Looking Sweet Upon the Seat

by Nancy Bestor

DSC00676When we travel to foreign countries, our family likes to do things on our own. We’ve never been super keen on taking group or private tours, choosing instead to find our own way and figure things out for ourselves. Bob, however, convinced Emily, Sarah and I on our trip to Bali that we could benefit from a guided bicycle tour. It would be fun, he suggested, and we might just learn something along the way. He was right, on both counts.

We booked a day-long bike tour with Sobek Adventures out of Ubud. The tour included breakfast, lunch, bike rentals, and transportation, and cost $79 each for Bob and I, and $52 each for Emily and Sarah. It was very well worth it. Sobek’s van picked us up at our Airbnb villa (read more about this fantastic abode located just outside Ubud here) at 8:30 on the morning of our tour. Our driver and our guide chatted with us along the way to our first stop, a coffee plantation specializing in coffee made from beans eaten by a Paradoxurus, (aka an Asian Palm Civet or Luwak) and then cleaned and roasted after the critter poops the beans out. Yes indeed, you read that correctly. We all were treated to a cup of what is commonly known as Luwak coffee. We drank it and it was good. I kid you not. We were also treated to a tasting of a dozen or so other flavored coffees including coconut, vanilla and ginseng and they were all distinctive and delicious.

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After this not even slightly crappy stop (I couldn’t help myself) we headed to Mount Batur where we picked up our bicycles. Now my husband is a cyclist, and enjoys a high quality, well-tuned bicycle. These were not those. They did however have seats, brakes, and air in their tires, and since our ride was mostly downhill, that was really all we needed. The four of us rode with our guide Made, through villages, rice fields, and on some very rocky and bumpy dirt roads. Some of the routes we took went directly through rice fields, and locals with bundles of grasses and sticks on their backs eased out of our way and watched us roll by. Without a doubt, this was the best way to really see the 13 miles of back roads and trails that we covered that day.

We took a break from our downhill coasting to look in the gates of a local temple, mostly deserted and stunningly beautiful. Another stop was at a family compound, where seven locals were currently living, including two grandparents, two parents and three children. The family members were all at home, and sat out on the steps while we learned how Balinese live their everyday lives. This was the only part of the tour where I was uncomfortable. Frankly, it felt intrusive to be in their home, and it was never clear to me if we should have tipped the family, or brought some kind of offering to them.

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Our final stop of the day was at a restaurant where we had a set menu. It was one of the better meals we ate in Bali, and included a delicious chicken soup with rice, chicken and vegetables. Our tour ended at 2:30 in the afternoon, right back where we started, at our great villa outside Ubud. I would highly recommend this tour to anyone, even a non-active person, as there is almost no work required.

We ended our day with massages in central Ubud. And how fitting it was after spending two hours on a somewhat uncomfortable bike seat on bumpy roads to get a massage on my aching gluteus maximus.

I Need A Photo Opportunity

by Nancy Bestor

One part of traveling in a foreign country that always surprises me is how fascinated locals seem to be with my family. The looks many give us make me feel like some of them have never seen a Caucasian tourist before. This happened quite frequently in parts of Bali this past summer, particularly to my 19 and 17-year-old daughters. You would think they’d be used to it though, because it’s been happening all their lives as we’ve taken them on travels around the world.

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It started in Thailand, when the girls were 7 and 5. Two Caucasian girls visiting somewhat remote islands in Thailand gave many people pause. They would stare, smile, wave, sometimes touch them, and frequently ask to have their pictures taken with them. Often times they’d offer the girls gum, candy, fruit, and more. It wasn’t just locals either. Tourists, particularly those from Japan, also wanted their pictures taken with Emily and Sarah.

People in Vietnam were very friendly to our girls as well. And it appeared to be even more unusual for a Caucasian family to be visiting this country. I’ll never forget being in a local outdoor market outside of Nha Trang where we were definitely the only tourists, and it felt like the Vietnamese could not take their eyes off of us. I swear a woman started following us there too, but that is another story. Locals stared in Turkey as well. The only ones brave enough to ask for a picture though, were a group of about seven girls, ranging in age from 8-16.

