Bali summer camp: Wedding edition

Over the past, oh, decade or so, there have only been a handful of times we’ve managed to take an adults-only trip. Once was New Year’s in Banff a few years ago, and otherwise a few long weekends here and there. So any time we can get away on our own is a fantastic opportunity all on its own. Throw in our best friends’ wedding, a visit “home” to Indonesia, meeting up with amazing friends old and new, and a relaxing week on a tropical island, and you have the makings of the perfect trip!

The happy couple – from Australia and Canada, respectively – decided it would be easier to have their families and friends meet halfway for their wedding, bringing us all back to Bali to celebrate their marriage where it all began in Indonesia. Grandma came here to stay with the kids for a week while we snuck out of town. I was fresh off my trip to Hawaii, so although I literally flew around the entire world within a few days, I was still game.

First we spent a few nights on our own in Sanur and then we headed over to Lembongan island for about a week. We were lucky enough to book in at a resort with several other (child-free) couples, and the entire week felt like adult summer camp – drinking bedside (and in) the pool, staying up late playing cards, watching sunsets and sunrises and evening stars, and sharing embarrassing stories about our mutual friends. We rented scooters and traveled around the island all week, stopping for snacks and drinks, exploring the beaches, and visiting other resorts.

The wedding itself was just perfect – at sunset, on the beach, filled with gorgeous colors and smiling faces. Everyone had spent the week already getting to know each other, so there was none of that wedding “awkwardness” of having strangers trying to bond over the course of an evening. That comfort might have led to me drinking too many ciders and spending the night being loud and underclothed in the pool, but it was all in good fun. And when you get a bunch of Canadians and Australians together with a bunch of alcohol, what else can you expect?

Other highlights included a snorkeling trip, which was rather poorly planned on the morning after the bachelor/hen party. Fortunately the ladies took it easy the night before, but the guys were up too late and got too drunk – as it turns out, a bunch of hungover guys on an early morning snorkeling trip is a terrible idea. By the way, when you throw up in the ocean while snorkeling, it doesn’t bring all the fish to you. It just fills the ocean with vomit. Disappointingly, the reefs around the areas we visited were not very healthy, so we didn’t see much. But I still enjoyed getting out with my snorkel while B napped on the beach.

I mentioned we rented scooters – well, by “rented” I mean we paid some local families to give up their scooters for a week or so. They were not in the best condition. Between five of us, we probably had one working scooter. All the brakes were questionable, no one’s speedometer worked, starters were patchy, but it was worth the freedom of being able to tour the island on our own schedule. There was one sketchy bridge connecting our island to the next island, which we crossed several times to visit the restaurants and beaches on that side despite it feeling unsafe – and horrifyingly, it collapsed only days after we had been there, so my gut feeling was terrifyingly correct. Oh and there was the time B broke his toe on a wall by driving a bit too close… but otherwise we were ok, moms!

Too soon it was over, our friends were Mr and Mrs, and we had to head home. We had a day to kill in Seminyak, and we were looking forward to getting some (slightly illegal) DVDs, Indonesian knicknacks, and visiting our other favorite Bali restaurants and shops. But the weather was not in our favour, and instead we spent most of the day waiting out the rain in various cafes until we gave up and went to the airport to kill the hours before our plane left.

Who is getting married in Bali next?? We’re totally there.

Sulawesi last hurrah

Before we moved away from Indonesia, I had a few weeks on my own after the rest of the family left the country to get a start on summer holidays. I took full advantage of this free time by heading away for a girls’ weekend in Sulawesi to celebrate some life milestones: babies, birthdays, moving, and just general good times.

Unfortunately, I got sick the day before. Really sick. Like, sleeping-beside-the-toilet-in-the-bathroom-all-night sick.

But I was not going to let a little thing like a horrible tropical stomach flu stop me from enjoying a few days in Makassar. Indonesia was not going to win this one, damnit.

The morning of our flight, I forced out just enough dregs of energy to throw some sarongs in a backpack, drag myself to the store for vitamin water and baby probiotic cookies, and flop into a cab to the airport.

Somehow I made it through the next few hours until we landed in Makassar and drove down the coast to where we had rented some villas on the beach. Somehow I scored the villa with the best view (probably out of pity), and plunked down on the bed to watch the ocean waves for the rest of the weekend, living on rice and electrolyte packs.

But I was there for the company, and I had it droves, even though I begged out of the swimming and late-night partying. The weather was also beautiful, and I spent some time taking a ridiculous number of macro shots of crabs and coral on the beach.

It was over too soon, but luckily so was my flu, and I made it home in time to pack up the house and say goodbye to Indonesia for better or worse!

