Kumano Kodo – The Bus Day

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Day five. It was nice to listen to the river and rain while sleeping. Adam and I were awakened at 6a by the town fire department’s siren, so I got up, retrieved my dry laundry, packed, and stretched. My back was feeling better every day, but still far from ideal.

Despite the rain, Chris decided to finish out the walk, while everyone else opted for the bus. The group convened in the cafeteria for a quick breakfast before departing for the bus station. Alicia, the Australian solo-hiker who we had run into several times throughout the week, tagged along. The scenic 45-minute ride into town followed the teal-blue river most of the way, making for an entertaining ride.

japan2016-261The group went first to a temple in town, obtaining the obligatory stamp and photos, then made our way to the bus stop. While walking, we agreed on a stop for coffee, which proved harder to find than we expected. We ended up in a mall cafe that Adam most-accurately described as an Applebees meets tiki bar. The coffee was unremarkable, but it paired well with the hot dogs.

Continuing to the train station, we again saw Alicia outside smoking while waiting for the train to Kii-Katsuura. Once there, we boarded the bus to the temples, pagodas, and waterfalls. We climbed the numerous stairs upwards to the ~800 A.D. temples, where we had great views of the pagoda and waterfall. Chris G and I walked down another path with many stairs that led us to the base of the waterfall. Pictures don’t do it justice.

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We headed back up to bus stop and enjoyed shopping/tea while waiting for the bus back down to the JR train station. To kill time, we walked around the near-empty town until we came across a noodlery – success! Biero and our first ramen of the trip. We stocked up on snacks at a convenience store on the way to meet up with Chris P at the JR station. We all walked down to the ferry, stopping to see Chibi, a fat cat Dan and Chris had met on their last trip.

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Photo courtesy of Mr. Glass

We took a ferry across the harbor crossed over to our accommodations for the night – a very 80s hotel on it’s own island. Once changed into our yukatas, Chris P led us on a short tour of the grounds, along catwalks and paths that were reminiscent of Myst. Afterwards, we gathered at the hotel’s men’s bath that had an outdoor onsen! Hope you enjoyed the view, fisherwomen! It was incredibly relaxing to soak in the warm waters of the outdoor pool while watching the waves crash below and the boats putter out in the harbor.

Once back at the hotel, we gathered up Kumano Kodo beer and snacks for happy hour in Chris’s room while waiting for our luggage to arrive. We re-convened later in a private dining room for Thanksgiving dinner. It was an amazing spread, so much food that we could hardly eat fast enough. After many days of being culinarily adventurous, I was getting tired of fish. Despite this, the meal was filling (Adam and I worked out an arrangement early on where I traded my fish for his beef portions) as was the sake. Afterwards, we all passed out – fat and happy.

This was the last day on the trail and being out in the Japanese countryside, which meant the vacation was nearing it’s end. Soon we’d be in Tokyo, bookending the hike with another busy city.

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Kumano Kodo: The Easy Day

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Day four. I woke up, stretched out, packed up, and joined the others on the floor for breakfast. I was feeling pretty good, all things considered! We left the hotel and walked through town to find the stamp. It was cooler out and the steam created from the world heritage onsen made for a pretty morning scene. We caught the bus to our next starting point, fueled up on coffee at the vending machine, and walked along the road to our first stamp of the day.

From there, it was a moderate uphill climb, though it seemed easier than the day before. We were sore… These were nice, wide trails – mostly level and very enjoyable. We walked to an amazing viewpoint and stopped for photos, then continued up and over the pass. The trail had long stretches of flat sections with some brief uphill legs, but they were tolerable. It was a day of pleasant ridge-walking under the canopy of cedars.

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japan2016-224We stopped for tea and a pancake-like muffin at a pavilion in the woods (near a stamp box). I noticed afterwards that we were all hiking in silence, enjoying the day. Shortly after, we took a break for lunch at another old tea stop-turned-gazebo with a view of the upcoming town. The lunch box was outstanding! Minimal fish, tasty rice rolls of beans and herbs, eggs, and a bottle of tea. We relaxed in the shade while our still-wet things dried out in the sun.

Down, down, down – we took our time with the descent. More death rocks! In town, we walked across the bridge to grab refreshments from the vending machine and to get another stamp. Continuing on, we walked along the river and up over where the tunnel is. Once through town we found the stamp, then stopped at the general store for beer restocking before winding up at the schoolhouse-turned hiker hotel, where our bags met us. Bath, laundry, lounge, dinner, sake! It was much cooler out here, which was very nice to sleep in.

