Tag Archives: environment

Favorite Memories from Bajo

Not in any particular order:)

Riding on the motorbike with Ainul: This one has a little back story.  We were all out in Belopa hanging out at one of Faisal’s friends place (Misba) and among other things we got into a conversation about the Muslim religion.  I learned about ‘haram’ (forbidden) and ‘halal’ (allowed) and about proper ways to interact with other Muslim men and women.  On our way back to Bajo, I rode with one of the students, Ainul (Arabic for ‘eye of God’ essentially) and he continued to educate me about the religion during our 15 minute drive back.  He told me that the Muslim religion teaches to love your family, your neighbors and yourself.  To treat others with respect and kindness.  To give what you can and be grateful for what you have.  Then he asked (which still brings tears to my eyes thinking of it) whether I had heard of the recent bombings in France (November 2015).  I replied yes, I had.  To which he said ‘those people are not Muslims.  Our true religion teaches love, not hate.  Those people doing those bad things are not true Muslims.’  Through my welled-up eyes I simply replied “I know.”.  People so often judge others and their religions based on the evil behavior of a few who claim to be of the same religion.  But at the real heart of every religion lies the same undeniable truth: Love one another and be good to one another.  We are each here just trying to live our lives in the best way possible for ourselves, our families and friends.  It’s a shame those with evil intentions and evil in their hearts try to ruin it.

Spicy food:  Ok, so I love, LOVE spicy food!!!  I thought up to this point in my travels that I’d already encountered the spiciest food available in Asia, but I was wrong!!  Indonesia (at least South Sulawesi) has THE spiciest food I’d ever tasted!!  Even something simple like nasi goreng (fried rice) was so unbelievably hot that I was in heaven!!  Truth be told however I couldn’t always finish all my food because of the heat of the meal and the heat of the day!  Indonesia blew both Thailand and Malaysia out of the water in the category of spicy foods!

Cooking with Faisal: Watching this young man teach english was a marvel enough, but amazingly he’s also a talented chef!  I enjoyed joining him in the kitchen several nights a week to watch him whip up  delicious traditional Indonesian dishes full of intense flavors and of course spice!

Meeting his friends: Misba, Ucok, Mita, Iswan, Andre, Aput, Ainul, Lily, Diarah… the list of his beautiful friends could go on forever!

Helping to make Kapurung with Mama and at Iswan’s house with his family.

Amazing Hospitality: Everywhere you went, the hospitality was unbelievable.  Such beautiful people and so giving in every way


Treated like a celebrity: Seriously if you’ve ever wanted to know what it must be like to be a celebrity,  GO TO Bajo!!!  People literally stop and stare, ask for photos and want to get close to you!  They are all of course very respectful and will ask for pictures etc, but once you give the ‘go ahead’ they will come in close and one picture turns into about 70, lol!!  ‘Lagi, lagi’ (again, again) was the common word heard during picture time.  Even just walking down the street to the store I would be stopped by people driving by for a picture with them.  Seriously an ego boost!  Though truthfully there were lots of times when the honor wore off!  I would still always acquiesce to pictures with the people, but after that experience certainly would never want to be a real celebrity!!

Hiking the mountain: The name of it escapes me but it was one of the tallest in our area.  Iswan had a family home at the top of the mountains and after a 2 hour hike, we enjoyed a beautifully relaxing, quiet and calm afternoon chilling at their home.  We practiced our shooting skills with a pellet gun (only shooting targets, no animals!!!) and ate fresh food cooked up by the boys literally plucked from the earth.  So beautiful!

Going to Iswan and Ucok’s home: Such amazing families and homes!!  They were simple yet so gorgeous!  Animals roamed around as we sat on the floor eating home cooked traditional foods and talked.  We tried some palm wine (normally haram, but was only served to myself and the two other volunteers so it was all good!).  We met the most amazing man, Iswan’s grandfather who was apparently over 100 years old, yet looked as if he was maybe 60!  He loved meeting tourists and though he didn’t speak a word of English, his smile and constant laugh said it all.  You couldn’t help but smile and laugh with him non-stop any time you were in his presence!!

