Back in Bali!

Returning from New Zealand, we all felt very differently flying into Denpasar versus the first time we arrived – much less like we were landing in a foreign country. Not sure Bali feels like home yet but, it’s definitely becoming less exotic and more familiar. This really hit home for me the other day when I walked out of the house and found this lying on the back porch:

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Soccer balls and sickle

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Closer view — yep that’s a sickle!

I guess the gardener had left it there while he was busy working on something else. And the best part is — I didn’t even think it was weird (at first glance). For those of you that thought sickles were only for Grim Reaper costumes at Halloween, not the case here in Bali! They’re still used by gardeners and rice farmers and the occasional seven year old boy who wants to hack stuff in the garden. Yikes!

Soon after returning to Bali, we had our first real bout of sickness, starting with Allie and working it’s way through the rest of the family. The kids seemed to get over it quickly and were back at school within a couple of days versus the old folks (their parents), who took much longer. I’m just glad it was respiratory and not some stomach bug that is difficult to identify and more likely to require medical assistance — something we’ve been desperately trying to avoid. We’ve heard “Bali Belly” is inevitable and, at some point everyone succumbs to it but, we’re not going down without a fight. I refuse to stop carrying hand sanitizer in my purse. I know everyone thinks I’m a crazy American but, I can live with that if it keeps us healthy. That being said — I hear medical care is getting better here and, if you can get good medical advice most medications are available over the counter and at very reasonable prices. We recently had to buy some antibiotic cream for an infected bite on Fletcher’s foot. I sent a photo of it to Dr. Sonya at home and she recommended an antibiotic cream which they had at the pharmacy over the counter (the name brand!) for $7. So easy!

Last Days in New Zealand

After Queenstown, we ventured on to Te Anau which is where most people stay who are planning trips to see the Fjords. Our plan was to visit Doubtful Sound — named by Captain Cook due to his doubting it was navigable — in hindsight, I think Fletcher wished this were true. It was a stunningly beautiful, but long trip for us (especially Fletcher). The day included a car ride, bus ride and two boats rides all totaling about ten hours. And as any of you who have young boys know, nothing excites a kid more than looking at scenery for hours and hours on end! The part he enjoyed most was the power plant we visited on the way. It is the largest hydroelectric power plant in New Zealand built two kilometers directly into a solid granite mountain. The tunnel is so large that two buses can pass each other (I think it’s actually wider than most of the roads in Bali!) and the hall where we viewed the turbines looks like something out of a James Bond Movie.

Next we moved on to Dunedin which is known for its abundant wildlife. We visited an albatross colony which had over 20 nests with chicks. Albatross only have one chick every two years –and, when you see how large the chicks are and how much they eat, it isn’t surprising they don’t reproduce in greater numbers. One funny coincidence in Dunedin  — the tour company we used to organize our trip booked us at the Fletcher Lodge — it was great! They even have a dog named Fletcher!

Our trip ended in Lake Tekapo where the Mt. John observatory is located. We took the evening tour up to the observatory to view the stars. It was extraordinary! Even with naked eyes, the view of the sky was awesome and it got even better with the help of the many telescopes at the facility. What fun to experience a whole new perspective from the southern hemisphere. I think when you live in the city you forget (or maybe have never known) what the skies actually contain. Being a city person for a very long time, I probably hadn’t seen the whole Milky way since I was a kid. It is spectacular!

Tomorrow we return to Bali. It’s been a great trip!!

Queenstown

Queenstown is spectacular! Not only is it incredibly beautiful, there is more to do than almost anywhere I’ve ever visited. Bungee jumping began here in the mid 80s, and despite the fact that I don’t consider myself much of a thrill seeker, (unless you include brushing my teeth with tap water in Bali), we found tons of other things to do that were just exciting enough for all of us.

The first day we arrived we took an hour-long, eco-tour zip line, which included four different zip lines that were about 200 meters each, followed by a luge ride down the mountain. So much fun!

The next day we all went for a two hour horse trek that took us through stunning landscapes and included an area where they filmed Lord of the Rings. They definitely get a ton of mileage out of those movies — lots of “Lord of the Rings” tours available on just about any vehicle you can imagine — boat, ATV, horse, you name it!

The last day we went for a Shotover boat ride. Billed as “the world’s most exciting jet boat ride” — I was immediately wondering why we needed to go on the world’s most exciting jet boat ride –why not the neighborhood’s, or even the town’s most exciting? After all, we were in a place where they take their excitement very seriously — I  didn’t feel a real need to be that excited. It didn’t help that when we were waiting on the dock as the boats came in with passengers from earlier trips, they all looked a bit overwrought. But, I figured this is my year of living dangerously so…what the heck? The ride was actually really fun and exciting — the only part I found too exciting was the part where the driver tries to get as close as possible to the rocks that the boat is passing at about 60 mph. Apparently, this is integral to the excitement — could have lived without that part.

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!!!!