Suggestion 2 – How to Travel far from the ‘Madding Crowd’


Connect with people, and try to understand them.

Oh – interesting. How do you ‘connect’ with people in general – and with people who live in a different place and speak a different language in particular.

This is a pretty important question – I have issues meeting my next door neighbors – how do I start up a conversation with someone in Bali? Berlin? St. Petersburg?

Well – in my case – it’s actually easier to meet people when travelling then it is when I’m at home. This is particularly true when I make itinerary decisions that put me out into the public eye – staying in youth hostels for example.

When you stay in a youth hostel – you might not qet quality time with locals – other than the hosts of the hostel – but you can be sure to get quality time with travellers who come from radically different backgrounds and parts of the world. I’ve meet and become friends with families from Polynesia while in Korea, chatted with people from Australia when in Rome, and memorably spent time avoiding Americans in almost every hostel I’ve been in! So – youth hostels, home stays, temple stays, Air BnB – staying anywhere other than a name brand hotel is going to put you in a position of getting to know other people. There is nothing quite like sharing a toilet and a kitchen to force conversation!

Another idea – do a group tour with a company that doesn’t cater to your kinda of folks. I know – it’s hard to break away from just booking with someone based in your country of origin – but the rewards can be huge. We have friends – really really good friends – in Germany and Switzerland because we booked our Botswana Safari thru a tour group based in Europe.

But neither of these ideas will net you local connections. The best way I’ve found to met locals is to smile. Ask Questions. Be interested in what they are doing. My travel partners sometimes get annoyed at me because this slows me down – but the net results are sometimes so amazing! I had dance lessons in Bali because I asked how to bend my fingers just so. I met a bride and groom on their wedding day (and have the pictures to prove it) because I wanted to know why there were fancy decorations outside of their home.

I wandered into a wedding in Vietnam in similar circumstances. Just color me curious – but if I see something interesting – I don’t rush by because I’m on a mission to get somewhere else – I slow down, look, watch, listen, admire, act interested. Language barriers amazingly drop away when your actions say – I’m curious!

Companion advice – don’t be judgmental. This is their world – admire it!

Another – well, let’s call it a trick – I photo-bomb. Seriously. If I see someone taking a picture of someone in their group – I’ll either offer to help – or I’ll join the photo. This is a huge ice breaker for most folks! They laugh – and then we do a group shot – and then logically start sharing our experiences – where are you from, where are you going. I’ve bonded with all kinds of people this way – and had people do the same with me. One memorable experience – in Japan on top of Mt Fuju. We saw people eating eggs with black shells – and were curious. We bought some too – and sat down to figure out what next. And here’s the fun part – people around us noticed our attempts – and immediately came over to offer advice, to give help – and to have their picture taken. I don’t speak Japanese – in those days few people in Japan spoke English – but we had a blast. Made our day!

Similar experience in Bali – we offered to help 3 gals get a group shot – and ended up learning that they were friends from Java – celebrating their 50th birthdays by taking a trip to Bali! We chatted for a few minutes – exchanged email addresses – and moved on. Surprise – a day later – a photo of us, taken by them – just to say hi.

And my last, but not least, piece of advice. Talk to the kids. Smile at them, chat with them, pick easy words and see if anyone knows them. Often there will be one kid in the group that is a bit braver than the rest – and they will at least try to speak to you! Kids are the best hosts in a new (to you) country – and they don’t worry so much about what you are thinking of them. Just a smile works wonders. Hand bumps, high 5’s, even low 5’s all act as ice breakers with kids. They are generally thrilled to know they can relate to someone so foreign – so strange – and yet willing to smile with them.

So – Connect with people – new people – when you travel. Your travel experiences will be richer for the time spent seeing what it like in their shoes. And often the fit is surprisingly great.

Attached is my favorite group hug from Bali – the boys and I spent a good 5 minutes trying to chat – and ended up only knowing each other’s names. But that was enough to ensure that these young men will always have a place in my heart!

Signing off to go smile at someone – The Soup Lady

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Goodbye to Bali


It’s my last morning in Bali – and I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself

It’s been an amazing 3 weeks in an amazing place. Bali really has something to offer anyone who can stand the heat. And if you can’t stand the heat – get out of the kitchen.

OK – so it’s been hot. And humid. And getting into a swimming pool every evening isn’t optional – it’s required. But it’s also been intriguing, and exciting, and stimulating, and fun.

I’ve done stuff that I really never thought I’d do – and yes – Yoga, Pilates, and Tibetian Gong mediation are on that list. I’ve done things that I’ve loved to do before – and was thrilled to have another go at them – White Water Rafting, Jungle Treks, Fish Market Visits, Art Galleries, Unique Dance and Puppet performances. I’ve participated in Nyepi, I’ve shaken hands and been photographed with a bride and groom on their wedding day (glorious outfits – trust me), and done a ton of walking.

I’ve yet to ride a motor bike – but Diana is threatening to take me on one today – just to break that ice cube.

So – last morning – the workmen are quietly chatting on their way to wherever they go as they pass behind my wall – the roosters are crowing, the ducks are strangely silent – but I think they have been moved to another rice field, and even the lizards are just quietly climbing the walls.

