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Holy cow! We're in India...

The first few days...

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Namaste from India!

I hope this message finds you all well, happy and grateful. I begin this blog from the Thibetan Camp in Delhi and end it in Jaipur. Time in internet cafes has come in short periods, so it’s taking some time to write. Our trip to India was pretty easy, it's amazing what being up all night packing can do to get you to sleep sitting straight up for 24 hours!

So, before I delve in, there's this commercial out right now that really touched me and from the first time I heard it, it put into words what I've been thinking for so long on my many trips and will continue to think about on this one...It goes like this:

'What is a journey? A journey is not a trip. It’s not a vacation. It’s a process, a discovery. It’s a process of discovery. A journey brings us face to face with ourselves. It not only shows you the world, but how we fit in it. Does the person create the journey, or does the journey create the person? The journey is life itself. Where will life take you?'

If it sounds familiar, it’s a Louis Vatton commercial (yes, I know)…doesn't it make you want to run and buy a $2200 Louis Vatton bag?? Ummmm, not me. But the message is so on point for me that I had to share it.

Now, let’s start with the beginning of my journey. I have to say, that my departure was tough. Separating myself from the level of comfort that family, friends, a good career, a home, etc. has been quite challenging and a reality that unexpectedly slapped me in the face once I was ready to go. It was hard. It's still hard. My emotions are on overdrive and my head won’t stop. But now, being with my mom, I know that this different kind of home I have chosen is the right one right now– my mom. No more to say on that...

As for the first leg of our trip…we landed in Delhi without backaches, lost luggage or visa issues. All good signs in my book! We arrived to our hotel at almost 4:30 am and my crazy head wouldn't stop so I unpacked, repacked, read, wrote in my journal...all until exhaustion caught up with me and I literally heard the roosters crow when I finally decided it was time to sleep. The next morning we took our time getting up, ate who knows what for lunch (it was yummy!) and headed out to locate the most obscure travel agency in this continent. No joke. The travel agent I have been communicating with over email for over a month to set up our tour of Northern India told us (in a great mix of British and Indian accent of course) 'Madame, A+ marks for finding this very good establishment on your first day in Delhi. Very good ladies',). That's right! We aced Delhi.

Now, let's talk about Delhi. There is absolutely nothing that anyone can do or tell you to prepare you for the onslaught of sounds, sights and smells in this City. Delhi is an eye opener – the streets are filled with non-stop mechanical and human traffic where not an inch of space is wasted – it is downright confusing, confronting and in-your-face for first timers like my mom and I. Delhi is huge, it’s loud, it’s chaotic and a shock on the senses. It’s a mix of old and older. Of forgotten and abandoned buildings. Of slums and highrises. But it has some great history and if you can look away from the gritty surface, there’s some great places to discover.

We wondered around the Red Fort, a phenomenal testament to the once mighty Mughals in India, toured Jama Mosque (huge and not that impressive) then headed to Gandhi’s last home and saw the exact spot where he was assassinated. His home was a very special place, you could feel the energy the moment you walked in and both my mom and I loved the experience. After we checked out the beautiful Qutb Minar, a soaring tower built to proclaim the arrival of Islam to India. Later, we did what we do best and shopped our little hearts out for sari’s and pashminas. We could have gone on for hours, had we not been starving, but it was pure comedy to hear shopkeepers yell to us every few seconds “hello madame, come in. No buy, no problem” in an Indian accent of course!

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Posing with my new friends.

But, enough of Delhi (not our cup of tea – although the chai is fabulous everywhere we go), now we’re headed to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. We were so excited to head out, specially my mom, who is very unhappy with our very shady hotel in Delhi, and our tour officially starts which will afford us a private chauffer, car, guides and you guessed it, some pretty nice hotels. So much for “backpacking through India”!

The Taj….there are really no words to describe this amazing palace. It’s been described as the most “extravagant monument ever built for love” and although I have heard and read about it, there are not enough adjectives to prepare you for the awesome beauty and overwhelming feeling of gratitude it brings. Really. This is a must see, for sure. Nothing I say will come close to describing it – but I will say I loved it and will come back someday to take another round of 100 pictures or so.

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[i]Self explanatory!

