After two years of living here, we finally had our first non-family visitor. (Sorry Phil, one day doesn’t count!) Our friend J stayed for a week during her whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia. Because of a few national holidays anyway, I decided to take the whole week off and we booked two trips outside of good old Bogor: first, a three-day boat tour of orangutan sanctuaries in Kalimantan, then a few nights away at my work cottage in the nearby mountains.
As soon as J arrived, we filled her full of local Indonesian fare and showed her the mall, since that’s about all there is to do around here. So then to shake things up, we headed off to brave the jungles of Borneo and watch orangutans in their natural habitat. The tour we booked travelled from Palangkan Bun, where we boarded a klotok (a two-story wooden boat) and headed into the Tanjung Puting national park. The boat is about 3m x 13m, designed for a cruise – cooking, eating, sleeping all on board. There was even a “western” toilet, which really was just a normal toilet placed over a hole in the boat floor, leading directly to the water below. There was a shower too, but read the previous sentence again to find out why none of us used it during our stay.
After a hearty lunch on board, we disembarked at the first viewing station just outside a local ranger village. It was a hot, humid walk through a muddy, buggy forest to get to a clearing where a platform had been built to hold a giant pile of bananas and an even bigger pile of orangutans. Of course, as usual, J tripped and fell on a bunch of roots just as we were arriving at our destination. There were a few moments where her wild crying could have scared away all our ape visitors, but luckily after a few minutes she decided that the tiny scrape on her knee was slightly beneath apocalypse level and maybe she would be ok after all.
We saw a good handful of orangutans at this feeding session: a few mothers and babies, one or two adolescents and a male of about 30 years old. They weren’t shy to wander past us on their mission to the bananas, and we got several great close-up views. Soon the bananas disappeared, and it was time for all of us to go.
That night, we anchored the boat in a patch of water reeds in the middle of the jungle and fell asleep to the sounds of proboscis monkeys and night birds, lit by the glow of lightning bugs and stars. In the morning, we set off to the next conservation area for another feeding. Unfortunately, friend J was feeling quite sick that day, suffering from a bout of heat stroke. She decided to stay on the boat and save her energy for the main orangutan camp visit in the afternoon. This feeding station was similar to the first, with a handful of orangutans, with one major difference: this time, we were lucky enough to get a full performance of orangutan lovin’. That’s right, folks, about 20 tourists stood around, giggling awkwardly and wondering aloud if they should turn off their cameras, while Mr. and Mrs. Orangutan paused their banana snacking to share an intimate moment. Well, I can’t be sure that Mrs. was totally into it, but she was begrudgingly putting up with it, at least.
Next, we continued up a smaller and much cleaner river towards Camp Leakey, the original orangutan sanctuary in the area. We knew we had arrived when we saw a huge grandma orangutan taking a bath next to the dock. After a quick lunch, we set off into the forest again. We walked along a boardwalk towards the visitor center and saw at least 5 orangutans just hanging out. These ones were clearly more familiar with people and we could have easily touched them – it’s dangerous to touch them, though. Not only are they still wild and unpredictable, but humans can give and receive viruses to and from orangutans that can make both sick. So we looked but passed by rather quickly…
We stopped at a dimly lit but interesting visitor’s center, where the kids mostly just wanted to look at the skeletons on display (as usual). Friend J was at the end of her strength, so she and B hung around the center while the kids and I continued into the forest for another viewing. It was a long walk, and the kids were so incredibly sweaty, like little milk containers sitting out on a hot day and condensating all over everything. Oh and they were whiny too. Like… little whiny milk containers on a hot day. Anyway, we made it to the viewing area and it was packed. Way too many tourists for the space, and they were all quite loud and aggressive. We arrived partly into the feeding session, so I don’t know how all the ruckus started, but we suddenly noticed that there was a girl of about 12 who had been grabbed by a mama orangutan. I guess the girl got a bit too close to the baby, or perhaps had something that seemed like food in her pocket, and the mama grabbed her arm with both hands and wouldn’t let go. They were surrounded by 4 or 5 guides who were trying to lure the orangutan away with bananas, which they did eventually. The girl seemed unhurt, but it was a very tense few moments. Good lesson for everyone there about how to treat wild animals with respect, and don’t get too close!
