Monday, June 30, 2014

Macaroni and cheese from Barrel

My boyfriend and I got dinner on Saturday at a new place (to us) called Barrel, because, we noted after a cursory examination of the menu, they had macaroni and cheese for me, and beer for him.

I'll get right to the point. The macaroni and cheese was divine. As soon as it arrived, it made a good impression, what with being served in its own cast-iron casserole dish and topped with breadcrumbs.

But it's the taste that really matters in a macaroni review, and that did not disappoint.

My first bite was a burst of flavor, gooey, cheesy, and with just the right amount of salt. This mac and cheese had a unique taste to it that I identified as horseradish. You would not think I would enjoy a horseradishy macaroni, but as a matter of fact, I did. I had to force myself to stop eating and save the other half for later, because I really wanted to gobble up the whole thing right then, stomach ache though it might cause.

If this macaroni and cheese had one fault (and really, I'm just grasping for anything here), it might be that the cheese sauce was kind of thin. But as it cooled, it congealed to a perfect texture that I really can't complain about.

I am not alone in my glowing assessment of this dish. Al, after trying one bite of mine, ordered a second dish just for himself.

In the end, I rate this macaroni and cheese as follows:
One happy noodle for the perfect taste
One happy noodle for the perfect presentation
One happy noodle for the unique horseradish kick
1 happy noodle 1 happy noodle1 happy noodle 

The Mood Noodle rating system is not based on a fixed scale, but is a much more subjective system based on what makes me happy and what makes me sad.
Any number of happy noodles and comparatively few sad noodles constitute a good rating.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Jun 17 - 21: Jogjakarta and Jakarta

Me being far from pleased at the airport.

We arrived in Jogjakarta late in the evening on the 17th.

What would have been an hour-long flight, if Al had remembered to actually complete the reservation — and no, I'm never letting that go — ended up being 2 flights with an hour layover. During said layover, I lost my phone, continuing the saga of misery that had begun the day before. But let's not talk about that! Let's talk about Jogja.

Jogjakarta (shortened to Jogja, and don't even get me started on whether it's actually supposed to be Yogyakarta or even Djogdjakarta, because there seemed to be no consensus on this matter at all) is Al's mother's home town. She owns a house there, which was (unsurprisingly considering my previous experiences with Indonesian domiciles) enormous, though very oddly laid out. The kitchen and laundry room were on the second floor. The back of the house consisted of one gigantic room that was two stories high. Al says the house was converted from a bread factory, so I wonder if that was some sort of store room. In any case, we did spend some time discussing how cool it would be to remodel the home and rent it out or something. I forgot to take a photo of it because, as previously mentioned, I'd mentally checked out a few days before.

That first evening, we went out to have our first meal of street food since arriving in Indonesia (everyone from Indonesia raves about how great street food is, in the same breath that they tell you not to eat it because it might make you sick). We took off our shoes, sat on straw mats on the sidewalk, and had our meals delivered to us. I had something new: gudeg (gudek?) which is made from the seeds of the jackfruit. It wasn't bad, but it was very powerful. It struck me as more of a condiment than an entree, something like a sweet version of olive tapenade. It did not make me sick.

After eating, Al and I walked around the streets for a few minutes, looking at the wares for sale, but everyone was packing up for the evening, and besides, we had planned to do all our shopping on our last day in Jogja.

But, before that could happen, we had to get through the first day, which was dedicated to tourism. First stop, the temple, Borobudur, which stands out in my mind as the place were I was obligated to pay 10 times as much for admission as Al and his cousin because I was not an Indonesian.

Unlike many of the other locations we'd visited on this trip, hardly any of the tourists were Caucasian (considering the preferential admission policies, I'm not surprised!), so I stood out conspicuously. Apparently, this temple is a big tourism spot for native Indonesians. They go there because it's awesome, being Indonesia's largest Hindu temple. But the real attraction is not this spectacular work of ancient engineering, but rather the white tourist, who everyone wants to pose for a picture with.

