EscapeArtistes http://www.escapeartistes.com Postcards from the Edge Thu, 15 Feb 2018 08:57:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.3 Where to Get the Best Views of Bali’s Volcano http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/12/22/where-to-get-the-best-views-of-balis-volcano/ Fri, 22 Dec 2017 00:59:36 +0000 http://www.escapeartistes.com/?p=21769 There are a few natural phenomena that truly impress: total eclipses, calving glaciers, avalanches, tornadoes and, yes, erupting volcanoes. Back in November, we were lucky...

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There are a few natural phenomena that truly impress: total eclipses, calving glaciers, avalanches, tornadoes and, yes, erupting volcanoes. Back in November, we were lucky enough to get a front and centre view of Bali’s Mount Agung erupting – complete, for my son who was sleeping on the balcony, with a healthy coating of ash. Frankly, when it’s in action, Bali’s volcano delivers THE BEST views.

Bali's Mount Agung emits an ashcloud: seen from Kubutani, Sidemen, in November 2017.


Provided you follow official guidance, getting a good view of an active volcano in action should not be dangerous. For Agung, Bali’s volcano, as of December 2017, there are two key elements. You should stay out of the danger/evacuation zone, which is clearly marked from the main roads, and you should stay well away from rivers. That’s because, besides ash and steam, the mountain is currently emitting fast-moving mud flows known as lahars or “cold lava”. When they get going, these things can carry boulders that take out bridges, and come in as fast as a flash flood. You have been warned.

If you want to keep an eye on what Agung is up to, not to mention whether it’s even visible, you can visit a webcam here (and check whether it’s safe to travel to Bali here). In the meantime, here’s a few places to get the best views of Mount Agung, Bali’s very own and most sacred volcano:

Bali's Mount Agung erupting seen from Pura Lempuyang by Brian Crawford.

Pura Lempuyang

The picture above is one of the best shots of Agung from Pura Lempuyang I’ve seen (thanks to Brian Crawford for the image: follow him on Insta at @briancrawfordphotography ). The temple is perfectly positioned for the gate to frame the volcano. It’s an easy day trip from Amed, and doable from Ubud and South Bali, but I’m not aware of any nice places to stay in the immediate vicinity.

Ubud

Now is a lovely time to visit Ubud, with the streets devoid of traffic and coach parties, even if the transport touts are getting rather desperate: so why not use the volcano as your excuse? There are all sorts of good positions to view Agung from around town, but both Indus Restaurant and the vegetarian Elephant Café offer lovely views across the gorge, not to mention stylish spaces and good food. If you wanted to stay over, Taman Indrakila has spectacular volcano views and very pretty bungalows, although the bathrooms let the side down: or check my post on where to stay in Ubud.
Check for discounts at Taman Indrakila on Agoda (or visit their website)

Bali's Mount Agung seen from Kubutani, Sidemen, before the eruption of November 2017.

Sidemen

Sidemen is one of my absolute favourite places on Bali: exactly how the island is supposed to be, and Ubud used to be. Tiers of rice terraces pour down into a sweeping valley, with Agung dominating the skyline: patches of jungle stop it all looking too tame. The pic above is the view from one of the terraces at Kubutani, a trio of great value, quirky and characterful little villas, just before the eruption of November 2017. If you prefer the comfort of a hotel, Teras Bali is an excellent choice, with classically Balinese rooms, a gorgeous little pool and a solid Western-Indonesian menu.
Visit Kubutani’s website
Book Teras Bali at a discount on Agoda.com (or visit their website)

Senggigi

I’m far from a fan of mainland Lombok’s tourist capital, Senggigi: think Sanur, with less charisma. However, if you’re exploring the more interesting parts of Lombok and fancy some beachfront cocktails with sunset views of an erupting volcano across the ocean, then swing by Qunci Villas. The cocktails are excellent; the rooms are stylish and solid value; and I’ve heard good reports of the food as well.
Check for discounts on Qunci Villas at Agoda (or visit their website)

View from Mahagiri, Rendang, with the volcano obscured by cloud.

Rendang

The unremarkable little town of Rendang is where the volcanologists who monitor Agung are based, and it’s command central for a whole range of volcano activities. The view from Mahagiri is absolutely spectacular, with a patchwork of rice terraces that are beautiful even on a cloudy day. When Agung appears behind them, they’re jaw-on-the-floor stuff: even if it’s not erupting. You can stay here, come for their (pretty average) buffet lunch, or simply enjoy a drink with an amazing view.
Check for discounts at Mahagiri on Agoda.com (or visit their website)

Amed

While Agung is at level 4, I would not recommend staying in Tulamben. The Amed-Lipah strip of this diving area is safe, however, although there is the potential for road blockages in the event of an explosive eruption. If you stay here, you can enjoy spectacular volcano views and, sadly for the local dive industry, have dive sites including the world-class USAT Liberty wreck pretty much to yourself: now is a great time to learn to dive in Amed. Bali Villa Coral has two lovely, two-storey bungalows right on a shallow beach in Jemeluk; Coral View Villas has very stylish bungalows, many with freestanding baths, in Lipah, close to the excellent EuroDive.
Check for discounts at Coral View Villas on Agoda (or visit their website)
Check for discounts at Bali Villa Coral on Agoda (or visit their website)

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17 Ways to Survive Flying Long-Haul http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/12/17/17-ways-survive-flying-long-haul/ Sun, 17 Dec 2017 02:24:40 +0000 http://www.escapeartistes.com/?p=21752 I’ve been doing more long-haul flying than I’d like to recently. And, along the way, I’ve learned a few things. So here’s 17 tips to...

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I’ve been doing more long-haul flying than I’d like to recently. And, along the way, I’ve learned a few things. So here’s 17 tips to help you survive flying long-haul.

Plan Flights Around Jetlag

Realistically, if you’re crossing four or more time zones, you’re likely to end up with some degree of jetlag. Jetlag Rooster is an excellent site that enables you to minimise jetlag: you can choose whether to start adjusting before you fly or after you fly. If you’re flying long-haul then picking up a connection, check Jetlag Rooster beforehand: that way you can choose a connection at a time that will help reduce jetlag, rather than one which will confuse your body even more.

Organise Your Hand Baggage Properly

Changing climates? Bring a bag for your winter gear: that will stay stashed until you change into (or out of) it towards the end of your flight. Whether your main bag is a laptop bag, a backpack or a tote, consider having a subsidiary bag inside it with the bare essentials: small container or moisturiser, lip balm, toothbrush, toothpaste, phone, book or Kindle, eye mask and a water bottle. (Some also like a pair of socks.)

Aircraft between skyscrapers in black and white.

Check In Online

I’m always surprised how many people don’t do this. It takes no time at all and it means you can select a seat. At most airports, it slashes queuing time as well. Be sure you hit the bag drop counter with passport and/or boarding pass in hand.

Don’t Hold Up the Security Line

As you queue for security, or ideally before you set out for the airport, establish what you will need to remove/take out/encase in clear plastic bags. Start removing belts, winter coats and winter boots before you hit the front of the line; aim to get to the front with laptop and liquids ready to go. If it takes time to reassemble yourself once you’re through security, grab all your gear off the conveyor belt and do your rearranging at a table so you don’t hold up the line. Clearing empty plastic boxes from the conveyor belt is an act of social good.

Use Lounges

If you’ve got a longer layover in any but the VERY nicest airport, airport lounges more than justify the expense. You’ll have fast wifi, decent food and drink, and a comfortable place to sit and unwind that doesn’t feel like a cattle conveyor: most also have showers!!!

Choose Your Seat Wisely

Research shows the safest place to be in the (highly unlikely) event of a plane crash is near an exit and towards the back of the plane. Exit seats have more legroom – although they’re only accessible to able-bodied adults – while aisle seats mean you can get up and do whatever ablutions you need without waking someone who’s trying to sleep. Note that the last row of seats on a plane sometimes does not recline fully.

