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 Indonesian, “orang” means “person” and “utan” means “forest”.
Now before I begin, for anyone planning on going to Tanjung Puting national park (in Kalimantan, Indonesia) to see orangutans like we did, I’d like to highly recommend to you 2 things. Firstly, you should do it even if it’s out of your way, because it was definitely worth it, and secondly, I recommend our guide, Herman Ningrat. It was the best thing we did during our month in Indonesia, and Herman was an amazing guide. He spoke great English, was very friendly and taught us a lot about what we saw. If you’d like to contact him, his email is firstname.lastname@example.org and his mobile number is 0822-5478-0777.
Last summer, when my mom, Kaia and I went to Florida, we visited a place called Monkey Jungle, a kind of “open concept” zoo, where humans walk in caged walkways through big monkey enclosures. There were mostly small monkeys, but there were also a few great apes, including a female orangutan named Mei. She was very cute and lovable. Then, the zookeeper explained that in their natural habitat, on the island of Borneo in southeast Asia, orangutans are under threat because the jungle is being cut down to plant palm plantations, to make palm oil. She told us that a way to help orangutans is to not buy palm oil or products that contain it. I thought that it was a great idea to let people see an orangutan, then explain how to help, because Mei made people feel an emotional connection with orangutans, which motivates people much more than just hearing about them. And let me tell you, after we did what I’m going to write about in this blog, we’re even more motivated to help the amazing “red apes”.
Our time left in Indonesia was winding down, but there was still so much that we wanted to do. We’d heard about a 3 day trip on Borneo where you go up a river through the jungle on a boat with a personal guide, cook and captain, and you’re almost guaranteed to see orangutans. It would require 2 short flights from Bali to get there, and 2 flights back, so we didn’t know if it was worth doing it, but we read reviews on TripAdvisor saying it was “the best thing I did in Indonesia”, so we decided to go for it and my dad went to work booking tickets online. Most people arrange the trip ahead of time, but since it was the low tourist season, we figured we’d get a better price by hiring a boat and crew on the spot.
We spent the night in Kuta (the super touristy part of Bali) for no reason other than being close to the airport. We had at least 3 hours between flights in Surabaya, on the east side of Java, which I believe is the second biggest city in Indonesia (similar size to Toronto). We then flew to Pangkalan Bun, in the southwest part of Kalimantan. Most people consider the whole island Borneo, but that name only applies for the Malaysian part in the north. The Indonesian part is called Kalimantan, but when I’m talking about the whole island, I’ll call it Borneo, because that’s the only term I’ve heard for the whole island. We took a 15-minute taxi from the Pangkalan Bun airport to Kumai, on a big estuary that most rivers in southwest Borneo flow into. We found a pretty basic hotel (the first place we’ve stayed that doesn’t include toilet paper in the price), and my parents went to the port and found a boat captain and guide that would take us the next day. We didn’t do much in Kumai, so I’ll skip straight to the trip.
The boat, or the “kloktok” as they’re called, left port in the morning, with 8 people on board. The Douglas family, guide Herman, captain Anjung, assistant Rudy and cook Alu. We went downstream on the estuary for about 30 minutes, and Herman told us the plan for the trip: We’d enter the Sekonyer river off the estuary, and travel upstream until we got to the first orangutan feeding station (I know you’re wondering why they feed them, but I’ll explain later). We’d hopefully see orangutans, and we’d spend the night on the boat there too. The next day, we’d go further up the river to the second station, then turn off onto an even smaller river, and go to the third feeding station. We’d then head back downstream and spend the night somewhere along the small river, and the next day, we’d go all the way back to Kumai. We had an exciting trip ahead!
We turned off the estuary onto the Sekonyer river, the entrance to Tanjung Puting Notional Park.
As we cruised along, Alu brought us a delicious lunch of fried squid, vegetables and rice. She’s an amazing cook!
Herman told us that you can sometimes see orangutans in the trees, so we kept our eyes peeled. We didn’t see any, but we saw several troops of proboscis monkeys, known for their big, floppy noses.
