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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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Butterflies

In less than 24 hours I fly out of Pisa, Italy and ultimately land in Bangkok, Thailand.  I’ve been talking about going to Thailand for over 2 years and it’s finally coming true.  I’m reaching another goal that I’ve set and saved for.  Yet, I can’t help but wonder…

Before I get anywhere with what I wonder, I first feel the urge to simply say I’ve so much to be thankful for: a family who loves me and who I love in return, unbeatable friends who’ve come through for me all over the world (way above and beyond my expectations) and good health.  For those things that are truly important in this life, (family, friends and health) I’ve been blessed and fortunate.  I can’t be thankful enough and give thanks everyday for them, as I believe it very important to be thankful daily in any way possible.

As I get set to take off again for who knows how long and ultimately where, I can’t help but wonder and hope whether this trip, whether this place will be THE trip, THE place where I’m finally able to be of real use in this world in a way that really matters.  Metaphysics says that simply ‘being’ is enough.  But there is so much I hope for.  So much that I hope to be able to actually contribute in this life and for this world.  Am I doing “enough”?… Will I have the courage to do something truly worth while?…  Could this trip be it?

I also can’t help but wonder whether this trip and place will be THE trip and THE place where I will finally find my best friend/husband/partner/lover or whatever you want to call him.  I’m done trying to fix those who can’t be fixed, done being the convenient one, and done being the one who isn’t really loved in return.  Yet I still hope.  I still wonder… Could this trip be it?

I know I sound completely spoiled: traveling the world and yet complaining about not having a man in my life or complaining about my insecurities about not REALLY doing enough in/for this life…  Maybe it’s too much to ask for- having a loving family and friends, great health, making a difference in the world AND having someone beside me supporting along the way… I just don’t know.

Yet these are my thoughts…  These are my butterflies…

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Italy

I was born in Italy and lived there for the first 7 years or so of life.  Obviously, it will always have a tender and warm place in my heart:)  But that doesn’t stop me from recognizing things that drive me crazy about the country either!! 😉

First I will start with the positive: Italians in my opinion have mastered the art of enjoying life!  From the meals with friends that take hours (and almost always several courses) to complete then always end with a shot of liquor, then an espresso, followed by another shot and another espresso, lol!!  They really have a passion for life and the enjoyment for it!  They don’t really have personal space, which for some is really hard to accept, and they express themselves very passionately with their body language.  This is another aspect that is hard for non-italians as while it looks from an outsiders perspective that a fight is going on (from their flailing arms and raised voices) they are simply discussing the weather!!  Lol!!

The driving in the country makes me absolutely crazy, as in my opinion all drivers in Italy are absolutely crazy!!  The country is so diverse for being so small and each section has a very strong and individual culture (sometimes to a fault as there are many rivalries between regions that sometimes break out in violence which again speaks to a different kind of passion).  I do love the country and of course recommend it to all travelers!  However, do be aware of petty thieves and pickpockets… They are quite talented in Italy!!  That’s all for now- enjoy my most recent experiences in Italy:)

Oh and by the way- Ice cream and gelato are NOT the same thing… Gelato is to die for whereas ice cream I could pass on:)

On to Florence

Back to Europe

Florence

For those who personally know me, the next sentence won’t come as a surprise, but for everyone else… I am fortunate to have been born and raised (for the first 7 years or so) just outside of Florence.  My dad has been living here for several years now, and since it has been 4 years since I’ve been back to Italy, why not #1 spend some time with my dad, #2 use our home in Italy as a base to explore other European countries and #3 make the eventual trip to Thailand not such a painful one from a flight perspective:)

I know, I know, I sound totally spoiled.  But I can’t help where I was born, I can only recognize how fortunate I am in many ways and most importantly to be thankful for what I am able to do and to have such an international family!!

Now that that is cleared up, I am currently still in Italy writing furiously to catch up on this blog from the years past travels so that I can write about more recent adventures and ones that are still to come:)  I arrived here in Italy at the end of August (2014- I know, I’m really almost caught up with blogging about my travels to present day!!!) at the Florence airport and was greeted by my dad at the airport with one of his famous “daddy” pick-ups, as we call it in my family.  That is simply where he insists on parking the car so he can go into the airport and greet the new arrival from the gate, instead of waiting outside in the car for the new arrival to walk out of the airport:)

We had a lovely dinner at a pizzeria near where my dad grew up and has been going for over 40 years!!  Let me just say, for the record that, in my opinion, there is no better pizza IN THE WORLD than the pizza in Italy, and more specifically the pizza in Tuscany!!!  The thin crust is to die for!!  Now the further South you go in Italy, the thicker the crust gets… Just a warning for those going South wondering why I’ve described the pizzas as being thin-crusted:)  Oh and the ham too… I’ve never tasted better ham either (on my pizza of course!!) than in Italy!!  Ok, I better stop talking about food for now… I’m making myself hungry!!

