Posts Tagged With: travel

Camping in Polihale State Park (South-West Kauai)

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Sunset pineapples are the best type of pineapple.

We live for the untouched, hidden, secluded, end of the road type of places. Sometimes it’s not possible to find those places. Sometimes it’s too hard to get to them. Sometimes it’s just hard enough that it keeps people away and that’s the sweet spot. Polihale is one of those sweet spots. Located at the end of the road on the South coast, next to Na Pali coast, down a beat up road, Polihale State Park has 17 miles of beach, day use facilities, and camping. The water is typically a bit rougher here, although Queen’s Pond is a protected area that is more “docile” and many people swim there.  Most people visiting Kauai want to be pampered and not deal with camping equipment (rental or other) so Polihale makes a great getaway spot for seclusion and reflection.

We had read and heard a lot of different things about Polihale State Park. For example, we read that it’s accessed down a dirt road that is sometimes maintained by the park service and sometimes left alone and unkempt. We read in some books that 4WD vehicles are a must, while others claim that any car can go. Through these varying recounts of Polihale, the one piece of information that did seem to be consistent was that many car rental companies will basically void insurance if you go out to Polihale and get stuck or need a tow. For this reason, we’re going to say check your rental agreements and if you really want to go out here, rent a 4WD vehicle.

To get there is fairly straightforward (that’s what you get on a small island with one main road)! To get there from Lihue Airport for example, you get onto Highway 50 and drive west. In about 34.5 miles (after you’ve passed Waimea Canyon turn-outs and signs for the Pacific Missile Range Facility) you curve right onto Kao Road which quickly turns into Kiko Road. After 0.2 miles, you’ll see Lower Saki Mana Road on your left (across from a gate with a graffiti sign and a Private Property sign). There’s also a sign a few feet before the road (on the right side) with an arrow just in case you can’t find it.

It’s at this point that the dirt road adventure begins. We drove out in the end of August and it was very dry, but I suspect that’s not always the case, so check your weather forecasts before you go. I’ve heard at times, it can flood over and make it a mucky, muddy, mess. The drive is about 4 miles out to the end of the dirt road… you basically end up on the beach. As an aside, while above we noted that 4WD is helpful, we will also backtrack here and say that there were all sorts of cars out there- jeeps, vans, trucks, mustangs even! Just be careful. After a couple miles of bouncing and trouncing you arrive at a giant Monkey Pod Tree in the middle of the road (picture below). The left “Y” will take you to Queen’s Pond, a supposedly docile and protected area for swimming in the Polihale State Park area. I say ‘supposedly’ because we didn’t really find a “docile” area… more of choppy, but not too choppy, all along the Polihale Coast. That didn’t stop us from swimming at Queen’s Pond, nor at Polihale proper. If you do decide to swim, be very careful, don’t go out too far, and assess before you go in. We went in because it didn’t look too bad. However, if the waves are big don’t risk it. This is a very unpopulated area so you’re on your own.

If you continue to the right of the Monkey Pod Tree, you enter the camping and day use area. Camping permits can be purchased online through the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. Permits cost $18 per tent (non-resident) and you may camp for up to 5 nights (nightly capacity is 60). Note that the link to the camping page (hyperlinked above) states $12/person. When you click on the box to be taken to the permit purchashing site, you will note that the actual cost is $18/non-resident tent. Anyway, after the Monkey Pod Tree, you will pass some picnic tables and then as you continue down the sand road, you will notice four “sand driveways” is what I’ll call them. Each one is a “camping area”. They each have a small sign that says “Camping Area XX” (1-4). There also some pull outs that don’t have camping signs. If you continue on to the end of the road, you’ll see a few pavilions and the beach. While we saw one truck drive onto the beach, no one else did. To make life easier, don’t drive on the beach. You’ll need an air pump and a pressure gauge at a minimum and don’t forget that if you get stuck you’re basically screwed.

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Sometimes even small cars can make it out here!

Anyway, if you are camping, you can pull into any of the camping areas. You may be discouraged if you see a car parked and a tent out in front, but don’t be. The camping area is not just the area directly in front of the car parking. It is much larger. We stayed at camping area #3 (picture of parking above) and couldn’t be happier. We parked in the designated area (where there was a tent set up about 10 feet ahead of us). We saw a sort of opening to the left in the trees and walked that way only to wind around and find (in our opinion) the perfect camping spot. We were tucked away from the cars and other campers with our own beach entry point. We could literally see the ocean from our tent and yet we were protected within the trees. Awesome.

We ended up spending two nights in Polihale and in the end, I think we both would have spent 20 more there if we didn’t want to see the rest of the island! It was so relaxing. There was some cell service (in and out), no hustle and bustle… just mandatory relaxation. After the first night we picked up beach chairs so we could spend a few hours out on the beach the next afternoon. When we did, we saw two young friends (the ones with the truck) and some fishing poles… and maybe one other couple. As an aside, it’s important to note the size of the dunes here… easily 100 feet. There’s no easy way down or up– just you and your feet. Going down the dunes is fine, but back up is tiring- just be aware before you embark. Another note is that the sand gets really really hot (especially at mid-day). A few sites and guidebooks we read said that your best bet is to wear hiking sucks (no shoes) to walk on the beach… in fact some people even reported getting blisters from barefooting it. We went later in the day and without shoes and it was hot but manageable… but I’d heed the warnings- always better not to deal with foot blisters and put on some socks! The reason you don’t wear shoes is because you are likely to get sand stuck in your shoes which will be uncomfortable and hot.