I'd been warned this would happen, and I hadn't been looking forward to it. I did not want to feel like some kind of sideshow freak. But when people actually did start asking for pictures with me, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd imagined. In fact, for the first time in this long vacation, I actually felt appreciated, instead of just like a somewhat unwelcome stranger or a source of income.
Borobudur, once I escaped from the Papparazzi (I mean, locals).
After Borobudur, we were planning to go to the Prince's Palace (or something like that) but it was already closed when we got there. So instead, we got ice cream (avocado ice cream...yummy! Who'd have thought?) and then drove around basically running errands for Al's cousins and looking for ... an upholstery store? I don't know. One big disadvantage of being the only non-Indonesian-speaker traveling with a group of Indonesians is that you never really know what's going on.

The next day was the day we were supposed to go shopping. But we learned, when Al finally looked at the itinerary, that our flight out that day was not late in the evening as he'd thought, but rather at 3 in the afternoon, meaning we'd have to leave for the airport around noon (strike two on the flight planning, Al!). So our whole day of shopping was already hosed. We'd have to make a marathon run of it.

And we did our best, visiting a market and couple of shops and scoring some good deals on clothing (4 dollar dress, anyone?), but we didn't have time to get all of the souvenirs and gifts I'd been hoping for (sorry, family, the presents are going to be a little sparse).

Here's a picture of some shoes and clothes I bought, because, frankly, I'm out of good pictures.
And then it was on to Jakarta for the last leg of our journey. I'll keep this part short, because I already did Jakarta once. We basically just had one day anyway, which was spent visiting family: cousins' home previously visited to pick up our remaining belongs and a box of stuff to fly to the US with us, house of very rich aunt who may or may not have a strained relationship with Al's part of the family but it sure seemed like that from the awkward and somewhat silent lunch we had with her, and cousin in hospital (note to self and/or word to the wise: the next time you are dragged along to the hospital to visit someone you've never met, it is guaranteed to be uncomfortable. See if they'll let you wait outside and meet this person some other time under better circumstances.

And thus passed our last day in Indonesia. I wish I had more exciting photos to end this segment of my blog with a bang, but instead you will have to settle for this anticlimactic gradual trail-off...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Jun 16: Lombok

By the 16th, my blogging was so far behind, and my photo uploading even farther, that I didn't bother to write any more posts in advance. I also had a cold (which had been trying to get me, by way of Al, ever since our first day in Darwin, and finally caught up with me completely our last night on the boat). I also was nearing the end of my trip. I had never been completely on board with a 3-week vacation, and my capacity for a positive attitude had pretty much reached rock bottom, so I was basically just riding out the days until I could go home.

So the 16th did not provide me with much to be happy about. After leaving the boat, all 7 of us crammed into a single van and proceeded to drive (endlessly—it was Indonesia after) to Mataram in Lombok.

Here's us and our crew. Our last happy moment before everything turned ugly.

There Al and I were dropped off and asked to wait until another vehicle could arrive to take us to our hotel. We waited. I had to go pee, but I didn't want to pay to use the toilet (I couldn't even read the sign!) so I waited in discomfort. While waiting, Al bought some food, and then he bought some more food (Al's chief occupation in Indonesia seemed to be eating as much as was humanly possible). The second purchase turned out to be something I actually liked—a fruit-filled green cake which was dense and delicious. Al liked it too—so much that he spent the rest of the vacation obsessing about getting some more. For future reference, Brownies Martabak was the name of the vendor.

Finally we were driven to our hotel in Kuta (town on the Island of Lombok), which, although it impressed me initially with its cute towels folded to look like swans, lacked basic amenities like a garbage can in the bathroom (what did they expect us to do with the toilet paper that the sign on the door clearly stated should not be flushed?), free shampoo, or even a shelf in the shower to put our own shampoo, a pool that was not overgrown with algae, or a way to keep the mosquitos from entering our room from cracks above and below the poorly hung door.

