Singapore     Malaysia


5/11/07 - 8/10/07

This country of over 18,000 mostly uninhabited islands is huge so we spent three months just barely getting a taste of this diverse land. It has large populations of Moslems, Christians and Hindus as well as those practicing traditional religions (cannibalism??). The landscape is a stunning kaleidoscope of wild jungles, active volcanoes, ornate temples, and terraced rice fields lined with palm trees. Living in the Ring of Fire volcanic activity is part of daily life here and it is no wonder that some still make offerings to the volcano gods. We almost sacrificed ourselves in a suffocating hike down to the bottom of a noxious sulfuric crater.
Indonesia saw a large growth in tourism during the 1980s and 90s and then hit hard times after a pair of bombings in Bali in 2002 and 2005 nearly wiped out tourism. The top draws like Bali seem to have largely recovered, while everywhere else is nearly devoid of foreigners. There's certainly an impact on the locals and some places are a gauntlet of touts trying to sell anything they can. But people are generally friendly, honest and helpful. As usual, the farther from the tourist path we went, the less English was spoken and nicer the people were.
This is without a doubt the most varied and under-traveled country we've visited so far. It's a diver's delight, a nature lover's haven, and a culture connoisseur's feast.


The westernmost major island in Indonesia is incredibly beautiful, but time consuming and painful to get around. In the mountain town of Bukittinggi we spent a few days on a moped running around the amazing countryside including Lake Maninjau and the Harau Valley. Our next stop was Lake Toba, the Tahoe of Indonesia. Built up in the 1980's for tourism, the area is now so devoid of foreigners that the lakeside resorts have locals living in them. We were having a great time until the 19hr overnight bus ride that broke down four times.

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We stopped in Jakarta only long enough to have A&W rootbeer floats and a Tony Roma's feast. Yogyakarta sports a matching set of magnificent Buddhist and Hindu monuments at nearby Borobudur and Prambanan, respectively. At Prambanan we watched the 2 hour "short" version (it's normally 4 days long) of the Ramayana ballet against the backdrop of the floodlit temple. In the Dieng Plateau highlands, we ran across boiling sulfur springs and farming terraces that covered every nook in the mountainside before stopping for fresh fish caught in the pond under our feet. We did a little hiking at the rumbling Mt. Bromo and then up the Ijen crater with the miners who carry 180 pounds of sulfur on their shoulders for 4hrs along a treacherous 3 mile path for $4 so we can have matches and cosmetics.

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We do our best to avoid tourism but you have to work hard to hide from it here, especially when A&W rootbeer floats, Krispy Kreme, and $27 3hr spa packages lure you in. Bali is overrun but the Balinese culture is vibrant and strong in everyday life. Their traditional Kecak, fire, and Barong dances with gamelan music are not to be missed. Get on a motorbike and ride away from the crowded beaches to find the countryside peppered with something like 20,000 Hindu temples. Just about every home has at least a small temple outside, sometimes larger than the house itself. Then there are the community, guild, caste temples and more for protecting the island itself. All around the island are Home Depot-style temple and statuary stores for the Do-It-Yourselfer.

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Gili Trawangan

Our vacation from traveling was spent on the tiny 'Gilis', just off the island of Lombok next to Bali. We stayed at a dive shop on Gili Trawangan and spent our week getting in a few dives between naps. There are no cars on the Gilis, which isn't too surprising as we were able to complete a leisurely stroll around the entire island in about an hour and a half.

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Flores and Seraya Islands

We arrived on Flores a week before our dive boat was due, so we wasted away a week on the nearby tiny island of Seraya where we had nothing more to do than eat, sleep, read and snorkel. We shared the beach with a family of barking deer who occasionally stopped by to remind us who's beach we were on.

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Above and Below the Waves in Komodo National Park

Next stop was the liveaboard dive boat, Moana. Our days were spent diving the waters around Komodo and napping on the bow. The diving was good and we saw a few new animals, like frogfish and sea snakes. Mary even got to dive with a few dolphins. We stopped on Komodo island to look for the dragons, who were all in hiding during their mating season. On neighboring Rinca, we got lucky and caught up with a few of the lazier giants. It was all fun and games until we (well, not us) provoked one of the sleeping giants.

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Tana Toraja, Sulawesi

Tana Toraja is known for it's extravagant funeral ceremonies and ritualistic burial practices. We stopped by during funeral season and attended a huge one for a village elder. Then we spent a few days scootering around villages to crawl through the skull ridden caves where their ancestors were spending the afterlife with the bats.

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Northern Sulawesi: Bunaken and Tangkoko

Northern Sulawesi holds two dive sites that drew us north for a few days. The first was Bunaken, which turned out to be pretty nice with good walls and general topography. Fish life is good and coral is varied and colorful. Mary's motorcycle burn was still pretty fresh and bubbly, so we only stayed long enough for Steve to get a few dives and naps in.
Leaving the water for a few days, we headed to the hills and Tangkoko National Park to see the world's smallest primate, the tarsier. We didn't see any of the nocturnal tarsiers, but we did find the marsupial cuscus, large bright hornbills, and flying lizards.

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Crazy Critters of the Lembeh Strait, Northern Sulawesi

The Lembeh Strait is a truly unique diving experience. This narrow channel is littered with a collection of some of the weirdest underwater critters that you're going to see as a diver.
Hairy frogfish (angler fish), normal and pygmy seahorses, flashy flamboyant cuttlefish, crawling devilfish...the list just goes on and on. It was really tough picking photos for the album as there are just so many interesting creatures to show off.

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Nudies of Indonesia

We saw so many colorful nudibranchs (underwater slugs) that I couldn't resist putting up a bunch of pictures. Sorry, it is overkill. But they're just so fun. And yummy with chocolate.

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Banjarmasin, the Venice of the East

This was our token stop in Indonesian Borneo. Banjarmasin is built on rivers and canals, and we did our best to see it without getting too wet. We spent an early morning at the floating market and then an afternoon on a motorboat visiting the canals that support many of the locals. It's pretty strange gliding through the middle of the communal bathing pool that's also used for dish washing, fishing, trash and as a toilet. It was a shock to our Western sence of privacy, but we got loads of soapy smiles.

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Pulau Derawan

Our side trip from Borneo were the islands of Derawan, Sangalaki and Kakaban just off the east coast. They take a little work to get to, but it was well worth it. Here we saw our first manta rays, including a rare all black male. Kakaban has an isolated saltwater lake that has evolved four species of stingless jellyfish. After all the jelly burns she's had, Mary was pretty excited to play with a harmless version. On ultra-tiny Sangalaki, we joined conservation workers to dig 100 newly hatched green turtles out of the sand and set them free in the ocean.

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