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    Bumps and grinds of Indonesia

    May 20th, 2007 by steve

    We just finished a really short run through Sumatra (really just Bukittinggi and Lake Tobah) and arrived in Jakarta last night. Tomorrow we fly on to Yogyakarta and get into the heart of the island of Java. We’re having a surprisingly good time so far. Here’s Indonesia’s report card so far:

    A Sumatran coffee is great. Motor oil without the edge. I’m lovin’ it.
    A+ The agrarian countryside is the most beautiful I think I’ve ever seen. Bright terraced rice paddies wedged between volcanic hills and deep lakes. In some spots, it’s a postcard in every direction.
    B People are reserved, but friendly. They’ve suffered from a huge drop in tourism in the last few years, but haven’t hassled us or tried to compensate unduly for their economic troubles.
    A Travel here is nearly free. Flying is cheaper than taking a bus. Hotel rooms in the resorts hit hardest by the drop in tourism can go for $2 a night. A hotel dinner at same resorts is a whopping $7 for the two of us. Of course, here in Jakarta, we just spent $35 to pig out at Tony Romas. But that doesn’t count.
    B+ The local food is great. We haven’t gone too deep into the cuisine, but like what we’ve tried so far. And since the country is split between Moslem and Christian, we get bacon and pork. Pork rendang with coconut shavings is my favorite so far. Well, that and the A&W rootbeer float I had today…
    A There are no other tourists here. At all. Got the hole country to ourselves.

    Not everything passes, though:
    F- Road quality is the worst I’ve ever been on. The Trans-Sumatran Highway is a muddy, windy, bombed out back alley. We made the mistake of doing an overnight ride on it and feel fortunate to have survived.
    C- Reliable tourist information is tough to come by. Prices, times, routes, all the stuff you like to know as a tourist gets a different answer from everyone you ask and yet another reality when you get to the truth. Not unheard of, but annoying.

    Internet has been hard to come by. Hope to get some photos up soon, but who knows :)

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    Last minutes in Singapore

    May 11th, 2007 by steve

    Well, our time is up in Singapore. We’re doing our last packing tonight and we head for an early morning ferry to Indonesia tomorrow. Gone will be the comforts we’ve come to expect here: warm showers, toilets, Mrs. Fields and Ben&Jerry and the internet. We expect to be roughing it more often than not for the next couple months, but hope to spend some time on tropical beaches or under the sea. We’ve even started anti-malarial drugs again. The basic plan is to start at the westernmost tip of Sumatra working our way southeast towards Papau New Guinea until we turn and head north to Borneo.

    In the last couple days of internet access, we have managed to get a few things up for you. There are now photo albums posted for the Seychelles and Singapore. I even managed to get a few video clips up from early on in our travels. Hopefully more to come. Take a look for the link at right.

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    I’ve eaten in Singapore and can’t get up

    May 9th, 2007 by steve

    Coming into Singapore, we planned only to stay long enough to get our bearings and visas for Indonesia. Nothing specific we had heard or read was terribly inspiring. Not bad, just not interesting. But it turns out that Singapore is just the right place for us right now. After not seeing a true world-class city since Istanbul 8 months ago, Singapore hits the spot. San Francisco style shopping for Mary, wireless internet for me and an endless supply and variety of good Asian food for both of us. There’s actually a ton of odd American food here too. McD, BK and Carls are represented, but so are some real small timers like Swensons and Ben&Jerries icecream, Mrs. Fields and Famous Amos cookies and even Long John Silvers.
    Back home I remember hearing about the cruel caning of an American kid caught chewing gum here. Sounds pretty tyrannical. But this is the cleaning city I’ve ever seen. Their laws might be a bit annoying if you’re not paying attention, but that kid deserved a whack for trying to mess this town up. Even Mary is not afraid to touch the railings in the subway. It’s just spotless. And here’s why: no smelly durian fruit allowed in the subway.
    After a week of comfort, we picked up the visas we wanted for Indonesia and now we must contemplate going back on the road. But before we do, there’s time to have fun at the aquarium.

