Sunday, March 29, 2009

Two New Food Groups

Contrary to my dad's insistence that donuts are in fact the fifth food group, after travelling for almost six months now, we can attest to the fact that Pringles and Oreos should be added to the Food Pyramid. No matter where we go, there they are. In all varieties and sizes you'd expect to see at Winco and then some.

Good to know that wherever we go in this world, we don't have to worry about stopping after popping.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pulau Tioman - Courtney's Turn

This place is simply too spectacular for me to pass up the opportunity to ring in with my two cents as well. Somehow I ended up as the Malaysian tour specialist, and did all of the research and planning for this leg of the journey. Jeremy is definitely enjoying the surprises in store so far! I completely changed the original plan from spending time on the west cost of Malaysia after additional research regarding the weather this time of year, as well as hearing tips from several travellers. I opted for the east coast instead, and we've found ourselves in utter paradise on Pulau Tioman; specifically, the tiny village of Juara on the east coast of the small island.

After alighting (our new fav word from the Singaporian train system) the fast boat ferry in Air Batang (which I miraculously survived....Dramamine kicks the ASS of my herbal ginger pills), I was immediately struck by the beachy rustic-ness of the place. And I knew we'd made a good choice in starting here. Air Batang was really great: very chill, very welcoming, awesome diving, great food, fun people....but honestly, it can't hold a candle to Juara. That jungle hike sweat-fest was WELL worth it!

Though I was really pushing to do the hike over to Juara, Jer, on the other hand, needed a little convincing. He was worried that it would be too hard on my knee, yada yada, but also admitted he was afraid he would get bored. WHAT?!? Crazy man! It's no secret that I enjoy island living a little more than him, but BORED?!? I absolutely love finding ourselves in some little remote spot like this where there isn't actually a whole lot to do. Especially after just coming from a big city like Singapore, where it's go, go, go non-stop. That way I don't feel guilty that we're missing out on sightseeing if I'd rather be lazing on the beach, reading, playing cards, working on my tan..... Funnily enough, he was the one really pushing to extend our time here! Our neighbors, a cool couple from Austin, TX and literally the first Americans we've met since the whopping FOUR total we ran into in NZ -- Oh, besides the dive instructor in Air Batang who was from Eugene, OR, of all places! He was rubbing in the fact that his mom just sent him a care package with Tillamook cheddar in it -- Anyway, the couple next door told us they ran into a Swedish guy in the next bay who came here for 3 days with his girlfriend and now they've been here for 6 weeks. We can definitely see how that could happen!

Jer mentioned in his blog that we keep joking about running into Kate and Sawyer, etc., but this place is seriously like the island from Lost. The beaches jut straight up to a jungle wonderland, full of sights and noises that constantly keep you on your toes. I keep looking around and I can't really believe this place exists.

For the four days we've been here now, a new crop of people manage the hike every other day or so, while travellers here bid a sad farewell to this side of the island and head back to catch the ferry onward. Still, at any one time there has never been more than a total of 7 travellers – yes SEVEN whole people with whom to share this treasure. And they are all cool and interesting, and full of awesome stories and tips for our future locales, so we don't mind. ;) We literally have paradise to ourselves!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pulau Tioman - Part II

I will admit, when Courtney described Juara to me I was a bit hesitant at first. “It's kind of like ABC, but even prettier and more chill.” I was actually worried that I may get a little bored. But here we are, ponying up to our hospitable bungalow proprietor for another night because I really can't get away. I will qualify Juara as the closest thing to the paradise island getaway as I've ever seen.






We have our little bungalow right on the beach (which is now $8 a night), beautiful white sand beaches, perfect sunshine swimming in and out from behind the clouds, and great people. There's a little cafe, Bushman's, right down the beach, that is so tasty we can't bring ourselves to branch out from (minus our afternoon Pringles and cookie runs to the little shop down the way). The fresh banana pancake and homemade bread for breakfast, and grilled fish or squid and veggies in a peppery garlic sauce for dinner has us hooked. Everything we've tried so far has been fantastic and of course very cheap. I'm not giving up on a good thing!

