Monday, October 10, 2016

Spearfishing with Eline and Marijn - Blogging Ends

So much more to write -- but I'm already home from the trip -- and my blogging time has given way to planning my next adventure.  These few links are what remain of my plans for more blogging -- the couple in the photos and you tube's with me is Eline and her boyfriend Marijn.  I've blogged about Eline before here -- and it just worked out that we were able to cross paths in Bali as they were wrapping up their "world tour" adventure of several months.  We had some amazing scuba and spear fishing adventures together -- and then, as planned, I began my journey back to the USA on October 3rd with plans to return again at Christmas.  As these photos show, I added even more friends to my growing international family.

Photo Album: 9/30/2016:


Friday, September 30, 2016

Return to Amed for Spearfishing - 9/24/2016

After two nights on Gili Air -- the "fast boat" took me back to Amed and my first-ever opportunity to personally watch and try spearfishing.  It was an amazing day of brotherhood with two Balinese brothers for which there are no adequate words to describe.  I watched in awe as these "Freediving" experts took 23 fish from crystal clear waters in three spots around the uninhabited Gili Selang island.  Photos will have to do for now -- but since I am writing this after a second experience, I will be posting underwater photos and videos in a subsequent posting.

After the celebrated catch (shown here on a video that I made as we walked back through the village from the boat) -- I was invited to a scrumptious dinner of the fish cooked several ways at the home of Made/his wife.  The photos capture it best:

Photo Album 9/24/2016:

Side Trip To Gili Air Island

Let me back up for a moment in this story.  For three nights I had been staying in the rustic beach-side bungalow - but decided to upgrade to the lovely Sky Dancer villa which Ningah and Made's wives manage for an absentee Swiss-French owner.  Of course the cost for one night would be the equivalent of 3 nights at the bungalow -- about $50USD -- but for that, this was my air conditioned view every morning with breakfast served on my veranda and afternoon coffee/tea:

Yes, that is the ocean just beyond the pool!  I stayed three nights in this luxury -- but pulled myself away to continue my pre-planned trip to one of the three "Gili" Islands -- high-interest tourist hot-spots an hour "fast-boat" ride away.  I'll forgo the details except to note that there are three with differing reputations: one for the party crowd, one for the non-party crowd and one that is very primitive and reputed to be best for couples.  I had decided on the non-party crowd: Gili Air - and made arrangements for the boat ride from Amed:




I stayed two nights in an inexpensive bungalow, and enjoyed some truly fun conversations with travelers -- and walked the entire circumference -- but quickly recognized that it is a mostly tourist-only island primarily visited by youngish Europeans on holiday.  Perhaps because I was solo traveling on an island clearly better for couples -- I quickly determined that while my two nights would be pleasant with beautiful beaches to visit -- that it possessed no interesting culture or "real" life -- just holiday life:  probably like visiting Hawaii 50 years ago before all the corporate names built resorts.  Don't misunderstand -- I totally enjoyed my time there, mostly because of the great traveler conversations I had (posted about on Facebook) -- but I was ready to return to my favorite Amed (where culture and holiday combine) and the hope for a spear fishing adventure.

Two Roads To Spearfishing

Picking up from where I left off -- when returning from my first scooter ride along the eastern coast and over a mountain -- I felt myself looking for a place to stop just to hydrate and rest.  I had already had my first ever experience getting petrol for the scooter (I offered a 3,000 Rupiah note thinking that's what was said -- and the woman laughed at me with a loud "No" and repeated what sounded like 3,000 -- of course I was forgetting that 3,000 Rupiah is about 23 cents USD: only those who have never traveled will laugh at this mistake, I'm fairly certain every international traveler has made a similar mistake.  Turned out, of course, that she wanted 30,000 Rupiah (about $2.29 USD).

Anyway, back to my story -- I happened upon a road off the main one that looked like it might lead down to a small, beautiful ocean-side village

 -- and I took it.  I've recreated and narrated the experience with this short YouTube video.  After hitting a terrible, rocky road -- but continuing on -- I arrived at a Warung -- and after greetings requested a coke (which I've learned you must ask for as coca-cola to be understood). No English was understood but soon I had a gathering of children around me. As I have frequently done - and blogged about - the easiest way to begin a conversation with non-English speakers is to inquire about age -- and that I did as the kids all showed interest in this white American at their store.  Shortly a young man appeared to see the commotion, and I introduced myself and with eye and hand motions, he did the same: "Ningah."  So, although their are many Ningah's in the Bali world (also a common name of second born), I took a chance a showed him a photo of the "Ningah" I had gone fishing with -- and to my surprise, he let me know he knew him.  Of course I doubted he did -- but I went with it because he was soon motioning for me to sit in a shaded open-air hut that is common here -- where I continued my interaction with the children and showed photos of my kids and grandkids that garnered me great attention and interest.

