Four Months on the Road

Woo hoo! I’ve now been on the road for four months. Can you believe it?!

Warning, the following story may not be appropriate for Grandma. Before leaving Bali, I went to Victoria’s Secret to purchase some new underwear. Side note: clothing wears out much faster when you wear the same thing every week for months on end. The pair of shorts I bought January 2017 in Chaing Mai hit the end of their road this past December. The pair of sandals I bought November 2016 met the trash can last month. One of my shirts is on the fritz but I’m still holding out hope for it. Maybe I should have packed different clothing than the previous six months’ worth of travel. After picking out some underwear, I ask a staff member if I can try them on (obviously over my current pair) as different styles have different sizing. She said yes and pointed me towards a door. When I opened the door, I noticed it was a storage room, not a fitting room. “Um…” Doesn’t look to be any cameras in here. I guess this’ll do. As I started undressing, the staff member came. “Don’t worry. No cameras. But I do stay in here,” she said. Alright then. This should be interesting. The next ten minutes were filled with her critiquing each pair I tried on. As is typical with Indonesians, she was bluntly honest. I don’t have a mirror so I guess this is the next best thing. I ended up buying three pairs… all of which were approved by her. What an experience that was!

Monday morning I packed up my bag and headed to the airport. I knew my plane already had an hour delay. Upon arrival at the airport, I found out my plane was delayed another hour and a half. At 1pm, I boarded my flight and was asleep before we even left the runway. I woke up about halfway through the flight to an announcement from our pilot saying our ETA into Kuala Lumpur was 4pm. Hm… I wonder what time my connecting flight departs. I grabbed my boarding pass and saw the departure time… 16:00. For those of you not familiar with military time… that means 4pm. Huh… well I hope my gate is close to whichever one we land at. After being that jerk of a passenger that I hate, you know the one, being the first to jump up into the aisle after the seatbelt sign comes off and pushing their way to the front, I was greeted by an airline member at the gate. “Bangkok?! Anybody going to Bankgkok?!” “Me! Where do I go?!” He points toward gate H8, five gates away from where I was, and said, “Hurry!!!” I ran to the gate, put my laptop and carry on through security (every country has different security measures), only to be told that the captain declined me as a passenger because they were already late. “But isn’t that my plane right there? The one that doesn’t even have the thing hooked up that pushes the plane it back.?” “Yes, that’s the plane but the captain still said no. We’ll put you on the 7am flight tomorrow morning.” Fail. Turns out there were three other backpackers in my same situation. After going through immigration and customs, they put us up in a hotel for the night and gave vouchers for dinner. All hotels should be like that one… there were no windows so when I turned out the lights, it was actually pitch black which is what I strive for. Back home, I have a black shower curtain over my window because regular black out curtains don’t get the room dark enough for me.  However, I’m basically trapped if there were to be a fire outside my room.

Around 7pm, I headed downstairs for dinner. When the staff member was trying to explain how much the voucher covered, he had a really thick accent and was attempting to say “thirty-five”. I responded with, “Ohhh! Tiga lima?” (Indonesian/Malaysian for thirty five). He had a deer in the headlights look on his face for a few seconds before recovering with “kamu mengerti bahasa?” (you understand the language?). Man, give me about 9 more months in Bali and I could totally be bilingual! I think I forgot to mention when I had a pedicure done in Ubud after ripping leeches off my feet, I said, “Terima kasih. Semoga harimu menyenangkan,” (thank you, have a good day) to the owner and he responded in English with, “How long have you been here?! Your dialect is really good!” All the credit goes to my beach boys!

Tuesday started with a 4:45am alarm to catch my 7 o’clock flight. By noon, I had made it to my hostel and settled in for an afternoon nap. That evening, I headed out to find some street food. Most of the carts were only in Thai and nothing looked appealing until I found one that said Chicken Noodle Soup on the top. Ooo… that sounds good! I asked for one for take away and checked out my surroundings. The little alleyway was pub street central, complete with a ladyboy lounge called Soi Cowboy. Yep, I’m back in Thailand. 

Back at my hostel, I grabbed a bowl and poured out the four different bags I was given. And this is what I saw…

Chicken Noodle Soup

I mean, they weren’t lying when they said Chicken Noodle Soup.

Yes, those are chicken feet complete with chicken liver. I immediately started gagging. No, no, no, no, no. That is so gross. Oh, I can’t eat that. Maybe if I pick the feet and liver off, the noodles will still taste good? I covered my hand with a plastic bag and grabbed the first foot. Oh, that’s even worse! Don’t throw up, Laura. You can do this. Only three more feet to go. Five minutes later, I was at the nearest convenience store buying some Lays Bacon and Cheese potato chips.

I checked out of my hostel Wednesday afternoon and headed over to my dogsitting apartment. The owners are both American; the wife is originally from Illinois and the husband is originally from Indiana. After getting the rundown of the apartment complex and Tasi’s schedule, I saw them off and sat down with my laptop.

I purchased a 120 hour online TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification course back in December. I took 120 hours quite literally and planned to spend my time in Bangkok, holed up in an apartment, studying 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, to have it knocked out in 3 weeks. Back to the mindset of working 40 hours a week! That first night I sat down to get started on it I was feeling excited. I’ll have some structure/schedule in my life again; this will let me travel for a longer period of time; T-minus 120 hours until I have a certificate in hand; got my notebook and three differently colored pens ready to go…. Three hours later I had already completed 2 out of the 10 modules. Either I’m flying through this information as most of it was familiar (back to Mrs. Olsen’s fourth grade English class of learning about propositions, subject/verb agreement, rules to forming a grammatically correct sentence, etc.) or some people are REALLY slow going through the modules.  If I keep on this track, I’ll be done with this certification by the weekend. If this is how all online classes are set up, I’ve been doing my schooling completely wrong all these years!

TESOL course

Let the studying begin!

Oh Thursday, I texted Carlin as we hadn’t talked since I left Bali which was odd considering we practically spent the last month together. He responded back with, “so funny story….” Turns out he was involved in a scooter accident that resulted in him getting 18 stitches in his head and a very swollen face. He was on the back of a friend’s scooter when they were T-boned and he flew off the scooter into parked scooters. Luckily there were locals around who put Carlin on the back of a street bike and another local got on behind to hold him on as he was super out of it. After leaving the hospital, Carlin decided to cut his trip short (he still had another 3 weeks) and booked the next flight back to Canada.

Unfortunately, I hear of scooter accidents all the time in South East Asia. Two days into my arrival in Bali one of the locals who I hung out with last year was involved in a head-on collision which resulted in him getting facial reconstruction surgery. After some thought, I’ve realized that foreigners driving scooters in South East Asia is equivalent to teenagers driving their first car in America. It’s new, it’s exciting, you want to impress your friends, you push the limits but you don’t really have the experience to properly handle the vehicle which then causes accidents. I bet 95% of American readers were involved in a car accident during their teenage years. So I say, Yes! Drive/ride scooters when you’re over here… just be smarter than your teenage self.

By Saturday, I had completed my TESOL certification course after a total of 14 hours working on it so I treated myself to laying out at the complex’s pool. So much for my plans for the next three weeks…

On Sunday, I said goodbye to Tasi and checked in to my apartment that I have rented for the next two weeks. I plan to get a head start on tutoring online to see if a) I like it and b) is a realistic way to bring in some money while on the road. I’m not out of money yet, but want to have a plan in place for when I reach that point later on. I have been hired by Cambly which is a platform for adults wanting to practice their conversational English skills online. I am anticipating it to be like having a blind date every hour… “Where are you from? What do you like to do for fun? Tell me about your family. What do you do for a job?”

Flynn and Tina arrive from the States this week! Flynn gets in on Wednesday while Tina gets in on Friday. They’ll be in Bangkok through the weekend before heading up north to Chiang Mai and down south to the Thai islands over the following nine days. I’ll hang out with them while they’re here, but I will remain in Bangkok while they travel around the rest of Thailand. Yay for more friends meeting up with me on this great adventure!

Tasi

My playmate for four days… Tasi!

