Indonesia

Tanjung Puting National Park: Borneo, Indonesia

One of the last times we went to Indonesia, we took the opportunity to travel over to Kalimantan (north of Java) to visit Tanjung Puting National Park. First, here’s the flight path we took from Jakarta to Pangkalanbuun Iskandar:

I’ll reserve another post to talk about flying over to Kalimantan. It was an experience in itself that involved walking down a highway outside of Jakarta, getting a free taxi ride, and a tiny airplane. ūüôā

Tanjung Puting National Park. The park was originally designated as a game reserve in 1935. It wasn’t until 1982 when the national park was established and even since then it has had questionable protection mostly due to Palm Oil plantation in the surrounding lands (deforested areas). Nonetheless, it does remain wild and natural. The park consists of over 1100 square miles of area including the rivers that weave their way through the park before flowing into the Java Sea. Tanjung Puting is filled to the brim with wildlife, including multiple species of monkeys, gators, and a multitude of birds. It is most well known, however, for its Orangutans, made famous by a rehabilitation center at Camp Leakey. The orangutans, displaced mostly by the palm oil expansion (through deforestation), are nursed back to health and taught how to function as wild Orangs, before they are gradually re-released into the wild.

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Wildlife of Tanjung Puting

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Wildlife of Tanjung Puting

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Wildlife of Tanjung Puting

 

When you go to visit Tanjung Puting, you need to have a hired guide. This guide typically includes a boat (the only real way to explore the park). There are a multitude of services online that offer tours of the park for varying lengths of time. I must have spent weeks/months scouring through different tour services that sort of seemed sketchy or seemed really sketchy. After a multitude of emails back and forth with different options, I finally gave in and just booked with a company that would allow us to do a 2n/3d trip into the park. We were set to meet them at the airport and go from there.

Our boat was a traditional Indonesian boat similar to the boat we took in Flores to Komodo National Park, just a bit bigger. Our “area” was the top floor of the boat where there was a bed and mosquito net, a table with chairs, and some lounge chairs out on the deck. The bathroom was a flush toilet on the first floor– where the contents are flushed to is another story and a another mystery for another day. We met our crew and spoke with the tour operator- a woman and her husband run the business. Our tour guide for the trip was a young guy, maybe 18. He showed us around helped us get comfortable.

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Welcome Sign: Tanjung Puting

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Tanjung Puting National Park

 

For the next 3 days, we were immersed in the park and all it had to offer. Our tour guide talked to us about the difficulties of finding jobs in the local economy; trying to choose between acting as a tour guide in the part (few jobs) versus perhaps getting a better paying job in one of the palm oil plantations that were encroaching on the park. Our tour guide’s family was in the Orangutan business, so our tour guide was too. He worked at Camp Leakey, rehabilitating Orangs… bottle feeding them, rocking them, teaching them to look for food, and eventually helping to release them into the forest. Once Orangs are released, they work their way from platform station to platform station… working their way deeper into the forest.

We spent our days traveling to three platforms. The boat would dock and we would hike into the woods where some make-shift wooden benches were set-up for viewers. There were quite a few boats out on the river during our time in the park, but we never felt crowded. We were in our little oasis, taking pictures of monkeys and trees and birds. The forest was HOT. We were sweaty after only short hikes out to the platforms. We waited with baited breath while the park rangers brought out bananas and coconuts and called for the Orangs. As a part of the rehabilitation process, the Orangs are given varying amounts of food to help supplement their normal wild foraging. We held our breaths while Orang after Orang- moms, babies, and dads came out of nowhere. They walked right next to us, they swung from branches and limbs, they climbed trees, they sat on the platforms, and they ate. It was awesome!

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Male Orangutan

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Drinking some coconut milk

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Kissy Faces

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Just hanging out

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Nom Nom Nom

 

After each platform feeding time, we made our way back to our boat where our cook and guide set out cold drinks and snacks to re-energize us. We ate our meals in the wilds of Tanjung Puting National Park, on a small boat, surrounded by wildlife. At night, the boat was tied up anywhere along the river– wherever there was a spot and a tree to tie up to… we watched the stars and reflected on how fortunate we were to be able to be in that moment. We slept on the little mattress on the top deck, covered in a mosquito net, but open air. It was hot and we sweat through the night but it was so so worth it. If you ever get the chance, you should go. Just go and see what the big deal is… it changes your life.

