Ajaccio on the Island of Corsica

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This trip was a change from my usual adventures around the world. Every few years my Sister Becky, Brother Steve and I take a vacation together, just the three of us for a week or two of bonding and relaxation; … Continue reading

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Back to the Trent and Mersey Canal and Stoke

Back to the Trent and Mersey Canal and Stoke

Sept. 25, 2013; The “Lizzie” with the gentleman, girlfriend and two dogs had moored near us during the night. We were a little amazed that they seemed to be doing just fine, apparently love conquers all, including two yapping dogs.

After getting underway, it was just a short cruise to Haywood Junction where we turned back onto the Trent and Mersey Canal. At the junction we met a boat turning onto the Staff and Worc’s Canal operated by two ladies who very skillful backed down and turned their boat to let me less skillfully make the turn ahead of them. We stopped to top off the water tank then continued on our way north. While watering we chatted with a friendly group on another boat that pulled in behind us. They were three couples cruising together and having a party as they went along. They invited us to join them for beer and lunch at a pub farther down the canal but we didn’t make any promises.

Another boat we met several times was named “White Tail”, owned by an American woman and her British husband. They had recently moved to England after 20 years in the United States and were taking out their recently refurbished boat for the first time. The “Lizzie” caught up to us at one of the locks, the dogs were tied onboard and the man and woman worked together quite well operating the locks with no dogs to shepherd about.

At 3:30 that afternoon we moored in Stone, our last stop before getting back to Stoke-on-Trent. The city moorage was nearly full; pulling into one of the last two open spots. We walked into town to the High Street which was restricted to limited traffic and pedestrian friendly with lots of shops, pubs and restaurants. Rich and Shelly went off to do some exploring and I enjoyed the High Street. I stopped into an old fashioned candy store with glass jars of various candies and sweets. I asked for traditional English toffee and the lady took out a two step stool to reach a jar on the top shelf; the toffee was excellent and cost £1 for a small bag. With candy in hand, I stopped at a coffee shop for Cappuccino and Lemon Tart. Rich and Shelly found me there and I waited while they finished their own coffee and snack.

That evening when we walked out to find dinner, we were checking the menu of the “Olive” restaurant when a young man came out and told us they were booked solid for a special “Psychic” night but if we could be finished by 8 PM they could accommodate us; that seemed OK so we ate there. They served Mediterranean food and I had Traditional Mousaka which was wonderful. We left at 7:30 and the place was nearly bursting at the seams with women there for the psychic readings. We were seated at a table on the side of the room, the tables in the center all pushed together to make a long table for 30 women in one group; myself, Rich and three waiters were the only men in the restaurant.

Sept. 26, 2013; On our last day cruising on the canal, we passed through the center of Stone. The canal sides were park like from the moorage area past the highway running into the town. At the next bridge was a statue commemorating a young woman found drowned in the canal in the 1800s. She had taken passage on a cargo barge and complained of being threatened by the boatmen she was traveling with, the next day her body was found. Farther on, along one side of the canal stretched the high brick walls of the closed Stone Ale Brewery; the building now divided into shops facing the High Street but on the canal the name of the brewery remained in faded paint 30 feet above the canal.

Past Stone the towpath was closed for maintenance on the canal and the paving of the towpath. On top the water floated masses of grass, weeds and cuttings from the maintenance work. The vegetation clogged the rudder and we lost steerage a couple of times. Most of it was pushed off the rudder when I had to slam the boat into reverse to avoid a collision with a moored boat.

At the town of Barlaston we moored to visit the Wedgewood Ceramics Factory close by the canal. It was nearly a mile walk to the visitor center were we had to enter through the backdoor. For visitors driving to the center there is a very impressive entrance with tall windows and a wide plaza, but those walking from the canal crossed the employee’s parking lot, past the employee cafeteria and used the side entrance to the building. Once through the building we came to the sales room where exquisite and quite expensive ceramics were for sale, we didn’t buy anything. We did walk through the visitor center but didn’t pay the £10 (about $16) each to visit the museum; it cost an additional £2 to include the factory in the tour.