Great Canadian Tour 2015: Toronto

In some ways, our trip to Toronto this summer was the start of our real vacation. Ottawa was a holiday, but it didn’t feel out of the ordinary. So when we got the chance to spend a few days in Toronto, followed by a few days in Washington, D.C., we figured we should try to do as many touristy things we could.

We set off on an early train ride and arrived in time for a nice Mexican lunch with my sister. We had tickets for a Blue Jays game later that night, so after lunch we stopped in at my friend’s house to drop off our stuff and headed out to meet her at the ballpark. The game was a lot of fun, and it was the start of the Jays’ winning streak (which just culminated in getting to playoffs this week). The kids were pretty tired and whiny by the end, which put a damper on the last half of the game. But we did manage to enjoy some incredibly overpriced stadium beer, pizza and popcorn.

A dude in our row got picked to do one of those commercial break contests, where he had to tie a tie faster than another contestant. So this guy spent a good 20 minutes practicing, getting other people in the stands to show him how, since he quite honestly looked like he had never tied one before. It was painful. But somehow that was enough practice, and he won – and all of us in his row got gift certificates to Tip Top. Cool.

We spent the next day at the Royal Ontario Museum, where there was an overpriced Pompeii exhibit going on. It was very dramatic, with real casts of the bodies on display. Also cool. We wandered around a bit, and the kids had fun pretending to be archaeologists, and I took giggled at all of the Roman penis decorations, because I have the sense of humor of a 10-year-old at heart.

The next day B took the kids to the Hockey Hall of Fame, since I was busy with some work things. Once again, I have trimmed down his hundreds of close-ups of jerseys to just these few artsy shots (you’re welcome):

And just to hammer home the idea that we like museums, we spent our last day visiting the Ontario Science Centre. Really we just went for the Mythbusters exhibit, because we seriously, seriously love Mythbusters. It was cool – we recognized all the machines and props on display, and they had a few try-it-yourself myths, like driving blind, flicking a playing card into a cork board, dodging a bullet and pulling a tablecloth off the table. We also sat through a presentation involving audience members getting hit by paintballs and a very much over-the-top pair of presenters, like, trying way too hard to be enthusiastic. It was cringey.

Of course we ended that outing with a huge temper tantrum on the lawn outside, because we’re classy like that. Then LittleB stepped out in front of the moving bus we were about to get on (because he doesn’t understand how North American traffic works, like, the fact that there is a separate place for people and one for cars, you know, the road) and we were all scolded for a while by the bus driver in front of the bus packed full of passengers. It’s going to take a few years for that shame to ebb from our memories… Ah, family vacations.

At least we had a great couple of evenings with good friends, and some playtime with the cousins, which is really the whole point of vacations. And we celebrated our friend’s 53rd birthday together (J put the candles on…). And the next day, we flew off to (very) sunny D.C. for a few days.

 

A few of our favorite (Indonesian) things

Even though we’ve started settling into life here in Switzerland, Indonesia is still on my mind. I asked the family to list some of their most favourite and least favourite things about living there, and here they are, in no particular order:

My most favourite:

  • Random backyard fireworks. Sure, it was sometimes annoying to be woken up at 2 am by something that sounds a lot like a gunshot, but it was always made up for by the fact that we got to enjoy backyard fireworks. Fireworks make every day a holiday!
  • Cicaks. I loved those little guys, skittering around the house and purring squeakily from behind the furniture. It was like a whole houseful of our own lizard pets.
  • Thunderstorms. I never got tired of the big thunderstorms in Bogor. Even after our house got hit and all our electronics were fried, I still loved the blinding lightning and rumbling fury of the thunder rolling by.
  • “Belum”. I love this Indonesian word. It means “not yet”, as in “Have you eaten nasi goreng before?” The answer is not “no”, because there’s a chance that someday in the future you will eat it, so the answer is “not yet”. Beautiful logic.
  • Swimming, diving, nature, jungles, sunsets. What an amazing place to learn to dive and snorkel. For sure, I have been spoiled for swimming in the rest of the world. And living in a rainforest was amazing. The rare sunsets were always a wonderful treat on the drive home.
  • Movie theatres. Where else can you see a new release movie for under $5, in assigned seating, and for a few bucks more, sit in a theatre filled with lazyboy chairs??

LittleB’s most favourite:

  • Visiting cultural places, like Borobudur. I definitely agree, it was wonderful to see so much culture and history, and such a variety of art and style throughout the country. Let me expand this one to say Batik as well. What a beautiful art form – and I collected way too much of it!
  • Discount prices. Can’t deny him this one – things were very reasonably priced!
  • The people. Of course! I definitely agree wholeheartedly. More on this later.

