About Jenna

Sailing in the Pacific.

Reflections: Maldives

Here’s a post about our experiences travelling to the Maldives during January and February 2016.

From Thailand to the Maldives

It was hard to say goodbye to Thailand after five months, but we looked forward to sailing again on the open ocean. We celebrated our last night at Coconut’s in Phuket, with the chef/owner Phen and cruising friends. Hazel took orders and delivered everyone’s food. She loved helping out in the kitchen. We all miss Phen!

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Jamie’s brother Richy, our neice and nephew Katie and Nic, and our friend Travis joined us for a 10-day crossing to Male, Maldives.

We blogged about the crossing in real time (Sophie is Wicked Fast Again, Sailing Along Quite Nicely, Bay of Bengal, Ohhhhh Halfway There, Crossing a Highway, Beneath the Subcontinent,  Current-aided Run to the Barn, and Made It!), so  here is a glimpse of the pictures from our adventure:

 

Land Ho!

We had one of the easiest and most fun passages of our entire journey. Even so, there is nothing better than the feeling of seeing land at the end of a successful ocean crossing.

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Male is a daunting sight with tall buildings covering almost every square inch of the island.

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After anchoring in the deepest waters since Jayapura harbor in Indonesia, checking in with our agent and the government authorities, and moving to a shallower and more protected anchorage for the night, we celebrated.

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After picking up a few veggie provisions for the weekend, we got an early start out to one of the nearby atolls for some snorkeling and sun while awaiting our formal cruising permit.

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Anchored next to a handful of super yachts, Sophie felt quite small. We didn’t mind the view, though.

The next day, we headed back to Hulhumale to pick up Jenn and a few more provisions before heading out in search of manta rays and some more remote anchorages.

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We only had a couple of days with Richy and Nic so we made the most of our time together, snorkeling, swimming, diving, a few games of Shotzee!, and Leo lost another tooth.

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It was so special to have Richy, Katie and Nic together on Sophie. Sigrid, Stephen and Danny we wish you could have been here too!

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After Richy and Nic departed, we sampled some local food and made a grocery run during a torrential downpour, discovering a broken jar of pickles on our way home, then headed out for a week of fun in the sun.

Resorts in the Maldives are beautiful, but appear to be quite the velvet prisons. The Maldives government encourages tourism to resort islands, where they grant exceptions to many rules such as dress code or alcohol, but tourists are generally separate from locals on village islands. As cruisers, we had more freedom to travel around, although we probably experienced the least amount of cultural interaction in the Maldives compared with the other countries we’ve visited.

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Water Sports

We spent a week island hopping through the Fulhadoo, Goidhoo and Male atolls and saw the most colorful fish since Indonesia and some early signs of recovering coral.

These photos hardly do justice to the incredible hues of blue and turquoise against white sugar sand beaches.

We encountered sea turtles nearly everywhere we stopped.

Discovering our own private sand island was another highlight of the week.

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As with Richy and Nic, our time with Jenn, Travis and finally Katie ended too quickly. We loved every minute with you all.

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Quiet Family Time

For the final two weeks of our stay in the Maldives, we explored the Ari Atoll, focusing on Sophie School, preparing the boat for our crossing to the Red Sea, and a little play time too. Hazel and Leo loved riding the rapids on their castaway raft.

One afternoon, we had a bit of excitement watching a funnel cloud start to form behind us. The weather definitely shifted toward the end of our stay, with stronger winds and storms passing through more frquently.

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Back in Male, the Indian Navy came to town, a showing of friendly force in the neighborhood.

 

 

One month in the Maldives only allowed us a glimpse of all the beauty here. We wish we could have stayed longer, but the Red Sea weather window beckoned. We will fondly remember the warm days, crystal waters, deep blue skies, and white sugar sand. What an adventure! Have we mentioned lately how very lucky we are?

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Reflections: Holly Bali

Now that Sophie School is on a brief holiday, I’m catching up on my backlog of photos and stories. Here’s one reflection about some of our adventures in Indonesia last year.

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Ambon, Indonesia

In February 2015, my cousin Holly sailed with us from Ambon, Indonesia to Labuan Bajo on Flores Island, and we also made a short trip to Bali.

