Swiss summertime

Switzerland takes its seasons seriously. Quite literally, on the day of the summer solstice – the first day of summer – suddenly the weather changed. Nearly overnight it went from damp and foggy to sunny and clear. And the season was glorious: every day was blue skies and golden sun, flowers blooming and green trees, warm evenings and incredible sunsets.

And making the most of this weather is no joke. Everyone goes to the beach for a dip and after-work drinks every evening, and the cities come alive with festivals and outdoor activities every weekend. We did our best to copy them.

We also made it out to several weekend festivals. Early in the summer, to celebrate the anniversary of the steamboat fleet on Lake Geneva, we went to a little town called Morges and watched the boats parade by with thousands of colored balloons to release at once. Don’t worry, the balloons were biodegradable. Too bad we didn’t get to actually see that part of the parade, because the kids were too hot in the sun and spent most of the time being fussy. It was a nice idea, though.

In August, it’s Swiss national day, so we went to celebrations in both Geneva and Nyon. We thought the event would be huge and exciting in Geneva, so we headed down to the city in the morning to see what was happening. Not much, as it turns out. There was just a little event in the park with some fife & drum bands, a kids’ climbing wall, and displays of Swiss wrestling. Schwingen, which involves wearing giant shorts and trying to literally lift the other person by their shorts and throw them to the ground. Worth it.

Later that night we headed to Nyon to watch the fireworks over the lake. They were timed so that all the lake cities set off their fireworks in order, so we could see them in the distance along the lake over about half an hour. It was neat! But it was no Canada Day celebrations… Anyway, thanks for the nice summer, Switzerland!

Savona weekend

I thought one trip to Italy while living here would be enough, but I was wrong! It’s so easy to get there, it might become a dangerously regular activity around here.

Only a few weeks after we had our Tuscany Tour 2016, we went on a spur-of-the-moment long weekend trip to Savona with some friends. Savona is on the north coast of the Mediterranean (actually the Ligurian Sea at that point), just 5h or so from our house. Spring was in full bloom by that time, so we had no snowstorms through the Alps, and enjoyed a beautiful drive down through Italy.

We rented an apartment right on the harbor, a modern place overlooking the whole marina. And it turns out that Savona is a major stop for cruise ships – so we had a great view of these huge floating apartments coming into dock. It was very cool.

We met up with our friends who had rented an apartment nearby and spent the afternoon on the beach, having a few drinks, walking around the city, and settling in for a pizza dinner, before heading home around 9 pm or so. But when we arrived at the apartment building, we discovered that there was an outer building door that had been open all day and was now closed (so we didn’t realize it was there) – and we didn’t know the code or have the right key to open it! And since it was late at night, no one seemed to be coming or going, and no concierge was on duty. I tried calling the apartment owner without any luck. We waited for over an hour before the kids got too cold and tired to hang around out front. What to do??

We thought about sleeping in the car, but that was too pathetic. We couldn’t figure out if there was another hotel nearby without internet access, and it seemed so crazy to double pay for accommodation. Luckily, we got hold of our friends and they very generously let us come to their place – even if they really didn’t have enough room for us!

And that, folks, is how we found ourselves sleeping on a tiny kitchen floor, on a piece of foam, with only a tablecloth for a blanket, while all our stuff enjoyed the night in a swanky modern apartment. We did eventually get the code and made our way into the apartment the next day.

But it didn’t ruin our good time. There was still a street food festival to taste, an ancient fort to explore, a beach to enjoy, and plenty of limoncello to drink. We saw Christopher Columbus’ house, which was pretty cool, regardless of how I feel about his claim to fame, and I also found Dante Alighieri street, which made my day.

Writing this, it might be time to go back to Italy again!

 

Image

Seat with a view

Seat with a view
We spent a magical weekend on an island off the coast of Jakarta, and this was the best seat in the house, on our villa patio – where, after a day of snorkeling and exploring in the clear blue ocean, we sat and watched the stars blink to life and thunderstorms roll across the horizon like fireworks.

Koh Lanta Part 1 – beaches, beer, bliss

We decided to take some time off the grid in Koh Lanta, Thailand. It was pure chance that we ended up there – the beaches and villas looked nice and the flights were easy, so we went for it! We rented a private villa 100 m from the beach and made plans to just lie around and swim for the week.