Embrace the Absence of Wifi

I’ve never yet been on a plane where the wifi works. Treat its effective absence as an opportunity to catch up on things you’ve neglected, whether that’s books, movies, work that requires concentration but no internet, or meditation.

Colour chart to show whether you're dehydrated by the colour of your pee.

Stay Hydrated

If you drink only when the trolley comes round, you’re going to end the flight dehydrated, which makes jetlag worse. Bring a water bottle with you onto the plane and ask the crew to fill it up: use moisturiser and lip balm to keep your skin hydrated too.

But Don’t Be Puritanical About It

While getting hammered on a plane is a recipe for all sorts of disasters, if it takes a couple of G&Ts and a bit of wine to get you off to sleep when you need to sleep, so be it; likewise, if you need caffeine to wake you up, roll with it. A good rule of thumb when flying is to drink double the volume of water that you do of alcohol as you’re drinking it, and at least as much water as you do a caffeinated drink – obviously, keep hydrating after that.

Dress for Comfort and Climate

Wear an outfit that can easily be layered or de-layered if you’re crossing weather zones, and pack climate-appropriate footwear in hand baggage. If there is ANY chance of you having to deboard by bus in a cold climate, ensure you have all the layers you need for a shivering walk across the tarmac packed in your cold-weather clothes bag.

Try and Sleep When the Lights Are Off

Normally, the lights go off on a plane at a time that’s a reasonable mid-point between the time zone you’re in and the time zone you’re headed to – well, once the meals have been done, that is. Set your watch to arrival time as soon as you board, calculate when you need to wake up based on what time you want to go to sleep in the arrival time zone, set an alarm and stick to it. Eye masks really do help.

Have a Morning Ritual

Once you’re awake, start the day. Switch your light on, if there’s no natural light on the plane. Brush your teeth (I prefer my own toothbrush and toothpaste to those awful things from the care kit), wash your face, change however many clothes you want to change, and grab a coffee from the galley.

Bring Things for Your Kids to Do

Travelling long-haul with small children? Bring distraction activities: fully-charged devices, colouring pens and books, stickers, stories, favourite soft toys, the works. Talk to them and explain what’s going on, whether that’s doing up the seatbelt or waiting for the meals to come round. Even if they don’t understand why they’re being caged for takeoff now, they might next time they fly.

Bring Snacks for Your Kids

You can’t expect small kids to wait for airline meals – or, necessarily, to want to eat airline meals. Bring whatever your comfort zone of snack is, be that carrot sticks and milk or biscuits and orange squash: a hungry child is, generally, a noisy child. Do also bring something – be it a dummy or sweets – for young children to suck on takeoff and landing.

Help Out with Other People’s Kids

Anyone travelling long-haul with small children deserves sympathy, not opprobrium – especially if they’re travelling solo. If you’ve got some child-wrangling experience and the toddler next to you is losing their shit, helping entertain them – or simply holding stuff while the parent wrestles with them – will help everyone to get more sleep.

Be Nice to Cabin Crew

This should go without saying, but it’s amazing how many people can’t even manage a please and thank you when they’re on a plane. Smile, be polite, ask nicely, and if you’ve sprayed water in the bathroom, mop it up so they don’t have to.

Use the Sun

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Is It Safe to Travel to Bali with the Volcano Erupting? http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/10/28/safe-travel-bali-volcano-threatening-erupt/ http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/10/28/safe-travel-bali-volcano-threatening-erupt/#comments Sat, 28 Oct 2017 11:14:38 +0000 http://www.escapeartistes.com/?p=21698 Last updated on 29 December 2017. In mid-September, Agung, Bali’s sacred volcano, which has effectively been sleeping for the last half century or so, woke...

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Last updated on 29 December 2017.

In mid-September, Agung, Bali’s sacred volcano, which has effectively been sleeping for the last half century or so, woke up. On 22 September, authorities raised its status to the highest alert level, red (or level 4), and began evacuating tens of thousands of locals who lived within 7 to 12 kilometres of the volcano. A range of governments issued travel advisories advising caution and implying that it was not safe to travel to Bali. And everyone on Bali began the process of adapting to life with a volcano that’s a lot more active than we’d thought.

Over the succeeding two months, the mountain rumbled and juddered, emitting all sorts of sinister signals to the volcanologists monitoring it, yet, perhaps intimidated by the global attention, failed to erupt. Not long after the alert status returned to amber (level 3), when evacuees outside the 6-8km range had only just returned to their homes, Agung sprang into action on 21 November with a small eruption. On the evening of 25 November, a second, larger eruption ejected a significant ash cloud, causing some airlines, particularly JetStar, to cancel flights as a precaution. By the morning of 26 November the ash cloud reached at least 6,000 metres (Agung is over 3,000 metres high). On 27 November, the wind changed and the airport closed.

On 29 November, Bali airport reopened at 3pm, after the wind changed, despite a planned closure until 7am on 30 November. While the volcano alert status has returned to level 4 (danger), with evacuation zones in place at 8-10km from the volcano, the aviation code is now at orange, although for how long remains to be seen. Agung has been coughing quite a bit through December, but the wind direction has been favourable so this has not impacted either Bali or Lombok airports. Do note that Agung remains highly active and most consider it will do quite a lot more before it’s over: despite considerable pressure, the volcanologists consider it high risk.

As of 29 December, both Bali and Lombok airport were open for business, with domestic and international flights running pretty much as normal. The volcano remains at level 4, the highest available alert status, and the aviation code remains at level 3, amber: the government has invented a Bali status of level 2, but, as Rio Helmi explains, that’s meaningless PR nonsense. Australian tourist numbers seem to be close to normal, most mainland Chinese airlines have stopped flights until at least 31 January, and domestic visits are up.

If you have a flexible schedule, and are travelling on an Asian airline, now is a good time to visit Bali, with some excellent deals available. You should, however, plan for the possibility of travel disruption.

Do note that, as the gif below from Indonesia’s excellent Magma website shows, Agung is just one of many volcanoes across the archipelago: the nation’s volcanologists are really good at their jobs and provided you follow official guidance you should not be in danger. (You can take a look at the volcano from all sorts of places, just please don’t go into the evacuated zones.)

Gif of earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides happening across Indonesia.

Does the eruption mean it’s no longer safe to travel to Bali? No. But you need to be aware of the possibility of airport closures, flight changes and travel delays. Agung is a famously unpredictable volcano and it could build to a large explosion over days, weeks, or months or, conceivably, go back to sleep without an explosion: it is impossible, even for volcanologists on the mountain with all available data at their fingertips, to predict what it is going to do. (Do check Stuart McDonald’s handy travel guide, volcanologist Janine Krippner’s advice and this great feed of all the volcano data you could want.)

Will Agung have a large eruption? Nobody knows. Expert opinion seems to be that it’s likely that the recent small ash eruptions will be followed by something larger and more explosive, which also matches anecdotal recollections of the last big eruption – but this is not a predictable volcano. Agung is one of only seven volcanoes in the world to have consistently hit 5 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (the volcano Richter Scale), which is why experts remain concerned.

How long will this phase of activity go on for? Again, nobody knows. Agung’s last hissy fit, in 1963-1964, interspersed moments of drama with long periods of quiet, and included two very large explosive eruptions. At the moment, about all it’s fair to say is that it’s unlikely these ash clouds will be the last of it – although, of course, they could be. Agung has been setting personal bests on all forms of instrument readings since September, and my personal and entirely unscientific opinion is that it’s going to wait until everyone’s forgotten about it and then do something spectacular.

You may well have seen on social media, thanks to the “I am in Bali now” campaign, that there are tourists in Bali, who are perfectly safe and having a great time. With lower visitor numbers, there are some excellent deals on accommodation (Agoda has some great offers right now), and not only in areas like Ubud that are closer to Agung. You’ll also be helping the island’s economy and so, indirectly, the volcano refugees, so there is an awful lot to be said for visiting now.

