Friday, 23 June 2017

Indigenous Perspectives: An unexpected learning experience in Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia

Sometimes it takes a lot of digging to find experiences when you’re travelling that are NOT geared towards tourists and embody cultural appropriation, but when you find those gems, it’s well worth the search. I just happened to join a homeschooling network in the place we are currently staying in for our home exchange looking for other moms to connect with while we’re here in the Hunter Valley Region. It was through this connection that I was made aware of a special opportunity for locals to visit indigenous sacred sites and participate in traditional ceremonies. SIGN ME UP!

A week earlier Jules and I had met up with a friend and colleague from back home and participated in an indigenous tour of Sydney. Margret from The Rocks Dreaming Aboriginal Heritage Tour was very thorough, giving us a glimpse of what the traditional owners of the land value as “custodians of the land”. We learned how each person is born with the responsibility of taking care of 13 “totems”, which are identified when they are born. These totems are a species of animal, amphibian, fish, or plant species of some sort. Growing up they will learn about each of those items and how their existence is a vital part of the ecosystem. They will learn about subsistence, about medicines, and how to maintain a balanced way of life in harmony.

We walked around Sydney Harbour examining some of that ecosystem that still exists there and how the landscape has changed and how the indigenous people have been affected by colonialism. Australia has a similar shameful history as North America of how indigenous peoples were treated throughout history, and continue to face many barriers-- however what I noticed was that resilience seems to be a dominating trait among the first nation population in both North America and Australia.  Jules and I were still thirsty to learn more about the original owners of the land and understand the similarities and differences from what we have been learning from elders and knowledge keepers at home, so this opportunity really gave us high hopes of learning more.

We got up early and hopped in the car not knowing what the day would bring us. We drove an hour though the rolling hills of vineyards, cattle and horse farms to the meeting spot in the parking lot of a elementary school in Hunter Valley. We were greeted by a very friendly woman and several children! There were about 8 other people that arrived to join us and we all got back into our cars and followed Fleur with her husband, Locky (Millmullian) and their children. They are Wailwaan and Yuin people.

We made our first stop which was Baime cave. Inside the cave is an ancient drawing of Baime, the Creator and sky god. The drawings are said to be over 23,000 years old. According to Fleur and Locky the plaque outside of the cave that explains the history of it, is completely wrong and was put there by the government years ago. Although several pictures of the drawing can be found on the internet, we respected the wishes of Fleur and Locky and did not take photos close to the drawings.

Near the cave we participated in a ceremony for the land, “singing up for country” as they said, while standing in a circle. We all learned the lyrics and sang together. The purpose was to let the spirits know we were there. We then participated in a smoke ceremony with the burning of gum tree leaves and having the smoke roll over our body as a cleansing and opening of the mind and spirit. I couldn’t help but think of the smudging ceremonies of the Anishinabe people I had participated in back home in Canada. In our opening ceremony where we introduced ourselves I explained how in Anishinaabe ceremonies I have participated in we introduce ourselves and our ancestors, or where we come from, I explained how I wanted to honour the indigenous peoples of Canada as well and that I was on my own learning journey to understand beyond our textbooks and settler focused education and on a learning journey to decolonize my daughter’s education. The ceremonies and stories that were shared with us by the family were very sacred and we were asked not to share photos or details on social media, which I completely respect.
remnants from our smoke ceremony
Our day continued as we ate together and continued learning about past and present day indigenous life in this part of Australia. Stories, referred to as “dream time stories” were told of the various spirits that lived in the area. Jules had a great time learning with me and taking the time to run off into the bush by herself and just exploring the natural environment. She came back in total excitement as she had discovered What she thought was a komodo dragon!  Although Komodo’s don’t live, Locky said it would be a large goanna- a monitor lizard. I didn’t really believe her at first, thinking she probably saw something off in the distance like a log or fallen branch, but sure enough, after following her back into the bush, there it was a HUGE goanna!  Of course I didn’t have my camera out for a photo at the time, but he slowly sauntered off into the woods. We came back to get others to come and see but of course we couldn’t find him on return.  Locky had a painting of a goanna with him and we bought it off of him to keep as a memory of our time there.

Our day ended with us having tea together, soaking up the energy from the basalt rocks at another sacred location and listening to another dreamtime story.