At least there was one nice thing about Kuta.
I was grumpy and sick and wanted nothing more than to check my email and upload some photos and post another blog entry, but the wi-fi didn't work. We went to get lunch at the restaurant across the street, and of course there was nothing on the menu that I wanted to eat, but I was too pessimistic to imagine there was anything better at any other restaurant, so we ate there, while flies buzzed incessantly all over us and the wind blew a menu into my water bottle, spilling it all over the table and partly over me.

A walk on the beach did the exact opposite of cheer me up. The sand was made up of such large grains that when you walked in it, you sank in up to your ankles. I had not put on my sunblock before we went out, so I couldn't stop worrying about getting cancer, a sunburn, or worse, a tan, and my sun hat was continually getting blown off my head by the wind.

To top things all off, a pair of local children approached us as we walked, trying to sell us some ugly bracelets (I being the only white person on the entire beach made us prime targets for those seeking the bottomless pockets of a Caucasian tourist). I didn't want the bracelets, and I didn't want to throw away my hard-earned money on something so ugly, and the girl kept saying, "You buy only one, then I'll leave you alone," and I was offended that I should have to, essentially, pay her off to stop pestering me (also was worried that children would descend on me like flies if I so much as flashed my wallet), so I let her follow me the the entire way up the quicksand beach, lowering her prices the entire way, until finally she broke off and muttered what I am pretty sure was "Very stingy!" in an affronted tone.

The far end of the beach did have some monkeys and dogs and some mangroves, which would have probably delighted me if I had not been in such a bad mood. But alas, I was.

To top things all off, when we finally got back to our hotel, we discovered two things:

1) The delicious Brownie Martabak that I had been planning to eat for dessert, and which had seriously been my only motivation for slogging on with my day, was crawling with ants!

2) Al had not actually paid for our flight to Jogja, which was supposed to be at 6:00 the next morning. It was too late to secure that flight now, so we had to trudge out again to find a travel agent to get us another flight. Sadly, it was too late even for a travel agent to help us, and we were told to book online. I knew, just knew, that I was going to be stuck in this godforsaken town another night.

Finally, we stopped in a vegetarian cafe (which did make me about as happy as I can get when I am miserable), where we had dinner, and Al got his mother to book us a flight while I sulked.

I also made the acquaintance of one of the many local stray(?) dogs, which made for a slight moment of happiness in an otherwise terrible day.

When we returned to the room, I shook all the ants off the cake and ate it anyway, and then settled in for a long and boring night and day. Our flight was rescheduled for 5 the next evening, which meant, to look on the marginally, dimly, feebly bright side, that I would no longer have to get up at 3 in the morning. However, I was not interested in occupying that extra time walking out among the sharks street vendors, getting buried in quicksand beaches, or getting any more sun. We planned to hang out at the hotel until checkout time at noon, then hang out in the airport for the rest of the day.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Jun 14-15: Komodo and Environs

On the morning of the 14th, we were fed a small breakfast of toast and jam, and then made our way to Komodo Island, where we hoped to get more exciting views of Komodo dragons in the wild. Sadly, it was not to be. Even though we opted for the longest trek around the island (about 5 km), we never saw a single dragon. Some birds, yes, plenty of deer, a few wild pigs hiding in the brush, and even a flying lizard, but no dragons. We were consoled, however, with the sighting of some of their droppings.

These are komodo dragon droppings, so they say.

As at the last island, we eventually found a couple of komodo dragons lying around the cabin area, so all was not for nothing. Here's what they looked like.

And we also had a more tangible memory: Al had purchased a pair of carved wooden dragons the previous night, from a family of opportunists who approached our boat from theirs. Apparently no matter where you go in Indonesia, someone is always there trying to sell you something.

From Komodo Island, we made our way to...ehh, some other island. From reading the tour description, I think it might have been Laba Island, where we were encouraged to go snorkeling. Once again, I didn’t feel like getting wet, so I stayed on the boat, but after an hour or so, I learned we would actually be staying there overnight. So I put on my big girl swimsuit and hopped into the water, aiming to hike my way up a tantalizing-looking trail winding up the mountain. Al came with me, but we had only made it halfway when we were signaled to return to the boat.