We returned to the boat for lunch and noticed that the “Lizzie” had moored near us while we were in the factory but didn’t see any sign of the couple or the two dogs. Before getting underway Rich and I pulled the inspection cover in the engine compartment under the aft deck and checked to make sure nothing was fouling the shaft, propeller or rudder. There was some debris wrapped tightly around the shaft but we were able to cut it off then closed up the inspection hole. After that the steering was back to normal with no problems.

When we cruised through the outskirts of Stoke, we passed the ruins of many old, derelict factories and noticed more trash in the waterway and along the sides of the canal. We passed under a very wide Motorway bridge and then came the final 5 sets of locks on our journey. The last lock we passed through was also the deepest of the trip, about 16 feet. It was also the only set of locks that was secured since it had a history of vandals messing with it; we were provided with the special key needed to operate the lock when we rented the boat. From there it was just a short cruise to the marina were we started and we pulled over and moored next to the gate to our rental company, Black Prince Narrow Boat Holidays. We needed to return the boat the next morning so just stayed there for the night, walking across the marina to Toby’s Carvery for a buffet dinner and a quiet night back on the boat.

Sept. 27, 2013; When the rental company opened we were all packed and ready to go, and said good bye to “Ruby” which was home for 14 days; moored almost perfectly so they just pulled the boat forward one space to fill the fuel tank and for cleaners to get on board and make it ready for the next customer. We settled up with the company, paying for the fuel used then carried our bags the few hundred yards to the same hotel we stayed in the first day in England. Our flight didn’t leave until the next morning so we stayed one night in Stoke before returning home.

We spent a very quiet day, lots of time showering, napping and packing for the flight home. The hotel had a business center where we printed our boarding passes, ready to leave first thing in the morning. The hotel had a large banquet facility and that night was a well advertised event, “An Evening with Evander Holyfield”; the promotion included dinner with Evander for only £100 a plate (about $160). It must have been a successful evening; there were lots of people in tuxedos and gowns but I didn’t see Evander. That dinner was a little rich for our blood so Rich, Shelley and I walked to the nearby shopping area to eat.

Sept. 28, 2013; This was departure day, taxi to Manchester, short flight to London then the long direct flight to Seattle. At SeaTac we said farewell, Rich and Shelley had a ride home and I took the airport express shuttle van. I was home about 6:30 PM, adventure over.

Epilogue

Our journey through the English Midlands was wonderful. Except for our side trip to Chester and passing through Stoke, we mostly traveled through farmland and forest, passing through the occasional village or town; a side of England not seen by most visitors who seldom get beyond London.

We found an entire English sub-culture on the canals. Originally built for industrial cargo barges, today the canals are home for people in private or rental boats. Many people live full time on the canal, using permanent moorage leased from land owners or owned outright by the boat owners, tied up in large marinas next to the canals or moored along the canal and moving every few days. Boats ranged in size from 20 foot long cruisers to narrow boats up to 70 feet long but always less than 7 feet wide.

Many people holiday on the canals, either renting a boat or traveling in boats they own like a vacation cabin or RV and keep moored when not in use. Everyone we met was helpful, friendly and courteous; happy to wave as we passed except when moored and disturbed by faster boats creating wakes to bounce them about.

Most towns and villages had well maintained and free long and short term moorage, water points, rubbish bins, and pubs or restaurants within walking distance. It was a great way to see England and meet the people. There are about 2000 miles of historic waterways in England, maintained by British Waterways, a government corporation, chronically short of money. Boats pay a registration fee that allows use of the canals, free water and rubbish services and provides maintenance of the waterways, towpaths, locks, tunnels and bridges. All in all it was a great two weeks, proving you don’t have to climb mountains or hike through rain forests for an enjoyable adventure. Anyone interested in a different kind of boat trip just need check out narrow boats on the English canal system to find it.