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Fast-forward 12 years to our trip this past summer to Bali. Locals and tourists are still staring at our girls, sometimes smiling and waving, and still asking for pictures with them. We met a family who insisted that their younger daughters (who they said were “grumpy today”) take a picture with our daughters. Emily was asked by a man to have his picture taken with her, and then he brought over the rest of his family to take a full on family portrait with her as well.

It’s not always just our girls though. A group of Japanese tourists in Bali were delighted when Bob and I passed by them on the beach, and they enthusiastically motioned him over for a photo opportunity. Bob is certain they had mistaken him for George Clooney.

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The folks we’ve met in these impromptu photo sessions over the years rarely speak much English, but they almost always ask us where we are from. Interestingly, when we answer “the United States”, they tend to look at us a bit blankly. We quickly learned that the best way to answer the “where are you from” question is to say “America.” Nine times out of ten, in whatever country we are visiting or whomever we are talking with, the locals reply with a big smile and an “Ohhhhh…….America!”

I’d like to think this is what Heidi Klum and her family feel like when they vacation. I’d like to think I look a little something like Heidi Klum too. No comments from the peanut gallery please.

She’s Touching My Butt

by Sarah Bestor

DSC00811One of the first things my parents told me when they announced we would be going to Bali in the summer was that there would be massages involved. The average price of an hour-long Balinese massage is around $10, so my parents decided they could spring for massages for the whole family. Until our trip, I had never had a massage, and there was an abundance of nervous thoughts running through my mind. Would I be uncomfortable? Would it hurt? Would I have to talk to the masseuse?

It sure did take a while for the massage to actually happen. Every place we went, I would ask, “is this where we’re getting massages?” And the response would be no. But, on one of our last days in the city of Ubud, we finally booked our rub downs. Professional Balinese massage and spa parlors are all over Ubud. You can’t walk down a main street without having someone standing in front of their business asking you if you want a massage. We chose the Verona Spa, based on a recommendation from the villa where we stayed.

My sister Emily and I were in one private room, and our parents in another. Private, however, is a little bit of a misnomer, as one wall only went up halfway, thus taking advantage of the beautiful rice field view.

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At first I thought, oh this is so beautiful, but then I remembered how young boys were always playing in the rice fields by our hotel and turned to Emily. She obviously had a similar thought, but before we could talk about it, the masseuses walked in. The two women asked us dress down and get under the blankets, and as they exited the room we did as we were told. When they walked back in, they said nothing and just began.

I’m not kidding when I say that the first place her hands went were to the upper part of my butt. It was instant tension as I was thinking was “oh my goodness, this stranger is touching my butt.” But then, just as quickly, I realized “YES, she is touching my butt, and it feels quite nice.” Throughout the massage, whenever she moved to a new part of my body, I had feelings like this. When she started massaging my calves I realized that they were the sorest part of my body (thanks for making me walk so much, parents). And I swear that the woman had at least five hands, because somehow her hands were on every part of my back at the same time.

Overall, I would say that I had a quite fantastic first massage experience. It was certainly eye opening and now, all that I would like is to go back and get another butt massage.

Sarah Bestor is a senior at Ashland High School. She is the co-editor of the Rogue News Online, plays guitar and sings in a band.

I Fought The Law and the Law Won

by Nancy Bestor

Lonely Planet advises that if you plan to drive a car in Bali, you’re “supposed” to have an International Driving Permit (IDP). Knowing that we did plan to drive (that’s the Royal We here, Bob would be doing all the driving in Bali), Bob went ahead and got an IDP from our local AAA store in Medford, Oregon for $23. It was easy to obtain, he simply showed his US driver’s license, filled out a form, had his picture taken and paid his money. The entire process took about 10 minutes.

International Driving Permits are actually recommended and/or required in many foreign countries, although lots of people don’t bother to get them. We’ve driven in several European countries and never bothered to get one either. Bob’s brother, Andy Bestor, has been renting cars to European travelers for nearly 20 years (and is very knowledgeable about all things car rental). He says they “officially recommend” the IDP, but tells customers it is mostly for peace of mind.

