Motorbiking Two Up in North India: Day One, Chandigarh to Shimla

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Setting off from Chandigarh for the first day of our much anticipated journey…

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…to Shimla, Queen of the Hills.  A well known hill station at 7,400 ft., gateway to our Himalayan ride.

img_7073I’ve been daydreaming of this day for several months since Lacy and I made the decision to travel to India this summer. This is the day that we set out on one of the worlds most challenging and epic motorcycle rides and are doing it the way it was done in the 1950s, 60s and still today onboard a Royal Enfield single cylinder motorcycle. The basic Royal Enfield Bullet model design hasn’t really changed all that much in the last 70 years. Their slogan is “Built like a gun” but is a more like “Built like a tank”. Ours is a 500cc version in Desert Sand with a huge headlight, oversized gas tank and big canvas soft saddle bags that looks like it drove right out of a General Patton or Desert Fox newsreel. It is loud, vibrates the mirrors off the handlebars and shakes your bones to the core. The steering is slow and heavy like driving a bus with no hint of modern geometry or balance. The riders seat is hard as a rock and still uses springs underneath to “cushion” your backside. The engine cranks out just 27 horsepower but with 41 pound feet of torque you feel like it could pull a boxcar if that was something you ever needed to do. This big thumper will be our ride for the next 30-45 or maybe 60 days to come. Our minimalist belongings just fit into the saddlebags and a small daypack that Lacy wears while navigating from the square postage stamp sized pillion seat. Today was Day 1 as we set out from Chandigarh into the foothills and toward the Himalayas of Northern India.

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Cows on the highway..?…of course!

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Rob loves these decorated Tata trucks

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Our ride and route could take us up to 2 months, will cover 2 major loops through the Himalayan mountains, several one-way side trips to barely reachable alpine lakes, mountaintop temples, over several of the highest motor-able mountain passes in the world over 18,000 ft, into war-torn Kashmir and back.

Royal India Bikes has rented us our bike on a somewhat open ended calendar and Rajiv and his team have helped us plan our base route. The rest will be up to us, the wind and the weather. As of now, May 14th, most of the roads we will travel are open but several are still snowbound. Hopefully the snow and ice can be cleared and will be ready for us to cross when we reach that area of the mountains. Many of the roads we will ride are only open for a short period of time each year due to the heavy and unpredictable snow at these elevations.

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The rain and clouds started to clear revealing the foothills – finally!

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Cotton candy is just one of many unlikely items we saw being sold on the side of the highway on our way north

It took us less than an hour to begin to gain altitude out of Chandigarh. Slowly but surely we began the climb out of the haze and into clearer cooler air. I’ve tried to get to know the balance of the bike as quick as possible to make us nimble as we can get to dodge some seriously crazy traffic and road conditions we will encounter. We sure got a preview of things to come right from the start. Riding a motorcycle in India is similar to other parts of Asia. It’s challenging, dangerous and you have to be on high alert at all times. It’s also very rewarding with sights, thrills and views unlike anything else in the world. In certain areas massive trucks rule the road, literally moving any vehicle weighing less than 47 tons out of their way. Busses packed with people, goods and animals can be exceptionally aggressive by passing on blind corners or even each other on roads not quite wide enough for 2 cars much less a bus and a truck at the same time. We weave in and around cars to either side trying to be safe but not too conservative or we risk being trampled from behind. As we reach the mountain roads, livestock of all types, monkeys, slower bikes, people and major potholes begin to be an issue in addition to everything else.

We were just settling into a rhythm of twists and turns, Lacy helping me with call outs for directions, turns, hairpins and the occasional warning for a cow when it began to rain and rain hard. We took a short break to see if it would pass but it didn’t so we geared up with rain jackets and set back out. The sudden downpour turned the road into a muddy river in places and an oily obstacle course in others. We plowed forward as fast as we dared, barely able to see through my rain covered 1/2 visor as the pelting rain stung the lower part of my face. The road was undergoing major construction so we went from well paved surface to mud, dirt and rocks every 1 or 2 klicks. Back and forth and back again and again.

Fortunately after about an hour of solid rain we passed over a ridge to much drier roads. We stopped to top off the petrol tank and inspect a horrible noise coming from below. The wet roads, big puddles and rain had stripped the chain of any and all lube so it was grinding against itself and the sprockets terribly. The gas station was no help so we drove on to find a motorcycle shop where we could buy a spray can of chain oil. We soon came across a big sign for “Rider’s Cafe”. It was just the thing we and the bike needed. Rishi (REE-She) Dhiman has set up a great little motorcycle themed cafe on the twisty roads heading into Shimla. While he lubed up the dry chain and brought it back to life, his Chef Mom, made us some rich Masala Chai (Tea). He is a former Royal Enfield employee and was eager to help us with the bike, a chat, further advice, encouragement and guidance for our trip. Every biker en route to or from the Chandigarh side of Shimla should stop in for a break and to check in with Rishi. You will be glad you did.

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This cafe was a wonderful unexpected stop for the day.  All the photos and memorabilia related to the journey ahead made us very excited!

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Rob and Rishi 

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The sun began to lower in the sky as we pulled into Shimla, our destination for the day.

After experiencing the cafe, getting a bolster of excitement and leaving the hardest rain behind us, we were feeling pretty good about our last hour or so that it would take us to get to Shimla. 5 minutes later we hit what every rider fears on these roads. It wasn’t just a truck passing another on a curve right into you but worse. A big Mahindra 4×4 Jeep suddenly swerved from the other side of the road straight across into our path. As a pretty experienced rider your reaction time to avoid an incident is usually a faster and more instinctive feeling than slamming on the brakes like you would in a car. Our chance to react was less than a blink. I was somehow able to get some brakes on and manage a little jog toward the center of the road. The Jeep jogged a little further to our outside and passed us on the left as the oncoming row of traffic streamed along our right side allowing us to thread the needle in between. (You drive on the left side of the road in India) It was actually over before either one of us could breathe or say anything. A lightning chill came and went from my stomach in a flash. A few WTFs and a few more WTFs from each of us later, I shifted back into a lower gear and simply kept going.

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Arriving in Shimla just in time for sunset and chai (tea).

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Mall Road is literally a breath of fresh air as the only vehicles allowed are for ambulance and police.  Shimla is covered in beautiful pine trees that make the surrounding hill views all the more lovely.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe approached Shimla from the opposite side of the valley and could see a much bigger city than either of us had imagined clambering all across the steep mountain ridge across from us. The road became very narrow and traffic was at a crawl as we inched our way around the ridge road and pulled up a crazy steep and narrow 4 foot wide rocky path “road” to our hotel wedged on the side of the mountain with 400 others all competing for ground space and our Rupees. I guess I’ll have to explain tomorrow how I (if I) was able to get the lumbering Royal Enfield back down that embankment.

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Our motorcycle attire always includes a bandana around the face when we take long rides like this in Asia.  One needs a barrier between your face and the car fumes and dust. 

We checked in our room just in time to get a small pot of Masala Milk Tea and watch the sun set into the hills. I was still pretty wet on the inside so a long hot shower later I put on my favorite warm flannel shirt Lacy encouraged to bring along with us and sat down with my brave, beautiful and adventurous wife to some spicy Veggie Mo-Mos (dumplings) and hot Mushroom Masala with Naan.