The area was experiencing a bit of a drought and the creek that use to run through the area was drying up. The family decided to do a “rain dance”, all the children came together and danced as the mother and father sang. They got Jules up and had her dance with them, this time a dance telling the story of herring bird and fish. It was beautiful to watch.

We learned so much in this one day that we would never have learned or experienced otherwise. I was so grateful for this experience, and for Julianna to be able to learn about indigenous ways and life in another part of the world, and to see the similarities and differences compared to Canada, and for us to have a basis from which to continue our conversations on colonialism, our own settler history and what our responsibilities are as citizens of this planet, moving forward. We learned about sustainability, of resiliency, of love and respect and the need for us all to live in harmony.

Our drive home we were graced with a rainbow… and rain clouds! With such irony after a dreamtime story about rainbows and a rain dance!

Yanay biamibiyi (travel with our creator)

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Driving Through Tassie in a Week!

Welcome to Tasmania!

Day 1

The day we arrived in Tasmania we ended up arriving on an earlier flight than we had planned, as the afternoon one we were booked on for standby filled up. We flew into Devonport from Melbourne. The airport is a tiny little terminal with a desk of three car rental companies. l approached the company we had a reservation with and was told that my car was not there and I’d have to come back at 4:30 when I had it reserved, as the location is so small, they just shuttle cars back and forth from another location in town for the booked reservations. Luckily a very nice fellow offer to drive us to the house we were staying at which was only 10 minutes away. We had arranged a home exchange which was a hospitality exchange. This means the couple who own the house are there at the same time and host us during our stay. We have an open invitation for them to visit us at any point they travel to our area. They are a lovely couple with a newly build home that is gorgeous. The house sits on a hill and overlooks the neighbourhood to the front and the back to an open field covered in wallaby poop! Apparently they hop around the neighbourhood all of the time! After spending the afternoon planning out our week in Tassie, and picking up our rental car, we ventured down to Lillico Beach where at this time of year you can find penguins coming to shore to moult and chicks hatching and waiting to be feed by their parents. As dusk is when the activity begins and conservation workers are there to help educate the visitors about the penguins, and really to protect them from disturbance. No flashlights or camera flashes are allowed, however the works have red lights that won’t disturb the birds and allow you to get a better look in the dark. It was fascinating to watch and listen to the penguins at the shore. It was a great welcome to this part of the country!

Day 2

Wing’s Wildlife Park

Visiting this park allowed my daughter to check off so many things on her “must see” list for Australia on our very first day!  We had an amazing experience here and spent at least 3 hours at the park. We were greeted by very friendly staff eager to make our visit exceptional. Seeing a Tasmanian Devil was #1 on my daughter’s list, so the very first thing we were able to do was have an encounter with a baby devil!!  You can watch her YouTube video highlighting this experience. We were able to meet one on one with one of the park rangers as she held and explained the lifecycle of a Tasmanian Devil. The one we got to pet and look at up close was about 8 months old. She was very soft, had long whiskers and soft tiny feet with long nails and was falling asleep to our rhythmic petting. Some of the interesting facts were learned about a Tasmanian Devil:
  • they are marsupial with their pouch facing downwards
  • they give birth to 25-50 babies the size of a grain of rice
  • given she only has 4 tits, only 4 of the fittest will survive
  • she will eat the rest of her young
  • their bite is 3000 lbs per square inch, opening their mouth 90 degrees, and eating dead meat including crushing the bones

Our next stop was at the Koala enclosure. Although none live in Tasmania in the wild, they do live on mainland Australia. This particular Koala quite enjoyed the attention and lazily sat watching us watch her while we facts about the life of a Koala were shared.

The park had several other native and non-native species including wombats, wallabies, and meerkats. However, the most exciting experience was being able to enter the Kangaroo enclosure and feed them!! My daughter couldn’t get enough of this experience. While both of us were timid at first (I’m imaging the iconic boxing kangaroos as a larger one hopped towards us looking like 400 lbs of muscle!), we finally got the nerve up to walk closer towards them with our hand flat and out as they nibbled away at the grain we fed them. After spending about 20 minutes with the kangaroos, my daughter had named them and was petting them and hopping around the enclosure with them. We revisited their exhibit twice more, I think she could have spent the entire day with them.

