Saturday, February 20, 2010

Back to Bali

Arriving back in Kuta/Legian (via speedboat this time thank god) we set up 2 dives in Tulamben (northern Bali) for the next day with one of Goreng's dive master friends. Both beach dives & one of them is a sunken US ship (The Liberty) torpedoed & beached during WWII. After toning down our life for the last 4 days on Lembongan, it was back to business as usual in the tiny alleys (streets they call them) of Kuta. Within 50 yards of our hotel one could find: 2 internet spots, 4 dvd stores (50 cents each, including new releases), 3 bars selling mushrooms, infinite amount of guys trying to rent you their scooter, and upon further investigation (300 yards) a burrito shop! Now I know what everyone is saying, how are we going to go all the way from San Francisco to Bali and eat burritos.......the answer is, quite easily. Despite the white rice & lettuce, they were quite enjoyable and the cooks got to know us quite well over the next 5 days (Shawn's flight was in a few days, so we decided to beach & party until then instead of trying to make it to another island).

Now, a couple things about is the tank tops. Its an Aussie "Spring Break" location for sure (Aussie girls have been known to puke after piggy-back rides, fyi) and Aussie guys are easy to spot as they ALL sport the same Bintang (pretty much the only Indo beer) tank tops everywhere they go. I'm talking about 15 Aussie guys all wearing pretty much the exact same shirt. We even made a drinking game out of spotting them, but you get too drunk too fast so we had to put a freeze on that. Another thing you'll grow quite accustomed to is having an Indo guy yell "transport?!!!) at you every 5-7 feet or so. They're trying to rent you their scooter for the day or at least take you somewhere around the city. They also take the same approach for selling clothes as EVERY street here is full of tiny shops selling the same t-shirts, boardshorts, hats, etc. Yelling, grabbing,pointing & even blocking the sidewalk so you can't walk past their shop are all common practices for the Indo entrepreneur (can't hate the hustle) but there are a couple ways to to interact with them. When they try and sell you something, you reply by trying to sell THEM something, they point at their store, you point at the store across the street, they say "transport?!!" you say "transport?!!" (this confuses the hell out of them), the stutter step has been known to work as well. Balinese phrases that also helped included: "I have no money" (singa da piz), "Bankrupt" (banrup), & "Massage scandal" (massage scandal), these will articulate that now is not the best time for you to buy their wares. My new idea is to market t-shirts that say "No Transport" and then you could just point to it every 10 seconds and be all good.

Honking is also an issue here. From what I can tell, you're supposed to honk when someones ahead of you, behind you, passing you (or vice versa), and whenever you see a tourist. This pretty much means all the time but is brutal when you're hungover and just want to get a burrito down the street. Anyway, the dives the next day were definitely legit (despite the 2 1/2 hour drive) and we saw a ridiculous octopus, huge Grouper, great coral and broke our longest dive time of 70 mins. The wreck was pretty cool to see as well. The next 4 days saw us pretty much at the beach, the pool, the burrito shop, and the bar. Highlights below:

-one of our Aussie friends bdays, amazing live salsa bar, lead singer serenading Pat from 2 inches away, Shawn salsa dancing (if you know Shawn, this is amazing), starting a congo line, huge video screen at next bar that mixed music videos (Rick James/Guns & Roses/MC Hammer)
-Geger Beach (the greatest beach on earth)
-Indo tourists having me pose with them for pictures
-Shawn battling mosquitos in our room with a pillow at 4am
-biggest prawns & ridiculous grilled snapper at Gosha
-Pat asking the bartender for umbrellas for the girlie drinks Jake & Shawn ordered and her bringing us a real umbrella
-Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girl" is played 500 times per day minimum
-my all blue Bintang suit (hat,tanktop,boardshorts,koozie) courtesy of Pat for my birthday

Thanks for the memories Bali

Lembongan Island

Left Kuta early to try and catch the speedboat from Sanur to a little island off the east coast of Bali called Lembongan. There is some sick diving there and its super mellow and relaxing after the madness of Kuta. We arrived late (huge surprise) and were forced to make use of the "slow boat". Didn't think too much of it until I actually saw the glorified canoe w/ wooden pontoons on either side held together by zip ties or something with bench seating for 20 that I started to worry. Not so much about the sea-worthiness of this particular vessel but more about how sick I was going to get on the 1 1/2 hour journey. As we clamored aboard with some other passengers & their chickens, I took up a position nearer the front & along the side that would provide the best view of the horizon and hopefully facilitate any violent puking if necessary. For the next 90 mins, I didn't really talk, kept my eyes ahead, & replayed entire episodes of The Wire in my head as the streets of west Baltimore were about the furthest place I could think of...........for the record, Pat also considered puking & Shawn was fairly convinced the boat was going to come apart as the seas did get pretty rough for awhile. Never been happier to see the shores of Lembongan.

