August 17th is Indonesia's Independence Day. Being an American, I have a certain expectation for what occurs on this day. I'm used to barbecues, parades, fireworks, and booze. Lots and lots of booze. This is not the case here in Indonesia. For one, they don't drink like Americans. They also don't have parades, barbecues, or fireworks. What they do have is a flag ceremony. This ceremony is pretty special and simply honors the Indonesian flag. My friend Andin told me of this ceremony and had me wake up super early on a Saturday to attend it. She picked me and we went to the Governor's office only to find it deserted. We were both told it started at 8 and were confused as to what happened. Instead, she decided to take me to her high school as they may have been doing some celebrations of their own. They weren't. This day was quickly becoming uneventful. As we were about to leave the school, a few cars full of students in uniforms pulled up and we were told that the flag ceremony was being held 2 hours later, so we had some time to kill.
We finally made it to where the ceremony was taking place which was at the football (soccer) stadium in the middle of town. It's a very big ceremony too, at least here in Palangkaraya. The Governor comes to town and a lot of military personnel are there and are part of the ceremony. Many politicians are present in the crowd, which is also filled with schools and regular spectators. Andin took it upon herself to tell the military people, the ones blocking the entrances with big guns, that I was an American reporter. Being white and having a camera, it worked and I was given access to wherever I wanted to go with my translator in tow.
I walked right up to the red carpet and waited for the Governor to arrive.
Once he did, the ceremony started. It consists of a bunch of different branches of the military standing in formation on the field, along with a couple of high schools, surrounding a giant flagpole. The governor and vice governor stand at attention and salute them for quite a while. Then, another set of military personnel come out marching with a single female carrying a ceremonial tray (for lack of a better term). They march up to the governor and the girl walks up to him to receive the flag.
After she gets the flag, she rejoins the marching brigade, they do a lap around the field, and come to the flagpole where she hands it off to be raised. It's simple, but quite impressive.
Everyone in attendance then salutes the flag and 4 armed soldiers stand around it on guard for the rest of the day. After the ceremony, the press that was standing around me the whole time decided to make me part of their story so I was briefly interviewed. There was also an old Indonesian army veteran there that was 113 years old. You read that right. He was in incredible shape for his age and he was just as excited to meet me as I was to meet him. I had to get his picture. Here he is.
The rest of the day was uneventful. I went home after this and didn't do anything. Like I said, they don't celebrate their Independence the way we do.
The next day, Andin told me that her high school was celebrating that day so we went back over there. Schools throughout the country all have games and activities that everyone participates in, including my school. I wanted to go to this high school because they had one activity I couldn't find happening anywhere else. It's called Panjat Pinang which translates (roughly) to climbing a nut tree. So they have this tree, probably about 30 feet tall, and they cover it in oil. They hang a whole bunch of prizes at the top and then have teams of 4 kids try and climb it to get the prizes.
The history behind this game is that it was created when Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch. The Dutch colonists created it, basically, for their entertainment and would place wagers on who would make it to the top. Now it's a tradition. It's pretty hilarious to watch kids try and climb it. Eventually, the teams make it up, after numerous attempts and only after the majority of the oil is wiped off by the climbing participants.
The next day, my school had their celebrations. These consisted of a day of games for all of the kids. The older kids compete in basketball, tug-of-war, and a bunch of other games. One is a form of bobbing for apples, but instead of water and apples, they stick coins in the outside of a watermelon and then cover it in butter. The kids have to get the coins out with their teeth. It's just as gross as it sounds. They also have to fill a bottle with water from a sponge in a "whisper down the lane" type fashion and pass a rubber band to one another with straws in their mouths.
The younger kids have different competitions. They had to see who could put on a uniform the quickest, drop a straw into a bottle, drop a pen in a bottle that's tied to their backside, race while balancing a marble on a spoon, tug-of-war, and a hands free eating contest.
All in all it was a fun day. They even made us teachers compete in the hands free eating contest and tug-of-war against the all male security team. We didn't win, but it was fun. I took tons pf pics throughout the day, but, unfortunately, don't have any pics of me competing. Sorry guys. But check out the gallery of the weekends festivities.
