This is the 100th blog entry from our travels this year and we are pausing, electronically and physically, to reflect on our travels. We’ve been traveling for 7.5 months, visited 14 countries, and gotten over 8000 views on the blog. We’re enjoying some rare slowed down time here in Pokhara and thinking about upcoming entries.
We’re hoping that our regular readers might take a few seconds to click through the poll questions below to give us some feedback on our blog. We work hard on our entries, and they are mostly for our own memories, but we do try to make them accessible to family, friends and others interested. Your responses to the survey questions are anonymous and appreciated. Can’t promise any specific changes but we’ll certainly consider your feedback. Thanks from all four of us!
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We’re now back in Pokhara, Nepal after 10 days out on the Annapurna Base Camp (“Sanctuary”) trek. Wow! It will be hard to choose the photos for that blog entry!
Mark Garvie was a good buddy of mine back in my University of Waterloo Systems Design Engineering days. He is a Sarnia boy with a booming voice, thunderous laugh, great smile, big heart, and very flexible right arm that allows him to imbibe alcohol at rates that would tear lesser folks’ elbow tendons. We were athletic colleagues too, on the class “boatracing” team. If you don’t know what engineering society boatracing is, I’ll leave it to you to look it up on google. But Mark was our very valued anchor man that helped take us to many final matches. Mark never lost this “athletic” prowess as the years progressed after graduation, and this was made clear to me when we visited the Garvie family in Hong Kong.
Mark married university sweetheart Krista Bulman from Brighton, ON and not long after (1997) opened an Asia office in Hong Kong for IT consulting firm Cap Gemini. Soon after they began building their family with Fenton, Shivahn and Shea who are now 15, 13 and 10. The family has been there long enough now to be officially known as “Honkies”.
Mark and Krista would often come back for Christmas and/or summer and our UWaterloo gang would get together.
Mark and Krista bought Krista’s grandmother’s farm near Brighton and now use it as their base for summer visiting. Krista and kids come for the whole summer, Mark for one month. We’ve enjoyed visiting them in such close proximity, and have so often remarked that we’d never seen their Hong Kong digs. It was because they are there that we put Hong Kong on our itinerary this year.
Mark moved on from Cap Gemini to open a Hong Kong office of an “off the shelf” legal products company (Legal Studio) then opened the Asia office of the French company Oberthur, which puts security electronic chips in bank/credit cards and any other place that makes sense. He’s a busy guy traveling, with offices in Philippines, China, India, Australia and Indonesia reporting to him. But fortunately for us, he was around during our week-long visit.
Krista runs her own “Stretch and Grow” business where she or her employees conduct on-the-spot fitness/movement classes for primary schools. She is also the family investment specialist and has made some savvy choices in residence location.
The Garvie kids all attend HK’s Chinese International School. Their classmates are a mix of Asians, Asian-Canadian/Americans and a few with both parents from abroad. Most of the school’s grade 9 year goes to a sister facility some distance away in mainland China for the year – that’s where Fenton is this year. All three kids are fluent in written and spoken Mandarin (and can get by nicely in HK Cantonese), which REALLY impressed us, given the completely different sounds and alphabet involved.
All three kids are up to their eyeballs in sports, which also partially surprised me. Fenton plays hockey at a high level, Shea plays on two teams – one as a goalie and one as a skater. They play softball and basketball and Shea is REALLY into parkour (very cool emerging sport … look it up). Shivahn won player of the year on her rugby team (awarded while we were there) and plays netball and soccer. The sports fields/rinks are scattered over HK, so you can imagine how busy Mark and Krista are with shuttling.
The Garvies took amazing care of us. Krista met us at the airport on the very far side of HK and was our tour guide extraordinaire all week. – Kaia will share some of our HK touring highlights in an upcoming entry. Krista’s 18 yrs in HK give her a great perspective on culture, economics and in particular the changes unfolding in Hong Kong since the changeover to Chinese control in 1997. Krista and their live-in Filipino helper Caren kept us fed with food we’d been craving all year; lasagna, smoked salmon, tacos, curry, good cereal, bacon and eggs, and fresh green salads of all sorts. Mark handed me a Molson Canadian beer upon arrival, took me to his hockey game, fed me beer & whiskey all week, and told many stories of HK and Asian life in general.
Mark and Krista used to live beside the ocean in the HK town of Stanley but 6 years ago moved to near Sai Kung and live high up on Razor Hill. They have a 1.5 storey flat with a fantastic terrace that gives views to the city and up to the mountain. But we visited during the cloudy month of the year and only twice during our stay could we see more than 100m from their place due to the cloud/mist (and smog?).
I was happy to head to Mark’s weekly hockey game on Wednesday night. There are a half-dozen rinks in HK – Mark plays on the rink on the 10th floor of the MegaBox office/shopping complex. Taking an elevator up 10 floors to a rink is a new experience for me.
Like me, Mark started playing hockey only 4 years ago. But anyone who knows Mark knows he is a fierce competitor (I told you about boatracing already). The Huskies needed a win that night to advance to the playoffs, and the team was a bit tense before the game. There are announcers for the league, and the very first announcement during the game was “Huskies first goal, scored by number 9, Mark Garvie” !! Mark lobbed a high shot that bounced off the goalie’s neck and into the net. Atta boy, Mark! Huskies won 4-2, so the atmosphere around the post game beer in the stands was pretty euphoric. The Huskies are best known for their post-game performances (read “drinking”) and other teams’ players joined us. We drank through the next two games as Mark and buddies recounted the nuances of their victory, we watched them cover the rink for the night (keep in mind it is 25-30 degC in HK) and ended up finishing the beer on the sidewalk in front of the complex after it had closed. It was fun to connect with various Canadians who had transported their lives and families to HK. A few were teaching at International schools, there was a pilot and several other business folks.
Mark and Krista have invested (as partners among others) in a couple of food/drink enterprises and they took us out for dinner/drinks and dancing the last night while the four kids went to a movie and had pizza. Mark was turning 50 in a couple week’s time and apparently is very hard to surprise, so Krista organized a birthday do well in advance, and to coincide with our visit. Their “Shores” restaurant is downtown HK on the 3rd floor and we started with drinks on the terrace. Even though we’d been there for a week already, I was still gawking at the crazy high towers rising at every point around me. We then moved inside for dinner, and what a dinner it was! Yvonne noted in her International Water Day blog entry that meat (especially beef) takes vast quantities of water to produce. But Shores specializes in steak. The manager is Canadian and the beef is from Alberta – really! So we set aside all “sustainability” thoughts for the evening and split two cuts between the four of us. The entire meal was without a doubt our best meal of the trip so far, and the Tomahawk steak (that’s actually what it’s called on the menu … see photo below if you’re not sure why) was the best piece of meat I have ever tasted. Thanks for dinner, M&K!
