A Hairy Spider in Gili Air

Gili Air is tiny. I get of the ferry and have to choose which way to go, left, right, or straight. I’m looking for a bungalow. I decide to go left. There are a few shops, a resort, some bars and a couple of home stays.I stop at a bar to eat something and a mother and her three little kittens welcome me to the island. I immediately feel much more at home.

After my cat feeding and cuddle session I walk back to where the ferry arrived and go straight. It seems to be a better choice,there’s lots of accommodation and locals are trying to get me to see theirs. I check out a few rooms. Eventually I find a beautiful, bamboo cottage with a big balcony and a private, open air bathroom. It’s pretty and I’m very happy with it.

That afternoon, a friend is coming over to meet me and I go back to the ferry terminal to pick him up. I wait around for 2 hours until I finally receive a message that he has arrived. He gives me the name of the bar he’s at, and the directions on how to get there. I follow his directions but his descriptions don’t match any of the places I’m seeing. I’m puzzled and wonder if there’s anything I misunderstood. Suddenly something clicks. I ask him if he’s sure he’s on Gili Air. “ Yes.” “ Are you absolutely positive?” “Yes, I think so.”  I hear him asking someone.  “ What island is this?” “ Gili Trawangan.”. Mystery solved.

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I stop in a reggae bar on the beach for a drink. A tall, skinny waiter with dreadlocks comes over to take my order and asks me if I’m looking for a boyfriend for today or tomorrow. How about no? A beer maybe?

The next day my friend has made it over and we explore the small beaches, play with the cats and stop at some of the bars. We discover that mushroom tea is a better alternative to cocktails here, and we try some. It doesn’t taste as good as a cocktail though, somewhat bitter and gritty , but we have some good laughs.

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When we come home to the bungalow there’s a huge spider waiting for me in the corner. She has long hairy legs and is hanging out right above my clothes and most of my stuff. I’m terrified. Thankfully we have slippers. She’s just too large to be a roommate. Sorry spider. In my mind I’m communicating with the spider, because I feel guilty. “ Maybe next time  I’ll be more brave so I can put you outside.”

On my last day I go looking for turtles. I see a lot of colorful fish and nice coral, but the turtles have stayed in today. And that’s always a good reason to come back another time.

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Sanur’s Empty Beach

It’s Sunday, late in the afternoon. While I’m walking to my guesthouse I get a first impression of Sanur. I pass a small market, right near the beach with a lot of activity. Restaurants, massage shops, souvenir shops, tour agents, all seem to be fighting for a little bit of my attention. There is a walkway next to the beach which makes it easy to walk. I understand immediately why this place is popular with families and older people.  Life is relaxed here. A bit slow as well.

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After sunset I walk to the beach to get a drink. I walk past all the lounge bars and restaurants and there are so many that it’s hard to choose. Sanur is not a backpacker place and it feels like everyone is on a family vacation or retired. I feel a bit young here too. I end up in the store, buying a can to drink on the beach, somehow that feels better than drinking alone in a bar surrounded by families and older couples.

The next day I decide to take a look at a black beach that is at the end of the tourist strip. I’m intrigued by this beach. It’s very long, clean and has nice waves but it doesn’t have any people on it, while all the other beaches are relatively busy. On my way I pass a few statues with violent scenes depicted upon them. I’m curious about their meaning.
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I walk down the stairs to get to the beach. A group of local guys are hanging out. They look poor and a bit threatening. One of them comes up to me and asks me for money. I refuse. I start walking down the beach and they keep staring, but nothing happens. I get it. They are just hoping to intimidate me so that I’ll pay. Apart from me and them the beach is completely empty. And beautiful. Maybe most tourists don’t want a black beach? I still don’t understand why there are no people on it.

That evening I go out for a drink with a new friend. It’s dark and we walk through a big resort to get to the street. We end on a small, dark road. Dogs start barking and make clear that it’s their street and not ours. They growl angrily: “we were here first, go away now, we’re showing our teeth.” They can have their street.  We make it to the bar alive and we’re the only guests. The bartender is happy to see us and we have a chat. He’s from Lake Toba, and gets very excited when I tell him that I’ve been there. We talk about the differences between Bali and Sumatra, and Medan and Sanur. On the way back to my guesthouse I make sure not to take any dark streets.

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Missed Manta Rays in Nusa Lembongan

Ubud, Bali. 8.30 in the morning. Me and my friend Peter are waiting for the minibus to Sanur from where we’ll be taking a slow ferry to Nusa Lembongan.

