2017 Wrap-Up

Our last travel blog went out in July 2017 (from the Lake Toba region of Sumatra, Indonesia, ‘Ratna’), but an awful lot happened before and after that blog that we didn’t share. Sometimes there was just too much going on and sometimes the wifi sucked, and sometimes well, I just wasn’t in the mood. Our travels haven’t been without their challenges, but life itself is not without its challenges… and the good and the beauty that we’ve seen, the people we’ve met, the experiences we’ve had – we wouldn’t exchange all of that for a safe, sedentary life. So, finally, here’s a wrap-up through which we hope you can share our adventures with us…

INDONESIA

Sanur: We went from Ubud on the island of Bali, Indonesia to a week in Sanur. We found Sanur to be a bit of a nondescript town. The beach was nice enough but the town seemed to be filled with grouchy tourists. 

Lombok: We flew for a fantastic week to the beautiful island of Lombok, where we watched the islanders roast cocoa, make coconut candy and fabrics, visited an eco-school, beaches and waterfalls and participated in a wedding. There were hardly any tourists here and the people were wonderful! 

Canggu: Back to Bali we ended our 5-months on Bali with a month housesit in Canggu where we experienced Nyepi, the day of when the whole island stops working, cooking and any entertainment and locals build ogoh-ogoh (demonic statues) and put out offerings to the gods. These offerings are handmade so each one is unique. Even the chickens don’t escape the festivities! It was from Canggu that we visited Tanah Lot. Canggu is a party town with lots of young tourists drinking and riding crazily on their rented motorbikes. Not our kind of vibe… Canggu became notorious to us for its dogs who looked and sounded vicious enough that walking in the evening didn’t feel safe, and even walking during the day was a trial. Taxi’s here were owned by the local mafia and the drivers were unpleasant and aggressive but we had to take a lot of taxis.

Yogyakarta, Java: We spent three weeks in Yogyakarta, where we walked the streets, enjoyed markets and stunning views, made good friends and practiced our martial arts, learned how they make krupuk (fish crackers), visited temples and an animal bank, helped to thresh hay and make bricks. 

Borobudur, Java: We visited Borobudur with our friend Khan and got completely drenched and still practiced our martial arts! Borobudur is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple and the worlds largest buddhist temple, containing 504 buddha statues and exquisite reliefs.

Prambanan, Java: We also visited Prambanan, a 9th century Hindu temple compound dedicated to the Trimurti, the gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Prambanan is a World Heritage Unesco site with 240 temples in its complex. Most of the main temples collapsed during a major earthquake in the 16th century and restoration began in 1930. There are photos of the temples being restored – it looks like a long, complicated, arduous process:

Pekanbaru, Sumatra: At the end of April we left Java for Sumatra, Indonesia where we spent a month in Pekanbaru teaching English to High School and University students. In the month we were in this city we saw only 4 other white people and two of them were from a distance (in a Starbucks). Pekanbaru is not a destination place but we were there to teach and we met some wonderful men and women studying finance, to be engineers, flight attendants. The woman who wanted to be a flight engineer could only apply to United Emirates because they were the only airline to allow women to wear the hijab. The school was a mix of Christian and Muslim students which we were told is unusual in Sumatra. The Muslim women wore hijabs, making their faces and characters stand out all the more. The students were curious about us and asked us about America feminism, relationships and being gay. Two of the students picked us up every day and dropped us off again after class on their motorcycles – no helmet, no protective gear and crazy traffic. Many of the more interesting conversations happened in the privacy of these commutes. On the challenging side, it was incredibly hot with only a fan in the classroom – we literally dripped with sweat as we taught… Another challenge was the food – repetitious and sooo spicy! Although Blane found the chicken to be fantastic (I was vegetarian during this time).

Elephant Sanctuary: Our month culminated in a bunch of us visiting an Elephant sanctuary where we helped wash the elephants and rode the Sumatran elephants through the forests of Sumatra – a heartwarming highlight for us.

Bukit Lawang, Sumatra: At the end of May we went to northern Sumatra to Bukit Lewang, an area famous for its monkeys, orangutans and other creatures. Twice every day the monkeys could be seen on the rooftops of the little town by the river, going through any door or window that was open, looking for crackers, fruit or any food they could put their hands on. At dinner one evening, one monkey dashed onto the table and snatched a piece of fruit… There are no cars in Bukit Lawang, it’s just a long strip of land by the river with people selling food, clothing, jewelry, tours. We were glad to be there off-season. Our friend, Leslie joined us from Connecticut and Blane and Leslie did a one-day trip into the forest to see the orangutans, rafting back to town (I didn’t join them because I was having trouble with the heat and I had heard the walking was very arduous and my ankle was still recovering from a fall in Ubud – it turned out to be a really good call on my part!) and Leslie did another trip to see the elephants.

Palau Weh, Java: The three of us went south to beautiful Lake Toba where I wrote the last blog. Leslie said goodbye and Blane and I continued with a flight all the way to the north to Palau Weh, a Sumatran island where we had been invited to spend a couple of weeks on this beautiful island teaching four massage therapists advanced techniques. We taught them Jet-lag Massage, Integrated Techniques Massage and Sacred Massage and left them with a 5 page report of recommendations from how to deal with sexual advances from customers to improved marketing. Palau Weh will be remembered for its gentle ocean waters that float you in its warmth and with its gentle currents that slowly move you around as if you’re being held in its arms. 

THAILAND: From Palau Weh we flew back to Medan and from there through Kuala Lumpur to Thailand where we spent the next 4 months in Phuket, Koh Lanta, Ao Nang and Chiang Mai and a last few days in Bangkok. Chiang Mai was our favorite place in Thailand and the only place in Thailand we didn’t housesit. The beaches were beautiful although we’d recommend avoiding the beach was in Kuta where litter was literally imbedded in the sand! 