Krista had timed things perfectly so that when we returned to the patio for more drinks there was a cadre of Mark’s friends awaiting with a big hoot of “surprise”! And he was. I recognized a few from the hockey team and met many other fascinating types doing all sorts of things, including transplanted Canadian, Mark Daly, who runs a legal firm that specializes in Human Rights. He handles some of the most high profile cases where citizens had been prosecuted for standing up for democratic rights against the new HK (mainland China) government. He actually now fears travel to mainland China because of the cases he has worked on.
From the party at Shores we walked down to the main nightlife street where Mark and Krista’s Typhoon bar was located. It was a Saturday night and at 1:30AM the bars were still hopping.
We closed their place down then walked a few blocks to find the night scene still in FULL swing. At one dance bar one live band finished up and another came on to start their set … at 3:30AM! Mark is known to keep his Canadian guests out till breakfast but Krista kept us all in line and had us home for 4:30 or so … which for Yvonne and me was about 8 hrs later than our usual travel routine of 8PM (with uncomfortable beds, overheating and lots of very early morning noise you have to log more hours).
Mark drove us to the airport for our Kathmandu flight.
Hong Kong had been a wonderful contrast to our experiences in rural Indonesia and Philippines. But I can’t imagine visiting HK as a tourist arriving “cold” from the airport. It is a complex, vast, fast moving and at times expensive place. Thanks Mark and Krista for being such great hosts, and thanks Shivahn and Shea for giving Kaia and Jake a chance to get away from their parents for a few hours!
We are in Pokhara, Nepal right now and will be heading out trekking tomorrow morning. We’re doing the rather straight forward “Poon Hill” trek (5 days) and if all is going well we’ll extend to the Annapurna Base camp in the “Annapurna Sanctuary” area. We have 2 guides and 10 porters hired to help us with our Annapurna summit (8091m) attempt. We picked up some extra socks and packed some extra coffee, because we understand that this can be quite a difficult climb and the weather can be sketchy at this time of year. If we are successful we’ll be the first Canadian family of 4 to summit Annapurna. Oh .. Yvonne’s calling out … a change of plans … apparently as of 2012 191 climbers had successfully submitted Annapurna while 61 died trying. With a family of 4, the odds aren’t perfect for us. So I think we’ll just turn around at the base camp 😉 OK, how many of you were still with me? Actually we have hired just one guide and our high point would will be 4100m which hopefully will be manageable. We were a bit higher in the Andes but had much more time to acclimatize to the altitude. So, we”ll be offline for a while … don’t worry if you don’t hear from us. We’ll have some Hong Kong entries ready when we get back. I am really excited … have dreamed of this for many years.
Another long travel day awaited us in our journey from Whitebeach to our next destination of Sablayan. I had been fascinated the night before with the dueling Ladyboy shows that Jake described, but otherwise was anxious to leave the overdeveloped and tacky feeling Whitebeach. We were still hoping to head out to the highly touted Apo reef for one last hurrah of diving. But it really seems that from anywhere to anywhere in the Philippines is far. The overloaded tricycle habit continued as we made our way to board the boat at Balatero cove.
I really didn’t think it wise to try to put all us and our stuff on one trike but the driver insisted. I was sure we’d blow a tire or worse. The Canadian in me worries that short term financial imperative overrides good long term business thinking.
But … he got his 4 fares with his trike intact. He knows best.
After a rather perilous disembarkation from the boat (in high seas, dodgy gangway, 15 ft above the water) at Abra de Ilog we were rushed onto a bus that sped its way 2hrs south along the coast to the town of Sablayan. The road was covered in drying corn and rice – so much that we were swerving violently side to side. But it all works out. We got talking on the bus to Christo from Belgium who had a great approach to travelling … moving slowly, staying with families wherever possible. He had a wonderful way about him and we ended up spending the next 3 days together.
Sablayan had a refreshingly authentic feel to it, especially after having come from the touristy Sabang and Whitebeach. Not another tourist it sight here. It did have a modest “ecotourism” office that connected us with two Apo Reef dive operators and we immediately headed off to “Gustav’s Place” to see what we could do. Gustav is off the beaten path … really off the path. We left our bags at the tourism office and grabbed a trike down one twisty gravel road after another, ending at a river. On the other side of the river was a welcome sign for “Gustav’s Place”. OK, so we needed to take a boat to cross. Gustav’s Place had some bungalows and was otherwise very understated, as was Austrian Gustav himself. His boat going out the next day to the reef was full with divers, but we negotiated to be taken along as snorkellers then dropped on Apo island to camp for the night. He would send his boat out the next day with our diving gear and a dive master. Sounded pretty good! Expensive, but good.
Apo reef is the second largest continuous reef in the world (after the Great Barrier reef) and is located about 30km out to sea from Sablayan. The core area is 34km square in area. It was protected in a National Park back in the 1980s but fishing continued. In 2007 the boundaries were expanded, a buffer zone was put in place and fishing (including the destructive dynamite fishing) was stopped within park limits. Divers were then courted to provide income for locals – especially the displaced fishermen. It is known for fantastic biodiversity, including huge schools of pelagic fish, sharks, turtles and manta rays. We were really excited!
We rushed back to town and headed straight to the local market to get food for our overnight outing on the island. Christo offered to work up a curry; we didn’t argue. Veggies and rice bought for dinner, eggs, onions and cheese for breakfast omelettes.
Back to fetch kids and bags at tourism office then back to Gustav’s Place. Unfortunately his boatman had his earphones in grooving to some tunes so we had to work pretty hard to find a boat to cross the river this time. Some 10yr old girls found one and got us across. We squished into a tiny bungalow with Kaia and Jake on thermarests on the floor.
Something I’d eaten didn’t agree with me that night … I hardly slept a wink. And we slept in for our early morning (6:30) boat departure. We’d hoped to leave half our stuff behind … that wasn’t to be after sleeping in so we threw all our bags into the boat and away we went.