Finally, we arrived at the first orangutan feeding station. Most of the orangutans in the area, the north of the national park, are semi-wild, meaning they spent most of their childhood in captivity (probably because they were orphans), and have been rehabilitated, then reintroduced into the wild. They’re able to survive in the wild, but they still need a little bit of help, so are fed fruits, vegetables and water once a day. During the dry season, when fruits are hard to find, they almost entirely rely on the daily feeding, but we were there in the wet season, so they don’t always come to the feedings because they can find food and water by themselves. First, we went to the little visitor centre at the ranger station. Then, we walked for about 20 minutes to the feeding platform, and sat down in the viewing area. There were about 15 people, and all of us had come by kloktok that day. We watched the park rangers put out bananas, sweet potatoes, lychees, and many more kinds of fruit onto the platform. Almost immediately after they left the platform, we heard rustling in the trees. Then, we saw something big and red moving through the forest. We watched in awe as a huge male orangutan climbed from the treetops down onto the platform. We couldn’t believe our eyes!
We watched Gungul eat for a long time. He was in no rush to finish eating and leave the platform, so the other orangutans needed to be patient for their turn. A while later, one of the rangers told us to come back on the path a bit. There was Kucao, the second most dominant male, waiting for Gungul to leave. We saw him right up close!
Gungul ate for a long time, but he finally got full and left. Kucao didn’t realize this though, so he kept waiting. A female orangutan, Chelsea, swung in on a vine and climbed down onto the platform. Kucao eventually realized Gungul was gone, so he came to the platform too. It seemed like after Gungul left, there was no order of who eats, because Kucao and Chelsea ate at the same time.
2 more females came, and both of them had a baby about 3 years old. They were so cute!
Later, we learned that one of the mothers and her baby are completely wild, but they come to the feedings too. We watched for at least 2 hours, then walked back to our boat. And after that amazing experience, we had a delicius fish dinner! Rudy and Herman set up mattresses and mosquito nets for us to sleep, and they slept on the bottom deck. We had a good first day of the trip!
The next morning, we woke up to the sound of birds singing. We had breakfast as we continued up the Sekonyer river. We saw many birds and more proboscis monkeys. They’re mainly active in the early morning and late afternoon when it’s not so hot, so we saw them jumping from tree to tree! We arrived at the second feeding station and walked about 10 minutes to the platform. The rangers put out food and we waited for them to come, but there wasn’t any sign of them. While waiting, we saw the biggest stick bug I’ve ever seen.
We waited patiently for an hour or so, but it was getting hot and it didn’t seem like the orangutans were going to come, so we walked back to our kloktok. In a way though, it’s a good thing that they didn’t come because it means they’re learning to live independently in the jungle.
Alu had another delicious lunch ready for us, this time baby lobster, and we ate it as we cruised up the Sekonyer river, and turned off of it and went up a small river, what they call the Coca Cola river, because of its clear, but brown colour.
It was even quieter on the Coca Cola river, and we saw hornbills and other birds flying over us. We went a couple of hours until we arrived at the third, and biggest feeding station, Camp Leakey. Right as we were coming up to the dock, we saw a female orangutan in a tree right next to the river! And as we looked more carefully, we saw this:
She had a baby! She turned around, and we got a better look.
We wanted to watch them forever, but we had to get to the feeding platform in time to see the feeding, so we said goodbye to Peta and Peter. To get to the camp, we needed to walk along a boardwalk, but there was quite a ridiculous obstruction. Siswi.
Everyone got by Siswi safely, and we walked along the boardwalk to the visitor centre. The camp has quite an interesting background. In 1971, Louis Leakey, a anthropologist from Kenya, was researching the origin of humans. To do so, he found 3 young women to research some of the closely related animals to humans. Jane Goodall went to Tanzania to study chimpanzees, Dian Fossey went to Rwanda to study gorillas, and Biruté Galdikas, a Canadian, came to Borneo to study orangutans. She and her team established Camp Leakey as their base. But orangutans had, and still have, several threats that are making their population decline rapidly. The biggest is habitat destruction, either for lumber or for palm plantations. Some orangutans are killed by the forest burning, or by trees falling, and others are forced into other troops’ territory, and there isn’t enough food for all of them. An even sadder problem is the pet trade. People go into the jungle to find a baby orangutan. They kill its mother, and take it and sell it as a pet. They seem like great pets at first, but they get big, and their owners don’t know how to take care of them anymore. All these threats make so many orphan orangutans and adult orangutans that don’t know how to survive in the wild, so Prof. Galdikas found herself not just researching, but rehabilitating orangutans.
At the visitor centre, there were great displays to teach people about orangutans and their threats, and all the other plants and animals living in the jungle around Camp Leakey.
There was also a big orangutan family tree on the wall, with pictures of all the semi-wild orangutans around Camp Leakey. They always name the babies with the same first letter as their mother (like Peta and Peter).
