Adventure

Those Who Find You: A Tribute

Ah, Christmastime. Although we were in Bali well before Christmas, there were signs of it popping up here and there: a fake tree in the local Hardy’s Supermarket/Mall, a smattering of wreaths and lights adorning stalls. At the (many) airports heading home, trees and baubles surrounded every shop entrance. Flying into our home airport was a bit surreal – Canadians take this North Pole stuff seriously.

When we finally turned into our own little dead-end street, we saw that it had exploded with lights (we had some work to do to catch up). It was a bit weird; so familiar but we weren’t quite ready to embrace it. Yes, we knew it was coming, but when you’re frolicking around in a land of blazing sun and sand, you really don’t think much about it.

So I can’t say I’m deep into the Christmas spirit this year. That said, I do know what I am thankful for: families of all varieties.

There’s no question that I’m grateful for the family I was born into – as wacky as it is. I love them very much and appreciated every day I have with them, but here I’m referring the Balinese family we’ve adopted (or perhaps more correctly, they’ve adopted us).

We’ve been to Bali quite a few times now (five for me; six for Cam), and when you go back to the same place enough times, you’re bound to make connections – wherever you’re from, whomever you are.

Tandjung Sari at twilight. Just go.

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I’ve mentioned before how welcoming the Balinese are – and the Wawo-Runtu family, who founded and still run the sublime Tandjung Sari hotel on an amazing property in Sanur – is no exception. They’re a large bunch – a blended family extraordinare. (We kid them about being a Balinese Brady Bunch.) They’ve all received us with genuine curiosity, open arms, and two or three kisses on the cheek. This reception is a big part of the reason we keep coming back.

Yes, Bali is our home away from home, the place we think about often and fantasize about in the cold, dark, rainy days of a Canadian winter. We crave its colourful, mystifying chaos. It’s where we become accustomed to sweating constantly, needing three showers a day, and epic humidity.

After a breath of frangipani and incense, feeling the sun on my face, hearing the constant swish-shish of sweeping, the ‘ting’ of a bike bell along the boardwalk, stepping over the ubiquitous sidewalk offerings, almost bumping into mini-shrines and dodging stray dogs and cats – it’s like coming home. Actually, that is the coming home.

Here are two people who have made it so for us.

Me and Avi, with duelling cameras.

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Avi is general manager of Tandjung Sari; he’s the first person from the family that we met. He’s married to Wita, who’s father, Wija Wawo-Runtu, started the hotel. They are our age, and from there the similarities are endless (such as Cam and Wita having a birthday within one day of each other).

Me between two Sagittarians: pre-birthday dinner drinks at the fancy Legian on Seminyak Beach.

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Apparently we’re not the only ones who wish we were back there; as much of their job involves entertaining guests, both Avi & Wita relish the chance to hang out with people more ‘their age’. Our relationship with these guys has grown since the beginning; each time we go back we learn new things about ourselves, share funny family stories, indulge in our love for good food and even better company – such as good friends do.

Cam & Wita, toasting to their birthdays. Yes, Cam’s drink is wrapped in a bag.

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Cam & Avi: two great minds (and they have fun haggling over the bill)!

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Me & Wita goofing around at TS.

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I have fond memories of Wita coming down to join us every twilight at our bungalow’s porch for a couple of drinks when Avi was working late: the two of us shrieking as we dodged swooping bats; playing Bowie on the stereo; listening to Wita’s tales of living abroad and her brushes with famous people.

And then there’s us tucking into an enormous plate of kambing kare nasi goreng (lamb curry), homemade dinners at Tatie’s (Wita’s mom) or parties at one of her half-sister’s breathtaking open-air pavilion-style houses. And jazz on the beach, where Avi had the kitchen and the outdoor barbecue time our dinners perfectly. The time when Wita had extra bottles of water delivered to our bungalow when I was sick. It’s both of them going out of their way to make our stay as comfortable, happy and special as possible. Well, like family.

A Balinese tree ornament.

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For me, this Christmas is not about presents, or lights, or the big turkey dinner. It’s about family; it’s about remembering and appreciating your loved ones. There’s no denying the spirit of family this time of year brings, be it good or bad. For us – both near and abroad – it’s good.

Time to say goodbye – we’re smiling through our tears.

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Here’s to second families… ’til we meet again.

– S

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Categories: Adventure, Bali, Beach, Dining, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gili T and Me

The second half of our first week in Indonesia began with a one-hour jaunt via fast boat to a remote island off the northwest coast of Lombok called Gili Trawangan – the largest of a trio of islands that includes Gili Meno and Gili Air (they’re collectively referred to simply as The Gilis). It’s an idyllic place of white sand and turquoise water, sunsets and incredible off-shore snorkelling. Just what we ordered.

The first step’s a doozy
The fun started before we even got there. We rose early (which wasn’t a problem, as our local rooster would typically start crowing around 3:30 AM anyway), and met our driver at Bintang Market near Ubud. We then set off on the 1.5 hour journey to Padangbai harbour to catch the fast boat to the Gili Islands. We get there, and as is typical in Indonesia, there’s a lot of waiting around and then suddenly a burst of activity. Sure enough, right at 9 AM, without a word the boat guys started walking down to the jetty. Wiley travellers that we are, followed. Turns out it was one of those deals where you get on a boat through the cabin of another boat. We do that and find ourselves on the foredeck of our boat.

However, we quickly realized that we have to walk the entire length of the boat on a very narrow edge to enter the cabin at the back. We’re talking about a 3-inch toehold here. A Dutch woman in front of us almost fainted when presented with this marine circus act and implored us to go ahead of her (old Dutch saying: “Send the Canadians in first”). So, laden down with heavy backpacks and snorkelling gear we inched our way along, desperately hanging on to the slippery overhead rails, trying to save several thousand dollars worth of electronics from having to swim for it. We finally made it to the aft deck and laughed giddily, hoping we wouldn’t have to do that again when we docked. Of course we did.

Entrance to the ‘harbour’ on Gili T.

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One of our first glimpses of the place. Not a bad start.

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Me & Audrey ready for the beach.

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No paved roads = no scooters. Nice.

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There’s no motorized traffic on Gili T. Which means you walk, ride a bike, or hop on a cidomo (pronounced “CHI-domo”) – which is basically a horse-drawn rickshaw. Now that’s fun.

View from inside the cidomo on the crowded main street of Gili T.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Times have really changed on Gili T. Yet despite the influx of tourists and commercialism, the island still retains its laid-back, old-world style. Take for instance, our residence for three days: a lovely villa with plunge pool and lots of privacy (in spite of the ubiquitous full/dark/half-moon parties). We stayed in Villa Emas (house of gold). ‘Nuff said.

Flash-back to 18 years ago. Ko-ko-mo, or any resort for that matter, simply didn’t exist. Yet Sunset Bungalows, the place Cam stayed when he first landed there, lives on. No website for these guys.

