Pause.

For the past 2 months, all my weekends were spent traveling, except for one when I had a Philippine Embassy event.

Today is a very rare Saturday when I’m staying put in Jakarta, and I’m relishing every single second of it!

I love traveling and I always will, but doing it non-stop for both work and leisure wore me down. I felt tired and consumed, day in and day out.

I’m taking advantage of this weekend to sit back and relax, catch up on my reading and writing.

To slow down. To pause.

Literally.

I have so much material for the blog, but unfortunately didn’t have enough time, not even to look at my stats. I have been an absolutely horrible blogger as of late!

The good news about it is that while I have been failing as a consistent blogger, I’ve been winning at recovering and living my life. I’m slowly finding my joie de vivre and my groove back.

It’s not a perfect process and I don’t have a bullet-proof solution. It’s a hit and miss, in fact. There were days that I was at a point of exhaustion that I had to bail on dinners and parties with friends, much to their chagrin and much to my social punishment (I have clingy albeit loving friends, which I truly appreciate).

Lesson learned: Balance. Balance is always key to wellness.  

 

Bella

This Bella is on pause this weekend.

It may sound simple, common sensical even, but a lot of us take this for granted. We pack so much stuff in our schedules, in our mind space and in our lives that we forget to breathe.

This weekend is a glorious time to pause. To breathe and to claim my moment of peace.

To the weekend warriors, have a great one. I’m sitting this one down, armed with my Macbook and a cuppa.

Chinese New Year 2018 in KL

It’s been 2 years in a row that we’ve been spending Chinese New Year in KL. It has now become a family tradition that I look forward to yearly, where the yummy cookies and pastries in red-topped jars abound and Chinese aunties stuff you silly with all their cooking (not complaining!).

Aside from the usual Chinese New Year tradition of seeing the cousins, tossing the Yee Sang, eating, drinking…and more eating and drinking, Arshad and I also celebrated our 4th year anniversary.

The weekend was well-spent revisiting the old and discovering something new. 

We went back to Villa Danieli, the resident Italian restaurant at Sheraton Imperial, where he proposed 5 years ago. We haven’t been back since, so we figured, 5 years is long enough and revisiting it was in order.

Us at Villa Danieli.jpeg

Bella and ze Hubs at Villa Danieli, Sheraton Imperial

Villa Danieli’s location is quite strategic, as the KL Tower is overlooking its outside patio.

I also loved the entrance’s styling and the restaurant’s glass-blown murano vases, lamp shades and the murals painted on the walls and ceilings. The ambience makes it very conducive for romantic dates.

Villa Danieli3

prossecoThe place reminded me of our nights in Florence and Venice when Arshad and I hopped from one restaurant to another, literally downing a bottle of prosecco each to chill ourselves during the hot and humid summer nights in Italy.

It was good that Villa Danieli had prosecco on the menu, as it was just appropriate to celebrate the occasion with something light and sparkling.

I had a better appreciation of this underrated bubbly during our trip to Italy and because of Nicky Pellegrino’s One Summer in Venice.

The food was also noteworthy. We shared the insalata di rucola (tossed arugula salad served with green apple slices, cherry tomatoes and gorgonzola dressing) and fungo portobello (oven baked mushroom with goat cheese served with cherry tomato confit and mixed salad).

Since the antipasti were already big plates, we decided to just share our main course of quattro formaggi, Villa Danieli’s take on the four-cheese pizza, delectably smoldered with mozzarella, gorgonzola, parmesan and taleggio cheese.

 

If you want a romantic dinner in the heart of the city with a good selection of wine, cheese and Italian food, Villa Danieli is highly recommended.

Villa Danieli details:

Address: Jalan Sultan Ismail, Chow Kit, 50250 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Hours: Opens 12PM

 Phone: +60 3-2717 9922

Mr & Ms pancakesFor the new find, I was specifically craving for pancakes. For months now, I’ve been craving for my Grandma’s pancakes and although I know nothing will ever come close, I still wanted to get my fix. Alas, I got it courtesy of Mr. and Ms. Cafe’.

The 3-layer pancake that I ordered came with banana and strawberry slices on top and blueberries on the side. I had the sweet butterscotch on the side, instead of drizzled on the pancake stack, so that I could control the sugar that I put.