The ferry is full, and slow indeed, but it’s not an unpleasant ride. The sea is relatively calm and the island slowly gets bigger as we get closer. The ferry stops on the main beach and when we get off locals start approaching us to get us to their hotels.One guy keeps following us trying to get us to a guesthouse. We keep on walking and tell him that we want to look around by ourselves. He keeps following us. We ask for a room somewhere. The pushy guy says something to the staff and tells us that they’re full. We’re not really sure if it’s a scam, and if it isn’t about his commission, but the staff in the place doesn’t speak English. We go somewhere else. Our follower surprisingly turns out to be the manager of this place. The room is okay. He wins.

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Now we can start exploring. We seem to be in the main village of the island. It looks a bit more basic and less developed than  Bali. Because it’s an island a lot of  stuff has to be carried in by boat and we watch how fast the locals carry big, heavy items such as rice bags, ice, and even scooters.

A bit later I walk all the way down the beach and pass a seaweed farm. A woman is collecting seaweed. She waves at me to come over and take pictures. She is a bit pushy. I smile at her as I keep on walking and she keeps on calling and waving. It’s probably her way of making some extra money. She isn’t too charming in the way she presents her request, but I decide to be nice, take a picture and hand her a small amount of money, just because I want to be out of this situation and my life is probably easier than hers.

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I continue my walk and end up very close to the mangrove forest. It’s hard to walk here, so I go back and decide to explore more of it later.

There is a beautiful sunset that night and the atmosphere is quiet and pleasant. We watch the boats coming in, see big birds flying above the ocean and listen to the sound of the waves.20151019_183453

The next day we rent a scooter and drive around the island. Some of the roads are quite steep and others have lots of cows on them. We get a good impression of the island. There are a few smaller beaches around. Some of them have very high waves and it doesn’t seem very safe to swim.

We drive up to the cliff that can be seen from our beach. This place is known as Devil’s Tears. We walk up to the edge of the cliff. We watch the waves crushing aggressively on the rocks. The sea is angry here, making clear she’s the boss and in control. I can’t stop watching all this destructive beauty around me and something inside of me just wants to stay here forever, watching the waves coming and going, crushing up to the rocks.

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Thankfully, another part of me wants to see more of the island and we continue our little trip. We end up at the mangrove forest where we decide to take a small boat tour. The boat is very low and it smells like mud around us. There isn’t much to see, just mangroves and green water. After we get back I feel somewhat relieved our little mangrove tour has come to an end. It’s time for a drink.

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The next day Peter spots a manta ray while I’m still asleep. He’s all excited when he gets back from his snorkeling trip and I feel like I’ve slept through all the fun. We decide to go to a luxurious  resort with a swimming pool and very big nice chairs for the afternoon.

I spend hours sipping my small beer while I enjoy the pool and observe the people who stay at the resort. It’s a luxurious place. Unfortunately I can’t look into the rooms. As a budget traveler I always fantasize about luxurious places with private infinity pools and rain showers and I always enjoy to take a peek at what I can’t afford. The next day we find out that the resort has closed it’s bar (and chairs and swimming pool) for outside visitors who are not eating. We were just in time!

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Purple Auras in Ubud.

On the way to my guesthouse I pass a lot of stores and trendy coffee shops. Most of the houses are built in a traditional Balinese style with lots of beautiful ornaments. The streets are clean and have sideways so that it’s easy to walk and safe access to all the shops.This place looks very different than Kuta. It has a much more artistic feel to it.

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The travelers are different here too. Lots of higher budget travelers who take yoga classes, and walk around with mats, so that they are easy to recognize. There are also many Chinese tourists who like ice-cream a lot and go to the Monkey Forest. And there are backpackers who are probably struggling to stay on their budget here as there is a lot of good stuff on offer, healthy food, happy hours, tours, shops and guesthouses with swimming pools.

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I’m staying in a guesthouse that is very centrally located this time, in a side alley of one of the main roads in Ubud, with again, a beautiful courtyard and friendly staff with limited English. They try to sell me tours, yoga lessons and cooking classes and find it hard to believe that I’m traveling alone, staying for five days, and that I’m not interested in booking any of these activities.”Also no motorbike? Bored for you, miss Laura.” Thank you, maybe later.

Instead I go to the rice fields. I discovered a small path that goes right behind one of the busy streets and gets you there easily. It’s a different world out there. Quiet. Green.  Beautiful. I walk for hours through some tiny villages and on my way back I stop for a drink in a small café where I can practice my Bahasa.

