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    Born to Run by Christopher McDougall - (K) Humorous and thorough history and science behind ultrarunners and long-distance running
    *****
    Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela - (K) An autobiography covering his childhood, years as a freedom fighter and incarceration. Inspiring and informative
    *****
    The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón - (K&T) A mystery set in Barcelona involving an old book, a failed writer and murder
    *****
    Lush Life by Richard Price - A Lower East Side tale of cops, drugs and drinking
    ***
    The Chinese by Jesper Becker - (K&T) Modern history of my peeps, from the cultural revolution to the many failed economic and social attempts to move the country forward
    ***
    Setting the Table by Danny Meyer - A "how-to" on hospitality and business acumen by the restaurateur behind such NY institutions as the Shake Shack and Union Square Grill
    ***
    The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama - Obama lays out what is wrong with the current government and how, vaguely, to change it.
    **

My New Hairdo

I got my haircut a few days ago. It looks like a zigzagged mushroom, so crooked and ugly it is. BUT, it was only $5. Later, Jen told me that the Balinese believe there are auspicious days to do everything from getting married to castrating a cow . The day I got my haircut, she explained, was NOT a good day to get a haircut. But it was only $5 after all. Cheap beats pretty.

On Bargaining

One thing I will thoroughly miss about SE Asia is the bargaining.  It has become, how can I put it…a way of life and a hobby.

You can bargain pretty much anything here in SE Asia, from cab/tuk-tuk rides to clothes and merchandise, to treks/excursions to hotels.  For Westerners, this non fixed price system may pose either a serious cause for stress and confusion on the one hand, or a very fun time, on the other hand.

I’ve become quite accustomed to bargaining for most things (exceptions include hotels).  Rides in Thailand?  If they quoted 60 baht, I would go 50, and when they increased my bid to 55, I would stick to my price and say “No!  50!!!” only to have my concentration broken by an exasperated Diesel, who insisted on reminding me that 10 baht is only a difference of 30 cents and that it was midnight.  “Whatever,” I would say, “you can’t think in dollars.  You have to think in BAHT, Diesel.” Continue reading

On Bowel Movements (Again)

Yes, here I am talking again about one of these topics that have involuntarily become one of my obsessions while traveling.  Truth be told, I  intended to talk about this particular topic in greater detail and more frequently, but for a short while, it sufficed to just have Diesel listen to my rants about the deplorable conditions of most of the bathrooms in SE Asia.  Besides, I didn’t’ want to jinx myself.

By jinxing myself, I mean that never in my adult life have I’ve been so close to peeing and pooping in my pants than while traveling here  in SE Asia.  Now that we are about to leave Indonesia (Bali has great bathrooms, by the way), I am happy to report that I have not lost control of either my bladder or bowel during the entirety of this trip.  HALLELUIAH (rejoice with me)!  This is  more of a feat than most of you may initially think it is, given the fact that clean bathrooms are a rare commodity around these parts of the world.  Clean, Western-style bathrooms are even harder to come by. Continue reading

Morbid

Sure, we’ve seen our fair share of accidents/accident victims.  After seeing the chaos that are the roads here in Asia, it is not surprising that most of the accidents are related to traffic.  To foreigners, this translates into mostly white peeps limping around with big scabs or on crutches because of motorcycle accidents.

I myself always wanted to drive a scooter, against my better judgement.  But since being here, I’ve changed my mind. I even met this French guy on the bus, Greg, who had huge scabs on his arms and legs.  Upon inquiring about his lamentable condition, he proceeded to recount the story of how he “almost died” (his words, not mine) while riding a scooter.  When trying to divert because of a dog that all of a sudden dashed across the road, Greg’s motorcycle flipped and landed on him.  He immediately thought:  “Oh God, I will die alone and nobody will ever know what happened to me.” He laid paralyzed in the middle of a major road, while the Laotians stared at him, without any indication that they were going to help him.  He was later told that the people thought he was dead and wanted nothing to do with the bad spirits/ghosts. Continue reading

Palm Reading Session with Ketut

Ketut and the girls

Ketut and the girls

Armed with our $250,000 rupiahs (which sounds like a lot, but it’s only $25) and my hunger to be and be around celebrities, Jen (our new BFF; she is Sami’s friend), Jess and I went to see Ketut, the healer who gained worldwide fame after he appeared on Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. We took a taxi to Ketut’s family compound. The Balenese family structure revolves around a single enclosed compound where members of the same clan live in separate houses; the compound also includes a meeting hall and temple. Ketut’s compound is quite nice, and we were even surprised to see a brand new TV that, as his son explained, was brought up there as an offering! We arrived early in the afternoon knowing that the wait to see him might be long. The waiting line was a mixture of eager tourists armed with their cameras and books ready to be signed as well as locals, who brought their modest offerings (fruit, flowers).