We had another nice jungle walk past an honest to goodness rubber tree plantation
up to a really cool series of waterfalls where we had a well deserved dip and hung out for a bit. We tried to get some more snorkeling in, but unfortunately on this side of the island the waves crash a bit too heavy and everything gets all churned up so the visibility is no good. I'm sure we'll find something else to do.

So here we are, spending our extra and we'll assume last day in this island paradise. More reading, relaxing, playing in the waves and blog writing. Tomorrow it will be a ball busting hike, vomit-inducing boat ride to the mainland and bus ride of who-the-hell-knows-how-long until we get to our next destination. Heading into the national parks and central highlands of mainland Malaysia. See you on the other side!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pulau Tioman - Part I

The island of Pulau Tioman is off the eastern coast of peninsular Malaysia. Hop a coach from Singapore for about $20, knock out a few episodes of Lost Season 3 (Bucholz, thanks for buying those through our Itunes, by the way. They've provided many hours of lazy entertainment over the past few months.) and you arrive in Mersing. Once in Mersing you make a quick stop in to the local travel agent guy and pick up your fast boat tickets to the island. Two Dramamine, a few more episodes of Lost (damn, they're almost over!!) and almost two hours of bone-chillingly cold AC later, you're there.

Hop off onto the jetty and make your way to the main drag. This is the main drag. Nice.


Kick your way up the sandy sidewalk and find a nice little hut just off the ocean for ten or twelve bucks a night. We stayed the first few nights in the small, northern village of Air Batang (ABC). Our place was simple with a bed, cold shower, no-flush toilet, fan and friendly? resident giant frickin' spider.


Now while Courtney is usually pretty excited to see the creepy crawlies while we're out and about, for some reason when they're in our room she has a totally different reaction. I can probably say that is the most freaked out I've ever seen her about a bug. Excuse me, arachnid. Granted the dude was about four inches across, had a menacing look about him and was wicked fast! A few dodged swipes of the water bottle later, and he had gone from the window screen in the bathroom to under the bed. This was not comforting Courtney as she was standing on top of the bed making I'm-scared-of-bugs, whining like a little girl, KILL THAT F'N THING sounds. With a distracting roll of the water bottle later and a quick swipe of a size 11 Chaco we heard that oh so distinctive “large bug just died” crunching sound. Problem solved. Can we go to bed now?

We would go for snorkels, wander around the village and relax for most of the day. We did fire up for an afternoon of scuba diving one day which was awesome. We did two dives off of another smaller island, Coral Island, that the dive shop was heading out to for the first time this year. It's still technically monsoon season around here so the seas have a tendency to be a bit rough. Fortunately, the past week or so had been pretty calm so we took the chance and made the half hour trudge out to the island. Totally worth it, minus the over-the-side fish food that a few passengers almost provided due to the rough seas, as both dive sites were great. We saw turtles, tons of big angel fish, eels, some fantastic coral and a very odd looking cuttle fish. We even got up in time on Monday morning to catch the last five minutes or so of the Super Bowl. Can't say there was a whole lot of interest from the locals to see the game, but at least they had satellite TV. Congrats Steelers.

After three nights in ABC we decided to tackle the 11km VERTICAL trek over to the only village on the east side of the island, Juara. Now from what we'd read, there is only a walking trail over to Juara. The ferry doesn't make it around to that side of the island and there are no roads that go over the island so the the only way to get there is by foot. We ditched one of the backpacks in ABC to lighten the load and made our way to Tekek, a village to the south of ABC, where the trail starts. I guess I use the word “trail” loosely at this point, but I want to be sure people aren't confused. This is not the Lief Ericson Trail in Forest Park or any other nicely cleared away, gravelled, bark dusted or paved trail you may be used to at your local green space. This is more of an overgrown, up the side of a mountain, watch where you step so you don't slip and die, ringing sweat from your shirt type “trail”.




We're pretty sure we saw Locke and Jack hunting a wild boar on the way, but fortunately no ominous black smokey thing, polar bears or Others. It took us a bit over three hours and we were pretty much down for the count by the time we made it to Juara.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Singapore Photos

They're up and ready for viewing!

Also, we can snap photos faster than street food runs through your system, but posting them to our photos page is another story. It's not that we're lazy, it's just that we have been trying to caption all of them so that we can someday in the future remember what the heck it is we took a picture of.

