The Island of the Gods

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
1
9
Trip End Sep 19, 2008


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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Monday, August 25, 2008

Aug 24th

Today began my 30 hour journey to Indonesia and I am filled with anticipation of what I will find there. I picked up the book Three Cups of Tea, which is a story about a man, Greg Mortensen, who attempted to summit K2 and failed. He got lost on his way down the mountain and ended up in a small village in Pakistan. He became close with the people and promised them he would come back and build them a school. He is an amazing man and was just awarded the Courage of Conciousness award by the Peace Abbey. This years award is going to Jane Goodall and for those of you I haven't called screaming, I have been asked to present the award to her! I have no idea how I am going to stand next to my biggest hero, talk about how awesome she is and keep it all together at the same time.

I stopped in Chicago and the stewardess directed me to my connecting flight. I only had an hour to get there, so I grabbed a bite to eat and ran. As I checked to see if my flight was still on time, I noticed two flights to Taiwan . I wasn't only at the wrong gate, but the wrong terminal! I asked where my gate was and was told to walk straight for ten minutes, exit the airport, cross the road, take a train, go through security and find my gate. I looked at the time. My flight was boarding! I had a Home Alone moment of running through the airport and dove onto my plane just as it took off. Twelve hours later, I was in Japan . I went into the bathroom and almost fell into the strangest pit toilet I have ever seen. You could get a beer from a slushy machine and the stewardesses bowed to us before we could board.

Aug 25th

I had left my house at 6 am and arrived in Bali at 10:30 pm the following night. I was exhausted and still had to go through customs, which scared me to death after watching Ganja Queen, the documentary about Shapelle Corby, a beautiful 27 year old girl who came to Bali for a week of surfing. She put her bag on the counter for customs and they found a pillow case size bag of marijuana in her boogie board bag. In Indonesia , the penalty for having drugs is death by firing squad. The baggage carriers are known to put drugs in people's luggage, mark the bags with chalk and the handlers on the other side take it out. Her bag was sent through oversized baggage at the last moment and the drugs were not removed. She passed her drug test and the bags were not fingerprinted, but after a year long trial, she was found guilty and given a sentence of 20 years in an Indonesian prison. Four years later, she still claims her innocence. That same year, a group of Australians strapped heroin to their bodies and tried to smuggle it out of Bali. They were caught and became knows as "The Bali Nine." Seven of the nine received life sentences and the other two were sentenced to death by firing squad.

I bought a cable lock for my bag and still could hardly breathe going through customs! Next I had to get money from the ATM, and in my exhausted state could not figure out the currency exchange. One dollar is 9,000 rupiah. I couldn’t bother with math and thought 20,000 rp sounded like a lot until I realized it wouldn’t even cover my cab fare.

I came out of the airport and found someone holding a sign for the Animals for Asia conference and they brought me to the Sanur Beach Hotel. Let’s say, I am not exactly roughing it. For about $30 a night, I am in the more luxurious resort around. I am sitting on my terrace surrounded by palm trees, overlooking an Olympic size pool that spills off to the sea. It is gorgeous. I went up to my room and Carrie’s things were there, but no one was around. I asked where the nearest bar was and, sure enough, found all the Brits. Carrie and Alan had brought along a vet named Jonathan who specializes in elephant diseases. Kartick was even there, who I hadn’t seen since I left India . It was so good to see them. We met "sad man" at the bar who is on his honeymoon all alone after his fiancÚ left him three days before the wedding. Every time I walk past the bar I see him there drinking his sorrows away. We had a few Bintangs and then ran down the beach to touch the sea.