My mosquito canopied bed has been a cozy place to write my blogs, admire my photos and charge my iphone. It’s been a comfy place to sleep too.

But it’s the last morning. I must pack – which should be a challenge since I have a lot more stuff than I had when I arrived. The Lady in Pink, her BFF, and myself have been invited to lunch at Diana’s compound – he wants his wife to prepare us a traditional meal. I hope she’s on board with this! Then I plan to take one last swim, one last shower – and head to the airport to start my long 25 hour journey back to Montreal.

it’s a bitter sweet feeling – leaving is sad – going home is exciting.

Signing off to pack – The Soup Lady

PS: oops – forgot my appreciation challenge – I appreciate the opportunity I had to meet all these wonderful people here in Bali – I shall treasure my group hug photos forever. Thank you Bali – I had a ball.

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The Toilets of Bali


It seems that everywhere I travel, eventually I do a toilet blog. Why I must wonder are toilets such a re-occuring theme – and then of course I answer myself – silly woman – it’s so obvious.

I’m a older woman – I need to USE a toilet frequently – and unlike a guy – a nearby tree is hardly satisfactory. I care about these things – I think about these things – and I’m willing to chat about them. Ipsofactso – Toilet Blog.

What does the perfect toilet need? My daughter and I, travelling thru Greece many years ago now, actually came with a check list – and then proceeded to rate all the toilets. I’m guessing the list hasn’t changed.

1. Privacy – sometimes toilets are just a bit too open to the breezes. My toilet on the Live-aboard boat in Komodo National Park definitely lost it in the privacy department. A shower curtain just doesn’t cut it. And there were toilets in some places in Bali (mostly off the beaten track for those worried about this) that had doors that didn’t close tightly – although none matched some of the total open to the world toilets in China. So 3 Stars for this one Bali

2. A Flushing toilet – no joke – lots of toilets in 3rd and 2nd world countries that I’ve visited skip the flushing aspect. It’s mechanical – it breaks – taking a bucket and pouring water to get rid of the ‘evidence’ is an inexpensive functional solution. I’d say a third of the toilets I visited in Bali had this issue – simply didn’t/couldn’t flush. 2 Stars here

3. A throne – not a squat. Sorry – bad knees, and squarts are hard on me. I’m a lot better than I used to be about making sure my feet stay dry and my clothes the same – but still. Please – give me a throne. Squats in Bali are not unusual – but you do have to go out of your way to find them – gas stations, private homes in country compounds, if you look – you will find. I did. Too bad too. I’m giving Bali 4 Stars for really just a few squats – and those were so clean.

4. Toilet Paper – now this is interesting. Not all toilets in Bali had toilet paper – and most needed you to put the used paper in a side trash can – but almost all of the toilets had a hose attachment for – well – bidet purposes. One even had a sign cautioning westerners Not to use the hose to waash their feet. Too fun, that. It’s hard to knock a place that values cleanliness as much as Bali – I’m thinking 5 stars here – although keeping some paper in your pocket is a really good idea.

5. A working sink – preferably with some way to dry your hands after you washed them. I’m not convinced that folks in Bali understand drying hands after washing them – nor do they seem to grasp the importance of napkins – at least from the folks I travelled with. I need both to be happy – and I definitely want a working sink. Critical actually. And less satisfactory if it’s shared by both men and women, but I’ll compromise on that. Places in Bali wihtout a sink were rare – but it wasn’t unusual to have to search for the darn thing. Why hide them I wonder? 4 stars and a flashlight for this one.

6. Level floor. I hate having to step up to get onto the toilet or the squat. It’s unblanced and feels awkward – but often they build up to hide the sewer tank. Guess that’s better than no sewer. 4 Stars

7. Clean – All the toilets in Bali – no matter how back woods, no matter how isolated, no matter what kind of silly establishment (a tiny all night grocery store springs to mind) – were clean. In fact – Bali was generally one of the cleanest places I’ve been. I saw ladies out sweeping and cleaning the roadways in front of their shops every day. Yes I did see a rat – but with everything out in the open air – and daily food offerings everywhere – that’s probably to be expected. Another note – Cleanliness is part of the version of Hindu popular in Bali – people have special clothes to wear to temple – and many of the most important temples including bathing rituals in a visit. And i saw people bathing in the rivers and streams quite frequently. So people are generally very very clean, Despite the heat! Bali in general rates very high on the clean scale. Impressive. 4 Stars.

7. Optional upgrades – fresh flowers (in the airport), options for towel, paper towel, or blow drying (fancy hotel on the beach that we popped in to visit), TV’s in the mirrors (never saw that here), granite/marble floors (only the fancy places did this – for most people tile worked fine. And every bathroom I entered was tiled.) And last but not least – locking doors if it’s a public place. I found several toilets in Bali that just simply didn’t lock closed. My favorite – someone had tied a nail to a cord – and you threaded the nail thru the former lock mechanism to hold it shut. Another memorable toilet was one that trapped a girl inside. She was hammering madly to get out – it took 3 of us pushing hard to free her.

