Last week I got the itch: the travel itch that was making me a little stir crazy in Santa Barbara. While I LOVE my job and I’m really happy just being settled right now, I still get the occasional FOMO (fear of missing out) when I check all the other travel blogs. I haven’t been diving in six months, I haven’t tried any crazy ethnic food in awhile, and I have serious heart pangs for Bangkok. And while my weekends are usually spent out of Santa Barbara, either in Los Angeles, Orange County, Santa Ynez, or Vegas, I needed a trip somewhere NEW. So I busted out my copy of Lonely Planet’s Coastal California, and decided I needed to go somewhere cheap but beautiful and blog-able that very weekend. And what filled out all the requirements? A weekend camping in Big Sur.
Little did I realize that CA State Park campgrounds fill up months in advance, especially during the summer and on weekends. Although my preferred campground, Pfeiffer Burns State Park, was booked every weekend until October, I didn’t give up hope of getting out of town on Friday. And my enthusiasm/optimism paid off: with a bit of travel luck, I was on the reservation website at the exact moment someone else cancelled and I was able to swoop up their spot. So with a trip to the grocery store to buy beers and marshmallows, a visit to Zack’s parents’ house to
steal borrow their camping gear, and a slow morning thanks to a birthday party the previous night, we were off!
While I’ve complained about Santa Barbara’s location numerous times (add in an extra hour and a half to everywhere you can go from Los Angeles), it’s only a quick 4 hour jaunt from Big Sur. And the drive is nothing to complain about: the views are, for lack of a less cheesy word, breathtaking. Our drive was especially surreal as we drove through patches of gray clouds and sunshine and couldn’t really tell how high we were above the ocean. Half the fun is pulling over randomly: we stopped to see the huge elephant seals basking on the sand, for the blooming California wildflowers, and for numerous photo ops.
I still remember the first time I saw a photo of Big Sur: it was in a friend’s Facebook album, titled “Northern California Road Trip,” or something to that effect. I couldn’t believe water that turquoise existed in California! And it does. I’m not quite sure how such a beautiful stretch of coastline remains undeveloped in California, but I’m not complaining. Big Sur still has the allure of waiting to be “discovered” with dozens of secret beaches hiding off the highway. Maybe it’s the tall redwoods (Big Sur is the southernmost point on the West Coast where they can be found), maybe it’s the history of hippies and beatniks, maybe it’s the rocks jutting out to sea, maybe it’s the perma-fog, but Big Sur retains some sort of mythical quality that not many other places in California still have. Am I explaining this in a sensical way? I guess you’ll just have to visit yourself to understand.
Next up: camping in Pfeiffer Burns State Park (or that time Amanda went camping for the first time since she was 7).
I still feel weird (guilty?) about not writing more about my time spent in India. India is such an interesting country, and one I really want to visit again, and it’s hard for me to describe my experience there. So it’s likely I’ll just write about my trip bit by bit, as the mood strikes me. And as I love lists, I’ll start now with a post about how I felt about taking an organized tour through the country.
I wrote first about why I wanted to take a tour instead of winging it solo: essentially, I was scared. And overall, I am so so happy I took the tour. I wouldn’t do it any other way in retrospect. But obviously there were adjustments to taking a tour, with every day and minute planned out, after I had been traveling alone for 5 months. For reference, here is the tour I ended up taking. We traveled through Rajasthan at a pace that would have been impossible had I been alone, and jam-packed a lot into 15 days of travel. It’s too difficult to write a simple pros and cons list of the tour, so I’ll delve more into the two aspects of the tour that stood out to me as being the biggest changes from solo travel.
Traveling with 12 other people after being alone for several months was a huge adjustment for me. I am an introvert, which means I NEED time by myself to recharge, otherwise I get really cranky. (Just ask my roommate and boyfriend!) So after making my own schedule, and being able to build in naps/shopping excursions/ice cream stops into my day as I pleased for so long was not a good preparation for being with 12 people all day and all night. As G Adventures allows solo travelers to split rooms (so they don’t have to pay double), I shared a room with someone I had not met before. This could potentially be disastrous! Although I did not immediately bond with my roommate, as the trip went on we got along quite well and I grew to really appreciate her perspective–overall, I’m glad I ended up with her. But I did miss having time to myself to relax alone, read, listen to music, etc. I eventually designated the bus rides as my “Me” time, and would plop into a seat by myself and plug in my Ipod for the duration of the bus. While I appeared kind of anti-social to the rest of the tour, it was essential for my sanity.
