Category Archives: Indonesia

Wrapping up S.E. Asia Gangnam Style!

Volcanoes are the overlying theme of Indonesia.  With 127 active volcanoes throughout the country, we absolutely had to see at least one.  In Bali we had been at the base of an inactive volcano and had seen many more from a distance throughout the other parts of Indonesia, but it’s just not the same.

We arrived at the tiny mountain village of Cemoro Lewang near Mount Bromo around 9pm and went straight to bed.  Waking up in this tiny town was one of those memories that I will forever cherish: relishing the warm sun in the chilly mountain air, eating my cereal while watching old men with horses in tow going about their daily business, and all the small town people greeting their neighbors with kindness.  I adore small towns!  Most people who visit Mount Bromo get there at night, do a sunrise jeep tour, and then leave town before lunch time.  That kind of tourism puts a bad taste in our mouths as it leaves you with a very limited experience, among other reasons.

After breakfast we admired the view of Bromo.  The town is built on the rim of the ancient Tengger volcano and overlooks the ancient caldera now known as the Tengger Sand Sea.  Inside this really big volcanic pit, five newer volcanoes have formed with Bromo being the only one that is currently active.  It was so weird to think that we were standing on the edge of what was once an extremely large volcano, and even more strange when we were standing inside it, admiring the black Sand Sea and looking back up at the rim.  When we made it to the top of Bromo, the view was pretty incredible.  We watched the steam rising from the caldera in front of us and tried to dodge the stinky sulfur smell.

(Looking down at Bromo in the ancient caldera)

That afternoon we explored the rest of town, took ice cold showers (electricity was out), took sunset pictures overlooking Bromo, and scheduled the infamous Jeep sunrise tour for the next morning.  At 3:30am we were picked up by the Jeep and driven across the sand sea and up a mountain road to Mount Penanjakan.  Walking the final distance to the viewpoint, we passed hundreds of Jeeps, which must have come from towns farther away because they couldn’t have all fit in the tiny mountain town.  The viewpoint was jammed with so many people that we couldn’t even figure out exactly which direction to watch.  There were built-in risers to see over the crowd but so many people were standing on the front railings that there was absolutely no way to get pictures with a tripod, so I went around tapping on shoulders and asking people to please step down so everyone could have a view.  This worked out nicely because I ended up with a front row spot to set the tripod (and more people were able to see the view).  Once the sun began peeking over the horizon, all the frustrations were lost and I was giddy with excitement.  Mountains developed out of the darkness in front of our eyes, each skirted in fog.  The array of colors in the sky was probably the best I had ever seen.  Eventually I found Bromo and its buddy, Mount Batok, off to our right with a perfect blanket of white at their bases.  As we made our way back to the Jeep, we kept finding new viewpoints with better shots.  Driving back down, we stopped at the edge of the sand sea to get some fog pictures and then over at Bromo for our second hike to the top.  We managed to beat most of the crowd, but the morning view wasn’t much better than the afternoon view we had the day before.  Still, it was very nice!

(Sunrise at Cemoro Lawang)

After the tour and a long day of traveling, we made it to the city of Yogyakarta, considered the artistic center of Indonesia.  By this time we were so jaded from the lengthy, scary Indonesia methods of travel that we wanted to stay put for a week.  We spent a lot of time catching up on the news, reading, and being lazy.  We also did a lot of walking around town to see all the handicrafts, explore the fun mazes of alleyways painted with murals, watch the street music performers at night, and to see the unimpressive Kraton (royal palace – unimpressive because we were only allowed just inside the front gate with very little to see because the Sultans daughter was getting married soon).  The major craft of Yogyakarta is Batik, which is a form of dying patterns onto fabric using wax and paraffin to draw the designs and make the dye permanent.  The traditional Batik is patterns worn on clothing, but also a “painting” form of Batik is done as wall art.  We were extremely impressed by the artwork Batik we saw, it was cool!