I would love to go on, but as I sit here, next to a Buddhist munk dressed in bright orange and yellow robe with a freshly shaved head typing away in a booth next to me, I’m being shushed out of here by a man with a red turban on his head. I think they are closing. Woah, I’m in India!

More to come soon my friends!! Take good care, enjoy life, smile!

Best,

Giovanna

'Own Only What You Can Carry With You, Know Languages, Know Countries, Know People…Let Your Memory Be Your Travel Bag'

Posted by luzygiovis 14:47 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Oh Rajasthan…

A drive through northwest India

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We’re off to the ‘purs. Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur – all gorgeous cities in Rajasthan – a state known as the “Land of Kings”. We could have spent more than a month discovering this state, it’s wonderfully colorful people and more history than we know what to do with. Rajasthan is a place of storybooks – camels, music, colorful turbans and saris and the food…oh the food….

Our adventure in Rajasthan starts in Jaipur after a long drive from Agra. The countryside was beautiful and watching the villages as we zipped by was like watching a movie from oh so many years ago – women worked the fields wearing beautifully colorful saris, while the men sat around playing cards and drinking chai masala. Our driver, Narender, explained this is very common in villages, as the mans “work” is to talk about politics and other important business, usually done over a nice cup of delicious chai. I’m sure there is a lot more to it, but we saw nothing else. What a life!
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Beautiful Indian women with mom.

We arrived in Jaipur in one piece, after a few alarmingly close calls playing chicken with oncoming cars, cows, mottos and the like. Like everywhere else we have been in India, wide eyed Indians follow our every move. Somewhere in their history they lost the ability to be conspicuous and they stare blankly and openly at you. It’s not in a bad way – I think they are just curious. But, like everywhere else in India, one smile their way rewards you with gleaming, wide toothed (and sometime no toothed) vibrant smile back. Especially the young women – so shy, so curious, but so very friendly and giggly.

Jaipur is known as the “pink city” meaning welcome. The monkeys roaming the streets and easily climbing buildings and trees made it that much more magical. Our guide, Alok, told us that the common theme in Jaipur for many many years has been and will continue to be to “enjoy life and pleasure”. We learned the meaning of bhoga = physical enjoyment and yoga = perfect spiritual insight and tranquility. This was very apparent in the City Palace, decorated throughout with gold, silver and precious stones, rooms full of wonderful Indian carpets and overstuffed pillows where the king spent a lot of time smoking opium and enjoying his many queens and concubines next to a meditation room, used several times per day.

After, we escaped the heat by stopping at a juice stand under a shady tree and ordering fresh squeezed OJ and ate carrots (they are huge and red here – really sweet and great to munch on!). We also had some pakora (fried lentil powder and spices) as we people watched. I looked around at that moment and saw that people looked so happy. Everyone smiling, kids playing stick ball, others with marbles, women carrying baskets on their heads, selling beautiful bangles and pashminas, men talking on phones, others drinking chai and playing cards – all with a hint of a smile on their faces. These people are happy and so was I.

That night we went to Chocki Dan, a theme park of sorts and had dinner, dressed like Rajasthany women and got photos taken, got henna on our hands and a tarot card reading. A kind faced palm reader, with a turban and all, told mom that she would live to be very old, that her kids are well, but live very far away from her. That she will move along steadily in her spiritual journey and that she will find love soon – this year. He told me that I will live until 85 and I will have good luck through my life. That I am on a long journey. I can work overseas and be very successful, but that I’m lazy and need to learn to work (ha!). I will be married by 32 and have three kids (um…what?) and will have a long and happy marriage. All this for 40 rupees (which is about $1) – interesting!

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Henna feet

We’re off to Jodhpur tomorrow morning – another 7 hour, nail biting drive with Narender – our trusted and wonderfully sweet chauffer who understands little of what we say. But a combination of some very choppy English, sign language, patience and quite a few laughs has done the trick.

Namaste for now!

Giovis

Posted by luzygiovis 19:41 Archived in India Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Famous in Jodhpur!

Okay, not really...

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We arrived in Jodhpur late after another 7 hour ride with Narender through tons of small villages in Rajasthan. We loved Jodhpur from the second we got there – the “blue city” has an energy about it that drew us in.