Ambon

On Holly’s first and only night in Ambon, we took her to our favorite restaurant there, Dua Ikan, to sample some local delicacies including Pepeda, which you are meant to slurp out of your bowl without using silverware.

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We had planned to spend a few days in Ambon in order to watch the Patriots win the superbowl, but our plans changed when the weather forecast changed by the next morning and a good window to cross west opened up if we departed right away and then there wouldn’t be another one for about a week. We said hasty goodbyes to friends on Per Ardua, Ocelot and Guruca Cat, called the Moore and Connor families by phone, and pulled up the anchor.

We had a great view on the way out of Ambon Bay.

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Even the dolphin helped to send us off.

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Sunshine, light winds and calm seas. This had the makings of a perfect day.

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Later that morning, while Holly and I were on watch, almost out of sight of land, two squall lines appeared on either side of the horizon and both appeared to be moving in our direction. The systems merged right on top of us, and within minutes, we were motoring into 40 knot white-out conditions. The storm lasted for less than an hour, but it took most of the afternoon for choppy seas to subside in its aftermath. Holly’s easy introduction to overnight passages ended up being a bit more aggressive than we expected, but it was the only weather we saw during this crossing. We had light breezes and calm weather the rest of the way there.

Wakatobi

From what we read, we expected to be off the grid for our stopover in Wakatobi, but as soon as we anchoraged off Hoga Island, a small fishing boat with the local divemaster stopped by to welcome us and point out provisioning stops in the neighboring village, excellent snorkeling spots with moorings for our dinghy, and directions to find the restaurant on shore. We also had 4 bars of cell service. So much for cruising off the grid.

Hoga is one of the most beautiful islands we saw in Indonesia. It is fringed by white sandy beaches and has one of the most colorful reefs, teeming with little fish. We spent a couple days snorkeling, beachcombing and playing games.

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Leo and Hazel also practiced many dives off Sophie.

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We also watched some spectacular cloud formations.

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We experienced great weather at Hoga, and then we left just in time.

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We had almost a full moon for this leg of the trip which helped tremendously at night to spot FADs before hitting them. In this area, they were not small homemade fish traps, but 10 foot square floating platforms sometimes with small huts on them. We had a couple near misses, but managed to dodge them before it was too late. There is a good reason to avoid sailing at night in Indonesia, and we only did a handful of nighttime crossings during more than 3,000 miles sailing there.

Flores Island

We made landfall again in the 17 Islands Ruing Marine Park off Flores Island in the East Nusa Tenggarra region of Indonesia. This is an uninhabited national marine park with pristine beaches, coral reefs and very few visitors. We anchored in 25 feet of sand off a small island that the kids dubbed “Sand Dollar Island” after the thousands of sand dollars we found lining the beach.

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Flores Island

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“Sand Dollar Island” in 17 Islands Riung Marine Park

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On our second night there, Hazel developed a high fever and complained of body pains, so we made the decision to leave at first light for Labuan Bajo, the nearest city, 80 miles away. After an uneventful trip, Holly, Hazel and I flew on the first available flight to Bali while Jamie and Leo looked after Sophie. We took Hazel to the hospital late that night where she braved a very big needle for blood tests and a thorough exam before we checked into our hotel to await the results. By morning Hazel’s fever broke and we were relieved to learn she didn’t have dengue, malaria or other serious tropical illness. With one day left of Holly’s vacation, we spent a leisurely day at a resort.

 

We had so much fun together on our mini girls’ holiday and loved every minute of our time with Holly in Indonesia. We are such a lucky family!

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Snake in the Lego Bag!

What started as a calm and typical Sophie School day turned alarming when Leo ran up from his room screaming that there was a snake in his Lego bag!

Leo has a huge collection of Legos, and for the past couple months we had been storing his suitcase sized canvas Lego duffle bags in the generator compartment next to our bikes. During a short school break, Leo retrieved the biggest Lego bag and brought it to his room to play. As he unzipped the bag and reached in, he noticed a terrible smell, and then his hand touched something that wasn’t a Lego piece. At first he thought it was a toy snake, but then to his horror realized it was real! Real and big! Completely terrified, Leo ran upstairs to me and Hazel, screaming about the snake. Jamie was on shore running errands. Good times!