(Group playing music out on the main street)

The most exciting activity we did in Yogyakarta was a tour to the Borobudur and Prambanan temples nearby.  We made it to Borobudur just after sunrise and were able to enjoy the cooler morning temperatures while exploring the 9th century Buddhist temple.  This was easily the third most impressive structure we have seen in all of Southeast Asia, with the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia and the combined pagodas of Bagan, Myanmar coming before it.  The huge temple was wisely built over a hill (the hill is inside/under it), with beautiful reliefs carved into the walls and many Buddha statues adorning the five levels.  The surrounding scenery was the cherry on top.  The vegetation was beautiful and in the far distance were the silhouettes of large volcanos.  Prambanan was equally as impressive and will probably be more so in at least ten years.  Also built in the 9th century, this temple compound is of Hindu origin and once consisted of 240 temples: an inner square of larger ones with four surrounding rows of 224 smaller temples.  We could only imagine how phenomenal this place was when all the temples still stood, but the area was destroyed in the 16th century by an earthquake and many of the stones were taken after rediscovery for use in construction and as yard ornaments.  Only 18 structures in total have been reconstructed, with a 2006 earthquake taking a major toll on the standing temples and the progress.

(Buddha statue on top of Borobudur Temple)

The night train was a much safer and more pleasant option than risking life with a crazy bus driver, so we arrived to Jakarta around 4:30am and took our time walking to the area our guidebook suggested for guesthouses.  At 6am we started asking around and checked in at a dirty but cheap place.  Immediately Bryan found a bedbug crawling up the wall and we asked for our money back and moved on.  The next stop was recommended in the guidebook as “extremely clean”, but after seeing the sheets also covered in bedbug blood spots, we passed up on that one too.  The next three were full and we finally came to a newer place with a brand new mattress and clean, white sheets.  We still knew we weren’t getting away free because the evidence existed on the walls, but it was probably the best we would find.

We spent the day seeing the major sites, starting with the National Monument: something resembling the Washington Monument but with a flame on top.  The most impressive thing about the monument was the enormous park surrounding it with a very symmetrical layout.  It was a really long walk to the Old Colonial Square, the main square during the Colonial rule.  Of course the buildings were beautiful in that colonial fashion, but the museum was the highlight.  Some of the colonial furniture remained including the biggest china cabinet I have ever seen.  There were many students visiting the museum while we were there and we had several groups of teenagers asking for photos with us.  It’s always interesting to become the main attraction while visiting an attraction!  Top new experience: A group of young women saw me and got really excited.  They spoke in Indonesian but I got the gist as they motioned me over and pushed one of the ladies to me.  They wanted me to rub her pregnant belly!  I have no idea if they just thought it was funny or if there was a superstition to it, but we all walked away giggling.  How funny!  Following the museum we walked to the “Chicken Market Bridge”, an old draw bridge.  While the bridge itself was pretty neat (you could see the old manual way of lifting it), it was overshadowed by the sludge that they call a river underneath it.  While we have often been disturbed by the amounts of pollution and trash we see thrown in the streets and living spaces, nothing comes close to this river.  It was lunch time and we were hungry, but we were so disgusted that we had to get as far away from it as possible and try to burn it from our memories before we could think about food.  Sadly there were a couple food vendors set up directly in its heavy stench with tiny children playing around them.  I am reminded of how thankful I am that our government enforces laws that prevent our water sources from turning into this.

(National Monument in Jakarta)

While walking around Jakarta and at the museum, there were a lot of really friendly people that regarded us with kindness, but there was also something odd about the looks we got from many of the men, and we couldn’t decide what the looks meant.  Walking outside the tourist areas we were probably more uncomfortable here than anywhere else we have been on this trip.  Needless to say, we loved nothing about Jakarta.  We gladly spent the second night at the airport.