It was a fun interaction -- and when I ran out of ideas for conversation and my coca-cola was finished, I departed with much commotion and interest and hand shaking with everyone.

Well, when I asked my fisherman friend of this Ningah (who I now also a photo of)

-- not only did he know him -- but I learned that my friend Ningah's wife's co-worker is from that village and the co-worker ("Komang" - common third born name) and her husband (Made - also common second born name) were going to be at another dinner he invited me to at his house.

Another scrumptious meal and an opportunity to add two more friends to my life
 -- and I learned that Made is also a morning fisherman but his hobby is spearfishing in the afternoons.  Of course I expressed interest, and a plan was set in motion for me to go spearfishing with him should I return to Amed after my planned visit to a tourist hot-spot Gili Air.  Before I left for Gili Air, I had decided to change my plan and return for this unique opportunity. More on that in a future posting.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Amed - My Favorite Bali!

After our tour around the island, Made brought me, as planned, to my favorite spot in Bali - a portion that has been collectively named after its closest village - Amed (map).  In my visit last year I had the good fortune of scoring a beach-side bungalow here that framed my love of this area by the good experiences I had here.  One highlight of last year's trip was the opportunity to go fishing with a local fisherman Nengah and enjoy his and his wife's fresh fish cooking in their local "Waroeng" - restaurant.  

Returning to the restaurant this time, Nengah greeted me like a long-time friend and we made plans to repeat the fishing trip the following morning - another 4:00am start, proceeding to the far-away drop spot of the net by sail, and watching a spectacular sunrise as Nengah hauled in the net -- this time yielding 70 mackerel.

Once again I marveled at the community of fisherman on the shore -- and looked forward to having one of the mackerel for dinner. 

After we returned from fishing, Nengah invited me to his childhood home where his parents/family still live (I had met his dad, also a fisherman, last year -- but this year Nengah and his dad are establishing a huge chicken egg operation.  Intensely interesting to talk about the business during our visit:

You can imagine my pleasure when Nengah invited me to share in the fish feast at his home with he and his wife rather than at the restaurant.  It was another special meal -- in keeping with all the Balinese traditions including eating by hand (at my request - as utensils were offered).  The only tradition I didn't keep was keeping quiet while eating and visiting afterwards -- there were too many fun questions to ask and things to learn about Balinese life.

After dinner I arranged with Ningah to borrow a scooter and snorkel gear for the remainder of my stay.

The next morning I bounded out on a scooter adventure over the coastal route east of Amed that was itself exhilarating as I proceeded first along the coast and then over a mountain, watching life in the villages -- including many children walking and riding to (and later from) school in their uniforms.  People, especially the children, showed their happiness and friendliness throughout my journey.  I felt like the old commercials for Honda motorcycles: "You meet the nicest people on a Honda!" 

And it was during this journey along the coastal route and over the mountain that I happened to take a "road less traveled" that happened to lead to another meal at Nengah's house and a unique spear fishing adventure.  I'll tell the story in my next posting -- but a preview is in these photos of the special snorkeling/spear fishing/family dinner - day.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Goodbye Cambodia - Hello Bali Again!

My six nights in Cambodia went by too fast -- but I had already booked my onward flight to Denpasar, Bali.  But as you can tell from my postings about Siem Reap, I want to return -- and before I left Singapore Airlines had a special that allowed me to grab a repeat trip this coming June: a month long adventure that will start in Siem Reap and returning from Hanoi, Vietnam.  I've been told that adventure/backpacking travel is my "cocaine" and I don't disagree.  I'm definitely addicted.

Anyway -- because I am very behind in my writing, I'm going to summarize my first 11 days in Bali: arriving on September 11 and now writing this on September 22.

If you followed my prior Bali trip, you already know that I experienced SCUBA diving for the first time (4 dives) and, even more special, fell in love with the authentic Balinese life thanks to my driver/tour guide recommended to me by an expat friend living in Bali.  The driver, Made Artana (the web site I am creating for him is here) quickly assessed my interests and became a friend -- taking me to his village, meeting his parents, visiting his temple, eating authentically.  This year's trip was planned to continue that friendship -- now with his wife, Ekha, who is pregnant with their first child and to have longer time to enjoy both the culture and the tourism (more snorkeling and SCUBA).

Made and Ekha picked me up at the airport and took me to another authentic Balinese dinner on our way to my planned stay in Candidasa, where I had enjoyed diving with the Dutch-managed Bambu Divers

I stayed at an inexpensive "Home Stay" - motel-like accommodations common in SE Asia -- and hung out at the Bambu Divers home spot - complete with full restaurant and pool.  It was fun to catch up with many of those who I knew from my prior trip.  It was a relaxing 4 days/nights.  From there I proceeded on a "road trip" with Made first back to his village to enjoy watching his dad prepare a special spice for an upcoming Hindu festival.

And then to meet Ekha's family in a distant village -- allowing us to visit other tourist spots in Bali (popular surfing/beach destinations of Balian and Medewi Beaches.  