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That evening I meet an Australian guy who lives in Ubud. He introduces me to raw food and reads my hand and my aura, and tells me it’s purple. Apparently, that’s a good thing. Many people walking around here have purple auras, he explains. I’m happy that it’s all good.

The next day I walk to the Monkey Forest. Moneys are sitting around near the entrance and while I’m watching them, I again come to the realization that I’m not too crazy about monkeys. I don’t like them jumping on me and that they can grab and hold on to things until they get them. A few years ago I was in a National Park in Thailand and my sister bought an ice- cream and just when she was about to enjoy her first bite, a small, sneaky monkey jumped on her, took it and jumped in a tree where he ate the ice cream right in front of us. I decide to skip the Monkey forest and walk back to my quiet rice fields, where I cross paths with a nice French traveler. We spend the afternoon chatting and exploring some local villages and share some beers.

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We discover more small bars with full view of the rice terraces. It’s very peaceful and there are hardly any people.

I might have missed out on all the tours, yoga and most of the other excitement Ubud has to offer, but I am very glad to be here and to do it just my own way. Next destination: Nusa Lembongan.

 

Dark Alleys and Beach Activities in Kuta

October, 2015

I was quite unprepared when I arrived in Bali.

I left my hotel in Bangkok at 4 A.M the night before. I had been on a lovely holiday with a friend from home and we spent our last night having drinks.  I was still slightly drunk in my taxi to the airport. I slept on the plane, thankfully there were a lot of empty seats. There are advantages to booking the first flight in the morning.

At the airport in Bali I realize that I need to visit an ATM and that I’m not very aware of the currency.  I have no idea about the prices, and distances on the island. I don’t even have a guidebook. I did book a guesthouse, somewhere not very far from the airport, in Kuta.

I see taxi drivers everywhere. I decide to take one from the airport counter, thinking that they probably have the best rates. Wrong. I pay 7 euro’s for a 4 minute ride. My guesthouse is so close to the airport that I could have walked it easily.

The atmosphere seems friendly. People smile and speak enough English to communicate. My room has a soft bed and comes with a small seating area  facing a beautiful courtyard. It feels very relaxing.

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After a few hours I’m getting a bit hungry. I walk through the small alley my hotel is in and end up on a bigger street with lots and lots of scooters. They all drive fast and people don’t smile much. I conclude that I’m not in the tourist center of Kuta, more on the edge of it, in a local neighborhood.It’s a system of small alleys and bigger roads. Lots of dogs are hanging out in packs on the side of the streets.  There are some small eateries, no people in them. It’s starting to get dark. I’m not sure what this neighborhood feels like at night, and I decide to pick up some small groceries and walk back to my guesthouse, before I get lost. I hope that there will be no dogs in the alleys, and I feel slightly worried.

The next day I decide to walk the other way. I discover that the location of my guesthouse is really not bad, at daytime. Just a long alley and I’m right at the corner of Kuta Beach surrounded by hordes of tourists. I walk down the beach and find myself right in the center, where all the action is. A huge crowd of people is standing on the beach, very closely together. I wonder if something has happened and walk a bit closer. Then I discover that a  local is telling them that the tide is coming in and that they have to stand and wait until the water reaches them. I personally don’t feel much of a challenge in this “ wait for the wave” game, but a surprisingly large amount of people seems to think it’s exciting.

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I continue walking and end up in one of the “ Poppies” the small lanes that form the center of Kuta. I see lots of people, bars, restaurants, shops and even though I’m really thirsty, stopping somewhere doesn’t appeal to me. I continue walking until I’ve seen most of the Poppies and walk to the other side of the beach. I’m very close to the airport now and there are hardly any people on this side which makes me feel more comfortable.

I put my feet into the water. The ocean is surprisingly cold compared to the Andaman Sea. The sand is black on this part of the beach. Black sand always makes me feel like I’m in a really exotic place. It makes me happy. I decide to book a bus for the next day and to see what more Bali has to offer.

 

At Last, My Trial

June, 2015

The call I had been waiting on for so long finally came. At the worst moment I could have imagined. We can’t mess with karma. I messed up big time I suppose. So I rushed back to Chiang Mai.

Two days later, the court hearing. I walked past the holding cells, right into a room with some wooden benches. About 30 other people were inside.

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At the front of the room I saw a tv, a microphone and a camera. We were waiting for thejudge to appear on the screen. A police officer was seated at the corner of the room, right next to the exit.