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It’s still in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by cracked twigs, lots of garbage, and a few emaciated kucings, all thriving, thanks to the relentless, blazing sun. Oh, and the toilet is still outdoors. Yet with a front row seat to a world-class sunset, at the time Cam thought he was in heaven (until he got massively burned snorkelling one day and tried to sleep… with no air conditioning… but plenty of mozzies.)

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Local kucing. It may look cranky, but it was really very sweet – weighed about a pound with a meow 10 times as big as its body.

Braving mud pies for pizza
One night after torrential afternoon rains and an epic nap, Cam insisted we try a highly recommended restaurant by TripAdvisor called Il Pirata. “OK,” I said, “Where is it?” He’s all, “Down one of the side streets.” Great! There’s only about a million of those. Should be no problem to find.

Off we go, trudging through the muddy and puddle-ridden main street of Gili T (there’s no drainage system… other than gravity). We walked to where we thought the turn off was. It looked dubious. We walked back. Then we walked forward again. I’m getting pretty irritated at this point, mainly because I just had to fetch my flip-flop from a huge mud (or something?) pile and now it’s squashing between my toes. Then Cam comes up with an idea: Google Maps! No way that’s gonna work, we thought. But we pulled it up on my iPhone and it worked. After we entered the name Il Pirata, The Google tells us the correct turn – which we passed like five times.

However, we’re still faced with a long, very dark alleyway of sorts, complete with a huge puddle spanning the entire width of the lane. Great! We brave it anyway, clinging onto the side fence and various branches that line the ‘road’, stepping tentatively on sand bags lining the submerged ‘sidewalk’. All the while I’m thinking This better be worth it. Just when we’re about to give up, Google Maps announces: “You have arrived at your destination.” I was amazed. This place was indeed the definition of a hole in the wall, hidden yet glorious – at least the pizzas were. Was it worth it? Hells yeah.

Sorry… what time does the boat leave?

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On our last day we had plenty of time to catch our fast boat at noon. Or so we thought. So, we leisurely packed, had breakfast and checked out. We made our way to the lobby to talk to Usman, our fave Ko-ko-mo guy. We were in no hurry because we only needed to be down at the harbour by 11:45. Usman called us a cidomo at half-past, which, after 15 minutes, still hadn’t shown up. By that time I’m getting antsy, so Usman calls the boat company and we discover that the boat is leaving basically right that minute. Ahhhh! I try to stay calm, all the while hopping from foot to foot as our cidomo finally arrives. We threw our baggage and ourselves in the cart and frantically waved goodbye to the amazing Ko-ko-mo staff.

Chickens, kucings, and Shar’s temper: oh my!
Off we went at an alarming gallop, and then are suddenly faced with construction, blocking the street from anything bigger than a bike or a pedestrian. The driver started to make a turn for the detour when we shouted, “No! Stop!” We’re not doing that again – it’ll only add another 10 minutes of sheer anxiety. Instead, we jumped out of the cidomo, Cam threw the driver some rupiah and off we go running through the mud-soaked street to the harbour, splashing and laughing, dodging kucings (a couple of which stopped so suddenly they looked as if they were prostrating to a deity), chickens, bikes, and annoying tourists. Actually, I had to yell “Move it!” once because the tourists were just standing there gaping at the scene. (Cam, who was behind me, later said the guy I shouted at had a seriously shocked expression on his face.)

We stumbled onto the beach, just barely making the boat. Then we proceeded to do the entrance-from-water, inch-along-side-of-boat deal once again. I was more than happy to oblige.

Our good friend Usman from Ko-ko-mo, who helpfully informed us we were about to miss our boat back to Bali. 

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Thanks, Usman!

Us at a breathtaking Gili T sunset bar. A view like this – and everyone was looking at their phones.

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Up next – postcard from our home away from home: Sanur.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Beach, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Baliance: The Beginning

Well, we’re back in… you’ll never guess… Bali. Yup, it’s tradition that every two years we just have to get on a plane, fly biz or first for basically an entire day, and skip a day crossing the international dateline while we’re at it. The whole production is a tiring hassle, but it’s always worth taking a bit of pain for the ultimate Bali gain.

We started this Balinese adventure in an area near Ubud proper called Penestanan. If you want to tuck yourself away in the jungle and rice fields, this is the place to do it. Here are a few vignettes from our time there…

Please tell me we didn’t just do what I think we did

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Once upon a time there was a grand villa in the middle of the Balinese jungle. And it had many rooms. And with those many rooms came many doors and keys and locks in both analog and digital flavours. There were two main doors – one for the front gate that led to the road to other villas, spas, and restaurants admist the jungle – and the other for the back that led to the walking path to the main street.

And so it is our first night, which after travelling for 20+ hours left us weary and a bit slow-witted. We decide to go to the market to get susu (milk) for coffee, Bir Bintang and other vacation necessities. We walk out the back gate, and I firmly shut it, only to discover shortly after that it is now locked, and whatever keys we have can’t open it. It’s starting to get dark, there’s no lights and we can’t see any way around the house other than to take a long alternative route… which we don’t really have a grip on yet. I look at Cam and say, deliriously, you mean we’ve been here for five minutes and we’ve already locked ourselves out of the villa?!?

I thought I was going to cry. But, ever the problem-solver, Cam MacGyvered the situation using a temporary bank card to finesse the lock bolt. It opened in about two seconds. And we never fully closed that door again.

After all that, we forgot the susu. But my first taste of kopi Bali the next morning was nothing less than heavenly, milk or no.

Ol’ Growly on the path (no, not Cam)
That’s our place in the background of the picture below.

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You could say it was a wee bit big for us, but it was damn private, which was the principle goal. This place was so remote that we had to walk down a winding, partly hilly, cracked and narrow concrete path, complete with very steep steps from the main road. No motorized vehicles allowed. Thus, after making a few wrong twists and turns – the best being pitch black and sans torch, we would arrive at our palace.

One day we headed out on said path to get provisions at the Bintang Market, only to find a ‘guard’ dog waiting in the middle of the path, looking super-scruffy and growly (upon closer inspection, he was just old and cranky and didn’t want to move). Of course as soon as we got close, he started barking and growling. Cam, born to face fear it seems, just kept on walking and reluctantly Ol’ Growly moved out of the way. We made friends later when I threw him and a canine friend doggy treats out the villa window.

Have stick, will herd 

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While up on the rooftop terrace of Rumah Cahaya, Cam spotted this ~4-foot tall ibu (Indonesian for mother or elder female) herding ducks through the rice fields, with the intention (we think) of getting them to eat all of the bugs. Small or no, ibu could surely wield a mean stick.

