Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fun Things to Do + See the Island Of Bali

the black sand beach of Bali

I had seen the volcano and it’s the massive lake, the Bali Zoo, the black-sand beach, Monkey Forest, and been to Jimbarran for the sunset and fresh sea food. Looking for something new, I listed my adventures to a local. “Wow! You’ve seen everything!” he exclaimed.
Booking ten days in Bali alone is a little excessive, four should suffice, as nice as it is, and as friendly as the people are.
volcano and surrounding lake

Apparently, I fell under the Bali haze, felt incredibly lazy, and didn’t pursue my eco-trips of visiting the Komodo dragon or flying to Borneo to visit the forest of the orangutans. I actually regret not doing so … on the other hand, I did get a lot more sleep than normal.

Night Life

Only in Kuta, the rest of Bali is incredibly sleepy. It’s rare to see Balinese girls in the clubs. They are very modest, pure, and believe in sex only when married (in general.) The Indonesian girls you’ll see on the club scene are nearly 100% from the nearby, and much larger island of Java.
The Balinese are not at all fond of Javans. Any crime on Bali- Javans. Prostitutes- Javans. Hatred- Javans.
Bali is the only Hindu island in Indonesia, Javans are all Muslim. Balinese want to date a Javan girl, they have to convert. “Javans are fanatics, all they do is create trouble” stated my driver.
Russians were voted “worst tourist sub-species by far” according to anyone I met. The only people the Balinese like less than the Russians are the Javans; they must be pretty bad.

I stop at the memorial built on the spot of the discotheque that was bombed in 2002 by the Russians … no wait, it was the Muslim Javans!
I see the names of the 252 people who perished in the blast. Some people are taking pictures of the monument. I am not. For some reason I feel emotional. I see the monument as a tribute to the egoic nature of mankind, and the separation and hatred that exists. I take it in for several minutes.

There are a lot of clubs, and especially on Saturday night, a ton of people circling the streets. I’m still thinking about the monument.

Friendly Meetings

The Balinese, if they speak decent English, are exceedingly friendly and easy to talk to.
Their dream-- to be able to go to America and earn what for us is minimum wage. If you earn $120 a month in Bali you’re doing better than average. To have the sum of $10,000 is Unthinkable. “You could buy a hectare of land, build a house, and pass it on it on to your kids.”
A cab driver I meet claims to have known Barrack Obama as a child. “I look one day on TV, and I see Barrack!” He exclaims joyfully. “I knew him as a child!” I note that Barrack is at least fifteen years older than my cabbie. It’s a good story though, so I let him have it. All over the world Barrack is a loved man.
Without tourism there would nothing in Bali besides seafood and fruit. That’s why the Balinese were hit so hard in the 2002 Bali bombing; the flow of tourists dried up.

I meet a pretty 20 year old Dutch girl named Joleen who’s travelling with her Mom. They too, have been all over the world, though her impression of Egyptian men is not the highest.
“Where ever I went, they would just grab me. It was very uncomfortable. They were very rude.”
Prophet Mohammed: “Guys, guys, will you please stop grabbing women’s asses like they are baboons in heat.”
(blank looks from the crowd of men)
Mohammed: “I order you to behave like civilized human beings … I am after all, your prophet!”
(more blank looks)
Mohammed: “Screw it. It's easier to just impose a subordinate dress code on women.”

baboon in heat. That is actually her rear end. One of nature's more subtle signs of sexual receptivity

The baskets pile atop one another. I think there might be more baskets than worshippers.
Balinese women balance baskets of fruit on their head, taking it to a Hindu ceremony

Motorbikes line the streets. Unless you’re a cabbie or very wealthy, you’re driving a moped.
A policeman pulls over a tourist on a motorcycle, and extracts a bribe out of him for not having a license, a favorite tactic of a corrupt police force. Get caught driving drunk in the states you got to jail, on Bali you’d better have $20 cash on you.
Being a policeman is so lucrative on the island, they actually charge people for the position. $1,200 gets you a uniform. You’re sure to make it up pretty quickly if you follow proper police protocol.

ATV Riding + Jetskiing

Never had gone ATVing. Really the dumbest thing I did on Bali. Go down a steep slope at zero miles an hour, my hand on the brake the entire time. Climb over slimy rocks, increase my carbon footprint, waste $65. If I had one do-over in Bali this would be it.
I also nearly killed myself jetskiing. Going less than mach 6 is simply unacceptable, and when you hit a wave wrong, you'd better have a damn good grip on the handle bars. Still, this is always a lot of fun.

