Monthly Archives: February 2014

Nusa Lembongan: Another Island Paradise

For the last two nights of our trip in Indonesia, we were scheduled to be on Nusa Lembogan, a small island off the coast of Bali [and a part of Bali]. It is right next to Nusa Penida, another small island. Andrew set this part of the trip up and it was awesome! As you already read, the first day started in Ubud on our rather crazy, hectic, fun scooter adventure around Ubud. When we eventually made it back to Swasti Eco Lodge, we packed up our stuff, checked out, and grabbed our ride to the coast. When we arrived at the ticket office, we talked over our reservations, and then moved to the beach. When the speedboat appeared on the beach, the employees grabbed our bags and loaded them first. Then it was our turn. True to the island life, we took our shoes off, rolled up our pants, and walked through the water to the boat ladder. The boat was small- about 6 or so benches. It was covered on 3 sides with windows. We all sat down and took off. If you’ve never been on a speedboat before, let me tell you, it’s pretty insane. I don’t get motion sickness at all and I love boats, but this ride was crazy. I’m pretty sure I left a dent in the bench back in front of me from squeezing so tightly. The boat “FLEW” over the water, hitting massive waves where water would cover the boat. I don’t think I like riding under the covering of the boat… next time I’ll opt for the open air part. After an hour or so of too much crazy [I think it was actually a 30 minute ride, but felt longer], we pulled up to the coast of a small island. Boats everywhere. It looked awesome. Again the employees carried off our bags and then we followed in suit. We waited a bit until a truck with two long benches in the bed came over. Again we loaded our bags and ourselves up. On this island, there are very VERY few cars/trucks. In fact, I think the one we were on was one of about three. The truck drove us around dropping everyone off here or there on the island. We were the last to be dropped off. We were staying at Alam Nusa Huts and Spa.

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The first night on Nusa, we relaxed. We walked down to the beach [about a 5 minute walk] and enjoyed the sunset. We chatted with the owners of Alam who were so completely friendly and we dined on delicious Indonesian meals and tropical drinks. We also lined up a snorkel trip for the morning. In the morning, we ate breakfast at Alam [can’t get enough of Nasi Goreng!] and then we met up with our boat driver for the snorkel trip. He wasn’t very talkative but apparently knew the folks who owned Alam, so we happily followed along. He took us two different places; one a calmer place for snorkeling and the other on a drift. It was awesome. So many fish and coral. He also brought along bread that he crumbled up and threw in the water to attract the fish– they were everywhere and completely surrounding us. Just an awesomely amazing experience. To top it off, we went in a traditional fishing boat- just the two of us. What an awesome time.

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After the snorkeling trip, we changed our clothes and decided to try another place for lunch that was a few buildings down from where we were staying. Ah island time. We were the only ones in an open-air restaurant that had darts and pool tables. We ordered and were served and then the person working disappeared. As in, we could have gotten up, left, and never returned and no one would have even noticed. It was relaxing and fantastic, but we had sights to see! We paid our bill and then grabbed a scooter to explore the island. We drove all the way to one end and sat amongst mangrove trees, sipping out of a fresh coconut… then we turned around and crossed the bridge between the two parts of the island– only accessible by scooters and walkers. We watched on as workers farmed seaweed [the big economic focus of the island]. We  took pictures of seaweed drying and looked at plots set-up just off the beach using bamboo stakes. We drove by a cemetery where a large platform used for cremations was still smoking from the previous day. We walked through the small road-side shops, talked with locals, and purchased bamboo goods and batik fabrics. We explored every edge of the island under the beautiful sun, shaking our heads and laughing at what an amazingly awesome time we had on the trip. We finished our day with a delicious dinner at Alam. It was starting to sink in that we were leaving. But really, our adventure was just beginning– we were getting ready to fly to San Francisco, California, to embark on an 8-day, 525 mile bike ride from San Francisco to Santa Monica to raise awareness of Arthritis. A bike ride, that we hadn’t even trained for.

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Indonesia is a place of awesome culture and bountiful beauty. It is colorful and vibrant and full of love and passion. I would spend so much more time there if I had the chance. There is so much to see and do. I would recommend it to anyone craving adventure and one hell of a time. Andrew summed it up perfectly– “Never have I felt closer to death… and never have I felt more alive.”