More Ibu – from field to market
Cam’s been taking some serious language lessons, and enjoys practicing with the locals. One time while on a provisional trip to the Bintang Market for Bir Bintang – naturally – he was in the checkout line behind an elderly ibu who seemed to regard his bottles of beer with some disapproval. That is until Cam said to her “untuk makan malam” (“for dinner”). Ol’ ibu went from seriously serious to highly amused. She thought it so funny that she repeated it to her husband beside her. It really is the small victories.

Martinis but no Internet? Perfect.
There’s a restaurant in Penestanan which happens to have the best martinis – by my opinion – in all of Bali. And we’ve been to a lot of swanky places. So, naturally, we happened to find ourselves there. It’s called Element and it’s waaaay tucked away in a small side street. The martinis come in two ways: strong or really strong. This place is so good that we’re actually thinking about making the one-hour trek back up there from Sanur. Plus, you’re forced to talk to your companions after 5 pm. Seriously?

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It’s a small world, after all
Before we even arrived, we quickly learned how small of a town Ubud is. Turns out that the house manager for Rumah Cahaya, Juli, is none other than the brother of the ibu whose family manages the other house we stayed in – Rumah Cinta – two years ago. In fact, we went to this cat’s wedding in 2012 – pictured below with me and bride Koming.

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Note the before and after pics of Juli – quite a difference! (No makeup for instance…)

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Pictured above: Bapak (Indonesian for father – also used for an elder male) – who carried my 50 lb suitcase on his bony shoulder all along the path and down aforementioned wicked steps – Juli and me the morning we left Penestanan. BTW, that’s Ol’ Growly in the background.

One of the coolest house features… EVER
The whole time we stayed at Rumah Cahaya, we were wondering how to access the basement suite. We could see the door from the outside, but had no idea how to get to it from inside. That is, until the owner Bruce showed us a secret door behind the bookshelf, which led to a whole other room, bathroom, bar, and theatre.

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The space between the shelves is the opening to the secret room below. Spooky!

Apparently this is where Bruce lived when the rest of the place was being built. I was super-impressed. How English gothic is that? Noted for our future mansion.

Stay tuned for my next post – a remote island called Gili Trawangan off the east coast of Bali.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Pool, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mowie

OK, so apparently an update is desperately needed – all the people I haven’t talked to since we returned from Maui think that it rained the whole time we were there! Definitely not the case, as a day after my first post, the sun came out and Maui shined. Oh, how it shined.

Now, I can’t really remember the sequence of events that happened after the rain stopped, but here are some pretty cool things. First, though, I do want to mention this little hidey-hole of a spot – actually it’s a van – that contains yes, probably the best fish tacos I’ve ever had (I know I’ve said that before, but this time it is really true). It’s worth the sometimes 45-minute wait at lunch.

Horhito’s – glamourously located next to a 76 gas station in Kihei (“Come Get Hooked!” is right – we went back a couple of times)

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After the severe tropical rain fest of the first couple of days, we resumed our regularly-scheduled program of sunshine and kisses. We were itching to get into the water and experience the amazing sea life Maui is so famous for. So off we went, fins and goggles in hand, to one of the most recommended snorkeling spots in Kihei. However, conditions were sketchy – the surf was way up. Nevertheless, we proceeded to enter the water backwards, only to get swept along by the tidal break, falling into the water and me ripping my knees on hidden (and very sharp) black lava rocks. Thankfully, I didn’t notice until we battled our way against the current, past the rocky point to Kam 2. After getting tossed back onto shore, we called it a day and set up camp on the beach, where I attended to my bloody cuts with bandages and settled in to soak up the sun. I got rewarded with a burn, and an attractive X on my knee. I do realize this looks like something out of a medical journal.

Can you spot the X?

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Since the main reason we traveled to Maui was to attend our friend’s wedding, we figured we should go and check it out. Whales breached in front of the Molokini crater as about 30 of us witnessed a traditional Hawaiian ceremony.

A gorgeous morning at Makena beach

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By noon, we were at our fave beach in Wailea with a couple of beverages and the latest Reacher novel. With (yet more) whales breaching in the distance for entertainment, it so did not suck.

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As we were staying in a residential area in south Kihei, we developed the happy-hour habit of wandering around our ‘hood at sunset.

Um, yeah… that’s a pretty nice view.

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We did a day trip to another one of the airport beaches described here. Down a dodgy old road off the highway, we parked in a man-size pothole and made our way on foot to the beach through a billy-goat trail and past a beach creature napping on the grass (complete with mini dog and a trailer). We emerged from the bushes to find gorgeous silky sand, picture-postcard turquoise water (see top pic of this post), and of course more beach creatures, this time sans clothes. Oh, and this sign in the distance, which I did actually take as a ‘sign’, seeing it’s the name of our cat we left behind.

A tribute to you, Billie. (It’s a little weird, but definitely cool.)

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After quite a few snorkelling expeditions around the island, I despaired I would never see a green sea turtle – in the water. Sure enough, on our last attempt at Ulua beach, I bobbed to the surface at one point and asked Cam, “So where do you suppose the turtles hang out?” He shrugged and told me later that he was thinking: does she think I come from a long line of Turtleologists or something?!?. About three seconds later, he noticed another snorkeler gesticulating towards the water, stuck his head under and then quickly surfaced to say something like “Thrs turtloe umber view”. He pulled me under, pointing… and there was my famous Maui turtle! It swam along gracefully and we followed it for some time. It turned out to be a huge specimen, and almost fluorescent in appearance. I was ecstatic.

Ah, beaches, beaches. There are waaaayyyy too many on this lustrous island to hit just in a week. But we sure did our best. Mahalo, Maui.

aloha

– S

Categories: Adventure, Beach, Hawaii, Sunset, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sanur: Home and Away

Well, it’s been a while now since we returned from our favourite place in the world (that would be Bali, for those of you not paying attention) – and let’s just say it’s a bit of an adjustment. But I don’t want to waste your precious reading time lamenting about being back in chilly Canada. This is a postcard about our home-away-from-home: sleepy Sanur.

After dusty, scorching Seminyak and the serene lushness of Ubud, we departed for the golden sands of the southeast coast. Sanur is where we first experienced the magic of Bali, where we discovered a peaceful bungalow-style hotel on the beach, where we made lifelong friends and are always treated like family. With fond memories in tow, we were anxious to get there and start creating new ones.

Once we turned off the main street (Danau Tramblingan) and into the Tandjung Sari driveway, I exhaled deeply. It’s hard to describe the feeling I get when I enter these grounds. It’s like I’ve closed the door on an all-too-busy, crazy, rushed world, retreating into a hidden paradise. The long, narrow, two-laned driveway is lined with palms in the middle and high hedges on either side, only hinting at the bungalows behind it. It’s as if I’ve entered a home in a village, going back into another quiet, simpler time. It’s a feeling of arriving at a place unlike anywhere I’ve been before; someplace safe, warm and welcoming.

