Great Canadia 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.

 

Gong xi fa cai, Kuala Lumpur

We were lucky to get two New Year’s trips this year! After coming home from our trip to the Rocky mountains, we had a long weekend vacation in Malaysia for the Chinese New Year celebrations. It was lovely – turns out we really like Malaysia. What a beautiful place! The people are friendly, the food is great, it’s easy to get around. Jakarta, please take note.

We only had a few days there, so we had to pack it all in.

Day 1: arrive on in the afternoon, tour the aquarium, buy groceries, check into apartment, go swimming, listen to fireworks, watch weird Chinese movies all night. Check!

Day 2: Tour to the Batu caves, colonial ruins & monkey park, century-old fishing village, evening boat trip to see mangroves and fireflies. Check!

Day 3: Water park, science center, ice cream lunch, wandering around. Check!

Day 4: Pack up and visit the Chinese flea market before hopping the train and plane home. Check!

Here’s a whirlwind photo tour:

Flores fun – part 5: water, water everywhere

Later on in the afternoon (after we visited the waterfall), three of us went for a drive around the edge of the lake. It was a great sightseeing trip, although the roads were pretty rough. And by rough I mean the rockiest, skinniest, most unsafe donkey trails you can imagine. Around the far side of the lake, we stopped to visit a little rock island accessible only by hiking down a steep hill and across a VERY sketchy “bridge” made of rotting bamboo. I almost didn’t make it. But once across, we could see the beautiful green of the lake, as well as our own campground on the other side of the water.

Next we stopped at “coconut village” (comprising two houses and some coconut trees) to have a fresh coconut drink. It wasn’t much to write home about. I’ve had fresher coconuts. But it was a neat little stop and I was happy to support the family business. LittleB was most keen on the litter of puppies they had out back, and couldn’t care less about the guy climbing 20 m up a tree to get us a snack.

Our last stop of the trip was at the local hot springs. If you can call them that. Having seen our share of amazing geysers and thermal pools before, this pathetic trickle of water falling into a pool of garbage was pretty underwhelming. But at least we enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the beach. And it was nice to see that the locals were well sustained by this little bit of geothermal magic, using it for the cooking and cleaning ease that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

For our final day in Flores, we packed up and took off to see another waterfall on the way back to town. These falls were a bit of a further hike and more secluded, but they promised nicer views and privacy.

The drive took us down some narrow cliffs and into a dry, sunny valley. We stopped to register at the park desk and pick up a little old man guide, then we parked our truck at the top of a forested hill. With swimsuits and lunch in tow, we headed down towards the valley floor.

The walk was steep in places, and very rough on J. She spent most of it crying and balking at the big steps. It took major persuading and negotiating to get her down the whole way. Also, our (barefoot) guide managed to cut his foot and was leaving a blood trail the whole way along the path. Needless to say, it was not a peaceful, one-with-nature kind of trek, and we were aching for a beer and some rest by the time we emerged at the base of the falls.

The falls were cut into a huge rockface, carving their way out of a cavern and along a cliffside. The only way to see the falls was to swim about 50 meters along the trench and squeeze through a small opening into the cavern.

The water was cool and pleasant, and there were ledges along the way where we could easily rest our tired kids. Soon we made it to the cave opening. Two adults went first, to make sure it was safe for the rest of us. We had to pass through a small opening guarded by a bunch of spiders, but it was worth it. The space seemed to have been carved over thousands of years and thousands of liters of water, swirling away a small domed cavern in the rock. The water was thunderous and strong, but the bottom was shallow enough to stand in places.

 

After our swim, the sky was starting to darken, so we hurried up to the truck. Thankfully J had a much easier time going up than down, and we were quick to make it back to the top. Unfortunately, the rain was close behind us, and we made it into the cab just as the clouds opened up. It poured so hard that the dirt road back to the park entrance turned into a river, and the truck was fishtailing the whole way up. I was pretty sure we were going to fly off the cliff edge on the side of the road, but we made it. We stopped for a few minutes at the park building to decide what to do, and to mourn for all of our things getting totally soaked in the back of the pickup truck. We decided to skip the planned final stop at another viewpoint/village, and return to the big city where we had booked a hotel for the night.

We made it there in time for a last beautiful sunset as the rain cleared, with enough time for warm showers, a chance to hang all our clothes around the room to dry, and to enjoy a few evening beers before bed and back to Jakarta in the morning.

Thanks for the visit and memories!

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!

 

From the archives: Cottage trip no. 2

Playing catch-up on some old topics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Koh Lanta part 2 – Elephants etc.

