Monday, November 30, 2009

nusa lembongan - part 1

About three weeks ago, I decided to go to Nusa Lembongan, which is a small island just 30 minutes off Bali. The only calendar that binds me nowadays is the class schedule of Yoga Barn. I tried to find two days that I can miss the classes without feeling guilty. I can usually manage to miss a day and go for beach but two consecutive days was tricky for my current level of yoga obsession. I picked the day, decided on the boat, informed my homestay that I will check-out for 2 days and informed all my friends that I will go. That morning I woke up early, felt super-lazy for a boat trip but very energized for a yin yoga class hence decided to postpone my travel and head out for some stretching.

After all, isn't that the beauty of the independent traveling? Just as I may wake up one morning and decide it's time to go somewhere else, I may also open my eyes an decide I would like to see and breathe more of this place.

The week after I had another lousy attempt, but knowing it was half-hearted I didn't even bother to make any arrangements. But this week I felt it was finally the time so packed my stuff in a tiny backpack and headed out to the shuttle that would take me to Sanur, where boats to Nusa Lembongan depart. A friend from Yoga Barn was in the same shuttle, she was heading out to Sanur for a day on the beach. I told her very enthusiastically about how all my previous attempts to go out of Bali have failed but now I was fully back in my traveler spirit and hitting the road. She looked at me in a strange way and said “aaand you think going to Lembongan is actually going out of Bali?” It was more a statement than a question and I couldn't really respond. There are three Nusa islands (Lembongan, Ceningan and Peninda) and all are heavily dependent on Bali for their food, electricity and internet. The distance is very short and the culture and pretty much the same. Oh well, great journeys start with small steps :)

I knew not to expect much from Sanur but when we arrived there we saw nothing but a big bunch of bored tourists, waiting for the next shuttle to go somewhere else. There was a sign that said “fast boat 50 meters” So I scanned the entire coast for something like a boat terminal, a dock or anything in those lines but it was uninterrupted sandy beach as long as I can see. I found a ticket agent and asked where's the terminal and he vaguely nodded towards the beach and said “here”. I was confused... From what I learned, there are three options to go to Nusa; a public boat which offers the thrill of traveling with chickens and bags of rice. You may also occasionally get some ocean spray on a wavy day as it is not covered. The Perama boat is also open-deck but is supposedly more stable and travels marginally faster. The best option was the speed boat; it took only 30 minutes and it was covered and had a reliable service. I didn't even need to consider the first two options as I couldn't risk my camera getting wet with a splash of ocean despite the speed boat ticket costing more than 3 times the public boat. I also somehow assumed that it would have a substantial size to be stable at high speeds. There was nothing on the coast where a boat would be able to approach. Sometime later, I saw a boat coming which answered my questions. The boat comes as close as it can to the coast and then the passengers would take off their shoes, roll of their pants and land in the water, which was somewhere between knee to thigh deep. My camera would be dry but not me – good enough. (I used to constantly complain that the sea transportation between some of the Greek islands was not good, I made a mental note never to do that again and kept waiting for my boat.)

Finally the boat arrived, it was of course much smaller than what I expected. A small, noisy motorboat with a capacity of maybe 15 passengers or so. I wondered if this was the most comfortable option, how the public boat would be... All luggage placed all passengers boarded and we headed for the island. 30 minutes later we were in Nusa Lembongan. Again we took off our slippers, made sure our bags were high up in our backs not to touch water and walked to the coast. We were immediately surrounded by locals asking “accommodation, accommodation”. One of them approached me and said “do you have a place to stay” and I told him that I don't. He pointed out to a very picturesque hill, with beautiful houses overlooking the port and said “I have a place there, 500,000 rupiah per night” I told him my budget was somewhere around 80,000 and he immediately lost interest in me and moved on to someone else. One of the staff from the boat said I should walk towards the north coast to find cheap accommodation. I took his advice and started walking. I asked two places; one was very nice and within my range but fully occupied, the other was ridiculously more expensive but still fully occupied. I was yet at the early phases of my search to lose hope so kept walking. A man on a motorbike approached me and said he knows 2 cheap places farther up and he can show them to me. I know that I have a princess attitude when it comes to transportation, but when it comes to accommodation, my standards are quite low. Yet both places he showed me were un-sleepable. After one hour of partially walking and partially being driven around on the back of a motorbike, I finally found a place right by the ocean and with a nice garden. Slightly above what I expected to pay but at least I would not worry about the rusted fan, which is probably left behind by the Japanese troops returning home after WWII falling over my head in the middle of the night.