We swam for a while in the water, just bobbing along and then eventually sat and dried out… at one point we heard a helicopter and figured it was a tour… Polihale is located at the start of the Na Pali coast, so many tours- boating, kayaking, helicopter, etc. go down this way. However, we noticed the bright red helicopter circling in and out of the same mountain– then it landed somewhere behind Polihale before taking off again, this time with a really long cord with some sort of windsock looking thing tied to the end. After disappearing into a canyon/mountain fold, the helicopter reappeared with a person(!) attached to the end of the long cord! They eventually landed again somewhere behind Polihale before taking off back down the coast the way the helicopter originally came. The verdict- must have been a practice rescue exercise. Still cool and interesting to watch!

Other things to note about Polihale: each camping area is a few feet to restrooms and an outdoor shower. The bathrooms are simple, but they’re bathrooms! Each has two stalls and toilet paper as well as a sink (but no soap). There is also a freshwater faucet by the restrooms to fill up on water. In addition, there is a trash can and recycling bin (the word “recycle” is painted on one of the two cans) by each camping area. Open fires are not allowed, but you can have a grill. We opted to lay out our tent rainfly on the beach and eat pineapple and guava rolls while watching the sunset. Now that’s living!

As another aside for this area, if you take the dirt road back out to the main paved road and turn left (not towards Lihue), you will eventually dead-end (whether you end up weaving left or right) at some giant security gates. What are they?! Oh they’re just gates blocking off mountains that have caves with ammunition and other military weapons hidden and guarded in them. Crazy, right? Seriously though, there are tons of signs and cameras and what not– so don’t go snooping, but you can drive up and turn around if you’re so inclined. You can’t see anything except the signs and gates by the way… unless you run into a raucous herd of goats running all of the place (as we did!).

Two thumbs up and 5-stars to Polihale State Park! If you get a chance to go camping out here, do it! If you don’t want to lug your camping stuff with you on the plane, there are a few rental places around the island such as Kayak Kauai or Kauai Camper Rental or really a whole slew of them… these two I have heard mention in books before for what it’s worth. That’s all for now- we’ll see you next time!

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Categories: Camping, Hawaii, Unique Places to Stay | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Evening Camping in Koke’e State Park, Kauai (Northwest)

After our exciting and action-packed trip from Sacramento to Kauai was over and our Jeep was secured, our first stop was the grocery store to pick up some supplies. We chose to go by Safeway, as we had read it’s a bit cheaper than some of the other stores. Costco was also nearby, but, since we were planning on camping for most of our time, we didn’t want to buy in bulk (especially cold stuff). Safeway is located at 4454 Nuhou Street, Lihue and it is open 24 hours a day. It was a large Safeway and for those of you who have club member cards on the mainland for Safeway, yes, they will work on Hawaii as well. We looked up the circular online before we traveled to get an idea of what was available and we tried to make a plan, but we were hungry and in the end, our eyes and stomaches won out. For lunch we split a cup of chicken noodle soup, a donut, and vegetable sushi (we’re weird, I know). The sushi was probably my least favorite, but only because it had slight fish flavor presumably from being rolled on a counter of fish (!)– I’m not a seafood person at all (weird, I know) so my nose and tastebuds seem to know when they’re being led astray. Andrew thought the sushi was delicious though and the soup, although tasting somewhat different than the Mainland chicken noodle I’ve had, was still good. The donut was awesome. When you go into the grocery store, make sure you spend some time looking around at the items they have because they are different from what you see elsewhere. For instance, the seafood is vast and numerous and ranges from dried to salted to fresh. Anyway, we picked up some hummus, some carrots, some snap peas, chopped pineapple (because we weren’t sure where our knife was at the moment), peanut butter, jelly, and the creme de la creme, 8-pack of guava dinner rolls made on Kauai. They were bright pink!

We then headed on down the road towards our destination for the night: Koke’e State Park. Koke’e State Park is located north of Waimea Canyon (west side of Kauai) and is about 1-1:30 hour drive from Lihue. It is accessed via the southern route only. Koke’e SP is about 4,345 acres in size, all above 3,200 feet above sea level (maximum around 4,200 feet asl). It contains over 45 miles of hiking trails through forests and along ridges, and boasts some phenomenal views of the island. It has a visitor’s center/museum with history of the area and knowledgeable park rangers willing to give advice and it rents out a few cabins that look pretty nice. In addition, you can camp there!

