Monday, February 28, 2011

Bribing the Police in Bali

The next episode of the winter vacation trip took place in Bali.  We headed to the center of the island to the city of Ubud.  We stayed in a gorgeous hotel and there were cheap, professional massages all up and down the road.  I think I indulged in a massage everyday.  How could I not when it's only five to ten dollars?  Where else can you do that?  There is tons to do in Ubud.  There are beautiful rice terraces to explore, ancient temples to visit, delicious Balinese food to eat, and monkeys to play with.  I made a video from our visit to the Monkey Forest, just scroll down to the bottom of the post to see some fantastic monkey footage.  Our first day there we played with the monkeys, visited a really old temple, and went to see the white herons.  Sometime in the mid 1960's thousands of herons began flocking to a one kilometer stretch of road next to some rice paddies outside of Ubud.  Since then, they show up everyday around 6pm and no one knows why they started doing this or why they continue.  It's best to view the phenomena from afar to avoid being shat upon.  Also, avoid standing under any trees for more than a heartbeat.
We're in Bali!

Look in the trees, so many herons!

The next day was our designated rent a scooter day and ride around the island.  The plan was to get the scooters in the morning, head north to the rim of a very large volcano, and hit up some temples along the way.  We traveled north out of the cities and pretty soon we were in rural Bali on a steady incline to the volcano.  After about forty-five minutes we saw a police truck on the side of the road and two officers standing on the center stripe waving for us to pull over.  I was thinking "drug search" in my head because the same thing had happened a year ago in Thailand.  However, the first thing the officer said was, "Driver's license."  Myself, Zach, and Fan were each driving a scooter with our respective special lady friends riding on the back.  So we handed the officer a Kansas, Kentucky, and Chinese driver's license.  The officer soon found this unacceptable and said, "International Driver's License."  I thought, "What is he talking about?"  In China, Korea, and Thailand you don't need an IDL to drive a scooter so I hadn't thought about needing one in Indonesia.  Then the dialogue went a little something like this:

Us:  "Uh?  What?  International Driver's License?  Since when do you need that?  You don't need that?  Right?"
Police Officer:  "You sure do.  Look."  Points to a couple sentences on our rental agreement forms that basically says you must have an IDL to drive a scooter.  (Oops.)
Us:  "Mmmm yeah, about that.... we didn't realize we needed that.  Haha... yeah, we don't exactly have an IDL.  Sorry dude."
Police Officer:  "Where are you heading?"
Us: "The volcano, sir."
Police Officer:  "Almost made it, didn't you?  How are long are you staying in Bali?"
Us: "Three more days, sir."
Police Officer: "Well, you have two options.  One is to go to the courts in Bali and fight this as an injustice."
Us:  "That certainly sounds unappealing.  What's option two?"
Police Officer: "You will have to pay a fine of one million Rupiah (a little over a hundred dollars) at the bank and it will take four days to process."
Us:  "This also sounds unappealing."
Inside My Head:  "How convenient that we will leave in three days and the fine will take four days to process.  I think I see where this is going."
Us: "So we don't want to do either of those things you just said.  Like we said, we leave in three days."
Police Officer: "How can I help you?"
Us: "We don't know, how CAN you help us?"
Police Officer: "Tell ME how I can help you."
Us: "YOU tell us how you can help us."
Police Officer: "You should tell me how I can HELP you."
Us: "We can't pay a fee in four days, so how about we pay BEFORE."
Police Officer: "When do you WANT to pay?"
Us: "How about now?  Now seems like a good time."
Police Officer: "Ok, how much money do have?"
Us: "Not as much as that number you said earlier.  We're just poor backpackers on our way to see your lovely volcano and your beautiful temples."
Police Officer:  "Mmmm hmmm, so how much do you think you should pay?"
***Awkward Silence***
Me: "200,000 ($20)?"
Police Officer: "Not enough, how about 100,000 for each scooter.  So 300,000 ($30)."
Us: "Ok, glad we could take care of this now."
Police Officer: "Pleasure doing business with you."  *Slips the money in to his pocket*

So that was my first experience in bribing someone in the business of law enforcement.  I though it went pretty smoothly.  We went from almost having to pay over $300 to paying just over $30.  However, it was apparent that this guy was out to get a bribe in the first place.  Later we learned that our experience was rather usual and the amount we paid was fairly typical.  Just another day in Southeast Asia.  Besides that nothing else too exciting happened.  We had lunch on the rim on the volcano, saw some more temples, ate some pig skin, and made it down to Kuta Beach a few days later.  Kuta Beach is the most popular place to visit in Bali, but if you're not a surfer it is highly over rated.  It's too rough to swim, it's crowded, it's dirty, and there are hawkers trying to sell you something every three paces.  So we just drank.  Anyway, enjoy some pictures and the next stop is Singapore.
There's the volcano!