Look closely; you can see me!
Apparently we had been wrong about staying there overnight, as the captain wanted to leave. Soon we were enlightened as to the real plans—we would be sailing all night, to arrive at our next destination in the morning.

That night was one of the most horrifying nights I can remember. The skies were clear, but there was a wind blowing, which tossed our little boat left and right and up and down all evening. At first, I felt like I was going to get seasick, but fortunately that feeling disappeared when it was subsumed by abject terror. Every shipwreck movie I had ever seen came parading through my mind one after the next. Shortly after dinner, which I choked down somehow, I went to bed, but didn’t get much sleep, choosing instead to spend my night fearing for my life.

Amazingly, we made it through the night, and as morning approached, the waves calmed down and I slept a bit. You wake up early on a boat, partly because of the sun, partly because of all the bustle, so we were up and at ‘em by 6 am, eating breakfast by 7 (this time it was crepes with banana, and that does remind me that I was pleasantly surprised by the food on the boat, which was surprisingly edible, given my dietary restrictions), and making our way to the next beach, 2 at a time on our little canoe, by 8:00.

The next location, officially known as Satonda Island, was dubbed by me and Al as Trash Beach, for reasons you might be able to guess. It seemed that all the currents of the Pacific Ocean converged onto this beach, covering it with all manner of undesirables (including the poop from the onboard toilets of the two boats anchored just offshore). The upshot of this was that they brought a magnificent intact nautilus shell onto the beach as well, for me to find and keep as consolation for not being able to go swimming.

Trash Beach was suprisingly picturesque from behind.
Just a few meters inland from the beach, there was a saltwater lake. This (aside from the waves of the previous night) was the biggest disappointment of the trip, because the only way to access the lake was by jumping into it from a tall wall which you would never be able to scale again once you had left its summit, or wading through a very mucky, algae-covered shoreline. Needless to say, I did not swim in the salt lake, but I did take its picture. I don’t know its official origin, but judging from the height of the hills immediately surrounding it, I think it might be an ancient volcanic crater.

After leaving Trash Beach, we puttered across the briny seas to make one more stop on the island of Moyo. The main reason for visiting this island was to see the waterfalls just a bit off the beach, but I also took advantage of it as my first and last opportunity to go exploring in the coral reefs. I experienced one of my favorite natural phenomena (watching a river meet the sea--who knew it could make the water look oily like that?), and I saw a few pretty fish, and considered it a day well spent, though I somewhat regret that I never had the opportunity to see any giant clams such as those Al saw when he went swimming on the first day.

The waterfall was used by much of the crew of our boat as a place to wash up. They brought their soap and everything. Us landlubbers contented ourselves with splashing around in the waters. A few of us climbed the hillside next to the falls, to have a swim in the deep pool up there. The locals had outfitted a nearby tree with a vine so that we could swing into the pool. A few of them did flips into the water, and one of them climbed even higher, to plummet into the pool from an impossibly high tree. None of us paying customers tried that.

The waterfall island was the last stop on our adventure at sea. We departed the island at full steam (again, another metaphor since we were in a gasoline-powered conveyance), hoping to reach Lombok Bay by 10 in the evening and disembark first thing in the morning.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

June 13: At sea!

In the morning, we joined a small group of travelers for our Kencana Adventure! This was a 3-night boat trip to Komodo Island and other points of interest starting in Flores.

We arrived at 8:30 in the morning and soon made our way down the main street of Labuan Bajo to the docks, where we boarded our vessel. I’m sure a veteran sailor could tell you how many feet long it was, but all l know is it had 2 decks, two internal rooms, and two bathrooms.