We headed to the house (about 40 Km outside of Florence) after dinner and turned in for the night.  The next few months were spent catching up, hanging out, hiking in the National Park that we back onto, exploring several surrounding cities, reconnecting with Florence, a trip to the Island of Elba, going to Salzburg, Austria for a few days together (then I left to explore more of Europe on my own), entertaining some friends from Scotland, blogging (for me:)) and now we are getting ready to head out on a cruise that the family organized for my dad’s 75th birthday present!!

It’s been a busy few months for sure!!  Not to mention that while I’ve been here I’ve been making sure that my dad has stayed busy making me homemade lasagna, limoncello, meat sauce, arista, crostate di more, pasta with the favorite sauce (can’t tell you the recipe it’s a family secret:)) focaccia, pasta fagioli, and on and on!!  It’s a miracle I’m not obese!!  Lol!!  Actually, it’s not a miracle… I workout vigorously everyday to counter the calories I indulge in while here:)

On to SpanItalish

Back to Europe

Oh… I should mention I’ve cheated a teeny bit on the pictures… All are current except for the Florence pictures… They are ones from winter 2010… But in coming posts of Florence I will have pictures from this trip, I promise!!  Just wanted to give you a little teaser to start;)

YES! Campaign

Quick post here about the YES! campaign… For those who don’t know, this past September, 18th 2014 Scotland had a vote on whether they would declare independence from England.  All while I was there during the month of August, the campaign on both sides was going on.  YES! stickers, posters, banners, flags, etc, etc were everywhere!  Much less “No Thanks” paraphernalia were seen, but as we now know, the “No Thanks” vote won.  While my friends in Edinburgh were for the “No Thanks” vote, Anna and just about every Glaswegian I met while there were for the YES! vote.  So while I was there, of course I had to help campaign:)

Literally this just meant sticking YES! stickers on a variety of places, and especially over any “No” stickers that were found, lol!!  Though personally I don’t have and didn’t have an opinion on which way the vote went (since it’s not my country nor business to have an opinion) it was fun to support my friend’s opinion while there.

I will say it was interesting that the silent majority were the ones to win… There was very little “No” campaigning going on, while the YES! campaigns were literally everywhere and in every town/city I had gone to!  Interesting indeed…

On to Bar Fights and Store Fights

Back to Glasgow

Back to United Kingdom

Manuel Antonio National Park

The next morning thankfully turned out to be a sunny one and we prepped ourselves for the Park.  As mentioned in the last post, the walk to the National Park was only about 300 meters from our hostel.  As we walked toward the Park up ahead in the Park trees a bunch of the tree tops began to rustle and a deep, penetrating roar could be heard coming from the rustle…  It literally reminded me of a scene from Jurassic Park with a T-Rex about to emerge from the dense forest, roaring as it did!!  It was a little unnerving until I was informed that it was only a Howler Monkeys making the noise and that there was nothing to fear.  When we arrived at the entrance (about 8am) there were already a ton of tourist groups lined up in various places getting their troops together to enter the Park.  B, A and I purchased our tickets (again $10 for tourists though this time I paid with colones and paid less than $10… perhaps it was because of the current daily exchange rate that the Parks do pay attention to) and entered the Park.

A few things we were told through the grape-vine about the Park prior to entering was #1 do not hire a private tour guide as many other tourists do this so you can always “bum” in their tours by simply looking where their tour guide is pointing to find something interesting and #2 go off the beaten path when possible away from the rest of the tourists and you will be guaranteed to see much more!

Keeping that information in mind we set in our walk without a guide.  Both pieces of advice above came in great handy as alone the main path of the Park several tour guides had already set up shop with their binoculars on tripods pointing out insects and crabs to their hired tourists or pointing high in the trees sharing interesting information on a particular plant or tree.  Luckily for us, B was a botanist (there is actually a more accurate name for his title, I just can’t recall what it is… Sorry B!!  But I do know that his work involves cataloging every species of plant and tree!)  and he knew just about everything there was to know about every plant so in a sense we already had a fabulous guide for that portion.

We made our way along the path sighting many spiders, a scorpion eating a wasp, a variety of crabs hidden in a variety of clever places, a toucan (YAY!!!) and lizards!!

At a certain point we came across a point of crossroads where we could either go straight, right or scootch our way around the “closed” sign of a path to our left… Well of course we chose the path to our left!! 😉  The path was closed because it hadn’t been groomed recently, but it didn’t bother us at all.  We made our way up the path to a quiet area where no sounds except that of nature could be heard.  It was amazingly blissful!!  So quiet with only the sound of the wind rustling gently through the trees.  It is quite an amazing thing to stop and just listen to the beauty of nature!!  We stayed there for a bit taking in the sounds until some new sound caught my attention high in the trees.  Of course curiosity took over good sense as I followed the noise only to spot my first Howler Monkey!!!!!