Scott C. Ames
http://scames.wordpress.com

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

From the Poem Ithaca by K. P. Kavafis (C. P. Cavafy)

Posted in England, United Kingdom | Leave a comment

Shropshire Union & Staff and Worc’s Canals

Shropshire Union Canal

Sept. 21, 2013; We got underway about 08:30, but only moved about 200 yards, past a narrow bridge, Nantwich was the end of the widened canal, from there on all the canal locks and bridges were designed for 7 foot or narrower boats. Past the bridge we pulled over to a pier along the canal which provided fuel and pump out services. After being underway for a week and no gauges, we had no idea how full the waste holding tanks were. It cost £15 (about $25) and took about 20 minutes; only one of the two holding tanks was full.

The Shropshire Union Canal going south was straighter and more level than we experienced before, it cut deeper into hills with higher embankments to pass through valleys, and this made it more expensive to build but with fewer locks it was faster for the cargo barges for which it was built.

After lunch at Audlem Mill the canal changed elevation a lot and we passed through 15 sets of locks; a few miles past that we came to another series of 5 locks before stopping at Market Drayton for the night. At one of the locks we passed, a local farmer had set up a small stand to sell produce and homemade goods, we bought scones, clotted cream and jam on the honor system; the stand was unmanned with just a box to leave our payment. Dinner was at the Talbot Pub next to the canal which served the huge portions we were finding common. I opted for a change of pace and had Chicken Tikki Masala, spicy but very good.

Sept. 22, 2013; It was Sunday morning and Rich went out early to find an open shop but came back empty handed, the shops didn’t open until 10 AM so we got underway. We passed a group of 5 locks then the canal leveled again with high embankments and deep cuts. Many of the cuts were through solid rock, making the sides nearly vertical so passing through them was cool and dark, almost jungle like with heavy foliage on both sides; it felt like being in the movie The African Queen.

It was an easy cruise but a long day when we finally moored at Gnosall about 5 PM. We walked about a mile into the village to an open convenience store then dinner at the Navigator Pub next to the canal, the Pork Steak and Mash was very good.

Sept. 23, 2013; About 08:30 we pulled up to the water point and filled our tank then got underway. The level canal continued with more long/deep cuts and high embankments. In some places we passed through stretches called “Narrows”. There the canal was hewn from sandstone and just wide enough to barely allow two boats to pass; narrows were not long but stressful when meeting boats going the opposite direction.

We stopped at the village of Brewood about noon. The small pub next to the canal was just opening so we went there to get Pub Grub for lunch, a nice change from our usual cold cut sandwiches; unfortunately the pub didn’t serve food on Monday so we were out of luck.

About 2:30 in the afternoon we reached the town of Autherley Junction where we needed to turn onto the Staffs and Worc’s canal. The canals were not built to the same water level so there was a set of locks to pass through going from one canal to the other, not a big deal, the locks had a lift of only 6 inches; the reason for the level change was to control the water on the different canals. The turn into the new canal was sharper than the other canal junctions we passed through, I had to stop and back down twice to make the 120˚ corner; with that turn we were going north.

We came to an unusually long and narrow section called Pendeford Rockin, it was about a half mile long and not wide enough for two boats to pass. Several short wide spots were cut into the rock so boats could pass one another but luckily we didn’t need to use them since we met no other boats as we passed through the cut.

We stopped at Coven and moored for the night. Rich and Shelly went shopping for groceries and I relaxed at the boat; I was on holiday after all. For dinner at the Fox and Anchor Pub next to the canal where I had a very good Chicken and Pulled Ham and Leek Pie.

Staff and Worc’s Canal

Sept. 24, 2013; We were headed north towards Stoke and had made up the time lost on our side trip to Chester so we took it easy; we planned to pass 11 sets of locks that day. Along the way we met up with a boat named “Lizzie”, rented from the same company as our boat, Black Prince Narrow Boat Holidays. It was rented by a gentleman in his 70s, his girlfriend and her two little dogs.