I’ll post more on camping in Kauai in general later, but for now, it’s important to note that Koke’e is a state park and thus, you can reserve spots online through the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. The price is $18/campsite for non-Hawaiian residents. A campsite may have up to 6 persons for this cost ($3/person over 6 people). You can set-up camp at 1:00PM (“check-out” is noon) and you are not permitted to stay more than 5 nights in a row. In addition, all sites are first-come, first-served (aka undesignated)… but again, you have to have a permit to stay there so it works out. There are other camping spots in this area, but most require some hiking (medium to long in length) in order to get to them. In addition, it’s important to note that this area gets about 70 inches of precipitation a year, so make sure you are camping in areas suitable for the time of year you’re traveling. To be on the safe side, we decided to camp at the general Koke’s State Park spot (no hiking required). You’ll want to make sure you print a copy of your permit before you leave home and bring it with you to Kauai just in case you get asked for one (we weren’t but it’s in the rules, so may as well be safe). You should also book these sites as soon as you know you’ll be around Koke’e. There are 20 spots available and while we booked about 2 weeks in advance (traveling end of August) we noticed that Labor Day weekend was already booked- so just be aware.

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Don’t worry, the drive to Koke’e State Park isn’t boring!

Once we arrived at Koke’e, we noticed a few tents set-up on the meadow next to the museum/visitor center. Since there wasn’t a great deal of information on where to camp once you go there online, we figured we’d just set our tent up there. To get to the camping parking lot, you drive past the left turn-in for the visitor center and take the next left. You’ll see the meadow, parking areas, picnic tables, and a bathroom building. The meadow in general is rather large and has scattered trees (and picnic tables). There weren’t a lot of other tents there, so we just found a spot and set-up shop. We later realized that when you walk up to the bathroom building, there is what looks like a grass path heading back away from the parking lot and building. When we followed that we saw that the permitted camping areas were actually back in that area and a lot more secluded. Each spot, although not numbered, had a picnic table, and a nice little clearing to put your tent. Tent spots were separated by tall ginger bushes. Since we had already set-up, we stayed where we were and still really enjoyed our spot.

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Meadow just after the Koke’e State Park Visitor Center and Museum.

The camping area does not allow fires and any cooking must be done on a stove. Trash cans are available as are bathrooms with toilet paper, sinks with running water (no paper towels/hand dryers or soap) and showers, although I would really avoid the showers if at all possible- they were pretty grungy. I wish I had taken a picture, but I forgot- sorry! Make sure you have a rain fly for your tent because it will rain (off and on) and don’t be frustrated if it starts raining. Wait about 5-10 minutes and it will probably stop and clear up. The temperature dropped down to about the 60s (again we were there at the end of August) and so we were comfy sleeping with sleeping sacks and an unzipped sleeping bag as a blanket. Sleeping sacks, if you don’t know, are just cotton sheet-weight sleeping bag liners… we use them for when we’re camping in warm weather (as a super lightweight sleeping bag), but others use them as a liner in their more heavy-duty sleeping bag. It’s something like this.

After we set-up camp, we continued up the road to check out the Kalalau Look Out and the Pu’u O Kila Look Out. In the morning we were taking a short hike that started from the latter look out, so we figured we’d check it out to make sure we knew where we were going. The Kalalau Look Out has gorgeous views (again remember the mantra, if it’s raining, wait 5-10 minutes, all will reveal itself). Sure enough, we were lucky to catch the beautiful view of the Northern Na Pali Coast:

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View of Na Pali Coast in Northern Kauai

Na Pali is the most infamous part of the island for hikers, kayakers, and people seeking to view the rugged untouched, almost unaccessible wild of Northern Kauai. There is a trail called the Kalalau Trail that runs from the last accessible road beach on the Northern coast, out towards Western Kauai. It’s a grueling, physically demanding trek that requires an overnight at Kalalau Beach, 11 miles in (everything online says that a hiker in a good condition will take the full day to hike there). Note: In order to camp there (and in order to go beyond the 2 mile mark, or Hanakapai’ai Beach, you will need a permit and they typically go months in advance. Permits (60 available per day) are again booked through the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and cost $20/person for non-residents (5 nights max). If you are thinking of hiking the trail, check out the Kalalau Trail Website– it has an immense amount of information, including a map and permit information.

In addition to viewing Na Pali from Koke’e State Park or hiking Kalalau Trail, other hard core folks kayak in (about 17miles) from Ha’ena Beach (where Kalalau Trail begins) to Milolii Beach (20 permits available per day, 3 night maximum, $20/person) to Polihale Beach (60 permits available per day, 5 night maximum, $18/campsite up to 6). Again, all of these permits are for undesignated sites and are available through the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Website (print your permits before you arrive). The kayak trip enables you to see the entire Na Pali Coast. The final option for those with less physical beastliness is to take a catamaran or sailboat around the coast for the day. Trips go from the South and the North, although the Northern Route will allow you to see more.

But I digress, I fear I’ve gone horribly off-post with that chat about Na Pali, but it really is awesome. Anyway, the picture above of Na Pali from Kalalau Look Out looks generally towards the Kalalau Beach. Many of the ridges of Koke’e State Park have hunting roads (unpaved) that are used by hunters on the weekends. There are some sources that say visitors can obtain permits to drive out on these routes (on weekends and holidays only) but we didn’t dig into that too much… I would contact Koke’e State Park directly. If you continue on up the road, you’ll eventually run into Pu’u O Kila Look Out which is the end of the line for the road. The overlook again gives you an idea of the beauty of Na Pali and from here a few great hikes jump off, including a “short” ~2-2.5 mile roundtrip to Pihea Overlook and the turn to Alakai Swamp. More on that later since we did that the following morning. For dinner, we dined on guava rolls, pineapple, and hummus and snap peas… and then we promptly fell asleep at 7:30PM (to be fair, 10:30PM body time). A long (this was our travel day) and wonderous first partial day on Kauai.