Mama: Faisal’s mother was just too cute!  She didn’t speak any English yet was still able to communicate in her own way.  She was warm, welcoming and always a bright spirit to be around!  I loved going to the markets with her or just hanging out with her on the front porch.

Learning Bahasa: I started to carry a little notebook with me so I could write down any new words of Bahasa to refer back to when needed.  I would always write the word phonetically so I could pronounce it correctly and was often corrected in my spelling, lol!!

Salma: One of Faisal’s cousin is an amazing!  She invited me to her beautiful home and served me kapurung (a traditional soup made with sagu, vegetables and meat) then took me to her sister’s house for a tour of their land.  I actually learned the majority of Bahasa words from her.  She couldn’t really construct sentences, but she knew a lot of individual words so as I watched her prepare lunch she would point to items and say their equivalent in Bahasa.  One of my favorite afternoons!

Dressed in local wedding attire: What an amazing experience this was!!  Another cousin of Faisal, brother of Salma was a make-up artist and he turned myself and the two other volunteers into brides complete with the full traditional hair, make-up and gowns!  We were then whisked off to Belopa to several locations to have professional pictures taken by 3 individuals (Aput-the real pro and Andre were 2 of them).  Talk about feeling like a star again!  We even went to the home and met one of the Queen’s of South Sulawesi (one of 8!) and were allowed to take pictures inside her home:)

Karaoke: As part of a going-away gift, Faisal, Ucok and Iswan treated myself and another volunteer from Spain to a night of karaoke!  Sooooooo much FUN!!!!!  We had our own booth and jammed away until our time was cut off, lol!!  Loved it!

The students: Attentive, respectful, full of life, cheery, smart, inquisitive, beautiful students!!  From the 6 year olds up to the 18 year olds, what a wonderful group of kids to have been given the pleasure of teaching!

Visit to recycle center: My first task upon arriving at the request of Faisal was to help set up a recycling center at his home.  Traditionally all trash is burned (not good for the air!) but luckily a recycle center was located in Belopa.  So we visited the center and arranged for us to be able to bring in our recycling.  I set up a little center near the school and we educated then encouraged the kids to bring in their plastics, paper and metals to us so we could collect them and take them to the main center.  Faisal would even get some money from the recycling, which could in turn be put back into helping fund his school!  Visit Faisal’s Environmental Page!

Leaving Bajo: This one was definitely a bitter-sweet memory.  I didn’t want to leave, yet at the same time was ready to.  I received one of the most beautiful send-offs however.  They loaded me with parting gifts and hugs.  I tried my best not to get emotional and cry, but that was just impossible.  I was a big ball of sopping wet tears by the time I got on the bus.  I still carry each of their gifts with me and smile whenever I see or wear them.  My eyes are welling up again…

Building and blessing the volunteer house: I really can’t take credit for this bit as I didn’t actually help build any part of it, lol!!  I kept hanging around and asking if they needed help, but the boys and Faisal’s father had everything under control.  They built a beautiful 2 room home for volunteers just behind the school-house.  I did help with some of the painting however and with a little poem written on the inside of each room, but that was the extent of my contribution, lol!  Once complete, we had a gathering in one of the rooms with food and the entire family and friends and had a little prayer to bless the new space.

Spiderman/Justin Bieber: One of Faisal’s nephews, a feisty character of a young man was often at the house as many other young family members were.  We’d often play games of hide-and-seek or watch them rollerblade around, and the reason he got the nickname ‘Spiderman’ was because you would literally have to look up the walls or to the ceiling to find where he was hiding!  Quite the talented climber that one was.  And he’d constantly sneak up on you from the most random of directions while we were painting or writing on the walls of the volunteer house.  Can’t recall why he also got the nickname ‘Justin Bieber’, but using either of those two nicknames and everyone knew who we were referring to, lol!!

The guitar and songs: Hanging out with Faisal, whether at his home or Misba’s place, one of my favorite times was watching him and listening to him play his guitar.  Self-taught and brilliant!  I could listen to him play for hours while either humming along or simply sitting quietly.

