Indonesia #friends

I recently had a work trip back ‘home’ to Jakarta (with a short detour to Sumatra). My favorite part of visiting Indonesia is visiting some of my favorite people. And I was lucky enough to make new friends this time too. Nothing says ‘friends’ like a bunch of selfies! ❤️❤️❤️

Oscar selfie new friends
New friend 2
New friend 3
Old friend 1
Old friend 2
Old friends 3
Oscar selfie old friends
Old friend 4

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.

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Indonesia evening

When we lived in Bogor, my commute home was usually in the midst of a thunderstorm, or at least under cloudy darkness. The rare days when the evening sun popped out changed the whole city, and I loved seeing the perfect colors and life like at this glowing street corner.
When we lived in Bogor, my commute home was usually in the midst of a thunderstorm, or at least under cloudy darkness. The rare days when the evening sun popped out changed the whole city, and I loved seeing the perfect colors and life like at this glowing street corner.
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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.
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Borobudur bas relief

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
These beautiful buddhas decorate the walls of Borobudur in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. We visited in January 2013, one of our first trips around the area. Although it was a misty day, and the tourists were out in force, there was no denying the tranquil mystery of the ornate temple, hidden in the rainforest for a thousand years.

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!

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.

Sampai jumpa

Well it’s been a good ride. Our time in Indonesia is up and we’re headed off for some new adventures in the world.

What can I say to sum up three years? Three years of exploration, cultural learning, good laughs, new friends, amazing places, and curious creatures. Also three years of frustration, illness, anxiety, homesickness, lost things, broken things, and too many goodbyes.

I remember a conversation we had years ago, before the thought of moving to Indonesia was even a speck on the horizon. B and I were sitting at the dining room table and talking about our long-term plans – Where was I going with my career? Where did we want to live? How do we escape the rut we felt like we had fallen into? That was the night that moving abroad came up, and at the time I think we both imagined living in some kind of European countryside, eating baguettes and drinking espressos in a provencal cafe.

I started applying for jobs – Paris, Vienna, London – and when the perfect job came up in Indonesia, I applied for kicks more than with a real consideration of what I might do if I actually got the job.

Well, as you know, I did get the job, and we had to very quickly decide whether we were the type of people who would sell their house, quit their stable government career, and pack up their two young kids on a whim to live in Indonesia – a country that I am ashamed to admit I couldn’t even pick out on a map at that point. It turns out that we are those people.

Friends and colleagues called us ‘brave’ or ‘crazy’. Family was torn between being thrilled and heartbroken. We were feeling all of those same things in equal measures, questioning: Were we being unfair to our kids, taking them away from home and family? Were we abandoning our family when they might need us close to home? Were we crazy for giving up a house and comfortable life in an enviable city? On any given day, the answer might have been ‘yes’ to at least one of those questions. But the thrill of the unknown was too hard to ignore. Off we went.

And now? Three years later? We have no regrets. I would make the same decision again in a second.

Sure, our kids have missed being close to home, but Skype is an amazing thing. Yes, our family has missed us, and we miss them every second of every day, but everyone is coping and we have all found ways to make up for the absence. Of course our life is more unpredictable now, without a stable household or home city, but I’m starting to see that was part of the rut we got ourselves stuck into.

And the gains have more than made up for it. In three years, we’ve seen more beaches, sunsets, volcanoes, temples, turtles, boats, malls, elephants, thunderstorms, rainforests, airplanes, and monkeys than I ever could have imagined. We’ve been to nearly a dozen countries, learned a new language, saved up some money, collected a houseful of teak furniture, made lifelong friends.

And it turns out we didn’t travel to the unknown, we just discovered that people and life are the same around the world, give or take a few amenities. We aren’t brave or crazy, just willing to take a little risk and I think we have more than reaped the rewards.

Mohon maaf, Indonesia. Sampai jumpa!

Photo: Thecayas about to set off an overseas adventure in 2012!

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!