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Until next time, my friends…

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Ubud and Surrounding Areas by Scooter

Our last morning in Ubud, we decided to rent a scooter [I guess getting back from Rinca yesterday made us once again yearn for the air in our faces]. We rented a scooter from our home away from homes, Swasti Eco Lodge. We dawned our helmets and headed out for the open road. We cruised through the city and out into the great unknown– enjoying the temples and rice fields flying by us past scooters weighed down with goods and children hiking to school and women and men working through the day. We road and road, knowing we were on a time schedule, because we had a ferry to catch later on… we were heading to our last portion of the trip, Nusa Lembongan. Sigh. What a trip.

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Cruising along, everything was going well until it wasn’t. One of our tires deflated completely— a flat tire. Something we were used to after getting them in Costa Rica [multiple times]. Such is life I suppose. We pulled over not sure what to do. There was a doctor’s office across the street that Andrew decided to check out. About 10 minutes later, a woman in pink scrubs came out, hopped on a scooter, and rode away. Andrew came over indicating that he had tried to explain in Indonesian [what little we knew] that we had a flight and needed a tow to a shop. The woman returned about 20 minutes later shaking her head– there was no gas station or shop that way. About 5 or so minutes later, a pick up truck pulled up– apparently the nurse’s brother or friend or maybe that was lost in translation and these people didn’t know each other at all. All I know, is that for some sum of money, they offered to tie our bike up in their truck and drive us back to Ubud. Four guys easily lifted the bike and tied it up in the bed. I hopped in the back, Andrew hopped in the front and we took off. A few miles down the road, we did see a mechanic and Andrew said they could leave us there– they asked if we were sure and said that we had paid them more than enough for the ride all the way back to Ubud, but we shook our heads. They had done their deed for the day. We thanked them profusely and they helped us unload our bike and talk to the mechanic. They offered us a seat and some cold water and said it would be about 30 minutes or so. We relaxed and laughed at ourselves– how do we get into these situations? All we knew is that we had to get back and make decent time so we could return the scooter, pack, and catch the ride to the ferry. The mechanic was quick to fix the bike and I think the total was about $5 or so [American]. Andrew paid him more and made a very happy Indonesian friend.

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We made our way back to Ubud and grabbed lunch at a Mexican place that we happen to love– knowing we were really low on petrol, we figured we’d just find some after lunch– there are always stands around. After lunch, we searched and searched but found no petrol. After speaking with a few folks, we learned that Ubud doesn’t really sell petrol because it’s typically tourists who don’t have cars. Lol. Naturally. After much more searching, Andrew found a place at one end of town. Somehow, we managed to get the petrol, put it in the tank, make it back to Swasti, pack-up, check out, and make the bus to the ferry… as they put it, it all works out in the end…

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In Search of the Great Komodo Dragon: Part II

Missed out on Part I of the trip? Check in out here.

Arriving on Rinca Island is like arriving on a deserted island. The boat pulls up and the boatmen secure it to the single small dock jutting out into the water. A park ranger or two stands at the end of the dock with a large stick [for scaring snakes and other animals, we find out later]. One of the park rangers welcomes us to the island and walks along with us to the entrance way. We had arrived. Komodo National Park. Awesome. Just Awesome.

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When you arrive, you are shown a map and asked how long of a loop/walk you want to do– we of course, selected the longest walk. Literally about 2 minutes into leaving the sign, we saw a baby Komodo dragon. SO AWESOME. We also saw a group of Komodos hanging out in the shade under the “kitchen building”. Apparently they hang out there because it smells good and is cooler. Sometimes, they will wander into the kitchen itself to check things out. See how massive they are? Some of them get up to 300 pounds!!!

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On our hike through the hot woods and open to sunlight route, we saw monkeys, jungle turkeys, bees [literally a SWARM], and komodo dragons [including some protecting nests– two females] as well as giant ox. We learned that the komodo dragons have poison in their saliva. One adult komodo dragon will attack an ox and bite it once and then leave. The ox will slowly die– it will be unable to move and over the course of perhaps a week, it will lose its life. Once it dies, a pack of komodo dragons will come out and consume the ox. We did see an ox that had been bitten a few days prior. It was really sad because the ox couldn’t move at all– it was stuck in a mud pit. Circle of life, I suppose. The hike was phenomenal and seeing so many komodo dragons in their natural habitat was a true dream come true. We snagged a patch from the little store on our way out so that we could add it to our collection. This was a trip that I will never EVER forget.