Our initial concern was whether the snake was alive or dead. As I comforted Leo, a flurry of thoughts rushed through my head. Several of our friends have experienced snake visits to their boats within the last few months. Vipers and pythons, oh my! What could be slithering around in his room? Then, I realized there was an overwhelming dead animal smell coming through the boat. Leo thought the snake was dead, but it took a minute for him to feel certain about this and I didn’t want to let him back in his room with a live snake. After peeking in to check that the snake was still motionless in the bag, Leo carried the duffel outside and dropped it on the deck.

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The kids and I got a much better view in the sunlight. Definitely dead. It was still coiled up and I couldn’t tell how long it was, but this was not a little sea snake like the ones we’ve seen while swimming in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. The markings looked like a python to me. A python?!? In my child’s Lego bag!?! I felt sick.

Next, Leo thumbed through his army survival manual while I searched online. The closest matches were images of pythons and the other common snakes of Thailand looked quite different. Ok, python it is. But how did it get into the bag? How long was it in there? How did it get zipped in? Where did it come from? When did it slither onto Sophie? How many times had we been in the generator compartment during the last month? How many times had we lifted those Lego bags in and out of the compartment to get bikes out, access LPG bottles, do generator maintenance, etc.? Jamie can spends hours at a time in there working on the electronics or genet. Thank goodness Leo had been doing a big push on school this month and had taken a Lego break or chances are he might have opened that bag days earlier and… no, I can’t even.

On deck wasn’t far enough away from the smell, so we threw the bag onto the dock. When Jamie returned, he pulled the snake out using fishing pliers and we got our first look at the entire creature.

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The snake was about five feet long and dried. It must have been in that bag for a while. There was a snakeskin in there too. We may have picked it up in Malaysia. Who knows? We have no idea exactly when or where the snake boarded Sophie or which one of us zipped it into the bag, or whether there was a small enough opening by the end of the zipper for it to get in but not back out. We were all pretty shaken from the thought of a snake crawling around our home, but very thankful we never saw the live version. Jamie was kind enough to dispose of it all. Leo is mourning the loss of half his Lego collection, but there was no way we were keeping any of it. We have also carefully inspected Sophie and believe there are no other snakes lurking. We feel quite relieved, but remain vigilant.

Our mood changed quickly following this unpleasant event, with the arrival of our nephew Danny that night. The kids love having another cousin visit, and we are back in prime cruising form with all the new upgrades on Sophie.

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We started out with dinner at the same beach restaurant where we took Danny’s brother Stephen last month.

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We even got a break from all the Sumatran smoke for Danny’s first day out on the water, with spectacular views across Phang Nga Bay. Leo winched the jib out manually for an afternoon sail.

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That morning, Hazel had written a letter for school about Amelia Earhart and was thrilled when we sailed past the USNS Amelia Earhart anchored outside Chalong Harbor. A total coincidence, we had no idea it was there. Jamie hailed them on the radio to thank them for their service and share the story about Hazel’s project.

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We stopped for the night around the corner and enjoyed a quick swim just before sunset.

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The next morning, we motored to Racha, where we stopped for some snorkeling and hull cleaning. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but we only had about two miles visibility on the way from all the smoke in the air from the Sumatran fires.

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The beach bar at Racha had been torn down since Jamie and the kids were there with Stephen last month, and the wind was picking up from the west, so we decided to move to Beer Beach on the other side of the island. That turned out to be an overcrowded tourist boat day stop, so after a quick dinghy recon mission, we departed for Koh Phi Phi and dinner at Jasmine’s. On the way, Danny caught a big barracuda in the “Dandaman” Sea, our first large fish in a long time.

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Mojitos, Thai food, pizza, Settlers of Catan, beaches, snorkeling, kayaking and lots of swimming and diving are on the menu this week, and there hasn’t been a snake in sight. We still aren’t feeling very motivated to play with Lego yet, but we do feel very lucky.

Girls Week

Now that we have a month without visitors on Sophie, in addition to enjoying some relaxing family time with Jamie and the kids, I’m finally making a dent in triaging the tens of thousands of photos I’ve taken this year. Here’s one about Bali.

Our fabulous friends, Maureen and Elizabeth, joined us for “Girls Week” in February. Jamie graciously offered to take care of the kids while I played with the girls. We toured all around Bali, hiked, cycled, feasted on local dishes, and even managed to squeeze in a little time to relax at the beach.