As usual, we were greeted warmly by the staff in the receiving area: a huge, open-air pavilion that was once part of a Balinese royal house. Three ceremonial beats on a large gong announced our arrival, and we were given cold towels by a fresh-faced Balinese woman. Happily signing in, we started what was to be a two-week-long reunion with all our old friends and the Tandjung Sari family. Indeed, several times a day we were welcomed with a chorus of exclamations, handshaking, kissing on each cheek (often three times), and lots of Apa kabar (what’s the news?). To which we’d reply: baik, baik (very good – especially since we were there).

The Tandjung Sari beachfront at twilight.

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We had booked one of the new garden bungalows (they hadn’t built new ones since the ’90s, so this was pretty special). Bright and spacious, the bungalow boasted beautifully blue tiled floors depicting Balinese themes of animals and birds; industrial-strength air conditioning; a welcome bowl of island fruit adorned with frangipani; a separate room with wash area complete with skylights; and yes… the classic outdoor shower. This time we even got an outdoor bathtub – an essential tool for the cooling-down process, especially after scorching beach days, and yes, our dreaded morning runs along the boardwalk. (This we endeavoured – and succeeded – to do every morning, despite any late activities the night before. It was really the only sane time to do it – that is, if you didn’t want to faint of heat stroke while dodging bikes, scooters, sketchy gangs and, God forbid, the razor-sharp women hawkers who hang around outside the Circle K, just waiting for the next victim to drag down a crowded and confusing alley of shops.)

Outdoor bathtub – Cam’s favourite place to cool off while reading the latest Jack Reacher and sipping a cold Bir Bintang.

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Shortly after our arrival, I really began to relax. Translation: lots of spa treatments. Fresh fruit peel facial and rose petal face masks, a dual manicure and pedicure (to the tune of $15 Cdn – absurdly cheap compared to the $70 – before tax and tip – jobby I had at home).

And then there was the massage. Not just an ordinary one – it was a Javanese massage. Picture a 4-foot-ish Javanese ibu knocking on your bungalow door with just a sarong and some oil. You dress down to your skivvies, lie on your bed and proceed to get worked over by her magic fingers both back and front. Modesty goes out the window as she transforms your entire body into a lump of jelly and goodness. Her touch is utterly perfect: not too gentle that you can’t feel anything, but not too strong that it starts to get stressful. Perfect for us picky North Americans. Again, absurdly cheap: $20. For an hour and a half. ‘Nuff said.

Then there was the fresh fruit every morning at breakfast: pineapple, papaya, watermelon, even passionfruit or banana juice if you so desired. Not to mention perfectly-baked buttermilk biscuits and Tandjung Sari’s famous croissants: fresh from the oven, with a rewarding puff of steam when you break one open. Everyone swears they are better than what you find in Paris, and we can’t disagree.

Shar on bike along Sanur’s beach boardwalk.

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Our resident family of ginger kucings.

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Our third and last week in Bali – what we referred to as our “bonus week” – was spent pretty much planted on the beach, where our biggest decision of the day (aside from what to have for lunch or dinner), was if we should go for a swim in the pool or float on our backs in the 27 degree Indian Ocean.

However, we did manage a day trip to east Bali – to a series of pretty, small fishing villages lining the coast and stemming south from the town of Amed – satisfied our snorkelling urge. The quality was outstanding, with the best part not having to rent a boat to get to the reef. All we did was park on the road, cut through the grounds of an obscure homestay on the beach, step out onto the black sand and put our flippers in the water. A push off the rock and we were transported to a world of angel and Nemo fish, bright blue coral, sea turtles and eels. We let the current take us deeper into the relatively garbage-free water (a treat compared to, say, what we experienced in Nusa Dua) – swimming through warm, cool, and then almost too hot patches – down to a sunken Japanese shipwreck (there are doubts about its provenance, but it was cool nonetheless). We emerged two hours later, and with salt water crust in our hair and cracked lips, rinsed off underneath a rustic communal shower before wolfing down our picnic lunch. Hours later I felt the ill-effects of the classic too-long-in-the-water-without-protection nasty burn, but it was sooooo worth it.

A young woman dances the traditional Balinese legong

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After the ‘cool’ mountain air of Ubud (28 degrees as opposed to 32 – it makes a difference, believe me) we were once again cozily-wrapped in the hot and humid, even with the ocean breeze. But the warmth of the island doesn’t just come from the elements. It’s in the people, too: their gentle and welcoming nature, their stunning smiles, their genuine interest. During our time in Sanur, a series of invites ensued: drink gatherings, birthday outings (including Cam’s), legong dance performances, art exhibitions, dinners at our friend’s house… so much that we barely had a night to ourselves during our whole two-week stay.

But that’s what I love so much about the Balinese: they are eager to include you and have you take part in their customs (and to practice their English while they’re at it). Just take the wedding we went to in Ubud. It’s just what they do, who they are. And that’s what keeps us coming back.

The full moon and me.

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– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Beach, Dining, Glamorous, Pool, Shopping, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ubud: Serenity Now

Tucked into the Balinese highlands, in the midst of long and lush flora, gently-flowing rivers, and cooling skies, lies Ubud, Bali’s cultural capital. On previous trips to Bali, we’ve only gone to Ubud on day trips perusing silver, batik and wood carving shops while baking in the afternoon heat, stopping to have a kopi es (iced coffee) until we’d gathered enough energy to venture out again. We’d have a grand old time at the monkey forest, or partake in a popular locals’ pastime, such as dining at Ibu Oka’s (for more detail on that, check out one of my previous posts: The Freaky, The Fresh, and the Fabulous).

But listening to other travellers describe how peaceful, even magical, it is to actually stay in and around Ubud made us think differently for this trip. There were stories of incredibly private villas with glorious pools set in the middle of lush rice fields, with a myriad of spa resorts and retreats steps away, where you could rejuvenate, meditate and no-doubt exfoliate yourself to a temporary Nirvana. Many people swear Ubud is the ‘real’ Bali, so we thought we’d give it a try.

We arrived via transport from Seminyak, about an hour away. Our destination was a villa in the outskirts of Ubud proper, in an area called Penestanan. Once our driver figured out how to find our rather elusive and hidden villa, it was crazy to think we could actually have missed it. I took one look at the entrance’s 100 or so steep (and I mean steep) stone stairs and said to Cam, “How are we going to get our suitcases up there?” He pointed to the two frail-looking Balinese women who greeted us on the street and said, “That’s how.” OK – I had to see this.

Without hesitation, each woman took a 50-pound suitcase of ours and placed them ever so gently on their heads. And up the stairs they went. And up. And up some more. By the halfway point, I was panting from just carrying my beach bag. Watching these women, I was respectfully humbled. Who needs bootcamp, anyway?

Pic of our entrance stairs sans incredibly strong ladies (but an equally capable Cam).

