Friday, June 16, 2017

Bali Biker Club

I saddled up on my light blue scooter with my bright blue child-sized helmet with cartoon bunny decal sticker on back. I looked pretty awesome and fierce. Who knew that I could be a part of the infamous Bali Biker Gang!

It was my first day riding a scooter and I was already outfitted in rad gear, had an equally fearless partner in crime sitting on the back of my light blue scooter, and belonged to one of the most notorious biker/scooter gangs that ever roamed Bali. After paying 60,000 for 24 hours ($5), I packed my bag full of the essentials for a day full of trying-not-to-crash: make-up, swimsuit, cute sunglasses, cellphone and other distractions for the road. I saddled up with my partner's in crime: Aurore from France, Sรถran and Michael from Germany, and Julia and Erica from Philippines, and set off through the windy and busy roads around Ubud. With our treasure map (MAPS.ME, Google and Ways) in hand, we set off to uncover the wonders of central Bali. 

Our first stop was Tegalalang Rice Terrace, only 30 minutes outside of Ubud town, depending on traffic and the number of angry monkeys that attack along route. Here we parked our chariots for a whooping 10,000 Indonesian Rp. By far the most expensive parking on our treasure hunt. After a mini photoshoot, we descended into the rice paddies, with the help of coconut ice cream. Along the way we had to cross dangerous bridges which required sacrifice of around 5,000 Rp each person. We ended up turning back when we discovered that we had to pay extra toll multiple times along route. In the process I managed to step off the path into the unforgiving swamp. My shoe was then covered in mud, but that did not stop the Bali Biker Club. 

Pura Tirta Empul 

Our next stop was the Pura Tirta Empul (AKA the Water Temple). Following our handy treasure map, we drove down some really steep windy roads with many obstacles. The landscapes were breathtaking rice fields and lush green jungles. We crossed over bridges and by waterfalls. After 30 minutes of driving we noticed that our treasure map had lead us astray. We ended up in some tiny village. The locals saw our confused faces and tried to help us get back on the right path to Pura Tirta Empul. After another 30 minutes of driving we finally arrived.

Pura Tirta Empul

Pura Titra Empul was one of my favorite stops. We spent over two hour here. We dressed in fancy robes and then learned after many failed attempts, how to cleanse our souls. We dunked our heads below each fountain in a sequential fashion with a huge gaggle of locals who tried to help, while also laughing at our failed attempts. We finally emerged purified and soaking wet to conquer our next mission. 

Gunung Kawi

Next on our voyage was the Gunung Kawi (AKA the Rocky Temple). Here we doned team inspired matching sarongs and wandered the grounds of the temple. We found a couple poor chickens and a parakeet that were in serious need of water and attention. After saving the birds from thirst and a couple group pictures we headed outside the temple for lunch. Just on the other side of the road we had nasi goreng (fried rice), nasi campur (just google it), cap-cai (mixed veggies) and sayur urap (similar to cap-cai but with more leafy greens). After a nice meal with a beautiful view we headed out to our last stop: Goa Gajah which translates to Elephant Caves.

Gunung Kawi

They call them the elephant caves, because hundreds of years ago elephants would make
pilgrimages from all over Indonesia here to meditate inside the cave ... just kidding. No one knows how the place recieved its name. Some archeologists suggest that the river that passed nearby was once called Elephant river, or that people believed the menacing creature's mouth that encircles the cave opening is a giant Elephant.  Nevertheless the name stuck. We arrived after the ticket office had closed. We realized that like most of the other stops, the temples don't actually close at night, just the box-office closes. We parked our scooter for free, which was a first all day. We then wandered down to the bottom. There we haggled with a gentleman for a reasonable price for sarongs and entry. 

Goa Gajah

Very few people were at the temple as the day faded to dusk, just a lady selling snakefruit and coconuts. With coconut and snakefruit in hand we wandered the temple grounds. We explored deep into the elephant cave, which was not that deep at all. Sitting in the cave are various statues of Hindu gods. After we sat for awhile on the roots of a majestic tree, contemplating life and being attacked by mosquitos. As the sun set behind the rolling mountains of Bali we wandered up the path to reach our final destination on our treasure maps: fried squid dinner at a local restaurant and beer while bathing in the cool pool at our hostel. 