The tour moved at a pace that would not have been possible for me on a solo trip through India, mostly because the public transportation there is rudimentary at best (especially compared to the tourist trail in Thailand). We visited small villages that have one hotel (that solely caters to tours), and changed locations nearly every day. At first, the itinerary seemed ridiculous to me: how can you really get a feel for a town if you’re only there for 24 hours? And isn’t your day wasted when you spend 4 hours each day on the bus? However, with the smaller towns, we saw the entire village in mere hours; and though I couldn’t articulate the minor differences between Delhi and Agra, I could tell you how Rajasthan is different than Utter Pradesh. I think I got a good “feel” for Rajasthan in general and appreciate that I was able to visit some smaller towns. Lastly, although taking a tourist bus makes you a bit removed from the Indian population taking the public buses, sometimes you just really need to get away from the chaos that is India and I didn’t mind being in a bit more sterile (and quiet) environment for 2 hours each day.
The overall experience
I LOVED G Adventures, and would definitely consider doing another tour with them. One aspect I really appreciated was that my tour guide was Indian: he grew up in Udaipur, and we visited his parents’ home there where they hosted us for breakfast. Shakti took us to a festival in Udaipur as well where we were the only white people–it was an amazing experience to see how Indians party it up (so different than a holiday in the US!). We also met his wife, and saw videos and photos of his elaborate wedding (he told me it was a “small” wedding, as only 600 people attended). While I was removed from Indians in some aspects, I really became more immersed in others, which I found was a fair tradeoff. I also loved my tour group members! I would guess the average age was early 30′s, so the group was mature and considerate while still enjoying a few beers at the end of each day. I bonded most with the two other long-term travelers who were my age, and we ended up traveling together for another week after the tour ended. Though I don’t think I would take a tour for every future trip I do, it is much more convenient and practical for certain circumstances. If you only have 2 weeks off of work and want to see a lot, a tour is the perfect choice. It’s also great for first time solo travelers who might be nervous about being alone. I’ve got my eye on one of the Egypt trips or the Galapagos tour– I am a happy customer of G Adventures and would do another of their tours in a heartbeat.
Have you ever been on an organized tour? What did you think were the pros and cons of taking a tour?
I haven’t started writing about my trip to India yet–partly because I simply don’t know where to start. It’s difficult to describe what India is like in words and while I have overwhelmingly positive feelings about the place, I also had some trying and challenging moments while I was there. I figured I’d start where I could: and a picture is worth a thousand words anyways, right?
I took this photo on my second night in India, in Udaipur. I had just met up with my tour group (post on my experience traveling with a tour forthcoming!) and we attended a dance and music show in the evening. The costumes were elaborate and I had way too much fun taking photos of the swirling sequin saris. The saris in India are so stunning and colorful; and while I usually stick to a wardrobe pattern of black, white, and gray, the colors made for some fantastic photos.
This photo was taken in Pushkar, a small(ish) town home to one of the only temples for Lord Brahma in the world. More significant for Western travelers, however, is Pushkar’s other claim to fame: the annual Camel Fair held every November. While I wasn’t there during the converge of thousands of camels, I did get the chance to take my first camel ride. The saying in India is, “if you can love a camel, you can love anything.” As I thoroughly enjoyed my camel ride I think Indians are just immune to their charms!
I snapped this image in the very small village of Jojowar. Our visit to Jojowar is one example of why I loved my tour so much: the town is so small it would be very difficult to visit independently. While there, we took a walk around the village in order to see what a small, rural village is like in India. The locals were used to seeing Westerners on tour groups and thus comfortable with having their photo taken by large groups of strangers. However, while the kids were hamming it up, some of the adults thought we were kind of weird for wanting their photo. This old blind woman asked our guide in Hindi, “Why do they want a photo of an old ugly woman?” It’s one of my favorite photos from my trip there.
Although India can be overwhelming and frustrating and tiring at times, it can also be peaceful, spiritual, and beautiful. I took this photo on a sunrise boat trip down the River Ganges in Varanasi. While the river is actually really dirty and filled with ashes, bathing humans and trash, the lighting during dawn helped it take on another persona. In the morning and evening it is filled with floating candles: combined with a pink sky it was anything but ugly.
Here’s another photo from Varanasi. I love the colors; walls and buildings were painted as colorfully as the saris. I couldn’t get enough of the crumbling city walls in Varanasi. Although the maze of alleyways in the old city is chaotic and claustrophobic, it did make for some beautiful photos.
