Thursday, April 28, 2005

On NZ toilets and other observations

There is no water shortage here. To celebrate, apparently, the clever kiwis have devised toilets that use about 25 gallons per flush. I kid you not! Krista was the lucky one to first experience this...I heard her let out a wild yell from the loo in our hotel. When it was my turn I yelled too! We call it the wild white water rushing rapids. Shocking to anyone from California.
I want to mention that there is a way to travel relatively cheaply in New Zealand! Don't have kids. Or at least don't bring them. In every town and city there's a great abundance of 'backpackers' lodgings, often in very key locations and sometimes offering very attractive accomodations, usually for about $20 a night. They usually have shared bathrooms, of course, being based on the hostel model, and thus also have a built in social milieu that I, personally, find attractive---meeting folks from all over the planet who have been off having adventures. Alas, such pleasures are not for us. Many of them don't accept kids and they all charge per person, making them about as expensive as a private hotel room. And the shared bath is the death knell. Oh well.
Another way these 'backpackers' save money is by buying a car on arrival and selling it on departure, usually for about the same amount. This is so common there are whole networks set up, as well as bulletin boards everywhere. Often the cars come complete with tents and all the camping gear you'd need. So unless they get unlucky and face an unexpected automotive repair, these folks travel for just the cost of the petrol. Damn clever.
The petrol, by the way, costs $4.94/gallon--US dollars. Cripes. I'm glad we didn't hire a camper van! It cost about $70 NZ to fill up our little toyota.
We did have a financial breakthrough...we found two nice little thrift stores--a red cross and a salvation army--which stock really nice warm clothes for $4 or $5. I bought a seemingly brand new levi shirt for $4 and Krista found Eden a nice wool hand knit sweater (er, jumper) for the same. Sorry to bore you with our petty finances...It's just such a shock, still.
We need a lucky break! Maybe a nice house sitting gig? In Takaka?
We've really enjoyed staying put in our little room for some days. We have a great view on 3 sides. Moving everyday is hard, even with our own car. It would be heavenly to score a place for a few weeks. Still, I wonder what the hell we're doing here. Last night we watched a Friends episode on TV. Pathetic. I can't imagine having watched TV in Bali or Thailand.
Nelson is beautiful. The trees are in full Autumn colors. The air is crisp and clear and there's a clean-ness here that I associate with being right on the Ocean. We've gone for some drives and the city winds back into pretty valleys and along the hills overlooking the water. There are pretty parks and lots of cafes. No big box stores and plenty of folks downtown, enjoying the cafes and shops. I guess it's a school holiday this week so maybe there are more kids out than usual.
I can see why folks would want to emigrate here, if they could afford it. I'm not really drawn here personally, but in the event of fleeing a total fascist takeover of the US (I mean a more sudden and overt one) this town would be a top pick.
Anyway, that's it for now.
love always

Buddha Store

Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Attatchment to desire is the root of all This big dark store was stuffed with buddha statues, all hand carved and no two exactly alike. I was overcome with desire and bought a few--they were absurdly cheap! Mostly carved from fast growing soft wood and painted.


Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Look up the word 'ubiquitous' in the Balinese dictionary....
The women folk seemed to always be making these little leaf baskets for the daily (or was it 3 times daily?) offerings. In Denpasar we stumbled across a market where folks were buying the baskets and flower petals--vendors had huge burlap bags full of them. I guess city folk don't have access to the raw materials, or maybe not as much time. Most often the offerings include sticks of incense and sometimes little cookies or pieces of candy. They are certainly a boon to the ever-present chickens!

Princess Sarong

Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.


Tired and Foot Sore Explorers

Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Managing a smile for the camera.

Surfer God

Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

The Balinese seem to take surfers pretty seriously, at least as a steady source of tourist revenue. This huge statue was in front a big surfing store (of course).

Happy Jungle Explorers

Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

A local man led us way upstream to this nice waterfall. We walked along the edge of beautiful rice terraces with the stream below. We saw quite a few folks bathing in secluded spots. It was quite warm, though late in the day.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Nelson town (edited and expanded version)

This Posting Rated W for whining.