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All smiles after day one 

What a day! Day 1 successfully conquered and what a hell of an introductory day it was. I can’t wait until tomorrow!

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After a pretty nasty bout of food poisoning our first night in Shimla I only dared a samosa, softy ice cream and piece of roti the next day until my stomach was back to normal. Thankfully it only took a day!

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Rob loved seeing these Ambassador cars cruising around Shimla 

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Rob and Giz get a fresh squeezed sugarcane juice in the Lower Bazaar area of Shimla

A two day deep dive into Delhi

Lacy: Finishing up this post to publish I am keenly aware of how long it is even though it only covers our first two days in India.  We went in head first and with all five senses as we began to acclimate ourselves to this country.  Currently we are out of Delhi, in Shimla, and I am recovering from a bout of food sickness that was the worst I have ever experienced.  I have no idea which delicious bite was the one of poison or in what city I had it, but I know I’m digging back into this country’s food scene as soon as my stomach is on the mend.  I hope you enjoy reading about our initial impressions of India.  We had a lot to say and still didn’t quite get everything written down.  Namaste.  

Lacy: Breakfast on the beach in Indonesia, lunch in the air over Malaysia & dinner in the wild and crazy streets of Delhi, India. That was Friday, May 10th as we made the day’s journey and 2 flights to reach our next destination. We were both more anxious to arrive in India than we had been any other country we have previously traveled together. Was it all the hype in everything we read about how overwhelming Delhi can be with the millions of people, traffic jetting around in all directions, pollution, scams and fear of Delhi Belly? Somewhat, yeah, it was. As we hit our bumpy landing we could already tell that the sky looked hazy and polluted. We we were both nervous, excited and braced for impact. I was fully prepared to have to deal with a million cab drivers approaching us trying to shuttle us off into their unregulated rides, deter scams and make our way to a prepaid taxi which I had read was the best option to pay a fair price to get to our hotel, but was surprised when only a handful asked us. Having researched what the rate should be we walked straight past them to a taxi stand and agreed on the $10 fare for the 45 minute ride. It was 8pm and already dark as we drove off to Pharganj, a known backpacker area. Staring out the window the entire ride we began to make some assumptions. It wasn’t difficult to tell that the traffic is bonkers here. More than anywhere else we have seen. Motorized tuk tuks, cars, motorcycles, scooters carrying families of four, pedestrians on highways, bicycles, makeshift vehicles selling food and more all pushing through each other to get to their destination. Horns blaring and dust flying in the wind. It took under three minutes for me to decide their was no way I would be getting on a motorcycle here in Delhi. Not that we planned to get a bike here as our explicit intention is to take a train Monday morning to Chandigarh and pick one up, but nonetheless, the decision was cemented in my brain. This was similar to how I felt in Kathmandu. No bikes for me. Pulling up into the bustling street scene of Pharganj just before 9pm we checked into our second floor room that somewhat isolated us from the sounds of honking below us before entering the evening street scene to have our first Indian meal.

Our first Indian meal…

…one garlic naan, one paneer stuffed naan, chickpea curry, spicy pickled achar and fresh red onions.  I’m in heaven because everything you order seems to come with fresh red onions which is one of my favorite foods!

Exiting our hotel to Main Bazaar street we were in the thick of it. Immediately to our right were two lassi stands and that was our first stop. I love lassis and mangos are in season so two mango lassis were ordered on the street to begin our Indian culinary adventure. How do I even explain how unique these are? Sitting on top of the lassis cart, out in the wide open, is a stainless steel bowl two feet across filled with yogurt. No cover. No ice. An old school metal scale is used to measure out the right amount of yogurt to add to the oldest blender I have ever laid eyes on. Sugar and freshly cut mango are then ground by hand and along with ice from a nearby cooler are added. Rob and I looked on in amazement. The lassis were poured into tin cups, topped with the skin of the yogurt from the open dish, and handed our way. We enjoyed them near the stand while watching the person at the teeny tiny restaurant next to us make fresh naan bread in a blazing hot tandoori oven. After returning our tin cups we took a step inside the restaurant and enjoyed our first meal of stuffed naans & dal curry. That was all we needed before returning to our room and sleeping hard after a day of travel.

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Lassi stand near our hotel and the restaurant we had our naan dinner in directly next to it. Mango lassis here are popular all the year, but especially now as mangos are perfectly ripe and in season. To take your first gulp of one made in tin cups from a bowl of fresh yogurt that has been sitting in the sun and dust for hours, made with questionable water, ice, hand pulled mango and blended by a 50+ year old mixer that may have been cleaned 100 cups ago is a leap of faith but very rewarding.

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The view from our balcony onto Main Bazaar St.

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Evening scene on Main Bazaar St.

I’ll preface this next part about our first day in Delhi by saying it was one crazy insane day where we saw just how wild Delhi is and we LOVED it. It’s as if all of our travels together had prepared us to appreciate this city without being overwhelmed, intimidated or turned off by many aspects that many may view as unseemly. We met many locals who told us they thought their own city is crazy and naturally we agreed. There is no denying it. With over 20 million people in Delhi and traffic, livestock, noise, trash, and vendors to match there is never a dull moment. This could easily be a lot to handle for many first time travelers, but we are not. Nepal seems to be the place that Delhi reminds us of most, except that this is Kathmandu on steroids. I wondered if I would suffer hearing loss from the sheer decibel of ceaseless traffic noise. My throat was already hurting me a bit as we sat in the Airtel office first thing to get new Indian SIM cards for our phones. I was prepared for this as I know the pollution affects me this way in Kathmandu. I grabbed a cough drop I had prepared in our backpack, soothed my throat, and knew I would be fine. The air is hazy here and clearly not the cleanest, but how could it be with so many diesel vehicles zipping around endlessly nearly missing one accident after another. We arrived in Delhi with an overall outline for our time for India, but virtually no detailed plan for our stay in this country. We have a hotel booked for our first three nights before taking a train to Chandigarh and a general timeframe in which to pick up our Royal Enfield motorcycle rental. Other than that we are making all arrangements as needed, letting the wind (or dust as it may be) blow us where it may as we interact with people we meet and get boots on the ground ideas of what to do next. Living in the moment has served us well on all of our travels. Our first day was no different and a testament to how well having no plan can be.

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Some of the vehicles you will see on the road along with those that are motorized, pedestrians, livestock and so much more.

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A brahma pulling a cart down the road is a completely normal sight on the streets of Delhi

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Me and Pappuji after a great day cruising through Delhi in his rickshaw.

Pappu. Oh, Pappu. This is the name of our beloved motorized rickshaw driver who we became friends with and who opened our eyes and hearts to Delhi, made us laugh and kept us safe on the roads (I can’t emphasize enough what a task that seems to be). After finishing a couple coffees at the hotel Rob and I were wandering down our street looking at the shops before enlisting the help of a rickshaw to take us from Pharganj to the Red Fort. Pappu pulled up at that time and told us our idea was flawed when we mentioned where we wanted to go. “Too hot in the middle of the day for the fort, but how about the Laksmi Temple?” Sure. It had not been since Cambodia last year that we had been shuttled around in a rickshaw and we had ear to ear grins on our faces. We absolutely adore these little vehicles. It is just enough shade to keep us cool on what was becoming a warm day. As he began to drive we passed a temple with locals pouring out. He quickly pulled over, grabbed some free food that was festively being dispensed and told us that today was celebrating Lord Hanuman.  The food exchange took maybe ten seconds. Rob and I looked at each other and smiled. We were in for a good time today. A real local day.