It’s difficult to convey what crossing the street is like in India, but hopefully this photo captures some of the madness. While Vietnam is famed for its crazy and crowded streets, Hanoi was child’s play compared to Delhi. As my tour guide put it, “We have no lane discipline in India.” If only lane discipline could solve it! The streets are filled with cars, rickshaws, tuk tuks, all sorts of animals, and people on foot. It’s crazy and exhausting but I loved it.
I loved the history in India–while Thailand had its fair share of ancient wats, India definitely has Southeast Asia beat in the history and culture department. The Mughal architecture, seen in the state of Uttar Pradesh, was absolutely stunning in person. This photo was taken at the Agra Fort, an UNESCO World Heritage Site often overshadowed by its sucessor in Agra, the Taj Mahal. While I maintain that the Taj is the most beautiful building in the world, the Agra Fort ain’t too shabby either.
Here’s another busy street scene, taken in Jaipur. While Jaipur was not on my list of favorite destinations in India, I did experience one of the highlights of my trip there–seeing a Bollywood movie! This rickshaw driver made sure I safely arrived at the theatre, no small feat in busy Jaipur. If you ever visit India, make sure you see a Bollywood movie: its a fascinating look into Indian culture that you might not get from hanging out with Westerners at the top tourist spots.
This is another photo from Pushkar. The animal population in India is almost as out of control as the human population–on any given day I’d see a combination of monkeys, camels, dogs, pigs, goats, and elephants. While the monkeys are fairly used to human interaction, they’re still very cheeky! I found this one vandalizing a small shrine.
I couldn’t do a roundup post on India without including a photo of the Taj Mahal. Although there isn’t really much to do at the Taj, I could have spent the whole day there taking photos. It was undoubtedly one of my top highlights during my visit: I adamantly believe it is the most beautiful building in the world, and seeing it in person was amazing. While you can certainly have a great trip to India without visiting the Taj, I’d recommend not skipping it!
One thing I painfully miss about India is the copious amounts of chai tea (or “Chaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiii” as the hawkers on the train would call it). It’s offered to you just about everywhere and according to my personal moral compass, its rude to not accept it! In the off case you don’t have someone giving it to you for free, a cup will only set you back a quarter. I was cracked out on the sugar and caffeine high the whole trip–maybe that’s why I liked India so much. Although the Starbucks version is a fair replacement, it somehow doesn’t taste quite as good when it costs $4.
Confession: I have no idea what festival/event is going on in this photo. I saw the procession going on while I was on the tour bus, driving through Agra–if you look closely you can see my reflection in the glass. But I just lucked out and captured the perfect expression on the young boy’s face. Although he probably couldn’t see me or my camera too well (the windows were tinted and I was much higher above him), I feel like he’s staring straight through me and it really provokes an emotion in me.
What’s your favorite shot of India?
Dear Washington D.C.,
I miss you, and I can’t stop thinking about you. I know we weren’t together for that long, but I can’t stop comparing everyone else to you, and in so many ways, no one else can live up to my high standards. You’re the one that got away. Even though I haven’t seen you in awhile, I still talk about you all the time and can’t wait to visit again one day. Although there are some things I don’t like about you, and worry we have too many irreconcilable differences, I can’t help it: I miss you.
I miss your happy hours. That might be what I miss the most. Whether it was at one of the nameless bars on 17th Avenue in Dupont Circle, or the slightly sketchy Beat the Clock Fridays at My Brother’s Place, or simply sangria pitchers at Nando’s, you always had something on offer, no matter the mood or occasion. I still have the email saved with the Excel spreadsheet of every happy hour in the city made by the Canadian Embassy interns, even though it’s 4 years old now and probably somewhat obsolete. I loved reading the Washington Post’s Going Out Guide, and I remain adamant that no other city’s paper has anything on the same level of completeness or relevance. Why do you take happy hour so seriously? Whatever the reason, I love you for it.
I miss the green spaces, the clean sidewalks, my morning commute. Although I enjoy passing palm trees and the homogenous red tile roofs here, nothing will quite compare to power-walking past the White House on the way to work. I miss Jazz in the Park, and all the young people who came. We had fun playing pretend at being adults, despite looking slightly uncomfortable in our suit jackets and pencil skirts. I’ll never forget that Fourth of July: while many of my past Independence Day celebrations have been spent inebriated, none others included running into a Smithsonian museum for a beer-induced pee stop. Late night memorial visits are another fond memory; and so are the nights spent watching classic movies in front of the Capitol Building during Screen on the Green.
I miss the extreme heat and humidity, even though it caused me to faint once or twice. I remember packing three pairs of jeans and wearing none of them, and the feeling that it was so humid the clouds would burst with rain at any time. I still can’t believe Dan had a car without air conditioning– the rides from the Metro to his house were almost unbearable. I sought refuge in the Starbucks that supplied a constant flow of Tazo iced teas, and I appreciated how there seemed to be one on every single block. I would get so sweaty on my walk home from work that the only form of relief was immediately stripping all my clothes off and lying on my bed, naked, with the air conditioning on full blast. Baseball games seemed more appropriate with a hot summer sun beating down on the crowd, and I loved the way it was never too cold for a dress or shorts, even at night.
Last but not least, (and this is at the risk of sounding extremely girly in a way I never like to admit) I miss your cupcakes. I attempted to try every cupcake shop in the District, rationalizing my consumption with numerous salads at Chop’t. (Chop’t, I miss you SO much. Come to California.) I stood in line for 20 minutes at Georgetown Cupcakes, and later became a member of the Baked and Wired cult. I even tried the cupcake bakeries that had bad reviews on Yelp. I became so obsessed with cupcakes that I would sometimes eat two in one day, and when a friend visited you the following summer when I was back at school, I begged and begged him to bring me a red velvet cupcake home on the plane. To my delight, he complied.
Our relationship held many important firsts for me: my first time grocery shopping and cooking for myself (which lead to another great love affair, still going strong). My first job working full time. My first purchase of a suit and “grown up” wardrobe. My first apartment, and subsequent disagreements with roommates (mostly regarding the lack of a dishwasher). My first time gaining a significant amount of weight since high school (thanks to those cupcakes.) My first time relying solely on my own two feet and public transportation. (I still compare every subway system to the Metro, and boast of how clean it is, though Singapore’s MRT gives it a run for its money.) Hell, I think my first time going to happy hour was that summer.
Yet despite how much I miss you, I’m here instead of there. I’m not sure when I’ll be back, if ever, and whether it it would be for a short visit or long. But until then, I’ll be thinking, wistfully, of you and that fun summer fling we had.
I definitely took a bit of a break from blogging–not really planned, but my life got busy during the holidays and then I moved. I was honestly a little burnt out on writing and taking a break was exactly what I needed. Now that I’m settled in to my new apartment, with a desk, and a somewhat regular schedule, I’m going to finish writing about and sharing photos from the trip that ended two months ago! It’s crazy to think I’ve been back for two months–being in Southeast Asia feels like two years ago. I still haven’t written anything about India, perhaps my favorite country of all, or my second and third trips to Thailand. I can’t wait to post the rest of my underwater photos from diving in Koh Lanta and attempt to process the insane audio-visual-physical experience that is visiting India for the first time. In response to my mother’s text from the other day, no, I am not “over” blogging.
So where am I? And what have I been doing?
When I first came home from Asia, I spent about six weeks at my parent’s house in Portland, OR. For context, I’m not actually “from” Oregon (I honestly don’t know what to say when people ask me where I’m from). My parents moved there when I was 21 and in college, so while I’ve spent probably 5 months there total, it’s still a new city to me with endless restaurants to explore and craft beers to be drank. Although the cold weather was a real shock, I enjoyed relaxing on the couch, eating all the food I missed (and eating at my favorite Thai restaurant, Pok Pok, a few times), and drinking said craft beers. Quality time was also logged with Mom, Dad, Moe the dog, my adorable niece and nephew, and Grandpa. I had a fun visit from Maxine, my travel partner, and as expected, we took Portland by storm. We hiked through the largest urban park in America, braved the food carts in the rain, braved the Saturday Artist Market in the rain, went wine tasting, and visited three Portland landmarks, Powell’s Books, Stumptown Coffee, and Voodoo Donuts. My time at home ended with a great Christmas (Santa brought me a GoPro AND underwater housing for my Canon point and shoot).
Then began a 15 hour travel day to San Francisco, which was surprisingly easy to handle after similar long travel days this summer and fall. I spent New Year’s Eve in the “City by the Bay”, catching up with friends from college who I hadn’t seen since May. For being in such a well-loved tourist town, I did absolutely nothing blog worthy. And then came the last leg of the move–the actual move into my new place in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is a fairly small city (population less than 100,000 people) on the Central Coast of California, about 90 miles north of Los Angeles. I’ve been busy doing “grown up” things like filling the apartment with furniture and applying for jobs. My roommate and I also got a kitten! She’s currently distracting me right now by sitting on my lap.
