Monday, August 26, 2013

Island Hopping in Thailand


After watching the movie "The Beach" I always dreamed of visiting the beaches of Thailand. White sand, turquoise seas, a gazillion fish and unlimited Pad Thai. Little did I know at age 14, that the future 27-year-old Estelle would decide to lead a Paleo lifestyle, therefor limiting all Pad Thai consumption :(

After just having to deal with the Bali police and the inconveniences of having your house broken into, we were excited to get to Thailand and hang out for a week. We flew into Krabi, a quaint town that is a popular place for visitors to catch a ferry to the Phi Phi islands. We spent a night there and enjoyed walking around Krabi Town, buying Buddha pendants, pampering ourselves with a session of reflexology and purchasing fresh rambutan (a rather sweet and hairy fruit) to fill our bellies! We found that Krabi Town was a small, but colorful place filled with entertaining characters. 

To reach the Phi Phi islands from the mainland, we boarded a ferry with about 200 other tourists. Clearly, we were not going to miss our stop to get off. The Phi Phi islands were destroyed by the 2004 Tsunami. We were both quite surprised at how well the island has recovered since the natural disaster - as it would be very possible to have no idea that anything happened in the first place. Phi Phi reminded me a lot of Bali - filthy in some areas and heavenly in others. Kurt would be the first to say that he absolutely loved the food in Thailand. My shellfish allergies on the other hand, made eating Thai food a little more challenging :)


(OUR SARDINE PACKED RIDE FULL OF TOURISTS!) 

Our main reason for coming to Thailand was to find the gorgeous beaches we had both seen in so many magazines and movies. We were quick to book a day trip that would cover four of the islands surrounding Phi Phi. It was a spectacular day. We snorkeled, jumped off of diving boards, visited with monkeys and swam in the Indian Ocean.


(VIKING CAVE. ISN'T THE WATER DELICIOUS?)

Many, many years after I watched the film "The Beach" and said that I wanted to visit Maya Bay someday, I made it. I made it to my dream island with my dream man. It was absolutely breathtaking. Let's just say that getting onto the actual island is not as simple as stepping off of a boat onto the shore. No, no. We were thrown into the choppy ocean waves and were told to swim to a rope ladder that seemed to be more of a moving target at the gun range. The inconvenient entrance to the island insures that the beaches are clean for the daily visitor.  Unfortunately, that also means that large numbers of groups visit the island at the same time and it becomes crowded - fast. We were able to play in the water and get a sunbathing session in before boarding our boat to the next island. 


(MAYA BAY! WE MADE IT!)
It almost became a tradition of ours to attend the nightly Muay Thai fights at a local bar. There is a boxing ring that sits in the middle of the bar surrounded by stands filled with tourists. What makes this place unique is that the people fighting in the ring, are complete strangers and are not professional boxers! They are in fact... random tourists from the bar. Yes, you read correctly. The bar manages to persuade tourists to get into a boxing ring and give Muay Thai a shot. All for a bucket of alcohol. It is hilarious, painfully entertaining and almost addictive to watch.We were here every night while we were in Phi Phi.


(OUR NIGHTLY VISIT TO THE LOCAL MUAY THAI RING!)

Our most memorable event from our Thailand trip was our boat ride back to the mainland from Poda Island. Holy shit. A menacing cloud lurked over the sprinkled islands as we played in the sand and took many, many handstand photos. When it came time to head back to Ao Nang (our last mainland destination) our long-tail boat driver informed us that we would have to wait out the storm. Apparently there had been some boats that attempted to make the trip back to the mainland and were forced to turn around. I sat around nervously as Kurt walked around with a big grin on his face. I can't recall how many times he said "I love this stuff!" :) My little adventurer. We finally boarded our boat and hoped for the best. The waves were so massive that we would literally lose sight of other boats as we curled under the arms of each monster!


(HOW INCREDIBLE THAT THIS GUY STEERS WITH HIS FOOT!)

(HAPPY THAT WE MADE IT BACK ALIVE!)

I couldn't have asked for a better first experience of exploring the islands of Thailand. Lucky for me, I have a partner who enjoys finding a gym on every island we go to ;) Something that I have learned, not everyone enjoys! Eat well, love well and live well! 

Light & Love,

Estelle

(P.S) Kurt wanted to write about his surfboard so hopefully ya'll aren't getting too sick of my writing! Kurt will be posting next and we promise to be better about posting more often! xx

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Breaking and Entering

What does it feel like to have everything that is valuable stolen from you? It is hard to say - until you've defined what valuable means to you.