After a tour around the city and seeing the beautiful palace and the Meherangarh (a gorgeous fort on a huge 125 meter high hill), we ditched our guide and decided to get lost in the old city. Our first stop was to a tea shop near the clock tower, where my mom tried hard to explain what chamomile tea was and failed. We headed into the main market and found a busy lassi shop (a yoghurt “shake”) full of locals, where we somehow managed to order two of the white drinks and sit down while being shamelessly stared at by every Indian in the place. I think they were curious if we would like the stuff and we were careful to make no funny faces in case it was not our style of beverage…but it was delicious, although very sweet for my taste.

After a while and a couple of choppy conversations with the people around us, we got up to leave and a couple of young guys stopped me and using sign language attempted to ask me for something. I had no clue what they wanted and as I turned to my mom to see if she understood, I realized the whole place was still, quiet and watching us. Turns out that the guy wanted my autograph and a picture! I’m huge in Jodhpur and I didn’t even know it! ;o) I hesitated, tried to explain why this was an odd request and finally accepted, posed and headed out. We paid for the lassis, which put us back 10 IRS (about .25 cents) and we wondered into the market to see what we would find.

We turned where we felt like it and stumbled upon a beautiful white temple that had been partially converted into a store/hotel/restaurant called Krishna Arts & Crafts (restaurant is Nirvana Terrace Roof Top Restaurant & Cafe). We ended up staying there a few hours after meeting the owner, Ajit and two of his favorite customers from Holland, Case and Lyndia. I was rebaptised and given the name Kushimemsab (happy lady) by Ajit who instructed me to introduce myself with my new Indian name whenever I could. It brought laughs whenever I did it throughout the trip. We had a wonderful meal at the restaurant (the best in India), allowing Ajit to order for us and ate happily overlooking Jodhpur and the fort high up above. The old city is crowded, congested and a bit dirty, but it’s got so much charm.

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Jodhpur Queens in Ajit's store

We walked back to meet Narender and made one last stop as mom was determined to buy tea. She entered one of the many stores selling every flavour you can imagine of the stuff and I sat outside waiting, watching and thinking. My daydream was interrupted by the store owner of a tea shop I was sitting near when he offered me a chair and some chai. I gladly accepted and we chatted for a few minutes until he left. I went back to my people watching and got lost in the crowds of people passing by, working, walking, selling, talking…I fell in love with that city that afternoon.

The next day we went back for lunch at Ajit’s place and had another wonderful meal and walked the streets of the market once again. We met tons of local people, bought bangles off some very good saleswomen that slide them on your wrist with no hope of taking them off (hence the purchase), learned some Hindi from kids, bought beautiful scarves decorated by wrapping rice around the fabric and tie-dying it, ate fruit and of course, drank chai. It was time to head to Udaipur and we were sad to leave, but knowing we would be back, we took a plane to the next gorgeous city India had to offer…

Posted by luzygiovis 17:21 Archived in India Tagged automotive Comments (1)

That's it, we've found paradise...

Railay Beach = Gorgeous beaches, rock climbing, cayaking, hiking...

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After a couple of weeks in Phuket we decided we needed a vacation from our vacation and headed to Railay Beach in the Krabi province. Yes, we left one gorgeous beach for another...

Railay is isolated from the mainland by huge rocky limestone cliffs that create the peninsula where we headed. It is surrounded by the luke warm waters of the Andaman Sea, lush jungle (full of mosquitos), and twisted rock which I later learned Carlos and I would rock climb! Since Railay is only accessible by boat, we took a 3 hour boat ride from Phuket then a long tail boat ride to Railay, which not so smoothly "delivered" us on the beach. As we jumped off the boat and got soaked by the clear, emerald green-blue waters, it didn't seem too bad after all.

From the first glimpse one realizes that Railay is one of the most stunning beaches in Thailand. This place is often the gorgeous shots featured on tourist posters of Thailand and there are endless postcard quality pictures to snap.