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Bye Bali

Gili T 1

Enjoying the sunset on Gili T

On Monday, Carlin, Hannah, and I caught a fast boat over to the island of Gili Air. I knew ahead of time that Gili Air was much quieter compared to Gili T, but I didn’t realize how much quieter…. After lounging around the mushroom-shaped pool and walking halfway around the island’s coastline (you can walk the perimeter of the island in about 90 minutes), the three of us were in bed by 9pm and we weren’t even the first ones!

Gili Air 9

Hanging out on Gili Air. Pretty sure my legs are darker than the wood.

Gili Air - Sunset 2

Sunset on Gili Air

Tuesday I parted ways with Hannah and Carlin and caught an afternoon boat back to Bali to hang out with my beach boys. On Wednesday, Hannah and Carlin took a boat back to Bali. It was Hannah’s last night in town (she’s been traveling for 13 months) so Carlin, Tom (the UK dude who hated his life my first week in Bali… had an eye-opening moment of turning into a Yes Man, and now is up for just about anything), Anthony, and I had a wonderful going away party for her at Sky Garden.

Thursday was spent poolside at our hostel working on our tan. I am the darkest I’ve ever been and it’s amazing! I’m probably going to regret that statement when I get diagnosed with skin cancer in ten years. The hostel used to be a hotel so imagine a tropical hotel resort, just with 3 twin beds to a room instead of two queens. There were two pools on the grounds, one of which has a swim up bar. I’m actually surprised a hostel bought them out as it’s in a prime location (literally 50m from the nightlife street), the rooms were good sized, and there was a restaurant on site. Once the hostel finishes renovating all the rooms, it will be THE hostel to stay in when visiting Kuta, Bali. Mark my words.

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Carlin, Hannah, and I enjoying the pool at TZ Party Hostel. Who knew bean bag chairs could float in water.

On Friday, Tom headed down to the southern part of Bali, Anthony headed up to Canguu, Carlin stayed one more night in Kuta, and I headed over to Seminyak to begin my 24 hour tour to hike Ijen Crater. Ijen Crater has a sulfur mine at the bottom and when the sulfur gas is ignited, a blue fire emerges from the cracks at 1,112 degree Fahrenheit. This blue fire phenomenon is what Ijen Crater is known for. Because it’s a sulfur mine, you have to wear gas masks while hiking. After reading about both of these unique items, I knew I had to add Ijen Crater to my list of places to visit.

Ijen Crater Java 5

Hiking into the crater with my gas mask on.

Ijen Crater is located on the island of Java which is the closest island west of Bali. It was quite the journey to get there. I, along with two random couples, left Seminyak at 6pm. First we drove (we had a driver) three hours along Bali’s west coast, caught a 20 minute ferry from Bali to Java, then drove another two hours to the base camp.

Ijen Crater Java 11

Miner hard at work

At 1am, our tour guide met us and we began our hike with warm jackets, hats, gloves, and flashlights. By 5am, we had hiked up to the rim and down into the crater to witness the blue fire. Unfortunately, the smoke was thick that night so I didn’t get the best view of the it. We had an hour and a half to kill before sunrise so we just sat and watched the miners work which I felt a little uncomfortable about. I was literally sitting on the ground, watching guys work, while our tour guide explained the life of a miner and sulfur facts. I feel like I’m THAT tourist… you know, the one who gets a picture taken with drugged up tigers or rides on an elephant’s back.

  • Miners work from midnight – 9am as it’s too hot to work during the day
  • Miners carry 30 to 65 kilos (66 to 143 pounds; most of these Indonesians barely even weigh 130 pounds) of sulfur on their shoulders from the mine to the top of the rim (1km), then put the sulfur on a push cart and push it down to base camp (3km), drop off the sulfur to be processed, push the cart back up to the rim, and hike back down to the mine. Each miner does this process 4 times a day.
  • Miners are paid 1,000 IDR ($.07 USD) per kilo. So much work for so little money.

    DCIM100GOPRO

    Contraption used to carry the sulfur on one shoulder. You’re looking at 65 kilos here.

DCIM100GOPRO

This push cart can be used for pushing sulfur down to base camp… or for pushing non-fit tourists up to the rim. Dual purpose.

Once sunrise came, we were able to see parts of the crater lake when the smoke wasn’t in the way. I was able to try out lifting 65 kilos of sulfur on my shoulder and while I was able to do it, I couldn’t imagine carrying it up to the rim of the crater even once.

DCIM100GOPRO

That’s 30 kilos of sulfur in my hands. So much heavier than it looks!

Ijen Crater Java 2

The crater lake

DCIM100GOPRO

In front of the sulfur mine

Afterward hiking back to base camp, we had breakfast at a local’s house and began the journey back to Seminyak, Bali. We arrived at 5:30pm Saturday evening running on about two hours of sleep and reeking of sulfur. I hopped on my scooter, drove to Canguu, and met up with Anthony and Carlin for my last hoorah in Bali.

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Saturday night’s sunset in Canguu

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Carlin and I enjoying nightlife on Echo Beach

Sunday I said my goodbyes and headed back to Kuta to return my scooter and have my last supper with the beach boys before flying out Monday morning.

Kuta Bali - Sunset 5

Sunday’s sunset on Kuta Beach. Well done Mother Nature. You saved the best for last.

I felt like the first two weeks in Bali went pretty slow (which I wasn’t complaining about) and then the last two weeks just flew by. Bali was amazing yet again and while the Philippines were more beautiful, Bali still remains as my favorite place.

Gili T 5

Horse and cart on Gili T

Gili T 6

Impressive how much weight ladies carry on their heads in Indonesia. Plus balancing it with no hands!

Strep Throat Again

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Everything is so green here!

On Monday, Grayson, Anthony, and I left the wonderful tree house AirBNB and headed off in separate directions. Grayson headed to the airport to catch his flight to India. Anthony went south to Canggu. I headed to Kuta to get checked out for strep throat. There was only one doctor on Bali covered under my travel medical insurance and he just happened to be housed out of a hospital. I sat in a waiting room next to people involved in scooter accidents, broken bones, high grade fevers, and I’m over there like I just need you to run a test for strep throat.

I learned very quickly medicine and technology aren’t very sophisticated in Indonesia as it was going to take six days to process the strep throat test. Instead, the doctor just looked inside my mouth and confirmed what I had thought: positive for strep throat. While the doctor was explaining the course of care for the next few days, he told me to avoid spicy foods and fried foods. Uh… did you forget where we are? Everything is fried here. Rice, noodles, chicken, eggs, even bananas are fried!

After picking up fruit, soup, and bread from the grocery store, I barricaded myself in a hotel room for the next two days. With how contagious strep throat is, I didn’t want to spread it through a hostel. There is also nothing worse than being in a shared space when you’re not feeling well. Luckily, I managed to snag a nice hotel room for $20 USD per night as it’s rainy season here and tourism is majorly down due to the overhyped media coverage on Mt Agung (erupting volcano).

After nursing myself back to health, I headed north to Ubud Wednesday afternoon to meet up with Carlin as we had planned to hike Mt. Batur through the night. We booked a trekking company for the trip as it’s mandatory for the sunrise hike. When my alarm went off at 1:45am, I awoke to Carlin frantically texting me that his hostel had ankle deep water due to six straight of rain. We chose to cancel our hike as hiking a volcano in rain sounded miserable.

That afternoon (Thursday), I talked Carlin in to heading north 60km to check out Banyumala Waterfall. I asked him if he wanted to ride on the back of my scooter. He said, “No! It will be way more fun to drive my own scooter!” My little boy is growing up! When we arrived at Banyumala Waterfall, there was a local guide who led us through the wet forest (wouldn’t necessarily call it a rain forest but maybe it was) down to the waterfalls. I thought there were only two, but our guide said he would take us to numbers 3, 4, and 5 if we wanted. Sure!!!

That turned out to be a terrible decision. My sandals had broken the week before and I took the cheap route of buying plastic flip flops for $1. The flip flops had zero traction  and kept getting stuck in the ankle deep mud (the guide practically pushed and pulled me through the hills). I figured it would be better to just walk barefoot. However, I kept stepping on spiky things that pierced the bottom of my feet. Once when the guide turned around to check on Carlin and I, his eyes got big and then he rushed over to me, grabbed a leech off my foot and ripped it in half. After further inspection, I had three others on me which the mud had camouflaged. Maybe that’s why our guide is wearing a jacket and jeans tucked into knee high rubber boots. For the next twenty minutes, we walked about 10 steps forward, stopped to peel leeches off (they were tiny, but man those things had some suction), and repeat. We finally made it to the third and fourth waterfalls, but it was nowhere near worth my feet getting cut or my blood get drawn by leeches.