The kids’ favorite part was a cheeky gibbon who was stealing all the bananas. J chanted “Go, Gibby, Go!” for much longer than appropriate, but it was all in good fun. We wandered back to the visitor’s center soon after and all hopped back on the boat for the trip home.
Well, we had a rather exciting weekend. No, we didn’t visit a mysterious tropical island, climb a volcano or attend a local festival. In fact, we basically stayed in the whole time. But it was exciting because we got a new family member!
Meet our new pet cockatiel, the Hon. Mayor Goldie Wilson, or just “Goldie” for short.
Our friends found Goldie and her brother at the local bird market. We figure she’s a few months old. She isn’t exactly hand trained, but she is starting to warm up to us. We’ve had her out of the cage a few times, but of course, the kids chasing her around on the floor isn’t doing much to help her disposition. B and I have had birds before so hopefully between us we figure out how to train her better. Also, I’ll get better photos when we have her out of the cage next.
In other news, the kids had a book assembly this past week, where they dressed up like characters from a book. LittleB dressed in his Tae Kwon Do outfit, which is quite literally the only thing he ever wears for dress up. J dressed up as a king.
In more other news, I’ve been working on teaching the kids some music theory lately, since they don’t seem to be getting much of that at school. B’s learning the recorder now, and we each have our own ukuleles to practice on. J wrote a song the other day. Last time I checked, there were no J O V or I notes in the scale, but, hey, she strummed it out on her uke, so who am I to argue!
P.S. Special shout-out to those of you who get the Mayor Goldie Wilson reference!
There are many wonderful beaches in the Cheticamp area. Cheticamp beach itself is a lovely sandy/rocky coast that is sheltered from the open water. It has a sand bar close to shore which makes it easy to walk out quite far, even with the kids. There are sometimes jellyfish, but we were lucky to avoid them all this year. It’s close to town, so we spent several lovely afternoons enjoying the sun and warm water – well, warm for the north Atlantic at about 20 degrees or so (celsius).
We also took a special trip over to the western coast of Cape Breton to visit Black Brook beach. This is another little sheltered bay where a waterfall/brook meets the ocean. The waves were perfect – not too big, not too small. And there was a great rock cliff to climb and look out over the beach. We whiled away the afternoon jumping in waves, building castles, and hunting lobsters (but not catching them!). It was lovely.
One of the first things we did upon arrival in Cape Breton was head out on a zodiac whale watching tour in an area called Pleasant Bay.
This is quickly becoming my favourite tradition in Nova Scotia, since this was now our second time going out on such a tour. There are two types of whale watching tours: the regular tour takes you out on a fishing boat and boasts a slightly easier ride but doesn’t get as close to the action. On the other hand, zodiacs are basically inflatable rafts with benches, so you just hold on and hope you don’t go flying off as you skim across the water. But you also get right up close to the whale pods, since the craft isn’t as intrusive or dangerous. Oh, and it’s lots of fun!
The day we went out was quite clear, and we were expecting a fairly smooth trip. Out on the water was another story – although the waves didn’t appear very large, once you’re travelling over them at 30 knots (I’m totally guessing at the speed here… how the heck do you calculate knots anyway?), waves even a foot or two high were sending the zodiac flying.
We headed out with a group of about ten (B and I, plus his brother and wife and a few other vacationers), first sailing straight out about 5 miles off the coast. We didn’t have much luck there, and frankly I couldn’t tell the difference between a whale and a wave anyway, so I was never sure whether to be continually excited or continually disappointed. Luckily a sister ship soon radioed in the whales’ location closer to shore, so off we went.