I am glad that I am writing this blog from Thailand, after creating new memories with Kurt, which I have learned, no one can steal from you. 

One evening, about a week ago today, Kurt and I decided to go grab a massage (we can't seem to get enough of those!) and dinner at a local place in the area. We had been gone a mere 2 1/2 hours when we pulled up to our house and noticed that our gate was left ajar. Thinking about how much of an idiot I was to have left the gate open, Kurt slipped into our home to find that someone had broken in. Not knowing what to do, I realized I was nervous that someone might still be in the house. I came to see that human nature is a beautiful thing as the only thing i was worried about was Kurt's safety. It wasnt until much later that we began to think about what stolen. I was really glad to see our neighbor pull up around the same time Kurt went in to clear the house.

I had a million questions for him. Has anyone in the neighborhood been robbed before? Are the criminals ever violent? Do they come when you're sleeping? Did you see anyone? Should we call the police? You see, Kurt and I have been traveling non stop since we arrived in Bali, that we haven't had the time (and should have made the time) to get to know our neighbors. We learned that yes, there have been robberies in the past but it doesn't happen if you take the correct precautions. It brought me some peace of mind to know that Kurt at least had someone to check the house with him as I nervously paced around outside. 

The thieves left almost no tracks. No windows were broken, no messes were left - they literally walked in to our home, propped open our window with a screw driver and took our things. I know you all want to know what they took - so here is the list! 2 laptops, 2 iPads, an awesome camera, a hard drive, a couple watches, some cash, my epi pen :( and my journal dammit! Our police report states that we lost about $4000 in things. So what do you do when you find out you've been robbed in Bali? Call the police? Call the "banjar" (head of the neighborhood)? Or simply do nothing? We started calling all of our friends for advice.

Some said the police wouldn't do anything, some said to call the banjar, some said that nothing can be done, some said that the tourist police in Bali might be of some help.... At around midnight, we decided the thieves were long gone and we just wanted to sleep. And so we did.

Neither of us could really sleep that night. You don't really know if you're in any danger, but the thought of a stranger going through your bedroom - is unsettling. We woke up still unsure of what to do and decided that it wouldn't hurt to at least try and talk to the police. At least that way we would have a slight chance of finding the thieves and we would also begin to build a relationship with the local police. 

I wanted to take the time to say that as someone who grew up in Indonesia, I was always quick to say that all police here are useless and corrupt. I have to say that although the police have yet to find our thieves, i am grateful that they were all kind and willing to help in anyway possible. The undercover officers that came to investigate our house, actually sent a handyman to help us fix the broken handle. They also gave us many tips on how to not attract thieves. Apparently our house had a million "easy to rob" flags. 

So what have we learned from this experience? Get to know our neighbors, take the time to secure our house when we leave, have friends check on our house when we are out of town and GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS. The most important lesson I have personally learned from this  experience is that no one can steal my life. Although I was heart broken that I lost years of photos and everything I've ever written - that doesn't erase any of those things from my past.

We had to fly to Kuala Lumpur 48 hours after our things were stolen, but as I sat at the dinner with Ma and Ayah, Kurt, Iman and Ashraf - I felt blessed to know that no one could steal this moment. My memories are mine for the keeping and each day I get to create many more.

(HAVING TWO EXTRA LOCKS ADDED TO EACH WINDOW)

(FILING THE POLICE REPORT AT THE LOCAL POLICE STATION)
Kurt will fill you all in on our trip to Thailand!

All my love,

Estelle

(P.S) If you have the chance - listen to my favorite country song that always reminds me of what means the most! Zac Brown Band - Chicken Fried

"It's funny how it's the little thing in life that mean the most
Not where you live, what you drive or the price tag on your clothes
There's no dollar sign on a peace of mind, this i've come to know
So if you agree, have a drink with me,
Raise your glasses for a toast

To a little bit of chicken fried
And cold beer on a Friday night
A pair of jeans that fit just right
And the radio on"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ed49S2nyBD0

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Stumbling Toward Jogjakarta

One of the things that I had looked forward to most on my "1 year retirement" in Bali, was taking trips throughout Asia to see places that I had heard about from others, seen in the movies or on TV. I have always been especially intrigued by those places that flirt with the impossible. Structures that were erected a millennium ago leave more questions as to how and why it was constructed in the first place. Going to Jogjakarta was my first chance to see not one, but several temples that shared these intriguing characteristics.