Before Maureen landed, Elizabeth and I visited the Pura Luhur Uluwatu Temple, the southernmost major temple in Bali, that has incredible views of the Indian Ocean. Bali is where we got our first real look out to the Indian Ocean after many inland sea passages across Indonesia.

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Amphitheatre gate at Uluwatu Temple.

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Clifftop view at Uluwatu.

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Love the monkeys!

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Ganesha statue

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Inner temple gate at Uluwatu

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Monkey gate.

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Elizabeth with our guide.

Nothing says vacation like tropical flowers and lemongrass in your lunch drink.

Yummy!

Yummy!

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Garden canopy

Temple in Kuta.

A temple in Kuta, Denpassar

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We also enjoyed high tea at the Fairmont, Sanur Beach.

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We found a perfect little beach warung with  tasty local food and plenty of Bintang to help welcome Maureen.

Potato Head Beach Club

One of my favorite Girls Week experiences was lounging by the beach and people watching at the Potato Head Beach Club. This place reminded me a little bit of the time we celebrated Elizabeth’s 40th birthday in Vegas, only with a more mellow crowd scene. IMG_5329 (1024x675)IMG_5323 (1024x677) IMG_5327 (1024x673)

Surf's up!

Surf’s up!

Seminyak

We treated ourselves to the renown Ku De Ta restaurant and nightclub in Seminyak for dinner. Bubbles were obligatory.

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Bubbles at Ku De Ta

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Ku De Ta

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Girls Week dinner – Ku De Ta

Road Trip

One of our best adventures was a downhill bike ride from the ridge in Kintimani through small villages on the way to Ubud.

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Overlooking Mount Batur from Kintimani

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Cycling through a village

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Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, music and art.

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Visiting an elementary school on our trek.

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Balinese children finishing up their school day.

Leading the end of day prayer

Leading the class in end of day prayers.

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School’s out.

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Entrance to the family temple inside a traditional Balinese home.

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Google Street View vehicle capturing a neighborhood on our bike route.

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Here is the corner where we saw the Google Street View vehicle in case you want to hunt for it. 🙂

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Guarding the gate.

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Rest stop to see a temple after our one uphill section of the ride.

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We decided to try durian at a local fruit stand.

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Durian smells bad, but tastes delicious. It’s slightly alcoholic and considered one of the best ways to catch a tiger in Indonesia. We did not catch one.

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Mangosteen, my favorite tropical fruit.

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More durian.

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Newly harvested rice drying in the sun.

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Wandering rooster. In general, chickens and roosters roam free in villages.

Sacred Monkey Forest of Padangtedal

After our bike trip, we stopped at the Monkey Forest in Ubud. This is a sacred site for Balinese Hinduism, the predominant religion on Bali, which incorporates aspects of Animism, Ancestor Worship, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Also, the monkeys here were very cute.

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Mama and baby macaques.

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Grooming and snack time.

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Monkeys petting monkeys.

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Baby macaque hands look like newborn humans. The rest? All monkey.

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Peeking in from outside the gate at Pura Dalem Agung Padangtedal.

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Can you see the live monkey?

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This one found a few seconds alone to enjoy its snack.

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Climbing down towards the Bathing Temple.

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Maureen at the stream overlook.

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Monkey see, monkey do.

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Stream by the Bathing Temple.

Ubud

The city of Ubud is promoted as the cultural center of Bali. While I can imagine its allure and charm thirty years ago, we encountered a large number of tourists and souvenir hawkers, a stark contrast compared to the quiet Balinese countryside we enjoyed so much on the cycle tour.

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One of the more quiet streets in Ubud.

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Waiting to cross the street in Ubud.

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Carvings above a doorway.

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One symbol of Ubud’s commercialism was the Starbuck’s we found inside the entrance to one of the temple gardens, at the Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati.

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Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati

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Reflecting pools.

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This appeared to be a very cool tree house overlooking the grounds next door.

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We saw so many intricate details on the temple entrance.

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Another temple garden gate.

One of the highlights of Ubud was the French-inspired Balinese and Indonesian cooking at Mozaic Restaurant Gastronomique, where we enjoyed signature cocktails and the chef’s six course Surprize Menu with wine pairing. Outdoor garden pavilion dining turned out to be more thrilling than we anticipated, when a torrential downpour with huge lightning strikes blew through during our meal. We were far enough under the roof to avoid getting soaked, but it felt like we were about to be hit by lightning at any moment.

