncan & Allie (and apparently a sleepy Francesca). Wecontinue our quest for the best Chinese food outside of China.

As always we laughed non-stop and enjoyed ourselves tremendously with our new travel friends.  They have been traveling for about as long as we have, but they are going to be on the road for another two or three months.  Hey guys, we hope you are still enjoying your travels you lucky devils!

Duncan with one of several Starburst mutant variations.  The one on the right is called “crazy babies” and appears to have a green baby with blood pouring out of his stomach on the packaging.  That baby IS crazy!

That evening Tiff and Adam took us out on their boat for a sunset and dinner cruise of Sydney harbor along with their friends Lachlan (an Aussie) and Jackie (an American) Wark.

Tiff (piloting while drinking and not looking – what skills!), Lachlan and Adam.

Me, Jackie & Tiff

Franabanana

Sunset at Sydney Harbor.

We were sad to leave Sydney after our week was up.  Not only because we had such a great time – it was the first city where we felt like we were living there and not just tourists – but also because it meant our round the world journey was coming to an end.  The next day we took the bus to the Sydney airport for our flight to Bali, Indonesia where we would spend the next seventeen days before returning to NYC.

Country Stats:

Official Name: Commonwealth of Australia

Official Language: None apparently, although English is the National Language.  (I’m not sure I appreciate the difference between “official” and “national”).

Population: 22,128,000

Capital City: Canberra (nope, not Sydney, the largest city)

Government: Federal Parliamentary Democracy and Constitutional Monarchy

Current Leader(s): Kevin Rudd (Prime Minister)

For more information about Australia click here.

Flying the Noisy Skies

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

When did it become an FAA regulation that there has to be at least three hysterically crying babies on every flight?  And how does Murphy’s Law curse me by invariably locating them ALL strategically around my seat?!  And trust me, I adore children as much as the next yet-to-be-father.  It’s just that I don’t particularly adore them when they are screaming bloody murder in my ears.   And I don’t blame the babies either.  After all their eardrums are probably splitting open from the pressurization and I’m pretty certain they didn’t purchase their own tickets.  It’s the parents that I blame for bringing the little ear splitters on board in the first place.  Where are all these busy parents going that requires the presence of their two month old baby?  I mean if grandma and grandpa want to see the little bugger then let them do the flying, right?

On our Jet Star flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia the only thing worse than the actual baby’s blood curdling cries in the seat directly behind mine was the plaintive shushing of the father trying to shut him up.  “Shhhhhh.  Shhhhh.  Shhhhh.”  Oh my god, are you serious??  Can we get that kid a nipple sir because your efforts are falling on deaf baby ears and his screams are rendering me nearly deaf.

Francesca says I should have more understanding and to think about if I were in their position.  Well, that’s impossible because I would never be in that position.  I promise not to bring my kid on a flight until he or she is potty trained.  How old is that?  Five or six?  I have no idea, but I’ll wait that long.

She also thinks I may be a bit cranky because, in an effort to lose the man boobs that I seem to have developed (thanks for pointing that out to me Dad!) I have reduced my caloric intake to about 100 per day.  She may have a point (I am SOOOO hungry), but I don’t think that accounts for all of my frustration.   My irritation was already brought to a near boil by the three twenty-somethings sitting across the aisle one row back who, in a display of mind boggling disregard for the people around them, were watching a movie on their laptop computer (a violent, shoot ‘em up film to boot!) without headphones.  When I awoke from my typical 10-20 minute take-off induced coma I struggled to make out what the noise was.  At first I thought it was just the kid next to me listening to his headphones really loudly (which he was) – you know the audio refuse you hear from the punks on New York City subways – but then realized it was these jokers across the aisle and they were actually listening to their movie without headphones.  At this point I could hear all the film dialogue clearly and all efforts to return to a blissful sleep were fruitless.

So I was left with no choice, but to reach up to the console above my head and press the flight attendant call button.  I used to think that there was some buzzer system or something that would alert flight attendants in the galley that a passenger needed attention, but now, after pushing it several times for various reasons on flights on our round the world trip, I am certain that the button only makes that “ding” sound in the immediate vicinity of the button pusher and that the flight attendants only respond to it if they make a visual sighting.  In the case of Jet Star there were two flight attendants nearby, but they were too engrossed in selling drinks and snacks to notice that a call button on gone off in their vicinity.  After what seemed to me like half of the flight a steward (sorry, male flight attendant) came charging down the aisle from the front of the cabin and I thought “Oh good, finally someone is responding with haste to my cry for help”, but he sashayed right by my seat, not even glancing at any of the 120 potentially lit up call buttons, and whisper shouted at the two stewardesses (sorry, flight attendants) with the snack cart “Do you guys have any more macadamia nuts!  I’m totally out!” I thought they were going to ask him to repeat himself since the moment he spoke coincided with a particularly energetic scene in the film those kids were viewing, but they nodded sympathetically (as if to say “Oh you poor thing, out of Macadamia nuts already!”) and handed him a couple nut bags.

It wasn’t until the snack cart stewardess had rolled her bounty up to my aisle with her handheld credit card processing machine that she noticed my call button was illuminated.  She gave me an annoyed look and, as she leaned over to turn it off, asked me what it was.  I requested politely if she could ask the passengers listening to the violent movie to listen with headphones and she gave me a look as if she couldn’t believe that I was really making this request.  She asked me to repeat it and I did, again politely.  She huffed and turned back to the offending passengers who, not to stereotype but, were dressed like NYC thug kids with tattoos and facial piercings and at least one of them had on one of those dirt bag trendy wool hats (its summer in this part of the world remember).  I couldn’t hear what she said exactly, but I did see her make an apologetic gesture and thrust her thumb over her shoulder in my direction (oh my goodness she just totally called me out!).  Then she wheeled around to me again and said “Is that better?”  Apparently she asked them to turn the volume down, but I could detect no difference in volume.  Now I was irritated.  I told her “No, that is not better.  It’s still very loud and they shouldn’t be listening without headphones.”  She turned back around and said something to them and laughed with them conspiratorially – likely something about the uptight American old fogy – and went about her business without checking back with me to see if it was better now.

It was better, but it still wasn’t off.  It was almost more annoying because now my ears were straining to discern if I was just imagining the movie noise or if it was actually there, faint, but throbbing none the less.  It was the latter.  I was about to ring my call button again, but then realized it was a losing battle so instead I dug through my bag for my own iPod and jammed my headphones in my ears and closed my eyes to the dulcet tones of Sarah McLachlan.

What is the world coming to?  I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what it’s NOT coming to; flight attendants who do their jobs and monitor their passengers to make sure noise pollution does not spiral out of control and is confined only to those crying babies.