It would have taken us about three days to get to the more northern part of Sumatra from Java if we had gone by bus and ferry.  Flying was not only quicker, but also cheaper.  We arrived in Medan and took one of the most terrifying bus rides and a ferry to the island of Samosir in Lake Toba.  Here we are back on the subject of volcanos: Lake Toba fills the caldera of a massive supervolcano that is estimated to have erupted roughly 70,000 years ago.  The lake reaches more than 1,600 feet depth in some areas.  Our position: We were on an island the size of Singapore, within a volcano, on a larger island.  Another weird one to think about!

Less than a week before we arrived in Medan, a volcano equal distance from Lake Toba and Medan had erupted, but luckily it was pretty small and did not affect anything we were doing.

While walking toward Tuk Tuk, the town on the island where most of the hotels exist, a couple guys on a motorbike stopped to tell us about their homestay/guesthouse.  For only $3/night we were on board! It was clean, comfortable, and had a restaurant attached.  That night we tried their recommended Thai curry with the local lake fish (later determined to be Chinese Carp) and a side of fries with guacamole.  OMG – the best Thai curry of our entire trip.  The fish was delicious, with absolutely no fishy smell or taste, just soft meat, and it was the first time we have seen guacamole since home.  We also got to try the local palm wine which was only about 3% alcohol and made fresh daily because it goes bad quickly.  It was just ok but we kept drinking it because it was there!  Every morning while there we had delicious fruit-filled pancakes, and on other evenings we tried the vegetable curry, chicken satay in peanut sauce, and chicken rendang.  Everything the owners made was unbelievably delicious!  We did do other things than eat while on the island, though!  We read our books down by the beautiful, clean water; toured the area on foot and saw the traditional Batak houses with roofs curved up on both ends like a boat; unsuccessfully attempted two fishing trips with an unreliable local; stopped at a barber shop to clean Bryan up a bit (he had his first straight-razor shave); and spent a day on a motorbike exploring the rest of the island.  The views from the South part of the island were breathtaking.  We then backtracked back North and around to the opposite side from Tuk Tuk where we tried out the hot springs.  The hot water was rerouted into tiled pools which did a good job of keeping the temperature hot.  We couldn’t stay in long at all!  After we were leaving the upper pool we realized it was supposed to be for men and the lower pool for women.  Oops! The two guys that were there when we arrived either didn’t mind or didn’t know how to tell us! On the ride back we discovered a small city park on the North coast with many local Batak people. I picked up some very tiny shells from that beach that I’m calling ‘volcano shells’ instead of ‘sea shells’!

(Traditional Batak house)

Singapore was so much better than we expected!  Many people had told us it was just a big city with nothing much to do and not much to see.  Although it was so much more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia (Western prices), it was justifiably so.  The city was incredibly modern, clean, organized.  The public transportation was so easy and could get us anywhere we wanted to go for a pretty good price.  There were wide, clean sidewalks in good condition and we didn’t have to walk in the road.  The drivers respected pedestrians and always waved us on at intersections that didn’t have stoplights.  The crime rate is very low and we felt comfortable everywhere, day and night.  Haggling prices isn’t necessary (although sometimes that is fun).  There was more than enough to keep us busy.  And the kicker: WE COULD DRINK THE TAP WATER!  Basically, it was exactly the same as any Western city with enforced laws, safety regulations, city planning, and so forth.  After the rest of Southeast Asia, it was like a drink of iced tea on a sweltering day.

(Light show from across the bay in Singapore)

