Lake Wanaka

After leaving Franz Josef, we embarked on a lengthy drive to our next stop of Lake Wanaka. The drive took about four hours but was filled with some of the most spectacular and varied scenery of our visit. It was fascinating how different the terrain was within just a few miles.  About an hour into the drive, we stopped for a hike through a lovely, lush forest that ended at a historic bridge. And, despite the density of the woods we all noticed an absence of wildlife – it was eerie. Apparently, on the island there are no large predators, snakes or other creatures to worry about except for these annoying little sand flies that hang out by the water and are out for blood!

We only spent one night in Lake Wanaka which seemed much too brief to explore everything the area had to offer. Lake Wanaka is the fourth largest lake in New Zealand and attracts a lot of vacationers in the summer months. Since it’s the beginning of fall, here in New Zealand, we just missed the high season on our visit.

View of Lake Wanaka from our hotel

View of Lake Wanaka from our hotel

View of Lake Wanaka

Another view of Lake Wanaka – beautiful!

On our way out of town, we stopped at Puzzling World and spent several hours. It was created about thirty years ago by a couple that loved puzzles and over the years they have created and collected lots of different illusions including many that involved our participation. In addition to the illusions, there is an enormous life-sized maze outside that we spent a long time trying to navigate.They predict it should take about 1-2 hours to complete the maze — it was really hard! How did it go? Let’s just say….. no one wants to get lost in the woods with the Evans! We eventually found our way out but, not without a lot of complaining from the younger participants who kept wanting to go out the “emergency exits” — wussies!

Franz Josef Glacier

Upon leaving Christchurch, we embarked on a four hour train ride through the New Zealand countryside — so beautiful!! After the train, we drove for two hours on the “wrong” side of the road in the pouring rain before we arrived in our next destination — Franz Josef –which is on the western side of the south island. Franz Josef is known for several glaciers that are perched right above the town.

There are tons of activities to keep you busy in Franz Josef. On our first day, we rode a helicopter up to the top of the glacier, visited the wildlife center where they breed kiwis to release into the wild and hiked up the mountain to the bottom of the glacier where it feeds the river. It was a great day!

Kids in front of wildlife center. There were several kiwi youngsters inside. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed...bummer

Kids in front of wildlife center. There were several kiwi youngsters inside. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed…too bad, the young kiwis are very cute!!

I also feel compelled to mention another important “discovery” about New Zealand. At the end of the day, we ended up at a casual bar/grill for dinner — which was definitely a “guys” establishment –geared toward attracting male clientele with big screens showing a variety of sports matches broadcast from all over the world. And, as if the live testosterone displays were not enough, there were several posters displayed around the place, instructing how a “manly” man should behave. All of this would have been fine except, for the fact that when we sat down, I noticed the background music was….and no, I’m not making this up — Engelbert Humperdinck (now, let’s not focus on how I know that…that is not the point!) For a minute, I was taken aback and thought, maybe this bar is more Village People Macho Man than Marlboro man….but, then I remembered, earlier in the day, when we were in the grocery store and were treated to Michael Jackson’s greatest hits, or later, when we were in the helicopter tour office where, (based on the young hipster employees), I thought we might hear the latest Jay-Z, Coldplay or even Justin Timberlake offering. But no! We were treated to “Elvira” by the Oakridge Boys, circa 1981! I haven’t heard this many 80s hits since my junior prom but, I love it!

…So, based on my extensive research, if you love 70s and 80s music, friendly people and stunningly beautiful scenery then, New Zealand is for you!

One of the "instructions" posters from the bar/grill

One of the “instructions” posters from the bar/grill

Tomorrow we’re off to our next destination Lake Wanaka and then on to Queenstown. We hope everyone is having a great spring break!!

Spring break is here!!

It’s spring break at Green School and we decided to take advantage of the long break and venture to New Zealand. We’d both always wanted to visit and now seemed like a good time. I would have thought it would be easy to get to New Zealand from Bali but, actually it’s a long trip! First we had to fly to Brisbane (5 1/2 hours), where we spent the night and then, the next afternoon we flew to Christchurch which was another 3 hour flight (not to mention the five hour time change!).