The bathrooms were of interest because, while they had sitting toilets (as opposed to the squatting kind, which can be found some places in Indonesia), they did not flush. Flushing the toilet in Indonesia means pouring water into it by means of a plastic dipper from a cistern next to the toilet. Sometimes it takes several tries to get all the toilet paper down, which I think is why in most of the bathrooms I encountered, people just throw the paper in the trash or don’t use it at all. The bathrooms were by far the most challenging part of this adventure for me, especially since many did not even have a sink next to them, meaning I had to leave the bathroom entirely to wash my hands.

That aside, we had a pleasant day at sea, sailing (chugging, as we had a motor) past what seemed like hundreds of tiny islands, some of them no more than a boulder jutting above the water.

We stopped once (at Kelor Island, which I can't even find on Google Maps) to pick up two more travelers, who had to be ferried to the boat by canoe, bringing our party to a total of seven members, plus the crew. We got lucky, because as we were arriving, a person from the last tour told us he had had about 40 people on his boat. I cannot imagine how crowded it would have been with 40 people, but our spacious boat was quite comfortable for us seven.

We made our second stop shortly after lunch on the island of Rinca (also called Loh Buaya), where we were to have our first encounter with komodo dragons in Komodo National Park.

Although we trekked around the island for a good while, the only place we ever saw the world’s largest living lizard was right at the entrance to the park, where they gathered under the cabins to enjoy the smell of human cuisine, but I won't show a picture of them just yet, because I want to foster a little more suspense.

Throughout our walk, we saw a couple of monkeys, some ground-dwelling bird, and at least the tracks of water buffalo, but no more dragons. Just as we were leaving, however, we spotted a young one making its way toward the forest. In spite of being a pretty nasty predator, this lizard did not seem to faze the deer and the monkey who were both chilling in its vicinity.
Our second stop of the day was at a beach just outside of Komodo Island. I didn’t originally want to go, because it was getting on toward evening, and I was too cold to swim, but the thought of getting some good pictures convinced me to get my butt into the canoe and go ashore. I’m glad I did, because it turned out that this island was home to the famous pink beach we had heard so much about. Our crew, although sweet, did not do a great job of explaining to us where we were or what we were doing at any point on the trip, so a lot of our excursions were a surprise like this one. Here the coral reefs were so close to land that I could touch them while wading, and I found a sea cucumber, which our Indonesian guides pulled out of the water for me (I was afraid to touch it, thinking it might be a stinging eel or some such horror). I also startled a flounder out of hiding, which gave me no end of delight!
Of course, it's too dark to really see the pink on this beach, but then again,
sunset makes everything pink!

Our time on the beach was not very long. Soon we set sail again, dropping anchor very near to Komodo Island, where we had dinner on the boat and settled in 'til morning for the next day’s adventure. Our sleeping accommodations were pretty spartan, consisting of a vinyl mattress pad and an equally vinyl pillow. We each got one blanket, which I used to cover up the mattress and pillow, since my skin kept sticking to them. Midway through the night, however, I got cold, which forced me to creatively wrap myself up like a burrito and vow to wear long pants and sleeves the next night.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

June 12: Labuan Bajo

On the morning of June 12, our party split into 3 separate groups. Finally, after 13 days vacationing with family, Al and I got some time to ourselves! We were taking a 3-day excursion by boat to some smaller islands in Indonesia, starting in Labuan Bajo (on the island of Flores).

Our flight there was in smaller propeller plane, which gave me the willies, but it was all worth it for the landing, when we saw the hundreds of tiny volcanic islands jutting out from the ocean! I would have paid money to take a photo of that, but sadly I had left my camera’s battery in my carry-on, which had been unceremoniously taken from me when we boarded the plane.

I guess I was vindicated by the spectacular view we had from our hotel. Al and I were staying just one night in a cute little inn on the mountainside, called the Golo Hilltop Hotel, where we had our own private cabin and a fantastic view of the ocean.

We took a brief excursion into the city in the evening, and explored the shops, which weren’t anything to get excited about (mostly just tour operators), and the open-air market, which was downright scary (stinky piles of fish just lying out in the open air). I took a picture of the oranges, which weren’t nearly as disturbing.