Their boat was ahead of us so we followed them through every set of locks. It was slow going because when they entered the locks, the little dogs would run off and they spent as much time rounding up the dogs as they did working the locks. About mid morning they pulled over and moored for Tea and we passed by, speculating on how long the gentleman would put up with the dogs.

At the locks in Gailey we moored and topped off our water tank. Next to the locks was a unique round brick building that was originally the lock keepers cottage. Now it is a gift shop run by a lady and her daughter. We stopped and found a few souvenirs, and took a short break. The locks were unique in that the lower entrance was under a highway bridge so it was like entering or exiting the locks in a tunnel. As we were leaving the gift shop a boat was trying to enter the upper level with an older Scottish couple on board, she sitting in the bow shouting directions and him standing at the tiller ignoring her. I think he was mostly deaf because she gave up yelling and he kept ramming the side of the lock. Finally they got into the locks and I operated the paddles and gates for them; it was a riot watching them.

About 3:30 we pulled over in Baswich, the moorage area wasn’t as well maintained as most of the towns we stopped at but there was a pub and Carvery close by. Rich and Shelley went looking for a supermarket and I walked around the area before returning to the boat. Great minds thought alike because they and I bought ice-cream bars to bring back to the boat for desert that night; not a problem, we had desert for two nights. We walked to the pub for a beer and had the buffet dinner. It was okay but not as good as many pubs we ate at. The buffet was one time through the roast beef, ham, etc. and all you could eat of the salads and side dishes; the name carvery came from carving the roast beef or ham. Then it was back to the boat for ice cream and a glass of Port.

Next time we return to the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott

Scott C. Ames
http://scames.wordpress.com

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

From the Poem Ithaca by K. P. Kavafis (C. P. Cavafy)

Posted in England, United Kingdom | Leave a comment

Cruising England’s Canals: To and From Chester

To and From Chester

Sept. 18, 2013; After chatting with other boaters moored at Barbridge, we decided to head to the city of Chester about a day’s cruise north; Chester still had its medieval walls and old town. We were about a day ahead of our planned schedule with plenty of time to make the detour. We were headed south on the Shropshire Union Canal and Chester was north on the same canal. We motored about a mile before coming to a “Winding”, a basin in the canal wide enough to turn around. I steered and Rich worked the bow as we slowly made our u-turn. I turned as much as possible using the rudder and going forward then back and Rich pushed the bow around with a long pole. The winding was only 70 feet across so not much room to turn the 58 foot boat. Luckily no other boats came along while we were maneuvering so we turned around without blocking any traffic.

Past Barbridge we came to an S curve in the canal with a bridge in the middle so I had to sound our horn on the blind corner, luckily there was no other boat traffic so we made it through without incident. The first set of locks we came to was a 2 tier stair-case, so we went from one lock directly into the next. The locks and bridges in this section of canal were wider, built to allow for larger canal barges.

As we cruised to Chester we came to the ruins of an ancient castle built atop a stony mountain near the canal. We moored at the bridge nearest the ruins, and after lunch we locked up the boat and went to explore the castle. The trail from the canal was well marked and led across several pastures and along fence lines to a road leading past the castle entrance. A modern stone wall made to look like ancient fortifications surrounded the base of the stony hill and the entrance to the grounds was made to look like an ancient gate house with stone towers. The charge to enter the castle grounds was £5.90 and it was a long hike up to the top of the hill. We weren’t interested enough in the ruins to pay that much or spend the time it would take so we headed back across the pastures to the canal.

Later in the afternoon we came to the city of Christleton, a short distance south of Chester. Not wanting to try and find a mooring site late in the day on what might be a crowded canal in the Chester, we moored there for the night. It was a fairly long walk from the boat but we finally found the only convenience store in the village and checked out the ancient church the returned to the canal. Near where we moored was a nice hotel and restaurant, the Cheshire Cat Inn and we walked there for dinner. The restaurant specialized in meat pies, I chose the Fish Pie and it was excellent; a variety of fish in a cheese sauce with baby potatoes.

