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    The best thing before sliced bread

    August 11th, 2007 by steve

    Another attraction in the Derawan island system is the jellyfish lake on Kakaban island. It’s a big ocean water lake completely surrounded by the island so no creatures can get in or out. The jellyfish here have been secluded from predators for 11,000 years, making their natural defense mechanism obsolete. This leaves a lake filled with millions of stingless jellies. We slid in to the murky green water with our snorkels and started playing with them. They are completely soft and harmless, except for the occasional headbutts. Yeah, they don’t see so well, or at all, and there’s so many that they just bump into you. There’s only one other place in the world that this phenomenon has occurred and that’s in Palau, Micronesia.
    –Mary

    Posted in indonesia | 1 Comment »

    Yet another tiny remote island

    August 11th, 2007 by steve

    It took a 14hr overnight bus, 1hr flight, 3.5hr car trip, and 30min speed boat to get to Pulau Derawan. In total it was 25hrs of straight traveling. What we didn’t know was if all that trouble was going to be worth it. I had joked to Steve that it would be the size of ToonTown in Disneyland and it was. It took 20min to walk around it. Here’s the count: 1 fishing village, 6 long piers, 3 homestays, 1 resort, 2 dive operators, 2 volleyball courts, and more turtles than people. There is a thriving turtle population that live in these waters and you can see them sticking their heads out of the water from inside your air conditioned room or on any of the piers, even under boats.

    Every night turtles come up onto the sandy shores and nest. They dig craters into the sand to lay their eggs and there’s so many that the beach looks like the surface of the moon with turtle tracks leading to the water. We even got the chance to help the conservationists dig up a batch of 100 newly hatched turtles from under a foot of sand in the enclosed hatchery. They’re a little dazed when they see the sky for the first time but then they immediately start wriggling their flippers and turn their big black eyes towards the ocean. They crawl past any obstacle, including our feet. Cute baby turtles smaller than my palm were lifted out of the ground by the handfuls. Once dug up they immediately scattered so we chased after them and put them in a basket to deliver to the open beach. It was a frenzy of little flippers as they wriggled their way to the water. The few stragglers needed a little help so we gave them a nudge now and then. It’s something special to see them touch water for the first time. They take to the medium like fish and instinctively start swimming in every direction. New batches get released almost everyday here.

    Posted in indonesia | 1 Comment »

    Water browner than dirt

    August 11th, 2007 by steve

    What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘Venice of the East’? If you imagined a city made of a labyrinth of brown, cramp canals lined with people living in timber shacks on stilts just high enough to keep their toes dry and away from the floating trash then give yourself a gold star for the day. The people in southern Borneo thrive off the river system. As we boated to the floating market through the waterways we saw the locals brushing their teeth, bathing, washing dishes, fishing, and answering the call of nature. Everyone smiled and waved like we were on parade. Guess they don’t see many tourists here so we were on display. Of course the kids tried to jump in to splash us, and they succeeded. We got used to that after the first few times so we were able to turn away fast enough to keep our cameras from getting drenched thus foiling their plan.

    – mary

    Posted in indonesia | 1 Comment »

    Funny Fish in the Lembeh Strait

    July 24th, 2007 by steve

    We’ve just finished a week of diving at Bunaken and then the Lembeh Strait, both in northern Sulawesi. Bunaken was pretty typical diving. Mary was out of it with the big burn bubble on her leg, so we didn’t stay very long. Lembeh, though, is a unique place in the world for diving. It’s often called “muck diving”, but that’s an unfair term. Although the bottom is silty and there’s some garbage floating around, it’s still better visibility than Monterey Bay on most days. What’s cool is that they get critters and small animals that you just don’t see anywhere else. You can’t really call them fish since they don’t have fins and some, like the puppy-like frogfish, walk on four legs. And they’re mostly small animals that don’t move very fast, so taking photos is a blast. Here’s a few we saw:

    The oh-so-cute Hairy Striped Frogfish. He’s just like a little puppy:

    Frogfish (a.k.a. Anglerfish)

