The Dangerous Side of Paradise

Today was a great day for paddle boarding: Calm seas, 30 meter viz and loads of turtles popping up to say hello. But on top of that bluest of blue water I was uneasy and nervous.

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taking break to enjoy the view during my daily SUP session

This is why.

 

About a week ago a boat carrying tourists from Bali to Gili Trawangan, the place I call home, exploded and killed at least 2 tourists, maybe 3, and severely injured at least 19 others. One woman had both feet blown off.

 

It has rocked our little community and stirred up emotions I thought were far behind me. This particular boat was one of the “safe” ones. Its’ website boasts of being “Australian owned & managed” which gave those of that live here & regularly travel on these boats a false sense of security. Last year when a boat from a dodgy company blew up, the sentiment was, ya, well, what to expect riding on THAT boat. So, when one of the “good guys” had the worst accident yet, I find myself shaken.

 

If you are not a regular reader of this blog you may not know that I was involved in a boat accident 3 years ago that resulted in 3rd degree burns on both legs & hands and a long hospital stay in Indonesia. I’m fully recovered but it took me a while to put on my big girl pants & get back on one of those big fast boats.

 

Indonesia is a country that has very poor marine safety standards (well, safety standards of any sort, really) and there are always stories of ferries sinking, and boats exploding, but very few involve foreigners and therefore never make a blip in the media radar outside of Indonesia. And fair or not, when foreigners die, it makes the AP.

 

Apparently there will be a big meeting with a myriad of government officials to discuss this accident and marine safety. I’m sure they will make a big show of it, and appoint a minister of marine safety, or some such meaningless title. But business will continue as usual, inspections will be nothing more than a stamp & a pay off because this is a society & culture that has no appreciation for consequences. And they give exactly zero fucks about anyone’s safety, including their own.

 

Boat owners will forgo preventative maintenance because it takes time & money. Another accident will happen, and another, and people will shrug and say something unbelievably stupid like “It was Allah’s will” or “it was meant to be” thinking that absolves anyone & everyone of responsibility.

But when you choose to live on an island in the developing world it’s a chance you take, I guess.

 

I am not going to think about that now: I have some very blue water that is waiting for me.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle, Gili Meno, Indonesia

Turtle on Halik reef, our house reef

 

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Paradise for Sale

All good things come to an end and so must my adventure on Gili Trawangan.

Gili T has been my home for nearly 4 years now & I have really loved this little island with no motorized transport, vibrant coral reefs and laid back lifestyle.

Eden Cottages  has grown from a humble homestay into an eco conscious and lovely mid range resort. We are only 100 meters from a serene white sand beach. There is a house reef   that offers excellent snorkeling where guests are almost guaranteed to see turtles.

The particulars:

  • 14 are ( 1 are = 10 meters squared)
  • Freehold land
  • Selling PMA with the property which means Eden can be 100% foreign owned
  • 6 bungalows
  • large pool
  • 2 story owner/manager villa with all western mod cons
  • Staff house
  • Good storage
  • laundry facilities
  • Mature garden with mango, citrus & banana trees
  • 8 cats… give or take

This is a profitable & turn key  business with excellent trip advisor  reviews. Bookings are already on the 2017 calendar.  We average 80% occupancy throughout the year. Price 600,000 USD

So, cubicle life got you down? Frustrated that you’re only working to pay your mortgage, well  why not let your home pay you? For the price of an average  home in the USA you can own a business that pays you to live paradise. Really. I wake up in the morning & while I’m having coffee my staff bring me money. How great is that? And after? I cycle into town, have breakfast at my favorite vegan ( yes, you heard me, vegan) restaurant, and then it’s time to SUP on the bluest water you’ve ever seen.

Owning & running tourist  accommodation here is about as difficult as falling off a log. Truly.

Whats next for me?  I’m launching a new Pop Up shop in Portland called Archipelago, where  I’ll be selling art, furniture, textiles & artifacts from around Indonesia. I’ll have more time to travel and  hopefully scout out my next business venture.

For more info please contact me at eden_cottages@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One More Pagoda: A Burmese Adventure

Burma has always been on my list of destinations, however, when I first started traveling in 2010 I was too much of a pantywaist to travel here on my own: It seemed so difficult, so unpredictable & and, well, …. Intimidating.

But Burma is changing, and so am I: We are both stronger & more independent than we were in 2010.