On our first night in town we checked out the free concert by the bay.  The bay area is a planned zone surrounding water with nice restaurants and a section of vendors, pedestrian walking areas, free open concerts, the famous “Merlion” statue, great city views, the art & science museum, gardens, and a repeating laser/light/water/fire show put on by the Marina Bay Sands resort nightly that reminded me of the Bellagio in Las Vegas.  During one of the days in the city we explored the Gardens by the Bay, a new botanical gardens area with impressive sculptures and award winning conservatories.  We had an emergency shopping day filled with way too many malls because Bryan’s seven-year-old Chaco sandals finally gave out and cracked through the sole.  He found some nice Keens to replace them, but the Chacos were such a permanent part of him that I feel he is somehow less “Bryan” now.  Best of our time in Singapore, our last day was my birthday (a big one, but we won’t talk about that).  The one thing I have been dying for this entire trip is dark chocolate, which is beyond our normal budget, but Bryan got me some.  I also had the idea to get a Starbucks gift card a few days before with the smallest amount possible so I could register online and get my free birthday treat, and the amount on the card could buy Bryan a drink too.  We haven’t indulged in Starbucks at all, and it ended up even better than expected because in Singapore you get a free drink for registering, and then a free slice of cake for your birthday.  I had to take all of my remaining probiotic pills to eat the cake (I’m lactose intolerant) and it was so incredibly worth it!  I highly recommend the peanut butter chocolate caramel.  We spent the day at the zoo as it was highly recommended to us by some people in the first week of our travels, and I never forgot about it.  It was definitely the nicest zoo we have ever been to.  That night we had dinner at a recommended burger place.  I ordered a falafel and hummus wrap as our starter, Bryan got a big ‘ol beef burger, and I had an amazing veggie & sweet potato burger.  Mmmm!  For the third time in a row before flights, we spent the night in an airport.  It just keeps happening that our flights are so early that it is easier and saves us a lot of money.

(Don’t feed the Kangaroo’s at the zoo!)

Our final stop on this side of the world was Hong Kong.  We had no idea what to expect and were just winging it.  While in Indonesia, we had met a couple that had given us the name of what was supposedly the only building in Hong Kong where you could find a cheap room, with the warning that we should expect the hotel hawkers to descend on us like vultures (not their words).  After looking online and finding nothing we could afford, we got off the airport bus at this infamous Chungking Mansion.  Finding our way into the building and figuring it out was certainly an experience! The Chungking Mansion is a 17+ story building separated into sections A-F, each serviced by its own elevators and each floor of each section having one or more hotel businesses.  We happened to arrive during the Chinese National Day, so most of the rooms were full and that left us both relieved (because the hawkers had taken a break) and weary (because we had to haul our bags all around in confusion, up and down until we found a room).  We got really lucky and found a nice, honest lady who gave us a decent price and even provided toilet paper and soap! Oh, the things we get excited about.  As we were warned, the rooms were hilariously small, but it was actually quite comfortable.

(Our small room)

We were running on almost no sleep because the Singapore airport wasn’t so comfortable, and we weren’t able to check into our room yet because it needed to be cleaned, so we went searching for food.  Every restaurant we saw had even higher prices than what we would expect to see in the U.S.  In our desperation and zombie-like state, we actually walked into a McDonalds and considered deeply for a good 5 minutes whether we were that desperate.  In the end, we couldn’t do it.  We ended up at a mall food court and had what I hope was a less processed, Chinese version of fast food: dumplings and soup. We spent our first full day in Hong Kong by first checking out the Avenue of Stars (like Hollywood).  We happened upon a sectioned off area by the waterfront with a film crew and a funny looking guy in a bright pink suit jacket and black and white shoes.  It appeared to be something like an interview or commercial being made, and we joked about it being Psy (the South Korean singer of Gangnam Style).  Then the guy in pink went into a tarp room, a yellow McLaren was unveiled, and several skinny white girls came out in funny outfits and tons of makeup.  They did a few rehearsal dance shots around the car and then Psy (by then it was obvious it WAS him and they were filming a music video, or possibly commercial) came out and they took a few shots to music and he went into hiding again.  The girls regrouped in a formation next to the car and did a few choreographed rehearsals with a person filling in Psy’s part.  We still had the city to see, so we moved on before Psy came back out to film that portion.  (Two days later we saw the crew setting up again in the same spot.)  We checked out the rest of the Kowloon area we were staying in that day, mostly just big city and designer shops, but also a few small parks.  Bryan found a place that made Vietnamese style sandwiches, something we had been craving recently, and we went in search.  It was well worth the long walk!

