Summerized Blog

Draggin’ Dragons

Cimg4811

We took a boat one day to see the Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island with some of the people we met on the dive boat.

The dragons were very big, slow, and drooly. They were impressive, yet mostly immobile. Most were hanging out by the ranger station, waiting for a handout.

Cimg4805

We also walked around the island a bit, searching for more dragons, but mostly to no avail. We did find a baby dragon in a tree though; it looked a lot like a run-of-the-mill lizard. The sun was really strong that day, and we walked through savanna and forest on Rinca.

Cimg4793

Flores

Cimg4787

It’s a hot, sunny Easter as I sit at an eco-lodge in Flores, Indonesia,
reflecting on the last few weeks. Flores is a world apart from Bali,
which is a world apart from Java. Indonesia’s richness continues to
amaze.

Indonesia is a wide (as wide as the US) archpelago of islands, and Java
is a longish thin island along the lower edge of the archipelago. Bali
is a small island directly to the right of Java, and Flores is a small
island, a few islands to the right of Bali.

There’s such cultural diversity from one island to another. And we’re
only scratching the surface with several weeks on three islands —
Indonesia’s many islands have multiple ethnic and cultural groups, with
equally diverse languages and religions. It almost resembles a set of
miniature continents, visually and conceptually. We’ve gone from
visiting some Christian friends in mostly Muslim Java, to seeing hybrid
Hindu temples on Bali, to being asked if we’re going to church on
Easter Sunday on Flores.

Flores’ Christianity is also hybrid; it’s mixed with the local animist
traditions. Long ago, it was a colonized by the Portuguese. I think I can hear people singing a hymn as I write this,
sitting on the seaside porch, looking out onto grasslands, sea, and
another island. Some will eat their traditional Easter meal of dog
today (I hear the big black one is tastiest).

Flores has a mix of Malay and Melanesian peoples. There are some
Muslims from Java here too. Traditions of groups throughout the island
are diverse, and I hear there’s a matrilinear society on one of the
mountains.

There aren’t many tourists here right now; some were scared off by the
Bali bombs. But there’s not a lot of dependency on tourism; we were
told that most people are still farmers here. Good service is also hard
to get here, but that seems a compromise for being in an uncrowded,
fairly unspoiled location. The people are quite friendly, and we’ve
really enjoyed talking with our fellow travellers here.

I’m definitely tempted to return and explore more of Indonesia, as a
month isn’t long enough to develop much of an understanding of the
place.

Diving Flores

Cimg4807

Our second scuba adventure was in Flores, and it was wonderful. Unfortunately, I have no underwater photos, as I’m still getting my bearings as a scuba diver.

We dived with Reefseekers. Kath and Ernest, the owners and dive-masters, are real conservationists, and gave great lessons on the flora and fauna we’d see before each dive. Kath, from Northern England, and Ernest, from Scotland, are tough, salt-of-the-earth types, with a soft spot for sea creatures and divers.

Cimg4776

Cimg4774

The way the land and sea come together with all the islands and reflections is beautiful. And many of the islands are conical and were formed volcanically. The grassy hilltops emerging from the ocean are a little surreal.

Cimg4810

The first day, dolphins frolicked around our boat. Prepping for the dive Kath poured water down our suits to cool us off, waiting for the surprised yelp, and explaining, "I like to watch ’em squeal."

On one dive, we saw an immense Morray Eel, with a head bigger than mine. A smaller, patterned eel swam out toward us; they aren’t usually active during the day. Later, a Candy Striped Cleaner Shrimp cleaned our fingernails in its tiny cleaning station cave. At one point a Feather Star, a starfish that looks like it’s made of black feathers, swam/spun gracefully by us.

Cimg4786

Cimg4784

Cimg4783_1

Kath and Ernest are building a resort on their own small island, Bidadari, where they also live. The island’s largest fauna is a pride of sixteen house cats, so, no matter where you are on the island, you can usually spot one. We dived off Bidadari on the second day.