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Sea grapes and six variations of local seafood, served on stones.

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Gnocchi with mushrooms and sage butter

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This incredible platter of local fresh fruit, spices and herbs was intended to be an educational prop for our waiter to explain the menu, but we ate every last bit of the fruit and some of the herbs. Our waiter’s face may or may not have looked a little horrified when he discovered this.

In Ubud, we also had an incredible view from our hotel room, looking across the rice fields towards the volcano.

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Watching ducks cross the rice fields with Mount Agung in the distance, in Ubud, Bali

Sacred Herons of Petulu

Just before sunset, we stopped in the small town of Petulu, on the northeast outskirts of Ubud where each night, thousands of herons return to nest. Legend has it that these birds, who arrived for the first time in late 1965, are the reincarnated souls of people killed during mass murders that followed a failed coup attempt that same year. The birds all roost within the village limits each night and fly away during the day. This massive bird arrival is an incredible scene, and only felt a little like we were on the set of The Birds. Mysterious and beautiful. Somehow, we managed to escape unharmed.

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Sacred herons return to Petulu

Everywhere you look, birds cover every tree, every rooftop, everything.

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These pictures hardly capture how densely packed every tree and rooftop was.

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Cattle egret, Petulu, Bali

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One of the Petulu herons

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Petulu village

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Rooftop perch.

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Two of my favorite people in the world, birdwatching.

Barong Dance at Batubulan

In the village of Batubulan, we saw a Barong dance at one of the temples. .

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Batubalan, Bali

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Statues, Batubalan

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More temple details, Batubalan

The Barong Dance, a traditional Balinese story, portrays the eternal struggle between good and evil. The Barong, who is half-lion and half-dog, battles Rangda, an evil witch.

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The Barong

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Rangda

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Balinese dancer

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Barong Dance

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The Barong

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A traditional gamelan orchestra.

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The girls.

Batik Fabric

We visited a batik fabric factory and learned about the dye and wax process as well as traditional fabric weaving.

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Adding wax to a batik pattern.

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Tools used for batik designs.

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Applying wax before adding the second of many colors.

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A batik design, nearing completion.

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Traditional loom weaving.

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The finished pattern.

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The fabric pattern is pre-dyed on the thread.

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Dying batik fabric.

Goa Gajah

Another site we visited was Goa Gajah, or the Elephant Cave, home to one of the oldest Ganesha statues in Bali.

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Entrance to Elephant Cave.

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Offerings.

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More offerings.

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Rock formations outside the cave.

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Pools outside the cave.

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Making an offering.

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One of the shrines.

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Garden paths at Goa Gajah.

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Magnificent tree roots.

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On our hike, we foraged for berries with our guide. He promised these were edible. They tasted a bit like bland blueberries.

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We planned to hike to a shrine in the forest, but were cut short by a raging stream that was too high to cross.

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We also came across this little guy. He’s not deadly, but has a wicked mean bite.

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Elizabeth in the tranquility garden.

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On our way out of Goa Gajah.

Mount Agung

One of our lunch stops overlooked rice fields on the slopes of Mount Agung.

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Pura Besakih

The Mother Temple, Pura Besakih, is a giant complex located on Mount Agung and it is considered the most important and holiest temple in Balinese Hinduism. The mountain and temples provided beautiful scenery, but there were hawkers almost everywhere along our path trying to convince us to buy their wares, including a tenacious pack of six year old girls who followed us halfway up the hillside. Cute, but no thanks. I loved people-watching here, especially the Balinese women who passed us on the steps, balancing their offerings in baskets stacked up high on their heads.

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Sanur Beach

We really appreciate our amazing husbands, Jamie, Troy and Steve, who stayed home and watched the kids all week so we could spend some quality girl time. Next time, though, we found a better option in Bali. Just need to figure out what to do with the kids…

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Lembongan

Our one Sophie Adventure Cruise destination trip of the week was to the neighboring island of Lembogan, where we rented bikes and pedaled a lap of the island.

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Mooring at Lembongan, Indonesia

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Villas and caves, Lembongan, Indonesia

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View across the bay, Lembongan

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Paddleboarding!