See you next time!

Categories: Camping, Hawaii | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sacramento, CA –> Lihue, Kauai

Finally, sweet, sweet vacation! It’s been a long year and summer of school and work… getting back on the “school horse” has been a tough uphill climb but worth it. So, now, we vacation… although it’s funny that I say that since I’m writing this post from an awesome coffee shop called, Aloha N Paradise in Waimea on the island of Kauai while Andrew sits next to me finishing up some work. But alas, he’ll be done soon and pure 100% vacation shall begin. More on Aloha N Paradise later in another post… but it’s awesome and that’s the main take-away.

Anyway, the start of the trip. We had originally planned on coming to Kauai for Spring Break this year, but then the pups got in a little tiff and had some cuts and we had to watch them so we postponed. It ended up working out well because I got really sick and Andrew had work to finish up. So, we rescheduled for now… and as an added bonus, my parents, who live in Pennsylvania, decided to come along for a second week on the Big Island. A long story short, my dad unfortunately was diagnosed with an aortic aneurism, had major surgery, and is thankfully doing well. Unfortunately, however, they had to cancel their plans to travel with us… in the end we still get a two week vacation, but the second half is a little bittersweet. The important thing is that he’s doing well :0).

IMG_6417Our flight was at 7:00AM from Sacramento, CA on a Saturday. We left our house around 4:30AM and after searching for a few minutes, found a parking spot in the economy lot (apparently a lot of people are traveling right now because we’ve never seen the parking lot that full)! We took our bags on the shuttle and got them checked (more on that later- we packed too much) and went through security to our gate. We were flying on Hawaiian Airlines. We hung around the gate, holding off on eating since we knew we were getting breakfast on the plane. Hawaiian Airlines is one of the only airlines that still includes a meal in the coach ticket price (sweet!).

Around the time to board, the blue Hawaiian shirt-clad attendant came over the IMG_6419loudspeaker and let us know that while the crew was working on breakfast, they had a short-circuit so they had to call in an engineer to check everything out. Long story short, we were delayed about 2 hours, during which time, the attendant kept us updated and apologized for the delays. Some folks were disgruntled… but we figure, hey, we’re on vacation, who cares!? About an hour in, they brought around cold water and Hawaiian Sweet Maui Onion chips which was pretty nice as well- I’m not sure any other airline would have/has done that for us because of a delay before (airlines at Chicago O’Hare TAKE NOTE!).

We boarded and got settled into our seats. There were rows of two seats on either side of the plane and rows of 4 seats in the middle. The flight was really uncrowded and many people had a four-seater to themselves. The two seats in front of us (we were on a side) were open the whole time. Not bad. Once we took off, they asked us to lower the shades so folks could rest if they wanted to and then they brought around breakfast and drinks. The drink options for coach were plentiful- the usual soft drinks and coffee/tea, water, as well as the tropical juices, which is what we were interested in-> namely, pineapple juice and passion-orange-guava juice. The breakfast included a little container of water, a breakfast sandwich with scrambled egg, American cheese, and a red pepper/small diced potato mix, a small cup of fruit (cantaloupe, honeydew, and grape), and a little Hawaiian cookie shaped like a pineapple (I got chocolate chip, Andrew got pineapple). Although the breakfast sandwich (pictured below) doesn’t look that appetizing– it was actually really really good. Two thumbs up to the gratis and bountiful breakfast, Hawaiian Airlines!

We were told to come up and ask if we wanted additional beverages during the flight and they came around with water at least two times… and they offered us more Maui Sweet Onion chips. They did have in-seat radios with a few Hawaiian music channels and you could rent media players for $17. There were three TVs in view (see above picture) that showed Hawaiian musicians and information about Kauai. There were no outlets for plugging in computers and what not, but my battery lasted through a 2.5 hour movie and about an hour of transcribing for work. When we were within 45 minutes of landing, the crew brought around the drink cart once more and included, was a gratis (free) cocktail made with Koloa Rum (Kauai Rum). Not a bad way to say Aloha.

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Free Koloa Rum cocktail before landing… Aloha indeed!

When we landed in Honolulu (no direct flights from Sacramento to Kauai), we were a bit worried about what to do next- we had definitely missed our connecting flight… but they had assured us in Sacramento that Hawaiian Airlines would have it figured out by the time we landed. Umm is this airline for real? Since when do airlines make things easier?! Anyway, as we were standing up to disembark, the crew came on and said that if we were flying to Kauai, we should head to Gate 53. So, we headed there and awkwardly walked up to the desk and said, “umm, we missed our flight”. The response? “Aloha, did you come from Sacramento? What are your names?” We told them and they immediately handed us two new tickets ready to go for the flight about to board. Well that was the easiest and most efficient process ever! We smiled and went to wait when we heard an attendant come on the loud speaker and say that there was a maintenance issue on the plane- what are the odds? About 20mins later, the same attendant came on and told us that our plane was out of commission and we were to go to gate 50… where there was no plane. About 10mins later, another plane did arrive, and about 30mins after that we were airborne.

