Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First roasts with new BBQ Drum Coffee Roaster

This was going to be a private coffee roasting log, at first (for my own future information, capturing the learning curve for my new coffee roasting cylinder), but... well... let's just say the experience transcended my ability to not share.


Coffee Roasting Log

1st roast with new drum

Type of Coffee:  CoopeDota Café Hermosa
Green beans:  1000g
Roasted beans:  750g?  ish? 
Starting Temp:  550°F

New Tel-Tru grill thermometer doesn't fit existing hole (too narrow).  Also, the stem is so long, it scrapes the drum.  Will try using a couple washers and nuts to adjust it (later).  Active part of the stem is marked by a groove.  No time to mess with that today.  Must roast coffee!

Summary:  First roast was a somewhat mitigated disaster.

Factory rotisserie motor only spins at 2 RPM.  For an even roast, I need more like 45RPM, with an ABSOLUTE MINIMUM of 6.  After much calculation and running numbers on torque requirements, I decide to use our hammer drill at low speed to turn the spit (it has much torque). Long story short... FAIL.  Hammer Drill does NOT like to go slow.  Nothing was damaged but my pride. 

With empty cylinder, I could ALMOST get it stable, using a velcro strap around the trigger.  As soon as I added the load of 1kg of coffee, though, all subtlety was lost.

At low trigger, drill would either not spin at all, or would accelerate beyond a useful RPM*. Coffee got heated un-uniformly, so I pulled it after a couple minutes.  

(*this is my subtle way of saying I almost broke my grill when I tried to take off the velcro strap and accidentally squeezed the trigger, causing everything to basically explode into rapid, panic-inducing motion... causing things to literally fly off the handle.  It is a testament to using well-made, durable machinery, that all is well). 

I decided to try again the next day, so as not to waste 1kg of coffee.  Pre-heated grill to 550°F, as suggested for this size drum.   Added coffee in.  This is a pain.  The cylinder is probably meant to load vertically.  Loading it horizontally, I make an unholy mess and loose lots of beans into the bottom of the grill.

Using a pair of vice-grips as a handle on the rotisserie spit works surprisingly well for manual spinning.  Certainly less traumatic than the hammer drill experience (hey, at least I remembered to turn the hammer function off last time).

5:00 into roast:  Everything inside the grill has caught fire.

OK, on further inspection, this does not include the coffee in the cylinder, but that's a subtle distinction at this point, since it is equally engulfed in flames.  This is probably a sub-optimal roast profile.  I back off the heat a little.

This is a good reminder to clean my grill before roasting.  Especially after roasting chicken.

I end up having to turn the gas off periodically to keep the overall internal temp from spiking out of control.

Later on, after reading more, saw that the starting temp was too high anyway for a half-loaded cylinder.  Not sure how trustworthy the factory grill thermometer is to begin with, but in any case, it was way too hot.  Next time I'll pre-heat to 500°F.  Also, next time, I'll clean the grill thoroughly before starting.

Whole thing was over in 12 minutes.  2nd crack started before 1st crack was done.  Was not at all clear when that started.  Since there are so many beans, the 2nd crack sound is going to be challenging to isolate.  Going to have to work more with times and temp control, once I get those dialed in with the new kit.

At about 12:30, could tell that I had a rolling 2nd crack going (clear sounds of oil boiling).  Figured I had probably nuked the coffee beyond all recognition.  Dumped it.  Definitely WAY over-roasted, but still technically in the realm of coffee, and not quite charcoal. (and still better than Café Avestruz).


Type of Coffee:  CoopeDota Café Hermosa
Green beans:  1002g
Roasted beans: 0g
Loss:  0
Starting Temp:  Nope

Cleaned grill thoroughly.  Was worse than I had imagined it was.  Ick. I'm embarrassed, but whatever, it's clean now.  Pre-heat grill.  Grill doesn't hit 400°F.  Ah.  Low gas.  Great.  Try again tomorrow.


