Just to Wrap Up

A quick update on me: I am still home!

Kidding.  I returned home still in a phase of sleepiness.  I tested negative for mono, but I’m 99% sure that that’s what I had, it was just perhaps not the best to wait 3 weeks before getting tested.  The doctor could only conclude that my body was clearly fighting off something.  Then, of course, because my immunities were so low I got a pretty nasty chest cold this past week and thus am still spend a large part of the day stationary.  I had one week of full energy and it was great!  I’m just waiting to get back there!

In the meantime, I am organizing photos of the trip, brainstorming articles to write and finding housing in New York!  As they say, everything happens for a reason, and I am so grateful I came home early.  I would have been freaking out otherwise- there is so much for me to do!  Unpacking and repacking, finding an apartment, signing up for classes.  In the end, it’s all worked out well.  Now I just need to get healthy!

All of the photos of the trip have been uploaded onto my Flickr page, so be sure to click on over there to see them.  The last batch from Nusa are some of my favorites of the trip.

Also, if anyone is looking to donate to a worthy cause, here are two organizations I highly recommend:

Cambodia Landmine Museum: http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/




Cambodian Children’s Painting Project: http://www.letuscreatecambodia.org/




Thanks for all of the comments throughout the trip.  Please continue to check back as I will post any articles or essays I write that relate to this journey.



Cremation Ceremony Video (Ubud, Bali)

Walking to get the holy water in the afternoon of the cremation ceremony.

The End

My last few days in Indonesia were blissful.  Saturday, I went on a walk around the northern end of the island where the resorts end and the local neighborhood begins.  Locals work outside gathering seaweed, loosening it from the sea floor, gathering, hauling it ashore and then drying it out in the sun.  Women and men of all ages spend the sun light hours out in the shallow sea.

The tide was low that afternoon, the sky was clear and the water was still.  The reflections of the clouds on the water with the Balinese mountains in the background and the multicolored fishing boats near shore, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of thescenery.  I think I took about 50 photos on that walk alone!

On my walk I met three young boys who let me take their picture.  Back in Ubud I did three days of classes in Bahasa Indonesia, and I am so glad that I did.  Bahasa Indonesia is one of the easiest languages to learn in the world because there is no conjugations, no present, no past.  You simply say “yesterday I go to the store” or “tomorrow I go to the store.”  Easy peasy.  So, with these boys I knew enough to say hello, how are you?  what’s your name?  They were so adorbale.  The kids on the island I found to be more personable, more laid back than the kids I was with in Ubud.  Perhaps it is because it is a poorer community and a place without so many Westerners, so maybe I am more exciting to them, but I loved just talking with them and playing around for a bit.

Then I met an older woman carrying seaweed who wanted me to try carrying the seaweed on my head.  I objected, only because I could totally see myself dropping the whole thing and she’d just spent hours collecting it!  But I felt welcomed by the locals on the island.  It seemed like a warm community.

The following day, yesterday, Kara and I went snorkeling in the morning with two very nice Swedes, Pontus and Diana, and an odd older American man (honestly, the first guy my whole trip to creep me out.  Good thing I’ll never see him again!).  Besides the oddball American, the snorkeling trip was awesome.  The water was so clear you could see the coral and fish perfectly.  I wish I knew more about marine life, because I cannot tell you the names of anything I saw, all I can tell you is that it looked exactly like Finding Nemo! Haha.  Red, blues, greens, it was neat just to watch the different plants sway in the water.  There were iridescent scaled fish and the sun shining through the water made everything sparkle.  In the second spot, you could see 50 meters down.  It was the perfect final day experience.

At the end of the evening, as we did every night on the island, we watched a magnificent sunset.

The end of my trip was filled with beautiful sights, good food and good company.  I feel completely blessed to have had such a successful and enjoyable journey for the last few months.  I began to tear up waiting in the immigration line here at the Denpasar airport.  I am ready to have some home comforts for a bit, but I must admit I have already gone through my travel book and planned out a month long trip through Laos.  Perhaps next summer!  I am trying to think of this as Part 1 of 2.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will be back sooner rather than later.  There’s too many places left to see.

But for now, I head to Hong Kong in about an hour, from there San Francisco and from there, Chicago.  I will be back in the States in 18 hours!

Once I’m home, photos to come.  Promise.

P.S.- If anyone has any freelance writing work for me, I will have time this summer before classes begin!  Feel free to contact me via the blog or pass along the address to anyone else who many want to contact me.  Essays, articles, what have you.  Thank you!

Paradiso en Nusa Lembongan

Kara and I arrived in Nusa Lembongan on Thursday afternoon.  Arriving at the port in Sanur, the men at the dock gave us the tickets and then shooed us along saying, “Hurry, hurry!  Boat leave in 5 minutes!”  There is no ATM on the NL island, so we jumped on two motorbikes and quickly grabbed some cash then went directly to the motorboat without a moment to process.  Luckily, we were on the right boat and off on our way to a tropical paradise.

