Nusa Lembongan, a small island just south of Bali, will teach anyone the fine art of patience. Here you have no choice but to let your western aggression slip away and go with the flow, because anything else gets you nowhere fast. As soon as you recognize and embrace this, you begin to appreciate it. You start moving slower. Really. Maybe its the uncomfortable sandals, but I honestly walk slower now than I did a week ago. You bring a notepad to lunch so you can scribble out a blog post while you’re waiting for your nasi goreng. And you realize how silly it is to rush through life searching for something while it’s is right there in front of you.
We’ve met a lot of people here in Indonesia that moan about the way things used to be on Bali or the Gilis. They whinge poetic about the good old days before Eat, Pray, Love ruined Ubud and how there’s no paradise left in paradise. But they’re all here, and they all say that Nusa Lembongan is the last island in the South Pacific that hasn’t been invaded by droves of shirtless, fist-pumping Aussies. Please don’t tell.
Lembongan is both paradise and rough around the edges. The streets are tiny and littered with trash. The beaches aren’t easy to get to and the surf is rough. There are chickens and cows roaming freely through town. But for all its faults, it’s still gorgeous. The surfing is awesome and the diving is world-class. The people are welcoming and it’s easy to get to. Flights arrive in Bali daily from all over the world and there’s a cheap public boat (with chickens!) every morning from Sanur for a mere $6.
If you come to Nusa Lembongan:
-Stay at Pondok Baruna in a seaview room on the beach ($30 per night).
-Take a 4 day PADI Scuba Diving certification course at one of the many dive centers ($395 per person, including 4 open water dives). World Diving was awesome (more to come on them in the next few days here at Bring a Snack) but I have no way to compare.
-Eat at Maria’s (meals from $1.50-$4) at the north end of Jungut Batu village, where the road turns sharply right toward the mangrove forest.
-Take yoga classes at the Yoga Shack, an open air bamboo hut where the singing birds and the call to prayer are your soundtrack ($8 per class).
-Rent a motor bike ($6.50 per day) and drive to nearby Nusa Ceningan, where you can jump off a 20m ocean cliff into Blue Lagoon ($5).
-Enjoy a large Bintang Pilsner ($3) while watching the sunset over the water as the local seaweed farmers pull in their harvest.
-Most importantly, relax and settle into island time.
We arrived in Melbourne at 7:30 on a Friday night, people staggering in high heels down cobblestone streets and smoking cigarettes in grafittied alleys. With our backpacks still on, Zach and I made a beeline down Little Bourke Street to Chinatown for dumplings. I’d never been in this city before, yet it felt so much like home. We asked a dude eating out of a takeaway box where he got his dumplings, followed his directions, and proceeded to order a tableful of garlic drenched Chinese broccoli, sesame pancakes and dumplings. We didn’t have much to say at dinner, mostly because chowing down was a much better use of one’s mouth.
We didn’t really have a plan for Melbourne. “I just want to go and sit in a coffee shop and spend the day writing,” Zach had said of our four days in the city. So instead of planning, we went armed with a list of cafes and bars, an appointment at Alchemy Tattoo, and no real agenda for much else. We didn’t do any museums or see kangaroos. We went to eat and write, drink coffee and feel the vibe of the city.
Birdman Eating, Fitzroy
Robyn and Stephen, our beloved roomies from Wanaka, recommended this brunch spot in Fitzroy. A minimal space with excellent espresso and tasty, interesting food combos. The highlight of the meal was lunch dessert of homemade blueberry, rosemary and pistachio nougat and a glass of rose.
The Carlton Club, CBD
Annita, the tattoo artist that did my tattoo, sent us bar hopping in the CBD as a rainy afternoon activity. Did I mention that I like her style? We started at this swanky bar with massive taxidermied animals and a covered outdoor space that felt like a rainforest in the mid afternoon downpour.