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After our time on Rinca, we took a small snorkel off the island– most of the coral was dead from dynamite fishing and a number of other factors… but there were still a lot of fish and it felt great to get in the water. We then re-boarded for dinner and beer as we made our way over to another mangrove island to “see some bats” as our guide told us. We said, sure of course, we like bats. We parked our boat a bit off the island and saw a gorgeous sunset. There were a few other boats around us and we laughed to ourselves about the bats we were about to see– wondering why folks seemed to make a big deal out of some bats. A little while later, right as the sun went down, we saw a few bats take off from the mangrove island. Within about 5 minutes, there were literally THOUSANDS of bats taking flight from the island. The guys on our boat explained that they do this every day– going to search for food. The endless stream of bats must have lasted more than a half hour. We took as many photos as we can even though lightening and the fast beating of wings didn’t help. After a truly phenomenal show, we retired to our beds to get some sleep.

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In the morning, we ate breakfast before hopping back into the water for some more snorkeling. After what seemed 30 seconds [really over an hour], we hopped back on boat and packed up our goodies– heading back to the airport for our flight back to Bali. We arrived at the airport and the security line consisted of 3 woman asking us to put our bags on a belt, while they stared at their phones. We walked through the door frame, picked up our bags on the other side, and waited for our plane. We were delayed but eventually boarded and made our way back to Denpasar and Ubud. This trip was absolutely indescribable. It was crazy. It was awesome. It was a whirlwind. We spent a decent chunk of money on the trip, but the fact that we were by ourselves and we crammed in so many awesome things made it worth it 10 times over. If we had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

 

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In Search of the Great Komodo Dragon: Part I

I’ve always loved lizards. In fact, I currently have a bearded dragon, named Roxy, and two leopard geckos: Mac & Cheese. I have always been fascinated by Komodo Dragons- giant, massive lizards that are bigger than dogs. If there are two animals that I want to have the pleasure of seeing in the wild it is the Manatee and of course, the Komodo Dragon. Hands down, one of the coolest animals ever. That’s why, when Andrew mentioned that he was going to be heading to Indonesia for work and that perhaps we could spend some time traveling in Bali, I immediately started to my plans into action. You see, Komodo Dragons are only known to live in the wild [and thrive] on some of these small/tiny islands of Indonesia. They are protected by law. I HAD TO SEE THEM! So, after lots of planning and hoping that we weren’t getting ourselves into a messy situation where someone would run off with our money, we packed our bags and headed out of Ubud for Denpasar. We had scheduled a flight from Denpasar to Labuan Bajo, Flores… an island a few to the east of Bali. Setting up the flight Flores was rather random to say the least. I had read on a few sites about two airlines that fly there once or more times per day depending on the season. After an email to an airline “TransNusa”, we received a response letting us know that there were two seats available and a price total for the seats. I knew I wanted to go and see these dragons, so I held my breath and told Andrew, I was paying. We received an email stating that our seats were confirmed.

I had also researched a number of tours and trips that groups offered once in Flores to go see the Komodo Dragons. Many of them offered week-long excursions or more. I was looking for a simple 2 day, 1 night deal. This limited my options, but I was able to find a tour group that I had read a bunch about claiming that it was a reputable group and that the guy in charge was fantastic. I emailed him and let him know we had flights and asked for his availability. He confirmed and that was that. We took off from Denpasar in a tiny plain, excited for the next adventure. We arrived in Labuan Bajo, Flores in the late morning. The landing strip [yes just one] was rocky and muddy. We disembarked and walked into a one-room airport waiting room. Our luggage was handed over and we went outside to wait. The airport was indeed a single small building with a dirt parking lot immediately next to it. No security here— cars and trucks drive up, drop off, park, hang out, etc. We waited for an hour or so, turning down many people who were offering tours, and then called the number for the contact group. Andrew spoke with the man who told us that the driver was on the way. We waited again for about an hour or so until an SUV pulled up and out hops a guy, no boy, who is about 14 [maybe?]. He introduces himself and lets us know that he will be our guide for the trip. We’re wondering where our guide is [the man who we’ve been talking to all along], but we don’t ask questions.