So – Bali – 4 Stars overall. Better than some places – A lot lot better than other places – but not the best for fussy North Americans. Japan and South Korea are still my favorite Toileting places for this part of the world!

Edible Bali


Food is a constant theme in my life – my husband is a chef, my daughter is a chef, my other kids love to cook, my grand-daughter is a complete fan – and my life has been spent around food and restaurants.

But nothing really prepares you for the food experiences of Bali.

As I observed before – There is a ripeness, a lushness, a over-whelming abundance of growing things in Bali that both bemuses, amuses, and fascinates one. It’s easy to understand why visitors to this island became residents. I suppose that growing up here would almost ruin it – how can you be surprised when it has always been like this?

So – Outstanding food experiences…

We took a Jungle Trek – really more like a farm explore if the farm was up and down crazy ravines, mad paths, and had little apparent organization. The Lady in Pink observed that in Bali one doesn’t have to encourage growth – the rain takes care of that – one has to prune and control. Which explains Avocado trees that tower above you, coffee trees that are 6 foot high – and thats with constant pruning, and the wealth of fruits that quite literally grow wild everywhere.

Bananas, jack fruit, Durian, Pineapples, Coffee, Cocoa, Vanalia, Tumeric, Clove, Mangos, Mangosteens (in season now and a wonderful discovery), Papya, ferns, long beans, edible vines, Coconut trees (providing leaves, coconuts, coconut milk, and even coconut oil), Palm trees (for Palm oil and Palm Sugar), the list is endless. And we saw and tasted everything we could.

It’s truly overwhelming, surprising, astonishing, wonderful, and joyously edible.

Our Jungle Trek starts and ends in Stoned Goat Village – a village so small – it doesn’t even have a repair shop for motor scooters. And trust me – that’s small. Our host tells us that the village official population is 300 – but lots of people are actually living in Ubud or Denpassar in order to go to school, get a good paying job, or just get away from village life.

Our pair of fearless leaders – for our group of 4 senior ladies ranging from 60 to 80 years of age – guided us and helped us up and down and around – pointing out all the edible things, and giving us tastes of those that were ripe. Land in Bali is deeded to individuals, and recently the government has been sending survey teams out to provide land owners with proper paper work, so it is clear when you move from one family’s land to the land belonging to a local Temple, to the land of another family. But the food that grows on the land – except the cash crops like Coffee – appear to be ‘open season’. If it’s ripe – and you see it first – it’s yours!

So we munch our way around the forest, eventually getting back to the family compound of one of our guides. It’s not much – the toilet is a stand-upon, the shower is a hand wand serving multiple duty as toilet paper and body wash, but it’s warm, it’s friendly – and they have spent hours cooking us a huge lunch.

There are at least 8 serving bowls – each containing a uniquely flavored dish – one has tempe – a soy bean option – that has been fried. Yum. Another contains fried eels from the river that runs behind the compound. There are 2 omlet like dishes – maybe a bit more like highly seasoned crepes than our fluffy omlets. There’s pieces of tofu that have been cooked, 2 long bean dishes – one so heavily garliced that I tell everyone to eat it – we’ve got to sit in a car for hours – and we might as all have bad breathe.

And of course there is rice.

Yummy – spicy – not spicy – crispy – soft – sweet and sour – The meal manages to hit all the taste buds and all the texture points.

For desert they are making Palm Sugar – it’s been boiling over a wood fire stove since last night – and they’ve carefully timed things so that the sugar firms up just as we finish our lunch. It’s a sugar high – super hot – and tasting vaguely of caremel.

After the meal – the wife and 14 year old daughter of the host puts on a Balinese traditional dance performance for us – and I even get rolling eye lessons. Such fun. Such Food. Like being on Food Network without the camera issues!

But that’s not the top food experience I had. The absolute best experience was at the home of Diana – our driver extraordinaire. He invited us to lunch at his compound on my last day in Bali – and he and his wife started preparing the day before.

I arrived at their place about 30 minutes early (I’d walked back from downtown Ubud – it’s hard to judge how long the walk will take) – and I’m relaxing in the shade when I realize that men are delivering a huge wooden table and 6 simple but elegant wooden chairs to Diana’s house. He bought a table and chairs so that they could serve us lunch.

Think about it – he went out and bought a table – he didn’t have one when he invited us over for lunch – and then figured he’d need something to feed us on. Later I asked about it – and he said he’d decided that it would be easier on us – and besides he didn’t have one. He and his wife rarely get the luxury of eating together – they work crazy hours – so you eat when you are personally hungry.

The meal they served us – while less variety then the Jungle Feast – was positively delicous. A whole roasted chicken – Diana said it was boiled – but the skin was a bit crispy – so maybe boiled then roasted? Yummy in any case. There was Rice – of course. There were the traditional long bean vegetable dish – which was delightful. They served Chicken Satay – which put me into the mind set of Kebbe – it was seasoned ground chicken wrapped around a bamboo stick and then grilled. I ate 5. There was roasted pork – full fat of course – and wonderful.

