The Tirta Empul Temple was one of the main reasons why I wanted to go back to Bali.
The temple was built around a sacred spring and people have been washing away their karma for over a 1000 years here:
People get into these pools and go from one water stream to the next. The effect is difficult to describe – I feel lighter and uplifted afterwards. Also, I feel energy passing through me in waves.
The temple is not far from Ubud where I am staying right now. It is about 15 km or 12 miles from here.
I rented a scooter and went there myself. So here in Bali I am driving on the left side for the first time. The traffic is a bit crazy, but it can be done.
It was also much more interesting to go on my own through the Balinese countryside with the jungle forests, deep ravines and rice fields.
The 6-hour flight from Sydney to Bali took us directly over the Australian outback which I was quite curious about.
Taking off in Sydney – East Coast of Australia
I took this picture just seconds before we disappeared into the clouds:
Different faces of the Outback
In some places it looked like a wind-swept desert:
While in other places (close to Ayer’s Rock or Uluru) it looked almost like Mars:
Then in the middle of the nowhere we flew over a huge lake:
No, this is not the Caribbean, but the Australian desert!
Australian West Coast from the air
And finally, here we are passing over the Australian West Coast on the way to Bali:
Today I took a bus from Sydney to Canberra to visit one of my friends living there. The bus ticket is relatively cheap – just $27 for the three and a half hours drive.
Canberra from above
One of the first things I did with my friend is to go up the observation deck on Canberra’s TV tower:
From there we had a good view of all of Canberra, which is pretty small. The whole city was planned in advance after Australia became independent in 1901. The lake you see here was planned from the start, but it did not exist until the 1960’s.
The forests you see on these pictures are all planted. After the city was founded, some 20 million (!) trees were planted over decades.
Canberra on the ground
Here is a fountain in the lake between the government district and the downtown area of Canberra:
The city center itself is not very spectacular, at least compared to Sydney:
The whole area between Sydney and Canberra is very green with many forests. There are also some small hills, so it is not completely flat.
My friend told me that the highest “mountain” in Australia is south of Canberra and just about 2 km (6000 feet) high, which is less than the 2.5 km (7000 feet) in Santa Fe, New Mexico where I live.
Australia is a very old continent, so all the mountains have been eroded through wind and rain. Some of the oldest rocks on Earth have been found in Australia.
So after 4 planes and 2 days of traveling from Cancun, Mexico I arrived in Sydney, Australia.
My first impression: There are so many beautiful girls everywhere… And: Driving in a bus on the left side of the road is weird.
Later I find that people actually walk on the left as well and even stand left on the elevators.
First day in Sydney
After a good sleep I woke up at around 4 am and then went for an early walk at around 6 am on a Sunday morning.
The birds in the park make unfamiliar noises and some of them have very long, crooked beaks – nothing like I’ve seen before.
First night I stayed at a hostel full of Germans (including the staff). It seems that pretty much everyone working at the hostels are here with the 1-year Work & Travel program which I used to work in Canada some years back.
Central Sydney is very loud. Lots of people, cars and quite stressful. So despite being quite nice, Sydney is still a large city with all that comes with it.
Bondi beach in Sydney
The closest beach to downtown Sydney is called Bondi beach. It is about 5 miles away and takes a subway and a bus to get there.
They also have a nice coastal walkway to the next two beaches further south, just a few miles away:
Sydney has palm trees, but even in the summer (their February is like our August) there are cloudy days. Of the 5 days I was in Sydney, 2 were clouded with some light rain.
After 11 hours of flight we landed in Fiji, which is about two thirds of the way from Los Angeles to Sydney. I realized that this was my first time in the Southern Hemisphere.
When we exited the plane at 5 am local time, the air was warm and humid – even more so than in southern Mexico it seemed.
We were welcomed by a local band who played live while we quickly passed border control. Here is a short clip of them that somebody else recorded:
Fiji airport turned out to be pretty small, but they have their own airline – Fiji Airways – on which I flew to Australia.
After sunrise, I asked to take a few pictures outside. This is as much as I got to see of Fiji:
The flight from L.A. to Fiji went by fast since I slept through most of it. Having been somewhat sleep deprived definitely helped in that.