(Psy making a video, but notice the McLaren 12c Spider)

The next day we took the recommended green Star ferries (because they are supposedly featured in every movie based in Hong Kong, so our friend says) across to Hong Kong Island, but forgot our map of all the places we wanted to go, so we spent the day roaming.  The next day we came back with our map and took the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak.  On a clear day, I would imagine you could see a good majority of Hong Kong from here, but with the thick haze that was always in the air, the view was limited. Still, it was impressive.  Even seeing the size of the city with our own eyes, it was still hard to believe.  We spent almost seven hours on the peak because we wanted daylight and night photos.  We brought peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and snacks for a picnic and expected to just enjoy the view, but there was so much more going on up there.  Walking away from the main viewpoint, we watched some young boys longboarding down a twisty mountain road and practicing their tight turns, then back at the main viewpoint we checked out the mall (yup, there’s a small shopping mall at the peak) and then we people-watched for a long time. Before the sun was down we set up the tripod and went into defense mode as hoards of people were practically crawling over us to take night photos of the city with their flashy iPhones.  So silly!

(Looking down on Hong Kong)

We spent our last night on this side of the world in yet another airport.  Our time in Southeast Asia has been absolutely priceless on so many levels.  The people have obviously been the highlight, with some cultures so very different from our own and others that seemed so similar.  The people we have encountered have accepted us, made us feel welcome and special, shared their knowledge and life experiences, and shown us how living with little can feel like a lot.  The cultures have also sometimes frustrated us terribly, and these are the moments we have tried to use to grow internally.  We have seen some of the top sites in the world and countless UNESCO World Heritage sites and had incredible experiences.  The food has been incredibly memorable, almost always in a good way.  We are proud that we have tried many foods unusual to our culture, and impressed by how many different types of delicious things can be made from the same ten or so ingredients, tasting different from one area to another.  We will absolutely be including these new tastes in our own kitchen when we return home.

Steaming Cup of Pooh Kopi

It is no accident that Bali, Indonesia is one of the biggest tourist draws of this part of the world.  The small island has everything going for it, from the beautiful beaches to the tops of the volcanoes, and everything in between.

We arrived from our flight out of Malaysia a couple hours later than scheduled at 9pm.  It took quite a while for us to break through the four layers of airport taxi drivers who charge “set prices” that are at minimum double what a metered taxi would cost, each layer like a barricade at certain distances from the airport.  Finally we found a taxi driver willing to use his meter for the 2 miles to Kuta town.  It was exactly a third of the price of the cheapest offer we had received from the airport taxis.

That night we found some true Balinese food, which is different from the rest of Indonesia for the simple fact that Balinese people are mostly Hindu, and the majority of Indonesians outside Bali are Muslims.  Pork is the major difference.  We had a soup at one vendor, followed by barbequed ribs, veggies, and rice at another.  The cheapest ribs I’ve seen in my life!

We didn’t plan to spend much time in Kuta since we wanted to see the island’s natural beauty rather than thousands of shops, but we had to check out the beach if nothing else.  If you never leave the beach, Kuta is fantastic!  White sand extended well beyond our eyesight decorated with turquoise water, surfers and surfer-wannabes, as well as everything you could possibly need sold under the shade of beautiful palm trees.

(Entrance to beach)

With only a month to spend in this vast network of islands, we moved on quickly to Ubud.  Ubud was much more our pace, not a mountain town but a bit of the same feel.  Not surprisingly, a lot of expats have settled here, and so there are some great vegetarian restaurants mixed in with the local varieties.  There are many communities in the area that try to keep their varying cultures alive through tribal dance performances, the tribes taking turns each night of the week with a couple per night.  We chose to see a “fire dance” on our first night in town, put on by a small community of a few hundred people.  It was said that nearly every adult of the community is in some way involved with the performance.  WHOA!  The performance blew us away.  All the music and sound effects were performed by a group of barely covered men who sat in three rings on the ground around a flaming stand.  Most of the characters danced out the story at the center in a style similar to the traditional dancing we saw in Cambodia and Thailand.  All but the masked characters were women, even the male roles.  The sound effects and narration was done in their language, but luckily we had received a pamphlet beforehand that explained the story, one of a banished prince and his princess and a lusty king who kidnapped the princess.