(I prefer Burma over Myanmar and it’s how I will refer to this country in my writings. I know that Burma has negative colonial connotations, but Myanmar was the name that the crazy despot Ne Win & his astrologer devised & comparatively, the British seem almost benign)

Upon arrival in Yangon, the old capitol city in the south delta, I was surprised at how modern & civilized the city is compared to other SEA cities, Indonesian cities in particular.

One of the first things I noticed was the demeanor of the people. While they smiled openly and said hello or the Burmese greeting “mingalabar”, they generally left me alone. There was no “TRANSPORT? TRANSPORT?’ or “WHERE YOU WANT TO GO?’ hollered at me as I wandered the streets. The other truly civilized thing about Burma is the abundance of free drinking water stations set up at nearly every corner

The Burmese also continue to paint their faces with thanaka which is charming,and also chew betel nut (which results in red & rotting teeth) which necessitates that they spit red, viscous globs of saliva anywhere & everywhere, which, is not so charming.

 

Transport in this neck of the woods can be challenging. Trains are long, bumpy & uncomfortable. Buses are worse. We opted for the train from Yangon to Kalaw (a lovely mountain town) which was a 26 hour journey in a filthy, freezing cold, dilapidated train car that was so bumpy it was impossible to read, let alone drink a beer, which was,um, medication.

 

At the end of the first leg, 21 hours and at 1 am, we stopped in Thazi. Thazi train station had a small shack of a ticket office, no toilet (“just go over there” the lady said pointing to a rusty & abandoned train car) and about 50 people sleeping on the platform, when we rolled into town. We followed suit and laid down on the cold concrete platform, thankful for a place to be still. Cold, but I was out of the bouncy house.

Inle lake was our ultimate destination after the train ride from hell. And as bad as the train ride was, Inle Lake was worth the journey. The lake, the countryside & the Shan people are stunning. Despite the throngs of tourists that descend upon this area every year the people are full of grace & the environment remains peaceful.

I was so looking forward to the plains of Bagan and was really surprised by my feeling of “meh” upon arrival.  Don’t get me wrong, thousands upon thousands of stupas are incredible to see but after I trudged through about 10 of of them I was over it. En masse they are unbelievable, mythical &  enchanting. Individually, meh. And the town of Nyuang U… Shit.Hole. Touring around on an e bike: Cool. Laquerware: Cool. Hot air ballooning: Bucket list experience that did not disappoint; the ultimate cool.

 

Our last stop, Mandalay was again, meh. The 15 hour boat ride up the Irrawaddy was a great journey, however. There are some great tourist sights and, yep, you guessed it, pagodas. Pagodas, pagodas, pagodas. Every guide & guide book will tell you “THIS pagoda is the most revered pagoda in all of Myanmar” hmmmmmm, really? THIS VERY ONE? But, I thought the last one I saw…. Oh, nevermind.

I did love visiting Burma & hope to return. While we were here the transition of power was transferred to Aung San Suu Kyi & the NLD. It was a bizarre ceremony with karaoke and dancing as we all know how much despotic dictators love to dance & sing. Good grief.

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Homesteading: Indonesian Style

I opened a drawer in my kitchen and I knew I had become my grandmother. There was a ball of string, “lightly used” tinfoil, washed but used cheesecloth, twist ties, and, the very rare & very valuable, rubber bands. I don’t save these out of habit, I save them to use them & use them I will.

I grew up in smack in the middle of middle class America. We wanted for little & if something broke you threw it away & bought a new one. Maybe two. So hoarding twine & rinsing out plastic bags is new to me.

Growing up, I spent the occasional summer on my maternal grandparents’ farm in rural Oregon. Wes & Lucille Kimble were farmers and while I’m sure they had very little money in the bank there was always plenty of food & the farm was well tended.

My Grandmother read Audubon, Mother Jones, National Geographic and anything else she could get her hands on. She was not your typical farmer.

The farm was home to perhaps 9 dogs, twenty- odd cats, chickens, cows and the occasional orphaned child (or adult). If it was alive, it was welcome to stay a day or a lifetime. She refused to kill even the slugs, which are the bane of every gardener. The slimy creatures would be transported to the end of the lane in a bucket where they no doubt made their way, albeit slowly, back to her prized garden, only to make the trip down the lane again & again.

Grandpa believed in DuPont’s motto of “Better living through chemistry” and planted orderly rows of hybrid vegetables that he sprayed with pesticides. The result was perfect looking, but lackluster tasting, vegetables.   Gramma had her own way and no chemicals ever touched HER garden, which was a rambling patch of tomatoes mixed with marigolds. Beans were planted next to dahlias. The concept of planting in rows was lost on her. She had a compost pile rich in chicken poop & household scraps.