Phuket: We lived in a beautiful house shared with Bella the dog, ate fantastic food in the local restaurants, saw wonderful art, temples, buddhas and fabrics. We were fortunate to be out of the sleazy area of town which we only experienced on the day we went in to renew our visas. 

Koh Lanta: In Koh Lanta we took care of a resort shared with Mango the dog. Here we experienced so many beautiful beach sunsets… A beautiful experience but this is where I began to get diarrhea that I couldn’t get rid of and where we stayed in a tick-infested room and contracted Lyme and Lyme co-infections…

Ao Nang: The land formations in this area were outstanding but the housesit was our most unfavorite – a dark, uncomfortably hot house with mold on the walls, a brand new puppy & kitten – both un-housebroken – an ultra-traumatized puppy, dog walks in wellies through a water-logged field with snakes, a broken car when we needed it to pick up water and food. And it wasn’t the most pleasant place to suffer from a diarrhea and I began my first of several courses of antibiotics. Our only saving grace: a visit from our friends Laurie and Steve from NC. Our friends had planned on staying with us but even we didn’t want to stay there so they stayed at a hotel and we visited as much as we could. Not the greatest visit for them, particularly because Laurie twisted her ankle so they weren’t able to do what they wanted to do, but having them around really helped us get through this time.

Chiang Mai: We fell in love with this city, the markets, art, the people and the healthy food. We found a massage school where Blane took a class in Thai Massage and where we each got a massage every few days. We also got to know the hospital, which was more like a hotel than a hospital and incredibly well organized, where I went for tests, a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with antibiotic induced colitis. We so loved Chiang Mai and it is a place we could easily return to for an extended period.

Bangkok: A few days in a lovely apartment taking care of two kitties.

ENGLAND

There was so much more we wanted to see in S.E. Asia – Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos… but we left Thailand and S.E. Asia only because I was sick so much, because the heat was hard to deal with and because we needed to get good reliable Lyme tests. I know these are good reasons to leave but it saddened us to leave…

England was our gateway into Europe and after such a long time in S.E. Asia it was a shock to our system. On one hand the prices were high but on the other, the weather was so much cooler allowing us to go for long walks which we had so missed. We could shower without worrying about the water going into our mouths and brush our teeth using tap water again! One of the hardest things to deal with is that the average Brit looked miserable. In fact, there was a lot of grumpy, frowny people in England and the tension and aggression was palpable. What we did love was the mix of people we found there and the surprising abundance of good food the immigrants made available not just in specialty stores but on every street. We seemed to get on better with the immigrants than the British – we found it easier to talk and laugh with them and got a sense that in England most white people do not really talk with the immigrants.

Although we enjoyed a couple of shows, a number of museums and several lovely furry animals, England was a challenge. We left Thailand solely for a housesit in Cambridge to find out the owner had decided she wasn’t leaving as planned and demanded we leave giving us only a few hours to find another place. We looked to our Facebook friends and were fortunate to find friends of friends in Littleport who were kind enough to allow us to stay a few nights. It was here that I burned my thumb while cooking, which in mid January still hurts. Fortune won over, as this stay allowed us to find a housesit in Acton until our flight out to Italy.

Cambridge, Littleport & Acton

ITALY

Milan, Italy: Milan was a visit with a childhood friend I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years. Milan just oozed with charm and character.

Lake Como, Italy: Bellagio, a gorgeous town on Lake Como, where we did a Workaway, helping a couple who had bought a house which needed a ton of work. We ended up doing landscaping as well as some indoor errands and some of the cooking. The Workaway house was in a stunning location but had no heat and very little hot water so instead of struggling with the heat of S.E. Asia we we struggled with the freezing temperatures of mountainous Italy. We visited Villa de Balbianello where they shot a scene from one of the Star Wars movies. Can you recognize it?

GERMANY

Ausburg, Germany: Next was a week in Germany, specifically to get tested for Lyme and co-infections. We got the tests at Armin Labs after I had Facebooked with Armin. When we met Armin at his office he spent two-hours with us going over our symptoms to help us decide which tests we needed to have. He later Skyped with us to go over the results and sent us his recommended protocols. Armin was awesome! At the same time, I bought some well-needed boots for the colder weather and we each ate our share of excellent cake. Other than that, unfortunately with my parents being holocaust survivors, it kind of freaked me out. Ausburg is located just 52 kilometers west of Dachau. We arrived at the airport after dark and taking the bus from the airport, I saw a group of people dressed in dark clothing walking with their heads down. It was easy for my mind to see them as a group of jews trying to get by unseen. The whole place seemed like a crime scene and a cemetery, and suggestions to go see the Black Forest just didn’t appeal to me… But then there were those incredible cakes…

PORTUGAL

From Germany we flew to Portugal on December 11, 2017 for a 2-month housesit but since this is where we are currently, this is a story for our next blog but know that I’m writing this in front of a wood burning stove in a house we will be in for the next two YEARS!


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3 replies »

  1. Dear Monique and Blane,
    How lovely to hear about your adventure-filled year! You two are often in my thoughts and Mike’s and my conversation. Sorry you missed Cambodia…the homeland of our daughter in law! Much love, Mary and Mike McConnell

    • Hallo Mary & Mike, It’s fantastic to hear from the two of you! It’s been such a long time and emailed you before we left but it may have been an old email address. Cambodia may still be in our future, but not in the immediate future. Love and hugs from us both.

  2. I am so glad to know about your life and your adventures. Seems to me the universe always provides and is quite evident through your blog. I love that you could surrender it all and feel into a different kind of freedom.

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