Mr & Miss Spicy Baked Eggs and Sausages

Arshad, on the other hand, ordered the spicy baked eggs with chicken sausages. The baked eggs were topped with herbed chicken sausages, with sun-dried tomatoes, chilli padi (his favorite), potato hash and yogurt with bread on the side. Not bad for a hearty breakfast!

The ambience was also nice and inviting. The area of the cafe’ wasn’t that big but it’s definitely conducive for breakfast or if you just want to have coffee while reading or working on your Macbook.

Mr & Miss Cafe

Mr. and Ms. Cafe in Damansara

Their menu was also quite exhaustive: they have a lot of salads, quite a selection of pasta, risottos, sandwiches and burgers. I will definitely come again to try more food on the menu!

Mr & Ms

The Arshads enjoying their breakfast at Mr. and Ms. Cafe’

Mr. and Ms. Cafe details:

Address: Oasis Square, B-G-3A Block B, Jalan PJU 1A/7A, Ara Damansara, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

Hours:  Opens 10AM

Phone: +60 3-7859 6665

Overall, Chinese New Year 2018 in KL was a blast! It’s a time to spend with family and friends, a time to revisit the old and a time to try something new.

Belated Gong Xi Fa Cai to everyone! May the Year of the Dog bring you good tidings and fortune.

That thing called funk

I recently blogged about the emotional letdown that I have been going through a week before my birthday. Some of my friends both from Jakarta and Manila have privately reached out to me to check how I was doing.

To those friends: you know who you are. Thank you. 

Although I’m not back 100% just yet, things are getting better. Every day, I’m trying to make an effort to make things better, to feel better. Writing about it was an essential part of the healing and recovery process. First, I had to admit that things were not as rosy as how they seemed to be.

I needed to acknowledge that I was suffering from a form of depression so that I can move on, so to speak.

This whole episode started a few months ago, when I began working an average of 55-60 work hours per week. I felt like a hamster running in circles, with no end in sight, with no gains perceived from whatever I’ve been doing.

Sleep became elusive. Either I had difficulty falling into it or I found myself waking up at 3 or 4 am, not being able to go back to sleep again. I lost my appetite and my usual food cravings where nowhere to be found. If there was one benefit from it, I lost a little bit of the excess weight.

dark clouds above

Image from Pinterest

On most days, I found myself exhausted. Tasks at work that I can do in a jiffy, even with my eyes closed, took longer than usual to finish. I stopped reading my books and it took me hours to peel myself off the couch to do my usual workout routine that I know so well and which I used to look forward to doing.

I lost my joie de vivre. In most parts of the day, it felt like there was a dark cloud hovering above me, following me around wherever I went. This pesky dark cloud did not want to leave me out of its sight.

I started feeling sad for no particular reason, hiding my tears as I locked myself in the bathroom to weep, whimpering as quietly as I can manage so that my husband won’t hear me. I didn’t want him to worry about me and I didn’t want to talk about it.

My friends didn’t know any better, as I never shared what I have been going through. It’s not me to talk about my issues with friends, even with the inner circle.

In the process, I’ve alienated my family and my best friends. They wanted to know what’s going on, but I wanted to shield them from the negativity. I became unresponsive and I shied away from conversations that will lead them to ask what’s been happening.

In a way, I somehow felt guilty getting depressed. I have a great life and for some people, I have nothing else I should be complaining about. My life isn’t perfect but I have a supportive husband, a good job, a happy family life and an amazing circle of friends. Arshad and I are living a good expat life in a market that is replete with opportunities. We can travel and go to places we like, even randomly selecting islands where we can quickly and quietly spend the weekend.

That’s why I never talked about it. To me, it seemed frivolous to complain, to even feel what I’m feeling. It felt like an unfair sense of entitlement, that I had no justifiable reason to get depressed.

An aunt even posted on my Facebook: “April, you are blessed beyond compare.” But in my head, I was asking myself: Am I? If I am, why I am feeling so rotten?

Luckily, some of my friends who have gone through depression have reached out to me privately to tell me that they’ve been through the same thing. Some suffered through it silently, whilst some sought the counsel of friends. Others got professional help.

