A Taste Of Things To Come

Since I got back from my big trip I’ve been up to all kinds of stuff, but you wouldn’t know that because I’ve also been a bit lax in my blogging.

I’ve also been a bit lax in doing my headstands too, having missed a number of prime opportunities for no other reason that either, A) I forgot, or B) I was just having too much fun.

But anyway, no more! I’m on a mission to reach 100, but to do that I need to catch up on the last few that I have done. And since some of them are for blog posts I haven’t written yet, they are also a wee taste of things to come.

So, let’s see if any of these tickle your fancy? ;)

From the Black Forest in Germany last year.

69. black forest headstand

From my recent birthday trip to Iceland.

70. geyser headstand

71. gulfoss headstand

From my visit to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour.

72. harry potter headstand

And from my visit to Stonehenge!

73. stonehenge headstand

How about that little lot eh? :D

Now that they’re ‘on the line’ maybe it’ll motivate me to write about my adventures. Then again, maybe not. ..hehehe…

Either way, at least you got to enjoy them the once. ;)

Start As You Mean To Go On : The Aurora Borealis, part 2

Sunday morning, and time to rescue the trip after the let down of the night before. Life is a choice between what you will and won’t accept, and I was not going to start my fourth decade by accepting a vaguely disappointing tour as ‘good enough’.

sunrise over reykjavik

We wanted to see a bit of the Icelandic landscape, so we book ourselves on a Golden Circle Tour. This promised us waterfalls, geysirs, and national parks (with tectonic plates!). Truth be told I’m not a big fan of coach trips, but needs must, and it’s what we could afford, so off we went.

touring the golden circle

Iceland is fairly empty, so it wasn’t long before we were out of Reykjavik and into the wilds.

seeing the sights

iceland landscape 3

iceland landscape 2

iceland landscape 1

Iceland is run on geothermal power pretty much. Well you would if you had such an abundance of energy at your disposal. We went past the local power plant, with it’s geothermal vents,

geothermal vent 2

geothermal vent 3

geothermal vent 1

and zig-zag pipeline on wheels, that expands and contracts throughout the day, and so has to be that shape (and mobile) to stop it from breaking.

bendy pipeline

Oddly enough, the further in we went, the less snowy it got.

cabin by the lake

And we even got to see some of the legendary icepos! (albeit, from a distance).

icepos in the distance

First stop on the tour was the original Geysir (the one after which all other geysers are named).

thermal pools

Unfortunately it’s no longer active, after the land shifted and changed the underground plumbing.

the original geyser

But there’s another geyser next to it that goes off every 5-10 minutes, so you don’t miss out.

geyser

geyser eruption

Plus there’s plenty of other pools and streams around about that are interesting in their own right. They’re either full of colour,

colourful flows

(the photo doesn’t do it justice), or amazingly clear,

clear waters

or just strange and other-worldy!

steaming streams

I tried to get a headstand with the geyser, but it was tough getting the timing right, as you can see.

geyser headstand fail 1

geyser headstand fail 2

geyser headstand fail 3

geyser headstand fail 4

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun,

an old geyser, and his girlfriend

and that was just the first part of the tour.

Next we hit up the Gullfoss waterfall, a whopper of a falls if ever there was one!

gulfoss

over the edge

lieblings by the water

This time I did manage to get a headstand shot which I was pleased with.

70. gulfoss headstand

And we got to see some more of the amazing local landscape.

distant mountains 1

distant mountains 2

distant mountains 3

distant mountains 4

Iceland really is another world.

And that wasn’t the end of it! Our final stop was to be the Pingvellir National Park.

Pingvellir is where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, or rather bid each other a fond farwell, as they are constantly separating, making Iceland one of the few countries that is growing by inches year in and year out.

This is the North American plate,

the north american plate

plate face

and you can walk the divide, which is interesting, but not that impressive to look at,

walking the divide

until you get to the end, where you can watch the sun set over the lake, a truly rewarding sight.

sunset in the wilds 4

sunset in the wilds 1

sunset in the wilds 2

sunset in the wilds 5

sunset in the wilds 3

And the sun going down marked the end of the tour. We hopped back on the bus to take the one hour drive back to Reykjavik.

On the way back we looked up at the clear skies and lamented. What a shame we hadn’t booked the Northern Lights Tour for that night. We were bound to see something. Such a pity to go home without getting a proper display. Of course, the answer was obvious! Do another tour!

The minute we got back to the hotel we booked a coach tour with the same company we’d just been out with, Reykjavik Excursions. Yes it meant more money, but at a third of the price of the 4×4 tour it was worth the risk. We went out for a quick curry, then soon we were back at the hotel preparing ourselves for another night out in the cold staring up at the sky.

I wasn’t going to be caught out this time. I wore my new wooly jumper, and yoga pants beneath my jeans for that extra layer of insulation. I also had my pockets full of what I consider to be essential aurora watching kit; camera, gorilla tripod, spare memory card, iPod containing Sigur Ros tunes, and cranberry chocolate.

aurora watching kit

We were picked up by the coach at our hotel, and after a stop off at the bus station to collect a few more people, we headed out of town.

Our first stop was not the most salubrious; basically a lay-by off the main road. We stood around for about half an hour waiting for something to happen,

aurora tour no. 2

but unfortunately no joy (and the nearly full moon didn’t help either).

by the light of the moon

Pretty soon we were back on the coach and off to the same car park where we’d ended our Golden Circle tour. Expectations were low, and people were slow, until someone exclaimed “It’s happening, right now, behind us!”, then the mad dash for the door began.

And not without just cause either. For the next hour we were treated to a full display right across the sky, which is much easier to show you than tell you about, so here it is.

aurora 2.1

aurora 2.2

aurora 2.3

aurora 2.4

aurora 2.5

aurora 2.6

aurora 2.7

aurora 2.8

aurora 2.9

aurora 2.10

aurora 2.11

aurora 2.12

aurora 2.13

aurora 2.14

aurora 2.15

aurora 2.16

aurora 2.17

aurora 2.18

aurora 2.19

And if you can make it out, here’s us getting our aurora on. ;)

lena and the aurora 1

lena and the aurora 2

me and the aurora

lena and me, under the aurora skies

I was very satisfied with that display. At least I now felt justified in saying I’ve seen the Northern Lights. Definitely got our money’s worth, and the coach experience wasn’t as diabolical as I thought it would be. We also got back in plenty of time to get a good night’s kip, which is always nice.

Our last day in Reykjavik we took it easy. Just wandered about a bit, seeing what we could see. We went up the cathedral tower and a got a good look at the city,

capturing the city

reykjavik bay

reykjavik

colourful construction

reykjavik boulevard

fosshotel baron

as well as some close ups of the cathedral clock.

getting the shot

inside the cathderal clock

light fingered

We also did a good bit of shopping and eating,

heart garden lentil burger

ending up back at the Laundromat Cafe,

the laundromat cafe

the laundromat, reykjavik

the laundromat lives up to it's name

to try their veggie burger (of course, lol),

laundromat veggie burger

and a local treat called Sorer

sorer

which I couldn’t pronounce properly (apparently) and which tasted somewhere between a chocolate mousse and a coconut macaroon; ie: delicious!