Aug 26

We had a day off to recover from the jet lag and hired a taxi to take us around the island. The driver stopped to show us a coffee plantation, which was really beautiful. They brought us samples of their coffee and explained that it was a delicacy for racoons to eat the coffee beans, poop them out, and then brew them. We thought she was joking, so she took out a handful to show us the poop. We really didn’t want to try it, but we did want to see where they were keeping these animals. They brought us out to an area with a baby monkey chained to a tree for the tourists and were horrified to see not racoons, but civet cats being kept in small wire cages and being forced to live on coffee beans. They were so sickly, yet the people were collecting the feces for the coffee to sell. They explained that even Jack Nicholson loves this coffee, so we should too. We started taking lots of pictures and they became suspicious of us, so we left. We started up the mountains and just a few kilometers down the road, we were stopped by 13 policemen doing a road block. None of us had our passports. The driver got out of the car and I saw him lean in to hand off a bundle of money to one of the officers and then we were free to go on our way. We had lunch overlooking an active volcano with lava flowing black down the sides. Travelling on, we stopped in Ubud, the cultural center of Bali . We went into the sacred money forest where you could buy bananas to feed the wild macaques. What a bad idea. The forest was teeming with hungry monkeys who were literally pouncing on people’s heads and grabbing any plastic bag from your hands. I watched a day old baby trying to wander, but its mom held on to the tail so it just kept walking in place. We crossed an old moss covered bridge in the midst of huge banyan trees. There were ancient Komodo dragon carved into stone with waterfalls trickling over to the river below. It was really beautiful.

I met a guy from Australia and had to ask him if he thought Shapelle Corby was innocent and he claims she is guilty as sin. He has been to the jail to meet her and could tell by her eyes that she was lying. He says that the drugs were her brother's and that she knew that they were bringing them, but didn't know they were in her bag. He said she has done a terrible injustice to Bali, because she has set their tourism back by 20 years. Who knows what the true story is.

Aug 27th

The conference began with a demonstration of Balinese dancing and the ringing of a huge gong. We were then made to do team building exercises, so we could get to know each other. After everyone tried to get me to dye my hair brown and completely cover up, the games were nothing like what I expected. We had to stand in 5 lines and the winning team had to have the longest line. You could lie down and use whatever you had on you to make the line longer. Before I knew what was going on, I turned around to see Alan lying on the ground in his skivvies and Carrie screaming at me to take my bra off. I was lying down with Carrie’s bra stuck between my toes and we still lost. The winning team was practically naked. Then we were blind folded and had to find our team mates without making any noises, so everyone was basically walking around fondling each other. This all somehow related to animal welfare, but I can’t exactly remember how.

Jill Robinson, another one of my biggest heros attended the conference. She traveled to China as a British journalist and toured a bear bile farm. As her group walked on, she snuck into a dark room where she heard crying. As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she could see that the room was filled with bears in cages just bigger than their bodies. The bears remain in the cages for 10-15 years with crude metal catheters that drip the bile out of their stomachs to be used in Chinese medicine. One bear reached a paw out to touch her. She looked into the bears eyes and promised that she would dedicate her life to helping them. She has since started Animals Asia Foundation (www.animalsasia.org), rescued hundreds of bears, and basically took on the worse country for animal welfare single handedly.

I had a whole plan about how I would shake her hand confidently and sound really educated when I met her, but in reality, I froze like a deer in headlights whenever she walked past me. Everyone was teasing me about how it took me three days to build up the confidence to talk to her. I even asked for her autograph, which I will frame and hang next to Jane Goodall's picture.

I prepared myself for the heavy issues I was about to learn about. I thought that the TAFA conference was bad- learning about the treatment of animals in US factory farms and puppy mills, but Asian animal welfare does not exist. One of the first lectures was about farming dog meat in China , where they aren’t considered farm animals, so the farms do not get regulated or inspected like chicken and pig farms. They made me watch a video of the farms where puppies were being dragged out and beaten with rocks and killed. The other puppies waiting to be slaughtered were whimpering and crying in the background as they had to watch. Puppies are slaughtered at 8 months of age and they believe that if the animal feels more pain, the meat is better. One image I will never get out of my head is of one pup wagging its tail as the farmer approached, happy for the attention and having no idea what fate awaits him.  

I had to attend a "Sustainable Activism" course at the end of the day to learn how to cope with all the things we see and how important it is not to let yourself get burnt out, because then you are no help to anyone.

The director of the documentary Earthlings, narrarated by Joanquin Phoenix held a screening and I knew I couldn’t handle it. It shows all the way we use animals all over the world. People were crying and Jonathan came out a vegetarian. Afterwards, they had a candle burning ceremony on the beach for all the animals and we were given Balinese offerings to put in the sea. It was really nice. I had dinner with the director later and he might use some of our bear footage for his next film. He also gave me really good advice for connecting with celebrities.