Small beach full of fishing & dive boats as well as sea weed farmers. They pull is out of the water, "riverdance" on it, & then dry it in the sun, fetches about $3/kilo which is legit money over here. Our divemaster, Goreng, who Josh had dove with a year ago, shuttled us to some sweet bungalows on a cliff overlooking the harbor for $14/night (hahahaha). Sweet views and an infiniti pool sealed the deal. Headed out for a pre-dinner snack in "town" which pretty much consists of one street with a couple tiny stores, few places serving food, & every single house on the island looks like a Hindu temple with offerings scattered everywhere. Fried noodles & beer were interrupted by a rain storm that progressed to torrential fairly quickly. This caused the electricity to go out of course & we quickly realized that there was no way it was letting up anytime soon. Cameras, shirts, even Pat's shorts (who doesn't wear boardshorts on a tropical island?) go into plastic bags from the restaurant and we make a dash through the flooded streets, slipping, losing sandals, & getting rain in my beer! As there's not much to do on Lembongan except dive & the electricity was out on the island anyway, we felt the most useful activity we could engage in was underwater lap contests in the pool (record is 9) with rain so hard you could barely see & lightning lighting up the clouds. After dinner & some bbq fish that the dive guys brought us, its lights out.

Early morning dive (gets light at 6am here) Goreng & his dive master-in-training, Black Monkey (literally the only name he gave us) picked us up and we did two warm up dives over some sweet coral interrupted only by one of the worst chicken sandwich lunches ever. Over the next 3 days we did another 6 dives including some "drift" dives which included a 3-4 knot underwater current in which you literally feel like you're flying. Both the Superman & the Heisman pose look sick 40ft down, fyi. Some highlights: 5 ft sea snake, Black Monkey drinking a bottle of water at 30ft, flying over amazing coral surrounded by fish who matched the coral looking up to see the sun streaming down from the surface (I was inverted), hanging on to a rock in really intense current (will literally rip your mask off) looking for the Mola Mola, and the general sensory overload of tropical diving. Just too much going on, you could spend 10 minutes looking at a 3 x 3 foot area and be completely satisfied. We also started trying to complete with Goreng and the Monkey regarding air usage, but couldn't even get close. We'd do a 50 min dive & come up with 20-30 bar left and these guys would still be at 120 bar. Ridiculous how relaxed they are under there, using about zero energy. You'd look over and the Monkey would be floating upside down about 2 inches off a coral garden like he was sleeping.

2 dives each day for 4 days & pretty mellow nights except for a impromtu pool party with some Aussie friends followed by some horrendous pool games in which I and the pride of Newcastle, came from the brink of defeat to seize a seemingly guaranteed victory from Jake and her friend. More impressive than the win was my partner's post game gloating...."Jake, turn around, is your lip quivering?!!"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


or check my facebook

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Indo Brah

The famed, fabled, legendary island of Bali. Who doesn't love this place or thinks they would love it if they ever made it here, seriously. One of the "fun" parts of traveling Asia, now that most of Europe is on the Euro, is figuring out currency rates. The Indo Rupiah is currently at 9,200 to the dollar (Huddleston, try working that FX rate into a forecast). Withdrawing 3 Million anything from an ATM is cool, so with stacks of 100,000 bills we departed for the shit show zone of Kuta.

We considered staying a little farther north in an area called Legian where the vibe is a little more mellow but then realized that we might as well experience what Kuta had to offer for a night or two. Picture drunken Aussies in matching Bintang Beer tank tops marauding the streets, bars bumping music, scooters & cars whizzing by on impossibly narrow one-way streets, Indo taxi drivers trying to sell you Ephedrine, tiny Hindo offerings everywhere, 4 story clubs, & a memorial to the 200 + people that died in bombings here in the last 8 years and you'll have a vague idea of Kuta.

Beers in hand we meandered along we stopped for dinner at a small spot serving Thai food (still in Thai mind) where a crab cracking shrapnel incident prompted Shawn to change his shirt we ended up in Sky Garden (multi-floored club) which boasted cool fire dancers, go-go girls on the bar, & a super-tanned old white magician who looked like he'd been on Bali for 50 years but whose sleight of hand tricks were definitely entertaining. After enough house music & Bintangs (Bali beer served everywhere)we called it a night.