After the visitor centre, we headed to the feeding station. The platform was much closer to the seating area than it was at the first feeding station. Rangers put out similar food to the other stations, but they even put out cow’s milk here, because a lot of the adult orangutans’ old owners fed it to them as babies. Again, the orangutans didn’t come immediately like they did at the first station, but we waited. After about an hour, people were starting to give up and leave, but this time, our patience paid off. We saw a few red shapes moving in the trees, and as they got closer, we realized it was a family!
They were so cool! Just like at the first feeding station, it seemed like orangutans’ favourite fruit are bananas, because they ate lots of them before eating anything else. A few other female orangutans showed up later too.
We saw some other animals around there too. Wild pigs were under the platform, hoping the orangutans would drop something. We also saw Boy, a young gibbon who lives around Camp Leakey and apparently comes to every feeding and takes a few bananas.
Well, that was a pretty awesome afternoon! We walked back to the camp and to the kloktok, and had another delicious dinner as we headed back down the Coca Cola river. The place on the side of the river where we spent the night had the best fireflies I’d ever seen. It looked like all the trees were covered in Christmas lights! We slept very well that night. Busy, fun day + quiet night & fresh air = sleep.
We had another relaxing wake up, with hornbills and kingfishers flying and singing around us.
Alu made us Nasi Goreng, or fried rice. We went back down the Coca Cola river until it joined with the Sekonyer river.
We weren’t planning on going to a feeding station that day, but we visited Sekonyer village, across the river from the first feeding station. It was bigger than I’d expected it to be. The village is on the side of the river that’s not in the national park, so they’re allowed to have small farms and plantations.
We went back to the kloktok and continued cruising down the river. I want to emphasize how sweet it was on the kloktok. We’re eating lunch, listening to monkeys and birds, with not a care in the world. We felt like royalty!
The highlight of that day came as we were nearing where the Sekonyer river opens up onto the big estuary. There was a group of proboscis monkeys in the bushes beside the river. We’d seen lots of proboscis monkeys in the past couple of days, so we did little more than notice them. But Herman told Anjung to stop the boat, because he thought it looked like the monkeys wanted to cross the river. He said that they wait for a boat to be nearby, then swim across, because they’re so smart that they’ve figured out that boats scare the crocodiles away! We waited for a few minutes, and noticed that there were a lot of monkeys, at least 30 of them.
Finally, one brave monkey climbed down towards the water, then slipped in and started swimming across. After that, there was no hesitation in the rest, and they all started jumping in! The whole group was in the water within a minute of the first monkey crossing. There were sometimes 3 in the air at once!
The river wasn’t too wide, so every monkey made it across without drowning or getting caught by a crocodile. We could tell that the reason they crossed was because there were good fruit on the other side, because they all climbed into a big tree and started picking fruit. That was so cool!
A few hours later, we got back to Kumai.
We said goodbye to the crew, and took a taxi to a hotel in Pangkalan Bun. The next day, we flew back to Bali again, with a couple of hours in the Surabaya airport. The orangutan trip was the best thing we did in Indonesia, and that’s saying something!
But orangutans are endangered. Their numbers have dropped by 1/3 in the past 10 years and they have lost 80% of their habitat in the past 20 years. The threats are:
– deforestation for oil palm plantations. Palm oil use has gone up by 50% in the past 10 years – we use it in food, cooking and cosmetics
– illegal logging. The trees in these forests are worth a lot of money, especially to poor farmers. Our guide Herman told us that it happens in some remote places that the conservation officers can’t patrol, but also in obvious places where the loggers pay the officers to say nothing (corruption).
– illegal gold mining. These many small mines in remote places strip all the trees and soil away, so after the mining is done nothing can grow back. As you saw in that earlier photo, illegal gold mining was even a problem in the park that was set up to protect orangutans!
– hunting. People still hunt orangutans for food. And this often leaves orphans that they sell for pets. When the babies get too big, they are killed or given to the rehabilitation centers (like the one we saw).
– forest fires. Rainforests usually keep their moisture. But the logging and clearing has resulted in drier areas that have burned a lot more than natural in the past few decades.
So these orangutans need our help. When you’re shopping, check the ingredients of the products you’re buying, and if it contains palm oil, buy it only if it has the RSPO logo on it. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is an organization that gets all the people in the industry (growers, refiners, manufacturers and consumers) together to try to solve the problem. Preventing further deforestation is the main objective. I read that there are still problems with RSPO but it is a step in the right direction.