Sept. 19, 2013; In the morning it was a short cruise to the city of Chester from our moorage in Christleton, with only 5 sets of locks to slow us down. We stopped at the water point to top off our tank then found a place to moor near the old city walls. We were there early and had time to walk part of the ancient walls and took a look at the 3 tier stair-case locks that ran down along one side of the wall, all before lunch. After lunch we finished walking the walls and across the old city to the Cathedral. About 5 PM we sat down at a pub near our moorage and had a beer and checked email.

During our walks in the old city, Rich spotted an Italian Restaurant that interested him so we went there for dinner. It was called “Sergio’s” and we were the only customers when we walked in. Being Americans, we ate dinner earlier than the locals which can be both a good or bad thing. Bad because some restaurants aren’t open early enough but good because when they are open early, they always have seats available. That was the case with Sergio’s, by the time we finished our dinner every seat in the restaurant was full.

It was a great little restaurant, with an older gentleman standing next to the kitchen checking every plate that came out, I assumed that was Sergio. I had the Seafood Pasta and it was excellent along with a glass of wine. After dinner we strolled back to our boat and ended the evening with a glass of Port and shortbread cookies; I was asleep before ten.

Sept. 20, 2013; Since we wanted to get on with our cruise, we got underway early, leaving at 07:30; we had moored just before a winding in the canal so were able to quickly turn around and head south. About 09:30 we met up with another boat and motored along with them; the locks were wide enough for two boats side by side so it saved both of us effort and time to go along together. The other boat was a live aboard and the owner 77 years old, cruising with a friend. They were very helpful and interesting, giving us lots of good information about the canals.

We didn’t stop for lunch, had coffee and sandwiches as we cruised. With no stops along the way, we were back at Barbridge about 2 PM and topped off our water tank. The other boat stopped for the night and we waved farewell and continued on our way, getting to Nantwich about 5 in the afternoon. There was a marina but it was closed for the night and the village a long walk from the canal so we ate dinner onboard, pasta with leftover sausage and salad. After a long day on the canal it was nice to just relax on the boat and turn in early.

Next time we continue South on the Shropshire Union Canal.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott

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Canal Cruise in England: Middlewich Branch Shropshire Union Canal

Middlewich Branch Shropshire Union Canal

Sept. 16, 2013; It was a rainy morning in Middlewich and we took it easy. We weren’t leaving until the afternoon so in the morning set out in search of a grocery store, finally finding one about a mile from the boat. We took a shortcut back; unfortunately it wasn’t and didn’t take us where we wanted to go, we were more or less lost but by retracing our steps made it safely back to the supermarket. By the time we returned to the boat we had traveled about 4 miles and chalked it up to much needed exercise.

After lunch on the boat we got underway. First we went through one set of locks then into a large basin with a boat yard on one side, across from that was the entrance to the canal we needed to turn into and the Trent and Mersey Canal continued past the basin. The basin was wide enough for us to make a 90˚ turn, which wasn’t hard but we also had to avoid traffic of other boats crossing through the basin, one maneuvering to go into the boatyard and one pulling into the water point on the corner of the joining canals. Luckily everyone was courteous and we maneuvered into the new canal without ramming another boat or the stone and brick bridge crossing the canal entrance; finally we were safely on the Middlewich Branch Shropshire Union Canal.