White Water Rafting

The river had many waterfalls, some a lot higher than you’d think would be safe to go over in the slender inflatable canoe for which I was responsible, second in command. Jagged rocks stuck their fearsome heads out the shallow water, warning us of the inherent danger of our mission. This was the dry season, making traversing these level three rapids that much more risky. Adding to the peril, there was no shore. The far too narrow river ran down a high gulley, a slick, steep wall of rock flanking the river on either side, making escape impossible.
Several times we had been close to capsizing, but somehow, due to the maritime skill of the crew, managed to stay afloat. Now we had come to the last leg of our journey, a double waterfall, one fall, with another following not more than three feet later.
This is the type of thing that I would only have needed to look at as a child and my Mother would materialize out of nowhere and yell, “No Richard! Absolutely not!” and she’d forcefully drag me away, and then ground me for a week. “Mom,” I’d complain, “I was only looking!” But she knew better.
But with Mom on an entirely different continent, and thus the threat of being grounded greatly reduced, unless I were to be so stupid as to report my activities, our boat surged towards the falls at breakneck speed.
The thrill of gravity’s acceleration as we plummetted down the first fall. Clear. Hitting the water/bedrock several feet below, we bounced up, and immediately plummeted down waterfall of doom, flinging our boat sideways in the air, and throwing the crew from relative safety and into the rocky water.
Ouch! There are more pleasurable feelings than landing on rocks covered with a layer of one foot water. I'm tending to my wounds.
“What’s that? … Come on! Not fair! Pleeeaaassseee.

Sorry guys, can’t talk now. Gotta go. I’m grounded.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Lake Como and the Path to the Sighignola- The Balcony of Italy

My train leaves from Zermatt, Switzerland and navigates its way through the Alps to somewhere near the border. My connection leaving late, offers proof I must have crossed to the Italian side.
Lake Como
I arrive at Lago Como quite late after my second connection in Milan leaves tardier than the first. Missing the last bus, my AirBnb host very graciously offers to pick me up.
a large villa on Lake Como used for high profile gatherings/ events
a large villa on Lake Como used for high profile gatherings/ events
My hosts chickens- fresh eggs each morning
My host's chickens- fresh eggs each morning
Host's proud country home from the outside
It's a mystery how I ended up here, a function of price and AirBnb estimating distance by how the crow flies, which is, frankly, much closer than the forty-five minute drive through the windy hills to to the tiny town of Pellio D'Intelvi.

I set out the following morning having been woken by, of all things, a honking goose.

I quickly arrive in the town's center, highlighted by an artificial turf soccer field and a single cafe, wifi not provided.
I enter inside- locals gathered around the bar, shoveling out 2 euro coins for cappuccinos in the morning, and beer and wine in the evening. The ubiquitous slot machines sit in the corner, their flashing lights attempting to attract suckers like a bug zapper does moths.
Within a couple hundred meters of leaving the cafe, I'm back on the empty, windy road; walking it is a perilous proposition. Italian motorists, who are about as cautious as the ocean is dry, peel around the many blind curves as though they were on a racetrack. When I hear the revved out engine of a car approaching, I race up the embankment for some measure of safety.
hills on the Italian countryside
hills on the Italian countryside
frequent Italian balcony/ windowsill decoration- flowers
frequent Italian balcony/ windowsill decoration- flowers
I pass a golf course, a ball flies at me through the trees flying by me by no more than a meter. Once again, the random number generator of the Universe just misses.
I pick up the small white ball, and attempt to dribble it like a basketball for entertainment purposes. After a couple kilometers I lose her as she takes a bad bounce and rolls down the steep hillside.
a cemetery in the Italian countryside
a cemetery in the Italian countryside
video: the countryside of the Lake Como area

I'm content to make my way slowly up the 10 km it takes to get up the hill. The birds chirp, and the insects buzz, and there's little to do here but relax and appreciate my surroundings; plus every few minutes seeking protection up the embankment.
I walk for a couple hours before arriving at my destination- the Sighignola, known in English as "The Balcony of Italy," which overlooks the Swiss border town named after Lake Lugano. On a clear day one can see the high peaks of the Swiss Alps, including the Matterhorn. Unfortunately for me, today is quite overcast.
Literally overlooking the Swiss border on the Italian side. Just below me- Swizterland
Literally overlooking the Swiss border on the Italian side. Just below me- Switzerland

VideoThe Balcony of Italy, overlooking Lake Lugano and Switzerland

The city of Lugano, on Lake Lugano
The city of Lugano, on Lake Lugano 
I gaze at the view over Lago Lugano and beyond for half an hour, before returning and starting my walk back to town. It starts to pour, big droplets. I seek refuge in a rustic restaurant, which specializes in locally harvested wild boar. 
I depart an hour later as the rain abates momentarily, soon returning accompanied by rolling thunder. 
VideoTHundER on a lonely Italian countryside road
Italian countryside- quite peaceful. High above the lake
Italian countryside- quite peaceful. High in the hills