One of my trusted friends gently told me that I shouldn’t feel obligated to always do everything for everyone, which she felt was what I was trying to do.

She said:

“Even heroes have the right to bleed.”

And that it was okay to acknowledge how I was feeling and my current state of mind.

Denial was a river in Egypt that I had to swim through so that I can finally accept where I am and how I’m feeling so I can properly deal with it. The moment that I started recognizing my depression for what it is and the reasons causing them, the days started to get better.

I forced myself to read my books and deliberately searched for literature that can help me deal with this. I slowly clawed my way out of my misery by picking up my fitness routine again, with the hopes that my endorphin levels will shoot up and give me quick bursts of happiness.

For the close friends who were incessantly badgering me to talk about it (they have the best of intentions for me, God bless them), I made an effort to share with them, albeit in general terms, what has been happening.

The crying bouts became less and less frequent, although I still get melancholic every now and then. Whenever I feel that I’m going to crash again, I take a moment to acknowledge the emotions and deal with them. I realized there was no point in trying to shove it down further. It only made me feel worse.

My productivity started picking up again and I can think more clearly. When I spend time with friends, I genuinely enjoy the company and the conversations. Oh, my appetite came back (darn it!).

As I walked home tonight, I looked up and saw the star-sprinkled sky, which is quite rare these past few nights in Jakarta as it had been raining. I whispered a small prayer of thanks and told myself:

“It will only get better from here.” 

Embracing Change

Bella Expatria turned a year old this month. Although I wish I could have written more or I could have shared more, time will always be my adversary in terms of priorities and my long list of to-dos. That’s a given life truth for me.

I wish I had the luxury of even half a day’s worth of just being in a quiet, relaxing corner, armed with a cup of piping hot brew, while in the zone typing away my ideas and everything that I want to say. Truth is, I have to steal these moments.

This Bella made it to a year of writing and blogging. I have to be okay in celebrating this minuscule milestone, because finding the time to do it is already a feat in itself, let alone sustaining it for a year!

Celebrating this anniversary also made me look back and reflect on what has happened. It seemed like a lot has changed, but at the same time, it also somehow feels that nothing did. Quite the paradox, isn’t it?

For the past year, I’ve experienced a whirlwind of changes in my career, my life and my friendships that spun me in a frenzy. I forced myself to keep track and keep up, sometimes at the expense of my health and my sanity.

After everything has been said and done, it was as if I’ve traveled so far and I’ve accomplished so much only to go back to where I started a year ago.

In my head, I’m actually asking this question: “Universe, are you fuckin’ kidding me?

So is there are lesson to take from a year’s worth of journey?

I’ve been an expat for an accumulated total of 4 years now and I’ve been in Jakarta this time around for almost 2 years, yet I feel like I’m still in the beginning of things.  I’ve experienced highs and lows and once again, highs of expat living. Just like any other chosen lifestyle, it has formed its own cycle that just needs riding through.

If there are lessons to be had for me in embracing change, or wading through it for the most part, I can summarize them in 5 learnings that I wanted to share. You don’t even need to be an expat to have these realizations. Personally, they were just more weighted for me because these reminders anchored me in moments of doubt:

1. Let passion and purpose become your truth north. I will change roles, I will change companies and I will most likely change countries in a few years’ time but my passion and purpose as to why I do the things I do are very clear to me.

Perhaps this also comes with age and maturity. Being an aimless wanderer sounded cool in your twenties, but too careless and directionless in your thirties. At some point in time, everyone has to do some adulting.

My family and my career are the two main reasons why I’m an expat. Arshad and I pretty much carved our lives the way we did because we want to pursue our careers without compromising our marriage and our time together.

This is also the reason why we both chose to be in Southeast Asia. We want to be near Manila and KL, so we can pretty much fly in and out to see our family. The choice was driven by our priority: family.

2. People and relationships should be on top of the chain in terms of priorities. Sometimes, we get side-tracked by long hours at work or we’ve got one project too many that we take our relationships and friendships for granted.

I’ve been guilty of the same thing. There were those long days that made me skip my phone calls to Manila or made me take a rain check when I’m just too exhausted to see friends.I assess myself every now and then when I’m becoming a repeat offender. I make it a point to keep in touch with friends and when I’m back in Manila or in KL, no matter how tired I feel, I go out of my way to see the people who matter.