About a month ago I wrote a nasty whiney bit about Bali (most of it wrong or untrue, I should just delete it!). Of course by the end I came to love Bali and would gladly return for an extended stay. That gives me hope, since a week into our NZ trip I'm just about ready to start my "I hate New Zealand" club.
I don't really hate it, of course. But it's been a bit challenging. It's really rather expensive here. Really. Not just compared to Bali or Thailand. Compared to home. We've spent more on lodging this first week than the whole 6 weeks prior. And we're not talking fancy places. I'm talking painted cinderblock and fake wood paneling with one space heater for heat.
On the possitive side, every single motel has a kitchenette, for some reason, and that is handy. This morning we made scrambled eggs and toast. This is important since resturaunt meals are so freaking expensive. Entres seem to range from $14 to $24, drinks $3 to $5. On the other hand the portions tend to be very generous and most of the food we've had very good quality, very yummy. We've begun sharing the entres and it's usually plenty. There is what they call 'cafe culture' here. I guess that means every town has a number of nice little cafes with good food and cofee drinks. Here in Nelson there are really groovy ones, some all vegetarian. It's nice, reminds us of home a bit.
New Zealanders seem to eat a lot of 'pies'. These are little round baked things filled with different stuff, usually meat and veges, good for a quick meal. Basically all the baked stuff here is made with bleached white flour and lots of dairy. The kids love it, but I wonder how the NZ folk aren't totally constipated. Maybe they are.
The motels give you a little carton of milk when you check in--for your tea or cofee. A nice touch. Unfortunaely, check out time is always 10am, which has added a little stress to our journey. It's been nice though, having real towels and a shower that doesn't flood the whole bathroom.
Our room here in Nelson is actually a little one bedroom apartment up in a 1920's house on a hill overlooking the town. We can see the bay off in the distance. It's pretty nice. We're staying there for 3 nights while we look around. Nice to stay put for a bit.
Looking back.....around the time we got to Wellington we ran into a storm. It was a big one that dumped snow all over the South Island mountains. It seemed to usher in Winter two months early. That's what everyone was saying, much to our dismay.
We'll never forget coming around a bend and suddenly there's the bay and the waves were 6 to 10 meters high, a sick grey green color and smashing against the rock embankment sending wild spray up onto the motorway. It was scary. We found out later that one of the ferries had engine trouble out in the storm and sent out distress signals. It had to be towed in 3 hours late. I'm so glad we weren't out in that.
And it was damned cold. We had bought 'warm' clothes the first day up in Auckland, but they were way inadequate. Turns out that Wellington is basically exposed to antarctica. That's the reason the Cook straits, between the North and South islands, is considered the most treacherous passage in the world. Ack.
Another thing that's inexplicably expensive here is clothing. We had these fantasies of getting wool sweaters (jumpers) know, NZ wool, sheep capital of the world, etc... That's do-able if you have $250 to $300 to fork over. Which is what a pair of jeans cost in some of the corporate stores that line every downtown area (Krista finally found some for $30 and $40 in a more discount place). The prices make no sense at all! We went back to The Warehouse (NZ's sole emporium of cheap Chinese made stuff) and got hats and scarves and more layers.
The next morning we trudged down the hill to the big museum in Wellington, Te Papa. We had an hour and a half before our own crossing and the museum came highly recommended (by a nice gal from Santa Barbara we stopped for directions the night before). It was, in fact, really great and we could have spent 5 hours there. And unlike pretty much everything else in this country, it's actually free! We mostly hung out in the Natural History floor, admiring weird NZ species and big bugs, whale skeletons, stuffed animals, rocks and such. We saw Maori artifacts, etc....
Back in Rotorua we had seen fantastic geysers and mud pots but had also had a "cultural experience" (that's what they kept calling it) with Maori in a meeting house--a concert actually, lots of very loud singing, chest pounding (the men), poi swinging and a fighting stick demonstration. It was pretty cool I guess. But around that time I was getting serious ear problems--a little parting gift from Bali, on our last day, just hours before our flight actually, playing in the surf with Eden I got some Indian Ocean water in my ear. For the last five days my left ear has been totally blocked up. I can't really hear out of it and going up and down the mountains has been a bit painful. Actually, when the kids are bickering or whining for something, I feel kind of grateful I can't hear them.
The Maori tend to be big, loud and boisterous (in my rather limited experience--I'm thinking of the supermarkets and The Warehouse, not just the 'cultural experience'). The concert was so loud that I couldn't really hear at all.
The Maori are also very beautiful and interesting looking. I have to be careful not to stare! They are different, in some hard to define way, from other indigenous peoples I've admired.