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Scrabblemaster E and the kiddies

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Seaweed farming off Lembongan

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Local mooring field, Lembongan

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View from the hilltop of Lembongan Village and Bali in the distance

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Vacation fun.

Thank you for am amazing week, Maureen and Elizabeth! It was incredible to explore Bali with you and add another chapter to this crazy and wonderful adventure. I am so lucky to have you in my life.

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Man of the Forest

He was close, real close. I couldn’t see him yet, but I could feel him, as if the boat were being sucked upriver and the water was flowing back into the jungle.*

INDO3076 (1024x683) The steamy mid-morning sun blazed as we set off for three days in search of a wild orang-utan, Indonesia’s “man of the forest.” Our klotok, the wooden river boat Lazuardi, cut swiftly through thick brown water that was cloudy with run-off from neighboring palm plantations. INDO3931 (1024x683)

Within minutes we left Kumai behind and turned into Tanjung Puting National Park. INDO3051 (1024x683)

At this time of year it can be hard to spot any orangutans. There is so much wild fruit in season that the apes can afford to shy away from the reserve in favor of a smorgasbord of fruit ripening across the forest. Durian, mangosteen, rambutan, bananas, you name it. Although we knew our chances for seeing an orangutan were lower, it was impossible to ignore an overwhelming sense of hope and curiosity as we maneuvered slowly upstream. Our first wildlife sighting was a medium-sized monitor lizard, about 6 feet long. At first we thought it was a crocodile until we got a better look at it.

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Next up, still a few kilometers outside the reserve area, we spotted some movement in the trees, followed by this incredible sight: INDO3085 (1024x681)

Wild orangutans! ??????????????

Our guide, Ami, was thrilled to catch a glimpse of orangutans outside the reserve, especially at this time of year. He told us that on his last tour they saw none, so we were a lucky group. IMG_5641 (1024x682) IMG_5671 (1024x682) IMG_5659 (1024x682) IMG_5689 (1024x684)

Aside from the occasional tour boat and local transport, we were alone traveling up the river. We stopped at the first camp and hiked 10 minutes into the forest to the scheduled afternoon feeding site. In the reserve, there are two scheduled feedings per day. Again, Ami and the rangers cautioned us not to get our hopes up given fruit season. The rangers deposited bananas from a couple of full backpacks on a platform and then we waited. We waited for over half an hour, and then finally some trees started shaking in the distance, then closer. It was even better than the wild sightings we had on the way in. This sweet mama and baby led the way: IMG_5764 (1024x669)

They scrambled up a tree out of the way as a large male approached. INDO3149 (1024x682) INDO3176 (1024x683)

Another male approached, but stopped and waited his turn. INDO3236 (1024x683)

This female joined the big fellow already on the platform. INDO3230 (1024x682)

At this point there were five or six orangutans in sight with a handful more approaching from high in the trees. INDO3274 (1024x679)

Mama and baby continued to wait and watch from about 30 feet up in the trees. IMG_5794 (1024x674)

Just about everywhere we looked, more orangutans were swinging in to join the party. INDO3431 (1024x682)INDO3414 (1024x682)INDO3472 (1024x668)INDO3290 (1024x681) (2)

Each kept his or her distance from the food until the more dominant ones finished and moved on. Then, one by one, each grabbed bananas and returned to the trees. The rangers brought one extremely large male his own stash of bananas and he sat quietly munching on the ground some distance from all the others. The largest orangutans like him live primarily on the ground.

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After a while, mama and baby got another chance to finish their meal. IMG_5736 (677x1024) IMG_5724 (681x1024) IMG_5729 (1024x683)

In total, thirteen orangutans joined us. The rangers said they hadn’t seen this many together for quite a while. Ami told us there must be a special connection between the spirits of the people and the orangutans for so many to gather at one time. Whatever the reason, we felt honored to be part of such a special day. INDO3486 (1024x682)

What is the best way to top off such an incredible orangutan encounter? With rainbows, of course.

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That evening we tied up at the side of the river near troops of long tailed macaques and proboscis monkeys swinging from the treetops.

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The next morning, we made our way upriver into the native black water. My photos do a poor job of capturing the overwhelming natural beauty that surrounded us.

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On our way to the next camp, we glimpsed another friend in the trees.

