Great American Western Road Trip: Summer 2018

4 weeks, 3 kids, 1 van, 16 different lodgings, 5400+ miles, 12+ National or State Parks and Monuments adds up to 1 Epic Adventure.

American Southwest Family Vacation 2017

We followed historic Route 66 on our way to see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, plus much more in New Mexico and Arizona.

End of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Here are our stories from two and a half years of living in Saudi Arabia while exploring the region.

Excursions to Oman

On two different trips, we strolled Muscat, hiked Wadi Shab, and sailed a dhow through the fjords of Musandam.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Tuesday, August 17, 1999

A tour of Bali

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
More roosters, and it sounds like it's been raining for a while. It's cool outside, and the shower was cold. I woke up at 7am, had breakfast at 8. It was just toast and fruit salad (papaya, banana, watermelon, lime). I walked over to the tour company, and we left twenty minutes late after waiting for some people who, after driving to their hotel, told us they decided to cancel. So it was me and a Belgian couple on a temple/volcano tour.
First stop was Goa Gajah--the elephant cave temple--but sarongs were required for entry. So I bought one, for $6, way more than I should have paid, simply because I was tired of haggling. From there we hit Pura Penataran Sasih, where there is a drum that's about 2000 years old.
Neither of these places were very memorable, and both were pretty barren. Ganung Kawi was verdent and had these large, white stone memorials, three on either side of a river valley that was fed by a waterfall that you could see by walking over rice paddies.
 We then went to Tampaksiring (Holy Spring) and Tirta Empul, the temple there. Some of the locals were washing themselves in the water from the spring.

We then went up to Penelokan and saw Mt. Batur and Lake Batur. It's a good thing we had the car, because walking or biking would have been exhausting. We ate lunch on the volcano crater rim.

The view at lunch
 I don't know why, but no one at the restaurant asked me to pay, I guess it's included in the tour. I walked up to the cashier and he waved me farewell. One of the dishes was "sweet and sour frog", which when said with an Indonesian accent, sounds like "sweet and sour pork". It was okay either way. We were pretty templed out at this point, but we had one left to go. Ulun Danuat Kintamani. But I realized only after we got to the temple--rebuilt on the rim after a 1926 eruption consumed it--that I wanted to see the Ulun Danu at Bedugal, which was right on the lake. Bah.
I slept intermittently on the way back. At around 4pm, the old guy took me around on the back of his motorbike. I picked up some silver in Celuk and some woodcarving in Mas. The ride was fun, but the prices were too upmarket for my taste. I did get a necklace and a sandalwood dolphin for more than it should have cost. And the necklace turned my neck green a month later. I like the non-bargaining, price-is-as-is, American market.
Wicker motorcycles
There were some amazing carvings, but I can't imagine them selling to anyone. Especially for the couple thousand dollar asking price. The average Balinese makes $1 USD a day.

I had marinated prawn at Mumbuls Cafe. Wow. Spicy and good. At around 7:30 pm, the old guy came back to my room with two sarongs, a sash, and headdress. For me. All decked out, I rode sidesaddle for 1 km or so, no helmet (the headdress), at night, in a skirt (more or less). When we arrived, I could hear the gamelan (orchestra) playing while the masses prayed.
There were many dances: legong (with 3, 2, and 1 dancers)--the one with the highly choreographed eye/finger movement; barong--which is a big, two person beast with acted kind of like a dog. It had the weirdest sense for a wooden mask, because it looked like its expression changed with the movements and actions of the dancers. I was sitting next to a California local government worker, and between acts we talked.

Apparently, of the two temples (volcano vs. lake) I had visited the more interesting one. I think I went to sleep around 11pm. There were literally dozens of dogs roaming the streets and I was lucky to only have a few growl at me.
An activist protesting cock-fighting

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Monday, August 16, 1999

A Day of Adventure in Bali

Bali, Indonesia
Cockadoodle-doo! I was awakened by a rooster at 4:40 am. I slept in until 7 o'clock, got ready for today, then had breakfast before waiting to be picked up, right around 8:30 am. We picked up two American UCLA B-School grads, Anita and Linda, a guy from Manhattan Beach, CA and his Brazilian model wife. I forgot what time we finally arrived, but after we picked up our gear it was down the gorge to the Ayung river.