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Happy as clams as we start our time in Delhi riding in a rickshaw

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Laksmi Temple

The first stop on the Pappuji (there are several similarities between Indian and Nepalese language, of which I know a bit. Adding “ji” to the end of a name is a more respectful way to address someone) tour was the Laksmi temple. We removed our shoes, locked away our phones and entered the large Hindu temple where devotees come to receive blessings of good fortune, luck and karma. There are seven Hindi gods which are each related to the seven days of the week. It’s true that we have visited many different temples from many different faiths over last few years’ travels in Asia, but we both commented that we could instantly feel the energy in this temple. It was strong as we watched the faithful receive their blessings and tikkas at various areas of the temple. To enter the temple, and our stay in India, we also received a blessing. Pappuji explained to us that the red tikkas, placed on your forehead between your eyes, are only given at the Laksmi temple and represent good luck, fortune and karma. Laksmi means money in Hindi. As we continued our tour throughout the day I definitely noticed locals checking out the tikkas on our white faces. Pappuji laid out a suggested plan on where he wanted to take us for the day and after agreeing on a price we were thrilled to be in his company whipping through the wild streets of Delhi on a three wheeled rickshaw. He had a plan, we did not, the universe put us together and we had the best day we could have imagined while experiencing the explosive city of Delhi in a way we had not even conceived of.

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Donning our tikkas at India Gate

img_1836img_1820From the temple we went to the Presidential Palace and India Gate which is a memorial for all the soldiers that served and died in the armys of the Commonwealth prior to the country’s independence in 1947. They are commemorated by an eternal flame and their names etched into the gate that resides down the street from the palace. We were a bit surprised when we had to show our passports to enter the palace area due to the ever present security from the ongoing conflict with Pakistan, but thankful we had them with us. It was getting late in the day & we asked Pappuji if could he stop somewhere for lunch where we could grab some more street food. He took us to what he called “Indian McDonalds.” It was a metal kiosk that fit four vendors side by side in the same building on the side of the highway. All four probably reside in the size of a small shipping container with a slot the size of drive thru window where the owner/operator was on the other side. In half of them this guy was sitting in the window, bare feet hanging out and waiting for the next customer. This is India, my friends. We ordered quick and easy bites of samosas and other stuffed Indian pastries along with a thimble sized cup of chai (tea) each for a grand total of $1.20.

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World Peace Gong at Birla House where Gandhi spent his last days.

After enjoying our lunch on a bench by the road we set off for the Birla House and Museum where Gandhi spent his last 144 days. We easily spent the most time here of anywhere we visited all day. Reading about the life of Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, his message, impact and lasting legacy is something that was very hard to step away from. We were deep into his his story and hadn’t even made it half way through the museum before we realized we had been in there an hour and a half and should probably meet Pappuji outside. This is one place in Delhi we vowed to return to. I want to read and learn so much more.

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The Red Fort…a very small part. This thing is massive!

It was a big day and it wasn’t over yet. Next stop – the Red Fort. A huge red sandstone fort that has passed many hands. Rob and I couldn’t help but laugh as some of the younger Indian guys asked to take a photo with me at the fort. By this time in the day I was hot, sweaty and smelly. While I declined the photo ops I told Rob I was the “Madonna of Delhi.” We got a good laugh out of that. Honestly, it could have simply been that I was a white girl with a red tikka.

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Inside the Mosque complex walls

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Jama Masjid Mosque

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Our final sightseeing destination of the day was the Jama Masjid Mosque. We arrived just as the call to prayer was being broadcast for the Ramadan evening. We have heard this call many times before in Indonesia, but until today had never visited a mosque. We paid a fee to enter as tourists, removed our shoes and put on the appropriate clothing they had available for tourists at then entrance. Once inside we watched the crowds of mostly men and boys washing their feet and preparing to pray. As it was prayer time we couldn’t enter the mosque itself and instead enjoyed the architecture of the building. Well, it was a massively full day. We loved it all and upon returning back to the rickshaw asked Pappuji to stop somewhere we could grab a beer and drop us off at our place. A little surprised, we learned that due to the beginning of election week the following day today and tomorrow were deemed dry days.  Officially NO liquor for sale. No worries, though. We were in good hands. Our good friend knew how to purchase some underground beers and tucked them in his pants before discreetly handing them off to us down the road. Did we say how great this guy has been?! We enjoyed our beers in our room as Rob rested “clubby” and recounted what an utterly superb first day in India we had. We can definitely handle Delhi.

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The tandoori spice, open grill, mint chutney and chapati bread that in this dish were so appealing to Rob he ate it two nights in a row.

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Day two was spent in the capable hands of Pappuji again. We just had such a good time with him and knew another day together would be just as good so why fight it. We began with the Lotus Temple built by the Bahá’í faith which focuses on the oneness of mankind irrespective of religion or mankind. The gorgeous lotus shaped structure was built by the donations of followers from all over the world and welcomed us both into a deep meditative state to begin our day.

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Lotus Temple

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Since many places were closed for Election Day and the Celebration of Hanuman we went to visit the tomb complex surrounding Humayun’s tomb in South Delhi. Neither of us had seen this kind of architecture in person before and even though it was really hot in the middle of the day (hence the photos of me covering my face and head with the new beautiful silk scarf I bought during my first 2 days in India) we thoroughly enjoyed seeing the craftsmanship and grandeur that was displayed.

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There was only one natural choice after sweating through the afternoon and that was high tea at the Taj Hotel. Having never experienced high tea before we decided to start big at one of the finest hotels in town. Leaving the Taj we made a quick stop by the train station for tickets the following morning to Chandigarh and by that time the clock had struck 6. The dry day was officially over and you could buy booze again! Pappuji took us by a local liquor store and we witnessed a site we will never forget. We arrived at only 10 minutes after 6 there was already a MAD dash of men and boys running into the store, buying booze and pounding beers on the sidewalk in front. It was a frenzy. You would have thought that the country had been dry for 2 weeks rather than 2 days. Another local we spoke with that evening while out shopping on Main Bazaar told us that he only goes into liquor stores with the money he needs and nothing else. No wallet. No phone. Saying it used to be safe, he warned that now it’s a hotspot for pickpocketing. The guy certainly sounded like he longed for safer days. And honestly, so do we. We are constantly being warned to be on guard for theft here. It’s very different than Indonesia where we felt pretty safe and comfortable with just a normal level of  awareness of our surroundings. Nonetheless, we are having a great time here in India and eager to travel to the Himalayas!

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It’s AOK to ride around in a rickshaw with a beer so I had to try it just this once!

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High tea at the Taj Hotel.

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Why we fell in love with Indonesian street food

Rob: The food here in Indonesia represents many of our favorite world tastes. We constantly crave this little group and are always looking out for the best local preparations of each.

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An extraordinary amount of green chiles being chopped for sambal and other Indonesian treats.

Sambal is the chili based condiment that can range from spicy to super spicy. It is usually ground in a mortar with chilis, shallots, ginger, salt and a little fish sauce as the base and then varies by the village or family recipe of the maker. As a non-local we often have to ask for it as it can be too much spice for casual tourists, but when we and other travelers speak Bahasa and look a little rough and dirty from backpacking or the motorbike, we get the good stuff right away.