Tip: Bring ear plugs and eye cover. This can also come in handy if you are planning to stay in a hostel somewhere.
Passing the international date line is pretty strange as it means that we jumped almost a full day into the future (20 hours). There is a 4 hour time zone difference between Fiji and L.A.
It can be quite amazing what kind of people you meet at airports.
At the Cancun airport I met a young Ukrainian woman. We both spoke Russian, we both had almost the same first name, we both had the flight to Mexico city and we both would wait at the airport overnight until about 6 am. How is that for some interesting coincidences? Needless to say the time passed much quicker this way…
Then at L.A. airport, my next stop on the way to Australia, I met a couple from Alaska who also had almost the same first names (Mike and Michelle). Turns out that we would also fly on the same plane to Fiji, before getting different connecting flight there. They went to Vanuatu for six weeks, while my next stop would be Sydney.
Our wait at the LAX airport was almost nine hours during the day, but also passed by much quicker as we sat on a couch in an airport restaurant and talked about many things. It was a nice connection.
In these two days I may have talked more than ever – comparable to a long Russian or German meetup each day.
Playa del Carmen is a mid-sized beach town about an hour south of Cancun on the Yucatan peninsula in Southern Mexico.
Night life in Playa del Carmen
While I recommend the all-inclusive hotels outside of Playa del Carmen for staying, this town is nevertheless nice for a visit. One of its advantages is a brimming night life.
The famous Coco Bongo disco is located in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It is a bit on the expensive side – about $70 to get in. However, it provides world-class entertainment that “puts Las Vegas nightlife to shame,” as CNN put it. This club is known for its concerts of high-quality look-alike cover bands for famous artists like Guns’n Roses.
In Playa del Carmen, the food prizes vary greatly from one restaurant to the next. On the main tourist street that runs parallel to the beach, it is not uncommon to see $30 or even $40 for a normal meal.
On my last visit to Playa, someone recommended me a fish restaurant where the locals like to eat. It is called Taraya and is located right on the beach (2. Calle North). This restaurant has some of the best fish you will ever eat and is actually quite cheap.
I got this 350g fish (Filet Taraya-style) for just 90 pesos, which is about $8:
Good and cheap laundry services
During long trips, you also need to laundry from time to time. The laundry services are also much cheaper in Playa del Carmen than at any of the hotels. I paid $3 for 2kg of laundry and it was done for me within a day. The hotels overcharge their laundry services, asking as much as $3 for just one piece of clothing.
The Caribbean coast of the Mexican Yucatan peninsula has some of the best beaches in North America. White sand, warm ocean water and tropical temperatures all year round.
Especially in the winter the south of Mexico is an ideal destination to get away from the cold weather that grips all of North America, except Florida and to some degree the Gulf Coast, southwestern Arizona and southern California.
This is my 9th time here in southern Mexico. The jungles, the sea – it is all so much more beautiful than the deserts of Northern Mexico.
The flights to Cancun can be very inexpensive. This time I got a one-way ticket from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Cancun for just $180 on Expedia.
“Why is this a one-way ticket?” you may ask. The reason is that I am beginning a long trip that will take several months.
My current job of writing Amazon and doing online marketing (Clickbank, etc.) also gives me the flexibility to work from any place around the world – as long as there is an Internet connection.
Back to the Mayan Caribbean:
The best way to experience it with some friends (or your significant other) at one of the large 5-star all-inclusive resorts on the coast south of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Other good hotels here are the Grand Sirenis and Palladium.
This time we stayed in the Gran Bahia Principe resort for the 4th time. It seems that Apple Vacations usually has the best rates for these hotels (about $90 – $170 a night per person). Apple Vacations also seems to have the cheapest shuttle service to the Cancun airport.
The all-inclusive hotels have excellent, large buffets where you can eat as much as you want. Most all-inclusive hotels in the Mayan Caribbean south of Cancun also have unlimited free drinks for their guests – including alcoholic drinks, all kinds of cocktails, etc.
What I found is that staying at a 5-star all-inclusive hotel can be actually cheaper than staying at a normal 3-star hotel. Paying for all the food and the drinks separately can really add up while it is already a part of the package when you go all-inclusive.