Because we had to move our flights from Spring Break, we actually found cheaper flights this time around (our money was kept as credit by Hawaiian Airlines linked to our account). Since it was going to expire within a year of our initial trip, we decided to use it all up on this trip since we weren’t sure we’d be back again within a year. As a result, we got to fly from Honolulu to Kauai in first class. Our flight home in two weeks from Honolulu to Sacramento will also be first class (sweet!). Anyway, first class was nice as you might imagine; good leg room, although I’m not sure it was too different from coach otherwise (except free beer and wine). We had pineapple-orange-guava juice and a bag of rice crackers (see above). Side n0te- maybe we were just on “island mind”, but the POG juice tasted fresher and as if it was made with real fruit on the inner-island flight (it did not taste as fresh/real on the flight to Honolulu). After what felt like 10 minutes (45mins really), we landed safely in Lihue. We waited for our luggage (Hawaiian Airlines seems to always be in baggage claim B in Lihue) and then we went outside to look for our rental car shuttle.

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Flying away from Oahu towards Kauai

There were rental car windows onsite but they were all locked- not sure if they moved or because it’s getting to low season they don’t work onsite. Either way, we found the National Rental Car shuttle waiting and we were the only people taking that one (there were a lot of people trying to fit on budget and other shuttles). We hopped on the shuttle and chatted with our driver about how he moved to the island to help his sister with her horse farm a few years ago. He walkie-talkied ahead to National and let them know that we were coming and an Emerald Club member (free to join and I highly suggest it- it’s so easy and fast). We arrived about a 7min drive later and the manager pulled our Jeep Wrangler up. We loaded our stuff, drove to the check-out window, handed her our IDs, we were both signed on as drivers (no additional cost) and we were on our way. More on that later. Aloha!

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Jeep Wrangler Rental: National Car 

***We got the Jeep specifically because we knew we were headed out to the end of the road in the West where there is a dirty, rutty, pothole stricken path to Polihale State Park. Many rental companies won’t let you take their cars out there, so if you get stuck, you are screwed and two trucks may not help you out. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem like a jeep is necessary on Kauai (although many people rent them and there were other cars, including mustangs driving on the road to Polihale).

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Unique Overnights: Airbnb in Los Angeles, California

This summer I’ve been traveling a lot to Southern California for my job. I’m working at UC Davis through the Climate Adaptation Program at the Policy Institute of Energy, Economy, and Environment. Anyway, my job has involved speaking with drinking water systems of different sizes and types (wholesale and retailer). More on that in another post– amazing experience and fantastic conversations!

For now though, I’ll focus on the travel side of it all! Recently, I drove down to Los Angeles (about 7 hours from Davis) for an interview. Just one night. I’ve stayed in hotels, campgrounds, VRBOs, and Airbnbs this summer– so I usually do some searching for a place that is decently priced (I’m working within the constraints of a University research grant budget after all) and funky and different if possible. Anyway, as I was scouring the Airbnb website, I stumbled upon a unique gem that I just have to mention: Rare! Guest Quarters near Hollywood.

This place can best be described as an exotic basement bungalow, although not in the strict definition of the word. It is located in the basement portion of a house in a residential area and is accessed down the driveway through a basement porch glass sliding door. The space is full of charm and a unique feeling of being transported into a whole other world. There are two bedrooms, a small kitchen with refrigerator, microwave, stove, and sink, a bathroom with a shower and full set of closets. There are 2-3 living room type areas- one close to one of the bedrooms which has a “night clubish” feeling to it, one with a fireplace and l-shaped couch, and one that is more of glassed-in porch. Coincidentally, this last room is the only room in the place with windows (and therefore, home to the majority of the light/only natural light in the place). There are two air conditioning units in the apartment (one in each bedroom). Perhaps the only thing this little gem of a place could have been improved in is the temperature. We stayed when it was pretty warm out and found the air conditioners to take a while to kick-in, but once they did, everything was pleasant! Another note on the uniqueness of the spot- there’s a sliding wall in one room that cuts off a living room from a bedroom and there’s another sliding bookcase in the first bedroom that will lead you to the kitchen.

As far as the hosts, we had a great experience. We were only there for one night and it was for business, so we didn’t have any specific needs- just wanted a cool place to stay. We received explicit directions from the hosts on contacting them once we parked on the street and they talked us through getting down to the “bungalow” and explained how the air conditioning units worked– one of which needed to be emptied when it turned itself off. Wifi is included and the host texted us the code as soon as we were settled. The area where the house is located is very close to the main area of the Atwater Village commercial district which has some great coffee shops and restaurants.

The last thing I’ll mention here (and reiterate) is that if you are someone who relies on a great deal of light, this is probably not the place for you. But, if you’re looking for a cool and unique spot to relax that really is unlike the majority of other places you’ve stayed- this makes the list! It’s a really funky spot and if you are flexible and not extremely high maintenance, this is a great spot. I tried to take some quick tour video while we were there with my iphone so you could see what it’s like– it’s not fantastic quality, so bear with it. There are also some photos. The better pictures are indeed included on the airbnb site.