We had to wear traditional dress when we visited the temples.

A water temple.

              Video I put together from Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Annoying Sea Turtles in the Gili Islands

From Bali you can take a two hour boat ride to a small archipelago of three islands named the Gili Islands.  These islands look like the perfect tropical getaways that you see on travel shows.  If you were to be successful in a million dollar bank robbery, this is where you would go to hide from any international crime stoppers.  The Gili Islands are undeveloped and untouched from any resorts or travel packages.  In fact, nothing with a motor is allowed on the islands.  To travel any significant distance on the islands' dirt roads your options are to rent a bike or hire a guy with a donkey with a cart attached.

We arrived on Caroline's birthday and stayed for four days.  If it wasn't for limited time we could have easily lost track of what day it was and spent a couple of weeks there.  Basically we did what you do when you're on a small tropical island.  We slept, laid on the beach, ate, drank (a lot), and swam in the ocean.  However, the real highlight was the snorkeling.  Twice we hired our own private glass bottom boat to drive us around the three islands all day and stop at great snorkeling sites.  Our driver and guide smoked a fat doobie on our first day of snorkeling, and on the second day there were no joints but he did inform us that he had just finished a psychedelic mushroom milkshake right before he jumped behind the wheel to take us in to the ocean.  So it goes in the Gili Islands.
Birthday Shots!

The snorkeling was spectacular!  I had never done snorkeling like this.  I didn't know it could be so amazing.  The Gili Islands are surrounded by beautiful coral reefs.  When ever anyone saw a sea turtle they would scream "Turtle!" to anyone with in a mile and we would all swim as fast as we could to catch a glimpse.  Then we would play the game "See Who Can Pet the Sea Turtle."  This would last until the turtle out smarted us and dove to depths too deep for oxygen breathing warm blooded mammals.  We also encountered a school of jellyfish, a couple puffer fish, a scary looking eel, varieties of tropical fish, and remnants of steel from a sunken ship.  I want to go back to the Gili Islands with no time constraints, lose track of the days, and worry about whether I should be using SPF 8 or SPF 15.  Even though we had to leave the Gili Islands, I couldn't complain too much because the next stop was Bali. 
Baby Sea Turtles at a Conservation Center

Kerri swims under the glass bottom boat!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Volcanic Ash In Yogyakarta

From Kuala Lumpur we took a flight to Yogyakarta, Indonesia.  The primary reason for visiting this place for a couple days was to see its magnificent and very large ancient temples.  I was particularly excited for this portion of the trip because ever since I saw Angkor Wat I have been fascinated by these sorts of things.  The main attractions were Borobudur and Prambanan.  However, if you read the news then you may know that very near to Yogyakarta is a very big and very active volcano named Mount Merapi.  In fact, the volcano blew up in early November and killed well over three hundred people living around the base of the volcano.  Volcanic ash covered everything and clean up was near complete by the time we arrived.

We landed very early in the morning, made it to the hostel, ate some food, and jumped in a van that would take us to see Borobudur.  It is a Buddhist temple that is over 1200 years old.  It was abandoned because it was believed that it was bad luck and could kill people.  This resulted in the temple becoming buried under layers of volcanic ash and jungle vegetation.  Then in the early 19th century a Dutch explorer rediscovered the temple, gave it a good scrub down, and nothing has really changed since.  Anyway, thirty minutes in to the van ride it started to rain and the traffic suddenly became very congested.  This is the first time I ever heard the word lahar.  What is lahar?  I can tell you this information now from experience.  Take leftover volcanic ash from a recent explosion, take some debris, and just add water.  You get yourself a murky, muddy, wet cement like sludge that flows unmercifully over river valleys leaving a trail of destruction.  When the flow stops it hardens and cements everything that was in its path.  So the reason for the before mentioned traffic jam was because a couple blocks ahead if us a large flow of lahar made its way to the road making the route impassible.  Our driver was determined to get us to the temple and took a detour through little rural villages.  This detour was two hours long and before the lahar incident we were only ten minutes away.  We finally arrived tired, cranky, and hungry.  However, the temple was quite amazing and offered a great view of the menacing Mount Merapi.


The next day we went to Prambanan.  It's a Hindu temple that is over 1100 years old.  Since it was first built it has been destroyed repeatedly by earthquakes and eruptions from Mount Merapi.  Presently large portions have been reconstructed but there is a lot of rubble surrounding the site.  It was raining again but this time we avoided any lahar.  We walked around with our umbrellas and followed some young tour guide volunteers who were currently in training and practicing their English.  Prambanan didn't have the same grandeur as Borobudur but it was still impressive and interesting.  Next we had a flight to Bali and it was time for the beach.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Monkey Disease in Kuala Lumpur

It's 5 a.m. and I walk off the plane in Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur.  It's dark and hot.  I'm tired and spacey.  Malays, Chinese, Indians, Arabians, and Persians are walking past me, offering me rides, sleeping on the ground, and speaking in various languages.  I find a bus to take me to the city center.  I doze off and on.  I think I see the Petronas Twin Towers lit up in the distance.  I find a taxi.  We have trouble finding the hostel.  We have to look at a map several times.  I finally make it to the hostel past 6 a.m., just as the receptionist is opening the front doors for the morning.  She says I can check in later and shows me to the dorm room.   I see my friends sleeping in their beds, climb to my bunk, and pass out.  That's how my three week winter vacation began.

I just arrived back in Korea and I'm ready to share some stories and pictures from this year's winter vacation.  The first stop is Kuala Lumpur where I only spent one full day, but it was an active and productive one day.  The first thing I noticed about Malaysia is that it must be the melting pot of Asia.  I see so many different faces, colors, and wardrobes.  I find this to be extremely refreshing.  In China there are Chinese, in Korea there are Koreans, and in Thailand there are Thais.  In Malaysia there is everybody.  Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and who ever else you want to throw in to the pot.  And they're not bombing each other!  We can all hold hands and frolic in a field!  Get out the picnic blankets and blow some bubbles, because there is a country in Asia where multiculturalism is not only accepted but encouraged and proud of itself.  I think in my head, "Hey, Iran, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and Tea Party Members, it can be done.  Look we can all get along in one country in Asia.  So everybody just take a breath and calm down.  Good times."

Anyway, let's talk about the one full day in Kuala Lumpur.  After about three hours of much needed sleep, I woke up and met my friends for some breakfast, "good to see you" conversation, and catching up.  Then we were off to see the Batu Caves.  The day before was Thaipusam, which is the Hindu holiday where they shove needles in to their cheeks, tongue, eye lids, chest, and just about anywhere a needle can go.  I was slightly upset I missed this crazy display, but no matter.  However, because the celebration was the day before, the Batu Caves were blanketed in trash.  Still it was quite interesting.  It's maybe the biggest Hindu shrine outside of India with a big, golden God statue standing outside.  Then you climb the 272 steps while trying to avoid shifty eyed monkeys just waiting to take your morning time apple.  In the caves are people with gold painted on their heads or ash on their face praying Hindu style.  It was a spiritual experience, but not knowing very much about Hindu I'm sad to say it was one I didn't really understand.


Back in the city I knew you could get a straight edge shave.  I've always wanted one because it looks cool and it's one of those manly things to have a super sharp razor run across your face to rid you of your manly stubble.  Zach and I found an old school Indian barber that would oblige us in our manly fantasies.  He sat us in the chair, prepped our faces with creme, took the straight edge to our chins, and made faces at the girls that passed by his window.  The experience was a little rougher than I had predicted.  I thought it would be a really smooth ride but actually it was like shaving bark but with a little blood involved.  Zach had a nice gusher in the throat region which I thought might lead to searching for the first aid kit.  In the end, it was worth it and it was the closest shave I have ever had.  I didn't get stubble until three days later!
Clean Cut
Next we took a ride outside the city to feed monkeys on a mountain side road.  I bought a bag of sweet potatoes and there were monkeys all over me in seconds.  One went straight for the whole bag and I fought this mama off my arm and won, but not with out receiving a bite on the finger.  "Oh no, I have monkey disease!" I thought.  I expressed my concern to our driver and he said, "No problem, the monkeys are vegetarians."  I was unconvinced and sure I would have a high fever in ten minutes and a taste for flesh in twenty minutes.  Luckily, that monkey wasn't a carrier of monkey disease and we spent the next hour having a great time feeding the monkeys, training them to climb up our legs, and hang out on our shoulders.  In the end, we felt like we had made pretty good friends with the monkeys in Malaysia.

Awesome action shot from Becky!
Night fall came and we took a boat ride on the river to see the magical trees filled with lightening bugs.  It was like somebody had filled the trees with blinking Christmas lights to fool naive tourists in to spending money.  However, our boat driver was able to steer very close to the trees to catch some of the bugs to prove that there were in fact no Christmas lights in the trees.  It was really a natural wonder.  It was a great first day of vacation, but the next day our destination was Yogyakarta, Indonesia where things didn't go as smoothly.