We ended our final day in Iceland with a stroll along the water-front to our hotel,

reykjavik port by night

reykjavik concert hall

before hitting the hay early. We had an early flight out, so much so in fact we thought we might see some more aurora before we left. But, alas, no luck. Instead this was out parting view of Reykjavik.

early morning reykjavik

We had a great time in Iceland. Saw pretty much everything we wanted to see. I had hoped to get closer to some icepos along the way, but instead we had to settle for this picture of a poster at the airport, lol.

icepos!

We both definitely want to go back in the summer, not only to experience the midnight sun, but to see the landscape at it’s best (ie: more green, less barren). That being said, Iceland any time of year is worth the trip. Just 3 hours from the UK, and not that expensive to get to, give it a go if you get the chance. You won’t regret it.

Fun At 40 : The Aurora Borealis, part 1

Well my friends. I am officially forty! I have begun a new decade. I tick a different box on the census form. I can justifiably start referring to people younger than me as ‘Kid’ (not that I have any intention of doing that, lol).

I wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. When I turned thirty I hired out a screening room in Soho and had a surprise showing of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” for all my friends, before going on to a pub to play pool all night (still officially the coolest thing I have ever done).

This time I wanted to do something off my bucket list, and since it only contains two items, and I’ve already ridden an elephant, it’s off to see the Northern Lights I go!

There are a number of ways you can do this. You can fly to Norway and take a dog sled ride from your log cabin out to the middle of nowhere where you will enjoy a majestic display against a backdrop of icy tundra, for which you will pay through the nose; or you can fly to Iceland where you will be picked up from your hotel in Reykjakvik in a 4×4 with seat warmers and driven out to the countryside to hopefully see something magical. I chose the latter.

aurora forecast

Checking the forecast a couple of days before everything looked good. There was a strong chance of there being some lights, and the cloud cover was low where we would be (Reykjavik is in the south west corner of Iceland, in case you were wondering). I was fairly confident of getting to see something, all I had to do was get there. That, though, would prove to be a close run thing!

Lena flew in the night before so that we could head out the next day from Gatwick. We stayed at a Travelodge nearby, which was quite comfy and even spacious enough for us both to do yoga at the same time.

travelodge yoga

It should have been a simple matter of jumping on the transfer shuttle, going to the airport, and going through security. But it seems the Gods had other plans.

I’d left some things I needed in the car – my book, trunks for the thermal pools, headphones for listening to Sigur Ros whilst viewing the lights – so I had to head back to the long term car park to get them before we left. Ok, perfectly do-able. But then the shuttle bus driver spent twenty minutes getting chatted up by some bloke at one of the hotels. I had to wait ages for the parking bus to come to take me to the car park. Going through security took a while as they decided they wanted to go through Lena’s entire bag. All in all we probably lost about an hour of free time just with faffing about.

But we still had time (I thought) for a bit of breakfast. After searching for somewhere that still did some kind of veggie fry up (it was past 11am and most places were on their lunch menu by now) we eventually found Armadillo, who could do something we both could enjoy.

NB: Our flight was at 12:30pm.

armadillos, gatwick airport

We told them we were in a hurry, and I’m sure they did their best, but it was getting close to noon by the time our food arrived.

gatwick brekkie

We got it down us, paid, and started sauntering towards the gate, confident of having a good half an hour or so before departure. Then I saw the departure board.

“Iceland Air to Reykjavik – Gate Closed”

Then I heard the announcement.

“Would Keith Dickinson and Lena Muh.. Mehr… Mary? Please make their way to Gate 57 as the flight is now ready to depart.”

Cue the two of us pelting through Gatwick Airport, luggage bouncing around behind us, weaving through the Duty Free section at full speed trying not to kill anyone along the way. Thank God our gate was right near the terminal and not one of those ones that’s miles away! We turned a corner and there it was. That was a relief, let me tell you.

As we apologetically gave them our boarding cards I saw one of them call down to another member of staff who was obviously on her way to close the doors. It was closer than I had thought. Still twenty minutes to our departure time mind you, but anyway. You can’t argue with them. Airlines have their own sense of time.

We got on the plane and, to save time, they gave us a mini upgrade to two standard seats right by the door with more legroom. Well, I say mini upgarde, it was more like, “These two are free. Sit here!” ..lol.. Either way, we weren’t complaining. We were just happy to be on the flight.

destination iceland

It’s three hours from Gatwick to Keflavik, a nifty little flight that starts off by taking you most the way up England before cutting through between Scotland and Ireland.

on our way

you are now passing...

scotland

We had fun monkeying around on the flight, discussing how nice it would be if you could jump out the window and bounce around on the clouds,

up in the clouds

and trying to take a selfie that wasn’t terrible.

my name is earl moment

It wasn’t long before we got our first look at Iceland.

first sight of iceland

And then we were coming in to land.

coming in to keflavik

The coach from the airport to Reykjavik took 45 minutes, and from the bus station to our hotel even longer. But finally we made it to the FossHotel Baron, which was right by the water, and which had a view ‘remarkably’ similar to the one we had in Queenstown, NZ.

checking the lists

sea views

the less remarkables

Check out the crazy geothermal hot water.

geothermal waters

They pump it up straight out of the ground straight to your home. No messing with it, nothing. Which is awesome, but does mean your shower will smell a bit eggy! Something which we never stopped finding amusing. If there was laughter coming from the bathroom that was usually why. :)

Daylight hours are short in Iceland in February, so once we were settled in we just had enough time for a bit of a walk before going to get some food.

Lena had printed out the listings from Happy Cow so we had plenty of places to choose from. We ate at Piccolo Italia, a lovely little place that did us some garlic bread, two pizzas, a tiramisu, and some delicious almond tea for just under 8000Kr.

almond tea

garlic bread

peasant pizza

vegetable pizza

tiramisu

The food was excellent, and a great way to start our stay. We took a few shots of Reykjavik at night on our circuitous way back to the hotel (I think we got a little lost, lol),

giant boat

reykjavik cathedral by night

and by the end I was happy to retire having had a very successful, if slightly frantic, last day as a thirty nine year old.

***

I started my forties as I mean to go on, with a long lie in!

yin yoga, bed style

Actually, that’s me doing some yin yoga on the bed because my back was acting up a bit.Talk about feeling your age, lol. Really did the trick though. I felt loads better after that.

While I was doing that Lena did some proper yoga.

hotel room yoga

Of course all that yoga meant we were too late for the hotel breakfast, but we consoled ourselves with a brunch type thing at the Laundromat Cafe.

I had pina colada tea,

I spy with my little eye...

Lena had a veggie burger,

laundromat veggie burger

and I had their ‘clean’ veggie brunch (the ‘dirty’ being full of meat).

laundromat big brekkie

It was pretty nice, and really set us up for the day.

chomp!