 

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 2: here be dragons

The main reason we went to Flores was to visit Komodo island, which was much closer to our resort than the mainland (one of the reasons we stayed there). So the first day, we booked a day trip that took us about 2.5 hours by boat to Komodo for a hike around the island, with some stops planned at a few good snorkeling sites on the way back to the resort.

The boat ride was smooth but long – especially for the little excited people we had with us. At first, they were both heartbroken that I wouldn’t let them ride on the roof of the boat with some of the adventurous adults on our tour, but they settled down on the main deck and we passed the time playing “the movie game” – where someone thinks of a movie character and the rest of us have to guess who it is by asking yes or no questions. LittleB is a master at this game, and J is pretty good, although I have a feeling that she just waits until you guess someone she likes and says that’s who it is without having had to think of someone herself. It’s a very subversive way of playing. In fact, now that I think about it, she basically makes us do all the work but gets to be in the game. Sneaky!

Anyway, we spent the rest of the time watching the islands and ocean go by. Flores is so dry, the land we could see was painted in scorched browns and reds. They were the kinds of deserted islands that a pirate would ditch you on and you would die immediately because there wouldn’t be a single scrap of food or drop of water. It looked just like the kind of place you might expect to see dinosaurs, and I admit I broke out into the Jurassic Park theme song more than once. Soon we arrived at Komodo, and it was much the same, only bigger. And very, very hot.

The island offered three walking tours, and our tour group decided on the medium, 2-km hike. As it turned out, we couldn’t have taken the longer 4-km tour even if we wanted to, because it was so hot, the park rangers themselves wouldn’t go that far. Luckily, we didn’t have to walk very long before we saw our first dragon! And luckily, it was so hot, he wasn’t doing very much. Mostly he just lay in the shade and tried to ignore us as we all milled around at a cautious distance. At one point, he stood up and ambled about 3 meters to another bit of shade and lay down again – but you would have thought we were all seeing our baby taking his first steps, with all the excited giggling, gasps and furious photo taking. “Ohmigod he’s walking!” “Quick, move out of the way!” “Aw, look at his little feet!” etc. etc.

Here’s a video of our second dragon, a lady dragon walking very slowly through the woods:

After the rangers cajoled us all into taking close-up shots with the once again stationary dragon, we moved along on our way. Did I mention how hot it was? I would guess it was probably about 45 celsius, no breeze, blaring hot noon sun, burning hot volcanic sand, and only scrubby trees without much shade. Needless to say, the kids were pretty whiny. The only thing keeping LittleB going was the hope of seeing all the dragon poop in the forest (we took pictures of it), while J spent most of the time complaining about just about everything. But they still did the whole walk, even up a huge hill and down through a rocky pathway, and I was proud of them.

In the end, we managed to see 4 dragons in all, though the last one we saw, lying in the shade at the side of the toilet hut, seemed more like a lazy pet than a wild, fierce beast.

At the end of the walk, we spent a few minutes resting at the entrance, trying our best to avoid buying overpriced kick knacks, all mostly in the shape of komodo dragons. C succumbed and bought a fridge magnet.

Soon we hopped back on the boat, hot and sweaty and ready for a swim with some manta rays – next stop!

 

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!

 

Bali weekend magic

We had a wonderful month-long visit from Grandma in April. We figured that this time, we should actually take her somewhere other than Bogor! So we packed up and headed to Bali for a long weekend.

We rented a villa with a pool, right in the tourist area. Funny enough, it turns out we were very close to the place we stayed last time, but we were so new to the area back then that we were a bit oblivious to exactly where we were. Anyway, we did a bit more research before this trip and managed to have a better idea how to get around from our place!

As it turned out, it was the perfect weekend to be there. As you might know, Bali is a Hindu area, so they follow many of the same holidays and calendar as India and others, rather than the other parts of Indonesia. The weekend we went was Nyepi, which is the New Year holiday. The difference, however, is that Balinese Hindus celebrate the event with a day of silence and reflection, rather than with a party. The entire island shuts down, including the airport – no travel, no electricity, no noise. But since we were just looking for a quiet few days of R&R beside the pool, it was no problem for us!