When we eventually left the national park, three days later, we were in awe. We had seen and experienced so much. We reminisced about the previous day, when we had a Orang walk right past us on the trail. Then, when we were getting back on the boat, we snapped photo after photo of Orangs hanging on the docs and one Orang in particular that seemed to be playing with one of our crew. The Indonesian word for Orangutan is pronounced- “Oh-wrong-hoo-tahn” which means people of the forest. Indeed they are, indeed they are…

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Monkey in Tanjung Puting

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Monkey Species #2 in Tanjung Puting

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Monkey species #3 with baby

 

I remember reading Trip Advisor reviews of trips into the park much later, after we had returned to the states. I laughed and shook my head at people who left reviews like, “well the wine selection was mediocre at best on our boat”… honestly, if you are traveling to Tanjung Puting and your concern and thoughts are based on the wine selection, do me a favor, and don’t go. Stay at home, go out for an expensive bottle of wine in some stupid fancy restaurant. Leave the wilds of Indonesia and the graces of Orangutans to the people seeking adventure, to become one with nature, to be present in the wilds of the national park, and to¬†experience Orangutans for what they are- people of the forest. A trip to Tanjung Puting National Park will change your life. You will understand just how small you are in this huge, huge world. It is a place for contemplation, reflection, and appreciation. If you are a wild one at heart, then please, please go to Tanjung Puting National Park. Go, experience the world and the pure awesomeness that the park emanates. If you want wine and creature comforts, stay at home, read this blog post, and take a look at the pictures of the Orangs. You have no place in the wild.

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Just two buddies hanging out in a tree

 

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Jakarta (Harris Suites and FX Sudirman Mall)

As mentioned in a¬†previous post, our taxi ride was about 40 minutes from the International Airport near Jakarta (Soekarno-Hatta International Airport) to our hotel. Because we were in Indonesia for Andrew’s work, we went with a centrally-located hotel that he has stayed in before (and that was recommended by his coworkers). The hotel is called the Harris Suites-Sudirman.¬†

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The Harris Suites-Sudirman hotel is actually located on top of a large Mall (FX Mall). Many of the hotels downtown are similarly set-up. The staff at the Harris Suites speak English and are especially friendly and accommodating! If you are going to arrive late (which we did), it’s good to give them a heads up ahead of time… we simply emailed before left the U.S. to let them know that our flight was getting in late and we’d arrive about an hour after that… We actually had two sets of reservations at the Harris Suites on this trip because we were spending the first weekend in Singapore. So, we arrived on a Wednesday night and checked into our room; we were placed on the 9th floor (the hotel has about 59 floors). The room was nice and clean. If you are used to large hotel rooms in the U.S. or other parts of the world, you should know that not all hotel rooms are the same everywhere. Our room for the first few nights was big enough to house a bathroom, a mini fridge and snack counter, a tv with a desk, and a bed. It wasn’t gigantic, but it served our purposes and was all we needed. Perhaps my favorite part of the rooms at Harris Suites are the gigantic floor to ceiling windows. Just beautiful; great views of the downtown business district.

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Wednesday Evening – Friday Evening we spent at the Harris Suites. In the mornings, Andrew and I would head down to the Mall and grab coffee and a muffin for breakfast at one of the maybe only two places open at that time of day (around 8AM); Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (Crazy, right?!?). We found the prices there to be comparable to what you would spend in the U.S. (ie, about $14US for two muffins, heated, 1 iced coffee and 1 iced latte). *Note- Harris Suites – Sudirman does not have its own restaurant* Andrew would then head off to work and I would return to the hotel room for a day of work myself. The Harris Suites offers free wifi and it works really well! I had no problems connecting to my VPN or accessing my files through the cloud. I typically didn’t eat lunch on these few days; I was wrapped up in work and the muffin was pretty filling. Also, after the first day, we stopped by the small store downstairs in the mall to purchase some water and snacks- so I was set.

When we were going to fly to Singapore for the weekend (before returning to the Harris Suites on Sunday night for a week again), the front desk gladly let us store bags for no cost (they gave us tags to turn in upon return). This was fantastic, because we really didn’t need all of our bags while we were gone. Additionally, the taxis at FX Sudirman are available 24/7 so there was no need to reserve one ahead of time; we did however, let the front desk know and they offered to give us a wake-up call and made sure a taxi was pulled up front and ready for us.

