destinations

15 Initial Impressions of Bali

Where and how do I begin with this stupendous island. It feels like a universe unto itself. Its geography is remarkable, its people beautiful (most of the people I met anyway), its culture rich, its religion ever-present, and its taxi drivers omnipresent. While Indonesia is primarily Muslim, Bali is primarily Hindu. “There is a temple for every household,” Gusti (Gusti number 2) my driver explained. “Every thing has a god. We make offerings everywhere…in the temple, in the street, many places. 

It keeps us busy.” 

Indeed as you walk the streets of Bali you will see offerings on the sidewalk, with incense burning (they have some of the best smelling incense). 

Without further adieu, here are my 15 Initial Impressions:

1. There are incredibly ornate statues EVERYWHERE. It's possible there are more statues here than there are Starbucks in the U.S. The numbers are too high for me to do the math. 

2. Wait, why are we driving on this side of the road and why is the steering wheel over there? Yes, they drive on the left side of the road. You get used to it. 

3. How are all these beautiful people not sweating like crazy wearing their awesome traditional accoutrement?

3. Most people seem to be genuinely rad and happy to talk with you. 

4. This culture embodies excellent customer service in many areas. In restaurants and hotels, you’ll find yourself being treated like a king, queen, prince, or princess, and it feels absolutely genuine in most cases. 

5. Taxi drivers and massage parlors are apparently mass produced and are available every ten seconds of your waking life. To put it another way: Just as there are an infinite number of dogs in the Philippines and Costa Rica, there are an infinite number of massage parlours and taxi drivers in Bali. There are probably more massage parlors and taxi drivers in Bali than there are grains of sand on earth, more than there are planets in the Andromeda Galaxy, more than…ok, I’ll stop with the hyperbole. But for real, a lot. 

6. In my math-deficient estimation, at least 1 million motor vehicles seem to take up a radius approximating a city block in Denpensar. *This is totally an exaggeration as an initial impression, but a reality when going into Denpasar on a scooter.

7. You can find awesome hotels on the cheap (one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in in my entire life of 39 years was Lilacita Inn, which was $18 USD a night). 

8. There are many wooden replicas of male genitalia of varying (I'm talking the difference between a smart car and a yacht) sizes available in gift shops, and these gift shops are almost as ubiquitous as massage parlors and taxi drivers. That means that there is an almost infinite number of wooden replicas of male genitalia in the country. I haven’t looked into why this is, and I don’t mind being ignorant about it either. 

9. There are a lot of people from Europe, Australia, and the states EVERYWHERE. I wouldn’t be surprised if I went to the most remote part of an island and was suddenly in the midst of a “Yoga and Dreadlocks Session for Tourists.” That’s not a thing yet that I know of, but it very well could be someday. 

10. Many locals wear really awesome traditional Balinese accoutrement, especially during funerals and ceremonies. See point 3. 

11. Many of the beaches have a shitload of garbage floating around in the water. Nusa Dusa is an exception, though I’ve heard there are more that are clean. Padang Padang was exceptionally disgusting and rubbish-filled. I swear it was like some very drunk city planner was in charge of creating a new waste site and was like: “fuckit, let’s throw all this shit in Padang Padang, I’m tired and want a taco.”

12. “Where are you from, “Where are you going,” and “Taxi” seem to be the 3 main opening sales lines anywhere on the island where tourists visit.

13. Much like the Philippines and Costa Rica, there are whole families cruising on heavily trafficked roads on nothing more than a small scooter, while wearing their awesome traditional garb. 

14. When I say I’m from the states, after a while they determine I mean American, and say Obama! They know about Barack there, as evidently our Commander in Chief lived in Indonesia for a while when he was younger. This was a fact that I did not know, but Gusti number 2 did. Gusto number 2 was my second driver named Gusti.

15. This is rad...this is just truly rad.

Can Anything Good Come Out of Manila?

This is my first post from a series on the Philippines. There is just too much to write about, so I'll start with my first destination in this amazing country, which only lasted about 2 days: Manila.

Can anything good come from Manila? Ask anyone from Panglao island and they would either say no or "how the hell should I know I can't afford to fly there."