Overall the day was full of adventure. I recommend highly to rent scooters  to explore Ubud (as long as your wear a helmet with a bunny on it). We did not have any encounters with police, though we heard lots of horror stories. We encountered a significant amount of traffic immediately around Ubud but very little traffic outside the city proper. Remember stay safe and have fun! 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ticket Not Required - Bromo Volcano Heats Up

Travelers beware, Bromo is a hot spot for scammers taking advantage of travelers. Today I headed out to Bromo mountain to first watch the sunrise at the view point and then to the base of Bromo to hike up to the crater. Bromo is an active volcano and one of the most popular on Java island. It erupted recently in 2015 and 2016. Hundreds of bule (foreigners) and locals flock to this place each day.

A couple days ago Constance and I booked an overland tour to Bromo and Ijen in a mini-bus for 760,000 Rupiah. We started from Jogja the day before our tour of Bromo and drove around 11 hours to Probolinggo with an hour stop for lunch. We were very tired when we reached Probolinggo to transfer to another vehicle

When reaching Probolinggo we were shuttled into a tour agency office called Master Holiday. At this point we were told about our itinerary for the day and costs associated with the trip. We knew from reading that Bromo entrance would be 227,000 Rupiah and Ijen would be 150,000 for entrance on holiday/weekend and 150,000 for a guide. The tour operator named Mantok, was very pushy and told us if we did not buy at the office we could not go up in Jeep to the view point and Mount Bromo, despite the fact that we had already paid for the jeep.

He immediately quoted us much higher than we had read online. We ended up negotiating down to 230.000 for park entrance. Constance did not feel it was worth it so she decided not to buy the entrance ticket. The agent said that she would have to stay in the hotel and not get in the jeep. I booked the entrance ticket as it was only 22 US cents (3,000 rupiah) over the online stated price. I did not want to miss Bromo, especially since I had already paid the jeep which was half the cost.

The next morning we woke up at 2:30 AM and left the hotel around 4:00 AM to head up to the viewpoint for sunrise. I enjoyed he sunrise, it was beautiful despite it being very cold. The rays of sunlight streamed out across the sky turning the sky in to a rainbow of colors. Fluffy clouds surrounded the base of Mount Bromo. It was a bit cloudy but it was still gorgeous. No where along the road did they ask us or the tour company to buy a ticket.

Next we took the jeep down the windy roads and across a barren dessert of volcanic sand to the parking lot at the base of Bromo. Again no where along the way did they have a place to buy or receive a park entrance ticket. When we arrived to the parking lot, men with horses rode beside our car and surrounded it when we parked. They asked if we wanted to ride a horse up. We declined multiple times, almost every 5 minutes on our way up. Many of the horses were skinny and sweaty. Most did not have shoes despite the fact that they had to ride back to the town on paved roads. Most of the horse riders rode the horses quickly down the mountain to pick up another bule and make more money. I recommend not taking the horses and instead exercise by hiking up. In addition the horses only take you to the stairs, which I thought was one of the hardest parts of the trek.

In total the hike is only 30 minutes but it all depends on your fitness level. At the top my new friends and I hiked along the rim, across some pretty narrow paths to a secluded view point. At first the sulfur smell was strong as we arrived at the top. A constant spew of steam bellowed from the crater. As time went on the smell diminished. We sat listening to the roar of water boiling at the bottom. The sound was somewhat soothing yet intense, it reminded you of the power and unpredictability of nature.

After an hour at the top we headed back to the jeep. We road the jeep across the black sand back to our hotel. We realized that no where along the way did we receive a ticket. We decided to investigate why. Tripadviser and Wiki travel both warn against paying for tickets in advance. The reason why is that the money paid does not go to the park but instead the travel agency. In addition if stopped in the park, the receipt is not sufficient evidence of paying the entry cost. This means that some travelers might have to pay a second entry fee.

Frustrated by that and the fact that the guide was very rude. Our guide threw all our trash on the ground in the park, which we had to pick up ourselves. In addition he then proceeded to move us to a different jeep that was already full so that we were crammed in with another group who looked frustrated that they paid for their own jeep tour. Our guide was not very helpful and didn't speak any English, he gave us very few directions for where we were suppose to go and what we were to bring.

In the end we decided to confront the tour agency when we reached Probolinggo. At the agency the same man: Mantok, who has sold us the tickets handed us fake tickets (we had read many tourists are given fake tickets that are printed on white paper without serial numbers) and yelled at us that we complained too much. Instead of listening to our complaints he pointed to a couple people in the vicinity and said they were police officers. The people pointed at seemed very hesitant to interfere. At one point he grabbed my arm quite hard, and dragged me out of the shop trying to have me ask a friend about the ticket, saying "I am going to kill you." I told him not to touch me and after he said he would kill me, I decided not to continue. He was very rude, vulgar and he made a huge scene in front of people who were on the sidewalk, to the point that people came to rescue us. The driver said "Lets just go to Ijen" and a couple pedestrians offered to take our bags.