Although I’m applying for full time, traditional office jobs, I still have quite a bit of travel on my mind for 2013. Here’s what I’m thinking, hoping, and daydreaming about:
- I’ll definitely explore Santa Barbara a lot over the next year. I’ll go diving in the Channel Islands (the “Galapagos of California”), wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley (where they filmed the movie Sideways), hiking in the mountains, do a whale watching tour, do the beach bike trail, and eat my way through the many amazing restaurants here (including my fill of tacos that I missed out on in Asia). Lonely Planet even tweeted this article the other day– while I’ve already done a few things on that list, I need to get cracking on the rest!
- I also want to road trip the California coast on any free weekends I have. Big Sur is high on my list, as is Monterey, and I’m sure visits to San Francisco to see friends will be numerous. I also want to show Zack Orange County, where I grew up. Laguna Beach is my favorite town–on a nice weekend in February or March we can probably get a good deal on a hotel for a night or two.
- A diving vacation, hopefully to get my Advanced Open Water certification. This is totally up in the air, but I’ve been daydreaming about doing it in Roatan, Honduras. Even if I don’t save up enough for my certification I know I’ll need a diving fix in warmer water sometime this spring or summer. Other options would be Mexico or the Caribbean. I check Skyscanner all the time to see where cheap flights are from LAX– anyone have any suggestions for awesome (and cheap) diving locations kind of close to California? Hawaii might also be an option, but I’ve already been there before (haven’t gone diving, but not as exciting to me as Honduras or the Caribbean.
- Visiting a new continent (either South America or Africa). This would be my “big trip” this year–I am hoping to go to Senegal, Africa, to see my best friend, Lauren, who is working there with the Peace Corps. I know this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to visit such a small, rural village in Africa and have my own personal tour guide who is familiar with the language, culture, and people. It would be amazing to see her and of course travel to Africa for the first time! If this doesn’t pan out, because either it’s too expensive or too constraining on time, I would love to go to South America. Since it would be a quick 1-2 week trip, I’d probably just focus on one city or country. Buenos Aires is at the top of my list–many of my friends in college studied abroad there and rave about it. I also have Columbia on my mind, but I wouldn’t feel as comfortable going there alone as I would Argentina.
What do you guys have planned in 2013? Any top recommendations for diving locations or South America? Anyone visiting California? Although this year will be a lot slower on the travel front, I’m excited with all the possibilities I have–I can’t wait to see where this year takes me!
Merry Christmas! This year for Christmas Santa brought me a host of travel-friendly presents, like a number of Lonely Planet books and some new camera accessories–I’m so excited! The gift I’ve been playing with the most is my new Ollo Clip, which is a clip-on lens for my Iphone. It includes a fish-eye, macro, and ultra wide angle lens, and I can’t stop taking photos! Here’s a shot of my dog, Moe, using the fish-eye. Look out for plenty of more photos from this Iphone + Ollo setup–I’m so amazed with the quality that an Iphone can produce. If you want to see other quick shots from my phone, check out my Instagram.
As I mentioned before, I didn’t do a lot of “touristy” things in Bali–I spent more days relaxing and enjoying the laidback pace of Ubud than filling my days with sightseeing. I didn’t go to the Monkey Forest, I didn’t go to the Gilis, I didn’t even get a Balinese massage. So what did I do exactly for 15 days? Here’s a rundown.
Throughout the first four months of my trip, I knew I wanted to do yoga in Bali. I’m definitely not the most experienced yogi, or even the most committed, but I do love taking my once weekly classes and I’m still on the email list for my studio in Berkeley just because I miss the instructors there so much. I am really inflexible and have very small, tight hips, so wearing a 30 pound backpack around 24/7 was not doing the best things to my body: I should have been practicing yoga the whole six months. But I tried to make up for lost time in Bali and went to yoga almost every day I was there, primarily at the Yoga Barn in Ubud. The studio is beautiful: the main room is upstairs and outside, and the downstairs room has a spectacular view of a rice paddy (the entire front facing wall is a window). It didn’t hurt that they offer so many classes per day and have amazing instructors. Yoga was undoubtedly one of my highlights of Bali.
2. Coffee shops
The other highlight? The coffee. While I’m not the biggest coffee drinker in the world (or the snobbiest), I soon found out first hand why everyone raves about Balinese kopi, or coffee. I made it my afternoon ritual (after morning yoga) to try out a new coffee shop. I’d bring my laptop and blog while drinking local Indonesian roasts and eating way too many scones or cookies (rendering my morning workout meaningless). Stay tuned for a roundup of my favorite coffee shops in Ubud: I only wish I could be at one of them now!
