Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fiery Sunset

Yesterday we were extremely lucky and were able to attend a Balinese mass cremation. Even though we are in Nusa Lembongan, and island Southeast of Bali, people here follow Bali customs and religion. Seeing a cremation was on our wish-list, so we were stoked. It being in a place we really like was the proverbial icing on the cake.

If a tourist goes to a cremation, its usually only for the parade which lasts about two hours. We were the only tourists that were there for the entire ten-hour day. 

We woke up early and headed to the staging area, about a ten-minute walk from our guest house. We got there at 9:30 a.m. There was no sun, which sounds good theoretically, but here it means that it was very humid, and being in the narrow streets, it meant no breeze. The sun came out after a hour of overcast. It was a hot day with precious little shade. Lucky for us, we have already developed quite the tans, so we didn't get burned. Had this been a month ago, we would have been burned to a crisp. No pun intended.

We had a blast watching all the people and the crazy parade with one "float" so big that the crowd had to squeeze as far back as possible on the narrow steets. It was so tight that my camera almost brained someone carrying the float, and I was as far back as I could go! 

Getting ready to lift the main "float"

There are no sidewalks, save for storefront steps and one-foot-wide raised "medians" between the street and the cement block "fences" (walls, really). It was a ton of fun, and I was alternating between taking photos with my camera and videos with Tadashi's iPod.

Around 2:30 p.m., there seemed to be a lull in the event, so we decided to take a lunch break. We had just gotten our drinks when Tadashi asked for his iPod. It was nowhere to be found. Oh no! I had lost it! 

We gulped down our drinks, cancelled our food order, and hustled back to the field where the cremation events were happening. Luckily, a lot of locals were taking a lunch break too, so looking for the iPod was easier. Thank goodness someone we had met earlier asked what I was looking for. It turned out that her cousin had found an "iPhone"! She called her cousin, confirmed the color--red--and we waited fifteen minutes for it to be returned. What a relief! And what a super awesome family!!!

It seemed like the event was gearing back up by the time we got the iPod back, so we stayed to watch. It was about 3:30 p.m., and we had breakfast at 8 a.m. Luckily, I bought some banana bread as a back-up snack, so I wolfed that down. It was delicious: not too sweet, with just a hint of cinnamon.

It was a good thing we stayed, because they lit everything on fire shortly thereafter.

By 5:30 p.m. I was getting light-headed and in dire need of some real food. Tadashi wanted to stay, so I went to a nearby warung (cafe) that I had seen the previous day. I placed my order (banana juice and banana pancake) and sat down (plopped down is probably more accurate). 

I could see the sunset from my seat, and it was really pretty. The beach was only 100 feet away, so I ran out to take a couple photos. This is what I got.

Pretty, yes? Not impressive, but still pretty. 

I went back to the warung and my drink was ready. I sensed that this would be a great sunset and paid my bill.  By the time I finished my drink, the sunset had changed.

Really nice! 

After taking a bunch of photos, I went back to finish eating, My pancake was ready right after I got back, and as I was cramming that into my mouth, (remember, I was really hungry. it was not pretty. I rarely am able to eat that quickly!), when I noticed that the light was still changing--and quickly!

After I finished gulping down the pancake, I ran back out to beach to find this:

I was stoked! 

A few minutes after, it turned to this:

Ridiculous! I could not believe how much this sunset had changed. It was a stunning evening, and I was sorry that Tadashi had missed it.

To add the icing on the sunset cake, when I turned around, the cremation event had found its way to me.

Right after I took this photo, I realized that Tadashi is just off camera on the right. Too funny.

I'll write more about that ten-hour cremation in my next blog, which will be coming soon.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Eastern Bali

Last week we left Flores and Kanawa behind, and made our way to Tulamben, in Eastern Bali.  Toulamben is home of a volcano that was last active in 1965, USAT Liberty wreck just offshore, and black sand/rock beaches. 

We stayed at the lovely Minabali Bunga'lo, owned and run by a French couple. We only had the pleasure of meeting the wonderful wife, Christine. She was fun to talk to and hang out with. She's a great cook too. For breakfast, she mixed it up and we had crepes, pancakes, muesli, homemade bread with homemade jam, and fresh turnovers. For dessert, we had homemade ice cream, with bananas from her garden. Yum!

Christine had some wonderful guests, and we met some great people, most of whom were French. I enjoyed practicing my very rusty French. This will please my mother.

Christine (far left) and two lovely French guests that we made friends with

We had a blast playing with Christine's funny dog, Nina. Nina loves to play fetch. If you're going to Minabali, bring some orange tennis balls for Nina! Any color will work, but green tennis balls get lost in Christine's garden.

Nina loves to cool off in the swimming pool,

and the koi pond.

We enjoyed the company,

and the pool,

altough one of the pool statues made us do a double-take, especially since we didn't have our glasses on.