We only spent five minutes at the third and fourth waterfalls before calling it quits. On the way back to our starting point, the guide asked if we wanted to see waterfall #5. Carlin and I didn’t hesitate to say, “No!” in unison. The guide just chuckled. About fifteen into the hike, the guide admitted that he had lost the trail. Um… excuse me?! I know we’re just following footprints as there isn’t an actual trail, but shouldn’t you know your way around this forest?! We somehow made it back to our starting point after crossing streams and jumping over a ditch. While Carlin and I were washing our legs and feet off, our guide started talking to his friends. They all started laughing extensively and looking at us. Yep, they’re definitely talking about us. Probably something along the lines of “stupid foreigners, can’t even dress properly for this environment, who knows what kinds of diseases they’re going to get from those leeches.”

We made it back to Ubud before dark settled in and called it a night as Carlin and his friend, Hannah, were getting picked up at 7am to head to the Gili Islands. I went to a nearby spa for a pedicure as my feet were not in the greatest shape after the day’s events.

Friday was spent switching hostels (the first one didn’t have the greatest facilities), booking my land and boat transportation to the Gili Islands for Saturday, and hanging out with Anthony. He decided to check out Ubud for a day after spending four in Canggu. I had warned him it was a super quiet town. He didn’t realize the full extent of my warning until that night when we wanted to go out. The first few bars we googled closed at 10pm. We found one that was still open by 10:30pm so we drove to check it out. It wasn’t really our style so we walked around until we stumbled upon a reggae bar. The bar was totally Anthony’s jam (he’s originally from Jamaica) but similar to the others, it was closed by midnight.

Needless to say, Ubud wasn’t my kind of place. Everyone was all Zen’d out and trying to find themselves thanks to the blockbuster hit Eat, Pray, Love. While most people were at yoga finding their inner peace, I was hiking through a forest ripping leeches off my feet during the day. And by night when everyone else was sleeping so they could wake up at 5am for sunrise yoga, I was walking around town trying to find a bar open past midnight.

On Saturday, I left my scooter at the hostel (I have it rented for the rest of my time here) and was picked up at 7:30am to head to the Gili Islands. After an hour van transport and two hour fast boat ride, I arrived at Gili T and met up with Carlin and Hannah. The day was spent napping and hanging out at the hostel meeting new people. The unique thing about this island is there are no motorized vehicles here. There are horse and cart, man and cart, and bicycles. The other mode of transportation is your own two feet.

Today (Sunday) while Carlin, Hannah, and the others went snorkeling (no thank you!), I laid out by the pool and had a pretty chill day. I’m really not ready to leave Indonesia in eight days and am already planning my next trip back here in June, July, or August. If I love Bali in the rainy season (December – March), I can only imagine how much I’ll be obsessed with this place when it’s sunny and beautiful every single day.

North Bali - Banyumala Waterfall 2

Banyumala Waterfall with Carlin…. before encountering leeches

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If you look close enough, you can see the dog balancing on the back of a scooter. Talk about talent!

Nusa Islands

I started this week out by catching an 8am boat to the nearby island of Nusa Penida. In true form, I fell asleep on this public mode of transportation. When I was woken up by the captain telling me I needed to get off the boat, I thought for sure I had accidentally gotten on the boat to Nusa Lembongan as I felt I had only been asleep for twenty minutes (boat to Nusa Lembongan takes half an hour; boat to Nusa Penida takes an hour and a half). It was only when I got off the boat and opened up Google Maps that I realized I had arrived at my intended destination of Nusa Penida. I really need to stop falling asleep on in transis.  I’m totally going to miss my destination one of these days. 

After arriving at my hostel, I quickly realized how remote and untouched the island was. The government just allowed for overnight tourism to occur so wifi, lodging, and quality roads were lacking in supply. For example, my hostel had only been opened for two weeks and I only had two other hostel options to begin with. After taking another nap (I mean what else is there to do when it’s downpouring), I rented a scooter in hopes of checking out some places I’d had my eye on. A quick 30 minutes into the trip, I turned around due to awful road conditions. I knew the places were labeled “hard to get to” but I didn’t realize the full extent of it.

Nusa Lembongan Road

Man these roads can cause me some stress!

After turning around, I hopped on a road that skirted the northern and eastern coasts. I made it about a third of the way around the island before heading back to my hostel to avoid driving at night. I chatted with the owner about my failed attempt and asked her if she knew any locals who would drive me around the next day. I had a scooter rented, topped up with gas, and a strong desire to see the sites before tourism overtakes the island. After talking to her staff, one of them offered to drive me around even though it was his only day off that week. Satisfied with our plan for the next morning, I attempted to write my blog post Sunday night but wifi wasn’t strong enough to upload the post. Texts were barely even going through.

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Kelingking Beach

I woke up to my alarm on Monday morning and met Gede, my makeshift tour guide for the day. We took off toward our first stop: Kelingking Beach. And woah… it was so beautiful! I thought for sure the pictures I’d seen online had some editing done to them but nope… real natural breathtaking beauty still does exist if you go far enough off the beaten path. Kelingking Beach was my main driving point for going to the Nusa islands and it was my goal to hike down to the bottom. Thank God I had Gede with me because I for sure would have turned around if I was by myself. Parts of the trail had bamboo railings… but not all of them were secure into the ground. Parts of the trail had no safety points and one step in the wrong direction would literally plunge you to your death. There were a few parts where the ledges were too big of a gap for me so I reverse rock climbed for those areas. Not repelling… but digging my hands into the face of the trail and very slowly lowering myself down. After successfully arriving at the beach in one piece, Gede looked at me with disbelief and said, “You strong!”. Yes. Yes I am. I don’t think you knew what you were getting into by taking me for the day.     🙂  

Nusa Penida - Kelingking Beach Stock Photo

This is an image I found on Google that shows just how thin of a ridge I first had to hike on in order to access the beach

Nusa Penida - Kelingking Beach 2

Hiking the rim. One misstep and you’re a goner!

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This is a “good” part of the trail!

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Climbed down a bamboo ladder for the final descent

After enjoying the beach to ourselves for 45 minutes, we began our ascent back to our scooters. Gede had to stop a few times on the route to catch his breath, but I made it all the way without stopping! I was super pumped for that because it means my Nepal training is working! Now, I just have to keep up with the regimen.

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I don’t recommend hiking down to the beach on your own, but it was totally worth it to have the beach to myself!!!

Our next destination was Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach. Angel’s Billabong was a let down. Talk about over edited pictures online! The water in the billabong was dirty and mossy. Luckily, Broken Beach was only a 200m walk around a hill so we weren’t out anything. Broken Beach was just like I’d imagined it. I’ve had my eye on Broken Beach for a year now and was excited it panned out. Gede knew all the good picture taking spots so yay for having local’s secrets!

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Admiring the view of Broken Beach

Our final stop for the day was Crystal Bay. This one hadn’t been on my radar but the hostel owner, one other hostelmate, and Gede had all recommended it. Again, wasn’t anything too spectacular but I’m glad I went. Two for four isn’t too bad when the two were incredible. Some thoughts that crossed my mind while on the back of the scooter were:

  • these roads don’t look nearly as bad when someone else is driving
  • these roads would be great for 4-wheeling! However, with a scooter they are daunting because I lack stability (two wheels, instead of four) and traction (bald tires).
  • I think I could make it further in some of my explorations if I wasn’t alone because when the roads turn dicey, I’m constantly thinking how risky are these roads, when was the last time I saw a village, and if I were to lose control of my scooter, how long until someone found me? A few hours? A day? A couple days? Once all my answers reach a certain level, that’s when I turn around. Good thing I still have a conscious in me. 
Nusa Lembongan Boat

Boat to Nusa Lembongan

After getting back to my hostel, I grabbed my bags and caught a 10 minute boat over to Nusa Lembongan. And no, I didn’t sleep on that ride! After renting another scooter and checking in to my home stay, I again sat down to post my blog. As luck would have it, a storm knocked out the power on all three Nusa islands (Penida, Lembongan, and Ceningan) for eight hours. I, along with some of you, was beginning to think I would just have to combine last week’s blog with this week’s. Fortunately, Tuesday morning rolled around with full power and a strong wifi connection!

