Friday, November 29, 2013

A Boat Named Richard

29 November 2013

We signed up for a two-tank dive day with Dolphin Dive School, here in Lombok.  We were picked up at our hotel since the crew and guests head north to a “marina” and then head out to the Gili Islands for diving.  I say “marina” because really, the boats are tied to trees or stumps on the beach, and are pulled in when it’s time to load up.  So it isn’t what you’d call a port or marina.  But the place from which the boats embark.

Anyway, so we met our dive crew (and the dive leader and driver looked about 12 years old, although he said he was 25).  And of course I don’t remember any names, sorry guys, because they really were very nice and helpful. Especially since we had to climb over the tanks to get into the boat – the guys took one look at my chunk of grey hair in front and they moved the tanks out of the way so I could climb in without walking over wet slippery metal tanks with my wet slippery feet.  (One guy gave me a hand and I nearly pulled him over – Indonesian people are rather small, I tend to tower over a lot of men despite the fact that I’m barely 5’4” these days!)  Dolphin Dive School, at

The other guests were Queenie, from Hong Kong, though she’s been traveling around Australia and is on her way home at the end of the year, but she stopped in Lombok to get her open water diving certification, and was doing her final two dives before the written exam; Winnie, from Singapore, who came to Lombok to attend the 10th anniversary wedding vow renewal of her friend Chris, whose father, Peter, was also diving – Peter being British but working in Dubai.  Got all that?  An international group!

So, we had a windy drive along the west coast of Lombok, up to a small town, and onto the boat – named, aptly, Richard.  Then out to Gili Air, which is the Gili island closest to Lombok, about a 20-30 minute boat ride out.  We dropped anchor and prepared to dive Hans Reef, gearing up on the edge of the boat and then doing the very cool, very macho back roll into the water.  Which is no mean feat when you keep in mind that this is just a long narrow outboard with two bamboo outriggers to keep us balanced.  (The back roll is easier than it looks, because you scoot back so the tank is hanging over the water but you are leaning forward – you put one hand over the regulator in your mouth and your mask over your eyes, other hand on your buoyancy vest (which you’ve put some air into) – and then cross your legs, pick up your feet, lean slightly back, and gravity does the rest.  You just fall backwards into the water, bob back up, and readjust everything so you’re ready to dive.)

We dropped down in fairly clear water, with all kinds of fish swimming around and pretending we weren’t there.  Nice coral in all kinds of pastel shades, fish in bright colours, basket starfish tangled in the coral, all kinds of interesting things to look at.  The best find of the morning was first a nice big friendly turtle, who swam with us for a minute or two before veering off into a little chasm in the coral, where he proceeded to have a nice brunch eating something – we hung out and watched him for a bit.  There was also a small stingray, sort of dusty beige with almost blue spots, who spent time on the sand watching us.  And our dive leader found a teeny tiny hairy crab, kind of orange in colour, called an orang utang crab, at least around here.

Forty minutes at depth, came up, held onto the outrigger pontoon things (which turned out to be bamboo!), and took turns handing up gear and climbing back into the boat.  Not as easy as it sounds, because the ladder is quite short and those of us with long legs (and over age 40ish) had trouble getting a first foot onto that bottom rung!  A little push from someone and I was up – the others had almost as much trouble as I did.  (Just one more step longer and the ladder would have been fine!)

We went on over to the beach at Gili Air and hung out at a café, having lunch during our two hour surface interval.  Always nice to spend a little time on land and chat with the other divers and the crew.  Although some of our crew went for mid-day prayers, since this is Friday and they are Muslim.  (We ladies wore our wetsuits to lunch so we could look Diver Chick tough!  Hence the photo as we fooled around.)

And then it was time for our second tank – we went a little ways to Secret Reef, which was sort of a large sloping reef covered in the strangest soft coral – it almost looked like small light lavender or mauve flowers, blanketing the bottom of the ocean.  Really, it looked like fake, plastic flowers creating a meadow for some theatrical productions.  With some traditional hard coral thrown in.  Very odd!

We did find another turtle, who was resting in a sandy hollow, though he/she got up and moved when we all came up to say hello.  I don’t know what kind of sea turtle this was, nor our first one – hawksbill turtles and green turtles look fairly similar to those of us who don’t know – but it’s ALWAYS cool to see a turtle when diving.