Children, children and more children: Aside from the school children we were accompanied daily by younger family members and in general anywhere around town or other people’s homes would be swarmed by them.  Too cute!!

Invited to an ‘Aquika’: Not at all as you should spell that word I’m sure, but essentially an aquika is a series of blessings given to newborn babies.  Family and friends gathered together to eat and watch the blessings and celebrate the new life.  The first blessing was to ensure good fertility, the second was to ward off bad spirits in her life and the third to grant her good health throughout her life.  Absolutely amazing to be a part of!

Learning the Bajo way of cracking eggs.  Basically use one egg to crack the other!  To crack the last egg they use the table top of course.  I crack my eggs the Bajo way now:).

Going to Faisal’s sisters house to watch her make (and us subsequently eat) donuts and muffins for her bakery business.

On to Learning Bahasa

Back to Indonesia

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Reunited with Horses

For two of my weeks on the island of Langkawi, I took time out from volunteering at the Bon Ton animal shelter and headed over to Island Horses to volunteer there.  I had originally planned to volunteer there longer, but due to an unforseen event, was only able to do two weeks.

I’ve been a rider for most of my life but hadn’t been near any horses for over a year at this point, so needless to say I was so thrilled to finally be back in their presence.  Perhaps only horse people will be able to relate to that the smell in the air when approaching a horse facility.  It is perhaps my favorite in the world as it smells like coming home to me!

Island Horses is a working stable with three main functions.  First, they train endurance horses and have a team that competes worldwide (in fact during my time there the owner and his son were in Argentina for a competition!).  Second, it’s a breeding facility for Malay Arabian horses and finally, they offer jungle and beach riding tours for tourists.  They are very safety conscientious when it comes to taking riding tours out, which of course is very important!

As a volunteer at Island Horses a bed and bathroom were provided (shared with staff) but meals were not.  However the GeoPark (where the cable car was located) and the seven falls waterfall national park, were only a 5 to 10 minute walk away.  There, a variety of foods could be found all reasonably priced.

As a volunteer I was assigned 5 horses to care for and an aisle of horses to water 3 times a day.  Our days started at 7am until 7pm with a lunch break from 12-2:30pm.  All that was expected of me was to groom each horse twice a day as the stalls and feeding were done by the staff.  While I did spend my first day simply grooming my five horses (essentially with a fine-toothed comb so I could get to know every inch of them to get a baseline for any changes during my time there), three days didn’t even pass before I’d incorporated other little tasks to my daily duties.

I will admit that the first several days there were tough for me.  And not for any other reason except perhaps a bit of cultural differences and the natural environment.  The way I’d been raised to care for horses was not the standard I’d found there.  I’m not saying the horses were not cared for, because they were all fed quite well and watered appropriately and such, but other things in my opinion, were not up to snuff.  However, what made it extra tough was the natural terrain and weather of the environment, which made caring for horses in general that much harder.  Wounds don’t heal as fast as they would in dry environments and keeping stalls dry is equally difficult during the wet season.

As someone who was simply coming and going in only two weeks, my business there wasn’t to complain and point out all the things I thought weren’t right, but rather to simply lend my hand and do my job (so to speak).  So it was by the third day I’d made up my mind to take care of my five horses as if they were personally mine.  On top of daily grooming I also began to take care of cleaning their stalls, treating their boo-boos and cleaning equipment used for them.

In the short time I was there, I rode twice on the beach and through the jungle.  It was such an amazing feeling to be back on a horse!!  Words simply can’t express the exhilaration I felt!  It was also funny to me because while I’d been used to riding draft horses and having to physically put in a lot of work just to make them and KEEP them moving forward, I’d almost forgotten how easy it is to get Arabians to move forward, lol!!  And while I would have loved to have ridden more, since I was young it’s been instilled in me that as horse people our primary concern is for the care of the horse.  Riding is a privilege and comes only after all the needs of the animal are met.