We first spotted the whales breaching right next to the other boat, a group of what looked like about 20 pilot whales. The captain pulled us in a bit closer to their path and we waited for them to swim in our direction. A few minutes later, they appeared. It was a group of mostly cows and babies, and there must have been at least 50 of them! They swam right up next to us in little groups of 3 or 4, babies alongside. I probably could have touched one or two of them, they were so close. I had to fight the urge to just jump in there and grab on for a ride! The pod seemed to be swimming around and feeding in the area, so they weren’t in a rush to leave. We followed them for at least 20 minutes, watching them dive deep and then surface a hundred meters away then return to us. It was magical.
Here are a few (rather shaky) videos!
Eventually we let them move on and we started back to the marina. The return trip was into the wind, so as you can imagine, the waves were quite a bit rougher on us! We were getting air of at least 2 metres at times, which was exhilarating and little bit painful… But the chorus of groans from us travellers just made it hilarious, and we were all killing ourselves laughing as we all got soaked and slammed around on the waves.
The ride back followed the coastline, where we caught glimpses of a few seals and a lot of majestic cliffs and wilderness. We tried to take pictures, but they all turned out crooked!
All in all, it was great, and I can’t wait to do it again next time.
The real vacation part of our vacation started in Chéticamp, Nova Scotia, where B’s maternal family comes from and where they still keep a family cottage. B’s mom, brother and his wife joined us for a week of R&R on the beach. The cottage is located along the Cabot Trail, which is the famously beautiful coastal road along the edge of the island. You can’t ask for a nicer place to vacation.
To get there, we flew to Halifax and rented a car to drive up the coast into Cape Breton. We were all excited for a road trip! We blasted our favourite east coast tunes along the way, and stopped at our usual rest stop – the Atlantic Superstore in Antigonish – to stock up on essentials like Cheerios, mustard and marshmallows. It was going to be a good week!
We rolled into the cottage mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day catching up with the family and enjoying fresh fish and chips for dinner.
The week was filled with visiting, sightseeing, swimming and eating. Plenty of lobster, of course, although I have discovered that I prefer crab. Also plenty of beer and goods from the local bakery. (Yeah, we all put on at least ten pounds that week.)
We did a whale watching tour on our first day, but it was so great it deserves its own post. We also headed up the Cabot Trail almost every day to check out the beaches and trails in the area.
We were in town during the Festivale de l’escaouette, which is an Acadian arts and culture celebration. We did catch a show featuring one of the cousins and his father on guitar. Shameless plug here! It was great music, and even the kids had a good time. The festival ended on the weekend with a parade, most notable for the gobs of candy the kids collected from the floats – it was like Halloween, disgusting toffees included. It would have been better if some of the treats had not been freezies that leaked everywhere, but hey, free candy is free candy. Other floats were for local businesses or VIPs, but with an Acadian twist (i.e. with fiddlers onboard), and of course the fire truck got the most love, bringing up the rear.
During the rest of the week, we went swimming as much as we could at the beach, which, other than being a bit chilly, was great fun. In fact, we had so many beach days, it too deserves its own post. Stay tuned for that. We also had a couple of great dinners out, including one where I stuffed myself on the fruits of the sea until I thought I would be sick. We also enjoyed a few cookouts at the firepit at B’s brother’s hotel – including one night where we literally outran a sheet of rain coming at us from across the harbor.
Overall our visit was the perfect cap to a long few weeks of travel. At the end of our stay, we drove back to Halifax filled with love and lobster, begrudgingly ready to hop on a plane (or two, or four) and face the real world again.
The first stop on our trip back to Canada was Toronto, where we enjoyed a few nights with my sister and some friends.
The flight in from NYC was bumped by about an hour, but we saw Gina Torres on the plane, which personally, I think made up for the delay. She was just doing normal mom stuff, so we didn’t hound her for photos or anything, although I did go super stalkery in my head, watching and analyzing her every move. “Did she just notice me?” “Look, she plays Scrabble on her iPad too!” “OMG she accidentally glanced at me, I think we’re friends now!”
Our time in Toronto was short but lovely. The kids got to play with their cousins and we enjoyed the country chic hospitality at my sister’s house, hoedowns included.