Did I mention that the entire town of Rotorua stunk like sulpher? The kids hated it!
After Rotorua we drove South down route 5 and ended up in Hastings, a little agricultural town. The drive looked very much like Northern California, rolling grassy hills with stands of trees. We drove through lots of boring little towns that seem to have been built in the early 60's. Boxy little houses, very dull architecturally. The countryside is mainly gorgeous, but it looked so familiar to us I think we were struggling not to feel a bit disappointed. I felt like I'd spent $10,000 to visit Crescent City.
Before Hastings, we stopped in a small city or big town called Napier. It's famous for it's art deco architecture. The whole town had been destroyed in a huge earthquake back in the early '30s and rebuilt with style. We were practically salivating to see something even remotely interesting architecturally. It was okay, I guess. Except that some genius had installed huge 10 foot wide awnings in front of every building in town, making it rather difficult to take in the art deco-ness of the place. Jeez.
We stopped in Napier for lunch and got spooked. Every single store and cafe was closed and it was only 3:30 in the afternoon. We hadn't realized it was a Saturday and that everthing closed at 1pm. On Sunday nothing is open. We left hungry and finally found an Indian place open in Hastings. The kids were less than thrilled.
From Hastings we drove about 4 hours to Wellington. More Northern California landscape, only devoid of people! Kind of weird. Up in the hills and mountains the landscape changed to Oregon, lots of tree farms, 'forests' and clear cuts. I found this somewhat depressing. I wasn't really expecting clear cuts in NZ. Silly me. It only got worse. On our ferry ride through the Sounds into Picton on the South Island there were many many clear cuts, and yesterday on the road over to Nelson we saw thousands of logs floating in the water next to an huge freighter awaiting transport to where? Maybe Japan? I can't believe the Kiwis use all that timber for their own folk. It was depressing.
We had planned to stay in Wellington for a few days. It looked like a pretty little city in the guide books, and I suppose it is. San Francisco's twin they say, though much much smaller. But it was so damn cold we got out! We drove our car onto the big ol' ferry and sat down to watch movies on the big screen. I actually stood out on the rear deck in flying snow/rain to watch Wellington slip away behind. It was worth freezing for.
Once we were out of the bay the huge ferry began to pitch and roll in the 3 meter waves! Very alarming!! It's a 3 hour passage and much of it was rough (to me anyway). I spent as much time as I could stand out on deck. The ice cold wind roaring up from Antarctica made my ear ache like hell! But I was rewarded by the sight of 4 or 5 dolphins racing along the waves. At one point they all breached the water together, sailing right out of a huge wave near the ship! We cheered them on, me and a big NZ fellow named Nick I met there.
Nick is a big tall blond fellow, studying journalism up in Auckland. He didn't realize that Bush actually lost the election and that the US government had been stolen. I set him straight. People can't understand why the American people re-elected such a loser. It's my job, I reckon, to point out that they didn't.
The sail through the Marlbourough Sounds was dramatic, and aside from the sad clear cuts, very beautiful. We stayed the night in tiny Picton and the next morning headed over to Nelson, on an intensely winding road. So far I've only almost killed us once this whole time, and that was yesterday passing a logging truck, Bali style. Not bad for my first week driving.
Today it's mostly sunny and fairly warm. Krista and I left the kids in the room to watch TV and strolled about Nelson, gasping at the shocking prices and then found a little hippy shop selling more reasonably priced imported stuff from Nepal and India and Indonesia. The hippy stuff was great! Makes me proud to be from the birthplace of it all. I've taken to telling folks we're from 'around San Francisco', instead of saying we're from California, or god forbid, the US. I think the US has a pretty bad reputation here. Surprise surprise. But everyone loves San Francisco.
I'm not sure what our next move will be. We haven't had much luck finding a good house to rent for a week here. We may move on to Takaka in a few days, to check out the true Hippy/Organic/Green center of NZ. It may even be warm enough there to be on the beach and do a little sea kayaking.
I'd really like to spend a week or two in one place before heading south to sightsee. We were so cold we were actually thinking of giving up on it and heading up to the northernmost corner of NZ to hunker down until we could get the hell out of here. The sun has brought us a bit more courage, and hopefully we will venture south and see the fjords and some penguins and the pretty city of Christchurch and all.
Anyhow, at this point I'm suspending work on my 'I hate New Zealand' club. There are many good and admirable things here to enjoy and admire (like the really fast internet connections, for example). I'm sure we'll get used to our finances draining away, or maybe we'll even figure out some sort of alternative. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Our little lagoon.

Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

This is where we bobbed in and out with the scary currents. It was stunning!

La Joya, Bali

Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Our little bungalow. It was sweet.

A refreshing bath?

Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

The former bathing pools at the Elephant Cave temple. I was less timid and actually soaked my whole head.


Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

One of the wonderful waitpeople at Tutmaks, our favorite resturaunt in Bali.

Return of the Monkey

Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Once I chased them out of the room, they just climbed into the bathroom. I quicky hid the toothbrushes!

Rob on duty

Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Keeping a sharp eye on the naughty little guys.

Our new antique

Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

A blurry picture of the Javanese furniture we bought--soon to be crossing the pacific.

In a Hurry

I've only got 10 minutes left on this computor! We're in Rotorura and still getting our bearings. I'm proud to say that I haven't crashed the car yet, even though everyone is driving on the wrong side of the road. Actually, sitting on the wrong side of the car is even weirder and I keep turning on the windshield wipers everytime I want to turn on the turn signals. Ha ha ha.
We've spent most of today in our nice room which has a full kitchen (!), took a soak in the stinking mineral pools at the hotel, went for a long walk through the thermal park downtown and saw a few Maori landmarks. We also spent about an hour in a big supermarket, a true cultural experience. At one point this woman started talking to krista while she was getting bulk cereal. Krista told me she couldn't understand a word the woman said! She obviously didn't know Krista was a foreigner. That's the big problem here. We look fairly ordinary. Except India, who insists on dressing weird most of the time.
The money here is beautiful. The bills are colorful and artistically done and the coins are heavy and wonderfully minted. Unfortunately everything costs a fortune (at least compared to Bali and Thailand), but the meals and rooms have been very generous and well done. And we have nice big new towels! That's a change.
I think tomorrow we'll go see the biggest thermal attraction here, it also boasts a Maori 'concert' which sounds good. Then we'll hit the road in the daytime. Sadly we drove down here from Auckland in the dark. I have no idea what the country side looked like, but so far it reminds me of Sonoma County and the San Francisco area. Very beautiful.
gotta g0

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

New Zealand at last.