The next morning found us at a super sick Geger Beach, about 30 mins by taxi from Kuta. Amazing water, chaise lounges, & coconuts completed the tropical island scenario as wells as a pretty large reef break about a quarter mile off shore. After a couple hours, the taxi we'd hired for the day took us to Dreamland Beach further south for some more sun time. Dreamland was definitely more crowded with tourists(smaller too) and water with trash floating (they haven't quite figured out proper waste disposal on Bali yet) but Shawn still braved it to catch some waves on a rented board. Pretty much every beach around here has massage ladies who actively try to give you massages whether you want one or not. They'll sneak up on you from behind and next thing you know they've started massaging your shoulders even while your yelling at them to stop but also having trouble resisting as it feels so good.

Next stop was the "Food for the Monkey" temple near Ulu Watu. The temple is set on the top of a huge sheer cliff above crashing waves and might be one of the most picturesque places I've seen on the trip. You put on a purple sarong, Pat bitched about the color but got over it, buy some pineapple chunks from a grizzled old lady.............."Foooooooood for the moonnnnkeeeeeeey" and start running into the little fuckers. The monkeys are pretty small but wiley and are not scared of people at all. Like longshoreman, they'll steal anything not nailed down including sunglasses & cameras. They'll run up to you and pull on your sarong until you give up some peanuts or pineapple & some of them have gotten downright fat. Anyway, the area surrounding the temple is gorgeous and we got some awesome pictures. At one point, Josh threw away a Gatorade bottle about a quarter full and a monkey jumped into the trash, grabbed it, and pounded the whole thing (aggressive electrolyte replenishing). While taking a picture of the cliff I even had one jump on my back but was able to defend the rear naked choke correctly but couldn't help thinking of the Dave Chappelle skit "You know how STRONG a monkey is......"

Back to Kuta and then to Legian for dinner at a locals house we'd met on the beach. The woman and her 4 daughters were so nice it was ridiculous. I mean, who meets 5 gringos on the beach for 10 mins & then invites them to dinner at her house the same night where they bbq'd 3 whole fish, 3 kinds of curry, and rice. We contributed 12 large Bintangs but the food was amazing and the family extremely accommodating and gracious. The meal ended with some sort of "dessert meat" dish that tasted like a saucy ground beef mixed with nutmeg & cinnamon. That kind of hospitality is what really makes traveling worthwhile and we stayed for over 2 hours.

One of the funniest parts of the night was our cab driver home who could only say two lines from a Gun's & Roses song "You know where you are're in the jungle baby!" and "Don't antagonize me muthafucka.......see you in the ring!"


The Long Road to Bali

After leaving Koh Lanta and making our way back to Phuket (4 hours)and a heated debate with Pat regarding the pros/cons of Die Hard 2 (he's not a fan, idiot) we stayed in modest rooms 5 mins from the airport as we had an 8am flight to Bali via Kuala Lumpur. Dinner at the nearby beach was probably one of the worst meals as they couldn't figure out the difference btw curry & noodles as well as Shawn fishing out a huge hair that had curled around the corn and chicken on his plate (gross), haha. But what can you really expect from a place that has a sign reading "Broken English Spoken Perfectly, 100%" They did have some GIANT prawns that were actually good and we turned in pretty early and set up a cab pick up for 6am.

With 5 of us (and our bags) jammed into a tiny taxi we make it to the airport with plenty of time to enjoy Thailand's take on donuts. Quick flight to Kuala Lumpur where we had a 3 hour layover. The airport here is super modern and looks brand new. Couldn't resist a stop at Starbucks for a latte or laughing at the ridiculous billboard picture at McDonald's of the "Double Prosperity Burger" haha. On another note, the weapon of choice for cops in the Kuala Lumpur Airport is the H & K MP5 assault rifle (an excellent choice in my opinion). After grabbing another book (finished two already, 1300 pages, yes I have free time) the flight was delayed for an hour which we judiciously spent in the sports bar.

Next stop.........Bali

Friday, February 5, 2010

Upon Leaving Thailand

some thoughts of the country.........

-bargain, bargain, bargain
-Singha Beer
-no DMV
-cobra tatoos
-I'll do anything for 50 Baht
-amazing food, ridiculously cheap
-Kap Oon Kap

Didn't spend as much time as I'd like in Bangkok and some of the islands in the south, but will probably be able to swing through again before I come back

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Monday Morning

I realized some things were different last Monday in Koh Lanta. My Mondays have changed dramatically, so much in fact, that I needed to actually compare the past and the present.