Baby and other orangutans that end up at rehabilitation centers are lucky. Birute Galdikas’s foundation is one that takes in guys like this. They first get the traumatized orangutans to play on play structures like they have at schools. They also spend a lot of time holding them because most of them didn’t really have time with their mothers. Once they can swing, they are taken into a little forest for more integration. All this happens in the rehab center.
Once the orangutans seem to be able to manage in the forest, they are taken out into Tanjung Puting park (where we saw them) to continue their reintegration. From what we saw, Galdikas’s foundation does fantastic work. You can support them by going to their website: orangutan.org
As I post this blog from Mindoro Island, Philippines, we are thinking of the people in Vanuatu who were hit by tropical storm Pam. Many are without homes, water and electricity now. Subsistence farmers will struggle for a long time if crops were wiped out, as I know they were in some places. Y ——————————————————————
Have you seen Al Gore’s movie, AnInconvenientTruth? I remember being glued to the screen when I first saw it, and troubled by its powerful message. When John Hardy saw it (John is a transplanted Canadian who moved to Bali and created a successful jewelry business with his wife Cynthia), he was deeply affected. He felt that the solution lay in education and decided to do something tangible to help train young people who can lead the world towards a more sustainable future. He was also inspired by Alan Wagstaff’s design concept called “three springs” (a model for a quality living community with a school at its ‘heart’). Hardy and his wife sold their shares in their jewelry company and founded the Green School of Bali in 2008. The vision was (and is) to create a “natural, holistic, student-centred learning environment that empowers and inspires students to be creative, innovative, green leaders”. And what an inspiring place the Green School is! I think the four of us would have been quite happy to drop our bags and enroll on the spot!
Green School attracts students from all over the world who are looking for an alternative style of education, involving a positive and deliberate focus on environmental stewardship. I was impressed to learn that many families relocate to Bali, either temporarily or permanently, specifically to send their children to Green School. It offers programs from preschool to grade 12 and has about 400 students coming from something like 30 different countries (we met a few Canadians during our visit). And the administration tries to maintain a percentage of local Balinese students (presently it’s 8%).
The first thing you notice about Green School is the phenomenal bamboo architecture. John Hardy, the founder, is an artist and has a bit of a love affair with bamboo — it really is an amazing, fast-growing, strong, flexible, and beautiful building material. And in Bali, it’s locally grown, too! The school is a collection of buildings on a piece of land that has a river running through it. The central structure, known as the “Heart of School” has a phenomenal, double-helix shape and no walls. The ‘no walls’ part is central to Green School philosophy. The Heart of School houses some classrooms, open office space, meeting space, the library, and the area where students and teachers eat.
Other classrooms are scattered around the campus and have a similar airy, open, and bright feel.
But Green School is not just a collection of cool buildings, it really seems to be a community. Parents are visible on the campus and some have started businesses there such as a coffee shop, a raw food counter, and a shop with environmentally friendly, locally made products.
On their campus, there is also a project run by the Begawan Foundation to help breed and release the critically endangered Bali Starling, an endemic bird that has been almost wiped out by introduced predators. When well-known personalities such as Dr. Jane Goodall or Mr Ban Ki Moon (UN Secretary General) visit the Green School, they’ve been involved in releasing pairs of starlings. Why does Green School get attention from such celebrities? Well, it was recognized as the “Greenest School on Earth” in 2012 by the US Green Building Council. Since then, it has gotten a lot of publicity and they actually run tours each day to accommodate everyone who wants to see it.
However, we wanted more than just a glimpse at the campus — we wanted to meet some of the teachers and students, and felt we had something to offer them as well. So after some email exchanges, we had an appointment to meet Glen Chickering, the head teacher of the middle school. He saw the link between the theme of our travels and their upcoming unit on energy. We were invited to kick off the unit with a presentation. Glen then gave us a tour of the campus and shared some of his experiences with the evolution of this unique school community (he has been involved since year 1).
So we knew we’d be coming back to Green School in 2 weeks. During that time, Kaia would often remind us, “Our presentation is in 8 days — we need to get started,” or “The presentation is in 5 days, we need to work on it!” Thanks to her insistence, we actually started early and gave ourselves enough time to put it together without much stress. I need to transfer this technique to other aspects of my life (specifically report-card writing!)
Anyway, we divided our presentation into 5 sections: ecotourism (Cam), ocean health (me), sustainable transportation (Kaia), invasive species (Jake), and green energy (Cam). We showed pictures and spoke about the issues and solutions we have encountered in our travels during the past 6 months.
