Thursday, August 21, 2014

America 2014

The longer we live outside of America, the more we appreciate just how lucky we are.  Until we tried living without, we were guilty of taking for granted the clean air, blue skies, drinkable tap water, parks, sidewalks, safe food, fresh berries, great health care, functioning free-way systems, and the fantastic beer and wine. During a 3 week trip its easy to notice only the wonderful things, and to us it absolutely felt like we were honeymooning with America.  Arriving back in Jakarta left us both with a lump in our throat after facing the reality that our next trip home would be another 12 months away.  Before I send myself into tears, I'll move on to the fantastic trip summary!

Our adventure started with a week in Carson City to spend some quality time with the family and enjoy the fantastic summer weather.  As always, we were amazed by how much our niece and nephew have changed.  Morgan is such a grown up girl - learning how to swim, starting 2nd grade this year, and taking care of her little brother.  The highlight of the trip was spending 2 days camping at Fallen Leaf Lake where we used to camp with all the neighborhood families when I was a kid.  Tropical beaches are beautiful, but for me they can never beat a pristine mountain lake.

Gorgeous views, just before Jeff dunked his head in the chilly water
Best pals
Next up, we headed to Oregon for a short stay in Portland.  When we lived in Portland, we would count down the days until July rolled around every year.  What a special treat to be there during the summer without having to brave the rain for 9 months.  Our 4 days were filled with catching up with friends, seeing a concert with Jeff's family, an epic day of wine tasting, and generally eating and drinking to excess.
Best day of wine tasting EVER!
Concert on the lawn Mcmenamins with Dalena and Ivan
We were a bit nostalgic leaving Portland after such a short visit, but were soon in awe as we arrived in Yellowstone.  We spent 6 days campervanning around the park and soaking in as much fresh air and nature as possible.  We spotted amazing wildlife including a mama black bear and 2 cubs, 100's of buffalo, elk, and a big horn sheep.  There were a few times we felt like we were on another planet while viewing the bright, multicolored pools and geysers in the park.

Our first stop in Yellowstone - Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces 
This buffalo walked right through our campsite.  They are HUGE up close.
First elk
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone 
Our awesome campervan and best picnic spot around 
Mystic Pool - truly felt like we were on Mars
Our favorite geyser, you can see the car to the right
Jeff's first try at grilling buffalo steaks
We continued our camping trip and headed south to the Grand Tetons for four more days.  The views we jaw dropping and the crowds were thankfully much smaller.   After pestering Jeff for most of the trip, he finally caved in and agreed to go horseback riding.  Once he got over his initial nervousness, he couldn't refrain from yelling giddyup every few minutes and bouncing along at a trot.  He claimed that his horse was slower and he needed to catch up, but I peaked back a few times and witnessed his victorious expression as he sped up.

Stress free and loving the scenery
Frame worthy shot!
Beaver spotting
Whoopie ti yi yo, git along little dogies!
We searched for a bull moose for days and finally spotted one our last night
Views from our dinner cruise
Although we love the opportunities living in Jakarta has given us, there truly is no place like America and we're counting down the months until our next visit!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Banda Belters 2014

I've been struggling to write a post about our trip to Banda.  All the descriptions I've come up with don't really paint the full picture of the voyage.  The destination was everything that we hoped, and the journey to get there was a truly unforgettable experience.

Jeff spent numerous hours planning our epic snorkeling trip with 8 close friends to the Banda Islands (aka the spice islands) in eastern Indonesia, see below.  Getting there was a challenge, but we were rewarded with endless pristine coral reefs and beaches all to ourselves.

In preparation for the expedition, we started a book club and read Nathaniel's Nutmeg that narrates the competition between the European countries in the 1600s to stake their claim on the "Spiceries."  The book describes the obstacles, hardships, tropical diseases, and dangers that sailors faced in reaching these islands - on average only 20% survived!  Luckily we fared much better during our trip and all members survived the trek.

We started our journey off with a relaxing overnight stay in Ambon to fully prepare ourselves for the Pelni - a ferry run by the Indonesian government.  Getting on the ship was our first challenge and unfortunately I have no pictures as we were warned about the pick-pockets and told to hide all valuables as deep in our bags as possible.  Boarding was a sweaty free-for-all with thousands of people pushing to get on and off the boat, porters forcing their way through the crowd, groups of hawkers selling all kinds of "treasures", and of course a group of 10 tall Westerners trying to find our way through the maze.   We made it to our rooms and immediately headed to the deck and cracked a few bottles of wine to celebrate.