When we returned to Harris Suites after our weekend away, we actually requested a room on a higher floor. We were given a room on the 57th floor. The room was much larger than our first room with an additional big comfy chair and open space. The rooms ended up being about the same price despite the size difference (around $84/night). Here’s a picture that looked similar to the room we were in for the second part of the stay:

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Request a room on a higher floor for more space. [Credit]

The Harris Suites also have a fitness center, a tennis court, and a swimming pool available to all guests:

Harris Suites features a tennis court, a swimming pool, and a fitness center for guests. [Credit]

Harris Suites features a tennis court, a swimming pool, and a fitness center for guests. [Credit]

Something else interesting about hotels in Indonesia and other parts of the world (ie, that you don’t see in the United States) is how the electricity works in the rooms. When you enter your room [using a key card], you place the key card in a slot on the wall and turns on the power to the room. This means that you can’t ignorantly leave the lights, TV, and a/c on while you are gone. Likewise, this means your room is hot if you aren’t there all day :0). When you leave the room and remove your key card, the power will shut off. Pretty cool feature if you ask me.

To touch base on the Mall again- I’ll write gain in a later post about the restaurants and amenities in the Mall, but for now I will show you these pictures of the inside of the mall. It isn’t very many malls that you can find a giant slide… yes that is a gigantic slide that children (and I’m assuming adults) can purchase a slide in… pretty awesome!

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In addition to the slide and the food, the mall also contained two pharmacies, a small store, restrooms, some clothing stores, and an abundance of ATMs. One thing of note that I mentioned in a previous post as well– know how much money you need because if for some reason, you need a large amount of cash- we have found that there is a max on how much you can take out of the ATM (typically around $100 US) at a time and on how many times you can take money out of the ATMs per day.

Useful References/Websites:

1. Harris Suites (Website): This is the direct link to the hotel’s webpage where you can look up more information on the amenities, rooms, availabilities, prices, location, etc. It is in English. Note that Harris Suites are found in many locations other than Jakarta as well!

2. FX Surdiman Mall (Website): This provides a link to the mall that was underneath the Harris Suites in Jakarta. You can look up stores and restaurants on each of the floors and get other helpful information. It is in English.

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Indonesia- Know Before You Go: Temperature and Clothing

 

Ahh Indonesia. Great weather. If you like it hot. and humid. :0) As you can see in the above world temp map, Indonesia is in a hotter portion of the world. Indonesia sees at a maximum, a change in daylight of about 48 minutes between its longest and shortest days; equating to an awesome year-round growing season with temperatures that are pretty constant throughout the year. To give you an idea of heat and humidity, when we were in Jakarta in May, it was typically between 80-90 degrees. The kicker was the 95% humidity (feels like 104 degrees when 85 out). In Borneo in May it was 91 degrees with 97% humidity (feels like 133 degrees). Check out this handy dandy heat index calculator if you want to see what it will actually feel like where you are going based on the temperature and humidity.

Because of the heat, it is important to pack accordingly. However, you also have to be mindful of what you are wearing. While many tourists traveling to “hot” places typically get giddy and roll out the booty shorts, tanks and strapless tops, flip flops, and board shorts, if you want to stand out less and show that you’ve actually done some research and respect the people you around, do yourself a favor and leave he see-through (albeit, much cooler) tops at home. Ditch the booty shorts. Stow the flip flops for Kuta.

In Jakarta, the majority of the population is Muslim. They pray multiple times a day and you can hear loud speakers blasting prayers at different times throughout the day. While many women still wear the traditional hijab (see photo at right), in this more modern day, a lot of women have put aside the hijab. Regardless, the majority of women in Jakarta wear shirts with sleeves that are not low-cut and shorts/skirts/pants/dresses that go past the knee. While you may see some women defying the “norm” in short-shorts or spaghetti straps, these women stand out completely. Do yourself a favor and get some linen pants or some leggings for under that dress. Additionally, I wore simple sandals- not much more than flip flops, but they had straps around the heel and looked a bit more dressy. Trust me you’ll be more comfortable- especially if you try your luck at walking around the city. You may not always find 100% perfectly maintained sidewalks.

While we were in Jakarta, I frequently wore jeans that I rolled once or twice at the bottom to let some air flow up my legs with a pair of a sandals, a short sleeved-shirt and a button down 3/4 length sleeve shirt over the short-sleeved shirt (unbuttoned). I also brought a light weight halter dress (not a vneck but a straight across dress) that I wore leggings and a light weight shirt over so my shoulders were covered.