It was during those summers that I learned to love gardening & cooking.

But gardening in Oregon was a cinch. The rich soil of the Willamette Valley made everything thrive. Portland also has no dearth of great nurseries. Saturdays were spent wandering their grounds, complimentary coffee in hand. I returned home with all sorts of seeds, plants, plant food, and pots… Good lord, the pots….

So here I am, an Oregon gardening girl on a coral atoll south of the equator where gardening. is. not. a. cinch.

The journey to the nearest “store” is a 2 hour slog with a bicycle, boat & car. There is no Portland Nursery or Garden Fever here. The soil is sandy & salty. We have 2 seasons: Hot & wet and hot & dry. My first 3 attempts at vegetable gardening failed miserably. It wasn’t until I had 400 bags of soil brought over from the main island of Lombok (Truck, porters, boat, porters, horse carts) that I had a modicum of success.

So it is with these circumstances that I find myself a homesteader.

I make cheese from yogurt, using the same scrap of cheesecloth over & over again until it has disintegrated.. Stale bread becomes breadcrumbs. Or chicken food. ( I have vagrant chickens that like to lay eggs in my shed)

I can use a bar of soap until it is so wafer thin the edges cut like a knife. I use a pressure cooker on a regular basis. Anything & everything can be made into soup.

I make homemade pineapple jam. And kahlua.

I have a compost bin made from bamboo & scrap lumber.

I am a modern day homsteader.

Currently we are growing tomatoes, watermelon, pineapples, pumpkin, basil, thai basil, kaffir lime, lemon grass & pandan.   We have orange, mangosteen & mango trees… which have yet to fruit, but hope springs eternal.   I also get about 3 harvests of a hundred coconuts each year, which I hear is very hip nowadays.

Next year I will construct raised beds from old cement bricks that I find laying about. Every time I ride past a junk pile I pick up a few & throw them in my bike basket… along with anything else that might be useful. Skills that will no doubt come in handy should I ever find myself homeless.

And whilst I am unable to have dogs, I do have about 10 cats. I think. Maybe more.

Me thinks my Grandmother would approve.

art in garden

New Garden vignette

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Baruga repositioned

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Our new sign carved by my staff into an old cabinet door

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New entry way with new sidewalks & fountain

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View from my bedroom

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Free eggs courtesy of vagabonding chickens

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Buying new garden art

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Looking across the pool

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3 years ago

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3 years ago

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Compost!

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Art project

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My courtyard

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Miss Q has Returned

Miss Q has returned.   The Big Adventure has been neglected & deserves an update. 2013 was a year with high highs and even lower lows. Moving to a tropical paradise was exhilarating. It took every penny I could scrounge together with not much leftover for a cushion and when I arrived smack dab in the middle of low season there were  no tourists & no money. Low season also means rain. Lots & lots of rain. So here I was, really wet with no money. And a broken pool pump. Not as fun as it sounds.

path from Eden to the village

path from Eden to the village

I’ve gone through 6 staff. Most westerners, unless they are VERY privileged, don’t have household staff and it takes some getting used to. I have had staff go on break and not come back, I have had staff who didn’t think they had to do what I asked because of my gender (and those of you who know me can just imagine how well that went over) and I’ve fired a few lazy buggers. I now have 4 great young men: Hamzen, Heru, Adit & Bobby. They do their best, which sometimes isn’t very good, but they try & are loyal to a fault.  The environment on Gili is taking a beating so we have started a compost bin & are working on taking re usable shopping bags to the market. It’s a journey. A long, long journey. With very small steps.  In the beginning I was determined to do my own laundry (which seems like crazy talk now) and other various chores. I have gotten used to having staff quite nicely. I have coffee brought to me every morning as soon as I open my blinds, signaling I am awake (which occurs when I damn well feel like it, and not a minute sooner).  I no longer chop anything. Everything just appears all chopped and in bowls just like on the Tee Vee.   Oh, happy days.

bringing over plants from Lombok

bringing over plants from Lombok

The garden is expanding

The garden is expanding

It’s during my morning bicycle rides when I like to reflect & think about my life here. Mostly I am just so grateful that I get to live THIS life. My life. A life that I chose,  on this tiny island in the middle of the Java sea. It’s difficult to keep from smiling as I dodge chickens, cows and the ubiquitous cidomos (horse carts) as I ride through dusty (or swampy, depending on the time of year) paths into town.  I have a friend who said her family told her that while they loved hearing from her, they wished she would write something negative so they could feel better about their dreary life in the UK. She said she thought about it, and came up with, “when I lay in my hammock, the porch railing prevents an unencumbered view of the ocean”. Yes, we here are a smug bunch.