After the meal they served us leaf wrapped sticky rice – one set had bananas in the rice, the other had coconut. Diana refered to these as snack food – you can put a bunch into a backpack – and pull one out when you feel a bit needy.

The meal ended with ice cream – in celebration of me – the Lady who stops for Ice Cream.

My description simply can’t do justice to the depth of flavors there were in these dishes – again – salty, sweet, bitter, sour – all the taste buds rejoyed with every bite.

After lunch, and a tour of the compound, Diana took us to meet one of his uncles – who has 5 fighting cocks. The old man gladly showed me how to hold the bird and massage him – something that all the cock fighter owners do on a daily basis to keep the birds in perfect shape. Easy once you learned the trick – hold both wings down – or the bird will start flapping and things get seriously out of control from there!

During another trip around the island, we stop at a coffee roaster to see how they make Litwak coffee – that’s the one where the Civet cat eats the coffee beans, and then the cat shit is roasted. They also had ginger tea, lemon grass tea, coffee with ginger, and even plain coffee. It was all delicious, but horribly expensive – so while I tasted – I didn’t buy.

So – while in Bali – I’ve had Crispy Duck, Chicken Curry, Fried Pork, Beef Rendang, more rice that I ever thought I’d eat, at least a dozen different flavors of ice pops, long beans, tempe and soy beans prepared in many different ways, fried chicken, fried eels, Banana Pancakes, fried rice with vegges, fried noodles with veggies, and enough Mangosteens to sink a battle ship.

I didn’t try Dragon Fly – apparently a staple of Diana’s diet when he was growing up, the only fish I had was Tuna – although I saw tons of fish at the daily morning fish market – ranging from all kids of groupers, to cuttle fish, shrimp, small sliver fish (herring?), octopus, shark fins, and a host of fish that I didn’t quite for sure recognize out of the ocean. We ate at a wide range of restaurant types – some more touristy then other – prices ranging from $2.50 per person to $25 per person. We generally avoided alcohol – although the local beer – Bintang – is supposed to be quite good. And we never ever ate at a buffet.

And yes – I did 3 different grocery stores – just to see what purchased foods look like here.

Overall Food in Bali – a super easy 5 stars!

Signing off to consider her next meal in Bali – The Soup Lady

Doing your Laundry – Balinese Style


When I travel with the Intrepid Traveller – we always carry a clothes line and soap – and do our ‘laundry’ almost every night. Thank goodness for Tilly Clothing – you need stuff that will dry quickly – and Tilly totally does the trick.

But here in Ubud in particular – and Bali in general – laundry places abound. There is one in every village – and almost one on every street corner. They are more popular – and certainly easier to spot – then proper petrol stations!

Blessing note – I saw them doing prayers for both the washers and dryers yesterday – so just like cars and motorbikes – apparently any machine that you count on – needs to be rid of evil spirits.

So of course – I had to try it out. And I admit to becoming adicted. Ok – color me blonde – but here was my latest laundry list:

8 t-shirts
2 trousers
3 under shorts (I think they mean – underware)
1 dress (actually – I think this actually was a longer t-shirt – but I’m not going to argue)
4 Bras

Total cost – for everything – $3.60

Keep in mind that not only do they wash and dry the clothes – they iron them. I saw them ironing my bras – I’m not kidding. And they give you same day service – bring your clothes in by 9:00 am – they are ready by 5:00 pm.

These people work amazing hours – and as far as I can tell – 7 days a week. They might be closed on Sunday – its a bit hard to be sure because we just finished Nyepi – and of course they were closed.

Now that’s what I call service – If we could get our laundry done at home for that price – who would ever buy a washer and dryer!

One fast note about petrol stations – there appear to be 2 kinds of stations – ones that look like ones at home for cars – and street vendors selling gasoline in glass 1 litre jugs. I’m guessing those are for motorbikes – not that i’ve seen a motor bike pull up to one of these street vendors and fill up. And speaking of motor bikes – The Lady in Pink says that when she was here 13 years ago – there were no cars, some motor bikes and tons of bicycles. Today there are tons of cars – about three times as many motor bikes as cars – and almost no bikes. I actually have seen 5 bikes in 2 weeks – and 3 of them were being ridden by serious long distance bikers like you see in California. The other 2 were school kids.

Photo preview of tomorrow’s Blog – market day and view of Mt Agung – Bali’s active volcano. A must see – must photograph view!

Signing off to bring the laundromat more laundry – The Soup Lady

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Traveling the Back Roads of Bali


Getting out of the city isn’t as easy as one would think in Bali. The odds are you are staying in Denpassar, on the southern island with the fancy resorts and the beach vibe, or in Ubud – with it’s Yoga culture and Organic emphasis.

But if you want to see the Bali that dreams are made of – the isolated communities, the farmers tilling their fields in ways that date back hundreds of years – you must leave the hustle and money grubbing tourist culture behind and head into the hills.