I'm sitting in a huge room filled with Chinese dudes playing weird computor games. I mean there must be 50 young men at least. I'm the only white guy for sure, and it's LOUD in here. I don't know what they're all yelling about! I think I may be one of the only ones using the internet.
Auckland is weird. I was out walking, waiting at a huge intersection downtown, around 5:30pm, waiting for the walk signal. Seemed like it was taking forever. There were mobs of people patiently waiting. When the buzzer sounded everyone started crossing everywhich way, north-south, east-west and crossways. We filled the whole big intersection. I don't think I can convey how strange that was. It sort of looks like a downtown street in the US, but I've never seen people do that!
Another difference, which bummed me out, is that all the stores seemed to close at 5:30. And only about 1/3 of the resturaunts were open. The whole place is practically shut down. After the teeming streets of Bali and Thailand, this does not compute.
I left the dead-tired gals to sleep off the red eye flight, whilst I searched for stores that sell warm weather gear. I walked about 5 miles and found a few I'd seen in the phone book, but of course they were closed.
The prices here are giving us fits. The taxi ride from the airport was almost $50! The lonely planet guidebook we just bought (before 5:30) was also $50. That's NZ$, but still!! We have to get coats and sweaters and some shoes for the kids. It's not really cold yet, but much cooler than Bali.
The gal who checked us in at the hotel told us we should leave tomorrow and head straight for the South Island. Don't waste any time with the North Island. There's nothing up here worth seeing, she said, at least that you can't see down South. We've heard this before, from a NZ couple at the Chiang Dao Nest. Hard to believe. But we were planning to head south right away anyhow, to try to salvage as much warmth as we can down there. And as little rain as possible.
Driving into Auckland from the airport we were reminded of Eureka, up in Humboldt County. A smattering of charm here and there, but rather dull. Now with this ghost town thing they've got going....jeeez. I just feel lucky to have found this weird internet place. We read that there are gazillions of Chinese students now in NZ. A lot of them seem to be in here.
A few days ago we were saying goodbye to Ubud. We had one last breakfast at our favorite place-Tutmaks, our home away from home. I had one last massage at my favorite spa. We said goodbye to our lovely guesthouse and Dede, the Javanese fellow who works there we all liked so much, and all the gals in the alley we bought stuff from, and Nyoman and Made our drivers. We also said goodbye to a bunch of money at the cargo office! Yikes. It's going to be interesting fielding all this import stuff.
Anyhow, Made's brother in law drove us down to this place called Dreamland. It came highly recommended as a beach experience to wrap up our Bali adventure. It was another in a series of really bizarre experiences. About an hour and a half south from Ubud, we came to this huge fenced compound out in the middle of nowhere. Our driver informed us that one of Suharto's evil sons had scammed all this land and tried to establish a gigantic resort. We had to pay rp5000 at the gate and then drove down miles of broad corroding palm tree lined road. Apparently corruption killed the deal and the son went to jail and folks are still fighting over who gets the land. I mean this place is HUGE. the road just went on and on, two broad lanes with nothing there, except periodic guard houses. It had the feeling of a modern ruin. At last we could see the Indian Ocean ahead of us and a funky handpainted sign said Dreamland that way. We had to skirt a huge sink hole that had taken out 2/3 of the road and then suddenly we were on a very rough dirt and rock path going through bushes. Oops there's a cow. Oops, a few more. A giant puddle to try to skirt. Unbelievably rough ground, then a bunch of guys waiting around for something, a bunch of cars parked amongst the scrubby trees. We're here! Huh?
We parked and our driver led us on a little hike to a steep path cutting down the cliff. Sure enough, below us was gorgeous azure water with big waves and people in the water (maybe 30?) with some thatched buidings, some of them resturaunts and some maybe guesthouses. Right on the beach, or perched halfway up the cliff. A crazy bunch of steps leading down. And the heat was so intense we were fainting and getting roasted.
Our driver expected us to hike down and check out the lodging options. But we were looking at the size of the waves and the feeling of isolation. I really wish we had pushed on to check it out. It was really something different. But we bailed.
On the way back out we saw a sign for a resort hotel on a different beach and we though, what the hell, let's check it out. Turned out to be an even crazier rocky ride over to it. But once there it was easily accessible, no hike down the cliff in the blistering heat. What a surprise! It had a beautiful infinity edge pool looking out over the sea below, with Bali's biggest volcano in the far distance. It had these round thatched open air bungalows, each set in their own grassy garden, with big comfortable beds and a bed alcove for the kids, each with deluxe mosquitoe netting canopies. It was a luxury type place and Krista especially fell in love with it. We stayed, even though we were short on cash, having planned for a rp150,000 place and this was rp700,000, with a fairly expensive resturaunt we'd have to rely on. Anyway, we stayed and it was amazing. One reason we stayed is that there were cute little monkeys in the trees. How exotic!
Turned out that they also shared the pool with the guests. Hmmmmm. That water is a bit green. and warm. They investigated us during our swim and kind of freaked out the girls. Very cute and very naughty. They invaded the open air resturaunt and finally one of the gals had to whack them with a tree branch to get them out. They were swinging from the wiring and knocking things over. I jokingly asked if they ever come to the rooms. ha ha.
The next morning we had just gotten up when the three little monkeys came to visit. At first we were delighted, amazed, enchanted. Then they were swinging around on the canopies and shades, climbing on us, jumping around the bed, grabbing stuff and knocking things over. The littlest one was pawing at Eden, who started really freaking out! I began the half hour process of shooing them out by batting at them with pillows. Outside they grabbed our swimsuits off the drying rack and one of them was dragging Krista's suit up to the top of a palm tree!
I looked back in the room to tell Krista but the gals were gone! Where'd they go? When I realized they'd barricaded themselves inside the mosquitoe netting in the kid's alcove, weighting the netting down with pillows, I started laughing so hard I had to sit down.
By then the monkeys had come around the side and were climbing the wall of our open air bathroom. Very bad manners.
Finally I lured them up to the resturaunt for breakfast and let the staff deal with them. Jeez.
It was shortly after shooing them out of the room that I opened our suitcase and an enormous wolf spider jumped out and scurried behind it. Heart attack time. That spider was BIG and very very fast. I just prayed the girls wouldn't see it--they were still holed up in the alcove, but they wondered why I was yelling and swearing! I'm sorry to say that I killed the poor devil. I'm sure he meant us no harm, but a bite would've sent Eden to the hospital for sure. That was when we decided to check out early. Monkeys and spiders. And coral.
The day before we'd taken the path down to the beach for a swim, or so we hoped. Unfortunately we picked low tide and ended up walking up and down the beach looking for a place we could get in. We walked over all this coral and we're freaked out about cutting our feet to shreds (we didn't). It was very hot and most unsatisfying. We didn't understand that it was low tide until we got back to our room.
anyhow, the next morning we had an enchanting swim in a little lagoon on the same beach, with the tide well in. Nice soft sand underneath and beautiful warm bouyant water. Still, it was a bit scary because everytime a wave would come in we'd feel a strong pull outward. At first we really panicked. but the pull would only last a minute or less and was always followed by the wave sending us right back in. Still, it gave an edge to the whole thing. All in all it was lovely.
But we left and ended up staying in Kuta, the place we'd been avoiding so long. There is a very long beach there, with hundreds of people milling about--strange and unlike anyplace I'd ever seen. Many surfers and lots of the Balinese people bathing were wearing clothes! I wore a shirt to keep the sun off. Eden and India learned to body surf there and we had a lot of fun. Our hotel was a big sprawling thing, just a very short distance up Poppie's alley. Maybe a 5 minute walk.
I'd heard that in Kuta we would be assailed non stop with touters and aggressive peddlers. That was not my experience at all. Certainly no worse than Ubud. The stuff being sold in the little stands was different--just a bunch of crap from Taiwan really. And the resturaunts weren't very good, but we did okay. On the way to the airport yesterday we realized that we'd seen only a small part of Kuta, and that somehow we'd landed in a more mellow area. Most of the tourists were Australians. Young, rowdy and not especially interested in the Balinese. At least that's my impression.
By the time we left I'd learned enough Indonesian to be able to be somewhat polite. I love the Balinese people! They are beautiful, dignified, courteous, forgiving, hard working, creative and have the loveliest smiles. Along with the Thai, of course.
So now we are in New Zealand, and just dead tired. Only got a few hours sleep on the plane (and plane sleep doesn't really count anyway). NZ is 4 hours ahead of Bali so we'll have some minor jet lag issues too. I don't know if we'll have it together to rent a car and bail out tomorrow, or if we'll just stay an extra day in Auckland.
I'm pretty sure our next big stop will be Nelson and we'll try to rent a house for a week or so.
Wish me luck, driving on the left and all.
I'll try to get some photos up soon.
love and monkey kisses,