After the blog was up, I packed my drawstring for the day and headed out to explore Nusa Lembongan. I made it to Mushroom Beach (not much there, just a harbor), Dream Beach (ehh… I’ve seen better), and Devil’s Tears (holy cow!) I’ve never seen anything like Devil’s Tears. It’s kind of like a cave where the waves crash in and the force of it pushes the water back out into a mist. I took pictures and videos but it just didn’t do it justice. I easily spent two hours here, mesmerized by the waves crashing in and the mist barreling out.

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Devil’s Tear – Before

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Devil’s Tears – During

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Devil’s Tears – After

Wednesday morning was spent on Nusa Ceningan. I stopped off at Blue Lagoon (so cool, another shade of blue to the water), cliff jumped at Mahana Point (slightly intimidating as I had to time my jump just right with the lull in surfing waves to not only jump but also swim 50m against the current before the next round of waves came in), and driving the back roads of the island (took all of 30 minutes to drive them as the island is tiny). That afternoon I caught a boat back to Bali as three days in the Nusa islands was sufficient and a friend I had met in Kuala Lumpur had arrived in Bali.

Nusa Ceningan - Blue Lagoon 2

Nusa Ceningan – Blue Lagoon

Thursday was Anthony’s birthday (American who I met in Kuala Lumpur) so we spent the day on the beach and then rallied a group of seven from our hostel for his celebration out on the town.

On Friday, I met Grayson, a fellow Coloradian, in my hostel (originally from Alabama but has lived outside Colorado Springs for a few years). Anthony, Grayson, and I spent the day on the beach (seeing a trend here yet?!) where we found out Grayson’s friend was being deported back to Australia. His friend, Jay, is an American who has been living and working in Australia. During a recent trip to Japan, Jay lost his passport so he was issued a temporary one. Unfortunately, Bali doesn’t accept temporary passports so upon his arrival, he was denied entry and sent back to Australia that evening. What’s even more unfortunate is he and Grayson are supposed to be meeting Jay’s family in India for a family vacation on Monday. So after arriving back in Australia, Jay then had to board yet another flight to America to get a new passport, new Indian visa, and purchase a new flight to New Delhi. Grayson and Jay had already reserved and purchased an AirBNB through Monday morning so Anthony, Grayson, and I decided we’d take advantage of the empty AirBNB the next morning.

Friday evening I hung out with my beach boys and helped one of them improve his English so he can become a surf instructor. Again, I just love my time spent with these boys. I cannot rave about them enough.

Saturday morning, Grayon, Anthony, and I packed our bags, rented scooters, and drove 2 hours up the western coast of Bali to the AirBNB in Balian Beach. Balian Beach is a super tiny village that is known to be a surfer’s retreat among the locals. Pretty sure I saw a total of 10 foreigners during our two and a half days there. I was super excited to practice my Indonesian (the beach boys have been teaching me) with the locals. I was able to have a successful conversation with a 3 year old and 7 year old brothers covering the topics of names, ages, and where we were staying. I was then able to have a conversation with an adult covering the usual greeting topics (good afternoon, how are you, i’m good and yourself, etc.). Man, I would love to be bilingual in any language some day in the future.

The AirBNB was so great! It was a treehouse that overlooked the property’s pool with ocean views in the background. So green. So quiet. Just relaxing. We walked the beach that evening and were all snoozing away by 9pm.

I spent Sunday lounging around the pool and taking a delightful afternoon nap, while Grayson surfed (the waves were too advanced for my level of surfing), and Anthony split his time between the beach and the pool. My deep thoughts during the day included:

  • No way would I go to an AirBNB with a dude I met 18 hours prior and another dude I spent three hours with two weeks ago if I were in America. Talk about stranger danger! Yet, when you’re on the road, there’s an odd safety net when you meet other travelers. 
  • I am having the time of my life. Here I am, lounging on an inflatable rubber ducky, in Bali, with sunshine. Does it get any better than this? I have got to find a way to make this travel thing long term. 
  • I’m already just over three months in to my solo adventure travel and I’m so grateful I took the chance of a lifetime with Melissa and Travis over a year ago. I was able to take that experience as a trial run for how I’m currently traveling. It also jump started my goal for world travel. Without that, I still would be working and saving for another 9 months before getting my first taste of this awesome experience. 

    Balian Beach Bali - AirBNB 1

    View from our tree house AirBNB

 

Back in Bali!

I’m back in the land of scooters driving on the sidewalk, buying gas in Absolut Vodka bottles, beautiful sunsets, beach soccer, and organized chaos in the streets. And let me tell ya… it feels GOOD to be back!!!

This week was exactly how I envisioned it would be…. practically straight out of a Jersey Shore episode. I spent my days GTL (gym, tan, and laundry) and my nights either out on the town with my hostel gang or sitting on the ground passing a bottle around with my local friends.

Kuta Bali - Sky Garden 2

My hostel gang

My hostel gang consisted of Emma (32, Canadian, waiting in Bali until her Australian visa is approved), Carlin (21, Canadian, first backpacking experience), Tom (20, UK, first time in Bali and expected it be like the south of France… hint hint, it’s not), Ajay and Tolga (24 and 23, UK, 1 month into a 6 month South East Asian backpacking trip).  When I first met Carlin, he told me he decided on a whim to take 7 weeks off to backpack around Bali. He explained how he used his travel agent to book him first class seats, hostel life is not for him, gets his food from the mall, and will not get on the back of a scooter. I replied by looking at him with pity and asking if I could take him under my wing. By the end of the week, he was Mr. Social of the hostel, appreciated the authenticity of street food, preferred riding scooters over cars, and is already brainstorming ideas on how to make travel a full-time thing. Success!!!

Kuta Bali - Mee Goreng

Introduced Carlin to this delicious dish called mee goreng ayam (fried noodles with chicken). This is one of my favorite things to order off the street. And yes, it comes wrapped in brown paper.

The way of life for the group of locals I hang out with (they’re all part of the same family via brothers, cousins, and uncles) is truly remarkable.  Imagine a motel that just has a single story strip of four rooms, except the rooms are smaller than 10×10 and just four walls. No bathroom inside. Literally, just four walls with one small window and a door. That’s what these guys live in. They have one, maybe two, thin mattresses on the floor and have up to four people sharing one queen-sized bed. Their toilet is an outdoor squatty-potty and their shower is a bucket of water. They all work the beach so they either sell drinks or teach surfing lessons. Any person that comes in their vicinity of the beach they approach with “you want drink? Or I teach you surfing?!”. They’re shot down 9 and a half out of ten times. No way could I handle that amount of rejection. Whatever they sell (drinks or lessons)that day is their take home. They don’t have any built-in days off; if they decide not to work that day, then they don’t make money. After twelve hours on the beach, they come home and whoever made money that day buys the street food for dinner and bottle of drinks. They put a mat on the ground outside their rooms and the food and drink is shared family-style.  And yet, they are the happiest and most generous group of people I’ve met. When I hang out with them at their rooms, they don’t even hesitate to offer me a share of their food or drink. Which I can’t bring myself to accept knowing they have the equivalent of $20 max among the 15 of them. We sit and share stories for hours on end. This group of people is just so awesome to hang out with and I truly think is a big part of why Bali is my favorite place so far. Anyways, enough of that soapbox…

Kuta Bali - Beach Boys

My Bali boys minus a few

The only new thing I did this week was release a rehabilitated baby turtle into the ocean! Carlin had read about a Turtle Sanctuary on Kuta Beach so we decided to check it out on Thursday. When we arrived, there was a sign saying the baby turtles had just hatched and would be released that night. What are the chances?! We got a token and at 4:30pm arrived back to pick up a baby turtle along with 99 other people. We formed a line on the beach and watched the turtles walk out to the water and get swept into the ocean. I’m not much of an animal person (although I’ll love up on any animal if it means a free place to live), but it was actually a really cool thing to experience. It actually made me think of the turtle releasing scene in the movie Last Song with Liam Hemsworth and Miley Cyrus.