Before heading out, we stopped by the adult Tasmanian devil area and witnessed feeding time. This was an unbelievable sight. Devil’s rarely kill their own meat, rather they are scavengers. The ranger brought out a leg from a dead wallaby (the roads are littered with road kill from them), she held the leg over the fence and the devils went MAD!  They definitely lived up to their reputation! It was so fascinating to watch. Overall, this park is well worth the visit!  Watch my daughter’s video about her visit here and to see the crazy devils!

On our way back to Devonport area, we stopped in a small coastal town of Penguin. Tide was low, so we slipped on our water shoes and ventured out to the sand and rocks. Jules had fun finding what looked like snails stuck on the rocks in the tidal pools and we walked along the shore, climbed some rocks and put our feet in the water. I really wanted to go for a dip, but I didn’t see anyone else in the water and questioned whether it was safe or not (also I forgot to pack beach towels).

We walked up a set of stairs to a cement statue of a penguin for a photo and then crossed the street to a tourist information office. The older lady working in here was a hoot and just loved my daughter, talked up a storm with her and gave her a peck on the cheek when we left. She also mentioned that the beach is perfectly safe for swimming, but that it was during the week and kids were in school and everyone else was working! The old woman also mentioned an ice-cream shop that was “to die for”, just down the block, however it was closed on a Monday and we missed out.

Ashgrove Cheese

Taking a large detour on our way back to Devonport we found our way to Ashgrove Cheese Factory. This is a quaint little shop that includes a viewing window into the factory area where we were able to see the cheese being made. They had several samples and even more flavours and types of cheese for purchase. Their ice-cream is not to be missed, absolutely delicious. I walked away with purchasing only 3 small blocks of cheese, missing my husband at this point as I know he would have shared in the consumption! I had to keep in mind I’m only here for a week and only so much cheese-eating will be feasible!

Chocolate Factory

Last stop of the day was the chocolate factory. Again, viewing windows allow for a peek into the process of making and moulding of the chocolate. A little museum area shares in the history with plaques and memorabilia, but of course the favourite part of the visit is to the tasting room, where several types of their handmade chocolate is available! We felt like we couldn’t walk out of there without taking some with us, so we bought a small bar of dark chocolate to last us the next few days (we’ll see), and a box of hazelnut clusters to share with the family we are staying with in Devonport. Delish!

Day 3

Cradle Mountain
We decided to dedicate this day to Cradle Mountain National Park. About a hour and a half drive, we made a stop in Sheffield to stretch our legs and check out the murals of the town, painted on the sides of the quaint little village shop walls.

One of Tasmania’s National Parks, Cradle Mountain is located in the Central Highlands region.  We made the winding drive surrounded by pencil pines and giant fern plants, between spurts of open fields peppered with black cattle with a golden yellow backdrop, it was beautiful.
We arrived at the visitors centre and got our tickets for the shuttle that takes you to Dove Lake (another 14 or so km up the mountain). Roads are narrow and the number of cars are limited in the parking area, hence the need for shuttle busses. There are several walks that vary in distance and difficulty. We choose to do the Dove Lake Circuit a 6 km hike around a glacier formed lake. I think this is doable with children age 6 and over, unless you know your kid and they’re complainers. It can take anywhere from 2-3 hours to complete, adding in a few stops along the way.  The path is well maintained and boardwalk is provided in many areas along the path. There’s a few inclines, but nothing too strenuous. We had perfect weather, with clear sky and ideal temperatures around 17 degrees. It is a beautiful hike that starts with the famous view of the twin peaks reflecting into the water, making your way toward Glacial Rock that somewhat bulges out from the landscape allowing you to climb atop, walking along the glacial strides of the ancient rock, giving an unrestricted view of the mountain.

Cradle Mountain is 1545 metres above sea level and show evidence of undergoing three glacial stages over the last 2 million years. You can see that evidence in the landscape surrounding the pathway.
We headed back and made a stop at the interpretation centre, as well as a short walk to see Pencil Falls. Another quick walk that is great for young kids is called the Enchanted Forest, which can talk about 20 minutes. We decided to opt out of that one and make our way back as we were unsure of the time it would take to get back, and I was going to be making dinner for our Home Exchange hosts (plus momma wanted to stop into a Cider factory!).

