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It Was A Good Run

In a few days, we'll be back in the US, basking in the Pacific Northwest in our wool socks and puffy coats. As our Kiwi friend Tom said, “New Zealand is cold, quiet, green and epic”. We nodded in sync as our thoughts shifted to coming home to Oregon, which is also “cold, quiet, green and epic”. It's time to leave our quaint wood and cardboard shack on the beach, the mischievous resident puppy Rennie, the daily dahl, sambol and rotti meals and the warm waves.

Every day is an adventure, but here are a few highlights from the last two weeks:

  • Two elephant encounters on the road. The first time, we had to swerve to miss an elephant running across the road while we were driving our tuk tuk to an early morning surf session. Yes it was dark out. And elephants are dark. And big. The second encounter was during our 10 hour taxi ride to the airport, with a very large elephant in the road, taking up a whole lane and then some. Our driver stopped, we waited…and waited…finally the driver decided to go for it. He approached, hit the gas, and whizzed by, just a few feet away. A bit of an adrenaline rush, I must say. Check out the video below.
  • Driving our TukTuk down a dirt road and seeing a perhaps six foot (?) cobra slithering along side the road. What do you do? Well, we yell “cobra!”, stop the TukTuk and check it out. The sight of that hand sized hood will forever by imprinted in my brain.
  • Running into David from Switzerland. We met David our second week in Indonesia, in April, and spent a week with him in southern Sumatra for our first intimidating surfing experiences on Indo reef. He was off to the Mentawais and who knows where else and we never expected to see him again. Then, four months later, he walks into a restaurant where we are having lunch in Sri Lanka. Small world.
  • Surviving a very, very intense storm that produced at least one tornado, sending fishing boats into the air, downing trees and wreaking havoc on Arugam Bay. We huddled in our beach shack in the dark, listening to coconuts raining down on our thatched roof, thankful that we weren't in a tent.

We had one of our most amazing sessions one morning as we teamed up with our South African neighbor, now friend, Charl, and drove to a nearby point. For an hour, it was the three of us in the water, watching the sunrise, taking long, perfect shoulder to head high waves, and trying to pull into mini barrels. We caught so many waves that hour, that none of us were in the line up at the same time. Sure it's not Indo, it wasn't an epic swell by any means, blah, blah, blah. But it was magic and we still talk about it.

True to form, Chris is coming home broken, his right hand anyway. The story… We were surfing a nice morning session catching some mellow waves, just the two of us. Throughout the morning, the crowd was building, with many surfers with awful etiquette and poor skills. A bad combo, and we should have gotten out of the water like we usually do then. But no, with a week left we kept going. Chris was run over by another surfer and the end result was a broken metatarsal for Chris and a cracked and dented surfboard for the other guy. A trip to the local and very dodgy government hospital 45 minutes away confirmed in X-rays that it is a significant fracture. They “decided” not to cast it for some reason and we'll be coming home to help a Bend orthopedist send his kids to college. So we made it 11 months and 3 weeks, which is not too bad for a guy with a long history of breaking himself.

As we spend the next three days traveling home, we begin to reflect upon the last year. It's overwhelming and emotional. And mostly we are still shocked at times that we actually pulled it off! While we planned and worked hard and saved, there was always the fear that things would go completely sideways either before we could go or during our travels. Now we face the fears of the “after” – how to go back to living and working in the States, and NOT SURFING everyday. Of course we always have lots of ideas for future surf travel. Regardless, we are filled with gratitude for all that we have seen and done, people we have met, food we have eaten, animals we've encountered, and most importantly, waves we have surfed.

We did it!

Rennie, our resident puppy in our yard.
Morning traffic.
Chris killing it.
Sunrise session.
 
Katy killing it.
Sunset session.
This family enjoyed an evening at the beach watching surfers.
 

 

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A Brief Interlude In Cambodia

How do you begin to fathom an ancient city that held over one million people in the 12th century? We spent a few days in Cambodia in Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor. Having crossed into Thailand overland via train from Malaysia, our tourist visas were good for only 15 days, which means we had to make a “quick” exit out of the country and back to gain more time before we leave in mid-August.

 

Moooo. Moooo! Get on the cattle drive with the host of slackpackers for the next attraction. This part, we hate. Waiting at a roadside eatery, sitting next to young chain smoking Brits who talk about having to get back to “Uni” at the end of the month, waiting for a tiny Thai dude to wave us onto the next _____(insert ferry/minibus/bus/donkeycart). We feel old again. We finished “Uni” 18 years ago. Let this be a lesson. True, you are never to old, but consider how it may feel to sleep on a 10 hour bus ride now rather than in a few years.