Arriving at the island about 45 minutes later the water became a piercing blue, so clear we could see the coral and fish underneath.  A feeling of calm washed over me and it was only then that I really realized how unsatisfied I had been with the program in Ubud and the city of Ubud itself.  Traveling, I try to make the best of every situation, but arriving in such a beautiful, calm place, I finally admitted to myself, “This is what I’d wanted!”  The first thing I asked once on land?  “So, do you need an English teacher?”

Of course, they said yes, that they had no one to each English on the island, and I seriously contemplated it for a day before I realized that, no, I really do need to go home and rest.  Maybe one day, though!  This is the type of community I’d like to teach in- remote, beautiful, kind people, affordable town, a place that is not bustling at the brim with Westerners.  The island is small enough to walk around in a day, about a two hour motorbike ride.  It’s well known for its surfing and snorkeling, and the main industry here is tuna and seaweed.  Men wade out into the water each day collecting seaweed to dry and sell, and fishing boats return with huge tunas ready to eat and sell.  If you order any generic roasted fish here, it will be tuna, like Cambodia’s barracuda.

Kara and I have spent our days motorbiking around, seeing new beaches each day and eating as much seafood as possible: tuna, squid, prawns.  Yummm.  It’s the perfect ending to my trip.  And, it’s allowing me to sleep!

Hopefully tomorrow we will go snorkeling, but for now, lounging on the beach has become our day-to-day plan.

Getting excited to see everyone at home.  Two more days in paradise. 🙂

The End of the Trail

With much contemplation, I have decided to end my journey abroad next week.  I have loved every moment of my travels, but there are several reasons for me to return home sooner rather than later.  Between the less than ideal accommodations in Ubud (rats, little space, bad bed), administration conflicts at the school (restructuring and a difficult new addition to the staff), my health (stomach and lethargy), and excitement about what awaits me at home, I decided to rebook my flight back for the 30th.  As my mother said, “if Bali is not the icing on the cake, then it’s time to go home.”

Ubud is a great city, but quite Westernized, much more so than I’d anticipated.  I wish I lived a bit more outside the hubbub and Polo stores.  This weekend Kara and I are taking a trip to Nusa Lembongan, an island on the southern end of Bali.  It is supposed to be fairly remote and calm, with great walking and biking, snorkeling, diving, etc.    I am excited to have that retreat as my final stop.  I do wish I could have done a bit more travel on the island, I wanted to go to Munduk, but there are places in each country I wish I’d visited: Railay Beach in Thailand, Northern Laos and 4,000 Islands, Koh Totang and Koh Kong in Cambodia, Sapa in Vietnam.  It just leaves a reason to return!

If I could do anything now, I think I would return to Thailand and Laos.  I would love to see more of each country, but I just don’t have the stamina for it.    Today I am feeling a bit better, but yesterday I just slept for the majority of the day.  Perhaps I can return in a few years with a friend or boyfriend.  I watched so many couples and friends throughout my trip traveling together and sharing their experiences.  I would love to have someone with me when I return to Thailand and Laos.  It would add a whole new element to the journey.  Any volunteers?  🙂

You would think my curiosity would be satiated, but far from it.  I feel like I’ve discovered a whole new world that still has so much to explore and experience.  I just know which parts speak to me most now.

I go home with so many wonderful memories of places I have been and people I have met.  I can’t believe that it was all done in only 10 weeks!  I feel like I accomplished all I hoped to on this trip.  I met people from all over the world, learned about Buddhism and observed Buddhist life in and out of the monastery, I meditated with a monk and learned Thai cooking.  I hiked through Northern Thailand and met the Karen hill tribe.  I made it to Laos and saw the rural lifestyle and bustling, beautiful city of Luang Prabang.  I was able to celebrate Songkran in Laos and Thailand.  I saw the temples of Angkor Wat with my father and the beaches with Emma and her Cambodian crew.  I met Carolyn and Joy in Cambodia and their friendships sustained me through all of Vietnam: the Mekong, Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Halong Bay.  And now I’ve seen a Hindu culture and partook in a Hindu cremation ceremony, plus visited a city where art sustains life.

I made such wonderful friends at my home in Thailand, I feel lucky and blessed to have been able to live with such a wonderful group of people, and even luckier that I’ve been able to continue seeing them on my trip: Emma in Cambodia, Cyra in the airport in Vietnam!, Kara in Cambodia and now in Bali.   Plus, we had just about the cutest kids in the world to teach, with so much personality and love.  So lucky.

I go to Slukat one more time today, just to help out and hang with the kids, who are very cute.  The school is a half hour outside of Ubud in a serene area of rice fields; it’s nice to just escape the city for a bit and play.  Then Friday, off to Nusa Lembongan and Monday to the airport!

Terima Kasih!   On to the next adventure.