The place we stayed was a sprawling three-bedroom house with a pool, outdoor bathrooms, a large living area, and all within walking distance of restaurants, shopping, the beach – perfect! But we didn’t really go to any of those places. Who needs to when you can spend all day relaxing in the water, dozing in the gazebo, reading on the daybed, playing games at the dining table.

When Nyepi rolled around, we spent the day hushing the kids and trying not to disturb our neighbours. But the magic happened that night, when unexpectedly, we were graced with the darkest, most velvetly black sky I’ve ever seen in my life. With all the lights turned off on the whole island, the stars shone brighter and clearer than anywhere. The milky way glowed deeply overhead and we saw Jupiter, Venus, and handfuls of constellations. It was truly Bali magic.

The weekend was over too quickly, but we came home with a few lovely souvenirs and memories to last us through the final weeks of the Bogor rainy season.

 

Kebun Raya – Chaperone edition

Well, now that we’re done with the weeks and weeks of updates about our holidays in ANZ (That’s “Australia-New Zealand” for you Northern Hemisphere people, or as we in the Southern Hemisphere like to derogatorily call you, “Northems”), life has sort of settled back into our old rut. Well, not EXACTLY into our old rut, but the new rut seems awfully familiar to the old one. I think they’re related. They’re at least cousins.

One thing that has changed, however, is that I have a TON of time on my hands. I finished up my work contract here in Bogor just before the in-laws arrived for Christmas, and from the day we got back home from sunny Auckland, I’ve been trying to find things to fill that time up. I’ve watched a lot of hockey, granted, but the other thing I’ve started to do is to help out at the kids’ school. It’s a small school, but they do quite a bit of field trips, and I was invited along as a chaperone for LittleB’s class as we took the kids on a tour of Bogor’s botanical gardens, Kebun Raya.

As we were loading into the bus on our way to the gardens, I realized how attached folks here are to the culture of “school uniforms” – despite the permission form specifically allowing kids to wear regular clothes on this field trip, LittleB was the only one to wear “casual” clothes… every other kid had elected to wear their school uniform instead of their regular clothes!

Other than the uniform snafu, the trip went as well and as predictable as one could expect:

  • the kids went crazy and touched every single plant within arm’s reach
  • the loud and rambunctious kids were louder and more rambunctious when given more space to do so
  • quiet and introspective kids can be coerced into being loud and rambunctious with a healthy dose of peer pressure
  • we almost got kicked out of the Orchid house because of an impromptu game of Hide and Seek that had started up
  • cactuses are sharp, and some kids won’t believe it, despite your warnings, until they find out for themselves
  • When kids see a frog orgy, they will ask you to take a picture of the frog orgy, and not stop talking about the frog orgy for days and days
  • irrigation canals are not water slides
  • suspension bridges can be scary when 11 kids are jumping on them simultaneously, actively trying to cause a catastrophic failure
  • museum employees are surly and apathetic here too, it’s apparently not just a north american thing
  • Indonesian museums are “charming-yet-underfunded” at their best, and “an unholy hall of twisted godless terrors, haunting you for eternity with long suffering eyes that will sear into your mind and and manifest themselves as your worst nightmares until the sweet embrace of death finally lifts the curse that has steadfastly followed you for nigh all these years” at their worst
  • expat kids are like catnip to Indonesians, who literally cannot help themselves from either pinching cheeks, or asking you what your name is or where you are from. And then asking you to sing for them, apparently.
  • And, finally, I took a bunch of pictures (including several of the frog orgy)!

-B

Bangka retreat

March was a busy one – hard to find time to write!

I cracked open the month with a quick work retreat to Pangkal Pinang, the capital of Bangka, which is a small island just east of Sumatra. Although we were only there for two nights, we packed in the activities. Our days were filled with retreat sessions but we managed to enjoy a welcome dinner by the pool (with karaoke) and an evening dinner on the beach (…with karaoke). I even managed to get away for lunch with a few colleagues – we were looking for some seafood or perhaps some pork dishes (apparently both items that Bangka is known for), but somehow we ended up with a meal made entirely of different preparations of pork belly. I mean, I like pork belly, in moderation, but not when it is the only dish available… At least the beach views we enjoyed later on made up for it!