The family and friends in your life will keep you sane when a tide of change hits you.  In all the relocations I’ve made in my life, keeping a consistent and reliable circle of friends kept me grounded and made me feel rock-steady. Here’s the thing though: if you want to have reliable friends who will tide you over the changes in your life, you have to be a reliable friend yourself.

Even if you are far away, make sure you are present in your family and friends’ lives. Remember birthdays and special occasions. Pick the phone up and just make that damn phone call! IDD rates have severely gone down. Hell, we barely need IDD since we’ve got all the OTT platforms to make that video call.

3. Prioritize. Which takes me to my next lesson learned: prioritize the people and things that matter. An expat’s life often requires a lot of traveling and being away from family and friends. This distance also means limited time, and limited time will require you to carefully select and schedule the circle of friends you get to meet every time you come home and visit.

This situation also makes you take a closer look on your relationships and compels you to shortlist the people who really matter. Although it may sound limiting at first, it becomes a filter on who really are your valued relationships.

At the same time, it matters to spend time with people who you become friends with in your host country, because you never know when things will change again – either for them or for you. Likely, you also keep an expat circle who have similar circumstances like yours. Most of the expat stints are within a 2-year range that comes with a renewable contract.

I’ve seen friends come and go, move from our host country to the next one. I’ve attended their send-off parties or at some point in time, they threw mine. The friends we’ve made will come and go – literally. If keeping friendships and valued relationships is a priority for you, make time while they’re still there.

4. Have a grateful heart.  A life of gratitude is a life well-lived, for gratitude’s prerequisite is a positive life perspective. Being in a high-pressure industry and job, I feel a lot of stress and I certainly get a lot of frustrations. What helps me get through long days is counting the accomplishments and blessings that I have – big or small.

I will never have everything. No one’s supposed to. It shouldn’t stop you from being grateful. Admittedly, I forget this because I’m always too eager to accomplish things. I get frustrated when things don’t turn out the way I expected it to because I worked hard for them.

Arshad is better in doing this and he is my constant reminder that hey, you cannot imagine how many other people think how awesome your life is and here you are, sulking because you experienced a setback.

Every time I feel that I’m wallowing too much on my frustrations, I begin counting my blessings. I have yet to perfect this, but I’m learning.

5. Emotional resilience. There are certain things that are just beyond my control, no matter how hard I try.  What sucks is sometimes, although you’ve done everything you can, there’s still a lot of external forces beyond you and things just don’t work out the way you want it to.

An expat’s life will always be a sea of change – career, relationships, location. There will always be a curve ball. Grit and emotional resilience help me stay the course even in the toughest days. And emotional resilience doesn’t just mean being tough. It means managing the way you feel about frustrations, failures, unexpected changes and how you cope with them. Emotional resilience is about having that ability to keep your feelings in check so you can adjust swiftly, or even change your plans again.

Expat living is not easy, but at the same time, I can say it’s one of the best decisions that I’ve made: to leave my country and forge my career path somewhere else. Life, whether you are an expat or not, will always be a trail mix of the good and the bad. I choose to see what’s beautiful, to focus on the potentials and the opportunities, instead of revel in minuscule defeat and setbacks.

In a way, my learnings about embracing change in the context of expat living is to keep an open mind and to always be positive. As cliché as it may sound, the only thing that’s constant in an expat’s life is the one thing that most of us are either averse to or uncomfortable with: change.

 

What’s in a name?

bellaexpatria_fb-photoToday, I finally decided to nail down the official name for my blog.

For bloggers who’ve been around for a long time, I’m sure they can relate to this debacle. Truth is,  nothing is original in the blog sphere anymore. Most of the good names are taken and the domain names (especially the .com and .net) are already long booked.

It all seems so simple and shallow, but everything is dependent on the blog name. EVERYTHING. The domain name you will buy, your site’s SEO, your profiles and Gravatar.

I have not started integrating my profiles and accounts, for this very simple yet complicated reason. I haven’t promoted my blog either, nor have I created a Facebook page until this afternoon, until I was finally sure about my blog name.

So here it goes.