The whitewater was Class 3, but only in some areas. The scenery was amazing, with steep jungle hills on either side, with waterfalls everywhere. Near the end, the guide asked if anyone wanted to swim. The area was dark due to the overgrowth spanning between the 20 foot tall grey rock canyon walls. He didn't have to ask me twice. I tied my waterproof camera to my paddle and rolled in. Shortly after, we came to the end of the raft trip. Interesting tidbit from the guide that may or may not be true: The Ayung apparently is one of the few rivers hosting piranhas outside S. America. I think the guide was making a joke.
We had a leisurely buffet lunch with a view of the rice fields
After lunch, we picked up an Australian family and headed to the Elephant Safari Park. I rode a Sumatran (subspecies of Indian, smallest and lightest colored) elephant that stood about 2.5 meters tall. Even got to sit in the driver's seat--right behind the ears of the beast.

Editor Note: Since this photo was taken,
riding elephants is considered inhumane treatment and not encouraged. 
We were then on our way back to our respective hotels, but since I didn't have one, I asked the driver to drop me off at Ubud, which was nearby. As we pulled over to let me out, Anita asked me if this was my stop. I replied "Sure, why not?"

I had to walk for about 15 minutes to get to the heart of Ubud, but got to soak in the scenery. The time is not about 5 pm, and I didn't have a place to stay. I stopped by the Ubud Info office and discovered that they had Kecak and Fire dancing tonight at 7pm nearby, and a couple of tours. So I got a ticket to the dancing and a #5 Kintamani/Volcano tour for around Rp 45,000. I then walked down Monkey Forest Road and bought two nights at Puri Muwa Bungalows for Rp 40,000. Which included breakfast and a seemingly bottomless pot of tea. I dropped my stuff off and walked over to the Padangtegal Dance stage where I watched 100 singers provide the only music for the dancers. Handclaps, shouting, and chanting by firelight as ornate dancers told a story from the Ramayana. It was followed by a trance dance where two very young girls performed the same intricate dance routine with their eyes closed, like they were in a trance. This was followed by a guy dancing in fire.

I went back to my room and sat outside, talking to the old local man--I think his name was Cok Ngurah Mas, but i could barely read his writing--who gave me the room. He said he'd take me shopping in his hometown of Mas and look for all sorts of stuff after my tour tomorrow. Bedded down at 10pm.

« Yesterday: Kuta Beach - Tomorrow: A Tour of Bali »

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Sunday, August 15, 1999

Kuta Beach

Bali, Indonesia
It's a good thing that I didn't go out partying last night (Kuta Beach is infamous for it) because I slept poorly last night. I remember sweating and mosquitoes, as well as turning on the fan and closing the window slats. I woke up at 7 am cool and comfy and still a little tired, but the free breakfast and 2.5 cups of coffee (Java?) helped. Hand held shower, big bathroom, no shower curtain.

I was on the beach at 8 am and had my rented board in hand when I hit the surf. It wasn't so bad getting out the first time, but getting the board handling skills was rather tricky. I caught a few solid waves and was looking down about 6 feet from the top of the wave, but I couldn't get the board to go over the crest. Then I caught a few solid the face. Through trial and error, I got the thing to go under the waves. But the ones that broke before I got there, well, I was six feet under breaking whitewater, that was ripping me from the grip I had on the board. But most of the time I held my breath and my grip until the board pulled me skyward. My leash kept unvelcro-ing in the wash, but when I switched which leg I tied it too, it completely detached from the board, so I went in, my hour and 45 minutes of surfing with the big boys proudly behind me.

After changing and showering etc, I hit the beach, so as to cover the Kuta-Legian area thoroughly. One of the not-so-unexpected surprises were the topless female foreigners. As Bob, the cartoon character in "Bob and Margaret" summed up, 'It's amazing how quickly you become accustomed to the sight of topless women on the beach'. Besides, some of the old guys had much larger ones. Whatever. I walked around Legian when I saw a sign advertising tours to Tanah Lot and a few other places. For only about USD $5. Cool. We went at 3 pm to a Royal Water Palace and Temple.

Then we stopped off at the Monkey Temple-Sangeh. I bought a bag of food for Rp 500. I fed a few monkeys, some held on to my shorts, one held on to my foot. But there was one little bugger who leapt upon me from above and behind, taking me totally by surprise. He made a quick grab for the bag of food. I was encumbered by my camera, and tried to lure him into reaching for my last morsel, thinking that I would grab back my bag and teach him a lesson. But he just took the piece before I could take the picture properly with it on my shoulder/head. I got a photo, but it was so dark the only way to see the monkey was to distort everything else.
The thief
From there, it was on to Tanah Lot for the sunset. I picked up some hawker satay (10 sticks for Rp 5,000) and figured it would be safe because the locals were eating it too. Spicy. The sunset was rather dull, due to clouds and low tide. At high tide, the temple is inaccessible by land. But it was still kinda cool.

