Thursday, March 12, 2015

Our Last Week


Lotus bud bouquet, Thai street stall.

Well, readers, our last week wasn't all that exciting compared to the rest of the trip. It was pretty hard actually and made us ready to come home. But we had some good times too. After recovering in Flores we were in a blur of planes and hotels - 3 countries in 3 days! It was exhausting. We made it back to Bali for a night, then Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then Bangkok. Patrick was feeling a bit better each day, but there was no way we could salvage our trip to Borneo, so we pretty much just waited out our time until our plane home from Bangkok.

We made it out of Indonesia just before our 30 day visa expired. If the visas weren't an issue , we would have stayed longer in beautiful Bali rather than heading to crazy Bangkok so early. But, so it goes, so we headed to Malaysia en route back to Thailand.

We had one night in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (a place we had spent enough time in on our last trip) and it happened to be a night a new friend of ours, Zahar, was in town. We met Zahar on Kanawa and then again in Labuan Bajo and he kindly invited us to dinner in his home town of KL. We had a great time and were grateful for a local perspective on the city.

Decorations for the Chinese new year, a big deal in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Zahar at the epic seafood buffet in KL.

We had an awesome time with Zahar and were completely overloaded by the size and scope of this restaurant buffet. We tried a lot of good food, and some that wasn't very good, but we were glad to try it all. Its ok with us that we don't have durian cake or bitter gourd in the states.
Then, we packed up and hopped a plane once more, and landed in the large, loud and crazy concrete monstrosity that is Bangkok. Our original plan was to head up to Khao Yai National Park.  If we couldn't get to Borneo this would have to do, one night in Bangkok then leave in the morning.  More traveling but worth it.  That night Amy god food poisoning.   So again, our plans changed and we laid  low in Bangkok for longer than we wanted to.

We took pictures here of some of the interesting, everyday stuff you see around.  But as with most of the culture we experience, pictures are either impossible or very difficult to get, so we often don't take the camera out.  It's tight, crowded, hot, loud, smelly, and busy day and night.  

The power lines here are no joke, but they kinda are. There are this many, like this, everywhere, sometimes not as well attached as what you see here. As with many things in Asia, we can only stare with wide eyes and wonder how they can possibly make that work, and how often it's fatal to pedestrians.

Traffic. Always. This was our taxi route to the center of town and we drove it day and night, weekday and weekend and the traffic never let up. It's hard to describe how much effort it takes to do anything here, the pollution, traffic, and lack of city planning are enough, throw a language barrier and not feeling good and....well we just went to the mall to escape it all.

We saw Birdman and enjoyed having to stand up for the kings propaganda short that precedes every movie. And Patrick found his donuts. Amy wished we were staying in Bangkok longer so she could go see the upcoming Thai movie that was presumably about dressing up cats.

In the US, they sell you tanning products. Here, they sell you cream so you can be more white.  Can't we all just be who we are?!?!?


Betcha can't guess what this is?
The Thai language is beautiful, isn't it? Amy tried once to learn it, but it's a lost cause. Besides the fact that it's an entirely different alphabet, it is also tonal. There are 5 different tones (low, mid, high, falling, and rising)  and each one gives the same word a different meaning. So, forget it. Charades it is.

"Better English, Better Future"
The reality.

The sign at our hostel. Only in Bangkok...

And below, some more of the interesting features of Asian bathrooms.

Apparently people squatting on top of the toilet is a problem - because the toilets break and the squatter lands heavily on the shards! There were many signs about this, some with graphic photos.

Hydration Chart in the airport men's room. How very informative.

Our last day in Asia. We revisited one of the worlds largest (and craziest) markets; Chatuchak Weekend Market. We had a great time here on our last trip and once again it did not disappoint. It is hot and crowded and noisy and full of strange and surprising things at every turn. We didn't take a lot of pictures, in places like this you want to take a picture of  everything, so somehow you end up not really taking any. Plus, they charged 20 baht for a picture of the pet sugar gliders.