Ubud is also famous for its thriving art scene, and while I didn’t go to as many museums as I did in Paris, I did appreciate its myriad forms throughout my 2 weeks there. I really enjoyed visiting the Antonio Blanco museum: the funky building it’s housed in is just as cool as the actual art. I also loved seeing all of the art shops littered throughout Ubud; while I didn’t buy anything I certainly enjoyed looking. My other cultural activity was seeing a traditional Balinese dance show. While not something I would usually make an effort to see, I did appreciate the beautiful costumes and unique style of dancing.
4. Ate amazing food
As Bali is a world class tourist destination (and a little more Westernized, than say, Laos), the amount of amazing restaurants there is staggering. I realized how much my day centered around food until I wrote a guide for a few friends embarking on their own Southeast Asia journeys when I couldn’t stop writing down restaurants in Bali to try. I loved all the Balinese food I ate, from the upscale restaurant in Ubud to the beach shack mie goreng I had with a Bintang watching the huge waves roll in in Seminyak. But, to be honest (and I’m sure this is going to kill all my travel blogger street cred), I also loved the abundance of good Western food. While you can find edible pizza on the beach islands of Thailand, you won’t be finding delicious tacos or fancy sandwiches. After four months of traveling around Southeast Asia, I couldn’t help but treat myself to a few lunches at Taco Casa Bali and a cheese plate or two at Kebun Bistro. I also got really excited about the availability of wine: though Two Islands isn’t anything to write home about, it still made me a happy girl.
5. Wandered and window shopped
I liked to spend at least an hour each day walking the streets, not just as exercise but also because I enjoyed seeing the endless window displays. Ubud (and all of Bali) is truly a shopper’s paradise and you can find anything you need or want in Bali. I won’t lie: I did succumb to the shopper’s siren call and purchase a few souvenirs for myself and family members. Like I mentioned yesterday, my favorite was probably the beautiful handmade Balinese lace, but I also picked up two adorable baby outfits for my nephew and niece. If only my backpack was big enough for more! (Although probably better for my wallet that it isn’t.)
6. Beach bummed
Is a trip to Bali really a trip to Bali if you didn’t spend some time lounging in the sand? Although I only spent 4 days in Seminyak, Bali’s trendy beach town, I did make sure to devote one full day to the serious art of suntanning. Since my $10/night hostel was located right next to the $200/night W Hotel, I used my sneaky skills of blending in to hang out by their pool and beach. On my last day in Seminyak, I found a spot to rent a beach chair, and enjoyed the cheap seafood lunch and Bintangs to celebrate my final day of “vacation within a vacation.”
7. Took a cooking class and bike tour
I did do a few touristy things while I was in Bali: I took a cooking class and went on a bike riding tour. Although I’ll write longer posts on each of them, I wanted to mention them here as well. It’s hard to say which one I enjoyed more: although the cooking class had a delicious end result, I did love getting out of Ubud’s main tourist center and seeing some of the smaller surrounding villages on the bike tour. The bike ride ended with lunch at the guide’s family home, with his sisters-in-laws cooking lunch for everyone. I have fond memories of both, and I can’t wait to use some of my Balinese recipes here at home.
By the time I got to Bali, four months into my trip, I experienced the inevitable “travel burnout” that happens to many long-term travelers. I know, serious “first world problems,” right? But constant bus and air travel, packing and unpacking every 4 or 5 days, and not having a consistent eating schedule really does take a toll on your body and emotional health. And so after Zack packed for the final time and flew back to the US, I decided to take it easy in Bali. Instead of cramming my days with sightseeing, temple hopping, tours, and diving, I simply took a break from traveling and spent my time going to yoga, coffee shops, and walking around. And to be honest, Ubud, Bali, is the perfect place to do that–I spent the most consercutive nights (10 nights) of the whole six month trip in Ubud. While I’m bummed I didn’t get to see more of Bali, the Gilis, and Lombok, a short pause on moving and grooving was exactly what the doctor ordered, and by the time I eventually got to India, I was well rested for a chaotic sightseeing whirlwind tour of Rajasthan.