Most people who were with me in the room were men. Different ages. Some of them looked normal, some tired, nervous, poor, and some just looked sad and lost.

The first names were called. A large group of about 15 drunk drivers were called up front. They were each given a fine and two of them were taken back to the holding cells.The others returned to their seats.

Some other people were called. I couldn’t understand what they were convicted of and waited patiently for my turn.

I heard my name being called and walked up to the microphone. While I stood there I felt the eyes of an audience burning from behind. I realized that I had more important things on my mind and answered the questions of the judge:

“Did you work for this company?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Do you want a lawyer?

“No, I don’t.”

“Are you guilty?” (of working for a different company than stated on your work permit..)

“Yes, I am.”

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That was it. And a small fine with ” jail discount”. I felt as if I had lost my virginity. An open road and a sunset beer waiting. Free at last.

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Meanwhile in Thailand..

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was five years old I wanted to become a professional dishwasher on an island. I could clearly see the advantages: being close to the sea always, wearing summer clothes and doing something that I loved to do, the dishes. I had just discovered that many people hated washing dishes, and I liked it, so I figured that if I would do it for all the people who hated it I could live near the sea and just go around houses. It seemed perfect to me.

As I grew up, my dreams became a bit bigger: flight attendant, lawyer, doctor, it all crossed my mind. Years passed and I still couldn’t really decide, I think I have never been able to make a permanent decision. I just want to be happy and do something I like doing. One day that can be writing, the next day it can be drawing,helping people,or simply daydreaming.  I just like my freedom.

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I tried social studies and eventually got a degree. Then I got addicted to the world. Travelling changed my world and my perspective. I realized how fortunate I am: that I come from a country were human rights are important, where we grow up in safety, where we are allowed to give our opinions and where I, as a woman have the right to be treated equally to a man. As I child I had enough clothes and toys and freedom to fantasize about what I wanted to be, and later I had the freedom to say no to the things I did not like or believe in.

Travelling made me appreciate what I had, but also made it hard for me to return to what I had, without a deep yearning to see what’s out there. I wanted to fill my pockets, not with money, but with wisdom. So I did what I had to do and packed my bags again: this time to Thailand, to do a teaching training and to become an English teacher.

I ended up working online in a big office, teaching English to Chinese students of all ages. I realized how hard some of my students work, the pressure that they have to deal with from when they are very young, and again how lucky I have been to grow up in an environment where stability and chances were already given to me. I never had to leave my family in order to get the right education and I always learned that happiness is more important than school results.

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However, after hours of talking to students I got to see the other side: Education is a way to increase happiness for the next generations. It can be the difference between living in a house or sharing a bed with four others, while the rats are crawling around and you can smell the open toilet in the corner.

Education leads to development, to emancipation. Even while living in poverty, being able to read and understand your rights can truly make a difference.

But not only education leads to happiness. And education doesn’t just bring magically happy people. Happiness is also about freedom: Freedom to choose, to speak without fear, to be who you are, and to become who you want to be.

During my first year in Thailand I realized again how fortunate I am with my passport, my possibilities to live and work in a foreign country and to make a salary that is much higher than that of my Asian colleagues. It’s a strange thought how the place where you happen to be born can be of such importance.

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Then one day, immigration came into the office of the company I worked for. They inspected the company’s paperwork and asked for our work permits, and took us to the immigration office. By that time, I had a work permit, but that didn’t save us from spending a night in jail. My work permit was registered on a different school, and some of my colleagues worked under tourist visas. Not because they wanted to, but because they were told that the work permit would only be provided after probation, and that this was a normal procedure in Thailand because the paperwork to get a work permit is very hard to get done.

I spent the whole night thinking how I could turn this experience into something positive, something that would make it worth suffering for a night. The next morning, we were bailed out. The company paid a large sum of money, but all wasn’t over yet.

Many of us had to wait for Court. The first hearing was last month and most of my colleagues who worked under tourist visas were sent back to their home countries. A sad ending to their Thailand stories that I wish would have been different for them.

I happened to have a work permit, just because I worked there longer than some of my colleagues, but that was the only difference. It could just have been me.

I am still waiting for my Court Date and I am not allowed to leave Thailand. It’s ironic how I ended up not able to leave my favorite country for a while. Still I consider myself one of the lucky few, as I am not ready to go home yet.

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At the same time I know that if I have to go home, that I will be fine and that I will have many loved ones waiting. I am very thankful for that.