Whew, the last weeks have been crazy: moving house, new school and neighborhood, overnight shifts at work… So, where did we leave off?

After the first couple of days in our villa, we decided to book a tour down the south of island. What seems like the number one thing to do in Thailand? Ride an elephant! We found a local travel agent and booked an afternoon trip to an elephant park, followed by a few hours to while away in the national park beach.

When we arrived at the elephant park…. well, we shouldn’t have been surprised at this, but it was a bit underwhelming. As it turned out, our “exotic elephant ride through the jungle” was about a 30-minute wander through a rubber plantation next to the highway. And we rode on benches strapped to the elephants’ shoulders rather than having direct body contact. It also would have been a nicer time if our guides hadn’t chattered away at each other in Thai the whole way. Anyway, it was a pretty obvious tourist trap, but the kids were totally oblivious to it – they thought it was fantastic, and I suppose that was the point!

After the ride, we got to feed the elephants some pineapples – tops and all.

Then the tour guide brought us to a secluded beach on the south tip of the island, where we we had the run of the place. There were barely any other people, the water was clear and calm, the sand was soft and clean. It was a perfect afternoon!

As it turned out, it was lucky we did the tour when we did, because the rest of our trip was rained out. We spent the last three days holed up in our villa, eating weird snacks from the 7-11 and watching our way through the DVDs in the house. We ventured out a couple of times, taking a quick trip “downtown” to go shopping: that was a bust, since downtown was just a strip of closed restaurants and a handful of souvenir shops, and an overgrown driving range. One night we found an English-style pub and enjoyed a few beers and baked potatoes. B found a store selling tiny NHL mugs from 1994 and couldn’t have been happier. So our only souvenir from Thailand is a 20-year-old Ottawa Senators shot glass mug. We also managed a final afternoon on the local beach, playing with hermit crabs and finding pretty shells to bring home.

Too soon it was time to head home – We had a house to move and all sorts of crazy things to sort out. More on that next time!

 

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!

 

New Zealand Part 5 – Whitianga Coast

We spent our last few days hanging around the Coromandel peninsula. This is lovely part of New Zealand, just northeast of Auckland. It’s a beach area, and has a friendly, hippy vibe.

The drive from Matamata to Whitianga was beautiful, but admittedly a bit nerve-wracking. At first we headed up the east coast, but we were told by some old-timers at a cafe stop that the way we were going would be too busy – we should cross over and head up the west coast to avoid all the traffic. Now, putting things in perspective, I don’t think those old folks have any idea what real traffic is like… we live in Jakarta. We see traffic every day that I think would give those dudes a heart attack. Anyway, we believed them and crossed to the other side. We saw about 100 cars over the course of the day.. and that was high season traffic!

As it turns out, we followed a coastal road that was about the width of 1.5 cars, which hugged the cliffside the whole way. And apparently NZ doesn’t believe in guard rails or fencing. And we were on the outside. I was pretty sure we were going to jump the edge and plummet to our firey deaths for most of the way. I gripped our map to death. But we stopped at all the beaches and lookouts, and saw some of the prettiest landscapes I think I’ve ever seen. So the risk to our lives was worth it!

In Whitianga proper, we rented a beach house and hung around the town for a few days. There were a few little shops and cafes, but in general the options a bit lower-quality than we were hoping for. The best store they had specialized in imported items from Indonesia – ironic. Especially because B and I have been trying to buy local art. So we didn’t get anything there! Luckily on our last day in town, we found a fantastic brew house with some local beers and delicious English-style dinners. Chalk up another “best meal ever” to our trip list!

One of the highlights of the Whitianga area is the hot water beach. This is a section of the coast where a hot spring feeds into the water, so you can go at low tide and dig yourself a little hole in the sand, which will fill up with hot spring water! When we arrived, there was a bit of a frenzy, and of course none of us really knew what we were doing. We dug two or three holes but only managed to get cold water. After a while, we managed to steal away another group’s existing hole when they left and had a quick soak. It wasn’t quite as relaxing as we had hoped, but at least we can say we did it! Unfortunately, on the same visit to the beach, B decided he wanted to film himself wave jumping, but the ocean decided to steal his glasses as payment. So he spent the rest of our trip squinting.