As for the men, similar dressing/clothing means apply. Don’t wear booty shorts or see-through shirts or tank tops or flip flops. Stick to pants and polos or t-shirts or light button downs. Sneakers or comfortable shoes are preferable to flip flops. For work, Andrew typically wore khakis, shoes (think work shoes but not polished shiny ones– more comfortable Toms work shoes), and a button down.

The biggest thing that you’ll notice is that locals don’t sweat nearly as much as you do. They are used to the weather or were somehow graced with non-sweating genes. They can wear layers or long-sleeves and look like they’re relaxing in the air conditioning… I on the other hand tended to look like a drown rat after 10 minutes outside :0).

In Bali, things are a bit more flexible because of it being a major tourism location, combined with the fact that most people in Bali are Buddhist and thus you more rarely see the hijab. While in areas like Kuta, Lovina, and Ubud, you’ll find tourists wearing the whole gamut of clothing from pants to bathing suits, remember that rule #2 of traveling (at least in my book) is to always do your research and dress respectfully; even though you may still completely standout, it will look like you care and locals will appreciate it.

A note on Bali temperatures/weather: while it is still warm and humid (80 to 90 degrees most days), if you travel to the mountains, you will find it to be A LOT cooler. When we traveled to Bali, we made sure to pack a sweatshirt or warmer long-sleeved shirt for mountain travels.

A second note on Indonesia dressing/custom: Depending on where you travel, if you visit many Religious sites, you may need to rent or purchase a wrap or remove your shoes. In many of the larger touristy sites, you are not required to do this, but you should be especially mindful to not wear revealing clothing when visiting Religious places. Finally, note that it is considered a sign of disrespect to show the sole of your foot. While we never had locals mention anything to us, it’s something to make a mental note of and try to avoid crossing your legs in a way that shows the sole of your foot. Just something small that you can do that will be more respectful!

Helpful Resources/Apps:

1. Wunderground (Website and Free App for Iphone Users): This App (and website) is fantastic for weather. You can search by zip or city or country. It will pull up a graph of the temperature changes over the past several days (and for future days). You can also see a map of the location, the temperature, humidity, and the “feels like” temperature. Additionally, with the App, you have the ability to select a “green check mark” or a “red x” to agree or disagree with what the App’s weather is saying– ie, social media/real time weather updates.

2. NOAA’s Heat Index Calculator (Website): Mentioned earlier in this post; this website allows you to plug in the temperature and humidity and spit out the “feels like” temperature.

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Indonesia: Know Before You Go- Money & Language

As anyone traveling to a new country may tell you; if you know the language, you are good to go. The reality is that oftentimes, we travel to new places and only know very little of the language or sometimes, nothing at all. Not to fear! In our experiences in Indonesia [with very little Indonesian knowledge] we were still able to have a superb time. Tourism in Indonesia is a big draw and a big business, so many Indonesians know at least some English. As mentioned in the previous post on where Indonesia is in the world, Indonesians are required to take English in school… so many of them know at least some of the language. Additionally, in places such as Bali, where tourism is paramount, many people go to school specifically to work in the tourism industry, so they too, know English. But I digress, back to language in a bit. Let’s start with money.

Money

Indonesian currency is called “Rupiah” [roo-pee-ah]. As of May 2014,
1 Rupiah = $0.000087 USD
1 Rupiah = $0.000052 British Pounds
1 Rupiah = $0.000093 Australian Dollars
1 Rupiah = $0.0089 Japanese Yen
1 Rupiah = $0.00011 Singapore Dollars
For more information on exchange rates visit this site.

Indonesian Rupiah are extremely colorful and come in both bills and coins. The smallest bill that we have encountered is the 1000 rupiah. Coins are typically smaller denominations and although I recently read a website stating that it is possible to get a 100,000 rupiah coin, I have never seen larger than a 500 rupiah coin.

The bills come in 1,000; 2,000; 5,000; 10,000; 20,000; 50,000; and 100,000 rupiah. Based on the conversation rates to USD, a 100,000 rupiah bill is around $10.

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The rupiah coins that you most often see are 100, 200, & 500 rupiah:

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When you arrive in Indonesia, remember that you must pay $25 US for an on arrival visa. This can also be paid in rupiah if you happen to have it; we always make sure to carry US dollars with us just in case. So, we typically pay on arrival visa fees with that money.