That being said, here's some help to actually see what those captions are. As we're not technically "captioning" the photos, rather changing the file names with our descriptions, you have to tell Picasa to show you those file name descriptions. So here's how:

When you go to our photos page (link, of course, to the right), click on an album and click on the first thumbnail. Don't choose a slide show. On the right of the screen it will show you some technical info about the photo (when it was taken, size, etc...) and under that is a link called "more info". If you click on that, more info about the photo will appear including the descriptive file name.

Hopefully this will lend a bit of context to the jillions of photos we have posted. That is the one thing about digital cameras with large memory cards - you can just snap away and not worry about editing out bad or repetitive photos. So thanks for bearing with us as you browse.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Singapros & Cons

SINGAPROS:

1)The super efficient and easy to use transit system. The underground train was always on time, with clocks at every platform that counted down until the next arrival, and so clean you would've felt comfortable eating off the seats (if they allowed food and drinks on the trains, that is). Our EZ passes allowed us to sweep in and out with no hassle and even made us look like we knew what we were doing. Kinda.
2)Singapore's zoo is quite impressive. They've made significant efforts to afford the animals ample space and create a natural habitat for them. We were entertained by many new creatures that you don't find in Americans zoos too often, a few of our favorites being the mandrills, giraffes, and pygmy hippos.



3)The timing of our visit. Without the many sights and festivities associated with Chinese New Year, Singapore would've received the same dimly glowing reviews from us that we hear from every other traveler. But there was lots of cool stuff going on while we were there, the highlight being the floral festival on Sentosa Island. (There are many pics you can check out in the Picasa folder). The crazy d├ęcor covering most of the city enhanced our experience as well. And Jer couldn't have been more stoked that the timing allowed us to catch the qualifying soccer match between Singapore and Jordan.




SINGACONS:

1)The food. I think you got the picture with “The Foodie Rings In” blog post!
2)What a stinky city! Yikes! Singapore seemed pretty clean overall, especially for such a big city. You'd expect that with all of the rules and restrictions though. Speeding = $1000 fine, chewing gum is illegal and = $5000 fine – are you kidding me?!? The fine for littering was crazy too but I don't remember exactly how much. But despite it's tidy appearance, the smells you'd encounter as you walked down the street were truly shocking. It smelled like a mixture of sewer, rotting fish, the Purina dog food factory in Reno, and the mill in Albany on your drive to Corvallis, all baking together in the heat and humidity. I wasn't kidding about the shocking part!
3)Singapore is a pretty expensive city in general, but the cost of beer was astronomical. One bottle of the national favorite, Tiger beer, (which is shit, by the way) was around $13. I think we saw it on happy hour for a steal at $10 each. We're ashamed to admit we passed up an entire country and didn't imbibe a single sip while there but the budget doesn't allow for those kind of prices! We promptly tried Tiger upon arriving in Malaysia to make up for it...and realized we hadn't missed much. And it cost us $4, still quite expensive by the standards we've become accustomed to!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Bucholz - Don't Move Here

I think we got our fill of the big city. Singapore was nice, but that's just about it. Nice. Everything was pretty much on the average level of “fine”. The airport was wonderfully modern and clean and customs a breeze to get through. There are super efficient and relatively inexpensive train and bus systems to whisk you all over the island. There seems to be endless amounts of malls, markets and side street garage sales in which to purchase everything from the latest Gucci fashions to the cheapest knock-off t-shirts to the most retro of Fat Boys greatest hits tapes. It would appear that if you want it in this city, you can get it.

We very much enjoyed just wandering the city and taking in the sites. We were fortunate enough to arrive just before the Chinese New Year so we were able to take in the festivities for that celebration as well. On top of the giant floating stage bedecked with a mass of glowing lanterns, Chinese zodiac animals (it's the year of the Ox by the way) and Cirque du Soleil-esque performances, you couldn't seem to get more than a block down the road without your eardrums being assaulted by the cymbal and drum bands doing their thing accompanied by the requisite dancing dragon. We were both really glad we made it here for the New Year's celebrations – a totally unique experience!