Meanwhile, the kids were busy at school with trips and assemblies and plays. And we capped off the month with Grandma’s arrival and a trip to Bali! Coming up next…

Spring cleaning in Indonesia

We have never been the tidiest family, and partly that’s just because we’re not so fussy about it. I guess what I mean is, we do like having our things organized, but we’re too lazy to be bothered to do it. So what I really liked about moving here was that we brought almost nothing with us. Less stuff = less mess. Of course, as the year has passed, we’ve accumulated more things, and we’re starting to reach the saturation point of our storage space. With our relatively careless lifestyle plus no sensible filing system, our things are starting to just kind of pile up on top of surfaces or get mixed together in jumbly drawers.

It’s really starting to get hard to find things. I mean, everyone misplaces their keys or glasses, but normal things are starting to get lost in our stuff sinkhole… for example, all of the scissors, 3/4 of our coasters, the doohickey for the kitchen gadget thingy. Weird stuff.

This makes it sound like our house is some kind of horrible sty. In fact, it’s spotless. Of course, this leads to root of the problem. We employ a lovely lady who helps keep our house clean, but she has zero clue about where things belong. So she does her best to clean up by putting things “away” wherever she can, without any kind of sense. Those receipts we left on the counter? They go into a Ziploc bag, put into the silverware drawer. All of the ipod cords we were using on the bedside table? Put into a folder with some nail clippers and business cards and moved to the bottom shelf of the wardrobe. The lego pieces left on the stairs? They show up a few days later in the cutlery holder of dish rack.

So maybe this is our fault for not having established a filing system for her to follow? Maybe it’s that, bless her, our cleaner just quite literally does not know what some of our things are and can’t figure out the categories of things that go together? I guess I just assumed that anyone, anywhere, would be able to tell “which one of these things doesn’t belong” – but apparently that’s not a universal ability.

This came to a head this week during the great “broken camera saga.” The camera, as previously mentioned, has been in a bag of rice for a while. Well, we wanted to test it again this weekend but could not find the battery anywhere. I swear I put the battery on the desk only the day before, but of course, it was not there when we wanted to use it. I assumed it was in a bag of random items, filed away in a drawer somewhere, so we spent the whole day today unpacking all the drawers and cabinets and re-sorting everything into sensible categories. Still no battery.

It was a good exercise nonetheless, and one that every household needs to do once in a while. It’s a good chance to find things that you’ve been looking for or be reminded of paperwork that needs doing. In our case, we’ve managed to free up a whole box of Ziploc bags! I also managed to throw out a horde of tiny straws that J was saving from her juice boxes. Maybe I should tidy more often…

Tomorrow’s mission is sorting the kids’ toys. Wish me luck!

Enjoy this unrelated photo of a dude holding a row of giant concrete cylinders onto a moving truck by the sheer force of his will:

Am I worse than he is for having taken this photo while driving? Yikes!
Am I worse than he is for having taken this photo while driving? Yikes!

 

 

Cottage & Tea

It’s been a busy couple of weeks!

I had a friend visiting from the UK, mainly for work, but we were able to enjoy a few great nights out during the week. More exciting, we took him up to the “cottage” that my work maintains in the mountains nearby. Ostensibly this is a place where you could hold work retreats and have a bit of isolation, but really I think employees just rent it out for party weekends – which is exactly what we did!

Let’s backtrack a bit, though. Last year, we had a really great masquerade party at the end of our Annual Meeting. During the course of the night, I won the door prize, which turned out to be a free night at the cottage. Until now, we had never been able to find a time to go up, but the certificate was expiring in October, so it was becoming a bit desperate. Luckily, with our friend in town and some other friends interested in joining, it was perfect timing.