I had a little over a week off from school, due to the Muslim holiday Lebaran which is the end of Ramadan, so I decided to go to Bali. There isn't a direct flight from Palangkaraya so I had to fly to Jakarta and then to Bali. It wasn't that bad. The flights were short. I made it to Bali on Friday, August 2, at 3:30pm local time. I had booked a room at a place called Ubud Hideaway which the website said was in Ubud. After driving an hour to Ubud from the airport, and not being able to find it, my driver had to stop some place and ask if anyone had heard of it. Luckily, the last person he asked had and gave him directions. Little did I know that this place was not, in fact, in Ubud, but an hour further north of where I thought I was staying. It also wasn't called Ubud Hideaway. It was called Raffles Holiday. I was not happy.
When I got there I started flipping out and let them know how I had been deceived and wanted a refund. They convinced me to stay one night and I would receive my refund the next day. Now, I was angry. I wasn't even close to where I wanted to be, nothing was within walking distance, and I was literally stuck at this place. The staff spoke English, which definitely helped things, and they were super friendly. But I was still stuck. The only other people staying there that night was a Japanese family who didn't speak English, so I was alone yet again. Not a happy camper. Then they showed me to my room. I was almost floored by how beautiful this room was. I had my own bungalow with a private outdoor bathroom. It was gorgeous. I immediately started feeling bad for coming off like an asshole. This, in my mind, is what paradise looks like. I went to order some food and found out they served beer. I was home.
I woke up the next morning, in my unbelievably comfortable bed, and made the decision that I was staying for all of the nights I had booked there. I didn't care how far away I was from where I wanted to be. I'll take their free shuttle and stay in this beautiful place, away from the crowds.
I got breakfast, which was pretty delicious, and hopped in the shuttle that dropped me off in Ubud. I immediately started wandering the streets in the direction of the monkey forest. All of Ubud is basically artsy shops and is full of tourists. There are many temples as well. I made it to the monkey forest and was amazed at how there were monkeys everywhere. Now, they know that you're there for them and they are expecting you to feed them. They are not shy. If they suspect you have food on you, they'll check. And they like water bottle too. So pretty much whatever you have, they want. They are adorable but some of them are straight up scary. I didn't have any food and wasn't looking for a wild monkey to come run my pockets. They left me alone so I was able to get some great pictures of them. There are also a few temples in the monkey forest that I was able to go into. You have to wear a sarong in order to enter any Hindu temple and they provide them for you at the entrance.
I walked around the monkey forest for hours and then left to meet up with my friend Russlee. She's the one that got me the job in Palangkaraya. We had some food and then she took me to Goa Gajah - the elephant cave temple. This is a temple with a cave in it that has an elephant carving. Pretty self explanatory. We walked around here for at least an hour and had a nice little adventure. This place is beautiful. The actual elephant cave looks like it wanted to eat me.
After Goa Gajah we went to see some rice paddies in Ubud. It was extremely serene. It's such a beautiful place. Then I went to see a traditional Balinese fire dance. After the dance, I caught my shuttle back to my bungalow.
The next day I had hired a driver to take me on a tour of Bali. We started at the rice paddies of Tegalalang. This is the place you see on postcards. Absolutely breathtaking. Next we went to Gunung Kawi which is a temple with these giant sculptures in the side of a mountain. My driver hokie doked me into buying my own sarong for waaay too much money, (I'm pretty sure he made a commission off of it). Here's a picture with me in front of the relief carvings at Gunung Kawi in my new sarong.
After this temple we went to Tirta Empul Tampak Siring, which is a water temple. This is a temple that has water coming from a holy spring flowing under it. The day we went happened to be a special day so there were hundreds of people there praying, making offerings, bathing, and being blessed. It was pretty spectacular. I really lucked out on that.