We took a different root back to Devonport and drove through small rural picturesque villages, including Wilmot, where everyone’s mailbox was creatively decorated or constructed out of machinery or medal of some kind.  

Spreyton Cider
We made a small detour to check out Spreyton Cider Company. Loving my cider, I could not just pass by!  A lovely woman greeted us and I enjoyed some tasty crisp cider, while looking out the window at all of the red apples hanging from the trees, ready for picking. I remember it’s autumn here, even though home is experiencing winter!  I purchased a 6-pack, of course with the intention of sharing with our home exchange hosts, and we carried on our way!

Day 4

Our gracious home exchange hosts gave us their keys to their family “shack” located just outside of Freycient National Park. We packed the rental car and headed out in the morning. It was a very long drive, but the scenery and of course winding roads keep you as alert as possible. We made a few stops along the way:

Low Head Lighthouse

Now an automated lighthouse, this one was originally the third lighthouse to be constructed in Australia. It was recommended to stop here to view the magnificent power of the sea, however, it wasn’t that active on this day.  The lighthouse was nice enough, but not sure it was worth the detour.

A small little fishing town, we found a cute little bistro to stop into for lunch, simply named “Bridport Bistro”.  On their specials of the day list was “Tempura Gummy & Chips”, not knowing what Gummy was, I asked the waitress and she said it was a type of shark found in the waters just off of shore. So of course we had to try it!  So glad we did! It was a white fleshed fish that was very light and overall delicious, it might actually be one of my favourite fish for a “fish and chips” type of meal!  

Another momma stop: Bay of Fires Winery

We passed many wineries along our route, especially in Tamar Valley region. I kept thinking how nice a glass of wine with dinner would be, and with the cheese I had bought from Ashgrove! With a whine from the kid, I still made a stop for some wine for me. We pulled into Bay of Fires Winery. Surrounded by vineyards, this small white tasting room was well appointed and clearly a winery well respected in Australia. I sampled, needing to cut myself off, knowing I was the only one driving, and bought myself a bottle of retailing to reward myself after the long drive.

Cheese Farm
We continued onward, making at stop in at a cheese farm. A very nice location, and if we had more time I would have liked to have had a drink on their back porch, overlooking the fields, however we were trying to make it to Cole’s Bay before dinner. We partook in some cheese samples of course, and Julianna got an ice-cream cone to tie her over until dinner time.

Coles Bay
We finally pull into Cole’s Bay, the last stop before entering the Freycient Park. We ran into the grocery store which was closing and grab a few things to last us the next few days. We pulled into the “shack” and once settled, admired the view from the window of the mountains and had dinner (including the wine I bought!).  By this point I think my body was telling me I needed to slow down. We hit our 1 month of travelling anniversary and I was coming down with a cold. Swallowing razor blades and sinuses filling so that my nose was a constant drip, the 4-5 hour hike I had in mind to see the #1 top destination in Tasmania on my list was looking grim. Wineglass bay was just a mere 2-2.5 hour hike uphill, however as the night progressed I knew I wasn’t going to be in any shape. I quickly googled how to get to Wine Glass beach and only came up with one Cruise expedition that was 4-5 hours long, however it never let you get off the boat and onto the beach. Not to mention several reviews indicated the rough sea getting around the bend into the bay caused a number of people to get motion sick, something Jules is prone to. I found a sailing company and sent them an email, inquiring at 8pm that night whether there was a sail the next day we could join, hoping that a smaller more intimate boat ride would be ideal. However they responded saying they don’t take children under the age of 12, however there was a company that operates a water taxi that can take you to Hazard’s beach and then from there you can walk 30 minutes on a flat surface to Wineglass Bay! SOLD!  I quickly googled the operation and they had 2 seats left for 11:30 departure and I made the purchase!

Day 5

Wineglass Bay & Hazard’s Beach
We took our time getting ready in the morning when I noticed an email from the water taxi company that the computer system had over booked the seats for the taxi and that they needed to change my time to thirty minutes earlier, which was fine with me! We packed our bag for the day wearing our swimsuits and bringing water and snacks with us. We met the captain at the pier and realized we were the only ones on this trip, as they were making a special run just for us because of their system overbooking!  So we had a private trip over to Hazard’s beach. The weather again, was perfect! Clear blue sky, and calm water. Watching the golden and reddish rocks and mountain grown from the deep blue and aqua coloured water as we got closer was magnificent. We rounded the corner, and there it was!  
The caramel sandy beach with Caribbean blue ocean. We were so excited to pull ashore! I’ve never seen such crystal clear water and such a large sandy empty beach before. We asked our water taxi to come back in 2.5 hours, giving us enough time to walk to Wineglass Bay beach and come back and enjoy at swim at Hazard’s beach.