Our very early morning flight took us through Kuala Lumpur, with a transfer to Krabi, where we were picked up by a van and shuttled onto the island. We were all pretty wiped after waking up at 2 am that morning, so we all slept through a lot of the drive, but a few of us managed to see the two ferry rides from the mainland – through mangrove forests and around lumpy islands in the mist.

We arrived at our villa and settled in for our stay, and by that I mean we immediately went to the 7-11 and bought all the different types of beer available. Our host had also purchased us a “welcome” package of weird snacks, most of which were basically inedible, but fun to try! There was some kind of meat-flavor balls, some prawn crackers, honey graham rip offs, and some bbq chips. The best that Koh Lanta has to offer! That afternoon, the kids jumped into the pool and basically never came out for the rest of the week.

Day two started with a visit to a lovely cafe, then we spent the rest of the day on the beach. The beach was a short walk away, a 4-km stretch of deserted white sand with plenty of interesting shells and rocks to keep everyone happy.

As it turned out, we were visiting Koh Lanta in the low season, and many shops and tourist amenities were closed. We had a hard time finding groceries, so we ate a lot of strange meals concocted out of whatever we could scrounge at the 7-11: popcorn, jam, eggs and “milk croissants” featured heavily in our diets for the week. But there were also a few restaurants in walking distance, so we were able to enjoy a few good meals of the western-style food we don’t normally get at home in Indonesia – hamburgers, meat pies, pasta. It’s a bit silly that we ended up all the way in Thailand to eat north american food. At one point, I did get a fried rice dish that came in a pineapple, that’s kind of Thai, right? At least most of the restaurants had pet cats, so the kids basically spent their time teasing and chasing them around, the perfect babysitter during our meals… just scratchier.

That first day, we made plenty of plans to take some tours and visit the sights of the island for the rest of the week. Stay tuned!

 

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.

 

Pulau Seribu – Diving again

A few weekends ago, I finally had a chance to go diving again. It had been almost a year since I took my test, and it was starting to seem like I would never get to go again!

Our diving instructor decided to take his boat out for the weekend and invited along a group of us for two days of diving fun in the Thousand Islands north of Jakarta. Now, when I say boat, I mean a big, beautiful catamaran with bunks for 8-10 people, plus a full galley and 2 washrooms. Like a floating hotel!

We taxied off at about 4 am on Saturday morning so we could get to the marina and set sail at dawn. The marina turned out to be located right beside the harbor fish market, and it was… rank, to say the least: filled with the lovely smells of rotting fish, human waste, and a whole city’s worth of garbage. But the water was flat and smooth like a mirror, and we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise coming up through the morning mist. Its glorious rays lit up all the flip flops floating on the surface of the water like little jewels in Neptune’s crown. Seriously, Indonesia, why are there so many flip flops in the water here? Where are they all coming from? Anyway, after getting settled into our bunks, off we went!

The weather was in our favor for the whole weekend – beautiful, calm seas and clear blue skies. Unfortunately, being in a sailboat, that wasn’t very helpful, and we ended up having to use the motor for the whole trip. But we spent the hours lounging on deck, reading and napping. No complaints from anyone!

That afternoon we went for our first dive, heading down to about 20 ft to check out an old shipwreck. It was an old cargo ship that ran aground a decade or so, and the owner decided to abandon it there. At first I had a lot of trouble sinking in the water – and then I struggled with my buoyancy for the whole dive. By the time we got to the ship, I just hung on to the exhaust pipe of the wreck to stop from floating away – so I had a really good, close look at that part of it! I missed some other parts, though, you know, like the whole rest of the ship. It was still a nice dive, though, and later we enjoyed a relaxing evening on deck, anchored in the reef for the night. That night, the stars came out and lit up the sky, and I slept the night away beneath them, listening to the soft waves on the hull.

The next day, we moved along to another reef and went for our second dive. There was a strong current this time, but we hugged the reef and made our way through the dust. We swam with some sea turtles and teased a giant ugly moray eel. A few of the other divers saw some dolphins, too, but I missed them, drat! Anyway, I brought along pockets full of weight this time, so I was perfectly buoyant and had a fantastic time. Too bad we got the boat stuck on the reef! Ack! But we moved all the equipment and all the people to one corner of the boat and managed to wedge it off the rocks with minimal damage.

That afternoon we motored back to town, following the breadcrumb trail of flip flops back to the harbor. All in all, it was a great weekend!