After Tampak Siring, we went to a coffee plantation where I was able to see all kinds of coffee, tea, spices, herbs, fruits, and whatever else they grew there. I was able to taste 12 different kinds of coffees and teas that they grew there. I also got to see the Luwak, which is the animal that eats coffee beans, poops them out, and gives the world its most expensive cup of coffee. I thought it was terrible. Not worth $5 a cup in my opinion. Here's a pic of the Luwak being fed a coffee bean.
After the coffee plantation I was taken up to Kintamani to eat lunch while over looking Mount Batur, which is one of the active volcanoes on Bali. It was a beautiful view. I had a really expensive, crappy lunch but the view alone was worth the price.
After lunch, my guide wanted to take me back to Ubud, but since he hokie doked me into buying an expensive sarong I talked him into taking me to another water temple. It wasn't as nice as the other temples I had been to, but at least it made me feel like I got my money worth out of him. I met up with Russlee and got an amazing massage at a beautiful spa for $10! I love Bali.
The next day I checked out of my bungalow and hired a driver to take me the three hour drive up to Amed, which is on the northeast coast of Bali. It's a small beach and fishing village that's not overrun by tourists. It's also supposed to have some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Bali. On the way up there my driver took me to Goa Loah - the sacred bat cave. It's a little temple right across the street from the ocean with a cave that thousands of bats live in. It was pretty crazy to see all of these bats just hanging out (no pun intended...or was it?). This is the entrance to the temple.
After this temple we drove another two hours towards Amed and stopped at Tirtagganga Water Palace. This has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It's full of fountains, ponds, pools, and statues. It's a big palace devoted to the holy water that comes from these springs. They have stepping stones that go through one of the pools that I had to walk through. Every step I took I was expecting the stone to give out and I would fall in the water like that show MXC that used to be on Spike TV. Anyone else ever watch that? That show was hilarious. Anyway, they never gave out from under me but I definitely slipped on one and almost lost it.
After leaving here it was another hour until we made it to Amed. When we got there, it was pretty easy to find a room. I just walked around until I found one with a balcony overlooking the beach. It was amazing. I couldn't have asked for anything better. I immediately jumped in the ocean and had a nice little swim. After my swim, I left my room to get the wifi password and a random guy stopped to talk to me about my tattoos. He invited me to a Hindu ceremony which ended up just being a crazy house party with the locals. It was awesome. I got drunk off of palm wine and arak. It was a blast.
The next day I snorkeled all day. It was so relaxing and amazing. You can literally walk out of the hotel into the ocean, and snorkel right there. Incredible. The amounts of fish and coral that are right next to the shore was astounding. I did this for a few hours. That night I went out to a bar with my new friend and met a scuba instructor. So the following morning, I woke up early to watch the sunrise and then went scuba diving for my first time at the USS Liberty wreck. It's an American Naval ship that was sunk by the Japanese in 1942. It's only a few meters off of the shore and about 60 feet deep. I took a 30 minute introduction class and then went right into the ocean. I was able to to go 12 meters deep, about 40 feet. I was allowed to actually go through the wreck and even saw a sea turtle, which I was told is pretty rare. It was an incredible experience. I was proud of myself for doing it. That night I took my first pictures of the Milky Way. It was incredible how clear it was sitting on the beach with no light pollution. I was amazed at how easy it was to get some shots. I also saw a few shooting stars.
The next day I left Amed and headed to Kuta. That was a mistake. Kuta is like a dirty, beach resort Times Square. I hated it. I stayed one night and left to go back to Ubud the next day. In Ubud I found the first ever Ubud Village Jazz Festival. I bought a ticket and was even allowed to bring my camera in. I photographed the bands including Indonesia's most famous guitarist, Dewa Budjana. It was a great night.
Unfortunately, the next morning I woke up a little under the weather with what they call "Bali Belly". I'll let you guys figure out what that means on your own. I was able to leave my room for a few hours late in the day and then got ready to leave Bali the next morning at 5am.
It was really an incredible trip and am really happy that I went. Even doing the whole thing alone wasn't that bad. I had no one telling me what to do and was able to do anything I wanted. The freedom I had was great. I would definitely do something like that again.
As usual, there's a gallery of images below. Check them out and feel free to leave me a comment. Thanks for following! Enjoy!