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Plunge

I think we heard a rumor somewhere that money was going out of style. That's how we've been spending it these past few days anyhow. We got a cargo agent--they are everywhere here--via our beloved driver Made, who has a friend.... but also took pains to say we should shop around and only use his friend if he had a good price. Well, I had shopped around and his friend had a very good price, plus was highly organized, had sample pictures of how things get packed and crated, etc... They make it so EASY here. You just go into a store and buy some stuff and get an invoice. You just leave the stuff there (we take a photo) and give the invoice to the 'cargo'. They go and pick it up and pack it up, anywhere in Bali! And the weight doesn't matter--big stone statue? No problem. Once it's all ready they take it down to the port (which I think is on another island?) and find space with someone else's junk, to fill a container load. Onto the freighter and out to sea. Shows up in Oakland or San Francisco a month later.
That's the part that scares me! Customs and all. But people do it so it CAN be done. We'll figure it out when we get home.
So we went shopping yesterday. Did I mention big stone statue? Yes. Much stone. And we bought a piece of furniture. A very old one from Java. Very carved and weird, with huge ornate feet and bevelled glass in the doors and sides. Not huge. Dresser size. They had another cupboard I guess you'd call it, about 9 feet tall!! It was freaking huge! Beautiful too. They legs had it at least a foot and a half off the ground. About 6 feet wide. Crazy.
Our treasure was 3 million rp. I just hope it makes it home alive.
The stone for the stone carvings we bought also came from Java, as does most of the raw wood for new furniture and such. It makes me fear for Java. I imagine a big hole in the ground or a lot of old fancy palaces being looted and disassembled.
We were sorely tempted to buy woodcarvings. The variety (and repetition) is staggering, as is the average skill involved. Today I was very tempted by a big wooden bench carved in the shape of the bottom of a foot, with the pedastal the ankle flaring out. About 5 feet wide. Simple and silly, but beautifully done and very comfortable to sit on! It's still tempting, but where does that wood come from? There were beautiful statues of graceful women, and mermaids and buddhas by the millions. The most stunning and over the top work still within reach, maybe one or two million rp.
I am a total hypocrite though, because I gave in to temptation and bought some drums. Oh well. Not too many. They are very well made, beautifully carved, have wonderful tone and were shockingly cheap. So what if they came from the very last truffula tree? I'm hoping to sell them, and the didjeridoos too.
We also bought some golden buddhas from a big shop that sold pretty much just golden buddhas. But they were made out of fast growing palm wood. Not too nasty.
We got alot of other junk too. Mostly as gifts or for our selves, but I got some things to try my hand at selling. We got Krista 12 handcarved frames for new paintings (I think we'll have to build the canvases to fit them). They were in a big warehousey place and most of them seemed old--not like fake old antiqued, but like old, covered with dirt and grime! All different and amazing and very cheap! Just dirty.
We saw alot of cats, but there is a very healthy level of creativity surging through the 10 miles of shops. My early pessimistic report was exaggerated. It was actually fun and inspiring doing this and it made a few vendor's days I think. And almost no haggling. Business price. That's it.
Tomorrow I'm hoping we'll have the sarong deal nailed down. As much as we've come to love this place and all the familiar faces, we want to spend the last few days basking by the sea in a place we've heard about called Dream Land down by Ulu Watu. We're just a little apprehensive about freezing in the New Zealand rain.
In the meantime life is pretty good.
PS One of the wonderful things about being here is the lack of George W Bush. Never see his smirking face and never hear his name. Even in the newspaper there is little about the US. Refreshing to say the least. And that reminds me, I don't know how things are going back home, but we'd like the bastard out of office by the time we get back, June 9. Please.
love and hugs

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Oh lord, stuck in Ubud, again...

I've been very ill, laying in bed, sweating like a pig with a fever and drifting in and out of delirium. Also covered with an astonishing rash. I'm up today, feeling fragile and ghostlike. I volunteered to come down here to get some copies made. While I was down Krista finished the drawings for our four new sarong designs. They look superb and she wanted copies to be able to play with the colors. So far we haven't seen any of the samples we ordered, but we have high hopes of getting a bunch of these done for the Oregon Country Fair.
Last night our woodcarver came by and showed us the first Mother Tree. It looked great! He took it back to stain it. He also brought us two presents he'd carved and asked if we wanted to buy two other things--plaques with hooks for hanging coats. It was a little awkward, he speaks very very little english. Since he only wanted 45,ooorp for them we just went ahead and bought them. He obviously feels that we're important patrons and hopes we'll keep ordering from him. I think this Mother Tree order was a tremendous boon for him. He's such a shy and sweet person, as was the friend who came with him. Despite the awkwardness of conducting business with so few words it was probably the high point of my delirious day.
A few days earlier, Krista and the girls went on a little shopping spree at a little stand on our alley. Ayu is the owner and I have to say, as nice as she is, she's a tough bargainer. I think they paid way too much for all the stuff they got! But very beautiful sarongs and clothes. I noticed that the next two days Ayu's shop was closed--I think that one sale made her week (or month) and she closed up to go party down.
Yesterday Krista went next door to Ayu's--a tiny little grocery, to get me water. The owner really wanted to talk about our kids, and her own kids. She has a 16 year old daughter who's an accomplished dancer and goes all over the place (she showed Krista her photo album! every page). At the end she gave Krista a bag of fruit for free! Krista says alot of the shop keepers greet her now with "hello mama!" relating to her as a mother I guess. It's true there aren't that many farang kids around. And Eden has taken to wearing a Balinese costume! Which gets her lots of amused and appreciative looks or comments. Of course she never responds. Everyone must think our kids are totally psycho. Which maybe they are.
It's actually been great staying put for a few weeks. There's a true comfort in familiarity. Today we decided to extend our stay in Bali. They next flight open was the 19th--a full extra week. I think we'll use the time to try our hands at importing. Cats anyone?
And we want to see a little more of the country before we go. A friend says she stays down at Ulu Watu on the ocean when she's not in Ubud. I think we'll go there for a few days.
One of the strange and wonderful things about eating out in Bali (and Thailand too for that matter), they never bring you your bill until you ask for it. They'll clear away the dishes and all. But never ever ever bring the bill. We usually hold up our hand flat, and mime writing with the other hand--we think this must be a universal sign language for 'check please'. The result is that we've slowly accoustomed ourselves to long leisurely meals. Really nice.
Another weird thing here is the garbage. People are continually sweeping sweeping sweeping with little homemade wisk brooms and plastic dustpans. So on one hand it's rather clean most places. On the other, every waterway (and there are canals, ditches, paddys and creeks or rivers all over) has garbage! And along our alley and the edges of our rice paddy. Garbage. It seems so incongruous. Especially since the Balinese people tend to be immaculate, clean, manicured, pressed clothes and all. And since people work hard for almost nothing, it seems like it would cost the community very little to get it all picked up. So why is it there?
Our driver Nyoman told us that almost all the buildings we see in Ubud are new--like 5 or 10 years old. 10 years ago it was all rice paddys. This totally blew our minds. The whole damn town is that new? Well, that makes me think maybe the garbage is new too. Here in Ubud at least. The Balinese tend to use leaves for their plates and wrappings. Still. All this plastic wrapping must have come in with the tourists. That's my theory anyway. I remember when I was little there were big campaigns in the US to get people to stop littering. Remember the Native American dude with the tear running down his cheek? We've got to pitch clean up America? I think the Balinese consciousness hasn't assimilated plastic trash yet. And frankly, I don't know if or where they actually have a landfill. Ugh. But if I were staying for a few months, I'd be sorely tempted to get the ball rolling.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Room with a view