I spent the rest of the afternoon by the beach, watching boats pass by, surfers trying to catch a wave and admiring the strong silhouette of Mount Agung in Bali. It felt somehow good to be so close to Bali, still be able to see it.

As in most volcanic islands, the sunset in Nusa Lembongan was amazing. Most people come to beach to see the sunset, either shooting photos, swimming or watching it over a glass of wine. I saw three sunsets in this islands and all were uniquely beautiful.

Lembongan is a very small island and does not have passenger vehicles. There are a few pickups used for carrying heavy stuff to the inner parts of the island. Some pickups have benches installed in the back and used for transporting surfers and their boards between beaches but they don't come into the village centers. The main mode of transport is either by small boats along the coastal line or by motorbikes. Anyway the island is so small, I was told that one can walk around it in a day. While having my evening tea by the ocean, I decided that I wanted to explore the island on foot the next day. After many years in Istanbul and the last 3.5 years in Dubai, every opportunity to use my feet to reach places feels great for me.

The next morning I woke up just a little before 7, which was much later than what I planned. The sun is already up, so no sunrise photos today. Still, I managed to catch a guy who was giving his rooster a morning bath. I learned that the next day was a big festival and some rooster fights would also be held to celebrate. So I think he was trying to give his rooster some sea relaxation on the day before.

I had my fruit breakfast by the ocean, then packed my camera, a banana and a sarong and hit the road. Today's route was exploring the beaches, which are mostly located on the south end of the island. I only had a tiny map that I took from the ticket agent. It is more than enough as there is only one paved road running through the island so one cannot really get lost here.

My first target was the Mushroom beach but on the way I saw some roads that are not marked on the map and I followed them. It was a steep uphill path. It was around 9am but the sun was already too direct and heat was getting intense. The first road I follow takes me to a spot with this beautiful view of the island

Lembongan's main source of income is seaweed farming, and the intense smell is everywhere on the island because once the seaweed is collected, it is laid under the sunlight by the roads for drying. From this height, the farms were clearly visible. Again with the beautiful backdrop of the Mount Agung in Bali. I walked around a little more and failing to find a warung, got into one of the luxury holiday resorts for some water. It turned out to be a refreshing break by the pool, enjoying the same view with a bit of shade over my head. Walking a little further, I reached the Coconut Beach.

Some locals told me that there was a shortcut between Coconut and Mushroom beaches “you go uphill, you go downhill, 15 minutes, mushroom beach”. Failing to find the uphill path from the beach I had to go back to the main road, which extended my journey by at least an hour. The road was lined with trees, very quiet, only occasional motorbikes passing and a lot of birds chirping so couldn't really complain about walking a little longer.

I reached the Mushroom beach around 11:30. There are several resorts lined up across the entire beach. They offer the usual tourist attractions like the banana boat, snorkeling, diving trips so there's a constant noise of announcements, boats leaving, kids screaming on the banana. If one can ignore these, the beach is quite beautiful. It is also possible to see some interesting fish even 2-3 meters off the coast. I spend almost 3 hours on the Mushroom beach, most of it in a cafe located 7 meters above the sea level to enjoy the lunch in the shade and away from the noise. The beach looks much better from a distance.

When the heat became more bearable, I hit the road again for the Dream beach. Missing a turn somewhere, I end up in another beach, which I learn to be the Sunset beach. It's not marked in the maps so it felt like a bonus. Besides a cafe, there is nothing else so it is a perfect place to sit and listen to the waves crashing to the coast. It looks a bit too harsh for swimming.

As the beaches are located between high cliffs that end up in the ocean, they are not connected to each other by a road. Instead, the road is more like branches of a tree, I need to go back to a central point and take the next path for the next beach. Although the island is pretty small, this going backward thing doubles up the distances and with the camera in my back I am already tired. There's still the Dream beach in today's itinerary so I continue walking. Luckily, it's not very far and it's worth the last bit of effort to go there. The view is great and there's a cool cafe up in the hill where I can take a few minutes rest with a cold bottle of water. 