On my bike rides into town, I usually stop at Toko Ida to buy things like laundry soap, salt, coffee, LPG canisters and the various sundries required for running a small hotel. Ida delivers so I can simply pay & continue on my merry way. Next stop coffee and breakfast. Sometimes I meet a friend, sometimes I read. Sometimes I get wifi. Most days I stop off at Charlies, a produce shop owned by a 60 ish Hungarian with a pot belly, bad teeth and a 20 something girlfriend.  Charlie tells me he was a truck driver in Arizona during the eighties. He doesn’t miss it, he says. His small shop imports fresh produce from Bali and Lombok. Things like leaf lettuce, fresh mint, coriander and green beans are difficult to find here, so I tell Charlie I am a little in love with him. He doesn’t seem to hear me and just keeps perseverating about his application for more electricity  & whether or not it has been approved so he can get a couple more fridges and AC. I wish him luck with the corrupt PLN (electric company) & pedal off with one bunch of fresh basil, romaine lettuce & some yams in my bicycle basket.

It’s a simple existence, many would find it too simple, boring even, however, I find comfort in the languid rhythm of island life. I never thought I’d say it, but I love being uninformed. You see I was a news junkie. I had NPR on non stop. My alarm was set to NPR, as was my bathroom radio & car. It was doom & gloom 24/7. If something BIG happens someone will tell me, I figure. As far as the tea party and its ilk, Fox news and Obama-care, I could not care less. America survived The Great Depression & the Cold War so it stands to reason it can survive the detritus left by Gee Dubya Junior.

This is my public transportation system.I don't wait for busses or trains but the public boat to take me to Lombok for some shopping

This is my public transportation system.I don’t wait for busses or trains but  one of these public boats to take me to Lombok for some shopping (Gili Meno is to the left & Lombok is the island with the mountains)

The other thing I love about my life is that I pretty much do what I want when I want. No meetings, no alarm clocks, no Sunday night blues. There is not much need for multi tasking. There is time to do everything and devote the proper amount of time to each task.  Those of us that have chosen to live here are like minded folks and we have a community not dissimilar to a small country village. Although we are from around the globe and speak different languages, we all wear flip-flops and are never in a hurry, we look out for one another  and we know just how lucky we are.

Underwater with my dive buddy Roger

Underwater with my dive buddy Roger

Post dive bintang

Post dive bintang

My little paradise was disrupted by what I now call “The Big Kaboom”. In short, I was on a boat that exploded and was badly burned. I had third degree burns on both legs & one hand. I spent 3 weeks in the hospital, another 4 in a villa in Bali being looked after by my truly amazing friends and family. (You know who you are; you are rock stars and my heroes) It is taking much longer to recover than I have the patience for. I am still in a compression stocking, which is SUPER comfortable in the heat & humidity, but I am pretty much back to my baseline. I am diving, traveling,  bike riding and cooking.  At some point I may write about my experience of being in an Indonesian hospital but right now I am so completely sick & tired of telling that same story over & over & over again that you shall not get it here. (but I will say no one else was hospitalized and I was the most injured and it didn’t even make the Jakarta Post….. see? Boring)

This was my view for about 4 weeks.

This was my world view for about 4 weeks.

My savior, Fern, lounging poolside at Hospital Villa

My savior, Fern, lounging poolside at Hospital Villa

I have some upcoming travel plans to Vietnam & will be starting construction on a new bungalow when I return from Vietnam. One or both of those things may deserve a write up. Construction projects are fun,  exciting & stress free  in the western world so I can only imagine how fun it will be here, with a language barrier & no motorized transport or heavy equipment and unskilled labor. Yep.  Sure Sounds like Fun.

Year of the horse, bring it.

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The Indonesian smack down: Indonesia 1 : American 0

Surprisingly enough, when the other shoe drops it sounds less like a THUD and more like a THWAAAAAACK .

 

Preparing for my move abroad was really pretty easy. My house and car sold quickly, I managed to get rid of all my stuff (some of which I wish I’d kept…. Oh, how I miss you, salad spinner )  and in general, things just sort of fell into place rather easily. Too easily.