Since I spent most of my time in Ubud, that’s where the majority of these pictures were taken. In line with my break from traveling was also a break from lugging around my 2 pound DSLR camera. While photography is a passion of mine, sometimes I get tired of carrying such a heavy piece of equipment around and instead snap a few shots with my Iphone (all the photos taken here are from an Iphone 3GS). My favorite app for photos is Hipstamatic–unlike Instagram, where you choose a filter after the photo is taken, Hipstamatic has you choose a lens and film (filter) option before you snap the photo. I generally find this helps me find more interesting and color-appropriate subjects as I’m looking for whatever will look best in the filter (for example, my favorite combo, Kaimal Mark II lens with Ina’s 1969 film makes whites really stand out). Although I love Instagram too (find my profile here), Hipstamatic generally has more of a dramatic effect that I love. I had so much fun photographing all the details of Ubud and Bali with my phone–hope you enjoy the results.
My first night in Bali was spent at a cheap hotel right by the airport–I only wish I had left time to swim in the beautiful pool! The hotel was a perfect welcome to Bali.
I was absolutely in love with all of the handmade lace in Bali. The most upscale store, Uluwatu Lace, had so many gorgeous pieces–I wanted to buy everything!
Another shot from Uluwatu Lace.
Bali is rightfully famous for its shopping: you can buy anything from huge Buddha statues for your lawn, to random home decor items, like this hand carved cow skull, to trendy Australian designer clothing.
Another shopping opportunity: essential oils and body lotion. I spent a number of my mornings and afternoons window shopping in Ubud, looking at all of the beautiful things for sale.
Yet another snap of a window display in Ubud.
Bali is also well-known for its abundance of healthy raw food restaurants and cafes. After not seeing a vegetable for about 3 weeks in the Philippines, salads and kale smoothies at Soma Cafe were warmly welcomed into my body.
I loved this textured wall.
Bali is a bit of an anomaly in Indonesia: the Balinese aren’t Muslims, but Hindus (though fairly different from Indian Hindus). They worship thousands of gods, including Ganesha, the son of Shiva and god of good luck.
The Balinese form of Hinduism has also adopted elements from Buddhism and the animist traditions of the indigenous people, so the religious practices are very unique to the island. My favorite tradition? The flower offerings placed on the street and shrines several times a day.
I stayed at the Kori Bali Inn 2: it was perfect. Nyoman, the manager, is so helpful and makes your breakfast to order every morning (along with 24/7 tea and coffee). The building is beyond beautiful (I couldn’t believe I was actually staying there), and the location is ideal. I soon realized how clean it was as well when I stayed at a different home stay the last night I was in Ubud and two cockroaches crawled up out of the shower drain (while I was showering). Kori Bali Inn 2 is highly, highly recommend!
A photo of a “Balinese minivan,” complete with flower offerings attached to the license plate. It’s not uncommon to see a mom, dad, and three kids on one motorbike at once! I’m also pretty sure I saw a 12 year old driving one home from elementary school.
Carvings are so common all over the buildings and temples of Ubud–I couldn’t stop taking photos.
Two more shots of the intricate carvings around the temples and houses.
Here’s the door (!!!) to my room and my balcony area. I loved having a afternoon coffee or tea here each day.
I could not ever get used to this beautiful door–why doesn’t my door at home look like this?
Although Uluwatu Lace was a little out of my price range, I found an amazing tailor selling Balinese lace pieces for a fraction of the cost. I couldn’t help but pick up a few items– I always get compliments on this shirt!
I loved this little set up at a cafe in Ubud. Bali has some of the best food I ate on my travels, and that’s saying a lot!
Another favorite Balinese tradition of mine was the abundant “welcome drinks.” I got this floral iced tea, complete with a frangipani flower, at the Blanco Art Museum.
I found this repainted reclaimed wood table at a gelato shop.
Like I mentioned, I did a lot of yoga in Ubud. I took Christine’s advice and tried Yoga Barn–it was fantastic. I especially loved Emily’s vinyasa flows, which were challenging but fun in the 90 degree heat.
The Yoga Barn overlooks a rice paddy– a nice view while you’re sweating it out.
Another shot of the beautiful studio at the Yoga Barn. I loved practicing outside!
What’s your favorite shot of Bali? Do you ever leave the big camera at home and shoot with your phone instead?
I apologize for such a slow blog lately: I don’t really have any excuse besides that I’ve been hanging out with my family and getting in the Christmas spirit. I’ve also been busy doing “grown up” things like applying for “real” jobs and apartment hunting! But I’ve also been doing some cool blog-worthy things like eating amazing meals at Portland’s foot trucks and hiking in America’s largest urban park. I’ll pick back up this week and next week! For now, here’s the Photo of the Week from last week, when I was in Santa Barbara, and this week, when I’ve been back in PDX.