The journey back is mostly downhill and pretty straight so it takes much shorter. Including the swimming, eating and the hydration breaks, the walk takes about 8.5 hours.

I make it back with enough time to shower before sunset. I don't think I've sweated that much in a day ever before. Although I tried to avoid being on the road in the midday, I still end up with a funny t-shirt marked tan. What's worse is I have distinctively untanned crow feet around my eyes because I I didn't use any sunglasses and creased my eyes instead. That would require a lot of tanning sessions to get rid of. 

I will post a separate entry on day 3 later.

Friday, November 20, 2009

still on my mat

I haven't been posting for a long time, mainly because not a lot of action is going on. I'm going through a rather introverted and introspective stage. When I started this journey in August, I thought I would hop around Asia for a few months. I carried all the Lonely Planet guides for Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore with me. I planned tentative itineraries, according to which I would spend a total of 5 weeks in Indonesia, then 2 weeks in Malaysia followed by maybe 6 weeks of island hopping in Thailand. Well, it went pretty much as planned until October; I've been to Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi. I came to Bali and suddenly everything changed. I had set myself reminders for travel dates, out of Bali, out of Indonesia, arrive to Malaysia etc... I missed all these reminders and here I am still in Ubud. I thought I would be all over Asia, yet I am mostly in the Yoga Barn. I thought I would be hopping around the islands yet I spend most of my time on a yoga mat smaller than 2m2. What started as a journey in Asia is pretty much turning into a journey in me. I couldn't be happier about it... After all what is more interesting and satisfying than discovering one's self, layer by layer? And this satisfaction comes purely from inside. Everyday I am thankful to be here, to be doing what I am doing and for the simple pleasures I am lucky to notice here. And I know that when the right time comes I will move to my next destination, not because reminders snooze but because I want to be there.

Since the Yoga Barn and the accompanying Little K cafe are the places I spend most of my time, here are some photos.

The Yoga Barn:

The Little K & its surroundings:

Monday, November 09, 2009

blindfold yoga workshop

Ubud is slowly teaching me not to plan and to fully live in the present moment. Back in Dubai, I had my days planned for 3 months ahead minimum. I had an outlook calendar synchronized with my mobiles, beeping even for weekend activities and casual get togethers with friends. Here life is flowing o spontaneously and freely and I am beginning to like it.

I had planned to go to Nusa Lembongan on 4th of November for a few days. Then I learned that Bex, who happens to be one of my most transformative yoga instructors in Ubud was offering a blindfold yoga workshop on the 7th, just a few days before she was leaving for India. I couldn't miss it. In Colcatta, Bex is working with Deepa, a 4-year old blind girl and through Bex's positive energy, persistence, love and kindness, Deepa had showed amazing progress. Deepa is now 4 years old, born to a very poor mother in slums of Colcatta. Her mother had to give her away because she wouldn't be able to keep Deepa alive. So now, Deepa lives in an institution which is for severely handicapped or mentally-challenged children. When Bex started working with her last year, she was even unable to walk and talk. Now she can walk, dance and make some basic sounds. She doesn't understand any language, but can feel and respond to Bex. All that in a frame of a few months...

At 1pm we are in the studio waiting for the workshop to start. Earlier, I caught glimpses of Bex preparing for it and it seems that she had put in a lot of personal effort to it with some photos, music selection, synchronization and the like. She tells us the ground rules while distributing the blindfolds. During the 2.5 hours, no talking and no removing the blindfolds. Even if we need to go to the bathroom, the blindfolds stay on and we will be led by Bex to the toilet. Hmm, I think I would rather hold it...

Of course the workshop also aimed to explore how we use other senses when we don't have sight, which of course provides a great deal of cues when doing asanas.

We do some meditation to start with, followed by some free dancing to warm up and then a bit of partner work. Well, even finding a partner can be difficult without seeing. Bex is very clear when she is explaining the poses, however at times all of us interpret it differently. Normally, I would peek over my shoulder and see what the person next to me is doing and adjust accordingly (which of course is a big no-no) and I have this urge to adjust my blindfold just a bit so that I can take a tiny look... Then I think, what the hell? What if I am doing the pose differently? What if I am not holding my partner exactly like everyone else? As long as we don't let each other fall, we should be ok. In fact, we would be bringing our own expression of the pose which is nothing but beautiful. Even that is a big insight for me.