Al in the office of our tour operator

But soon it was back to our hotel, where we watched the sun set from our balcony.

Then we closed out the night with milkshakes, which were nothing like the rich delicious milkshakes I’m used to, but instead were much more fruity, less thick, and less sweet. I would have been disappointed if I hadn't also had a brownie to eat that I'd picked up at lunch time.

It was only 8:30-something when we went to bed. I concluded as I drifted off, that if there was one thing that was consistent about this whole trip, it was that I was never able to sleep normally. [Spooky foreshadowing:] The seaborne nights to come would only reinforce this conclusion.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 10-11: Bali

Bali is probably the premier vacation destination in Indonesia, so it was pretty much imperative that we visit this island. We met back up with Al’s sister, mother, and aunt, in the Bali airport on the night of June 9, and made our way to the house we’d rented through Airbnb. Like many of the houses we’d seen in Indonesia, this one was gargantuan. Unfortunately, it was too far off the beaten track for many in our party, so we spent most of the next day finding a more luxurious hotel and moving our belongings there. We were not ready to get on with our vacation until almost 4 in the afternoon.

We thought we’d take a half-hour drive to see the monkey forest in Ubud. Of course, thanks to traffic (Not just limited to Jakarta apparently!) and a run-in with a police officer (easily resolved with a tiny bribe) the half-hour ended up being more like an hour and a half, and we arrived after the park had already closed. Fortunately, there were monkeys sitting outside the gates, so we didn’t go away totally unsatisfied.

We strolled up and down the street for a while, and then had dinner in a pretty snazzy restaurant, where I had gado-gado again. That is basically (with small variations) the one and only Indonesian entree that I can eat.

The infamous gado-gado, sauce on the side.
That night, though we were all tired and unmotivated, somehow we (Al’s sister, him, and I) dredged up enough energy to go out for a night on the town. I, being a veteran of clubbing in DC, where everyone is uptight, was struck by how happy everyone seemed at the bars in Bali! We indulged in flaming cocktails (photos did not turn out) and danced until my shoe fell apart (my shoes do that a lot when I’m going out), and then danced some more. It was a weeknight, so the clubs were not too crowded, and I was able to dance barefoot without fear of stepping on something unpleasant.

The next day was again almost entirely wasted driving, this time to return the rental car. We got back from this errand in late afternoon, and had just enough time to hit the beach for an hour or so before sunset.

Al says Bali is also a premier destination for surfing, and I could see why. The waves there were bigger than any other beach I’ve ever been at. I was able to ride a couple of them, sans surf board, which I wouldn’t know how to use anyway, and got a ton of sand in my suit.

That mission accomplished, it was time for dinner on the beach, and then back to the hotel for the night.

Monday, June 23, 2014

June 7-9: Australia

I have now returned from my vacation, but I'm only now beginning to blog the second week of it. Ah, Indonesian Internet, you have not been kind to me. From now on, I vow to never promise to write a vacation blog. In any case, look forward to more frequent postings until I have gotten through the entire backlog of stories.

The second day in Australia, we took it easy, since I was sleep-deprived and a little sick on top of it, and stayed semi-local, taking a short drive out to Berry Springs.

On the drive there, we saw some termite mounds growing on water pipes by the highway, which excited me inordinately, even though I knew bigger ones were coming. But these little roadside formations were my first termite mounds, and I was not about to be disappointed by their size!

Berry Springs was pretty exciting. It had a swimming hole complete with waterfall!

Al and Alex jumped right in, but I preferred to walk on the nature trail, where displays informed me I could see both typical Australian woodlands and a “monsoon rainforest.” Within the cool recesses of the rainforest was this enormous banyan tree surrounded by butterflies!

After my walk, I was feeling slightly better, so I took the plunge into Berry Springs. It was fun! I even got to take a solo adventure down a tree-lined stream that felt like a tunnel!

Berry springs was a refreshing place for a swim, but little did I know, [Exciting foreshadowing] there were even more thrilling swimming opportunities awaiting me!