On a positive note our wonder-woman friend in Jogja who runs two amazing hostels (Bunk, Bed and Breakfast and Hoz) called the agency to help us. We sent her a video of the man being very rude to us. She talked to the owner of Master Holiday and he offered us his apologizes. In addition the man Montoz was fired today around 1pm. Only a couple hours after we left Probolinggo. Although we have no guarantee that he is gone my recommendations to all tourist going to Bromo is:

1. Don't book entrance tickets at the agency or before you get to the park.
2.  Insist they take you through the correct gates so that the national park gest the money they deserve.
3. Watch out for a man named Mantok, or Monk or some variation.
4. Have fun and be positive even through hard times.

Safe travels! 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Becak Adventures in Jogja

It was 6:40pm and we were waiting for an Uber to pick us up from the hostel. Our friend Rafi had a ticket for the train at 6:55pm. We knew the trip would take at least 15 minutes, but the Uber was running late. A Becak (Rickshaw/tuk-tuk) pulled up to the curve. We all looked at each other and began negotiating with the becak to take us to the station.

Before we knew it we were zooming through the street in the open becak, the wind blowing in our hair. We drove for a long time down the lit streets on Jogja, we started thinking the driver was lost. We kept asking how long until the station. He was uncertain.

Finally around 6:54 we arrived at the station. We saw the train waiting at the platform, the announcer calling for departure. We ran through the entrance, down a long corridor, and across the platform to the ticket counter. When the ticket takers and station police saw us running down the platform they told the train to wait by holding up their hands to the conductor. Rafi ran through the gate not even stopping to print her ticket. She jumped on the train just as it was leaving the station.

We were so relieved. We walked back to the becak, which was waiting for us at the entrance. We still had not paid him. We told him to return to the same place, he didn't seem to understand us. Another person came to help translate. Finally we said sama-sama (which means same) and he seemed to understand. We headed off back to the hostel.


After about 5 minutes the becak began to slow and then finally puttered to a stop. We looked back at the driver with perplexed looks. He said "tedak bensin" it took us a couple minutes after he began running and pushing the becak to realize he had run out of gas. He started asking people on the street "Bensin" and people din't seem to have an answer. As he ran pushing us, he became out of breath so Constance and I began asking "Bensin" to everyone who was on the street. Finally, after 10 minutes we found a Bensin. Usually these are little wooden stands lined with plastic and glass bottles.

Ten minutes later we reached the hostel safe and sound!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Flower Festival at Fujisan

It was below freezing in the ice cave. Blocks of ice lined the path as we ducked under and crawled through narrow passages. Stalagmites and stalactites of ice loomed ahead of us. This was a welcomed change from the blistering heat outside the ice caves.

We started off the day riding a train an hour outside Tokyo city center to rent a car. Along the way we met up with a couple friends from Russia and Canada. Together, the six of us, pilled into a small Japanese style mini-van, which was no bigger than a small car. With my knees hitting the seat in front of us we took off to the flower festival at Mount Fuji.

I was impressed by the green rolling hills covered by thick forest as we traversed the highway getting closer to our destination. It was almost suddenly that Mount Fuji appeared from behind these rolling hills. I was impressed by its size. Towering over all of the hills around it, covered with snow at its peak.

We arrived at the flower (Shiba-sakura) Festival after an hour and a half of driving. The entrance was 600 Yen for both locals and tourists. From pictures I had seen prior to going I thought it was going to be thick sheets of vibrant flowers. The flowers were more sparse and not as bright but the view was still amazing with Mount Fuji looming in the background. 

We spend an hour and a half walking the walkways taking many pictures and eating baked sweet potato. We then pilled back in the car and drove to the ice caves. These were only 20 minutes away. Here we paid 200 Yen each for an entrance ticket and received a helmet. As we descended into the cave it grew cold and wet. The tunnel began to narrow to the point we were crawling on hands and knees. Multiple times our head smacked against the rock ceiling, but we were protected by the helmets. 

After going through the cave twice we returned to the compact mini-van and took of to Lake Kawaguchi. This was our last stop on our Mount Fuji day trip. At the lake we took a long walk across the bridge and watched as the sun set behind the hills. It was a perfect ending to our magical day at Mount Fuji. I would definitely recommend seeing the mountain and visiting some of the sights in the area. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Fall in Love with Michigan

Muchacho stood up on the bow of the kayak trying very hard not to fall off into the Thorneapple River. We told him to sit but he loved to stand and balance on the rocking kayak. He is a natural surfing dog who loves the great outdoors.