I found a little family of clownfish – their anemone was on a bag of cement that was used to hold down a mooring buoy, and the little clownfish were hopping up and down and wiggling around in their white anemone – they are such cute and funny little fish, and surprisingly feisty!  The dive instructor was taking photos of them, and they weren’t too happy with being photographed quite that close!  I was having a great time watching these cute little fish, and didn’t notice that our dive leader headed off – eventually I noticed, and Queenie pointed out where my group had gone, so I wasn’t lost.

And of course there were the usual cast of fish characters – angelfish, parrotfish, blue fish, yellow fish, striped fish, neon fish, and other fish who shall remain nameless.

By the time we came up, a strong wind and chop had come up, with good sized swells, so we were bounced around as we took off our gear – and since I have such natural buoyancy, plus was in a wetsuit which adds buoyancy, I was really bouncing all over and had trouble moving around outside the boat to hand up my gear.  Richard had to kind of push me up onto the ladder. 

Then we were off, heading back to Lombok, with the drive back.  Goodbyes were said, well wishes to all, and we went our separate ways after a day of diving.  Energized, tired, happy, with visions of turtles and clownfish in our heads.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

An Elephant on Our Porch

28 November 2013

Okay, a quick catch-up and then bedtime, we're going diving tomorrow.

We had a very wet day or two for our last days in Bali - we sat and had lunch and watched the football field we had just crossed turn into a lake.  Really.

We went to the DeliCat Café - complete with a cat and a painting of a cat.  In the style of Matisse.  Maybe Matisse's kitten?

Anyway, on Wednesday we got up nice and early and went to the road to wait for a ride to Padangbai, the coastal town where the boats leave for points east.  We drove for about an hour through small towns and villages, and all the rice fields in between.  Apparently the rice has several growing cycles throughout the year and can be harvested up to three times in the year, so we saw rice plants at all kinds of stages of growth.

We had time to hang around Padangbai, a small coastal town.  The day was the end of a festival period, so many people had been to a temple celebration early in the morning - you can tell because they are dressed nicely, often in white, and have a few grains of rice pressed onto their forehead and/or the hollow at the base of their neck.  (It looks like a little painting, but sort of abstract, in white on varying skin tones.)

After much confusion, because there are different boat companies going to a variety of locations, we finally boarded our boat to Lombok, heading to Senggigi.  (The g is hard, like in "spaghetti" - so the name of the town is pronounced seng-GHEE-ghee.)

It was an uneventful trip.  Until we arrived at Senggigi Beach.  Our boat kind of just pulled up toward the beach, which has a steep incline and is a very narrow beach - we had to walk along the gunwales and step onto the prow of the boat, then walk over and step down onto a chair in the wet sand - chair of course tipping and tilting due to the wet sand moving underneath.  I nearly went down.  Richard did better.  (And he doesn't like to be in photos.  But my only photos of the disembarkation process include him.  Hence the big blank.  I took his backpack out too.  Love you, sweetie!)

We've settled into our hotel (okay, but with not very good food) and found the dive operators.  We're signed up for dives tomorrow, out in the Gilis.  (Gili, GHEE-lee, just means little island.)

I have to add, we missed the first night of Chanukah so are lighting the menorah twice tonight.  While we hear the muezzin calling people to worship in the distance.  And since it's the first day of Chanukah plus Thanksgiving, I ordered the chicken kiev on the menu.  Turned out to be a very dry, tough piece of fried chicken breast.  With French fries on the side.  Of course, the server confused our meals and gave me Richard's fish and chips, which tasted like fried tofu to me.  And he was surprised at the taste of his fish.  She came over and realized our dishes were switched, so we swapped and dealt with it - just a funny dinner!

Oh, and yes, we have an elephant statue on our porch.

And that's the quick update!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Beyond Bali

25 November 2013

I've had a touch of some tropical something, so we've had a few quiet days - plus we've been planning travels beyond Bali.

I know, some people want to head over to the island of Komodo to see the Komodo dragons.  (No thank you.)  Others want to go to Java and look toward Krakotoa.  (Eh.)  Others would prefer Jakarta for city life and shopping.  (Another eh.)

We're heading to Lombok and the Gili Islands.  Bali's scuba diving paradise!

So, maps above and left - we arrived in Bali (kind of in the middle area of Indonesia) at the provincial capital of Denpasar.  We spent two days in Sanur, the old fancy resort, still a cute little town. (#1 on the map.)  Then we headed up to Ubud, the cultural capital, and have been having a great time falling into Bali time.  (#2 on the map.)  On Wednesday, we'll head to Padangbai (also known as Padang Bai, #3 on the map) and catch the fast ferry to the island of Lombok, to the east.  This is about a 3 hour trip in total.