Because we would be out late that night we’d earmarked most of the day for wandering and shopping. Not that I bought much that day. I was more into looking around the city, checking out the cool architecture and the excellent views.

my house, reykjavik

the slightly more  remarkables

shades of new zealand

shades of queenstown

sunset mountain

The bit I was most looking forward to was my birthday cake at Cafe Babalu! :D

cafe babalu

We’d seen there was a vegan carrot cake on the menu, and I couldn’t wait to give it a try.

Lena had brought a candle to stick on top, so I had to document the occasion,

capturing the cake

birthday carrot cake

before blowing it out and making a wish.

make a wish

The cake was excellent! As was the soy hot chocolate. And we really liked the cafe too. From it’s crazy decor,

fluffy moose

babalu art

to it’s Star Wars themed bathroom, we enjoyed being there so much we decided to come right back after walking off the cake to have have something to eat before the evening’s main attraction – the Northern Lights.

babalu veggie chilli

babalu veggie lasagna

I’d booked a Northern Lights 4×4 tour because I didn’t want to be stuck on a big coach with loads of other people. I thought it would be more personal, and that we’d go to more out of the way places, and hence have a better chance of a good show. I was partly right.

fun

We were picked up from our hotel and driven out to a kind of lay-by, where we waited for the other two vehicles in our group to arrive.

4x4xfun

the gathering

off to see the lights

Our first attempt at seeing anything involved a bumpy off road drive up this icy valley.

off road

It became apparent quite early on that it was too cloudy up that way and we probably wouldn’t have much luck. So instead our guides decided to hit the road and do a sprint north to try and find clearer skies.

This involved a 6km drive under the sea.

6km of tunnel

Emerging on the other side of the bay, we had a quick pit-stop,

quiznos pit-stop

then we were off again into the middle of nowhere.

We ended up parked up this dirt road in what was basically some farmland. There’d been some activity along the way, so we were hoping for some light. Unfortunately, the cloud, which had been moving off, came in again. And though we saw a bit through the gaps, it wasn’t what we were hoping for.

Here’s the pics I took. Let me tell you, it looks more impressive on camera than it did in real life.

aurora 1, long exposure

aurora 1.2

aurora 1.3

aurora 1.4

aurora 1.5

As you can see, there’s something, but nothing amazing. I had hoped that the tour company’s guarantee meant they would take us out again the next night, but that was it apparently (one of the reasons I’m not advertising them here). I mean it was an ok tour, and we did see some light, but I was hoping for so much more, and I certainly didn’t feel like I’d got my money’s worth.

It was 1am by the time we got back, and we were so tired after standing out in the cold for hours that we just passed out in the warmth of our room and got ourselves some well earned rest.

Knowing When To Do What

There’s a quote from the I-Ching, the Chinese Book Of Changes, that I like to keep to mind:

“A wise man knows when to advance,
when to retreat, and when to stand still.”

 
It often goes with another one in my head:

“If you want to make God laugh,
tell her your plans.”

 
go no further

I had big plans for this weekend when I woke up this morning. I was going to drive to Pirbright to see a friend of mine that I haven’t seen in ages, having lunch there before heading off to a late yoga class at the London Sivananda Centre.

Then tomorrow I was going to do some shopping, do a bit of online work, and then go along to the Sunday evening Satsang at the afore mentioned yoga centre. I was looking forward to all that. Then this happened:

not-so-level crossing

The YHA where I’m staying in Cheshunt is in the Lee Valley Park area, and there’s only one way in and out; and that’s it. It seems they’re tearing up the level crossing all weekend, and there’s just no other way in or out.

And so I find myself somewhat stuck, unable to leave until Monday morning, and certainly unable to follow any of my plans to fruition. It’s safe to say I was a little frustrated first thing this morning.

But, ultimately, what can you do? I can go nowhere, so why fight it? So, once I’d booked another two nights here, and changed my booking at the YHA in Holland Park, I went out and rewarded myself with a veggie fry-up at the cafe over the road. And y’know what, it was lovely! :)

Being stuck has been somewhat of a pleasurable experience. I’ve done my washing, caught up on the latest Big Bang Theory, done a full yoga session with proper relaxation, and I’m feeling pretty good at the moment. Later I’m going to download a movie and watch it while I have supper, all before an early night.

***

You’ve got to go with what happens in life. Fighting against it will get you nowhere. That’s how I now find myself back doing TV work to earn a bit of money. It’s not where I want to be, but I’m a few grand in debt so I need to do something to sort that out.

Plus I need a bit of seed money for my future yoga experiences, including something to keep me going while I get my teaching off the ground. Quite how or where that teaching will be I don’t know yet, but I’ll figure that out when the time comes.

living out the boot of your car

For the moment I’m living out of my car and staying at Youth Hostels. It’s not a bad way to be, though I wouldn’t mind being able to stay in one place for a while. And the dorm room thing can be a bit of a pain, especially when I’m on night shifts. Every now and then I treat myself to a room in a Travelodge; coz I’m worth it, lol.

As for future plans, in February I’ll be turning forty, so to celebrate my girlfriend and I are flying to Iceland to see the Northern Lights. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to that. I don’t have many things on my Bucket List, but that’s definitely one of them. It’ll be great. I just hope they make an appearance!

Unfortunately though, before I booked that, I got rid of the lovely beard I’ve been cultivating since Australia.

beardy face

I took the above photo as a record of how full it got before I got rid of it.

I kind of miss it now it’s gone, I got used to playing with it, and it certainly kept my face warm. I’ve no doubt I’ll miss it greatly when the Icelandic wind-chill factor kicks in! Still, if I can get to see the Aurora Borealis it’ll be worth the discomfort.

And I think that’s about it for now. Just a quick update on what I’m up to at the moment. Once I have more news you’ll be the first to know.

Keep an eye out for the Iceland post, coming some time after the 8th of Feb (my birthday, ;) ).

Flying Through Singapore

Well, my fellow yogis, it’s a new year and time for a new beginning. Time to make new plans, do new things, and go new places. But in order to do that properly we need to put the old to rest. :)

So here’s the last post from my travels of last year. This is what I got up to on my week in Singapore, as I waited to fly back to London. And since it was so long ago, and my memory ain’t what it used to be (I’m getting old y’know – I’ll be forty in February!), it’ll mostly be a post in pictures, with a few comments on the side.

I flew out from Bali. I love flying, even if I get a bit nervous over open water, and I wasn’t the only one fascinated by the take off.

fascinated

I finally got to have a good look at Bali,

bali from the air

tips

bye bye bali

but as we left it’s beautiful countryside behind,

islands in the sky

it was time to get down to business.

singapore reserves the right to kill you

It’s unnerving to read that a country reserves the right to kill you! Only when I read that did I remember that Singapore is the country that imprisons you for spitting (though when I was there I saw at least on person do it and get away with it). Made me a little uncertain about what lay ahead.

