Here are some Bali beasties that I particularly enjoyed seeing…
The telephone rang sharply at 4:00am. I answered it hesitantly, expecting the worst. What could possibly be so important? That was 20 years ago and thankfully it wasn’t bad news. It was my stepson calling from somewhere faraway on his round-the-world trip.
“Sue – I’m in Bali and it is the most beautiful place on earth!” “You MUST visit here before you die”. In case he knew something about my life-expectancy that I didn’t, I responded “OK, quick – tell me more”. For this independent young man to call home with such excitement wasn’t the norm for him, so I knew something spectacular was waiting on the other side of the globe.
Fortune smiled on me this November and I found myself exploring the wonders of the most beautiful place on earth.
Here’s a sampling…
If you love to snorkel, this is heaven. It’s great for beginners too because you can just slip on your flippers and waddle out. This was especially important for me because I had my first snorkeling experience a week before and surprised myself – I was scared! We went on an excursion and the preparation was non-existent. What I expected and the reality didn’t even resemble each other! I found myself in the middle of the ocean with no life jacket and my snorkel on backwards. Not a pleasant experience!
However, because I LOVE fish (and I’m a stubborn Taurus) I knew I had to try again, so off we went to Blue Lagoon. It is an island paradise and we had it nearly to ourselves. With my own snorkel equipment and feeling secure in a rented life-jacket, I quickly discovered the enchantment coral reefs offer. Now I am considering learning scuba-diving…
This was a great hang-out spot. There was always lots to see, great people watching and inexpensive lawn chairs. And they all come with ‘umbrella service’ – if you want a cold drink, something to eat, a massage, manicure, boat ride… all you have to do is nothing. It will all come to you. But in a un-assuming, non- persistent kind of way. The beach vendors here understand ‘No thanks’. But you can’t say ‘Later’ or they hold that as a contract and return to remind you.
Kuta is where the party animals go. Surfers and bikinis abound. There is a lot of action and noise. And the vendors on this beach are very aggressive. They don’t rely on their sweetness to get business, they just wear you down into submission. No means yes.
But – the beach is incredible with crystal clear water. And sooooo warm.
After sweltering in the 38 degree high humidity environment, escaping to the mountains was just what we needed. It felt cool here, although 21 degrees celcius is the record low temperature in Bali!
The air was so fresh and clean. We discovered that these mountains are the poorest places in Bali since there is not enough water to grow rice. Imagine, with that big lake but no water in the hills. There are on-going projects to help the people in the small villages eek out a living.
What could be better than a lovely waterfall? Well, picture one surrounded by dense jungle and it takes on a whole new dimension. Everything is just so green. And lush.
Colorful flowers speckle the hillside and the roar of the water lulls you into another dimension as good old mother earth in all her splendor delights all of your senses.
Even the fruit stands are pretty. The colourfulweirdly shaped fruit is arranged in artistic sculptures and even though I had no idea what most of it was, I craved a tropical fruit salad. But I would have to wait since we were on the other side of the island many hours from our hotel home.
The lady who was trying to sell this fruit was not happy that I wasn’t interested in buying; she used some words that didn’t sound like she was expressing her love… Then she stomped off.
With this bad jiji, I couldn’t possibly eat her fruit now!
The most important and probably the oldest temple in Bali, it is actually comprised of about 28 temples, making for incredible roofline views. It has wonderful energy in spite of the over-abundance of ‘tourist guides’ trying to take your money for just about anything. It doesn’t matter. Because from the top, you can see forever.
And lastly, my favorite – the terraced rice paddies. So rich with life, you can almost feel them breathing.
It is difficult to sum up Bali in just a few words…. But I’ll try…
“You MUST visit here before you die!”
Bali and the Balinese people
Imagine a country full of beautiful people with infectious smiles, twinkling eyes and happy laughter bursting forth and you’ll have a bit of a feeling for the Balinese. A sociable, fun-loving gregarious people, they have a strong sense of community. Although they work long hours for little pay, you would never guess it from the cheerful chattering going on.