Diane (driver extradinare) decided to take me towards the far Western end of Bali – a land of ravines and forests – waterfalls and clove trees – that is dominated by the simply enormous Taman Nasional Bali Barat (West Bali National Park). There are several ways to get from here to there – and Diane selected the back road route. Tiny roads barely a car and a half wide – filled with pot holes deep enough to break an axle. But worth hanging tough to see the farmers lovingly tending their fields – acres of rice fields, tomato gardens, and flower gardens stretching out before us in a crazy patch work of infinite growth.

The best word I’ve found to describe Bali is succulent – over-ripe in many ways. There’s so much life all around you – all the time. Nothing is done half way – people don’t just smile – their faces light up when they say hi. Houses aren’t just buildings – they are compounds bursting with people, pets, children, life. It’s so over the top – it’s almost overwhelming.

And that’s the case with the farms. You don’t just see tomatoes growing. In the same field might also be lettuce, cabbage, and perhaps tempe. Green houses are suprisingly common – and don’t just grow strawberries – in amonst the strawberry plants there are long beans, onions, perhaps marigolds.

Flower fields – particularly marigolds that are present in all offerings, on all tables, in every bathroom – including the bathrooms at the airport (who ever saw fresh flowers in the bathroom of an airport before?) – abound. There’s a real industry in marigold buying I guess – all the women I’ve spotted doing offerings – and some women do this every day, to every car, motor bike, entrance way, and hindu statue in their living space – use marigolds. And yet I’ve never seen them for sale.

We drive up and down and around – spotting Ogoh-Ogoh’s hidden in community halls, entrance ways to temples, or proudly displayed on street corners in every village. As we go from Sea Level to over 4500 feet in elevation (over 1000 meters) – the vegetation changes – it’s still Rain Forest – but now the plants are Clove Trees (did you know Cloves grew on trees – I didn’t), Coffee Trees, Jack Fruit Trees, Durum Fruit trees – you name it – and it grows wild here.

Diane says that these aren’t really that wild. All land – except that in the National Park – belongs to someone – and the Clove Trees get harvested in their season, as does the coffee, the vanilla, the nutmeg, and the fruits. Sure enough – we arrive at the ridge line road that runs along the top of the mountain – and on our right – the side that is less steep – but still pretty steep – are compounds. And in front of every one is a stand holding todays market garden harvest. This time of year it’s Mangosteens and Mandarin Oranges. We stop and buy 3 kg of Mangosteens for 20,000 RLP (about $2) – and enjoy their burst in your mouth flavor.

Diane does a rest stop at one of the view spots for the national park – and an enterprising young man has picked the same location to display his animal collection – 2 huge fruit bats, a snake the size of – well – a big snake, and a giant lizard. I’m intrigued by the bats. They are huge – over a foot long from tip to bottom with a wing spread of at least 2 yards (2 meters). They are soft to the touch, and their wings feel like baby skin. I feed one a bit of banana and watch it’s tongue move in and out as it slowly enjoys the snack.

The young man has had the bats for 3 years – raised them from babies – and they are amazingly calm. He puts one on my hips – and it walks its way up to have it’s legs around my neck as I stretch out it’s wings and Diane snaps a picture. Oh – is this weird. And only on a mountain top in Bali I’m guessing.

We hike down a rough trail to see a waterfall that tumbles over 400 feet (100 meters) from high above us. At the bottom of the water fall is a walking area that you can use to reach the bottom of the fall – it’s too cold and wet for me to venture in too far – but I get the idea. Beautiful.

We head back down the mountain – and stop at one of the 7 main Hindu temples in Bali – The Lake temple. There is a festival happening – Diane thinks it’s a family gathering related to the cremation of a relative – these happen 5 years after the death of the relative – and serve as an opportunity to provide the priests with offerings of live ducks apparently! Neat.

The grounds of the lake temple have been turned into a Balinese style amusement area – play ground for the kids – and paddle boats – including a pink swan boat – for the adults. We wander around – enjoying the atmosphere for a while. One thing that surprised me – just 100 meters from the entrance to this famous old temple is a brand new – very large – mosque. And while we were wandering around – we hear the call to prayer echoing across the park. Nothing says religious tension like putting your religious site on top of someone elses…

Our next stop was supposed to be lunch – but we get a bit lost on the way – and pass an official looking sign. I ask what it is for – and Diane says – Hot Spring! Oh I really want to visit a Hot Springs – so he backs up – parks – and we follow the trail down to the spring. Curiously, it leads thru a farmers yard with his fighting cocks in their individual cages made from bamboo – and around his fields, before we enter thru an offical looking gate way. The Hot spring has been relatively (by Bali Standards) built up. There’s a ticket booth, a toilet (squat only – no toilet paper), private bathing rooms that one can hire, changing rooms with showers – and 2 hot baths made of stone. One is fairly large – and about 98 degrees. The other is quite small – 1 or 2 persons at a time – max – and quite a bit warmer. Using my hand – I’d guess at least 104 degrees. There’s a third pool – but this one requires an additional fee – apparently it has a greater mineral content and offers more healing power – so we opt to just admire the setting.