Talk about one stop shopping though. You can buy dead bugs, rainbow textiles, superhero outfits for your dog, clothing from rural Thai tribesmen, purple crocodile skins, coconut ice cream from a motor bike, fake Calvin Klein underwear, fermenting whole fish, and a new pet squirrel. And so, so much more.

English spelling is basically phonetic and up to interpretation in Asia. It's so funny, all the time.

If only this picture came with sounds and smells.
This place was a cacophony.

After the market we packed up and made our way to the airport. We really wanted a good meal before our 28 hours of travel, and of course, like everything here, that was a challenge too. We’ll tell this story, just so you get an idea:

We found what looked like a nice restaurant and sat down, watching as the staff threw puzzled looks in our direction. Someone came and asked us if we spoke Thai, which we replied in the negative. That was actually the first time anyone has ever asked us that. No one but Thai's speak Thai. They left, then someone else came and asked us what we wanted. We asked if there was a menu (much of this conversation is in pantomime) and he said/showed that they'd look around for an English one.  After a while, we received an English menu from which we ordered from by pointing. There was a lot of confusion as to which menu item we were pointing to, it took 2 of the staff to figure it out. It was amazing to see their fingers go to a completely different part of the menu and then look at you for approval.  Patrick almost moved a waiters finger to the item he was pointing at, written in English and Thai.  Finally, it seemed we were understood, or at least they were going to go get us some food. We waited for a while longer, then someone came, pointed to Patrick's dish on the menu and said, "no have."  He suggested another dish by pointing, and Patrick just said "yes", even though it wasn't at all what he wanted. At this point we had been there a long time, we were hungry, and we needed to get to the airport. After waiting awhile longer, someone else came again and told us they didn't have what Patrick ordered. How do you say "Well then what DO you have?" in Thai? So Patrick tried again, pointing to yet another dish on the menu and watching while the 2 staff seemed to debate what he wanted and whether they had it or not, finally giving us the ok. Then Amy's dish came. Or rather, they put a dish in front of Amy that had no resemblance to what she ordered. After calling the staff over and a lot more confused pantomiming it was determined they also didn't have what she ordered, but had not told her, just taken the liberty to give her something else. Which, at this point, we weren't up to arguing about. The strange soup they brought wasn't very good and too spicy to eat, but we got some down. Patrick got his dish and it was edible enough, but we were pretty sure the pork was cooked by fermentation alone. But we sure weren't going to try to order more! Oh wait, actually we did try to order mango sticky rice from the menu, but “No have.” So we left, hungry and tired of Asia, happy to be heading home.

Everything here takes so much extra effort and is full of such confusion and wonder.  You always feel as if you never really know what's going on. Most of the time it is really entertaining and interesting to make your way through these situations. Even when it's frustrating we do it with smiles and grace because we recognize our place as guests and appreciate the locals trying to accommodate us. We have often enjoyed the comedy of the way such simplicity can be so baffling here. That's a lot of the fun of traveling in such foreign places. But you have to be up for it. By the end of this trip we were tired and didn't feel well and were ready for things to be comfortable and easy. Good thing we are going to America, where things are clean and ordered and everyone speaks English. (Well, generally.)

After 1 taxi and 3 trains, we got to the Bangkok airport. A 6 hour flight took us to Bejing for a 6 hour layover. We were so tired already and still had a 12 hour flight to go! China is ridiculously overzealous at the airport, too. We had gone through this rigmarole on our way to Thailand so we were ready, but it was still annoying. You wait in line for half an hour to get your passport stamped, then wait in line again to get your passport stamped, again (???), then go through airport security, doing the usual metal detector walk and bag check, and then get frisked with a metal detecting wand. Just to change planes! We’re not even leaving the airport!

Flying over the arctic circle.

American soil, snow over DC 

Ha! We made it. Watch out America, we're home .

I'm kind of surprised they let us in.

