In December 1999, I quit a fairly good job in NYC, to travel to Indonesia. I spent a month there, between Bali, Ubud and Lombok. It was one of many experiences that I can say, "I had the time of my life." I had never been to Indonesia, so I booked the entire trip through a travel agency. This was before you could easily do everything online, read reviews, etc. So having a trusted source to walk me through everything was great. I also arranged to have a tour guide for a few excursions.
In Bali, I stayed in a luxury hotel for 3 nights, and did all the requisite tourist things: visited temples, ran from monkeys, took a dance lesson, and lounged by the pool. But funnily enough, the most memorable part of Bali was a fiasco that involved leather pants. When I flew out of NYC, it had been cold and wet. So I wore leather jeans from JFK to Denpasar. By the time I got to my hotel, I couldn't wait to get them off. The dry cleaning service in the hotel couldn't guarantee that they wouldn't shrink. My guess is that they'd never had to deal with leather jeans before. So I took it upon myself to give them a good cold rinse in the tub and hung them out to dry. Well, as you'd imagine, Indonesia is quite humid. By the time they'd dried (& shrunk a wee bit), they were moldy. Suffice it to say, the leather jeans didn't make it back to NYC with me.
In Ubud, my accommodations were more rustic, a hut on stilts with waist-high walls, and no windows, just shades to draw at night. The bed, like in all the accommodations, was outfitted with a mosquito net. The 360-view was of rice paddies and other crops on terraced hills. It was so stereotypically beautiful, it would make you weep. I spent 3 blissful nights there, surrounded by the sounds of tropical birds, crowing roosters, muffled voices of farmers, and mosquitos buzzing about my net at night. That was the only downside. While in Ubud, I visited more temples, and shopped for ikat batik. My excursion in Ubud involved rafting down the Ayung River with an adventure tour outfitter. There was only 1 other tourist in the raft with me, a guy from Australia. As we wound our way down the river, we passed numerous local kids playing in various states of undress on rope swings and jumping off rocks. They assumed we were a couple and taunted us with questions, in perfect English, like, "Is this your honeymoon?"
From Ubud, I headed to Lombok via ferry. There, I stayed at the Holiday Inn; not the Holiday Inn that we in the states know, it was a luxury resort and I had a detached bungalow with a bathroom as big as my studio apartment now. I spent a 3 weeks there, based solely on the advice of the travel agent. It was perfect. The only thing it had in common with the Holiday Inns that we grew up with, is that when I arrived, their marquee out front said "Welcome Ms. Anna Manuel". Nice touch.
Staying at the same resort were a large group of Aussies and Kiwis, school mates on some kind of extended reunion trip. They were amazingly friendly and included me on every excursion they took, including a day trip to the Gili Islands, and a tour of the island via rented scooters. On the way back to the resort, we got caught in an absolute downpour, but the beautiful moments from that ride home are forever burned in my memory. Two little girls were walking hand in hand in the rain, on the roadside, using a HUGE monstera leaf as an umbrella. A wrinkly old man, barefoot, wearing a sarong, walking a water buffalo, using a hemp rope as a sort of leash. It was something out of National Geographic. You can't make this sh** up! This was pre-cellphone days, so unfortunately, the memory is all I have.
Apparently, at that time, it wasn't common for the staff to see women traveling alone, particularly a woman who looked a lot like an Indonesian. So, while sunning at the pool, I'd get peppered with questions like, "Where is your husband?", "Is your husband attending a meeting here?", "Why are you traveling alone?". I didn't take offense, but it made me realize how fortunate I was to have been born and raised in the U.S., to be able to take a trip like that, and to make choices as simple as vacationing solo.
I celebrated New Year's Eve 1999 in the pool with my Aussie and Kiwi friends, looking at the stars of the Southern Hemisphere, musing about how blessed we were. I left for NYC a few days later. On January 20, I heard via email that my friends had been evacuated from Lombok amid Muslim/anti-Christian religious violence. Some tourists were saved by soldiers surrounding another hotel. One person was killed and two seriously injured amidst 11 churchburnings. The news was so heartbreaking, as like many tourists, it seemed that the people of Indonesia (Hindus, Muslims, and Christians) had found a way to coexist unlike other places of such rich, religious diversity. I hate to admit it, but I haven't followed the news out of Indonesia in years. I have to go back; it is a magical place. I have so many stories of the profound kindness and generosity I experienced from the Indonesian people. Too many to add to this already-too-long post. Maybe I'll share those stories with you in the future. Until then, selamat tinggal.