(Cultural fire dance)

That next day we took a walk through the Monkey Forest on the edge of town, more to see the old temple inside it than the thieving macaque monkeys. They have a reputation.  It was a very beautiful walk and the structures were covered in that bright green moss of Hollywood movie sets.  After the forest we did something we haven’t done for over six months: we spent time apart for five hours.  I was dying to wander completely aimlessly, something you can only do solo.  I also knew Bryan would enjoy doing his own thing even though he wouldn’t say so.  It was a really nice afternoon for both of us.  I bought a big baguette and honey, then found a tiny, secluded rice field on the edge of town where I had a picnic.  After that I ventured up a road heading out of town with a few high points and nice views.  I enjoyed a delicious “edemame juice”, or fresh soy milk in plain terms.  Bryan made a big loop around the roads that bordered the town where he had even better views, and he tried a local soup called Bakso, with meat balls and wontons, served by an old man pushing a little cart of it (we’ve been hooked on Bakso ever since).  He finished back at the room doing things I don’t understand on his laptop that he is so happy to have now.

(Looking through a broken wall onto a rice field in Ubud)

We rented a motorbike and headed toward Mt. Batur volcano and lake the next day.  Riding along beautiful fruit orchards, we had to stop at a fruit stand.  We bought tasty mandarin oranges, passion fruit, and some little purple things that we had never seen before that tasted similar to passion fruit.  At our highest point we were at the town of the same name as the volcano, overlooking the topless mountain, lake, lava flow, and a neighboring mountain from behind a beautifully aged temple.  We found a nerve rackingly steep and windy road down to the lake, mostly made dangerous by those who drive around blind curves on the wrong side of the road.  There was a tiny town next to the lake cozied between fields of jagged, black lava rocks.  Being that this was the closest we have been to a volcano, we were in awe.  We had a picnic of leftover baguette, honey, and fresh fruit on top of a lava rock with the volcano in front of us and the lake and mountain behind us.  It was refreshing!

(Mount Batur and Agung with lake Danau Batur on Bali)

On our return trip we were stopped by a police road block conveniently designed to catch tourists returning.  We had to either pay a $25 fine for not having an international drivers license, or a $5 hush fee.  Not feeling too good about it but having read about it online, we paid the hush fee.  We soon forgot about that when we stopped for the famous Luwak Kopi (Kopi is coffee in Indonesian), the most expensive type of coffee in the world, at Manik Abian.  You may have heard about it, the coffee berries are eaten by the nocturnal Civet, and then the whole beans are picked out of the Civet’s pooh.  Yup, pooh coffee.  Bryan had to try it (luckily I don’t drink coffee).  We were surprised that we first got a tour of the garden where they grew everything they used: two types of coffee, vanilla beans, coconuts, tobacco, ginger, ginseng, cocoa, and endless types of seasonings.  COCOA!?!?!? We stopped for Bryan, but I got to have my favorite thing too!  We saw how the pooh beans are cleaned, hand roasted over a fire, then ground by hand with a mortar and pestle.  We were brought a huge tray of sample coffees, cocoa, and teas for free and options to try other drinks for free.  The Luwak Kopi, of course, was not free, but Bryan ordered a cup at the bargain price of $5 and I requested to try the Chili Cocoa.  My cocoa, flavored by chilies, cinnamon, and cardamom, was a-maz-ing! Bryan liked the Luwak Kopi, but he didn’t think it tasted any different than any other good quality, bold coffee.  Overall the best coffee they brought us was a mix of their regular coffee with coconut cream and vanilla.  Even I liked it.  Sorry, we didn’t buy any of you the Luwak Kopi, even though $800 a pound may have been a good deal!

