A Beer & Oreo kind of day

Five am feels dang early, especially after three days on an epic boat adventure visiting Komodo Dragons and swimming with giant Manta Rays.  I’m exhausted but excited for our next adventure – the Gili Islands.  VWish mini-mini van arrives right at 6:45am to take us to the airport in Labuanbajo on Flores Island.

IMG_2526

Minature VW-like vans are a common vehicle on Flores.

Getting around Indonesia is a bit of a challenge, but Rick has booked everything perfectly – even having paid for our inter-Island flights on Nam and Wing Air at our neighborhood 7-11 in Bangkok.  (Yes, you read that correctly.  No on-line payment available with these tiny airlines so 7-11 handles the payment process.)

IMG_2459

We can pay our bills, buy airline tickets, top up our phone – all at 7-11!

And, because of our early flight we miss our complimentary breakfast, but no problem, we can eat at the airport.

We arrive at Komodo International and get checked through security.  Now breakfast.

 Nothing.  

At all.

In the entire airport. Are you kidding?  An airport without overpriced food?  

But wait.  There’s a coffee shop!  And a nice one at that.  Looks like a Starbuck’s knockoff, all shiny and new.  We’ve got this!  Except that it is their “soft opening”.  Available food consists of one item –  plain white sesame seed buns.  Perhaps this is a McDonald’s knock off because the buns are much like an undressed hamburger bun.

Alright.  I will eat a plain white bun and we will dine on the plane!

And then we wait for our plane.  And wait.  The lady at the counter keeps telling us, “just 15 minutes.” We confer with a group of dreadlocked backpackers and they share horror stories of Indonesian airlines that were as much as 10 hours late.  No reason.  Just because.  So we feel lucky when we board our 8:30am plane at 10:30am.  We feel even luckier when they hand us what appears to be a box lunch!!  And inside?

Water…..and Oreos.

So, I will eat Oreos and we will have a meal once we land in Bali.

Our 30 person prop plane lands in Depensar, Bali  at 11:30am.  Luggage is on the slow boat and by noon Rick is trying to contact the car we hired to take us to our boat.  

No luck, but no problem!  We can be “chill”, right?  We will take a taxi and hope we arrive by 1pm for our scheduled departure to the island of Gili Air.   Since the taxi driver isn’t sure where we need to go, he calls the boat company to get directions and we are on our way.   Luck!  We arrive right at 1pm.  On a pier.  In Bali somewhere.  He points us to the boat company’s shed.  Thanks taxi guy!  So glad he called and confirmed things.

Except we are at the wrong place.  And the driver is gone.  Now what?  Lucky again because a nice guy, Mr. Key, knows a tiny bit of English (that he started learning when he was 7 – from tourists like us) and tells us that yes, this is the right boat company, just the wrong location.  He, with the help of three of his friends, call the boat company and after what sounds like a very complicated phone conversation, and animated discussion with his friends, tells us that another driver is on the way to take us to the correct pier.  It’s now well after 1pm – the time we are scheduled to catch our boat.  So we buy Mr. Key and his three friends a Bintang (local beer) and join them on folding chairs for our liquid lunch and talk about how things have changed in Bali.

IMG_2531

Thank you Mr. Key.  May Karma smile on you!

And, the driver arrives and says, please bring the beers in the car.  Of course.

We drive an hour up the coast and catch the 3pm boat to our final destination, and a much-anticipated meal.  First stop is Gili Trawangan, the noted party island, where 1,000,000 people get off the boat leaving just 4 tourists on board for Gili Air.  Perfect. This is going to be perfect.

Eleven hours after our journey began,  we are here!  The final destination of Gili Air! Funky little island with quirky shops and cafes.  No cars so we flag a horse-drawn cart to take us to our hotel.  What?  You’ve never heard of our hotel?  Closer look at our reservation reveals….we are on the WRONG island.  We are booked for Gili Meno, the smallest and least touristy of the three Gili’s.  People have told us it’s boring and too quiet. This wasn’t our plan.   Now what?

DSCN3612

No cars.  Just these horse and cart rigs to haul you around the islands.

What else?  Sit down at a cute cafe and order another Bintang and some real food and figure out the plan.  What?  We have to get to Gili Meno now?  Last boat leaving at 4:30pm – which is now??  Ok.  Pay, bag the food for take-away, and run to the tiny boat we have chartered because the regular shuttle boat has stopped running for the day.  As the sun is going down our  speedboat races across the choppy channel before the light is completely gone.  

IMG_2534

Top speed to beat the sun.

The boatman lands the boat on the beach with a crash and yells “hurry, hurry” as he literally throws our wheely suitcase onto the sand.  He shoves off and is gone before we have waded out of the water.

And here we are on Gili Meno.  We are alone on the Mangrove lined beach.  We see a guy with a horse and cart and flag him for a ride.  Our bungalow is on the other side of the island.  We pass ladies with goods balanced on their heads and children yelling “hallo” to practice their English.  The Call to Prayer as we trot by the dilapidated Mosque is the only sound beyond the hooves of our pony.  We see an occasional baked brown backpacker, walking to their home stay.

Ten minutes later,  we arrive at our beach bungalow, unload our things and look around.  Jungle meets the beach.  Paradise.  We unpack our “take-away” meal and have another Bintang as we watch the sun set on this unforgettable day.

IMG_2567

Not such a bad view for dinner.

Advertisements

Sour Spicy Yummy

“What are ya eating, John?” I called down the hall at school.  John, 11, turns around and smiles. He’s holding a snack package with a kid friendly design and Thai writing. “It’s my favorite Miss Melissa!  Do you want some?” I walk closer.  It looks interesting. Long brownish strips on sticks.  They look a little like beef jerky. “What is it?” I ask as I reach out my hand to accept his invitation to share.  He says something in Thai and I smile innocently.  Then I take a bite.  Fish.  Dried fish.  Salty, crunchy and VERY fishy.

fish-sticks

Salty Fish Snack. Thanks John!

One of the things that you will notice when you come to Thailand is that while people are generally smaller than Westerners in overall stature, they also tend to be much more trim.  Both Rick and I lost weight almost immediately after we arrived. Literally.  Within about a month, I lost almost 10 lbs and Rick lost 20.  And, it’s not like we were dieting or doing anything with an intention of weight loss. After years at a certain size, it was weird to move down a notch and stay there.  Because of this, I’ve actually done some unscientific research on the subject.  And after 7 months here, I’ve got a few ideas.  

More appears to be better. You can get food EVERYWHERE. Food stalls cover almost every square inch of unclaimed space on the streets.  Grilled pork, chicken and shrimp.  Whole grilled and salted fish “pops”.  Fruit cups with watermelon, mango and papaya. Fresh coconut hacked open for a creamy drink.  Little sit-downs with spicy salad or hot noodle soup.  Scooters with grills attached like a side car that drive down the street.  Stuck in traffic?  No problem.  A vendor will sell you little snack bags while you wait in grid-lock.  Kind of like a drive-in on the freeway.  A while back when we went to the beach on a long weekend, I met a mom of three young children.  I said something about bringing snacks to the beach since kids are hungry all the time.  She gave me a puzzled look and said, “why do I need to bring snacks?  There is food everywhere!” And, so her kids snacked on grilled meat, fruit and little cups of soup.

Eating all the time seems to help.  I get to school every morning around 6:30am and the eating has begun.  We have about 15 food vendors in our school canteen.  The variety is awesome:  Korean, Thai, Western, Noodle Shop, fruit smoothies and little pancake treats.  My friend, John, is there every morning and always has rice (molded in the shape of a teddy bear) with a piece of grilled salmon and a seaweed strip.  I grab a smoothie and a banana even though I had a yogurt with granola at home. We have a milk break at 9:15am and lunch at 12:10pm. Both offer food first and when you are finished, recess.  For students in grade 2 through grade 12, children select and monitor their own food.  The preschoolers and kindergarteners  get morning snack, lunch and a snack right after nap time.  These are prepared and delivered to the classrooms.  They get super cute kitty jello mold treats or little moon cakes or something else in a “just right” size for snack.  Lunch for the “littles” is traditional Thai. Grilled chicken and rice is the Thai version of “nuggets and fries.” And then there is sticky rice.  Ah, sticky rice.  Available everywhere in little Nona leaf packets or steamed right inside a bamboo shoot.  Flavored with sweet fruit bits, mango, or of course, fish. Eaten with your hands.  Very good and very sticky!  Perfect kid food.

Fresh and fast.  People are constantly shopping for food.  Whether you are at a street market, or at Tesco Lotus (a super market chain) people shop for fresh food often.  Buying fresh vegetables, fruit and meats occur several times per week. Very few homes have an oven-just a cooktop.  So food is prepared quickly and in small, one meal batches.  Soup just takes about 15 minutes as well as about every stir fry.  Making a chili paste does takes longer but this is made ahead to be used in several meals.  Or, you can buy homemade paste at the market for less than a dollar.  Compared to the shoulder to shoulder crowd in the produce and meat sections at the supermarket, the aisles with canned and processed foods feel like a ghost town.  Quality and freshness matter.

Flavors.  Salty, spicy, savory, sweet. I’ve actually come to except a surprise when I bite into something.  And when I’m not surprised, I get a little annoyed.  “This has no flavor!  Did I get the ‘farang’ version because I’m an obvious Westerner? Don’t they know I have a finely tuned palate after half a year in Thailand?  Where are the super hot bird’s eye peppers?  Where are those bitter green things that look like giant peas but are definitely NOT peas?  I want my SALTY fish!” Food becomes a bit of an adventure – an experience.  My 4th grade friend,Patti, said it best in a poem she wrote for school.  

Som Tum

Sour, Spicy, Yummy

Noodles put in the mortal and with the pestle chop chop chop!

Sour, Spicy, Yummy

Then the Papaya, mmm!  Now is put.

Now the lemon, delicious it will be!

It will be the best Som Tum ever.

Sour, Spicy, Yummy

After that, the chili.

I hope it tastes fabulous for me and my family to eat.

Sour ,Spicy, Yummy

Bam.