So then we were home.
All kinds of new and exciting things have greeted us…cold and snow, jeans and sweaters, drinking out of the tap, constant reliable electricity, plugging into the wall without an adapter, toilet paper, hot showers, driving on the right side of the road, dollah billz, kale and peanut butter and BROWN rice, phone service, Fahrenheit and standard measurements, deciduous trees and wide open spaces. Beautiful. We are really appreciating this little hunk of the world. We are resting and settling into our American skin and reveling in our fresh perspective on the culture and country that we’ve grown up in.
And dreaming of where we might end up in it next.
On this trip, “home” has been more of a verb, than a noun. It’s our next adventure. Other travelers would remark on missing sleeping in their own bed and we’d snicker at ourselves because we kind of missed that too, but yet, we don’t own a bed... We’re pretty excited about getting a bed, and a home of our own. Its been 6 months already without. We look forward to having you all come visit us once we settle down. But, until then, we thank you for coming along on this journey, it has been a real pleasure to share with you.

Well, we’re off to look for jobs now…wish us luck.

Amy and Patrick W.

March 2015

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

-Mark Twain



Now that we're home we have the ability to see, edit and upload the underwater videos.  Patrick has uploaded two so far, but there are more to come.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Flores - Komodo, Kanawa


Already epic, right?

 This was an incredible week.

We boarded our plane outdoors, not uncommon here.

Got a great view of Komodo Island from the plane. We got off the plane and discovered the downside of outdoor boarding in the monsoon season.

At least they handed out umbrellas. But we still got soaked.

We stayed a couple nights in the little port town of Labuan Bajo - home base to high adventure in Komodo National Park, and an interesting place to get a look at the culture on the island of Flores. Not being in unique little Hindu Bali anymore, most of the population on Flores is Muslim. Luckily, the mosque wasn't too close to our hotel so we got to sleep in through the 4:20 broadcasted morning prayers this time! We were also told that a big part of the population is Catholic, which is a bit surprising, but makes sense in light of Indonesia's Dutch colonization. Islam was introduced to the area by Arab Muslim traders previous to colonization, and it usurped some ancient Buddhist, Hindu, and animist traditions. Indonesia is a pretty young country, having convinced the Dutch to give it independence just after WWII. While the large archipelago is united under one flag and one official language, there are hundreds of different cultures, languages, and peoples here. Our taxi driver on Flores said there are over 100 different languages on that island alone, many spoken by small hill tribes. Indonesia's diversity is pretty unique and impressive in a world that is becoming smaller and more homogeneous all the time.

Here's where we are, in the 'state' of East Nussa Tengara

So, we took 2 full day dive trips out from Labuan Bajo and had some incredible dives, and a trip to Rinca island to see the dragons. 

We shared our dive boat with folks from Germany, China, Australia, and even San Juan Island. We all got along marvelously and made some new friends while diving with graceful manta rays and trekking to see the Komodo dragons themselves. Both animals are surreal and spectacular and we were lucky to see them.  

The dragons are like prehistoric dinosaurs who have done some serious weight training. They saunter around slowly with their bulging chests and biceps. They lay around, giving the impression of laziness, though they can run up to 20 kilometers an hour (don't worry we will have to look up how fast that actually is too...)

Many of them hang outside the only kitchen around.   

They can kill and eat humans, no problem. Water buffalo are a usual meal here. They drool a poisonous bacteria laden saliva and stick their tongue out repeatedly to smell.  But the rangers there have big forked sticks just in case they try to attack so I'm sure we were safe.....right?  

We thought we better make sure these sticks worked...

We think they'll do.

We were approached a couple times by the dragons on our trek and it was quite intimidating. And we soon found out our ranger guide was missing a pinky because it got bit off! So maybe the forked sticks aren't all they're cracked up to be? But, we must appreciate their approach - the rangers don't harm the dragons, even if they are prone to attacking humans. They recognize that we are guests in the dragons' rightful territory and they are only enacting their natural predatory habits - a refreshing and surprising environmental ethic in this part of the world, where fishermen use dynamite and plastic trash gets thrown into the sea. But that's another story. They do splash red paint onto dragons known to attack though.