J’s most favourite:

  • When our house is attached to another house
  • I love you
  • The colors of the Indonesian flag
  • When we are near malls so we can get to malls easier
  • Going to Canada at Christmas

I don’t think she really understood the question…

So what are we not going to miss?

  • Open, enormous gutters. Absolutely. Those things were smelly, filled with garbage and regularly on fire. I was always paranoid the kids were going to fall in and die. I even heard a story about a friend of a friend who fell in and later died from some kind of awful disease. And along with this goes the fact that there are really no sidewalks. Impossible to walk anywhere, and when you do, you risk falling into a gutter or getting hit by traffic.
  • Garbage. This goes without saying. Burning garbage, street garbage, litter everywhere. People picking through garbage. It’s horrible.
  • Water quality. The water was terrible. I’m sure we shaved several years off our lives from the heavy metals and toxins in the water. For a while I thought I was allergic to my shampoo because every time I had a shower, my face would turn red and feel burned, but after I switched shampoo multiple times, I realized it was just the water itself… I’m still having a hard time drinking from the tap and rinsing my mouth after brushing my teeth.
  • Flooding. What do you get when your gutters are full of garbage and there is a tropical downpour? Toxic flooding. Everywhere. All the time. Definitely not going to miss this one.
  • Traffic. See above. I will never, ever complain about normal rush hour traffic again. Three hours or more in a car every day was quite literally killing me.
  • Bugs. Actually, I rather liked the bugs. I mean, even scorpions in my office… it’s cool, right? I did hate the termite swarms, though. I always thought I might suck one in and choke to death on its lacy wings, gah.
  • Over-the-top kids’ birthday parties. Good lord, these were the stuff of nightmares. Take 50 hyper kids, plus their screaming siblings, plus their nannies, then stick them in a room filled with loud music, sugary food and balloons and someone dressed up like a cartoon character from 1974 and you have a seizure-inducing party room from hell.

What about some funny things?

    • Weird habits. For some reason the kids picked up the habit of sitting on the toilet with the toilet seat up. Like, bare bottom to porcelain rim. Weirdos. They also eat everything with their fingers, and we’re currently raging battles at every meal to get them to use cutlery. And they just Will. Not. Wear. Shirts. At home. Ever. Argh! Hopefully the coming Swiss winter will cure them of that habit.
    • Accents. The kids went through phases of speaking with different accents, depending on their teachers, friends, and school assistants. J’s gone through British, Australian and Kiwi, and we’re still trying to get her to say “th” properly (it sounds more like a “d” in her mini-Indonesian accent). LittleB has managed to sound fairly Canadian, but has perfect pronunciation for Australian cities and European football players, so really, I guess that’s a plus.
    • Everything-cycles. These guys who put EVERYTHING on their scooters. It was just flabbergasting. Toilets, tires, gas canisters… I never saw one in an accident, but I’m sure it happened all the time.
    • Engrish mistakes. You know what I’m talking about. It never stopped being funny.
    • DVDs. Every (slightly illegal) DVD we bought for 60 cents had the exact same rating and length: rated R and 109 minutes. It’s like they just used the same template or something! Particularly funny on the kids movies.

But of course, the thing we’re going to miss the most are all the people we met and amazing friendships we forged there. Indonesia is full of the most sincere, light-hearted and deeply caring people I have ever known. My face ached every day from all the smiling.

And we met so many friends from around the world… I can’t possibly even begin to list them all. Here is a small sampling of the many goodbyes we shared, and so many more that we didn’t photograph.

I’m sure there are a lot more things we could list here, and maybe someday I will. But for now, I’ll answer the question “Are you actually ready to say goodbye to Indonesia?” with “Belum”.

Until we meet again

This is it, my last day in Indonesia. I have a lot of goodbyes to make, and I’ll get to them all soon. But I have a whole team full of goodbyes that are especially hard to make, and I want to do them first.

I don’t really talk about work on this blog, not because I don’t have wonderful things going on there, but rather because I try to maintain a line between work life and home life for my own sanity and privacy. And this blog is about my friends, my family, my thoughts, and lately it seems – mostly my travel photos.

However, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have such a great work experience while living here, and it is owing to this amazing, creative and caring group of people on my team. Over the past three years, each one of them has crossed over the line from my work life to my personal life, and now I am happy to include them in this blog as forever a part of my family.

They made this sweet and funny video for me:

So this is my little thanks to them.