We also made our way up to the zoo which was quite a trip. They have an “open range” type theme going on with most of the animals which makes it quite intriguing. Obviously the lions, tigers, bears and the like are in their designated enclosures, but they have a giant (apparently the worlds largest) free ranging orangutang display. It's basically a large forest area with ropes strung between the trees and dozens of orangutang just swinging about, going wherever they want to go. It was quite amazing to see. They also had such an amazing variety of tropical animals, so many kinds of primates and really great up close exhibits of most all of the animals. Highlight of the day was of course Courtney being chosen to participate in the Splish Splash aquatic show. She got to show off her frisbee “skills” by tossing one to Carlos, the very large Californian sea lion. And the reward for her efforts – a friendly smooch from the man himself.


We made it down to a small island off the main island, called Sentosa. It's basically a little resort island with lots of man made beaches and other touristy type stuff to do. Give it a few more years and they'll be cutting the ribbon on their first casino and amusement park as well. They were having a really cool floral festival for the new year that was very nice to wander through. Our last night got us to an exciting soccer match between Singapore and Jordan, a qualifying match for the Asia Cup. It was a pleasant change to have stadium refreshments be no more than a dollar or so, even if they did consist of unidentifiable fried goods and marshmellowy looking skewered fish balls. It's all part of the experience, Rus.

Other than that we just milled about the city and soaked in the concrete and high rise goodness. Fortunately it only took a four hour bus ride with a quick border crossing, a two hour boat ride and a short walk up the main island village drag (ie: sandy walkway) to get us to our new island home on Pulau Tioman, a small island off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. This is much more our speed. We're shacked up in a little hut, about 75 feet off the beach, with a bed, a cold shower and toilet that you bucket water down to flush. Perfect. We just had an amazing day of scuba diving off of Coral Island, but we're both kind of beat so I think we'll just relax tomorrow. I dig this island lifestyle.



Friday, March 6, 2009

Becoming a Camel

I have to say, now that constantly sweating has become a normal part of everyday life, it's proven to be quite a convenience for me. At home I pee non-stop, at least several times an hour, up to as much as every five minutes. No joke. I drink a LOT of water. Here, I think I'm drinking about the same amount, but I hardly ever have to pee! No more desperate searches for a public toilet, or being forced to buy something I don't need in exchange for bathroom privileges. No more fearful dread as I precariously perch above a squat toilet, or the unnatural girl's version of the “shake” at the end because toilet paper is most certainly not provided. Nope, I just sweat it out now and it makes life much simpler! But....waaaaaait.....does that mean I'm sweating urine??

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bali Pics!!

They're here. Err... there. Over on the internet. Well, here on the internet. On another page. Ya know. Check 'em out. Finally.

New Pics!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Foodie Rings In

Since arriving in the SE Asian corner of the world, the foodie in me has been on cloud nine. Bali was full of culinary delights and however painful it proved at times, we sure did enjoy each and every tasting of the local fare. Such full flavor, unusual pairings, and plenty of unidentifiable yet delicious treats came our way, Balinese style.

So I expected the ride to continue in Singapore, as I remembered reading/hearing/seeing? that Singaporean fare is supposed to be awesome. Right? We arrived just in time for the Chinese New Year festivities to commence, and headed to the waterfront area to see what was happening. Amid the giant lit displays, floating sidewalks, and huge firecracker show, glowed a sprawling food market positively swarming with people. Let's eat! We perused the countless stalls before making our respective choices. Jer went for a grilled eel and chicken combo, with rice and kimchee (I fell in love with that spicy treat when Tammy introduced us to Korean BBQ in Chicago). It was quite tasty. But I had honed in on my choice: whatever this was, this completely alien bowl of goo that everyone was going absolutely apeshit over, that was what I was choosing! The line for this particular stall was at least ten times longer than any other, and people were literally pushing and shoving to get a spot. I couldn't wait to try whatever this was that had everyone so worked up! It turned out to be what they refer to as grass jelly, a blackish-purplish jello type substance, that comes out hot and in the form of cubes. They then dump a cupful of shaved ice on it, and you have your choice of 3 (or all) toppings. I of course went for the gusto and ordered the full meal deal. Of the three toppings, only one was recognizable: lychee fruit which they called logan. Topping number two, called sea coconut, looked like two inch long brown gummy worms, and resembled coconut in look, flavor, or texture in absolutely no way at all. The third topping also had me baffled as they were translucent, whitish, cloudy oval ball things about the size and shape of a large olive. No discernible flavor for either alien topping, just a sugary sweetness. The grass jelly was slimy and soft, and definitely weird because it was hot and really didn't seem like something that should be. The ice promptly melted down to form a broth, if you will, for this odd dessert soup I now held. The two unknown toppings were incredibly chewy, kinda gummy, kinda slimy all at the same time. The overall flavor of the concoction wasn't even describable – just very, very sweet and STRANGE. I wouldn't say it was BAD, necessarily, though the look on Jer's face after trying one measly bite told me he would say differently. Hmmm. I tried to power through but in the end didn't finish the thing. In the voice of the adorable little girl who sat next to me at the Jordan/Singapore soccer final: “SINKA-POH!! SINKA-POH!! 0 and 1 so far.

