Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The evil that is durian

In Southeast Asia there's a famous fruit named durian. It is a large spiky fruit about the size of a football and it has a terrible smell. We had learned about it in language class, and our teacher always encouraged us to try it when we moved to Indonesia.

The afternoon after we had tried our luck at surfing, Hillary was taken off to a spa by our hostess and Hunter and I returned to their house. While we were hanging out, they offered us some fruit and they asked if we wanted to try durian. We decided that our teacher would appreciate it and it'd be a good cultural experience if we gave it a try. It tastes as bad as it smells!

We only ate a few small pieces of it, but we felt like we'd given it a fair chance. Later, Hillary came back from the spa with a few beers our hostess had bought for us. She gave one to me, which I drank before we went down for dinner. At dinner, Hillary also was talked into trying durian.

Later that night, all hell broke loose in my body. I won't get into the details, but I was incredibly sick. We assumed it must have been a bad beer or something like that the next day because no one else was sick and we'd all eaten the same food. I spent the day recovering. Two days later, Hillary went through the same thing!

We've come to the conclusion that the durian is to blame. We've read all sorts of accounts of how durian mixes with alcohol to cause a chemical reaction that makes you really sick. I got sick that first night because I had a beer after eating durian, but Hillary had her beer an hour or so before she ate durian. The night she got sick, we had gone out to dinner and had a few drinks, so it was the first alcohol she'd had since eating durian. Bottom line. It's an evil fruit!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Massage gone wrong

You've read so far that massages vary by style depending on where you are in the country and how westernized the place is. Our host in Bali, Pak Wayan, called the guy who he normally has do his massages for us. The massage was great, but he used some sort of tool, dragging it down my back. Hunter had the same experience. It didn't hurt at all, and I didn't even know there was something wrong until Hillary saw my back. She thought something was seriously wrong at first, but it was similar to a blood blister and went away the next day.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Surfing, a relaxing sport

That's not either of us in the photo...but it could have been. That is, if we could stand up on the board and ride a wave. Surfing is really hard.

After dropping the rest of our party at the airport to head back to the states, Hunter, Hillary and I went with the daughter of the family we were staying with to Kuta beach, a popular tourist beach. There were Australians everywhere trying to learn to surf. Most of them were just as bad as us.

We rented surfboards from some random guys for 10 bucks for 3 hours. It was a good time - except for the general soreness of fighting the waves while holding a 6 foot long buoy and Hillary getting smacked in the head by my surfboard. There was also the worrisome moment when one of the fins on Hillary's board broke by slamming into her, but luckily it was cheap to fix and didn't set us back too much extra.

We'll try it again someday, but next time, it will probably be a good idea to take some lessons...

Welcome to Bali

There are some places that everyone has heard of, regardless of their ability to locate them on a map. I would say that Bali is one of those.

It's a pretty amazing place that's full of great culture, kind and friendly people, and some beautiful beaches and mountains. Everywhere you turn in Bali, you see Hindu statues. They're in front of every business and house and they always have offerings to the god laid out before them.

We were met at the airport by a couple who were the parents of an Indonesian college student who our teacher knew through his church here in DC. The kid had contacted his parents, and being the generous people that they are, they brought us back to their place where we stayed in their really nice guest rooms free of charge. The only bad part about this was that the house was close to the middle of the island, which isn't near any beaches or restaurants.

The next day, they took us to one of the many large temples on Bali. There was a mix of tourists and natives who come to pray and everyone must wear a sarong to enter. When you leave the temple, Balinese and tourists are forced to walk a seemingly never-ending gauntlet of shops with storekeepers trying to sell you souvenirs. The tourism industry was really devastated after the bombings, so anytime they see a Westerner, they try very hard to get your business.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Another day, another volcano

Since traipsing around on one volcano didn't satisfy us, we drove a few hours south of Surabaya to Gunung Bromo, another of Indonesia's active volcanoes. It last erupted in 2004. It's one of the most famous places in East Java, so our teacher thought it would be an interesting place to go.

The plan was to spend the night at a hotel near the mountain, wake up really early and take a 4-wheel drive jeep up a nearby mountain to watch the sunrise. It was really nice to stay in a hotel and just walk to the restaurant for dinner, where we were able to relax and have a couple Bintang beers.

It was a short night since we had to wake up at 4 a.m. There had been some rain during the night and fog had rolled in, so our teacher, his wife and one of the students backed out of the trek up the mountain. Hunter, Caryn, Hillary and I decided that we would make the trek regardless and hope the fog would lift before sunrise.

