After Malaysian Borneo, Amber would part ways with Bing and I, as we continued on to the Hindu island of all Indonesia, Bali. (This is also to date the only time I’ve dipped south of the equator in my travels!) We arrived at the airport by the capital, Denpasar, and took a shuttle bus on very winding and narrow roads through rice paddies to the beach coastline of the north. It almost made me car-sick. I also have a distinct memory of hearing a foreign couple speaking with such rolling sounds, for a moment I mistook them for Russian or an Eastern European language, before I realized they were speaking Spanish but with a “th-” sound added. European Spanish sounds very different from American Spanish, I realized for the first time back then.
Our night in Ubud cemented the idea to me that this was the ultimate honeymooners trip. So future travelers be warned, it might be a little odd traveling around Bale with a friend of the opposite gender, especially after reading about Balinese social networks in Eat, Pray, Love and the importance of marriage. A male friend who isn’t a relative? Get a room, jeez. It started off where people would ask “Are you married?” to “Are you engaged?” to “Is he your boyfriend?” to “He’s a friend?” queried with a bemused expression. By the end of our week there, I was so thoroughly frustrated by everyone’s 20 questions, eventually I cut it off with, “Yeah, we are dating,” and a big smile thrown in for good measure.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, up until getting “Bali belly”, which might have been something I picked up in Malaysia, really. And then Bing tried to fetch stomach medicine from the locals. It wasn’t some time after I had taken a dose that I read the lead ingredient: “belladonna” — commonly known as “deadly nightshade” and historically used as a poison. Fun times.
Back in 2008, I had not yet travelled independently that much, so I didn’t have a credit card dedicated to travel, though I wish I had. US News & World Report has a list of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. When I moved to Germany in 2012, I enrolled with one of their recommendations, Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card, which I have been using ever since as my main credit card. Miles or cash back, your choice. No annual fees. No foreign transaction fees.
I never saw the Bali myna (until working at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Konstanz, Germany), which is found only on Bali and is listed as critically endangered. Coincidentally, my research institute in Radolfzell, Germany would later become host to a mated pair for breeding purposes. They would bless my days there with their endless vocalizations, including a variety of sharp chattering calls and tweets, chirrups, etc. I did see a bunch of other birds, dolphins, monkeys, geckos, fruit bats, etc. Birding was fun though hard to see.
We felt so rich and pampered, at one point we ordered the “roast duck feast for two” the day before, which involved a multi-course meal culminating in a whole roasted duck. It was fun to spoil ourselves gastronomically. The vegetarian in me was shut away for the duration of that holiday. I also tried snake fruit, which gave me cottonmouth, and the much beloved mangosteen (nothing like mangos!), and wonderful fresh fruit and smoothie breakfasts. Plus complimentary English tea service.
Everything was so beautiful and vibrant, kind of like Hawaii. Plumeria, lotus, hibiscus, etc. And I loved the Hindu temples everywhere, reminiscent of so much Buddhist culture. The dawn boating trip to see dolphins was almost worth the seasickness, and a sun that looked like a sunset on the water. I loved the little flower and incense offerings everywhere — Canang sari.
The people were so kind. I’m glad I asked our tour guide about his life. I still recall him talking about wanting to earn enough money to marry a girl in the next village. He was only 20, I think. He introduced us to the bird guide (a cousin of his?), whom I believed in every bird ID he gave, as he would helpfully point out the guidebook version too; and he booked the dolphin tour we took, which afterwards felt a bit like harassing pursuit of passerby dolphins, and definitely got me seasick a bit (I don’t do well with 4am wake up calls and no breakfast — too low blood sugar). I loved the lists of birds I made, which I reviewed in my personal English language guide (I had purchased for just that purpose), and brought my Eagle Optics Ranger SRT binoculars 8×32 (Cornell Lab of O recommendation 2013). I’ve come a long way to my Zeiss Victory T*FL 8×32 of today (compare). Birding in every foreign land is fun!