Muchacho was the best host and guide for the area. He lives with his owner (my uncle and aunt) on the banks of the Throneapple river near Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Not only does Muchacho love to kayaking, he also enjoys hiking. We visited Saugatuck Dunes State Park. To get to the dunes and beach you must first hike through a beautiful fall forest. Yellow, red, and orange leaves float down from the trees. The forest opens up to a beautiful beach on the edge of Lake Michigan.

The small waves lapped up on the white sand along the beach. The tall grass that grew on the dunes swayed in the wind. The water was freezing at this time of the year. Lake Michigan looks like an ocean, you can't see across and the waves created by the wind make you feel like your looking out over the ocean, minus the lack of salty smell.

After a pleasant walk at Saugatuck Dunes State Park we headed to Saugatuck town only 20 minutes drive away. Here we walked along the marina. The small town has many cute mom and pop restaurants and shops. We stopped at this cute coffee shop called Uncommon Coffee Roasters. I had a pumpkin latte which was fantastic. We sat out on the balcony enjoying the temperate fall weather, muchacho enjoying the view of the small main street.

For dinner we meandered over to The Southerner to meet with my cousin and his friend. Here they serve southern and Louisiana style cuisine. They specialize in fried chicken, fresh biscuits, smoked pork and other comfort food dishes. After a satisfying meal we headed back to my uncles house along the banks of the Thorneapple River.

On my final day in Grand Rapids we visited Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. This was a lovely park to stroll through on a warm fall day.

Monday, April 17, 2017

California Bound: Lonely Roads and Sleeping in the Car

I tucked myself into my down sleeping bag as best as I could in a sitting position. I listened to the audiobook that was covering the sounds at the truck stop in Wyoming. Outside it was 21F (-6C) and soon it would be close to freezing in the car. I tucked a blanket over the window to shield the lights of the street lamps from disrupting my sleep. I shifted every couple of minutes trying to find a comfortable position banging my knee on the steering wheel.

Somewhere in Utah
My car was packed to the ceiling with all my worldly possessions. I starred over to the passenger seat where my friend had drawn a set of eyes on a piece of tape. She named him Quacker McQuackpants. For some reason iQuaker McQuackpants made me feel a little less alone. The cold night lasted for what seemed to be years.

Hanging with Quacker McQuackpants

Less than a month ago I found out that I matched into my top choice for residency. That day seemed like just yesterday. I held the letter in my hand, written inside was going to be the residency program where I would spend the next three years. My whole body was shaking as I waited to for the dean of our medical school to count down from three. Around me a hundred and sixty other students held their own letters.

As the dean counted down to zero I thought about what my life would be like if I ended up in Ohio or New York. "3... 2 ... 1 ... Open your letters." I could not tear the letter open fast enough. Part of me was scared of what I would read, another part of me was anxious to see where I would be moving.

Pediatrics at the University of Southern California!

Fast forward a month later .... It was only 40 hours ago that I left New Jersey. I am driving my gold Prius back to California. The first day I drove through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and slept in the Worlds Largest Truck Stop in Iowa. Now I was freezing cold zipped into a down sleeping bag sitting in my gold Prius in a truck stop in Wyoming. After drifting in and out of sleep I woke up to my Pius covered in ice.

Somewhere in Nebraska
I let the car warm up while I purchased a cup of coffee and an egg and cheese sandwich at the gas station connivence store. It was the last leg of my three day cross country trip. Only half of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California left to reach my home in the San Fransisco Bay Area.

Bonneville Salt Flats - Utah
I completed two audio books and listened to the same playlist six times in the span of my trip, the lyrics of Drake's Passionfruit permanently ingrained in my head. I drove through the Appalachian mountains (hills) in Pennsylvania, the flat farmlands of Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska. I was awed by the moon-like terrain of Wyoming and Utah. I tasted the water from the salt lakes. I would not recommend it.

Donner Lake
Finally I passed the sign "Welcome to California." I stopped in Truckee and Donner Lake to reminisce about the mountains and see how much snow has fallen this year. Lastly I stopped at In-N-Out before arriving to my parents home. I drove close to 15 hours a day to reach California in three days. Finally I am home and I am here to stay... at least for the next three years.