The trip up the mountain also turned out to be more adventurous than expected. There had been a landslide on the road, and even the jeeps couldn't cross it. We decided to traverse it on foot and walk the rest of the way to the top. The fog was so thick, we could barely see each other, much less any bit of a sunrise!

After we left the peak, we drove to the base of Gunung Bromo, where we had to hike up a trail before reaching 245 steep steps that led to the brim of the volcano. The entire way up to the steps, we were harassed by Indonesians who wanted you to pay to ride their horse.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Every traveler has one

We set out the next morning for the airport to fly across the island to East Java, since it would have been a 17 hour train ride. We left one of our teachers behind because he had some personal matters to attend to.

We were taken on a brief tour of Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, and it was lunch time. Our teacher's wife had joined us for the rest of the trip when we arrived there, and his sister who lived in Surabaya was giving us the tour. It was lunchtime and they suggested Chinese or Indonesian food. After twelve days of little other than those two choices, the thought of more was not appealing.

So, where else does a traveler go when they're having one of those rough days? We had our McDonald's moment. And it was sooooo good. It's a funny thing about McDonald's: so many of us hardly ever eat there in the States, but when you're overseas and you need a little comfort, it's the place to go.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Who's the cowboy?

The guy standing with me in the picture above was our host while we stayed in Bandung. He had a business making shoes, but he specialized in making cowboy boots. Unfortunately, I never got to check out his handiwork.

So, on Saturday, we went over to Stan's house for lunch with entourage in tow, me in Indonesian wear and Pak Achus dressed as a cowboy. Stan had prepared an incredible spread of food, ranging from salmon to lamb, and he grilled it all himself. The avocados never materialized. He said they were still too ripe. We spent several hours there, speaking English with Stan without even feeling slightly guilty about it. He opened a few bottles of very nice wine for us, we stuffed ourselves and had a great afternoon.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A meat free diet?

Everyone's heard the saying about how you don't want to see how sausage is made. While I'm sure that's extremely true for sausage, we learned it to be true for tofu after visiting a local factory.

I can't describe the process, because I don't know how it's made. I do know that this factory was open-air and looked less than hygienic. After being formed in bamboo trays, it's taken out to float in these big vats of water.

On the bright side, the factory owner told us that the best soy beans in the world come from the good ol' U.S. of A.

Sulfur, very aromatic

The next day we took a short drive to one of Indonesia's 130 active volcanoes, Tangkuban Perahu. Since it hasn't erupted since 1983, it was clearly a safe place to walk around.... It was our first experience being really close to an active volcano and the smell of sulfur was really intense. It was also exceptionally warm. The area where we walked was on the side of the main volcano where it had an opening that heated the ground and caused the water to boil. It's a large tourist attraction, and there were vendors who sold eggs that you could hard boil in one of the pools. We said no thanks.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Stan the Man

We were invited to visit the studio of Sunaryo, a famous artist in Bandung. He had a gallery on one of the hills overlooking Bandung, and after showing us around and explaining some of his art to us, we were treated to some dinner and a dance performance. After the show, we were invited over by a guy who had randomly shown up because he lived next door, and he offered to show us his house that Sunaryo had designed.

The guy who invited us over was named Stan. He was an Indonesian who had moved to the U.S. a long time ago after his wife was diagnosed with cancer so she could be treated at M.D. Anderson in Houston. They had ended up staying in the U.S. for around 30 years and after driving cabs in NYC for awhile, eventually became very successful. He and his wife had recently moved back to Indonesia after they had hired 600 workers to build their house as fast as possible.

The house was one of the nicest houses we've ever seen. It was so architecturally unique and had an amazing view. He was even in the process of having photos made of it for use in a book. He also traveled around Indonesia a lot and when he found a traditional house he liked, he would buy it and move it to his home to put outside as a guest house! (The picture shows one of them.)

We hung out at his house for awhile talking and had a couple beers (our first alcohol since arriving in Indonesia). At one point, he mentioned that he grows great avocados, and someone in our group mentioned how much they'd love to try one, so he invited us back for lunch that coming Saturday.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Interaction with Indonesians, what a novel idea

One of the really nice things about our time in Bandung was that on our first night there, they gave us the entire schedule and asked us for our feedback. We cut out all of the meetings with officials we didn't feel like we'd get much use out of. What we really wanted were opportunities to interact with Indonesians, so one of our young hostesses offered to take us to her private university, Parahyangan Catholic University.

She had set up a meeting with students who were members of the International Affairs student group, so they were pretty interested in talking to us. We spent a couple hours there speaking with them one-on-one, which was awesome, and we all got a tour of the campus. While we were in the library, the students told us there was a book explaining that Hitler had moved to Indonesia after World War II! However, it was checked out, so we weren't able to peruse it. Too bad...