Bali has lived under a lot of oppression (Dutch colonization and Japanese occupation and more recently threats from the Muslim part of Indonesia) but the residents are seemingly free of bitterness. We asked if the smiles were perhaps masking bad feelings and were told that although they aren’t always happy, they believe the best way to feel better is to smile. They accept life as it is and believe strongly in karma. They have fear, but to dwell on it or feel resentment would be bad karma for them, so they choose not to go there. It was very refreshing to experience a culture that doesn’t hold a grudge!
Their culture and society is built on a strong foundation of religious tradition. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, the Balinese are mostly Hindu. Although similar to the Indian beliefs, it is actually a combination of Hinduism and Buddhism. Their beliefs and customs are completely integrated into everyday life.
Bali has a ‘Mother Temple, each region has a temple, each town has a temple and each family compound has a temple. That’s a lot of temples!There is always a ceremony going on at one or more of these, so the community comes together often. And every day their Gods are thanked, along with offerings placed in the temples, at altars, in front of doorways, on tables, benches, almost anywhere you can think of. Weaving palm leaves together, the women create little baskets which they fill with rice, flowers, gum, cigarettes, whatever treat they can think of to offer. The doves and chickens are very grateful as they generally eat everything immediately. I didn’t see any smoking birds, but I am sure the cigarettes don’t get wasted either.
The streets are motocross tracks. Any resemblance to roads is purely accidental. Motorbikes scoot back and forth at dizzying speeds, with whole families perched precariously on the tiny seats. Dad is navigating with his hands full of 8 foot bamboo poles…. mom balances a colourful basket on her head and a sleeping baby on her lap, older kids hang on seemingly without touching… It’s wild, but somehow it works. The bikes operate with radar like migrating flocks of birds.
Bali has its share of crime, but in the smaller towns and villages, there isn’t any sign of it. The kids live a carefree life, they play innocently and without fear. Catching frogs in the streams, swimming in the ocean, playing games in a tropical paradise – sounds like an ideal childhood. The society is very family oriented and the children appear to have confidence and security. They are quick to smile, then shyly run off, giggling at the funny tourists.
Bali is rich in scenery and culture, but what impressed me most were the light-filled people. They truly SHINE!
Welcome to Taipei – airport that is!
After 13 hours on a red-eye flight, the idea of a 5 hour layover in Taipei was not making me happy. I just wanted to arrive in Bali! But there was no getting around it, so I loaded up my backpack and bad attitude and I surrendered.
The first thing that caught my eye wasn’t a crowded waiting room, or an overpriced book store, it was a ‘chill out’ room, complete with massage chairs. Now there is a good concept in customer service. I quickly deposited my things and crawled into the oversize lazy-girl chair. Bliss.
After shedding the crick in my neck and stiffness in my legs, I felt my bad attitude slipping away. This airport was pretty cool! Instead of an abundance of souvenir shops (although they exist of course, this is Taiwan, there has to be souvenirs), there is an art gallery, a museum, orchid garden and several high end boutiques. They have incredible artists and where better to show them off to the world?
After drinking in the ambience of the sophisticated stores and learning a bit of the history, I was hungry. To make the souvenir shops more enticing, there is a wonderful custom of displaying samples of all the sweets that are typical of Taiwan. Brightly colored, strangely textured, unidentifiable goodies – all delicious!
Upstairs is another dimension. The entire floor is dedicated to a food court. More brightly colored, strangely textured, unidentifiable food and I was ready to try it all! I wasn’t disappointed; everything I tasted was exotic and scrumptious.
The time flew by. Before I knew it, it was check in time for my connecting flight and I was still having fun exploring.
Maybe they should make the layover longer in Taipei!
A gracious gift to Mexico – a world class museum
What if you had around $69 billion dollars and wanted to do something special for your country? What do you think would be suitable?
