Text 16 Jun

themidnightcall asked: Hey I was looking through lovina tags and came across your entry I'm heading to Bali soon, it's my third trip there and I was thinking of staying at lovina Was wondering how's lovina and the beach? Is it worth the stay there or should I head to other beach hotels in the island instead? Thanks in advance! (:

hi, thanks for the question. i was disappointed with the beach at lovina: there was a lot of trash along the sand, and the beach was narrow so you wouldn’t really have much room to lie out and relax. i ended up going instead to one of the hotels in town and paying a few bucks so i could swim in their pool during the day. i think lovina is probably better for doing treks inland to the nearby mountains.

the beach at amed was a little better, and i liked the snorkeling there quite a bit with the interesting corals (although watch out for the jellyfish!).

lmk if you have other questions…

-isaac

Video 18 Feb

Seoul, South Korea

Text 18 Feb 3 notes Seoul: chilly last stop

From Hong Kong I began the trip back to San Francisco, but my itinerary afforded me one final stop along the way, a 23-hour layover in Seoul. Korea was one country I was most interested in visiting all along, so I hoped to get at least a little taste of it, and hopefully fuel my desire to return.

My flight landed at Incheon without incident, and I proceeded efficiently through immigration, but it was a bit of a shock to step outside into full-on winter weather - less than a week ago I was soaking up sunshine in Bali, and now I was bundled up against snow flurries.

From the airport I caught the “limo bus” into the city where I met up with my friend Karen, who used to live in SF but now works and lives in Seoul, and who graciously agreed to host me during my quick visit. From our rendezvous point we rolled over to Hongdae, which featured a lot of restaurants and cafes and had a very young, energetic vibe. Karen picked out a Korean restaurant she knew, and although the place was pretty busy we managed to get a table after only a brief wait. (There were several large parties apparently engaged in so-called “team dinners”, where business colleagues go out together to eat a little, drink a lot, and generally blow off steam.) One Karen’s friends joined us for dinner, which was easily the most sophisticated and elegant version of Korean BBQ I’ve ever had: a long platter of mixed proteins to grill, a plate of beef tartar with raw egg, side dishes of traditional kimchi, and another long platter of brilliant green lettuce to wrap it all up. So good.

Just as we finished the meal, another friend, Carol, joined us (like Karen, I knew Carol from when she lived in SF, but now she too lives in Seoul), and the four of us set off in search of dessert and coffee. We popped into Baskin Robbins where I hoped to get some Gold Medal Ribbon, and I think I frightened the kid working there with the intensity with which I asked for it. Sadly, they were sold out, so I had to settle for something else. From there we wandered a while and then found a cute place for coffee - apparently, the Koreans love to pass time in cafes - and we sat and talked until closing.

I had a few hours the next morning before my flight to check out a bit more of the city, so I hopped on the metro and try at least a few things. My first stop was Gangnam for an obligatory photo, then went all the way to the Olympic Park to have a look at the facilities (gotta give the nod to the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube). Finally I headed north toward some of palaces, but unfortunately it was so damn cold that I only stopped long enough to take a photo or two before getting back inside as quickly as possible. A few hours later I was at the airport, set to fly home and end the incredible journey…

Video 14 Feb

Hong Kong

Text 13 Feb 1 note Hong Kong: what was, and what could have been

I first traveled to Hong Kong in June of 1999 with my friend Wu, and I still have this vivid memory of walking to the Kowloon waterfront on our first morning there and being absolutely blown away by the incredible energy and activity of the place: countless barges and ferries crisscrossing the water with the dense forest of skyscrapers looming in the background. I was eager to return on this trip and hoped for an equally invigorating experience.

I started my first full day with a dim sum breakfast, then headed to Victoria Park, which was pretty nice but not that busy considering it was Saturday morning. I managed to find a busy roasted duck restaurant in the surrounding neighborhood, so I grabbed a plate to go and headed up to the Peak to take in the amazing view and enjoy a little picnic lunch. Once I was back down in Central, I navigated the MTR system out to Sha Tin for the last few horse races of the day. As a nod to Etu, I was tempted to bet “Pure Champion” in the 9th who went off with good value at 15-1, but in the end I wimped out; of course he won. Doh.

On day two I met up with this girl Hailie, who I met for the first time riding the shuttle bus at the Panda Research Base in Chengdu, and who I ran into a second time at my hostel in Emei Shan (she lives in HK and was herself traveling to those locations when I met her). Together we made a day trip out to Lamma Island for some hiking and food sampling - sweet tofu jelly and tofu cheesecake, anyone? - joined by three of her friends and her small doggie. I had a great time exploring the island, and I thank Hailie and her friends for taking the time to hang out with me!

That night I rendezvoused with Elizabeth, my CS host for my last two nights in HK. She lived toward the far west of HK island, so she took me on a little walking tour of her neighborhood and then we ducked into a small restaurant for dinner. After dinner we walked a bit more, passing a bar along the way that advertised it was showing the Super Bowl the next morning. I checked with the bartender, who assured me they were showing the game and already lots of people had expressed interest in coming. Showing the game, lots of people, close to Elizabeth’s place: perfect.

Well, I was there at 7am when the bar opened, joined by…exactly one other dude. By kickoff there were about five of us. Ok, maybe not the raucous Super Bowl experience I expected, but at least I got to see the Niners play. But the result of the game…not cool. Afterwards I popped over to the Kowloon side to explore some of the noteworthy streets and markets, such as the Flower Market, the Bird Market, the Mong Kok area, and TST.