You may choose to exchange money before you arrive in Indonesia. You may also choose to exchange money once you arrive. We simply take money out of an ATM in the airport. This just seems to be easier for us. While you do have to pay a transaction fee, it is typically smaller than the cost of exchanging through a booth. The downside is that there is a maximum on how much you can take out of the ATM at any one time [around Jakarta we found this to be between 1,000,000 and 2,500,000 rupiah or roughly $100-$250]. Depending on your plans, this may or may not work for you. For us, it worked perfectly.

If you are planning to go on an excursion of some sort and you book through the guide itself or a local Indonesian group, you will oftentimes have to pay the remaining balance in cash when the excursion begins. Because of this, taking money out of an ATM sometimes doesn’t get you the amount that you need, so be sure to keep that in mind based on your plans.

Many places in Indonesia take credit cards, especially when you are traveling to larger or more tourist-like destinations such as downtown Jakarta [a mall, for example] or main areas of Bali. However, note that taxis do not take credit cards and smaller restaurants do not either. So, it is always good to have some money on hand and if possible, get some smaller bills as well [purchase a drink to break larger bills].

Food and drink prices are typically a lot less than you would see in places like the US and obviously, if you choose to eat from a street cart instead of in the mall, you’ll be spending less money as well. As an example, there is a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf [yes i know, not Indonesian at all] in the mall under the hotel we stayed in when in Jakarta. We purchased an iced coffee and an iced latte and the total was 74,000 rupiah [over $7!]. In comparison, every day that we ate lunch near Andrew’s office, we paid 100,000 rupiah [$10] for two entrees, 2 bottles of water, 2 coconut shakes, and a coconut water with coconut meat in it.

A final note on money in Indonesia- there is no tipping. Service industry employees typically are paid well [in comparison with those in the US at least] and the few times we’ve tried to tip, the recipients tried to turn it down!

Language

As previously mentioned, depending on where you are traveling in Indonesia, knowing the local language [Bahasa Indonesian] isn’t all that necessary, although you will obviously have a much easier time getting around if you do know at least a little Bahasa. In much of Bali, we had no problem getting around without Bahasa. In Jakarta, the main malls were fine with English, the smaller areas and the taxi drivers were not as good with English. For that reason, it is good to at least write down and practice a few words and/or phrases in Bahasa if you are planning to travel in Indonesia. For example, I do not like seafood. I loathe it. Unfortunately, much of this part of the world lives on it. So, I made sure to look up and write down a few words and phrases so that I could at least say “no seafood” or “vegetables please”, etc. *Note- if you are planning on taking taxis around an area such as Jakarta, it is helpful to have the address written down and a map with the location. To help with this, if you have your Smartphone, you can take a snapshot of the location on your map while you have wifi and save it to your phone so you can show your driver.*

Here are a few phrases that are good to know:

1РSatu (sah-two)        2РDua (doo-ah)       3РTiga (tee-gah)       4РEmpat (um-pot)      5РLima (lee-mah)

6РEnam (ahn-um)     7РTujuh (two-joo)    8РDelapan (del-ah-pan)      9РSembilan (som-be-lan)    10РSepuluh (sep-oo-loo)

Hi/Hello– Halo (hollow)

Thank You– Terimah kasi (tare-reem-ah kahs-see)

Good Morning– Selamat pagi ¬† (sla-maht pog-ghee) ¬† ¬†For other parts of the day use “Selamat” with the appropriate word:
Afternoon: Sore (sore-ay)
 Evening/Night: Malam (mahl-ahm)

YesРYa        NoРTidak

Right: Kanan (kahn-non)      Left: Kiri (key-ree)       Straight: Lurus (loo-roose)

Here: Di sini (dee scene-ee)   There: Di sana (dee sahn-nah)

This: Ini (een-knee)    That: Itu   (eat-two)

I would like: Saya minta (Sigh-ah mean-tah)

Water: Aire (ire) ¬† ¬† *Also called “aqua botol” (ah-quah boat-toll)

Fish: Ikan (eek-ahn)     Chicken: Ayam  (eye-ahm)     Vegetables: Sayur Sayuran  (sigh-your  sigh-your-ahn)

Fried: Goreng (gore-ang)     Roasted: Panggang  (pong-gong)

Noodle: Bakmi (bock-me) or just Mie (me)      Rice: Nasi

 

Additionally, here are a few apps that we found especially helpful for translating from English to Bahasa (free and available on IPhone):

1. Kamusku (Free): An offline Indonesian-English dictionary

2. Learn Indonesian (Free with option to upgrade for $5.00): A fun little app with categories that you would use/need to get around (greetings, general conversation, numbers, directions/places, transportation, eating out, etc.) The $5.00 upgrade will get you more detailed items like colors, family, dating, and feeling sick.