Once we were on the beach, we walked through the beaches towards our hotel (if you can call it that - a better word would be huts). The fine white sand between our toes was the softest I ever remember feeling and the limestone formations from the surrounding cliffs made the magic of the place even more surreal. Relaxation seeps into your pores from the first few steps we took, although Carlos had us climbing the cliffs within 30 minutes after arriving and after being half eaten alive by the vicious Railay mosquitos we got to one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever been to - Pranang.

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Mom in Au Nang

After lazying around the beach we headed back to our huts and took showers to head to dinner. At night, Railay is fairly quiet, with a few small beach bars that are mostly rasta-style with live music and fire shows that we checked out. The fire shows are mesmerizing - with a Singha (yummy Thai beer) in your hand, the trance-like music and the fire you seem to go into a kind of timeless, dreamy state. We were home and in bed by 10:00 pm, but I would have sworn it was the wee hours of the morning...

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Relaxing on the bamboo hammock

The next morning, after a great breakfast cosisting of banana pancakes and fresh squeezed papaya juice we headed to Wee's Climbing School to go rock climb for the day. Mom was like papparazi and took about a million shots of us (thanks mom!)

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Getting our gear on!

After a boat ride and a long hike, we got to our climbing spot and joined about 15 other climbers. Alex, our climbing guru, gave me a step-by-step, rules and guidelines, 5-minute talk about how to do what I was about to do. Since Carlos has climbed a few times before, I was the only newby to worry about. After learning how to tie the knots that would save my life if I fell, we started our first climb. Los went first and did great - making it look easy for his little sister. Little did I know how hard it was! My poor limbs were hurting within the first 60 seconds, but Alex knew every inch of that rock and guided us the whole way "reach up to your right 30 degrees and hook your arm around the rock and find the hole to hang onto..." and voila! you had your next hold. The view from the top was incredible and coming down was the best part of the climb. After our fifth climb, Carlos and I could barely stand or grip anything, but we were so proud and exhilarated to have done it. We can't wait to do it again!!

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[i]Almost to the top!

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Alex, Carlos and I

Dinner that night was challenging as we could barely lift our forks to our mouths, but we found a great restaurant that was playing latin music in the background, lit by soft lanterns and had tables close to the ground where you sat on oversized pillows, laid back and relaxed. All restaurants should be set up this way!! What a relaxing way to eat and enjoy food.

The next day, mom and I were ready to be beach bums, but Carlos insisted on going kayaking. We just about voted him off the island....but finally agreed to do it. Of course, he was so right! We had a blast (although I honestly don't know how my arms answered to my brain). We kayaked all alongside the awesome cliffs, found a huge cave-like area where the water was calm and the three of us laid down on the kayaks and floated, feeling like we were almost flying, staring up at the cliffs and contemplating life. It was very Zen. We found a few more spots where we repeated this and decided to head back. How we made it back to the beach after being out so long is beyond me, but we did it.

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Railay Beach in the background heading towards the cliffs

After another crazy hike through the forest, we gathered our things and headed for the boat to take us back "home" (Carlos' hotel in Patong Beach). Needless to say, we loved Railay!!

Posted by luzygiovis 07:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Songkran Water Warriors

Happy Thai New Year!!

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April is one of the hottest months in Thailand, but I didn't realize it was also going to be the wettest!! April 12 and 13 are the Songkran holidays in Phuket (in some parts of Thailand it lasts a week!). Traditionally, families and friends gather to celebrate by visiting temples, sprinkling water on Buddha images in reverence, and sprinkling water on each other's hands as an act of respect and wishing good luck. Here in Phuket, shortly after dawn on the 13th, devout Buddhists gather at the neighborhood temples to offer food for the orange robed monks and prayers for the New Year. Buuuut, by mid-morning, the tradition vastly changes and the town degenerrates into a battlefield where every person in sight abandon themselves to a mad free-for-all crazyness of throwing, squirting splashing, heaving, hurling and dumping freezing cold water on each other.

Farangs (the Thai word for "foreigners", aka: us) are special targets. Knowing this, Carlos, mom and I took a special trip into Phuket Town and loaded ourselves with super soakers and were ready to strike back! Hey, it's the New Year! Little did we know what we were preparing ourselves for...there were water balloons, squirt guns, buckets, hoses and pretty much anything that could soak you in full effect on every street. We were hit when we least expected it. It was flat out hilarious and our smiles did not fade for the full two days the festival lasted.