A very short distance from the junction we came to the next lock and quickly got back into the routine of working the locks we developed on our second day out. Cruising along in the wind and rain we made good time with little canal traffic. We stopped for the day near the village of Church Minshull. According to the canal guide it was very close to the canal, what the guide book didn’t explain well was that to get from the canal to the village we either walked along a narrow country lane with no footpath and speeding traffic or take the small trail that led across pastures and woodlands. We started by taking the road, Shelley and I were nearly killed by a bus that sped along and missed us by inches as we squeezed up against the thick hedge bordering the road. We got back to the boat and only after studying the map more carefully did we see the footpath indicated by a dotted line. It was muddy, slippery and not well defined in places and led across an over grown pasture with thigh high wet grass and weeds. Finally the path led past the back door of a small cottage to the road we tried earlier, but from the cottage to the village there was a walkway next to the road. It was late afternoon when we got to the village and popped into the pub for a beer. The dining room didn’t open until 6 PM and we didn’t want to walk back in the dark so settled for a couple of beers and plates of bar snacks. The village was too small to even have a store and we returned to the boat along the little path.

When I returned to the boat, there was a dog running down the towpath towards me. It was a boxer and until it got to me and tried licking me to death I didn’t know which response to take, flight or fight. But he was friendly, too much so. Soon a lady came walking from the opposite direction and I thought the dog was hers, it wasn’t but said she’d been told of a Brindle Boxer seen running loose on the canal, and this must be it. Then she continued on her way along the towpath, lucky for us the boxer followed her.

We enjoyed a quiet night on the boat, sandwiches for dinner and a glass of good Tawny Port for desert; the glass of Port in the evening became tradition, a well earned reward for each day’s hard work.

Sept. 17, 2013; The wind and rain continued and traffic on the canal increased; we were underway about 09:30. We had two sets of locks to transit through that day and were shortly at the first set which had a 10 foot lift. It was a busy day on the canal and we had to wait our turn with two boats in front of us. We moored behind the second boat as another boat was just exiting the lock. The first boat in line pulled into the lock when the other boat exited; we pulled up one boat length and again waited.

It was the same on the other side of the locks so there was steady traffic of boats going in both directions, in and out of the locks. More boats came up the canal and moored behind us, waiting their turn. It was the same at the second set of locks we passed through; as one boat exited another entered going the opposite direction.

Next to the canal we passed marinas serving the boaters on the canal. The marinas were large basins with docks and finger piers like any marina but nearly all the boats were long narrow canal boats like our rental, with the occasional fiberglass cruiser. The marinas were always on the side opposite the towpath, since that side was private property and connected to the canal with a narrow channel, often with a high foot bridge crossing the entrance.

Canal locks and bridges crossing over the canal were numbered, keeping track of the lock or bridge numbers allowed us to easily note our position on the canal map. Most of the bridges were old and made of stone or brick, built when the canal was dug to provide property owners access to both sides of the canal. Some of the 200 year old bridges were still in use with narrow paved roads. Others were between fields or pastures on both sides of the canal with no sign of a road on either side; I referred to those as “bridges to nowhere”.

The old brick bridges were beautiful, with arch ways 16 feet wide over the canal and towpath. Under the old bridges the canal narrowed so only one boat at a time could pass under. Occasionally the towpath would cross from one side to the other. Those bridges were more elaborate since the towpath had to go up onto the bridge then across and then turn down and back under the bridge, allowing the horses pulling barges to cross without unhooking from barges being towed.

Since only one boat at a time could pass under a bridge, when two boats met the one closest to the bridge had the right of way and continued under the bridge while the one going in the opposite direction pulled over and waited for it to pass before continuing. If unsure of who had the right of way, one boat driver would usually wave to the other for them to come ahead first. In some places where a bridge was on a blind corner, the boats honked their horns to warn oncoming traffic.

We had a short cruise that day, arriving at the canal junction at Barbridge about noon. At the junction, the Middlewich Branch ended where it joined the main Shropshire Union Canal. We passed under bridge #1 and made an immediate 90˚turn to the left. There was another boat at the junction at the same time, making a turn onto our canal, they slowed and allowed us to make our turn first, this wasn’t as smooth as it sounds, we had to stop, back down, and then forward again to make the sharp turn. Immediately after the turn we pulled over to the left side of the canal to tie up at the water point. We topped off our water tank every chance we had, never sure of how much water remained onboard at any time since there wasn’t a gauge on the tank.

