For in dreams we enter a world that is entirely our own. – Polly Victoria Mills
Tuesday, January 14, 2014 (DAYS 680 - 689)
In almost two years of traveling, I’ve been fortunate to have met and been a part of some incredible traveling families. What is a traveling family, you ask? I suppose I would define it as a collection of other backpackers–vagabonders–that you click with through personalities and humor as well as the necessary element of your direction of travel. Even though I am backpacking solo, you are never really alone, and I was fortunate enough to meet my first traveling family within just a few days of beginning my journey. Caye Caulker, Belize, with its white sandy roads that scream to be bare foot surrounded by crystal clear turquoise waters, this is where I first heard the loud boisterous laugh of my good Canadian friend Char and the crazy-toed shoes that freaked me out, Tim. Before leaving the small Caribbean island we added Eva and David from the Czech Republic and upon arriving in San Ignacio, we added another Canadian aye, Kelly. Since this time, the number of incredible people that I have met, and am blessed to call friends, has been an enormous part of this amazing journey and adventure. Even as I have arrived on the small island of Gili Trawangan (Gili T) in Indonesia, it didn’t take long to meet yet another future traveling family, and of course it would happen on my low-key celebrated birthday.
I think infectious laughs seek me out, as one of the first people I meet on my birthday is Bree with one of the most intoxicating laughs that will cause you to begin without knowing what is so funny. She reminds me of my good friend Andrea in Denver and how we could sit and laugh about things for hours, but, while this San Diego (say it again like Will Ferrell) native is here with her work buddy Marcus it’s a quick forming trio of Team ‘Merica that forms on the beach under a full moon. The next afternoon there is a new arrival in the dorm, Catalina, that like most of us, has a complicated explanation when asked, “so, where are you from?” She was born in Colombia, grew up in Sweden, has been traveling for over a year and a half, but most recently called Melbourne, Australia home. Whew, yeah sometimes answering something that should be a simple question is a paragraph of explanation. I’ve just shortened mine depending upon who asks. It’s either I’m a robot from the future of a country that is yet to exist or I allow my interrogator to guess and whatever they select I just nod in agreement. The five questions we–as backpackers–get to answer and ask on a daily basis; Where are you from? Where have you been? How long have you been traveling? Where are you headed next? How long have you been here? Yes, asking someone’s name often never gets brought up or can be much further down the list. But, going back to what we consider home, and where that is, I think my Brazilian friend Karolle that I met on the dock of Koh Tao and shared the lovely boat ride tour through the Gulf of Thailand with put it into perspective, “flying back home, but where is home if you feel so comfortable everywhere in the world? I had the most amazing time, I’ve met beautiful warm people from all around the world, without them my trip wouldn’t have been the same. I recommend it to all my friends, especially female friends that might be scared. Pick up a place and go on your own. You’ll discover the beauty of life and of people. There is nothing better than walking a street of a country with a completely opposite culture, it is pure positive energy that you get it at every face and smile. Deeply in love with Asia!”
Gili T is an incredible little island, but after the humidity and heat, our group was ready to leave a few days earlier, but due to a typhoon that slammed through the area, boat service back to Bali became a four-day waiting period. Yes, we can sound like spoiled backpackers and of course, even we recognized this in our complaining of First World problems being stuck a few extra days on an island in the Bali Sea. Even though I had a return flight from Lombok, I decided that I wanted to be back on the island, which had my set departure date back to Singapore, and with questionable weather, missing one flight meant missing my secondary flight. And with that, our traveling family already began to see it’s first separations. First, it was Rich who had to return to his job in Oz and is one of the funniest lc’s I’ve met, second was Jessie from Holland that was also heading to Australia, and lastly, we left behind our Midwestern-Alaskan, Mary, castaway on Gili T with hopes she would meet us in Ubud the following day, but sadly did not happen.
After talking with Bree and Marcus about their accommodations at Little Woodstick and realizing that Catalina and I could share the cost of a private room for a mere 150,000Rp ($6 each) and be paying less than our cramped claustrophobic sleeping compartments in the dorm at La Boheme Hostel, we’ve decided to move for our last night on Gili T. The next morning I’m awake early at 6am and notice that Cat is still sound asleep in the twin bed across from mine draped behind a mosquito net and I decide to grab an early shower and begin the process of packing up. This is still much easier being an ultra light backpacker with just a single backpack, and Marcus and I continue to share a good laugh as he’s doing the same, but instead of leaving his larger pack in Singapore as I did, he’s abandoned his in New Zealand, opting for easier mobility while traveling Asia. The girls on the other hand have 65-liter packs and are envious of what guys do best, beat girls in everything haha.
