To Asia, With Love (and Other Emotions)

Shelley with Ultadanga kids

My time in Asia challenged me, rewarded me, made my heart ache and churned out a stronger person. I learned more in the last 11 months than I have in the last 11 years, and that’s no hyperbole. I became more familiar with the world and with myself. As it turns out, I’m a nomadic homebody. My style is to hunker down in a city and get the lay of the land instead of moving every three days. Maybe when in a state of constant change, it’s comforting to know where you can go for a reliable bowl of pho or a cup of REAL coffee.

Surprisingly I did make it to 12 countries (if you count Tibet and Hong Kong as separate from mainland China, which I do). I’ve had 7 telephone numbers, taken 13 flights, crossed 2 borders overland, added 31 stamps to my passport, secured 10 visas and spent about $24,000. Below is a snapshot of my feelings about each country: what I liked, what I didn’t and how I sum them each up. India is longer than the rest because I spent the most time there and it had such a profound effect. Ladies and gentlemen, I present my view of Asia in 2,000 words or less… Continue reading

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Bali’s Beaches- East and South

Nusa Dua ocean view

Candidasa and Amed

Laura, my dear friend who I’ve known since I was five years old, met me in Candidasa on Bali’s east coast. Her trip would be a short 9 days, so we needed to make the most of it. She chose Candidasa based on a recommendation from a friend that it was mellower than the more frequented beaches of Kuta and Sanur. It used to be more popular with tourists, but beach erosion due to coral mining whittled away most of the coastline. There is no beach, but from our room at the Bali Palms Resort, we had a view of the pool with the ocean as the backdrop. During high tide the waves even came over the railing of the property- we were as close as you could get without sleeping over the water. Continue reading

Temples, Volcanoes and Coffee Around Ubud

Rocky temple

During my first days in Ubud, I joined a day-tour to visit some nearby temples and volcanoes. Finding said tour, however, was no small feat. Transportation comes in the form of unofficial taxi drivers who sit on corners holding up a taxi sign, or calling out “transport, madam?” You negotiate a price, and get into their private car. They’re perfectly safe and one of the few options for getting around, but it can be pricey for a single traveler. While visiting several travel agencies looking for a tour to join, I realized most offerings were for private drivers. Oh sure, they could take several passengers, but I’d have to find them myself. Really?? Why not organize group tours like most civilized (and uncivilized) countries do? After more than an hour of wandering through the heat, stopping at travel agencies, I gave up. I was annoyed, feeling like my single self was not sufficient, so I returned to my guest house for a rest. On my way to dinner later that night, I spotted a travel kiosk on Monkey Forest Road with a chalkboard sign looking for people to join a tour. I stopped to inquire, and they did indeed organize group tours. Each just needed at least two people before the tour would go, so I chose from the few that were available for the next day. The winner: Kintamani/Volcano tour. Continue reading

Balinese Enchantment- The Beginning

Woman carrying coconuts- Ubud

Before coming to Bali I thought I’d either love it, or it would be too touristy. Both proved true, but the latter is less offensive because of how ridiculously beautiful and peaceful the island is. Unlike most of Indonesia which has a Muslim majority, Bali is overwhelmingly Hindu. Offerings to the Gods are made every single morning in the form of chanang, small hand-made coconut leaf “trays” filled with a combination of items such as flowers, crackers, rice and pandan leaves. Small bits of rice on banana leaves are also scattered about, much to the delight of hungry ants. These chanang can be found in home doorways, walkways, streets, car windshields, motorbikes, inside the home… basically everywhere. They are constant reminders that Bali isn’t simply an island of resorts- it’s full of warm, hospitable, grateful people who hold tight to tradition. I was in love from the start. Continue reading