If you’re wondering whether to travel to Bali, here’s what to consider:

Relief map of Bali showing Agung and Batur.

1: Where Will You Be in Relation to the Volcano Danger Zones?

Above is a map showing Mount Agung and Bali’s best known tourist areas. Below is a map showing the areas of Bali that were considered unsafe in the event of an eruption like that of 1963 (the current evacuations reflect a slightly smaller area of concern, with a radius of 8-10km). The circles indicate the risk of falling particles of different sizes; the yellow flow patterns indicate the risk from mudflows known as lahars, while the pink flows represent lava and pyroclastic flows.

Map of the zones considered at risk from the Bali volcano.

As you can see, essentially, unless you’re within 15km of the volcano, or in a valley that starts near the top of the volcano, it’s safe to travel to that bit of Bali. Ubud is 30km from Agung; Canggu is about 60km; Kuta is about 70km; the Bukit peninsula is even further.

Out of the typical tourist destinations, Tulamben, for diving, is unsafe: I would be cautious about visiting Amed for fear of road blockages, although with such great diving AND volcano views, it’s highly tempting. Sidemen and Candidasa are considered safe: Sidemen also offers incredible views if Agung’s next act is more photogenic than apocalyptic. If climbing Agung or diving Tulamben are must-dos for you in Bali, however, now is probably not the time to book a holiday, although many tourists are finding Agung makes an amazing selfie backdrop. (See this post for where to get the best views of the volcano.)

2: How Key Is It That You Get Back to Work on Time?

An Agung eruption does not necessarily mean airport closures: that’s dependent on whether Agung throws up ash, how much ash it throws up, how high that ash rises, and what direction the wind is blowing. (You can read my guide on what to do if a volcano cancels your flight here.) There have been ashclouds through most of December, in fact, but the wind is blowing away from the airport and, if the weather follows standard seasonal patterns, may continue to do so until march.

Generally speaking, if Denpasar airport is closed when you need to travel, you will be able to get in and out by travelling to Banyuwangi, Surabaya or Malang on Java, or Praya on Lombok, depending on which of those airports are still open, but that will take time to organise, while you can expect flight prices to soar. During the last closure, the airport arranged buses from domestic arrivals to Surabaya aiport for 300,000 IDR: the journey takes at least 12 hours, and I would allow 18. (Private cars typically cost around 2,500,000 IDR for a 7-seat Avanza.)

Do, however, note that the air traffic control and ground staff at Ngurah Rai played an absolute blinder during the recent closures and, let’s face it, there are worse places to be stuck than Bali!

So: if you’re a surgeon, a fertility doctor, a head teacher, self-employed in a sector where you need to be physically present to earn money or likely to be fired if you don’t come back to work on time, then I’d either not visit or plan travel to Bali through an airport that can be reached by various different connections, and leave at least a day in hand to reach that airport. If you’re in a normal job, let alone a job that allows you to work from home, then, hell, I’d take the risk.

3: Do You Have Serious Respiratory Problems?

IF Agung has a large eruption, and IF the winds are blowing the wrong way, volcanic ash COULD impact the tourist areas. It’s nasty stuff and, while both adults and children can protect themselves with N95-rated face masks, if you’re struggling with serious respiratory issues it makes sense to holiday somewhere that doesn’t have an erupting volcano.

4: Are You Travelling on a Shoestring?

World Nomads have been very upfront about this (you can read their volcano guidance here), but not all travel insurers have. Most travel insurers will not cover you for volcano-related cancellations or costs if you booked your holiday or bought your insurance between 20 September and 29 October or after 21 November, because the volcano was considered a known risk at those times – the equivalent of a pre-existing condition for medical insurance. However, World Nomads (and most other insurance) will still be usable for other non-volcano issues, such as medical expenses in the event of accidents, so don’t travel uninsured. (As always, do check the Ts & Cs before you buy.)

5: Will You Get Your Money Back?

Most airlines won’t refund flights unless they cancel them themselves or the airport closes – so, while JetStar did offer alternative destinations during the last bout of flight disruption, you’re unlikely to get your money back.

According to aviation guru Gerry Soejatman, Indonesian aviation law only covers domestic flights and specifically excludes volcanic ash and airport closures from its limited consumer protection so your airline will be within its rights to refuse you so much as a bottle of water.

If you’re planning long-haul travel now, consider routing through Jakarta: there is spare capacity to reach Jakarta from all of the nearby airports if Bali airport closes, and you may even get enough warning to hop on a domestic flight before it shuts. It makes for a longer journey but ensures you won’t miss expensive international connections.

As you can see, for most people, travel to Bali is safe – even with the eruption ongoing.

Here’s some suggestions for those planning Bali travel:

The sun makes its first appearance, midway up Mount Batur, Bali.

Fly with an Asian Airline

Australian carriers are notorious for cancelling flights when volcanoes go off around Bali, primarily because they don’t have the ground staff at nearby airports or even in Bali to handle stranded passengers and they don’t fly to enough Indonesian airports to be able to easily reroute the plane. Despite its PR nonsense about “rescue flights” and “safety”, JetStar has not done well by its stranded passengers to date, and its motivations are economic.

Leave Time Around Connecting Flights

If you’re flying to Europe or the US through regional hubs like Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, allow yourself at least a day’s layover for your return flight. That means that IF the airport is closed the day you’re due to fly out, you can hop on a boat to Lombok, arrange a brutal bus ride or expensive car trip to Surabaya, or head to Banyuwangi to fly to Jakarta, and still make your connecting flight. Also consider booking important connections out of Jakarta, if that’s practicable: it widens your choices of non-Bali airports in the event of crisis. Do note that you can follow the projected path of any ash cloud using graphic projections from Darwin VAAC’s volcanic ash advisory. So, for example, if your flight home is from Jakarta in two days’ time and an ash cloud starts moving towards Bali airport, you might want to pick up a domestic flight immediately: there are loads.

Bring N-95 Masks

Will there be ashfall of a level that could endanger health where you are in Bali while you’re there? Probably not. But it’s worth being prepared with N-95 masks just in case. When you’re leaving, donate them to the evacuees, who really need them: pay a Gojek motorbike taxi to deliver them to Solemen Indonesia’s dropoff centres.

And, whew! I think that’s it! If you’ve got any questions I haven’t answered here, feel free to post them in the comments: if I can’t answer them myself, I’ll probably know someone who can.

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Five Amazing Las Vegas Road Trips http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/09/26/five-amazing-las-vegas-road-trips/ http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/09/26/five-amazing-las-vegas-road-trips/#comments Tue, 26 Sep 2017 04:11:45 +0000 http://www.escapeartistes.com/?p=21665 I believe it was Paris Hilton who said that Vegas gets old after 48 hours. And, it’s true: while off-strip Vegas has its charms, there’s...

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I believe it was Paris Hilton who said that Vegas gets old after 48 hours. And, it’s true: while off-strip Vegas has its charms, there’s only so long you can wander through strip-lit casinos and nightclubs surrounded by conferenceers. A great solution is to hire a car in Vegas and take a few road trips – because, short or long, the casino capital of the world has you covered.

The Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.

Hoover Dam

One of the great engineering feats of the 20th century, the Hoover Dam is under an hour’s drive from most parts of Vegas – and, no, you don’t need a helicopter tour to see it. When it was completed in 1935, it was the tallest dam in the world, at 221 metres high: at its maximum, Lake Mead, the reservoir it created, holds over 32 cubic kilometres of water.

View of Death Valley National Park.

Death Valley

Famous as the home of the highest recorded air temperature on earth – the heat peaked at 56.7°C in July 1913 – Death Valley National Park is a little over two hours’ drive from Vegas. It’s an absolute must-visit after the rare rains, when wildflowers spring up as if from nowhere, and, amazingly, it’s home to over 400 species of wildlife.

Red rock canyons and river at Zion National Park.