An eerie hike through Forest Park.
The Philippines is an amazing country–it’s sad so many travelers leave it off their Southeast Asia itinerary! Well, I guess it’s too not sad when you’re enjoying a beautiful beach with no one else there. I went over more in depth yesterday the things I loved and hated about my visit there, and for my final post here’s all the info you need to know about where I stayed and what I did.
Where I stayed:
- 3 nights in Manila at the New Horizon Hotel: this hotel was Zack and I’s splurge since Zack would be coming after a long flight and we hadn’t seen each other in so long. While the room was nice, the hotel had little character and was in a bad location (not near any restaurants or sights). I’d prefer to stay in Makati if I ever return to Manila.
- 6 nights in Boracay at Dave’s Straw Hat Inn: If you go to Boracay, I’d highly, highly recommend staying in Station 3 as it’s less crowded and has more of a laidback vibe. Dave’s Straw Hat Inn was great: the staff was really friendly, the rooms are small but cozy, the breakfast is amazing (best breakfast burritos in Boracay, say that ten times fast), and they include lots of little touches like mosquito coils on your patio every night. Looking for a hostel in Station 3? Try the White Beach Divers Hostel for some of the cheapest rooms on the island.
- 2 nights in Bohol at Nuts Hut, and 1 night in Bohol at the Nisa Traveler’s Inn (both in Lonely Planet, no websites): I loved Nuts Huts– it was my favorite accommodation in the Philippines! If you want to stay in Tagbilaran City instead (we needed to catch an early ferry), the Nisa Traveler’s Inn is centrally located and has cheap, clean rooms with free breakfast and fast wifi. Although I wouldn’t want to stay in Tagbilaran for more than a night, it served well for what we needed. However, if you end up in Tagbilaran, you need to go to Gerada’s for dinner–it was my favorite meal we ate the entire three weeks!
- 2 nights in Puerto Princesa at the Deep Forest Garden Inn: I didn’t like this hotel too much: the decor is either tacky or quirky, depending on your taste, the staff are at best aloof and at worst rude, and the showers leave much to be desired. The good? The rooms are huge and the beds are comfy. I think it’s overpriced but I also just didn’t like Puerto Princesa too much, so that may be why I have bad memories of the place.
- 5 nights in El Nido at the Garnet Hotel: I thought this was a good choice in El Nido. The rooms were reasonably priced (walk in price is cheaper than Agoda), the free breakfast at a restaurant across the street was really good, and the rooms were always cold with both a high powered fan and air conditioning. More pluses? Some rooms had views of the beach and limestone, the staff were really friendly, and there’s free tea and coffee all day long. The only thing that was bad was the awful wifi connection: Zack and I got really, really, frustrated with almost no internet connection the entire time we were there.
- 2 nights in Manila at the Tune Hotel Ermita: I booked this hotel because it was cheap, and I got what I paid for. The location is in a really seedy part of town–I would have felt uncomfortable had I been traveling alone.
What we did:
- In Manila: wandered around Intramuros, went to the Mall of Asia, endured the insane public transit
- In Boracay: did a lot of beach bumming, went jet skiing, Zack got his PADI scuba certification, and of course we enjoyed numerous sunset happy hours
- In Bohol: visited the tarsiers and Chocolate Hills, had a taste of Filipino health care when I needed to go to the hospital for an ear infection (verdict: cheaper than Thailand but more of a hassle)
- In Puerto Princesa: did a snorkeling tour of Honda Bay
- In El Nido: took a tour of the Bacuit Archipelago, went diving
What we wanted to do but didn’t:
I’m really bummed we didn’t get to explore more of Bohol–my ear was so painful and required a doctor’s visit, but it would have been nice to see more of the island besides the tarsiers and Chocolate Hills. There’s also so many other islands I’d love to see! Top of my list includes Negros, Camiguin, Siquilor, and Northern Luzon.
This has to be the day snorkeling in the Bacuit Archipelago– it was insanely beautiful, and Zack and I got a private tour!
My least favorite:
Ha, Zack won’t be surprised to see me say jet skiing. It totally freaked me out and I thought we were going to die the entire time.
There’s so much to see and do in the Philippines that it is simply cruel of the Philippines government to only offer a three week visa on arrival. The only consolation? The fact that you can’t really go wrong! However, I’m already itching to go back.
Have you ever been to the Philippines? What was your favorite location?