Despite feeling a little jet lagged, we had a great day here in Christchurch. As many of you probably recall, Christchurch suffered a devastating earthquake two years ago (last month was the two year anniversary). We were told not to bother spending time here because most of the city had been destroyed and there wasn’t anything to see. On the surface that is mostly true — however, it was fascinating to see and hear the stories of people who lived through the quake and learn about how the city is moving forward.

We took a bus tour of the city (I guess I secretly appreciated all those tours my mom dragged us on as kids — now I get to torture my own kids!). Some of the details that emerged about the quake were pretty terrifying (especially, for those of us who live with the constant threat of “the big one” looming). Apparently, it was one of the most intense quakes that has occurred on the planet in recorded time, due to the “peak ground acceleration (PGA)” of 2.2 (for you non-geology majors or non-Californians, that is a measurement of how fast the ground was moving up which meant, in this case, it moved up so violently that people were actually thrown into the air!) In contrast, the Haiti earthquake only measured a 0.5 PGA. Sadly, 185 people were killed and, of those, 115 died in the collapse of one building. That building was only six stories which collapsed onto each other, leaving the sixth floor relatively intact allowing the people on the sixth floor implausibly, to walk away from the rubble. There is a memorial of 185 empty white chairs displayed prominently across from where that building stood. Over 80% of the buildings in the city have been or will be torn down and the city is in the process of rebuilding. They have embarked on a plan that will virtually rebuild the entire city center and environs. Ultimately, when the project is complete, I’m certain it will be an enviable place to live and work.

What I miss from home…

As of today, we have been here for two months. We were warned by people who’ve been here a while that this is usually when the honeymoon starts to wear off and the realities of living in Bali begin to emerge. I’m starting to agree……

The following are 10 things I desperately miss from home, (excluding, of course, my friends, family and hairdresser):

Georgia — our dog, nothing beats a Boxer greeting when you walk through the door.

Oxy-Clean — no one in Bali has heard of stain treating, go figure…

Grocery Stores with no detectable odors wafting inside or out — it’s difficult to make food choices when your eyes are watering so severely it affects your vision.

Freeways — believe it or not, there have been days I’ve longed to be back on the 405. As congested as it is, I have yet to be slowed down by roaming livestock.

In and Out Burger — many here attempt to make a good burger and a few places come close but, nothing beats the real thing.

Garbagemen — Here, in Bali, trash removal means taking it out of the kitchen bin and moving it to the large pile behind the house. Waste management is slowly being implemented yet, burning piles of garbage is still the primary method of disposal for most Balinese. I’m no civil engineer but, I’m not sure converting  plastic bottles into smoldering piles of goo really count as a waste disposal plan….

Movie theaters – Never even seen one here — I’ve heard they exist but, never laid eyes on it.

Underwear – let’s just say the styles are very different — boys’ underwear looks a lot like the bloomers toddlers wear over their diapers complete with cute little pictures on the back. Fletcher is not a fan….

My hairdryer — The one I bought here is about as effective as someone standing next to me and blowing on my head for 30 minutes.

And most desperately of all, I miss……

A reliable and fast Internet connection – I used to think there was a special place in Hell for the companies that provide internet service at home but, now, I say….

“What’s that Time Warner? Your service person can be here between midnight and 6 a.m three weeks from Thursday? Fantastic! Perfect!! I don’t really need to be at my sister’s wedding anyway! And what’s that? You’ve cleared up that little mix up with the other dead-beat Jessica Evans. No worries, six months is not a long time to wait for my bill to be straightened out. I’m sure my credit will recover….someday. Oh, and you’re sorry? For what? Oh yes, that was too bad that your service person was running late and didn’t call or make it to my house for our appointment. No worries at all. I called and had a delightful afternoon! I got to listen to a scratchy version of the Footloose Soundtrack for 45 minutes while I tried, desperately to navigate your phone tree and reach a live person. And then, I got cut off but, really, I’m sure that was my fault –I should have never put you on speaker –my bad! I’ll just wait for you to follow up — I know you will because you care a lot about your customers.”

Does that sound crazy? Of course it does! But, I would happily take that from anyone who could provide a decent internet connection to us here in Bali!!!!