The students were a receptive audience and had many great questions for us. One boy asked us if we had used public transportation to travel from country to country and we had to admit that we had only done that a couple of times in Central and South America. Otherwise, we have traveled by air (leaving a massive carbon footprint in our wake). We then learned that that boy had traveled overland from the UK to Bali in order to avoid taking an airplane. It took him and his dad 59 days! Wow. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. I bet they have some stories to tell about that one.
While preparing my piece on ocean health, and in particular, the problem of plastics accumulating in the oceans, I learned that a couple of middle school students at the Green School have started a “bye bye plastic bag Bali” campaign and have convinced the governor to take initial steps toward reduction. These young ladies are definitely showing the leadership that Green School founders were hoping to encourage. Anyone can sign Melati and Isabel’s petition at http://www.avaaz.org/en/bye_bye_plastic_bags_on_bali/.
As expected, we learned a lot during our visit to Green School and were inspired by what we saw there. I hope to apply some of those ideas to my life and teaching as well! A description of our visit appeared in their middle school newsletter: http://www.greenschool.org/weekly-newsletter/feb-26-2015/one-year-one-family-one-world#.VP0fZ_mUede . Yvonne
Now let’s go back to September… remember in Costa Rica, when the four of us tried scuba diving for the first time? We all completed our e-learning (theory stuff on the computer), and our confined water skills (practicing skills in a pool). The next day, we went out in the boat to do our Open Water Dives with our instructor Georgia. I was terrified. I liked swimming in the ocean, but I was always afraid of seeing fish, especially big ugly ones. The conditions that day were terrible: the visibility underwater was about 4 metres and the swells were huge. I was already feeling pretty nervous about diving, so unfortunately I panicked and did not dive.
On our first day in Galapagos, I hit a milestone. While my mom and Jake went diving, my dad and I kayaked and snorkeled. I squeezed my dad’s hand when we got into the water. But in the span of about an hour, I went from terrified to not scared at all! At one point, I turned around, only to see a HUGE sea turtle right behind me. It freaked me out at first, but then I thought that it was pretty cool, and I followed the sea turtle around. On our 8 day cruise in the Galapagos, we snorkeled at least once a day, and sometimes twice. I became totally comfortable swimming with fish, turtles, sharks and sea lions. We also snorkeled a lot in Fiji, and I officially overcame my fear of fish at Million Dollar Point in Vanuatu, when I dove down into a school of about 1000 medium sized fish!
When we got to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, I decided to give diving another go. I did what’s called a Discovery Dive, where you hook arms with other new divers, and there is one instructor per four divers. I didn’t see too much (because I couldn’t decide where I was going), but I liked the feeling of weightlessness you get underwater. That’s when I decided to try certification again.
In Gili Trawangan, we found “DSM Divers”, and I was finally going to get certified! Things were going well with my instructor Cyril: I did the pool refresher again, and I didn’t have a problem with any skills. Then we did my first open water dive (OWD). I had some trouble equalizing my ears so we only went to 5m depth, but we saw a turtle and some nice coral. Cyril was a great instructor. He was so relaxed and supportive, and always finding solutions to any problems.
Unfortunately, I woke up the next morning really sick, and I stayed sick for about four days. I was really upset that I couldn’t dive. But, Cyril recommended to us AtlantisDive, a dive shop in Sanur, Bali where I would be able to (hopefully) finish my certification!
After Gili we went to Flores island, but when we got back to Bali we were organized for diving.
Even though the dive shop itself is in southern Bali, most of the diving they do is in Tulamben, a 2 hour drive north of Sanur. Tulamben is famous for it’s wreck: USAT Liberty. In WW2 it was crossing the strait between Bali and Lombok, but it got torpedoed by the Japanese. They ran it aground because they knew it was going to sink. In the 60s, a nearby volcano erupted and the lava flow pushed the boat over and it rolled back into the sea. Now, it’s home to many corals and fish, which make it the best dive site in Bali.
Our day started early in the morning, when the Atlantis bus picked us up from our hotel in Kuta. First we went to the dive shop to get sized for equipment. There I met my instructor Robbie, an Indonesian. Then we drove north to Tulamben. The dive shop is associated with an oceanside hotel, which is their base there. The Atlantis customers get good prices, and it’s a great place to start all the dives.
The plan: I had already done one training dive, so I needed three more. On the first day I would do two training dives. Hopefully I would only have one skill left to do on the second day, so my parents and Jake could join me for my last training dive and an extra “fun” dive.