I think Manila is worth visiting, but only for a day or two. Believe me, it does have its own beauty, but there are thousands of islands to visit, so it doesn't make sense to stay unless you have a ton of time, are enamored with the place, or decide that your true calling in life is to be a Manilian (I have no idea if they call themselves Manilians, but it sounds cool as hell).

Initial Inpressions

It reminds me of Juarez, Mexico mainly because of the traffic, but also because of the smells and abundance of people. It does not have a kind smell generally speaking, at least where I stayed and ventured to, and  the air was warm with smog. *Note to my Filipino Manila friends: I don't mean to offend, I'm offering my honest impression of the city. I spoke with a very kind, intelligent, and gorgeous Cebuana (a Cebuana is a girl from Cebu) recently who informed me these things can be taken the wrong way. Much love to you and your country.

The place where I stayed is called La Verti residences, and it was pretty decent, especially at around $30 a night. It's an upper middle class (I think) high rise smack dab in the middle of craziness. Walking around that area could be somewhat of a nightmare with so many buses. I think there are just as many buses in Manila as there are dogs in Costa Rica, which may as well be called infinite. I had a pretty great view of the skyline. The ocean was usually obscured, though you could make out the outlines of boats in the distance through the oft orange-ish haze. Once I walked outside of the high-rise, reality and the way of life for many living in the city always struck me. There is strife and 7-11's. Yes, 7-11's are abundant in this city, for better or worse. American commerce knows no bounds, and neither does strife. Hi America! I love ya but damn you're everywhere son. 

The view from my Airbnb balcony

The view from my Airbnb balcony

I was surprised to find that the time change is not completely unpleasant, though for a couple of days it seemed as though I kept falling sideways to the left. Maybe my body was confused about being on the other side of the planet. The change in time induces a sort of haze, and taking a nap at any given time becomes the norm for a few days.

My other view, facing the sea

My other view, facing the sea

Shotgun Arm

What the hell does this mean? This is a note that I made while in Manila, and I have no idea what it means. You would the phrase "shotgun arm" would be a powerful enough mnemonic device.  

The Streets

There is a lot of poverty in Manila. Infants can be seen sleeping on cardboard a meter away from a sleeping homeless dog. There are quite a few homeless individuals and families scattered throughout the city. It's not the same type of homelessness that we often see in major cities in the states, if I may be so bold as to classify homelessness. In U.S. cities we get used to seeing many homeless persons in rags emanating a sewer-like smell and talking to no one in particular (yes there are exceptions and I'm generalizing/stereotyping here). In Manila, like other cities in developing nations there are many people of all ages lying around inert, sitting quietly as a family, or begging. This is not to say that every square inch of the city looks like this. Quite the contrary, however, it is substantial enough that it's worth noting.  

I won't sugarcoat it; much of the city is dirty, and no, children should not be sleeping on the sidewalk.

There are some things that I feel a city just shouldn't ever do without. One of these things is having trash cans made available to the public, trash service, and no infants sleeping on cardboard in the middle of a hot day. 

I spoke with a few native Filipinos later and found that, surprise surprise, many of the problems in the Philippines are a direct result of action or inaction by greedy corrupt politicians. I'm merely an outsider looking through an admittedly distorted lens. I would love to do a deep dive akin to what Tim Urban does in his ridiculously awesome site waitbutwhy.com, but I know I won't anytime soon. I have a very limited knowledge about all of this, including the social-economic state of things, as well as political. So take my initial impressions for what they are: fragmented, real, narrow, honest, and likely out of context.

Some things aren't easy to see while you travel. Questions enter your mind like: "should I stop everything that I'm doing in life and try to do something about this crazy shit?" In the end you become an Observer Of Society, an OOS if you will. One of the great things about travel is that it can open your eyes to things, and can act as a catalyst to get you involved in positive social change.

Okay, enough on that subject. I'm not ready to be a revolutionary just yet. Anyway if I did it would more closely resemble Don Quixote as opposed to a Che Guevara or [insert revolutionary of choice here]. 

Road Transportation

*I didn't try out the rail system, so maybe that's a better way to get around, I don't know.

In any case...

The buses are these little trucks called Jeepneys, which are very antiquated looking, but also cool in a cartoonish kind of way. They are ubiquitous in the Philippines, and especially so in Manila. There of course trikes and taxis, but be prepared to negotiate on the price. 