Ernest gave us lots of diving tips. He and Kath are kind of Yodas of the sport, and he used to dive for commercial oil rigs. Hardcore. That made it all the more incongruous when he said to Jason, "Lad, d’ya ever watch Stargate?"

I dived with Nerdin that day. Nerdin is a Divemaster working with Kath and Ernest, and he’s from Flores. Nerdin is a fisherman cum scuba diver. He went from being someone who hunted the reefs, to a dedicated conservationist. Most locals don’t understand the ecology of the reefs at all, and sometimes even fish with dynamite. Nerdin is trying to educate the young people of Flores to appreciate and preserve the delicate ecosystem.

On all our dives, we saw nudibranches. Nudibranch means "naked gills" in Latin, and that is, indeed, what they are. They’re very small (sometimes just a centimeter long) slug-like creatures that crawl along reefs, and come in amazing colors, patterns and shapes. Many divers love searching for nudibranches, as there are lots of varieties. They’re challenging to find, yet easy to photograph. Reefs around Flores also contain Sea Squirts, an animal attached to the reef that looks kind of like a bright blue and yellow human heart.

Cimg4812

Our third and last day of diving was at two great sites called Crystal Rock and the Aquarium. At Crystal Rock, I saw my first shark, a White Tipped Reef Shark, early in the dive. We also saw a large, camouflaged Crocodile Fish; several Morray Eels; a Bearded Scorpionfish; a Red Tooth Triggerfish; two Boxfish; a beautiful Clown Triggerfish; an Oriental Sweetlips; and two largish, well camouflaged octopi (one was next to a large Stonefish); and many other creatures. A sea-snake swam by at the end of the dive.

At the Aquarium, we crawled along the sandy ocean floor, looking at coral heads protruding from it. Early on, we saw a wonderful, giant Blue Spotted Pufferfish — as big as a medium-sized dog, balanced on the sand, four feet from us. It had a big beak that it uses to eat coral. We also saw Oblique-Banded Sweetlips, Common Lionfish, Tiger Cowrie, cleaner shrimp, and a really beautiful Nudibranch, the Chromadoris Magnifa. Large Manta Rays swam near our boat, but we didn’t see them underwater. And dolphins raced our boat as we headed back to Flores.

In addition to the great diving and proprietors, we really enjoyed the people we met on the boat. Most evenings, after diving, we got together at the Paradise Bar in Labuan Bajo. Labuan Bajo is a basic little town, and the Paradise Bar is about as happening as it gets — a thatch-roofed bar on a cliff, overlooking the sea. We enjoyed it a lot. Sometimes local guys will play guitar and sing. And there’s often someone bathing in the bar’s bathroom. We drank Cassulas, is the local Caipharina, made with Arak, the local firewater. Just one can do you in.

Cimg4809

Aside from my ant-filled vegetable soup at the eco-lodge, we loved our time in Flores.

Cimg4790

New Pets!

Cimg4589

Cimg4588

Bali

We flew from Yogyakarta to Bali, having had enough of the train for a while.

Cimg4599

Bali is a real contrast to Java. It’s a much smaller island with a population of about three million. 90% of the population of Bali is Hindu — their own brand of the Hinduism is fused with animist and other local beliefs. It’s interesting to think about the fact that, at one time, much of Java itself was Hindu (it’s now mostly Muslim). These islands have been a trade center for centuries, and have been influenced by many cultures, including Chinese and Indian.

Cimg4600

We stayed in Ubud, Bali’s cultural center, for several days. Charming Ubud is about an hour inland, and is surrounded by beautiful rice terraces. The locals were very friendly. It’s also a gathering place for a white-people-with-dreadlocks-wearing-bindis crowd, which is comforting, in its way, to an Oregonian.