A quarter to 8am, we begin the walk towards the pier for the public boat to Bangsal Harbour on Lombok, where we realize that we have three separate boat companies on our scraps of paper. Shrugging this slight detail aside, we climb aboard the questionable sea-worthy vessel and make the 45-minute trip across the water. The rough waters that ceased transport from the Gilis for the past four days is felt at times as surges of water breach the passenger compartment in larger waves, which causes me to hold more tightly to the strap of my backpack with my laptop covered in a plastic sleeve. Upon reaching the harbour, it’s the typical chaos of taxi drivers, transportation operators, and other various vendors all speaking quickly and attempting to pull you in various directions. At one point we climb aboard a horse carriage after showing our tickets to one of the locals and once aboard he tells us that our ticket actually does not include the horse ride to where the buses will take us to the other harbour about an hour away. Immediately we get off this scam, and as usual the proprietor of this service attempts to entice us by lowering his price with every step we take climbing out of the back of the carriage. Marcus said it best, “well, we’re back in scamland.” Since Catalina was on a different local boat, we were waiting near the shoreline for her, and that’s when Marcus and I watched as an older man paid 100,000Rp ($8.20) to have his bag carried and transported the short walk to where the buses congregate to take groups to the other pier. Shaking our heads, as budget travelers, often it’s those that are retired don’t realize they are paying three, four, or five times the normal rate instead of negotiating. Once we’ve gathered our last family member, Cat, we take the ten-minute walk to the bus stop and through the yelling of drivers, we find out that we are all on different buses, except Marcus and Bree. This is the chaotic side of traveling, friends, but also part of the experience. Practice in patience and mental toughness. Even when I inquired multiple times about my ticket and which bus, the answers were always ambiguous in response, and later when I was told to go across the street down about two-minutes and after arriving there was told there that I was to return to where I had just come from, only to have another person tell that my particular ticket was to be picked up from the restaurant on the same side of the street just further down, it was a frustrating mess. Finally, I found someone that worked for the bus company my ticket coincided with, but was given a stern talking to telling me that he was looking for me, but my bus had left. I told him every single person I spoke with pointed me in a different direction. After some discussion, he made a call and then flagged down another bus and wedged me in the front seat.
A little over an hour later we arrive at the pier and are told to wait until we are called to board. Thankfully our group is reunited under the shade of the large outdoor waiting area with broken plastic chairs for seating and a few shops selling food and drinks. Desperate for water I grab what I thought was a cold bottle of water, unfortunately I’m paying for this since my Berkey sport bottle finally broke but can be somewhat usable in the right conditions, and to my taste bud’s surprise it’s carbonated flavored water similar to clear Gatorade, but the Indonesian version. Blah. Lesson learned. After about 15-minutes, the call to board the boat is made and close to 100 people begin the migration to the dock. The large slow-boat ferry is large enough to transport vehicles and you first pass through the cargo hold before climbing the steep steps up to the passenger seating area. Finding an elevated platform our group takes its claim but before we can even get off our backpacks there is a steady stream of vendors approaching us selling everything from blankets to snacks, even a guy carrying a thermos of hot water to go with instant cups of noodles, which we decide is a good purchase since the boat ride will be four or five hours in duration.
Arriving at the Padang Bai on the east side of Bali, the time is just after 6pm and the storm clouds above are growing darker with each minute. Shuffling off the boat as if we were a stream of refugees instead of backpackers we are greeted with a little more organization as several men inquire about our final destinations and begin grouping us together. For our traveling family, the wolf pack, we are headed to the central foothills town of Ubud in the Gianyar region. A town of around 30,000 inhabitants that is surrounded by rice paddies and gorgeous landscapes, Ubud derives its name in Balinese from the word ubad (medicine), and has become increasingly popular from the film Eat Pray Love.
After spending our first night in a guesthouse, we’ve decided that for the same amount we could rent a villa over the next three nights, and if Mary is still planning to join us it would be even cheaper. On a mission to land us a villa, we spend a bit of our morning emailing and calling on several properties. The responsibilities were divided quite nicely, as Marcus and I scoured the web, while the girls made calls on places we had found. By that afternoon we had secured a villa just outside of town and were even provided with free transportation, being picked up at a restaurant in the center of town.
