Friday, February 24, 2017

Bali, Bali - Oxen Free

I've got to stop booking early morning flights out of Singapore....I just can't help myself. Why fly into a new city in the middle of the afternoon when you call pull yourself from sleep and get there bright and early in the morning? I regretting my notion the minute my phone blared me awake at 4:21 AM. I jumped out of bed to find the lists I'd left myself right on my floor. Garbled words like "Passport!!" "Sing. cash for taxi!" and "phone charger!" lay on my floor and were clear enough to decipher. Oh yeah, I was headed to Bali today so do yourself a favor and don't forget these essentials. Just a regular Friday morning, you know? A quiet taxi ride, a breakfast while watching the airport crowd and once the Sing sky had been streaked with pink, Latvian friend Laura and I were off to Uluwatu. Yes, please. 

Our driver met us right outside of immigration where I bulldozed by a group of Chinese tourists obviously more eager (read: more awake) than myself. We met our driver, hopped into the van and were off, zooming through narrow roads, passing Balinese temples poking out from the dense jungle, blurring fruit stalls strung with browning bananas, carefully stacked bottles of petrol and plastic chair eateries. Chickens poked at the ground next to surf shop after surf shop. Singapore, it was not...but that's the way I like it. 

Our Air BnB in Uluwatu was a dream, stepping stones in varying shades of eggshell green, smokey charcoal and a creamy beige allowed a tranquil pathway across the infinity pool, curtained doorways and hanging shell chandeliers. We sipped a flower adorned lime drink till our room was ready — which by the way, seemed to embody peace and tranquility itself...but we didn't stay long. With the promise of "Dreamland Beach" just a walk down the road, it was obviously time to don swimming suits and make our way there. 

A jumble of signs pointed the way towards a narrow walkway of villas (and a field of dolefully grazing cows and vocal roosters), through a derelict ally littered with tangerine and fuchsia colored petals and baskets woven out of banana leaves. Oh and cigarette butts and other rubbish, but who wants to hear about that? Bali's not *quite* perfect, but I digress. Through this derelict alley, we found a long and narrow set of stone steps that gave us a first glimpse of said beach. Truth be told, I looked at these photos after I initially took them and was disappointed — they didn't quite capture his incredibly stunning the scenery was. So if you think the photos convey that, you're wrong and will just have to go for yourself. Pockets of deep navy waters swirled with creamy turquoise patches taunted me from the stone steps. I had to get the water ASAP. 

This long set of stairs spat us on the rocky shore; we'd traipsed onto the surfer's section where the frothy waves broke over jutting rocks. Undetered, Laura and I made a treacherous walk across rocks and powerful surf (avoid crabs and abandoned coconuts) to very private, very beautiful and very sandy cove, set under a sheer cliff and to the right of a trio of fisherman, who were sitting atop one of the volcanic rocks that jutted out from the ocean. Basically, we found perfection. 

It was effortless spending a few hours swimming in the strong surf, lying in the sun and just reveling in the how unbelievable this beach is. Don't get me wrong, I adored my time in Thailand. But this is something out of a falsified postcard. Despite my base tan (days my apartments pool had trained me for this) I felt the beginnings of a sunburn and Laura and I climbed this very unofficial set of stairs out of paradise and back onto the country road back to AirBnB. I say unofficial intentionally. This abandoned house on stilts seemed to be home to a few surfboards and was eerily grafittied with random phrases, but had a very clear depiction of the word "kidney" (or maybe "kidsey" but I like my version better) at the top. Not sure if was some sort of kidney drop off but hey, the view was great. 

The walk home was rather uneventful — just kidding. We got lost, found a heavily guarded (by vocal dog) mart where we negotiated prices and thirstily purchased water in broken English. The shop keeper was, however, articulate enough to ask if I was married — and ask a follow up question in her limited English: "Why?". I don't know, lady. Let me know if you figure that one out. 

When we did reach our dreamy room, a shower and lunch was in order: Mangosteen and dragonfruit smoothie bowls were the highlight, though I'm a sucker for anything coconut, so the coconut ice cream was a close second. I also had an entree, but is that ever as good as dessert? Fed and feeling the after effects of our sunny afternoon, Laura and I got a 5 second tutorial on driving scooters after arguing down the price. Then we were off — on the wrong side of the road. Sorry, American driving. I was quickly corrected and then we were really off. There was a bit of a learning curve, several stops for directions and a random toll road stop where I fumbled with the currency (1,000 IDR is not even 20 cents, but I still was wary because a 1,000 bill has got to be more than that, right?) and we'd arrived just at sunset at the Uluwatu temple. After buying a ticket and wrapping up in a purple sarong I hoped distracted from my hair (helmets and humidity had not played nice), Laura and I watched the sun melt into the waves high from the above cliffs. The waves at the shore crashed violently into the cliffside which I could've watched for hours, if I wasn't rudely interrupted. 

I felt the pressure of someone's arms on my neck, coming from behind. In a panic, I thought to myself, "Who is the world do I know in Bali who is hugging me from behind?" as the more cynical thought in my brain took over "What sort of stranger is trying to hug me?" Turns out, no one I knew was in Bali and was not being assaulted by a stranger. An enormous monkey had jumped onto my back in order to get close enough to snatch the pearl earring out of Laura's ear. Once the sun had sent, hordes of monkeys swarmed the ground in some sort of freakish "olly olly oxen free call".  Now, I'd seen monkeys up close before. The ones in India? Cute. The ones in China? Cute but also terrifying. Turns out Bali has the cute but terrifying kind and after the pearl snatching, it was our cue to leave. 