He's playing a flute. Get your mind out of the gutter! 

You may have noticed a change in trajectory for this holiday. We're not usually beach-goers for our holidays, but this trip hasn't turned out like we hoped (more on that later) so we've decided to stick to the beaches and get our snorkeling on. It's been a ton if fun, as I'm sure you've gathered from my last few entries.

The black sand makes snorkeling (and diving, I imagine) quite freaky. When we went to snorkel at the Liberty wreck, I got quite freaked out, and had to focus on the fish. At low tide, the wreck is only 100 feet offshore, and the end is only feet from the surface. It was cool until it started getting freaky. I think the black sand added a huge layer of freak because it was absorbing the sunlight instead of reflecting it.

Christine took us to the white sand beach, which was on a gorgeous cove. And we swam with a turtle!

Today we left Tulamben, and went to a small island southeast of Bali, Nusa Lombogan, a 40-minute boat ride from South Bali. It was a very choppy ride, with swells ranging from four to ten feet, and us going against the current for almost the entire way. We made sure to be the first people on the boat so we could get window seats in the middle of the boat. Everyone else closed their windows, but I stuck me head out to watch the water and enjoy the air and the spray. Imagine a dog in a car -- that was me. Minus the floppy ears,

Before we got on the ferry, we stopped at Bali's water palace, Tirta Ganga, in east Bali. The palace is cool, but it's basically just status of animals, many of whom are vomiting water.

Others are strange in thier own right.

There's also a swimming hole with lots of local children.

Yesterday we arrived on lovely Nusa Lombogan. After just one night, and barely 24 hours of being here, we both agree that this is our favorite place. It has amazing water, white sand beaches, and great locals.

Look for more on this place soon. Of note,check back soon for photos from the mass cremation that will happen tomorrow. Over 500 locals are expected for the cremation of a dozen people. It looks to be an exciting day.

For now, it's back to my Bintang while I enjoy the sunset.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Ombak Bali

We are back in Bali, and spending time hanging out with the two friends we made in Flores, Alberto, an Argintinian who lives in Bali, and Cynthia, who is from Olympia, Washington. Both are great fun, nod interesting people. We plan on keeping in touch with them.  I suspect that Cynthia may actually know our other friends in Olympa, Chrisanne and Webb, as they seem to have a lot in common. 

Tonight, Albeto invited us to the Seventh annual Ombak Bali International Surf Film Festival, held at the La Plancha beach bar in Seminyak. We got there just in time to have a new front row of bean bags put in place, so we had front row seats.

Our view

Other people's view

The bar is on the beach, with a beautiful view, comfortable bean bags, and delicious food. The whole beach is filed with bars like this, but La Plancha was the first -- the rest are copy cats.

Me, Tadashi and Cynthia 

Alberto and Cynthia

The film festival is all surfing movies and art. We watched a couple of shorts with slow motion surf, which was really beautiful. 

The director and stars from one movie, "The Salt Trail", were on hand for their movie's Asian premier.

The last movie, "The Old, The Young, & The Sea", was truly fantastic, and quite moving. It was about European surf culture, including three octogenarian surfers that started surfing when they were young. If you can find the movie online or on Netflix, I highly recommend it.

The craziest thing about this evening? We never expected it! Thank you, Alberto, for the invitation!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Manta! Manta! Manta! -- updated

The view from our lounge chairs at the Komodo Resort (which is not on the namesake island)

We left Kanawa Island Resort on a cold, rainy day. The Flores Sea was choppy and white-capped, which wasn't the best of news for us since we were taking a boat to Komodo Resort, on the nearby Sebayur Island. Lucky for us, on a good day our boat ride was only 15 minutes by speed boat, as opposed to the hour needed to get back to Flores. 

The ride to Komodo Resort was rough, to say the least. It was rainy and windy, with 2-3 foot white-capped swells. Luckily, our captain brought rain ponchos for us, and garbage bags for our backpacks. It was a crazy ride, and the boats engine petered out a couple times. I'm sure you can imagine that this was a little concerning. But we made it here, and settled into our bungalow, just steps from the beach.

The view from our cabana's veranda

The view of our cabana from the veranda

With the rain and wind taking hold, we settled in for a lazy day involving lunch, reading, a siesta, dinner, more reading and bedtime. Yes, I know: vacation is hard work.

The next day was beautiful, and our biggest decision was whether to snorkel before breakfast or after. Before, or after? Before or after? 

We opted for the latter since we didn't have any gear yet. We walked up the beach a bit and got in up-current, so that the we could gently glide through the corals with the current.