Type of Coffee:  CoopeDota Café Hermosa
Green beans:  1002g
Roasted beans: 887g
Loss:  11.3%
Starting Temp:  500°F

Pre-heated cylinder, then took it OUT to load, vertically.  This is easier without a drill attached.  Conveniently, our patio table even has a hole in it just right for holding the spit and keeping things stable.  This is living.  It's like I planned it.

Temp dropped to about 450°F when I put everything back in.

Time to first crack starting en masse:  12:30
Temp now back up to 500°F

Second crack:  started around 16:50, I think, 
Stopped roast:  about 17:00 (forgot to check clock)

There was no significant time gap after the 1st crack, so the 2nd crack was in full swing when I pulled it.

Coffee came out INCREDIBLY uniform, compared to previous Whirley Pop roasts.

Roast color looks good to me.  Flavor seems a bit light, but I've been drinking burnt coffee the last week.  Also, it's less than 24 hours after roast, and my mom made it, so I didn't have control (or know how long the grinds soaked for).  Tomorrow will tell more definitively, but even today, the coffee is MUCH better than that over-roasted, charred, Starbucks-esque nonsense I've been drinking this past week.

That'll do, pig.  That'll do.

Friday, June 7, 2013


Hey there folks.  Now that we’re back from our trip, this blog is going back to being a personal blog for me. I know, I know, I still need to write about Thailand, and I promise I’ll get to it, but something came up today that takes precedence.

Today, I experienced what could have been the most physically) painful thing I've ever felt in my life. I had an appt for a minor foot surgery to fix a deep... callous... kind of thing on the ball of my right foot.  We think it was caused by a tiny pebble or splinter or something that I picked up a few months ago (probably during the 2 months of heavy barefoot beach-walking in Bali). Whatever it was got in deep, got encapsulated, and formed a heavy, deep callous in my foot.

It hurts a LITTLE bit to walk on (some days more than others, but nothing crippling), so it wasn't an urgent issue. But it was ugly, and annoying, and now that I have health care here in Costa Rica (effective again as of YESTERDAY, thanks to my new job), I figured I'd get it fixed. I had the appt set about 4 months ago, so it was fortunate that my job came through when it did, or I would have missed the appt entirely. In any case, it was this appt that killed me today. The worst part? It was all for naught! The pain ended up being so intense that they had to abandon the procedure, and schedule me for a heavier procedure.


So, what was the major problem? Well… ultimately, it came down to this particular form of anesthetic. Apparently, it seems my body is resistant to it. Even the Dr admitted that the anesthetic itself was known to hurt, but that's supposed to be short-lived (on the order of 5 seconds). After a MAXIMUM of 10 seconds, I should have felt nothing. Turns out that not only was it EXCRUCIATINGLY painful, so much that it actually made me scream out loud (and I'm somebody who is accustomed to handling certain levels of pain and discomfort, such on-going back pain, boxing training pain, etc), and actually get nauseous, shaky and actually cry tears. When I say I screamed… I don't mean I yelped. I mean I SCREAMED! LOUD! The Dr even said I startled her the first time it happened. I pity anybody who was in the waiting room.  I think I probably must have scared the shit out of them (“Holy shit!  What is this, Frankenstein’s lab?? Do they have the dentist from Little Shop of Horrors in there?”).  I cussed in both English and Spanish.  The problem was that not only was the anesthetic INSANELY painful, but that it also wasn’t working.  So, they had to keep using more and more, to try and get me to not feel where they were going to be working.  Aside from not working well even at the surface, which at least experienced SOME numbing effects, my callous thing is deep, so they had to inject the stuff into deep tissue.  The needle itself, while definitely being painful, was not unbearable.  It hurt, but I could hang.  It was when she started to inject the anesthetic, though, that made my eyes roll back into my head.  I am generally the kind of person who suffers internally.  I can breathe out, fast and hard, and handle a lot of shit.  But this was so intense, and so sudden, that the yells were RIPPED out of me, at full force, and with zero shame.  Sure, I was embarrassed afterwards, and felt weak for not being able to stomach it, butt in that moment, there was no room for caring.  There was only searing pain. 