Bella Expatria. For all the women travelers. For all my fellow expats. For us, glorified OFWs. For all my fellow lakwatcheros and lakwatcheras. I want to share my stories: the fun, the adventure and the sometimes awkward and embarrassing moments of trying to assimilate to different cultures.

Hope you guys continue to read on.  =)

For my fellow bloggers, blogger wannabes and to those who are just starting, I found these tips quite helpful:

  1. Creative Blog Names
  2. How to come up with a perfect blog name
  3. Finding inspiration for your blog name

Welcoming 2017 with mindfulness

mindful-living_la-bella-vida

“The days are long but the years are short.”

I have to quote Gretchen Rubin in her book “The Happiness Project,” as it perfectly encapsulated my exact thoughts.

Over the Christmas holidays, I was driving through the streets of Manila feeling nostalgic about its nooks and crannies that I so dearly miss, when I found myself asking: “Where did time go?” It felt like it was only yesterday that I was driving through Manila’s traffic gridlock, grocery shopping in S&R, or sipping coffee in one of my hidden happy corners.

Now, it’s been fifteen months since my re-expatriation back to Jakarta, although it was as if I left just very recently.

I had a major epiphany a few years ago that remains to be a perfect reminder today:

Time can just slip by if you are not mindful and deliberate.  That being said, grab life by the horns, live in the moment, live out your purpose. Fulfilling your life purpose is the only obligation you have to yourself.

That Biblical advice and prayer, to teach us how to number our days (Psalm 90:12), takes a richer meaning in this context, as we acknowledge the frailty of human existence.

We have this tendency to wait for the New Year to craft resolutions. Perhaps, we need that psychological stop-and-start, because nothing really prevents us from doing this anytime of the year. Somehow, the pressure to restart is always ON when a new year begins, so much so that within my circle of friends, it became a running joke every year when we see these hash tags on Facebook: #NewYearNewMe and #balikalindog (return of the allure). Every. Single. Year.

This coming year, amidst the writing and re-writing of resolutions, I think the most important decision that we can make is to live our lives with deliberate awareness that we don’t have unlimited time, and that every morning that we wake up is another chance to do that one thing that we’ve been aching to do but we keep on putting on hold.

Ask yourself. What’s the best thing to do today?

Wear your expensive perfume. Wear that special dress. There is no special occasion than today. Take out the china from the cupboard and use it. Call your parents. Call a long-time friend. Write that book. Take up a cause. Volunteer. Paint. Eat well. Go take that pilates class. Run the marathon. Cook. Ask someone out. Hug a friend. Say I love you. Pack your bags. Travel. Wander with wonder in your mind and heart.

Pursue your passion.

Peel yourself off the couch and just do. Netflix will still be there tomorrow, but don’t live your life vicariously through others. Or worse, through a TV series.

My wake up call (or calls, for that matter) for me to realize these things came through close friends who were cancer survivors, or who are still trying to survive it.

See, that’s the thing. Why do we need drastic wake up calls to get on our asses to do what we’ve always wanted to do?

This happened 3 or 4 years ago, but I still vividly and fondly remember it today: A friend of mine who courageously survived the big C was in my apartment for a small dinner get-together. One of my incense candles exploded and the oil stains reached my white ceiling. While I was fussing over it, she just gently reminded me:

“April. Live.”

From that day on, whenever I fuss over the tiniest, most mundane things or when I procrastinate and tell myself I will do what I need to do tomorrow, or the next day or the day after that, it’s as if there’s this subconscious alarm that clicks in my head and I hear my girlfriend tell me, once again, one more time, with feelings:

“April. Live.”

Everyday, I remember. And everyday, I became mindful because of her and what she said.

So this year, in the here and the now, how ’bout we all give mindful living a run?

“The days are long but the years are short.”

2017: Do what you love. Do it often.

First, thank you, 2016. There were a lot of challenging moments, but there were also enormous moments of triumphs worth toasting to.

Let me open 2017 with renewed hope and refreshed energy, and let me share with you my favorite Life Manifesto:

Holstee-Manifesto.jpg

Whenever I need a push and burst of inspiration, I read the Holstee Manifesto over and over again. This has been my life’s mantra for years now and it has guided me back to my true north in moments that I go astray.

This has been my constant reminder that I want to share as we all welcome 2017.

“Wear your passion.” Indeed. Everyday.

