This fourteen-part series is based on our journey to Japan and Indonesia, beginning September 13. In each post we use our presence in Asia as a broader background to the usual exploration of how we fit into this world. Welcome to our private life.

Batur, September 2017

This morning almost a thousand tourists paid 450,000 rupees each for the privilege of the 1000 meter ascent to summit Batur before sunrise, and only a few were prepared. It took two full hours for even the fittest of the group of sightseers to climb over the igneous rocks, broken lava, and sand, often using their hands and sometimes with almost no traction. The few who were totally unprepared arrived at the summit an hour after the first few strong climbers. Few were strong.

The trek up this gigantic rock started with a simple path from base camp, a coy lie that soon gave way to obstructed steep inclines that lead us to its peak on gravel and dust. Holding the little camp flashlight the tour guides gave us to light the void of early morning made the predawn trek up the mountain even harder since only one hand was available to buffer falls on the grating boulders -- and climbing without a light source was definitely not an option.

Despite the rocks on damn near vertical paths and windy, cold conditions, many of these vacationers were totally unprepared. Some were wearing deck shoes, shorts, or t-shirts, but almost all them had some kind of a recording device. Once we summited, the peak was overrun with their cell phones, cameras, flashes, tripods, and drones taking a thousand photos of a sunrise that was respectable at best. No, it was gorgeous, but still, who climbs a damn mountain in deck shoes, carrying a cam corder?

Vassar was the only kid among the eight-hundred who clambered up Batur that blustery morning. Even though the trip was twice as hard at his scale, he scrambled up there like it was a game. He was cold at the top like the rest of us, but took a few pictures and simply enjoyed the moment. Two hours up, plus an hour and a half at the summit, plus two and a half hours down and he never once complained. We are happy that he endured the difficult journey, getting up at 2am without objection, and proud of his respect for the moment.

Everyone in our party underestimated the Batur ascent as a simple sunrise venture, yet we appreciated the hardship and the pilfering monkeys. The climbing itself was the real payoff: this difficult hike was the most memorable bonding experience we had in Asia.

Luwak coffee, September 2017

Satria plantation, Bali Indonesia

Bali has something they call kopi luwak. It's the same as civet cat coffee, rich, aromatic, funky… oh wait you don't know what civet cat coffee is. It's fine coffee processed from the feces of the palm civet. Confused? Well, they have in the coffee plantation this caged nocturnal animal that resembles a lithe and musky domestic cat, and the attendants let it out in the evening to gorge on coffee beans during the night, and in the morning after they put the civet back into the cage the attendants go into the coffee bushes and collect his poop from the ground. Yes, poop. The coffee seeds don't get digested, so they wash the poop to harvest the beans, rinse about a million times and then roast them.

Yes, it's a real thing, look it up. No, it wasn't spectacular. Different, yes. Poop no.

Altar with incense, September 2017

Kintamani, Bali Indonesia

My reading on Buddhism started as a question, but the parallels with my thinking made it real in my life. Who knows if kamma exists, but I'd rather practice awareness and learn who I am than follow Christianity and die ignorant.

Vassar, September 2017

Mt. Batur, Bali Indonesia

None of us really knew what to expect on the mountain so we all suffered a little in the summit's cold wind, but his seventy pound body suffered the most from the uncomfortable conditions. He didn't complain, and even when the fatigue of four hours sleep hit us on the decent he just climbed quietly. Nearly six miles and 4000 feet of elevation change is tough on a ten year-old, so we were proud of him.

Rinjani, September 2017

Bali, Indonesia

What few goals I had when I started shooting were about replicating the landscapes in my mind composed from pictures I liked. It took about a year for me to understand how difficult good outdoor photography is and I abandoned the idea of shooting what I had seen; it took about another year for me to be comfortable with that decision.

Monkey, September 2017

Mt. Batur, Bali Indonesia

We are uneasy with the term 'vacationing' because it implies separating from normal life, getting away from it all. Why live a life you need to get away from? Consistently living the way you want seems more plausible, and more sustainable, but it also takes some discipline since there is a balance between economics and ambition.

The travel we do is expensive and requires daily sacrifice, which is one of the reasons we respect the places we visit. Rarely do we witness our fellow visitors displaying that same sort of reverence.

The group at sunrise, September 2017

Mt. Batur, Bali Indonesia

This was just as the Sun was coming up, and it was still really cold, but the numb fingers and asses were worth it.


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