 

The first major hassle here in Indo was/is my residency visa, aka KITAS. I was told it would only take 5 weeks and it was started in October. I still don’t have it. Something about a “manpower outage in Jakarta” (WTF?)  That means I have made 3 trips to Kuala Lumpur for visa “runs”.  Now, I like KL, however, my infatuation with her is waning. Every visa run costs me between 500-1000 bucks. Not an inconsequential amount of money during slow season. But it’s a nice city with good food, movie theatres and an Ikea. When I go I usually load up on stuff I can’t get on Gili T or Mataram, so I usually return with2 backpacks stuffed with olives, salami, cheese and Ikea tea lights.

 

One such run ended with me covered in mud and another left me sans one Iphone 4S.  More on the mud in a bit…..

 

In addition to my visa carfuffles, getting my cargo here has been a bit of a hassle.  See, when you move to Indonesia you are entitled to one shipment of goods duty free. But in order to get the duty free status you must have a KITAS…. See where I’m going here? So I can either A.) pay duty B.) pay storage until I get my KITAS. Hmmmmm neither one is very appealing. Have I mentioned it’s slow season AND my pool pump died?

 

Yeah, yeah, I know… hard to feel sorry for the chick living on a tropical island

 

Back to the mud. There is one flight daily to Mataram from KL.  It arrives at noon, which gives me plenty of time to get to the harbor before the last boat to the island between 4-430. Thinking I had plenty of time, I had Wayhu, my driver make some stops so I could run some errands. Then we hit  traffic, then there was road construction on the mountain pass. We arrived in Bangsal harbor at just 4 pm to be told “Harbor closed. Big waves” So we rush to the small harbor just north of Bangsal hoping to catch the last boat. And if I miss it, I am stranded in Senggigi for the night. There are worse places to be stuck, but I really just  want to be home.

 

Problem is, this particular harbor is located off a long, narrow, stretch of road which is difficult to navigate in dry season and in the wet, well, it is just impossible.

 

We see an Ojek  (motor cycle taxi) coming towards us, and he apparently tells Wahyu that cars are not making it through and  if I want to reach the harbor, I must go by motorbike. ( I have my suspicions and think  wayhu, who is now my former driver, simply doesn’t want to get his car muddy) But I get out and  & my 30 kilos of luggage and I hop onto the motorbike and we get about 20 meters when…… yep, you guessed it… we tip over into about a foot of mud. I am covered. My hair, my bags, my clothes, my new leather flip flops….. everything. Wayhu sees this, makes a big show of feeling bad and offers to drive me all the way… as long as I get in the trunk so I don’t sully his car. Yep. I rode in the boot.

 

I get to the harbor and I get the usual crap from the touts, “boats finished, you must pay to charter…. Blah blah blah” I am in no mood for their banter. I tell them in my best Bahasa Indonesia, “Saya bukan tourist, saya tinggal di sini”  ( I am not a tourist, I live here) I want to add asshole to the end, but haven’t gotten that far in my bahasa.

 

The waves are indeed big. It is a feat to get on the boat with my crap. I have to time my step with the waves and my bags are so heavy they are throwing me off balance. I am sure one mis-timed second & I will go ass over tea kettle into the sea, but I don’t & I hoist myself on board & then see the tourists on the boat are a little green in the gills and grabbing life vests. I think, well, if we capsize at least I’ll be clean.

 

I settled in for the bumpy and damp ride home to Gili T, looked out onto the sea and thought, This island, this country will not defeat me and despite the mud and never ending frustrations, I am still the luckiest woman I know. 

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Sunny day at the pool

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Lounge area (baruga). The lazy cat is called squeakers. he is one of 4 !

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new coverlets and lamps

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no viking range but i can turn out some pretty good grub here.

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Banana tree with blossom

 

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The Games Begin

I arrived to my new home in Indonesia with high hopes and rose colored glasses. I am no Pollyanna and I was sure my illusions (delusions?) of life in paradise would soon be dashed….. but I didn’t think it would happen within the 1st week.

I started my stay in one of the bungalows. They are neat, clean & modern. Lacking some personal touches to be sure (no bed lamps, polyester sheets, not enough hooks or storage) but comfortable enough.