Appetizing, isn't it?



The hostel we stayed at was great: clean, comfortable, air conditioned, with a huge flat screen and tons of movie choices, and free wifi that worked about 15% of the time. It also included free breakfast....coffee, tea, toast, and cornflakes. But no milk. Dry cornflakes, yummm. Our second meal out on the town came from a packed open-air restaurant. Always a good sign. We ordered the wonton soup and chicken/veggie/noodle plate to share. The wonton soup was quite good, especially with a good dose of spicy sambal mixed in. No amount of sambal could save the noodles, however. It was virtually tasteless and swimming in grease, with ultra scary chunks of chicken parts that make me consider vegetarianism, and a few odd pieces of bok choy. SINKA-POH: 1-2. Hanging in.

The culmination of our culinary experience: the soccer game. After a day touring the charms of the tourist trap they call Sentosa, we were strapped for time and weren't able to grab dinner before the game. It's a huge stadium, where a national team plays; so we put our bets out that they would definitely sell food there.....and yes, they did. Outside the arena, several vendors stood hawking food: Jer chose a “beef burger” which was a bun-ish type bread roll with a BRIGHT RED patty of “meat” on it, and nothing else. I hesitantly tried a bite and dear God, it resembled a salty, grisly piece of tire tread. No thanks. I opted for the only other (but more authentic) choices: an oversized spring roll and another deep fried something, shaped like a triangle. It turned out to be filled with diced potatoes?? taro?? turnips? (I really have NO idea) that were flavored with some sort of sweet, kind of curry-ish, maybe almost cinnamon-y spices. When I type that out it actually sounds good. It wasn't. Both were deep fried to all hell and the spring roll tasted only of grease. It's amazing what you'll force down when the only alternative is a red tire burger. So, nearing the end of the game, and both still hungry, we noticed a few vendors from inside the stadium working their way into the crowd to hawk the rest of their bites. One guy was toting these skewers with 3 white, perfectly round balls on each, selling them for fifty cents. That's about thirty cents to us, and anything is worth trying for thirty cents! People were going nuts for them, buying 5 at a time and crawling over each other to get to the guy. They looked good too! Like little marshmallowy puffs or little pastry bites. A sweet confection of some sort. Whatever he called them didn't give us any clue to their composition, but the surprise on his face when I asked for one should have been my first clue. One sniff and I knew my dessert dreams were dashed. They smelled salty and faintly of the sea. Let me try to describe the experience. Let's say you were to pop your eyeball out and hold it between your thumb and forefinger. Or better yet, you find someone else's eyeball on the street so that your eyesight is still intact. If you gently squeezed it, you'd imagine it to have a somewhat firm, while still kind of rubbery give to it, no? That it would 'bounce back' to its original form in your fingers, right? Yeah, these were just like that. Now, I've never had the culinary pleasure of eating a human eyeball, but I imagine it to be just like these treats as well. I took a bite and the fleshy, gelatinous texture sort of swam around my mouth as I tried to chew it. Rubbery, chewy, scary. Not good. I said, “I think it's fish. I think I've seen these things in pictures on menus. In soups and stuff.” Jer tried a tentative bite and disagreed vehemently, “No way. There is NO WAY that thing is made of meat! Of ANY kind!” He was repulsed. I had to admit he had a point. It tasted vaguely of fishiness, and the texture soooort of resembled fish meat, but how in the world would they come in these exactly circular orbs? (aka, do I know of any fish that are very small and perfectly round??)