Penny Blue, CBD
At the end of an alley off of Little Bourke, we found this craft beer bar with Gatsby inspired vibe and comfy, vintage couches. They let us in even though they weren’t quite opened yet and being only 5:00, we were the only people there. We popped out the computer and worked on some wedding plans while sampling local beers from Little Creatures and Bridge Road Brewers.
Trippy Taco, Fitzroy
Nothing fancy. Just really good tacos. Chewey corn tortillas, black beans, smoky hot sauce, fresh lime. You don’t need much else. It had been awhile since we’d had good, cheap tacos and Trippy Taco delivered.
A few months ago, one of our friends confided that he felt “lost in travel”. He said, “don’t forget why you travel, don’t just do it for a stamp in the passport.” Why you travel can be a very personal thing, something that can’t be dictated by a guidebook of sights that you just have to see. For us, Melbourne was a familiar, comfortable place to stop and think after a life changing year in New Zealand and before diving into Asia.
Even though we’re traveling on a tight budget, it’s still important to splash out once in a while on something we love to do. For some people maybe that’s a new outfit, a night out dancing, or a tattoo. For us, its eating. On our recent detour to Melbourne that meant eating at MoVida.
A few friends in New Zealand praised Frank Camorra’s restaurant up and down for inventive, delicious food. The days preceding our reservation were filled with building anticipation, like the days approaching Christmas or a birthday when we were kids. These are the moments that make breaking the budget worthwhile.
The food is served tapas style, so we knew we’d have a chance to try a lot of new and interesting dishes. The problem, sometimes, with tapas restaurants, is that the multitude of choices and flavors produce a disconnected and ugly contrast. To avoid this, we left ourselves in the hands of our waiter, with whom we immediately connected.
“What are your favorites?” Christina asked.
“Oh, I love that question. Awesome.” And he ran us through five or six options.
“Great, those sound good.”
“Cool, but…you’ve got three really rich dishes in a row here. I’d maybe swap out one of these for something lighter to break things up a bit. Maybe seafood?”
“Sounds good.” And later on, “can you help us with wine to match our courses?” Christina asked.
And I said something I never thought I’d say: “I’m kind of curious about sherry.”
“Oh, awesome. I was hoping you’d say that,” our server said.
At a friend’s house the week before, we mentioned we’d be going to a well-regarded Spanish tapas restaurant.
“Do they have sherry?” Our friend Steve said. He’s worked in the beverage industry, so he knows his booze.
“I don’t know, and I’m not sure if I care,” I said. Sherry was for old people and came in jugs, or so I thought.
“You should.” Steve fished out a bottle of Manzanilla from his liquor cabinet. “Here, try this.” I tried it and was impressed, but not blown away. The flavor was intense and unusual. The biting tang and sharp acidity were so different from other beverages in the class I didn’t know what to think, but I knew it wasn’t for me…yet.
Last night, everything changed. First, our server recommended the anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet to for our first course, and with it, a sherry (of course). Our trust in Steve and our trust in the server, and maybe a bit of curiosity won out.
It was perfect. The sharp tang of the dry sherry cut through the savory anchovy, while extremely salty fish was tempered by the strong flavor of the liquid. It was as if a key were fitting into a lock on both sets of flavors, opening each other to a new world of tastes. I’ll never look back. I’m a sherry convert.
It’s not often that a beverage and a food jive so well that they transform each other. It’s even rarer that a food and beverage pairing opens your eyes to ingredients you hadn’t enjoyed in the past. Our first course at MoVida in Melbourne on Sunday did both, partly because we left ourselves open to trying new things and our server led us down the right path. Good servers can immediately read customers for certain preferences. And good customers communicate their preferences clearly.
I’ll never look at sherry (or anchovies!) the same way again.