Uber is available in Manila, which is the way I recommend getting around the city. The ride rate is always going to be reasonable and you can trust the drivers (more than the taxi drivers anyway). Independent of the type of road transportation you use, know that it is going to take a while to get to your destination. The streets are just too congested AT ALL TIMES. This leads me to my next point, which is: fuck taxis in Manila. I just had one experience so it's purely anecdotal, but it certainly was asinine enough to stop me from ever taking one again the this city.

The Taxi Ride

I was trying to get to Paco Park. The driver that pulled up at the ATM kiosk I had just failed to use wanted to charge me 100 dollars to go a few kilometers (this was after I had already gotten in). I admit I made the mistake of asking him if he took U.S. currency. In response to his request for $100 I started laughing, thinking that he had to be joking. I told him fuck no, and he kept going down, all the way to 10 or 20 dollars. I wasn't even negotiating, I just kept saying no...to everything. Believe me, that dude wanted to get the Benjamins that I didn't have real bad. All the while he was pulling away at his cigarette that dangled from yellowish brown lips in front of a few brown rusty looking teeth. He kept leaning in as if proximity was going to somehow sway me one way or the other. After about 1 minute I told him to stop and let me off.

He didn't stop.

Instead, he offered to bring me to a whore. I told him to stop again.

He still failed to stop the car.

He wanted to take me to some bars. I told him to stop and let me out.

He. Kept. Driving.

By that point I was pissed off and told him to stop the fucking car and let me out. I gave the guy a dollar. He was incredulous at getting only a dollar. Whatever.

Filipinos are awesome, don't get me wrong, but there are always a few questionable characters anywhere you go. Evidently the taxi drivers are somewhat notorious in Manila for being a tad batshit crazy. It worked out though, as I found a cool restaurant to chill at, after which I used Uber. Thanks old smelly crazy taxi guy!

The Sights

To be honest, I just picked a few of the top Tripadvisor attractions and went with that. This included Rizal Park, Paco Park, and Intramuros. It was definitely worth seeing these places and exploring them. You can read up on them, but I'll relate just a couple things from my time at these places.

Paco Park

Paco park is beautiful, though the experience is somewhat sullied by the loud music playing through PA speakers around the entire little place. There were a couple nooks in the back that I decided to explore. When I went into one there was a group of schoolchildren hanging about. They started chanting "selfie, selfie, selfie." So the first selfie shot in the Philippines turned out to be a group selfie.

Group selfie with the Paco Park Crew

Group selfie with the Paco Park Crew

Rizal Park

It's a big park with cool things, and tons of people go there to hang out. 

Rizal park at dusk

Rizal park at dusk

Intramuros

From Wikipedia: Intramuros (Spanish, "within the walls") is the oldest district and historic core of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Also called the Walled City, it was the original city of Manila and was the seat of government when the Philippines was a component realm of the Spanish Empire. Districts beyond the walls were referred as the extramuros of Manila, meaning "outside the walls".

This is a must see if you're going to be in Manila. It's fun to wander around there and just soak it in.

When I'm traveling I usually end up talking with a number of different fellow travelers at tourist destinations, but that day turned out to be a bit different.

As I was walking out of Intramuros yet another group of school kids appeared. Instead of chanting for a selfie they asked if they could interview me.

I told those kids to scram and get a job or something, and work on Christmas in a coal mine.

Not really...of course I said yes. 

When I said "sure" they were ecstatic. I could tell right away that this was for a school project, and was happy to provide my uneducated answers.

They asked me a number of different questions about social and cultural differences between my country and theirs, you know, the kind of questions you'd expect from a homework assignment. They recorded the whole thing from a tablet and took notes. They were very kind and respectful. It was really really cool.

At the end of the interview every single one of them shook my hand and thanked me. They told me that I was the only one who even acknowledged them.

This is sad and kind of messed up.

I get it, you can't really trust anyone, and a lot of times anyone of any age might be trying to sell or steal something (read about how I got robbed in Buenos Aires). But come on, you can use some discernment and common sense. If a group of schoolchildren in uniform ask to interview you, don't be a douchebag. 