Anto, Erisa, Dodi
Anto, Erisa, Dodi
Dodi, Vidya, Yahya, Wigid, Eko, Edli
Dodi, Vidya, Yahya, Wigid, Eko, Edli
Gideon (looking serious), Yahya, Dodi
Gideon (looking serious), Yahya, Dodi
Everyone after a night of bowling
Everyone after a night of bowling
Everyone - Serious
Everyone – Serious
Everyone - Silly
Everyone – Silly
Sarong makes it official
Sarong makes it official
Group hug
Group hug

 

I’ll miss you all! Sampai jumpa lagi.

10 years and counting…

B + S = love, 14 May 2005. Happy anniversary!

Winter magic in the rockies

Well, New Year’s was quite some time ago – but it’s never the wrong time of year to share the glory that is winter in the Rocky mountains.

We spent three lovely nights in a Canmore condo with our friends, enjoying some incredible snowshoeing in the Sunshine Valley, watching a snowstorm blow across Lake Louise, spending frosty evenings in the outdoor hot tub, sharing wine and games into the night warmed by the cozy fireplace, and having delicious dinners of both homemade and restaurant variety to top it all off.

Our snowshoeing trip stole the show. It was a perfectly crisp, clear day, with the bright sun glinting off the fresh snow. The light and air were magical, the trees perfectly framed by clumps of pure white.

We journeyed along the Sunshine Valley floor for hours, taking photos and getting lost in the glory. And that night, we rang in the new year with good food and laughter. It was a perfect New Year’s Eve.

The next day, we drove up to Lake Louise so A could teach J how to ski, while B and I photographed everything in sight, went tubing, drank beer and hot chocolate, and drove around the Lake. So, basically the perfect New Year’s Day.

It was all over too soon! But we’ll always have these gorgeous memories. You’ll want to look at them babies in full screen:

And if those glorious views were not enough for you, here’s a message we recorded for the kids from the valley lookout:

Plus – bonus video of B and I tubing at Lake Louise, with a surprise ending (for me, at least!):

Happy (belated) New Year!

Flores fun – part 3: underwater world

After we left Komodo Island, the boat stopped at a few choice snorkeling spots. The first was “Manta Point”, where we would be able to swim with manta rays. C and I hopped out and floated around for a while. But it was a bust, no mantas. The next spot was a sheltered rock-face, but surrounded on either side with brutal currents: only B got to go on this one. And he was lucky! The group saw at least two turtles, and B followed one of them around, filming it NatGeo-style.


We made it back to island in time for a lovely dinner on the beach, under some glowing lanterns and the soft light of sunset.


We also spent our last day on the island snorkeling. C and I went out in the early morning, hoping to see all the underwater creatures starting their day – but we should have checked the tide report first, because the day was on its way toward an incredibly low tide, and all of the coral beds were already beginning to peek out of water’s surface. We still managed to get into the water at a deeper point from the dock, and spent about half an hour circling the coral’s edge around the base of the island. It was a busy morning for the ocean creatures after all, and we saw all sorts of fish. Here are my taxonomically accurate descriptions: long skinny fish, big-eyed red ones, ‘Scar’ from Finding Nemo, shiny tiny blue ones, flat silver ones, plus a few lionfish!

Later that morning, we settled on the beach so the kids could play, and I took LittleB for his first-ever snorkel around a shallow lagoon. It was getting warm, but we still saw quite a few little coral feeders. Snorkeling with kids is all fun and games until someone forgets how to float (him), or doesn’t remember how to breathe in a snorkel (him), or freaks out and steps on the coral (him). Luckily there was no great damage to either kid or wildlife.

Next up, B decided to go out on his own a bit further from shore. While he was away, I spent the time playing ‘rock or coral’ with the kids, where you grab a big piece of sediment from the shallow water and try to guess if it’s – you guessed it – ‘rock’ or ‘coral’. It’s about as fun as it sounds. Then we played ‘the tiniest shell of them all’, where you try to find – you guessed it again! – the ‘tiniest shell of them all’. I won, hands down. Meanwhile, as it turned out, B’s trip was lucky again. He stumbled onto a huge reef shark basking in the water, and again, followed it around NatGeo-style (hoping it wouldn’t get aggressive and chomp him. Actually, we’re pretty sure he was safe, reef sharks just eat little fish. Maybe I should confirm that…. yep, just back from Wikipedia, where apparently what he saw was a very large bamboo shark, and “They are sluggish fish, feeding off bottom dwelling invertebrates and smaller fish.” Phew!).


We spent the rest of the lazy afternoon swinging in the hammocks by the shore.