We'll stay at Senggigi (no idea how to pronounce that, we'll find out) and spend some time exploring as well as diving.  The primo diving seems to be in the Gili Islands, to the west of the north end of Lombok.  We'll work that out when we get there, though we've identified a few dive companies that we'll check out.

And that's the plan!

Lombok should be interesting, it has a big volcano toward the central north area, and the people of the island are predominantly Muslim.  (Bali is the mostly Hindu island in a country that has the largest number of Muslims in the world.)  As I said, this should be interesting!

So, a few fun things we've done:  we had a nice dinner at the Havana Café, which features great Cubano food as well as wonderful Latin jazz.  Unexpected, I know, but really good music.  I enjoyed the little Balinese waitstaff dancing the salsa, mamba, merengue between serving the customers.  And Richard and I managed our own little salsa dancing on the sidewalk as we were leaving.

Background music of gong and chime rehearsals - we haven't gone to any of the performances of music or dance, but we're kind of in the middle of it all.  So we hear rehearsals all weekend, and the performances at night.  We've seen part of the dancing, as well.  The music is more percussive than melodic, and something between steel pans and dinner gongs - just sort of Balinese background music at this point.

We'll attend some performances when we return to Ubud after our trip to Lombok.  We'll carry just small backpacks with us, leave the big luggage here, and return to our lovely bungalow for more Ubud time.

We visited a large supermarket that Richard found, because we always like to see what's available.  And of course, there are all kinds of items that we have no clue what they are or how they might be used - but that's what makes it so fascinating, seeing how other people live.  (It's just like breakfast - do you know that most people around the world eat just regular food for breakfast?  They don't have totally separate items that are brekkie only, like cold cereal, or even hot cereal.  No, they might eat rice and sashimi and miso soup, or fried noodles and chicken satay, the way they do here.  It just makes travel interesting, to see this.  And try this.)

Anyway, my favourites at the supermarket: the huge and lovely dragon (human-sized) advertizing Balinese chocolates.  (Which are nice dark chocolate, not overly sweet like some companies.)  

The luwak coffee with pictures of the civet (although not the business end of the civet, but at least it lets you know that this is civet coffee).

And the collection of dragon kites, which made for some fun photos, especially when I tried cropping them in a few different ways.  It looks like a baby dragon farm, doesn't it?

This afternoon is dark and rainy, deep thunder out there, right overhead at the moment, with bright flashes of lightening.  We're snug in our bungalow, reading, researching our travels, and of course catching up on the blog.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Luwak Coffee

23 November 2013

Sometimes it takes a little while to put two and two together.  Especially when there is a language shift, and things definitely get lost in the translation.

So, remember on our way up to Ubud, we stopped at a coffee garden.  Had some delightful coffee.  Spent time chatting with the two young men who run the place.  Looked at some cute little animals, as well as the coffee and cacao they were growing.

And tasted luwak coffee.  (Pronounced luh-WOK)  Supposedly the rarest coffee in the world.

And were clueless.

Now some of you might know what that cute little animal is.  And some of you may have registered exactly what luwak coffee is.

We didn't at the time.  Now we do.

That cute little animal is the Asian palm civet.  It's a mostly nocturnal mammal native to SE Asia.  (There are other kinds of civets in Africa.)  Cute and somewhere between a cat and a raccoon, although probably more related to the weasel and mongoose family - but much bigger.

And luwak coffee?  This is the famed civet dung coffee.  Yup, the cute little civets like to eat whole coffee cherries. They digest the outer part of the coffee cherry, but the inner seed, the bean, passes through the digestive track and out.  

Yes, this is civet poop coffee.

And we drank it.  UNKNOWINGLY.

I'm an adventurous eater.  But I'm not sure I would go out of my way to drink civet poop coffee.  I mean, GAG!  Right?

Okay, to be fair, I'm sure it is washed very well.  And then the beans are roasted, which should sterilize them.  

But still.  It just sounds quite gross, doesn't it?

I have to say, though, that it was a nice rich coffee without any acidity or bitterness, and I can see why people like to drink it.  As long as you don't think about where those beans have been.

Ah well, just one more adventure on the road.

We've been enjoying walking around Ubud and seeing how beautiful this place is - there are statues, shrines, temples everywhere.  Even a simple door is a work of art.  And the market!!! - Indonesia is known for its batiks and fabrics, and the market is just full of gorgeous fabrics, quilts, clothes, bolts of more fabric, wraps, sarongs, patchwork items made out of scraps of batiks - I want to buy it all!  Because everything is so beautiful, it would be hard to decide to buy one and not another - so I simplify life by not buying anything.  (Okay, I bought one blue rayon tank top, but finding my size and a color that looks good on me made that an easier decision.)