In all HK was an exciting stop, and like Singapore, one place I could envision myself living abroad. From here, just one more stop before heading home!

Video 11 Feb

Bali, Indonesia

Text 10 Feb 1 note Bali: wet, but not that wild

The owner of my guesthouse in Jogja suggested I head first to the quieter northern section of Bali instead of the much more heavily touristed Denpasar/Kuta area. I didn’t really know much about either place, so I just took his advice and hoped his advice was sound.

So after my narrow escape from Bromo and an overnight bus ride later, I wound up in the sleepy town of Lovina. The main road running through the city served as a major east-west axis; from there smaller streets with hotels and restaurants splintered north to the beach, while the south side featured plots of farmland stretching away toward a distant mountain.

Once I was settled and took a few hours to rest, I headed straight for the beach, but what I found was a big disappointment: a narrow strip of rocky black sand, littered with a wide assortment of trash. Needless to say, it wasn’t appetizing at all, so instead of hanging out by the ocean I found a hotel with a pool and relaxed there - thanks to the nice girl at the public library that agreed to lend me a book for the day!

Since Lovina wasn’t offering much, I was packed early the next day and off by minivan to the village of Amed, tucked into the far eastern side of Bali and reputed to feature excellent snorkeling. Although I got some afternoon rain (which was frequent during my entire visit to Indonesia), there was enough of a window to see if the marine life was really all that. I put on my gear and headed straight out from the hotel, then gradually worked to my to the right toward the area known as Jemeluk. The clarity was good, the coral was some of the best I’ve seen in years, and the fishies were abundant and delightfully colorful. I also happened upon two squids, who wriggled their bodies at me furiously and kept wary eyes on my every movement: if I got a little closer to them, they would glide slowly backwards to maintain an acceptable distance. Overall it was a really good snorkeling experience.

At the same time, other aspects of traveling in Indonesia were wearing me out: having people asking me where I was from and whether I needed a ride or a tour all the time, the exercise of arranging transportation to every new place and then arriving and having to find a place to stay, and the feeling of being soaking wet all the time from the heat and humidity. I also felt like I was spinning my wheels at that stage in my travel; it was in Amed that I made the decision to come home.

I did make one final stop in Bali, near the notorious Kuta area. I was expecting it to be dirty and sleazy (maybe sort of like my worst fears about Bangkok), but I really didn’t get that vibe. The beach was wide and predominantly clean, with many surfers in the water even though the waves were pretty puny. If I had arrived there at a different stage of my trip, I would have liked to test those waves a little…

Video 31 Jan

Bromo, Indonesia (Bromo Crater)

Video 31 Jan

Bromo, Indonesia (Bromo “Viewpoint”)

Text 31 Jan 1 note Bromo, Indonesia: crater through the mist

I debated a few different escape plans from Jogja, and I was close to forging my own way by train to the town of Solo. But in the end I went for the easiest and most economical option, a package minibus tour that would provide transport to, lodging at, and transport from the next major destination on my route, the volcanic area known as Bromo.

I wound up sharing the ride to the mountains with two young French girls traveling together and a pair of Dutch cousins, Eddy and Dion. All of them were quite friendly, and the Dutch guys in particular were a lot of fun. We left Jogja around 8:30am, and even though our driver was weaving in and out of oncoming traffic like an absolute maniac, we didn’t arrive at our guesthouse partway up the mountain until around 7:30pm, well after dark. We’d have to wait until morning to get a look at the much-hyped landscape.

In order to get up to the viewpoint for the sunrise, the wake up call came at 3:30am, but we rallied rather easily and piled into our waiting jeep at 4 for the next-to-last ascent; the final push came on foot (or you could hire a pony to carry you most of the way). By 5am we were in position, joined by many others there to witness the event, the vast majority of whom were Indonesian tourists.

Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get a singular “Ah!” moment when the sun broke the horizon because a thick patch of fog hovered right where we needed to look. Still, as the sky gradually illuminated, the steaming Bromo crater emerged in the distance below us…only to disappear behind a blanket of fog five minutes later…only to reemerge again! After maybe thirty or forty minutes, the sun finally cleared the layer of fog, and we got some dramatic photos at last.

After an hour we hoofed it back to the jeep and then motored over to the base of the crater, where we climbed a steep flight of steps to the rim. There was a large crowd of tourists right at the top of the steps, but very few just a bit to the side, so I walked about a quarter of the way around with the Dutch kids. It was pretty cool to stare into the mouth of a steaming volcano.

When we made it back to base, the others soon departed for Denpasar on Bali. I had a slightly different plan, so I waited behind for a later bus…which turned out to be full. Then I thought I had an alternate means to get down…which was a bust. In the end I got a twilight ride by motorbike down the mountain (on bad roads after heavy rains, a definite test of nerves), then sat in the nighttime drizzle with a friendly goblin of a man smoking an enormous self-rolled cigarette for some mysterious bus to arrive and carry me away to Bali. Said bus did turn up, amazingly, and off I went.

In all, the Bromo trip was really good, both for the scenery and the company. Thanks to Eddy, Dion, and Barbara for the laughs, to the Canadian couple and Swiss guy who passed the time with me waiting for the ride that never came, and especially to the clerk at Yoschi’s Guesthouse who helped me so much in making arrangements to get off the mountain.

(Yoschi’s is a nice little place - yay for Yoschi’s!)


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