We hike back up to the car – and continue on. I’m really getting hungry now. The road gets smaller and smaller – and the pot holes deeper and deeper. I’m seriously questioning Diane’s ‘short-cut’ when we suddenly pop out onto a more major road – and suddently there are the famous rice fields of Bali. Unfortunately – here comes the rain as well. Hey – it’s a rain forest – into your life some rain must fall.

We eat lunch in a restaurant with an amazing view of the rice fields – if it wasn’t pouring so hard that even the restaurant dog is looking for shelter. Diane gets nervous for his car when a wind blast hits so hard that the bamboo shades that protect the open air restaurnat from the sun are blown hard into the posts that support the ceiling. Really – really hard. plants are blown over – and the few patrons hurridly change tables for ones that are more centered and away from the wind. The temperature plummets – and for the first time in 2 weeks – I’m a bit cool!

But this too shall pass – and before we can pay our bill – the rain is over, the sun is out – and the rice fields are once again visible thru the fog. We admire them – and then head on down – a quick stop at the Butterfly park to see butterflies bigger than many birds (6 to 8″ across), a giant dung beatle, and leaf bugs. There is even a black widow spider. And then home – pool, shower, dinner and bed.

Signing off to consider her next jaunt… The Soup Lady

Being in Bali Makes you want to…


Get a tattoo – Maybe it’s a natural result of seeing so many people wearing so little clothing – but the number of amazing tattoo’s is hard to believe. Vines on feet, flowers on wrists, entire arms, chests, legs, if there’s visible skin – it often sports an amazing tattoo. One guy actually showed me the map of Indonesia on his arm. Handy if you get lost I suppose. I think I’d prefer a GPS or a good compass.

Fast – As in not eat. Overheard at the Yoga Barn in Ubud – “I’m on the third day of my fast – and it’s not so bad. I’m a bit dizzy – but it’s ok”. My idea of a fast – missing lunch!

Drink incredibly great coffee – Yes this is the home of the Civet Cats that eat the coffee beans and poop them out – which apparently makes for a coffee you must try to believe (haven’t tried it yet) – but even the normal – $4 a kilo coffee is incredibly yummy. Guess what friends and family are getting as gifts this year…

Take most of your clothes off and DANCE – I think this is a Yoga Barn/Ubud thing – but the Estatic Dances and Sunday Dances are pretty incredible happenings. 150 to 250 people crowded into a large – but not infinite space in order to jive to the sounds of a DJ. no partners, no talking, just dance. If you try to partner, or break the rule of silence, you can expect to be quietly and quickly corrected. This is a seriously no talking activity. My favorite part – lying down afterwards and relaxing to the sound of a gamalin.

Drink delicous Iced Tea with the sugar syrup on the side – It’s hot, Ice Tea is cold – so of course this is going to work. But the tea is particularly good here – brewed and iced, not instant junk – and having the sugar syurp served on the side makes it super eady to control your sugar fix.

Really listen to the words of John Lennon’s Imagine.

Eat Gado-Gado (vegetables in peanut sauce) in a different restaurant every night to compare recipes. This is possible because food here in Bali is very cheap – $3 to $4 for a main dish if you steer clear of restaurants that look fancy. Even a fancy duck dinner (and I’ve yet to try Duck – bummer) goes for about $30 for 2 – so it’s pretty challenging to run up a bill that requires using your credit card. Just don’t do buffets (so dangerous in this climate for our poor western tummies), and steer clear of a hotel brand you recognize and you’ll be fine!

Talk to strangers – I don’t know what it is about me and traveling – but I’m constantly chatting with strangers – and they get right to the nitty gritty of what is bothering them. I promise – this happened – a woman starts telling me about her hike up Mount Batur to see sunrise, and the fact that she missed it because her son’s tummy wasn’t doing great. I asked – is your family brushing their teeth with bottled water? Answer – No. Well – says I – try that. Might help your son’s tummy. (sigh – imagine – medical advice from the uninformed to the unwary on a walk thru the rice fields. Really?? Only in Bali.)

Get rid of your aggression by having your incisor teeth filed down. This is a traditional rite of passage for Balinese teens – and while I’m not sure it works to get rid of agression – it does go a long way to explaining why food here is so often served in tiny chunks of intense flavor. No Incisors – no cutting the meat off the bone with your teeth!

Ride a Motor Bike Taxi – Again – I haven’t quite worked up the nerve to do this yet – but everyone else does it. If I’m truly brave – I might work up my nerve – or get desperate enough to do it. That almost happened the other night – It was late, I was facing an hour walk back to the Pink Lady’s Palace – and the first taxi offer was a motor bike. Saved by the guy behind him! But it was a close call.

Stand out in the warm rain – just because you can! It’s hot here – and the rain doesn’t always cool things down. So risk of chill for us northern types is pretty well nil. On the other hand – locals wear long sleeves and even sweaters at night. I’m still in shorts and a t-shirt – and sweating! What a difference getting used to a climate makes.