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The driver as it turns out is Jeffrey Buana’s brother [Jeffrey is the tour group’s main contact and owner– Putri Komodo Tours]. Anyway, we drive in the car for a bit before our guide lets us know that we’ll first go by a limestone cave for a tour and that the cost is $2 a person or something equally low. We nod and ride along thinking that wasn’t part of the outline, what are we doing and what are we getting ourselves into? At the caves, we met a boy who was perhaps 12. He gave us hard hats and flash lights and took us on a short hike and into a giant limestone cave. I have to admit, the cave was pretty awesome. We saw all sorts of fossils and a cave spider [nasty], and other cool sights…. including some crawling. We learned that the boy who was our guide was going to tourism school and that they learned English and how to give tours, as well as other business skills. Pretty cool.

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After the cave tour, our guide took us by a grocery story to buy beer and then to a snorkel shop to pick up snorkel gear. Finally, we arrived down by the docks and saw our home away from home for the night- a tiny boat that looked pretty awesome. We hopped on board and they showed us to our cabin- one of two on the ship that had a set of bunk beds. They showed us the restroom and then encouraged us to sit and relax. I think were 5 of us in total on the boat- Andrew and I, our guide, and then our captain and cook. They served us fresh fruit and snacks and gave us juice and water. We took off into the water– headed for Rinca Island… home of Komodo Dragon National Park. The trip to the island was awesome. The water was GORGEOUS. We were even allowed to climb up the mast and sit on the top “deck” of the boat. It was perfect and lacking security and so so perfect :0).

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and on to part II…

 

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Sunrise Trek Up Mount Batur

Well, we had originally planned on hiking up Mount Agung [where the gods live], however there was a private burial occurring and as such, hikers were not allowed up there the day we planned, so instead, Swasti suggested we do a sunrise hike up Mount Batur- it was a bit easier they said and we could leave at 3AM instead of Midnight [the time you had to leave to get up Mount Agung to see the sunrise]. In retrospect- Oh my god. I am so GLAD we did NOT hike Mount Agung…. especially if Mount Batur was “easier”. Mount Batur was like straight up a volcano. It was crazy– but a lot of fun and I’m glad we did it! A Swasti guard on duty overnight packed us breakfast sandwiches in the morning and sent us on our way. We were picked up at Swasti around 3AM or so. We picked up two other folks on the way. We drove for about an hour and then arrived in a parking lot that was pretty packed with other people waiting to hike. As it turns out, the hike up Mount Batur is basically a never-ending chain of groups working their way up the volcano by flashlight. Your guide carries water and breakfast/snacks with him. We made our way up the volcano– admittedly, slower than I probably would have liked, but I was out of breath most of the way up so really I’m just glad we made it up. We did- made it in time to sit for a few before the sunrise began and was it ever worth it. There was also a woman up there in a little shed who was selling coffee and food– apparently she hikes up every morning with everything- water, coffee, and all other supplies… just to try and sell to the people who come for the sunrise. As we sat taking pictures of the beauty before us, naturally a few curious monkeys came along out of nowhere. They ended up with one of our eggs and some toast. Pesky little things. As far as recommended tour guides for the trek- really any will do… you can typically just line them up through your hotel/eco-lodge, etc. We set ours up the day before. Easy peasy.

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On the way back to Swasti from the sunrise trek, we stopped by a tea and coffee plantation for tastings and we bought some coffee for the road. Yum! The best part was we still had the afternoon in Ubud to relax. The next morning we were heading out yet again– but this time to a different island for an overnight- 1 night, 2 day excursion- mostly built around seeing Komodo Dragons in the wild [they’re my favorite besides Manatees]! Anyway we walked into town again and relaxed– found a place to grab some lunch and it was so awesome. We were sitting outside in gorgeous weather and right next door is a rice field. How cool is that? I told you they put rice fields everywhere they can! I had a traditional Balinese dish with yellow rice, chicken, and veggies, while Andrew opted for the pizza. We also dined on pretty heavenly drinks, including passionfruit mojitos and lemongrass jubilees. For a country that’s not big on drinking, they sure do have some amazing drinks!

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Before we depart from this post, we wanted to share some pictures of Swasti Eco Lodge, our home base in Ubud. Delightfully wonderful place hidden away just outside of town. It was perfect.

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