San Jose Color Run (May 31)

Shooting color runs is so much fun, especially when you are one of the official photographers positioned directly in the race course. My post was the station before the finish line. It was the last chance the participants had to get as colorful as possible, and they knew it. As the 8,000 runners passed by, the area became more and more chaotic. Eventually, pink took over everything, hovering as a fine mist in the air and coating the asphalt in a day-glo dusting almost like snow. Some plopped on the ground and made pink powder angels. Others scooped powder by the handful and hurled it at their racing buddies. It’s hard to say what I liked best about the scene — the abundance of bright, bright color or the expressions of joy and surprise on people’s faces.

     

Bali (October 6-11)

Bali gets a lot of hype. If you listen to the old-timers — both visitors and residents — the island is much more commercialized than it used to be, especially in these post Eat, Pray, Love days. As a fellow former resident of a tourist magnet island, I can relate. But if what I experienced when I was there last October was less than the island had to offer in the good old days, all I can say is wow. And 16 years on Maui made my standards very, very high.

The island exceeded my expectations. Yes there was tourist price gouging and an absurd amount of traffic, but everything else more than made up for it. The rice paddies of Ubud were more lush, green and relaxing than what I imagined. The temples were special, spiritual places, whether located in a family compound, tucked away against a steep hillside, or perched atop an island just off shore. I couldn’t look away from the sunsets. The people were not just friendly and hard-working but overwhelmingly generous and thoughtful.

To illustrate this claim, I want to tell the story of the rudraksha prayer bead bracelet requested by my mother. She lost hers almost thirty years ago and thought I might be able to find a replacement since Bali is predominantly Hindu. I asked the manager of Mandala Desa, my Ubud lodgings, and he suggested I check the stores in downtown. I did, but I didn’t find anything that I felt lined up in terms of quality and price. I figured that was the end of that.

When I was leaving Mandala Desa, Ketut, the guide who was going to introduce me to some Balinese temples before depositing me at the beach town of Sanur, asked about my success finding the bracelet. The manager remembered my quest and asked him to help me. I was impressed. Our first stop was a stall in a local market owned by Ketut’s friend. I showed them a photo of the bracelet. They found strings of the beads, but despite deploying searchers through the entire market, they could not locate a bracelet made of them. Their dedication to helping me was touching. I felt we’d done our best. We left.

What followed were a fascinating few hours of temples hidden among valleys of terraced rice paddies, flowing rivers, deep conversations, countless steps, and undeniable thirsts for ice cold beverages. After a touristy lunch with a great view and prices to match, I figured my time was up. I had only reserved Ketut’s services for a half day.

As we passed back through Ubud, Ketut slowed the van and parked it in front of a store front. He explained it was the shop of a silversmith. If we couldn’t find a bracelet to buy for my mother, perhaps we could get one made.

He was right. The silversmith looked at the photo, produced the beads, asked a few questions about the style and spacing, quoted an affordable price, and said he could have it done by the next day. All great news! Except I wouldn’t be around the next day. I would be in a completely different part of the island. Not a problem, said Ketut without hesitation. He would bring the bracelet to me. Just like that. There was no bargaining over a delivery fee. That would have been insulting. He just volunteered because it was a nice thing to do. Supremely grateful, I accepted, thanked him profusely, and begged to take a photo so I could show my mother the two men who conspired to make her wish a reality. They agreed.

In the end, my half day with Ketut turned into a full one. We stopped at a batik shop after leaving the silversmith so I could see how the intricate designs were made. There was no pressure to buy anything. Then we braved the traffic through Denpasar and drove to the coast, where we watched the sunset behind the island temple of Tanah Lot. It was more picturesque that I could have hoped. Ketut was as excited as I was and took dozens of photos on his iPhone. He then dropped me off at my Sanur lodgings about five hours later than we originally planned. True to his word, he returned there the next afternoon with my mother’s bracelet in hand.

Almost six months later, I am still incredibly thankful for my Bali experience. Although I loved the food, massages, scenery, and general pace of vacation, I found the island’s spirit to be the most rejuvenating part. Rampant commercialism and tourism are present, but they exist on a foundation of spirituality that values more than money. I feel lucky that it found its way to me. It supported my faith in the general good in humanity. It reinforced my commitment to follow their lead. It cut through superficial pleasures and nourished my soul.

Carly Stuart - March 4, 2013 - 9:24 am

What a beautiful post!

Alvin Tenpo - September 19, 2013 - 6:13 am

Wonderful travel writing. You have a real talent for story
telling.

     

Singapore (October 1-6)

There was a moment as I was zooming along a Singaporean highway in the back of my friend’s jeep when the contrast between where I was and where I had been was a little overwhelming. After the beautiful and atmospheric old tombs and forts of India and Sri Lanka, Singapore’s brightly lit skyline was disarmingly modern. But not in a bad way. Singapore changed a lot since my visit eight years before. Despite my original plan to relax during the day and eat delicious food while catching up with old friends at night, I found myself adding many new sights to my itinerary. The Gardens by the Bay were particularly impressive, and their air-conditioned flower and cloud forest domes were a great way to spend a hot afternoon.Top: Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay
Bottom: View of Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino, the Singapore Flyer and the Singapore skyline from the Supertree Grove Skyway

     

Sri Lanka (September 27-30)

Three days in Sri Lanka is not enough. My friend J and I did our best, cramming giant mammals, unique cuisine, ancient temples and fortresses, and relaxing beaches into very full days. It was all fantastic. And it was not enough. We left too many amazing-sounding destinations off our itinerary. Sri Lanka is officially on my list of places worth a second (or third or fourth) visit.

Top: Bath time at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Middle: Monks walking lakeside in Kandy, Sri Lanka’s cultural capital
Bottom: Reclining Buddha in the Dambulla Cave Temple complex. The complex dates from the 3rd century BC; the Buddha statues were added in 1190.

The ancient city fortress of Sigiriya was built at the top of this rock around 480 AD so the king at that time could avoid retribution for seizing the throne from his half brother. The whole time we were climbing I could only wonder at what it must have been like to transport the rocks that make up the city all the way to the top. I’m glad it wasn’t me.

Top: View from the summit of the Sigiriya rock
Middle: Driving along Kanalama Lake in Dambulla
Bottom: Boats and dried fish in Negombo

Hoppers are made from a fermented batter and paired with different fillings and sauces. They are native to Sri Lanka and quite delicious. String hoppers (not pictured) are noodles paired with the same toppings.

     

India Travels – Part Two

Continuing from where I left off …

CHITTOGARH FORT (September 22)
Inhabited from the 7th century until 1568, Chittogarh Fort is the largest fort in India and is the site of many former palaces and temples.


UDAIPUR (September 22-24)
Top: City Palace as seen from Lake Pichola
Middle: Thanks to some well-placed advertising and sleuthing from my driver, I wandered in to the opening day of Celebration Bakery for a bit of local culture and tasty local cookies and ended up staying for lunch
Bottom: Rajasthani folk dance performance at Bagore ki Haveli

COCHIN (September 24-27)
Top: Chinese fishing nets off of Fort Cochin Island. Each net is operated by a team of up to six fisherman … and tourists like me who wander by
Bottom: Houseboat tour in the backwaters near AlleppeyLeft: Part two of my backwater tour involved being punted down backwater canals
Right: Spices for sale

Next up: highlights from Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bali, and Hong Kong!

     
M o r e   W e d d i n g s
M o r e   W a n d e r i n g s
M o r e   W h i m s y