And most importantly – Buy a stone statue of Ganesha (elephant headed Hindu God) to bring home in your luggage – but be sure to learn the story first. Ganesha is the God of protection – and all traditional homes (and most homes are traditional) have one. He sits just inside the front gate of all compounds – and his important job is to keep out those evil spirts. And he does a pretty good job! I really wanted to buy a statue – I was hoping for a Monkey King – but Diane – source of all local info – decided that I absolutely needed Ganesha first. He’ll look great guarding the entrance to my garden at home – just hope he doesn’t find the winters too cold!

Signing off to go White Water Rafting – another must do in Bali – The Soup Lady

Was doing a Live-aboard on the Mangguanna in Komodo National Park worth It?


Interesting question. Glad I asked myself. The diving varied between Spectacular – 5 Star – Best I’ve ever done – diving, and pretty medicore. Sometimes on the same dive.

I asked Denny (dive master extraordinare) why we didn’t do some of the seriously famous dives in Komodo National Park (3 sisters, Cannibal Rock, etc.) – instead of hanging just in the more northern part of the park where the water is warmer, but the visibility very constricted by Indonesian standards. Our last dive was a muck dive (Denny’s description during the briefing) and it had water so cloudy I couldn’t see the bottom when I back-rolled in off the tender – and it was just 12 meters (30 feet) below. Visiblity like this means it will be challenging to see the sharks and other larger fish that circle around the reef.

And this was the case on several of the dives – and absolutely true for all the dives on days 3 and 4.

Denny explained that the safety of the guests came first – and they weren’t sure we could handle the serious drift dives. Ok – I can appreciate that I might be of concern, and maybe the vegetarian who just did her 99th dive – but the rest of the group was highly experienced, and would have done them with ease. So I don’t buy that as a reason. I think the issue was that we had to stay close to Labaun Bajo to pick up the Aussies on day 3 – and thus couldn’t just take the boat further away from the home base. This is disappointing to say the least – and not what I and the rest of the group that originally had booked on Moana Crusing had expected, been told, or wanted to happen.

Because we were joined on day 3 by 2 new divers – I believe that the 2 morning dives of day 3 had to be done within speed boat distance of Labaun Bajo, and the afternoon and night dives of day 3 had to be done in easy to dive locations so that the dive master could check out the new comers. This basically cost us one precious day of diving. On day 4 we could only do 2 dives because most of us were flying the next day – and we were scheduled to see the Komodo Dragons – but since the Aussies were doing 4 dives – again the locations were compromised. Yes – I was annoyed.

So – let’s say 1 star for dive site planning, 3 stars for the diving – and 5 stars for criter viewing. I would have loved to do a proper drift dive – I’ve done several before and enjoyed them – and expected that this time – but it didn’t happen. 5 or 6 of the 15 dives we did were outstanding – but that’s just 1/3. I know you can do better.

Another issue – the rats. Ok – it’s a boat – rats happen. I’m not stupid, I’m not ignorant – I know this. But it doesn’t make me happy. But what was of greater concern was the attitude among the crew. When guests comment about the rats eating our toothpaste, leaving droppings everywhere, climbing on our legs while we sleep – we don’t expect a shrug. Even if you can’t really DO anything – pretend to do something.

And this wasn’t just noticed on day 3 or 4 – On day 1 I spotted rat droppings on top of the cupboard in my room – pointed them out to the ‘chef’ – who did arrange to get them swept up. But clearly didn’t even try to arrange for some rat poisoin – and at that point we were close enough to Labaun Bajo to send a tender back. It’s ignoring the issue that makes it a problem.

Food – I commented in an earlier blog that the food varied considerably. I give the ‘chef’ points for trying hard – and there were some serious highlights – Those banana pancakes – perfect. And his smoothies were yummy. But there was a frustrating lack of variety, and nothing really new. Hey – how about some Snake Fruit or Mangosteens? Tempt us – tease us – challenge us. Don’t bore us!

Cabins – except for the rats – were great. My bed was extremely comfortable – plenty of head room even for an upper bunk. I would have liked a shelf in the cupboard – but that’s being fussy. And while the toilet arrangement wasn’t 5 star – it worked great.

Comfort – there were 3 chaises for 6 to 8 divers. So we constantly were fighting, or trying not to fight about who got the chaises. The bean bags were extremely comfortable – but had holes so the little white styrofoam beads keep falling out all over the deck. We complained, we asked for duct tape – we got told ok – and no duct tape EVER showed up.

Library – 3 fish books – NO reef animal book. So it was a good thing that Denny had his personal copy.

Amenities – no decks of cards, no dominos, nothing. No attempt to show videos, no photography station, no where to even plug in rechargeables if you didn’t bring your own converters.

So – would I go back to the Mangguanna? No.

Would I dive with. Komodo Diving? No

Would I dive again in Komodo National Park – Yes. Absolutely. Tomorrow if time, space on board a better boat, and money allowed.

So – bought the T-shirt – have extremely fond memories!

Signing off – The Soup Lady

200 Dives and Counting!


On March 18th I did my 200th Scuba Dive. Isn’t that cool?

Denny was my dive buddy – and the location was Palau Tenght in Komodo National Park.

I distinctly remember the first time I tried scuba diving – it was at a swimming pool at a hotel in Puerto Rico in 1976 – my husband and I ran into the guy running the resort course and he convinced my husband that even though he had horrid issues with his nose – he could teach him to dive – or his money back.

