Rural Ubud Bali Indonesia

We went on a beautiful 4 hour walk in the hills of Ubud (Ah-bood) just off the main street where rice fields and artists’ shacks dotted the landscape. We loved the swaying fields, huts where the farmers lived, numerous scarecrows that resembled farmers working, and palm trees set against the mountains. We met a number of fascinating people: several talented artists working in their small studios, a generous organic farmer, and a shy spice grower. We saw lovely holistic spas and retreats along the path and situated deeper in the fields and forests. I’m afraid we’re not good at actually getting any spa treatments. We even had one free massage from our hotel spa which we didn’t take the time to do! (see photos below the text).

The hike started up a large hill that opened to rice fields and became a very skinny, meandering path with some locals on motorbikes who were coming to and from town. And, as usual, it was hot, very hot.  There was a variety of structures along the way. Simple tents and shacks, one room art studios, and lovely two story retreats.

We had a lovely but also slightly disconcerting interaction with the organic farmer. He came over to chat with us in limited English and showed us the farm’s many fruits and vegetables that they grow for their restaurant downtown. He pulled a turmeric and ginger plant out of the ground to show me since I told him I enjoy cooking. He also gave us fresh peapods out of the ground to eat.  I ate mine while he showed me around. Afterward, Gene and I continued our walk and she said “I’m glad I remembered we’re not supposed to eat anything grown in water here so I tossed mine.”  “Crap, I ate mine,” says I.  Ok, if I’m going to get ill eating a tainted peapod at least this walk was worth it; fortunately I was fine. We’ve had several friends get ill in their travels in Asia and in Bali specifically.  So far, only Singapore seems to have safe drinking water that I am aware of, for travelers anyway.

The walking paths were so minimal that we took a wrong turn and ended up on a path by some small houses on the way back to town. we came to a lovely stream and small waterfall a few feet off the path where a handsome young man about 17 was standing bathing nude. He watched us pass and didn’t seem to mind the old white ladies walking by.

You may notice in some photos, and the feature photo above, small offerings to Hindu deities.  Twice each day, Hindus in Bali (mostly women I believe) create baskets of flowers, fruits and other significant symbols and place them at entrances wherever they are, work or home. Bali is one of the thousands of islands in Indonesia; I’ve read anywhere from 13,000 to 17,000 plus islands, but 8 of the islands have large populations. It’s one of the few inhabited islands that is predominantly Hindu (85%), the other islands have became predominantly Muslim, and Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world.


Our Neighborhood

Gene and I love the architecture and urban planning here. One of our favorite activities is walking in our neighborhood and in other beautiful areas that are so easy to get to by train. Every neighborhood seems to have a walking path, playground, park, public shelter, covered walkway (to shade sun and block rain) covered over street walkway, seating, and exercise area. We see many people outside playing and exercising including the very old.  Practicing good health and exercise are practically mandated here. (please see the photos below).

There are often shops and medical services on the ground floor of the public housing and schools nearby. The developments we’ve seen are attractive, well kept, clean, and have lots of green spaces and activities. And, since owning a car is relatively uncommon, transportation is amazingly convenient, inexpensive and arrives every few minutes, and every kind of shopping is readily available.

With Singapore’s population of nearly 6 million people on an island that is 14 miles by 27 miles, high rise living (25-45+ stories) is the norm. We live on the 18th floor of a 44 story condo. The high rise housing for the vast majority of Singaporeans, whether owned or rented, is government built and affordable based on income. If you’re not Singaporean like us, or you are and you want a higher-end place with amenities like a pool and gym, there are many private condos to own or rent. These two housing types are intermixed across the island.

And, Singaporeans who are found to be homeless  are provided housing. We’ve been told that police keep an eye on people who are seen for a few days on the streets and they refer them to a government agency. Homeless are provided with a single room occupancy alone or with a roommate in a building with services and amenities. You won’t see many single family homes or even low rises in Singapore since land is at such a premium.

Worth noting, a cultural shift has begun where more younger adults and married couples are moving out on their own, not choosing the tradition of living with their parents into their 30’s, or living with the husband’s family permanently. As a result, senior citizens do not have young family members to take care of them. Now there is a growing need for senior housing and assisted living and many projects have begun being built.

The experience of Singapore’s urban planning and architecture is a big part of what makes this place a world class city-state.


The Singapore Zoo, there and back again

Getting There.

Our first bigger adventure, besides activities of daily living, which are also adventurous (food, weather, language), was to the Singapore Zoo.  The actual adventure part came in the form of travel, nothing difficult but it made us laugh at how complicated we made it.  We had somehow decided that a taxi would cost too much, and the zoo was not easy to get to by train, so we decided to take the bus.  While Singapore’s transportation is excellent, you need to select the most efficient way which apparently we did not, but every goof up teaches us more I repeat to myself.  It took us 1.5 hours to get there!  We took 3 buses.  After the first bus, we used Gene’s smart phone to find the next bus stop. The phone map directed us a half mile and after walking it and not finding the stop, we asked a couple of teenagers for directions (we figured they’d speak English, but so happened not that well, so they whipped out their smart phones to check for us). We discovered the bus stop was across the street from where we got off and it had an overpass right there.  Fortunately, the third bus took us right into the zoo.  Good to know.  Won’t do that again; visitors take note!

Onto the Zoo.

The Singapore Zoo has a international reputation as one of the best in the world, and we think it deserves it.  What is truly impressive is the shear beauty, openness, seemingly unrestricted animal environments with few visible enclosures.  Mostly, the animal species appear to be in natural settings, very little concrete or other man-made materials.  The larger animals have water moats around them instead of glass or fencing and the plants are all real.  It also has a tremendous botanic garden feel with lots of open landscapes, gardens, streams and at least one lake.  It truly is beautiful and you feel that the animals are less confined.  But, it was crowed, a popular spot and lots of strollers, imagine that.

The monkeys in particular were wonderful to see. At other zoos I often don’t visit the apes because it is somewhat depressing.  Here the monkeys have amazing environments of high trees, ropes, log structures, and they can be seen swinging in trees over the pedestrian paths.  It seems like they could travel anywhere in the zoo.  The monkeys we saw were very active, engaged with their babies, and mugging for visitors. Unfortunately, not many of my photos of the monkeys in the trees didn’t turn out very well.

It was hot, so hot that I wasn’t keen on going into the rain forest exhibit.  It is enclosed and I thought it would be really hot in there, but it was pleasant and one of my favorite experiences.  It is like Olbrich Gardens/Bolz Conservatory but much larger, more wild, with many fascinating critters.  The bats were amazing and huge and close!  There were small mousedeer a foot high under the beautiful plants, monkeys cruising around and on and over the foot paths; birds and butterflies, unusual ducks and turtles.

and Back Again…

Ok, we were dead tired after the zoo and could not handle the bus back so we got in line for the taxi cue (I should have taken a photo of that!  It was about 3 blocks long at 5 pm (17:00) on Saturday.  After waiting a half hour, we saw a large sign with taxi phone numbers on it and decided to try calling.  We discovered that this is a great way to get a taxi; they charge $3 for this personal pickup call onto the cost.  The call is completely automated and they know where you are by GPS.  It takes about 3 minutes for them to arrive and they call back to give you the taxi number on top of the car so you know which one is yours.  Slick!  Visitors take note!  This return trip for two which was a good distance back to our hotel cost us $15.  We figured out that we paid about $8 for the two of us to take 3 buses.  Ok, taxis are pretty inexpensive here.