The days passed too quickly, and soon it was time to go. We only had one day left before our return home, and we had a long drive to do, with a stop at an underground glow worm cave! Coming up next…

O Canada: part six – Beaches

There are many wonderful beaches in the Cheticamp area. Cheticamp beach itself is a lovely sandy/rocky coast that is sheltered from the open water. It has a sand bar close to shore which makes it easy to walk out quite far, even with the kids. There are sometimes jellyfish, but we were lucky to avoid them all this year. It’s close to town, so we spent several lovely afternoons enjoying the sun and warm water – well, warm for the north Atlantic at about 20 degrees or so (celsius).

We also took a special trip over to the western coast of Cape Breton to visit Black Brook beach. This is another little sheltered bay where a waterfall/brook meets the ocean. The waves were perfect – not too big, not too small. And there was a great rock cliff to climb and look out over the beach. We whiled away the afternoon jumping in waves, building castles, and hunting lobsters (but not catching them!). It was lovely.

Beach Weekend

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

Going

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staying

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

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

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

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

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

Playing

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

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

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

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

Here is videographic evidence of such a wave:

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

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

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

Returning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carnival and turtles

We have been very busy lately. B has started work here, which means our days are a bit more hectic. After our Krakatoa trip, we were all a bit under the weather. And then I was away last weekend again. So I hope this coming weekend will be a relaxing one.

In the meantime, we’ve had a few exciting events around here. Last week, the school had a “Swimming Carnival” and LittleB did really well. He won three 2nd-place ribbons and his house team won the whole championship. It was a fun morning!

Ready to take off with his noodle
Ready to take off with his noodle
Swim faster!
Swim faster!
It's a close race!
It’s a close race!
He makes it to the finish line!
He makes it to the finish line!
Ribbon awarded
Ribbon awarded
Now for some fun tube games
Now for some fun tube games

Then, last weekend, I went with some colleagues to an island off the coast to take my open water diving test. It was a success! We did four dives, and saw lots of great fish and several sea turtles! I think if you are going to learn how to dive, it makes sense to do it somewhere beautiful like Indonesia.

Sri Lanka part 1 – the beach

We arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, after a very early morning flight out of Jakarta. Our driver picked us up and took us about 2 hours down the coast to a beach town called Bentota. It was beautiful.

The place we stayed at was more like a bed & breakfast than a hotel and was thus much more relaxing and comfortable. We had a lovely suite overlooking the backyard pool and forest across the horizon. We enjoyed wonderful home-cooked food that evening, as well as a delicious Sri Lankan traditional breakfast the next morning – after waking up to the sounds of rainforest birds and cooing doves. I recorded it for you (close your eyes for full effect):

On our second day, we decided to go into town and visit the famous “Monday Market”. We also needed to try and change some money — FYI, don’t bring Indonesian Rupiah to Sri Lanka, because no one will change it for you. They will just laugh and ask you to leave.

The market was a bit smaller than we expected, but it was still nice to see all the products for sale. We bought a few man-sarongs for B and some yummy mangosteens. Then the afternoon was beach day!

We walked up to the beach from the hotel and spent the rest of the day playing in the ocean and sand. We have never seen such a nice beach. Miles and miles of beautiful sand and warm, blue water. The undertow was a bit rough, but it was still great.

That evening, we visited a turtle hatchery and got to release the babies into the ocean. They were adorable, swimming out into the waves. A few kept rolling back to shore and we had to start them over. Hopefully they made it… Either way, in my opinion, this was probably the highlight of our trip! There’s nothing better than holding a handful of turtles to make your year!

 

The next day, we were picked up by our safari guide in his awesome 4×4 jeep, and we headed away from the beach for our safari days. Those are coming up next!

Swimming and fun

Lately we’ve been enjoying what I assume is Spring here. The rainy season seems to have ebbed, and the sky has been clear and blue every day (except for the 10 or hours when it rains in the evening and night, of course). We can finally see the full ring of mountains that surround the city, and they’re beautiful.

Of course, beautiful days mean more swimming. And spring days mean more birthday parties. Around here, we combine the two!

Jumping in
Jumping in
Swim kids
Swim kids
On the flutterboard
On the flutterboard
Enjoying the shallow edge
Enjoying the shallow edge
Martial arts underwater
Martial arts underwater
This is me at the end of a cannonball jump
This is me at the end of a cannonball jump
J's first fully-submerged jump!
J’s first fully-submerged jump!
Friend's 4th birthday party
Friend’s 4th birthday party
She had My Little Pony cupcakes
She had My Little Pony cupcakes
I think J ate about 4 of them. But if she only eats the icing, does it still count?
I think J ate about 4 of them. But if she only eats the icing, does it still count?
The whole gang
The whole gang
J's friends and the birthday girl
J’s friends and the birthday girl
Cupcake mustache!
Cupcake mustache!