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 .  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hoi Ann with Tav and Jenny

After months of trip anticipation, our Hoi Ann trip with Tav and Jenny finally arrived!   The journey exceeded all expectations and everyone had a great time strolling through the lantern lit streets, savoring the amazing food, exploring temples, and having custom clothes made at the tailor.   In the evenings the streets are closed to motorbikes making the downtown area really pleasant and relaxing to wander around in.

A few friends highly recommended we take advantage of the tailor shops in Hoi Ann and get some clothes made.  
Lookin good at the tailor
We had quite a few amazingly delicious meals during our stay, including a banh mi that was so good it cracked Jeff tooth.  It made for endless hilarious jokes throughout the trip.  Luckily we already had a dentist appointment scheduled for 3 days later and he was able to get it fixed up quickly. 
Lookin really good after the banh mi!
We made our way to My Son temple, a partially ruined Hindu temple complex made from red bricks.

My Son Temple 
Searching the jungle for a missing temple
The trip finale was cooking class where we learned to make pho bo, fresh spring rolls, Vietnamese pancakes, and chicken with lemongrass.  Our favorite was the pho of course and we’ve already replicated it at home several times.  Unfortunately our 3 days in Hoi Ann flew by way to quickly, but it was an amazing trip and awesome to experience with friends. 
Making Vietnamese pancakes
Very serious students

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Angkor Wat

Whew it seems like it’s been so long since I’ve updated the blog.  After a year and a half in Jakarta our lives have settled into a routine and we've become mostly accustomed the sights and smells of the big durian.  Cheap massages are a weekly occurrence and we hardly blink an eye when we see 5 people jammed on a motorbike.   A few weeks ago we met up with Tav and Jenny in Hoi Ann, Vietnam.  On our way there we stopped for a visit in Cambodia to see the largest religious complex in the world - Angkor Wat.  Its been very high on our travel list since we moved to Asia, so we were unbelievably excited to finally make it happen.  We were only there for a quick 2 days, but we managed to tour most of the big temple complexes in the area.  

Our first morning we woke up at 4 AM to get a good spot for the sunrise over Angkor Wat temple.  We fought through the Chinese tourist groups and were awestruck as the temple slowly lit up with a beautiful orange and pink sunrise.

Next we walked through the temple and viewed the stunning and intricate carvings and even climbed to the top of the main structure.

It's hard to fathom how much work went into these carvings
Angkor Wat from the outside
This area was completely collapsed when the temple was rediscovered.
After Angkor Wat and a quick breakfast, we walked through a few small temples on the way to the Bayon Temple.  Jeff climbed up this one while I cheered him on safely from the bottom.  Just looking at the picture he took at the top give me vertigo so I’m glad I stayed firmly on the ground.

Bayon is also nicknames the “faces temple” since it has over 200 faces carved throughout.  

Next we walked to Baphuon Temple as the heat started the really ramp up.  At the back of the temple is large reclining buddha.  Can you spot it?

After a lunch nearby we threw in the towel for the first day of temple viewing and opted to cool off at the pool.   Jakarta is pretty warm, but Angkor Wat was scorching and we definitely started feeling woozy from the heat and humidity.  

The next morning we made our way to the Ta Prom or the "jungle temple" where part of Tomb Raider was shot.  Before being rediscovered, all of the temples around Angkor Wat were taken over by the jungle.  Instead of completely restoring the temple, the trees were left to grow through Ta Prom giving you a good idea of how the other temples looked when they were discovered.

Our final temple stop for the day was Banteay Srei or the "pink temple".  This was the smallest temple we saw, but it was extremely intricate and my favorite of the trip.  Instead of sandstone like most of the temples in this area, Banteay Srei was made out of red brick giving it a beautiful pink color.  

Our stay in Cambodia was short and sweet, but exceeded all expectations.  Next on our list is to visit the temples in Myanmar, hopefully someday soon!