 

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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. 🙂

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

 

Categories: Indonesia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

New Year’s Eve 2013: South Water Caye

Ah New Year’s Eve. It’s a great time of year, don’t you think? You get the chance to revisit the previous year and think about everything you did… and didn’t do. You get to hit the reset button and think about everything that will be done differently in the coming year. You make big plans. Yes, this year will be MY year. You’ll get to work early, you’ll exercise more, you’ll eat less this and more that, you won’t be negative, you won’t let the dishes pile up, you’ll get up the courage to ask that guy or gal out, you’ll look so fabulous that your pesky ex or that guy/gal that rejected you will look at you and think, “damn, what was I thinking…”. I mean, let’s get serious here for minute– everyone has that thought at some point in their life, guy or girl. Yes, 2014 will be my year to shine.

The funny thing is though… when you try to think about the previous year, it all melds together. I mean, here I am, in February 2015, writing up this post and I am having a tough time remembering 2014. Don’t get me wrong, 2014 was an awesome year… it’s just that the things I focus on to reset for the New Year seem so important when I make them… and then life happens and the relative “unimportantness” (yes I made up that word) of those resolutions shines. Perhaps my problem is that I am making the *wrong New Year’s resolutions. The things I remember from 2014? The trips I took, the people I met, the conversations I had, and the beers I discovered: eating lunch at Pike’s Place Market with my state coworkers at an annual meeting, drinking beers at a local DC brewpub with Andrew’s brother, sister-in-law, and our friends, hiking at Hetch-Hetchy Dam, picking up our new dog, Winston, from the shelter, taking a boat into a National Park in Indonesia to see Orangutans, drinking a beer at a crazy Robot Show in Tokyo, sneaking photos in an open air market in Singapore, taking a swig of bourbon from a flask that my fellow classmate snuck into the graduation ceremony, going to an “authentic” Russian meal in Alaska, teaching the drinking game, asshole, to a 60-year old man who wandered down to our cabin where we were staying with the Cornell crew one weekend, dancing with coworkers in Dallas after our meeting let out for the day, hiking to a natural hot spring in Iceland, exploring new brewpubs and collecting pint glasses, spending Thanksgiving with my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew at my parents’ house, and of course, spending New Year’s at the beach where Andrew proposed (technically New Year’s Day 2015).

I don’t, however, remember what I ate and did not eat. I don’t remember how many times I exercised. I don’t remember how often (if ever!) I got to work early. I don’t remember how many days I didn’t have a “negative” thought. I can’t tell you how many times Andrew and I did the dishes or let them pile up. I can’t tell you how many “dates” Andrew and I went on. I can’t even tell you if I kept a single one of my 2014 resolutions and you know why? Because I was busy living and that to me is more important than any superficial rule I made up on December 31, 2013. Live for the moment and don’t take life too seriously. No one gets out alive.

But back to South Water Caye! Wow that was me on my soap box. December 31, 2013 was a day for relaxation. I woke up and took some great sunrise photos on the beach with Tim and Barbara (for some reason, I can’t actually locate these sunrise photos)! Andrew and I went snorkeling again and saw a yellow stingray, green and yellow eels, and a ton of fish and lobsters. For breakfast, we ate fried beans, scrambled eggs, hot sauce, tortillas, soursop juice, orange slices, and sausage links. We also had fresh coconuts!!!!!

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A beautiful beach day

 

After breakfast, we worked on a Pink Floyd Album cover puzzle. We did not finish by lunch and that was just fine. We drank beers and piña coladas. We ate island paradise pizza (ground beef, tomato, onion, pepper, cheese, and pepperoni), banana muffins, and watermelon. After lunch, we did finish the puzzle. Then we went snorkeling again, further around the island a bit to switch it up. We saw more rays, lobsters, big schools of fish, these tiny silver fish that followed your every move, gigantic starfish, giant crabs, hermit crabs, conchs, purple lion fish, and sea cucumbers. It was the perfect day.

Pelican enjoying the island life

Pelican enjoying the island life

Pretty trees on the beach

Pretty trees on the beach

We showered and ate dinner: pineapple, breaded eggplant, jalapeño corn salad, macaroni pasta with tomato, conch stir fry, sweet potato pone, and coconut. After dinner, the tables were cleared and the party began! There were Belizean drummers, dancers, and singers. We did shots of 1 Barrel Rum. We drink Belikan Beer, we drank Mayfair dandy gin, and we even had some rum that Sarah and Stuart brought from the mainland. We danced and we sang and we talked about traveling and life. We lived in the moment. It was the perfect New Year’s!

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There’s nothing in the world that can’t be made better with some coconuts

 

Until next time. Live your life.