I was dropped off a ways from my hotel at around 7:15pm. (my watch light is working again). Showered again and sat down to figure out what to do next at 8:15. After a two hour nap, I decided that sleeping was far more interesting than the nightlife where most people are around 30.

« Yesterday: Vacation in Bali - Tomorrow: A Day of Adventure in Bali »

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Saturday, August 14, 1999

Vacation in Bali

Bali, Indonesia is a world unto itself. I spent about a week on the island. This is where my story begins.

Hong Kong
I woke up around 6:15 AM and was dressed by the time my alarm went off. I caught the 6:50 airport bus--there was not one person in line until a minute before hand, then there were ten guys. How do they know? Checked in right around 8 AM and had to visit three different money changers to find Indonesian Rupiah. It was about 8,000 Rupiah to the US Dollar, so lots of bills. Breakfast was my usual McDonald's hash browns again, hopefully the last time this trip. Chris had asked me to look for a Hong Kong shot glass for his friend, and I found it at a duty free store, but I'm not about to carry it around with me. I'll pick it up when I return or when I leave again. It's overcast, the clouds can't be more than 900 feet off the ground. Some time this morning, my watch light (the Indiglo kind) stopped working. I hope my watch isn't next.
I watched "The Matrix" on the plane. Crossed the Equator at 1:23 PM local time over Borneo, just east of a mountain range. We arrived 2:44, landing over waves breaking on the coral reefs. It took an hour to get through customs. I picked up a cab for the set fare of Rp 15,000 (about USD $2) and he took me up to the beach by Kuta and drove me to some different hotels that probably give him a commission.
The room is, oh, three times larger than the apartment I stayed at in Hong Kong, just off the beach, and they even gave me a complementary lemon based fruit drink, all for Rp 130,000. And it includes breakfast. Room service prices are about 2-3 dollars. I went out to the beach and watched the sun set, but there were too many clouds for anything amazing. Walked by the Hard Rock Cafe, then down the street to confirm my reservation at Bali Adventure Tours for the 15th. It's dark now (but I guess you figured that out) and I want food. After getting distracted by some stores, I found myself following the crowd to Poppies Restaurant (editorial aside: this is a block away from the Sari Club, which I passed by, that was bombed in 2002.)
After being ignored by some of the waitstaff while waiting to be seated, I remarked to a woman "This is part of the down side to travelling alone." Magically, the waiter appeared and I gestured for the older couple to go ahead, saying "It's okay, I'm just going to eat at the bar." Well, before I was attended to, the woman came back and asked if I would like to join them for dinner. Cool! Richard and Gabby are Australians from Adelaide, vacationing in Bali for the twenty-somethingth time. We had a very broad range of conversation topics over a dinner that consisted of satay beef/ chicken/lamb over our own little charcoal grills, just like the shish kabobs after them. I washed it down with a pinapple daiquiri. The total? About $12 USD, but I don't know exactly because they picked up the bill. I guess that's part of the up side to travelling alone.

From there, I walked up Jalan Legian and turned on to Poppies Gang II, an alley with some shops on it. It was a solitary walk down an unpaved, dark alley, populated with motorbikes, dogs, and darkness. But I wasn't really afraid, except for one second when I thought I was at a dead end and a guy appeared from the shadows. Turned out that the road just bent 90 degrees. I made it back to the hotel, Puri Tanah Lot, around 11 pm.

Tomorrow: Kuta Beach »