On Sunday, we all ventured out High Park to do some fishing, see the zoo and play at the so-called “castle park.” My brother-in-law caught one measly little fish and B and I came up empty using the Barbie and Tinkerbell fishing rods, respectively. Well, we both caught some pond weeds, inexplicably named “water dogs” by the youngest cousin, but I don’t think they count since they were not, in fact, real fish or dogs for that matter.
The zoo, as it turns out, was a small selection of animals on display along a side street in the park. It was a little depressing, but they seemed to be well cared for. It’s always a little weird to gawk at animals. I’m always reminded of this poem (sorry, that was the best link I could find).
The castle park is a crazy kids’ play structure built to look like – you guessed it – a castle. Apparently part of it burned down a while ago and was rebuilt (or overbuilt) by local celebrity builder Mike Holmes. It was pretty cool. Before going in, my sister said “the kids just kind of disappear into it and you don’t see them again for 20 minutes.” She was right. At least three times, I was about 80% sure they had been abducted or wandered off, but no, they were just running around like madmen in the mazes and circuits. I guess that’s the point, anyway. Well done, Mike.
Other highlights of our visit included a great home-cooked meal with our friends, and I had a nice girls’ night out with my bff at a hilariously hipster bar in the neighbourhood. I had some kind of drink called an “elderberry mist” (I think). I admit, it was tasty, although I expected it to come with a moustache or ironic coaster, alas, it did not.
Our visit was over too soon, and we headed off on the train to Ottawa for our next adventure.
After our beach experience, we were picked up by our fantastic travel guide, Sanjaya, and we headed around the bottom of the island. On the way, we saw plenty more beautiful beaches and stopped at the Galle fort – an old colonial army base. It was brutally hot, so we left rather quickly, but we got a few nice pics of a lovely ocean lookout.
Our final destination was a city called Tissamaharama – not because we wanted to visit it, but because it was the perfect base for exploring Yala national park, best known for its leopards.
We left early in the morning and arrived home after dark. It was a long, fantastic ride through the park. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any leopards, but we saw hundreds of other animals.
The ride was rough but really great. Because we were in a real 4×4, we were able to do a lot of off-roading that other safari tours could not do. We definitely saw more animals because of it.
One of those animals was a “tusker” elephant – known to Sanjaya as being a bit aggressive. We came across him in the road and we gave him lots of space as he chased us backwards the way we came. No harm done, and he gave us lots of great photo opportunities – but he has attacked trucks in the past. Luckily he went his way and us ours without any problems.
At sunset, we said goodbye to the park and returned to the hotel. The next day, we visited an elephant orphanage during “feeding time” – the babies were given milk through funnels and tubes followed by some tasty greens. Our kids were not so into it, but that could have been because of the hordes of local schoolkids lining up to see the show as well.
Afterwards, we spent a few hours touring Udawalawe national park. This one is known for its elephant herds, and it most certainly delivered. We saw over 100 elephants that afternoon, and many of them were right up close in the road or beside us. We had a picnic lunch in the jeep right next to a herd of at least 10 elephants, including one baby that was no more than a few days old. That evening we drove north into the mountains for a visit to Ella.
For extra credit, here is our (mostly complete) list of animal sightings:
Jacana (water hen)
Black wing stilt
Great thick knee (plover)
Sri Lankan Elephant
White sea eagle
Crested hawk eagle
Grey headed fish eagle
Tufted Gray Langur
Open bill stork
Jaguar (tracks only)
Fishing Cat (tracks only)
We had a fantastic time. Look forward to an extravaganza of pictures in the coming weeks (because I’m too exhausted to load many tonight!).
Some of the highlights of our trip include: a perfect day on a deserted beach, off-roading in the jungle, visiting an elephant orphanage, beautiful evenings in the mountains, a heritage tea factory tour, releasing baby sea turtles into the ocean, taking the train through tea country, being chased by an angry elephant, a colonial graveyard, and about a hundred tuktuk rides.
We left for Bali (for real) on Friday, on a flight with Batavia Air that was supposed to take off around noon. Unfortunately, it was delayed for about 30 minutes. And it was pretty low budget and rough – I actually think there was about a 20% chance we were going to die. Fortunately, we met a very friendly fellow Canadian who now lives in Bali and was heading home for the weekend. He set us up with a car and driver in the city and recommended a few great places to visit. Vacation 180!