 

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Flying to Indonesia: 22 Hours & Counting

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Flying to the other side of the world is quite a trip, no matter which way you are going or how many stops you make along the way. We wanted to minimize our layovers… they just wear you out and add time to your trip… so we found flights that went nonstop from Washington, DC Dulles to Tokyo and then from Tokyo to Jakarta. Honestly, even if there was a nonstop flight from Dulles to Jakarta— that might be a BIT much… but who knows :)- maybe someday we’ll be able to do that! Just in case you’re wondering about this flight, here’s a picture:

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Yes you see that correctly- you literally fly around the world. 14 hours of flying- so make sure you find a good airline to spend more than half a day on! We went with ANA and departed on a Tuesday from Dulles, VA (IAD) around 12:20PM or so. The flight was pretty full but when we checked in, the woman working the ticket counter was super helpful and super nice. She said that she was going to move us so that Andrew was on the aisle. As it turned out, she found seats to move us to that also had an empty seat next to me. Remember here that our flight was booked less than a week before we left, so our seat options were limited.

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ANA was a nice airline; a really nice airline. You can access their website here: ANA Airlines. In the event you can’t find the flights you are looking for (happened to us because we saw them on Kayak but not on the ANA website), we gave them a quick call and they were able to look up the flights for us. In addition, they could put a 24-hour hold on the seat(s) which was super helpful considering I didn’t have a Passport at the time. Each seat on the plane had it’s own personalized TV and remote (complete with TV shows, movies, games, chatting from seat to seat, etc). The movies were recent as well (Wolf of Wall Street, Secret Life of Walter Mitty, etc).

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In addition, I really liked that ANA had drink/cup holders that were separate from the tray itself (they also had drink holders on the tray). Sometimes, you just don’t want the stupid tray down but you are really thirsty. ANA has solved this problem. Other Airlines, take note.

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Because we boarded at Noon and flew for 14 hours on this leg, we were given lunch and breakfast/dinner. It’s called breakfast/dinner because according to local time (in Tokyo) it was dinner, but home time (DC) it was breakfast. The meals provided were actually pretty good. You typically had your choice of an “International Cuisine” or a “Japanese Cuisine”. So for example, the first meal was a baked fish dish or a hamburger. As much as I want to be, I just am NOT a fish person. So, we opted for hamburgers. For breakfast/dinner, we split the difference. Andrew got french toast and I got the lasagna.

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In addition to the main meals, the airline staff also walked around really frequently to provide drinks (sometimes the full cart, sometimes just tea or juice) and packets of rice crackers. By the way- watch it if you’re a vegetarian. There were not any vegetarian dishes (unless you eat fish) and the rice crackers actually contained shrimp. So, if you’re a vegetarian, pack your own food. *Note- I just looked at the ANA Website and you can apparently request meals if you have dietary restrictions or religious reasons*. We actually packed some snacks as well because we knew the flight would be so long and we were unsure of the airline food. Easy airline snacks: trail mix, fruit snacks, sandwiches.

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One of the juices that ANA served was Kabosu. Kabosu is a green citrus fruit that looks like a lime that grows in Japan. It is apparently substituted for vinegar in a lot of Japanese dishes. Either way it was sweetened to perfection and absolutely delicious. Sort of like a limeade but not as tart. YUM. This is what it looked like:

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In order to acclimate to the time change, we ended up staying up for the duration of the flight. It really wasn’t all that bad. We watched about 4 movies and we played A LOT of on-screen Sudoku. So, if you find yourself flying on ANA and playing Sudoku, check out the high score list for “Slumpy”– I’m there! Other important things to know about ANA include the bathrooms- they are awesome. It’s like a giant stall that you might find in a typical Western Restroom in a workplace. Lots of space. Leg room wasn’t too bad either and they also have foot rests that can come down if you’d like. Additionally, the arm rests can be moved to upright position for optimal comfort. Sound like an airline ad? I don’t care- it was great. By the way, they also sell on airline goods like hairbrushes and ties and stuff.