 

Aussie Adventure Part 5 – Harbour tour

New Year’s day was our last day in Sydney. It was also my Dad’s birthday. We decided to go our separate ways for the day (since we got a lot more sleep than my parents did the night before), so we headed out early in the morning to catch a ferry ride around the harbour. We were planning to meet up with some friends near Luna Park – but unfortunately, the ferry changed its schedule without warning, so we missed our scheduled meeting! We wandered around the north shore for a while, trying to find internet access so we could contact them, but no luck.

The ferry tour was nice, though. We saw all the cool harbour views, closeups of the opera house and bridge, plus the tour guide pointed out some famous people’s houses and cool sights. I really needed to know where Oprah’s Sydney mansion was. The rest of the people on the boat with us were Japanese tourists, and spent their entire trip taking photographs of the sun – see, there was a bit of moisture in the air that day, and it made kind of a cool rainbow ring around the sun. It was okay, I guess. But they were super into it, taking weird-angled pictures of themselves with “V” signs or thumbs up, pointing at the sun. I’m talking an hour-long photo shoot of this. I’m not sure most of those are going to turn out, guys, cause, you know, you’re photographing directly into the sun

That night, we all wanted to have something special for dinner because of the whole final night/birthday/new year thing. So we headed down to a food area near the hotel. We walked and walked, not really finding anything good, so we stopped at the last place on the street, mostly because it looked ok and we did not want to walk any more. But OH MAN we hit the jackpot. It was this fantastic little French place with the best food I have eaten in my life. We all had steaks or lamb, and the kids had some yummy pasta. The owner even gave the kids some complimentary homemade gelato for eating all their veggies. If you are going to Sydney, tell me and I will give you directions to this place. A few nights previously, we ate at a Thai restaurant on the same strip. It was also some of the best food I’d ever eaten. Sydney knows how to do food right!

All in all, it was a really great visit. I would go back to Sydney in a second. I could even see myself living there – it was like a laid-back NYC, except, you know, with skin cancer. But I guess for now I’ll settle on watching their NYE fireworks on TV again this year.

 

Aussie Adventure Part 2 – Around Sydney

Our Sydney holiday started with checking into our rental house for the week. It was in the Kings Cross area, just outside downtown, and I was looking forward to being within walking distance to lots of food and shops. It turns out we were very close indeed to some shops! Unforuntately, they were almost all *ahem* adult shops. LittleB was super excited to walk past a row of “toy” stores and really wanted to go in – we figured he should wait another 11 years or so before checking out those particular establishments.

But actually, the place we rented was along a very sweet little neighbourhood road nearby. The landlady was from France, so B and I woo’ed her with our language skills, and she was very excited to have her Canadian ‘cousins’ staying downstairs. We had the run of the bottom half of the family’s house, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, only a few hundred metres away from a subway stop and a grocery store, bottle shop, and plenty of restaurants.

We had six days to explore Sydney, and we barely scratched the surface. The first day, we decided to make the kids happy and visit the Aquarium. We showed up early to avoid the crowds – but it was still packed. We shuffled along, checking out all the fish, sharks and platypuses. The kids got these little quiz cards and got to move from station to station, answering questions and stamping their cards. They were so excited, and just wanted to run straight from station to station. So yeah, we basically paid $25 each for them to get a free piece of paper, oblivious to the wonders of the ocean all around them. But we did see some cool stuff. There are viewing tunnels through the tanks, where sharks, manta rays, and a lonely dugong swim right beside and above you so you can more easily check out the weird holes and crevices on their undersides. We also made it to the top of the tank during feeding time and got to watch all the sharks fight over chum. The aquarium also had all the other usual stuff – penguins, coral tanks, seahorses, jellyfish. It was a good time.

Afterwards, we wandered around Darling Harbour, checking out the boats and other tourists. Then we found Paddy’s Market – a huge asian flea market, where we bought some touristy junk (probably made in Indonesia) and paused at a playground nearby to let LittleB climb around on some kind of rope death trap structure. J tried to climb it but only managed to get stuck and then complain loudly and anatomically accurately about the rope hurting her lady parts. Yeah, I think Australia is going to miss us.