Wish there was more to update on, but not every week can be full of stories. I caught a boat to a different island on Sunday which was pretty remote so the wifi signal wasn’t strong enough to support a blog update… texts were barely even going through. On Monday, I headed to yet another island, but the thunderstorm knocked out the island’s power for 8 hours… hence the late blog post. But more on those adventures in the next blog!

Goodbye Malaysia

This was another pretty mellow week. I spent the weekdays at Rachel’s house enjoying the last bits of having a double bed with my own space. I was able to complete my research for what I want to do in Indonesia. Interesting fact: The width of the Indonesian islands is the same as the continental United States. Unfortunate fact: It’s not very easy to get from one end to the other. I really wanted to go to the island of Flores to see the natural habitat of the Komodo Dragons but ended up scratching that off the list as it’ll take four days to get to from Bali with buses and ferries.

I spent the weekend back at the hostel sharing stories with other travelers and narrowing down Adam’s highly anticipated second trip out here at the end of April.

Those are honestly the highlights of my week. Oh, wait, I was able to put my South Korea video together! I really wanted to cut it down to 5 minutes but I took so much footage in those two weeks I could only get it down to 8 minutes. Click here to enjoy!

I took a red eye to Bali Sunday night and was giddy with excitement as soon as my plane touched down on the tarmac. I’ve been anxiously waiting to come back to this beautiful island and it’s finally here!!! I’m excited to see my friends from last year and check out other parts of the island I didn’t get to before. I have a feeling my bank account is going to take a hit this month….

Things I learned in Malaysia

  • Driving lanes are just suggestions
  • Women are viewed as half a person, just barely above dogs
  • Indian food is delicious
  • Drivers of scooters wear their jackets backwards because they believe wind can penetrate zippers and wind going through their body will kill them
  • Red dots on Indians mean they are married; black dots mean they are not
  • Kuala Lumpur is a major melting pot with strong influences of Indian and Chinese
  • There are still good people in this world, i.e. whoever turned my laptop in
  • Indians eat food (including rice) with their hands. It’s like an art form to perfect. As the old saying goes, eat with your right hand, wipe with your left hand.
  • Cars don’t stop for pedestrians, no matter who has the right of way
  • Muslim men pray in the front part of the mosque so they aren’t distracted by women
  • All hotel rooms and even some AirBNBs have arrows on their ceilings or in the drawers to let Muslims know which direction to pray towards
  • Muslims cover up head to toe while Hindus cover up from the waist down
  • Like the Philippines, chicken is served with chopped up bones. Gag me.
  • Malaysians work extremely long hours for very little pay
  • Maids are imported from Indonesia or the Philippines and are treated like garbage. They put 6 or more of them in a regular sized bedroom and get searched after every house they clean. They typically get sent back to their country after six months.
  • Grocery stores are located in shopping malls

 

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I found this during my research and thought it was very fitting.

Langkawi – Barb Edition

Langkawi - Fave Hotel

Our hotel pool

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Barb and I said goodbye to Carlos and Julian and caught our quick 45 minute flight to the island of Langkawi. After checking in to our hotel, we headed straight to the pool to soak up the last few hours of sun. At one point, we both got in to swim but got out of the pool on different ends. While I was sitting on my chair waiting for my glasses to dry off, I faintly saw two people on either side of someone on the ground, offering their hands. When my glasses dried off, I noticed it was Barb they were offering their help to. I gave her a what happened shrug from across the pool. Apparently while she was getting out of the pool, her foot slipped and she biffed it yet had too much pride to accept the offers of help. She cautiously walked to where I was sitting to show off her Langkawi Owies – bloody and indented knee, scrapped legs and palms, sore shoulder, and bruised ego.

That night before heading off to bed, Barb made the comment about not waking her up with loud noises at the stroke of midnight. That thought honestly wasn’t even in my head until she put it there. So of course, I stayed awake and at exactly 12:00am, I grabbed a party favor and blew it loudly in her face. Barb was so startled I think she levitated over her bed for a few seconds. I should have recorded this! If only you guys could have witnessed the look on her face…. it was priceless.

Needless to say, Barb’s start to Langkawi provided me with uncontrollable giggles to the point of tears streaming down my face.

Monday was a very low-key day as we just laid around the pool improving our tans and resting up Barb’s legs for Tuesday’s adventure I had planned. “If you thought the 262 stairs at Batu Caves were bad, you may die tomorrow. But it’ll be worth it!” Again, Barb was a little reluctant for what I was going to put her through. That night I decided to show her what I had planned so she could mentally prepare… walking up 638 stairs to the top of a waterfall so we could slide on rocks into seven natural wells.

Langkawi - Smiling Buffalo mango pancakes

Mango pancakes. Sooo good!

We woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Tuesday morning and started our day by renting scooters and eating a most delicious breakfast – mango pancakes. Holy yum! Regular pancakes topped with fresh mango, coconut milk, and something sugary/cinnamon-y. After getting fueled up for our day, we headed northwest to Seven Wells Waterfall. 6km from our destination, I noticed a police roadblock which only meant one thing… police extortion. I had my International Driving Permit but Barb didn’t so we quickly turned around, left Barb’s scooter outside of a nearby hotel, and she hopped on the back of mine. The police motioned at me to drive around the line of cars. When I got to the front, they just waved me through without checking anything. Did they mistake me for a local because of how tan I am?! Or were they only seeking out cars today? Either way, I’m not complaining!

Langkawi - Seven Wells Waterfall (1)

Oh you know… workers just raking the roof of this building at the entrance of Seven Wells Waterfall

After arriving at the entrance to Seven Wells Waterfall, Barb and I made a plan. We would both go at our own pace. I would get started with the fun and if Barb made it, she’d join in; if she didn’t, I would meet her at the base of the waterfall in 3 hours. To give her hope and motivation, I left a pile of leaves and sticks at every 100th step. I feel like Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs in the forest. 

Langkawi - Seven Wells Waterfall (5)

The halfway point!

Much to my delight, Barb made it to the top 20 minutes after me. As promised, it was totally worth it!!! We spent the next hour sliding down the rocks and into the natural wells of water. We sat in one well that was at the edge of the waterfall and had the beach and sea view in the distance. We then headed down to the base of the waterfall to enjoy the view from below. As I was getting into the water, I head a THUD. I spun around to find Barb sitting in the water. “Did you fall?!” I asked. Yes, yes she did. Add that to her list of Langkawi Owies. Apparently I shouldn’t leave her side near water.

DCIM100GOPRO

The only thing stopping us from going down the edge of this 90 meter waterfall are these cable cords… which is supposed to be reinforced by the fallen over steel pole. Safety goes out the window in Asia.

Langkawi - Seven Wells Waterfall (3)

View of Seven Wells Waterfall from the bottom

Next on our list of destinations was Black Sand Beach. Scientists are unable to figure out why the sand in this 100 meter area is black as the sand in the water is brown and the sand near the road is brown. Typically black sand is caused by volcanoes but no volcanoes exist on the island or nearby. The locals believe the sand is black due to an old curse “by a mermaid because a fisherman stole her ring.”

Langkawi - Black Sand Beach (4)

The mysterious Black Sand Beach

We ended the day by lounging at the secluded Tanjung Rhu Beach on the north side of the island. While the water wasn’t as clear, the views reminded me of El Nido, Philippines with little tree-filled islands popping up in the distance. Langkawi - Scooters

As with any week in a tropical climate, we had one day of rainy weather which happened to be Wednesday. After remaining optimistic for much of the morning, we accepted fate by lunchtime and headed to the main road to browse the little shops. We ended up at a beach bar indulging in happy hour drinks.

Langkawi - Kalut Beach Bar 1

I’m sure I could have fit a fourth drink in my hands.

Thursday and Friday were again spent by the pool working on our tans. We caught an evening flight back to Kuala Lumpur on Friday and stayed at a nearby AirBNB.  After sending Barb off to her 9am flight on Saturday, I spent the day lounging by the pool (when did I become one of those girls?!) before taking a train to my hostel.