Isn't that what the golden rule really is? Don't be a douchebag, that's it. World problems solved. Ha! 

I have so much more to write about, but for now I've got an island called Palawan to explore.

Oh, and in case you haven't guessed, many good things come from Manila. I'm looking forward to seeing how this scruffy giant of a city turns out in a couple years. 

The school kids who interviewed me

The school kids who interviewed me

Paco Park entrance

Paco Park entrance

Baluster de San Diego

Baluster de San Diego

St. Agustin church

St. Agustin church

Philippines flag in Rizal park

Philippines flag in Rizal park

A Taste of Brazil (I feel like we kissed and separated too soon)

I don't feel qualified to write about Brazil because I was only there for a wink, and only visited an incredibly small area of it. I suppose you could liken it to renting a car and just sitting in it, or perhaps paying for a prostitute and just holding hands with him or her. 

I'm going to write about it anyway, because internet. 

For those of you who don't know, Brazil is the only country in the Americas where Portuguese is the official language. 

Things You Need Before Kissing The Great Green Earth of Brazil

  • Passport
  • Tourist Visa
  • Speedo

To enter Brazil you (US citizens anyway) need to have a tourist visa, which is around $160. You can start at the US government site http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/brazil.html and go from there to get your visa going. What it boils down to is you need to fill out some paperwork, prepare the paperwork with an oddly cut picture (it can’t be an 8-year-old passport photo), set up a meeting at the embassy, and go to the embassy and get that visa. My friend and I didn’t have our itineraries printed out, but it turned out ok with just having the itinerary on the smartphone. Feel free to hit me up if you have any questions, and I can give you my two cents.

Initial Impression of Brazilians:

  • They are Accepting, as in, after a few minutes of hanging out you’re pretty much a part of the family. 
  • They are Fun. They are hands down just fun people. I like fun. I love fun. Brazilians know fun. 
  • They are Energetic. They do things, they work hard. They know how to party. I like to think that my vibe is like their vibe. 
  • They don’t mind when an American like myself proclaims to be an official Brazilian during a U.S. vs. Brazil drinking game. 
  • They are Totally Fucking Rad

First stop: Itamambuca

We stayed at this really rad house owned by an ex-Playboy bunny (not really relevant but an interesting fact). It’s a pretty isolated but nice little community. In fact, as far as I could tell it was just about as safe as Kansas though I can’t prove that. *Not including the part of Topeka where Westboro Baptist savages are. It's extremely dangerous to be in close proximity to them because there is a high probability that you'll become unfathomably stupid. 

I was there for the wedding of my friends Josh & Carol, who gave me the opportunity to say things and lead the thing in a very non-traditional way. When the video comes out, you gotta watch it because it’s pretty awesome. Josh pulled off something that only a handful of people could. It involves a Tuxedo speedo in case you were wondering. 

A word of advice: if you go to this beach during the week they don't have the standard "perigo" signs up. On the weekends, they have signs up warning beach-goers that the tide, in certain places, is as dangerous as walking into a Westboro Baptist church. A couple of my friends had some close calls out there in the merciless blue, to the point where one legitimately had the thought "so this is how it's going to end..."

Some pics from my time there:

 

Second and last stop: Rio de Janeiro

I honestly wasn’t planning on going to Rio de Janeiro, but then decided that since I was only 2 hours away that it would be morally reprehensible not to. So my married couple friends Jaidev and Steph and I took an overnight bus from Ubatuba to Rio. Ubatuba is the closest city to Itamabuca. There were some concerns from our Brazilian friends about taking an overnight ride, cuz God bless em’ they didn’t want us to get our stuff jacked. It turned out alright though. I’m pretty sure the clothing I wore the next day was mine. 

Like any city Rio has a decent transportation system and has allowed Uber to operate there. I used Uber a couple times and it was exceptional in both instances. For those of you who are worried about the safety of using Uber in Rio, worry no more! I mean, always use common sense and all that, but it’s pretty damn legit. The subway is pretty great too, and most of the time plays a cool little song after the words “mind the gap” are spoken. When I tried to record that little tune they didn’t play it, so if anyone can record that and send it to me I’d appreciate it.