Ekha's family (and some of the village children who came around to join in) couldn't have been more fun and welcoming -- and soon we were enjoying a typical Balinese meal.

From there we continued around to another popular beach area: Lovina Beach where I stayed three nights enjoying many contacts with expats living there, residents and traveler's. On my last night there, Made and Ekha returned to take me to a local fresh fish restaurant where once again we picked out the fish before it was cooked.

The following morning all three of us took a local tourist boat to see the local Dolphins and I did some snorkeling.  The boat owner even snorkeled with me so that he could take me to the location where I could see see "Nemo" fish in their native habitat (made popular by the movie "Finding Nemo.")  It was a fun experience to realize that the movie had genuinely depicted "Nemo's" habitat and reclusive nature.

Then we proceeded about 2 hours to my favorite beach side location from the prior trip: Amed where Made negotiated a great deal ($17 USD) for a beach-side bungalow (video here).  I stayed there 3 nights and it was such a rewarding experience that my next posting will be about that.  Preview:  the bungalows I stayed at are called Good Karma Bungalows -- my three days there would have repeated examples of either "good karma" or "good luck."  The reader can decide.  [to be continued]

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Siem Reap Experience - Part 3 - Other Tourist Stops

Falling Behind:  Well, as I write this, it is September 20 and I am on my second week in Bali -- with much to write about -- but as has been common, experiences trump (do I dare use that word!) writing about them.  So, I'll just give this intro -- I am sitting in the open air restaurant of this Bali beach-side bungalow, listening to the waves lap the shore after a day of fishing (a repeat of this experience from a year ago), a visit to the fisherman's chicken//egg farm, and then some snorkeling.  Here is a one minute youtube video of my place that is costing me just under $17 a night (220,000 Indonesian Rupiah).

But let me return for a moment to my planned last installment of the Siem Reap experience:

A "Floating" Village:  I debated with myself whether to try to visit one of the so-called "Floating Village" -- after reading very mixed reviews. But my conversation with my daughter who had visited here and motivated my trip -- prompted me to try to retrace her and her husband's travels there 6 years ago.  To be sure, I was told that there are 4 such "floating" and the one they had visited isn't currently shown as the most popular -- but when my tuk tuk driver explained that the most popular one is farther away and requires a van rather than a tuk tuk, the decision was easy.  Going by tuk tuk -- at tuk tuk speeds -- allows a unique experience as I have written about previously in this blog.  It turned out to be another amazing experience -- as I was moved by the same happiness of life that was displayed by Cambodian's living out their lives along the way.  In addition, I happened to connect with a group of 7 volunteers who added to the fun of the adventure and expanded my knowledge of the volunteer world.  More about them at the end of this post.

The "floating" village is actually a community of houses built on stilts accessible only by water -- and while the experience does render a feeling of a tourism invasion of private life, it is also clear that the community has encouraged, and takes advantage, of that exposure for their financial benefit.  On balance, I thought it a pretty fair trade-off -- but I can also now better understand the widely disperse ratings.  I'll live it to future visitors to make their own assessments -- but for me, and given my connection with the volunteers it was both a fun and interesting adventure.  However there should be no doubt that the best part of the adventure was the tuk tuk ride through the country-side coming and going.  It is that "tour" that tugged at my heart-strings to see such happiness amongst the impoverished and was another reminder that "things" don't buy happiness.  

My daughter and son-in-law had to endure a long, interesting motorcycle experience to get to the launch area of the tour boats (see their blog link) -- but because I was visiting in wet season, we enjoyed a speed boat ride to the staging area of larger, tour boats:

Other tourist stops during my visit to Siem Reap included:

Angkor National Museum - an excellent overview to the temples and the culture/religion that inspired them.

Cambodian Landmine Museum - while the museum was junior grade bulletin board displays, the free audio guide and the happenstance opportunity to watch as local police were being trained to recognize landmines created an interesting hour along our tuk tuk journey.

Volunteers I Met:  This is what I wrote to my own kids about the volunteers and their program:

Yesterday I spent few hours with 7 “volunteers” working with this program:
It’s essentially a pay to volunteer program –but they each (from around the world) spoke highly of the program.  Seemed to be a mix of privileged kids (parents paying) and adventurous kids (paying themselves as a cheaper way to travel – the ones in this category were traveling for shorter length of time).  I bonded up with 20 something Bryan [pictured waving in photo above] when he was trying to fill boats with eight seats and only had 7 participants — and he encouraged me to join them.  I did. Later they invited me to dinner with them at a local NGO that trains restaurant staff (not my fav meal but I definitely enjoyed questioning each of them about their plans/program/intents).  Seemed like a great ‘gap’ year experience.  Oldest in this group was 29 but they said there were older in their program (in Phnom Penh – they had taken overnight sleeping bus to explore Siem Reap for the weekend).  They each spoke glowing about affordability of the program, their housing and experience.