Note the red paint by it's back legs. This one's aggressive.

And if dragons weren't enough,  then there were mantas! Oh, giant manta rays floating by, such a sight we cannot really describe...but will try. At the Manta Point dive site we suited up, jumped in and descended slowly into the blue, to the bottom of the sea. We began searching under the dark cover of water for the normally elusive alien manta ray, who we hoped would wander into the area for a 'cleaning' from all the little fish around. We happened to be lucky. Soon a large dark form appeared from the blue and heads towards us. It's 'wingspan' is 3 meters or so and it's at least that long too. Giant.

It is distinguished from other rays by its dual protrusions from the front of its body, like tiny fat arms stretching forward. You can't see them too well in our pics. (Oh but wait until you see the video!)  So we see it, and it glides so gracefully, heading towards us, becoming clearer and darker as the slow rise and fall of its 'wings' bring it closer. We, with no grace whatsoever, attempt to grab at the rocks on the seafloor and remain still so as not to disturb it, but for the most part, flail about ridiculously in the strong current. Luckily, the mantas didn't judge us too harshly for our misadventures. They continued to come our way, gliding right over us, ever so slowly. 

It was really special to be in their presence. As Amy wrote, "Despite the regulator in my mouth I still managed to let out a spontaneous and joyful squeak as I became overwhelmed by their presence and closeness and the preciousness of my moment with them. Ahhh, this is what we live for..."

 We were serenaded by many mantas on that dive, some so close we could touch them, though we would never. Many sea creatures have a protective film on them that the oils of our skin can damage, so we touch nothing under the sea. We ascended after a whopping 76 minutes under, the longest dive we'd ever done.


The boat dropped us at the little island called Kanawa at sunset on the second day of diving. It was one of the few places we had booked back home and one we had been looking forward to.

 Here's what Amy wrote that night:

Ahhh...sitting outside our bungalow on Kanawa island - a lil island in Indonesia, off the west coast of Flores, in East Nusa Tengara. Only a lonely rustic lil' resort here, and some incredible snorkeling we will explore tomorrow. Listening to the waves lapping and the crickets yapping, and the occasional 'to-kay' call of the gecko living in our outdoor bamboo shower. Travel days can vary greatly in their intensity,  comfort, and enjoyment, but today was one of our faves. Last night we had a lovely dinner with an American we met and his Indonesian friend. We talked long of the local culture, language, and our travels, and, as most traveling conversations go, we talked of life, of living fully, of our dreams, and what we are doing in this big wide world. Small talk, you know, for small times. We tell our story and receive much validation and congrats for taking this opportunity to travel while we are not tied down. 
 The quote we heard the other day (or week?) comes to mind:

"The greatest risk in life is not living the life you want to now, in hopes you can afford to later. " 

We soak up this validation because, though we are quite happy with our decision to come on this trip, it's easy for doubt and fear to kick in at times and make us worry about the cost, present and future, of such incredible freedom and adventure. But, as the ubiquitous Bob Marley says; "Don't worry about a thing.  Cuz every little thing is gonna be alright." And it sure is.

Outdoor bamboo bathroom. The tub on the right is common in Asia bathrooms. It's full of water and a bucket - you fill the bucket up and pour it into the toilet and that's how you flush. Aren't you glad you know that now?
Below, the Tokay gecko that lived in our bathroom. They're territorial so it was there every night and probably still is.

 Kanawa Island wooed us for 5 days, and the schedule pretty much alternated between snorkeling (3-4 snorks a day!), eating, and lounging at our bungalow. Pretty wonderful. Some of the food and the bungalow were pretty rustic, but the magnificent water and marine life were more than worth it.


Snorkeling here we saw cuttlefish, octopus, sharks, eagle rays, mantis shrimp and on the last day: a giant bump head parrotfish! It's a ridiculous looking fish that some of you may remember from our pictures from Borneo. It was really trying to get away from the camera so not the best pic of its funny face.  You'll notice the coral looks pretty alive in this picture.  Indonesia generally had healthy reefs compared to the damaged coral of Thailand.