When we picked up our rental car in Bali (more on that easy third world process in a future post), the American hotel owner where we were staying said an IDP was not really necessary. If we were stopped, we could simply bribe the police officer, and if we also smiled a lot, all would be well. When we hit the road, we tucked Bob’s IDP deep into one of our bags and promptly forgot we had it.

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Bob drove like a pro (on the opposite side of the road, more on that in a future post too!), for the two weeks we were on the island, and we rarely even saw a police officer, let alone worried about being stopped by one. Until of course, our last day when we were hurrying to the airport and came upon a roadblock where several officers were randomly pulling cars over. One of the policeman took a quick look at us and motioned us to stop. The very first thing he asked for? Our International Driving Permit.

It took us a while to find our IDP. It wasn’t in the glove compartment. It wasn’t my shoulder bag. It wasn’t in Bob’s daypack either. I could see Bob getting a bit worried even though I assured him it was somewhere in our bags. Finally we found it, buried deep in one of main bags in the trunk, under some end-of-the-trip dirty laundry. We were glad to find is, because let’s be frank here, we’re really not the bribing type.

All the while our policeman stood quietly by our vehicle, waiting for us to find our IDP and once we finally presented it to him, he looked at it like he had never seen one before. He even yelled to a colleague and waved our IDP in the air, as if to say “look, these silly Americans actually HAVE an IDP.” (For all I know, that is exactly what he did say. Two weeks is not nearly enough time to understand more than a few words of Indonesian.) Once we cleared up the fact that we did have an IDP, the policeman became quite friendly and pointed to our teenage daughters in the backseat. He motioned with his smartphone, gesturing could he take a picture of them. “Yes,” we nodded, of course. Then he asked “Where from?” When we answered America he said “Ohhhh, OBAMA!” Yes, we nodded and smiled, Obama. Finally he motioned that he wanted a picture with Bob, and said “for memories.”

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And that’s the story of our international driving permit. Thanks to our IDP, Bob made a friend that day and a Balinese policeman likely went home and showed his family the photos he took of the first Americans ever to carry an International Driving Permit in Bali. That’s the best $23 we’ve spent in a long time.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

by Nancy Bestor

Perhaps I’m like the cobbler who wears broken down shoes, or the carpenter whose deck is falling apart, as every now and then when we travel I neglect to take along a handy item that we sell at Travel Essentials, and I am truly sorry. There was the time my daughter got seasick on a whale-watching trip in the San Juan Islands, and our guide advised us that she really should be wearing motion bands, and then proceeded to inform us of all their benefits as she lent Emily a pair. I knew all about the benefits, because we sell them at Travel Essentials. Other trips have found us desperate to take a family photo but without a tri-pod. And of course, we sell excellent little travel tri-pods at Travel Essentials too.

Most recently however, Bob and I were caught in a torrential downpour at a beautiful temple on the outskirts of Tirtagangga in Bali, without any kind of rain gear. It was coming down so hard that there was no way we would be able to walk the 1700 steps to see the temple at the top without being completely drenched by about our third step. The temple is beautiful (or so I’m told) and it was a warm downpour, but our cameras and phones would have been soaked through and ruined, not to mention our bodies.

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Sure wish we would have had the emergency poncho that we sell at Travel Essentials for $3.95. Yes, just three dollars and ninety-five cents, and it packs up into a teeny-tiny square. How easy it would have been for me to throw two (or four) of those ponchos into my suitcase. We would have put them on and hiked up the 1,700 stairs to see Pura Lempuyang, and it would have been beautiful (I’m sure). We’re headed to New Orleans in September, and if it rains, rather than walking around with plastic trash bags over ourselves, like we did when we were younger, (and by the way, I would have been delighted with trash bags in Bali) I’ll make sure to pack a couple of emergency ponchos. If nothing else, it will guarantee a weekend of perfect weather.