Categories: Belize | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Hike and a Drive to Homer, AK

This morning, we decided to take a hike in the Russian River Campground where we were staying before heading south towards Homer. We packed up early and drove towards the trailhead. Unfortunately (or fortunately for most people) you cannot park RVs at the trailhead. So instead, we dropped my parents off at the trailhead and then went in a search of a lot where we could leave the RV. Our campground site itself was pretty far back so we wanted to find a place closer to avoid having to walk the extra 1 mile or so to get back to the RV after the hike (we were in the last of about 3 or 4 campground areas in Russian River). We did find the Pink Campground Overflow lot that allowed RV parking fairly close to the trailhead (fyi, it’s right by the Pink Campground). We parked the RV and then made our way back to the trailhead (we had told my parents to start without us and we’d catch up).

 

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The hike was about 2 miles out and 2 miles back. It was up and down and through the woods—very pretty. Along the way there were some pretty wood bridges and off-shoot trails to cabins. We continued along to the end where there were two large wooden viewing platforms. From here you could look down on the river where there was a fish bridge to help the Salmon move upstream. There were a ton of fish and every few minutes you would see one jump out of the water on an attempt to get further upstream. In another week or so, sport fishermen will be invading the campground … and even more likely, bears will be invading Russian River. Apparently at the height of the fish movement upstream, bears can be seen in the river eating fish. Unfortunately (fortunately?) we had no such bear luck. Andrew and I did take a short shoot-off trail from the viewpoints down a fishing trail where we found a fresh salmon carcass. Our guess is that it was a bear—but again, no bear sightings here!

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We had a short snack stopover before heading back up the trail towards the RV. We pulled out of the campground ready for new adventure and to check out the south. We drove to Homer via Sodoltna where we made a stopover at a grocery store (Fred Meyer) for supplies and goods… after a brief stop, we headed onward down the coast, stopping for cool viewpoints and vistas and of course, moose!

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Yeah, I know. You can’t see it in this picture. But it’s there, I swear!

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Another stop that we made on our travels down the Kenai Peninsula was at a Russian Orthodox Church in the town of Ninilchik. It was slated in the book as one of the most visited tourist attractions because of the church and the views. We were slightly skeptical, but we decided to check it out anyway; if it’s the most visited, chances are that it is for a reason. :0) We turned down a gravel road and drove along until we saw the onion-like domes painted in gold. There on a small hill was a little Russian-style (you can tell because of the onion-shaped domes and the crosses) Orthodox Church. There was a small graveyard in front, giant mountains in the back, and a small Russian fishing village at the bottom of the cliffs in front of the water. Awesome.

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We walked around the church property a bit and took a look at the graveyard- some crosses were worn-down and battered with no headstones marking lives lost, while others indicated burials from this February. It was a pretty little graveyard right on top of the hill. Out of respect, we tried not to take any photos of an individual grave and rather focused on the entire graveyard for its intricate burial set-up. Crosses (two horizontal lines at the top and one line on a slight angle at the bottom) adorned every grave as did small fences that contained everything from flowers to books to pictures. We were also able to walk into the church itself- very small but just as intricately decorated with pictures and paintings, candles, large religious hats (sorry don’t know the name of them), and small benches and pamphlets.

 

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Outside, you can look down over the cliffs towards the small Russian fishing village of Ninilchik. This are is now considered to be “old town”. The “new” Ninilchik is located a little bit away from this area. Boats and houses located directly on the water- a pretty cool little place.

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Then we traveled on to Homer. Homer is in the southwest corner of the Kenai Peninsula. We opted to stay in a campground on the Homer Spit- a skinny piece of land that juts out into the water. A sort of peninsula on the peninsula so to speak. We pulled into our campground (Homer Spit Campground) and set-up shop directly on the beach- looking out at the water with snow-capped mountains and volcanoes behind it. Awesomely beautiful spot! Tonight we grilled up some chicken on the mini portable propane grill that we rented through the RV company. Grilling on the beach… is there anything greater? We also enjoyed some of our Seward Brewery Growler Beer. Yum!

 

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Ah yes, and the showers. First showers of the trip were pretty awesome. Pay $1 at the office, they buzz you in, you can take an untimed, hot shower. It was awesome and wonderful and everything you would expect a shower to be after a few days of now shower, including a cold and rainy boat trip! Another great day!

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Categories: Alaska, Hikes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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:

1– Satu (sah-two)        2– Dua (doo-ah)       3– Tiga (tee-gah)       4– Empat (um-pot)      5– Lima (lee-mah)

6– Enam (ahn-um)     7– Tujuh (two-joo)    8– Delapan (del-ah-pan)      9– Sembilan (som-be-lan)    10– Sepuluh (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)

Yes– Ya        No– Tidak

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.

 

Categories: Indonesia, Travel Basics (Resources & Help) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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Categories: Indonesia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rich Balinese Culture: Offerings and Temples.

As readers, I’m not sure how much you know about Balinese culture and/or religion. Truth be told, prior to Andrew telling me that he was being sent to Jakarta and Bogor for three weeks to conduct training on mapping and forestry for a few NGOs and other partners in Indonesia, all I knew was that Indonesia was relatively close to Australia, it was comprised of a bunch of islands, palm oil is big [from what Andrew told me], and I wanted to go there. I love new cultures and I live for traveling. Naturally, my mom was the first to google things like “Indonesian safety” and “women traveling in Indonesia”. Which, in retrospect, was a smart thing to do– you should never travel somewhere without first conducting a little research on the customs and traditions. The last thing you want to do is show up and make a full of yourself. I mean, would you feel comfortable showing up to a black tie event in pajamas? Would you feel comfortable being throw in jail for missing a curfew? No. So, here’s a brief breakdown on Indonesian and Balinese religion/culture.