The villa is called Rumah Cinta, which translates to the house made out of love. It was humongous – built to contain at least a couple of families. In fact, they closed off half of the house so the two of us occupied the newer half.  The place had all the right things: a large pool and an open-air, stone-built shower (the greatest thing EVER) for starters. It was simply an awe-inspiring place, somehow mystic, comprised of beautiful traditional Balinese architecture as shown in the pic below, which just happened to be above an alcove in our gardens:

(There were so many large and small touches like this that every day we seemed to discover a new gem or another – including many shrines on the property, which received daily offerings.)

Shortly after we settled in, it started raining unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard. Not the typical long, misty, all-day affairs we get at home. No, it was one of those tropical rainstorms that give little warning and a lot of result: big, hard drops that render you completely drenched almost immediately, umbrella or no.

Our timing was spectacular: getting caught right in the middle as we were walking back from the supermarket. It was so ridiculously loud and intense that we  laughed most of the way… until the aforementioned 100 steps, where we slopped and slipped as we juggled bags and umbrellas all the way up. Despite this, it was a lovely respite from the from dusty, scorching streets of Seminyak. Once somewhat dry, we tucked in for a night of watching the rain from our balcony, relaxing, reading, and drinking Bali Hai beer. We finally succumbed to a long, deep sleep to the tune of a VERY loud singer – what we originally thought was a frog and then later learned it was actually a large gecko – and dreamt of green phosphorescent fireflies (which we really did see – very cool).

View of our villa grounds from the master bedroom balcony during a rainstorm.

We woke up early that first morning and breakfasted at Ibu Putu’s warung, a local’s restaurant just down the path. Ketut, the man whose family manages the villa, met us there to help us prepare for our first-ever Balinese wedding. He had invited us to his brother-in-law’s wedding about five minutes after we arrived. Although we were initially taken somewhat aback, we quickly learned that it’s considered a bit sophisticated to have foreigners at your wedding, especially as we were in the (relative) Balinese sticks. Whatever the case, we were only too happy to oblige to attend as very pale ornaments. Ketut dressed us in layers of fancy sarongs and sashes – required for entering holy sites and temples – and off we went with another couple hailing from – weirdly enough – Edmonton, Alberta.

Ketut led the way through the village, and once at the family compound, we were greeted warmly by the betrothed couple, who then promptly disappeared to adorn themselves in elaborate dress and makeup.

Then we proceeded to wait. And wait. Two hours, many cups of sweet tea, spicy satay, rambutan (a favourite of Cam’s) and several suspicious-looking jellies later, the young couple emerged, snapping us both out of our near-comatose state. The bride and groom then led a procession through the streets to her family’s home for more visiting and eating. As the actual ceremony was not for another several hours, we decided to bow out at that point.

Me with the bride and groom: Koming and Wayan. I’m the one in the middle.

Since we were only in Ubud for three nights, we decided to do yet another thing we hadn’t done before: walk through the Ubud countryside (translation: vast rice fields). While attempting to follow a route suggested in one of our guidebooks (the directions left a bit to be desired), we made a few wrong turns, one in particular that set off a neighbourhood dog in a fit of snarling barks, chasing us back up the slope (much to its owner’s delight).

The trek took about three hours, during which we sighted rice field after rice field, flooding, harvesting, a river gorge and an intricate irrigation system, scarecrows comprised of a combination of stalks, metal and garbage, and miniature shrines. Finally the crooked stone and dirt path spit us out, sweaty, hot and dirty, about 1000 metres from where we were staying. Very convenient.

An old ibu works the fields.
A flooded rice field before harvest.

Although you can pretty much get anything you need in Ubud – massages, manicures, health retreats, yoga studios, sweet organic cuisine – really, there is no need. The place itself is enough – serene and beautiful in its nature alone. It envelopes and captures you with its beauty and raw nature. (Not to mention you could hide out in a warung/homestay and pretty much disappear altogether for months on the cheap.)

I can’t really articulate properly how I felt in Ubud. Some people may describe it as a spiritual connection. Others would say my aura agreed with it, or some other such nonsense. All I know is I felt quiet. I could just clamber up to our rooftop terrace (where the feature photo of this post was taken) and stare into the surroundings all day. Just watch life go by. I felt like I didn’t need to talk, or even think all the time. I felt serene. Or maybe I found something there I haven’t found anywhere else: peace.

Then again, it might have been the Bali Hai – pun intended.
– S
Categories: Adventure, Bali, Dining, Pool, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sin City Finale: The Long Journey Home

For those of you eagerly awaiting the final instalment in the epic Vegas trip, it’s time to exhale and enjoy the schadenfreude-al goodness of a day that you didn’t have to experience. For all previous chapters, check out:  Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.

As well-known high-roller Charles Dickens once wrote: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. As you can gather by that statement, the journey home started off well and then ended… not so well. We were picked up at the Aria by the same limo we arrived in – but, of course! And so just as we arrived, we left.

Moments before I took this picture, this guy said, “I’ll take an 8×10 of that.” And then wished us well.

LAS Arrival in Style
We departed the Aria after saying farewell to our arena-sized room and shortly thereafter arrived at the airport. And, as responsible Canadians, we gave ourselves plenty of time to check in, etc., before boarding. Translation: way more than 20 minutes. We headed up to the first-class check in counter, only to be greeted by a somewhat flustered ticket agent who informed us that we had plenty o’ time to catch our flight, seeing as all Alaska Airlines flights were either delayed or cancelled. When we inquired as to what was going on, he gave us the short version: there was a network failure that basically grounded the entire airline. He suggested that we might be stuck at the LV airport for a couple hours; in the grand scheme of travel, that was no big deal.

Six hours kinda sucked, though.

LAS Terminal 3: Up Close and Really Personal
Yes, it was about six hours. Turns out that during some routine construction, Alaska’s internet connection through Sprint was accidentally cut (literally, the cable was severed), both in Wisconsin and – get this – Seattle as well… which happens to be Alaska’s hub. This minor incident pretty much rendered Alaska’s network dead, so no one could issue boarding passes or check in for flights. Basically, the planes were grounded until it got fixed. Well, at least it wasn’t anything mechanical, I reasoned with myself. No, that came later.

We passed the time by watching shows on our iPad, going to a pub, watching another show, going to another pub, etc., etc. It went on like this for what seemed an eternity. I tried not to think that all this time we could be spending outside in the glorious 34 degree Vegas weather, lying by the pool. OK, maybe not the pool, given my last two experiences there à la Vegas-style douchery, but still.

So after many episodes of Justified and Modern Family, several glasses of pinot grigio and humongous plates of ‘merican food, our plane finally starts boarding. (Of course, Cam was up at the ticket counter every so often trying to figure out what the hell was going on, wrangling food vouchers, bantering with other hapless passengers, and the like. He says it helps pass the time – somebody is always worse off than you, and this turned out to be true, as you’ll see.) Although our connection to Victoria from Seattle had evaporated, it certainly was not forgotten. In fact, we pretty quickly worked it out that there was no freakin’ way we’d make it home that night. Ugh.