When we arrived, Robbie and I got straight to work. The dives in Tulamben are “shore entrance dives”, which means you have to walk into the water, instead of going in from a boat. We walked down to the wreck, then I had to set up my equipment. Scuba equipment is pretty complicated! There’s the tank, the “buoyancy compensating device” (BCD) which is a vest that you can inflate/deflate to float or sink, the regulator (the mouthpiece that controls airflow), alternate air source (extra regulator), pressure gauge (tells you how much air is in your tank) and depth gauge. Setting it all up is hard at first, but it gets easier every time.
Then I had to get into the water with all that equipment on. Easier said than done! Imagine walking into the ocean on moving rocks, with a huge heavy tank on your back! I really felt like a giant tortoise.
First, we descended slowly to 5m. When descending, you have to equalize the air spaces in your ears because of the pressure change. You do this by plugging your nose and gently trying to blow out of it. The air can’t come out your nose so it goes into your ear drum. I wasn’t so good at it at first, but of course I improved!
Then, Robbie had me do some skills. Over the course of the three training dives, I did skills like:
-the mask fill and clear (filling your mask, then clearing it by putting two fingers on the top of it and blowing out your nose)
-mask removal and clear (taking off your mask underwater, putting it back on and clearing it)
-“out of air” scenario
-compass navigation swim at the surface & bottom
-regulator removal & retrieval (taking out regulator, throwing it over shoulder, finding it and putting it back in mouth)
-taking off the weight belt at the surface and putting it back on
-taking off the BCD at the surface and putting it back on
Most of these skills are pretty easy. The hardest for me is the mask removal and clear, but I had no problem with any of them.
Next, Robbie and I explored the wreck a little bit. I loved it! So many fish! So much coral! Even a turtle! I didn’t have a camera, but when the four of us dove there the next day we got some good shots. I came back to the hotel with a big smile on my face – I was so excited!
After some lunch, Robbie and I got ready to dive again. This time, we went to the coral garden. It wasn’t nearly as good as the wreck, but we still saw some cool stuff including a shark! We also did some more skills.
All this time, the rest of my family was working on our presentation for the Green School of Bali (be patient: that’s the next blog entry). When I told them all about the dive spots, they were really excited as they would be diving with me the next day! That night though, I had no trouble falling asleep (taking off and putting on a wetsuit is hard work in this heat!).
I was almost certified. In fact, I only had one skill left to do the next morning! It was “CESA” (controlled emergency swimming ascent). This is a “last resort” skill: you only do it if you somehow run out of air AND somehow there is nobody around to share air with you. But, you still have to do it to get certified with PADI. Safety first, I guess! Anyway, CESA is when you go down to minimum 6m depth and slowly swim up to the surface without going faster than your bubbles. But swimming up on one breath is dangerous because of the pressure change. Air expands when it comes up, so the air in your lungs can expand and you can get a lung explosion injury. So you have to constantly blow out while swimming up. I was a bit nervous for this skill, but turns out it was no problem at all. At the surface, Robbie gave me a big high-five. I was finally scuba certified!
Then my parents and Jake came in too with their divemaster Kadek. We explored the coral garden.
That was our very first dive as a family! That afternoon, we dove on the USAT Liberty wreck.
My family liked this spot as much as I did!
I feel like I’ve come such a long way since Costa Rica. Thanks to tons of snorkeling, I went from being absolutely terrified of fish to loving the ocean and everything about it. After three instructors in two countries, I am finally scuba certified! I haven’t done much of it yet, but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve done so far!
Diving has opened up a whole new world for me. When I dive, I learn a lot about the underwater ecosystem and the threats to it. But also, I feel an emotional connection with the ocean, and that makes me want to protect it. Diving is not only a fun and relaxing activity, but it can also be a way to save the ocean. Of course, garbage in the ocean is a huge threat. Plastic bags look like jellyfish, and sea turtles choke on them. Here’s a good way to show it:
But a few days ago, I read about a project that I wish I had found out about a long time ago! It’s called “Dive Against Debris”. Any dive shop can sign up for it. Then, any diver can volunteer with them to do a special cleanup dive. They pick up trash, and analyze it afterwards. Then they upload their results to the worldwide interactive map that shows where the garbage is getting collected. It’s worth it to check it out: http://www.projectaware.org/diveagainstdebrismap
Even though we didn’t get on to Dive Against Debris, I still pick up every piece of plastic I see while diving and snorkeling. If I hadn’t had so many amazing experiences underwater, I wouldn’t feel so connected with the ocean and I might not be so committed to protecting it.
(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.