Thursday, December 6, 2012

55 hours later and counting ...

"All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination." - Earl Nightingale

After 55 hours of travel, I had finally arrived in Bali ... and man was it sweaty!

Like all other international and domestic flights that come through Bali, I landed at Ngurah Rai Airport. The airport was small and frenzied, but smelled like burning incense, which I liked. Even the airport is considered a place of worship. The smell of incense also reminded me of my Dad. I remember when I was a teenager, he went through an incense burning phase and our whole house smelled of it - often. It was totally bizarre at the time, but in that moment that familiar smell became a comforting memory.

Despite a slight ATM snafu and quick anxiety attack, the airport entry was rather quick and painless. I purchased my $23 (approx. 250,000 Rupiah) entrance visa and made it through immigration in no time. Actually, the man who cleared me was probably one of the nicest people I've ever met. He greeted me with a warm smile, proudly showing off his crooked teeth, and kept welcoming me to Bali. Not your run-of-the-mill immigration experience, no doubt. Regardless, it was comforting and he put a much needed smile on my face. After collecting my luggage, which also survived the journey, I headed to the exit.

When I exited, there was a mob of airport porters and Taksi drivers. It was quite overwhelming at first, so I was thankfully greeted by Peter, the Volunteer Solutions Bali program manager. He's Indonesian, nice, thankfully spoke English and humored me in responding to my barrage of unfocused questions. 

The Taksi ride to the Volunteer house took us about 90 minutes to central Denpasar. Clearly the Balinese infrastructure is not much to be desired. In fact, everything looked as if it was under construction with no plans of ever being finished. My guess is that many projects are started and lack of proper planning and funding quickly becomes an issue. In addition, driving is totally unorganized and overwhelming. There are no real traffic laws, thousands of motor bikes swerved recklessly through each lane, and the air was humid and filled with exhaust. It all made driving through the Lincoln Tunnel look like child's play. Not the best first impression, unfortunately, and it was a challenge for me to initially see the beauty that hid behind a thick wall of commotion.

I have to admit, while driving through I had a lapse of real self-doubt come over me. My emotions got the best of me and I thought I had made a huge mistake. After coming all this way, I was ready to turn around and head home. Being alone in such a foreign place became such a harsh reality, that let's call it what it was ... I experienced a total freak out. What the hell was I doing? Why would I leave everything that was so familiar to experience such discomfort? Why did I need to come all this way? What was I trying to prove? How can I find peace of mind in this utter chaos? Why would I chose to come to a place where I had no friends, no connections, no phone, no grasp of the language, and the 'icing on the cake' ... no idea where I was going. 

The unknown made me feel totally helpless, out of control and vulnerable. Feelings that I spend most of my life trying to avoid. It was clear that I was faced with yet another one of life's little tests. How badly did I want this experience? How determined was I to stay and face the unknown? How resilient would I be in this state of weakness? How strong and courageous was I really? 

It was also clear in that moment, that I was faced with one of life's little jokes. As I looked out the Taksi window, I saw it. A family of 4 piled on to a small little Honda scooter, that was clearly only made for two. The eldest was on the back, then the mother, then the two little ones in front. Regardless of what you think of her parenting skills, I mean no doubt that this would not fly in the States, here it was totally the norm. What came to mind, after the unsolicited snap-judgement, was the thought that if this little kid could look forward, brave the traffic, and have fun in the process ... well, then I was certainly capable of doing the same. 

So just like that, with a few deep breaths and the beginnings of a smile, I faced forward. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Layover in Hong Kong

"My favorite thing to do is go where I've never been" - Diane Arbus

Sleeping in the airport was not as bad as I thought it would be, not that I want to do it regularly, but it could have been a lot worse. I only caught a few hours of sleep, but with writing and a little "50 Shades" to distract me, the night went by quickly. My one take away from the night is ... I'm not as high maintenance as I thought. I can tough it out with the best of 'em. Ha!

I made it out of NYC at 8am on 11/8 on a Cathay Pacific flight with a stopover in Vancouver and due to the delay, I had an overnight in Hong Kong. Although I was anxious to arrive in Bali, the overnight was a welcomed stop. The airline was kind enough to put me up in a hotel for the night at the Regal Hotel at the Hong Kong airport, which was incredibly convenient.
When and if you find yourself traveling to Asia and beyond, I would recommend Cathay Pacific. The planes are nice and spacious, flight crew are all gorgeously coifed, food's not all that bad, and they were incredibly accommodating throughout the trip. Nice, yes ... cheap, no.
The Hong Kong airport is large and modern, which was expected given the bustling metropolis. It was truly easy to navigate, and for $100HK (about $13USD) I bought myself a round trip train ticket that took me right to Kowloon station. I then hopped on the K2 bus right to the Penninsula hotel to a trendy spot called Felix for a skyline view of Hong Kong island. The skyscrapers were really a site. I never get tired of looking at the NYC skyline from Hoboken. The view always amazes me, and this moment was no different. Building after building, all bright and colorful. For the first time on this trip I stopped to just take in my surroundings with overwhelming awe and wonder.  
I only had a few hours, so after Felix I continued to walk up Nathan Road - or Tsim Sha Tsui. A main road straight through the center of the city, and considering I was slightly intimated and on my own, this was a nice 'first timer' kind of walk. The street was packed with people and lined with shops. I quickly made my way to Jordan and Kansun street which was so worthwhile. The surrounding blocks encompass a night market filled with street vendors and Sichuan street food. Truly authentic and I felt completely immersed in the culture. I could have walked around for hours. The smell and looks of all the spicey food was amazing but despite my temptation, I did not partake. It was just a bit too risky for the first night of travel. But man, everything looked so delicious.
I made it back to my hotel in one piece just by reversing my original route and depsite my initial apprehension to venture out on my own, I am so glad that I did. Definitely a little fear was holding me back at first, as I hestiated leaving my comfy hotel room. It would have been easy to stay in, avoid any confusion and potentially get lost. But, I wasn't going to let the fear stop me just yet. I ultimately made it one piece, realized the city is manageable to navigate, and saw what I wanted to see in a few short hours.