more bali photos
Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

from our front door.

Not so sure...

more bali photos
Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Eden did NOT like this experience! A few days ago a monkey snatched the very same hat right off her head...wild kingdom.

At the Bali Bird Park

more bali photos
Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

We also saw flying foxes, a komodo dragon, birds of paradise and many other wonders!

Our dancers

more bali photos
Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

You can just make out some of the gamelon players on the side.

In the Monkey Forest

more bali photos
Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

What can I say?


bali photos
Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

A team of women have been carrying rocks out from the road, down our alley, through the grounds out to the rice paddy next door. The rocks are incredibly heavy (I carried one along with them--not on my head--which everyone found quite funny). Some of the women are old! They are all lovely and seem to almost enjoy the work. They smile at us so warmly! I think they make about 50,000rp a day.

School girls checking out Eden.

bali photos
Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

They wear a different colored uniform each day of the week. They are all so sweet! I think we look really strange to them. The babies are always astonished when they see us farang.

Rice Terraces and Eden

bali photos
Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

While Krista was taking this picture, I was being mobbed by vendors trying to sell me carvings. These terraces have been here a very long time!

Our wood carver's work

bali photos
Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Some work by the fellow who will be carving "Mother Tree" for us!

Our front porch

bali photos
Originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

I'm looking a bit skinny!

Life is (mostly) good.

We had a wonderful time last night. We bought tickets to a gamelon/dance performance from a street vendor--he told us it was a special women-only performance and many of the dancers children as young as 8! It was in a different venue than the first one we went to with Joyce. Turns out it was at an actual palace! We walked around a gate and there was a long path through a huge lily pond, dramatically lit with torches and lots of statuary shooting out water into the pond. Ahead was a fairy like temple scene, lit up but also dark with shadows--in the classic Bali orange brick with gray carvings all around. The gamelons (which are themselves stunningly beautiful, all gold and red with carvings galore) were laid out in the courtyard. There was only one other person sitting in the small set of chairs for the audience. We sat down just as it started sprinkling. After a few minutes a fellow came out and said they were going to move the whole show into a covered pavillion next to the palace. We walked over and ended up with front row center seats in this rather small space. The gamelon set up on both sides, the dancers practically in our laps. I was a bit nervous about the close space. The last show had been so incredibly loud it hurt. I was the only one with earplugs, but it turned out that the women played softer somehow. I actually enjoyed the music, rather than endured it.
There were about 28 women in the orchestra, mostly older women. It was wonderful having such a bird's eye view of them playing. Very intimate.
The dancers were just great. Some of them seemed to be maybe 9 years old! But they were sophisticated dancers. We enjoyed every minute of the whole shebang, and it went on for almost two hours. Being front row center in such a tiny venue meant the dancers were CLOSE and that meant lots of eye contact. And they do all kinds of weird eye movements as part of the dance. It was a bit intense at times! India was next to me and was almost freaked out a few times. It was a real high point for all of us.
After the show we went across the street to a resturaunt we hadn't tried yet. Turned out to be fabulous gourmet food with an extensive menu. We had a wonderful dinner and walked home in the rain, happy as could be. Given that I had had a great massage in the afternoon, and had actually bought a beautiful shirt for myself (from a guy named Loopy!), it was my favorite day in Bai so far.
Today was the bird park..I posted a few photos. I took the girls so Krista could get some design work done. We had such a great time, despite the pouring rain when we got there. We got to see (along with many many wonders) fruit bats, or flying foxes as they're called, in a huge aviary. They were quite active, chowing down on fruit and flying about. They are really big! The kids had to drag me away from that one.
We also got to see a real live Komodo dragon lizard. We were admiring him when his Balinese keeper showed up and started telling us about him. I've always heard how these lizards are really nasty, and very dangerous (which they are). But the keeper jumped into the enclosure with him and walked right up and started stroking him. We were freaked! He told us he's been taking care of the fellow for 8 years. The lizards eyes closed as his head was stroked. The keeper thumped him like a drum and massaged him and finally dragged him by his tail--this is a creature about 8 feet long! He told us the lizard likes when he pulls loose skin off him and he pulled off a little flake and handed it to us! What a trip. An exotic souvenier for sure.
Krista's designing is going well. We are hoping to make cheap sarongs for the Oregon Country Fair (to sell after hours). And maybe some fine silk wall hangings to boot.
We are talking about the possibility of extending our stay in Bali an extra 5 days or so. To get some work done and some sightseeing. Seems like it took almost two weeks just to settle in. I hate to take time away from NZ though.
It's interesting to meet Americans who come to Bali for extended stays. One can live very cheaply in the most beautiful settings and engage the talents of some of the finest craftspeople in the world (who are very grateful to get the work!), in order to get clothes or jewelry made, etc. Go back home and sell the stuff...
There's more to write, but it's late and a long walk back...
hope you are all well back home,

