Falling Off the Map

Falling Off the Map
Kuta, Indonesia

Kuta, Indonesia

I’ve secretly been a bit proud of the fact that I never slacked too far off my blogging duties in all this time traveling (5 months as of Feb 10th!)….but finally here I am, just like Lucille Ball in that episode at the chocolate factory, as my friend Dave S. so wittily referred to in his blog (which is a gazillion times better than mine). Way behind, and stuffing chocolates into any space I can find. Don’t know if it’s the weather or the fact that my travels are coming to an end (more on that in the blog), but I just haven’t felt inspired to write. Which is a weird and disconcerting feeling, since writing is a passion of mine and what I hope to base some sort of career on upon my return to the real world. Hm. I hate to put you through this kind of “summary” update, but it seems the least painful way (for both you and I) to bring you up to speed. You don’t have to suffer through 19 screens of writing, and I don’t have to write it. When I last signed off Fab and I were headed to tiny Gili Air to hang out for a few days. BLISS! I loved the place immediately. You can walk around the whole thing in a couple of hours, and large chunks of it are as yet undeveloped (not for long, unfortunately). Tourism and local life are perfectly intermingled here, and it’s charming. We scored an incredible bungalow (with hot water!) at a fabulous place owned by a man who comes from the same city in France as Fabien (Lyon), so Fab was happy to have someone to finally speak proper french with (instead of my fumbling, mangled Quebecoise). The bungalows are dotted throughout a beautiful garden/jungle setting full of papaya, frangipani, hibiscus and coconut trees. If you don’t scuba dive there isn’t much to do on Gili Air, but that’s the whole point. The few times we set out to snorkel were pretty much all thwarted by the ever-present jellyfish (no idea why they seem to congregate most heavily around this island). We biked a little and walked a lot. We headed inland to the “market” (a few dubious-looking fruits and veg and some dried fish and whatnot) and actually managed to cobble together all the ingredients to make our own guacamole! It probably won’t win any awards at the Mexican Culinary Festival (there must be one), but it was fun anyway. More interesting were the 2 times we got to go fishing with Bernard (owner of the bungalows) and some of his staff. Fishing is a daily ritual and a way of life on the islands and I was humbled and honoured to take part. It’s nothing fancy – a spool of heavy fishing line which you dispense and reel in by hand, a sinker and a couple of hooks. You skewer some dead little fish onto the hooks, chuck the whole thing into the ocean, and wait. Patience and understanding are the virtues here. Sometimes you catch nothing. Most times the fish outsmart you and manage to eat the bait without getting hooked themselves. But sometimes you get lucky. I caught 4 little guys the first day! Who knows what kind they were – nobody here cares, they eat it all, regardless – but 2 were red and pretty. The staff prepared us a lovely dinner that night, featuring our fish. We tried our luck again the next day (tally: Cara-3 Fab- 3) and donated our catch to the staff/fishermen. For us, it’s fun. For them, it’s a way to feed their families every day. It was the least we could offer. Gili Air locals have their own cuisine which is unique to the island and which they are rather proud of. It’s delicious and cheap (no 20% tax here like on Gili T!) and we got to taste things with cool names like “tumpi-tumpi” (deep fried balls made of potato, rice flour and some other stuff) that don’t exist elsewhere in Indonesia. It’s also lovely to have breakfast included in the room rates, which is pretty standard throughout Indonesia. It’s especially pleasing when you happen upon a place that serves up a good breakfast, which we did on Gili A. I’m doing my best to learn to love the plentiful local fruits. No prob with the usual suspects of course – bananas, pineappple, watermelon…but having a little more trouble with papaya (never liked it but still trying), salak (aka “snakeskin fruit”) and mangosteens. I do however love rambutan – very similar to lychees but more tasty. Sadly mangos aren’t in season, but avocados seem to be and I can’t get enough of them (the ultimate treat being at Bamboo Corner on Bali at Kuta Beach, where half a huge avocado stuffed with shrimp will set you back a whole dollar). The rain finally caught up to us on GA. We gave up trying to avoid the several-times-a-day drenchings. Heck, it’s only water. And mud. And sand, and gravel. And on one occasion here in Kuta, poo. But I can’t talk about that. After a few days we moved on, but not before I vowed to come back to GA. More on that in a bit. We hopped a boat and overnighted in the port town of Padangbai on our way up the east coast of Bali. It took some tricky negotiating to convince a bemo to deliver us to Jemeluk, one of several tiny fishing villages in the area collectively referred to as “Amed” for tourism purposes (Amed is but the first of the many villages). The area is known for its diving and snorkeling and we were looking forward to exploring the two very accessible shipwrecks in the area ( a Japanese fishing boat and the US Navy cargo ship Liberty). Unfortunately the ocean was in a big snit and had been for about 10 days prior, according to some frustrated divers we met at our guesthouse in Jemeluk. No snorkeling at all. Zero. But it was mesmerizing to watch and listen to the waves pounding the foundation of our guesthouse (when constructed about 10 years ago the guesthouse enjoyed about 15 feet of beachfront at high tide. Now they have about negative 5 feet. Cool for us, scary for them). The weather also pretty much totally sucked, but we just scootered around like always, in our rain ponchos, singing reggae songs as we drove through the many villages (of wildly varying degrees of friendliness – some downright unwelcoming /scary) and past terraced rice fields, jungle, volcanoes and cliffs. Ok this is getting long, so I’ll break it up. Next up: a side trip to Gunung Batur.

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