I was staying at the YHA, which was in fact part of a Butlins type resort. Meant it was full of people and noisy a lot of the time. And there was no kitchen so you had to eat out. But at least there was a bit of space in the room to do yoga.

singapore yha yoga

There wasn’t actually much I wanted to do in Singapore. It was just a stop-over on my way back to London. I planned on visiting the Raffles Hotel, and when I found out there was a Universal Studios there I wanted to go there too!, but apart from that the only other thing I was interested in seeing was the Singapore Flyer.

the singapore flyer

It was a bit rainy in Singapore when I was there, like thundery rainy, so I had to pick the least wet day to go. Even so it still ended up being a bit gray and miserable. Still, wotcha gonna do?

Here’s the whole thing in pictures. They’re fairly self explanatory so I won’t bore you with too many words. Not that I knew what I was looking at anyway, lol. It’s was just a load of stuff to me.

Boarding.

ready to board

The view.

the hub

coming in to land

A city of constant construction,

constant construction

and occasional Formula 1 races.

formula 1 pits

A shipping hub.

I see no ships!

metal and grass

A centre for commerce.

singapore 2

pod

we've peaked!

up top

Of course I did a headstand at the top, taken by one of these two gentlemen.

what's that?

It was a tough shoot, with the flat gray light. The out-takes were good,

right exposure, wrong angle

but this is the ‘official’ headstand shot. Number 68 in the series.

68. singapore flyer headstand

(I plan on reaching 100 this year! ;))

singa-ore flyer

buddies

the harbour

singapore

so much going on

Coming in to land.

shapes

wires

Disembarking.

off and on

While I was there I went to have a look at some of the crazy buildings they have round there.

unique construction

On the left is a hotel with a garden on the roof, and on the right is an art gallery. I was interested in visiting both, but they were too expensive, so i just hung around outside soaking up the atmosphere.

singapore 3

lillies and sky scrapers

water lillies

By this time I was hungry, so I used my Happy Cow app to find the Loving Hut which I knew was round there somewhere.

loving hut lunch, singapore

Delicious!

A couple of days later it was time for something I was really looking forward to; Universal Studios!

universal studios, singapore

I was keen to see how it compared to the one in LA. Of course it wouldn’t be the same, but I wanted to see the differences.

welcome to hollywood singapore

new york public library

I started off easy, with a stand and watch experience.

spielberg's movie set show

But it wasn’t long before I was strapping myself in for the ride! :D

sci fi city

The Transformers ride was the same as in LA, which isn’t a bad thing. I loved the one in LA, and i loved the one here too.

The Battlestar Gallactica ride would have been awesome I reckon, but it was raining too much for the outdoor rides to be open unfortunately. :(

dampened enthusiasm

I did the Revenge of the Mummy,

revenge of the mummy

which I forgot how scary it was, lol. And I did a couple of Jurassic Park rides.

jurassic park!

The Rapids Adventure,

jurassic rapids ride

at which I took distinct advantage of their Single Rider queue jumping policy! :D

lone rider queue jump

The ride ends with a big drop into water at the end,

splash down

one film, two rides

the survivors

end of the ride

at which I got absolutely soaked! ..lol..

soaked!

After a very disappointing bit of food I hit the Madagascar ride.

madagascar ride

It was more for kids but I was on a roll and wanted to do as many rides as I could.

The best laugh was when I came out to find these guys knocking about.

madagascar

penguins!

a stranger encounter

Of course I had to finish off with the Waterworld show.

waterworld set

I really enjoyed the one in LA, so would this one be any different?

First up, the guys did a great job of warming the audience up, even going as far as having a bit of audience participation.

Then the real show began.

waterworld  2

waterworld 1

waterworld 3

waterworld 4

Ending of course with the grand finale!

And a smoky finale it was too!

waterworld, after the finale

After all that excitement there was just time for a cup of tea and a slice of cake,

end of day cake

and a quick stroll along the fake walk of fame,

(half) my name on the (fake) hollywood walk of fame

before it was time to head home.

dusk by the island

sentosa island

My last day in Singapore I headed back to the Loving Hut in Suntec City for a final good meal (almost, the airport would hold a nice surprise for me later).

loving hut, singapore

loving hut burger

Yup, that’s another burger, lol.

loving hut cheesecake

Then it was time to check out the Raffles Hotel.

raffles hotel sign

raffle ote

hotel fountain detail

raffles hotel fountain

I was tempted to have a Singapore Sling, but the place was so rammed with tourists, and I don’t drink anyway, that I decided to give it a miss.

the raffles hotel

And that was it really. I headed out the next day. There were a few other things I did, like some nice food I had,

komala's curry

and some rather un-yogic amusement I got from the funny shop names, lol,

wanko

heavenly wang

but mostly that’s what I got up to when it wasn’t raining.

I had one final amazing meal at the airport,

meal at ananda bhavan, singapore airport

which I thought was a real bargain!

cheap as chips!

Really sorted me out for the long flight home. Thanks again Happy Cow.

And with that I boarded the plane,

coming home 1

boarded a train,

coming home 2

and hopped on Shank’s Pony,

coming home 3

to wend my way back home. :)

And that concludes the post for my epic trip around the world. There’ll be another post coming soon outlining what I’m up to now (back at work) and what my plans are (Iceland, Germany, France), but for now I’ll just say Happy New Year and have a great 2014! :)

Om Om!

Vegan Ubud

I’m currently bombing around the south of England, staying in hostels, and doing the odd bit of TV work here and there, so there’s not much interesting to report at the moment (but maybe soon…!).

So anyway, it’s time for a little bit of retro blogging. And as the nights draw in, and the air turns cold, what better thing to contemplate than good, tasty food in warmer, sunnier climes?

grub's up!

I really didn’t expect Bali to be a haven for vegan food, but to my delight I was more than pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it was the fact that I was in Ubud, the more hippy part of the island, but when it came to vegan places to eat (and vegan options) I was spoilt for choice!

I won’t go into the many pizza places and curry houses that could and would easily, and happily, make minor adjustments to their vegetarian options to make them vegan. Instead I’m going to highlight the best three vegan eateries I came across on my many bimbles around Ubud.

The Yoga Barn Cafe

Naturally, this place I came across after doing a bit of yoga at the yoga barn below. Actually, from where you sit you get a nice view of the Yoga Barn itself, and the so-called ‘amphitheatre’ space in front of it.

amphitheatre, from the cafe

It’s a nice place to sit, but though there seems to be plenty of room, I went there twice to eat only to find two of the big tables were reserved and all the rest were full, and so I had to abandon the idea. With that in mind, if you do fancy giving it a go, time your arrival for at least five minutes before one of the yoga classes turfs out.

yoga barn cafe

As is often the way when I am somewhere new (and when there’s the possibility) I plumped for the burger. In my year of traveling I’ve had them in San Francisco, Santa Monica, Toodyay, Perth (twice), Pemberton, Adelaide, Byron Bay, New Plymouth and Queenstown, so why should Ubud be any different? :)

yoga barn veggie burger

It didn’t come in a bun, but in a kind of pitta bread, which makes it more of a lentil patty than a burger in my book. But anyway…

Actually, the pitta proved useful, as the ‘burger’ – as so many other lentil burgers do – tended to fall to pieces when you bit into it. So having a pocket of bread to catch it in was kind of handy.