We're looking into exploring other parts of Bali, including some of the outlying areas and maybe visiting a volcano or two.  And of course some temples.  And the terraced rice fields.  And some scuba diving.  And, oh, just so much to see and do.

We're loving Bali!!  

And yes, we even enjoyed the civet poop coffee.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Monkey Forest!!!!

21 November 2013

One of the "must do" items in Ubud is a visit to the Monkey Forest - the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (  

But, of course, there were all sorts of beautiful sights as we walked the kilometer or so to the forest.  More birdbaths full of flowers.  Flags and kites and pennants.  A display of I don't know what, but many of them were like cats, so it was like a great display of multi-coloured cats.  I love all the colourful things we encounter while walking around.  (And I could go crazy over the fashion here, but that's another issue.)

On to the monkey forest.

The monkeys are long-tailed macaques - although I would call them crested macaques, because they all seem to have a little monkey mohawk hairstyle.  (But I'm not a scientist, so I didn't get to name them.)  They aren't very big, although the alpha males are large, maybe the size of the average 2 year old child.  If they stood up, they might come up to two feet tall (60 cm?).  The females are smaller, and of course the babies are little and very cute.

The obvious question is why is the monkey forest considered sacred - part of it is that there are several temples within the forest, so they are sacred since they are places of worship.  However, according to the monkey forest website, it is also because Balinese Hinduism is unlike Hinduism in other parts of the world.  Here in Bali, there are elements of animism, ancestor worship, and Buddhism combined with traditional Hinduism.  Part of the old Balinese beliefs that continue to this day is that animal and human spirits inhabit forests and ravines - so this particular forest, which has natural springs and ravines, is believed to be home to various spirits of both ancestors and animals.  A sacred forest represents the co-existence of humans and animals, living and spirits.  And, since Hinduism believes in reincarnation, well, all animals are treated with respect.  So that monkey sitting next to you might be an ancestor.  Or not.

The monkeys certainly know that they are treated with respect - at least, by most of the visitors.  There were the occasional tourists making the monkeys jump for bananas.  But the monkeys are smart - they will jump onto the tourist and try to grab the bananas!  (The sign tells you what to do if a monkey jumps on you - the directions say "drop the food and walk away slowly" - the monkey will jump off to go get the food.)

Before even entering the monkey forest, there were smart monkeys raiding the shrines and eating the offerings - one monkey was throwing down the little boxes between eating the rice and little biscuits.  

There were women at the entrance selling bananas, so that tourists could feed the monkeys - and of course the monkeys try to swipe the bananas when they can.  One monkey was up in a tree and decided to pee on the banana lady - she whipped out a slingshot and chased that monkey away!

We walked through the forest - there were monkeys sitting on benches.  Monkeys sitting on statues.  Monkeys sitting on statues of monkeys.  Monkey families.  Monkey fights.  Marauding monkey gangs beating up old alpha male monkeys who were trying to bully smaller monkeys.  Monkey sex.  Monkey play.  Monkey love.  Monkey stampedes running through.  Monkeys lying around sleeping.  Monkeys trying to open coconuts.  Monkeys tossing coconuts at the people, sort of like monkey bowling.  Monkeys actually sliding down stair banisters!  Monkeys everywhere you looked!  In the trees, in the temples, on the ground, walking over people who sat on the walls.  And the monkeys mostly ignored people, unless the person offered a banana - then the monkeys flocked around and tried to grab a banana or two.

And there were beautiful statues of monkeys, cows, dragons all over (especially dragons creating the railings on the stairs) - just gorgeous stonework!

It really was incredible!

As I said, the monkeys had sort of a crest or faux-mohawk.  The older, bigger monkeys had almost a beard, with a big grey moustache.  Some of the monkeys seemed very ladylike.  And of course the babies were off exploring, or playing with friends, or snuggling up to mama monkey when they needed some love.

We had a great time.  Richard even encountered a big male monkey walking toward him and looking kind of dominant - so Richard puffed out his chest and drew himself up to his full six-foot-something - Alpha Male Monkey looked at Richard - Richard looked at Alpha - Alpha took a step to one side - Richard took a step to the other side - and then they both walked past each other, having given each other just a bit more room.

So - I have tons of monkey photos, but here are just a sampling of the monkeys we encountered.