Two and a half hours later we arrived at the first dive site on the reef. We donned our snorkelling gear as the divers set out. Snorkelling was a bit of a bust as we were in at least 8m of water. The second site was better though .. we saw schools of huge bump headed parrot fish ( 2-3 ft long) and some lovely turtles.
Lunch was enjoyed under a thatched roof on Apo Island. The island is small .. maybe 500m x 200m. Great lunch, shared with the dive clients. We then had the afternoon to explore, snorkel, swim and otherwise chill. This was ocean paradise.
We had just enough time after dinner for a trip up the island’s light tower to catch the sunset.
I slept soooo well that night after my horrible previous night and the fact that there were no car/kareoke/dueling ladyboys/rooster noises – just the lap of the sea. We had time for a leisurely breakfast before the boat/dive crew appeared off the horizon to meet us.
The diving at Apo was phenomenal! On all three dive locations we descended to the ocean floor then made our way to the “dropoff” (yes, Marlin .. the dropoff!). The 15m deep floor ends abruptly and you look down into deep blue nothingness.
It was so thick with fish .. of every shape, size and colour. It’s impossible to put into words the feeling of being surrounded by such vibrant beauty in such a quiet, peaceful place. You want to call out your amazement to the other divers but can use only your wide open eyes to communicate. The photos here come nowhere close to capturing the visuals … but they at least remind us.
The coral was in such great shape here, so there were infinite little things to gaze upon in the nooks and crannies. Colours fantastic. Every now and again Albert would tap is metal pointer stick on his tank to get our attention, to point out sharks, turtles, jack fish, Napoleon fish etc etc. It was all quite overwhelming.
Perhaps that’s why I ran through my air so quickly. I am always the first in our family out of air. I am relaxed in the water, and try to breathe slowly. But clearly I am doing something different. We all start with about 200-220 “bars” of pressure. When you get to 50 bars you need to be near 5m of depth so you can do your 3 minute “safety stop” at that depth (to prevent nitrogen release into the blood) and still reach surface with a reasonable amount of air left. I would hit 50 bars around 35-40 minutes while Kaia, Jake and Yvonne would still be at 120-150!! At Sabang we all came up when I ran low on air, which meant the other 3 were cut short in a way. I am the week link! I asked Albert if I could do my safety stop and surfacing on my own and he said that would be OK. So he pointed me in the direction where the coral rises and I made my way up to 5m. As I was waiting my 3 minutes I came across a large school of large bumphead parrotfish that were more or less indifferent to me. They are huge, and a bright blue/green colour.
I have to say it was lovely to be alone in the sea like that and have these giant fish to myself. Clearly there is safety in numbers/buddies. But I was only 5m from surface and knew I could easily reach the surface in one breath. I just hovered with only fish moving around, and only the sound of my own bubbles. Ahhhh..
I surfaced and hailed the boat over for a pickup, then waited about 20 minutes for the others to surface (they stay down for about an hour, air permitting).
You need “surface time” between dives to ensure nitrogen levels are down before starting the next dive. So we relax/snack on the boat while the crew changes our tanks over and the captain maneuvers to a different part of the reef.
I had a plan for staying down longer on the final 2 dives of the day (3 total). All divers have secondary (breathing) regulators attached. It can be used if the primary fails. But mostly it is to be used by your “buddy” if they run out of air – “buddy breathing”. This is supposed to be done in emergencies only, but I asked Albert if I could buddy breathe from one of the kids when I run low so I can stay down for the full dive. He said that would be OK. So down we went on 2nd dive, this time with current, ,so we descended the anchor chain then headed “up current” to this second reef dropoff. Equally enthralling!Sharks were cruising by in the deep the schools of fish surrounded us.
True to expectations I ran out of air much before anyone else. So I linked arms with Kaia (the hoses are short) and took my regulator out and put her secondary in. Though we practiced this in our training, it is still unnerving as a new diver to take your regulator out when you are 18m down. But all was fine and away we went together. Thanks for the air, Kaia! Together we lasted the full hour which was a nice change for me.
Lunch was taken onshore again and we had time to explore the island a bit more.
Third dive after lunch was equally sublime. This time I buddy breathed Kaia down to 70 bars so then set off to mooch from Jake who helped me get through to the full hour. I knew there was a good reason to get my kids certified for scuba!
And so ended the diving on our year adventure. Kaia was so right on an earlier blog entry where she noted that our diving experience has given us new appreciation of what’s at stake in our oceans – an emotional attachment if you will. It is stunning, precious.
Apo reef marks the northern tip of the “coral triangle” which stretches through the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and East Timor. Coral experts describe it as the epicenter of marine biodiversity and it “seeds” reefs and fish through the Pacific & Indian oceans. Coral reefs cover just 1% of the ocean floor but harbour over 25% of the oceans fish. A heathy square km of coral reef can provide over 40 tonnes of food. It has been noted by marine biologists many times over that “as the corals go, so goes the ocean, and so goes the world”. If we can’t protect the coral, the ocean is in a dire position. Ocean and terrestrial die backs are historically linked to vanishing coral. It is now well known that our coral reefs are in trouble. Over fishing, coastal development, destructive fishing practices, pollution, sedimentation and climate change are taking their toll. In the Philippines and Indonesia only 5% of reefs are identified as being in good condition. It is with this knowledge that these countries have been setting aside marine protected areas (MPA) like the Apo reef. The Philippines leads the charge, with 500 MPAs. Encouraging is the fact that many if not most of these MPAs, including the Apo reef, are the work of local communities/governments. Discouraging is the underfunding of the management programs; one estimate has only 1/5 of the MPAs possessing sufficient resources to actually protect. The rest are “paper parks”. Further complicating protection is foreign fishing. Chinese and Vietnamese boats have been found with enormous numbers of endangered turtles aboard, to say nothing about the actual fish.
Since full protection of Apo was put in place in 2007 (and corresponding opening of the ecotourism office and alternative livelihoods program), the reef has shown some very promising signs of recovery. And the MPA financing means for Apo are unique. Almost all the management funds come from an initiative of regional Cebu Pacific Airlines where fliers are encouraged to donate to the Apo reef MPA as a means for offsetting the (climate change) damage of their flights. Have a look at https://www.cebupacificair.com/WWFBrightSkies/index.html
I wish we had known this when we flew with Cebu Pacific twice …. but we didn’t see anything.