Integrity aside, the burger itself was pretty tasty. One of those ones that you can tell was put together from healthy ingredients, and so is good for you. I can’t complain about the quality of what I actually managed to get in my mouth.

iced mint thingy

I washed it down with a mint smoothie that was, as advertised, just a big bunch of mint blended with a lot of ice. It did the trick, not only quenching my thirst, but garnering the admiration of those around me, lol. To be admired for your choice of beverage is an odd thing indeed!

For dessert (and let’s be honest, the real reason I was there!) I had a raw mixed berry ‘cheesecake’; one of the many delicious desserts they had on offer.

mixed berry raw vegan cheesecake

It was, quite simply, excellent. I’d have it again and again. Then I’d have some more, and probably regret it. But then I’d take some home as well. It’s a good cake.

yoga barn lunch

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the sort of place for you to indulge too much. Unlike a lot of Ubud, they know their clientele has money, and they set their prices accordingly. I’d say their prices were a good twenty percent above everywhere else. That’s not to say they weren’t serving quality food, and probably paid extra for good ingredients, but just so you know there’s cheaper places to go.

The Vegan Warung

The Loving Hut is one of those chain restaurants that I seek out wherever I am. The politics of their ‘religion’ might be a bit… unorthodox, but you can’t deny they do a nice bit of scran; if a little heavy on the mock meats.

So far I’ve been to the ones in Hong Kong, Camden (London), San Francisco (three of them), Los Angeles, Auckland, New Plymouth, and Singapore (to come in a future post). So with such a variety of locations, it should be no surprise they’ve made it to Bali as well.

'loving hut' ubud, bali

Actually, the place I went to wasn’t called The Loving Hut, but the Vegan Warung (‘warung’ basically meaning cafe). Not that they were any different from the others. Same choice of menu – being vegan food; the actual options vary greatly depending on what country you’re in – and the ubiquitous TV in the corner playing often off-putting programs.

a nice place to relax

I liked it better than some of the other Loving Huts I’ve been in to be honest. It had it’s own low-key style, and thanks to that it was nice and comfy being there.

go veg, go green

I had the nasi goreng, which is a kind of noodley thing. It was so good it barely touched the sides going down. I was absolutely starving when I went there! Thankfully, by the time I left, I was quite satiated.

tasty close up

I washed it down with a bit of green tea, a pot of which put out a good three cups or so.

nasi goreng and green tea

It was a good, simple meal, that cost me about 39,000 IDR (that’s £2:10 to you and me! – 2:50 EUR, 3:35 USD, 3:60 AUD).

I was glad I’d stuck with the walking mission to get there, along Jalan Raya Ubud (east, away from the Palace). It’s further out than any of the maps make out. Not a million miles, but enough to make you doubt yourself. It’s worth the effort, but I’d be sure to pop to the loo before you head back: Not because of the distances involved though, but because it’s so darn cute. ;)

loving loo

Sari Organik

Sari Organik was recommended by the two American girls I met doing the elephant ride, and with it’s mix of vegan food and out of the way location amongst the rice paddies of Bali how could I stay away? I’d been itching to get amongst the terraces all week, and if I could walk there myself, well all the better.

The walk itself would test my navigation skills to their utmost. With no Google Maps to rely on (not that it’s the most reliable for Ubud anyway) I was reduced to doing it old school; scribbling things on freebie maps.

getting there is half the fun

X marks the spot I was trying to get to, up near the top of the map, and my start point was somewhere off the bottom of the page, just below the Yoga Barn (the green blob near the bottom right corner). It’s a heck of a walk, but I had all day and nothing else to do, so I was in no rush.

Thankfully, my old orienteering skills kicked in. You’ll see on the left I’ve marked Campuan Bridge. I was confident of getting to Jalan Raya Ubud, the main road, and so I knew that if I headed along there and got as far as a bridge I’d gone too far. That gave me a small selection of turnings to choose from. One of them would be the one I wanted for sure. Would that life were so simple, lol. :)

I wandered past the turning I needed to take at least once. That’s because it wasn’t so much a proper road as a bit of a semi-private side street. I only investigated it as the two girls had said that the path to Sari Organik as a bit obscure, but if it wasn’t for this sign up near the end of the ‘street’

rice fields this way

I doubt I would have ventured much further.

But now I was on the right path, and with a lack of deviations (thank God), all I had to do was walk and I was there.

Despite being hungry, I actually didn’t mind not knowing if I’d find it or not. I was also there to see rice paddies, and there was certainly no shortage of them!

what I'd been looking for

paddies along the way

growth

I could live here

palms and waterways

many levels

It was a good 5-10 minute walk up the narrow path to Sari Organik, and not only were there fascinating views to enjoy, but there were many scooters whizzing past to keep you on your toes!

watch out for the mopeds

Scooters are a primary form of transport in Bali, and they’re also quite popular with visiting foreigners, but I’ve no idea why? Honestly, walking round Ubud, I’ve never seen so many people with scrapes and breaks on their knees and elbows. Seems like a lethal occupation to me.

Anyway, it wasn’t long until I reached Sari Organik.

sari organik

The sign and gigantic rock were fairly obvious, but just in case you weren’t paying attention they even had their name written on the path itself.

welcome

Inside was lovely and open,

sari organik interior

and even though the balcony (the place to be!) was all full,

sari organik balcony

I managed to get myself a prime spot in the corner with some excellent views.

triumphant!

view 1

view 2

view 3

view 5

view 4

Now here’s where I show my Bad Blogger habits (and we get an abject lesson in taking notes). I can’t for the life of me remember what it was I ate! I mean I got a photo. This is it:

what did I eat?

But I can’t tell you what it was called? I just can’t remember. I think it was something beginning with C, but that’s the best I can do. I mean you can see from the picture, there’s some tofu stuff in yellow stuff, some tempura vegetables, some rice, a fried veggie patty thing, and some nutty creation (the brown stuff at the back), but that’s the best I can do I’m afraid.

I can tell you it was lovely though. A nice mix of food, very fresh, and very tasty. I approve of my random choice, even if I can’t remember what it was called. :)

What wasn’t so tasty was the chocolate sorbet I had.

chocolate sorbet

I treated myself to a dessert after the mission to get there, but I wish I hadn’t. It was just plain nasty. I tried a few bits and then shoved it aside, utterly convinced that chocolate was not meant to be a sorbet, ever!, and whoever was responsible for this monstrosity should be punished. Ok, so I’m exaggerating a little, but the fact remains: Don’t eat the chocolate sorbet!

minty drink thing

Thankfully I had another minty green drink to wash the taste away. Similar to the one I had at Yoga Barn, this had some other green stuff in it besides mint, but what it was I couldn’t say. It too escapes me. It was good though, that much I do remember.

Of the three meals I’m outlining in this post this was the middle priced of the three. Value for money, and not just because of the walk, I’d recommend going there any time.