When I think about a mid winter’s farmer’s market, onions, potatoes, cabbage, and jams come to mind. And vendors shivering, possibly clutching a cup of coffee with two gloved hands. I didn’t expect much from the St. Kilda Farmer’s Market. So when we arrived at the colorful, bustling, market boasting roses and daffodils, oranges, pistachios and tomatoes, chai tee, coffee, beer and wine, and cuts of meat from every beast under the sun, I was flabbergasted and wishing I had a kitchen. We sampled meat pies and Mt. Zero olive oil, spinach dip and home made bread and got a recommendation for a brunch spot that serves bloody marys. It has been a year since I’d had a bloody mary. It didn’t disappoint.
On our way from the market to “the diner with the bloody marys”, we passed Veg Out, a massive community garden and oasis for creativity. It was the wonky iron fence and prayer flags that first caught my attention, and the exploding plots of green and chicken noises that drew us in. What is this magical place? Rhinestone adorned statues, mailboxes in the gardens, chickens that look like Tina Turner and food growing everywhere. I want to be here all the time. I felt like I had found my place. Zach marveled at the composting set up while I checked out the community kitchen. We walked among the plots, checking out the leeks and greens, and planned to bring a place like this to a place that doesn’t have one. That, we decided, would be a good use of our energy.
Veg Out is a shrine to healthy, delicious food. It is a place for people to come together and dig and chat and make soup.
In the last year I have:
Served as a guest judge in a lamb competition.
Delivered pizzas while loudly singing along to classic rock radio.
Learned a variety of food preservation techniques including fermentation, curing, dehydrating, and jarring.
Relaxed in natural, mud-bottomed hot pools after a seven-hour trek across treacherous swing bridges.
Learned how to make butter, cheese, bread, and whiskey (kind of).
Spent hundreds of hours climbing the schist cliffs around Wanaka and the limestone boulders of Castle Hill.
Failed (twice) to solve very simple problems with our van, which in my defense was of legal drinking age in the US.
Saw the sunrise on Mt. Cook/Aoraki with avalanches falling on peaks around me.
Harvested oysters, mussels, and red snapper from the ocean.
Learned how to skin, gut, and butcher poultry, small game, goats, and pigs for consumption.
Met dozens of new friends from all over the world (England, Australia, Argentina, Germany, France, Chile, Israel, New Zealand…) that I’ll share the rest of my life with. (But don’t worry, old friends, I still love you and miss you all.)
Got engaged to be married to the woman of my dreams.
It’s been a good year.
“Here, chug it.”
“We’re chugging wine?”
“Yes. Someone get Alfie. Rikki! Leave the dishes and get over here. Cheers!”
And down the hatch it went. Chugging red wine from paper cups on my last night of work in the kitchen.
Except, holy shit, WTF is that sludge in the bottom of the cup?! Gulp gulp, gulp, tastes like vinegar…. ABORT! ABORT! Definitely vinegar.
“Fuck! What was that!?”
And just when I thought, Was there soy sauce in there? Am I going to barf? an onslaught of condiments came hurtling toward me. Cream pie to the hair, a heavy dusting of cocoa and a shower of oil from squeeze bottles had me cowering in a banana box, yelling expletives while normal people had lovely desserts at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen. Laughing and crying and dripping, I got got. Apparently you aren’t supposed to trust anyone on your last day in the kitchen. I didn’t know that.
I had an awesome job in Wanaka. I worked with people who helped me make a career change from teacher to chef (though I don’t feel comfortable using that title quite yet). I made friends with four chefs who taught me everything I needed to know. How to use the meat slicer, segment oranges, make sabayon, skin a ham, trim a filet, make pastry cream, plate food and do that little smear of caramel on a dessert plate.
They taught me what its like to work in a kitchen, to use scales and timers, to label things and always be looking at tomorrow. They showed me how to work during those in between moments during service, to prep more lettuce for the next rush, or get the hazelnuts roasting so tomorrow you can just come in and get started on the praline. Or to caramelize apples in the middle of service because people are eating twice as much dessert tonight (they do that when its cold).