We landed in Tokyo and had a 2 hour layover. You basically leave the plane and can move on to your next terminal by going through a simple metal detector. Our bags were checked through to Jakarta which I highly recommend– it was a lot nicer than having to go find our bags and go through customs and what not. Do it. Our second leg of the trip was from Tokyo to Jakarta for a total of 8 hours. Really, it was nothing compared to our 14 hour flight. Plus, we slept most of the way. They served one meal on the flight and you again had your choice or fish or another dish– this time it was beef and rice and stirfry veggies with cold soba noodles and other goodies.

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Similar to the previous leg they again walked around with drinks and rice crackers. We didn’t really partake of them because we were sleeping (!) and trying to the local Jakarta time. We landed in Jakarta at around 11;50PM on Wednesday night (remember we left DC at Noon on Tuesday)… so a VERY long flight and a bit smelly and gross. Make sure you fill out all of your forms- immigration and customs to decrease waiting time in the airport.

You have to purchase an on arrival visa for each person ($25 USD… or you can pay in Rupiah) at the appropriate window before you can go through immigration. You will receive two visas held together but perforated. The immigration official will stamp them and keep one of the slips. The other slip will be placed in your Passport- don’t lose it! At this point, you will also have a dated stamp in your Passport as well as a portion of the immigration card (the embarkation/disembarkation portion). You will need to hold onto this and show it when you want to leave Jakarta so don’t lose it! We have never been asked if we have flights or plans to leave Jakarta within the 30 day visa period, but the site below in the helpful information section and many other sites say that you should have those plans in order just in case you are asked for them.

We grabbed our bags and made our way through customs (really lax actually- they didn’t even look at the fact that our form said we were bringing food into the country). Then we headed outside to grab a cab. The second you walk out, cabbies are calling and yelling to you. Because Andrew had been to Jakarta before and had coworkers here, he knew the best company- Blue Bird (they also run Silver Bird and Gold/Platinum Bird). The guy working the Blue Bird counter wasn’t even yelling at people. He was simply sitting and relaxing- that’s how you know they’re good ;0). We chatted with him and ended up with a Mercedes taxi that drove us to our hotel (40 mins or so) for about $20. In comparison, the guys next to us who went to a shouting taxi man were paying more than double, going a shorter distance, and getting a car with no A/C.

So do yourself a favor- if you fly to Jakarta, look for Blue/Silver/Gold/Platinum Bird for your taxi company. Two thumbs up!

Helpful Links/Information:

ANA Website

Phone Number (US/Canada/Mexico/Brazil): 1-800-235-9262

Phone Number (Other Areas): 310-782-3011

ANA In-Flight Services (Including Meal Requests)

Blue Bird Transportation Group

Soekarno-Hatta (Jakarta Airport) Website

Arriving in Jakarta Information (including Visa)

*Note this site makes it sound a lot more intense then in our two experiences; ie, we never had to get fingerprints or pictures taken and we never had a “lazy” immigration official*

 

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Last Minute Passports [US]

About a week ago, I received a chat message from Andrew letting me know that his work wanted him to head back to Indonesia within the week to assist with the opening of a new office and the training of a few new GIS folks. Talk about short notice! The message also said “and you should come with me”. Well, naturally everyone would like to be able to drop everything and travel across the world in a week, right? How was I going to get my boss to agree to let me do this? Where was my passport? How expensive would it be and could we afford it?

The second Andrew said “you should come with me”, I was sold. I wanted to come back to Indonesia so badly. Even if I would be on my own and most likely working to stay on top of things since I have a family vacation coming up in June. The second we got home that day I searched for my Passport. As usual, I found it– it was hidden in a place that I knew would be safe… naturally I forgot about that location. Sigh, it may be time to invest in a safe and just keep them in there. Anyway, I found my passport and started searching for flights. At the same time, I realized that my Passport expired in August 2014. This was a major road block. To travel into Indonesia, you have to have at least 6 months of active time on your Passport left… do the math. This was not good.

I frantically searched the National Passport Information Center website. There had to be a way to fix this. I was supposed to be flying out with Andrew in 1 week. Surely others had issues like this that came up a week out from flying, right? Turns out, I am not the only one. I called the National Passport Hotline [1-877-487-2778] and spoke with a customer service rep. They asked me a few questions [including my flight date, whether I had the Passport in my possession, if it was in decent shape- ie, not torn or ruined, if I received my Passport after the age of 16 and if it had been issued in the last 10 years]. This was to determine whether 1] I was eligible for expedited service and 2] which form I needed to fill out for renewal. Based on that, I was told that I could call the automated system for National Passport Agencies and schedule an appointment at the closes agency to where I live. Awesome.