My original plan was to stay one night at the hostel before catching an 8:30am bus Sunday morning to Taman Negara, Malaysia’s national park, where I would spend the next three days hiking. As I checked in to the KL hostel, I told the manager my plan and she notified me she had heard the national park was closed. I researched online, but couldn’t find any information. When I asked the hostel that I had reserved in the national park, they told me that most hikes were closed but there were still some trails open.

For the next several hours, I  had an overwhelmingly bad feeling… like a gut instinct telling me not to go to the park. The more I talked myself into ignoring the feeling, the more stressed I became. You’ll be able to complete a few day hikes to prepare for Annapurna. You’ll be overlooking a river in the hostel and the view is supposed to be amazing. You’ll get to experience hiking in a rainforest. I was so stressed out that I started to get a runny nose and break out into hives. Finally at 3am when I couldn’t sleep, I made the executive decision not to go and immediately my runny nose was cleared up. My hives took about 12 hours to go away. It was a very bizarre 24 hours. Who knows what would have lied ahead for me in that forest, but God or my guardian angel, Sara, must have been looking out for me.

I spent most of the day researching my next moves. I have booked another night at the hostel and will head to Rachel’s on Monday to stay with her and the dogs for a few days. Can’t turn down an opportunity for free lodging and this time without any dog responsibilities! I’ll hang out in Kuala Lumpur or surrounding area for the next week and then hop on a flight to Bali! I plan to spend one week on Bali and then bounce around the other Indonesian islands for the remainder of my 30 day Visa.

Langkawi - Floatie

So much easier to wear a floatie back from the store than carry it.

Langkawi - Smiling Buffalo

Smiling Buffalo – home to mango pancakes

Langkawi - Coconut Ice Cream

Enjoying coconut ice cream in a coconut after successfully completing more than 1,300 total stairs at Seven Wells Waterall.

 

Barb’s First Southeast Asian Adventure

Barb has arrived! Since we didn’t get back to my dogsitting house until 2am from the airport Sunday night, we took things pretty easy on Monday. We started out with a Christmas meal at a nearby hotel restaurant. The food selection was a good mix of traditional (turkey, cranberry sauce, rolls, Waldorf salad) and international (naan bread, sushi, nasi goreng, etc.) cuisine.

Kuala Lumpur - Christmas buffet

Merry Christmas from the Asian Santa Clause! His beard though…

That evening we ventured into downtown Kuala Lumpur and watched the KLCC Park Lake Symphony Fountains. It’s similar to the Bellagio’s fountain show but with way better colors and fountain features. While on the train ride to KLCC Park, an Indian man sat down next to us. After a lull in Barb’s and my conversation, he leaned over to me and asked where he could find a beer. I explained alcohol is pretty taboo in Kuala Lumpur but gave him some suggestions on bars. He preceded to tell me he had spent quite a few years in Los Angeles and one in Houston. Then he nodded over at two Muslim women and said, “That’s why I like the States so much. Girls don’t cover up there!” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. He was quite the character.

Kuala Lumpur - KLCC Park Symphony Fountains

KLCC Park Lake Symphony Fountains

We hit the ground running on Tuesday with a jam packed schedule. We visited the following:

  • Thean Hou Temple – Chinese temple paying homage to the Sea Goddess
  • Muzium Istana Negara – Royal museum showcasing a traditional royal Malaysian house
  • Sri Mahamariamman Temple – Hindu temple
  • KL City Gallery
  • Upside Down House – place to take mind-bending pictures
  • KL Forest Eco-Park – natural rainforest situated in the heart of Kuala Lumpur
    Kuala Lumpur - Thean Hou Temple 5

    Thean Hou Temple

    Kuala Lumpur - Sri Mahamariamman Temple 1

    Sri Mahamariamman Temple

    Kuala Lumpur - Upside Down House 5

    KL Upside Down House

    Kuala Lumpur - Upside Down House 6

    Kuala Lumpur - City Gallery

    KL City Gallery

After Barb turned in early for the night, I headed to my gym. Up until now, I had been going to the gym around lunchtime and it was pretty empty. When I arrived at 9pm (gym is open until 11:30pm), a completely different scene emerged. I felt like I was at a club with bouncers. The lights were neon instead of white; electronic dance music was blaring from the speakers; Asian bodybuilders were coming out of the woodwork.

On Wednesday we headed out to Batu Caves which is a massive limestone hill that is home to several Hindu temples within multiple caves. I thought Barb was going to kill me when she saw how many stairs we had to climb to access the most famous one, Cathedral Cave. For the record, there were 262 stairs up to Cathedral Cave and then another 40 within. I was pretty proud of myself for making it all 262 stairs without stopping. Annapurna Circuit, here I come! Barb, on the other hand, rallied 17 stairs, took a break, 17 stairs, took a break, etc. But she did make it, even through complaining and despising me.

Kuala Lumpur - Batu Caves 4

You’re looking at the first 262 steps of Batu Caves

At the top, there were signs asking visitors to carry a bucket of sand further into Cathedral Cave as it would be used to repair one of the Hindu temples. I gladly offered my services while Barb looked like she was going to pass out. After spending about half an hour inside the cave, we successfully made it back down the stairs and headed off to the area of town I had stayed in before.

Kuala Lumpur - Mango Sticky Rice

So happy to come across Mango Sticky Rice!!!

I was originally going to sign us up for a food tour that evening but I had already tried most of the food offered. So instead, I took Barb on a food tour hosted by your’s truly. We went to Jalan Alor street food market as I had eaten there when I was staying at my hostel earlier this month. I had Barb try Thailand apples (a cross between a pear and an apple), fried pineapple, rambutan (Malaysian fruit that looks like a hairy strawberry), some deep-fried and greasy dough thing (tasted like a funnel cake, looked like a churro), banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), cendol (Malaysian dessert consisting of sticky rice, shaved ice, palm sugar syrup, rice flour jelly, coconut milk and kidney beans), mango sticky rice (my absolute favorite dessert in Thailand), dim sum (Chinese dumpling), naan (Indian flatbread), and roti canai (Malaysian flatbread). We were able to eat all of this for a total of $14 while the food tour I had originally looked at was going to cost $62 per person. Yay for savings and doing things on our own!

I was super excited to stumble upon mango sticky rice as it tasted exactly like what I had in Chiang Mai, Thailand one year ago. The only thing I couldn’t get Barb to try was durian… and I don’t blame her. Durian is a fruit that smells and tastes like expired meat and dirty socks. Its smell is so potent it is banned in most public places. You’ll see the typical signs for no smoking, no pets, no eating/drinking, and right along side that will be the sign for “No Durians”. I had my first and only durian encounter in Thailand when I mistook durian for pre-sliced pineapple.

We ended the night grabbing drinks at Heli Lounge- heli-pad during the day, rooftop bar by night. While waiting for the elevator, I explained to Barb where we were going. She asked, “What are the safety features to keep people from falling off?” I replied, “Well, there’s the equivalent of police tape around the edges.” Welcome to Asia, the land where safety goes out the window. 

Thursday… now Thursday was a fantastic day! I started it out with watching Iowa win their bowl game over Boston College. I had Adam Skype me on his iPad which was placed in front of his TV. So while he was in his kitchen making and eating supper, I was laying in bed watching his TV through my phone screen. Technology is a beautiful thing.

Afterwards, I told Barb the big thing I had been planning all along which also happened to be her Christmas present from us kids…. Bungee Jumping!!!

L: “So… what do you think?!?!”

B: “Well…..” {long pause} … “what safety precautions do they take?”

L: “Uh… you have two cords on you and you jump over water?”

B: “How about I watch you first and then decide?”

During the drive there, I laid in with the peer pressure. “Don’t you want to be a cool grandma?!” “This is your Christmas present. If you don’t jump, you won’t get anything for Christmas.” “2017 is about over, you’ll ruin our once a year big adventure together trend.” “It’ll be such a cool story to tell! You went to Malaysia over your Christmas break and bungee jumped.” “You’ve said before you want to bungee jump at some point in your life. Now’s the perfect time.” “It’s going to be so much fun!!!”

Needless to say, by the time we arrived to the ticket counter, Barb had bought in to the idea. I later found out she had a mental conversation with herself, saying if the cords were to break, at least she’d just fall into water and not smack into the ground and break into 48 pieces. Whatever works!