That evening the tide came back in, so C and I ventured out again. This time, we were treated to a colorful scene of fish and coral beds as far as we could see. The late sun was angling through the surface, with a warm glow. This trip definitely felt the most like ‘Finding Nemo’ – you know, because that’s where basically all of my ocean knowledge comes from. But we did see some neat things, bright purple coral, an octopus, and even a (presumably venomous) sea snake! (Ok, ok, checking…. well, apparently we probably saw a banded sea krait, that IS venemous but not aggressive toward divers. Phew!)

That evening, we ate on the beach next to another glorious sunset, and sat up late watching our friendly house gecko eat giant cicadas. Good times. Tomorrow we would be heading back to the mainland for a few days of camping! See you there.

Flores fun – part 1: island adventures

Earlier this month, my friend C came to visit from Canada. We’ve been best friends for almost 30 years (!!), and although we haven’t lived in the same city for quite some time, we’ve always been close. Having her visit made me feel whole again.

In celebration of her visit, we decided to tour Nusa Tenggara Timur – where you’ll find the islands of Flores and Komodo. It was top of our Indonesia bucket list – because who doesn’t want to see komodo dragons in their natural habitat??

On our way to Flores, we had the terrible inconvenience of a two-night stopover in Bali. We had a hard time enjoying ourselves in our Balinese villa, with our own swimming pool and billiards table, minutes away from shopping, restaurants and the beach. Since we only had one full day there, we focused on the essentials: fill the fridge with beer, walk on the beach, eat gelato, buy a colorful handicraft skeleton, have epic swimming and billiards games, stuff ourselves with mexican food, watch strange reality tv and asian music videos in the middle of the night. All check!

The flight to Flores was only a quick hop, in a propellor plane, which made LittleB happy. Me, not so much. Flying in Indonesia is probably the bounciest experience ever – I’ve heard it’s a training area for pilots because the conditions are so terrible: unstable tropical weather, volcano updrafts, strong crosswinds, questionable airport infrastructure. You just can’t learn as well anywhere more difficult, I guess! Doesn’t make me feel any better. Anyway, we landed safely in Labuan Bajo that afternoon, arriving at their crisp, new airport (literally only a few weeks old) just outside of town. It was basically an empty room with a hole in the wall for the luggage to come through (right beside the people door we just walked through). I think it would have been easier to just let us get our luggage off the plane ourselves.

From the airport, we caught a cab down to the harbor to charter a boat. Our destination was an island resort about halfway between Flores and Komodo island, where we booked in for a few days of touring and snorkeling. To get to the resort, you can take their daily shuttle boat, but we had missed it. The cabbie was trying to get us to rent his friend’s “fast” boat for almost double the price, but luckily we’re not new to this game and were not easily convinced. The boat we did get was… well, good enough. I figure it was mostly made out of scavenged pieces of garbage and other people’s boats. It probably would have shaken apart if the weather was bad, or if the 15-year-old captain was more inexperienced. Thankfully we were enjoying a calm afternoon with glorious golden sunshine and a light breeze cool on the air.

We arrived at our island within an hour, just in time to settle in before sunset. The resort is an “eco” resort, travel-speak for “limited amenities” – but we were happy enough to rough it for a few days. Water was rationed, but who needs showers when the whole ocean is your bathtub? And there was plenty of beer to go around. We stayed in the family bungalow – basically a bamboo hut with two mattresses, and was probably also made out of garbage and other people’s boats. Should I remind you that there were 5 of us on this trip? Luckily C was generous enough to share the “ladies” mattress with me and J – we claimed the top bunk, a loft area hanging out over the bungalow deck, and the boys took the main level.

That night we lounged away the evening, sitting around a bonfire on the beach and watching the stars wink into view. We could have stayed there all night, but we had big plans for a trip to Komodo the next day. Also, the power turned off at 10, so we did too.

From the archives: Superhero scavenger hunt!

Longer ago than I care to admit, a couple of genius friends in the neighborhood decided to have a party. But it was not just any old regular party – first of all, it was a sad occasion because one of the genius friends was leaving town for bigger and better things down in NZ. But what better way to go out than with a bang?

They decided to craft an epic neighborhood scavenger hunt, where all the players had a couple of hours to run around town like crazy people and collect points for completing tasks along the way. Now, how would you make this more complicated than it sounds? One: have it in Bogor, Indonesia, with a bunch of people possessing varying levels of language skills, and where we’re all a bit crazy to the locals anyway. Two: have it in Bogor, Indonesia, where getting 0.5 km down the road can take hours in traffic and there’s really nothing here anyway. Three: have it in Bogor, Indonesia, where it pours rain most of the time. Oh, and don’t forget, four: dress everyone up as superheroes!