Zion National Park

A slightly longer road trip from Vegas, but one well worth making, takes you over the Utah border and into Zion National Park, scored by rugged, red rock canyons: do note that it’s one of America’s most popular national parks, so best visited outside weekends. Consider renting a bicycle and taking a trip along its user-friendly tracks.

The Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles

A dream road trip for many Europeans, you can drive Vegas to LA in barely four hours. But it’s better to make a leisurely trip of it, and see spots like Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs and the Outdoor Desert Art Museum. Jetsetter Magazine has a great three-night, four-day itinerary.

Lightening strikes over the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon

An absolute must-visit if you’re not American and in the Vegas area is the Grand Canyon. Yes, it’s a fair old drive – minimum four hours, depending on where you’re trying to reach – but it’s deservedly one of the wonders of the world. Grand Canyon West, which includes the Skywalk glass bridge, is the easiest to reach from Vegas: you’ll want to buy tickets for the Skywalk in advance.


Image credits: Hoover Dam by Mobilus in Mobili, Death Valley National Park by dicau58, Zion National Park by Matt Machin, Disney Concert Hall Los Angeles by Scott Taylor and Lightning in the Canyon courtesy of US Department of the Interior, all on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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Rash: An Eminently Readable Bali Memoir http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/09/14/rash-eminently-readable-bali-memoir/ http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/09/14/rash-eminently-readable-bali-memoir/#comments Thu, 14 Sep 2017 06:33:06 +0000 http://www.escapeartistes.com/?p=21655 Who hasn’t fantasised about chucking in the rat race to live the dream on a tropical island? Well, writer Lisa Kusel, whose memoir Rash came...

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Who hasn’t fantasised about chucking in the rat race to live the dream on a tropical island? Well, writer Lisa Kusel, whose memoir Rash came out this summer, talked her teacher husband and young daughter into doing exactly that. In 2008, the trio abandoned a comfortable life in Sierra Nevada, California for a house with no walls above the soon-to-open Green School – a decision that almost destroyed Kusel’s marriage.

From their first arrival, onto a building site and a house with no walls but a myriad bugs, through to revelations about the teacher left unable to work by Green School’s groundbreaking bamboo design – and rapidly disposed of with three months’ salary, $600 and health insurance for a year – it’s a story that should be fascinating to anyone who’s ever worked in education and anyone new to Asia who’s contemplating Bali. And, best of all, Kusel is actually a writer, and it shows.

There’s a lot to love in this book. From the standoff between the teacher and the designer over whether desks for small children should have sharp corners to the “vortex”, a green electricity set-up that featured heavily in the school’s PR but was attached to neither generator nor turbine, to the sheer discomfort of living in an open house that’s also an attraction for visiting tour groups, it’s pretty damn eye-opening about what’s arguably the most heavily marketed school in the world.

There are occasions when Kusel’s naivety might have old Asia hands climbing the walls: surely inconveniences such as bug bites, poor road safety and second-hand smoke are to be expected in the developing world? And there are elements of her narrative which are specific to the sheer insanity of a brand new school on Bali – not to mention one opposite a Hindu cemetery where open cremations are held. But others will have you nodding along, and, if you’re plotting a year on Bali – let alone contemplating teaching at Green School – her book is an absolute must-read.


Rash, published by WiDo publishing, is available on Amazon Kindle for $6.17. Or you can buy it on BookDepository.com for $20.84, including free worldwide shipping to countries all over the world, including Indonesia (not to mention Aruba, Madagascar, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands).

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“No Selfie” Signs Are a Thing Now http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/07/13/no-selfie-signs-thing-now/ Wed, 12 Jul 2017 16:02:17 +0000 http://www.escapeartistes.com/?p=21612 Indonesia as a nation is not known for its vigorous approach to health and safety. Over years exploring the country, I’ve seen motorbikes carry five...

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Indonesia as a nation is not known for its vigorous approach to health and safety. Over years exploring the country, I’ve seen motorbikes carry five people (plus baggage), miners head underground barefoot, more helmetless activities than you can shake a stick at, and precisely one speed limit sign (on a toll road).

I was, therefore, a little surprised to see this handy sign atop Broken Bay, a truly dramatic circular sea-cliff in Nusa Penida:

A sign at Broken Bay, Nusa Penida, Indonesia, warns against taking selfies.

There was a sibling sign at the attraction next door, Angel’s Billabong, a series of natural infinity pools which step down a little gorge towards the ocean. One person was injured and one killed here after a wave hit a group while taking a “wefie” in March, and swept two out to sea. The same thing happened in June last year to a bride, her brand new husband and her 8-year-old sister: both the woman and the little girl drowned.

So, I have to say, the selfie sign makes sense. Angel’s Billabong looks deceptively safe in most sea conditions. It’s not obvious that freak waves could come up. And you can’t expect tourists to know that the currents in the ocean themselves are horrific and that once you’re out there you’re essentially reliant on fishermen and dive boats.

I was less sure about the selfie sign at Broken Bay (although once you’ve printed one, you might as well put up a second one to be sure). Are there really people who don’t look behind them when taking selfies atop a 30-odd-metre cliff?

Apparently so. 25% of 127 recorded selfie deaths worldwide (a statistic we can safely assume is only the tip of a veritable iceberg of stupidity) take place at dangerous heights, such as atop cliffs, mountains or rooftops. Well over half the world’s recorded selfie deaths happened in India, where Mumbai has enforced no-selfie zones since 2016.

The Russians are not far behind. Their police issued a brochure warning of the dangers of selfies on trains, railway lines, water and rooftops, with weapons and/or dangerous animals, or, of course, while holding power cables. (You can insert your own “death in custody” joke here.)

In less charitable times, death by taking a selfie with charging bulls, a loaded gun, a live grenade or an oncoming train might have been written off, like the guys who posed for selfies with a wild elephant, simply as candidates for the Darwin Awards. Today, it seems, they merit their own signs.

As a development, I’m not entirely sure about this. I find it irritating enough when beautiful views are spoiled with heart-shaped frames or love-seats or stairs to heaven for Instagrammers – this may be an Indonesian problem, or it may be more global (let me know if this is a thing where you are!). But if every attractive – yet potentially lethal – vista is to be visually polluted with signs warning folk not to fall off, I’d really rather travel back to the era when self-portraits meant balancing a camera on a rock and setting the self-timer.

And, yes, I know I’m getting old.

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Seven Reasons to Visit Nusa Penida http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/06/30/seven-reasons-visit-nusa-penida/ Thu, 29 Jun 2017 16:32:59 +0000 http://www.escapeartistes.com/?p=21596 Remiss, I know, but after over three years living on Bali – and at least five years thinking about getting to Nusa Penida – I...

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Sunset over the coast of Nusa Penida, Bali.
Remiss, I know, but after over three years living on Bali – and at least five years thinking about getting to Nusa Penida – I finally made it. One of a triad of islands between Bali and Lombok, Nusa Penida is almost embarrassingly easy to reach by a selection of speedboats from Sanur and Kusamba (near Padangbai), and the cliché says it’s the Bali that time forgot. I’m going back in August, and here’s seven good reasons why you should too.

Giant mola mola fish

Dramatic Diving

The cool waters and fierce currents that surge around Penida (and the dinky neighbouring islets of Lembongan and Ceningan) make for some epic diving (one reason I’ll be back in August). Mantas are commonplace; during the season, the giant oceanic sunfish, or mola mola, frequents a range of sites; and there’s stuff to see at scales from nudibranch and pygmy seahorse to one-tonne mola mola. (People die at some of the sites around here, so pick your dive centre carefully: Blue Corner, with outlets on Lembongan and Penida, and World Diving are experienced and safe.)

Leisurely Lifestyle

The moment you step off the boat in Penida, time slows down – and, no, there’s not even a sea of hotel touts bombarding you. The pace of life is slow, the roads are empty, and bedtime is early: it’s the perfect counterpoint to the chaos of Ubud or South Bali. (So laid back is Penida, in fact, that island-wide power cuts are not unknown.)

