Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bali Days

UBUD, Bali, Indonesia-- "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a tourist on foot must be in want of a taxi."

OK, I didn't make it up; the line came from my husband after we had walked the main streets of Ubud for a while and had been asked hundreds of times by touts whether we needed transit. There cannot possibly be that many taxis in this relatively small town-- especially since the locals (grannies and kids included) all seem to use motor scooters for transportation. On very narrow paths.

Aside from that, though, Ubud is indeed a lovely spot, tucked up in the hills, surrounded by rice paddies and studded with temples. While the temples look ancient, they all seem to have fresh offerings each morning.

As I began composing this, I was sitting in a little internet cafe, watching the sacred monkeys from the adjoining sacred monkey forest as they climbed along the top of a fence. They come right up to humans, trying to steal food. They play out in the middle of the road, fearing not even the scooters. I guess that's an upside to being sacred.

(That computer crashed, so I have moved down the street to a computer with what I suspect is a slower connection. It's in the peaceful outdoor lobby of our hotel, the Saren Indah. Local gamelan music--which is trance-inducing--is playing. So I'll type fast.)

Last night, we went to view a traditional Balinese dance performance. The sounds and movements are hypnotic, even though as a westerner, I wasn't familiar enough with the basic story to follow all the action. (Good and evil battled; good won.) I did, however, recognize Haruman, the monkey god. He was on the side of good, along with his monkey army. Considering how fearless monkeys can be, it helps to have them on your side, it seems.

This morning, while Keating went on a birdwatching hike, I took a cooking class where we made Balinese-style chicken salad; chicken curry; nari goreng, which is a type of fried rice with a distinctive Balinese taste; sweet-and-sour shrimp and black rice pudding. My two classmates were Japanese women who didn't speak English, so we nodded and smiled a lot as we chopped vegetables. But it all tasted right when we finished, so I guess that didn't matter.

(We have spectacular photos of Ubud and especially of the dance performance, but they will have to await a faster computer connection.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Not Lost, but Maybe in Mona Lisa Overdrive

TOKYO--If you want to seriously freak out a couple sushi chefs, mix green tea powder into your soy sauce.

Really, I thought it was the wasabi powder. I am sure there were plenty of other gaijin goofs I made during the last two days, but it seems everyone in Japan is too polite to say anything. They bow and smile and bring you a new dish of wasabi. The chefs yelled only to prevent me from actually dipping my sushi in the soy-tea goop.

The entire time we were in Tokyo, it rained, so that makes turbo-powered touristing a bit tougher -- and a lot soggier. Nonetheless, we were wowwed by the overwhelming otherness of Tokyo. Just the bright signs everywhere in an alphabet you can not read are enough to start the weirdness meter running. Add to that the density of people -- thousands crossing an intersection at one time, without noticeable pushing or shoving. When you figure out what the signs are advertising or the store is selling, it all just gets a little weirder. I am not sure I want to know what a maid cafe is, for instance.

It really is sorta William Gibson crossed with Lost in Translation.

And just when you think the mobs will never thin out, you turn into a shinto shrine or traditional garden, and it's calm. You turn down a path, and there is a guy sweeping, using a broom made of bamboo twigs.

*We have lots of cool photos, but this computer is not letting me upload them. Or at least I can not read the kanji for USB drive. Or for parentheses and apostrophes, by the way. So more photos later.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Last Look at Hawaii

Just a quick little slideshow, while we wait for the plane to leave Honolulu and head to Tokyo. This surfer was at a North Shore beach, one of many lovely ones we walked along.(I think it was at the famous Banzai Pipeline, but can't swear to that.) This is summer, so the waves are tiny by Hawaii standards -- and huge to East Coast eyes:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day, Pearl Harbor

Little bright yellow fish swim on the reef that has accumulated on part of the sunken wreck of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. There's some symbolism here, but it seems wrong to stretch too hard to get it.

Instead, on Memorial Day, I find myself wondering how many years the oil will slowly seep up from the old battleship. It's been 68, so far.

