Friday, August 20, 2010

Indonesia Part 5 - The Wrap Up

Seven posts later, i feel i've done some justice to recapping this most amazing vacation. There are a few loose ends to wrap up, and i'll drop them all here, with random chronology. Also, after we returned to Beijing, we were able to download therese's pictures and videos, and some of those are priceless. I'm confident nobody has put more effort into documenting the various cats found on the Lombok Gili's.

Here's the rough journey as it actually went down...

We wrapped up the dive trip and flew back to Bali. Interesting side note, in all the flights we took, we never showed once a passport or identification. Not to get our tickets, pass security, or board the plane. Here's what a normal boarding pass looks like---
--- the one piece of useful information that actually was relevant, the seat number, didn't matter anyway, as planes were open seating once onboard. Airport security in Indonesia is rather relaxed.

Back in Bali, we spent one day in Ubud, which was not enough time, but good nonetheless. Ubud is the heart of Bali's culture and boasts seemingly infinite activities: live music, plays, dancing, opera, art, cooking classes, spas, biking, hiking, rafting, walking, shopping, gourmet food... Ubud is packed. The night we arrived, i got really ill, and suspected (still do!) that it was decompression sickness from flying 15 hours after diving. But the next day, after 12 hours of sleep, i felt great. We relaxed at a spa for a few hours, had a nice lunch, and went for a walk into the surrounding rice paddies.

And just like that, our Indonesian adventure came to an end.

But it's not the end of this post!

Drum Competition
After Gili Gede and before the Jaya Liveaboard fiasco, we spent a night in Senggigi. Giggity. Our timing was incredible, for in the nearby Mataram, there was an Indonesian Drum Competition. A dozen different ensembles were competing for a chance to advance to the finals. It was free and amazing. We arrived about an hour after it started but saw the last six troupes. The music, costumes, and dance were different in each performance, highlighting the great diversity of this country. Each performance was unique and beautiful in its own way, but two in particular really stood out.

The first was very tribal, almost African, in tone. It reminded be of dances we learned in the West African Highlife Ensemble in college. There were drummers on the floor in front of the stage, creating the mood to help the dancers tell their story of hunting and conflict.

The second noteworthy performance was a short play of a famous, traditional Indonesian fable. If you don't know the story itself, it would be hard for me to explain it. And if you do know it, would you please explain it to me?

Here's my understanding:
  • Scene one: King and Queen hang out for a while.
  • Scene two: Hot girl with impossible dancing-hand-moves shows up, and is harassed by the King.
  • Scene three: Giant two-person lion-dude battles the king, to defend her honor or some crap.

  • Scene Four: Beardy McWiseman brings his harem to the show, while freaky nightmarish demon dude harshes everyone's mellow.
  • Scene Five: Everyone realizes it's a huge misunderstanding and merriment ensues. Unfortunately, Nightmare O'Demonfreak still feels out of place and unloved, but later, he gets a manicure.

The Lost Chronicles of Therese
While i was busy lugging my heavy equipment around, Therese was making her own record of our journeys with her pocket camera. Until i broke it. We used her camera record videos where photos just couldn't capture everything. Click these links (hold Ctrl) for Youtube videos of Therese singing with the kids on Gili Gede and our stop during the kayak ride to Nakey Island Adventure.

Here are a selection of photos from her camera, spanning the adventure of the Gili's and Lombok.

That's all folks. Well, almost all. Here's a picture of my ass, nakey style.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Indonesia Part 4.2 - Komodo Underwater

Living on the boat and hanging out with giant Komodo Dragons was sweet and all, but the diving was life-changing. It was my first liveaboard and i can see why they are popular. If we were to dive from the port town of Labuanbajo, we would get on a speed boat at 9am, ride for 2 hours to the best spots, dive once, maybe twice, and be back on land around 6pm... an exhausting day spent entirely in the sun or on a wave-crushing speedboat. Our lives were much more comfortable than that.

We wake up at 7 and have coffee or tea and a few bananas while Willy briefs us on our morning dive. Willy was a great divemaster and a pleasant guy. He drew us diagrams of every dive site, telling where to expect strong currents and where to look for awesome sea creatures. This is Willy.

I must admit to getting along swimmingly with Willy, and we had a bit of a bromance. Handsome devil, eh? Sorry ladies, he's taken, due to marry in 2015.

We are already at the site, having either travelled at night, or the previous evening. At 7:30 we suit up and prepare to board the speedboat, and after a 5-10 minute ride, we are diving at world class sites known for big currents, big fish, amazing coral, and awesome schools.

And have i mentioned the diving is incredible? I was fortunate enough to rent a really nice underwater camera for two days. I took lots of pictures and a few videos (!!!), here's some stuff we saw-

White Tip Reef Sharks and Lion Fish - Reef sharks are pretty docile, but they will sometimes let you get really close if you catch them sleeping, like this guy.

Nudibranches - awesome psychedelic colored slugs, like a snail with no shell. These guys are small and you have to have a keen eye to find them so it's rewarding when you do. (Second photo courtesy of Jeremy Axworthy)

Morey Eels and Yellow Box Fish

Huge Schools of Awesome Fish
Check out these VIDEOS (!!!) of Giant Bat Fish and a cute little Sweetlips family.

Blue Spotted Sting Ray and weird Giant Clams

Big 'ol Squids - this guy was fun. Check out his blowhole in the second picture, that's how his propels himself. Awesome!

Dozens of Green and Hawksbill Turtles - This guys was one notable find. It was during a night dive, which is already pretty interesting. You have a flashlight, but there's no other ambient light, so you can really only see what you shine it at. I was coming up over a little patch of coral and found this guy sleeping with two Remoras cleaning his shell (first photo). He swam away after i woke him up (second photo), but i managed to get around in front of him to get that near perfect head-on shot. Win!

Here's another notable turtle that i caught on video (!!!).

Many dives were totally mind-blowing... too many to recap. But two in particular stand out, maybe because they were our last two dives, but they were also quite unique. My favorite dive was The Cauldron.

We entered at the top of that picture, and hung out at 18-25m for about 15 minutes, and we found a shark and the above sting-ray. There was a mild current, and it pulled us slowly uphill to about 12m. After cruising along for a few minutes, we enter The Cauldron, a stadium sized depression that drops to 22m, with glorious walls and a strong current (maybe 5-8 mph) pulling you through it. We swam with six sharks in there, most of them White Tip, one Black Tip. This is also where i took the above turtle video. It was inspiring to watch the sharks patrol the reef for a meal, and they paid us no attention at all. It was this dive that i worked on controlling my breathing, to see how long i could make my tank last. I stayed down for 75 minutes and came up with 60 bars left. I had never stayed down longer than 60 minutes before.

Our last dive was also really interesting, not because of what we saw, but the terrain. After a dozen dives of beautiful coral and plentiful fish, this was a stark contrast - an extremely fast current and nothing to see. We were cruising along effortlessly at maybe 15-20mph with perfect visibility, and the only thing to look at was each other and the occasional small coral outcropping. The awesome thing about it was it truly felt like flying, like we were a team of underwater superheroes. Some people were doing the superman, arms outstretched. Others were on their backs, in a reclined position. My personal favorite was crossing my legs Indian style and floating along like i was on a magic carpet. Later, i made friends with a squid.

So yeah, i think i want to do my divemaster certification in Komodo someday. It was paradise.