Pantai Atuh beach, Nusa Penida.

Spectacular Beaches

Don’t be put off by the seaweed farming on some of the shallower bays. Nusa Penida is rich with stunning beaches – and, with the signature exception of Crystal Bay, almost all of them are hardly visited. Pantai Atuh is a perfect curve of golden sand, reached from towering promontories, with a stunning natural arch offshore. Pantai Kelingking, a no-no for anyone with vertigo, is a crescent framed by razor-sharp hills. And there’s at least two pristine white sand beaches that can be reached on foot from Crystal Bay.

Broken Bay, Nusa Penida

Rocks to Reckon With

Geologically, Nusa Penida is uniquely blessed. The staggering coastline is more like a hybrid of Britain’s Jurassic Coast and Greece’s Zakynthos than anything you’d associate with Indonesia. There’s Broken Bay, a flawless circle eroded from the rocks complete with natural bridge to let the ocean rush through; there’s Angel’s Billabong, a deceptively tranquil canyon that descends to the sea in tiers of natural swimming holes; and then there’s the beaches….

The Open Road

Nusa Penida’s roads may be narrow – and, in places, not in the best condition – but between the lovely sweeping stretches of coast road, and undulating mountain routes that run along the spines of lush valleys, this is an absolutely wonderful place to be on two wheels. You’ll have the road to yourself much of the time – which doesn’t mean the tarmac gets any softer, so do wear a helmet. (Rental bikes in conditions from dangerous to shabby start from around 60,000 IDR per day: guesthouses can arrange these, or book them at the port.)

The rock temple at Goa Giri Putri

Magic and Ritual

Penida is Bali’s capital of magic, a place where black and white magic intertwine: according to legend, a demon queen married the island’s very first king. The temples, many carved from brilliant white limestone rather than the darker stone favoured on the mainland, and many of them right beside the sea, are stunning. If you see just one, make it Goa Giri Putri, a cave temple accessed through the tiniest hole in the ground. Inside, a natural cathedral extends through seven separate sanctuaries: around full moon and new moon, it’s dense with incense and incredibly atmospheric.

The Gallery

The Gallery is a little social enterprise just outside the town of Ped, which is home not only to the demon queen’s temple but to what passes for a social scene in these there parts. Swing by for vegan-led food, generally made using local organic produce, delicious ginger-hibiscus tea, local crafts including Penida’s very distinctive weaving, locally made soaps, and Mike Appleton, RIP. Until his untimely death in late 2017, he was a fount of information on all things Penida.


Thanks to Tom Bridge for his image, Mola Mola, on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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It’s Official. I Need a US Politics Intervention. http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/05/24/its-official-i-need-a-us-politics-intervention/ http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/05/24/its-official-i-need-a-us-politics-intervention/#comments Wed, 24 May 2017 02:15:02 +0000 http://www.escapeartistes.com/?p=21585 PLEASE NOTE: I am moving my RSS feed to this address: feeds.feedburner.com/travelswithanineyearold/ofRK. If you subscribe by RSS, please update your settings! American politics in 2017...

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American politics in 2017 really is, like herpes, the gift that keeps on giving. And – oh boy! – is it costing the self-employed economy! Back in October, I thought the election was dangerously addictive. But it turns out that was merely an hors d’oeuvre, the taco bowl to your well-done steak with ketchup, if you like.

Donald Trump caricature


There are a few things about the Trump presidency that one could have predicted. Clearly, between the fragrant Ivanka and the walks-on-water Jared, Trump’s White House was always going to run more like a medieval court or an old-fashioned Asian kleptocracy than anything so rule-bound as a twenty-first century democracy: it’s frankly surprising Barron hasn’t yet been tasked with “the cyber”. Obviously, the man behind Trump University and “grab ‘em by the pussy” wasn’t going to play Queensbury Rules.

One could probably have guessed that anyone who believes resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict is no harder than gouging a good price for land for a golf course – and please note that, roughly a decade in, the Lord of the Deal has still failed to remove a single Scottish farmer named Michael Forbes from one of his actual golf courses – was going to be pretty damn incompetent at being president.

It was unnerving, though not surprising, when a few weeks back I was literally checking my phone on waking to see whether nuclear war had broken out with North Korea. (After this week’s world tour, I think we can assume that it’s Iran in the firing line.)

But… RUSSIA?! WTAF RUSSIA?!

***

Let me be clear. It would be more surprising if the Russians, led as they are by a former KGB man and 1980s Bond villain who likes to be pictured topless on a horse, did not have something on Donald Trump than if they did – and it doesn’t need to be anything nearly as colourful as the golden showers. (Remember those from the dim and distant mists of January? That was several centuries ago in Trump years.)

Prior to his ascension to the presidency, Donald Trump was a reality TV show character with a sideline in building skyscrapers adorned with Versailles-esque quantities of gold, marble, oil paintings and other international signifiers of taste – or, more recently, licensing his name for others to construct said understated edifices. He’d driven several businesses into bankruptcy – and those are just his own businesses, not the suppliers he stiffed – screwed so many banks it was almost impossible for him to get credit in the US, and boasted interests in nations as far afield (and famously corrupt) as Azerbaijan and, well, Indonesia.

To state the blindingly obvious, vulgar apartment blocks weighed down with shiny stone and metal are exactly the sort of thing that money gets laundered through; it’s a rare building deal in Baku that goes through without greasing palms. Before we get into the complicated partnerships with loans from Russian banks, dynasties from formerly Soviet states, and former Soviet government officials, one golf writer remembers Eric Trump literally telling him that the Trump Organization was funding its golf courses using Russian money.

Obviously, Trump lies as easily as breathing, so it’s hard to tell whether he’s actually met Putin: some poor researcher at CNN pulled together 80 instances of Trump variously claiming to have met and not to have met the great dictator. But, still, this ongoing Manchurian Candidate saga is endlessly gripping.

Mercifully, I’m not American, so I don’t have to deal with what passes for domestic policy in Trumplandia. I’m not going to find myself dying of cancer because Trump pulled my healthcare to give tax breaks to hedge funders (yes, really). I’m not going to find my marriage negated, my family deported, or myself barred from re-entering a country in which I’m legally resident. In fact, as a white, heterosexual, cis-gender, non-Muslim woman from a Western country, I’d be unlikely to be on the sharp end of much of the most objectionable stuff anyway, at least until the fucker does away with Roe v. Wade. Obviously, what Trump is doing to the environment will screw the whole world royally, but at least we have China to step up to the plate.

That means I’m stuck watching the Trump implosion as a spectator. And it’s mesmerising! Right now, I check the news before my email when I wake up. First we learn that the Russians basically threw the election for Donald Trump. Then we discover that Michael Flynn, the granite-chinned-but-strangely-shifty-looking general, was not only having secret meetings with the Russians but actually under investigation by the FBI for taking undisclosed payments from the Turks AT THE SAME TIME. Then we learn that he had told Trump about this investigation, and still became National Security Adviser, where he made decisions in Turkey’s interest, and it was only once the press got hold of the various warnings about him that Trump fired him.

Then there’s the ungodly spectacle of watching communications professionals lie for Trump, and Trump proceeding to undercut them on Twitter. Poor, beleaguered Sean Spicer was reduced to hiding in the bushes after the great toupee fired the head of the FBI, who was investigating his links to Russia, allegedly because he’d been nasty to Hillary Clinton. (Schadenfreude aficionados may well appreciate this video of Flynn, who has just pled the fifth after failing to negotiate immunity, leading chants of ‘Lock Her Up’ on the grounds that she was a security risk.) Talking head after talking head insisted that the firing had nothing to do with Russia, only for Trump to go into an interview and say it did.

