Exactly a year ago, I was on sabbatical in Borneo, floating down rivers and trekking through jungles. Last year’s solo trip now feels surreal – what better time to revisit it than during an extended forced period at home.
When I decided to travel to Indonesia and Malaysia, one of the things that attracted me was the chance to see a range of primates – both in the wild and within protected areas.
I ended up being fortunate to experience many monkey sightings, whether boating along a remote waterway or walking through spaces like Ubud, Bali’s Sacred Monkey Forest – where you’re warned not to wear sunglasses or carry any food on you, lest the cheeky monkeys steal your stuff – or the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, where a rather large monkey took a giant leap and landed a foot away from my face. (I was… startled.)
Here are a few visual highlights of the creatures I saw, including long-tailed macaques, silver leaf monkeys, proboscis monkeys, and the elusive orangutan.
When my beloved cat Sophie recently escaped, I postponed the departure date for my sabbatical trip to Southeast Asia – and seriously considered cancelling it altogether. I didn’t feel right leaving with her still out there somewhere, and certainly couldn’t imagine enjoying a vacation.
When Sophie joyously returned home, I went ahead and took the trip, only having to delay my departure by a few days. One of the things I’m so grateful I still got to do was visit Villa Kitty.
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When I was planning the Bali portion of my trip, I knew I wanted to try to get off the beaten tourist path a bit. Beaches and waterfalls and temples are lovely, but what do I really care about most? Animals are high on the list. And of course, more specifically, cats.
In the process of researching photo tours, I learned about Villa Kitty, an Ubud cat rescue founded by Elizabeth Henzell. Reading about their work struck a chord, so I wrote to Elizabeth, who graciously invited me to spend some time volunteering. While the rescue pays staff like vets and animal technicians, there’s never enough time to cuddle and play with all the cats and kittens, to help heal and socialize. That’s where volunteers come in.
When I got to Villa Kitty, Elizabeth welcomed me warmly. The whole operation blew me away – a huge serpentine maze of brightly coloured corridors and open spaces full of cats and kittens playing, sleeping, curled together in cages, quarantine rooms, and play areas, depending on their age and health status. The place is currently bursting at the seams, housing 300 cats, but the space is well organized and efficiently run.
People walk into Villa Kitty with tiny kittens found in gutters, ditches, and river banks; cats who are injured, orphaned, or abandoned; and every other heartbreaking scenario you can think of. Staff bottle-feed the littlest ones, perform free sterilizations for the community, and continually spread the word about caring for cats responsibly. They place kitties in foster homes and find adoptive homes for as many as possible.
I wish I’d had more time to spend with all these cuties, but I know I’ll return if I’m ever in Bali again. And if you’re a cat lover who finds yourself in Ubud, your cuddles are needed at Villa Kitty – so don’t hesitate to reach out!
When I was planning a sabbatical trip to Southeast Asia, I looked around to see if there might be any photography-related excursions along my route. I stumbled across a morning market photo tour in Ubud, Bali, that sounded intriguing. As it turned out, not only did the person offering these tours run them on a donation basis – with money going toward local animal charities – Mark Chaves is also a WordPress developer with a site hosted on WordPress.com! It seemed meant to be, so I signed up for a tour and hoped for clear weather.
When Mark asked ahead of time what kind of photography I’d like to focus on, I mentioned that I’d like to get better at street photography, but tend to feel shy about taking photos of people. He said this was a common problem, and that he’d compile some tips in a blog post. Within a few weeks he made good on his promise, and I found the post about how to approach “making” photos in public places extremely helpful, even inspiring: Strangers Are Friends We Haven’t Met Yet. I vowed to put into practice what I learned.
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It was my last day in Bali and I met Mark at 7am outside the bustling Pasar Ubud. While I’m far from a morning person, I knew it would be worth it!
Mark seemed to intimately know every nook and cranny of the market, pointing out details and interactions I never would have noticed on my own. He encouraged me to take lots of photos quickly, which helped me avoid overthinking and capture more spontaneous shots. He knew many of the regulars working the market, and made people smile when he asked if it was OK for me to take photos. We even stopped to greet some of the resident stray dogs and feed them the treats he’d brought along in a small plastic container.
I’m so glad Google led me to Mark’s site that fateful day. It was a memorable experience, and I love the photos that resulted.