 

With only a few days in Cambodia, albeit at the most populated tourist attraction, we fell in love with it. The Khmer are a fiercely proud, resilient bunch, with incredible sense of humour. These are people who have lived through some of the worlds most atrocious crimes of humanity and yet they manage to laugh more than anyone. True, tourists are their “bread and butter”, or shall we say “rice and noodles”, so keeping us happy is part of their job. But still, they make you laugh, especially when they tell a funny then can't finish it because they are cracking themselves up.

 

Three days touring the Temples of Angkor left us mind blown and exhausted (And sweaty. Notice a theme here?) The entire complex is massive, just massive, and the balance of these enormous structures with the most delicate of artwork leaves you thinking a bit about the course of the human race. To think that humans had the capacity for precise design, aesthetics, engineering, abundance of resources, and labor in the 8th to 12th centuries makes you wonder:

 

Have we really come that far? Or not?

 

We've been having fun with our camera. Enjoy the photos!

And after three days of hiking through jungle and temples, we treated ourselves!

 

 

 

 

Bikes, Beaches, and Badminton: A Farewell To Indo

We are in our final days in Indonesia, and the last two weeks or so were spent in a quiet little village at an “end of the road” spot in West Java. It was a real treat that on most days, it was very peaceful with minimal traffic and not many people other than a fantastic bunch of local surfers. However, weekends quickly transformed into mayhem. One thing is for sure; Indonesians are keen on getting out of the city and enjoying some beach time on the weekends and they come in by the busloads. Rolling in the gentle surf getting covered in sand, these people know how to have good, wholesome fun… sans alcohol. Being a Muslim country, there is virtually no alcohol consumption by the locals, save for a few young locals, who might enjoy a Bintang every once in while. We feel like heathens.

 

We enjoyed the surf on the weekdays and embraced the weekend chaos. Last weekend, the surf conditions were not very good, so we took the motorbike out on a surf mission to find good waves. We didn’t find any waves, but we did stumble into the 2012 Indonesian Motocross Championships. Yes, we are the hipster, tree hugging surfers, but we are game for anything, and find that going to sporting events in other countries can result in some fabulous people watching and cultural experiences. From rugby tournaments in Fiji to rodeos in Mexico, we’ve seen some interesting stuff. So we arrive at the Motocross track fairly early, which is, by the way, in the middle of nowhere, over looking a beautiful stretch of coastline, and score a spot up on a rickety platform in a rubber tree. A perfect vantage point for the day.

Now in the US, professional sports usually involve a fair amount of revelry, fan antics and of course, some drinking. Not here. Indonesians, being the most quiet, polite, gentle beings, make us we feel like we are the rowdies, cheering for the riders and clapping for the winners. The place is packed, and clearly most of the spectators have come from hours away to be here, but it’s almost dead quiet, calm and orderly. Only when a rider crashes do we hear a “ohhhhh” from the crowd. From what we could tell, we were the only white people among thousands of Indonesians. When we walked through the “pit” area where the racers were set up, they all wanted to talk to us and pose with us for photos.

Our last day at the beach had small waves, so we rented inner tubes for $1 each and rolled around in the playful surf with the kids and families. Really good fun, playing with the locals in the surf even though they appear that they are indanger of sinking due to the weight of all of their clothing, including jilbabs on the girls (Muslim head scarf). West meets East with Katy in her bikini, sharing a wave with a girl in a “Burkini”. Awesome!

Yesterday as we began our multi-day overland travels to get to the Jakarta International Airport we had a layover at quite unattractive bus station along a typical busy roadway. We loaded our stuff into the bus and walked out to the highway looking for something that might help entertain us for the next two hours. After a short stroll down a motorbike path, we ended up in a little village of sorts with everyone gathered around a friendly neighborhood bout of badminton. Badminton is THE national sport here (the only athletes they send to the Olympics) and we quickly found ourselves in a heated doubles match with the owner of the badminton court and his son. Thankfully for all, they (and we) were laughing too hard to keep score. After making many new friends and working up a good sweat, we had to say goodbye and catch our bus for our next journey.

We’ve also perhaps aligned our priorities a bit better for three more months of travel. Actually, its more like we found another surfboard we just HAD to have. Katy is the proud new owner of an Indo-made 5′ 4″ surfboard that she affectionately calls “The Peanut”. She claims it called her name as she walked by. The board is tiny, suits her perfectly and she is looking forward to her getting a lot of fun waves on it in Sri Lanka. In light of this extra luggage we were able to downsize the rest of our belongings into one travel bag. With only three months left, guess we don’t really need those few extra t-shirts.