Turns out, even though this is slow season, all the cottages were booked prior to my arrival, so I moved into the “Boss” house within a couple of days, which can only be described as frat boy squalor.  Now, those of you who know me well, or even in passing, know that the aesthetics of my personal space are extremely important to me, so this move was quite deflating.  The bathroom has no roof, so every time it rains or the wind blows the floor gets covered in crap. The upstairs sleeping loft is accessed by a ladder that I am sure will be responsible for me becoming a quadriplegic during a 2 am void. Oh, and there are cockroaches up there. Cockroaches. In. My. Bedroom. Big flying, cockroaches. Fuck me. I am in tropical hell.

from the pages of Elle Decor

home sweet home

not exactly up to code, i would imagine

Shopping. I love shopping. It is one of my few real skills. I can look at furniture, homegoods, house wares and linens all damn day. I love Target. Costco even. Shopping in Mataram ( the nearest city) which is 2 hours away is a cesspool. The expats call it “shataram”. It took me all day to buy 6 fans & a refrigerator. It took me another day and 40 bucks to get it here. (Sears charges a $50 delivery fee & I don’t bat an eye, but 40 bucks to cover a truck to drive an hour to the port, porters to load it on a boat, the boat ride itself, porters to unload it on this end,  a horse cart ride, and then the damn thing had to be hand carried about 200 yards to the “kitchen” and I think “that’s extortion”).  Now, I know what you’re thinking “Didn’t this crazy Bule (Indonesian for “foreigner”) know what she was getting herself into?”  Why, yes. Yes I did.  Sort of. I just wasn’t prepared for how exhausting it would be. The fact that it is about a bazillion degrees with 100% humidity doesn’t help one little bit. Nice for swimming and laying about, but, not so good for running errands.

the BEAST

Yesterday a cow wandered into my compound and couldn’t figure out how to get out the way he came in so he busted down my back gate.  The goats have also figured out how to jump the gates. Today a storm bungled up all the outdoor lights, which resulted in a visit from the electrician. The chain on my bicycle broke today as well. Did I mention the cockroaches?

To top it off, my staff think I am the strangest creature: A foreigner who wants to do her own dishes and laundry. (STOP ironing my underwear, please) They are all so deferential and unsure of me.  I never wanted children and here I am, mother to 4 teenage boys. Teenage boys who don’t speak English.

How can I complain when i get to look at this EVERYDAY!

I am sure things will be rosier tomorrow. Back to a bungalow for the duration. Or at least until I can figure out alternate accommodation. And I have planned a 5 day trip to Bali in December, where shopping is FUN. I hope to max out my visa card.

To those of you who plan to visit: Bring Scotch. Lot’s of Scotch.

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The Next Big Adventure

So sorry dear readers (all six of you), if it seems I fell into the abyss. My last entry was from Malaysia, which seems about a million years ago.  I will catch you up to speed….

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Malaysian hot pot seems like ages ago

After Malaysia I headed back to Indonesia, a place that has a magnetic  pull for me, and landed in Ubud Bali.  The first time I went to Ubud,  I sorta liked it, but couldn’t wrap my head around why every traveler so was wistful about the place. Sure it was “arty” and it had great food, but the traffic and constant “transport” touts wore me out. The second time I liked it even less. So, why go back, you ask… hmmm, I can’t really say. But there I was. After settling in (because I needed a settling in sort of place at this point in my travels) I got it. I met great people, I fell into the rhythm of the town and I fell in love with this smallish city in the hills of Bali.

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one of the more interesting marketing strategies for transport in Ubud

At this point I had my ticket home and I was filled with anxiety.I wanted to stay on the road but I was running out of money and staying wasn’t an option. Quiet desperation set in. I scoured websites and talked to everyone I knew about strategies for being an expat. Barring finding a big ol’ pot of cash, there was nothing I could do (nursing is basically slave labor in the developing world) sure I could volunteer until the cows came home, but that doesn’t buy a girl a roof over her head, not to mention cocktails. Sigh. More anxiety. More desperation.

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Volunteering with Muriel’s eyeglasses foundation

You see, I had changed. My world view had changed. What I wanted from my life had changed. I knew that if I went back to my old life (which by most standards was a pretty good one) I would regret it. As much as I liked being a nurse I could no longer work in the crazy dysfunctional world that is the US healthcare system. It is untenable and unsustainable. It is system that is unfair, extremely sad. The more I thought about it the more anxious I became.

But it isn’t just working in the US that overwhelms me: It’s living here. Every moment of every day seems to be scheduled. Iphones, laptops, siri, traffic, and all the stuff it takes to feed the machine of  “a good life”.  I worked my ass off to pay a mortgage, insurance (homeowners, car, umbrella, medical, life….good grief), taxes (I’m not going to complain about taxes because I value what my taxes provide and think we as a nation would be better off if those who could, paid more) but none of those things seemed to add value to my life.  I want a life that is slower, more reflective, and doesn’t require me to have a calendar in hand when I get invited to lunch.