One aspect of the saga I’m especially enjoying is watching the intelligence professionals that Trump once compared to Nazis, not to mention the former FBI Director Trump described as “a nut job”, royally screw the orange bloviator through a series of leaks so epic they’re more waterfall or, indeed, dambuster than golden shower. (Of the famous meeting where Trump not only gave away an Israeli intelligence asset to the Russians, allowed a Russian state photographer access to the Oval Office, but described James Comey as “a nutjob”, one source said, ‘He thinks he’s playing chess when he’s actually playing checkers.’)

And then there’s the royal tour! It appears that our own dear Queen wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about millions of Londoners turning out to chant obscenities at Trump as he rolled down the Mall in a golden carriage, and the state visit has been put off indefinitely. (Who can blame her? At over 90, surely her strongman-wrangling days are over.)

Still, Saudi Arabia, where dissent, like women driving, gay sex, alcohol and witchcraft – hilariously looked after by the same government division as cyber-crime – simply doesn’t happen, was overjoyed to host the Trump, amid, umm, lashings of the sort of gold and chandeliers that would, as the great man remarked when comparing a mural in his gilded penthouse to the Sistine Chapel, “be very much in place in terms of quality” in a Trump Hotel. (Fun fact? Public beheadings, after football matches, are the only form of public entertainment allowed in the famously conservative kingdom.)

There was a lot to love in this state visit. I especially enjoyed darling Ivanka’s fake feminist visit to a business run by a female entrepreneur, one, no doubt, pulled up by her bootstraps just like madam herself, and her pronouncement that the Kingdom was making good progress on women’s rights (Human Rights Watch differs). Then there was the glowing orb, which someone decided would be a good look for King Salman, whose features resemble nothing so much as an especially racist Disney genie, the Egyptian dictator Abdel al-Sisi and Trump to gather around like so many super-villains in a Marvel out-take.

And then there was Israel, with a whopping 30 minutes allocated to Yad Vashem, and an entire three hours devoted to the Palestinian side of the Israel-Palestine conflict Trump hopes to resolve in one fell swoop of the diplomacy for which his Twitter feed is of course, the most salient advertisement. Next up? The Vatican, where an already tired Trump, who travels like the world’s most fractious toddler, will endeavour to diplomatically handle the Pope, with whom he already has beef.

And, meanwhile, stateside, the Russia investigation rolls on. Is there anyone Trump HASN’T asked to call off their investigation? Has Trump himself been bought, or was it just key members of his campaign? And will it, finally, turn into Watergate, as per dear John McCain?

One can only hope. Because, please, pretty please, sweet Jesus please, I’d really like to get some work done.


Caricature by Donkey Hotey on Flickr’s Creative Commons

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I Think We Just Hit Peak Bali http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/03/25/i-think-we-just-hit-peak-bali/ Sat, 25 Mar 2017 11:39:13 +0000 http://www.escapeartistes.com/?p=21526 Our gardener comes from a long, long line of balian, or magical healers. He’s a lovely guy. We know him as Pak Kiko, or “Kiko’s...

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It's hard to see among the mango leaves...Our gardener comes from a long, long line of balian, or magical healers. He’s a lovely guy. We know him as Pak Kiko, or “Kiko’s dad”, after his firstborn daughter, who’s in her early teens. He’s gentle, kind, serene and smiley, and he pops round our place to do the mountains of stuff that need doing in a tropical garden when he’s not too busy with his main job as a chef.

I’m sure Pak Kiko would be an excellent healer, if you shared a belief system with him. Although I understand from Made, who is no longer the housekeeper, having taken an exponentially more lucrative gig in America, that he’s not quite ready to unleash his powers and go full balian as yet.

The reason my abstruse and thoroughly expat-ty domestic arrangements are relevant is that today Pak Kiko saw a snake.

You could say this was an occupational hazard for a gardener in Bali, particularly one who works in a garden beside a river and therefore full of tasty frogs even before you tuck into the fishponds. You might even be correct in this. But to explain the true meaning of the snake, I need to explain the ghosts.

When, as I understood it, a blood sacrifice was required, Made thought I should check with the landlords.

I’ve touched on the ghosts en passant, I believe. We have the normal-for-Bali pair of a good one, in the kitchen, and a bad one, in the garden, a situation that is, I fear, not helped by our position on a river down which the ashes of the dead may sometimes travel.

Neither Zac nor I can see the ghosts. In fact, only Balinese Hindus are aware of them. But our bad one is particularly bad, apparently. As proven – I believe in its entirety – when Pak Kiko dreamed about a ghost lady with a strangling snake in the garden.

The reason our bad ghost is so evil remains TBC. Made at first believed the issue was that our landlords had failed to hold a ceremony to appease the earth goddess before digging holes for the fishponds and the pool. I went so far as to get estimates from a Hindu priest to undo the insult to the goddess, but when, as I understood it, a blood sacrifice was required, Made thought I should check with the landlords.

After agonising and negotiation, the upshot of this thoroughly Indonesian theological conundrum ran roughly as follows…

Our landlords are Christian. He started out as a Balinese Hindu. She’s from Toraja, so has been a Christian of the buffalo-sacrificing variety since birth. So, naturally, they had a Christian ceremony to appease the earth goddess when the pool and ponds were dug. (Being a priest in Indonesia must, one feels, be something of a shock to the system, not least because this is not the sort of problem the travelling missionary expects to encounter in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.)

The Balinese landlord explained they weren’t averse to having a Hindu ceremony on top of the Christian one if that seemed important, but they’d rather not have a blood sacrifice. The Torajan landlady – and Torajans are famously canny businesspeople, due to the fact that they spend most of their lives and income paying for buffalo sacrifices and clan houses so anyone who escapes the village has to be as hardnosed as hell with an Einstein IQ – pointed out that a Christian exorcism is exponentially cheaper than a Hindu one. (All a Christian exorcist needs is a bit of holy water, a bible and some incense, while the cost of the Hindu exorcism included a budget line for a truck to transport the offerings.)

After agonising and negotiation, the upshot of this thoroughly Indonesian theological conundrum ran roughly as follows. Only Hindus can see the ghosts, but the house is Christian, so the ghosts may well be Christian. We should, therefore have the ceremony in the religion that is most important to the household. Since Zac and I, the only non-ghosts resident in the home, do not have a religion and cannot see the ghosts we can’t participate fully in an exorcism either Christian or Hindu. Therefore, we should leave the ghosts to do their thing and get a Christian exorcism as and when we see them.

And so the ghosts removed themselves from my list of things to fix around the house and became a fact of Bali life. They are, unless you’re poor Pak Kiko, rather unobtrusive. Neither Zac nor I have ever registered anything untoward. In fact, it’s for all the world as if they’re not even real.

A large, green snake in a tree didn’t sound good. In fact, it sounded rather like a bamboo viper to me, though I know nothing about snakes.

I think, though I may well be wrong, that many Balinese have been a bit on edge after the earthquake, which comes uncomfortably close to the Nyepi New Year festival. Incense definitely hung heavier in the air than usual the morning after the quake.

So when I returned from school with Zac to see Pak Kiko in the garden staring fixedly into a tree with the long handle of the pool-cleaning net in one hand and a spray bottle of pesticide in the other, I wasn’t unduly concerned.

“How are you?” I asked him in my resolutely rubbish Indonesian.

“There’s a snake,” he said, looking tense, sweaty and grey.

“Oh,” I said, squinting up into the mango and not seeing anything. “What’s it like?”

“Green and big,” he said, frowning.

A large, green snake in a tree didn’t sound good. In fact, it sounded rather like a bamboo viper to me, though I know nothing about snakes. More to the point, Pak Kiko didn’t think it was good either.

“OK,” I said in rubbish Indonesian. “There’s a man who will come and get it.”

Pak Kiko seemed relieved. “Zac,” I yelled through the locked door behind which my spawn appeared to be celebrating the start of the school holidays by sitting beneath a headset definitely not revising for his imminent IGCSEs. “There’s a snake in the garden.”

“OK,” he yelled back, and pulled the blind down.