We landed and checked into our hotel, which was a villa in the area called Seminyak, just north of the airport. It was very quiet and friendly, and we got a lovely room. We spent the rest of Friday swimming. On Saturday, our driver took us to the shopping area of Seminyak – I hadn’t seen so many white people in months! It was very touristy. We bought a few trinkets and sun gear and headed off to the beach for the day.
Everyone said to stay away from Kuta Beach, which is famous for both being phenomenally busy, as well as home to some of the world’s most ridiculously stereotypical beach bums. So of course we stayed far, far away. We instead asked our driver to take us “to a nice beach”, and he took us to one south of the airport in Jimbaran. It was really nice, mostly because there were very few people there – we felt as though we almost had the whole beach to ourselves. The kids loved jumping over the waves that crashed into the shore. But the beach experience was somewhat diminished by the time we were ready to leave, as some garbage washed up on shore as we were packing up. It might have been more surprising if it weren’t for every single person who has ever been to Bali who told us that garbage on the beaches was pretty normal.
On Sunday, we decided to spend the day in Ubud, which is the cultural capital of Bali. It’s also where the book/movie Eat Pray Love takes place, so apparently it had has a big jump in tourism in the past few years. Not really our thing. But it was lovely. On the way, our driver took us to a Batik factory, where, although it was mostly a tourist trap, you could see the real way of hand-painting and dyeing Batik fabric. We also stopped at a silver factory, where a roomful of workers hand-molded and polished silver jewellery using ore from Kalimantan.
Once we arrived in Ubud itself, we visited Monkey Forest, which, unsurprisingly, was full of monkeys. J liked them at first, but then one tried to jump on her and she cried the rest of the way, “Bad scratchy monkeys!” Besides the monkeys, there were some beautiful old temples and statues in a river gully within the forest. It was a pretty little jewel of a place.
For lunch, we visited the famous Ibu Oka’s to try the “babi guling” – roasted suckling pig. It was featured on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. It was delicious! And the waitresses loved J and kept doing her hair and trying to feed her – this is common here. I think we’re the tourist attraction most of the time.
After lunch we toured the old royal palace and had our fill of fancy carvings and beautiful statues. Our favourite thing about these temples is that the people (or animals) in those carvings were dressed in saris. And I don’t mean that they were carved to look like they were wearing saris, I mean that the locals actually went around and physically wrapped saris around the statues. It was cute.
After an afternoon of wandering around the shops and bazaars, we headed home and passed away the night watching movies and ordering room service. We spent Monday morning by the pool again before flying home. Vacation achievement!
We went on an exciting and hilarious trip to a safari on the weekend! Let me tell you, it was possibly the most fantastic thing ever experienced by humankind. We saw things… very incredible things.
If only I had pictures. We’ve been trying to upload them for three days now, but for some reason it is not working. So you will just have to take my word for it…
edit: Here they are! I uploaded them from work instead. I’ll try to add some more write up about this later.
One of the better developments of our move to Indonesia is that J is able to attend school five days a week, a luxury we might not have had back home, as we probably would have enrolled her in 3 day/ week pre-school or something. Here though, we can afford to sign her up for what normally is a phenomenally expensive proposal: a pre-school run by an International Baccalaureate school.
Unfortunately, even at the more expensive schools, the kids still get holidays, which means I have to actually spend time with them all week instead of dropping them off! What are we paying this school for, anyways? to TEACH them something? Haha! What lunacy!
Seriously though, all kidding aside, the kids were off school this week, a brief holiday marking the end of the first term of the school year. We did have some things to do this week like head to Jakarta o buy a new dining table, and do some other shopping around town for essentials, but we did make it out to possibly the only petting zoo south of Jakarta!
The kids had a blast feeding the goats, it really was a highlight of he trip for them. You had to buy the bottles to feed them, but they were only like fifty cents each, so it didn’t exactly break the bank. I was more than happy to buy a couple.