Kumano Kodo – The Long Day

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Dan, our fantastic chef, Pratt, and Julian, just prior to our departure

Day three. Our first night of Japanese style mattresses… I woke up at 6 and got ready for a 6:30 breakfast, which was incredible. The chef whipped up some very tasty dishes again to prepare us for a long day. Annoyingly, my jacket, rain cover, hat, and rain kilt were still wet from the day before.

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We set off, walking along the road for awhile. Eventually the trail went downhill, back through the woods. Then we started our ascent up the first pass – “Sandal” pass – up up up! It wasn’t a horrible ascent, but someone thought it was a good idea to make the trail on the other side out of flat stones. Combined with the leaves and wetness from the rain the night before, it was VERY slippery. In parts it was steep and windy, which made for a strenuous descent – one slip and you could slide right off the edge of the hill!  Nevertheless, we all made it safely to the road at the bottom only to find the next section of the trail closed from typhoon damage several years earlier.

We continued walking along road and found the permanent detour. The trail was in good condition and there were a lot of well-placed stairs. At some point on the way up to the second pass, I ran out of water, which made my ascent that much slower. The views were pretty great, though and we forged ahead, walking just under the peak before heading back down – again. On the back side, we connected with another road and found a container collecting and filtering water from a nearby stream, where I refilled the CamelBak. We walked along road until we found the other side of the detour.

japan2016-165Across the road from the detour were more stairs back into woods. We met some twenty-somethings from CA, who were eager to pass us. At a split in the trail, we found stamp box at another shrine. Rejoining the trail, we passed another tea house and more shrines. Up up up! We reached another road at the top where I made a plea to open up our bento boxes at a nearby rest area – I was spent.

Down, down, down the other side. Again, still slippery from the night before. We passed an abandoned settlement being overcome by tree growth. The trail turned into a road, which eventually went alongside a river. Eventually we ventured back up, into the woods and past more shrines. Land crabs stood out amongst the piles of leaves and we stopped a couple times to take photos and rest.

At the top we were fascinated by a giant, blue worm in the middle of the road. We got our stamp and followed the signs down the road into a small town which had several options for vending machines. We found ourselves at a tea house up a hill at the end of town and stopped for in coffee. Exhaustion was creeping in so we shook out the stiffness and kept walking.

This part of the trail was mostly downhill with some small uphill sections. By this time we were swearing every time we had stairs to traverse. We found a path to an overlook of the massive Honshu shrine, which was where the trail ended for the day. The trail reconnected and we made our way down a variety of types of stairs. Wide, short sets, stone, wood, high steps, narrow steps.

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Eventually we reached town and had more road to walk along. Prior to entering the temple grounds, we obtained another stamp. We took a few photos of the temple grounds and then walked down another long set of stairs to the main street of town. From there, we found the visitor’s center and walked up to the large gate we had seen off in the distance instance. One more stamp before we caught a bus to the village where we were staying for the night.

We showered, soaked in the outdoor onsen, and enjoyed another many-course dinner – this time directly seated on the floor, which was challenging. Some how I ended up with my own room and despite another Japanese-style bed, I quickly passed out.

Kumano Kodo: The Wet Day

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japan2016-126Day two. I was expecting to sleep really well, but it was quite warm in the room I shared with Adam. I re-packed, hit the onsen again, scarfed down a quick breakfast, and we were on the trail early. More uphill… Today was the first encounter with the “death stones,” which were very tightly-coupled stones that were considered a primitive type of pavement. Unfortunately, they were often placed on steep slopes, which made traversing quite difficult.

We walked to a bus stop and stopped for rest, tea and snacks. The rain started while we were waiting for everyone to arrive. Nevertheless, we donned our rain gear and continued walking, though slowly getting wetter. We passed more shrines, collected more stamps, and encountered numerous slippery wet stones; Dan even spotted a snake. It didn’t dawn on me until now that this was a region that might have poisonous snakes to contend with, but thankfully it was cooler and the snakes didn’t want anything to do with us.

We continued down the valley into town. Sadly, the foot bath was closed but it was a dry spot to have our packed lunch. Adam had opted for the bus earlier and while Pratt, Glass, Julian, and Dan went to the museum, I rested my back and waited for them, listening to the rain and struggled to find wifi. After a short wait, we all continued walking along the road, which continued to get steeper until we found ourselves above town, the rain beginning to permeate our gear as the temperature began dropping. A few miles and a couple stamps later, we arrived at the next ryokan.