***

COMPETITION TIME: How many chicks can you spot in this picture?

bali chicks

No prize other than your own smug self-satisfaction. Answers in the comments section below please. :)

***

After the meal I went for a wander further up the track, just to see what was there. And, in no particular order, here’s a few of the shots I took that you might like.

into the fields

uniform rows

greens

for rent

bali butterfly

pedal power

waterway

yellow and green

climbing vine

worked by hand

And my favourite three pics I took on my long, nay epic, walk along the Sari Organik path:

rice

home sweet home

silhouettes and reflections

:D

Money, Keys, Wallet, Travelcard

That was my personal mantra as I left the house for nearly fifteen years;

“Money, keys, wallet, travelcard.”

I can even tell you which pocket they all went in.

I’m flashing back to that now as I’m once more back in London. Actually, I’m kind of back back in London, as I got here a month ago, was here for two weeks, then went to Germany for two weeks to see my girlfriend.

But now I’m back in England for a while now, so I thought it was time for a bit of an update.

coming home 1

After Bali I did a week in Singapore. There’ll be a blog post about that, as there will be one about vegan food in Ubud, but since I expect the next few weeks to be relatively quiet, I’ll be doing them retrospectively to keep things interesting.

From Singapore I flew back to London when I spent a couple of weeks at a friend’s house, with a short side trip to move my things out of storage and up to my parent’s place (a trip that cost me nearly £1000 after the van I was driving got pranged along the way – I’m not happy about that).

coming home 2

Then I went to Germany for two weeks to see Lena. We had a nice time in and around Freiburg, culminating in a trip to Europa Park (also soon to be the subject of it’s own blog post).

Now I’m back in London, but only until the weekend when I go back to Carlisle to see about getting my car back on the road.

coming home 3

So what’s the situation right now? Well, I’m about £1500 in debt, with £500 in the bank. I’m trying to line up some freelance shifts at my old place of work, just six of which would wipe out the debt and put me in a much better position, but they are slow in coming, and anything I do now I won’t see the cash for for ages.

Plan A is to work freelance at my old profession, clearing debt and making money, whilst staying at Youth Hostels and using my car to get from place to place (storing my stuff in the boot).

Plan B, which I am implementing now on a short term basis, is to stay with my family for a while until Plan A kicks in. Not ideal as I’ll be a long way from London, but a lot cheaper than staying in hostels (and cheap is what I need).

Plan C. Should the freelancing thing not pan out, I could always spend some time working at the London Sivananda Centre. They’re keen for people at the moment apparently, and staying there wouldn’t cost me anything. Unfortunately it would also mean I couldn’t earn any money, as it would be like a full time job, so that would make it difficult to service my current debt.

Plan D – the last resort: Get a proper job. That means going back full time at the profession I am trying to get away from, to clear my debt and make some cash. This would also probably involve signing a contract on somewhere to live and staying there for a while, as I need some stability if I’m going to be working full time. But as you can tell, I do not want to do this. It would kind of negate the point of the whole big adventure/change in the first place.

But lets not concentrate on that. Lets look towards the ideal. To that end, I remain currently footloose and fancy free, on the look out for ways to make a bit of cash and places I can stay short term.

So if you’re in and around London, or anywhere in the UK for that matter, and you have a bit of work that needs doing, or are in need of a cat sitter for a while, just let me know. I am at your service. :)

And as for long long term…

I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I was very excited about the idea of living in New Zealand. But I realise that as long as there’s mountains and lakes I really don’t care where I am. Both Canada and Sweden would serve equally as well.

I still want to spend some time writing, see if I can make a go of that. And I would like to start teaching yoga on a regular basis, though until I am settled that could prove to be a little challenging.

Truth be told, I don’t know what I want just yet. There are too many imponderables, and my brain is taken up with the day to day of things for now, rather than the long term. But I promise, when I know, you’ll know. I can’t say fairer than that now can I? ;)

The Yoga Barn, Ubud

If you’re in Ubud, and have some time on your hands, chances are you’re going to do some yoga at least once. There’s loads of it about, and there are many shops selling all kinds of paraphernalia you didn’t know you needed.

Chances are also pretty good that you’ll end up doing it at the Yoga Barn, Ubud’s biggest yoga establishment. I went there several times, and each time a good proportion of the class was new to Yoga Barn, and many of them had never done yoga before.

yoga barn

Getting there can be half the fun, especially considering some of the ‘maps’ they have available in Bali (NB: Google Maps – very unreliable!).

Never mind the pot-holed pavements,

getting there is half the fun

the streets and shops in Ubud aren’t the best sign posted. Thankfully though, the information gleaned from their website that they were “…just behind Siam Sally…”

down the alley next to siam sallys

proved to be not only accurate but easy to follow (even if the map on their Find Us page is oriented different to every other map of Ubud I saw).

Even so, “just behind” stretched the meaning of the phrase a little bit.

alley 1

alley 2

But since I was there to be stretched who was I to complain? ..lol..

and there it is

You arrive at an upper reception area, but the reception for classes is down at the ‘barn’ itself, so they sent me down the stairs and through the restaurant (I’ll be reviewing that on my next post; ‘Vegan Ubud’), where I was surprised to find this waiting for me.

amphitheatre, from the cafe

the amphitheatre

the yoga barn

I had no idea it was so big. But I guess that’s one of the joys of building somewhere like Bali, they’ve got the space to let your imagination run wild, and it’s fairly affordable.

you are here

I did four lessons there while I was in Ubud. I had bought a five class card – 450,000IDR = £25 – and though they do have a massive class schedule, there were only a few types of yoga I really wanted to try out, some of which I’m afraid were too early and sleep got the better of me. Well, I was on holiday after all. :)

There are two main asana halls, a smaller one at the back of reception, and a massive one upstairs,

the upstairs asana hall

and I ended up having two different classes in each of them. Here’s what I got up to;

Yin Yoga with Tina

I’d been looking forward to doing some proper Yin Yoga since I first did it atop the Sydney Tower Eye, so this was the first class I went for. It was similar to what I’d done before, but this time we used a lot more bolsters and blocks to support our bodies.

Because there were so many new people Tina gave an excellent explanation of the purpose of Yin Yoga, and how it works – holding the poses for longer to soften up the connective tissue of the joints – before we got down to the asanas themselves.

Unfortunately I didn’t do so well in the postures as she concentrated a lot on the hips, and there were a lot of forward bends which I just can’t do. My hamstrings are too tight and I can’t even sit upright with my legs out in front of me, never mind getting any part of me on my knees/thighs.

I enjoyed the class, and I’m glad I went, but I was looking forward to something a bit more vigorous the next time.

Restorative Yoga with Tina (again)

Unfortunately I slept through the class I was going to attend, the Morning Flow at 7am, so instead I went for the Restorative Yoga session, as it was the only one I could fit into my schedule that day.

This one was upstairs, in the early evening, and we had the same teacher as the day before (this was her normal lesson; I think yesterday she had been filling in).

Our lesson started with us donning mozzie repellant, as we were warned they would be coming out in about 30 minutes. They were right, they did, but not so you’d really notice, or at least I didn’t anyway.