Here are the words of WWF Philippines president Jose Lorenzo Tan: “In the face of worsening climate impacts, protecting biodiversity enclaves makes perfect sense. Our work in Apo Reef and other protected areas focus on more than just biodiversity conservation: should we succeed in halting climate change, these pockets of marine resilience will provide the building blocks needed to restore natural mechanisms which provide food and livelihood for millions of people. This is a natural investment.”
Where will our next dives be? Hard to say. But we’d all like to rent for a dive on Kennisis lake at the family cottage this summer.
We were all lost in thought as we made the return trip to shore, arriving at sunset.
We had a couple more days before needing to get to Manila for our flight out so took some time to lay low and explore Sablayan. We enjoyed the always vibrant markets, delicious (but repetitive) road side food stalls otherwise roamed around.
The kids were really a novelty here. Philippines is not a huge family destination, and most of those that do come end up at resorts. Eyes lit up when they spied the blondies and often pictures were requested. But it was done with grace so K&J didn’t mind too much.
Christo spent a day at Sablayan’s 2nd biggest tourist draw – the large prison just outside town. Really! You go part way into the prison security and chat with prisoners and maybe buy some of the crafts they make. It is a garden-prison – the inmates have to largely feed themselves. Although the Lonely Planet says you can only meet with the low and medium security prisoners, Christo had some very moving conversations with two 2nd degree murder inmates. We considered going, but the kids weren’t super enthused and kids can’t really get past the gate so we left that experience to Christo’s stories.
On our final day Kaia and I made our way about an hour out of town and climbed to the Mindoro Pines. I had arranged a guide but he did not make the bus on time so I thought we’d do it alone, but he found a friend to zoom him out behind the bus on his motorcycle so we had guidance … two of them as it turns out. The hike starts out at a Mangyan village. The Mangyan are Mindoro’s indigenous peoples and are known as the indigenous group with the best preserved culture in the Philippines. This despite continued interference and persecution by just about every group that has since occupied the island. Remote Mangyan villages are still very traditional (including non western clothing) but those like the one we passed through have partly embraced new ways, including the use of cell phones.
Kaia and I were glad to stretch our legs, even though this wasn’t a particularly memorable hike. Jake wanted to stay back at the hostel to work on his blog and Yvonne was happy to have a down day. After we left however, they had a visit at the hostel from “Bert” who we’d met the day before. Bert used to live and work in Brampton and has 8 children all over the world, including one in Mississauga. He really liked Canada but his wife insisted that they return to the Philippines. Bert invited Yvonne and Jake to lunch at their house his wife and cook put on a great spread of Filipino food and shared stories of their globetrotting children and their time in Canada.
We caught a bus 2hrs south from Sablayan later that afternoon, to the city of San Jose. I had a major boil at an inopportune place at the top of my leg that pretty much prevented me from sitting down and I couldn’t get my head around the 10-12 hr bus/ferry ride north to Manila. We could catch a short flight from San Jose instead. San Jose was absolutely bustling that evening and we savoured our last street-side dinner and tricycle rides in the Philippines. We were airborne for Manila by 9 AM next morning and lifted off for Hong Kong later that afternoon. Philippines had offered up some rich experiences. People were welcoming always. We loved the tricycle as a means of transport. I would LOVE to make one back home as a car alternative (groceries, running the kids around). Can you imagine the look on the cop’s face as I drive by?
Looking back, I think we could have done better with our planning. 2 weeks is really short in the vast array of large Philippine islands so for this time frame we would be better to have looked for just one island – maybe Palawan – with a multitude of experiences. I do wish we’d been able to visit the villages in north Luzon with the spectacular rice paddies. I’ll throw a net photo in in case you haven’t see the visuals before.
Just arrived in Kathmandu Nepal hotel 10 minutes ago, after a 7hr through the night layover in Mumbai after leaving Hong Kong last night. Wow … sensory overload here! Lots of planning in the next few days, but we’re really excited to be in such a place. The entry below is the last from Indonesia.
We had just more than 24 hrs after getting back from Kalimantan before our departure to the Philippines. The near-airport town of Kuta is not a place you’d want to spend time. Full of tourists, tourist shops, over-priced food, and a very dirty beach. Ironically though, it is the Kuta beach that put Bali on the tourist map decades ago. We knew that the peninsula that juts out at the south of Bali was supposed to be beautiful, laid back and ringed by cliffs. So we went to Bingam beach in the Uluwatu area. We imagined we were in a Greek seaside town because it is a maze of little paths leading past little guest houses and restaurants perched above the beach. We mostly just chilled out here -swimming, snorkeling but mostly enjoying bbq fish beachside.
The architecture here was quite stunning – houses seem to hang off the vertical cliffs. Yoga studios and spas abound. And it was soooo quiet, which can’t be said for many other parts of Bali. Kaia and Jake made some more “buisiness” cards because we were almost out. I’ll share some photos of those in a separate entry.
Uluwatu is most well known for its spectacular Hindu temple jutting out into the ocean. Tourists and locals alike flock to the temple for sunset and we joined them.
We loved the location but could have done without the macaques (monkeys). A guard warned me to take my glasses off before the monkeys did. I thought this rather impossible until about one minute later when I heard a very animated lady shouting that “he took my husband’s glasses”. She found a different guard who without missing a beat got a banana (kept specifically for this purpose) and coaxed the monkey back down from the tree and traded the banana for the glasses. So smart these monkeys! On the walk out we met a woman who had been bitten badly at the “sacred” Monkey forest in Ubud the day before and lost her glasses here – she wasn’t too impressed.
We really liked Indonesia. Up till this point on the trip Vanuatu had been my favorite country. But Indonesia now holds that place for me, Jake and Kaia. Why? The diversity and the people.
– cultural diversity (Hindu, Islam, Christianity) that was apparent in day to day life. The ubiquitous Hindu offerings remind you of the humble and peaceful nature of the Bali folks.
– delicious, cheap and easy-to-find food that changed notably from island to island. I can’t wait to try to whip some of this stuff up at home!