Yep, they were “fish balls.” The owner of the hostel had a huge package of them defrosting on a plate when we arrived home. Ingredients: fish, starch, sugar. Yum! When she cooked them up it filled the whole place with a smell distinctly akin to.....dog food. Though Sinka-poh won the soccer game, they were officially 1 and 6 now. Things had gone quickly downhill.

We tended to eat breakfast and then not eat again until dinner time. With the exception of the surprisingly decent Indian lunch at the zoo, and Jer breaking down for a burger one afternoon, (which he would like me to include was possibly the tastiest food option of all!) we really only ate out a handful of times. We bought groceries and fresh fruit that we would snack on in place of a real meal, and enjoyed a yummy vegetarian North Indian dinner in the Little India part of Singapore on our last night. Indian food has been consistently good everywhere we've tried it, which is awesome because we LOVE Indian food, and the menu choices seem limitless. But does Indian food count toward our Singaporean food experience anymore than Burger King?



Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bali - Cheap shirts and bad squirts

Bali Pros and Cons...

Pros:

1)Everything is dirt cheap! Rooms with attached bathrooms cost us $7 or 8 dollars a night. Meals were anywhere from 90 cents to $5 or so dollars. Large 22oz. Bintang beers cost $2. And all the handicrafts are amazingly affordable....we are now the proud owners of REAL art – 5 paintings for all of about $75 dollars! Which brings me to point number 2:
2)The shopping! Oh man, if we didn't have to carry everything, I would've gone apeshit on this place. I'm already plotting my return trip just for the shopping! The quality of the work is incredible too, and it all costs so little. We got pretty good at bargaining toward the end (you bargain for everything, and I mean EVERYTHING) though we'd still give in a lot. Unlike some tourists we overheard haggling to the death over what amounted to 60 cents, we figured they could benefit from that more than us.
3)The food was all so tasty! We enjoyed trying the local fare and truly loved everything. There are copious rice and noodle dishes on every menu, with variations of chicken, fish, and a variety of veggies tossed in. Coconut milk and lemongrass are common features. We had some amazing grilled fish a few times and one of our faves was the Lillit something-or-other which was spicy grilled chicken bits skewered onto lemongrass sticks. You could find those at the warungs (food stalls) or even just walking down the beach. The smell of them grilling on the little charcoal bbq's was intoxicating! And it seems that everything is served with a side of sambal chili sauce; could it get any better?
4)The people were the most kind-hearted, giving people. I guess living in a tropical paradise does a person's mind and mental health good! Everywhere we went, we were greeted warmly, asked questions with sincere interest, and made to feel extremely welcome.
5)The traditional Balinese massage!! At less than $7 a pop, I wish I would have gotten 2 a day. I only spoiled myself with 2 total, but was comatose and drooling both glorious times.
6)The natural scenery was gorgeous, ranging from jungle mountain tops to beautiful beaches and clear water. Everything was so green and lush. We saw countless monkeys in the wild, which was a hoot. We toured a few amazing temples, all with breathtaking views of the surrounding area. It really is a paradise island.
7)The smells. I found myself deeply inhaling the aroma of tropical flowers and incense that constantly fills the air (every offering always has a burning stick of incense skewered through it), whereas at home incense makes me sneezy and I've never enjoyed its scent. At first we assumed the incense would be great for covering up the unpleasant odors you expect to find in the less developed world, but Bali really never had any stink, even in Kuta where there are huge piles of trash on the beaches.

CONS:
1)Pro: the food going in. Con: the food coming out. While we thoroughly enjoyed every single meal we had, we were both struck with cases of “Bali Belly” a few times (not a good sign when they have a name for it!). We never could make sense of it either, as we'd both be struck, but always at different times, and we ate the exact same food the whole time. We love to share meals so we can try more dishes. I still think it was worth it, but the hotel must've thought we were crazy with how much TP we went through!
2)Well.....can't really think of a genuine con....let's see, hmmm. I'll get back to ya on that one! We didn't get to stay longer and we didn't do any diving because of the head colds we suffered! Does that count??