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Island life with my girls Ayu & Sophie

In March I headed back to Gili Trawangan to meet up with my Jakarta girls for our annual pilgrimage. While there I stumbled upon some new bungalows. They were clean & new & had a pool!

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my new home!

One day I was chatting with the owner, an affable aussie, and sharing my anxieties.  He said, “well these bungalows are for sale”  The universe will present us with life changing opportunities if we just listen. The question was : Was I going to put my money where my mouth was or just whine about the state of my life?  I looked at his books, we talked about a price and if I sold everything I owned I could swing it. So I made an offer. And he accepted. Holy shit.

So here I am. In Portland. (A great hometown if there ever was one.) Working like crazy (thanks Nancy for believing I was a worthwhile, albeit short term investment), living out of rubbermade totes & planning the next phase of my life.

It begins November 1st.  Stay tuned. It’s going to be amazing.

For a preview go to

www.edencottages.com

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Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Foodie Dreaming: Malyasia

It is because of some arcane Indian visa rule that I find myself in Malaysia for the second time in 5 months. And I would just like to say “thank you, India”. At first I was beyond irritated that the never-ending Indian bureaucracy fouled my itinerary, but, now that I am here, in foodie heaven, I am grateful to Mother India.

Nothing compares to the food of Malaysia. It is fusion at it’s finest. Chinese, Indian, Malay and Nonya cooking styles & ingredients blend in an indescribably  delicious way. and despite being a predominately Muslim country, all things pig find there way onto most menus. Pork fat rules, baby.

Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures. On any given day you can see young girls in daisy dukes and platform heels, women in burquas and prada bags, Indians in saris & punk rockers with facial shrapnel (on the monorail one day I saw a young girl with a Bad Religion button & I pointed to it & told her that I, too, once liked that band, she smiled wanly as if to say “thats nice, you weirdo”).

We stayed at a minimalist Ikea design inspired guest house, where the owner, a chatty & flamboyant gay man, gave us a tour of his new guesthouse next door. He proudly told us that each room comes with all traveler amenities such as free wifi, a kettle in each room & flat screen TV & DVD player that comes with your choice of porn upon check in (straight, gay, bi, trannie… do they even have trannie porn?)

Malaysia’s food is as varied as it’s people.

Last time I was in KL, I did sample some fine food, but being with a fellow foodie helped me go out of my way to search out some hidden gems.

One night we took a street food tour with food tour malaysia and if you ever find yourself in KL it is a must do. Charles, our guide, was more like a local foodie friend taking us to his favorite joints. We made half a dozen stops & sampled some of KL’s finest hawker food. we ate non-stop from 7 pm to midnight.

Lor bak. Minced pork & chicken mixed with spices including chinese 5 spice, wrapped in thin sheets of bean curd & fried until crispy. served with a healthy portion of chili sauce.

Hianese chicken. Chicken that has been poached in aromatics such as lemongrass, garlic, & spring onions. after poaching it is plunged in ice water which gives the flesh a silky almost gelatinous texture. Unbelievably simple & delicious. served with rice (that has been cooked in the poaching liquid) broth & chili sauce.

Laksa. love in a bowl. Thick, spicy coconut soup with noodles, tofu, chicken & prawns.

The Thai sampler plate at the food court. food courts here do not have crappy food. they have some of the best food I have eaten. it's true. and Malaysians love shopping only second to eating, so it's a natural pairing.

noodles with chicken, cashews & chilies

also known as bacon, everyone's favorite snack food!

Iced kecang. very popular dessert here. Shaved iced, topped with tamarind syrup, condensed milk, green jelly things, red adzuki beans, mango & sweet corn. there are a million incarnations & everyplace & person has a different combo. It's actually pretty good

Bak Kuh Te is a chinese dish that literally means pork tea soup. It is a rich porky broth seasoned with star anise, cinnamon, garlic & shitake mushrooms. It is one big bowl of porky goodness! One bowl I got had an entire pig tail in it.   I sent home several BKT spice packets so I can try my hand at it.

B to the K to the T!

Calamansi & sour plum, perfect on a hot day

typical dining establishment

simply the best chicken wings.... ever

big bowl of curry mee; rich coconutty curry with egg noodles, tofu, prawns & bean sprouts .Can you say, yummy?