Really the only thing keeping me going the last couple miles was the thought of stripping off all the soaked layers, putting on a dry yukata, and enjoying the warm onsen. We sat and had tea, beer, and snacks before an outstanding multi-course meal was served to us and the other guests. We quickly passed out after a long day.

Kumano Kodo: The Short Day

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Day one. I began each morning by stretching and doing sit-ups, hoping to strengthen my core slowly each day to help heal my back and resulting sciatica. We met for breakfast, got our IC cards re-upped, and caught the Shinkansen to Tanabe where we caught a bus that brought us to the start of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. After dropping off our suitcases at the luggage shuttle, we enjoyed our bento boxes at the Kumano Kodo visitor center, where we learned about the UNESCO World Heritage sites and basked in the wifi, not knowing when we would have Internet access again. We washed our hands at the impurity fountain at the nearby shrine, posed for a photo, and began our ascent of the Nakahechi trail.

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The trail was a fair amount of steps and uphill for the first mile or so, but once we were on top of the ridge, it was mostly level. We passed only 3 fellow hikers, one woman who laughed and said “Up, up, up!” After awhile, we found ourselves walking through the small town of Takahara, stopping at the various shrines and other sites to get the stamps in our books.

We arrived at the Kiri no Sato Takahara ryokan shortly before dinner. I changed out of my wet hiking clothes into the provided yukata (casual robe) and visited the 0nsen (hot springs bath) before enjoying drinks and an amazing dinner.

Denver to Osaka

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The 10-hour 787 flight left Denver around noon and was smooth the entire way. I started getting a cold a few days before the trip and my ears refused to pop on the descent, causing a fair amount of discomfort that carried over to the next few days. I managed to make it to Narita, get through customs, retrieve my bag from the baggage claim, track down an ATM, get back through security, check my bag again, get on a short domestic flight to Fukuoka, take a subway to the right station, pick up my 14-day Japan Rail (JR) pass, and find the hotel on minimal sleep. As I was about to head to the nearby 7-11 for some food, I caught (Chris) Pratt, Adam, and Julian in hallway. Success! (Chris) Glass arrived shortly after I did and our trip was underway.

Pratt had planned a low-key first day, so in the morning we met for breakfast, re-packed our backpacks for an overnight, checked out of the hotel, and made our way to the steam train to Hitoyoshi (SL-Hitoyoshi), leaving our luggage in lockers at the train station. All of us were sleepy and it was raining, so we enjoyed winding through the Japanese countryside. After a couple stops, rainy, arrived in Hitoyoshi, where we walked around town while waiting for next train. We grabbed our first bento box on the station platform then took the Isaburo 3 train to Yoshimatsu, where we transferred to Hayato-no-Kaze 3 train. We stayed overnight in Kagoshima.

Our primary form of transportation

Our primary form of transportation

In the morning, we rode the Shinkansen (bullet train) back up to Shin-Tosu station and transferred to the Kamome 5 train over to Nagasaki. We wandered around town, stopping to wander through Dejima, a Dutch trading post and nationally designated historical site. From there we grabbed lunch, our first Japanese-style meal. Afterwards, we grabbed a trolley to another part of town and walked to the Atomic Bomb Museum. The museum was interesting, but very crowded and hot – we walked through quickly and then visited the park created where the bomb landed.

japan2016-23We walked across town to the Mt. Inasa ropeway, which took us up to the observation deck. Over drinks, we rested in the restaurant as sunset approached and after taking photos, we walked back to the JR station. The Shinkansen took us back to Hakata Station, where we picked up our bags before catching another train to Hiroshima for the night. Our JR passes allowed us unlimited first class travel on any JR train (and some others) based on availability, which meant we traveled very comfortably.

japan2016-30In the morning, the group talked about ideas of what to do for the day. Pratt, Adam, and Julian opted for a sake day while Dan, Glass, and I chose to visit Itsukushima and the floating torii gate. The three of us took a light rail train and then ferry to the island. We walked around with all the other tourists, looking at pagodas and shrines and commingling with the local deer population, who didn’t seem at all fazed. After a quick coffee and pastry puff break, we continued wandering around the grounds. We ventured into the woods to walk the trails to the ropeway, but found it was too busy to attempt, so we walked the back way to the ferry along the road. Once across, we trained back downtown and walked to a pizza place before visiting the A-bomb dome park. Tired, we bussed back to train station to meet up with the others before our train to Okayama for the night.