The world’s richest man, Carlos Slim, is the son of Lebanese immigrants who went to Mexico in the early 1900s and made their life there.
At 12 Carlos made his first successful investment and hasn’t looked back since. He has always been eager to give back to the country that has given him so much and is included on the ‘World’s Biggest Givers’ list. Although he generally is involved with helping in the health and education sectors, last spring he wanted to do something very special, so he ‘stepped out of the box’.
Carlos decided that since many people would never have the opportunity to travel to Europe, he would bring the work of the masters to them. He built a museum, filled it with his enormous private art collection, and then opened it to the public, free of charge.
It is hard to say what is most impressive, the wrapping or the gift itself. Housed in an 80 million dollar architectural marvel, the Soumaya museum has an estimated 700 million dollars worth of 15th – 20th century European and Mexican artwork inside.
The museum hosts the largest private Rodin collection (many of them are bronzes cast many years after Rodin’s death), the largest Latin American collection of Salvador Dali sculptures, and the world’s largest collection of pre-Hispanic and colonial coins. And of course, there are many amazing original paintings by famous artists such as Vincent Van Gogh (my all-time favourite).
At the entrance of the Soumaya Museum, there is a sign saying that everyone is welcome, no one will be denied entrance. To think that everyone, rich or poor, has the opportunity to see this wonderful collection moves me. I think that many lives will be made better for having this chance. There are free art classes offered on weekends and adults and children alike are learning about art first hand.
What an amazing gift to Mexico and to the rest of the world! Way to go Carlos! Thank you.
The *New* *Improved* Mexico City
The *New* *Improved* Mexico City
Mexico City is a dirty, overcrowded, polluted stinky city, right? Not so fast…. Maybe it used to be all of those things, but times have changed. New regulations and new attitudes are helping turn this huge metropolis into a greener, calmer and healthier place to be.
When I first visited Mexico City in 1987, I immediately got a ‘cold’, had difficulties breathing, my eyes hurt and it smelled really bad outside.
Since then, the government has committed to finding sustainable solutions to the challenges posed by such a large population. They have made huge industrial technology improvements and imposed regular vehicle emission inspections. They implemented a strictly enforced program where people cannot use their car one day out of the week, hopefully motivating them to use public transport instead.
The subway has been expanded and you can move from one side of the city to the other quickly and easily. In central, you won’t see big diesel spewing buses, instead there are many smaller microbuses going all over the place. They are much more efficient and as long as you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, they are a good way to get around. Something else new are bicycle taxis. They are like rickshaws, but a little more modern. If you don’t have far to go, this is a handy and fun mode of transportation.
Environmental conditions are constantly monitored and reported, making people aware on a daily basis just how things really are. The education system is bringing change as well. Younger generations are now learning about littering, recycling, and the importance of caring for their surroundings. Thin non-biodegradable plastic bags are now banned in stores. There are garbage cans everywhere along with signs encouraging people to use them.
A new program that is having startlingly good success is ‘Ecobici’ bike-sharing.
You register online and you then have the option of using a bike from any of the many locations. You buy credit similar to ‘pay as you go’ options for cell phones. When you reach your destination, you just leave the bike at the nearest ‘bike stop’. Whoever thought you’d see dedicated bike lanes in the heart of busy Mexico City!
Instead of having the entire center of the historical district open to traffic, they have closed off one of the main streets, now allowing only pedestrians. This makes it so much more pleasant to walk around. Although it gets really crowded too!
Something that makes me especially happy is the amount of green space.
For example, along Reforma, which is one of the busiest, most important arteries in the city, there are many parks, with pine trees, park benches and lots of beautiful sculptures… and even a carousel for the kids to play on.
Instead of seeing concrete and skyscrapers everywhere, you notice the swaying palm trees and lavender colored jacarandas. And you remember that you really are in Mexico!