After topping off with water, we pulled forward to the visitor mooring area; designated mooring areas were divided into two parts, boats were allowed to stay up to 48 hours in one part and usually 5 days in the other part. We locked up the boat and walked back and crossed over the canal at bridge #101 and had lunch at the Jolly Tar Pub, probably the worst pub we visited in the two weeks in England. The place was large with a huge outside seating area, and only a couple of customers besides ourselves, and the hamburgers were terrible. Then it was back to the boat for a well earned afternoon nap.

For dinner it was unanimous to find someplace other than the Jolly Tar so we walked to the Olde Barbridge Inn a little farther along the canal at bridge #101. The restaurant was great with free WiFi so I took my tablet along to check email. Rich and I both ordered Bangers and Mash. One of the greatest surprises of the two week holiday was the serving sizes in British Pubs. I knew the food would be good but not that the servings would be so large. The Bangers and Mash came with a huge mound of mashed potatoes topped by two long coiled sausages. Each of the sausages was at least 18 inches long and covered with gravy. Rich and I both ate our potatoes, but neither of us could finish even one of the sausages, let alone two; I think we brought about a kilo of sausage back to the boat in a doggie bag.

Next time we head north to the city of Chester.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott

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Cruising the Canals of England: The Trent and Mersey Canal

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Sept. 11-12, 2013; The journey began at 3:25 PM with being picked up by the shuttle van; I was at the airport by 4:30, quickly through check-in and security I was at the gate by 5:00. Rich and Shelley met … Continue reading

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The End of my Bali Adventure

Hello Travelers,

It’s the last day of my adventure through the Island Nations of Southeast Asia, so I will try and wrap up my experience, starting with the last stop, The Island of Bali.

I had two reasons for choosing Bali as the end point for this adventure. First; it is close to one of the primary destinations of my trip, Komodo National Park, Second it is a World Class resort area and I wanted a little relaxation before the long journey home; all in all it worked out better than I hoped.

To be honest I didn’t know a lot about Bali before getting here, consequently my stay was full of surprises and joy. I did know where Bali is located, a small island in the Indonesian Archipelago between Java and Lombok Islands and that a little farther along the chain of islands were the 4 small islands that are the only home to the giant lizards known as Komodo Dragons. I also knew that Bali’s population is primarily Hindu in a nation predominately Muslim and internationally known as a resort destination. But when it came time to find a place to stay on the island, I didn’t do a lot of research, I went with a friend’s recommendation. It seemed to be a good quality hotel, reasonably near to the beaches, shops, restaurants and airport and the price was good; in the end I am satisfied with my choice.

I stayed at the Best Western Kuta Beach; about 10 km from the airport, I could see the runway from the roof-top lounge, and a 100 meter walk from the famous sandy beaches. I knew there were a lot of hotels in the area and that it was popular with Australians looking for a cheaper beach vacation than they can find at home. I didn’t realize just how popular and how crowded with hotels, shops, restaurants, and bike rentals the area actually is. I was there in January, the rainy season, so the crowds of tourists were down, but the shops, hotels etc. and locals are here year round so at times it still became quite hectic.

The national currency of Indonesia is the Rupiah (Rp) with an exchange rate that fluctuates but is about Rp 12,000 = US $1; during my stay the US Dollar gained a little against the Rupiah. Prices were very reasonable, nearly all of my meals were under US $10 and included a main course of a rice or noodle dish, spring rolls and one or two beers or a Mango juice.

I had over a week on the island and didn’t want to spend all that time at the hotel or the beach so I planned to do some touring. My first trip was to visit Hindu temples and rice terraces. That took me into the interior of the island and saw the island outside the beach community of Kuta was beautifully rural with forests, stretches of rice paddies, and small villages, towns and small cities.