The reef at Kanawa Island Resort was nice, and we enjoyed it, but the House Reef in front of Komodo Resort is spectacular. The water here is so clear, the soft coral is so colorful, and the dropoff is so close that the House Reef could easily be the poster child for the ad campaign, "come see the coral reefs in Indonesia". It is by far the most vibrant reef we've snorkeled in. We had finally found the reef we were hoping to see.  Did you know that Nemo has a twin?

We swam for a good two hours, checking out the entire length of the resort. We were sure that it was early enough in the day that we didn't need sunscreen. Wrong. We both got a tiny bit of sunburn on our backs. Oops.

Speaking of sunscreen, I highly recommend "Water Babies" sunscreen. It's SPF 50, and has no parabens and very few chemicals, so it's good for me, babies and the environment. It also does a great job. But only if you put it on.

When not snorkeling, I've been either blogging, reading or combing the beach for buried treasure. The closest I've come to treasure is foot-long clam shells, some really cool coral,

and a crazy fish. It's a cowfish! It has a trapezoidal bottom, and it's whole body is like a 3-D trapezoid.  It has spikes for eyebrows, two on its behind (you can see one of them in the photo), and one on it's back (the thing that looks like a dorsal-fin is actually a spike). It's just about the craziest thing I've ever seen!

But the best part of our stay was today, when we went out with the dive boat to go snorkeling. We went to two spots, and for both of them, the water was so clear that when we got off the boat, I could very clearly see the scuba divers -- and they were over sixty feet below me!

Waiting to jump off the boat at our first stop

Almost the entire resort went on this trip, even the manager. Only 4 guests stayed behind, while the other 25 got on the boat hoping to see a manta ray at Manta Point. This being this "off season" for the mantas, seeing one is really hit or miss. 

From October to March (winter in the U.S., but summer here South of the equator), there are so many mantas that you have to wait to exit the boat (!!!) but this time of year, there may be no mantas in sight. Last week we met a guy who didn't see anything while diving at Manta Point, but four days ago, divers  saw mantas with babies. You just never know.

But today we were lucky. Was it the power of having 30 people with fingers crossed?

We were lucky enough to have spotted a stingray our first dive. The stingray was quite small, probably about two feet wide, light brown with spots. There is a small chance that it was a skate, not a stingray, but as Tadashi says, "Who cares? We saw manta rays! Manta rays are bad-ass!"

And he's right. We saw four massive mantas at our second spot, Manta Point.

When we got to Manta Point, our snorkeling guide was looking overboard for mantas, finding a good place for us all to jump in. He was very excited when he spotted a manta, and he shouted, "Manta! Manta! Manta!"  He was even shouting it to our other boat. So we saw our first manta as soon as we got off the boat.

The smallest of the mantas had about a 10-foot wingspan, and the largest was about 15 feet. All four mantas were at cleaning stations, with little fish nibbling on their skin and in their mouth! 

The cleaning stations are on the floor, so we just hovered above the mantas. Good snorkellers are able to dive down, but I'm not one of those (Tadashi did, though). 

Mantas are so majestic that I could just watch them for hours. Sadly, the captain wasn't going to wait that long.

I also saw a sea turtle on the second dive, just as me and the guide were getting ready to get on the boat. We were the last ones, so nobody else saw it. Sometimes it pays to be the slow-poke.

Very happy after having seen a stingray. The mantas were on the next dive.

The worst part? We have no photos of any of it, or any other underwater exploits. But trust me: it was freakin' awesome! 

Chillin' like an illin' Gilligan 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Shark! Jellyfish!! Turtle!!!

After my moonlit dip, I slept like a rock, as I often do when there's an ocean nearby. Unless there's also a fog horn. Or a mosque.

I woke up to use the bathroom and realized that dawn was just breaking. It was a gorgeous morning, so I decided to climb the Kanawa Island hill to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful.

The sun rising over Flores

I also got a great view of our resort.

A birds-eye view of Kanawa Island Resort

The thatched buildings are the bungaloes, which we moved to later in the day. Even from that high up, you can see how clear the water is. The black in the water is the cool coral reef. Oddly, the photo looks like I used a fish-eye lens, but it was just my iPad mini. Funny how the mind plays tricks.

On my way back down the hill, I saw Tadashi walking along the water, then I saw him hauling a$$ back to the bale-bale. I knew he must have seen something cool. And sure enough, I learned later that he saw baby black-fin reef sharks hunting in the shallows! The same shallows that I swam in last night. I didn't feel so silly about be afraid of my shadow any more. 

When I got down from the hill, it was still really beautiful and the water was so calm that I wanted to snorkel before breakfast. My fishing friends are always saying that fish are more active in the morning, so I figured that this would be a good time to go snorkeling. And it was! There were a lot more fish about than we had seen the previous afternoon. Although we were also in a different part of the reef, so maybe that was part of it too.

We saw a ton of cool stuff. It was just like the exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and The Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, except better, because we were in the exhibit. 