A tense 40 minutes passed, during which Pak Kiko watched the snake move from different locations in the mango tree into another mango tree, up a palm tree and back again.

I dialled Bali Reptile Rescue, the charity which exists less to protect people from snakes than to protect snakes from people and which helped us out when I found the cobra in my bedroom a while back.

An Indonesian lady answered. I handed the phone to Pak Kiko who described the snake and explained our address, then I explained the address again, then I texted it. (You can live in Bali for decades and still get lost. It’s not an island that’s set up for navigation.)

A tense 40 minutes passed, during which Pak Kiko watched the snake move from different locations in the mango tree into another mango tree, up a palm tree and back again and I, but for a few minutes when I thought a patch of congealed sap was a very small and extremely somnolent serpent, could not see a goddamn thing.

I went out the front to check for reptile rescuers, rang the reptile rescuers, looked up the road for reptile rescuers, rinsed and repeated. Finally, having only got lost once, the cavalry arrived: two Indonesian girls, one wearing flip-flops over socks by way of foot protection, equipped with snake forks and a large white bag. (I suppose this is a step up from the towel traditionally used to protect against rabid animals.)

That’s interesting, I think. Clearly the snake man has found some young local people who share his passion for reptiles and is training them up to continue his good work. Because, believe me, snake-wrangler is not a job that anyone should take without aptitude or at the very least enthusiasm. (And, yes, I know Indonesia is a developing country, but my point still holds.)

Neither of them could see the snake. Pak Kiko pointed it out, then pointed it out again, but it remained elusive. I realised, with a mild sinking feeling, that only one out of four of us had now seen the snake, and that one was the person who had had the dream about the snake lady in the garden. Oh Bali!

“Do you have a ladder?” one of the girls asked, as the three of them stood, hands over foreheads, squinting up into the mango, silhouetted like something from an Eastern Bloc flag-raising sculpture or perhaps an early 80s expressive dance troupe.

Of course we have a ladder! Not a very long ladder, not a very good ladder, and more step-ladder than the sort of telescopic affair that’s really needed to climb our substantial trees, but a ladder nonetheless. At last! I could be useful!

To do anything more would suggest that I’m unreasonably withholding a perfectly good, if rather, umm, shocking, 1990s Chinese factory reject washer-drier from someone who currently does the whole family’s washing by hand as well as working two jobs.

The ladder had moved into the store room because, after the tap came off in my hand the day of the earthquake, flooding the junk area, I had emptied the area of all junk and moved non-junk to the storeroom. Well, apart from the junk which Komang, the helper, or Komang #2, her cousin who was fixing the roof, wanted (and, yes, the roof leaks often, and, yes, there are a lot of Komangs in Bali: in fact, Pak Kiko is also a Komang). They couldn’t, however, take any of it as it wouldn’t fit on a motorbike, so we’re still housing a broken bed, a broken washing machine, and a broken TV.

I am, frankly, concerned about the washing machine as Komang #1 is Made’s cousin, Made has already lost one cousin (quite possibly another Komang) to a badly wired washing machine and I am fond of our Komang. But I have uttered my warnings, if not exactly articulated them, and to do anything more would suggest that I’m unreasonably withholding a perfectly good, if rather, umm, shocking, 1990s Chinese factory reject washer-drier from someone who currently does the whole family’s washing by hand as well as working two jobs to put her son through high school.

This post will answer all your questions, so back to the ladder. Rather than being in the junk corner, this was not only in the storeroom but actually locked in the storeroom. This is because Zac had left his keys behind one day, so I’d left my computer in Zac’s room, locked the two rooms containing anything of value – the storeroom and Zac’s room – and left the windows open so Zac could break in. (At over six foot, skinny and spectacularly supple, he can climb through the most extraordinary openings.)

Of course, because Bali, and because crisis, the storeroom door refused to open. I tried a range of approaches. Despite knowing damn well which one was the storeroom key, I even tried several keys. I pulled the handle a little, pushed the handle a little, yanked the door while pushing the key, pushed the door while retracting and turning the key, for all the world like a queen on his wedding night.

At this point, with three Indonesians still looking for the snake in the garden, and waiting on the ladder, the lock began to come off the door. Sensing a rapid deterioration into farce, I yelled frantically for Zac.

“The screw?” I said. “The screw that has come out of the door handle,” my son said slowly, as if talking to a developmentally delayed child.

“Can you mend the door?” I asked, helplessly. “I need to get the ladder out for the snake people and the door is locked.”

To his credit, Zac inquired neither why the ladder was in the storeroom nor why the storeroom was locked. “Where’s the screw?” he said.

“The screw?” I said.

“The screw that has come out of the door handle,” my son said slowly, as if talking to a developmentally delayed child.

I found it on the floor. “I have a screwdriver,” he said. “Let me have a go.”

Fixing the door handle didn’t make the door any more receptive to the key. “How about you just take the whole thing off?” I asked. “That couldn’t make matters any worse, could it?”

“I don’t think so,” he said.

I ambled off into the garden, where the girls were still looking for the snake and Pak Kiko was still pointing it out. “You have good eyes,” I said amiably, in rubbish Indonesian.

Christ! Taking the lock off, I realised, might make the door unopenable except by taking the thing off its hinges. Further, due to overspending on a weekend’s diving, we were on the verge of breaking into the emergency coin jar and certainly in no position to hire a locksmiths.

I rushed back indoors. Zac was patiently screwing the lock back on. “Yeah, I realised that wouldn’t be a good idea,” he said.

Everyone who works at the property thinks I’m stark staring bonkers because I have long, animated conversations with my computer and appear to spend all day every day frowning, muttering and typing.

Out in the garden, the girls had finally identified the snake, so in came Pak Kiko, with the relieved air of a man who knows people have stopped thinking he’s mad. “The ladder, ma’am,” he said. (Indonesian as a language is hot on terms of address and hugely status-conscious in the way it uses said terms.)

“The door doesn’t want to open!” I exclaimed. “It can’t be unlocked!”

I gave the key one last despairing twist. It turned, smoothly and seamlessly, and the door opened. I’d say it swung, but it graunched and a bit of the facing almost fell off. My point is that it did not behave like a door that has been stuck shut.

I should add, here, that both Pak Kiko and Komang have watched me Skype chatting for the duration they have worked here. It was only after I mentioned to Komang that I was talking to my mother, and pointed to the computer where the voice was coming from, that I think she realised I was not insane. I then made a point of explaining the same thing to Pak Kiko, but I’m not sure he’s entirely got it yet.

I don’t know what they think I do on the computer all day, but they seem to find my habit of talking directly to it quite alarming. (That’s not helped by the fact that, like a lot of self-employed people, I can occasionally mumble when reading things to myself or totaling numbers.)

Which is a long-winded way of saying: everyone who works at the property thinks I’m stark staring bonkers because I have long, animated conversations with my computer and appear to spend all day every day frowning, muttering and typing. The door, perhaps possessed by the kitchen ghost, only served to enhance that perspective.

But apparently we weren’t finished. Oh no. That would be too easy. The ladder had been fetched so the snake needed to be retrieved.

“What snake is it?” I asked, out in the garden, still untarnished by sight of said ophidian.

The girl presented us with our second copy of the reptile rescuers’ handy guide to the snakes of Bali: we’d lost the first. “It’s a vine snake,” she says. “Not dangerous to humans. A pit viper is bigger. This is a thin snake.”

An hour or so in to the saga, I considered this job done, not to mention, the second everyone vacated the property, gin o’clock. “Thank you,” I said. “Would you like a glass of water? Or some tea?”

But apparently we weren’t finished. Oh no. That would be too easy. The ladder had been fetched so the snake needed to be retrieved.

Despite the fact that everyone involved now knew it was harmless and it was, at a minimum, five metres up a goddamn mango tree. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ve crawled through a snowmelt waterfall rather than go too close to the edge of a drop, and at Everest Base Camp muleteers paused entire trains to let me count my way across swaying suspension bridges.

