Things are getting messy

Packing up for the first time was a bit chaotic.

Packing up for the first time was a bit chaotic.

I have a disgusting travel habit: I am messy. Like, seriously messy. It’s gross, and anyone who’s seen my ‘Don’t go in there’ door-blocking dance, can attest to the fact that I am appropriately embarrassed about it.

Staying in hotel rooms for a night or two at a time seems to make it worse. All of our worldly possessions are crammed in tiny backpacks, like miniature pressurized treasure chests just waiting to pop.

When I arrive at a hotel room, the first thing I do is sling down all my bags in the darkest corner, and quickly walk away. After which point they seem to explode with the reverberating force of an IED. My overstuffed bathroom bag sends out glittery shrapnel of earrings and bobby pins. Within seconds potions and lotions of varying pedigree, veracity and origin are scattered across the cramped room. After 10 minutes the room looks like a cross between a voodoo snake oil peddler’s den and the bathroom of a squatter with an unsavory addiction to the Bloomingdales beauty counter.

After a day or two in the hotel, dirty laundry begins to seep into crevices, like that dense fluffy mold filling the crannies on a piece of expired Wonderbread. To uproot these scraps of clothing is a futile and repetitive exercise. Entropy is the name of the game. I play it well.

In the best case scenario, we are only staying in the hotel room for a day or two and soon enough it’s time to reassemble the puzzle pieces of my backpack. Each item has a tidy little home in my backpack, secured in a stuff sack or travel pouch. This is the sort of organization that I hope reflects my true travel style.

Unfortunately, in many places we end of staying hunkered down in a room for 4 or 5 days. Nearing the end of a stay like that, the room takes on a gruesome pallor, with a few long forgotten banana peels lingering on the desk and spent water bottles wandering across the floor like tumbleweeds. Housekeeping becomes my mortal enemy. I live in fear of the look on their face, should they get a peep of the place I’ve made my own. When they rap on the door, I open the door just a millimeter and blast them back with ‘nothankyougoaway!,’ slamming the door shut again before they can get a word in.

My dominant fear is that this unattractive habit will follow me home. In ‘real life’ (not backpacker land) I’m a very organized person. I make lists, I fold my laundry while it’s still hot out of the dryer, and I generally don’t live like a slob. But on the road, the rules are different.

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Flores

Scooting around Flores.

Scooting around Flores.

After a few days snorkeling on Semaya Island, we decided to push on to our next venue.

Our friends from Ubud mentioned that they were considering a trans-Flores trip, slowly moving eastward across the island, sightseeing along the way. They were planning to drive across the island on a motorbike, an ambitious plan, verging on insanity except for the fact that Wayan is an expert biker and they were traveling with minimal luggage. With our enormous backpacks in tow, we were relegated to more pedestrian means of transportation, namely, the public bus or ‘bemo,’ as it’s known throughout Indonesia.

Long hours were logged in these colorful 'bemos.'

Long hours were logged in these colorful ‘bemos.’

These are usually older model vans, colorfully decorated and packed to the gills with passengers of all sorts, old and young, men and women, families with peeing-vomiting-crying babies, and men swilling palm liquor out of plastic gas canisters as the sun sets.  Even the cargo was entertaining: nervous chickens tied up by their ankles blinking quietly at someone’s feet, and a tied-up hairy black hog tossed atop the van along with random pieces of battered luggage.

Hanging out with some local kids in the hot springs.

Hanging out with some local kids in the hot springs.

The people we met on these long, hot journeys were without fail incredibly kind, considerate, and politely curious.  We also made huge improvements with our Bahasa Indonesia, mostly through eavesdropping on our friends from Ubud (one of whom is from Bali, and another has lived on Bali for 3 years and speaks impeccable Bahasa), but also just chatting with our seatmates on the long bus rides.

