Great Canadian Tour 2015: The great outdoors

And so begins a series of posts about our summer holidays. I still have a few more Asian trips to share, but I’ll dig them out of the archives when winter hangs thick and we all need a bit of jungle and beach scenery.

Our summer was loooooong. We were basically living as transients across Ottawa, Toronto, Washington and Montreal until our Swiss visas could get sorted out. This involved a lot of moving suitcases back and forth across cities, sleeping wherever we could, and pissing off neighbors all over the country with our travel-weary kids.

We started off in Ottawa, our home base for the summer, and the first thing we couldn’t wait to do was go camping. We love camping. We love it so much that we filled our parents’ basements with all our gear when we moved rather than sell it or give it away. So it’s our duty to use it when we come back to town, right?

We booked a short trip, only 3 nights, at Silent Lake near Algonquin Park. Now, I hesitate to tell the internet about this, but it was amazing. It wasn’t too full, the sites were clean and perfect, the beaches were rugged but groomed and uncrowded, the weather gorgeous, and the night skies starry and clear. But please don’t go there, so it can stay that way.

We passed the days with swimming, outdoor games, roasting marshmallows, napping, roasting more marshmallows, watching the fire and listening to the sounds of the forest. We went on a hike one day and went a bit mushroom-crazy with our macro lens.

The kids had a good time. Mostly they just dug holes – like, they dug holes in the ground at our campsite, at the beach, in the lake bottom, in the gravel near the outhouses. What’s with kids and holes, seriously? I picked sand out of their hair for weeks afterwards. And they alternated the hole-digging with whining about eating marshmallows (when they weren’t actually eating marshmallows).

And then there were the 10 minutes when we lost LittleB in the forest while we were hiking. Oh man, other parents, you know that horrible feeling when you’ve lost your kid somewhere scary and dangerous? Yeah.

We were on our way back to the car park, and he got ahead of us, but I wasn’t worried because it is a one-way track… but then I got to the car with J and he wasn’t there. I looked around the area, checked the beach, checked the parking lot, and started to freak out. I ran back into the forest to BigB (who was still photographing mushrooms) and we split up, calling his name and looking around.

After 5 minutes of escalating frenzy, LittleB suddenly showed up at the trailhead, in tears but totally fine. It turns out he was smarter than us and actually got into the car, but I didn’t know it was unlocked so I never looked directly inside when I was in the lot, because why would he be in the locked car? Eventually he freaked out because we hadn’t come out of the forest and came looking for us. So… actually I guess we got lost rather than him.

But it really was a great trip. There’s nothing I like more than a toasty campfire, watching the flames lick the logs down into glowing coals and ashes. I like sitting up late, playing cards by torchlight, making early morning pancakes on the portable stove, snuggling into the sleeping bag when there’s a touch of dew in the night air. And I’m always heavy in the heart to pack up and go home.


Flores fun – part 4: great outdoors

Our trip to Flores didn’t end with komodos and sharks. Instead, we packed up from our island paradise early in the morning and caught the shuttle boat back to the main island, where we were scheduled to meet up with our next adventure team!

I arranged a three-day “crater lake camping tour” with a local company who made it easy for us by arranging everything from transport to food to tents, plus we had great fun with our tour guide and driver.

They picked us up at the marina in their awesome vintage land rover. We piled into the cab, along with provisions, packs and a foursome of live ducks they were taking up to the campsite – I assumed for dinner, and I was not wholly displeased about that – but they were for a little menagerie the company was starting up at their campsite. Roast duck was off the menu. Up we went, climbing the winding mountain roads away from the dry coast and into the cloud forest at the heart of the island. The roads were steep, but luckily they were freshly paved, making the ride a bit easier. Not easy enough, though… about half an hour up the road, the Land Rover started running too hot, and when smoke started billowing out of the hood it was clear we weren’t going any higher. We pulled over and leaped out as smoke filled the cab, and I was pretty sure the whole thing was about to burst into flames. Luckily the rad purged and put out the fire, but not before the wiring was completely destroyed.