I wish everyone pure joy and wonder this New Year. Let’s have an amazing 2017, people! =)

The Almond Zucchini Experience: Of Cooking Lessons, Chardonnay and Dinners

us-at-our-cooking-station_wm

I wanted to celebrate my birthday this year in a unique way.  After a quick beach trip, I invited some friends to a cooking class that will segue’ to a  dinner celebration at Almond Zucchini. If you are looking for a unique experience with your friends – something fun, something playful and something gustatory at the same time – I highly recommend that you book Almond Zucchini for your special occasions. It’s an experience worth trying more than once.

Did I say we were drinking chardonnay while cooking?

I found Almond Zucchini online when I was looking for cooking lessons that I can sign up almond-zucchini-signage_wmwith during the weekends, since that’s the only time I can spare for such activities. I found their web site and sent an email to inquire about the schedule and what kind of cuisines they are teaching.

I received an e-mail within the day informing me of their group classes and cuisines.  Rianto, the owner of Almond Zucchini and Pantry Magic (they actually cross-promote each other), was delightful to talk to. His response time was fast and he was patient when I had delays in my replies when I was traveling.

In the course of our conversation, I found out that they can also host private lessons amongst friends or for bigger groups as a team building exercise. I chose the package with a maximum of 6 people.  The choices for cuisines are Indonesian, Italian, Thai and a slew of desserts.

Since I really wanted to learn how to cook Indonesian food, I chose the Nasi Bali menu, consisting of:

  • Nasi putih – white rice
  • Jukut urap – blanched vegetable salad with fried chili dressing
  • Ayam pelalah – shredded chicken with chillies and lime
  • Sate lilit – minced seafood skewer
  • Sambal matah – Balinese chili
  • Dadar gulung – pandan pancake with coconut and palm sugar filling

almond-zucchini-snacks_wm

I chose the 4pm slot in time for dinner. Upon arrival at the Almond Zucchini Studio, we were greeted with a platter of fried zucchini covered with ground almonds and a pitcher of cold apple juice.  It was a good first impression. It also assured us that we won’t be starving while preparing our own dinner!

While munching on our fried almond zucchinis, we asked Chef Cindy why the studio was named as such. Apparently, and this one is a good trivia, it means that the cooking studio has everything, from A to Z. Smart and creative, if you ask me.

The cooking studio was very clean and organized. When we arrived, the lobby had several lockers where you can put your bags and things so they don’t get in the way of your cooking.

We were each given bright orange aprons and we were handed copies of the recipes.  All the ingredients, kitchen utensils and cooking paraphernalia were all prepared for us on the kitchen counters.

april-cooking-the-herbs-for-sate-lilit_wmSince there were only four of us, including my husband, we each chose one dish to prepare and cook. I chose the sate lilit and sambal matah since I was most interested in these two dishes.

Each of us was assigned a cooking station, armed with our laminated recipes. Chefs Cindy and Nurman were assisting us in cutting, slicing and dicing our ingredients. For my sate lilit, I had to use the food processor to ensure that my shrimps and fish are all properly minced.  I didn’t realize sate lilit was the most complicated to prepare! Nevertheless, I had fun preparing it.

Almost all of us were foreigners trying to cook local food so we all had a lot of questions. rinda-preparing-to-blanch-her-vegetables-for-jukut-urap_wmOur chefs were very patient in answering the barrage of questions we had, including where to source the local ingredients, some of which I have never seen in my entire life. Chef Nurman told us that we have to go to the local market for these, which was not surprising because I don’t see them when I buy my grocery at the Ranch Market.

While the chefs were guiding us in preparing and cooking our dishes, a staff was also arshad-cooking-dadar-gulung_wmgenerously pouring us our chardonnays, which added more fun in the process.

We managed to finish our dishes and plating before 6pm. To our delight, all the dishes were successful and more than edible. They were actually delicious!

Our table was set and we were served the dishes that we, ourselves, prepared and cooked in the afternoon. It was a lovely, unique experience. Of course, it was extremely satisfying that despite being newbies, we managed to cook decent Indonesian dishes.

mark-in-charge-of-the-plating_wmOverall, everything was done with the best and highest level of professionalism. Rianto, Chefs Cindy and Nurman and the rest of the staff were all gracious and accommodating. Almond Zucchini not only exceeded my expectations, but also made me want to do the experience all over again. I highly recommend this to friends who want an intimate way to celebrate milestones and occasions with a twist. In fact, I’m already thinking of another reason (or excuse) to do this again!

