Pictures from Bali & Gili Islands

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Pictures from Thailand

Scuba diving

So I finally worked up the courage to take a scuba lesson today. Years ago, I had filled in the health questionnaire for scuba and two things I wrote on it nixed me from participating and also made me fear ever trying scuba – my asthma and claustrophobia. The asthma I could understand, though mine is so mild it’s hardly noticeable. But the claustrophobia is the bigger issue. I have had panic attacks when stuck on the subway. There is nothing worse than feeling trapped. And i generally avoid situations that could lead to a panic attack – like taking the next train if the subway was too crowded for my comfort level. But i couldn’t understand what it was about scuba that was claustrophobic. After all, you are out in the open water.

So why did I try it? Well after snorkeling with a local dude who showed me all kinds of cool stuff underwater, he said that you can see even more cool stuff if you dive. So I started pondering it and visited the dive school next to my hotel to ask all kinds of questions. It seemed like my asthma is mild enough not to be an issue. And after trying a shallow water dive (maybe 10 feet deep) I could back out if i didn’t want to do the next dive at 12 meters.

So with great apprehension, I signed up. Even thinking as late as this morning that maybe I should back out.

We took a boat from Gili Air to Gili Meno where we had a lesson on hand signals, breathing, etc. Then we got suited up and headed into the water. My first fear of the dive suit feeling too constricting (and therefore leading to a potential panic attack) was unfounded. It fit with enough breathing room. I was worried all the gear might make me feel too weighed down. It did, but I managed not to panic because there were so many other things to focus on and we quickly got in the water anyway, where you don’t feel the weight of all the gear. The hardest part was getting used to the breathing. You can only breathe through your mouth and it feels like you are not getting enough air initially. But they taught us to breathe slow – 4 seconds breathe in, 4 seconds breathe out. The main instructor, Adrian, could very quickly see that I was a big time scaredy cat and required a lot of hand holding. Once he figured this out, he was always keeping an eye on me and making sure I wasn’t panicking. If he saw me starting to get scared, we would focus on my breathing together and then I calmed down. Once I saw that I could trust him, I would look for him every time I began to feel uncomfortable and then calm down again.

Well I survived the shallow water dive and started to even enjoy it by the end, though we couldn’t see anything but sand there. I was worried about the 12 meter dive and kept thinking that maybe I should back out. After lunch we got suited up again and headed out on the boat. Once we were in the middle of the water you had to get in the water by basically falling backwards off the boat. It looks scary and I was the last one off the boat because I couldn’t summon the courage to do it with everyone else. Finally I managed to do it with one of the instructors and discovered it actually wasn’t bad at all.

Then Adrian split up our group of 4 students in two so that me and one other girl went with him (thank god, i was thinking, but I am sure he kept me close because he knew I needed extra attention) and the other two girls went with Tina, an instructor in training.

So we started to descend slowly and after only like 2 feet I told Adrian I wanted to come up. So we came up for a minute and then went back down super slow. Every now and then I could feel the panic rising within, but did my best to keep it at bay by focusing on Adrian. He kept making eye contact underwater and asking if I was ok. And he was holding my hand while descending. I also didn’t know how to really get out of it at this point if I wanted to without spoiling the experience for the other students.

Anyway, we slowly descended and I kept looking down and then up again to see how far we were. And of course I kept checking to make sure Adrian was still there and hadn’t abandoned me on the mistaken assumption that I was ok now. Finally we reached the bottom and immediately Adrian pointed out a giant turtle eating seaweed or something. It was so cool that i stopped fixating on how I could escape if need be. Then I saw some cool fish and some coral. Every time I started to feel any sort of panic, I would focus on looking for cool fish and my breathing and check for Adrian. At one point I couldn’t see him and I started thrashing around looking for him. He saw me and quickly swam to my front so I could see him.

Before I knew it, 40 minutes had passed at 12 meters and it was time to ascend. I couldn’t believe I had survived the day without backing out or having a massive panic attack. I was so proud, though it was due in no small part to Adrian who had to handhold me (literally) the entire time.

Many people come here and get their Open Water Diver certificate. It would take 2 or 3 more days – time I actually do have. But I am happy with my progress today. Maybe in the future I will dive again, but this was perfect for me today. Plus I would need to find an Adrian at every dive school!

So after I got back, I was thinking in the shower (great place for contemplation) that if I was Carrie Bradshaw, I would draw some lesson about relationships from this experience. I did think of a good lesson, but more related to my journey so far: don’t fixate on the stuff that scares you. Focus instead on the positive.

Ok, so I need to work on my eloquence. But there you have my life lesson. I know it’s kind if a long and boring post, but I feel so proud of myself today!!

Gili Air and Bali

Just got to Gili Air today, one of the Gili Islands off the coast of Bali. I had heard about how amazing they are from two separate people, so I decided to give them a try.

There are three Gili Islands about two hours away from Bali by the fast boats. I chose Gili Air because it sounded like there are some people and restaurants, but laid back enough and not over developed (relatively speaking) compared to Gili Trabagan and also not too rural and quiet compared to Gili Menos. So, a couple interesting facts about the Gili Islands:

• There is no motorized transport allowed on the islands. The only vehicles are horse drawn carts. A rare bit of foresight on how to keep the level of tourist development manageable and also protect the island’s ecosystem.

• Gili Air and Gili Menos do not have freshwater in the island plumbing. Only salt water. So after swimming in the ocean today, I showered with salt water in my hotel room. I noticed that the soap does not lather all that well with salt water, but I do feel clean now. Gili Trabagan just opened some kind of freshwater plant, but I don’t think all the hotels are connected to it yet.

• There are no dogs on the islands. Weird but true. Especially considering the number of stray dogs on Bali. I don’t know why this is the case.

• Apparently the islands are so tiny that you can walk around each of the islands in about an hour. I haven’t tried it yet, but plan to.

Anyway, I got to my beach bungalow today (only $30 a night!!). The place is cute, but we will see how I handle the lack of A/C and open air deck with day bed and hammock (and mosquitos!)

After I checked in, I went to the hotel beach side bar to get lunch. The staff are super friendly and I met this chick from Denmark who will be here 4 or 5 months working in my hotel as part of her hotel management training (all expenses paid!) I thought it was a cool gig, but would get soo bored being in Gili Air for 5 months. The laid back vibe is cool, but I would have picked some place like Ubud or Chiangmai or Oaxaca. Some of these cute towns with a lot more to do.

Well after chatting with her for a bit, she invited me along to go snorkeling with her and her friend (a local) who can show us lots of stuff that we otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. I ended up going with her and it was awesome. My hotel happens to be located on a beach with amazing coral reefs and fish. The guy pointed out huge turtles – the kind in the zoo that are over 100 years old. We also saw a snake, clams, and other cool plants that close up when you touch them. It was a lot of fun and I’m glad I went.

Before arriving here, I was in the town of Ubud on Bali, which is apparently where Elizabeth Gilbert from “eat pray love” spent a lot of her time in Bali. I didn’t know that before i got here, but I can see why it’s a popular place. It’s more inland and has beautiful scenery with rice fields everywhere, art classes, organic food, slightly cooler weather than the coast and it’s very navigable.

I booked this relatively new hotel called In Da Lodge – my brother who doesn’t write me that many emails felt compelled to email me a one liner about the name of the hotel and how I am “really slumming it now.” I can’t argue about the name and it’s definitely no Marriott, but I really liked it. The staff were awesome and fun to hang out with at the hotel bar at night. One of them took me on a little tour of the surrounding areas of Ubud on his motorbike.

Bali is the only island in Indonesia where the majority of people are Hindu. It’s interesting observing how the practice Hinduism versus Indians. A few notable things: most of the Hindus in Bali are not vegetarian, as compared to india where most are vegetarian. They follow the caste system here, too. For some reason I thought that was only an indian thing, but it’s one of the ugly aspects of Hinduism that is followed here, too. I was talking to the hotel staff at the Lodge last night and the caste thing doesn’t seem as strict as in India. They have these little offerings everywhere that include flowers and incense on a banana leaf placed on the floor in door ways and all around the homes and shops. That must be a Balinese thing, as it’s not done in India. They sacrifice animals in their religious ceremonies at times – again, must be a Balinese thing as Indian Hindus do not sacrifice animals.

The Balinese food is delicious. Hard to describe, but there is coconut in everything, which I love. And it is a bit spicy, too. I am wondering why I never found Balinese food in NYC. Or maybe it’s more like Indonesian food that I should be looking for. They serve a lot of fruity lassis here. I have been having 1 to 2 lassis a day. Probably not smart for my weight, but delicious.

Ubud also has a famous yoga place, the Yoga Barn. I had planned to take a yoga class of two, but Bali is the most humid place on earth (according to me) where they seem not to believe in A/C of even fans. So I nixed the yoga idea because I will die of the heat in their open air pavilion. However, they have this organic restaurant where I ate lunch one day. And I had the most delicious banana lassi ever. I should try and get that recipe.

As you can see, I am enjoying myself, though starting to feel ready to finish my travels soon. And to not be in tropical weather anymore! I extended until the end of December, but probably won’t be traveling much longer than that.

Closer to fine

I’m trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
The best thing you’ve ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it’s only life after all
Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable
And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear
I wrapped my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it, I’m crawling on your shore.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There’s more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for something definitive
The closer I am to fine.

The words to “closer to fine” by Indigo Girls all of a sudden make complete sense!! Hah, well I just got to Phuket today and am enjoying happy hour at the hotel bar (2 for the price of 1 Chang beer) and felt it was a good time to write another post since I have a good buzz going 🙂

First off, it feels GREAT to be back in a Marriott. I should seriously get paid for all the free promotion I do for Marriott. I checked in, got upgraded to a suite, got an iced tea and cool mint scented towel by way of welcome (“saw-wat-dee-ka!!”). Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, a Marriott dude rang my bell and gave me a plate of fresh fruit. At a COURTYARD of all places. None of my blog readers travel extensively for work (except Farzana), but this is rather impressive for a Courtyard.

Ok enough of my hotel snobbery. I am back to traveling solo again after being with a group for 2 weeks. While it was nice to travel with people for a bit, I am actually quite happy being solo again. I realized that I don’t get to know places all that well when I travel with others. After everyone finally left, I switched hotels in Chiang Mai and got to know the city in a whole different light. I actually quite liked it! It’s a cute city, sort of like Oaxaca. A manageable size. Though it is the second largest city in Thailand, it is a distant second from Bangkok. As you may have gathered from my last post, I was not a fan of Bangkok.

Well I traveled with the group to Kanchanaburi, a raft house on the River Kwai, the Mekong River, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and trekking through the jungle for 3 days. It was a good group and a lot of fun. But I realized that I am more than ok with traveling solo now and I actually missed it. Many in the group felt like newbie, naive travelers to me (yes, I know I am now becoming a travel snob).

At some point, I checked Facebook and saw that someone I met in Spain posted pictures of us when we took a road trip to Bolonia in Spain. All of a sudden I was transported back to Spain and Mexico and before I started my travel for the leave of absence and for the first time realized what an amazing journey it has been.

I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, which is the answer I thought I would come away with after the 6 month LOA. But I finally stopped hanging onto these prescribed rules for life that society and my parents have laid out for me. Everything from work to getting married to where I live seems wide open for the first time. I met so many people who have taken so many different paths, that I realized it’s OKAY to do something different and I will find my way eventually. And if I flounder along the way (as I am doing now), that is ok, too. And this is where the Indigo Girls song comes in: “there’s more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line. The less I seek my source for something definitive, the closer I am to fine….”