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    Robinson Crusoe with Banana Pancakes

    July 6th, 2007 by steve

    We arrived on the island of Flores a week before our dive boat was due to leave for a tour of the islands around Komodo. Without sufficient motivation to trek around Flores, we faced being stranded in the port town of Labuanbajo. The only option that suited us was to run out to the nearby island of Seraya for a few days of deserted isle bliss. We shared this tiny island with just a handful of other guests, a few staff, a small fishing village at the far end of the sand and a family of squeaking deer who truly own the beach.Our beachfront bamboo huts may not have had air conditioning or indoor plumbing, but we did get electricity and running water for four hours a day. Freshwater for showering is brought in from the mainland, so we’d run out to the ocean with buckets to get saltwater to flush the toilet with.
    The first day, we heard some odd high pitch barking while we were napping on the beach. After a while we found we were sharing the beach with a family of short and stout deer. Barking deer. One took a keen interest in us and I ended up wrestling with his horns and making a friend for life.There is a small restaurant that is intent on teaching guests how to say “no” in Indonesian. At breakfast, “no toast”. For lunch, “no curry”, “no oil”. The best was the third day when we learned there was no more fish to be had. Really. Fish. We’re on an island! There’s a fishing village just over the hill! Alas, we were forced to move on to squid, which turned out just fine.
    A Finn learned to climb the palm trees one day and a Frenchman had found a machete, so we learned how to crack coconuts one night. There was even an attempt at making steamed coconut milk by leaving the nut in the fire for a bit before hacking it open. Too bad we didn’t have a cappuccino machine to go with it.
    Six days later, we’d done not much more than sleep, eat, snorkel, float in the water and read. In other words, it was a great week and prepared us for the rough days ahead on our dive boat.

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    The Gilis

    July 6th, 2007 by steve

    To recover from our short trip home we headed directly to Gili Trawangan off the waters of Bali. It took us two travel days from SFO but the prospect of no cars and nothing to do but to soak in the sun and the sea on a spit of land the size of a city mall was irresistible. The only way to get there was by local fishing boat, but once you’re on the island there’s no reason to leave. It’s a tropical island escape with all the western comforts. Meals are eaten on shaded cushions on the water’s edge. During the day we lazed in the pool, joined in the afternoon sand volleyball game, or did some diving towards our advanced certification. There is a single dirt road and with horse carts offering rides. A bar projects the latest movies on a wall at night. Or you can watch a movie of your choice on your private platform with the water 20 feet behind the screen. At night the starry universe reveals itself in twinkling detail. Add no bugs and no humidity and Gili is one of our favorite beach spots to get away from it all without roughing it, all for a whopping $20 a day.

    –Mary

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    The Most Expensive Hockey Game…EVER

    July 6th, 2007 by steve

    It had been a year since we had last been home and while sitting in Bali we found an opportunity to go back to the Bay Area for a short visit. We booked the next flights out and found ourselves back in the middle of Silicon Valley as if we’d only been gone on a 2 week vacation. There was only enough time during our week long stay to visit a short list of family and friends. Steve squeezed in a couple games of hockey and I got in a few tennis and golf swings. The only other thing we exercised was our stomachs. We went to our favorite eateries and, of course, there was mom to make sure we were overstocked on food. We got a bigger harddrive for our ever growing collection and restocked on dri-fit underwear for Steve. Before we knew it we were back on an airplane with another 2 days of travel to pick up where we left in Indonesia.

    Thanks everyone that rearranged their days to say hi to us and make our stint home worthwhile.

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    Bali

    July 6th, 2007 by steve

    Bali really didn’t hold much interest for either of us initially, but it turns out we’ve now spent nearly two weeks total here. Aside from touristy reasons, it turns out to be a comfortable home base and airline hub for the islands east of Sumatra. There’s plenty of tourism, but the island has quite a bit more hidden between the beaches, resorts and tourist-only temples.

    Here a temple, there a temple…Bali is mostly Hindu, and there are something like 20,000 temples that dot the countryside. No kidding. All over the island are Home Depot-style temple and statuary stores for the Do-It-Yourselfers of Bali. 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.
    …everywhere a temple temple.