To make matters worse, because my body was rejecting the anesthetic, they ended up having to give me 2 full syringes worth, trying to get me to a point where I could tolerate the surgery.  So, not only was it the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced up until now, but it went on and on and on.  Ultimately, since I did have SOME numbness at least at the surface after a while, I tried to let the Dr start the surgery.  But the moment she started cutting, I got about 5 seconds into it, and we had to call it off.  The anesthetic was not doing it’s job, and this was just the warm-up.  So, in the end, we had to abandon this whole procedure, and get me in line for a bigger, heavier hitting process at a bigger clinic (whatever that process may be, I have no idea).  This probably means another several months of waiting, but… fuckit.  Today just wasn’t going to happen.  I can live with the status quo for a few more months.  I could NOT have endured the surgery with things as they were today.


Let’s just hope it doesn’t take TOO long, and then when they finally get me in for the next thing, whatever it is, it’s something I can actually live with!


Interesting side note, this was an electric scalpel.  That is, the blade itself did not do the cutting.  The blade was instead electrified, and served rather to focus a tiny electric arc into my skin, so that I was actually being cut by… a mini lightning bolt.  The advantage of this process is that the wound was instantly cauterized at the same moment as the cut was made.  Very neat to watch.  If it just hadn’t been for that whole issue of “screaming for my life and barely containing my body’s urge to vomit and pass out”, I would have been quite amused by the whole process.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Indonesia – Part 2


So, I know it’s been longer than usual since my last post. We’re actually in Thailand now, and it has been a bit of a whirlwind trip.  Since Thailand is our last country, the last stop on our 8 month journey, we’ve been going pretty fast to try to cram in as much as we possibly can before heading home. Hence, the more than 1 month lag.

When I left you last time, though, I hinted that our trip to Mataram, Lombok, to renew our Visas, turned into a bit of an adventure. Let’s start there now. We left Tulamben really early in the morning… around 5AM, so we could get to Mataram before they closed the office (either at 2pm or 4; we weren’t sure, so we wanted to be safe and aim to get there before 2). It was quite the ride. We went from Tulamben to Padang Bai by car, from Padang Bai to Lembar by ferry (4 hours). From Lembar to Mataram we found a driver at the pier and negotiated a price… we finally managed to make it to the Immigration office JUST before 2pm, so we were happy! Until we read the signs. Today only… they closed early… 2 hours before we got there. It seems that this weekend was a huge Muslim holiday (something about the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca). As a result, not only were they closing early that day (Thursday), but they wouldn’t be opening Friday either. We’d have to wait until Monday to even submit our papers.

So instead of being in and out in a matter of hours, like we’d expected, we’d get to spend the whole weekend here in town, a city we had no interest in. Fortunately, there was a lovely little beach town (Senggigi) only a $4 cab ride away (20 minutes), so we spent our days there. It was there that I finally got to try the infamous Kopi Luwak (Civet coffee). I believe I’ve already told that main story, but let’s just say the coffee was good, but not magical, and yet the experience of the day was quite entertaining anyway. On Monday, we headed back down to the Immigration office, paid the expedited fee to get it done in one day, and had our papers back after lunch. And then it was off to Gili Trawangan!

On Gili T, there are no roads, and no motorized vehicles. The only way around is either walking, renting a bike, or hiring a horse-drawn cart at ridiculous fees (when you’re the only game in town, I guess you can charge whatever you want). We chose to walk. A guy at our hotel in Senggigi had recommended an old resort on the North side of the island for us, so we headed up that way. After about 40 minutes of walking with our heavy backpacks, we agreed that we’d pay for the horse cart on the way back. Suddenly, $5 for a 10 minute ride didn’t sound so bad after all (for perspective, the boat TO the island was 40 minutes and cost $1).