The environment of the classic government buildings has changed as well. Instead of the usual restored heritage buildings, complete with murals and classic sculptures, we discovered a calming Zen garden full of pyramids with water swirling around in gentle spirals. It’s good psychology, the fountain relaxes you so much that you can bear the long waits that bureaucracy causes….
My visit to Mexico City this year opened my eyes to the changes that can be made, must be made and are being made to care for Mother Earth.
A morning walk in San Miguel de Allende
You never quite know what you’ll see when you go for a morning walk in San Miguel. And of course, that is enough motivation for this inquisitive spirit…. Instead of a thousand words, here are some pictures…
Early bird looking for a handout
Street sweeper (look closely at her broom)
Entrance to 160 stairs
The view is worth the climb!
A love letter to San Miguel de Allende
You are enchanting, San Miguel de Allende.
Your sounds…. the melodic church bells calling the faithful to mass… the sudden explosion of fireworks in the middle of the night…mariachis crooning soft romantic songs and then the sudden blare of their trumpets… boasting roosters crowing at weird intervals throughout the day… the barking of dueling roof dogs… the deep bass of car stereos blasting out of car windows…the long whistle of the knife sharpener… donkeys braying, swaying under their heavy loads of topsoil… the loud unintelligible cries of the food vendors passing by…the giggling of children, playing street soccer with an old pop bottle…
Your colors… flouncy skirts of folkloric dancers – in intense magenta, sunshine yellow, fire engine red, vibrant green and brilliant blue… enormous feather headdresses and shiny sequined costumes of the nearly naked Aztec dancers… the crazy purple and pink houses… brightly patterned ceramic tiles… the abundant plastic stores… older women dressed in serious striped blouses with lively flowered skirts and checkered sweaters… rich wild bougainvilleas cascading over sober gray stone walls…the balloon man with his wide array of toys for the young and young at heart…
Your smells… fresh corn roasting over wood coals, enticing skewers of perfectly seasoned pork, taco stands with their rich mix of tummy-growling aromas, Margarita’s palamita popcorn… copal incense…. the sweet perfume of flowers wafting in the air…
Your tastes… homemade mango ice cream laced with hot chili… chicken tamales for breakfast along with warm drinks of atole… tacos made of many different animal parts, delicious but better not to ask… lamb barbacoa – roasted in a pit and served in consome and corn tacos… hot chocolate and churros for dessert…
Your ambiance… the open friendly faces of the Mexican people, laughing and gently correcting foreigner’s Spanglish… sharing coffee and stories with friends, new and old… hours spent in the jardin, watching the ‘tourists’ go by, mouths wide open in awe, seeing the Parroquia for the first or the hundredth time… the families, hand in hand, children dressed in their finest, their excitement spreading contagiously…
San Miguel de Allende, you really are a magical place. Every day spent here is a gift straight from heaven.
Curious crafts in Oaxaca
Exploring small towns in Oaxaca is quite the adventure. Driving through them, they all kind of look the same. Dusty and deserted, they make you wonder what the people are up to. Then you stop and enter the dark, unobtrusive buildings. They suddenly spring to life with marvellous creations hidden inside, and you are hooked. You want to see more…
Teotitlan del Valle
First, squish a dead dried up bug, then sprinkle water on it. It will turn bright red! Then add lime juice and it will turn a shocking orange. Put on a little baking soda and you’ll have purple.
For blue, it isn’t quite as exciting. You just dry an indigo plant and use it like chalk.
This is the process still used by traditional Oaxacan carpet weavers to make their natural tints.
Here in Teotitlan, the entire population of the town works together as a coop. Every member of the community participates preparing the wool, whether hand carding, cleaning, spinning, or dying it.
Then on big wooden looms, they weave this wool into beautiful traditional carpets. Some of the younger generation are now making newer modern designs, but they still incorporate the age-old methods to create them.