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    Marshmallows and Pink Dolphins

    May 9th, 2007 by steve

    We’d been having fun eating everything in Singapore, but needed to do something even more touristy. There’s a little island called Sentosa (pronounced “Disneyland”) attached to downtown that has a bunch of golf courses, resorts and smalltime attractions. There’s even a dolphin show and aquarium.
    We started with the dolphin show and found out that dolphins in this part of the world can be pink. That’s right, pink. We sat in the front row for the show and Mary got picked as a volunteer to play with one. but first, she had to do a hula hoop for us. Great show! We went back for another show a couple days later and I got picked. I can’t keep the hoop up for the life of me, but I still got to play with a pink dolphin.

    Next we headed for the aquarium, saw the usual, and unusual, fishies and then a dugong. That’s a cousin to the manatee. At only 7 years old, Gracie is a bit smaller at just 400 pounds and cuter than a manatee. We think she looks like a big marshmallow.

    We wanted to get a little closer so we jumped into the aquarium tank with her! We spent half an hour in the Singapore Underwater World aquarium feeding Gracie the dugong. How cool is that? Well, it was pretty cool. She’s soft and spongy as a marsmallow. Surprisingly, her body is as stubbly as me after a couple days of not shaving. And she’s cute and playful as a little puppy.

    We took turns feeding her sea grass and she chomped away, going up for a breath of air now and then. She has no teeth, so we even let her munch on our fingers a bit. It tickled when she gummed the grass our of our hands.

    Part of the fun was watching the tourists pass by in front of us. If you’ve ever wondered if fish can see you, they can. And they don’t like camera flashes.

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    The truth about the Seychelles

    May 8th, 2007 by mary

    What do you do to break up a long flight between South Africa and Singapore? Have an extended layover in Seychelles, of course! That was actually a tough decision because we didn’t want you all to think we’re just tooting around the world going from beach to beach. Even if it is true.

    The Seychelles actually looks like those glossy spreads with brilliant blue waters and powder white beaches. And not just a few places but all of the islands are idealic. Seriously. We are converted believers and we’re both cynical by birth.

    We spent time on the 3 main islands of Mahe, La Digue, and Praslin. La Digue was hands down our favorite. It’s small enough that you could circumnavigate it in a day by foot. It has a tight knit community with a population of 400 where you feel safe walking in the pitch black of night. La Digue is developed enough for all the comforts like air conditioning and prosciutto but the modes of transportation are bicycle and oxcart. There were countless stretches of beaches that awed us, so many that we often had our own. The massive granite boulders that make up the archipelago provide the islands with a stunning backdrop that is superior to the typical volcanic or coral based ones. In all the major considerations for perfect beaches (i.e. water, sand, weather, scenery) we have to agree with the hype that the Seychelles holds quite a few of the top ten spots in the world. The best part is that this place is so under populated and touristed that you feel like you have it all to yourself.

    Oh the days of our lives wasted lounging on the calm crystal waters of the Seychelles, so blue it was like floating in the sky. We miss them so much.

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    Robben Island

    May 8th, 2007 by mary

    This island was once an exile for lepers but it is infamous in recent history for Nelson Mandela’s 18yr imprisonment, among many other political prisoners. For 12yrs they were forced to work at the limestone quarry, pointless menial labor, as a form of punishment. All those years not only blinded their vision from the painful reflection but caused respiratory problems like pneumonia, asthma, and cancer. Mandela can no longer take flash photos nor shed tears as a result. There was a small cave dug into the exposed rock that the prisoners used as a toilet and shade from the sun. In secret they would write on the walls with their fingers to educate the less schooled. This area was the only place the inmates had to socialize as they were kept in separate cells in seclusion for most of the day. It was within these limestone walls that the ideas for an apartheid free South Africa were crafted; the country’s first democratic parliament.

    In the prison we met our guide, a prisoner from 1977-1982 accused of being a student activist. He was 16 when he was arrested and told the wretched story of his capture at night in his home while his shocked family pleaded with the police. He shared in gruesome detail life behind within those walls including the beatings, brutality, and torture he endured and witnessed during his detention and life on Robben Island. No one can hear his story and not be moved by his tragedy and eventual acceptance. His scars are a tragic souvenir from his life there. We saw the cell that Nelson Mandela spent his 18 years on the island, smaller than the pens the guard dogs each lived in. It is astounding that apartheid was alive and strong up to 1994 and shadows of it still linger all over Africa. For proof one only needs to look at the shanty townships hidden in the outskirts of each city.

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