Now, we’re a pretty adventurous family. And there happens to be four of us, so I guess we’re our own built-in scavenger hunting team. And when it comes to superheroes, there’s a pretty obvious family superhero team just waiting to be us: the Incredibles! So we put on our best red shirts and masks, dressed a doll up like baby Jak-Jak, and hit the town.

The Incredi-Cayas
The Incredi-Cayas
Our X-Men rivals
Our X-Men rivals

And now, some of the tasks that we put ourselves through that afternoon:

One member of your team has to ride in a shopping cart and try to prevent crime in the store.
One member of your team has to ride in a shopping cart and try to prevent crime in the store.
A member of your team has to help a street vendor prepare some food.
A member of your team has to help a street vendor prepare some food.
All members of your team have to eat durian!
All members of your team have to eat durian!
Get 1 point for every donut you can stack on a team member's head. Go donut-head!
Get 1 point for every donut you can stack on a team member’s head. Go donut-head!
Capture a photograph of one of your team members flying like superman.
Capture a photograph of one of your team members flying like superman.
Entertain the locals at a street corner.
Entertain the locals at a street corner.
Stop at a park and do superhero tai chi.
Stop at a park and do superhero tai chi.
Find some locals who want to fight crime with you.
Find some locals who want to fight crime with you.
Photograph your superhero team mate relaxing at a spa or massage parlor.
Photograph your superhero team mate relaxing at a spa or massage parlor.

It was a pretty crazy day. Tensions ran high! We were the only team who had to stop at home for a “time-out”. In the end, we managed quite a few of the tasks, but we were pretty sure we didn’t win. But, then – when the tally came through, B’s giant pile of donut face put us over the edge with a whopping extra 16 points! We were the winners!

All in good fun, we left the day with great memories, plus I’ll always remember our friend for putting on such a unique party.

From the archives: Cottage trip no. 2

Playing catch-up on some old topics.

I should start this one by telling you that my friend C is coming to visit from Canada this weekend! This is very exciting, because we have been friends forever and I can’t wait to see her – plus we have an awesome trip planned to Flores, so stay tuned for that. But thinking about her visit reminds me that I neglected to post the final details of our trip with my other dear friend and visitor, J!

After our memorable (though rather ill-fated, for her at least, heh) few days in Kalimantan, we came back to Bogor for some rest. And where better to relax than at the cottage in Puncak?

We drove up the pass midday, which was great – very little traffic, clear views across the mountain, and just general good spirits. We made good time. Unfortunately, when it came to finding the cottage again, we were getting a little bit lost. Google maps is wholly unreliable here, and really did not want to send us straight there. We seemed to be going in generally the right direction, but it was impossible to find the exact alley road that would take us to the cottage itself. After getting lost a couple of times, some kindly security guards directed us to the right way, so we set off again. But wait – the car in front of us has suddenly gotten itself stuck in the ditch on the side of the incredibly narrow road, blocking our way!

Until you’ve seen a car stuck in a ditch in an Indonesian alley, you haven’t lived. This is how it works: 1. Car A, being driven by a barefoot child, very slowly drives down the alley road. 2. Barefoot child does not know how to drive, and thus gently slides one car wheel into ditch. 3. Barefoot child, not knowing how to drive, cannot correct for this error and proceeds to drive a second car wheel into the ditch. 4. Seventeen more barefoot children appear out of nowhere and begin to dangerously rock the car up and down, back and forth, in attempt to dislodge the car, effectively trapping car further into ditch and pulling off important items like bumpers and side mirrors. 5. Random adults appear and tie a rope to the car and try to tug-of-war the car out of the ditch.

At this last step, B finally took pity on them and got out of our car to see if he could help. I’ve never seen a group of tiny people cheer so loudly at the sudden appearance of a giant who wants to help tug-of-war their car. Alas, even his bear strength couldn’t move the car out of its death hole. Meanwhile, friend J was running around, also barefoot, snapping pictures of the hilarious spectacle – I think she fit right in around here.

We thought we might stop at "KFC" for lunch.
We thought we might stop at “KFC” for lunch.
Car tug-of-war. Those kids were so excited to see a man giant!
Car tug-of-war. Those kids were so excited to see a man giant!
That car ain't going nowhere
That car ain’t going nowhere

Eventually someone brought around a bunch of rocks and barrels to fill up the ditch under the wheel, and the car drove itself free. It was pretty wrecked, I hope that kid wasn’t in too much trouble – certainly it was not his car.

Anyway, at last we made it to the cottage to enjoy a couple of nights of quiet living. In fact, I did basically nothing for those few days, and took no pictures. I thought I forgot the camera, but as it turned out, I had just forgotten to take the camera out of my bag the whole time. But everyone did the tea mountain climb again and they took some more photos. It looked like they had a beautiful view, not as misty as last time we were there. And no leeches.