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Suckling pig, or babi, on display at the Babi Guling warung (restaurant).

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The Babi Guling special

Babi Guling is roast suckling pig and it is to-die-for here. Babi Nasi will be the way it is served in tourist restaurants which has a generous serving of sweet roasted meat and rice. Really is it best served mixed or Campur (chomp-pour) style in a local warung. When you ask for Babi Campur with Nasi & Soto, you will get a banana leaf over a plate with rice, a small portion of sliced sweet meat, shredded meat mixed with green chilies, dried liver chips, blood sausage, offal sausage, lacquered skin, fried skin rinds and a Soto, bone broth soup. Wash it all down with a cold Bintang and look for a shady place to rest and rub your belly!

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Goat sate cooking on the grill

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This goat sate drenched in peanut sauce and accompanied by rice and soto was one of the most flavorful dishes we enjoyed during our entire trip in Indonesia this year.

Sate is common and found everywhere but some of our best finds have been when we spot a particular type of grill being used. They are shallow, long and narrow. Just wide enough to lay the sate sticks across and barely deep enough to hold the charcoal made from coconut husks. Kambing (Goat) may be our favorite since it is typically only found out in the countryside where goats are raised or near markets where they are sold / traded. Sapi is beef and not seen as often. Ayam (Chicken) is everywhere because chickens themselves are everywhere. I’m always dodging them with the motorbike hoping I don’t need to pay a family if I don’t thread the needle just right. We tell a lot of “Why did the Chicken cross the road?” jokes and Gizmo has a favorite song “Ayam Superman” channeled from Michael Stipes. Oh yeah, back to the sate. Chilis are ground with peanuts and oil to dip your sate in and you can make it a meal with Nasi and Soto if you like. Every now and then you find it served with rice steamed inside a woven banana leaf box or tube so it cooks under pressure and forms a starchy rich nutty herbal tasting base for your sate, peanut sauce and lots of local sambal.

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Nasi Jingo comes wrapped in a banana leaf and secured by toothpick as shown here.

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Nasi Jingo is a cheap and tasty delight.

Nasi Jingo is found on the Balinese islands and not to much afar from here in other areas. It is a cheap, quick snack bound up in a banana leaf and traditionally made for and eaten by workers at the beginning or end of their shift. Markets, ports and major intersections are where little temporary stands pop up in the mornings and evenings. 90% rice and 10% simple but savory additions from the area. If you are near a port or fishing village it is usually spicy shredded Ikan (Fish), sometimes with salty sun dried sardines. Near a market? Sapi, Ayam or Babi shredded with cabbage and other veggies. Always with good sambal to bring those tears of spice and joy to our faces.

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Masakan Padang is displayed in a case where you choose what you would like to load your plate with.

Our eye will usually catch a sign for Masakan Padang when we see it flash by on the bike. This is a whole style of food from the West Coast of Sumatra, but known all over Indonesia. It is based on coconut milk curry. The Warungs display many dishes in an artistic window stacked like a tiered house of cards or a carnival game. Several different preparations of fish, chicken and beef usually are at the top. Then egg “omelette” and different vegetables and fritters on the middle layer. In a steam table base layer there will be beautiful steamed jasmine rice, curry sauces from mild to wild, steamed greens and various sambals or just a straight chopped chili shallot mix to add to your plate. You call out what you like, point if you don’t know the name and let the chef guide you through the fresh favorites. So effing good that we always seem to over eat when we find a great place to sit for a full Masakan Padang meal.

 

Enjoying breakfast of champions, Bakso

A non-mobile Bakso cart. The balls stacked up are the infamous Bakso balls.

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Bakso is often served directly off the back of a motorbike, as many Indonesian dishes are.  We absolutely love these warungs on wheels.

Bakso is another one of our faves that you will see everywhere in Indonesia. It mainly comes from small carts along the popular roadside areas but you will also see plenty of mobil Bakso motorcycles as well. I’ve even seen a Bakso sidecar that I thought was pretty cool. The best Bakso Ayam is a rich chicken broth with a couple types of noodles floating in it. The Ayam part is chicken meat balls. I use the word meat a little loosely because anything that is not a beak or feet can be made into a paste, formed into a light fluffy ball and poached in the broth. Most are a mix of cartilage, skin and meat whipped into light fluffy meatballs that have a concentrated chicken taste. Add hard boiled egg if you like, a pinch of fresh herbs, maybe fried chicken skin or fried flat noodles on top then as much sambal as you dare. Savory spicy chicken goodness for usually about a dollar a serving. Lacy and I can always tell when the other person reached the bottom of their bowl by the pleasure and pain look on their face. You see, the chili seeds sink to the bottom of the dish and the last two slurps you drink directly from the bowl are the fire that burns so very good.

One item that we weren’t  able to secure this last trip is my favorite flavor of pure Indonesian firewater. Arak is the moonshine here. It can range from about 80 proof up to nearly pure alcohol. In fact last year a lady selling it to me proudly poured a capful on the counter and lit it on fire to show its potency. On Bali and it’s neighboring islands, you really have to be a local to buy it. We have been in much more remote areas where it was proudly displayed on the countertop at the all the local bodegas. There is a cloudy variety which is low quality and about $1 for a small plastic water bottle and up to $2.50 for the clear high octane version which we always bought hoping it was good enough to not make us go blind. But in areas like we have been so far, the word has obviously spread. DON’T sell to tourists. I had one conversation with a older lady running a little family bodega where I just knew she had it hidden. I used my best Bahasa and asked for “satu Arak kecil”, a “small bottle of Arak.” I had my 20,000 rupee bill already out and extended to her. She stared at me for about the full breath I was holding and then shook her head. I said as politely as I could “bagus?” or “good?” with a little confident please in my voice. She stared again for about twice as long and then simply turned around and walked away from her little store and back to sweeping as she was when I pulled up. Thwarted again. The owner of the Homestay asked us when we got home later if we were able to get what we wanted. My reply almost made him fall over laughing from the ladder he was on when I said that they just won’t sell to a Bule (white foreigner).

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Good times at Penida Colada

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This visit to Nusa Penida has us also enamored with a beach bar cheekily named Penida Colada. We had stopped into a few other beach bars and found them to be nice spots to take a photo, but not always the best drinks or value and full of day-tripping tourists. Penida Colada was a little away from the main hotels and port on a little dead end alley road that ran along the beach. This was not on the Instagram tour. But it was clean comfortable and had beach chairs, beach bean bags, floor seating and lounge tables mixed into dining tables under several low thatch roofed pagodas tightly knit together with a solo guitarist in the corner. The sunset mixed with candle light, giggling girls, boisterous surfer boys and kissing couples created a perfect atmosphere. Drinks. Yes. The drinks were what I wanted to write about. Lacy and I are big fans of craft cocktails from Prohibition to Tiki style. The cocktails at Penida Colada were twists on classics with local additions that truly elevated each drink. Hibiscus flowers were macerated into a Planters Punch to give it a beautiful aroma to go along with the tropical flavors. Lemongrass was muddled into a Mojito and became even more refreshing. Purple Dragonfruit was blended with lime and rum into an amazing rich tasting Daiquiri. Honestly I have a really hard time choosing between a non-alcohol dragonfruit smoothie that is made with sweetened condensed milk or the rum Daiquiri version. Then there is my new favorite twisted blender drink of all time! A Pina Colada but not just any old overly sweet coconut rum and pineapple frozen drink. This one uses fresh unsweet coconut milk from a coconut that likely fell on the roof of the place, small super sweet pineapples from across the street, rum and the secret ingredient, Pandan Juice. Not the fruit of the Pandan tree but the sticky green syrupy extract from the thin palm like leaves. First it makes the Colada a beautiful light pale green color. Best if all, it is a perfect twist and compliment to your standard Colada by adding a honey fructose herbal taste that I’ve never had before. Winner all the way around. Happy Hour here means that you can get 2 tall frozen ones for 80,000 Rupees or about $2.57 each. Satu Lagi (one more)!