Hallo, Ubud

This weekend I settled into my new Travel to Teach home. I am living in part of a family compound, owned by a nice Balinese man named Noman. T2T rents one part of the compound, the rest is filled with Noman’s family: son, parents, nephew, which is basically three rooms each with a bathroom and one extra “living room” with a TV and fridge. It is nothing glamorous, but it’s comfortable enough. T2T rents out one room to another Balinese guy and the other two are for volunteers. Right now I am with Marlous, from Holland, Marleen from Holland and Sandra from Germany. I feel like a slight outcast as the only non North Eastern European, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. The cultural divide between Dutch, Germans and Americans has become evident to me on this trip. Little did I think that on my journey through Asia I’d learn about Holland and German culture, but with the number of Dutch and German that travel, I have had many interactions and experiences discovering and adjusting to differing cultural norms between the two.

Anyhow, I begin teaching this afternoon at an afternoon program at the Slukat Learning Center. The kids learn about organic farming, recycling and English. I am excited to be back in the classroom again, but it seems the vibe here is quite different than in the classrooms in Thailand. The volunteers do not know their students’ names (partially because the names are difficult) and I haven’t really heard much enthusiastic talk about the program, which is making me less enthusiastic, but we shall see.  I am hoping for the best.

I think my biggest issue at the moment is lethargy.  I’m exhausted!  I don’t know how people travel for so long, changing locations every night.  It’s possible I picked up a little bug along the way, I have been sleeping full nights then needing a 3 hour nap in the afternoon, but I may just be zonked.  Who knows.

As for Bali- IT IS BEAUTIFUL!  I think it is the most beautiful land I have ever seen.  Lush green trees, rice patties, Hindu sculptures lining the roads.  Each home has its own temple, which means there are thousands of temples in Ubud alone.  People make offerings throughout the day, filling folded leaves with flowers, food and incense.  They leave them everywhere, on the street, in the middle of the floor, on mantels, all to give thanks to Dewa. The form of Hinduism here is quite different than in India.  It incorporates quite a bit of Buddhism and animism and focuses mainly on Shiva (the destroyer), Brahma (the creator) and Vishnu (the protector).  They also focus on the five elements, believing that the body is just a temporary case for the soul.  This is why the Balinese believe in cremation.  They use fire to burn the body, releasing it to the air and pouring ashes in the water, thus returning the body to the elements.

Speaking of which, I was able to attend a cremation ceremony on Thursday.  I borrowed traditional temple clothing and was picked up at 8:30am by Alit, my driver, who took me to his home.  I met his wife and mother and then we made our way over to the ceremony.  There, I was able to see the body being washed/cleansed and then wrapped.  They then lifted the body and people filed under, a tradition that is meant to forgive of past sins (for the living, not deceased).  We then went down to the river front to collect holy water and made our way back to the temple where there was lunch and a traditional gamelan and dance concert.  It sounds just like the funerals at home, right?

This was one of the most foreign experiences I have had on my trip so far.  There was no crying, no black, no silence.  It was drumming, strumming, horns, colors, flowers, children running, smiling.  If it weren’t for the dead body in front of me, I would have had a very hard time believing it was a funeral at all.  The attitude towards death is so different here.  It’s a time to celebrate the passing of the soul into the next phase.  I only made it through the first half, after which I had to return home and sleep (for my good 3 hour nap!).  I missed the procession of the body to the cemetary, the burning of the body inside a papermache cow, the throwing of the ashes into the ocean (an hour away) and then an evening party with music and rice wine.  Perhaps another time.

As for Ubud, it is quite Western.  Lots of high end clothing stores, art stores, gelato and coffee shops.  SO not what I envisioned, but about two seconds outside are serene rice fields and empty roads.  It’s a good mix of familiar and foreign.

Okay, it’s time for the daily nap.  I will try to write more tomorrow: food, language, arts, so much to discuss!   Until then.


The last week of my trip has been rather uneventful. Most notably, I took a trip to Halong Bay. The trip had its ups and downs. The kayaking and caving were great and I met some fabulous people, but the real point of it for many on board was booze. Lots of 18 year olds, drinking games, writing with marker on each other, etc. There are lots of opportunities for things like this in SE Asia, I’ve just avoided them until now. But hey, I saw what it was and it gave me the idea to write a piece on alcohol tourism for Westerners in Asia. And I was with a lovely group of people: two couples from England (Dave, Hailey & Hannah, Ant), Joy (who is from Naperville- small world!, who I originally met in Cambodia) and Patrick, also from the UK. They kept me entertained and engaged!

As for the bay itself, I really wasn’t as knocked out as I’d expected. I mean, it was beautiful- hundreds of rock formations rising out of serene waters, but as Robin, a nice Californian who I met put it, “shit, are you kidding? There’s stuff way more beautiful than this. Just wait until you get to Bali.”

Which, by the way, is where I am! And so far, it is more beautiful. I left the morning of the 15th for the airport, flew to HCMC then Singapore and finally Denpasar. It took about 15 hours! I never think about how far Indonesia really is as people traveling talk about it like it’s right around the corner.

I have spent the last four days lounging around at the home of a family friend, sleeping, reading, eating, sleeping some more, just as the doctor ordered. Today I went to the first half of a cremation ceremony, which I will write about in a separate post, and tomorrow I move to the Travel to Teach house. I’m ready to teach again, to have a home, a set place of residence.

I am beginning to feel slightly homesick but I’m hoping that a new phase will be just what I need!