On our way back to our subway stop, we took a break in a park to rest our whiny children. Afer a few minutes, we started noticing that there were a lot of rather scruffy characters around. It appeared we had stopped in what might have been the local homeless park. My dad suggested the bench we were on was probably someone’s bed, so we moved along. But I’m not convinced the park was entirely full of homeless people, and I think most of them may have just been scruffy regular folks. In fact, most of Australia seems to be full of scruffy regular folks. So much so, that B and I started playing a game called “Hobo or Hipster?” – every young person in the city was put to the test. It came out pretty even, I think.

Overall, one thing we were particularly looking forward to on our trip was Australian wine. My parents make a point of buying Australian shiraz even back in Ontario – we definitely needed to visit the source of this nectar. So I booked us on a day tour into the Hunter Valley. I checked around online until I found a tour that first, would take all six of us, and also, would include stops not only at wineries but at a chocolate factory, a brewery, a cheese shop, AND an animal park where we would get to hug some Aussie animals. I should tell you that for the six weeks leading up to our trip, J would say every day that she just wanted to hug a joey. That was it, hugging a joey was all she wanted from the entire country of Australia. Luckily, this was the place!

On the day of the tour, we stopped at the animal sanctuary first. Our guide took us to meet the koalas right away. First of all, they were much bigger than I was expecting. And much more active – I guess I always thought they were more slothy. But no, they are actually more like curious kittens, except with huge razor claws that they want to use for climbing up your soft human flesh. Ok, they’re actually pretty horrible creatures. I mean, they were cute to look at and their fur was spongy and oh so soft, but they are not cuddly at all, despite what childhood books on the other side of the world may teach you. I’ve also heard that they all have gonorrhea, so there’s that.

Next, we entered the roo pen. The friendliest one was this old crotchety guy, much smaller than the others, and who, as it turns out, was actually a “walleroo”. I made some kind of (possibly rude) inference about awkward cross-breeding between a kangaroo and a wallaby, thinking that why else would you name an animal after a mix if it’s not actually a mix, right? Like a Liger. Nope, the somewhat offended guide told me that they are a completely separate species. Sure they are, Australia.

Anyway, finally we found the friendly actual kangaroo (she had a collar to set her apart) and J got to hug her! Wish fulfilled!

Inside the sanctuary building were some other crazy pets. Like a dog that was totally blind and deaf, so she just ran up to every person to sniff out who it was, while the owner called her to no avail. Then there were these two sneaky parrots that used all us humans in the room like a bridge, hopping from one to another until they reached the cookie shelf to steal treats. They were bitey.

Next we moved on the the chocolate factory. Ok, we grew up in the town near the Hershey factory, so I wouldn’t call this place a factory in comparison. There was one tiny chocolate stirring machine and then some chocolate for sale… so I guess it was a chocolate producing place at least. It was expensive but tasty.

Luckily the wine was great. The first place we visited was a family vineyard, where we bought a bottle of delicious and expensive merlot to bring home with us. We also visited another vineyard in the afternoon, where we took home some yummy dessert wine. That place had a strange quirk of scattering the ashes of dead family members on rows of grapes and then naming the wine after them. I still can’t decide if that is sweet or a bit creepy. Either way, we drank some “Rosie” and she was pretty tasty.

Lunch was a stop at a big vineyard called Tempus Two, where we had some awesome umami burgers and did our cheese tasting. That was a bust, since all the cheese was just spreadable goat cheese with different flavorings. Um, where is all the actual cheese? Anyway, at least we got to drink some more wine with it.

Last stop was a local microbrewery, where we tried some strange options like “Christmas pudding” and some other ones I can’t remember. Also there was a bouncy castle to keep the kids busy while we drank. They knew how to do drinking right. Oh yeah, and I forgot to tell you that we were on this tour with another family – a family of Irish folks, half of whom were not drinking and the other half who barely drank anything/could not hold their liquor. Talk about going against stereotype. At least B and I drank enough for all of them combined, you know, just to make up for it. It was the least we could do.

 

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.

 

O Canada: part one – NYC

What’s that you say? New York is not part of Canada? Well, on our way here, LittleB said: “But mom, Ottawa and the United States are both inside of Canada!” There you go, US – you are now the 11th province. How’s them apples?