Aug 28

Another really rough day. Louis Ng spoke about the state of zoos in Asia . He used to work at a zoo in China that let people have their picture taken with baby chimps for $5. He became very attached to one little girl chimp who hated having her picture taken, but loved playing with Louis during their breaks. Chimps loved to be tickled and she would take Louis’ hands and make him tickle her which would make her laugh and laugh. One day, the little girl didn’t want to have her picture taken and started misbehaving. The keepers held her and punched her in the face, which was their training technique. She went running to Louis and hugged his legs. Then she held out her lip to see if she was bleeding. Louis got very upset and talked back to the people, who jut told him to leave his badge at the door. Louis contacted the media who did a story about the zoo abusing the animals and since then they have cleaned up their act. They made a large enclosure for the chimps and his little girl was even allowed to live with her mother, who she had no contact with for over a year. The two ran to each other and hugged when they were reunited. The experience inspired Louis to start a program called Zoo Check, where they travel around Asia to assess zoos and give advice about how they can improve.

For our field trip, they took us to the Bali Zoo to do a welfare assessment. It was awful. They had gibbons in small barred enclosures and they would reach out their arm to you as you walked by. They were so used to being fed popcorn and ice cream by the public. You could buy a slab of meat for $2 to feed to the lions, which were not fed so that they would pace and follow people around. There were pygmy hippos, tigers, and a lone orang who lived in a pit type enclosure and could be surrounded from all angles. He didn’t like this and just threw things at us. The petting zoo had monkeys and baby deer that were all terrified.

Alan introduced me to Hardi, an Indonesian who started an organization called the Center for the Protection of Orangutans, which is trying to help stop the clear cutting of the forests for palm oil. He showed me a video of the burning forest with lone orangutans wandering in the midst, with no escape. To make an extra buck, the men clearing the forests will shoot at mother orangs and sell their babies on the black market. They rescued an orang who’s eyes were swollen shut and Hardi explained that the men punched her in the face and cut her fingers off with a machete for fun. I am going to try to raise money for them in the States.

Aug 29th

Today I met an Irish vet who moved to Thailand and opened the first animal care center. It took her eight years to open a beautiful facility to spay/ neuter the cats and dogs. Just days before she left for the conference, her facility was burnt down. She ran into the fire and was able to save some of the animals, but not all. They don’t know who did it or why, but they think the mafia is trying to scare her away because they want her land. I can’t imagine working in these types of conditions and literally seeing your dream go up in smoke.

The subjects got worse and worse. Dog fighting in the Philippines , horse fighting, live chicken dumping in Korea , etc. The list goes on. Another controversial subject we deal with here is that most eastern cultures and religions don’t allow a suffering animal to be euthanized. We dealt with this in India . You could go out to a cow that had been hit by a car and it would be lying there with four broken legs and instead of putting it out of its misery, it will be surrounded by candles and offerings.

By the end of the conference, I was wide eyed and almost paralyzed by the horrific things I had seen and learned. It was so overwhelming, but I remembered that I had to cope, or that I would be of no use. It is now believed that people in the animal welfare field suffer from post traumatic stress because of the things we experience and to make it even harder, our sadness is not validated but the general public

The conference ended with a big fancy gala and it was a welcome break from all the serious topics. There was a band set up in the tropical garden and as Jonathan would say, it was crackin. There was one boy with the craziest dancing I have ever seen, but it was so entertaining. He even fell into the fountain at one point, and just jumped up and continued dancing in the fountain. We partied until the rain came and everyone had to run for cover.

Aug 30th

The conference is over and I will try not to write so much depressing stuff from now on. It was so nice to have a day off, sit by the pool and get pampered in the spa. For the equivalent of $35, we had almost 3 hours of massage, a rose petal bath, pedicures, and this oriental treatment where they lit the end of a big incense stick and held it on pressure points on your body. It felt like having a cigar put out on your back, but somehow felt good at the same time. We had drinks at the swing bar on the beach and pizza for dinner!
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