Watch the video here. P.S. Barb meant to say she broke the record at that location, not in the world. And don’t mind us being total “woo girls”. We were on an adrenaline high.

In case you can’t tell by the video, bungee jumping was awesome!!!! I would totally do it again and now have my sights set on the 134m one in New Zealand. When I asked Barb if she would join me for the NZ one, she replied, “probably” with a big grin on her face. Have you ever met a cooler over 60-year-old? Some day when we’ve thrown her into a nursing home and she reflects back on her life, she’ll thank me for expanding her comfort zone. 

We finished the day off with dinner at Naughty Nuri’s. I first had Naughty Nuri’s in Ubud, Bali as Melissa and Travis had seen it on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Naughty Nuri’s is known for their BBQ ribs. It was absolutely delicious in Bali so I was super excited when I saw a location in Kuala Lumpur. To my delight, the KL location was just as good and I was thrilled for Barb to experience it as well. The meat just falls off the bone and their BBQ is sweet like brown sugar and spicy like jalapeños.

After running some errands Friday morning, I took Barb to a fish spa. In case you’re unfamiliar, a fish spa is where you stick your feet into a tank of water and fish eat the dead skin from your legs and feet. While fish spas are illegal in the US due to hygiene and sanitation issues, they are prevalent in Asia and definitely a unique experience. Again, safety features are nonexistent here. Before even sticking our feet in the water, the fish swarmed over to us and began puckering out of the water. At first, it was super ticklish but after about 5 minutes it was rather relaxing. There were so many fish eating our dead skin at a time that it looked like we were wearing booties in the water. After we were done, our skin felt smooth and I still haven’t noticed any dead skin remaining. It was definitely a unique experience and one I would do again!

Kuala Lumpur - Cute Fish Spa 1

The fish clearly enjoying Barb’s legs and feet

Our final agenda item for Friday was checking out the Perdana Botanical Gardens. It was hot and humid at the time so we didn’t stay too long. Before leaving, we checked out their Palm Tree collection which was sweet. I had no idea there were so many varieties of palm trees! Apparently, there are over 2,600 kinds and we saw about 15. My favorite was the Ravenala.

Kuala Lumpur - National Mosque 1

Covered up at the National Mosque

Saturday was a pretty chill day. I slept in until noon which was glorious as I had only been getting about 4 hours of sleep with taking the dogs for their 5:30am walks and wanting to make the most out of Barb’s time. That afternoon we headed to the National Mosque which can hold 15,000 worshipers at one time. No, that is not a typo. Fifteen thousand people at once! I find other religions and cultures interesting so after getting outfitted in robes I asked one of the volunteers some questions such as when do Muslim girls start to cover up/wear hijabs (answer: once boys start to notice them) and why do some women wear niqab (completed covered except for their eyes) and others wear hijab (answer: it’s more of a cultural difference and what is acceptable in their country’s society). When I asked her why men prayed in the front of the mosque and women prayed in the back, she replied, “Because men wouldn’t be able to concentrate if they were behind the women” and winked.

Kuala Lumpur - Meeples European Boardgame Cafe

Inside Meeples Board game Cafe

On our way back home, we stopped by Meeples European Board Game Cafe. It. Was. Awesome! And I’m calling dibs on opening one up in the US. It’s a cafe (serving snacks and drinks) where you can play boardgames. They easily had 100+ boardgames to choose from. There were some variations from US games, i.e. Operation was known as Doctor Panic, Risk was known as Power, but most were games we hadn’t heard of before. We settled on Word on the Street (strategic word game) and Patchwork (numbers and puzzle game). We paid $4.43 for 2 hours of playing and could have extended to unlimited hours for $1.48 more. The Board Game Cafe serves two purposes. 1 – you can try out new games before you buy them. 2 – it’s located near a university so college kids can still enjoy board games without bringing theirs from home to campus.

If you know anything about my family, you know how excited Barb and I were to stumble upon this!

This week Barb and I will head up north to the Malaysian island of Langkawi to ring in the New Year and to enjoy five days of fun in the sun.

Kuala Lumpur - Train

Ladies only train car on the light rail

One word: Disgusting.

This week started out in a way I can only describe as disgusting. Shortly before 5am, I was woken up to the sound of the dogs barking and going psycho. When I came downstairs, I was greeted with the sight of this….Rat

The dogs were so proud of their kill while I thought I was going to vomit. It. Was. Awful. I didn’t want to deal with it so I took the dogs on their morning walk in hopes the rat would be gone when we returned….. it wasn’t. I called my brother, Adam, and asked him to fly to Malaysia to take care of it for me. Instead he gave me two options: have the dogs drag the rat outside or use a dustpan and dispose of it in the garbage. After envisioning the dogs shredding the rat and blood dripping on the floor, I begrudgingly opted for the dustpan method. Why can’t I just have a normal dogsit for once?

The other disgusting thing that morning occurred during our walk. Because we were up earlier than normal, I ended up walking past the garbage truck making the rounds through the neighborhood. Not only were the garbage men picking up trash with their bare hands, but they were sorting through it with their bare hands. One guy grabbed the bag out of the trash can and threw it into the back of the truck. The other guy ripped open said bag and dug around until he pulled out all the recyclables…. all with their bare hands. It’s truly a miracle I didn’t vomit that morning.

I went to the gym a few times this week to start getting my body in shape for the Annapurna Circuit. I’m not entirely sure how often I’ll have access to hiking or a gym for the next 12 weeks so I figured I should start now while there is a gym close that offers a drop-in fee of $2. When I looked around at the other gym-goers, I noticed something peculiar… The locals were working out in either flip flops or their bare feet. Even while running on the treadmill! I haven’t figured out the reason behind this – do they not own tennis shoes? Is this how they handle the “No Dirty Shoes Allowed” policy? Are they embracing the “feet weren’t designed for shoes” theory? Who knows.

I was able to Skype in for both family Christmases at Barb’s house and at Dad and my stepmom, Gail’s house this week. They just propped me up on either a couch or lamp base and I was able to participate in conversations when I wanted to or when someone sat down in front of the phone. I was even able to join in on a family game of Over Under. It’s like I was there in person! Technology is such a great thing. However, I’m pretty sure my younger niece and nephews think I just live in the phone as that’s the only way they’ve seen me for the last year.

Barb lands tonight which I’m super excited about. I haven’t really explored Kuala Lumpur as everything I wanted to see, Barb does too so I didn’t see a point in going twice. Now that she’s here, it’s time to have some fun! Although, Barb and I have different definitions of fun. While we agree on the general concept, I go on the more extreme/adventuresome side. For example, we both enjoy skiing/snowboarding. Barb sticks to greens, blues, and one black while I prefer blues, blacks, and the terrain park. We both like water. Barb prefers to walk into water whereas I prefer to jump off cliffs into water.

The week after Thanksgiving when I was sick and barely left the house/hostel, I spent most of my awake time researching things to do during my time off from dogsitting as well as during the two weeks Barb is going to be here. One evening, I texted Barb and said, “Are you up for ANYTHING on this trip?!” She replied with a very hesitant answer and for good reason… I took her skydiving with me in 2014, accidentally took her down a double black diamond at Beaver Creek in 2015, and took her on a 14er (Colorado mountain whose summit is over 14,000 feet) in 2016. Clearly, I enjoy pushing her outside of her comfort zone. I told her it’s amazing how deep you can get into researching when you have time on your side. Her response? “I know. That’s what I’m afraid of.”

With her arrival looming ahead, she told me numerous time week, “I know my limits, Laura!” We shall see about that…

Penang

Penang - Tipsy Tiger Hostel

Three tiers of beds

On Monday, I headed north to the island of Penang on another sleeper bus. After getting checked in to my hostel, I was surprised to find the bunk beds were 3 tiers high especially with it being labeled a party hostel. I wonder how many people have fallen off trying to climb to the top bunk after a night out. Especially when you get two free double cocktails to start off each night plus their offer of unlimited drinks for only $10. In the midst of chatting with my new bunk mates, I found out the answer: Just the night before, a guy fell off the top bunk which is about 10 feet high. The bags on the floor broke his fall, but they still sent him to the hospital.