-Bali is quintessentially “chill”
-fantastic geographic diversity from island to island (beaches, jungles, rivers of all sorts, volcanoes, cliffy seashores and the rice terraces (my personal favorite))
– AMAZING diving and snorkeling
– we always felt safe (though we did not travel to most of the big cities)
– subsistence farming and fishing everywhere you look
– Kaia even commented that she had gotten used to the Indonesian (squat) toilets! She explained to me that in the women’s washrooms in airports there are both kinds of toilet with a sign on the door to distinguish. Elsewhere, flush toilets were more common, but usually without toilet seat or toilet paper.
-More than anything we loved the way we were received by the people. They seemed genuinely interested in who we were and were so easy to approach. The “friendly locals” cliche is much over-used. And we’d encountered lovely open folks throughout our journey. But the Indonesians’ faces lit up with smiles as we approached. I think it was more about Kaia and Jake than me or Yvonne. At times we were well off the tourist track, and for most of our time very much off the “family” tourist path. K&J were real novelties – you could see people’s attention zero in on them. They would sometimes ask for photos with the kids. This was fun most of the time. But at the Surabaya airport returning from Kailimantan, it was a steady stream of photo requests (they got pinned down and Jake walked away after a few minutes). It is a very healthy tourist experience to find oneself at the other end of the camera and to be left wondering “what exactly is it about what I represent that they want to photograph?”
– we were encouraged by optimism Indonesians hold for their new president Joko Widodo’s commitment to tackle Indonesia’s HUGE corruption problem. Initial signals look good.
Indonesia is not without its challenges though. It is drowning in refuse from the new “packaging” disease that comes with western style materialism (hastened no doubt by the growth of tourism). Jake has described the desperate plight of its forests and critters from foreign driven deforestation. You can see that the balance between maintaining the strength of traditional culture in the face of modern conveniences is not easy. And we found the smoking habit of most Indonesian men downright repugnant. Our dive masters, tour guides, taxi drivers and so many others that we enjoyed the company of all smoked like chimneys. They had some broad understanding that it wasn’t great for their health, but were not concerned enough to do anything about the habit. I guess they are now where we were in Canada 40 years ago. But with 250 million Indonesians, the cancer deaths of men are difficult to imagine. Just have to hope that women don’t start up!
Indonesia is VAST. We saw parts of 4 islands. But we have little idea what 98% of the country is like. And we’ve learned that it likely quite different from island to island. And pretty fantastic all round. As Arnold says … “I’ll be back!”
In Jake’s Orangutan blog yesterday, WordPress dropped his photo captions initially. Many of the captions tell little stories, and they have now been restored so those of you who “follow” our blog (get emailed our entries) might want to have another look at https://1year1family1world.com/2015/03/17/the-awesome-orangutan-trip/ We’ve had 4 great days in Hong Kong and leave for Nepal tomorrow evening.
Anyone who has read our postings from our 3 weeks in Vanuatu knows that we fell in love with the country. It is so tragically ironic that it is some of the very qualities we admired that made Vanuatu so vulnerable to cyclone Pam. Nivans build their homes from local materials. Woven bamboo walls and thatched roofs. I can’t imagine how any of these homes would withstand a category 5 cyclone.
We also admired their food self sufficiency. They work very hard in their gardens so they can eat all year. Very little food is canned/bagged/stored and consequently their food “footprint” from carbon or packaging is next to nothing. But many of these gardens have been destroyed, and there is no store of any size to find food. And even if there was they don’t really focus on saving cash because they are self sufficient.
They live close to the sea and so many homes in Lamen Bay (where we had such a wonderful Christmas) are not more than 1 or 2 meters above high tide. Apparently the storm surge was 8m in some places. Their home-made wooden fishing (read “food”) boats will be smashed.
We haven’t been able to find news of how Lamen Bay made out though we did learn that our hosts Rob and Alix at the Epi Island Guest House at the south end of island (we spent Christmas Dinner and evening on their beach) are alive and that their guesthouse is intact.
I wanted to write this post for two reasons. The first was to highlight what has been well documented in the media – that they are so vulnerable as described above. But I also wanted to pick up on a theme also in the media – that this cyclone is a result of climate change. This is the assertion of Vanuatu’s president Baldwin Lonsdale and it has received much comment in the media. I follow climate change science closely, and the consensus among peer reviewed science is that:
a) it is not possible to link any particular storm event to climate change
b) storm events in general are becoming more frequent and severe as a result of climate change
c) the frequency of cyclones and hurricanes in particular is NOT increasing, but the severity is
The folks in Vanuatu say they’ve never seen a cyclone like Pam.
What troubles me most is the fact that these Nivans have done virtually nothing to contribute to climate change and hence the severity of Pam, but are ultimately the ones now without homes, food or water. With the exception of some folks living in the main centers their carbon footprints are virtually zero. They cook on carbon neutral wood fires and source their food and building supplies locally. Many Nivans know all about climate change from government and school education programs. So it is not lost on them that it is us in the wealthy north that are basically responsible for their mess. And I use “us” quite literally, because I am actually rather ashamed of the carbon generated by our air travel this year.
Friends in Canada who follow climate science will know that the brutally cold winter at home is not out of line with the “more frequent extreme weather event” prediction of scientists. And extreme flood events in Canada and abroad have unmistakably increased in frequency and severity.
Another climate “summit” approaches in December (Paris). I can only hope that an election comes in time to rid Canada of our federal “leadership” that alternately denies/lies/obfuscates and otherwise does nothing to solve the problem. I am at least relieved that our Peterborough riding is no longer represented by Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro. The first time he visited my classroom (on invite in 2008) he denied that the climate was changing and said that Al Gore had it all wrong. Last year some of my students and Kaia and Jake and friends visited Mr Del Mastro at his office. When Jake told him that he was ashamed of Canada’s record at climate conferences and Canada’s perpetual winning of the “fossil award” (given by NGOs to the country that has done the most to prevent the successful negotiation of a climate treaty), Del Mastro cut Jake off before he could finish, turned all red in the face, then barked at Jake “who produces more CO2, Canada or China?” Dean Del Mastro is irrelevant of course, as he awaits his sentencing on election fraud. But that he would have this asinine quip on the ready speaks volumes of his party’s approach. Was that ever a powerful hour of learning for my students and kids!
Yes, Vanuatu is a half world away from Canada. But we are connected to them much more closely than most Canadians know or care to admit. Good thing the proximate Australians, with carbon footprints similar to ours, are at least lending a hand.