    It’s just very cool to see a culture that is still clinging on amidst so much tourism. We spent a fair amount of time on a scooter getting out of the bustle of the south and found that the countryside is really beautiful. It’s hard to believe that the smaller villages and farming communities are on the same little island as Kuta and Denpasar.
    Bali does good at making cultural dance and music available. The ultra-touristy town of Ubud has a dozen shows of one kind or another going on in various temples every night. It’s actually pretty cool stuff. The Kecak dance has a hundred chanting guys surrounding two dancing girls. Fire Dance has, well, a guy prancing around on a bamboo horse kicking smoldering coconut husks at the audience. Not to be outdone is the Barong dance with the centerpiece mythical dragon/lion/dog thing that prances around. All would do really well in Vegas.
    All in all, Bali has kind of grown on us. It’s got everything the hardcore tourist wants (A&W, Krispy Kreme and several Dunkin Donuts), but it is easy enough to get away from it all and enjoy the natural wonders and culture.

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    Back to hiking for a living

    July 6th, 2007 by steve

    Now that the cultural sites were out of the way, we had only Gunung Bromo and the Ijen Plateau left in Java. Unfortunately, both required a bit of hiking and we’re getting lazier by the moment.

    Worse, Bromo required waking up for sunrise. Errrrg. Bromo is the little crater in the picture below. I forget the name of the big mountain in the background, but it is an active volcano that spews a plume of smoke up every 20 minutes or so.

    The Ijen crater rises above beautiful forests and coffee plantations. A healthy hike up to the top offers a view over a captive lake and steaming sulfur vents. The hike down to the lake is insanely steep and quite dangerous as intense sulfur clouds pass by now and then, both blinding and suffocating all hikers. We, of course, hiked all the way down and played in the sulfur clouds. I got a little too close once and came as close as I ever have to suffocating. It’s actually the incredibly intense burning sensation caused by the sulfur that really does it.
    What makes this place so interesting is that it is an active sulfur mine. Miners head up the hill and into the crater where they pick up 150 to 180 pounds of sulfur to carry back up the treacherous crater trail. It is absolutely insane what these guys subject themselves to for $4.
    I tried out a miner’s load and could barely keep my balance. The sulfur weighed as much as me and much more than the little miner!

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    A warmer and yummier cup of Java

    July 6th, 2007 by steve

    After Jakarta, we had a great time tooling through the temples and volcanoes of Java. The main cultural center of Yogyakarta is home to matching shrines, one Buddhist and one Hindu. The Hindu temple, Prambanam is a complex off fascinating skyscraper style buildings. At night, the Ramayana story is played out in a ballet style in front of the temples. There’s fighting, flying arrows, magic and lots of FIRE when the Monkey god-dude burns the stage down.

    Borobodur is the largest Buddhist temple anywhere. Maybe? Too many temples and boasts to keep them all straight. We stayed at the resort on the temple grounds and enjoyed our breakfast while the greenskeepers made it all pretty.
    Yogyakarta itself we found pretty interesting and I got a lot of practice on the scooter. There’s a cool bird market where you can buy bats, owls, monkeys, mongoose, whatever you like. I decided I really want an owl. They’re so cool. We had some really good back-alley food here, too.

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    Java, no not Starbuck’s

    June 23rd, 2007 by steve

    There isn’t much in Jakarta to be excited about. It’s a big, hectic capital city made of some skyscrapers (the haves) but mostly sprawling dirty village (the have nots). Tony Roma’s was our only joy. Everything is flown in from the States so it was all scrumptous to us. Of course it cost as much as our flights there. Then we headed inland to Yogyakarta where there are temples abound. We got back onto the back of a motorbike and explored the numerous Buddhist temples nearby including Prambanan and Borobudur. Here we saw the poverty of the people were evident. Men would lay on their becaks (rickshaw style bikes) waiting for any fare to come along. They’ll take you across town for half a buck. But there’s too many of them so if they don’t get anyone then they don’t eat. There are women carrying gallons of juice and pots of rice strapped to their back while rambling the streets hoping to make a few cents to live off of. A local told us that the government is hopelessly corrupt and leaves the people to fend for themselves. Those with a bit of land could atleast farm but those without were left to their own devices, thus the high crime in cities. The people are instantly suspicious of any local with money. They didn’t even care about the recent Indonesian killed in a university in the States because anyone overseas got there by corrupt means. We found ourselves opting to eat at the street carts just to spread the money around. For 50cents we got some pretty tasty dishes and lots of smiles.
    –Mary