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There were a few more tourist boats at the second camp, but not many people. Ami told us that in the high season boats will raft up across the entire river, carrying hundreds of tourists to each feeding. We were thankful for our much more low key experience.

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We didn’t always see orangutans at the scheduled feedings, but we found plenty of other wildlife to entertain us. Butterflies were all around, plus ants, dragonflies and the occasional boar.

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Camp Leakey, established in 1971, was our final destination of the tour. The reserve contains both wild and semi-wild orangutans (rescued orphans).

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After almost two hours of waiting, thirty-two year old Tom, one of the largest males, made a quiet entrance from the forest. He moved slowly, methodically, carefully observing everyone and registering each of our faces as he climbed up for a snack.

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Looking into his expressive eyes, I kept imagining what he might be thinking, the man of the forest. Watching this distant cousin of ours, it’s no wonder that human and orangutan genomes are 97 percent identical. He was wild, but seemed so very human.

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As if he knew it was time for all of us to say goodbye, after fifteen minutes Tom stopped for one last look and retreated to the forest with the same quiet grace.

We spent a quiet day playing games and reading as we motored back to Kumai.

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Ami, our excellent guide, with the kids.

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The captain and first mate.

This experience with orangutans in Kalimantan ranks as one of the highlights of our entire journey on Sophie. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

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Kumai… we’re still only in Kumai… every time I think I’m gonna wake up in the jungle.*

* Adapted from Willard’s voice-overs in Apocalypse Now

Greetings from Kalimantan

We just completed an incredible adventure in Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, where we encountered both wild and semi-captive orangutans. INDO3855 (1024x683)

Upon returning to Sophie, we found batteries with a higher charge than before we left, and we managed to get fuel, fruit and veggies right away so we decided to pull up the anchor and head out for a two night 200-mile passage to a remote little tropical island called Nanjka, where we can swim and play on the beach for a week before island hopping north to Singapore. We expect to be off the grid for the next week so we’ll do a detailed post about the orangutans with more photos later. They were amazing.

Komodo National Park

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Last week we had the opportunity to explore Komodo National Park, a small chain of islands off of Flores Island in the East Nusa Tenggara region of Indonesia. We set out from Labuan Bajo on Sophie and motored two hours to Komodo Island where we anchored in 60 feet of mud a few hundred yards from the park entrance. We had purchased park and snorkeling passes in Labuan Bajo, but on site at Komodo and Rinca, there is also a modest local tax and ranger fee for the guide who will accompany you and protect you in case of an attack. Our Komodo guide spoke excellent English and we were surprised to learn that dragons were just a couple hundred meters from the ranger station. I had envisioned a long mountain trek with the promise of catching only a glimpse of one or two if we were lucky, but they were all around the camp. My heart started pounding as we walked down the path.

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These dragons are big! We were all pretty scared as we approached the first one. It looked like it was sleeping, but our guide explained that was part of its “camouflage” and that it was alert, just waiting for prey to wander by (that includes us). He encouraged us to approach it from behind for some photos. The kids were incredibly brave as we crept closer. Note, our guide crawled a few feet closer when he took the photo of me than I did for this shot of him with the kids.

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After this first encounter, we continued along the camp path towards a bunch of dragons hanging out near the kitchen. The guide says they don’t feed the dragons, but we suspect they taste some scraps. Jamie and our guide wielded forked walking sticks for protection in case one of them attacked. Luckily they never had to use them.

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The dragon tongue is remarkable, like a long, flat, forked stick of chewing gum. At one point, this one stuck its tongue out repeatedly and then looked in our direction. Our guide said it was a sign of aggression and moved us out in a hurry. The kids are studying food chains in Sophie School science right now, and we couldn’t have asked for a better hands on lab. Dragons eat deer, pigs, monkeys, water buffalo, wild horses, other Komodo dragons, and of course they are known to bite people.

Here are a few other things we saw on our tour:

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The deer looked so innocent walking right by the dragons. Komodo Island.

A macaque, our first monkey sighting in Indonesia! Rinca Island

A macaque, our first monkey sighting in Indonesia! Rinca Island

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This water buffalo wasn’t so lucky.