It was too cloudy for me to catch Christ the Redeemer, but it was still rad doing the other standard sightseeing things like Sugarloaf mountain and all that. If you’re short on time like I was, just do the TripAdvisor top ten and you’ll catch some cool stuff. When I was there they were already setting up some Olympics stuff on Cococabana beach. 

So that's that. Next up: Buenos Aires. 

Final Week in Costa Rica

Quick Thoughts on Costa Rica

  • It's gorgeous
  • Shit is expensive
  • Many places are very commercialized
  • It's very safe and laid back
  • Don't bother with weather apps - you just never know if it's going to rain or not
  • It gets brutally hot on the Pacific coast, and the air is much cooler once you head into the mountains, e.g. Monteverde. 
  • Be prepared for sand to get into everything. I mean everything. 
  • Don't stay at resorts where only other gringos go; you may as well just go to Florida. Seriously. 
  • Don't be afraid to negotiate. I suck at it, and pretty much always forgot to try, but you totally should. 
  • Make sure you eat a typical Costa Rican breakfast with fried bananas if you go. It's very damn good. 
  • Bring some probiotics and ginger; you never know when you're going to need that shit. 
  • The people fall into a few different categories, as far as I can tell (I know, people are more complex and all that, but I'm just going off of my tourist experience). 
    • Category 1: You, the tourist, are only walking money (especially if you are confused looking walking money).
    • Category 2: You are a fellow human being and part of the family after a few minutes of conversation. 
    • Category 3: You don't really exist. 
    • Category 4: You're someone to be acknowledged and treated with fundamental dignity, but we ain't friends. This is what I'm primarily used to in the states, but it really fluctuates a great deal in Costa Rica, depending heavily on where you stay. 

A Bit About My Last Week

For my last week, I decided to rent a car and explore before going to the airport. Somehow I wound up in Tamarindo again, which is cool but heavily commercialized and has about as many gringos as Wyoming at any given time. I know this probably doesn’t sound like a lot considering the population of Wyoming, but cramming the population of white people into a small Costa Rican town is some feat indeed. The cool part about it is that I met some great people from Quebec. Seriously, I didn’t know people from Quebec were so damn cool. Max and Patricia, you 2 are such an incredible couple. Keep being who you are, because it is awesome!

Next up was Puntarenas, which was much less touristy I felt. Everyone spoke mainly in Spanish, and nobody tried to sell me anything (unless I didn’t hear them or didn’t notice – I get pretty immune to people marketing shit to me on the street. It was just chill. If you’re a runner like myself then you’ll appreciate the long boardwalk which stretches for a few kilometers or so. I stayed at a hotel there, and the guy who ran the place told me that southern Costa Rica is the most beautiful part of the country and that it’s not commercialized like practically every other part. I think it was around Isla Violin maybe? Maybe Potrero? I really need to start writing things down. 

Then I went over to Manuel Antonio. There’s a decent beach there in front of the national park, but it really is just decent. The beaches inside the park are much better, though I didn’t see any surfboards for rent, so there’s that. I ended up staying at “Que Tuanis” hostel, and as far as hostels go it’s pretty damn awesome. The owner is a great dude who does business the right way; he doesn’t do it purely for profit and makes sure that the guests are very well taken care of. The breakfast at the hostel was the best breakfast I had during my whole month or so stay. I totally recommend it. I met some great guests there too, namely my new friends from Philadelphia and New York. One of the dudes from Philly was going to get marrried in a few weeks, so they were in bachelor party mode. I joined them for one night, and it was pretty crazy and awesome. If you want to know about it, PM me ; )

I was pretty spoiled with the last car I rented. It had a great stereo system, and I could plug my iPhone into it so that I could charge the phone while using Google Maps and jamming to spotify. There were some American moments in Costa Rica in that car, where I sang along to Jimmy Eat World songs or who the hell knows, and it was pretty damn cool. I got to the point where driving in Costa Rica was just pretty alright. 

I’m way behind in updating this blog. I know this. Life, oh beautiful and treacherous life, has gotten in the way, and I’m grateful for it. To give you an idea of how far behind I am, I’m now in Buenos Aires, and I still haven’t written about my time in Brazil.