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Sate Babi, Lontong rice and Bintang on black sand beaches.  A little piece of heaven.

Side note. No. We don’t get paid for the blog for anywhere we endorse or encourage you to visit. We just want you to go!! But… If anyone has a contact in the Bintang Beer Marketing Department, we might consider them because it would surely offset our Beer and Radler bill a little. 🙂

Teaser alert…

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We just spent our first two days in India devouring the street food in New Delhi. More to come very soon!

Motorbiking through Bali: From Ubud to the West Coast

 

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Boarding the boat back to Bali

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Our new ride for the week in Bali

Returning to the island of Bali from Nusa Penida was logistically easy albeit a little bittersweet as we had such a great time on the tiny island. The eight days and nights we spent there were magical and I would return in a heartbeat and stay at the exact same Homestay. Enveloped by the constant sound of the sea, we bid the island farewell and hopped aboard the fast boat that would ferry us across the Bali Sea. As soon as we retrieved our backpacks from the boat we sat down to second breakfast of Nasi Jingo on the beach. We booked a room for our last night in Indonesia at the same hotel we spent our first evening so that we could leave our large backpacks with them; thereby, having a much lighter load for the following week. With just our tiny daypack we conveniently had our new Yamaha 155cc bike (the Yamahopper) delivered to the hotel, packed a few things under the seat and took off towards Ubud. It is HOT in South Bali. And Ubud is scorching in the middle of the day. We had over an hour ride to the center of Ubud during which I was excitedly making up silly songs on the bike and singing them to Rob. Our first stop was lunch at a Babi Guling warung we frequented last year.

Babi Guling mix plate. A little bit of everything thrown in there with rice and a cold Bintang to wash it down.

This woman was chopping up chile after chile the entire time we were at the warung. I wondered how she manages not to burn parts of her skin with those spicy fingers.

It was delicious, but so much food and between the heat and the full bellies I began to fade fast. I felt like I wanted to immediately lie down and sleep, but we still needed to find a hotel. Looking for something under $20, I told Rob I was barely holding on and was moments away from laying on the sidewalk from pure exhaustion. The hot ride on the Yamahopper had zapped all my energy. He knows this look. It’s not our first time dealing with extreme temperatures together and he lovingly took the reigns and got us settled into a hotel with AC and a pool before I had a complete meltdown on the streets of Bali. Teammates. That’s how we began referring to ourselves when we hiked 800 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail together in 2017 and it has stuck. When one is down the other pulls the slack.

Making an impromptu climb to a waterfall we saw a sign for along our ride, we came across these faces carved into the stone.

I experienced a bit of whiplash from the change of quiet beach life in Nusa Penida to the hustle and bustle of traffic, infinite stores and restaurants geared towards tourists and masses of people in Ubud. Given that, the following day we opted to take a long ride northeast to the Balinese Mother Temple we didn’t have a chance to visit last year. We both drank plenty of water to avoid ‘overheating’ again and hit the road. Since it’s all about the journey just as much as the destination, I opened google maps and took us off the main roads and north through local villages. These areas are incredibly peaceful and beautiful. Infinite family and village temples around each bend highlight the high level of Balinese artistry and craftsmanship. It’s not necessary to be in Ubud or Kuta or any of the other main tourist destinations to experience how naturally beautiful Bali is. It’s pervasive everywhere you turn. Hibiscus, wild orchids, coconut palms, bougainvillea, lush vegetation, manicured rice paddies and so much more follow you wherever you may wander. It’s impossible not to fall in love with this island.

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F1431C98-C547-4C6C-8763-17611615C1BE565E2CF7-5B80-473D-868A-2AAF263B595D As we traveled to the temple off the beaten path we waved to all the kids on the street, returned high fives, dodged a few chickens and eventually arrived Besakih Temple. We were both craving a bit more cultural knowledge to fill in some gaps and we paired up with Ketut, a volunteer, at the temple entrance. He spoke English and made our visit to this holy place something we will always hold dear. Ketut explained that we were visiting on a special day and that evening would commence the New Moon ceremony when families would flock to the temple to pray. Before entering the temple we purchased offerings and Ketut said that he would take us to the very top of the temple, 1,000 meters above sea level, where we could pray and mediate together. Nearly 1,300 years old, the oldest on the entire island, the temple is a magnificent piece of architecture. As we climbed the steps to the top Rob and I asked many questions and Ketut explained the meaning behind the different colors of umbrellas (representing the natural elements of wind, water and fire), the black and white checkered cloth used to wrap holy trees and statues (symbolizing yin and yang), why temples have different heights (family and villages temples vs those that are larger) and so much more. We were trying to learn as much as possible. At the very top we removed our shoes and Ketut lead us through the traditional prayer ceremony using the flowers and incense we had. We meditated shortly before winding our way back down the steps, taking a few photos and showing our gratitude to Ketut.

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Besakih Temple

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Rob & Ketut

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After two days in Ubud we were ready to get back to the sea. Having missed the west coast of the island last year that was our new target for the day. Not knowing where we would spend was nice since we could explore the relaxed surfer side of the island and pick a spot that called out to us. When we need a break from crowds traveling we often gravitate towards surfer areas though neither one of us currently surf. Rob surfed in California as a kid and I have zero experience but love the vibe.  Balian Beach was a score for the first night back in the coast. We slept with the doors to our room open so we could hear the pounding surf nearby.  The following  morning we enjoyed the waves and breakfast before exploring further north to find a place that suited us.  We made a pit stop at Medewi Surf Beach and watched the cows walk the beach before we discovered an amazing little hotel, Bali Taman Sari, tucked inside a local village and 50 meters from a near deserted black sand beach.  Being so quiet and local with the sound of the waves floating around us as we swam in the pool outside our room, we kept extending our stay there another night.  We spent theee days enjoying walks on the beach, delicious meals on the side of the road and sunset cruises in the hills.  This is why we don’t plan our trips out and choose to just see where the wind blows us.  We found serenity and perfection on Bali’s Northwest Coast exactly when we needed it.

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Sunset on Balian Beach

 

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The morning we were in Balian Beach I took my camera, book and a towel as I left the room to let Rob sleep in.  I enjoyed listening to the waves and watching the surfers.