Flying into Jogjakarta (or "Jogja" I still don't think I can pronounce it right...) FIRST thing in the morning, we decided to hire a car to take us to the temple, Candi Prambanan. A Hindu temple constructed in the 9th century!

Prambanan


Entering the temple site and seeing something that old - is truly breathtaking. Being from America, anything that is over 50 years old seems ancient... here I was walking in a structure built well over a thousand years ago! Even more impressive was the precision and technical know-how, not to mention lack of power tools, that really blew my mind. Each of the temples at Prambanan had amazing carved reliefs, depicting the stories behind the various Hindu Gods throughout the exterior wall faces of the temples.


(PRAMBANAN!)

(PAT INSPECTING ONE OF THE TEMPLES)


(CLOSE UP OF ONE OF THE CARVED RELIEFS)

With numerous earthquakes occurring in the area, the temple, which is a UNESCO WORLD Heritage Site, is not what it once was. With a little imagination, however, I could vision how even more beautiful and imposing this great site once was.

After only a few hours... we were all drained -- so the inevitable occurred - pool time! So, after eating a delicious meal, we headed to our hotel and soaked up some sun rays!

Borobudur


The next day, we hired the same driver and headed to the temple that I most wanted to see... Borobudur.

On our 2 hour drive to the temple – I was struck by the imposing volcanoes that seemed to surround us and we all couldn't help but get a little nervous since at least one was very, very active!

(IS THAT VOLCANO ERUPTING??)

Unlike the day before, we decided to hire a guide – it is so easy to get a little overwhelmed and miss out on some of the most interesting facts and stories. Approaching the temple, you couldn’t help but be awestruck by its grand beauty and uniqueness. Built in 8th and 9th centuries – the BIGGEST Buddhist Temple in the world! It too is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

(BEAUTIFUL STUPA'S OF BOROBUDUR)

(BUDDHA!)

(CLOSE UP OF ONE OF THE BOROBUDUR RELIEF'S)
  
And unlike Prambanan – there is only one main temple and it consists of seven square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The carved reliefs tell the story of Buddha, the law of karma, his search for absolute truth…and every level you climbed, was one more level closer to Nirvana until you reached the very top.

Such an amazing place – I couldn't fathom the vision and will to build such a place and think that the people that constructed it had some strong convictions and beliefs!

Again, afterwards we were all beat and retreated back to our car and took the long drive back to our hotel area. Starving, we grabbed lunch and then walked around to look at the shops and markets.

At the markets “antique” section, I came across this magnificent Buddha head and had to have it! Maybe a little inspired after seeing the 500+ Buddhas at Borobudur…but after a little haggling i managed to walk away with a steal!

Now ready to truly relax we all took another betcak back to our hotel for some more POOL TIME!

For our last dinner – Pat found this restaurant on Yelp that had a #1 rating...we were all due for a great meal so we went on a wild ride to the restaurant – our drivers got lost on a couple of occasions but eventually we got there. The owner was a French guy and the cuisine was French/Indo fusion. Incredible ambiance, great jazz, a large Koi pond, a waterfall and last but not least incredible food!
Not a bad way to spend our last night in Jogja!

Gotta run!
Kurt

P.S - My apologies for the lack of photos of this trip. There is a reason behind that but you'll have to wait for the next post!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Our 3 Day Love Affair with Rinjani

A holy place for the locals of Lombok, Mt.Rinjani brags an elevation of 12,224 ft.  It is believed that the hot springs of Mt.Rinjani have the powers to cure disease. An annual pilgrimage to the lake is made by the people of Lombok to provide offerings to the mountain. What an incredible first mountain to climb on our one year adventure!

The hike was a wonderful early-Christmas present from Pat (Kurt's stepdad)! Kurt and I were eager and had absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We had to fly to Lombok from Bali, drive an hour to our hotel - then drive another two hours the next day to reach the base of the mountain! It seemed that everyday was an adventure on its own - and the view from the crater.... absolutely magical.  