I had a number of fish swim straight at me, only swerving with a few inches to spare. It's startling and funny all at once. I saw a seahorse and a bottle-nosed fish, which is really similar to a sea horse, except it has a straight tail. We saw crazy chocolate chip and purple star fish, and live clams that were two feet long. 

At one point, Tadashi yelped, and he tought he was bitten by something. I went under, and saw a moon jelly just six inches from him. I know some of those can hurt like a SOB so I frantically motioned for him to swim away. And he did -- quickly. 

Tadashi wound up with stings in his torso and his arm. The jelly must have gotten caught inbetween the two. He's okay now, but he felt like he was on fire at the time, so we were going to head back in. 

Somehow we started going the wrong diection, and boy are we glad we did, because not five minutes later, we saw a sea turtle! It was so majestic. This was the classic kind of sea turtle, and it blended in with the coral really well. It was about three feet in diameter. We hung out for about fifteen minutes, watching it eat breakfast in the coral. It was sooooo cool.

The sea turtle was one of the a few things I really really wanted to see. Turtles and manta rays. Hopefully we'll see rays in a few days when we go to Manta Point.

After breakfast, we moved from our bale-bale to a cabana. Lucky us, we got the best one in the resort, right on the end, set a bit by itself (#1).

A few hours after we moved, Tadashi spotted four more baby black-tipped reef sharks in the shallows right in front of our cabana. I was thrilled!  We watched them for nearly an hour. It appeared like they were collaborating to catch a school of fish. They were about two feet long, and really cute. Tadashi had a polarizer on his lens, so his photos are better, but here are a few of mine.

By the time we finished watching with the sharks, it was laye afternoon and the light was georgeous.

The tide was low so I went snorkeling for the third time today with our new friend Cynthia. The reef is so close that at low tide, everything is at eye level. It is absolutely surreal.

Tadashi and Cynthia kicking back on the cabana's veranda

We are really regretting not bringing Tadashi's prescription-lens mask, and an underwater camera. We're hoping we can pick up a mask in Bali in a few days. For now, I think well try to get in the water for low tide -- but not too low, otherwise there won't be enough clearance for us to go over the coral.

Basically, we hung out with the entire cast of Finding Nemo today. It was epic!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Moonlit Beach

The beach view from our accomocations for the night, a bale-bale*

I write this sitting on a secluded beach, under a full moon and a cloudless sky, listening to the lapping waves of the Flores sea. The sound of the waves is commingled with nearby crickets and the dull hum of a distant generator.  The air is warm -- perfect, in fact. A light breeze keeps the bugs at bay, and I am perfectly content in my tank top and shorts.

The evening is absolutely perfect, yet I am alone on the beach. I am surprised, yet happy. When I camp, my favorite times are early morning and late night because It feels like I have the world to myself. I love the quiet solitude with nature. We are staying at a beach "resort" (Kanawa Island Resort) which I will call our "secluded island getaway". We are off the grid: no cell phones, no internet and (generator) electricity for only four hours a night. I'm surprised that more people aren't out enjoying the perfect evening, but I guess they're just here to snorkel and scuba dive. I can't complain.

The moon is so bright that it illuminates the hills behind me and all the nearby islands (there are at least ten). The islands remind me a lot of the hills east of Hwy 880 near Hayward and Milpitas. Staring across the sea, contemplating what to write about, I realized that the moon is so bright that it's reflecting on the sand below the water. The light so bright that I could still tell how clear the water is. I walked over to test the temperature, and the water is surprisingly warm. It was a little cooler that earlier in the day, but it felt refreshing. I walked up to my knees and could still see my toes. It was then that I decided it was time for a swim. But at 9:30 p.m., who wants to go put on a suit?

So for the first time in my life, I went skinny dipping. It was amazing. There's a coral reef about ten feet off shore, so I stayed in the shallow water. The moon was so bright and the water was so clear that my body was casting a shadow onto the sand below, and i was occasionally startled by my own shadow, thinking it was a fish.

I don't know how long I swam for, except that I stayed in until I started getting cold, about 20 minutes. I retreated to the beach, got dressed, and realized that I now have a blog topic.

So here I am by myself, with a beautiful moonlit beach to myself, letting the warm air dry me off.

I love the full moon in the wilderness, and I find it really hard to go to sleep because I want to enjoy every minute of it. But sleep I must. At least we have a bale-bale* right behind me, on the beach, so I will be lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. I will sleep well.

*A bale-bale is a wood platform (in our case, bamboo), covered with a thatched roof, used for resting or sleeping. Ours has a mattress and a mosquito net, with enough room for our bags, and walking around. All four sides have adjustable bamboo curtains for privacy. Normally sleeping on the floor is uncimfortable, but the bamboo floor was great! Sadly, I have no photo. 

The full moon rising over Flores.