Indo has been a blast! The people really are nothing short of amazing and are some of the nicest we’ve ever met, thankfully because there sure are a ton of them. The beaches and waves lived up to our expectations and then some. When we do get back to the US, we will never take for granted our bike lanes, our parks and our quiet places, but we will surely miss the Indonesian hospitality, the “hello misters”, and the smiling faces everywhere.

We’re off to Sri Lanka to surf with the elephants!

 

Typical Indonesian road conditions.
Yep, Indonesian motocross.
This was about half of the motorbike parking area. Luckily we had surfboards to help find our bike.
Introducing “The Peanut”.

Katy getting a few first rides on her new board.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Going tubing with the locals.

A farewell badminton match. They crushed us.


 

Hello Mister, Special Indo Weight Loss Program!

As is often the case, we have a rough plan of what we want to do, then at the last minute, we divert to something else. This is the beauty of long term travel, and this is teaching us self described “master planners” how to better go with the flow. After flying into Jakarta, we were going to head straight to the beach, but decided instead to take the longer route through the high country. Of course, the “longer route” was partially due to some transit shenanigans (see last post), but we truly did want to see some different countryside, so we spent two nights in the Puncak Pass area, home to Gede Pangrango National Park and the volcanically active Gunung Gede.

After eating breakfast at our hotel, we grab a bemo to take us up to the park so we can go for a jungle hike. Stop. If you know Chris Kratsch, you probably thought I meant to write “bike”, not “hike”. But, clearly the tropical air must be getting to him because we head out on foot with a few goals: a waterfall, wildlife (a leopard would be cool, but monkeys will suffice), and no leeches. I am not real terrified of most critters, but I am deathly afraid of leeches, and the leeches here are sneaky leeches. They stand on end on the ground, and as you walk by, they sneak on to you, into your socks and attach on to you and suck your blood. This is something I am just not cool with.

Although we were at over 5,000 feet of elevation, it was still a jungle hike, so it was hot and sticky. But quiet, eerily quiet for Indonesia. Even the school groups of 30 students that pass us were quiet. The trail leads us straight up and soon enough, we hear a bunch of rustling above. Our dreams have come true and we are in the middle of a bunch of monkeys. What do you call a bunch of monkeys anyway? A herd? Flock? Troupe sounds best. As we stand and try to get fleeting pictures, the Indonesians walk by us and laugh. Clearly, the monkeys are entertainment for us, we are entertainment for the Indonesians. When an older woman walked by us, whispering a cryptic “careful mister, careful mister”, we decided to heed her warnings and move along. The rest of the hike was lovely, ending at a waterfall on the flanks of a large volcano. I guess we have both volcanoes and waterfalls in our backyard in Oregon… But we certainly don’t have monkeys.

Our next surf destination was the Cimaja area in West Java, so we took yet another series of busses (we are getting very good at this) for a few hours and found ourselves at the beach again. Cimaja was a fun, mellow wave (by Indo standards, meaning it only barrels occasionally, breaks on a cobble rock point instead of razor sharp reef, and is less than double overhead in size), so we enjoyed surfing at the local point in town as well as a nearby beach break. The “local” surf scene was strong there, but these Indonesians are so damn nice and when they snake a wave from you, it’s always with a big smile! Sometimes if I was in the right position, they would yell, “go missus, go!”, then cheer me on as I was surfing. Since surfboards are a luxury here, there aren’t that many of them and the ones that they do have are completely beat up. So, they share. A bunch of guys sit at the beach and heckle their buddies while they are surfing. Then a guy comes in, gives the board to another guy, and off he goes and proceeds to shred out there. The peanut gallery continues to laugh and heckle while watching their friends. Oh, to be a 17 year old Indonesian boy! This is how they appear to spend the majority of their time. Surfing and laughing.

We found a great place to stay with air conditioning (deluxe!) which turned out to be very critical maneuver since we both, after eight months of international travel, had our first real bout with stomach illness. We knew this day would come, but you are never truly prepared to be sick in a foreign country. I (Katy) had the worst of it. Sparing the details, it was long, arduous and ugly and definitely had that “I wish I was dead, rather than be this sick” element. I call it the “Hello Mister, Special Indo Weight Loss Program”. It only cost us several thousand dollars, but at least it’s in a tropical locale!