I’ve seen Hindu temples in other cities outside of India and they were always crowded and filled with brightly painted statues of spirits and gods. The temples I saw in Bali were much different. The population is intensely religious and every home, most businesses and every road have small shrines, sometimes only a foot or two tall and some very large. All made of carved stone and each adorned with one or many small woven leaf basket, a few inches square and filled with green leaves, colorful flowers, pieces of fruit, incense sticks and sometimes cigarettes or small coins. Every village and town has a community temple and then there were the large temple complexes I visited. They were all very large with beautifully carved spirits or deities at the entrances and well groomed and flowering park-like gardens. I was there on a ceremonial day commemorating the full moon and many of the visitors to the temples were dressed in white or colorful batik dresses making offerings. Every morning people are out early placing new offering baskets in front of every door and shrine.

Everywhere I went the people were smiling, happy and gracious, always interested in where I was from and what I thought of Bali. Most didn’t speak English but always knew a few words. They seemed both surprised and very pleased when I told them I was from America. I always felt very safe but avoided doing foolish things like walking alone at night on dark streets.

Traveling solo has both advantages and disadvantages. One disadvantage is that taking tours isn’t always easy since they normally require two person minimums. But even when I joined tours that had already been booked I ended up taking a solo tour with a personal guide. I don’t know how that happened but was very pleased. The two day tour to Komodo National Park was like that and for the most part went very well. It was a two day and one night tour; I’d already paid for my hotel in Kuta so just kept my room there while gone for one night on Flores Island, and a short flight and long boat trip to the park but well worth it when I got close to the famed giant lizards, and after seeing them live in the wild understand the name and do believe that given the chance they would eat me. The city of Labuan Bajo where I stayed was small but the draw of being the jumping off point for the tourists going to see the Dragons means it gets lots of tourists and is planning on more. The airport is undergoing a major upgrade to handle more passengers in a large, air-conditioned and modern architecture terminal; I would have liked if they had made the improvements with a building designed to reflect at least the appearance of a small island community instead of the silver wave design that seems totally out of character to the island. The National Park is also undergoing badly needed upgrades including raised walkways although with a rather overdone entrance gate. Also new facilities such as the small café and toilets for visitors. The park rangers are getting modern accommodations outside the headquarters compound instead of the wooden cabins on stilts they now live in during their 10 days of duty on the island.

The guide I had for my first tour on Bali was Wayan Edi, and asked to be called just Edi (Eddie). He is an independent contractor with the tour company, only working for them when they needed a guide. At other times he uses his small van as a taxi or as a private tour guide. I told him about my interests in masks and birding so he arranged to be my driver to a community near Kuta that specializes in wood carving and arranged for a private bird watching tour to the National Park on the island. He was more than just my driver and a wonderful source of information about Bali, the island’s people and the Hindu religion. We became friends and was honored when he invited me to his home for a meal and to meet his family; a wonderful experience.

Everywhere I went on the island I was impressed by its beauty from wide valleys of rice paddies and farmland, rice terraces that climbed the sides of the interior mountains, early morning markets teeming with fresh fruits and vegetables, park like temple compounds, coconut palm lined and deserted beaches and clean, orderly cities away from the crowds of tourists who mostly never get more than a mile from the beaches and resort hotels.

I saw many resorts and hotels in the mountains and away from Kuta so those parts of the island are not unknown, just uncrowded. However the isolation from cities like Kuta means they are harder to reach so more expensive to get to and probably to stay at, there are fewer restaurants and nightlife options outside the hotels but those are not disadvantages for many travelers.

Few Americans visit Bali, mainly because of the distance and expense of getting there, it is closer to Europe so many Europeans visit and very close to Australia so lots of Aussies come for cheap holidays. If you’re interested in visiting Bali, and I highly recommend you do, determine what you want to do and see before coming; maybe splitting your time between the beach communities nearer the airport and more sedate hotels or even other islands. I don’t think you will be disappointed if you plan ahead.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott

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