 

 

For more information on Almond Zucchini, you can send an e-mail to: info@almondzucchini.com.

Their cooking studio address is:  Almond Zuccini, Jl. Prapanca no. 6, Jakarta Selatan

Phone numbers: +621 7399303 or +6281 330 179 342

Rating of the experience: 

5-out-of-5

A quick birthday weekend getaway to the Gili Islands

 

gili-trawangan-beachfront

Gili Trawangan’s crystal blue water“

If you have 4 days and 3 nights that you want to spend frolicking on white sand beach without the commercial brouhaha of Bali whilst still being surrounded by a plenitude of activities, the Gili Islands might be the preferred getaway for you.”

Last week marked my birthday week. Yes, my name is April but I was born in October. As to why – that deserves another blog entry.

For my birthday this year, Shad and I decided to hie off to Gili Trawangan with our Malaysian friends. I wanted sand on my feet, with reggae music playing in the background while I am baking under the sun (with sunblock, to boot) to celebrate turning a new leaf.

I’ve been meaning to go to Gili for some time now, since the islands’ reputation preceded itself, but it kept getting shelved because of scheduling. This time around, I just thought, “Let’s book it and go!”

The Gili Islands is a more serene, less commercialized version of Bali. It is near Bali, too, so a lot of travelers normally go to Bali first and then take a boat going to either the main island of Lombok or to its three nearby islands of Gili: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.

Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three islands that attracts more visitors, primarily because of the availability of more resorts, luxury villas, boutique bungalows, dive resorts and even yoga places. It’s quite convenient, too, since it’s half an hour away from the northwest mainland of Lombok and a speedboat can take you directly to your resort.  In short, it has more amenities compared to the two islands.

My husband and our friends decided to stay in Villa Almarik in the island of Gili Trawangan since we all wanted certain conveniences within our reach. We’ve all never been to Gili so our basis of selection were the Trip Advisor reviews, at least a 4-star rating and our personal preference that the resort must be located at the beachfront.

the-author-at-villa-almarik

The author at Villa Almarik

Villa Almarik pre-arranged our transports from the Lombok International Airport to Gili Trawangan. Our package included land transfers and a private speedboat that brought us to the island. During high tide, the speedboat can actually take you directly in front of your resort. In our case, however, we had to take a horse carriage from a drop-off point near the pasar malam (night market).

The Gili Islands do not allow any form of motorized transport. Once you’re there, the only way to go around is on foot, by bicycle (which you can rent almost everywhere) and pony carts knows as cidomos.  I refused to ride the cidomos (I feel sorry for the horses) and rode it only upon arrival since we had to haul our luggage with us. Since I don’t know how to ride a bike (gasp!), I happily traveled on foot almost all the time.

Villa Almarik, thanks to my well-researched husband, was fortunately one of the better resorts in the islands. The facilities were awesome and everyone was accommodating. Guests get the usual welcome drink but the delight was in the free 15-minute massage upon arrival. The resort also had its own pool, albeit tiny, which we never used because Villa Almarik had its own beachfront. Our package also offered free buffet breakfast and afternoon tea for guests that started at 4pm. Not bad for the extra effort.

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Antique blue ceramics adorning Villa Almarik

The rooms were spacious and the bathroom was massive! The gardens also boasted of beautiful gardens and lotus ponds. The dining hall and lobby were accentuated with antique blue ceramics and antique furniture, which I have a penchant for.

I would have given Villa Almarik a five-star rating, had it not been for the bed bug bites that pestered me on our second night. Luckily (and unfortunately for me), I was the only one infested and bitten by them.

The beaches of the Gili islands are powdery white, with clear blue waters.  The islands also have a perfect position to see the sunrise over Lombok’s Mount Rinjani and the sunset near Bali’s Mount Agung.

There are also a lot of restaurants dotting the beachfront, most of which are offering seafood feasts, wine and cocktails. In our short trip of four days and three nights in the islands, we managed to try several restaurants and bars offering seafood.