To our Nivan friends: Famili blong mi givim yufala nambawan wishes blong spid recovery.
(I had hoped to keep the blog momentum going with a “post a day” for my 5 Flores Island entries. But yesterday was a bit challenging … left the Caramoan peninsula at 7AM and arrived in Batangas (south of Manila) at 9:30PM after 14.5 hrs straight travel on 2 “tricycles”, 1 minivan, 2 busses and 2 “jeepneys”. You can forgive me? Cam
Our 5th and final day touring Flores Island was without a doubt the most full and most rewarding of the 5. It started with a 3:30AM wakeup to be ready to meet Alvin in the car for 3:45. We had a half hour drive to the start of the hike to the top of Mt Kelimutu (1650m) and a 30 minute walk to the top to be there before sunrise.
There are 3 craters each with lakes atop Kelimutu. What makes Kelimutu so special is that these three lakes are typically 3 very different colours. Even more striking is the fact that these colours change regularly over time, owing to changing composition of escaping volcanic gasses.
Mt Kelimutu has held special spiritual significance for local Flores islanders for many many years. The belief is that this is where spirits go upon death. If I recall correctly, children & women’s spirits go into the green lake. Men go into the black lake. And those who have led “evil” lives have their spirits go into the red lake.
Yes, the lakes DO change colour, because as you see below, both twin lakes were the same vibrant green colour, and the 3rd lake was a deeper green.
We learned from Alvin that the National Park created around this mountain did not go over well with the local communities. They were not consulted, so had no input into or sense of ownership of the management rules. They found themselves shut out of resource harvesting they’d done since they could remember, and did not receive much benefit (Alvin explained that the guy at the main gate to the park was actually brought in from Java). Locals cut down swaths of eucalyptus in protest. But then two coincidental events happened; a new, more consultative Park manager was appointed and a flood damaged the villages. The locals came to realize the importance of forests in flood protection. Relations are better but not perfect now.
Speaking of locals benefiting, we headed back down to our guesthouse that was set among about a dozen others in the town of Moni. None of these would be here without the tourist development of the Kelimutu site.
From Moni we made our way back over another mountain pass and were amazed by the extent of rock slide onto the road.
Our best beach on Flores came as a surprise as we reached the south coast again. Koka beach fronts onto the ocean on two sides of a tall headland. Perfect white sand, huge swells/waves, clear water with little garbage. Best of all, it was being enjoyed by SO MANY local kids who had come on a field trip from school. They couldn’t swim, but sure enjoyed watching a couple of blond kids play in the surf. We hadn’t seen a soul on any other beach.
As we moved east along the coast we entered the Sikka cultural and administrative region.
The Sikka people are best known in Indonesian and tourist circles for their exquisite weaving. Weaving is popular all over Flores, but other areas (like the photos in my Day 2 blog) use the common approach of lifting the “warp” with a shuttle and putting different coloured thread in. The style practiced in Sikka is called “Ikat” and is more of a tie dye approach. As you will see below, it is VERY labour intensive.
Our visit in Sikka started with a tour of their central church. Sikka is where the Portuguese first came ashore hundreds of years back. Their catholic mission work successfully converted the area, and this church dates to the year 1898. My favorite part about this church was the fact that the top 5 ft of wall were complete open to the outside, so you could hear the surf from inside the church.
The church’s wainscoting had been painted to represent the traditional Ikat weaving.
The women of Sikka are quite willing to show you the step by step process they follow in Ikat weaving, and for this demonstration we paid the equivalent of $10. This part is done as a cooperative. They were even more willing to sell you some of their weaving. More on that later.
Up to this point we had been really enjoying the relaxed demonstration and admiring these women. Towards the end though, we noticed of many of them setting up their woven sarongs and scarves on racks, in anticipation of us finishing our tour. And they looked hungry.
I have been in many very aggressive ‘sell’ situations in Africa and South America before. But these women I think win the prize. There were only the four of us and virtually all of the vendors were calling at us. When you were at their rack, they pulled out all the stops. The weaving was spectacular, but I felt like I was in survival mode. The woman who had led our weaving tour figured she had the upper hand and kept calling “remember … I explained”. You didn’t dare express interest in something. Yvonne and I independently picked out a piece, both from the two women who were not badgering us. Jake was on his own and our “I explained” lady was commanding him “Tell your mom you like this one”, even though he had given no preference.
Too bad. They were proud of their work and rightly so. I’m guessing that the whole approach has escalated … women felt that if they didn’t compete with others, they would be ignored. Alvin said he’s explained that tourists will buy more when not pressured, but only a couple apparently had taken this to heart. We compared this experience to a weaving cooperative on Taquile Island where all work was sold in one spot with no salespeople. Proceeds went to the creator. Alvin said they tried this in Sikka but ended up quarreling so went to this individual sales approach. We felt badly because these women are all part of the same community and ended up trying to out shout/advertise each other. It was reassuring at the very end when we asked Alvin to translate that we loved all their work and were sorry we couldn’t buy something from each of them. Immediately they stopped the sell and broke big smiles and thanked us for coming. It took a bit to decompress from the experience. And I ultimately was left wondering what right do I as a tourist have to a pleasant shopping experience? These women are trying to feed their families and pay their kids’ school fees. But I really do think they could sell more without the pressure tactics. Incidentally, they sell their weaving to their own Flores community just as much as to tourists. You see the work worn by many, and hanging on many walls.
One final climb over the cordillera backbone of the island took us to our final destination of Maumere which is the biggest city on the island. You can travel a couple of days further down the island but we chose not to. Alvin took us to the unique fishing community of Wuring on the western outskirts of Maumere. It is a marginalized group of immigrants from Sulawesi Island. They make up one of the few Muslim communities on Flores.
They are clearly living in difficult material conditions. But I was keenly aware of a real sense of community. People were really grouped together, laughing, eating and back and forth between each others’ porches.
They were welcoming to us. In fact they seemed quite taken with the idea of us visiting. Kaia became a celebrity. Twice she was called onto a porch and asked to touch the belly of a pregnant woman (Alvin said it was all about good luck of some sort … but we’re not sure what exactly Kaia represented). Camera phones came out.