The Balinese have a reputation for creativity, and the beauty of Balinese homes and gardens impressed us. Traditional Balinese houses are a mix of garden and home; of outside and in. Behind the ornate front gate of brick, homes have well-tended gardens with fountains and sculptures. Within the garden are several room-sized, open-sided rectangular buildings, which are the rooms of the house. They’re made of red brick with cement or stone, and have their own wonderful style — a mix of local and Hindu. Gardens and rooms are often baroque with stone carvings, wood carvings, weavings, fountains, plants, caged birds, etc., but somehow everything comes together.

You can see their creativity in everyday acts as well. Artfully arranged trays of offerings for gods and demons are created daily and put in various locations around a home, business or temple.

Cimg4597

The Balinese casual and frequent use of flowers is also inspiring. I enjoyed seeing how they arranged petals in patterns around stair steps or statues or even coffee makers.

Cimg4598

Someone had decorated this plant with eggshells. I love the forms:

Cimg4581

While in Ubud, we took in an Indonesian Wayang Kuli puppet show. The puppeteers move intricately carved flat leather puppets against a back-lit sheet, and the main puppeteer acts out the drama by singing and talking.

Cimg4579

Behind homes and businesses in Ubud, you can still see lots of rice paddies. And if you go a little further out, the landscape is almost digitized with the horizontal vertical zigzag of the ancient fields. Bali’s rice fields are one of the most amazing landscapes I’ve seen.

Cimg4602

Cimg4582

We even visited a "rice temple," carved into a hillside in the 14th century.

Cimg4584

In contrast to the rice fields and villages, one of the roads leading into Ubud looks like Pier One threw up there. There are miles of stores selling carved wood frogs fishing with poles; giant metal cockroaches playing violins; and giant carved wood bears, holding up glass tabletops. I had no idea Bali exported so much home decor stuff. We saw more products of this nature than in Thailand, where we’d expected to see them.

Cimg4604_2

Driving through the surrounding villages, we saw bamboo poles, decorated with black and white checkered cloth (the close proximity of good and evil), and containing offerings for the gods.

Cimg4585

And some wonderful (and huge) paper-mache statues created for local ceremonies. I think they’re temporary.

Cimg4578

Gunung Kawi is an ancient rock-cut temple.

Cimg4583

After a hot day trekking around temples, and driving around in a beat up old van, we went to the Monkey Forest, which is next to Ubud. True to the name, there are lots of macaques in the forest; they’re not shy, and you can feed them bananas.

Cimg4595

The forest is a sanctuary to the macaques, and a temple to the Balinese. It’s a cool, dark, steamy grotto of jungle cliffs and gulches, with and long creeping vines with mossy statues and moldering fountains.

Cimg4603

The next day, we visited Bali’s biggest temple, Besakih. This is the massive front door, typical of Bali’s temples, which mostly follow the same model. The red brick and stone are also used in traditional Balinese homes, so you see a lot of these forms around Bali.

Cimg4593_2

It’s interesting to see pagodas in Balinese culture — an architectural feature imported from China, hundreds of years ago.

Cimg4590

Then, we drove up a mountain in the middle of Bali to Lake Bratan. There’s a beautiful temple on a little island near the shore, and the weather’s a little cooler up there.

Cimg4587

Driving back down to the shore, we visited Tanah Lot temple, built on a rocky crag just offshore. Fighting through hordes of tourists put us off, but once we finally got there, it was a magical sight.

Cimg0001_5

We left our hotel in Ubud for Seminyak, on Bali’s shore. It’s part of a row of trendy villages, and isn’t at all as charming as Ubud.

In Ubud, we’d noticed there weren’t as many tourists as the town’s accustomed to. This trend became much more obvious in Seminyak and the surrounding area. In Seminyak, there were lots of mostly vacant trendy shops, eateries and night clubs. Locals told us there are fewer tourists than last year by far, because of the most recent bombing. It was really heartbreaking to see. We’ve been the only customers in many restaurants, and taxi drivers and touts were always calling out for our business. Bali needs help right now. After New York’s bombings, America rallied, and the tourists came back. Bali needs that kind of support right now.