Soon it was time for J to go home. We spent a last day in Jakarta, enjoying some food and shopping, and sent her on her way with a lot of stories and a bunch of batik. Miss you!

 

Orangutan adventures

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.

 

Canadian Thanksgiving – the real one!

Last weekend, we headed into Jakarta for the real Canadian Thanksgiving in Indonesia. Organized by the local Jakarta Canadians group, it was a traditional turkey dinner held at a downtown hotel.

The menu was very tasty: roast turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, carrots & peas, brussels sprouts with bacon, roasted pumpkin, cranberry sauce, and a selection of desserts that included tiny pumpkin tarts very close to the real thing! The only thing missing was my mom’s stuffing recipe.

It was a great night. Two of our other Canadian friends came along, as well as a handful of wanna-be Canadian friends. Oh, I should mention that there was free alcohol for most of the night, so the party was well lubricated.

We figured that since we have whiny kids who fall asleep at 7 pm, we should book a room in the hotel and just stay overnight. It was brilliant. Sure enough, J fell asleep before dinner even started, and LittleB spent most of the evening playing gameboy under the table. We were able to put them to bed halfway through the evening and then come back down to continue the party!

Planning for this overnight, I decided to take the leap and drive into Jakarta on my own. It actually wasn’t too bad. As I’m discovering, it’s not the traffic that makes driving difficult, it’s that unless you have the routes memorized, it’s impossible to find your way around. And you can’t trust GPS. Google maps was sure that the hotel was located somewhere on some crazy backroad that you couldn’t access, so after many stops for directions at coffee shops and every foreign-looking person on the street, we finally found the place by chance. I also successfully made it home the next day, despite waking up with a hangover at 5 am. Thanks, kids.

 

O Canada: part five – Whales

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.

 

Beach Weekend

This past weekend we traveled down to Pelabuhan Ratu on the south coast of Java. Another group of friends made the plans and booked a villa to celebrate a few birthdays, and they very kindly let us tag along. We went into it knowing that the trip takes a long time, the roads are crap, the beach is beautiful but basically unswimmable, and the places to stay are of questionable quality. After writing that out, I’m sort of wondering why we went… but it had to be done for the sake of adventure!

Going

Knowing that the traffic can be bad, especially on a weekend, we decided to leave early after lunch on Friday. The rest of the group was planning to leave Bogor at 7 or 8 at night, which was just too late for us with the kids. So we piled into the car with our friend and set out. I drove. Now, to put this trip into perspective, here is a google map showing our route:

Okay, 110 km, just under 3 hours. Sounds pretty reasonable, considering we are driving through a volcano range in Indonesia… Actually, just writing that makes me wonder again why we did it.

The drive started slow as we headed up the first mountainside. There was a lot of traffic, and, as it turned out, several of the roads were under construction, slowing down even more what was already our snail’s pace. But, I pulled a couple of *ahem* questionable passing lane moves (basically I just drove into oncoming traffic until I couldn’t any more, that’s a thing here), and it only took us an hour or two to get through the slowdown.

By then, we had reached the “bad” part of the road. I would describe this section of road as 30% road and 70% potholes. And very curvy. Luckily, LittleB only barfed once. I think that’s a pretty good average for this road, from what I’ve heard. Apparently there was a former school principal who used to go up every weekend and his kid would be sick in the car every time. That sounds like a good family bonding activity to me! We averaged about 25 km/h.

This is a fairly normal part of the road. Like I said, 70% potholes.
This is a fairly normal part of the road. Like I said, 70% potholes.

Six and half hours later, we rolled into the hotel.

Staying

We stayed at a charming villa nestled into the side of mountain, overlooking the coast. It was built of teak and boasted of luxury on its website. The truth? It was kind of a crazy haunted mansion / grade 5 matchstick building project / Frankensteinian monstrosity dangling precariously off the edge of a cliff. Yes, it was made out of teak, but it looked as though someone took parts of other buildings and glued them haphazardly together, holding it all up with random pieces of wood and twine. Also, the driveway was at about a 75 degree incline, which our automatic Avanza was not happy about.

The view from the second floor to the main floor and cliff
The view from the second floor to the main floor and cliff
That is the front of the building. Above the colored tiles is a guest room, held up by the random posts.
That is the front of the building. Above the colored tiles is a guest room, held up by the random posts.
One of the second-level sitting rooms.
One of the second-level sitting rooms.