Such an offer my husband could not refuse.

So – we did it. We took the 1/2 day scuba intro at the pool – which ended up taking us into the swimming lagoon off the beach of the hotel. I’ll bet if we went 10 feet deep – it was a lot.

But we learned to take off our masks, how to breathe thru the regulators, how not to panic if you lost your regulator, and some more of the very basics of scuba.

The really attractive part of the deal was an offer to go to a small island 17 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico – Culebra – and do 2 boat dives there. To avoid the issues of flying after diving, the plane was actually open to the air (no pressure) and flew less than 200 feet above the waves – and they had to weigh us to determine where we should sit. In order to land – the plane tipped sideways thru 2 mountain peaks.

What nuts we were – but we did get to do 2 dives in crystal clear waters – and probably to a max depth of 25 feet. It was awesome.

Went home – got certified.

And now I’m doing #200. Wow – been a long way, lady.

I admit to hoping that #200 would be as memorable as #1 – but it was not to be. The memorable dives here in Indonesia (Komodo National Park) were 197 (Manta Point), 194 (Shot Gun), 189 (Castle Rock), 190 and 193 (Crystal Rock), and 191 (Secret Garden). The rest – including #200 – are a blur, nice but not spectacular.

There are other dives among the 200 that stand out – the overhangs and tunnels off the east coast of Grand Cayman, muck diving in the seriously cold water in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, and of course the Roraima – a wooden sailing boat that sits in 185 feet of water off the coast of Martinque. That was done as a decompression dive of course – with tanks tied off at 25 feet and 15 feet. I also fondly remember the sponges in the cave in Greece, and the octopus that AquaMan – our dive master in Greece – found for us to play with underwater.

Nice memories of blowing bubbles. Here’s the next 50 (I’m doubting I’ll make more than that.. To busy doing too many other things)

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Manta Rays – the B-52 Bombers of the Pacific Ocean


Manta Rays are cool. And huge. Seriously huge. They act like they own the seas – and I suppose in a way they do. I can’t imagine a shark taking down a manta – I can’t even imagine them wanting too!

And Manta’s don’t eat divers – I’m not actually sure that they eat meat. Which brings up one severe lack on this dive boat – no one with a background in fish behavior – at least no one who speaks English. So I don’t really have anyone to ask. And the fall back solution for lack of knowledge – Google – is definitely hors de combat – No internet here – there’s barely cell phone coverage. Ok – actually – there isn’t cell phone coverage in any of the protected ancorages we’ve been in – even if you can see a tower – and there are towers – it’s still a challenge.

Anyway – back to the dive at Manta Point.

Because Manta’s need space – no protected reefs for them – the dive starts on a rubble field. The challenge – find the mantas! We’d seen several on the surface from the boat – SC actually threw on his fins and mask and snorkled out to get a good look – but now we had to find them in their element.

Good news – Denny has a 6th sense for this – and with only a few twists and turns – got me to exactly the right spot. The trick is to get up current from the Manta’s – so they swim towards you against the current. No problem for the Mantas – but us poor humans don’t swim up current very well. So we have to go in above where we hope they will be hanging getting a nice cleaning from the cleaning crew, and then drift down towards them. We catch a glimpse in the gloom of these large triangular shapes, and sink to the bottom and hold on for dear life. The current tries to pull us down stream – but we want to stay here in hopes the Mantas will do a ‘fly by’.

And surprisingly – the magic works! Denny and I hold on to the rubble at the bottom – and the Mantas arch and curve and glide their ways towards us. There are 2 at first – a Giant Black Manta, and then close on his heels is a smaller – but still huge – Devil Ray Manta. Like Giant vaccum cleaners, their open mouths sweep in all the algae they can devour, and they continue swooping and swerving around us for what feels like several minutes. After these 2 leave – 2 more appear – Wow. That’s 4.

They are so close you can see their eyes, their mouths, the fish doing the cleaning – litterally B52 fly bys underwater.

They eventually are above us – and we release our hold on the rubble to continue the drift dive. We come across 4 turtles – each more adorable than the last, and a small shark asleep on the sand. Among the rubble are coral mounds with lots of fish – but between the Mantas, the turtles, and the shark – what more do you need? Apparently Nudibranches and Lion Fish!

The first dive of the day was also glorious – a fish market or Aqurium as you will. The funniest moment of the dive – we pass a group from another boat who are surrounding a turtle taking pictures. And one diver takes a SELFIE with the turtle. He has one of those long stick remotes – and is holding it out in front of him while he poses near the turtle. I almost swallowed my regulator laughing!

Huge Porcupine fish, huge morays, lots of micro stuff, huge Sweetlips, and of course a shark. My favorite moment – well aside from the turtle seflie – was later in the dive when Benny and I found a turtle on it’s own. I was above him, Benny below – and he swam right up to me – so close I could have kissed him! Imagine – me nose to nose with a turtle – very cute.

Signing off to get ready for my 200th dive!

The Soup Lady