In the morning, we again left our big bags at the train station and carried our backpacks on the ferry to Naoshima. Upon our arrival, we took a small bus to the Benesse House hotel. It was too early to check in, so we left our packs and walked around the island to see some of the art exhibits. While wandering around town looking for the art houses, we stumbled upon a cafe for lunch. Restored, we continued the art house walk, visiting a handful of houses that had been abandoned and turned into art installations.

From there, we took the bus back to the port for a visit at our first public bath, which we had to ourselves. We had been walking close to 10 miles per day, so it was a great relief to stop and soak for awhile. Afterwards, we headed back up to the Benesse House to check-in, enjoying champagne on the gift shop patio before moving to wine on our own balconies as the sun was setting. Later on, we walked down the hill to another Benesse building for dinner. Amazing! There were a number of courses, each better than the last. It was here I decided to be adventurous and try the fish being served. Butterfish was delicious, however the texture of abalone was less than ideal. Once finished, we got a ride back up the hill to the hotel and rode the 6-person monorail up to the top of the hill to visit Oval, the hotel’s bar, for a nightcap.

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The hotel was mostly concrete and it was hot, so most of us didn’t sleep very well. We had a buffet breakfast then headed back to the port. We took the ferry to Inushima, a nearby island that is part of the Benesse Art Site. The group split up and wandered through various art houses and a former copper refinery-turned-art installation. We regrouped at a small restaurant for a delicious curry lunch and local beer. Again, we boarded the ferry, which took us to Teshima. Most exhibits were closed or closing for the day, but we did manage to see one exhibit, the heartbeat exhibit, at the end of a long walk near the beach. Because we were visiting off-season, we decided to change our plans and head back to Okayama early, where we picked up our stashed bags and got new tickets and bento boxes for an earlier Shinkansen to Osaka. At this point I had exhausted my limited clothing selection, so I washed my clothes in the hotel room sink.

japan2016-82The next day was a down-day for Adam and I. We relaxed in the morning, doing our own things, while the rest of the group got up early to go see the Fushimi Inari shrine and it’s world famous torii gates. My back had been hurting since the first day in Japan, so I needed to lay low and rest. I found breakfast and took a local train up to nearby Kyoto, finding an ATM and snacks while killing time before meeting up with everyone. We took the train to Tenryu-ji zen temple, wandering the grounds and taking pictures. Pratt had arranged for us a lunch at Shigetsu, a Japanese-style vegetarian restaurant. Most everything was delicious, though we were all having trouble sitting on the floor for so long.

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The group walked back to main road of the temple to Arashiyama Station and took the train to where we could walk to the Ryōan-ji temple and Zen rock garden, followed by the Golden Temple. Later we caught buses to the Higashiyama District (old Kyoto) as the sun was setting. We walked to one temple, but found a line around the block, so we walked to another only to find another massive line. There were people everywhere and we were all tired and overwhelmed, so we ducked down an alley to get out of the crowds. Wandered down a side street and found a perfect spot for beer, horse jerky, and meat buns. We caught another bus t0 Kyoto station to take an express train back to Osaka. After a quick dinner, I fell fast asleep. We had done so much walking and the humidity that day was remarkable – Pratt even asked if I was okay because I was sweating through my clothes and onto the backpack.

The next morning we were to begin hiking, the reason for the trip, so I had to re-work what I was carrying in my suitcase and backpack, saving some for a bag Dan set aside for overflow items.

 

Thanksgiving Day Road Trip

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IMG_2252I was awakened around 3am by a large crack of thunder. The thunderstorms that we were threatened with yesterday seemed to have held off until then, and it poured heavily with a few more thunderous booms for the next 45 minutes or so. We got up at 6:30am to get ready for our day trip to the Botanic Gardens, a car ride away. Wayan made us another great, light breakfast and we were off to meet the driver down the hill.

We hit the road, winding through the narrow streets in town, passing acres of rice paddies, and finally got a glimpse of the volcanic mountains in the distance. Though overcast, there was a much higher ceiling and it showed promise of a great day. The van wound it’s way through the Central Balinese hills on the narrow roads that were in various states of decay. We passed hundreds of rice terraces, bamboo forests, and small villages, which were a strange mix of modernization and simple farm life. They were unlike Ubud, the town we were staying in, which was full of new cement and bamboo construction. Ubud is upscale in comparison, though both it and the surrounding villages were in fairly decent shape.