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Enjoying a dragonfruit juice near Medewi Beach

Rob: There is a place in California called Black Sand Beach, on the Lost Coast Trail, where Lacy and I absolutely love the feeling and sensation of being because it has a certain combination of adventure, privacy and spirituality to it. The black sand beach that we found on the upper west coast of Bali in Indonesia is another one of those types of places. The beach spreads out for several kilometers in each direction from where we are staying. We have it all to ourselves with the exception of a local fishermen or two, thousands of sand crabs, two well fed cows who munch on the coastal grass and loads of morning glory vines that line the beach. The surf rolls in steady and consistently. With the new moon, the tide makes a huge swing here on the equator from splashing up to the stone barriers that protect the palm groves and all the way back out almost 200 meters revealing the finest black sand. The super, super fine volcanic beach is far closer to powder then sand. It has so much mica in it that it sparkles in the sun.

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Enjoying breakfast at the hotel

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Not a bad view from the room. With the doors open you can hear the waves crashing on the beach.

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The tide goes out far revealing deeply worn crevices crevices where tidepools and seaweed live.

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Miles of peaceful back sand beach

There is a strong steady breeze coming off the ocean which feels great because it is keeping the air dry and cool. Well, much drier than in the jungle anyway. The shade of the big Date Palms, Cempaka and Mangrove trees that we set up underneath today is just enough to keep most of the sun filtered and keep us in just enough shade so as to not warm up my cold Bintang Lacy brought down from the bar.

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And then there is Sate Babi.  I dream of Sate Babi.  I get the smell of grilling Babi in my nose and I can’t think of anything else in the world. We came back toward our awesome little beach hotel from a great ride up into the jungle this afternoon. The sign was in black and white, hand painted of course and about the size of a small yard front real estate sign. The Koki or Chef was hand fanning the coals to give a customers order the final touch. Coconut husk charcoal gets red hot fast and has a nutty aroma. It burns at its peak with very little ash so you can virtually put the skewers of meat right on the coals if you like. There is no grate on Sate grills anyway. One skewer is about 6 inches or 15 cm long. For other meats it holds as much as you care to put on it at once. Babi is special and tradition holds that you get one bubblegum sized cube of about 90% meat and 10% fat and another with the ratio flipped around. Tonight ours was served with Lontong, my favorite rice cooked in woven banana leaf boxes under pressure and served in a pool of spicy sambol on a sheet of brown paper.  No silverware, sitting on a bamboo mat with a low table in front of you.  Slide the meat from the skewer, take a pinch of the rice block with your right hand, drag it through the sambol, make sure you add one cube of still smoking meat and one cube of smoldering fat and pop it into your mouth discreetly licking the sambol from your fingers as you go. I don’t think Lacy and I spoke much during our meal but we did grunt, smack our lips, nod our heads simultaneously and smile a lot.  When we were finished we thanked the Chef. I could have hugged him, really. We left as many of the locals began to line up for their turn knowing we would probably be back again tomorrow on our way out of the village.

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Posted on a street lamp in Ubud…caught my eye and made me laugh.

Lacy: The last three days here in Pekutatan, nestled between the surf beaches of Balian and Medewi have been splendid.  At $30 a night it is a little more than we typically look to spend, but worth every penny. Breakfast and drinking water (as tourists, drinking anything other than filtered water is a sure fire way to screw your stomach up) is a nice bonus. The quiet local scene pulled us in and spit us out just in time to move on to India.  We see that they have two large villas here each with a beautiful living room, kitchen and bedroom. Surrounded by their own privacy wall all of the rooms have large glass walls that open to a private pool and lawn.  We noted it as a possibility for another time. That would be a real treat!  And we would be able to shop in the local markets and cook as we love to do.  For our final night here we returned to the beloved sate babi chef Rob mentioned, got our food to go and sat on the beach enjoying it while we watched the kids race their scooters up and down the black sand as the sunset.  A perfect romantic evening together.

We said ‘Sampai nanti’ or ‘See you later’ to Indonesia as we walked into the airport to begin our day of travel to New Delhi.  The two weeks here felt longer, but also went by very quickly.  We already have plans to explore different parts of the country when we return next we are hoping that we can share our love of this place with more people.  Thanks for following along our travels thus far.  It’s about to get even more interesting…

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Sate Babi on the beach

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Part 2: Bewitched by the magic of Nusa Penida

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Heading east towards Atuh Beach we stopped at Warung Manta for lunch with a spectacular view. You can see the seaweed farming grids along the shore.

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Nasi Goreng special: fried rice topped with egg, chicken sate and grilled chicken with plenty of sambal satiated our bellies before heading to the cave temple.

Lacy: Nusa Penida was everything we needed and then some.  When planning for this year’s travels we decided on riding two-up through the North Indian Himalayas as the snow melts and the roads open in May/June. This will not be easy. It will test our limits of physical and mental strength while traveling in India on a motorbike on difficult roads with snowmelt and snow.   Add to that the fact that we don’t have the same comfort level there as we do here in Indonesia where we are familiar with the culture, language, cost of items and day to day life. We are basically jumping into the deep end head first and hoping we can swim. This is exactly why we wanted some relaxing time on the beach to start the summer. As soon as the idea of returning to Indonesia surface we both said it felt right and things began to fall into place. Indonesia is easily one of our favorite places in the world. Whether you are in Bali, Sumbawa, Flores or any of the other beautiful islands the people here are what make this country so attractive.  As you ride your motorcycle down the road strangers will smile and wave at you, kids hold up their palms for a high five and locals always try to lend a helping hand if you need it. Kindness overflows. Sometimes, as an American, it can seem a little much as people you met just five minutes earlier want to invite you to drink coffee in their home. Hospitality abounds. When you forge a connection, these are friendships you can keep for a lifetime. Rob and I remain friends with Moharba, someone we met while staying in North Bali last year. 915F8EDB-C6DA-4BB2-AD23-38DFEEC8E80A.jpeg

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Looking over the village of Tanglad

 

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Tiny little Bubu Beach is ten minutes from where we stayed.  Every once in a while it was good to switch up our sea side location.

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There are moments when you lay on the beach and think you must be dreaming. The water is so clear that you can see the fish swimming below, Bali Starlings fly overhead and the smell of sate grilling over red hot coals wafts through the air. Bali Starlings are an endangered bird and are absolutely stunning with a white body and bright blue “eyeshadow.” Nusa Penida is actually a conservation island for this bird and several others that are near extinction. They fly freely around the island and you will not see them like this on Bali. It’s really special. We also joke that this bird is Gizmo’s girlfriend. As Rob and I took a scooter cruise through the hills of this island one evening he remarked that it would be a great area for us to buy a plot of land. I know he daydreams of moving here just as much as I do. Not because it’s easy to live here, but because it’s simple. Simplicity is what we have geared our lives toward over the last three years. We went from lucrative corporate jobs, a fancy downtown high rise condo in Dallas, luxury cars, expensive dinners, vacations and clothes to living out of backpacks, alternating between the same two outfits and spending a couple bucks on food all day while enjoying the best street food around. Selling everything and stripping ourselves down of possessions was true freedom. Freedom to make any possibility a reality because we have less commitments to “things.”  Less to get in order when we want to move to the next place: travel insurance, plane ticket, find a place to park our car for an indeterminate amount of time (thanks dad!) and go!

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We played “National Geographic photographer” on the bike one day. I adjusted my shutter speed to high on my nice camera and clicked away on the back of the Scoopy as we took in the sights. As we would speed up or go around a bend I squeezed my knees tighter around Rob’s waist to hold on. I’m no professional, but we had fun and I got a good shot or two. This one included.