These were bolsters of heaven. soft, pillows of rolled rice noodles. fried so that they have a little crust then topped with some shrimp paste, soy, sesame & spring onions.

super spicy, super porky, super good

another version of bak kuh te. oh, did i mention this is served with rounds of fried bread for dunking?

breakfast of champions

making street food

finished product. chunks of rice noodle, chilies, soy, onions & bean sprouts, served in an eco friendly take away container

The package says it all

Ipoh is a small city in northern malaysia. There is not much to do but eat. And eat we did. they are known for their bean sprout chicken, pommelos & sweet tofu.

chicken & bean sprouts. doesn't look like much but it was so good we went back 2 days in a row

the fatest, crispiest most flavorful bean sprouts I have ever eaten.

the famous Lou Wongs...best chicken & bean sprouts. After waiting with the masses we finally spied a small table way in the back and after We sat down, we asked for a menu. "no menu". I like this place already.

The infamous ipoh pommelo

preparing the chickens at lou wongs

we stumbled upon this great find....

so you get this bowl of pork ( and pork bits, like pigs ears, skin & other piggy goodies) & shrimp & dip it in curry & the MOST delicious sambal.

the trifecta of pork: crispy & spicy skin, a think layer of soft & succulent fat & sweet tender meat. amazing.

cauldron of curry

This place was so  good we decided to get up early & have breakfast there before our bus… but our taxi was late so I had to settle for a cup of nescafe (in a  styrofoam cup) and some weird sweet bun thing at the bus station.  Very disappointing start to a travel day.

the delivery tofu cart

not so sure about this... but hey they have a FB page.

LAKSA!

more porky good soup

I did manage to take in some sites in between all that eating. Yes, it’s true.

chinese temple in Melaka

Our guest house in Malaka

blinged out rickshaw

lanterns in a temple

next stop Indonesia…. again

Posted in Food, malaysia | 5 Comments

One year on the road: What I know so far

I can hardly believe a year has passed since i left Portland & set out for the great beyond. I know that some of you (dad) thought this would be a one way journey to slackerville, and while I admit i have spent a fair amount of time on the beach, this has been an experience of a lifetime (yes, i do know that’s a cliche). I feel grateful & privileged. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Here are a few things i know…….. so far

I road is filled with joy, wonder, heartache, great food, boredom, great people, crappy western food & bad cheese, loneliness & awe.

I am more resourceful, patient, resilient & stronger than I ever imagined.

Among other things, long term travel erodes attachments to values such as punctuality, predictability & personal space. get used to it or perish

have goats will travel

have goats will travel

Cotton Bandanas are really useful & cheap: sweat mop, napkin, bandage, washcloth, doggy bag & at the rate i lose them i can afford to replace them in every city.

When riding on a night bus In India, do not look out the window & resign yourself to the fact  that 1/2 ” is an acceptable margin between life & death

road trip!

Don’t lose you shit over something trivial: you will be the only one who looks & feels bad

When a taxi, tuk tuk or rickshaw quotes you a figure & says “local price” you can be sure it isn’t

A good dive buddy is worth their weight. I’m talking to you Roger Rice

me & RR in mabul

No matter how many I see, I still fear & loathe cockroaches

Sitting in a cafe, reading & watching the world go by, for hours on end, is ok.

By & large beer in SEA & India sucks. The exception is beer Lao

king of beers

Some things remain inexplicable

Really????

Sometimes all it takes is a strong cocktail to set the world back on it’s axis

manhattan & mai tai at the E & O in penang

Phuket is hell

The “bum gun” is a miraculous invention

getting this installed when i get home

When traveling, as in life, less is usually more

how did I accumulate so much crap? more importantly how do i get it to fit in one small pack?

Traveling with friends is  fun,too

ruth & stan on the night ferry from Koh Tao to mainland Thailand

GPM & WCT on the boat in the kerala backwaters

Douglas adams was right: all travelers need a towel

Traveling with an open heart & mind will yield unexpected & amazing rewards

Taxi drivers cannot read maps

Nude branches are cooler than sharks

see, cool ,right?

If you ask a “yes” or “no” question the answer will always be yes. Even if that isn’t the truth

Traveling solo is immensely rewarding. everyone should try it. at least once.

Mother India is madness & beauty

i called. They weren't interested in a mouthy American

women in saris in a temple

temple in Madurai, India

good advice

Posted in Musings | 7 Comments