 

I ventured out for some food as Penang, especially the town of Georgetown, is known for their street food. I found a stall serving Wan Tan Mee (noodles and broth dish) that had about 15 people in line which is a good sign. When I got to the front of the line, I ordered one medium dish. The cook gave me a shoo-fly motion of her hand. That’s weird. I didn’t see a fly in my presence. She then preceded to serve customers behind me. None of them were speaking English so I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t being served. I decided to keep walking and found another place serving Wan Tan Mee. This time, I sat down at a table and waited for a server. Again, nobody approached me, yet I saw the cook delivering food out to the other tables of people. Am I doing something wrong?! After about 10 minutes, I gave up on the idea of eating food for the night.

Penang - Chendol

Chendol – cocunut milk, jelly noodles, palm sugar, shaved ice, and sticky rice

On Tuesday before venturing out to see Georgetown’s renowned street art, I told one of the hostel workers my food story from the previous night and asked them what I was doing wrong. Turns out the proper way to order food here is to secure a spot at a table, then stand in line to order food, and tell the cook where you are sitting. So the first food stall cook was probably trying to motion to me to find a table and the second place assumed I had already ordered food since I was sitting at a table. I took this newfound knowledge and was finally able to eat Wan Tan Mee and finished with the dessert called Chendol, two of Penang’s signature dishes.

 

I checked out of my hostel on Wednesday and headed to the northeastern side of the island with two girls I had met at my hostel the night before. McKenzie was from Chicago and Vemeisha was from Kuala Lumpur. They had met at University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire two years ago and the American was showing the Malaysian the joys of backpacking.

We rented scooters and headed off to Penang National Park with the hopes of hiking to Monkey Beach. When we arrived at the entrance, we were told Monkey Beach could only be accessed via boat due to the destruction of the October landslide. It was a flat 80MYR fee ($19.57 USD) for the boat which could hold up to 10 people. We started asking others in the area if they wanted to join our boat so we could all pay a cheaper price. We ended up gathering five other people; two were from Germany traveling together and the other four were all solo travelers hailing from Ireland, USA, and Malaysia.

The eight of us completed the one hour hike to Turtle Beach and it was great having two Malaysians with me as they could read the signs so I didn’t get lost! Turtle Beach, known for rehabbing turtles and releasing them back into the wild, wasn’t very impressive. An hour later our boat picked us up and took us to Monkey Beach. Monkey Beach is known for having wild monkeys all over the beach. We only saw one in our two hours there which again, wasn’t very impressive. However, I did have a blast playing sand volleyball and sand soccer tennis with a local. Afterwards, I sent the American and Malaysian on their merry way back to Georgetown and I checked into my AirBNB for the night.

Penang - Turtle Beach

Turtle Beach

Kuala Lumpur - Bathroom

Can you find the shower in my dogsitting house?!

My initial impression of the AirBNB was, “Holy cow. This is so nice!” I had rented a room in a condo occupied by a Japanese couple. The living room looked out over the ocean. The bed was queen-sized and so comfortable. The shower had a rainfall waterfall head, great water pressure, hot water, and was separate from the toilet. Side note: my shower in the dogsitting house is just to the left of the toilet but counter is in the way with the weak water pressure so I have about a one foot area to shower in without detaching the nozzle. The hostel shower was located directly over the toilet so I had to straddle the toilet to shower as the water pressure wasn’t quiet there either. Needless to say, I was relishing in the space and amenities of this homestay/AirBNB.

Penang - AirBNB (3)

View from my AirBNB balacony

In the morning while the wife was cooking me breakfast, the husband was showed me music videos of his daughter’s band. While the words were in Japanese, the tunes were pretty catchy. The band is well-known in Japan and China and they just completed a 25-city tour. The husband then told me he’s going to put on his favorite song. I thought he meant his favorite song from his daughter’s band…. Nope. On comes Mambo #5 by Lou Bega. What a way to start my morning!

Mariko, the wife, cooked me a delicious breakfast. It consisted of potatoes, dumplings in a light gravy sauce, lettuce salad with Italian herbs, and miso soup. Just when I thought I couldn’t eat anymore, Mariko brought out dessert: chocolate cake layered with vanilla yogurt and fruit. It was so good that I extended my stay for another day. It’s not very often you come across 5 star quality at $19/night.

Penang - AirBNB (1)

Breakfast

Penang - AirBNB (2)

That afternoon I laid out at the pool, took a nap, and met up with Kuzac and his brother, Kuzain, for dinner. Kuzac was one of my interns during my employment with Kick It 3v3 Soccer. Kuzain just signed a contract to play professional soccer in the USL, the second tier of MLS at only 19 years old! Their parents are from Malaysia so the brothers took a trip here to get Kuzain sponsorship deals as he’s the first Malaysian-American to play in the MLS.

Penang - Uber

First time I’ve seen Uber offer specific language speaking drivers

Friday morning I checked out of the wonderful AirBNB and met up again with Kuzac and Kuzain. Our plan for the day was to see the hidden gem called Frog Hill. I tried to talk the boys into renting scooters to access Frog Hill as it was rather remote, but they were too terrified of driving in Penang’s traffic. Instead, we took an Uber to the entrance of Frog Hill which was an hour away from the boys’ hotel. I suggested we should pay the Uber driver to wait for us because I wasn’t confident there would be any drivers when we were done. “Oh, we’ll be fine. We’ll figure it when we’re done,” was their reply.

After walking for thirty minutes, we came upon Frog Hill and it was so pretty! Frog Hill is an abandoned mine area that has created numerous pools of turquoise and aqua-colored water. Very, very cool to see. After spending about an hour in awe of the views, we began our journey back. When we arrived at the main road, there weren’t any drivers available on Uber or Grab (Asia’s version of Uber). I wasn’t surprised one bit as it would be like expecting there to be an Uber in Mineola for my Southwest Iowa readers. We walked 1km to the nearest gas station in hopes of finding a taxi or a bus. When we arrived, the gas station attendant said taxis didn’t come to this village of Tasek Gelugor but there was a bus coming in an hour. However, she didn’t know where the bus went after it stopped in their village. That doesn’t help much. “Bet you wish we would have rented scooters, huh?” I said to the boys. They gave an annoyed look in response.

Penang - Frog Hill (4)

Frog Hill

While waiting for the bus, we came up with a better idea…. hitchhiking. Friday Prayer was just getting over at the mosque so we were banking on two ideas. 1 – maybe someone would be heading into town that we could hitch a ride with. 2 – maybe someone would be feeling generous after spending two hours in their Friday Prayer service. We began asking around for a ride but most people only had a scooter. After feeling defeated, we sat back down at the bus stop. About five minutes later, a man approached us and asked if we were waiting for someone. The boys explained our situation and he offered us a ride. Wahoo!!!!! During the 30 minute ride into the nearest large town, he only spoke to Kuzain. I didn’t think much of it as Muslim men are only supposed to talk to females if it’s a necessity. Since I had two males with me, there was no need to interact with me. I was essentially non-existent. We found out he lived by Frog Hill and was just giving us a ride into town because he wanted to. I knew someone would be feeling generous! After dropping us off, Kuzac said, “I think he recognized you Kuzain! That’s why he offered us a ride and only talked to you.” I should mention Kuzain is a pretty big deal here; they call him the Malaysian Messi. Whatever the reason was, I’m glad the man brought us to town and I survived my first hitchhiking experience! It was touch and go for half of the ride as once we hit the highway, the driver floored it. He got the car up to 140km/hour which is just shy of 90mph and was whipping in and out and traffic like he was playing Grand Theft Auto. It was slightly terrifying and the boys and I exchanged numerous looks of “What the heck did we just get ourselves into?!”

Kuala Lumpur - Julian LeStrange

Julian LeStrange

That night I caught a bus back to Kuala Lumpur and slept for most of Saturday. Sunday was spent running errands, working out (day 1 of getting in hiking shape for the Anapurna Circuit!), and with the dogs. The girlfriends/guard dogs are back so they must have went out on an adventure for the last two weeks. They joined our morning walks and kept the other street dogs at bay.

This week I plan to research and decide where I should go next. After Barb leaves, I will have two months and 3 days before I meet up with Flynn in Cambodia. I’ve narrowed it down to four countries, but realistically need to cut it down to two, one per month.

Penang - Batu Ferringhi Beach

Sunset on Batu Ferringhi Beach