Upon our arrival in Bali, we immediately heard about Nyepi -and honestly, it sounded rather daunting to me — an evening of celebration (fun!) followed by a day of silence and reflection (yikes!). At first, we considered leaving the country, as I was having trouble imagining how this was going to go down with a seven year old boy and a ten year old girl –(neither having spent much time in silent reflection!) Ultimately, we decided to stay and experience the holiday and we were really glad we did.

Nyepi is the second most important holiday on the Balinese Hindu calendar and is observed on the entire island of Bali. Everything is closed, (including the airport), and people are supposed to stay inside their houses and abstain from using any electric power or devices. People who venture out of their houses are ushered back in by the police who are out on the streets. Even tourists are warned, when they book their trips during Nyepi, that they are expected to observe the holiday and stay in their hotel (I have heard they let people hang out at the pool so, it’s not a complete lock down!). For westerners, the rules are a bit relaxed and, to be honest, I saw a few Balinese neighbors roaming around their yards but, for the devout, it is a day of fasting, meditation and prayer. We almost made it through the entire day without using our power or electronic devices but, we caved at the end and watched a movie together before the kids went to bed. It should be noted however, that we can’t currently use our t.v. to watch movies, (due to technical difficulties, mostly related to our a/v team….aka, my husband) so, four people crowded around a laptop, watching a kid’s movie, is not exactly the reward I was hoping for after getting through the day of silence but, even with that, It was a great day. Can you imagine a day like this in the U.S? Indra was curious about our traditions for celebrating holidays in the U.S. and my mind was immediately filled with images of people at the mall fighting over half-priced Snuggies or, camping in the Walmart parking lot, waiting for Thanksgiving day (and night) to be over, in the hopes of scoring a 55″ plasma for $1 — in contrast to here, where people stay home to commune with family and formulate their intentions for the coming year…..I didn’t have the heart (or nerve) to tell him so, I said “a lot like Bali” but, really, nothing at all like Bali.

The holiday began with the kid’s assembly at school and then, later that night, (the eve of Nyepi), we were off to experience the real thing. We walked into Ubud for the parade which, outside of Denpasar, is the largest in the area, and includes many more Ogoh-Ogohs than in the smaller villages. Many people from the village participate in the parade to help tell the stories of each Ogoh-Ogoh through music, dance and even some acting. The closest thing we have at home might be Mardi Gras, however, I can’t imagine attending Mardi Gras with kids or feeling as comfortable and secure as we did that night. Ironically, the Ogoh-Ogohs and ensuing parades are supposed to be so frightening, that the evil spirits are scared away from the island yet, all the kids from the village attend, (including little ones that ride on the Ogoh-Ogohs), and the overall tone is festive and relaxed. At one point during the parade, a little boy who was riding on one of the statues got scared so, they stopped and his dad climbed up to ride with him on his lap. It felt more like an old-fashioned, small town event compared to the huge commercial productions that everything seems to morph into at home. There are no barricades, security people or even plans made for the for the power lines that stand in the way of the large floats that come through the street. When a statue would appear that was too tall to make it past the power lines, out came the “rakes”  –several men would grab what looked like a long rake and push the lines over the creature’s head. Problem solved! No permits or work orders needed just a little ingenuity (and luck –especially, since no one got electrocuted!)

We made it through our first Nyepi. We even learned that we can survive a whole day with nothing but each other to rely on for entertainment (almost). We also learned how to get on each others nerves in ways we hadn’t imagined. Anyone know the joy of being serenaded by a seven year old singing “Gangnam Style” forty times in a row? It’s fantastic!

I’m hopeful we can bring parts of this experience back with us. Returning to the demands of L.A. is something we will have to navigate when the time comes. Until then, I want to enjoy the blissfully unstructured and uncomplicated days we have here as long as possible.

Balinese New Year

Indonesia is the fourth most populous country just behind the U.S. There are over 18,000 islands in the archipelago yet, the majority of the population is concentrated on a handful of islands including: Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Borneo, New Guinea and Bali (little fun fact for all you geography nerds out there!).