(Luwak coffee beans before being processed)

Our next stop was the town of Sengiggi on the island of Lombok, a bus-ferry-bus ride away.  We spent a couple relaxing mornings on the nice beach reading and watching distant surfers, followed by relaxing afternoons on the cute porch of our room made secluded by a beautiful garden.  The town really didn’t have much to offer, either in tourist attractions or anything for locals.  We only found one local place open for cheap lunch and three street vendors in the evenings, all else was western food.

(Bryan and I on the beach getting our photo taken with some Indonesian tourists)

From Sengiggi we were headed farther East only because we heard the SCUBA diving is comparable to the Galapagos Islands in South America, which is often considered the best in the world.  We booked our “overland” tickets to Flores island and the town of Lubuan Bajo, the gateway to Komodo island and where the Indian and Pacific oceans collide head-on.  The journey lasted 36 hours and began by bus to a ferry from Lombok to Sabawa, followed by a long bus ride at night across most of Sabawa.  The last hours of Sabawa got interesting.  Large buses couldn’t handle the roads ahead, so about two large busloads of people smashed into one short bus at 3:00am, luggage in a jumble on top.  Bryan was molded into an isle no wider than 12 inches with people leaning on him from all directions.  Me?  I was special.  I got the seat next to the driver.  Not the one you’re thinking of.  A rolled up tarp was placed in the four inches between the driver seat and his door.  My butt is more than four inches wide, that’s for sure.  I sat at an impossible angle with one leg over the other, hands holding tight to the oh-shit-bar in case the door latch decided not to hold, and one shoulder out the window to give the driver enough maneuver space.  Not long into the ride the driver decided he didn’t like the window open and I resorted to folding myself in half.  Being that we had no sleep and it was 3am, I was struggling to keep my droopy eyes open while terrified of what might happen to the 50+ lives on board if I fell asleep on the driver.  When my feet touched earth again, I laughed!  An eight hour ferry ride was the last bit to our destination.

Lubuang Bajo is a small fishing village undergoing a complete transformation to catch up to its recent status as major tourist destination, something it definitely wasn’t seeking out.  The town was nothing but construction looming over a tiny bit of old structures.  To make matters worse, we happened to arrive at the beginning of Sail Komodo, an event that filled the harbor with expensive sail boats and Naval ships, and a planned visit from the president (luckily after we would be gone).  After comparing every dive shop in town and every travel option for where to go next, we traded the opportunity to see the Komodo dragons for one day of three awesome dives.  Everything about our time under water was beyond belief!  It was more color and variety than I thought possible, with the collision of the two oceans creating conditions that attract a plethora of diverse life.  The diving was the most challenging we have done because the currents were strong, whipping us past the scenery like we were on an underwater train ride – only one direction possible, the one it chooses.  The things I was most impressed with are the things I don’t have names for: the soft and hard corals of every shape, texture, size, and color; the varieties of small, medium, and large creatures with patterns more intriguing than anything my imagination could design; and the way everything interacted and how obviously dependent every single thing was on everything else.  On the first dive we just went straight down and held on, literally, as we watched fish fighting the current and sharks weaving throughout.  The largest shark we saw was a grey reef shark, but it was hard to watch the sharks when everything was stunning.  On the last dive we were driven by the current until it just stopped, and we were able to go at our own pace and find some of the coolest things we wouldn’t have seen being whipped by, like tiny Nudibranchs and a large but well camouflaged crocodile fish.


For the sake of time, we took an hour and a half flight out of Lubuang Bajo back to Bali instead of the overland journey of two days that would have only saved us $40.  Bonus: we had our first experience in a twin engine prop plane.  From Bali we took a bus and ferry combo to Java Island where we will work our way Northwest toward Singapore.

(Making our way back to port after a day of diving around Komodo Island)