Then we continue with some individual asanas on the mat. Before each surya namaskara, I would have to feel the top of the mat with my toes so I can align myself. I must have done thousands of suryas, it's interesting that I would still need visual cues to adjust here and there.

Then comes the balancing poses. Though practice, I became quite good at vrksanana, the tree pose. Being able to make good use an external drishti is key for me. The minute I start to gaze around, my tree collapses. How do you find drishti, when all you see is a black blindfold? Do you imagine that you're seeing the floor and pick a point to focus or do you just gaze into this blackness? Of course while trying to figure that out I constantly collapse. It seems like a miracle that blind people can walk on streets with only scanning what's ahead with a stick.

We do a long Yoga Nidra and then some singing in Sanskrit. Time ti time, Bex reads us what she has written about Deepa. It is impossible not to feel their mutual bond. Deepa has improved significantly through Bex's love and kindness and by trusting her unconditionally. Whereas Bex seems to be deeply moved by Deepa's courage and how she hangs onto life with what little she has. This is a bond that changes both parties forever... And also those of us who are lucky to learn about and feel it, although we may never “see” Bex and Deepa together.

At the end of the workshop, we are lead to a corner of the room and asked to kneel down and remove our blindfolds. Even though there is no direct light coming in, after 2.5 hours of complete darkness, the light is too intense when I open my eyes. Intense but in a way also relieving. I notice that we are kneeling down in front of some posters, with photos of Deepa and Bex's narrative about them. I clearly remember one; Deepa on a see-saw for the first time and the joy in her face when she's up in the air. Imagine not seeing, not being able to talk and being lifted up to the air on a narrow piece of wood... What can be quite frightening for some under the circumstances is a source of pure joy for Deepa. This is her courage, this is her strength. Our senses have already been very heightened because of the blindfold and the singing and I cannot help crying in front of that photo. We are often unhappy or not satisfied with our lives. When asked “how are you?”, most of us tend to answer “not bad” which seems to be the norm nowadays. We always have things to complain, we always have excuses, we are always too busy, too occupied with ourselves, always trying to grab a bit more and here is a 4-year old girl who cannot see and cannot speak, living in an institution, purely happy to be on a see-saw for the first time in her life.

Bex and Deepa have touched me in a place and in a way that was too deep. I can only be grateful that I had the opportunity to be touched by them.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

urban tribal concept store

Ubud has some very fine boutiques. Mostly selling custom-designed and handmade pieces of clothes, accessories, jewelery, bags and the like. While there's an element of simplicity, most of the merchandise sold in these boutiques reflect the rich culture and art of Bali through the pattern of the fabric or the fine handwork or the richness of the design. But once in a while something is so out of the ordinary, you cannot help noticing it.

I saw this shop door about two weeks ago. It's on my street. If we were in some major metropolitan city, this shop would have probably fit in any shopping district so well that I wouldn't have noticed it. But with its super hygienic white and glass facade , somewhat minimalistic design and most importantly the sign on the door “urban tribal concept store” this soon-to-open shop screams that it's out of place in Ubud. For starters, what does “urban tribal concept store” mean? What will they sell and how would the stuff they sell would look like?

Since I skipped some yoga classes this morning (I am trying to cut back!) I had time to go around looking for books and shoot a couple of photos. While I was trying to adjust the polarizer to avoid reflections on the shop window, this man comes and deliberately poses in front of me. Well he's not urban or tribal, but definitely fits the frame well. I tell him why I see this shop so out of place and he starts predicting based on his experience in Ubud. He thinks it will probably stock some big-sized jewelery, mostly piercing stuff. Judging by the location and the design, he also thinks the owner is Japanese. He said this street is so popular among Japanese, (they kept opening shops and restaurants that survived only 2-3 years) that they used to call it “Hello Kitty” street.

There's been no action inside the shop for the last 2 weeks, even the empty water bottles and plastic bags are where they are. I really hope it would open before I leave and I get a chance to see what will be the urban tribal concept merchandise that is sold there.

My yoga learning for the day: In poses where one needs to elongate the spine by lifting the neck (such as cat/cow, upward facing dog) try not to really lift the neck up, instead try to stretch it forward, as if you were doing these ancient Egyptian dances. Then only lift your eyes and look as high as you can. This would actually create more space in the neck area without possible neck strains.