The place we finally reached, though, was pretty great! The place was called Nusa Tiga, and our impression of it was that it probably USED to be a very fancy resort, but was now pretty worn-down. It still had four walls, a bed, a bathroom and a roof for $10 a night, including breakfast. Even though the room was really basic, the location was PERFECT. It was right next to a BEAUTIFUL white sand beach, and the waters in front made for the best snorkeling on the island.

12 11 Bali (597) Gili Trawangan

Our room even had a resident Tokay Gecko. I don’t remember if I mentioned these guys in my last post, but they’re the big ones, maybe up to a foot long, including the tail. They also sing to you. Or rather, they make a sound not unlike a car alarm.. but descending in frequency like the car was running out of battery. Jime likes to tell the story of the first time she discovered one of those in Thailand, before she had any idea what they were. It was living just outside the wall of her bedroom, right by her head. When it started “singing”, she just about shat herself before leaping out of the bed. They are LOUD! Also, according to a science talk we went to in Portland a while ago, they also apparently bite, if you try to touch them (which made for less than happy times with the grad students in his lab). We’d heard another one of these back in Amed, at the Good Karma bungalows, but never got the camera out to record it. This time, we got a picture.

12 11 Bali (614) Gili Trawangan Tokay Gecko

Our favorite place to hang out was on these little platforms they had built right on the edge of the beach. These were their restaurant seating areas, and we spent many happy hours just hanging out there.

This place was the definition of slow down and relax. It may be on the opposite end of the equator from Costa Rica, but we still found our own bit of Pura Vida.

Snorkeling here was truly spectacular. The corals were pretty, and pleasantly diverse, with good fish life. We saw a few very pretty scorpion fish, including one very LARGE one (about 36cm), which taught us that not only do they have awesome camouflage, but they can apparently even change color! We had no idea, and would have never guessed, until we saw one do it! It started out as a black, which was how we spotted it, because it was on a white sandy bottom. But then it moved up to a big blue coral-covered rock, and BAM, it changed to match… perfectly. It practically vanished in front of our eyes.

12 11 Bali (713) Gili Trawangan Tassled Scorpion Fish
(Do you see it?)

(Here, let me help…)

The main reason you come to these islands, though, is for the turtles. There are sea turtles everywhere here! When I say that, I mean that out of all the days we spent here snorkeling in this spot, we saw sea turtles about 90% of the time (at least one, but often 2 or 3). Our favorite turtle was a really big female who apparently had her favorite spots near us, because we could actually go out looking for her, and usually find her. Aside from being particularly large, she had a convenient little scratch mark on her back in the shape of a D, which made her easy to identify. She was really awesome because she had absolutely NO care at all that we were there. Other turtles would swim away when they saw us getting close. Not her. She’d just chill out and keep snacking on her coral buffet, without a care in the world.

About the only time we saw her get excited up was when another turtle tried to start a fight with her, and bit her fin. They she went nuts and got all snappy (I would have too, in her position). That other turtle was much smaller (we think it was a male, but we’re not sure), and once he realized he had angered the giant, he got away FAST.

At every other time, though, this big turtle would let us just hang out near her for literally hours, even coming up to surface every few minutes right next to us (within touching distance). We also did our part to not bother her, so that probably helped her to not mind our presence. Also, she generally hung out in fairly shallow water (only 3 or 4 meters at worst), and she also let us get right up next to her. Consequently, we were able to get some really amazing pictures and video (including one the best pictures I’ve ever personally taken, and which is now my computer screen!