WiFi is advertised everywhere in Southeast Asia. Dan commented on how they were likely a mobile-first society, because they probably don’t have home computers or the Internet. Earlier we had learned that the villa just got “fiber to the wall,” though data is very expensive.

We arrived at the Bali Botanic Garden, a national park built high up in the Central Balinese mountains, and decided to walk around instead of drive. The weather was now partly cloudy and it was much cooler in the hills, so I didn’t mind. We wandered around and saw the cactus enclosure, the orchid yard, bamboo forests, fern forests, a massive old ficus, and monkeys. You could tell it was off-season, because most things weren’t blooming and the park was nearly empty. Starting to form blisters, we headed back to the car.

Next we stopped at Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, which is a beautiful lakeside temple built in the 1600s and prominently displayed on the 50,000 rupiah bill. This site was far more popular with the tourists. We walked around they waterfront taking pictures, and then it started to rain. Upon exiting the compound, the four of us had difficulty finding our driver because all the vehicles in the lot looked the same. We ended up getting soaked in yet another downpour.

Lastly, we went down the street and had a buffet lunch with our driver. Afterwards, we got in the van to ride back to the villa. We’ve been putting in a lot of ride time over the last few days. Thankfully this driver did not subject us to the same six Beatles songs as the driver in Java did.

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On the way back I reviewed the guidebook and determined that I wanted to visit Senore, a quiet town on the coast, tomorrow morning. The driver agreed to bring me there and back for the equivalent of around $40 – better than renting a car! We stopped at the grocery store, changed tomorrow’s massage time, and went back to the villa for a dip in the pool, a shower, and lounging on the patio, waiting for the breeze to kick in. I even did more laundry and got a nap in.

Because it was Thanksgiving, Chris had arranged fine dining for us at Locavore to celebrate both the holiday and our fantastic trip together. We packed up and walked down the hill into town and through the market to street a that we haven’t been to before. The restaurant was very clean and modern, bright with air conditioning and high ceilings. A hostess sat us around a circular table and we ordered drinks. Because the regular menu was primarily fish, I ordered the vegetarian option. We were served nine courses of small, complex, and elegantly-prepared dishes paired with various beers, wines, and unique, finely-constructed cocktails. The courses both challenged and delighted our tastebuds, and we spent the next few hours sharing plates and laughs. It was a great evening.

Afterwards, we stepped outside into the pouring rain to make the journey back to the villa. We wore rain jackets, but the rain just kept coming, flooding the streets. In the downpour, we lost track of Chris and retraced our steps looking for him. Thoroughly soaked, we returned to the villa to see if he was there and thankfully he was. Apparently there’s a shortcut! Sweating and soaked to the bone, we called it a night.


Side note: today marks my two-year anniversary in Denver and is Murphy’s assumed birthday.

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A Quiet Day in Bali

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That night I slept in the blissful air conditioning… under a fan… under a mosquito net, just in case. The bathroom was open-air, after all. Wayan came in at 8am to make us coffee, omelettes, toast, smoothies, and fresh fruit. At the table I read the villa welcome packet, which explicitly stated not to run the fan and AC at the same time. Oops.

imageChris and Dan were eager to get moving, and they left to walk around town and have more coffee. Adam and I stayed put to have a lazy morning on the coved outdoor porch, enjoying a great breeze as it slowly got warmer outside. Once the housekeepers were done, I did my laundry in the sink and my morning breathing and stretching exercises (not yoga) on the covered, upstairs back deck. It was the first time I’ve done that since I left Colorado, and it felt great to get back to a routine. I washed up in the covered, open-air shower, thoroughly enjoying the breeze and amazing views of the rice paddies.

imageAdam and I left to walk through the paddies on the way to town. The paved walkway soon degraded into a narrowing footpath and soon thre were fewer and fewer villas. We followed the path for about a kilometer, passing numerous ducks and paddy workers, until we were basically walking through a jungle. We crossed a bridge and walked back down through more fields of rice. The sun was beating down on us and the humidity was making us sweat profusely.