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon after about a million hours on flights. We foolishly thought that we could navigate the subway to our apartment rental, which actually was not so much an issue until we landed on our 4th subway train that had no A/C. Oh yeah, and did you know that there’s a heat wave in NY right now? I’m pretty sure our shoes melted today. Anyway, back to the subway – there we were, packed into a sweltering rush hour train with two dead-to-the-world kids who refused to hold on to the pole and three suitcases. I’m pretty sure I almost passed out at least twice. But we did make it to our apartment eventually, and settled into the 30-sq-foot luxury that is the upper west side.

So anyway, let’s be honest here. We’ve had a rather mediocre time in NYC. I’m going to blame it on the fact that our kids are overtired after the long plane trip, or maybe that the temperature has reached into the 40s for the past few days. We didn’t get to do a lot of the things we planned, and the things we did do were cut short by whiny kids, or by us being tired of carrying whiny kids around, or by us having to find food or beverages for whiny kids. Right, so here are the rules we have established for visiting NYC with kids: 1. Do expensive ticketed items first thing in the morning. You’re going to regret arriving at, say, the museum at 2 pm and your 84 bucks go to waste when your kids refuse to actually look at exhibits at the museum. 2. Don’t bother going to NYC with your kids. They would be just as happy going to a toy store anywhere else in the world instead.

But we did get to see lots of great things: beautiful Central Park in the summer – Rockefeller plaza and the MOMA design shop – Times Square in the afternoon sun – Neil de Grasse Tyson’s planetarium – the Manhattan Skyline from the Statue of Liberty – and our friends’ new baby. So there are lots of reasons why our trip was wonderful. Even better, we’re heading on to Canada tomorrow where the real fun begins! (After another trip on the subway back to airport… wish us luck!)

 

thecayas vs. the volcano

This weekend, we finally went on our trip to KRAKATOA. Yes, it was awesome!

Saturday started early, with us getting up at 4 am to catch our van. It picked us up from home and drove toward the west coast of Java. From there, we caught a little speedboat out into the Sunda Straight and headed to the group of islands making up the Krakatoa area.

J ready to go (still wearing PJs)
J ready to go (still wearing PJs)
Enjoying some sun (also in PJs)
Enjoying some sun (also in PJs)

By about noon, we caught our first sight of the smoking beauty.

There she is, smoking in the distance - Anak Krakatoa
There she is, smoking in the far distance – Anak Krakatoa

Next door was another huge island, Rakata, originally part of the first Krakatoa, but half of the island was obliterated in the 1883 eruption.

And her sister, Rakata
And her sister, Rakata
Rakata up close - that giant crater is from the 1883 explosion
Rakata up close – that giant crater is from the 1883 explosion

As we got closer, we saw that Anak Krakatau was a bit smaller than we expected, but still huge considering she is only about 120 years old. We pulled up onto the banks of the island at the foot of the volcano.

We've arrived!
We’ve arrived!
Pulling up to the island... I wonder where we will stay tonight?
Pulling up to the island… I wonder where we will stay tonight?
...Right here!
…Right here!

While the guides were setting up our tents, we took the opportunity to explore the black sand beach and go for a swim.

It was a black sand beach - and as hot as lava!
It was a black sand beach – and as hot as lava!
White volcano rock against black volcano sand.
White volcano rock against black volcano sand.
Splashy girl
Splashy girl
The boys a-swimming
The boys a-swimming

So now that we were on Krakatoa, what else to do but climb it?? So we did. Both kids climbed it all by themselves! The whole experience was incredible.


Later that night, after dinner on the beach, we took a walk along the deserted coast – lit up by only the stars and moon. It was wild and beautiful.

In the morning, we cast off and visited a nearby lagoon for some snorkeling. It was especially great, because the coral reefs are relatively young and have grown up out of the completely obliterated crater area.


Then we hopped back in the boat to start our journey home. It was a perfect weekend!

*******

Now that you’ve seen all the highlights, let me give you a peek into our “off-camera” experience:

-When you camp in Indonesia, it means something different than we are used to in Canada. Yes, there were tents, but the only bedding we received were thin children’s play mats placed on the floor of the tent. No covers, no pillows, nothing. Luckily it is warm enough here that covers are totally unnecessary, but a bit of forewarning about pillows would have been nice. So, the makeshift pillows we had consisted of: 1 mostly empty backpack, 1 wet backpack, and 1 hiking boot. LittleB took the empty backpack, I got the wet one, and B had the boot. J slept mostly on my face. It was a rough night.