From our VERY engaging experience at Wuring we headed back through Maumere to the other side of town to the Blue Ocean “eco bungalows” just as the sun was setting. We said good bye to Alvin and really thanked and encouraged him. We didn’t envy the fact that he had to retrace our entire journey back to Labuan Bajo over the next day and a half. We paid him for next day, and also figured he could pick up folks along the way.
The rooms were very modest but SO nicely appointed. The bathroom was outside and done with sea shells in concrete. Attention to details was the approach. Dinner was enjoyed perched over the beach, and what a dinner it was. Squid, eggplant, fried noodles, veggies and rice. So good it was that we ended up talking about our favorite meals on the trip so far. And we agreed unanimously that this meal won. What a fantastic way to wind down a very full and stimulating day.
We made our way to the airport late the next morning, but not before Kaia and I had a few macadamia nut snacks. I had become a bit suspicious of these nuts when I noted that all of our barfing, nausea and diarrhea problems in the previous days corresponded to earlier macadamia nut eating. Then I recalled Alvin’s remark about how the oils are bad for his stomach. Our host at Blue Ocean said you could only eat about 4 at a time without upsetting your stomach. We told him that we’d eaten about 30 a few days earlier and he was shocked. He helped Yvonne and Kaia roast the remaining nuts, and we thought that might help.
Kaia and I had only about 3 each. But by the time we got to the airport our stomachs were off. We were nauseous for 2 or 3 hours. None of us want to go near a macadamia nut now. But we love these back at home and have never had a problem eating a dozen or so at a time. Anyone know about this macadamia puzzle?
Our flight was delayed about 3 hours because of torrential rain in Maumere – the plane waited to take off on the adjacent island of West Timor until the rain stopped. An hour later we were back in Bali. Flores was a great choice. And we left so many opportunities behind. The island is a spectacular trekking destination – through beautiful forests and over mountain ridges to remote and traditional villages. But we didn’t realize this when we were planning our itinerary with a hired driver. Next time …
We left Riung heading east along the north coast. After driving through some coconut plantations we came across a very industrious family in the midst of production.
I think the most time consuming task though was scraping out the “copra” (coconut meal) from the shells.
Ultimately it is refreshing to know that coconut economics (at least in this part of the world) are such that you can still make money doing this all by hand in your backyard.
Our journey then took us back up into the mountains as we made our way back towards the south coast.
Soon after our swim we arrived at the island’s 2nd biggest city – Ende – where we had a late lunch amid the hustle/bustle. Ende is a port gateway to Indonesian West Timor and now independent East Timor island to the south. From Ende the route (I say “the” route because there is really only one real road east to west across the island) climbs back up into the mountains. Our afternoon destination was the partially traditional village of Saga. The young village chief spent a few hours with us explaining some traditions and transitions the village is going through. His father had died just months before so he was trying very hard to learn his new role.
Saga in a sense is living between the modern and traditional worlds. The striking traditional homes high up on hill are mirrored with more modern homes below, and families spend their time in both parts.
It seems that the village is actually rediscovering its traditions of recent. Some families have moved back to the village. Folks who’d moved out from the village come back for many of the traditional ceremonies (which incidentally also involve animal sacrifices to the ancestors). A very popular Indonesian show that highlights a different culture each week had just finished several weeks of filming there and our guide/chief was of course a main character. He had a gotten a real charge out of the experience.
As had become common practice, he invited us back to his house for coffee before we departed. We immediately noted the small Canadian flag imbedded in his door – left behind by a visitor that ended up sticking around for a few months.
We arrived in the town of Moni just as the sun set. Moni is the base for exploring the iconic Kelimutu mountain that I’ll feature in the next and final Flores island entry. The tradition is to stand mountain top for the sunrise, so Moni is the nearest village. It was low tourist season so we didn’t complain that the guest house proprietors were courting us with deals. We ended up at Jenny’s lovely place – a room typically sets us back about $30 – we get a largish room but usually end up with either Kaia or Jake on the floor on a thermarest.
We had overnighted in Bajawa the 2nd night and Alvin took us to see their brand new market before we left town. Huge facility … not very full or busy, so lacked the vitality of the Ruteng market. But we were still struck by the beautiful vibrant colours.
After a 15 minute hike to and from Ohgi waterfall, we headed straight north to get to the north shore town of Riung.
Alvin warned us that the drive to Riung would be rough and slow. But the road had even further deteriorated since his last visit 3 months earlier so indeed it was long and rough.
The vegetation clearing crew had not been through for months, anyway – about half the road disappeared from encroaching trees and bushes, and all turns were completely blind.
But none of this really put us off because we knew we had a fantastic afternoon ahead of us. We would be heading out in a boat to visit “17 Island National Park” for a fish bbq and snorkeling.
Riung is a lovely, very laid back town. Palms line and hang over the roads and nothing moves fast. We met our boat owner/guide and his son Eddie on the wharf and headed out to island stop #1.
We snorkeled while they prepared lunch. There were some fantastic parts to the reef, with huge schools of colourful fish, but we saw something here we hadn’t seen in any of our other snorkeling thus far …. garbage on the reef 😦 Plastic bags, tin foil wrappers, bottles, other plastic. It certainly takes the shine off the experience.
We hit a second island for more snorkeling which was thankfully clean of garbage. Again, the coral was in great shape. We weren’t sure what to expect because we’d heard various reports of the local fishermen’s practice of using dynamite and cyanide fishing. With dynamite fishing they set off a small charge on the reef and all fish nearby are shocked or killed and float to the surface. With cyanide fishing, they pump some cyanide into the area of desired fish, and the fish become rather paralyzed and are easily caught. It doesn’t take a marine biologist to figure out how harmful both of these practices are to coral reefs. Our guide said that these were practices of the past, but others we talked to indicated otherwise.
We did make a point of talking to our guide (through Alvin, because he spoke no English) about the garbage on the reef. Maybe the fishermen could get together one day? Maybe tourists could be given a discount and a garbage bag if they agree to do some cleaning? Income from these fish bbq/snorkeling trips make up a significant portion (more than half) of the fishermen’s livelihood, so much is at stake. We explained that with such almost universal use of Trip Advisor, word would get out as garbage accumulates and tourist traffic in this rather hard to get to place would probably drop off. Alvin said we weren’t the first to discuss this with local guides.
The final part of the 17 Islands tour is a trip to see their flying foxes. We first encountered these creatures in Vanuatu. Then in Cairns, Australia. But this was far and away the best gathering we’d seen, and up close too. Phenomenal.