We headed up after work on Friday, only getting trapped in about an hour’s worth of traffic. So it only took us 2.5 hours to drive the 25 km to the cottage – a holiday miracle! The cottage is located up in the Puncak area, which is nestled into the side of the local volcano and generally considered vacation country. It is much cooler than the city, and the cottage itself is quite private. Calling it a cottage is not really fair – it’s more like a small mansion, with four bedrooms and a huge living space. There were 7 adults and the 2 kids, and we fit very comfortably. It apparently sleeps 16 if you pull out all the extra bedding and mattresses.

After we arrived, we enjoyed a great evening of drinking and impromptu ukulele karaoke. In the morning, we lounged around and the kids had fun exploring the area. In the afternoon, we took a little hike up the hillside to a nearby tea plantation. The guide said it would be about a 40 minute walk, so we figured that wasn’t a big deal. He neglected to tell us that it was literally 40 minutes up a cliff. It was a bit of a workout! I really shouldn’t have drank that Smirnoff Ice right before we left. Anyway, after braving the rainforest, a few mosquito bites, a couple of leech attacks, some major kid whining and several long rests, we made it to the top. And it was worth it!

The view was a bit cloudy, but it was cool and lovely, with a breeze washing over us. We enjoyed the scenery for a while, took a meander up an old cobblestone path and rescued LittleB when he tripped and gouged his knee skin off on said cobblestone path. We had to peel the skin back and rinse it out with water, bleh. But he’s a trooper.

Soon the rain clouds were threatening so we headed back down. It was a bit slower going with the kids, who tended to build up too much speed and start tumbling, but we made it. We only found one leech on our friend after arriving home, and we blasted that sucker with salt – it was science in action. Afterwards, we took a swim in the still-filling pool, which unfortunately was a bit grimy, but we did find some frog eggs! We kept them in a jar and watched them grow over the weekend. More science in action!

On Sunday, we relaxed and swam some more, in the now-filled-and-cleaned pool. We headed home in the afternoon, again getting stuck in some initial stand-still traffic, but once it got going, we made it home in about 2 hours or so.

Definitely worth it, and I think we’ll be making a regular weekend out of it!

 

Games time!

Just a quick follow-up on our beach weekend a while ago. I left out part of the story in anticipation of this announcement.

On our way home from the beach, we stopped at a board game maker in the area. He has a little shop and hand makes wood and stone games, like dominoes, peg solitaire, scrabble, chess, and many many more. He even custom designs game pieces in stone like settlers of catan. Because you buy these straight from the source, they’re very reasonably priced and great quality.

We stopped in to visit the storefront, where he had lots of games on display. We also got a special tour of the workshop, which was basically just a shanty in the back where a guy was hand shaping gemstones into game pieces. It was a lot of work, and for the prices we paid… he’s definitely being undervalued!

In the end, B and I chose a peg solitaire game and a ludo game (which is like Sorry), plus a second solitaire game that we brought home for our cousins (also why I didn’t mention this before!). Our friend put in an order for a Finnish Scrabble game, and we put in an order for a table version of chess/scrabble. And it just arrived today!

We’re very happy with them, and I think we’ll be playing a bunch of games later tonight! Now to find somewhere to put this giant chess table…

The table in Chess mode
The table in Chess mode
Side detail to see the drawer - there is another drawer on the opposite side as well
Side detail to see the drawer – there is another drawer on the opposite side as well
Top view of Chess
Top view of Chess
Close up on White
Close up on White
Close up on Black
Close up on Black
The board is made of inlaid stone tiles
The board is made of inlaid stone tiles
The table in Scrabble mode
The table in Scrabble mode
Top view of Scrabble
Top view of Scrabble
The board is a mosaic of individual stone tiles. The letter tiles are hand engraved stone
The board is a mosaic of individual stone tiles. The letter tiles are hand engraved stone
Board removed, you can see the two drawers
Board removed, you can see the two drawers
English peg solitaire
English peg solitaire
Detail of game play
Detail of game play
Ludo game. Even the dice is stone.
Ludo game. Even the dice is stone.
Ludo gameplay
Ludo gameplay