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Mini water fighter in training...

Around streetcorners, we found little children lurking armed with buckets of ice cold water, who happily ambushed anyone who happened to come close. People on motorcycles weave wildly through traffic, ready to pounce in hit-and-run squirtgun raids. Pickup trucks packed with drenched thais prowl about the streets in search of victims for a watery mugging. Even a bus driver opened his door to get people as he drove by with a super soaker!! Mom stayed dry the first day, but that didn't stop her from filling buckets of water and throwing them to those that passed close to the hotel from our 3rd floor room!! Hilarious...

The streets were jammed packed with "farangs", lady boys, children, grandparents and everyone in between. Each one armed and ready to strike. It took about 6 seconds before I was attacked after walking out of Carlos' hotel. By the time I had reached the end of the block, I was out of water and totally soaked. The fun continued until the wee hours of the morning and then started again soon after.

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She got me!

Mom went to the Buddhist temple in Patong and experienced the food offering and blessings. On her long walk back to the hotel, she ran into several water warriors who happily blessed her with a ton of water. By the time she reached the hotel, she got a huge block of ice, got a trash can filled with water and started her own little army of water fighters made up of Banana Tacos staff and their kids in front of the hotel. After a few hours and with pruny, white hands, she was back to work on the gorgeous mural she is painting on the restaurant wall.

As for me, on my way into the hotel my cousin Pablo and I took a moto taxi from their house and within 1 minute of leaving his house got completely soaked - unfortunetly, our driver lost control and we crashed - nothing bad, I somehow jumped right off without a scratch, but the moto got a little banged up...that was just the first 5 minutes of the day. I ended up losing my whole group, but quickly made new friends and ended up organizing a couple of great freezing water attacks on the people across the street from us!

Getting wet is unavoidable and the celebration is a great cultural experience and we can't wait to come back next year and do it again!

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Water warriors!!!

Check out this long, but very accurate youtube video of one tourist's view of the festival from 2007!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cRchJb5P-A

Songkran requires a sense of humor, a water gun and a waterproof camera to try to catch the happy madness. It was fantastic and we loved every minute of it. :o)

Until next time....

Posted by luzygiovis 02:30 Archived in Thailand Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Spitting Thai Clams!

In the food market...

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Thailand’s markets are legendary for their eclectic selection of food. The presentation is flat out artistic - who knew that you could make a giant green flower from lettuce?? The best part is the people who are so friendly, forever smiling and always helpful. We are greeted with "sabaidee kaaps" and traditional thai bows every few seconds and anyone we approach is curious and happy to practice their little English and our VERY limited Thai. Somehow we somehow always understand each other though (at least we think so...) Of course we know they are doing business and money is king in Thailand, but we really feel a connection with some people that will stay with us.

We have been spending tons of time in the local markets in Patong doing shopping for Banana Tacos (Carlos' restaurant/guesthouse) and getting fresh fruits and veggies for ourselves (I can't believe I'm saying it, but Mexican food is starting to get old!) The market around the corner from Banana Tacos has a second floor where you can eat delicious made on-the-spot food that is some of the cheapest in Patong. We have a slight addiction to the market and walk there almost daily to stock up on supplies and get our fill of cocunut and banana shakes. Yum!

My personal favorite part of the market is the seafood section where there are tons of fish, clams, crabs, shark, muscles, lobster, squid, prongs, oysters, octupus and a few things so odd that we have never seen before. The best part is that they are all alive, still swimming, flopping or floating in little buckets! It doesn't get any more fresh than this. They are so alive that as I got close to figure out where water was squirting from in plastic pan, a clam actually spit on me - from 2 feet away!

Markets are so fun and such a great glimpse of the very important part of the Thai culture - their food! We're looking forward to visiting many more in the last few weeks that we have left in Thailand.

Sabaidee kaa for now!