The facility itself is undeniably in one of the most beautiful locations on the island.  Surrounded by lush jungle, nestled at the base of one of the mountain ranges and only minutes from the beach, I certainly got spoiled living in such a beautiful environment.  The wildlife in the area was also fantastic.  Aside from the horses, cats and dogs at the stables we would also be frequently visited  by deer, two types of monkeys, water monitors, bats, snakes, wild boar and stray dogs!  It practically was its own zoo!

While I was only there two weeks, leaving was just as hard as if I’d been there years.  Leaving the animals of course was the hardest part for me but also leaving Amirah (my staff roommate) and Shanto (a 12 year volunteer) was very tough.  Even in that short time I felt like part of the family and welcomed in ways I hadn’t imagined.  I think of them daily, as I do my family at the Bon Ton shelter, and look forward to being able to return there again.

On to The Majesty of Kuala Lumpur

Back to Malaysia

Things to Love about Thailand

I’ve been traveling in Thailand now for over 5 months now, so I thought perhaps now is the best time to break out with a few things I love or at least find the most interesting about Thailand:)

It will be a working list and isn’t in any particular order with the exception of the first one.  🙂

#1: NO SHOES!!!
I absolutely adore how before entering any building, home or place of work you must first remove your shoes!  This goes for just about every place, with the exception of some grocery stores (though no one would squawk if you didn’t have your shoes on) and with some restaurants as well.  But for the most part (including in the vet clinic where I volunteered) you have to kick off your shoes before entering.  I will admit sometimes it’s a pain to do so (if you are wearing anything other than flip  flops) but otherwise, the no shoe rule is my favorite cultural behavior and one that I will be using wherever I end up for good:) I love, love, LOVE it!!

No Shoes
No Shoes

#2: Nature
The diversity of the landscapes here are extraordinary!  From the beaches to jungle to islands, mountains, rivers and lakes, Thailand seems to have just about every kind of terrain one would want to find.

#3: House Geckos
I just adore these creatures!  They are simply a much larger version of regular geckos and they are quite beneficial to have in the home since they take care of the majority of other insects in the home (including spiders, yay!!).  They also make the cutest and most interesting sound.  They start off with a quick series of chitters, then make a series of staccato sounds in repetition.  When I first heard their sound I thought I was crazy because it sounded like they were saying “F you” in slow repetition.  However, I’ve come across many other travelers and very-well-spoken-in-English-locals who have also pointed this out, so I guess I wasn’t as crazy as I thought, LOL!

#4: Animals
I know I just wrote about the geckos, and they technically would qualify in the animal section as well, but I just love those little buggers so much that they got their own section.  However, I do also adore the large variety of other kinds of animals here in Thailand.  From elephants, street dogs and cats, variety of monkeys, flying squirrels, regular squirrels, lizards, birds, the diversity is so rich!  You just never know what you are going to find!  The sea life is also beautifully diverse and lush!  From corals to sting rays, sharks, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, and a huge variety of fish, it’s amazingly impressive!

#5: Kind & Honest People
The people are generous and kind, patient and welcoming.  I have yet to run into a rude local here and though I’ve heard from other fellow travelers that it all depends on where you go, in my opinion and experience the people have been nothing but kind.  In addition to the generous and kind nature of the people here, they are also very honest.  In particular when it comes to money.  I’ve been other places where I’ve handed over too much money (from being tired or just not thinking the correct exchange rate) and they’ve gone on their way with the extra money in hand.  Here, there have been several occasions where I’ve handed over too much and they immediately return whatever over I’ve paid, even if it’s just a single baht!  I’ve gotten so comfortable with their honesty that there have also been several times when my mind wasn’t working properly to understand how much I owed in Thai that I’ve simply held a bunch of bills and let them pick what they needed.  I love that kind of honesty as it makes one feel more comfortable in their surroundings!!  Now, that’s not to say some people won’t try to overcharge you for something (cab ride, etc) but if you ask upfront what something will cost, they stick by it.

#6: No sleazy men
Traveling in Latin American countries, one thing I had to get used to that also really annoyed me at times, but just had to learn to ignore, was the cat calls, whistles, stares and hissing sounds (they literally sounded like snakes to be honest) men would constantly make toward any female as you walked by.  Here, no such behavior exists!  The men are much more respectful in that way and even to the point where I sometimes wondered why I wasn’t getting any looks from locals, and it simply is because their culture, unlike others, is to not display emotions of affection in any way in public.  Hence, no cat calls, uncomfortable stares or hissing sounds!

#7: Packaging with plastic bags
This one I personally struggle with from the environmental perspective and really wish they would cut back on their use of plastic bags, but I do also find it interesting and entertaining how they package to-go food or drink items.  Coffee, sodas, rice, soups, and more are packaged in a plastic bag tied off with a rubber band for take away.  Other items like rice and pad thai are put in styrofoam containers, so it’s one evil for the environment versus the other… While I can understand the simplicity and ease of using plastic bags, I wish in general they would cut back because they insist in using a ton of bags for very few items.  I’m always refusing bags (as I generally bring my own or just don’t need one) but you really have to be on the ball to say you don’t want a bag as they are very quick to snatch one out.  The straws also drive me nuts (though technically from the hygienic perspective it’s better) as they will give you one for each can or bottle purchased (including for beers) so if I walked in and bought 2 bottles of water and a soda they would put in 3 straws!

#8: Built to last
Another thing that really impresses me about Thailand is the construction of their homes and buildings.  Yes, there are several homes that are made entirely from bamboo and other wood (though bamboo is a very highly resilient wood to begin with!) but many homes, stores and general buildings are built to a very high quality standard and are built to last!  It’s amazing watching them construct a home or other building because their scaffolding is simply rickety looking pieces of wood that you wouldn’t think would hold people walking or working around them, yet the finished product is brick and concrete with tile throughout.

#9: Muay Thai
Whether it’s enjoying an evening out watching fights or joining in training yourself, Muay Thai is entertaining, engaging and a real real-kicker!  Granted not all fights are created equal as some are much more entertaining or gruesome than others, but all the fighters have a real sportsmanship about them that isn’t as easily found in countless other sports.  What I love the most is the fights where it’s evident that the competitors are friends.  They encourage each other between fighting rounds but when the bell goes off, all bets are off and “may the best fighter win” kicks in.  Another thing I love about Muay Thai is the sense of tradition and culture.  The fighters respect the ring, the judges, their opponent and their God.  The more I train in Muay Thai, the more I understand the fights as I watch and questions I had before while watching fights are now answered because of my own training.  I won’t go into that here, but will in a future post for sure!

To be continued…

Back to Thailand

SpanItalish

SpanItalish is what I’d like to call the language I was basically speaking when I arrived in Italy and throughout my time in Italy… Let me break it down for ya:

Span-Ital-ish: Span = Spanish, Ital = Italian & ish = English 🙂

After my time in Central and South America, all the conversational Italian that I did know converted completely to Spanish!  So now before going back to Italy I was trying in my mind to think Italian instead of Spanish…. That was definately easier said than done as I kept speaking Spanish to myself, desperately trying to recall the Italian words again… In fact, I was sort of doing that in my mind (converting my Spanish to Italian) while in the Gatwick airport, but obviously gave up when helping out the woman from Spain:)

When I first got to Italy, while I could understand everyone and what they were saying (depending on their speed of speech and whether they had a heavy accent or not) I would reply pretty much completely in Spanish, lol!!  Needless to say this was rather annoying to me though luckily everyone seemed patient with me as I repeated myself to them, slowly converting Spanish to Italian.  Slowly but surely Italian came back and took over my Spanish!  Now I find myself thinking “how would I say that in Spanish???” and not being able to recall, lol!!!  It’s seriously a case of “when in Rome” because when in the environment it’s easier to be and speak Italian or Spanish as needed!

I threw English in there of course because first I am fully fluent in English and second because it was my last resort if Spanish or Italian didn’t work in asking questions, lol!!!  And since neither Spanish nor Italian helped while I traveled the rest of Europe, I was glad that at least English did!!

On to Cinque Terre

Back to Europe