Most recommended of which are the following:

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Us at the Egoiste Bar and Restaurant, feasting on seafood and chardonnay

  1. Egoiste Restaurant and Seafood Barbeque – offers the best seafood grill package, which includes fish, giant prawns, lobster and squid with a free bottle of chardonnay and salad buffet. Countless restaurants offer the same thing, but I found Egoiste’s seafood fresh and better seasoned compared to the others.
  2. Scallywags Seafood Bar and Grill – offers seafood, pasta and pizza but it made my list because Scallywags offers vegetarian options (I ordered the vegetarian Mexican fajitas ) and it was the only restaurant I’ve been to that served us proper wine glasses. Plus, it had a No Tax, No Service policy!
  3. Bamboo Restaurant – is Villa Almarik’s own which is also vegetarian-friendly. Their selection of pasta dishes was also flavorful and interesting.

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    The author feasting on vegetarian dishes at the Pasar Malam. 5 dishes for Rp20k is an absolute steal!

  4. Pasar Malam – on our second night, we had dinner at the local night market, withRp20k per seafood stick (choice of mahi-mahi fish, squid and prawns) and another Rp20k for 5 side dishes (rice, veggies, tofu, etc.). What a steal!

Other notable food fare in the island is the carts offering grilled corn that can be flavored with sweet or spicy butter at Rp10k per stick. Several tokos (shops) also offered Gili Gelato (Rp25k per scoop), Gili’s resident ice cream that offers a wide range of gelato and sorbet for those who don’t eat dairy.

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Sunset Barbeque Pontoon package : sunset view at the northpoint of Gili Trawangan, near Bali

Aside from gallivanting on the beachfront, swimming and snorkeling, another recommended activity is the Gili Barbeque Pontoon experience. We rented the barbeque pontoon for their Sunset Experience Package.

At Rp295,000 per person, one can swim and snorkel in three locations where there are turtles (saw giant ones near Gili Meno!) and vast schools of fish in Gili Air.

The first site in front of Gili Meno boasts of gigantic turtles and some fish, although what’s interesting in this site are really the huge turtles, who, when in the mood to be playful, will swim alongside you. The second stop near Gili Air had more schools of fish. We were given bottles of crumbs to feed them so the schools of fish will literally swarm around you.

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Our boatman grilling fresh vegetables, chicken and seafood in our pontoon.

We capped the trip with a sunset view near the northern tip of Gili Trawangan while sipping ice cold Bintang and local cabernet sauvignon from the vineyards of Bali. The package also included a barbeque dinner with a choice of chicken, fish or vegetarian.

On the exact day of my birthday, I requested for my husband to book a private yoga session at The Yoga Place. For the uninitiated, it is highly recommended to book a private yoga class so that the yogi (teacher) can explain the fundamentals of yoga, proper breathing techniques and right posture. The Yoga Place is highly recommended for beginners since it is not intimidating and the yogi will go out of his way to explain the basics. Look for Mate’ because our group had a good session with him and he is just wonderful!

The Yoga Place also has a café that offers vegetarian and vegan dishes. It’s comforting to know that there are places in the island where vegetarians and vegans have a plenitude of options.

After a day’s worth of beach activities and a whole lot of walking or biking, try a soothing foot reflexology or even a whole body massage in some of the spas dotting the beachfront. You can get an hour’s worth of massage for only Rp100k!

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I call this one Gili Shorthair. =)

Other notable things that make Gili Trawangan unique would be the island’s trove of cats trotting through the streets in every corner! Some bars and restaurants have their designated cat. One of the diving resorts even has a feeding and drinking corner for the cats passing through and a donation box for their food, neutering or spaying. The cats are very friendly – they’re quite used to people – and there were several who approached me during dinner, asking to be fed.

Overall, Gili Islands boast off a plethora of activities for the adventurous and a quiet beachfront where one can just relax, chill or frolic on the white sand. It is a must-try experience, even once in your life.

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Gili Trawangan beachfront near Trawangan Dive bar

As a caveat, though, if you are averse to the smell of horse manure on the streets, you are better off staying in Bali or beaches with motorized vehicles.  I still rate it as a must-try, bed bug bites and horse manure notwithstanding.

3-out-of-5