Well, at Least We Weren’t Like This Guy
Once settled and safely in the air, the air hostess took pity on us (bless her heart) by pouring us coffee with Bailey’s along with generous glasses of yet more pinot grigio. As we made our way up to cruising altitude, we both noticed a young fellow traveling alone, seated diagonally across from us in first. He looked extremely worse for wear, holding his head in hands for most of the taxiing and looking a particular shade of grey. Cam informed me that he had been chatting with him in the ticket counter line-up. With a sardonic grin, he relayed to me this guy’s deal: he’d been partying in Vegas for a full three days, living it up in the clubs each night (morning?) until 9 am. In fact he thought – as he woke up in a rather stunned and severely hungover haze that very morning – that he was going to actually miss his flight.

Next thing we knew, this guy is standing in the hostess cabin where of course you cannot hang out post 9/11, chatting away and trying to avoid the barf bag the hostess handed him earlier. When Cam passed by en route to the washroom, he gave dude an inquiring look, to which Hangover Harry replied, “I have anxiety attacks sometimes” as a source of explanation. I don’t doubt it in the least. Cam sort of regretted saying to him a bit earlier, “Don’t jump”. Sort of.

Sleepful in Seattle
We arrived in Seattle a good 3.5 hours after our scheduled connection to Victoria. Not that anyone was going anywhere, mind you. We headed straight for the Alaska info counter – we were the first ones there – to figure out what we do next. After an  interminable amount of time, with much sympathetic clucking and tapping of keys from the ticket agent, she informed us that the next – and last – flight to Vic (11 pm) was all booked. We were officially SOL. And so were all the people behind us – and there were many. Still, we managed to secure seats on an 11 am flight the next day – the earliest we could get – and wrangle a nearby hotel. We walked past the extremely long and growing lineup as we made for the exit.

The Airport Hilton was close and comfy, complete with low-lit corridors and bunker-style halls. Cam fondly described it as “virtually charm-free”. But, it did the trick, especially when it came to purchasing provisions, which we had to do since our luggage didn’t make it with us. Of course it didn’t.

The check-in person informed us that the gift store was open for another 15 minutes, so off we went to acquire snacks, deodorant and other various and sundry travel items. It wasn’t until we got to our room that I discovered I had nothing to sleep in. So, off we went back to the store where the overly cheerful clerk greeted us once again, this time enthusiastically gesturing to a particular table with a “buy one, get the other half price” (or something to that effect) t-shirts. We bought two of the worst-looking ones – both with the same Seattle motif – one pink, one grey. Chuckling, we made our way back, only then to discover we’d no toothbrush or toothpaste. (Yes, I really should have taken inventory beforehand. Total rookie move.) I can live without most things for a night, but brushing my teeth isn’t one of them. Of course now that the store was closed, I phoned the front desk, and about 15 minutes later, someone from housecleaning arrived with the much-coveted instruments in hand. At least it was ‘free’.

There’s No Place Like Home
We awoke after a fitful sleep on lumpy pillows and headed to the lobby’s ‘business centre’ to email work (no option for Wi-fi in the room), letting them know we wouldn’t be in for a while, if at all that day. We got to the airport in plenty of time for our mid-morning flight, and everything seemed to be going smoothly as we boarded. We’re almost home! I excitedly thought – a little prematurely… but you know that by now, right?

We’re patiently waiting for the plane to taxi when the pilot makes an announcement that makes my blood run cold (or boil, it could have gone either way): the plane was having mechanical issue with the luggage door. Which meant us and our luggage had to disembark and wait for another plane. And to think we were so close! The pilot didn’t even finish the announcement when a woman across from us (stranded coming back from Mexico with what it looked like as a broken arm), burst into tears. Shaking, she then started begging the man in front of her for some pain killers. I didn’t blame her in the least.

Back we went to the Alaska service counter, where we’d been clocking a significant amount of time. After explaining our situation, the agent prepared us for the worst-case scenario – delay, possible overnight YET AGAIN, as all subsequent flights were booked after this one. No sooner had she told us this when she switched gears and informed us that our replacement plane would be ready in an hour. I wasn’t optimistic. But, this time she was true to her word, and we all clambered back on into the same selection of seats on a different plane.

Forty-five minutes + twenty-four hours later, we touched down on Canadian soil. For someone who absolutely dreads coming home after a vacation, this time I was eternally grateful, and actually was tempted to kneel down and  kiss the ground. The ironic thing was that a day or two later Alaska sent me a customer service survey asking me how I enjoyed my trip. The subject line was “Tell us About Your Latest Flight”. Although the folks at Alaska did a pretty good job of troubleshooting the whole situation, I really didn’t have the heart to blast them – it’s not like the frontline folks cut the blessed cable.

At least my rose was still intact.

– S

PS. OK, you’ve had your schadenfreude, so let me put a balancing coda on this. As of this moment, we’re in the YVR Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge waiting for our flight to Bali via HK (yes again). We’re staying for three glorious weeks, so watch for some genuine weirdness coming your way. In other words, I’ll be blogging. Here’s what first class looks like on CX.

Categories: Adventure, Glamorous, Travel, Unglamorous | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sin City Part 2: Welcome to the Doucheteria

This is Part 2 of our highly-amusing Vegas Vacation; if  you need to catch up, see Part 1.

We wake up Saturday morning feeling a bit groggy and out-of-sorts. Decide the best treatment is to grab some provisions from the hotel’s pharmacy/grocery/clothing store/liquor store and head to one of the Aria’s four pools for the day. It was a balmy 31 degrees and not a cloud to be seen. We go to scope out the area and discover that aside from the three common pools, there is also a ‘private’ club, with a semi-secret entrance complete with a roped area and no visibility from the outside. Intrigued, we asked a friendly twenty-something-ish fellow at a random kiosk on the property what the deal was. He was more than happy to help, showing us the menu, giving us free passes, and letting us know that the ladies get free champagne until 1:00 pm. We thought: “Why not?” Let’s be exclusive for the day. So, and after going back to the room to grab our day pack, we headed for the Liquid Pool Lounge, full of naive hope and excitement that we’d be experiencing a genuine slice of what Vegas is all about.