    Giant frogfish yawning


    Peacock Mantis Shrimp sitting on eggs

    Flamboyant cuttlefish
    Nudibranch (slug) with a tiny lobster thingy

    Posted in diving, indonesia | No Comments »

    Cow Cults of Indonesia

    July 24th, 2007 by steve

    To balance out all our fun scuba diving, we did a bit of cultural tourism on the island of Sulawesi. There’s a region called Tana Toraja with peculiar funerary habits that we thought sounded like it might be worth a couple 10 hour bus rides to check out. The region is largely Christian, but the locals have mixed in much of their animalistic tribal beliefs and such to create a set of rituals and practices around death that are pretty, well, interesting. When someone dies, there is a huge funeral ceremony. Temporary buildings are erected from bamboo to hold all the guests and everyone brings offerings of pigs or highly prized buffalo for the family.
    The ceremony might go on for up to a week for important/rich families. Towards the end, most of the animals are slaughtered and the meat eaten and then extras given to the guest and villagers or sold back at the markets. In these pictures, all the buildings are temporary; built on the family’s rice paddies. In the short time we were there (invited in for tea and deserts, of course), we saw a few thousand people come through in groups, all bearing animals; over 100 pigs and probably fifty buffalo while we were there. Guestimates were that over 100 buffalo would end up being sacrificed for this queen of the village with ten kids. She was almost 100 years old.

    These ceremonies are big deals that can take years to arrange and finance. In the meantime, the body is preserved and stays at home in the only bedroom of the traditional horned shaped home. Really. The deceased is pumped full of chemicals and lies in the bedroom (8x12ft) and is referred to as ‘the sick’. It’s not until the funeral that they are called ‘dead’.

    The fun doesn’t stop there. The last day of the funeral after the cock fight a procession leads the body to the village grave which is often in a cave or dug into limestone walls where the are places in the same coffin as their family. They often place statues called tau-taus of the dead in a gallery overlooking the graves. Each village has some area they’ve carved out and generation upon generation can be seen pile up. Literally. In some places, the coffins were hung from the ceilings of caves to keep them dry and away from preying animals.

    And you know us, we had to do a bit of crawling through the caves. With bats. Screeching bats that don’t like to be flashed. Yikes.

    One bummer on this part of the trip. Mary’s leg caught the muffler on our motorbike one day and caused some nice damage. It’s much better now, but it cost her some diving while it healed up.

    Posted in indonesia | 2 Comments »

    Moana Living

    July 6th, 2007 by steve

    We heard the waters of Indonesia are fabulous for underwater life so we hopped at the chance of incorporating our Komodo dragon visit with a 5 day liveaboard that we booked online. Of course we were nervous about the actual boat conditions. We saw some local liveaboards on glorified fishing boats and hoped desperately that the website was true to life. On board we met the owner, tour operator, and the agent. They were incredibly friendly and we felt at home almost immediately. They were making this into a vacation as much as we were. There were only five normal passengers and an 8 person crew. The Moana was exactly like advertised, in even better condition than the photos actually. It’s a beautiful 4yr old 80ft vessel made with Kalimantan wood in the 400 year old south Sulawesi tradition. Our cabin had an aircon unit that dwarfed the room and a private western style tiled bathroom. Very nice. This boat was designed for comfort with all the amenities. The on call barman Woody brought us papaya smoothies and had a platter of fried bananas after our first dive. It was a glimpse of the service to come. We didn’t have to lift a finger, except to get another drink from our ‘Isaac’. We did 3 dives during the day and 1 at night with torches in hand. We saw all kinds of big and small creatures, many of which were new to us. There were even dolphins playing around on 3 different days. There was plenty of nap, beach, and hammock time. Our daily schedule went as follows: eat, dive, eat, nap, dive, eat, nap, dive, eat, nap, dive, eat, sleep. Seriously, that’s what we did each day. I know, a busy schedule but it grew on us.

    –Mary

    Posted in boat, diving, indonesia | 1 Comment »