That evening, Al and I went exploring on the beach at low tide, where I found my first cowrie shell ever, and a blue crab that danced around hilariously, waving its pincers at me.

We watched the sunset on the beach, then I went home and collapsed into bed, where I finally caught up on my sleep.

On Saturday, when I was finally feeling ready for a longer trek, we made our way to Litchfield National Park, home to a seemingly endless number of waterfalls and some spectacular termite mounds.

The particular termite mounds of fame at Litchfield were built by magnetic termites. Magnetic termites?, you’re probably wondering. I was. It turns out magnetic termites are but one species of termites that can be found in Australia, and they build their homes long and narrow, almost like a wall rather than a hill, and orient them north-south so as to receive the least amount of sunlight, thus keeping them cool inside. In the background, behind the relatively small magnetic termite mound, you can see the gigantic mounds built by cathedral termites, a different species.

We got to see some cathedral termite mounds up close, and it was pretty easy to see why they are given that name, being enormous and all.

The best part of Litchfield Park (that we saw at least, since there was a lot more to the park that we didn't have the time or the free mileage on our rental car to do) was just around the corner, however—Buley Rock Hole. This was a series of waterfalls and deep swimming holes, where we passed a few pleasant hours before lunch.

There was another waterfall (Florence Falls) where you could swim, and if we’d known just how awesome it was, we might have made a stronger effort to get there. But as it was, we just got to take a quick picture of it from the overlook as we were leaving for home.

Our last day in Darwin was spent walking around the city, shopping and seeing the sights. There weren’t many, but we did have a bit of an interesting time in the oil storage tunnels built during WWII. That’s what they call them, at least. The only thing is, they apparently never did get used for oil storage!

Monday, June 16, 2014

June 5 – 6: Australia

We had decided to make a side trip to Australia because the flights were so cheap between Darwin and Bali. Of course, then we changed the plans and flew there from Jakarta, rather defeating the purpose (it was much more expensive, and it involved 7 hours of flying). Al’s sister and mother had not gotten their Australian visas in time, so it was just me, Al, and his nephew Alex for the Australian portion of the trip.

We had a doozy of a ride there, with Alex getting sick as soon as we boarded the plane at midnight, and throwing up continuously the entire 5-hour flight. We arrived at 7 in the morning without having gotten a lick of sleep, and couldn’t check into our apartment until 3 in the afternoon.

We made the best of it, stopping at a grocery store for lunch since the restaurants were all so expensive (the downside of Darwin is it’s the wealthiest city in Australia), and eating it in a park near the seashore. Being a Dorito fiend, I was fascinated by the fact that the Nacho cheese Doritos were in a yellow bag rather than the red one I’m used to. Turns out, in Australia, the “nacho cheese” Doritos I know so well are called “Cheese Supreme,” and “Nacho cheese” is another flavor entirely.

We had gotten a rental car free with our room rental, and we were much bemused when we realized we would have to drive it on the left side of the road! That's how traffic runs in Indonesia, too, but there someone else had been doing all the driving for us!

Al was up to the challenge (I was characteristically terrified), so he did all the driving, and got the hang of it pretty quickly. “This is fun!” he said, shortly before drifting into a curb and blowing out the front tire (he seemed to have trouble judging the space on the left side of the car, prompting a continuous mantra from me of “watch the curb!” for the remainder of the trip).

Fortunately, we were close to the rental place, so we walked there to admit our folly. The mechanic was able to change out the tire in no time flat (get it?) and we were back on the road.

That first day in Darwin, we visited Mindil Beach, which is home to a supposedly must-see night market. During the day, it was absolutely desolate. A beautiful white sand beach with not a single person swimming or even walking nearby. We soon learned that people don’t really swim on the beaches in Darwin because of the potential risk of crocodiles and jellyfish. What a disappointment! At night, however, during the market, the beach was thronged with people. But still, not a one of them was in the water.