The conversations took a familiar pattern beginning with ‘Good morning, how are you? Have you eaten? Yes, of course. Oh good.’ Etc etc etc. The conversations were delightful and charming in their regularity, but also in the constant expression of genuine interest.

Beautiful crater lakes at Kelimutu

Beautiful crater lakes at Kelimutu

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The sites across Flores skewed toward outdoorsy things – hot springs, hiking up volcanoes, snorkeling, visiting a local village for a traditional animal sacrifice (you won’t see the graphic photos here, but it was an education for both Zev and me in how livestock is raised and butchered in village communities). Overall, Flores is a land of tremendous natural beauty, and unspoiled hospitality.

An animal sacrifice ceremony at a local village near Bajawa.

An animal sacrifice ceremony at a local village near Bajawa.

Mixing up blood lawar for the special feast.

Mixing up blood lawar for the special feast. The fresh blood is mixed with salt, spices

Cooking up a stew near Bajawa. The men grilled and boiled the meat in huge oil drums.

Cooking up a stew near Bajawa. The men grilled and boiled the meat in these huge oil drums.

All of the ladies were involved in steaming the rice.

The ladies from the village steamed vats of rice to feed hundreds of people from nearby villages.

'Ma'af habis' means 'sorry, we've run out.' It became a catchphrase of sorts for Flores. Every restaurant, gas station, scooter rental, hotel was 'ma'af habis.'

‘Ma’af habis’ means ‘sorry, we’ve run out.’ It became a catchphrase of sorts for Flores. We visited Flores in the peak of the high season, and were greeted with this message at many a restaurant, gas station, scooter rental, and hotel.

A few things were constants throughout our trans-Flores journey.

1.The people of Flores were some of the friendliest we have met anywhere, children on the side of the road would shout ‘hello Mister!’ at the top of their lungs or race out to try to give you a high five, desperate to get a reaction from the funny looking foreigners.

2. The landscape of across Flores was breathtaking. Each new region was completely different, from hillsides with tall stands of bamboo, to winding seaside highways with sweeping views of the turquoise sea and misty volcanoes beyond. The sunsets were so incredible, it felt like nature was trying to show off each evening. It is difficult to express in words the variety of unexpectedly beautiful landscapes on the island.

3. The hotels on Flores were terrible. Oh man, so bad. Zev and I don’t mind staying in crummy rooms, as evidenced by our rat’s nest of a beach shack in the previous post, but Flores took it to a whole new level.

4. The food was pretty subpar. Ok, more than subpar. It was on the same level as the hotels. MSG-flavored fried rice for every meal (don’t think MSG is a flavor unto itself, think again my friend)? Check. Said fried rice takes 2 hours to arrive? You bet. A few times we nearly went hungry because every ‘restaurant’ in town shuts down by 7:30pm.

Sapodilla fruit.

Sapodilla fruit.

Despite my expression, this was one of the better meals we enjoyed. Grilled mackerel with sour and spicy fish soup.

Despite my expression, this was one of the better meals we enjoyed. Grilled mackerel with sour and spicy fish soup.

So all-in-all Flores was hit and miss. At the end of 3 weeks trekking across the vast island, I was so ready to see a big city. But we also felt like we had expanded our understanding of Indonesia and come to appreciate the hospitality of a place that is just beginning to come to grips with tourism. Living in the shadow of Bali, Flores has a pretty nifty tourism campaign underway and it seems to be drawing the crowds they hoped for, but perhaps the infrastructure of the island wasn’t quite ready for so many demanding tourists.

A friendly local pup, more interested in my food scraps than my camera.

A friendly local pup, more interested in my food scraps than my camera.

We discovered our own secret beach.

We discovered our own secret beach.

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A dusty market in Moni, Flores.

A dusty market in Ruteng, Flores.

Our next stop brought us directly to the big city. We headed to the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur and back to LaZat Cooking Class to learn more about the Malaysian food we are so crazy about. We can’t wait to share a few recipes and photos with you guys! Here’s a sneak peek:

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