Alvin was waiting for us at the wharf and we all went back to the guide’s home for coffee and fried bananas and to meet his two daughters and wife. This hospitality practice seems common in Flores.
We got out side as the light was fading and looked up to see those hundreds of flying foxes high in the sky, heading (we were told) deep into the island in search of fruit trees. They would return by morning.
Some great local food for dinner in a quiet little “warung” (restaurant) put a nice final touch on another good (and easy, for us) day on Flores island.
We arrived on the Caramoan peninsula of the Philippines’ Luzon Island this afternoon after 2 “tricycle” rides, 3 “jeepney” rides and a 2hr boat ride. Survivor USA was filmed 500m from our little bungalow. Other countries’ Survivor shows have also been filmed here and in a month’s time the Dutch are filming theirs here too. So we figure the islands and beaches we’ll explore by kayak tomorrow should be kinda nice!
cont’d from “Day 1” entry …
Flores Island’s very rugged geography meant that in traditional times there was not much interaction between villages. Eight distinct language groups and cultures coexisted on the island though they were connected through trade. Links to the outside world were made first in the 1200s with Javanese, Arab, and Chinese traders. The Portuguese took interest in the island in the16th century – they were developing their spice empire. The Dutch also took notice of the island and others in the area and intense competition ensued – the Dutch won out and the Portuguese hung on to only East Timor. This set the stage for the rest of the colonial period leading up to Indonesia independence in 1949.
The Dutch colonial government tried hard through the 1800s and 1900s to “modernize” the island with education and cash economy. They had only modest success, in part because it was difficult for them to infiltrate to so many remote villages. More successful were the Dutch Christian missionaries – they were willing to live and work in the most remote corners of the island. While 85% of Indonesia is Muslim (the largest Muslim population in the world), most of Flores is in fact Christian and devout Christian, from what we could ascertain. We encountered only a few pockets of Islamic communities – living in fishing communities on the coast. So our 1st island in Indonesia was Hindu (Bali), the Gili islands were Muslim, and Flores Christian.
Indonesia is HUGE. 7000 islands are spread vast distances from the capital in Jakarta. So you can imagine that locals resent intrusion of a national government so far removed from their daily affairs. This challenge hit home poignantly just a little into our drive from Ruteng on the 2nd day. There is a lovely lake that you can swim in just a little off the road. There was a roadside viewpoint as well as a government run park/access to the lake. The government was not pleased with small number of visitors/income it was receiving at the park facility, so managers in Jakarta decided that they should get rid of the roadside viewpoint. This way, tourists would stop to come in and pay at their park. No consultation with the local folks and tour guides. So how does one get rid of a road side viewpoint?
Yes, this wall was built at some considerable cost for no other purpose than to block the view to the lake. You can see it is now covered with graffiti. If you look carefully at the right side of the photo you can see where we parked our car to get out and walk the 10 steps it takes to get around the wall to look at the lake. Alvin assured us that every other tourist car does just the same thing. This wall has made Jakarta the laughing stock of locals and tour guides, and apparently several guides (including Alvin) have written letters requesting the wall removed.
We arrived an hour later at the south cost of the island at Mbalata beach where a quick swim in the ocean in the sweltering 35degC heat was so welcome.
Everywhere we drove on Flores island, be it on the main road or a tiny track into a village, we saw rice fields … and more rice fields. The terraces are so striking looking. Rice is far and away the main staple of the Indonesian diet, including Flores Island. But it hasn’t been that way for so long. Dry (upland) rice and maize were the staples traditionally, but the colonial influence and prodding for cash crops transitioned the island to “wet” rice which grows in terraced rice paddies. Rice production goes something like this:
1. repair any breaches in the terrace walls
2. Prepare the field/paddy for planting by turning over the mud. We saw some people still using oxen for this task but most people new use these powered tillers (see below)
3. plant seeds very close together in “nurseries”
3. When seedlings are about 6 to 10″ tall, pull them up and put them in bunches for transplanting
4. Spread the bunches of seedlings out evenly in the paddy to be ready for planting.
5. Plant in rows with stalks about 12″ apart.
6. Weed, periodically, and work the small irrigation canals to ensure good water levels.
7. Spray with pesticides (they have the stuff on the backs and walk around pumping the containers … We saw them spraying two locations but didn’t see much in the way of protective equipment).
8. Harvest 3 months after planting, using a sharp knife to cut the stalks off.
9. Separate the grains from the chaff
10. Dry the grains in the sun. This is often done roadside.
11. Separate the husk from the grain – this is more commonly done now with small gas powered mills.
I was, and still am enamored by the beauty of lush green terraced rice paddies. Here’s a few more from along the road on day 2. Click on them for full effect.
After lunch we stopped in the south coast town of Amare to see how the local “hooch” Anock is made. It is a basic distillery story … palm milk is distilled down in home made contraptions … and you have your choice to buy 20%, 40% or 60% alcohol. Smell of the strong stuff in 35deg heat rather put me off, so I can’t tell you what it tastes like. But it is cheap and very popular.
They sell it in exactly the same bottles in the same road side stands a gasoline. Drink the clear stuff, put the yellow stuff in your car. Alvin told us of one poor fella who bought the hooch by accident for his motorcycle … .didn’t make it 100m before the engine stopped …. and was toast. He tells another story of one of his tourist clients wondering aloud to him why so many people are selling urine.
Flores is well known for how its traditional societies have maintained their beliefs, celebrations/ceremonies and village architecture, all the while participating in Christianity and the rapidly westernizing society. Many villages welcome visitors, so we went to the Manggarai village of Bena. As you descend to the village, you pass through fantastic bamboo forests.
All this even more impressive with such a dramatic backdrop of mountains and forests. We could have gleaned more from Alvin but we were getting hungry so headed off to our evening destination of Bajawa city. Upon arrival at the hostel, Kaia and I tucked into those macadamia nuts to tide us over till we found a restaurant. Well, by the time we found a restaurant, Kaia was barfing roadside and my stomach was off right through rest of the evening and night. The owner of the restaurant we ate at was rubbing Chinese oils on Kaia’s back to help her along. At first Kaia “tolerated” it to be polite. But she started feeling better about 30 minutes and came to appreciate the gesture. Still, we were not suspecting the macadamia nuts. That story continues on our last Flores day.