I’ll say we did. After lining up to get in (not much of a challenge at 11 am), we were subjected to a bag search, during which we had to rid ourselves of our beloved camera. Somehow, I knew this place would warrant a blog post – and some juicy photos to accompany it, so I wasn’t too happy about that. Anyway, Cam offered to run it back up to the room (at least a 20-minute trek), while I secured us seats in the lounge. Once in, I was a bit overwhelmed; I’m bad enough at making decisions of any kind and it was worse here because I had no idea which seats were what price (although I could guess the cabanas were probably the priciest of the joint). After I (tentatively) decided on a spot, Cam appeared sans camera, and we were read the minimums. Turns out the minimum you could spend for sitting by the pool in a lounge chair was $400. To sit by the pool! Cam and I had a good laugh at that, somewhat to the chagrin of our server, who was perfectly serious. We even had to sign an acknowledgement stating that we agreed to spend that much. Oh well – I could think of worse ways to spend money in Vegas (I don’t think I need to go so far as to list them). So much for the free champagne – what was the point? We had to spend some serious cash! Our servers then laid our towels, brought us a bucket of water and a couple of mojitos, and we sat back to take it all in.

At first it was quite subdued, and certainly it was beautiful and the service was pretty amazing. It was so weird – so surreal – with the collection of douchey guys, Fake Plastic Trees (AKA girls who have had a lot – and I mean a lot – of work done). After a while, things ramped up quickly, and the overall debacherous atmosphere was overwhelming and included not-so-subtle features like sparkly bikini-clad dancers who suddenly appeared on two podiums rotating their bottoms and attempting to look jaded and ultra-cool. Well, they probably were genuinely jaded. My second thought after Cam announced “check out the dancers!” – and I think you can guess my first thought – was: are they going to start stripping? But apparently, Liquid is way, way too classy for that, so the “clothes” – more like minuscule scraps of material – stayed on.

Here’s a fairly tame image of the scene, before the party really got started:

Click here for a flavour of the clientele this place attracts, especially after a few pitchers. So much for not allowing cameras!

As the afternoon wore on, things definitely got stranger.  And people got drunker. Way drunk in many cases. There was the arrival of the San Diego Takeover – a group of women from – you guessed it – San Diego, who occupied one of the many $1500 day beds. Then random douches – including one in particular who was lip-syncing along to the booming music catering to the super-trashed – and the Euro-douche, who creepily scoped out the scene on his very own day bed. Then there was the gaggle of cheerleaders of varying falsity – and all blonde – except for a token brunette. Let’s just put it this way: as time went by, the skirts got shorter and the tattoos somehow grew more elaborate and abundant. Although I had my lay-by-the-pool book with me (Fifty Shades Darker – which turned out to be the perfect choice for this kind of scene), I could barely read more than a sentence at a time. And it was usually the same sentence. The scene was really that entertaining.

Meanwhile, Cam and I were trying our hardest to spend our $400. You’d think it be pretty easy with pitchers of mojitos going for $60 each, and tiny Fiji water bottles for $12, but alas, we found it a struggle. One of the reasons was because we wanted to stay relatively sober for the Metric concert that evening. Despite Liquid’s hedonistic nature, I’ll say one thing for it: the food was excellent. Expensive, yes, but definitely in the yummy zone. Which goes to show you can get decent food just about anywhere on the Vegas strip.

Finally, after almost four hours of hilarity, we decide to call it quits, partly because the music was making us bleed out our ears. Our waitress, who was undoubtedly one of the smarter ones there, took pity on us and sent us home with a goody bag to bump us up to our minimum. 2 bottles of water, a can of Red Bull, and two shots of Don Julio tequila shots later (at a go of $45 each), we left the place at $399 + tax + gratuity. Yeah, I never thought I’d pay that much to sit drinking and eating by the pool, but at least I could honestly say I got my money’s worth in epic people-watching.

And, we will never, ever do that again. Ever.

– S

PS  In case you’re wondering, those cabanas I mentioned went for three thousand bucks each, although they did seem to come pre-populated with several douches/douchettes. Reserve yours now!

Categories: Adventure, Pool, Travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Traveling Critter Diaries

Bonding with creatures in a foreign land – whether it’s on the cliffs of Negril, off Bali’s Indian Ocean or even the Pacific shores of Sayulita – is always an adventure. Mind you, I’m not too disappointed when it doesn’t happen, but it’s always a fun and unique experience when it does. Seeing as both Cam and I love animals and amphibians (I’m somewhat less inclined toward insects or massive hairy arachnids), I thought I’d share a few snapshots of our favourite critters from around the globe.

1. The Yowly Bungalow Kitty – Sanur, Bali
This grumpy little meower was constantly hanging around, lurking by one of the stone statues, creeping up the steps, or hanging off of the roof. Wherever it was, it would always let out a howler (or three) of a greeting, but would never let you get close enough to pet. In any case, Yowly was good – albeit distant – company, and always seemed to take us by pleasant surprise when we were having our late afternoon shower outdoors or sitting on our porch drinking kopi bali. I have a feeling life wasn’t all catnip and lazy mice for this one, though, judging by the not-so-impressed expression on its face.

2. Pups  West End, Negril, Jamaica
Pups (our clever nickname) was the dog of one of the caretakers from a villa property we stayed at on Negril’s dramatic cliffs. Pups immediately won us over with her friendly manner and infectious ‘smile’. She would wait for us by the gate when we came home from a day’s adventure, and then proceed to lounge in a patch of sunshine on the deck while we wound down. Other times she would play with my feet or sniff at Cam’s Red Stripe (that’s a beer, not a laceration). Although young, Pups was an excellent watchdog, knowing instinctively who should be on the property and who shouldn’t. She wasn’t a big fan of the water, though. Every time we decided to hang out at our private cove by the cliff’s edge, she would stand at a safe distance, barking at any wave that dared come too close to the rocks. A bit unusual for an animal who resided so close to the sea, but we accepted her for her loveable quirks nonetheless.

3. The Casa Iguana – Sayulita, Mexico
In Mexico, iguanas are about as common as tortillas, so it was no real surprise to encounter this enigmatic creature who suddenly appeared one late afternoon at our villa. We saw it only a couple of times, usually when we were floating in the pool or quietly reading in the shade. Out it would crawl from some nearby bush, and slowly and carefully inch its way across the warm rocks in its attempt to blend in with nature. It would then become a statue of sorts, soaking up the sun and occasionally eating the blue flowers growing nearby. (If you look closely you can see some petals in its mouth.) I could almost reach out and touch it. Almost. I kinda didn’t want to, though.

4. The Shrine-Wrecker – Seminyak, Bali
We were having a casual dinner at one of our favourite beach bars in Seminyak called Ku De Ta when this mischievous kitty jumped up on a shrine and began foraging for cookies and rice, knocking all of the prayer offerings asunder in its haste. Luckily I had my camera at the ready and managed to capture a genuine “Busted!” expression on its face (see featured photo at the top of this post). It didn’t seem to care much though, as it had obviously hit the late-lunch jackpot.