I had hoped that ‘restorative’ would mean ‘invigorating’, or ‘energising’, but in fact it was meant ‘resting’ and ‘relaxing’. To be honest, it turned out to be very similar to the Yin Yoga of the day before. A few different asanas, but also a lot of the same forward bends we’d done previously, so once again I wasn’t able to get the full benefit because of my intractable hamstrings.

Yoga Nidra with Gypsy

After my previous two lessons I really wanted to do something more vigorous and challenging. However, there was only one opportunity to have a go at Yoga Nidra in the schedule, and that came the next day. So off to that I went!

Yoga Nidra, for want of a better explanation, is like one big, long, final relaxation. There’s a bit of breathing, and some meditation, but the lion’s share of the lesson is done lying in shavasana, which we did length-ways on a bolster with the soles of our feet together and cushions supporting our knees.

There’s to be no strain while you do it. The idea is to mentally relax every part of the body, and with that the mind, taking the time to do it in great detail and often imagining different types of light at different areas. The final part is a relaxation of the mind, sending it out into the Universe and allowing yourself to feel a certain oneness with everything.

Yes, I know, very hippy, lol. But I tell you what, it was very interesting to do. And I didn’t fall asleep once, which is amazing (for me anyway, hehehe). I came close a few times, but I managed to stay focused and not let The Snooze over-take me.

At the end I felt quite relaxed, and a wee bit spaced out. The teacher recommended taking it easy as you headed back into the world, and I could see why. If you hadn’t done this kind of thing before it’d be too easy to wander off into traffic or something equally as dangerous. So everyone took a moment to have a sit down and a drink of water before once more braving the insane roads and crazy drivers of Ubud’s tiny roadways.

Hatha Flow with Carlos

So, Hatha Flow. Finally I was going to get the exercise I had been craving. Well you know what they say, be careful what you wish for…

Hatha I was familiar with. It’s what you do at the Sivananda Centres. Flow I’d heard about, mostly in the context of Vinyasa (though I’ve yet to do a Vinyasa class as it doesn’t sound like the thing for me). How the two related to each other I didn’t know?

What we ended up doing was a lot of asanas in a big long sequence, our ‘relaxation’ being to hold ourselves in Down Dog (Inverted V) before moving on to the next bit.

Again there was a lot of people of mixed ability in the class, and I noticed a few left early, though whether it was because of the yoga or they had somewhere to be I don’t know. The teacher was very enthusiastic, and obviously knowledgeable, but he didn’t explain things in great detail sometimes, and his accent was a little hard to follow too, so much so that even I got confused now and then (and I kind of know what I’m doing, so it must have been especially difficult for new beginners).

But mostly it was ok. The asanas were quite challenging, though he gave alternatives for those of us (notice I said ‘us’, lol) who weren’t quite up to it. I found it hard not having as much relaxation as I’m used to, and had to bow out now and then to just rest up in Child’s Pose (the suggested alternative to Down Dog). But by then end of it I felt like I’d gotten the workout I’d been after, and then some, and I was glad I’d gone to the class.

jata ganesha, jaya ganesha...

After each class it was nice to just hang around the centre for a bit, relaxing and re-hydrating before heading back out into the world. There are loads of little nooks and crannies you can deposit yourself away in, not to mention the excellent cafe that I frequented on more than one occasion.

their organic garden

to the healing hut

shopping!

yoga barn cafe

That’s the real plus of the Yoga Barn I reckon, having somewhere quiet to hang out in Ubud, away from all the hustle and bustle of the main road. We all need that bit of time out now and then, and the restorative power of somewhere peaceful to sit and relax should never be under-estimated. :)

The Elephant Safari Park, Bali

Before I went away I tried to make a list of at least three things I really wanted to do before I die, but it’s hard. I mean I thought of plenty of things that could potentially go on there – swim with whales, learn to play a musical instrument, give a TED talk – but in reality there were only a few things that I absolutely must do at some point. As I say, I wanted three. I only managed to come up with two.

One was see the Northern Lights. Totally wrong hemisphere for that! The other though, was ride an elephant. Now that was do-able. In fact it was the main reason I’d come to Bali.

The Elephant Safari Park in Taro, near Ubud, is one of the best and most well known elephant rescue centres in this part of the world. It got Steve Irwin approval, so by that standard, anything good enough for Steve is good enough for me!

I booked the elephant ride package for $86USD (just under £55). Not cheap by any standards, and especially not for Bali. But for that you got the whole deal; hotel transfer there and back, park entrance, elephant ride, buffet lunch, the works.

I was picked up from my hotel at 8am. Elephants are early risers it seems! We drove around picking up the other people on the tour – a pair of lovely young ladies from California, and a British couple who were there on their honeymoon! – and we all chatted and got to now each other as we heading out into the countryside towards the safari park.

the way home

I got my first proper look at rice terraces along the way,

my first good look at rice paddies

and it just made me even more determined to see then close up for myself.

We arrived to find yet another Ganesha to greet us in the car park,

we're here

and immediately we signed in, eager to start our safari.

elephant safari park

Unfortunately they weren’t quite ready for us yet, but we got to stroll our way down into the park while we waited, meeting our first Sumatran elephant along the way.

my first elephant

We even got to feed him/her (I didn’t look under the hood to check, lol) some bits of banana plant,

feeding time

which was great fun.

Our first ‘encounter’ over, we got ready to meet our elephants. Unfortunately, as we were queuing up to take our ride the heavens opened and it started chucking it down.

the line for elephants starts here

Not that that was going to stop us. I mean, that’s why God invented umbrellas, right?

Being on my own I got an elephant of my own to ride,

my ride

which naturally came with it’s very own mahout (handler).

ma mahout

Climbing aboard was weird. You have to step on it’s back to get into the seat, and it’s not the most firm of footing as you might be able to tell from this picture.

beneath my feet

It’s thick skin moved above sideways, and my boots were not the best footwear for walking about on an elephant. But still, I made it, and this is me looking all excited about going for an elephant-back ride.

I'm on an elephant!

You start off heading through the park,

careful where you're stepping

the end if the road

but pretty soon you leave the paved roads behind, and head out into their own small jungle preserve.

elephants only (a little shaky)

NB: Taking photos from the back of a moving elephant in the rain whist holding an umbrella is not the easiest thing to do.

I should point out that ‘jungle’ is probably a bit of a misnomer. The environment is very organised and controlled, and as such is definitely more ‘park’ than ‘safari’.

That being said, it was nice to just roll along through the trees, just you, your elephant, and all the time in the world.

into the wild

It wasn’t long until I’d forgotten about everything else, and was just enjoying the gentle rocking of this magnificent creature as it ambled along.

plodding along

In fact, if you want to enjoy the elephants for yourself (right now!) you can, by checking out their EarthCam live feed!

earthcam

You only get a thirty minute elephant ride. I’ve no idea how long we were in the jungle bit, but it wasn’t long before we started seeing signs of civilisation again.

that's a lot of poop

Man, that’s a lot of poop!

Before long we were back in the park,

back to the park

just married

but that wasn’t quite the end of it. To finish off we got to stay on the elephant’s backs as they took a quick dip in the pool. Naturally, this turned into the best photo opportunity!

bath time

feeling lucky

look at me!

Do I look pleased with myself, because I felt it. :)

And with that our ride was over, but not the experience. We dismounted, and then got to go spend time meeting, greeting, and feeding the elephants, including the cutest little baby you ever did see!

meet the elephants

go on, touch it!

making friends

reaching out

come and get it

something yummy

strike a pose</a

grab!

the little ones meet

elephant feeding time

hungry little fella

I, of course, wanted to do a headstand. With some quick negotiations,

headstand negotiations

I was good to go! At least, that’s what I thought. I was half way up when I remembered I’d forgotten to tuck my shirt in.

wait, my belly's showing!

Not the first time, or the last, that that has happened.

Anyway, I got the shot,

67. elephant safari park headstand

number 67 in the series.

By now it was getting on a bit. Still morning, technically, but with the early start I was getting hungry! As far as I was concerned it was time to hit the buffet.

safari park buffet lunch

The food was good, and plentiful, and I enjoyed more than one helping.

After lunch there was a bit of time before the elephant show, so I wandered around a bit checking out the park.

elephant bath

ganesha (again)

around the park

goldfish by the waterfall

happy heffalumps

across the fields

elephant butts

Pretty soon it was time for the show. I’d no idea what to expect, but I have to say it was very well done and quite entertaining. From elephants just walking around

everybody wave

up we go

down we go

there's something on my nose

to elephants taking a load off.

just sittin'

elephant show

From elephants playing games,

he shoots...

two points!

and doing math,

elephant maths

and the answer is...

and even doing the hula!,

this show had it all.

But the most amusing bit for me by far was at the end, probably because I’d chosen to stand on the platform at the back to get a better view, and so was out of the danger zone, lol.

look out!

a good drenching!

soaked

And with that the show, and my elephant experience was over. We all hopped back in the vehicle and headed back into Ubud.

I’m glad I did the safari, expensive though it was, and I had a great time meeting the elephants and seeing them perform. The Safari Park certainly seemed to treat their animals with care and affection, and no doubt the fees from tours like mine go towards facilitating their conservation work.

As I’ve said though, it was a little ‘controlled’ for me. I wanted to sit astride the thing, do some serious off-roading, maybe even get in the river and bathe them, stuff like that. So even though I can scratch Ride An Elephant off my ‘To Do’ list, Nelly and I still have some unfinished business, and I’ve no doubt I’ll be meeting some more heffalumps some time in the not too distant future. ;)

Ubud And The Sacred Monkey Forest

Ah, Bali.

I really had no idea what to expect going there. All I knew about the place is that it’s where Elizabeth Gilbert went at the end of her big spiritual journey, and you can ride elephants there. So I kind of expected it to be full or pachyderms, and middle aged women on bicycles clutching well thumbed copies of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. I was wrong on both counts.

I flew in to Denpasar airport,

denpasar airport

and paid the princely sum of 250,000 Indonesian rupiah (IDR) – about £13:80 – for the one hour taxi ride from there to Ubud, near the centre of the island.

The first thing I noticed was the Balinese love of statues. They were many and varied.

statue 1

statue 2

The second thing I noticed was the crazy random vehicles you got on the road. Never mind all the scooters, I saw a forklift heading down the main road,

forklift

and this turned out to be a police pick-up transporting prisoners.

bored copper

At one point my driver, who wasn’t the most approachable chap, announced he needed a drink. So he just pulled over, hopped out, and left me there with the engine running.

abandoned!

I was glad when the busy, warehouse lined, dual-carriageway started winding it’s way out of the city and into more open country.

countryside

a glimpse of rice paddies

rice paddy postcard

And I was very glad to finally get to my hotel in Ubud (my one hour taxi ride taking a good two hours because of all the crazy traffic).

I’d splashed out a bit, and was staying at the Casa Ganesha Hotel, for just under 3,000,000 IDR (£181) for the week. It looked very promising as I walked in,

casa ganesha

entranceway and restaurant

the pool

ganesha's courtyard

our ganesha

and I had no complaints about the room.

my room

the balcony

the view from my balcony

The main road was crazy busy with traffic (constantly) so I was happy to be at the back away from all that. The facilities were excellent – air-con, TV, free wifi – and you even got a choice of free breakfasts each morning. Check this out!

breakfast, pt 1

breakfast, pt 2

I was quite partial to the fruit salad and banana pancake combo, and had that more than once. But I wasn’t averse to the cinnamon toast as well, and both were an excellent way to start your day.

The first couple of days I just wandered about a bit, got my bearings. The pavements were a bit haphazard,

mind your step

so you had to keep your wits about you (I tripped several times as I was walking while gaping into shop windows, but thankfully I didn’t fall down any holes).

But everywhere there were glimpses of Ganesha; the Remover of Obstacles,

a glimpse of gansha

so I wasn’t too concerned.

There were also offerings everywhere – outside every shop, gateway, by every statue, and anywhere else they could think to put them;

an offering

though who they were to and what they were for I never found out.

And there was yoga. All kinds of yoga stuff all over the place.

yoga laundry

I was looking forward to some of that (though that’s a subject for a post of it’s own).

Apart from yoga and riding elephants, a little research came up with two things you could do in Ubud that were meant to be good; visit the Ubud Palace, and visit the Monkey Forest Sanctuary.

I gave the palace a go first, and was woefully disappointed. You couldn’t go inside (as far as I could see anyway), they had these ‘STOP’ signs everywhere,

stop!

so you just got to wander around a small part of the grounds a bit looking at a few stone carvings.

palace doorway

just plain weird

doorway detail

wall carving

By far the superior of the two options was the Monkey Forest.

The monkeys were awesome. Crazy, cheeky, and a little bit sneaky, you had to keep your eye on them or they’d be away with whatever you had!

popping the cap

taking a swig

The forest itself had some beautiful and unexpected architecture,

monkey forest 1

monkey forest 2

sacred spring lizard statues

moss covered lizard

as well as some less architectural man-made enhancements,

bamboo bridge

monkey forest 3

forest offering

big bamboo bridge

monkey forest 4

but of course the best bit was the monkeys. :D

You had lone monkeys just hanging out,

feeling lazy

monkey, lion

families of monkeys just doing their thing,

monkey family

baby monkey, baby monkey...

just sittin' on a wall

tackling a banana

mum

and cheeky monkeys just being cheeky.

nyah!

A monkeys life is a simple one. When you’re not begging for bananas, or trying to steal stuff off tourist, most of your time is spent laying around grooming or being groomed (so it seems).

grooming

that's not right!

great fun!

I can’t say I don’t envy them that, lol.

The monkeys may be crazy, but what drove me nuts was I couldn’t stop singing the song from the following video as I wandered around the place. And I bet you’ll be singing it too by the end of it. ;)