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Monday, August 02, 1999

Sunday in Beijing

I got to sleep in today before leaving for the 10:30 service at the Beijing International Church--only foreign passport holders were allowed inside, due to government regulations. The service was quite good, Acts 8:1, about the scattering of the church and also about persecution for one's faith. Rather appropriate in a country that only lets foreigners practice their faith. As planned, I met Vanessa there. She was with Stuart, a Yalie that had been at the disco with us. He knew a girl named Charley, also from Yale, who knew a guy from Texas, who was teaching English and Guitar in China.
We all went for Korean food with some more people that Charley knew, one of whom was Korean and only knew Korean and Chinese. We let her order, since she knew what was good. The food was very good and apparently also very authentic. I had lots of stuff, one of which was Ox-Tail soup...the meat still had bones in it! We sat on mats at low tables, and they even had hostesses in traditional outfits.
From there, we went to Starbucks for coffee and talked until 4 pm. At that point we went our separate ways, myself back to the apartment to pack. At 5 o'clock, Mr. Ren showed me some of the country club before setting me up on the shuttle bus to the airport at 5:30 pm. I paid the departure tax and had no problem checking in. They didn't even ask for my passport or any ID. I was through customs by 5:50, but it didn't much matter since the flight was late getting in, so we boarded around 7:20 pm. Dinner was a pretty good peppered chicken leg in pesto sauce w/ potatoes and white wine. The food on Dragonair and Cathay Pacific are really good. And the music on Dragonair was terrific: Dance/Techno, Jazz, oldies, and classical.
Not my flight: this plane is apparently a nightclub
Around 10:40 pm, I had the luck to see the city, from Central to Mongkok, lit up in the night, like an electric rose garden planted between the clouds. The glow were only dimmed, not obscured by clouds. I caught the E34 bus from the Airport at 11:30 pm and I was home around 12:30.

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Sunday, August 01, 1999

Out and About in the North Capital

Beijing, China
I woke up around 7:35, which translates to about 4 hours of sleep. At 8:30, I was off to Yiheyuan, the "Summer Palace". I spent about two hours there, in which time I saw (in no particular order) the Marble Boat, Longevity Hill (it's artificial, but very big), the Long Corridor (a covered walkway with paintings on the rafters), the 17-arch bridge connecting the South Lake Island to the shore, and the Garden of Harmonious Interest (a copy of a Wuxi garden). I rode one of the ferry boats across the lake and only saw a few collisions and some guys throwing soda cans at each other.

Marble Boat
Longevity Hill?
From there, it was down to Tiantan Park and the surrounding area for some shopping. The shopping was a bit uneventful, but I haggled for a chess set from 300 yuan down to 80. Tiantan Park is billed as the perfection of Ming architecture. "Temple of Heaven" had some interesting areas, and some not so. The park is semi-circular on the north side, and square on the south side--the ancient belief that heaven is round and the earth is square.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is made without nails or cement. Heading south in the park, I found the Imperial Vault of Heaven kind of boring. It's surrounded by the Echo Wall, which you can use to clap in the right areas of the courtyard to hear 1, 2, or 3 echos. It was kind of muggy and hot, so sound didn't carry that well, not to mention the tour groups acting as acoustic sponges.

Just south was the Round Alter, which has three levels: Humankind, Earth, and Heaven. Each level had 9 concentric rings of stone, and each ring had a multiple of nine stones. Odd numbers are considered heavenly, and nine is the largest single digit odd number. There were people queued up to stand in the middle of the upper level, where they could hear their voice bounced off of the marble balustrades. I had to walk around the southeast side of the park to get back to my pick-up zone, on the way I stopped into a market and bought a 1.5 liter bottle of semi-slushy Coke for 4.5 yuan, just over 50 cents, and cheaper than a 12 oz can on the street.

From there, it was off to the Forbidden City. The government wants it to be known as the Imperial Palace. The place is rather immense. I think I might have been filmed by a documentary crew (I saw the camera following me in an arc over 120 degrees).

After I walked through the Forbidden City, I climbed up nearby Jingshan (Coal Hill) and took in the view of the Imperial Palace. I think I may have seen the locust tree where Emperor Chongzhen, last of the Mings, hanged himself rather than have the Palace destroyed by the invading Manchus.

 My driver then took me over to Beihai Park, which is mostly a lake. The White Dagoba is the symbol of the park, put up for a visit by the Dalai Lama and rebuilt in 1741.
 With daylight running out on us, we hopped over to Tiananmen Square, where I saw the 'Maosoleum', the Monument to the People's Heroes, a clock counting down the days until Macau is handed back to China, the Great Hall of the People.

Tiananmen (Heavenly Peace) Gate--the one with Mao's picture on it. On the left side of his portrait is written "Long Live the People's Republic of China" and on the right "Long Live the Unity of the Peoples of the World."
 Mr. Ren met us at the square and he took me for dinner at Quanjude, the famous place for Peking Duck. We had to park a small distance away, but I got to see the Qianmen (Front Gate). The meal was basically duck fajitas, but quite tasty. I ate duck foot (the webbed part) with a spicy mustard that hid the nastiness of what was in my mouth by scorching my tongue. We went back to the Ren residence, watched some TV and turned in for the night.

One thing I noticed as we drove around was that if there was one guy sitting on the curb without a shirt (and there are a lot of those), there would be half a dozen guys sitting just behind him in the shade.

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