Indonesia recognizes six major religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. While all Indonesians are required to carry an identification card that includes a space for one of these six religions, some Indonesians may leave this area blank. Atheism is not recognized and blasphemy is illegal. A census in 2010 showed that the majority of Indonesians identify themselves as Muslim [almost 90%]. Most of the muslim population from my understanding and little research resides on the main island of Indonesia [where you’ll find cities like Jakarta and Bogor]. Here it is still common for women to remain covered up, including a head and face cover. So, if you are going to visit Jakarta, for example, my advice would be to cover as much as possible [ie, definitely NO tube tops or tank tops]. Obviously tourism has brought other types into the mix, but remember, it’s not always fun to stand out.

In Bali, the majority of people [almost 90%] relate to Balinese Hinduism, the remaining as Islam. Religion and culture are very big in Indonesia, and Bali is no exception. As the majority of my time in Indonesia was spent in Bali, I can’t comment specifically on other provinces of Indonesia, but I can comment on Bali. Just about every single home, shop, hotel, and other workplace had at least one small temple. Homes have family temples, intricate and elaborately designed temples with statues and pointed/angled architecture. I could honestly spend months just touring around Bali and looking at family temples. They are gorgeous. Balinese Hinduism includes a focus on local and ancestral spirits and is different from traditional hinduism which focuses primarily on rebirth and reincarnation.

One Balinese guide/driver we had during our trip told us that there are a number of ceremonies that occur for newborns and children and that the child is actually not given a name until one of these ceremonies about 3 months after the child is born. Ceremonies are also big around the puberty timeframe, marriage, and perhaps most importantly, during the time of cremation in celebration of the afterlife. When it comes to cremations, the Balinese conduct an absolutely remarkable event and celebration as we learned through a few Balinese folks and conversations in Jakarta with other native Indonesians [Andrew worked in Jakarta for a few weeks prior to our Bali trip]. Large cremations occur on different time intervals so deceased family members will be buried until the appropriate time. At that point the bodies will be dug up for a proper cremation. Large models/statues of animals are built in which the bodies are placed to be carried to the appropriate temple. Once there, the bodies are transferred to lion or tiger statues for the actual “lighting on fire” part.

During our time in Bali, we were able to catch some set-up for a Cremation, a short parade of a Cremation, and the aftermath of the Cremation next to the graveyard where the platform continued to burn. Our hope is that on our next trip, we will be able to attend a Cremation from start to finish. The Balinese do not seem to mind if you want to go along, as long as you are respectful and have the proper attire [including a sarong/sash].

Another large part of Balinese Hinduism includes offerings. These can be of all shapes and sizes and typically include flowers, some type of food [rice], and incense. They can include a great number of items and depending on the temple or the person, the size of the offering may vary. During your time in Bali you will see the occurrence of people taking offerings to a temple and lighting incense… many times. The offerings are beautiful and as you walk around town looking in little shops for Batik or other trinkets, you will likely also see women working to put together offering trays. The traditional offering methodology so to speak is described below. My understanding is that it varies from place to place and person to person. One many told us they only pray once a day, other people we saw pray more than once while we were in a restaurant [for example]. In some areas there is also a loud speaker that plays a prayer at certain time intervals throughout the day for prayer times. Again, it depends on where you are and how religious the folks are who are near you. For more detail on traditional Balinese Prayer visit the Balinese Prayer Page: http://www.filosbali.net/BalinesePrayer.htm. Traditional Offerings in a day:

1. Family temples are located in the corner of the house plot [or compound or land or whatever you want to call it] closest to Mount Agung [a volcano, the largest in Bali] where the Gods are believed to live.

2. The first act of the mother is to visit the family temple. The gods receive their offering in the family temple while the demons receive their offerings on the ground [Balinese believe in recognizing the balance between good and evil]

3. Women will repeat these offerings at work, in the shop, and at the beach.

4. Husbands will similarly pray and present offerings which are often seen in the taxis or other cars they drive.

In Bali, head covers are much less prevalent as islamic religion is not as widespread. However, it is still respectful and tactful to avoid wearing overly revealing clothing [including short skirts, tank tops, tube tops, halter tops/dresses, etc], especially in temples. In areas of Souther Bali [such as Kuta areas], you’ll find a plethora of Australians and other tourists. I relate Kuta to the “Cancun” of Bali. For Australians, a flight to Bali is often cheaper than flying across Australia so many younger people travel there for vacations, spring breaks, and surfing. We only drove through Kuta and did not spend any time there as we tend to appreciate the “not so touristy, glitzy” areas of the places we visit. This is not to say that we didn’t spend our fair share of time in touristy areas as well. Just putting things into perspective.

So, if you’re headed to Bali, remember- be respectful. Don’t wear overly revealing outfits and clothing. Your world won’t crumble if you actually wear a shirt on a moped and no one will check you out less for wearing a short-sleeved shirt instead of that new halter top to the sacred temple. Enjoy the ride!

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