Mexcal, hmmm, very interesting! It is actuallypretty good, who knew? In many of the ‘home breweries’ they demonstrate how they make this smoky liquor. The procedure hasn’t changed since they first discovered that the agave cactus had ‘magic properties’. Mexcal is made using the heart of the plant, which looks like a giant pineapple. A horse does most of the work, going around and around in circles, pulling an enormous stone wheel, which mashes the plant and extracts the juice. The mash is then cooked in wood ovens giving it a musky, smoky flavour. Finally it is put into big vats and left to ferment. For extra flair – they add a worm to every bottle!
San Bartolo Coyotepec
Entering the workshop, pictures and news clippings immediately grab your attention. Images fill the back wall like a page in a giant scrapbook. The focus of this homage is captured in a brilliant ebony clay sculpture.
Doña Rosa was a small Mexican woman who made a humble living making simple items in clay. But in the 1950s, it occurred to her to try something different. What would happen if she polished the clay before firing it? Experimenting with this, she found that instead of the usual dull gray colour, it turned a shiny black.
With this discovery, she changed the life and economy of her friends and neighbours.
Now her community of Coyotepec is known throughout the world for the ‘Oaxacan black pottery’ they produce.
San Antonio Arrazola
A tiny little town with grand ideas!
Carvers create wild fantasy figures from wood. They can be disassembled and reassembled easily, like a puzzle. They are painted in very colourful intricate designs.
These extraordinary figures are known as alebrijes. They can be very small simple figures or huge complicated creations.
As in many of the small towns in Oaxaca, the members of the community get together in workshops and produce and sell the items in a coop. The men generally carve the figures and the women paint them.
These wooden treasures are just plain fun!
The skilled artisans of Oaxaca are known and respected worldwide. It is easy to see why…
Oaxaca is a state full of history – and the cool thing is that a lot of the archeological sites are very close to Oaxaca City, making it very easy to explore…..
An important Zapateca site, Monte Albán is is very impressive, both visually and energetically.
There are several large pyramids and altars with a big empty field lying between the well-preserved ruins. While walking over the seemingly bare stretch of land, I got the feeling that there was movement all around me – and below me. I realized that Monte Albán is like a giant ant hill. We were walking on the surface enjoying the sights around us, but underneath lies a labyrinth of tunnels. I had the sensation that there were still some Zapateca guys running around down there… This feeling was reinforced when I came upon an entrance – to nowhere – or maybe to the underworld… There are old worn stone steps leading down into the ground…. I am sure they are still being used, albeit by spirits.
The ruins are situated on top of a dry grass covered mountain close to Oaxaca City.
Several tombs were discovered there, and the treasures of the richest one are displayed in the downtown museum. Gold, gold and more gold!
Intricate jewelry with jade and turquoise – and hand carved crystal goblets! Imagine the excitement of the archaeologist when he unearthed this find!
On an adjoining mountain, excavation is underway and this site will soon be ready for visitors as well! New wonders to behold…
Cuilapan is the site of a 500 year old church and monastery.
It is like a fortress – very old – very interesting. The color of the stones, the strength of the huge pillars, the ornate facades speak of the appreciation the Spaniards had for beauty.
The afternoon that we visited this ancient church, they were holding a mass in the chapel. I wondered how similar it was to the ones they held 5 centuries ago…
Mitla is an ancient ceremonial site unique for its GREEK designs.
It was pretty strange being in the heart of Mexico looking at the Greek geometric designs on the ruins.
This site was apparently for the rich people – there were several palaces and everything was very ornate.
The town of Mitla is built around the ruins, so much so in fact that one of the courtyards is wide open for kids to play soccer, drunks can pee, etc.
The Spaniards built a church right on top of some of the ancient buildings.
There are signs explaining this (negatively of course) but the town is now allowing houses to be built over the courtyard of the church…
You can really see the history in the different levels – and the destruction of one culture making room for another.
The more places I visit in Mexico, the more questions I have.
Who were the people that lived here? Where did they come from? Why the links with Greece & Turkey? How? When? Why? Where? What? It is all so confusing. The mystery whets the appetite…. Travelling does not answer questions, it gives you new things to ponder…