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    Lake Tobah

    June 23rd, 2007 by steve

    After the bus adventure, we were just about ready to forget it all and fly home, but after the harrowing 20 hours, we had to give Lake Tobah a chance. Tobah feels like Tahoe to me. It’s a big, deep and pretty lake surrounded by mountains and with resorts dotting the shore. Unfortunately for the locals, tourism died hard after all the resorts were built and they now sit occupied mostly by locals. We stayed in a decent place for $5 a night. We only paid that much because it just seemed cruel to negotiate down to the $2 we could have paid. Sumatra is really a beautiful island with some wonderful people. It’s a shame that they don’t get the tourism they so badly want.We weren’t really in the mood to play in the lake like all the locals, so our highlight of Tobah was running a scooter around the countryside to see the villages and tombs in this pocket of local and Christian fusion. For whatever reason, they’re big into above ground tombs. Fancy tombs that represent their worldly possessions and let them spend eternity in comfort. But what does have to do with a guy riding a fish?

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    My Lungs Object

    June 23rd, 2007 by steve

    Most of this traveling stuff requires making the best guess you can with whatever limited information is available. Somehow things usually work out. And other times you wonder why you left the comfort of your home as you pick the roach out of your hair at 1am on a pitch dark lurching bus that’s already broken down 3 times in the first 6hrs and the engine is LITERALLY held together by a short piece of blue twine. And the only hope you have is that there’s only 13 more hours to go. But will we be able to survive the the chain smokers? We estimated that during the 19 hour, 340 mile journey (that’s 18mph) between Bukittinggi and Danau Toba in Sumatra the 20 smokers on board lit up 225 cigarrettes. Damn you, Marlboro. Of course none of the windows opened and the aircon wafted out of black holes like the breath of an old asthmatic man climbing up everest. We were in the very last seats with Steve hugging the wall of the toilet. Add that to the warm stench rising up between the seats from the engine below to make a foul olfactory soup. Even then we were better off than the dozen guys that were either passing the night on plastic stools in the aisles, spread across the floor that was dirtier than an Ethiopian refugee camp (or the back of your stove. come on, you know you’re afraid to look), or using our backpacks as cushions. Actually that last part didn’t look too bad. Somewhere in the dark pits of the mountainous Trans-Sumatran highway the bus stopped and the engine door was thrown open again. They made us give them both our headlamps to work on the engine by flashing their cigarette lighters incessantly at our sleepy eyes. Who goes on an overnight bus trip through the unlit windy roads of the Trans-Sumatran highway on a heap of third world reject parts without a flashlight? At 6am there was a mosque break. At 8am a breakfast break, where we had yet another break of a different sort. We were sleeping the pitstop while everyone had piled off when I woke up and saw smoke billowing down from an electrical fire in the already wheezing air conditioner. Oh well, I guess that means we have time to grab a bite. Another 5 hours of seeing how long I can hold my breath through the mushrooming smoke clouds and we were rolled off the back of the bus onto an empty parking lot. We were two prisoners released from jail, but we had left in such a hurry that we left Steve’s flip-flops. Who knows, maybe that too will become part of the engine before their journeys’ end.
    –Mary

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    Sumatran School Dayz

    June 23rd, 2007 by steve

    Our first solo drive on Indonesia’s crazy motorways was to see Lake Maninjau, about 2 hours from home. Once off the main truck roads, driving really isn’t so bad. The biggest problem is that the countryside is so incredible that keeping my eyes on the road was really tough. The lake is down in a crater which makes for great views, and a windy windy road. There’s a sign at each of the 42 ‘acknowledged’ hairpins letting you know just how far you still have to go. Funny. From up the hill, we had noticed what looked like fisheries all along the lake’s edge, so we stopped to check one out. We got permission from some random kid to raft out and walk on one. It’s quite a setup, dozens of net tanks filled with thousands of fish. Later, we saw the lucky fish being tossed into clear trashbags half filled with water, just like the goldfish you got from the store as a kid full sized. But these were heading back into town on a flatbed truck for our dinner.Our plan to circumnavigate the lake and be home in time for tea was derailed early on when a couple kids on a scooter pulled up and started chatting. Long story short, it was their turn to capture tourists to bring back to their English school. We really had nothing better to do, so we followed them to a nearby town and let their mates quiz us with stock questions on our age, favorite color and food, job, etc. Mary got the smart ones; I got the 2nd month students who could only read the questions in their notebooks. We eventually escaped to face the harrowing drive UP the crater wall and back to town for dinner.

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