5. The Neighbourhood Happy Cat – Sayulita, Mexico
This was one of my favourite cat encounters while on holiday. This wide-eyed stunner just appeared at our door one evening and waltzed right into our villa (hard not to do when the climate demands doors be perpetually open). Fortunately it seemed to belong to someone, and so was free to roam around at will instead of having to look for food. Not in the least shy, this kitty would walk right up to you and wrap its little paws (sans claws) around your ankle, wanting to play, play, play. It visited us a few times around the same time every day, and I grew so attached that I missed it when we left.

6. The Whites – Mayfield Falls, Jamaica
Happily wagging away, this trio of strays greeted us outside the falls like old friends, snipping and playing with each other as if they didn’t have a care in the world. They kept a watchful eye as they followed us to the van though, sensing an opportunity for something more. Unfortunately all we had were limes, so they had to settle for a pet (or three).

7. The Cocky Cockatoo – Hamilton Island, Australia
I don’t know what it is with creatures and timing. Even this noisy little bird would appear on the railing of our posh beach club room at the same time every day, chirping and cackling. One time it actually flew into the room. Promptly unnerved by my surprised shrieking, it settled for a casual perch the railing for the rest of our stay, cackling away. Note the people watching from the infinity pool below.

8. Barfs – Sanur, Bali
“Barfs” is what we nicknamed a pathetic little dog that would roam Sanur Beach at twilight, making these heartbreaking gagging sounds, somewhere between a bark and a cough. It would never venture very close to us, mostly keeping to itself and sniffing under chairs for scraps left by beachgoers. We felt so sorry for it that we considered feeding it some of Cam’s boozy birthday cake, made for us by the kind hotel folks. As delish as this cake was the first time, every time we opened our bar fridge thereafter the strong smell of booze would make our stomachs turn (especially at 6 am). When we finally decided to give some to this poor little thing, he disappeared. Sorry, Barfs.

9. The Cutest (and Smartest) Pair of Hustlers – Negril, Jamaica
Anyone who’s traveled to a developing country has experienced the stray-animal-in-the-restaurant scenario, at least to some degree. It almost always involves canine or feline, usually pretty scruffy, with matted hair and an emaciated body. Patiently (or not so patiently), they wait for table scraps either dropped or given to them by hand. Or, you can get two real cuties like these who avoided common nuisance tactics. Instead, they let us know they were there with a couple of soft subtle mews, and then proceeded to watch us from across the patio. Although I admired them for it, it didn’t really matter in the end; they had me at first glance. What – I’d like to see you resist these adorable faces.

10. The Monkey on My Head – Bali
This memorable moment occurred on my first trip to Asia, when I was still a naive tourist (not like now – jaded and suspicious at every turn… just kidding). We were at a monkey forest up in the island’s highlands, getting a tour of the forest and its inhabitants. Of course, we’d been warned that monkeys like to pinch anything of value – wallet, keys, camera. However, no one told me they might end up jumping on your head. One minute we were in the middle of observing a mother cleaning her baby; the next an adult monkey had gotten a hold of my leg and started scrambling and clawing its way up my torso. I hardly had time to react before the crazy thing was holding on tight to my hair, grabbing for some nuts in the guide’s hand, which was of course right over my head. I realized it was all a plotted plan when the guide signalled Cam, who quickly snapped a pic. I’m sure glad we could all work as a team to make it happen.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Beach, Jamaica, Mexico, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elegy To Our Convertible Cat

Let me begin by apologizing for not writing anything for a while. Our cat passed away last week, and the loss has hit me pretty hard in soul, mind, and memory. Desi (short for Desdemona – from Shakespeare’s Othello) was a beautiful white, black, brown and grey tabby with quite the personality. Those closest to us know how special and treasured she was – and, how temperamental. I was her Mommy for 15 years.

Desi disliked a lot of things. Change, having her paws touched, most people (especially those under 4 feet tall), but she especially hated traveling. Mind you, I don’t think being picked up against their will, thrown into a cage and then being put into a large, noisy, fast-moving contraption is top of the fun list for most cats, but Desi especially hated it. From the moment I brought her home from the SPCA – during which she promptly messed herself and our newly-acquired cat carrier – to the annual check-up trips to the vet, she would be downright pissed with the entire production.

As soon as Desi heard the rattle of the cat carrier’s door, she knew something bad was about to happen. She would either (a) hide, not to be found for hours at a time, or (b) if found, struggle, hiss, growl and scratch all the way into the cage. It got to the point where we had to come up with elaborate plans involving treats and ultimate surprise measures to get her into the damn thing.

And then there was the super-fun ride to the clinic, where Des would let out a heartbreaking mixture of meowing and howling that was scarily close to a human being, say, burned, or even skinned alive. When that approach didn’t magically transport her home, she’d show us the I-hate-you-guys-for-putting-me-through-this back-end view of her obviously distressed state, ears flattened against her head. But then she would forgive us 20 minutes after the appointment, thanks to her pea-sized cat brain. The world would be all balloons and roses once again. Until the next time.

So, yeah… Desi wasn’t the greatest traveler. Take the time years ago when I moved from Vancouver’s North Shore back to Vancouver Island. It was a bit of a trek, complete with an hour-and-a-half ferry ride. Of course, she hated the driving, but being on a ship was a whole different story. She was in her carrier most of the way, but once on the ferry, I let her out to roam the inside of the car. I stayed with her on the car deck the whole way, where she promptly went to what she thought as the safest place in my Honda Civic: the tiny little space by my foot and the brake pedal. There she would tuck herself away, cubby-hole style, shaking with fear. All you could see was fur and fluff, ridiculously big ears and whiskers, and big moony cat eyes.

Months later, I would pack her into the back of Cam’s Mazda Precidia MX-3, its low back ceiling giving her a neat little hidden area to snuggle up in. Still she was displeased, and proceeded to yowl the 40 or so minutes to her new home.

Despite all of the foregoing, Desi actually seemed to enjoy one particular car ride. I was out of town when she became ill, so it was up to Cam to play doctor, administering antibiotics and Ringer’s Lactate via subcutaneous syringe injection. On the way to the vet early one beautiful, clear morning, Cam decided to take Desi to the vet in our BMW M Roadster. Desi had never ridden in this car. Cam took the top down, unrolled the windows, and strapped her carrier into the front seat (well, there isn’t a back seat). There she was, up and sniffing the fresh morning air through the door and looking out the slats on the side of the carrier. Distracted, Des temporarily forgot her pain and the fact that she was in a cage, going to a place she loathed and ultimately feared. I think she actually enjoyed being the convertible kitty that day.

Just this weekend, we brought her home, in a different form, but it’s still her. Once again, she rode in the convertible – this time free of restraints, cages and carriers. No more pain or fear, just peace and quiet, going home with the people who loved and cared for her all of her long, happy life.

So this is to you, Des, my beautiful baby, my pretty girl, my comforting, yet crazy split-personality kitty. I don’t know where you are or what you’re doing, but I hope you enjoyed your last ride on this earth. I will miss you.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Glamorous, Travel, Unglamorous | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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