I thought it to be fairly funny that a lot of people were excited about the Guinea Pig pen. Apparently, they’re WAY rare in Indonesia. I didn’t have the heart to tell some of the locals at the farm that the were a dime-a-dozen pet back where we come from. Also: I didn’t have the language to tell them, either, as my Bahasa isn’t at all strong. Also: I’m CRAZY allergic to guinea pigs, so we did not stick around the G-Pig pen too long.
I have no idea why there were Sea Otters at a landlocked petting zoo. We did get there in time for their lunch though: live raw fish, served in a bowl of muddy water. The otters actually fished out live fish, still flip-flapping around in their hands, and ate them. You can see the otter clutching a half-eaten fish in his tiny otter-hands in the above picture. It was gross, and therefore awesome.
The kids loved feeding the chickens, and by “chickens“, I of course mean “eleven different kinds of birds all fighting the chickens for their food“. I was funny watching the dove-like birds (I never got their English name, and I can’t remember their Indonesian name) fight the chickens for their food. They were incredibly aggressive! They all ate corn, which J thought was popcorn. I couldn’t seem to convince her that it was just feed-grade corn. She now thinks that all farm animals “eat popcorn seeds”.
LittleB liked feeding the cows, though he reminded everyone within earshot that we also have cows in Canada, but Canadian cows poo a lot more. Like, that is the only way to tell the difference? These cows seemed quite healthy, though, something I wasn’t expecting for such a small urban farm that only charges $1 admission.
I’ll be sure to update with more kid-related activities as they happen: I’m sure there are other animals within a 100km radius that LittleB and J can traumatize!
Here it is, the much-anticipated second part of our Singapore trip.
On Day 2, we spent the morning trying to open a bank account. This was complicated by the fact that we weren’t exactly sure how to do this. First, we google mapped the bank we wanted to visit and found a location reasonably close to the hotel. So we took off early in the morning, thinking we could get ‘er done quickly and head to the zoo afterwards.
After we wandered up and down a few back alleys, we realized that the bank we found online must have been run out of someone’s basement or something. It was not there. Back at the hotel, I made a list of all the branches in the city. But which one to visit? Your guess was as good as mine. I guessed wrong.
After a few taxi rides back and forth, we ended up at the right location, just minutes away from the hotel (the other way). We milled around in the lobby for a while, being passed off between staff members who were trying to figure out what we wanted, until we said the magic word “offshore account.” Ah-ha! Suddenly we were whisked away to an elevator in the back that took us to the magic rich peoples’ floor, where we were offered tea and snacks and talked through the relatively simple process of opening a “gold-level” account. Hooray! It was all very fancy and satisfying.
Meanwhile, we headed out for lunch (while our personalized account cards were being embossed). It broke my heart to pass up the awesome dim sum place we saw, but we found a choose-your-own sushi kiosk instead. LittleB’s had salmon sashimi and cucumbers, and ours had salmon sashimi, avocadoes, tempura onions, sweet thai chili sauce and dried apricots. It was fantastic! And the sweet old cleaner man in the mall food court saw me stash away the beautiful boxes and gave me another one to keep. It was funny.
After our relatively successful bank outing, we headed to the Night Safari for the evening. It was basically a zoo, but all the animals were either nocturnal or more active at night. We saw the usual suspects (elephants, lions, tigers, hippos) but there were a ton of interesting malaysian and south asian animals. Here are some highlights:
-We saw the malayan tiger being fed. It was huge and terrifying, until the keeper accidentally threw a hunk of meat into the dirty pond and the tiger was so indignant it made me think of Hobbes.
-There was a free-flying fruit bat cage, where you could walk through and see them eating. They were huge. It was awesome.
-We saw a group of asian otters who were begging for food and following us around. Their annoying screams are still ringing in my ears.
-Best of all, the “creatures of the night” show featured a number of exotic nocturnal animals. The headliner? A couple of raccoons. B and I killed ourselves laughing.
I don’t have many pictures because it was night, but here they are. Enjoy!