We actually were staying outside of Darwin City, in the town of Nightcliff, so named because it has cliffs. The cliffs were an endless source of fascination for me, with their shading of red and white, and the rocks on the beach pocked full of holes. Apparently the stone of the cliffs is known as porcelainite.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

June 2-4: Jakarta

Fortunately, in Indonesia, people have chauffeurs, who will do all the work for you while you sit and wait for your destination.

So (after picking up Al’s sister, who had arrived on a later flight) we drove to the mountains. While there, we did some shopping, but mainly the day was occupied by driving and eating. I became somewhat irritable about how many calories I was consuming relative to how many I was burning. Fortunately, that night we stayed in a hotel with a gym, so I got to work out while listening to great dance music and looking out over the picturesque hills.

The next day, it was back to driving. It took most of the morning to drive further up the mountain to visit … you guessed it … a restaurant. Apparently this was a very famous restaurant, and I will admit it had a lovely view!

By this time, we’d been to enough restaurants for me to be confident that I would never be able to order food in Indonesia, because even when the menu had English descriptions, I could not even hazard a guess as to how it would taste. So Al ordered for me: gado-gado, which is apparently vegetables and peanut sauce which seemed very similar to the pecel I’d had on the first day. The difference with this one was that Al ordered the sauce on the side, so I was able to keep the spiciness down to a tolerable level.

Then it was another drive back down the mountain. We made a couple of stops for shopping, but I didn’t buy anything. Shopping is definitely cheaper in Indonesia, but still not cheap enough for my high (or would you say low?) standards, and I was intimidated by the thought of trying to communicate with the salespeople. Most stores in Indonesia, people will speak to you in English, but my social anxiety was still not appeased.

Wednesday was our last day in Jakarta, and we spent it … driving. We made a stop to visit some of Al’s relatives and pick up one last American member of his family (his aunt).
Then it was off to the airport for the next leg of our journey.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Do you want to hear about my vacation?

On Friday, May 30, 2014, I embarked on an epic journey. Spanning 22 days and 3 continents (counting home), it justifies my use of that played-out adjective.

I intended to post a running photo blog of my adventures, but this has proved more difficult than I imagined, because I’ve had internet access less frequently than I expected, and even less time to sit around and blog. Most of that time has been occupied uploading my huge photos on a slow connection.

However, I’m finally going to begin!

I’ll skip the part about all the disasters and things that I forgot, which basically defined our first day. Instead, I’ll tell you about Indonesia!

MAY 31 – JUN 1

I traveled with my boyfriend Al, his mother, grandmother, and nephew. Following 24 hours of travel, we arrived in Jakarta sometime after 11 on May 31 (Saturday night). We were picked up by one of Al’s cousins. By this time, you would think the best course of action would be to take us home to go to bed (I don’t know about the rest of my fellow travelers, but the pitiful sleep I got on the plane was probably worse than no sleep at all).

But instead, we went out to eat at a dim sum place owned by his family. We did not arrive at our lodging (the cousins’ home) until close to 4 am. The place could accurately be described as a mansion; however, I was less impressed by the grandeur of the house than the fact that I could finally sleep lying down. I would have gladly slept on the tile floor for that privilege, but fortunately I was furnished with a bed.

The next day, Sunday, was business time. After we got up shortly after 1 pm. Al needed to visit the airport to handle some details about our upcoming flights (over the entire vacation, we would be taking 5 airplane trips, not including the flights to and from the US).

We did that and then stopped for lunch at the below restaurant, where I had my first authentic Indonesian meal! It was vegetables in a peanut sauce, with all sorts of fried things served with it, which were bought a la carte. Although I’d been dreading eating in Indonesia, because of my very selective tastes, I almost enjoyed it! It was too spicy, though.

That evening, we went to a "beach" called Ancol. Although it was pretty dark when we got there, it was still pretty clear that it was no beach I would ever want to swim at. It was pretty dirty. That didn't seem to stop some of the kids around, but our party just walked around the shore, and then left to go have dinner.

And that was the end of our first day. Hopefully, I will have some more Indonesia stories for you later, and some photos too!