7am - Alarm....wake up to foggy, dark, Marina apartment 500 yards from freezing Pacific, 48 degrees
8:30am - Wake up to sunny, bright, bungalow 50 ft from gorgeous warm Andaman Sea, 72 degrees

8am - Arrive ServiceSource, answer emails in cube, check voicemail, deal with any "fire drills" that occurred over the weekend
9am - light run on the beach, dip in the water

8:30am - Latte with Jill in the park

9:30am - reading on porch (would still prefer latte w/ Jill on this one)

12pm - sandwich to go at Brannan St

12pm - ride pink tuk tuk to awesome beach for amazing pad thai plates next to the water for $3

My day is definitely different

Lunch - Beach Style

3 chicken pad thai plates
2 yellow curries
1 chicken w/ cashews
3 tempura shrimp plates
2 mango lassis (fruit + yogurt shake)
3 mixed fruit lassis

served 15 feet from the water on a sweet beach by a hot french girl

$30..................weeelcoooome to thaaiiiiiilaaaaaaaand........

Koh Lanta, Thailand

We decided to take off the next morning as Pi Pi was a little too nuts and crowded. We catch a hour long ferry to another island, Koh Lanta, which is much more mellow with clean beaches and epic water. After touring the island a bit via cab/truck/rollcage we settled on some reasonable rooms 50 ft from the beach with a nice pool to boot.

Dinner on the beach & then Pat and Jake retire as they'd been out till 5am in Pi Pi while Shawn and I had kept it mellow for sanity's sake. Couple more beers on the beach and we all call it a night. And then the trouble began............

I'm up at 3am with ridiculously painful stomach cramps unlike anything I've ever experienced. After about 6 hours of that, they dissipate mostly but Pat and Jake are both feeling shitty. Flu symptoms, fever, etc. Pat blames the air conditioner in our room and the bed, which has been dubbed "The Torture Chamber" (Falzone might remember from Buzios) & Jake placed blame on unclean dive regulators. Either way we were all eager to find different accommodations in which to recover.

Josh comes through with the Lanta Long Beach Resort. Nice bungalows with AC and solid bathrooms (toilet still in shower) 50ft from the beach, a good restaurant, and sick pool in addition to massages. Exactly what we needed after the last 5 nights of paryting (poor us, I know). We spent the next 4 nights here, chilling on the beach, swimming in super warm water, getting hour massages for $9, slaying mosquitos with an electrified racket, and roosting around in our rented tuk-tuk, in pink of course. We also made it to a nearly deserted, tiny beach, which was one of the most picturesque places I've ever been.

Pics to come, as soon as I find a decent internet connection.


Beep Beep! This is what you get used to hearing on Pi Pi as the little Thai guys running up & down the tiny streets (no cars) yell at you to get out of their way. 2,000 people died here during the Tsunami in 2004 but the island seems to have recovered as its a huge tourist destination. Josh told us that some of his buddies at the dive shop were on dive boats when the wave came and didn't even notice it until they came in and saw everything destroyed and everyone dead.............sooooo gnarly. FYI - death by falling coconut is a concern in Thailand.....Shawn bought a helmet.

Make it to the dive shop by 7:45am on about 3 hours of sleep and settle in for the 30min boat ride. Boats have definitely been a concern of mine leading up to the trip as I used to get VIOLENTLY sea-sick when I was younger (highschool). I'm talking about being on a boat and contemplating the feasibility of an air rescue bc I felt so bad. Luckily, I seem to have outgrown it as there were no issues this time (thank god)

First dive for me in about 10 years (last place was Kauai) so I got some refresher tips from Shawn and Josh and all went well. Just getting used to the whole experience of being underwater while breathing took up most of my dive time but saw some cool fish and coral. The 2nd dive everyone was more relaxed (Shawn had a ridiculous mask problem on the first) and we got to enjoy diving and seeing a sweet reef shark, sea turtle, Lion fish, etc. All in all, a good use of our morning and we even ate lunch on the boat overlooking the beach from "The Beach" which was pretty packed with tourists but made worse by remixed, techno, dance songs our boat played...................brutal.

Midday in Thailand (11am-4pm) is really best spent in the water somewhere or definitely out of the sun. It gets sooooooo hot here its ridiculous & the sun is absolutely stronger than anywhere I've been before. Those of us with ancestors hailing from Scandinavia do not always possess complexions that take such strong rays easily. Sunscreen and a straw "Cabo Wabo" hat (thanks Shawn) are a must.