There are about 2,500 dragons on Komodo Island and another 2,400 on Rinca Island, which means they outnumber humans by about three to one. Dragons have been known to walk into houses and climb up through open windows, so people have to lock up as a precaution. On Rinca our guide explained that dragons have climbed up the side wall of the guest cabins and can make it through windows that begin seven feet above the ground. Despite all of this, neither guide has ever seen a dragon kill and eat its prey. Apparently they typically eat first thing in the morning, if at all. They just sit and wait for an animal to walk by and then attack. They aren’t venomous, but sport 60 types of bacteria in their mouths, one potentially lethal. The Komodo Island group reminded us of the landscape in New Zealand. If it weren’t for the thousands of carnivorous dragons about, sheep would love the lush green hillsides.

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To celebrate Valentine’s Day, we started with a family snorkel at Pink Beach on Komodo Island. The reef at Pink Beach had some of the best fish we’ve seen anywhere in Indonesia, but I didn’t bring my underwater camera with me. Every once in a while it’s fun to just enjoy the experience. After lunch we motored over to Rinca Island, the other home of Komodo Dragons, and dropped a hook in 50 feet of mud near the park entrance.

As if Komodo Dragons aren't enough of a danger!

As if Komodo Dragons aren’t enough of a danger!

After we paid the head ranger, “Uncle,” and had a quick safety debrief with our guide, we set off on a short trek that promised the best chance for seeing a dragon. We were not disappointed. Like Komodo Island, a handful of dragons hang out near the camp kitchen. Although it’s not quite the same as bumping into one way out on a trail, we couldn’t help being impressed and fearful of the hungry dragons. We also learned that the rangers spray aggressive dragons with red paint so they can keep an extra close eye on their behavior. Our guide said they only do this after a dragon has tried to bite a human. We kept our distance from the big red painted one in the back of the group.

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The aggressive one also looked the most sedate, better at waiting for prey to get close before making a move.

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If staring at you and sticking a tongue out is a sign of aggression, we saw plenty among the group by the kitchen.

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We carefully circled around them to start our hike up the hill. Our first stop was a dragon nest where the females lay eggs once a year, then wait for a couple months for the rainy season which brings a layer of mud to cover the eggs. Although this sounds like a protective parental instinct, it turns out the biggest danger to newly hatched dragons is the mother herself, who will eat any she catches. Up on the ridge, we stopped to take in the view and catch our breath.

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All of a sudden, we spied a dragon in the bushes near the trail. I thought it was a small one at first, but as it moved realized it was as large as the other adults we had seen in the camp.

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Our guide kept his stick handy to make sure it didn’t come any closer to us, and we were quite relieved when it turned up the path instead of heading straight towards us. It’s surreal to be out in the wild with these creatures.

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I figured our dragon sighting was finished at this point, but as we climbed the trail back down to the camp we spotted another dragon directly in our path.

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We passed the kitchen on our way back and watched some commotion as something small fell out a window. Our Rinca guide was more forthcoming about the lax scrap feeding policy by the kitchen.

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As we headed back to the boat, we came across a few more dragons. The first was a baby komodo dragon that scurried up a tree as soon as we got close.

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It was quite a relief to see a dragon that couldn’t and wouldn’t try to kill us after all the fully grown ones. Baby dragons live for up to three years in trees to keep away from adult dragons. We also spotted a young adult who our guide said was too small to attack us. We didn’t get too close, but were a lot more relaxed around this guy than the previous encounters.

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The kids had fun sketching the dragons and taking notes for school. They are both writing reports on Komodo dragons and Hazel made this painting.

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Feeling completely satisfied with our Komodo dragon adventure, we said farewell to our guide and the park.

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After two days of dragons, we were all ready for some quality beach time. We stopped at a little uninhabited island halfway between Labuan Bajo and Komodo fringed by soft pink sand and turquoise water.

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We couldn’t have picked a more perfect day.

WP_20150215_025 (1024x572)A handful of sand revealed countless red flecks of coral, the pinkest sand we have ever seen. We came across a wall of coral art and contributed a few more pieces to the collection.

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The kids played on shore while Jamie and I snorkeled. We have been so fortunate to experience the abundance and variety of sea life in Indonesia. Our underwater highlight here was a group of lionfish.

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For our last night, we anchored at Labuan Bajo and enjoyed a relaxed dinner at the Mediterraneo Restaurant, sharing fondue, crème brulee, tiramisu and chocolate carpaccio for dessert. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?