What exactly were were getting ourselves into when we took this fresh-faced, smiling photo? Over 8500 feet in elevation gain and approximately 17 miles in hiking distance. If i had known that this was what I was up against - I might not be grinning like an idiot ;)




(THE CREW READY TO GO! KURT, ME, SIMON, ELISE & PAT)


I wanted to learn as much as I could about the porters and the guide that we were climbing this mountain with. I was able to observe that many of the other groups had slim to no relationship with their porters (and I suspect this is because of the language barrier). Thankful that I speak Indonesian, I was able to gain some knowledge of the lives of the people who hike Rinjani - ONCE A WEEK. Some facts that I learned when I had enough breath to actually carry a conversation:


  • The island of Lombok has 3 dialects
  • It is still common for couples to marry at the early age of 15!
  • Our guide, Simon has 3 children and was married at age 19
  • Simon's eldest son, is also a guide like his father :)
  • In order to become a guide, one must go through a training program which teaches you how to speak English, cook and have a better knowledge of the mountain and the environment.
  • Simon and our porters have been climbing since 1994!
  • The names of our porters were Jamal, Jabon and Kertabayan
  • There was a time that people were able to fly from Bali to the top of Rinjani, and thankfully that was protested by the people of Lombok and quickly put to a stop
  • Porters carry approximately 80-90 lbs up the mountain - in sandals or barefoot!


(STILL HOPEFUL THAT THIS WOULD BE A PIECE OF CAKE!)

We started our hike around 8 in the morning and managed to reach POS II (Post 2) by lunch. As we gathered in the "resting area" the Gods decided to take a looooong shower. Along with other hikers, we all huddled under a tin roof in hopes that the rain would let up. Two hours later, starving and restless - the rain let up and we were finally fed! Here is a video of the tarp our guide and our porters cooked us food under! 




(STUCK IN A TROPICAL RAIN STORM!)



(EVERYONE CRAMMED UNDER ONE TIN ROOF TO TRY AND STAY DRY!)


The rain never actually let up. What we eventually learned is that anything under the clouds on the mountain - pisses rain. Anything above the clouds was clear blue skies! Anxious to make it to camp before dark, we threw on our stylish ponchos and headed up the mountain! We reached our first camp ground around two hours later and set up base. Pat was a great trooper and found a beautiful spot for us to bunker down in! We were all expecting a swarm of mosquitoes on this trek - but it such a wonderful surprise to not see many at all!





(BEAUTIFUL SUNSET AT CAMP GROUND - DAY 1)


Your legs are exhausted, your legs are exhausted and your LEGS ARE EXHAUSTED! THe crater of Mt.Rinjani is approximately 8500 ft above sea level. That is a lot of hiking. The view from the top is worth every single aching muscle i still feel today. It was majestic. One of those moments where you have to take a deep breath and just let it all soak in. I tried to take a lot of videos on this trip because I felt like they were able to capture a lot more than photos. 




(REACHED THE TOP! WORTH ALL THE PAIN!)


(OUR FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE LAKE!)




(AFTER THE 2 HOUR HIKE DOWN TO THE LAKE)


Once we reached the top of the crater - what did we decide to do? Hike all the way down to the lake. It doesn't seem like that would be a big deal, except for the fact that it takes TWO hours to hike down... and hence TWO hours to hike back up. Why we chose to do that? THE HOT SPRINGS! When you've been hiking for a couple of days, nothing feels better than to soak your sore muscles in a natural hot tub :) Definitely worth the extra four hours!

(HANGIN' IN THE HOT SPRINGS WITH THE COFFEE OUR PORTER MADE US!)
(THE VIEW FROM OUR TENT - NOT BAD!)

On the way down the next morning, Kurt and I wanted to see if we were able to keep up with the porters. You would think that this would be an easy task, seeing that it is all downhill - but dont be fooled. The porters can cut the normal trekking time by 3 or 4 times. For the purpose of your own entertainment, I put my life at risk and was able to hold the camera for a few minutes as we SPRINTED down the mountain. How these men are able to balace their load and avoid falling - I really have no idea. My hat goes off to the porters as they are the REAL heroes.



(THIS IS OUR PORTER, JABON. HE WALKS DAAAMN FAST!)




(KERTABAYAN, JABON, JAMAL, SIMON, ELISE, PAT, ESTELLE & KURT)

If you haven't climbed a mountain before - do it. The satisfaction you get from completing something that seems almost impossible at first... is priceless. As soon as we reached our hotel, I researched how many volcanoes there are in Indonesia for me to climb - 400. We are currently looking to climb the highest peak in Indonesia in the next few months - Mt.Kerinci! So look out for that! Off to Jogjakarta for now!

All my love,

Stel