After years of more or less artless pruning, the mango tree in question – we have five – has taken on the shape of an inverted capital ‘L’. I am scared of heights so have endless respect for people, be they window-cleaners or guys who have summitted Everest eight times, who can brave them.

Blimey, I think, as the girl in the shoes shimmies up the ladder and inches her way across the bar of the ‘L’, I couldn’t do that for all the world! Wow.

The chick with the flip-flops hovers below with a large white bag, Pak Kiko keeps his eyes fixed on the snake, and shoe chick pulls out the snake fork and reaches up. Wow! I think. These girls are really showing the snake man a thing or two – he must be super-proud of his new hires.

The second she lets go of the branch, it all falls to pieces. “I”m scared of the snake,” the girl exclaims, in English. “I’m scared!” She looks like she’s going to cry.

Unfortunately, she is now more than her body’s length away from the top of a ladder, so freezing is not an option. Nor is dropping, as she’s more than three metres above the ground.

I recognise the symptoms of someone who’s scared of heights spazzing out, as we acrophobes technically put it. I’ve crawled through a snowmelt waterfall rather than go too close to the edge of a drop, and at Everest Base Camp muleteers paused entire trains to let me count my way across swaying suspension bridges, so I’m thoroughly au fait with THE FEAR. I also identify an absolute clusterfuck in the making.

“ZAC!” I yell, beginning to drag our beanbag loungers into position below the tree so she’s got something to land on if she falls. She could break a limb, I realise. Or even her neck! “ZAC!”

“It’s OK!” I say to her. “Please come down. It’s not a poisonous snake so you don’t need to catch it. The most important thing is that you don’t hurt yourself.”

The lack of venom in the snake and the lack of snake-catching chops of our saviours may be connected. Triage might have identified our household with its puny vine snake as the perfect practice arena for trainees.

As we coax her down from the tree, rather like firemen wrangling a kitten, it dawns on me that, perhaps, the lack of venom in the snake and the lack of snake-catching chops of our saviours may be connected. Triage might have identified our household with its puny vine snake as the perfect practice arena for trainees.

As the girls head off on their motorbike and a visibly relaxed Pak Kiko heads for home, I can’t help but wonder. Will he ever come back?

Has this scenario quelled his fears of the snake lady in the garden by living out the dream with a happy ending? Or is it a sinister precursor of snakes to come that indicates there is more to be worried about further down the line.

I lack the linguistic facility to ask him and I very much doubt he’d tell me anyway. If he doesn’t show after Nyepi, I guess I’ll give Made a ring. But first…. Gin o’clock.

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My Teen Can Literally Sleep Through an Earthquake http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/03/22/my-teen-can-literally-sleep-through-an-earthquake/ http://www.escapeartistes.com/2017/03/22/my-teen-can-literally-sleep-through-an-earthquake/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 13:21:27 +0000 http://www.escapeartistes.com/?p=21509 Earthquakes, like venomous snakes and everything breaking all the time, are one of those Bali facts of life. As with snakes and broken objects, I...

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Earthquakes, like venomous snakes and everything breaking all the time, are one of those Bali facts of life. As with snakes and broken objects, I have yet to be sufficiently au fait to handle them with sang froid. (Isn’t it funny that for all sorts of words to do with calm, from courage to soigné, one has to resort to French?)

This morning, we had a corker. Quite how much of a corker it was, as, for that matter, exactly where it was, remains TBC. The US Geological Society has it at 5.5 and somewhere near Keramas on the east coast; the Indonesian BKMG has it at 6.4 near Uluwatu down south. Anyway, it was what we pro journalists call “too goddamn close to my house for comfort”.

Further, as I visited a real live seismography centre at Krakatau. I’m going with the Indonesians, their 1950s seismographs, their 1990s computers, their proximity and their experience over the Americans and their fancy tech. Plus, it’s a big number.

I was “working”, which is to say on Twitter, when it hit. And hit it did. We get a lot of 5.-something earthquakes here and they’re a pretty ambiguous experience. There’s the odd ripple in the fishpond, a sense that your stomach just shifted a few centimetres sideways and back again, and a general feeling of seasick insecurity and hungover malaise. Nothing, in short, to write home about, which is why I haven’t, although I’m sure Sartre would have done a lovely job of it.

Holy cow, I thought, either that cat that nests up in the roof has really put on weight or someone’s driving a bloody mining vehicle past the house.

This morning’s earthquake started with a bang. Now, I am not sure whether there actually was a bang or I retrospectively invented a bang to rationalise the sensation that an elephant was leaping around in the roof. On balance, I think something heavy probably fell in one of the neighbours’ houses.

Anywise, the elephant jumped on the roof, and the walls began to shake; the windows, which have many panes, took up a gentle percussive tinkling. Holy cow, I thought to myself, being a little slow on the uptake of a morning, either that cat that nests up in the roof has really put on weight or someone’s driving a bloody mining vehicle past the house. The floor began to shake more vigorously. Reality dawned.

Zac, being sixteen, sleeps with his door locked. Being sixteen, he can also sleep through pretty much anything although not, I am pleased to note, his alarm. “Zac!” I yell. “Are you OK?”

Silence. Panic bites. How can anyone sleep through this? The bloody house is flamenco dancing. The windows are its jingling castanets. There are WAVES, not ripples, in the goddamn swimming pool.

If this carries on, I think with sudden dread, the house could come down. And why in god’s name is he not responding?

“ZAC!” I yell, pounding on his door with an open palm. “ZAC! WAKE UP IT’S A FUCKING EARTHQUAKE!”

“Uh?”

“It’s an EARTHQUAKE! We need to GET OUT!!!!”

My spawn emerges, floor still shaking, in his underpants, with the bewildered and rather aggrieved air of someone who just can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

Unfortunately, none of our furniture is designed for hiding under.

And then it clicks. We look around the room. I’m not particularly up to speed on earthquakes but I do know that you’re supposed to get under a table to stop things falling on you and stay away from glass. Unfortunately, none of our furniture is designed for hiding under.

Our beds are solid-frame. The Suharto-era furniture we’ve inherited from our landlords includes an ugly teak table with one central leg below a circular base – better than nothing, but hardly going to help if one of the palm trees or mangoes in the garden comes crashing down (the papaya fell into the pool after a previous earthquake, so I’m aware of the risks). The grotesque and spectacularly uncomfortable teak sofa might fit some of Zac under it, but not me.

And, umm, that’s it. We look at each other and discuss.

“Should we go into the garden?” Zac asks.

“Trees!” I say, although I’m thinking that trees are likely better engineered to cope with earthquakes than the typical Indonesian building, even a single-storey one like ours. “What about hiding in a door frame?” (This is, gentle reader, terrible advice, about as bad as it gets after taking shelter under a chandelier.)

“Hmm…” says Zac, who actually does earthquake drills at school, which consist, I believe, of getting under your desk and covering your head then filing out in an orderly fashion at an appropriate time. “I guess.”

Normal service resumes later, as I go to turn off a dripping tap, the whole thing comes off in my hand, and I have to switch the electricity off at the mains as I cannot find the stopcock.

And with that the shaking eases, the windows stop vibrating, and the pool calms down. It will be a while before the birds, which stopped singing as they do at total eclipses, start up again, and quite a long time before I, personally, stop shaking.

I’m back on Twitter, trying to find out if there’s a tsunami warning and who knows what about the earthquake (answers, no, no one and nothing), when the Bag Lady rings on WhatsApp.

“Yes!” I squeak excitedly, picking up the phone and feeling suddenly soigné. “It WAS an earthquake! It was a REALLY BIG earthquake!” We agree to meet for coffee and a chat. The boy seems spectacularly underwhelmed.

It’s almost a relief when normal service resumes later, as I go to turn off a dripping tap, the whole thing comes away in my hand, and I have to switch the electricity off at the mains as I cannot find the stopcock.

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