After winding through a labyrinth of narrow walkways, it finally opened to an incredibly serene setting. Three tiered rice paddy ponds, which unfortunately also seemed to be the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos, sat just outside our gated two-bedroom two-story villa, all for the price of just $45 total per night for the four of us.
Luxuries of a kitchen, large bathroom, WiFi, daily cleaning services, two outdoor patios, satellite television, and large common areas, this is certainly a great deal if you are interested in staying in Ubud, Bali.
Our first night in our traveling families’ home, we’ve decided to cook dinner together, which sent Bree and I off to the Bintang Supermarket, a short 8-minute walk from our villa. I find that it’s always an adventure grocery shopping in countries I find myself in, because Western items are either unavailable or are at a premium in price. Apples for $1 each, I don’t think so, but on the other hand local produce such as avocados in Central America that were .60 cents and the size of a watermelon, yes please.
Tonight’s menu is the typical backpacker cheap meal for nourishment; chicken pasta with garlic bread. In addition to making our family meal more cozy, we’ve found some items that were left from previous guests that included the highly valuable citronella candles. Cheers and bon appetite.
The previous afternoon we had organized to rent a pair of motorbikes for the next two days at the cost of 50,000Rp ($4.10) per bike for a 24-hour period.
Our first stop of the day is the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary of Padangtegal, home to the long-tailed macaques. The price for admission is 20,000Rp ($1.64) and from the minute you arrive, even before entering the forest preserve, monkeys are running all around. This little guy unfortunately found a piece of chewed gum that was discarded on the sidewalk and was later tangled in a sticky mess.
“After 22 consecutive months of being on holiday, it’s nearly time to return to the working world. From Australia to the U.S. to Europe to Central America to South America to the Caribbean to Europe to South Africa and back it’s been an amazing journey that wouldn’t have been the same without the people I’ve had the pleasure to spend time with along the way. Everyone travels for different reasons, but ultimately it’s the people more than the places that makes it worthwhile.” – Steve Chen (New York, NY)
Even though Mary was unable to rejoin us in Bali, I was pleasantly surprised when I received a message from my friend Julian from Spain that I first met in either San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua or more recently in Koh Tao, Thailand, we can’t remember (the memory of a long term traveler) if we had that initial meeting our a year ago, that he was arriving in Bali and wanted to know where I was. I encouraged him to come and join our travelling family since we had plenty of space, and next thing you know I’ve met back up with another friend, and this time in a different hemisphere.
After four days in Ubud, it’s time for our traveling family to begin scattering across the globe. Thinking back on all of our inside jokes we had that only the five of us will be able to cherish; everything from being thunder buddies during a fantastic rain storm where we had a panoramic view from the second-floor bedroom, having a spill on the motorbike that began with the first question of, “Are you ok? Do you need a hug?” The constant laughter that followed us wherever we went whenever you heard the word Punz, being the wolf pack that were some loose rooters, waking up in panic at 6am because we miscalculated the time for the AFC and NFC Championship Games, and all of our other memories that are already beginning to elude me. The first to depart is Catalina, as she is set to leave this evening for Australia en route to Spain, while I’m next heading to Singapore the next afternoon, Bree is off to Cambodia a few hours after myself, Marcus and Julian have a few more days in Bali before Marcus will hopefully meet me in Singapore before heading to the South of Thailand, and Julian has no plans–the best plans.
Our final night together, we decide for a feast at Sky Garden Lounge, which for 50,000Rp ($4.10) we are given wrist bands that allow us to feast for one-hour beyond the two-hour all-you-can-eat limit normally imposed as well as free beer for exactly one hour, from 5pm-6pm. When most Americans think of Bali, they may think expensive, but here’s how it’s possible to not only do it on the cheap, but to experience several different areas of Bali, including the best meal I’ve had at the best price. I like the quote from John Krakuer, “happiness is only real when shared,” and I feel as though the memories our traveling family has shared over the past week has brought a deep seeded sense of happiness for the friendships that were forged.
About the Author
My name is Troy and I gave up a promising 12-year career to travel the world! Now after more than 4-years of continuous global travel, I've lived an incredible life and my goal is to inspire others to achieve their dreams!
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