Once we climbed the sand dune and made the 30 minute flat walk to Wineglass Bay, we emerged from the tree line to a white sandy beach and rolling aqua blue waters rolling at the shore.

The view did not disappoint!  It was everything I hoped it would be. We climbed the rocks at the side of the bay to get a better view and I soaked it all in. As I was doing that, Jules was busy behind me trying to inch closer and closer to a wild Wallaby!

I called her over to me and we sat down to have a snack and some water. The Wallaby decided to make his way to us to check out what we were eating. We got a few photo ops and then headed down the rocks to roam the beach. Although this beach is swimmable, you have to be comfortable with surf, and I wouldn’t recommend taking kids into the water unless you are holding onto them.  We walked about 3/4’s of the way around the bay and then headed back to Hazard’s beach, knowing that a rewarding swim was waiting!

Knowing we only had an hour left to spend on the beach, I called up the water taxi company and asked for another half an hour on the beach. We had a great time swimming in the crystal clear, really cold water!! I just reminded myself we’re Canadian and the water temperature would be similar to swimming off of the east coast, even though it looked like were were in Fiji!

The pictures can speak for themselves.

Day 6

Port Arthur
We ventured out of Cole’s Bay around 8:30am with Port Arthur as our final designation for the day. Along the beautiful coastal drive we stopped at a few sites along the way.

Spikey Beach & Bridge

A quick stop was the “Spikey Bridge”, which really is just a bridge but the history of it is fascinating. Built in 1843 by convicts. Apparently the spikes were constructed on the bridge to prevent cows from falling off, but no one really knows.

Tessellated Pavement & Blowhole
As a geography teacher, any opportunity to stop at a naturally created phenomenon, I have to make a stop!  Tessellated pavement did not disappoint! Located at Eaglehawk Neck on the Tasman peninsula, It was fascinating to see, and Jules had so many questions on how something like this could be created naturally. There’s only a few places on earth that you can see this type of formation caused by erosion of sedimentary rock. Taking on the appearance of tiles of a mosaic floor, the rock fractures into polygonal blocks.

The Blowhole stop had some spectacular views of the Tasman coast line, and if you're brave, you could walk along the rocks closer to the waves hitting the shore.  As for the blow hole itself, the development of the rocks seems fascinating, however the “blows” weren’t as spectacular as I imagined, maybe with a different tide level you’d see more action. Rather, the ice cream from the trailer stand was great!

Port Arthur Penal Colony
We spent about 4-5 hours here. Too long if you ask me. This historical site was suggested to us by many people, however I think our experience was thwarted by a lousy ticket agent and the fact that it was a Friday. We had been told that at the site you would receive a “playing card” of sorts that would represent one of the prisoners, and throughout your visit you would find clues to who the convict might be, and then finally revealed at the end in a book of “lottery of life”, however we were not given such cards, and spent a lot time walking around trying to find where we could find these, included the room “lottery of life” that had been relocated. There were no employees present at any building we went to to even ask. As for the harbour cruise, I would say it’s just “okay”, you’re essentially hitching a ride with those passengers that are being dropped off at the optional Isle of the Dead and Peur Boy’s Island sites in a fancy cameraman that sells drinks for $10 and snacks for a 25 minute ride.  We also read that there would be reenactments with persons in period clothing, and after walking around for ages trying to find these “actors”, we finally learned from the visitor centre when leaving that these actors do not perform on Friday and Saturday. The buildings on site are interesting, as is the history of the penitentiary of Port Arthur is a fascinating tale the British Empire’s attempt at punishment and reform, however there is a lot of walking between buildings, and with smaller children, it might be too difficult. They provide a small activity book for children around 8-12 to try and keep their interest, but if history is not your thing, you’ll be bored too. If I was to do this day over again, I would spend more time exploring the geography of the Tasman coast and then visit Port Arthur for their Ghost Walk Tour in the evening for 90 minutes. It would be a lot shorter and cheaper.