One other really neat thing we discovered, once we knew where to look, was that in addition to being the home of turtles, this was also the land of the moray. There were eels everywhere! I think we saw at least 4 different kinds, including Snowflake Moray, White Eye moray, Banded Snake Eel (which was tunneling through the sand), and some other kind of cloud pattern moray that I haven’t identified yet. There was one artificial reef area that was even a sort of nursery for the Snowflake Eels. In one tiny space, we saw at least 5 different baby morays staring back out at us. Probably the most fun encounter with the eels, though, was out in deeper water. We saw one particular moray NOT hiding under a rock, but rather swimming out and about, actively hunting. Morays can be really shy, so usually you just get to see their little nose peeking out of a rock, it’s rare to see them swimming out in the water. Since we were up about 5 or 6 meters above, the eel didn’t seem to notice us at all, and happily went about its business for about a half hour… much of which, Jimena managed to get on video. Yay. :) [prepare yourselves for the endless home movies, you know they’re coming]

We did go for one dive at this island, but it turned out to be a bit of a dud. We went to a spot called Manta Point, which theoretically has the potential for some nice large fish to come by (Mantas included). It was also supposed to have zero current, from what we were told. Alas, none of those things were true when we were there. Instead, we got ourselves quite the thrill ride. We dropped down into the water and were immediately whisked away by the strongest current I’ve ever been in. It was like a ride at an amusement park.. or like … in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy gets swept away by the tornado and random and weird things just go whizzing by. That’s what it was like. We were flying, with absolutely no chance to slow down and see anything that may or may not have been in the water. Our Dive Master got separated from us and ended up about 15m (50 ft) from us. Ordinarily, in calm water, I wouldn’t have had any issue with that, but in this current, that 15m meant I couldn’t have gotten back to him if I tried. He stopped to look at something on a bit of coral, but no amount of fighting the current would budge me in his direction. The best I could do was slow down the ride a little. I’m a strong swimmer, with a lot of practice, and I had fins on. Some currents, you just don’t fight (especially when you’re working with borrowed air). So, we rode it out. Eventually, it did slow down and we got to look at a few anemones and stuff, but really it was all the same exact stuff we were seeing snorkeling every day, only not as pretty, and not as diverse.

While there is something to be said for enjoying the thrill ride aspect of it (which I did, but Jime very much did not), the dive as a whole was really disappointing, so we ended up canceling our second dive of the day. The corals and fish around this island (outside of our own little snorkeling area) were just too damaged to be worth it. Also, we had plans for our next place already, which had a reputation of being the most vibrant and lively corals one could imagine so we figured we’d save money for the next place

The other major event for us there was on a late afternoon snorkel. If I haven’t mentioned it before, we are hard core when it comes to snorkeling. We typically spend about 3 or 4 hours a day (often all at once). If you haven’t known me for a long time, this may be new information for you, but… I REALLY like being in the water. I’ll take any excuse. On it, in it, under it, it’s all good. Diving is fun for me with or without fish. With that in mind, snorkeling is an awesome way to spend time, especially when in the water are all these fish and corals! It lets you be in the water for as long as you want, with no worries about running out of air. The sea life is Jime’s main draw. Snorkeling is more of a means to an end for her (the better to see all the pretty fishies), but even so, she has every bit of the same drive I do to get in and stay in. When we’re there together, I think our favorite thing to do is just look for new fish. That’s not to say we don’t appreciate the ones we see a bit more often, but… when you see something new, or something unusual, that’s what really gets your blood flowing. In Indonesia, this is an almost endless pursuit. There’s so much cool stuff down there! I can’t tell you how many boxfish, lionfish, batfish, morays, and even turtles we saw. It never gets old.

You also remember cool interactions, even with more “common” fish. This could be anything from having a staring contest with a False Clown Anemonefish (“Nemo”), bravely guarding his anemone and looking you right in the eye… to getting a complete adrenaline spike when some gigantic Titan Trigger comes after you 6 times because you got too close to his nest.