Posted by luzygiovis 22:53 Archived in Thailand Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

A Volcanic Experience

Climbing Mount Batur Volcano in Bali

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Wandering through the streets of Ubud today I met Bagus, a Balinese man dressed in typical Balinese clothing, sitting outside of his house. We got to talking and it turns out he is a tour guide (they all seem to be in this town). I mentioned that I was curious about the climb to Mount Batur and before I knew it, I had booked my mom and I for the next morning's trip. Mount Batur, considered sacred by the Balinese, is strenuous 700 meter journey up one of the world's most active volcanos that leads to pristine wilderness. Sounds right up our alley!!

We took the one hour's drive from Ubud after being picked up at our hotel, Ketut's Place, by Bagus at 2:00 am. No, that's not a typo, 2:00 AM! The journey up towards Mount Batur from Bali begins in a quiet road, lined by rice patties and cornfields under the moonlight. Mom and I were exhausted and slept most of the way there.

After a little accident into a ditch by Bagus' less than average driving skills, we arrived at the base of the volcano. The pre-dawn start time kept the crowd fairly small and we were two of only about 15 people, each assigned to a personal guide. We were introduced to Wayan, our young and good looking guide, and immediately started our dark trek up the porus, volcanic rock.

It was so dark, we could barely see our own hands in front our faces and we made it up the whole way by seeing only about five feet in front of us with the help of flash lights. Kinda like life though, we didn't need to see that far ahead in order to make it to our destination...

The trek up was ridiculously slippery and quite tiring. After about three hours, a couple of slips and quite a few rest stops we arrived. I nearly gave up three times, mom a few more, but Wayan reminded us that entire Balinese villages ascend the peak for religious celebrations, so it seems willpower is more important than physical strength to get to the top.

Once at the top, we befriended the rest of the guides who invited us into their quarters to rest while we waited for the sun to rise. They told us that Mount Batur is a holy mountain and it's difficult to live at the foot of it since no one knows when it will explode. And yet, the Balinesen look upon the volcano as an ultimate blessing for its enriching effects on the soil from which they live off of.

After about 30 minutes of chatting, laughing and sharing some PB & J sandwiches which mom made and they had never tasted and fell in love with, dawn began to break and began laying out a panorama of pink and purple skylight. It was mystical and the fog that seemed to melt with every second that passed only added to the magic of the moment. Soon we saw the green valley below, black lava beds, and glittering Lake Batur below. It was one of the prettiest sunrises I have ever seen.

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Sunrise atop Mt. Batur

There's an indescribable elation that comes over you with arriving at the top of the crater and viewing the surrounding ring-of-fire. We were actually standing on a very active volcano and the remains of a huge eruption that happened 50,000 years ago. The crater was right next to us as well as a huge dry cave. It looked blown out rather than made by lava. Standing at the top, seeing where we were, it made me feel so tiny and helpless...Mt. Batur is a frightening testimony to the power of nature. The long sharp arcs of blown-out rock attest to violent volcanic eruptions, some as recent as the mid 90's. We took a short walk to one of the peaks that lead to a site of recent activity. Huge plumes of billowing steam rolled overhead and although we didn't see it, the sight of molten red lava wasn't far away. You could actually hear the steam eruptions heave and crash like the sound of ocean waves; it was a bit unsettling to say the least.

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At the peak after dawn.

After a while, we started our descent. Somehow, it doesn't take nearly as long to slip down the peaks as it does to climb them--an hour at most. With the right shoes (which by the way, we didn't have), the volcano can be almost skiied down on the small crunchy lava pebbles. Mom took a nasty fall and hurt her hip and wrist pretty badly. I felt terrible, but she was brave and strong and kept going like a champ.

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[i]We actually climbed that...in the dark!

The experience was awesome. Other than the fall, it would have been perfect. To tend to the fall, Bagus took us to a local healer who put some herb mixture on my mom's wrist and back and made her cry quite a bit from pain from all the massaging he was doing, but in the end, she felt a lot better. After a couple of days of rest, she was fine, but it broke my heart to see her in pain. That little herb mixture, whatever it was, really helped. Amazing how that works!

Well, that's it for now. We're off to the Gilli Islands in a couple of days. :)

Selamat Jalan (goobye!)

Posted by luzygiovis 19:59 Archived in Indonesia Tagged foot Comments (0)

New blog!!

Check out my new blog from my last three months of travel!!

http://giovis.travellerspoint.com/

Posted by luzygiovis 12:53 Comments (0)

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