Thankfully the road got wider, the villas and spas reappeared, and we ended up in town. After walking a few blocks, we decided on lunch at Warung Schnitzel, an Australian-Asian fusion-type restaurant. Smoothie, water, shade, WiFi. I had chicken spring rolls, pepper-marinated pork tenderloin, and rice, which was a nice change of pace. We caught up with Chris and determined we were near Seniman Coffee, so after lunch we stopped for an iced coffee in the air conditioning and more time to catch up with the world. There were threats of rain, so Adam took off for the villa, but I stayed behind to leverage the Internet access and upload photos.

The congested, narrow streets in town were lined with boutique shops offering anything from postcards to gold. On the way back I stopped for some shopping and made a reservation for a massage at a highly recommended resort close to the villa for Friday morning, when Dan and Chris would be at their cooking class. I earned a dip in the villa’s pool after completing the long, steep walk back. Adam, Chris, and Dan were preparing to go have cocktails near where I had just come from. I stayed behind to relax, not wanting to make the trek again right away.

The evening was quiet and we chatted on the patio, sharing laughs over the follies of our Asian adventure while enjoying beer and snacks. We tried the Inle Lake cigars, but were fairly disappointed. Another great day with friends.

Temples, Caffeine, and Lightning Bolts

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The Muslims started their broadcasted praying at 4am, though instead of rolling over, we got up in the dark to have an initial breakfast of coffee and donuts with cheese on top. It’s about as good as it sounds – I’m guessing it’s a Dutch thing. The van driver took us down the hill to the Manohara Borobudur, a hotel where we met Heru, our guide for our tour of Borobudur.

Heru handed out flashlights and walked us up to the massive, deconsecrated Buddhist temple, built in 9th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s considered to be the largest Buddhist monument in the world and is topped with 504 images (statues) of Buddha, each surrounded by a stupa-like enclosure that took 3 generations to complete. On the lower levels, the stone walls are etched with carvings of select stories/teachings of Buddha. Apparently certain levels of the monument sink when it rains.

imageThe group climbed the 150 stairs to join other tourists (oh yeah, forgot about them) to greet the day. Sunrise was delayed due to clouds on the horizon; we were particularly entertained by the loud Australians blathering on about how it was too early to do yoga. The sun finally rose and we snapped a few dozen photos of the temple and surrounding valleys basked in the new light. Once satisfied, Heru gave us a tour of the grounds. His English was the best of any guide we’ve had so far; he certainly enjoyed rolling every R. At the end, we were taken back to the hotel for snacks of coffee, fried banana and some ricey coconut thing. The Australians arrived, so we departed for the villa.

imageOn the way back, the driver diverted us to the Pawon Temple, another smaller Buddhist temple. Next door was a Kopi Luwak establishment, where we stopped to enjoy a tasting of fresh coffee made from the seeds of beans found in the feces of the Asian Palm civet. We even got to meet the civet, who was not at all interested in meeting us. We vanned over to yet another Buddhist temple, the Mendut Temple, built earlier than Borobudur in the 9th century.

Once again, we were met in the car park by villa staff with cool towels. Breakfast was fantastic: spicy fried rice with a fried egg on top, a type of pancakes that were much like crumpets, but ricier, and more coffee and cheese donuts.

Some of us took naps, the others relaxed in the upstairs living room for the rest of the morning. It was a much nicer day with a great breeze and even greater visibility. We packed up, showered, attempted lunch, and got back in the van again to head towards the airport.

On the way there, we had time to kill and the impending rain wasn’t enough of a deterrent, so we stopped at , a cropping of Hindu and Buddhist temples. We took selfies with tourists and raced through the grounds, but we got caught in another downpour. Fortunately we had rain jackets this time.

We occupied the entire 3×3 row 40, with oddly empty seats between each of us, just behind the wings. There was moderate turbulence throughout the flight, occasionally getting uncomfortably severe. As we were heading north to avoid the inclimate weather, I noticed Adam and Chris, who were sitting on the other side of the aisle, were searching for something on the floor. As soon as I looked over, a super-bright flash appeared – lightning had struck the tip of the wing, and was followed immediately by loud thunder and passenger cries! The cabin lights instantly came on in the cabin, and Dan noticed the infotainment units had restarted, but nothing else happened. None of us had ever been on a plane that had been struck before, so we weren’t sure if we were okay or not. A tense minute passed and we realized that we weren’t going to die. The plane wasn’t acting strange nor were we turning around, so we started to settle down.