I make it back to town, the day passing quickly. I'm not sure what I could look back on and say I "accomplished," but in the Italian countryside, it really doesn't seem to be a requirement to have enjoyed the day immensely.
As the sun begins to set late in the summer evening

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Matterhorn + Zermatt- Hiking in the High Alps of Switzerland

Zermatt, Switzerland

Located on the Italian border, (the Matterhorn is a shared border with Italy) I arrive in this small town nestled between some of the Europe's tallest peaks. This includes the pyramid, almost bent backwards peak of the Matterhorn which is the area's main attraction. 
Zermatt itself is a ski resort town, and extremely expensive with limited lodgings and high demand due to the natural beauty of the area. 
the Matterhorn
the best shot I have the Matterhorn- an unusually clear day it was I tells ya! 
Looking to save, I don't know, a few thousand bucks, I book an AirBnb "just" outside of Zermatt. Yes, technically it is less than 2 miles away, but unfortunately, I didn't take into account the mountains. I literally had to carry my gear after a long train ride up an incredibly steep trail. 
But honestly I don't mind. It is so quiet and peaceful up there, a kind of upscale of upscale hostel where I have a private room for $90 a night or so. 
The nature surrounding is magnificent. While not quite as astounding as Barriloche Argentina, with her huge bodies of water, if you enjoy nature, this is an absolutely exquisite place to be. I am only here for two days due to my pricey Swiss Rail Pass expiring and wanting to get to Italy, but in retrospect, I wish I had stayed longer. 
Below you find some photos and videos of this amazing area of the world. 

Video: Why you Absolutely MUST Visit Zermatt, Switzerland

there are a few very small (less than 100 residents) in the mountains around Zermatt

the trail with wildflowers around the 5 Lakes
the trail with wildflowers around the 5 Lakes

Video: hiking the 5 Lakes trail around the Matterhorn
the rugged mountains- would look better in snow I am sure
the Swiss Alps
sitting by the lake on a warm Swiss afternoon
the blue lake (of the 5 lakes)

Video: the Matterhorn from different angle
a beautiful blue flower in the summer
an alpine stream running down the mountain
the glacier around Zermatt
the glacier around Zermatt
a stream leads down the forested mountain to Zermatt
hard to be mad here, it is so beautiful
Add caption
it's a sight to behold
a fast moving stream rushes down the mountain slope
a fast moving stream rushes down the mountain slope
many colorful alpine flowers lined the Alps in summer
rugged summer scenery
lots of these mountain streams. Feel free to refill your water bottle

on the trail to Hotel Trift- another hour + away from desolate lodgings

Hotel Trift- 2+ hours steep hike from Zermatt, the quietest place you'll ever stay
the Swiss flag up by Trift where I say my goodbyes to Switzerland
the Swiss flag up by Trift where I say my goodbyes to Switzerland

Lucerne, Switzerland- the Alps + the peaks of Mount Rigi + Pilatus

Lucerne is an idyllic town in the Swiss Alps, located a little more than 50km from Zurich. As I spent but one night, in a hotel which was formerly a jail (which, while not the most comfortable was both very cheap for Switzerland @ $70 and served as a useful reminder to stay out of trouble) both days I was there I explored the nearby mountains named Pilatus and Rigi which you get to most quickly by boat across Lake Lucerne. 
Below are photos and two videos of the beautiful area. 

a view back on this idyllic Swiss town from Lake Lucerne
a view back on this idyllic Swiss town from Lake Lucerne
the ferry passes by downtown Lucerne
the ferry passes by downtown Lucerne

looking across the lake

videoThe Center of Beautiful Lucerne, Switzerland

downtown Lucerne
downtown Lucerne
mansion/ castle atop the hill
the bridge across the lake in the center of Lucerne
the bridge across the lake in the center of Lucerne
the flower bridge diagonally crossing the lake
the famous flower bridge

a swan keeps me company at the edge of the lake
a swan keeps me company at the edge of the lake
the train station in Lucerne- beautiful building
flowers in Lucerne
flowers in Lucerne

Here are photos (and a video) of the the Swiss mountains around Lucerne. Look how green. The area is incredibly tranquil and quiet, and has a calming effect on the soul as opposed to the hustle and bustle of the big cities of the world.
videoviews of Lake Lucerne and areas around Mount Rigi and Pilatus
flowers at the edge of a mountain ledge
a friend sits next to me on the mountain bench
beautiful alpine flowers in the Alps
beautiful alpine flowers in the Alps
a cow rests atop Mount Rigi
a cow rests atop Mount Rigi
a look down at Lake Lucerne
a look down at Lake Lucerne
atop Mount Rigi!
atop Mount Rigi! Great wooden carved statue :)
you can see the path through the Alps, a long way down
large Swiss flag

On the whole the area is beautiful and well worth seeing for a day or two.