I could write a book about ground transportation in Indo. I swear we’ve had our most challenging, yet amusing times moving around these relatively small islands. We are learning new things. Such as, when you ask an Indonesian, “Is there room in that ________(insert car/bemo/bus) for us and our stuff?” they will always answer, with a smile, “Yes, yes, of course”. DO NOT believe these very nice people. We have been crammed into the most ridiculous positions in vehicles, and it’s one thing for me, at five feet tall, to sit in a car with my knees wedged up to my chin for 10 hours. It’s another thing for six foot tall Chris. Add in the completely chaotic driving, and it makes for a wild ride. Nonetheless, it’s all good and we always manage to get where we want to be.

We hustled a 10 hour car ride with three Austrian women and are now in Batu Karas, which is thus far, very lovely. It is a small cove with a rocky headland, literally at “the end of the road”. It’s the most mellow place we’ve been so far, with a few nice accommodations, some tiny restaurants, two tiny surf shops, a little store, and a low motorbike count. We love our homestay here, a little room above a restaurant on the beach with a small balcony, including breakfast and coffee, for a mere $15 a night. However, this is a big weekend spot for city people, so we will likely see bus loads of locals over the weekend. We are hoping to score some surf here in our last two weeks in Indonesia!

Some surf shots from Cimaja:

We love monkeys!
Our homestay in Batu Karas:
Things to check off our bucket list – dinner with a monkey named Roxy. Check.
The jungle is full of delights.
A typical bemo, probably with 25 people in it:

 

A Day In The Life Of Banana Island

First, apologies on the meager array of photos. We have so many photos two share, but uploading takes much more significant broadband power, and as we say “it just ain’t happenin” in these parts.

 

Why pass up an opportunity to get on a boat and go to Palau Pisang? It literally translates to “Banana Island”. Our first day in sumatra, as we were on the bus, we spotted a beautiful island not too far away, and set our sights on getting there at some point in our journey.

 

So, one evening at dinner, some fellow South African surfers were talking about hiring a boat to spend the day on the island. Yippee! We jumped on the chance. The four of us arranged to get up at 5:30am, and hit the road on our motorbikes as soon as we could get moving and head to the nearest harbor, about 30 minutes away, to see about hiring a boat for the day. We arrive at the tiny harbor, completely clueless on where to begin and quickly have a swarm of people around us, trying to figure out what we are doing there. After some inquiring, a guy leaves on his motorbike, and comes back with a woman who is very helpful in arranging a boat. After settling on a price, we head out into the ocean on a very small, but quite impressive craft. Its is only wide enough for two people to sit side by side, with bamboo outriggers, and a small outboard motor, but somehow actually seems seaworthy.

After about an hour, we are dropped off on a white sandy beach backed by a small village. It was unusually quiet, mostly due to the fact that there were, what appeared to be, only a couple of motorbikes on the island, and most people were walking or riding bicycles. Ah, moments of silence in Indonesia! But, you’re never alone, and we quickly had a pack of kids following us. This being the fourth most populated nation on earth, solitude is a rarity.
Case and Justin, the South Africans, were keen to check out the surf, but it was racetrack fast, big and looked like a sure pounding for us intermediate surfers. While they took a beating, we cruised the island and found some excellent snorkeling spots with plenty of fish and beautful live coral. And we are always up for some underwater glamour shots:
Not knowing really what to expect, we hoped that there would be at least one warung (basic restaurant) on the island. After walking around and following rudimentary directions involving lots of pointing and smiling, we find a small store, but no warung. The store is fairly well stocked with instant noodle packets, so we ask the woman if she can boil up some water for noodles. She agrees, and we sit at the long table on the porch, very hungry by this time. The woman comes back out and starts talking and pointing to me. She clearly wants my help in the kitchen, so I follow her through her house, past a couple of sleeping children, back to the dark kitchen. She either wants me to cook it all, or she is giving me a cooking lesson on how to make instant noodles. I really can’t determine, but I smile, laugh, and try to follow her orders. She laughs at me the whole time. Shy travelers beware, Indonesia forces you to interact with people, regardless of your comfort level!
We have settled in to a very lovely losmen (see photo above) owned by a local family who takes very good care of us. Every morning, they pull our motorbike out for use. The meals are amazing, usually consisting of fresh fish or chicken, rice and vegetables and local specialties. We did have spaghetti bolognese one night, which was delicious, and made Chris, the ultimate pasta eater, very happy. Our daily room and meals for $18 a person includes up to four cups of (strong Sumatran) coffee or tea a day, which keeps this coffee drinking Oregonian pretty content!
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