Bottoms up!
Banda Benders 2014
Although we'd read stories about the unsavory conditions on the boat, it was really jaw-dropping seeing how many people were packed on the boat.  People were camped out everywhere - in the hallways, stairways, emergency exits, even the lifeboats.   By the end of the 8 hour ferry trip, there was garbage all over the floor and the smell was close to unbearable.

Main stairway to get to the upper decks 
Economy class has beds and a shelf to store your stuff
So many families were traveling in this condition, very sad.
Adelle is really lovin' our second class cabin
This porter was using a suitcase as a battering ram to get through the crowd.  Shortly after this picture, he slammed me in the head one too many times and got a tongue lashing along with a stink eye.
After recovering from the ferry ride, we spent the rest of the week snorkeling, playing cards, relaxing on our deck, enjoying the fine wine and cocktails we lugged along on the trip, and generally unplugging from our busy lives in Jakarta.  The snorkeling was absolutely incredible - sharks, parrot fish, turtles, tuna, puffer fish, eel, nudibranch, a tiny blue shrimp and lots of beautiful coral.

So many schools of fish!
Spotted eel
Crystal clear water and lush green jungles made this some of the most beautiful scenery we've seen 
Little blue shrimp - good find Jeff!
Love these clown fish
Shy turtle

Lion fish 
Six person selfie outside the old Dutch fort
This shot took about a dozen tries
Sunset from the dock
Our last look at the Pelni after disembarking in Ambon.  Can you spot the two bules in the crowd?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bunakan, 2014

My blog posts seem to be getting further and further apart.  We've really settled into our lives in Jakarta, and most experiences that were once jaw dropping now feel completely normal.   For the first year we were constantly laughing, commenting, and taking pictures of the strange things around us - entire families on a single motorbike, people riding on top of the train outside our apartment, workers scaling 7 story high bamboo scaffolding, or goats crossing the road in the upscale business district area.  I do somewhat miss the days of being constantly entertained by the new culture, but its also nice to just feel at ease in our home city.  

Since Jeff and I aren't really sure how long we'll be living in Indonesia, we're trying to squeeze as much domestic travel in as our budget and schedule allow.  Last weekend was a holiday weekend and we've been longing for some snorkeling, so we caught a direct flight to Manado for a relaxing weekend at Bunakan.  We were a little nervous before the trip since a few people told us there would be a lot of garbage in the water.  We snorkeled at 6 sights total, and one of them had thick garbage (Alung Banua) that seemed to be drifting in from Manado.  The other 5 locations were very clean and had far fewer people as well.

Jeff has become an amazing underwater photographer and seems to get better every trip!  He manages to dive down and hold himself steady in the strong currents and capture some amazing shots.  Our first day we joined a dive trip from our hotel and had a great time observing all the coral and swimming with large schools of fish.  The one downside of the day was seeing so many people standing on the reef.  I managed to politely tell one guy while gritting my teeth that the coral dies if you stand on it, but then noticed about 25 more people doing the same thing.  Ehhh, I'm getting worked up again just thinking about it.

This eel was pretty well disguised
So many little fish!
For our second day of snorkeling, Jeff managed to coordinate joining another group who had chartered a boat!  We got to choose which sights we wanted to see and stayed out all day.  It turns out that our boat buddies, Tim and Brian, were also living in Jakarta so we became fast friends.  We failed to capture a group shot, so the underwater pics will have to suffice.  

Lion fish hiding between coral
These clown fish were so aggressive defending their coral 
Turtles are always a favorite!
Puffer fish
Our first ever nudibranch.  Can you believe this photography?!?
Can you spot the flounder buried in the sand?
These clown fish were so much fun to watch
This sea cucumber looks like he's wearing Nike Free's
These christmas tree coral can shut instantly when you get close
This trip made us both super excited for our upcoming adventure to Banda in May.  Its a bit difficult to get there, but the sea life is said to be some of the best in Indonesia.  Here's a link to all of the amazing shots Jeff took - picasa .