Did you know that there are 28 National Passport Agencies across the United States and that if you are traveling in less than 2 weeks, you can schedule an appointment at one of them? Well, now you do! They are located in major citiesРluckily, one of them is in DC less than a mile from where I work! So, I called the National Passport Hotline again [1-877-487-2778] and worked my way through the automated prompts to schedule my appointment. All was well and dandy until it told me that the next available appointment was on Wednesday, May 7th. I was supposed to fly on Tuesday, May 6th. Crap.

Andrew suggested that I try to schedule an appointment at the Philadelphia Agency, so I went through the prompts again and sure enough, there was an appointment available the next morning. I scheduled it. The problem with this? I would now have to buy a train ticket to get up there, a taxi from the station to the agency, another taxi back, and then do it all over again to pick up the passport when it was ready. At this point was frustrated and upset and just said you know what, it’s not worth it. I felt defeated. I wanted to go so badly. I ate some emotional french fries, shed some tears, and went to bed. How could I be so dumb as to not renew my passport earlier?¬†ALWAYS RENEW YOUR PASSPORT EARLY.

The next morning, I felt a bit better but was still determined to get on this darn trip. I called the National Passport Hotline AGAIN [1-877-487-2778] and explained my problem to the customer service rep. He transferred me to someone else. She transferred me to someone else. He transferred me to someone else. She is my guardian angel. I explained everything to her and she took down my information and asked me a few extra questions then put me on hold for about 10 minutes. When she came back, she had spoken directly with the DC Passport Agency [note, you can’t speak directly with them yourself, the Hotline reps have to] and she had scheduled me an appointment for Monday, May 5th at 10AM [ie, the day before I left]. Phew.

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Well, I was still on edge. If it usually takes weeks for a Passport renewal via mail, how can they process a Passport in one day? I had to trust the system which was very hard to do. I filled out my D-82 form [for Renewal, no name change, old Passport in-hand and issued after age 16 in the past 10 years]. I printed off my flight itinerary. I then needed a Passport photo. Andrew was going to take it for me and did take a shot or two in our Kitchen [only place with white walls]. After debating on whether there was a shadow or not for about 10 minutes, we said to hell with it, and headed out to CVS.¬†After all, I didn’t want to leave anything else up to fate.¬†Do yourselves a favor- go to CVS to get a Passport photo taken. It’s easy, it’s relatively cheap and you know it meets all the qualifications.

On Monday morning, I arrived at the DC Passport Agency at 9:30AM. I went through security [metal detector] and got in line for the “check in” booth. There were 2 people ahead of me. I got up to the window and handed over all my documents [itinerary, form, photo, passport]. She issued me a ticket and I took a seat. It is set-up like the DMV. Large room with glass windows, lots of chairs, screens showing the tickets being served. I waited¬†10 minutes. Seriously. I walked up to the window and handed my documents over. I had a pleasant chat with the woman at the window who wished me a happy belated birthday and then she asked for the fees– to be paid by check or credit card. I had already written out and signed a check [$110 for the renewal fee, $60 for the expedited service]. I handed it over- she thanked me for being prepared, printed me a “pick-up” ticket and told me to come back at 2:45PM to get my new Passport.

At 2:15PM, I went back to the Passport Center. It closed at 3PM, so I wanted to be early just in case they don’t let people back in at a certain time. I went through security again. I went to the pick-up window, explained that I was early and then gave my ticket over. The guy at the window told me it would probably be ready at 2:45PM and that I should take a seat- he’d call my name when it was ready. At 2:20PM, my name was called. At 2:25PM, I walked out of the DC Passport Agency with a brand spanking new Passport book.

My Advise:¬†Always renew your Passport early, but if you get caught in a jam like me- call the Passport hotline. If you can’t get an appointment in time, call back, get a customer service rep and stay on the line until the schedule you an appointment. Two thumbs WAY UP for the DC Passport Agency.

Useful Websites:

If traveling in less than 2 weeks- schedule an appointment at a National Passport Agency

If you have more than 2 weeks, check out a Passport Acceptance Facility

Check out the current processing times for routine vs expedited Passport service [via mail]

If you need to get a Passport in a hurry, check out this website for everything you need to know!

 

Categories: Indonesia, Travel Basics (Resources & Help) | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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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