Bali represents less than 2% of the population and is 98% Hindu positioned, (somewhat unfortunately), in the middle of a country that is more than 90% Muslim. It can be a tough road at times. The implications for being significantly outnumbered translate into less representation in government and frequent religious intolerance. However, most Balinese rarely complain. Balinese Hinduism is woven throughout the culture — the signs are everywhere. From the “temples” that are erected in all houses and buildings, to the daily offerings that are made everywhere you look (and step!). The fundamental concept of Hinduism is the assumption of order to the cosmos known as Dharma and the objective is to achieve balance between good and evil (adharma) to achieve “moksa” — their version of heaven. To achieve this state, the Balinese practice many rituals to ward off the evil spirits and open themselves to the good spirits. And, most Balinese spend a tremendous amount of time on religious ceremonies and rituals all year.

The point of all that is to give you a little background. This week marks one of the largest holidays of the Balinese calendar — New Years. We will be observing it for the next two days with celebrations rivaling Times Square or Bourbon Street. And although the holiday takes place over only a few days, the preparations take months. The celebration includes parades of floats and feasts in each village followed by a day of silence and reflection. The “floats” paraded through the streets are called “Ogoh Ogohs” which are giant effigies of creatures taken from Hindu mythology made from wood and papier-mache. After being paraded through the villages they are burned to symbolize cleansing and purification from evil. Each village spends several months building it’s own unique Ogoh-Ogoh and astonishingly, without exception, this is accomplished in every neighborhood. I kept asking Indra if there is a slacker village that shows up late for the parade with a half finished Ogoh-Ogoh — he just looked at me and laughed (like he often does). I guess when it comes to warding off evil spirits there are no slackers in Bali.

To commemorate the holiday, the kids created their own Ogoh-Ogohs with each of their classes and presented them at an assembly. Allie’s class (4th grade) created a beautiful example (with the help of a local artisan). Fletcher’s class (2nd grade) used a little more imagination and adhered to the “Green” theme. Theirs was made out of trash and they named it “garbage devil.” Unfortunately, it didn’t fare very well during the parade (its head fell off!) but, it didn’t dampen the kids excitement.

Tomorrow we’ll go to the parade of the Ogoh-Ogohs of our village. We can’t wait to see the amazing creations and then attend the bonfire that follows. It should be fun and exciting for all of us. We’ll keep you posted…

Bali Zoo

We had our first visitors this week. My parents came from Los Angeles (via New Zealand and Australia) for a week. It was so great to have them here! One of the highlights of the week was our trip to the Bali Zoo which is only about 15 minutes from Ubud.

Most of the animals are from Indonesia although, there are a few from Africa and Australia. Unlike most zoos at home in the US, this one is very interactive. It is fairly small so, it’s easy to get around and see everything and you can get very close to most of the animals which makes it even more fun.

The first thing we did when we arrived was go for an elephant ride. The elephants at the zoo are from Sumatra (not as big as African elephants — still 5000 lbs!) They have 6 elephants that take people around on short rides throughout the day. I was surprised how healthy the elephants appear, both physically and mentally. Sadly, they seem better off than in the LA Zoo — perhaps because they have a “job” to do all day instead of standing around in a small pen. After the ride, we got to feed them pulp from coconut trees that they loved, and throughout the ride handlers would appear and hand them other treats like yams or watermelon. Marc and Fletcher’s even grabbed a small tree, pulled it up and brought it with them on the path.


After the elephant ride we went to the bird show where we participated in the tricks the birds were performing (somewhat unwillingly, due to the fact that we were one of two groups in the audience). Fletcher tried to let an eagle take a piece of meat off his head and I got to wear an angry falcon as a hat! So fashionable!


Next we fed the Orangutan known as “Jacky.” The zoo sells fruit and encourages you to feed it to him and the rest of the animals. He looks very blase when you walk up to his pen but as soon as he sees the fruit he comes up to the edge of his pen to catch bananas and watermelon slices. After he finishes he lobs the peels back at his audience. He was very keen on hitting my Dad — and, he has pretty good aim!

The rest of the zoo is great too! It’s a totally different experience to be so close to the animals. The environment is definitely more relaxed. Unlike the zoos at home, no one is worried about some dope jumping in the moat to wrestle with the tigers. In Bali, that would result in a lively afternoon for the tigers and not much else. There are no local news reporters or personal injury attorneys to speak of so, the moat jumpers have little incentive to tangle with the tigers.

We all had a fantastic time.