So there we were, on the side of the road with a menagerie of hot, tired kids and hot, tired ducks, and no obvious way to continue up or go back down. At least we had a whole truck full of outdoor gear. We set up camp on the shoulder, played some cards, ate some chips, drank some beer, and watched trucks and buses pass us on the highway. The commuter buses are colorful and open-air like South American camionetas, but instead of being filled with people and chickens, they are filled with people and sound systems blasting dance pop music. We dubbed them “party buses”. In the end, we didn’t have to ride the party bus back to town (I can’t decide if I’m sad about this or not), since the Land Rover replacement truck rescued us an hour so later. This one was just an extended cab pickup, which meant 7 people couldn’t all fit. So I crammed a kid on my lap and our tour guide ended up on the pile of packs in the truck bed. Mostly settled in, we continued our climb up the side of the mountain and then dipped back down toward the crater lake that would be our home for the next few days.

We arrived at the campsite in mid afternoon and spent a few hours relaxing while they set up camp. The site was a clearing in the forest, sloping down toward the water, with a bamboo gazebo for meals and a toilet curtained off in the roots of an old fallen tree. I’d say it was pretty much fantastic. Oh except that a bunch of ugly cicadas had shed their skins recently, leaving giant discarded bug skins all over the place, which then got stuck to all our stuff. But I guess you can’t win ’em all.

That afternoon we took it easy, went for a swim in the sulphuric crater water (filled with dragonfly larvae, it was gross), and hammocked away the day. Evening fell, and we stayed up late playing cards, stumbled to bed in velvety darkness and slept in tents under the stars – the sounds of the jungle a soft lullaby around us.

…Until morning, when the loudest, most annoying birds and monkeys apparently wake up before the sun and like to share their raucous eating or fighting or copulating or whatever it is that annoying jungle creatures do at the crack of dawn. So we were up early. Seriously, I could still see stars.

Having such an early start to the day, we decided to go on a couple of little trips around the area, with the promise of waterfalls, forest hiking, coconut villages, hot springs, and beautiful views. B wasn’t feeling too great and decided to hang back to test out the forest potty for the day – and he had adventures of his own while we gone. More about that later.

Meanwhile, C and I set off with the kids, destination: hiking to and swimming in a nearby waterfall. We drove for about half an hour and stopped in a little village to park the car. Now, we were basically in the middle of nowhere in the jungle of a remote island. And our pair of blonde-hair, blue-eyed kids was just too much for the villagers to handle – they surrounded us, chattering and cooing and trying to touch, calling the kids ‘angels’ and ‘so beautiful’. All with good intentions, but it was just too much for the kids to handle. LittleB lost it and hid behind the truck for a time, while J clung to my legs like a panicked sloth. We shuffled them off toward the hiking trail, and I did my best to explain to them how “we are visiting these peoples’ land and property, and as their guests we must be gracious and accepting of their culture and behavior…” etc. Not sure it helped very much. But thankfully the villagers only followed us down the path for about 15 minutes or so until we managed to leave them behind.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that we have some issues with J being the tripping & whining master of the household, so hiking is not always the easiest thing with her. And it wasn’t a perfectly smooth trail by any means, with rocks and leaves and hidden roots and holes. But we made it relatively unscathed other than one or two slips. Miracle! And then there we were: waterfall!

It wasn’t a huge waterfall, but it was nicely positioned and the rocks were streaked with beautiful blue and orange hues. After some coaxing, we got the kids into the water. It was… pretty cold. Actually, more like gasping cold. But it was refreshing after our hike, and who wouldn’t take the opportunity to swim in a waterfall in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago? We probably only got one or two parasites, no big deal. So we swam over to the falls, and under them, and through them. J was too grossed out by the little bit of fuzzy algae on the rocks to pay attention to the waterfall, but the rest of us enjoyed it thoroughly.

Soon we headed back, managing to avoid any major bodily harm on the way, snuck out past the villagers and arrived back at camp.

Apparently while we were gone, B had spent most of his time sitting in the gazebo and playing solitaire with a deck of cards. Then a guy showed up. Just a local villager guy. He didn’t speak English, and B’s Indonesian is primitive, so the guy managed to gesture that he wanted to play cards with B. Weird. B was gesturing kind of like, no no, I’m sick, go away… Guy hung around anyway. Ate some gross crackers we left on the table. Watched B play cards. Finally wandered off. CAME BACK. But this time with about 50 other villagers, all of whom were super excited to see the white man-giant in their neighborhood. And they proceeded to queue up to shake B’s hand and introduce themselves one-by-one. So Instead of a quiet afternoon, B had to run the gauntlet of the most uncomfortable receiving line ever.

Next up? Coconuts, hot springs, and MORE waterfalls!


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!