Holy shit I have videos to edit! Damn I have music to record and edit and promote! I have to find a good tattoo artist here in Buenos Aires and decide what tattoo I’m going to get.  There is much to do, and I feel like I need to hire a team. Maybe someday, someday maybe. 

I ordered a beer at the restaurant where I wrote this, and instead of being a standard beer, it turned out to be a pretty large bottle. I hope this post makes sense. Patagonia is a nice refreshing beer. Time do walk this food and beer off. Next up I should have some posts about Brazil, Buenos Aires, and some short how-to articles. The how-to articles will be succinct, and I think Google may appreciate some more focused articles. 

Ciao! 

Travel Destinations - The First 6 Months

Ticketed!: I finally have my travel iItinerary from October 14, 2015, to March 12, 2016. 

I’m still in Austin and have a month before I skim a slice of blue dot rondure. What I've been finding is that it takes a shitload of time researching countries and trying to determine when to go, how to get places, and where to stay. It’s worth it, especially if you want to save some cash and avoid terrible accommodations. I'll provide some inside tips throughout this article, and will call them out in bold. 

Without further adieu here's the breakdown. 

October 14 - October 15, 2015: San José, Costa Rica

The first night I'm there I'll be staying in the city of San Jose, cuz my flight gets in pretty late. 

I thought about going with Airbnb, but found a pretty rad deal at a place called Cocoon Hotel. We’ll see if I emerge as a butterfly resplendent in beauty and stuff. 

October 15: I’m taking a shuttle from my cocoon and going to my loft over on Coco beach. It’s only $52 to take a shared shuttle there. Details can be found here: http://www.transportationincostarica.com

Notes: Initially I reserved a place I found on Craigslist about a mile away from Montezuma beach in the jungle. I reserved it with $100 which I'm not getting back, which is fine by me. I changed it up for a few reasons:

  1. I had a weird feeling about the place
  2. Being so isolated I wondered if suddenly I would have a number of friends that no-one else could see
  3. It was too far from the beach (major first world problem)

Tip: Be flexible, and trust your instincts as long as those instincts aren't based on irrational fear. This is sometimes hard to navigate because we deceive ourselves daily (we are our best and worst lawyers). It's better to lose a bit of money in exchange for a preferred living situation.

An Even Bigger Tip: Go with Airbnb for your worldwide renting needs. Here are the reasons why:

  • The people renting out their places are vetted by Airbnb. Not only that, previous renters leave reviews about how good or bad the place is. 
  • You don't have to sift through a million foreign real estate sites. 
  • You don't have to deal with Craigslist and the risk involved therein. 
  • You know exactly how much to pay, and the transactions are all handled via Airbnb.

October 15 - November 20, 2015: El Coco, Costa Rica

I’ll be staying in a loft at the Tropical Gardens in El Coco, Costa Rica. This is right by Coco beach, which I intend to lay around on when I’m not laying around other beaches. 

View Kayak CR Itinerary

November 24 - December 11, 2015: Sao Paulo, Brazil and other parts of bigass (no euphemisms, stereotypes, puns, or otherwise intended) Brazil.

I’ll be there with friends in the vicinity of Sao Paulo, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to magically speak Portuguese. Carol is from Brazil and Josh is a white dude from Maine. They’re a vivacious married couple doing the ceremonial thing in her home country. How could I miss that shit?

View Kayak BR Itinerary

December 16 - January 5, 2016: Minden, NE.

Christmas with the fam!

January 6 - January 10, 2016: New York, NY.

I’ve been wanting to go back to NY anyway, because I’ve only been there once and it was about a million years ago when I visited just briefly. Additionally, the plane ticket to the Philippines was effin’ cheap from there (like $399.80). A friend asked me to show him the way of finding cheap tickets. Well, it comes down to a couple of things: Research, flexibility, and awesome sites like Kayak and Skyscanner. Because I was willing to spend a few days in NY I found a fuckin’ deal. Maybe the trick is to be flexible a bit. 

View Kayak NY Itinerary

January 11 - 12, 2016: Manila, Philippines

 

January 12 March 12, 2016: Panglao Island, Philippines.

I’ll be about a 5 minute walk away from Alona beach, pictured below. If it's half as awesome as it looks I'll be happy.