As a medicine man, Ketut accepts whatever payment a family can afford, but apparently this rule does not hold for foreigners. Ketut was sitting crossed legged on his porch, sporting a T-shirt with the words “COCKFIGHTING” on it, as well as a rather colorful and cartoonish pic of two cocks fighting. He posed for pics with five Japanese tourists who had just had their palms read. The girls were followed by a couple who brought their little boy, who was sick. Ketut touched the child and then proceeded to give the mother instructions to remedy the child’s ailment, while the mother diligently took down notes. The couple left with Ketut’s blessing and a plastic bag filled with what I think was holy water. Then it was our turn. We took our seats and were ready to show our hands, but Ketut was about to delay our fortune telling session a bit. From the back of his little makeshift shelf, he pulled out an old copy of Eat, Pray, Love. He pointed at the author’s pic and was happy when we told him we had all read the book. The next 15-20 min were spent with him looking for references of his own name throughout the book. “Right here,” Jen, pointed at one of the pages, but Ketut dismissed it, explaining that only references to his full name, “Ketut Lyier” were acceptable. So we played along and looked for his name until he got tired of doing so. I dare say that he quite enjoys his celebrity status. Next came the book signing, with both Jess and Jen handing over their copies of the book to be signed. Ketut turned around and looked for a pen amidst the dozens of pens held in a can, writing on his hand as he tested each of them. They all seemed to be out of ink. Upon this realization, Jen offered him her pen, but after giving it a try, Ketut turned down her offer and returned the pen. The ink was green, and apparently, green is not ok. Go figure. Finally, he signaled that he was ready for the palm reading session, as he took Jess’s hand.

Jess’s reading:

About her: smart, good karma, impatient, good smile and lips as sweet as sugar (the old man knows how to flatter a girl), very lucky Continue reading

The 40+ Travel Club and the Ubud Healer ofEat, Pray, Love Fame

I have a confession to make…

I love hanging out with old people. Really, I do. And not to brag about it or anything, I think old people thoroughly enjoy my company as well. While traveling, Dies and I have found that we are in this weird demo:

1) We are older than most of the backpackers who are either “going to uni” or have just finished it, and therefore, enjoy drinking, going out and all other sorts of debauchery. These are also the same people that have a budget of like $5 for their hotel (yes, it’s insane!) and like to buy t-shirts that have beer logos on them.

2) We are much younger than semi and retired couples who vacation for several weeks/months at a time. These people are usually pretty well-off, stay at the nice hotels and frequent the restaurants with the nice Western food. They also never bargain and wear nice clothes and shoes even when everybody around them have raggedy clothes on and walk barefoot.

But we do fit in this smaller category of older travelers that are semi-backpacking. I say semi because we do have a couple of expensive North Face, Marmot, and other hi-performance travel outfits, but we also carry our own backpacks instead of using bellhops, take public transportation (as inefficient and ancient as it may be), and will pay a few extra dollars to have our own bathroom and hot water to shower with.

We have had our fair share of sleeping in rooms with walls dotted with mold and peeling off (pretty much everywhere), bathrooms that house real anthills (this did happen to us in Tad Lo), rooms that can only been reached after you climb 131 steps in the scorching sun (this place was on Phi Phi island and I DID count how many steps we had to go up and down), shady wiring that causes you to get shocked when you try to turn on any of the faucets in the bathroom, and the more common bathroom where you have to use a bucket to flush down your stuff, and blankets that shower you with dirt and rocks when you unfurl them on your bed. However, when Kelly starts crying, Diesel can always console her by saying we can actually afford to have a room that has clean sheets and a real toilet! I mean, we do have the money to splurge every once in a while. Continue reading

Week of Feb 18 – Bali and Our Neighbors from the North

Don’t be jealous, but I’m in Bali.  Yes, idyllic Bali.  Much has been written about this beautiful island in Indonesia, so I won’t even attempt to duplicate the efforts of much better writers in describing how amazing this place is.  There’s a beautiful aura about this place, that’s all I can say.

And no, Bali is not the undiscovered paradise that it once was.  There are tourists everywhere, posh bungalow hotels, upscale restaurants and chic shops, but none of it takes anything away from the beauty of this place, really.

Because Diesel had to go to AZ for a week, the plan was to have a whole week to myself doing nothing but reading, going to yoga class, sitting by the pool, exploring a couple of beaches, sauntering through the small streets and just hanging out.

The first morning, during breakfast, I noticed this one girl also sitting by herself.  I started chatting with her later that day, and found out that her name was Jessica, she was from Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) and was here for a yoga retreat.  In fact, our inn has been overtaken by them yogis, who will be here for 10 days.  Jess and I hit it off pretty well, and she’s been my BFF for 4 days now.  The other member of my BFF triumvirate is Sami, another Edmonton Canadian that we met while sitting by our pool—yes, our hotel has a pool just cuz that’s how we roll, man (it’s tiny though, but good for a refreshing dip).  So we met Sami at the pool.  He’s been living in Thailand for 3 years, teaching P.E. at a bilingual school where apparently most kids don’t speak English (even though English is the second language in the bilingual curriculum).   Continue reading