I gritted my teeth, tensed up my abs, and kept on reading my book. We landed safely in Denpasar, deplaned, walked around the brand new domestic terminal to grab our baggage, and met our driver, Gede, outside for the hour ride inland to Ubud. The power of the buildings along the road flickered on and off several times, but apparently that’s perfectly normal. Not surprisingly, we witnessed three near-misses involving motorbikes.

When we arrived, Wayan was waiting for us with flashlights. Ketut took our bags away on a motorbike, one by one. We hiked up the hill in the dark about a quarter mile, the road narrowing until it was only a footpath. Upon arriving at Villa Santori, Wayan served us limeade and we settled in. This place was nice!

Dinner consisted of beer and peanuts, and we went to bed soon after – Bali was an hour later than Java. I thoroughly enjoyed my air conditioning, doors, and walls.

Volcanoes and Jeeps

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imageI briefly remember waking up at 4am to the first prayers of the day, but was able to get back to sleep with the provided earplugs. There’s no sleeping in too late, though, because it gets muggy very early. After removing myself from the mosquito netting, I got my first glimpse of our surroundings. Stunning. The villa overlooks the valley and much of Central Java, though you couldn’t see too far because it was overcast and hazy. I could just make out the outlines of the smaller volcanoes in the distance. Also, I finally had a chance to explore the villa in the daylight. It seems the frog I heard all night had deposited an egg sack in the pool.

I skipped breakfast, but ordered a latte from the kitchen because our coffee machine was broken. The four of us decided to do a Jeep safari of Mt. Marapi, a large volcano that had last erupted in 2010. Housekeeping had opened the shades of my room and dismantled my sanctuary, and I braved the bug-filled environment for a shower under the spewing dragon head inside the dungeon of a bathroom.

We enjoyed a lazy morning on the top floor and later, a lunch of rice, chicken, green beans, tofu, and boiled eggs in tomato curry sauce was served, with a coconut dish for dessert. Then the van arrived to take us to the Jeeps, an hour’s ride away. It rained en route and we hoped the inclement weather was behind us.

Indonesian-style architecture

Indonesian-style architecture

While driving up the mountain, I noticed how the cultures of all the countries we had visited seemed to overlap with each other. There were mostly Muslims in Java, which is different from Thailand, Myanmar, and China. The architecture resembles mid-century architecture in Southern California, so I assume CA went through a phase of Indonesian influence. I was getting glimpses of Hawaiian/Polynesian culture. The landscape was very green and lush, though at 7deg south of equator, I suppose that’s what your could expect. Unlike Japan, China, Myanmar, and Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia use their own languages, but with Latin letters instead of Indian-like sans-script characters.

When the van finally pulled into the parking lot, we saw an extensive collection of heavily-worn Jeeps from the 60s through the 80s. Once assigned to a vehicle, our tour of Mt. Marapi began. Dan and I rode in a bright yellow 1970s 4-speed manual transmission model with a driver and an English-speaking tour guide. It had been imported by Mitsubishi with permission from Chrysler(?); it even had the Mitsubishi logo on the front. Adam and Chris were perched in a beaten, red Willy’s Jeep.

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Interesting museum pieces

We cruised around what remained of the lava flows. Unlike the cooled, porous, black lava flows I had seen in Hawaii, the flows were very rocky. Many of the roads needed repair, and we passed several backhoes working on it. We stopped at museum, which housed relics from the last eruption. Entire villages were lost and 21 people died, including two in a bunker. Unfortunatley because of the overcast skies, we couldn’t see top of volcano. The tour lasted a couple of hours and we concluded that it was goofy. The surrounding towns seemed to completely cater to lava tours now.

On our descent, we could see the thunder clouds rolling in, and as we got back onto pavement, it began to downpour. The guides put up the canvas roofs and we barreled on through the puddles, trying to stay dry despite not having doors or windows. I wondered if my bedroom at the villa would get wet. Soaked, we got back in van for the hour-long ride.

On our arrival, we were greeted again with cool towels, but also with a now-clear view of the volcano and likely two others. It soon rained again and we relaxed on the deck as the sun set. The staff cooked up another fantastic dinner and we marveled at the massive bugs attracted to the large light above the dinner table while listening to evening prayers in the valley below. Despite being in a foreign environment, it was a pretty great evening. We all went to bed early so we could get up for sunset in the morning.

The steaming volcano we had just visited as viewed from the villa

The steaming volcano we had just visited as viewed from the villa