Animal Fries- In-N-Out

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Winter Wonderland - White Mountains, New Hampshire

On Friday a group of friends and I headed up to Lincoln, New Hampshire for a winter weekend getaway. Little did we know that that weekend would have summer-like weather back in Philly. As we traveled north dressed in down coats and snow pants, we watched friends back home snap chatting in summer dresses eating ice cream.

After almost eight hours of driving and stopping at random rest stops we finally arrived at our hotel.
We stayed at Franconia Notch Motel, which was a relatively cheap option for those going to the White Mountains for skiing and hiking. It was already dark so we decided to stay in the motel to play Dirty Minds. We laughed late into the night.

The next morning we woke up early to go hiking. Of course we had only one set of micro-spikes, so we headed into Littleton to buy some cheap boot spikes for the hike. At first we could not find a shop that sold them in small enough sizes for our boots. My friend Constance decided to use bright yellow rope to create a make-shift traction device on her boot. To prove that it would work she jumped up and down on an icy pile of snow. The rope unraveled in a couple seconds. Luckily we found a small sports store that sold cheap spikes.

We headed to the Lonesome Lake trailhead and began our ascent to the Lonesome Lake Hut in Franconia Notch State Park. As we began to climb the steep icy trail, we were immediately grateful for our micro-spikes. One step at a time we climbed into the clouds. The trail was well marked and easy to follow, but if you happened to step off the narrow path your foot would sink immediately into snow up to your knees. Within an hour and a half we stumbled out onto the lake.

The lake was completely frozen over. The thick clouds made it impossible for us to see across. After a long photoshoot jumping in the snow we set off to find the Lonesome Lake Hut. We followed a narrow trail across a couple bridges to a small set of cabins tucked away behind the trees. As we opened the door warm air and the smell of fresh coffee hit our faces. Inside the main cabin was a handful of cafeteria style wooden tables, a small wood stove, and a smattering of warm smiles. A young woman greeted us. Brownies, hot chocolate and coffee were waiting for us on the counter.

We took off our heavy jackets and warmed up over a cup of coffee and a topographic map of the area. Other hikers trickled in. A nice gentleman started up a conversation, intrigued by the group of female student doctors warming up in this remote mountain lodge. He turned out to be a malpractice lawyer.

After a hot bowel of soup and toasted bagel we put back on our winter jackets and micro-spikes and headed back out into the cold. As we starred out across the lake before turning to head back to the car, the clouds began to lift and briefly we could see the other side. The Lonesome Lake Hut offers bunks for travelers hoping to stay in the area. Its a great location for day hikes in that area.

Heading down was harder than expected. We lost one spike on the way up so I offered to go down with just one boot spike. The slippery trail was challenging until my friend Shelly had a brilliant idea. Before you knew it, the four of us were sliding down the steep trail on our bottoms. The clouds began clearing giving us a view across the canyon to Mount Lafayette. Until the clouds cleared I didn't realize how far we had actually hiked.

Exhausted, we finally reached the car. Not wanting to miss a beat we headed to Flume Gorge. During the summer Flume Gorge is a popular destination for families. It boasts wooden walkways taking hikers deep into the green gorge. In the winter these wooden walkways are taken down but the gorge is still breathtaking, with its ice palisades, spilling over the edges, making it a popular destinations for ice climbers.

We finally headed back to the motel just in time to take off again to rent ski's for the next day. We headed to Exit 28 Ski and Snowboard Rental to pick up skis for $25. Its much cheaper than the resorts in the area. On the way back we stopped into Lincoln for Thai food. We headed to bed early, allowing the sounds of the river passing below our window to lull us to sleep.

The next morning we woke up early, outfitting ourselves in ski clothes to head to Waterville Valley Resort. It is a medium size resort, but due to the poor winter season was for the most part closed. Only the lower runs were open. The runs were very icy and hard to navigate, especially for new skiers.

My friends Lakhvir and Shelly wanted to learn skiing. We headed up to the top of the bunny hill, but at the top I realized I am a terrible ski instructor. My friends decided to take a professional lesson. I headed up the only other lift open. The conditions were terrible. Half of the trails were covered in ice. After 10 runs I decided to call it a day. I went back to the bunny hill to check on my friends. They were still in their lesson. They looked exhausted.

The instructor seemed really nice and very patient. He happened to be from Chile. After his lesson I convinced him to join me on one last run. We talked about Chile and he gave me a few tips on how to handle the icy patches on the trail. We piled back into the car and headed back home to Philly.

Overall we had an adventurous weekend. I will definitely return, maybe for some ice climbing and to stay in the Lonesome Lake Hut. Who wants to join?