Such amazing creatures!!  These small, black monkeys with faces so familiar in human features and hands even more so familiar are just an incredible sight to take in!!  They travel in troops usually anywhere from about a dozen to a dozen and a half!  There is only one alpha male of the group and the rest are females or young males and it’s also pretty common to find a new mom in the troop as well.  Their hands and feet, as well as the underside of about the last 6 inches of their tail do not have any fur on them so they can easily grip surfaces.  The roar of the alpha male can be heard from great distances around!  I have since found out that they only roar early in the morning or to announce to another approaching troop that they are coming too close to their territory, or if rain is approaching!

As I gazed above me in wonder, they simply gazed right back wondering what it was I was up to!  I of course took a few photos and kept my voice low as I called my friends over to see them as well and then we continued up and up and up the path again passing many other lizards and even an Agouti or a Tapir that ran off too fast to take pictures of (hence why I’m not entirely sure which it was exactly… but it was definitely a land mammal).  The path ended on a platform at what seemed like the top of the world!!  Though it wasn’t a 360 degree view, it was still magnificent!!  You could clearly see the bay below and the jutting rocks that formed it, as well as a little cave carved into the rock, as well as the land clear south of us all the way to what we speculated to be the Oso Peninsula!!

After several pictures we headed back down the path to the main portion passing many other tourists who had also opted to take the “unbeaten” path.  Now sadly, it was about this time that the batteries in my camera started to fail… I was able to get a picture or two in, but then would have to shut the camera down, take the batteries out to rest for several minutes then reload them and pray they would work again for a few more pictures!!

There are about 5 walking trails in the Manuel Antonio National Park and we ended up taking each of them to their various destinations.  Along another path of interest, we came across a tourist and his young son.  They were surrounded by a large troop of Capuchin Monkeys!!  The Capuchin monkeys are most famously recognized from their white faces and black bodies, as well as their “star” quality.  They can be seen in movies such as Outbreak and the Hangover Part II, as well as in the TV show Friends.  Now I don’t advocate the use of wild animals for our entertainment, nor was I thrilled about the scene we had encountered.  Despite the Park rules that warned to NOT FEED THE ANIMALS this father was blatantly ignoring them as he and his young son continued to offer the monkeys a variety of fruits.  While it was quite an amazing feeling to have so many monkeys coming at you and around you in every direction all trying to get their piece of fruit, I opted to remove myself from the center as I do not agree with feeding wild animals, and this next bit is part of the reason why: At one point the young son was trying to offer one of the monkeys a piece of fruit.  The monkey was quite reluctant to simply take the piece of fruit from the boy’s hand, so it didn’t.  The boy, probably too young to understand the wrong in his behavior and not being told otherwise from his dad, continued to push his arm forward toward the monkey, trying to entice it to take the fruit.  A few moments later, the monkey had had enough and literally slapped the outstretched hand of the boy away and screeched!!  The father finally stepped in and told the boy to no longer feed the monkeys and they headed away.

Wild animals are wild folks, and should remain that way!!  We have no business interfering with their nature and even less business trying to tame them.  Ok, I’ve said my peace on that topic for now… moving on!

This particular path ended at a magnificent lagoon-like beach!!  Unlike the black sands of Manuel Antonio beaches in the “city”, this beach had white powdered sand!!  Hermit crabs were everywhere by the hundreds as well as a variety of crabs once again.  Sadly, myself nor my two companions had realized there were beaches in the Park to swim in, so none of us had our suits on to be able to swim!!  So for all of you out there who are planning to visit the Park, please take that bit of advice as your #3 lesson:)

We hung around this beach for a bit wading around the water and taking pictures (camera battery pending) and then started to head toward the exit.  The exit path went right along another large and lengthy beach portion that once again made me “tisk” at myself for not thinking to bring a suit.  Many tourists were lined on the beach taking in the sun and enjoying the water.  We even spotted some caper bandits (i.e. raccoons) going through some tourist bags that were left on the beach for some goodies they could eat.

All in all we had already spent about 4 hours walking around the Park, so each of us were ready at this point to exit and get something to eat and of course a cold brew.

When we reached the exit, we were greeted by a few men with little row boats.  Indeed the only way to exit the Park (unless you were willing to walk ALL the way back to the main entrance) was to cross a little river, too deep to wade through (another reason the suit would have come in handy!!) for $1.00 a piece!  With no other real choice we all paid and took the maybe 15 meter boat ride back to the “main land” and headed back to the hostel.

The rest of this day was spent simply relaxing, enjoying good food and of course some good beer on the beach!!  It was quite a nice ending to a fantastic Park day!  It was during this afternoon that B, A and I shared our plans for the next day.  “A” had only a few more days in Costa Rica and planned to spend them in Montezuma (on the tip of the Nicoyo Peninsula).  “B” opted to spend his remaining days in Costa Rica in Manuel Antonio, and I planned to continue heading South to Uvita.

Back to Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park Pictures: