As John mentioned, many tears were shed as we said goodbye to our Thai community. We were blessed with a Buddhist ceremony, where each member tied a string around our wrist, in honor of our connection and to keep us safe as we made our travels and trips home. We experienced this ceremony both at Hands of Hope as well as with the patients, staff, and gardeners at the Friendship Garden, so we were literally touched by almost every person we have gotten to know over 17 months.
Some surprises include: how emotional everyone became (including a patient who recently joined the community and had only known us for a little while), a round of singing and hearing a usually quiet and reserved man's voice loud and clear, and generally the feeling that we have touched and been touched by every single person in this dear community.
And before we really knew what was happening, in the rounds of goodbye parties, final community dinners at the Garden, and of course, cleaning and packing (including way too many presents that we decided to ship home to lighten our backpacks), we were on a plane. Thankfully, we packed our first week chock full, with several rounds of 3am wake-up calls to climb mountains and volcanoes to catch the sunrise - or rather, to try to catch the sunrise. We knew that we were traveling to Indonesia during the rainy season, but there has been significantly more rain here than during northeastern Thailand's rainy season. Luckily, we were still able to catch a few views (although, much to John's chagrin, not all) of Mt. Bromo and Mt. Ijen.
After several interesting bus rides (I never appreciated true air-conditioning and leg space as much as I have recently), we crossed back from Java through all of Bali to a little coastal, diving town called Padang Bai. After a couple of days to catch our breath and soak up a little sun between rain showers (and perhaps let our emotions catch up with us as well), we had yet another eventful day of travel but somehow made it to Gili Air island eleven hours later.
We (or more specifically, I) did not have much luck on the Gili islands. Not only did we experience yet again more rain and limited beach time, I also ended up with a case of Bali Belly - or perhaps, more aptly phrased Gili Gurgling Stomach... I think you can imagine what that is. After two days in bed and the bathroom, with my nurse husband making sure I stayed hydrated, we gave up on the Gili islands and headed back to Padang Bai.
A full-fledged beach afternoon! With a perfect, white sand beach - and accurately named so - and playing in the huge, strong waves. We followed it up the next day with a morning of snorkeling. I have not done much snorkeling, but it was really easy to see so many fish in a nearby bay - so many different sizes and colors, lots of turquoise and yellow fish, and beautiful coral. After a brief and minor jellyfish sting (which I didn't even realize what it was until I got out of the water), we headed back to land.
I sadly said goodbye to the beach, and we made our way inland to the cultural epicenter of Bali: the city of Ubud. What a shock to the system, to be around so many tourists in a bustling city. I guess it is preparing us for our inevitable, eventual transition back to cities like Chicago.
Before we experienced too much, we rented a motorbike and got out to the rice fields and little village roads, by going on what I shall call 'John's Grand Waterfall Tour'. We saw five waterfalls over the course of the day, and they were amazing. We finally accepted the reality of traveling here in the wet season, and took advantage of it for once - by enjoying rushing waterfalls. At least back in Thailand, many waterfalls and rivers dry up to a trickle during the dry season.
I also indulged and took my first yoga class in a year and a half. It felt like such an honor and a privilege, that my eyes welled up a bit at the beginning of the class. A few minutes later, though, I couldn't think much more beyond the challenging poses, and I know that I will be sore! While I have practiced yoga regularly back in Thailand, I definitely haven't challenged myself with the variety or difficulty of poses.
And so here we are, with yet another 4 weeks of travel ahead of us... I feel like it was a little difficult for myself to appreciate Indonesia and all it holds, as I held onto all of my favorite parts and people of Thailand so close to my heart - and will do so always - but at least now I have begun to open my eyes to the joys of this country and its people - thankfully, with another week to soak it up, before we make our way to Australia and some dear people there.
Just love until next time.