This coral opened and closed it's starry little arms giving a beautiful 'firework' effect as it flashed.

There were 5 baby black tipped reef sharks that lived near shore. You could watch them swim around from the dock. So, naturally we got in and snorked with them.

 I found treasure!
100,000 rupiah! (about $10...)

Mudskipper lounging on a mangrove stalk. As we walked along the beach we were startled by them skipping off across the water, and pleasantly surprised to find out what they were. It was our first time seeing them in the wild and we hadn't expected to find them. Cute little things.

The entire reef around the island was beautiful, coral and fish as far as you could go in every direction.


These little geckos crawled around everywhere out on walls and ceilings and especially in or near light fixtures, waiting for bugs.

Sand dollar microcosm.

Kanawa sunset

Our last snork ended fast when a really cool storm blew in surprisingly quickly.  The locals all loved it and came out to the dock to feel the wind and rain.  Then went in freezing cold and bundled up, it was probably about 80, just windy.  

Wouldn’t ya know it, an octopus showed up just as soon as we were heading in. Here’s Amy flailing about trying to get Patrick to come see it. We braved the white caps for a little longer to hang out with our last cephalopod.

Then, it was time to leave Kanawa so we wrenched ourselves away from the sea for the last time and headed back to the mainland to begin our long journey to the rainforest research center in Danum Valley, Borneo - one of our favorite places in the world, and the only place we visited the last trip that we had decided to return to.  Well, at least that was the plan. But, as it turns out, reality didn't unfold as planned.

The story of how our plans changed might be titled: 
'The Day Patrick was Saved by Jesus' 
or maybe
'The Scariest Day of Amy's Life.'

Patrick woke up not feeling well, but nothing too bad it seemed. So we boated into town, enjoying the company of some Europeans and making fun of a couple of large monstrosities of luxury hotels we saw that had bulldozed themselves into this poor little port town. We deboarded and made our way to a restaurant to have lunch and relax before our flight in a few hours. All was well until Patrick started feeling worse. Then, almost mid-sentence in his pronunciation of being ill, Amy watched his eyes roll back in his head and he went unconscious! She rushed over to his chair, holding him from falling and shouted 'help!' and 'doctor!' or something like that, whatever she could think of as she was freaking out and feeling utterly scared and alone. An Italian man that we had been talking to earlier, who actually partly owns Kanawa, came to her aid and lifted Patrick from the chair, and laid him on the ground, still unconscious. After what seemed like forever but was only a minute or so, Patrick woke up, in bad shape, but conscious. The Italian man got him some water and told him to keep laying until he felt better. He sat with us for awhile and then called his hotel taxi and told us that we could use his hotel room to lay down until our flight. So, so kind. As we got into the taxi we shook his hand and asked his name. "Jesus," he said, and we thanked him for his saving grace.  So we got to the hotel and lo and behold we had ended up at the large fancy hotel we were just deploring from the boat! Patrick was still in rough shape so we decided to book a room for ourselves. There was no way he could fly. So, with heavy hearts we said goodbye to our Borneo dreams and the 4 flights to and from there that we had to pay for anyway (ouch) and spent the next 2 days watching movies, ordering room service, and getting Patrick better. Who needs the jungle anyway, right? Sigh. It was a big bummer.

So began the last week of our trip, the most difficult and disappointing week by far, though we made some fun out of it anyway. 

 I went for a swim in the hotel pool, and felt a bit funny in my bikini as I was the only white person and the only non-Muslim and everyone else was fully clothed as they swam. After my swim this family approached me and though they spoke no English I eventually understood they wished to have their picture taken with me. Of course I obliged. So they took turns with me and I even got to hold the baby. I understood they were from Sulaweisi, an island to the north, and a place not so often visited by tourists. Then later we saw them inside and they asked for one more round, so I made Patrick get a picture too. So funny. Was it the blonde hair?