Summerized Blog

Balang Dam

About a week and a half ago, we went to a wine country benefit for the Balang Dam project. It was a really special evening for us, as we’d originally learned about the project first hand, while in Cambodia. The project is about restoring an ancient earthen dam near Siam Reap (and Angkor Wat). We saw the site of the broken dam, and how the surrounding community suffered from lack of water, and met some of the people who would benefit from the dam’s completion.

Since we visited, production began on the dam, but the organization was still raising funds to finish it.

At the benefit, people donated even more money than was needed to build the dam, which is so exciting.

If you’re interested in reading more about Human Translation, the organization building the dam, click here.

Draggin’ Dragons

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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.

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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.

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Flores

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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New Pets!

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