Anyway, we were the first ones to arrive, so we had our pick of rooms. Originally, we were supposed to be in the Panorama room, which I assumed was the nicest because it cost more. It turned out to be a strange little room at the bottom of the house (without a panoramic view, despite its name), and it only had three single beds in it. There is nothing comfortable about squeezing two above-average-sized adults and two children into three single beds (let’s be honest here, they were actually cots), plus to reach the room you had to travel down an unlit, slippery, misshapen walkway. Um, no. So we took the room upstairs that had a king bed in it. At least we mostly fit into that one.

Other than the wasp nest in the bathroom, the rest of the accommodations were ok. Oh wait, there was also a pool. I use this term loosely. It was kind of a little rectangle of water surrounded by a bunch of old wood and tarps. It’s possible someone swam in it once… but no one ever found them again, so it’s impossible to know for sure.

By the way, the rest of our party arrived at 2 am.

Playing

We spent the day on Saturday at the beach. It was beautiful. Big waves, dark, ferrous sand, rugged coastline. But the undertow was vicious. I didn’t even bother putting on my swimsuit, because I didn’t want to float away. The only people in the water were professional surfers. And B.

Big waves!
Big waves!
Beautiful coastline, though
Beautiful coastline, though
Let's play "Where's B?"
Let’s play “Where’s B?”
The surfers were enjoying the waves
The surfers were enjoying the waves
There were a few guys with boogie boards, too
There were a few guys with boogie boards, too
Lovely views
Lovely views

I stayed on the beach with the kids, building sandcastles and digging up crab holes. Once in a while, a giant wave would sweep onto shore and wash everything away. Like our friend’s flip flops. Like the kids. Like J’s swimming suit. Seriously, it got ripped right off of her, or rather, she got pulled right out of it. I had to choose: J’s bottoms or J herself? It was a tough choice (we paid 20 bucks for those shorts, they were Roxy brand!). In the end, I went with the kid. She spent the rest of the morning in her underpants. At least she thought it was hilarious.

Abby helping the kids build a sandcastle
Abby helping the kids build a sandcastle
The kids making a new friend
The kids making a new friend
Watching the surfers
Watching the surfers
Still beautiful!
Still beautiful!
J's new friend Eloise.
J’s new friend Eloise.
We didn't catch a crab, but this dog did. All he did was roll in it. Gross.
We didn’t catch a crab, but this dog did. All he did was roll in it. Gross.

Here is videographic evidence of such a wave:

Eventually the waves got big enough that even B had to give up, so we headed to a resort down the beach for lunch. We spent the afternoon enjoying beers and pasta on the beach, watching the local kids play some rousing games of football and “dunk your friends in the ocean” (I’m assuming that’s what it was called).

Afternoon view from the restaurant
Afternoon view from the restaurant
Another view from the patio
Another view from the patio
Having some lunch
Having some lunch
Some kind of deep conversation happening
Some kind of deep conversation happening
Good food & friends
Good food & friends
Also up to no good
Also up to no good
Kid up to no good
Kid up to no good
Watching the fishing boats. Shortly after this, some buffalo walked by
Watching the fishing boats. Shortly after this, some buffalo walked by
More coast views
More coast views

That night, we just stayed in and got drunk. It was a birthday party, after all. I don’t have any photos, so you will just have to believe me.

Returning

Sunday morning came early, as usual, with a bright-eyed J up and at ’em at 5 am on the dot. We Cayas tend to have a GTFO attitude on the last day of a vacation, ready to just throw everything in the car at 5:30 and head out. I hate suffering under the looming trip home. But we waited it out to spend a few more precious hours on the beach. And drink some caffeine.

Mid morning, we headed out back on the road, thinking it couldn’t possibly be worse than the trip up. WE WERE SO WRONG. First of all, it took us nearly two hours just to get away from the coast. It would appear that every person on the island of Java was at the beach that day. And there was only one lane of the road open because of construction.

Heading out on the road
Heading out on the road
So repaving a road here means literally putting a whole new road on top, so it's basically unusable until it is done. Real helpful.
So repaving a road here means literally putting a whole new road on top, so it’s basically unusable until it is done. Real helpful.
Stuck in traffic...
Stuck in traffic…
Stuck in traffic behind bananas
Stuck in traffic behind bananas
Aaaaannd now, chickens
Aaaaannd now, chickens

It took another six hours to make it through the mountains and back into Bogor. At one point, we literally sat still in traffic for about an hour. It was a long ride… But we made it home in time for a dinner of fruit loops and peanut butter. We live a charmed life.

Moral of the story: Don’t go to Pelabuhan ratu.

Bonus feature. We found this video on the camera that LittleB took of himself. He appears to be narrating our lunch at the resort on Saturday. It’s amazing, so we figured we should share it with the internet. Enjoy!