I loved learning skills and spending my whole day working with food. In New York, I looked forward to preparing food when I got home from work, but now I get to do that for work. But the thing is, I don’t care too much for stress. And I like eating dinner. Neither of which jive too well with making many other people’s dinner all at the same time. Despite not loving dinner service, I’ll probably wind up doing it in several more restaurants, as it is an awesome arena for learning new skills.
I decided to send my knives home and will pick up an all purpose knife along the way. I’m going to miss the scales, kitchen aid mixer, and easy answers from experienced chefs, but as a going away present, my kitchen fam gave me an awesome travel spice kit so I can still work some magic over the camp stove or in the communal hostel kitchen.
Hopefully our paths will cross again. Maybe next time it will be in front of a pig on a spit at our farm
Today we leave Wanaka. We have been here for 8 months, which is long enough to make good byes quite hard. Last night was my final shift at work, followed by an amazing last staff meal, good bye drinks and loads of hugs at our local watering hole. Some of our friends are those whom I’ve worked side by side with since I started work in December. And some are those whom I’ve just met, but could tell right away that we are cut from the same cloth. So because it was hard to say good bye, we didn’t really. See you next year in the Czech Republic. See you when we eat New York together. See you in France when I stay at your parent’s house. See you when we’re 50 and bring our kids back to Wanaka. See you somewhere, some time, out there in the world!
Today was the last of our trips to Queenstown to get shot full of vaccinations. We’ve gone three times over the last month, slowly driving over the snow covered Crown Range, to visit the medical center for consultations and “jabs” as they call them. Each time, we sit watching the clock as the harried nurses shuffle papers and vials around.
“So Christina, you’re getting Hep B and Japanese Encephalytis…”
No. That’s Zach.
“Okay and you’ve already had it, but still need your second rabies.”
No, third rabies.
Once we sorted out who gets what, it’s needles, bandaids, credit card rape, and you’re off! Then back up the switchbacks and into Wanaka just in time to go to work. Between the requirements for Indonesia and India, we have been vaccinated for just about everything out there (Hep A, Hep B, Typhoid, Rabies, Polio, and Japanese Encephalytis). Which means now we can go just about anywhere with the peace of mind that the diarrhea is probably just diarrhea and not typhoid fever.
With vaccinations out of the way, we have started researching visas. It turns out that obtaining visas has been a driving force in our decision making process. For example, my friend Melissa is coming to visit us in Indonesia in August (!!!!!). Amidst the excitement to see her, I think I said something like, “Whatever, whenever, ohmygod yeah, just come,” forgetting that we only have a 30 day visa. As I realized later, our visa expires in the middle of the days that she requested off from work. Woops. I emailed a representative at the Indonesian Embassy and asked what to do and she suggested leaving the country and coming back on a new visa. So that’s what we’ll do. We’ll hop a flight to East Timor for a week and come back to Indonesia on a new visa.
When we leave Indonesia, we will make our way toward India. We plan to head to Kathmandu, Nepal to apply for a six month Indian visa. This looks like it will be a more complicated process, but the internet is a wonderful tool and we have taken notes from fellow travelers (check out Ryan Beale’s Super Trip of Awesome), government agencies, and Lonely Planet alike.
There is a spectacular feeling of freedom and adventure to be able to change plans at the drop of a hat. But it requires constant communication between the two of us, a willingness to be flexible, and to be able to trust that things are going to work out. We get excited to go somewhere, but after looking into the logistics, figure out that the plan isn’t going to work exactly how we had thought. Because our plans change all the time, long term planning is pretty difficult, but this also allows us to take advantage of opportunities that we didn’t know were going to come our way. A month ago, neither East Timor nor Nepal were anywhere on the radar, but now they are and that’s fantastic. We are ready to go!
We just upgraded from an iPhone3G to a 4 and have been having so much fun having a phone that takes decent pictures and can load data at a reasonable speed! We’ve also activated an Instagram account for Bring a Snack, so feel free to check us out there. Here are a few pictures from the past week, walking around the lake, some of the dishes I make at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen and downhill skiing at Cardrona and cross country skiing Snow Farm.