Donning helmets and revving up our scooters for a drive back in the dark, a wrong turn led us to a convince store that mercifully had wifi (where I could re-download a map home) but more importantly, had a roadside stand selling fruit smoothies. Tragic, I know. Post smoothie  Laura and I zoomed more confidently onto the now quiet and dimly lit roads, stopping to admire the stars in an empty field along the coast — you don't get sunsets really, not to mention stars, in Singapore. It was only the allure of the thread hammock strung up by the empty pool that kept me from collapsing straight into my bed after returning our scooters. I got up before I feel asleep by the pool, knowing I'd sleep better in my Balinese bedroom. We had a busy itinerary planned for Saturday, after all. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

I Found This Cloud Forest.

It's officially February and time is marching along much too quickly for my liking. The months here melt together, seamlessly folding in to each other — indiscernible due to the lack of seasons. Unless you can count a thick blanket of humidity and daily deluge as a season. It's forever summer in Singapore, meaning Mondays and Fridays and Wednesdays and Saturdays are broken up by the same daily makes time go by lots faster. Maybe I should start designating certain days as "avocado shake days" or "wet market shopping for dragonfruit" days...just kidding, that would limit my avocado shake obsession to be a weekly thing, and I just don't want to live my life like that. Since February has shown no signs of slowing down, these whirlwind weeks have been concentrated on slowly crossing off my Singapore to-do list and stumbling on even more treasures. My "foods to eat in Singapore" list is gaining more additions than I think I can fit in before April. To fully appreciate February here,  I spent hours in this bookstore sipping avocado shakes and reading cookbooks about Icelandic cuisine and the food in China and afternoons were wasted away eating coconut jelly, poolside.

But on thing that I'd been waiting months to do was visit Singapore's Cloud Dome. I'd heard good things about this place but always seemed to get distracted by the allure of something else. "You've got time" I'd think to myself and I penciled into this so-called cloud forest to yet another weekend in my future. But February was soon halfway over and I could excuse it no more. I like the Marina Bay Gardens area — Not so much the glitzy Louis Vuitton front, but the overlapping botany you can get lost in, only looking up to see alien trees above your head and a lit up ribcage-like structure on your left — the Cloud Dome. A ticket got me inside where the the blast of arctic air conditioning wasn't nearly as surprising as the thundering waterfall ten steps in front of me. A towering mountain wrapped thick with vegetation is encapsulated in to a glass dome where suspended platforms jut out from the side of said mountain, with meandering pathways on the ground level....All inside this glass structure.

Orchards and vines, leafy greens and carpets of undulating moss clung to the side of this massive mountain and only unfolded into more complex gardens as you went up by level. One section was constructed out of Legos, while another had a beautiful lily reflecting pool. Be sure to catch the misting times — opaque clouds swirl around the mountain and add an eerie glow to the waved platforms. It definitely earn it's "Singapore's Must Do" title — especially if you end the evening watching the light show at those alien trees and walking down the food street just down from the Double Helix Bridge. I got 2 iced Milos, and drank them both before I even reached the bus stop, so yes. I was happy...although 3 I think would have made me extra happy.

Monday, January 30, 2017

I See You, Malaysia.

We had loose plans for our last day in Malaysia- it was planned to be short trip and unfortunately had to stay that way, but I would have loved to stay longer. Still yawning from a late night eating all that Jonker Street had to offer, I started a lazy morning photographing the sleepy streets before we really got going. Metal racks held green coconuts ready to be trimmed and sipped, shops were still boarded up, giving the cats a porch to snooze on without fear of being interrupted by curious shoppers. 

The morning melted into early afternoon, marked only by the museums we slowly crossed off our list. The Dutch Square was first to be looked at; The historical influence and cultural was something I've been craving in Singapore. The cleanly paved walkways and English signs are convenient and modern, but I'd been missing that cultural signficance and general chaos I instantly associated with Asia. The things I love about this side of the world — the zooming motorbikes piled high with whole families, alleys crowded with vegetables and fruits for sale, tiny carts pulled by hand selling bowls of noodles and dumplings and ancient temples and relics hidden between buildings is completely erased from Singapore. Yes, Singapore is modern and urban, but to me that translates to sterile and lackluster..and certainly not the Asia I think of. That thriving busyness, crowded alleys of food streets and Dutch, French, Malaysian influence is thriving in Melaka and I was soaking it up. 

The afternoon quickly passed by as Malay wedding dresses, Arabic manuscripts, Vietnamese pottery and governmental homes were admired.  A leisurely lunch at a backpacking hostel (adorned with vintage wine and beer bottles, scribbled walls from past residents and dreamy French music) consisted of chilled cucumber juice and nasi (or rice) dish topped with a fried egg — in any country, I'm a sucker for a fried egg. Tented vendors tried to tempt us with rubber chickens, small stools painted with the logos of famous sports teams and businesses (loads of UK soccer teams and coffee shop slogans) and foot massage flip flops on our walk to the hostel but it was time to shove yesterday's clothes into our backpacks and walk the now bustling streets to find our departing bus terminal. The traffic back to Singapore was maddening- the 3 hour drive took a grand total of 9 hours due to Chinese New Year traffic; 30 rest stops stretched into an hour or so, where Laura and I ran around, spending our last remaining Ringgets on various cookies and chocolates to lift our spirits as the blue sky slowly turned inky black. A headache at customs (crowds will do that) and a bouncy bus ride brought us back into sleeping Singapore; I calmly queued up for a taxi (no need to shout or push on this side of the peninsula) and once home, flipped on my water heater, only to opt for a cold shower before bed. Malaysia exceeded all sorts of expectations and gave me that dose of culture I'd been missing — hopefully it'll last a few weeks...then I'll need to cross the border again.