Day 7

We knew we’d have a long day of driving ahead of us so we had to get an early start, not to mention we made plans to meet up with another home exchanging, travelling family in Hobart! There was one stop I did want to make which was about 10 minutes away, it was a rainy morning, but we made the drive to the Remarkable Caves anyway!

Remarkable Caves
Just as the name suggests, this sea cave is remarkable! Because it was so early in the morning and raining, no one was here. Jules was apprehensive about going as we had to make quite a trek down wet stairs and it was so grey and somber out, kind of eerie actually. We made it down to the sea level where you could peer into the cave from the viewing platform. When we arrived, the tide was low and you could see right through the cave, but we could also hear a nose coming from the cave- it was a didgeridoo!  We could then see the faint outline of 3 people in the cave. I called them over and asked if they could help me get Jules over the barrier and we both hopped the fence (shhh.. don't tell anyone!). Jules was nervous at first, but once we walked into the cave it was just magnificent! The hippie with the didgeridoo continued to play which just added to the atmosphere inside the cave. We spent about 10 minutes walking around, taking photos and just soaking up the grandeur of the cave. We were lucky the tide was at it's lowest point, otherwise this cave would be quite dangerous to be near- hence the viewing platform! 

Salamanca Market

We didn’t get to spend much time in Hobart, but I think we got to experience one of the highlights of the city, the Salamanca Market- a must for everyone!
After finally finding parking we walked to the waterfront where the streets were lined with over 300 vendors showcasing a mix of local crafts, vintage treasures, fresh produce and tasty food vendors. We made our way through the colourful stalls and found our new friends, Tom and Sheila.

We spent a few hours walking and talking, comparing home exchange experiences and travel experiences while perusing the local crafts. After we parted ways, Jules was hungry so we made a stop at one of the stalls where she decided to be adventurous and try and Wallaby burger!  I was actually shocked, given just a few days ago she was just petting one on the beach! But she was game, and devoured the burger, claiming it was the best she’s ever had! Poor Wallaby.

Female Factory
Even though we were running short on time, I made it a must-stop to visit the Female Factory. It’s not like it sounds, it’s not a factory producing women, nor a factory for women to work, it was a female convict site, or “House of Correction”. Of course it’s not given as much attention as the male version, but I felt I had to give my daughter an opportunity to learn about the history of women during this time period. There isn’t much remaining of the buildings and they’ve used the foundations that exist as part of the museum. It was heartbreaking to learn that many women and children were sent here from the colonies on very menial charges such as insolence or even being drunk. Many did not survive long as illness and infant mortality was high within the site. Although we didn’t have time for a tour, I would suggest booking your ticket with a tour to get a better understanding of the Female Factory and a more in-depth look at the history.

We continued back to Devonport with our only stop being for Petrol. My navigator didn’t last too long as I kept her quite busy this week! Our flight back to mainland Australia was the next day and I was truly wishing we had more time to spend in Tasmania. It’s definitely one of those places that I would return to, there’s so much more to explore!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Why NOT to stay in a Villa in Bali

I’m not going to lie, I LOVED every minute of our time in different villas in Bali; the beautiful soaker pools, the impeccably manicured gardens, the breakfast delivered to our front porch, the turn down service that included bottled water and a lit mosquito coil in our bathroom, even the little effort I needed to make to try and communicate with the staff because their English was so good. However, my journey to Bali was not just to experience the cheap luxuries the island had to offer, but to experience and show my daughter the real Bali, the way people live in Indonesia- a developing country in South East Asia with a spiritual devotion unlike any other place.  Living in our villas, we were trapped in a bubble, cut off from the real Bali that was just beyond the walls of the compound or beyond the frequently visited rice fields and mountains. So, we gave it up and travelled 2 hours outside of the cultural tourist hub of Bali, Ubud and stayed in a small fishing community known as Les Village in the northern part of Bali. The village had been devastated by a volcanic eruption in 1963, and more recently their fishing population had dwindled, therefore the village has had it’s challenges to develop.