-After we spent the whole weekend taking awesome photos and protecting our camera like it was a dragon horde, B managed to snag the camera on the edge of the dock while disembarking – then the strap broke and we watched our treasure fall to the bottom of the marina! The marina water was not too deep, but it was filled with jellyfish. Luckily, we were able to pay one of our boat crew kids to jump in there and get it. Good thing it is an underwater camera!

-While visiting the island, we saw at least 3 giant monitor lizards coming right up to the campsites. It was amazing. Unfortunately, they were mostly just coming and eating garbage. So 99.8% of the pictures we have of them are just lizards sitting in piles of garbage. Classy.

Monitor lizard visiting our campsite - our only good photo without garbage
Monitor lizard visiting our campsite – our only good photo without garbage

-What do you do with two bored kids when you’re trapped on a volcanic island? Well, letting them “help” the cooks is good. We were having squid and shrimp for dinner, so first they watched all the shrimp heads get cut off. Then they started an assembly line for preparing squid – the guy pulls out the guts, LittleB rolls all the skin off, J puts the body into a bucket of dirty water. The only problem was that LittleB wiped all the leftover bits of squid skin onto his pants. That’s never coming out.

-What do you do with two bored kids when you’re trapped in a van for 5 hours? Well, telling a bunch of stories that all end with someone getting poked in the eyeball and dying is good for at least half an hour.

-Volcanic sand is neat. It’s black and fine. But it turns out that, not unlike other sand, it gets everywhere, but unlike other sand, because it’s black, you can see it everywhere: in hair, in swimsuits, in shoes, in bum cracks. Walking up a 70-degree incline of the stuff is also not easy. Every step slides you back down and fills your shoes with dirt and gravel. At the bottom of the hill, LittleB dumped out what he pretty accurately described as “almost half of the volcano.” I’m still finding sand in places where no sand should be.

It was still a perfect weekend!

Tropical vacation weekend

This weekend was our mini vacation to Pulau Macan (Tiger Island), a small island in the area known as the Thousand Islands just off Jakarta. (Note to Ontario residents: we think having the Thousand Islands here is funny too.) We started early on Saturday morning, heading out at sunrise to the Ancol Marina. On the way out of town, we stopped to pick up our friend who was coming along to the island. It was a beautiful, sunny morning.

We arrived early at the marina, giving us time to watch the boats coming and going. I don’t know a lot about boats, but the majority were large speedboats, perhaps even yachts? It looked like many were privately owned vessels, lent out to the marina for ferrying tourists to the islands. I was excited to spend the hour and half trip watching the activity at sea and enjoying the ocean air. Unfortunately, when our boat arrived, it was a bit underwhelming. It was large, but the windows were blacked out and the interior very hot and smelly. There was a small seating area outside at the back, but it filled up quickly, so we spent the trip inside. It was… a challenge for the kids. Despite this, we made it safely to the island on smooth waters.

Once we arrived, we were set free to explore. It was a small island with a main eating/living building and sleeping huts dotted around the edges. Ours was the ‘Island Hut’ – and it was perfect: a few beds under a simple driftwood structure, with a private deck overlooking the ocean.

After getting settled, we put on our swimming gear and paddled some boats over to a neighbouring island. And by boats, I actually mean a sailboard with no sail and a rotten wooden dinghy several decades past its prime. But we made it, and it was worth it. This was the tropical paradise we were looking for: warm blue water, white sand beach, palm trees and coral reefs. We played away the morning and headed back for lunch.

Unfortunately, it being rainy season, there was a jellyfish bloom around the island. Paddling through it was unpleasant. At least they were relatively tiny and only fairly stingy instead of killing stingy. It wasn’t too bad the first day, but they were everywhere on the second day, preventing us from doing as much snorkeling as we wanted.

We spent Saturday afternoon relaxing in our hut, stealing snacks from the main house, swimming off our private dock, and watching the sun set. That night, we ate dinner under the stars and watched some huge thunderstorms cross the horizon. It was an absolutely perfect day.

On Sunday, we woke up with the tide and the sun. We headed back to the other island for some more swimming and beach time, despite the jellyfish and rougher waters. Later, we spent a lazy afternoon swinging in hammocks, playing games and enjoying the view.

Our boat ride home was fast and much more pleasant than on the way in. We grabbed some seats on the back deck and watched the ships and islands go by. M even saw some dolphins. It was an absolutely perfect weekend!