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I had not purchased my Nusa Penida patterned sarongs as of photo so we both rented sarongs for .35 cent a piece.  You must wear a sarong before entering any Balinese temple.

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To enter the cave temple you needed to crawl through a very tiny entrance in the rocks.

7AB49189-43D8-40D0-B92C-2DC7F15E6B09I have been admittedly soaking up the completely relaxed feeling I have on this island before heading to India.  The snorkel trip was possibly the most stress I experienced since we wound up “hunting” for manta rays. By hunting I mean the boat would whip around to a spot where mantas were active and we would all jump off to catch a glimpse, then jump back on, go to another spot and repeat hoping to see them again. I caught a ten second glimpse of one huge manta ray. This was stressful! Ha! The remaining three spots were far more relaxed as we took the Go Pro out for its maiden voyage and captured photos of fish and even a massive octopus!  Snorkeling in front of our bungalows I saw bright blue starfish like I had seen on Kenawa.   

That’s me!

On the boat and excited to snorkel!

That is a giant octopus that we saw as soon as we jumped off the boat in Gamat Bay. Rob said that as many times as has been diving he has never seen an octopus of that size out in the open. They normally hide away. He loved it.

Rob and I enjoyed Nusa Penida sunsets while having “family meetings.”  These moments, usually short, are when we carve out a specific time to make decisions. A few travel decisions later we were at Penida Colada (by far the best beach bar we found on the island) sipping on amazing cocktails with local flavor. Dragonfruit, pandan, lemongrass, rosella (dried hibiscus flowers – I bought some to bring home) were all locally sourced to put a smile on this man’s face….

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI left this island feeling incredibly grateful to be back here, in Indonesia, and wanting to experience more of this country.  I hope when we return to Nusa Penida next Rob’s leg will be fully healed and we can climb to a few beaches that we skipped this time around. Hopefully, the island will retain the simple tropical vibe it has now and won’t be swarming with tourists and minivans. I have a dream of coming back to Indonesia with friends and family so that I can share why we love this place so much 💙

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Forever enjoying street food, we picked up Nasi Jingo wrapped in a banana leaf and Nasi Campur.  We pulled over by the beach when we got hungry and enjoyed.  We travel with our titanium sporks and stainless steel straws in our backpack in an effort to make less waste on our journeys.

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At low tide this tiny temple can be accessed to give an offering. We rode past it many times and it is one of my absolute favorite locations on the island.

From Indonesia with love 💗

Part 1: Bewitched by the magic of Nusa Penida

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RobNusa Penida or Penida Island, is the third island SE of Bali in Indonesia.  This and the neighboring islands of Lembongan and Ceningan are the most similar to Bali in culture as compared to the rest of the 17,000 Indonesian Isles. This means that the architecture, dress and food follow along with the predominantly Balinese traditions and religion vs the majority Muslim population in most other areas here. It’s not that I prefer one to another. Just the opposite actually as Lacy and I both take the time to appreciate any culture we immerse ourselves within. I do want to be sure that people who read this don’t automatically assume Indonesia is just one or the other. There are as many cultural twists in the road here as there are, well… twists in the roads. Around any corner you could find something familiar or never seen previously. I can say that we have enjoyed 10-12 cultural regions and that’s only because we are rookies and can only discern certain changes.

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At Telletubies hill…yes, that is the name

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Was this Bali 30 years ago like some say? Probably not. It’s more raw and will transition to a beach, scuba and entertainment place more so than a beautiful and spiritual epicenter of Balinese culture like the town of Ubud on Bali.

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Wild orchids are everywhere

But, Nusa Penida is also becoming more popular as a tourist destination very quickly.  You can see the telltales and hear what the locals will also divulge. The roads near the 2 port areas are well paved but just not quite wide enough for 2 small cars to pass. One small car and a motorbike are really the limit anywhere on the island. The roads in the north are extremely rough and basically widened paths shaped by new traffic. There are no big name resorts or restaurants here yet but they can’t be far behind.  Lembongan island is already full of them   Ports barely have jetties as you still board boats directly from the sandy beach, sandals in hand. 90% of the cars here are brand new micro vans brought in to ferry the new tourist class around to the sights and back out to their Day Trip Boats. Construction is popping up along the coast. Thankfully they can only build so much so fast so please visit before there is a pier for larger boats.

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Riding in the hills above the beach it is beautifully lush and green

 

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When you come, stay in the more local areas and patronize the families who have built little guest cottages that are far nicer than the homes they, themselves, live in. Find Warungs or places to eat and have a beer where you are in a family owned place and you will be rewarded with the biggest smiles, best food and lowest prices.  Wing it once you are here. Rent a small motorbike or scooter and go exploring off the beaten path.  Lacy found a local snorkel tour boat for 1/4 the cost of others that took the time to make sure we swam in 4 distinctly different experiences and then fed us a great lunch afterwards. The beach in front of our little guesthouse still has more local kids playing in the surf naked than tourists and I’d rather listen to kids laughing, our friendly neighborhood Rooster and his harem and the surf than car horns, wranglers and people jousting with selfie sticks.

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In front of Rama Homestay bungalows where we enjoyed 8 glorious days and nights.

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I am beyond relaxed enjoying the view a little farther down the shore at Penida Colada

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Giz and Rob are a good pair on the Scoopy

My basic and Lacy’s more advanced Bahasa language skills also help us immensely, save us money at every turn and aid in connecting with people here who may know some English phrases but are too shy to really engage with you until they realize you both know more than just pleasantries in the others native tongue.

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Morning Balinese offering on the beach

Once you are off the main roads in most developing countries and especially here, you will come to a crossroads inside your heart and soul. The line between a newly developing area and abject poverty is sometimes just 20 meters apart.  Trash piles become playgrounds for children while some comb through looking for anything of use, value, recyclable or food discarded unfit for a tourist but acceptable to others.  Two days ago when we came out a “locals” entrance / exit from a Temple versus the tourist exit, we noticed a group of small local children playing with balls made from plastic bags made somewhat spherical with recovered packing tape.  Today we searched the markets nearby for a proper soccer / European football. We finally found one that wasn’t too expensive, that they might sell for $, but good enough to last and be the ball they kept and played with daily. We went back to the rear of the Temple area and were lucky to find the boy I recognized as well as his Mother.  After a tiny bit of prompting Yoga accepted his real leather, bright orange ball with a big smile. His Mother, Sari, asked if we were doing any shopping especially for sarongs. Actually that was the next to-do in our thoughts for the day. Her Mother-in-Law retrieved several very fine examples of hand loomed sarongs made on the island. They are all so beautiful it was hard to pick just 2.  They are the best quality available and the patterns are recognizable as those made here. The edges remained unfinished to prove they were genuinely hand made quality versus something more like a machine made fabric.  After a small negotiation, everyone was all smiles and we know we had made the right choice buying them from this little family.  When we return someday, I hope we can find them all again.

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In my new sarong with Sari, Her mother in law and Yoga, her son

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❤️

Treasure Island: Nusa Penida

Lacy: After a full day on what we have affectionately begun to refer to as the “club foot” or “clubby” (due to the swelling caused by Rob’s healing broken leg) a relaxing day on Nusa Penida island was in order. Many tourists travel the short distance to this island on a one or two day excursion from Bali, see the highlights and leave. Rob and I prefer to travel differently, to take the time to really soak in a place and not rush through doing the “Chevy Chase” at each major location. Currently, with the limitations of club foot we are alternating days exploring with those spent face down on a massage table or lounging on the beach. Believe me, no one is complaining. After finishing our preferred breakfast of fruit and Balinese coffee seaside at our place we strolled through the sand to another beachfront location where even stronger coffee and dragonfruit smoothies were had.