My daughter and I packed up our bags and said farewell to our beautiful villa in Ubud and got into the car. The drive to the north side of the island was scary to say the least. A week prior a landslide had occurred, killing 12 and washing out several homes and flooding various areas along the river. The twists and turns of the drive and stomach-rolling ups and downs (the Gravol had to come out!), you would see several signs along the way: HATI HATI meaning caution or attention. Sandbags lined the broken road from where the land was giving out. However, glancing out beyond the sides of the road stood Mount Batur and Mount Agung, breath taking beauty, with the evidence of the last eruption of Mount Batur blanketing over the land looking like a black velvet layer, or almost like a mink blanket draped over the base of the mountain. 

We pulled into the road that led us past what seemed like small wooden homes where glimpses showed children running around barefoot, chickens and dogs loose, a cow tied to a tree and just very basic living quarters. We pulled into Gede’s compound, he’s clearly better off then many people in the area and has a beautiful oceanfront property. Gede was our host and an elder of the community. He has a few “units” that are rented out and we are shown to ours next to the kitchen, facing the ocean. Our accommodations were very basic, especially compared to what we were use to, however all amenities we needed, a bed, air-conditioning (that didn’t work that well), a fan, a shower and a western toilet. My daughter plopped herself on the bed and stared at me with the “are you serious” look. I pulled the curtain to look our the window and a giant bug drops to the floor. So giant that I couldn’t even squish it with my shoe! I batted it outside and then plopped myself down on the bed and second guessed myself. 

At this point, there was a knock on the door, it was Gede’s wife, Made who offered me tea and cut us some fresh fruit. We sat on the porch and admired the view, enjoying the sweet juiciness of the local papaya, while also examining our surroundings of all of the bugs. After a much needed rest, we walked along the brick pathway at the shore, the heat was intense from the sun absorbing into the black soil and rocks that blanketed this region due to the volcanic rock. We saw the big woven containers that are used during the dry season to make harvest sea salt on the one side of the path, and on the water were the boats of the fishing village pulled up to shore. 

Some fishermen were getting their boats ready to head out for an early evening catch, while others were doing some maintenance on their boat.

 People we passed stared and smiled and we continued until the path ended and made our way back for dinner. Gede’s wife, Made prepared a delicious fish dinner for us. We had fresh fish, seasoned veggies and rice, along with fruit for dessert. As we ate large bugs attracted to the lights above us clumsily flew into the light and would drop to the floor, I felt like we ate dinner facing upward most of the meal in fear of one of these bugs landing on us. They didn't seem to phase anyone else. Spiders crawled on the legs of the chairs, and what looked like a small mouse ran by while we ate. Our dinner servings were almost too big, and I felt horrible leaving left-overs after knowing how long Made was in the kitchen preparing our meals. However, the family dog, Sammy we learned, was well fed the next day!  We made our way back to our room, quickly shutting the door behind us, to be sure to keep the bugs out, but turned to have a giant cockroach run across the floor in front of us. It was too quick (and big) for me to try and kill. After squishing several bugs around our bed before we reluctantly climbed into our sheets, we both laid there together wide-eye in the dark really questioning my decision to have stayed here.  Jules saying “mommy, I don’t want to stay here!”. Me, feeling the same way at the time, speaks in encouraging terms and explains again my intentions of learning more of what it’s really like to live in Bali. Jules quickly fell asleep, and I lay there, wondering if a giant spider or some other giant poisonous creature will make its way into our bed all the while convincing myself why we’re here. Needless to say I didn’t seep much that night.

Once we got up in the morning and realized we didn’t die from a snake or bug bite, and everything in the room seemed to look exactly how we left it before the lights went out, we both felt more at ease. We met with other guests staying in the compound for breakfast and discussed what we hoped to get out of our visit and what we wanted to do during our time here. 

These became our most memorable experiences staying in Les Village:

Friendly People & Thirst for English
Everyone greeted us with a smile. The people here are honestly the most friendly I’ve ever met. Even with the language barrier we felt so welcomed into their community and home. Many people in the community are trying to learn English, which has been difficult as the area does not see a huge amount of tourism, although they are working very hard at trying to build their language skills and be able to cater to future tourists. With this in mind, evening get-togethers are held at the same location where we were staying where community members would give up their evening hours with the hopes of meeting travellers who could assist with their English. We were able to sit with many from the community and help them practice while we learned some Balinese words. Not only was there the evening gatherings, children from the village would come after school on their own time and meet with a volunteer who would help teach them English. This would happen every single day after their school hours. 

