Monday, March 3, 2008

On the Road Again...with a lot less guilt as excess baggage!

Road trips in the U.S. seem to have a culture all of their own and there are some who get regular nagging urges to hop in the car and escape the real world as swiftly as possible. However with the prices of gas going up and the knowledge of the impact our travels make on the environment at large, some wonder how they can make travel by car a more green experience.

Enter Better World Travel Club. Formed as an alternative to the popular AAA, Better World opposes AAA’s lobbying for more highways and car-friendly legislature and instead seeks to find ways to encourage drivers to lessen their impact on the planet. In fact Better Word advocates for ideas that encourage people to drive less such as Pay As You Drive Insurance. They offer many of the same services as AAA such as emergency roadside assistance, maps, and discounts for travelers on hotels and hybrid car rentals plus perks such as 10 dollar fuel reimbursements per quarter (which means your membership might actually almost pay for itself), an excellent earth-friendly email newsletter and links to responsible tourism companies. They penalize drivers of cars with low MPG ratings with higher rates (which they in turn use the extra cash to put towards carbon offset) and also offer a bike club that offers bicyclists roadside assistance, membership in the League of American Bicyclists, email newsletter and a wide range of discounts. Better World is also a leader in the purchase of carbon offsets for travel, period.

What does this mean, you ask? When you take a flight or drive your car, you are contributing to the amount of greenhouse gasses spewed into the atmosphere each day. When a person purchases carbon offsets based on the miles they travel or the amount of energy their home uses, for instance, a company will use that money to invest in programs that negate their carbon output such as the planting of trees, wind power investments, and building retrofitting. Better World Club’s carbon output estimation engines will calculate the investment needed to offset your trip or a year of driving your particular make and model of car. I've been a member of Better World for a month now and used their roadside assistance twice. The verdict? They're far nicer on the phone and call more frequently to check on you than AAA, although their services are sometimes somewhat slower to arrive based on my experiences. But for me, the peace of mind of knowing that I'm not supporting companies whose philosophies I don't agree with makes it worth a little extra inconvenience. Tip: When signing up, if you are already a AAA Member, Better World may match your membership rate and set your order so that it kicks into effect just as your AAA membership expires.

Another way to make your road trip a little greener is to rent a hybrid car. Not only will you lessen your impact on the planet, but you’ll be saving yourself money on fuel. Many mainstream rental companies are heeding the call and offering hybrid and bio-diesel options to consumers. Enterprise, Hertz, and Fox, for example, are offering hybrids in some states at this point. EV Rental was one of the first rental services in the nation to offer environmentally-friendly cars: Western Road Trips, based in Salt Lake City, rents hybrid cars and fuel efficient RVs: Bio-Beatle, based on the island of Maui in Hawaii, is leading the way in renting bio-fuel vehicles only. ZipCar, which operates in some major cities like New York, rents hybrids by the hour:

For more general information on renting a hybrid car, check out the following link:
Here are some more helpful links to help you make your next road trip guilt free:
Kick the Oil Habit’s excellent blog:
8 fantastic green road trip tips:
Download National Geographic’s Green Guide’s Greener Roadtrips here:

Saturday, March 1, 2008

She Likes Skulls + A Burning Ring of Fire: Discovering Kintamani and Trunyan Graveyard

Volcano buffs will not want to miss Kintamani near Gunung Batur and those interested in things bizarre and necromantic may want to visit Trunyan Graveyard. From Ubud, one can hire a driver or book a planned volcano tour that will take you far into the mountains to the region of Bangli. There are hiking trails take you to the rim of Batur, the look out point being Penelokan (which means ‘look out’…ha). Gunung Abang, situated facing Gunung Batur with the pristine Lake Batur nestled between the both of them, is less often visited although it may be preferred because unlike Gunung Batur which is relatively barren, Gunung Abang provides forest cover to protect from the oppressively hot Bali sun (although temperatures here are markedly cooler). At night the volcano glows a surreal orange light against the star speckled sky.
The Bangli region is well known for its rumored black magic practitioners as wells as balian trance healers who use their workings for good. Kintamani has an active market that is open every three days and their own breed of dog which it takes tremendous pride in. Kintamani, relaxing with gorgeous views, is ideal for a place to unwind.

Situated between the shore of Lake Batur and a steep crater wall is Trunyan, which is virtually inaccessible except by boat. Boat drivers were not warmly open to bartering either, which surprised me after they quoted us a significantly higher price than we were prepared for to cross the lake. Landing at Trunyan, natives will enthusiastically wade out to great you and graciously take you for everything you have. Even Grandma gets in the act when cash is at stake. But don’t be mistaken, they are actually quite nice, especially once you’ve paid them.
The natives of Trunyan differ from most inhabitants of Bali in retaining their prehistoric traditions. They call themselves the Bali-Aga, which means original Balinese. They never adopted the Majapahit's heirarchical system, instead keeping their own more democratic one of priests and like most Balinese believe that the balance between man and nature is sacred and must be kept in place through ceremony. Of course, living at the foot of an active volcano, I'd want to keep some balance with nature as well.

One of their most interesting features is their treatment of the deceased. Unlike most Balinese, who cremate their dead in elaborate ceremonies that can consume their life’s savings, the Trunyan natives lay out their dead in a graveyard, arranged exposed but for a little triangular wood hut built over them, laid out beneath a sacred tree which is reported to prevent the dead from stinking to high hell. Although I didn’t see any fresh corpses during my visit, it was still quite a sight to see. An offering bowl with a piece of paper marked “Genah” (Give) along with a human skull are a touching reminder that even the Bali-Aga have embraced capitalism and tourism hand in hand.

Oh and one more strange thing about Kintamani. Judging by this sign, you can leave your tubas at home, thank you:

So, this ends our exploration of Bali. Recommended reading: Making Scenes: Reggae, Punk, and Death Metal in 1990s BaliBy Emma Baulch, Emma Baulch for some insight into the spread of counter-culture to exotic locals. You can find it by clicking to the right on The Punk Rock Traveler amazon store and order it directly here: You'll also find some other books on topic which I've personally perused and recommend.