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

News from the Lotus Eaters

One of the things that facinates me here is the driving. The roads are narrow and crowded with cars, motorscooters, bikes, kids, old folks, dogs, people pushing carts. There are very few traffic lights. It seems that each light has a little hut to go with it, on the side of the road, with police there. Our driver explained that the police are needed because the lights cause confusion.
I think that the Oriental mind, in general, is less focused on individuality. There's more of a collective consciouness here, and in Thailand, and this enables drivers to negotiate traffic situations that would leave most Westerners cringing or diving for cover. Just turning right across oncoming traffic--our driver will just start to go and the people oncoming have to slow or even stop. There's a hierarchy of some kind, I'm guessing, that allows the judgement of when to go or wait. Unfathomable to me.
I think it would be hilarious to organize a tour for retired California Highway Patrol Officers. They'd just have a fit.
The downside is that I haven't had the guts, or lapse of reason, to rent a scooter here. This means relying on drivers, which means we aren't as able to explore the countryside.
Yesterday our driver took us for a long ride out of Ubud up to a village Telang Legong. It's about 10 miles or so and 80% of it was packed with little or big shops fronting 'factories' making mostly woodcarvings. Out of soft wood. The damned cats, etc. . But also everything else in the world. Therer was furniture, and bamboo stuff, and some ceramic, musical instruments, glittery mosaic mirrors, huge gold painted buddhas, handcarved picture frames. It was truly astounding.
We were on a mission of sorts. There is a style of carving, essentially bas relief, often to a depth of 3 or 4 inches. I'm talking flat panels anywhere from 8 x 10 inches to 2 by 3 feet, or even whole split doors. The carvings are highly skilled and beautiful. I had the idea of getting one of Krista's paintings carved into a panel--Mother Tree (see We passed by alot of cats and other 3-d statuary. Finally we saw some of this style and stopped. There were some truly phenomenal works out front. Extremely elaborate, with every leaf, bat, elephant or mountain peak in stunning detail. We explained to the young carver what we were after. We ended up ordering 5, and rather smaller than we wanted. He's supposed to bring a sample by in 4 days. 100,000rp each. It was inspiring and frustrating at the same time. We are confident in his abilities, but we aren't sure how clear the translation was. We're not sure what we'll end up with.
Today we met with a second Batik factory owner. She and her husband picked us up at the Tutmak, our favorite breakfast place, and wisked us off to their place. Our friend Bryon had reccomended her and we decided to have several samples made. We had already orderd 6 samples from another guy in town.
Krista really loves the silk. They are able to do subtle shadings and really fine lines. Neither of us really wanted to just have the old images done up, but that's pretty much what we did for the samples. She did crank out one new design, based on our old sticker Fairy Queen.
We're still gathering information. I'm hoping we can come up with a new product to jump start our poor tired old business.
Otherwise we have been really lazy. Or really resting. I can't remember if I've written much about our home away from home. It's very very nice. We have a big wide porch and got a lovely hammock hung up to swing in. The pool, with it's lovely statuary and plantings is right there in our front yard, with rice paddies along side and beyond. The bathroom is well above average for Bali--it has a big tub so the floor stays pretty dry. The walls and high ceiling are woven bamboo. We've got big beds and pretty furniture. It's awesome. We're spending about $18 a night, laying about reading or swimming or short jaunts about town. This has been our beautiful nest whilst recovering from Bali Belly and sinking into the pace here.
We've learned how to bargain, how to get a ride and good places to eat, fancy and funky alike. We've sat out on the alley way (to our guesthouse) talking and playing guitar with some local guys who work in this funky art studio. They make huge ugly abstract paintings that must get sold somewhere. They seem to be dirt poor and all have big friendly smiles. They got me to sing Hotel California while one played it on the guitar, using a cut off piece of plastic for a pick.
One of the guys climbed a little tree across the alley, picked some green nuts and came back to rub them on his feet. They seemed to have some sort of sap or juice. trippy.
The evil goat frogs are around, but far enough away that they don't keep me up. Unlike the damned Finns. One reason we moved was to get away from them--they were right next door and like to stay up very late chainsmoking and talking. They drink a lot of beer. Last night they were up all hours and it kept waking us up. Oh well. They seem like nice folks otherwise, but I tend to wake up about 7am no matter how little sleep I get. I've been restraining this urge to go over and sing Waltzing Matilda very loud outside their windows. Wake Up!
Tonight we are going to a tourist's temple dance and gamelon--an all women gamelon! And a lot of the dancers are kids (as young as 7). I'm hoping Eden will love it. We're bringing earplugs! Gamelon is LOUD.
love and hugs