Real Cooking
Gede’s wife and sister-in-law were very welcoming and accommodating, offering us tea and fruit when we first arrived as I mentioned, but also cooked us any meal we requested. We were asked what type of protein we wanted with dinner and voila! Of course being right on the ocean in a fishing village we had to ask for fish! Made's curry sauce she would use on the fish was divine, always leaving you wanting more to smoother the rice in, but there was never enough. 

The fresh vegetables were seasoned perfectly and the fresh fruit capped off the delicious meal for dessert. If you were up to it, and could get up early enough you could join Made on a morning market tour as she would pick up the needed food for the day. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to go, as our one early morning was to go hike Mt. Batur!

Family Hindu Ceremony
Gede and his family invited us to their family Hindu Ceremony that was to honour the land and nature. It was an honour to be included and for the family to share what seemed like such an intimate and important ceremony. Gede took us to another part of his property where the women were preparing the offerings which included various types of food, flowers and meats such as duck, eggs and a fully cooked pig. We watched as they participating in the rituals of the ceremony and prayed facing different directions. It was a long process and took place at different spots on the land. 

Because of the language barrier, we had a hard time understanding the meaning behind some of the rituals and the reasons for the different locations and directions. Gede told me the ceremony "is presented as gratitude to nature that has delivered results for our welfare, and we undertake this every year".
It was beautiful to watch a family participate in something that they are so dedicated too and to understand more of the spirituality of the Balinese Hindus which is so unique to this part of the world. 

Yeh Mempeh Les Waterfall Walk
One of the “must-do’s” of the region is to visit the Yeh Mempeh/Les Waterfall. Previous to our arrival, a landslide had occurred in the area and had damaged some of the walkway from the river overflowing, so the path in was going to be questionable. We were able to ask some of the gentlemen that we had met the evening prior at the English lessons if they would take us to the waterfall the next day. They graciously accepted, and unbeknownst me, included a ride on their motor bikes/scooters to the entrance to the hike in. I was terrified of my daughter riding the scooter with no helmet, and she was very apprehensive. However we were promised it was a short ride, and of course “when in Bali!”, so we jumped on. Needless to say once Jules felt comfortable she LOVED the scooter ride and asked to go other places (we did not!).  

The ride kinda felt liberating. The wind blowing through my hair, driving through the small little village with hardly any traffic, and folks smiling and waving at us as we went by.  We arrived at the entrance to the pathway to the falls and within less than 15 minutes we were there! It was a welcoming refreshing dense mist that covered us after a hot humid walk through the jungle. We walked as close to the falls as we could through the clear water feeling the pounding force of the water through our whole body as it cascaded over the rocks onto the ground in front of us. It felt so powerful, and looked so beautiful.

Determination for Rehabilitation 
Not long ago the coral reefs of the shore of Les Village were damaged and most of the coral had died from the cyanide fishing practices of the fisherfolk. Fish was scarce, which meant their livelihood was impacted. In 2012 a restoration project emerged as a social enterprise for the community members to rehabilitate the reefs of Les and in turn improve their livelihood. Various outreach programs now exist, one including the English lessons that we took part in. While we were here there were two women that we met from Australia that were working on the Sea Communities project, we’d see them diving every day and documenting their findings. There has been much improvement and coal and fish are returning. The women shared some of the photos of the fish they had seen on their dives, my daughter was thrilled by the clown fish, similar to Nemo! It was interesting to learn about the partnership of the community the the non-profit organizations that have been working together to try and rebuild and improve the sea life and livelihood. 

By the second night my daughter was finally feeling more comfortable (and so was I), and she started to relax and enjoy herself. She even met some of the village children and made some friends despite the language barrier. 

I think this was an experience that allowed both of us to understand the privileges that we have in our lives and to appreciate the beauty of the happiness people have in their lives regardless their lifestyle or living conditions. We came to see the dedication and determination for improved quality of life and livelihood, how people were acknowledging and understanding of the importance of sustainable fishing and coastal care. We got to experience a sacred family Hindu ceremony-- one that we did not pay money for to see as a traditional dance or ceremony, but this was the real deal, this was a family sharing their most intimate devotion to the spiritual world with us. These are all reason I suggest you forgo the Bali villa living (at least for a bit!) and get to know another side of Bali!