We haven’t seen any cockfighting in person, but were certainly aware of its prolific presence here last year. This matchbook reminded us.

Several hours of hanging out, enjoying our beverages and playing cards left us wondering what to do next. We decided to check out Avocado massage just a short distance down the road on the Scoopy we are renting for the equivalent of $5.50 per day. What a great decision. For $17 each we had a 2 hour experience on the sea complete with Balinese long stroke massages, body scrubs and avocado body masks. So incredibly relaxing to feel the breeze and hear the waves during it all. I make avocado hair and face masks at home and Rob finally tried one here on Nusa Penida. Probably better that way anyway! It was after 2 by the time we finished our spa at the sea and we were starving. Having eaten at the places on the beach for convenience the past few nights we were dying to eat in the local area and consume spicier and more authentic meals. We noted a Masakan Padang warung earlier and were heading straight there to fill our bellies. Masakan Padang is a style of Indonesian food specific to West Sumatra island, but revered all over.

Zipping along on the Scoopy

Perfection 💙 I have a photo of Rob laying on this massage table covered in an avocado mask, but he didn’t want to share that one 😉

Youn dishing out Sumatran delicacies at the Masakan Padang warung. The food was so good and his conversation so lovely we ate there two nights in a row.

As you all know we have the infamous Giz on all of our travels. He came into our lives almost 5 years ago as a prize at the Texas State Fair and what a prize he is. He entered our hearts and became part of our tiny family. That afternoon, I noticed a couple on the beach in front of our room taking photos with a little bear. When they saw me watching, Lopa was quick to tell me that Chhutkulu is her son. I knew right then and there we needed to talk. Yes, I’m crazy with Gizmo, but if you can’t be a little nuts in life than what fun is living?! Chhutkulu and Giz became instant friends. When I went back into our bungalow Rob said he could hear Lopa and I giggling away like little girls and I excitedly recounted how Giz and I made new friends. Still being pretty full, but not wanting to miss an opportunity to eat another delicious meal we hopped on the Scoopy and shared a plate of Babi Guling for dinner. Babi Guling is a suckling pig dish that you won’t find in most of Indonesia as the country is predominately Muslim. It is very common on Balinese islands and one of Rob’s absolute favorite. Curled up with our books and listening to the waves in bed, we slept peacefully that night stuffed with Indonesian delicacies and knowing we had just extended our stay on the island for another three nights.

Chhutkulu and Gizmo

Having rested yesterday, today was all about seeing a new part of the island. We requested our fruit and coffee early, packed our backpack and set off Southeast. I had already told Rob I wanted to stop at a streetside location for another cup of coffee on the way so we were keeping our eyes peeled. Our first stop didn’t yield coffee, but the result was even better! I watched the woman at the stall grind spices and other items with her mortar and pestal, add a few unknown items and then package it before handing it to someone who rode off on their scooter. I had no idea what she was making, but I wanted it! In Indonesian, I asked what she made and she responded Gado Gado. I knew I had heard of this dish, but couldn’t remember exactly what it is, but nonetheless I said I would take one anyway. I make it my business to not know what I am eating at least half the time. We communicated in Indonesian and when the conversation became too advanced for me we switched to broken English. I love learning the language when we travel and thankfully Bahasa (the common language among the 17,000 islands and thousands of dialects in this country) came back to me quickly from what I had learned last year. I grabbed our freshly prepared package that cost less than $1 with a massive smile and got back on the Scoopy. A few minutes later it started to rain and we ducked under the awning of a shop on the side of the road. Waiting out the rain, we got coffee (.35 cent each) which tasted even better accompanied by the mouthwatering Gado Gado.

Fresh made Gado Gado

Second breakfast of Kopi and Gado Gado

The perfect balance of peanut sauce, spice, rice and vegetables that made Rob’s eyes sparkle. We looked it up and the dish is vegetarian with rice or potatoes and cabbage, beans or other vegetables in a spicy peanut sauce. Our impromptu second breakfast ended just as the rain ceased and we continued our journey to Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach. We were warned that the road to these two side by side destinations was bad, but you never know just how bad until you’re experiencing it yourself. There was a bit of paved road until the turn off where you could choose to go to Crystal Bay or Billabong and then it was 40+ minutes of rough riding on an unpaved path that was sometimes gravel. Other times sand. All the time bumpy. Rob said his nuts were black and blue from the road. There were several times he asked me to get off the bike so he could make a certain stretch without the extra weight and I walked up to meet him. There were even more times that I voluntarily got off because I was nervous. We have had a few incidents on motorcycles and while I love being on the bike I also love being unharmed. We finally made it to the billabong and could not have been happier to get off the bike.

Even with the state of the roads we were all smiles

Rob is covering a portion of the road without me

As we walked towards the Billabong from the parking area there weren’t many people, but within 15 minutes the crowds started pouring in. This is, after all, one of the islands highlights. We hate scenes like this where people pile in and all try to take a photo of the same thing. Thankfully, we had a bit of privacy in the beginning because we had never seen anything like this billabong before. It’s a natural infinity pool that fills up at high tide and overlooks the Bali Sea. You climb down a few rocks at low tide and can swim in it. Nature’s beauty can astound you. This was no exception. The rocks were too uneven for Rob to tackle at this stage so he stayed above and tried to take some photos of me as I enjoyed a swim. The water was so warm. I swam as I watched other tourists pile in, none of which enjoyed a swim and all were concerned with the perfect photo. It killed me that Rob couldn’t climb down because he absolutely loves tide pools and the idea of him swimming in a massive one was all too perfect. Maybe next time.

Standing above Angel’s Billabong, a massive tide pool that forms a natural infinity pool over the Bali Sea

A five minute walk from the Billabong is Broken Beach which is a gorgeous scenic view, but not a place to swim since there is no access point. Looking down you see clear green and blue water lapping against a white sand beach. A natural land bridge with a hole in it allows the sea to access this strip of coast. Again, a very unique view. Nusa Penida island began receiving a greater number of tourists about 3 years ago and as of now the natural beauty seems to be intact. I desperately hope that the influx of people does not harm its natural treasures.

Broken Beach

The coastline where Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach are located is well known for manta rays. Many snorkeling tours come by here in the morning to swim with them.

Leaving Broken Beach and the Billabong we had to retrace our bumpy steps and then some. We wanted to spend the afternoon back at Crystal Bay. The route there was nearly an hour of terrible roads. Rob is amazing on the bike. The only other person I could trust on a bike like this is my dad and I don’t know if he would be crazy enough to try these roads. Especially not in shorts and sandals! By the time we got to Crystal Beach we had earned a beer! Snorkeling, swimming, lunch and lounging helped us pass the rest of the day. Between the sun, water and roads we slept hard that night.

As of this post we have extended our stay on Nusa Penida yet another night with plans to leave on Friday. Sleeping on the sea and jetting around on the Scoopy from one mesmerizing waterfront view to another is hard to walk away from.

A holy place tucked away by Broken Beach