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.

Flores fun – part 3: underwater world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flores fun – part 1: island adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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