More thoughts from Oahu:

* The beaches that ring the island's North Shore are some of the prettiest I've ever seen. It's obvious that families, many from the city, visit their favorites regularly. At one campground, a family had even brought in -- yes -- a kitchen sink, to hook up to the campground water.

* Waikiki is Miami Beach, on steroids, with a lot more sushi.

* Also: Waikiki has a lot less BEACH than you might expect. Much of the sand has eroded, right up to the seawalls of the various hotels.

* The names of many Honolulu streets begin with the letter "K." Thus, it is not a good idea for the navigator to say, "Hey, that street sign says 'K,' then something, and the name ends with a vowel! Turn here!"

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Happy Hawaiian Birthday

Sunshine is a remarkable antidote for jet lag.

We arrived on the North Shore of Oahu in time for a sunset drink on Friday, perhaps a bit frazzled from an airplane day* that ended six time zones west of Washington. You try to convince yourself that traveling west doesn't cause jet lag, but it does. Fortunately, it's the kind of jet lag that zonks you out at 8:30 pm and rouses you at 5:30 am.

That gave us the morning to explore the beaches (including one where some scenes from "Lost" were filmed), before they were crowded with Memorial Day weekend families. It also gave us plenty of hours to soak in the sun before temperatures headed above 90 degrees.

Really, the day hasn't been more complicated than that. What a lovely way to spend my birthday!

These photos are a pretty tropical flower, a surfer in the Banzai Pipeline waves, and the sunrise view from our hotel room.

(*Notes from an airplane day: Of course there were snafus on Friday, our first day of flying. Our plane left National Airport an hour late -- a bit nerve-wracking, because we had only an hour to change planes in Dallas for Honolulu. But the pilot made up some time, and then -- bravo, American Airlines! -- there was a van WAITING ON THE RUNWAY to take us and the other Hawaii-bound passengers across the tarmac and to the waiting plane. Have you ever wondered about those breathless groups of passengers who tumble into a plane just seconds before the doors close? That was us.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

12 Hours to Go

We're packed.

I printed the boarding passes.

Oh, what am I forgetting?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Are You Packed Yet?

I always forget something. It seems like every sweat shirt I own was bought when I was on the road and shivering.

And I always pack something I don't need. I don't think I've ever actually worn that just-below-the-knee conservative black skirt.

Usually we pack the night before we leave, in about 30 minutes. For this trip, we decided to be hyper-organized about it. In large part, that's because we're determined to do this in carry-on only. That means planning on laundromats and stuff washed in sinks, the way the guidebooks nag you to do. And it means making an insane number of lists.

It also means paring books to a minimum. We're experimenting with electronics to do that -- one Kindle, one iPod Touch, both loaded with lots of reading material. We have a few little tiny pocket travel guides (plus the Lonely Planet chapters on the iPod). We're skimping on bird books, too, although the one for Bali was slim enough to bring along. Beyond that, we've agreed we can each carry one paperback that we can recycle along the way.

As of right now, it all fits in carry-on, with room to spare for stuff ... because I always forget something.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Not Enough Time for [Fill in the Blank]

Most of our stays will be about three days in a given country -- not exactly what the RTW Traveler Conventional Wisdom dictates.

If you read the books and blogs about long-term long-distance travel, as I have, you recognize some themes. Travelers take at least a year. They leave their plans loose. They carry backpacks, never wheelie bags. They always spend time in Thailand. And they never, ever associate with Tourists, unless their parents are picking up the tab.

We recognize that we won't be immersed in every culture. But we're comfortable with that, largely because of our 2007 visit to South Korea.

It lasted 15 hours.

We stopped in Seoul in order to make our free frequent flyer trip to Australia and New Zealand work. (Thank you, Marianne P., for the routing idea!)

In our 15 hours, we traveled on public transit. We strolled through palaces and temples. (The photo is of a sort-of changing of the guard at one important site.) We ate multiple yummy Korean meals. We talked with local people. (They wanted to practice English.) We shopped and bought cute souvenirs. We got a basic grasp of local geography, and we took lots of photos, despite the gray weather. It was a blast. Exhausting, but unforgettable.

Friday, May 15, 2009

29 Days? Or 28?

As far as disruptions in the space-time continuum go, one day doesn't seem like much. Still, it's tough for me to wrap my mind around the International Date Line.

Phileas Fogg, hero of Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days," famously wins his bet because he forgets about the date line. He circumnavigates traveling east, so from his perspective he gains a day. (He travels for 80 days and thinks he has returned to London on a Saturday. From the perspective of Londoners, it's only Friday. The denouement takes place the next day, when he realizes it's Saturday, not Sunday. Got it?)

We will be heading west our entire trip. That means that from our perspective, we will lose a day -- we will never go to sleep on the night of June 26 or awake on June 27. Instead, we will leave Honolulu June 26 at about noon. After an eight-hour flight that crosses the date line, we will arrive in Tokyo mid-afternoon on June 27.

Back home, 29 nights will pass. For us, it will be 28. (And no quibbling, please, about how it might be 30 days, counted another way.) As far as I can figure out, the only way we will ever regain that day is to take another trip some day, west to east.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

From the Beginning

Like so many things, this trip started in the Tune Inn, our neighborhood dive bar.

My husband and I were there at some point in late 2008 or early 2009 -- probably after the election and before the Inauguration, when work had slowed down a bit. We were discussing what big trip we might take to celebrate my 50th birthday in May. Well, mostly to celebrate my birthday. He had pretty much been working seven days a week since late 2007, so 2009 looked like the year to go somewhere.

But where? African safari? (Definitely someday.) Grand Tour of Europe? (There are so many places we've never seen!) Antarctica? (Nah... wrong time of year.)

Then there was that guy we met on Easter Island in 2004. He was celebrating his 50th birthday by visiting his 50th country. (Europeans have it easy -- they can knock off a couple dozen countries on long weekends.)

My husband suggested the big one: Why not all the way around the world this time?

I had plenty of logical reasons to shoot the idea down. It would be expensive. It would be exhausting. We couldn't take off the months and months you need to do it properly.

Yet week after week, usually in the same booth at the Tune Inn, we kept coming back to it, picking at the details.

Sure, it's expensive. But why save money on all those brown-bag lunches if we don't spend it on what we really want?

Of course it would be exhausting. But as we get older, it would only get more difficult.

And who says it has to take months and months?

We played with plane schedules. We poked at alternatives. In March, we finally decided to do it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Our Flight Schedule

If you are not closely related to us, you really don't want to read this entry. It's boring. It's our flight-by-flight airline itinerary, meant for people who want to know flight numbers, times, etc. All days and times are local, and subject to change.
  • May 22: Depart Washington (DCA) 10 a.m., American Airlines Flt. 1429, arrive Dallas (DFW) 12:20 p.m. Change planes. Depart DFW 1:20 p.m. American Flt. 5, arrive Honolulu (HNL) 4:35 p.m.
  • May 26: Depart HNL 12:05 p.m. American Flt. 5917, arrive Tokyo (NRT) 3:30 p.m. on the next day. (Crosses international date line.)
  • May 29: Depart NRT 4:10 p.m. Japan Airlines Flt. 729, arrive Denpasar, Bali (DPS) 10:25 p.m.
  • June 4: Depart DPS 4 p.m. Cathay Pacific Flt. 784, arrive Hong Kong (HKG) 8:45 p.m.
  • June 7: Depart HKG 2:25 p.m. Cathay Pacific Flt. 751, arrive Delhi (DEL) 7:45 p.m. (This touches down briefly in Bangkok.)
  • June 10: Depart DEL 5:30 a.m. Royal Jordanian Flt. 193, arrive Amman (AMM) 8:45 a.m.
  • June 12: Depart AMM 1:15 p.m. Royal Jordanian Flt. 501, arrive Cairo (CAI) 2:45 p.m.
  • June 14: Depart CAI 11:45 p.m. Iberia Flt. 3735, arrive Madrid (MAD) 3:45 a.m. June 15.
  • June 20: Depart Barcelona (BCN) 10:55 a.m. American Flt. 151, arrive New York (JFK) 1:45 p.m.. Depart JFK 4:15 p.m. American Flt. 4755, arrive DCA 5:50 p.m. And home!