One particularly memorable one, though, combined everything all at once. We were in our usual snorkeling spot outside our hotel at Nusa Tiga late one afternoon, and we’d found our favorite turtle. She was hanging out at a large coral tower, chomping away at some piece or another. I dove down to get closer to her a couple times, and take a couple close-ups. One of the times I came up, though, something came up from that same spot a couple seconds later. A snake! It was a Banded Sea Krait. Sea snakes are well-known for being HIGHLY venomous. Ruin your whole day kind of venomous (death will certain do that). Holy shit! It came up slowly, not coming after me or anything, but I was still glad that I had moved out of the way before it did come up. As a general rule, you don’t want to startle things that bite. I had the camera in my hand, so I quickly took a couple pictures and handed the camera to Jime, our official photographer/videographer, and she quickly switched to video mode. The snake came up, and actually went over to hang out with the turtle. More holy shit! This is some National Geographic shit right here! The turtle looked at it and went back to her snack. I tell you, this turtle is imperturbable. As we watched, and Jime filmed, the snake poked around a bit, and then even came up to the surface for a breath of air, right in front of us (we kept a safe distance). Cool! We then watched it wiggle its way over to the other side of the coral tower, and then back down to disappear under a rock. Jimena moved the camera to me, and to the turtle, who was now coming up for air right next to me. Wow! What a rush! So many things in about 80 seconds! Unfortunately, the camera caught none of it. With all that happened, the camera choked. It stopped recording after one second. Jime was inconsolable. Still, we saw what we saw, and the snake and the turtle did what they did, and you can’t take that away from us. We never thought we’d ever see a sea snake, let alone have such an up-close and personal interaction with one.

(This shot’s a bit blurry, but at least you can see them both together)

We of course looked it up later, and the sea snake, practically-speaking, is not all that dangerous to people. Yes, their venom is every bit as potent as they say, but they’re not at ALL aggressive (quite shy, actually). They’re also very conservative. If they bite you in defense, they intentionally don’t inject a lot of venom. So yes, it would ruin your day, but most likely not kill you. But lastly, they really just don’t like to bite at all. It seems that they actually come on land to breed, and there are stories of Indonesian kids just picking these things up off the ground and playing with them, and not having any problem. I mean, not that I’m recommending that for my own future kids, but… it did take away some of the fear of running into one again in the future. I will say, though, that even when it happened, despite having a high sphincter pucker factor, it was not fear, but the feelings of awe and joy of discovery that filled our hearts.

We stayed about a week and a half on Gili T, and then headed out to our next destination, Lovina, back on Bali. We had one overnight back in Padang Bai, where we got to enjoy one more awesome breakfast at the Kembar Inn. Lovina is on the North coast of the island, just West of center. We went there because it was close to the Menjangan Island nature preserve where they have strongly protected, and even cultivated, the corals. Fishing is banned (though it still happens), and there has never been any dynamite fishing there, and the storms have not damaged the corals like other places in Bali.

When we finally got into the water at Menjangan, it was mind-blowing. Especially after the mostly bleak and sparse corals over at Gili Trawangan, this place was the complete opposite. It was absolutely the FULLEST garden of corals we’d ever seen. Also, the currents are not strong here, so the water clarity was like an aquarium. We had visibility for 30 meters plus! The fish life was not quite so abundant as other areas, but the corals were out of this world. We dove twice, with a 1-hour snorkel session in between. We liked it so much, we even came back the next day and just did a full day of snorkeling. Happily, we had gotten along really well with the other folks from our dive trip, so we all went back out together for the snorkeling trip. Since we were very excited about the park, we decided to rent a dive camera (expensive!). The dive pictures aren’t as nice as the snorkel pictures (because of the low light), but they give you an idea.

Our first dive was along a wall, and it was filled with really spectacular and HUGE coral fans. It’s amazing when something so fragile can survive so well to become so big. Other corals and sponges also grew to gargantuan proportions. We finished up in shallower water in a sandy bottom area with aquarium clear water, and tons of corals, large and small. As soon as we surfaced, Jime and I jumped right back into the water for snorkeling. The second dive was almost equally spectacular to the first one, but I think that snorkel spot we had between dives (Sandy Slope) was really our favorite spot in the whole area.

12 11 Bali (915) Menjangan scuba diving e
(Diving at Menjangan)

12 11 Bali (1072)  Menjangan
(Snorkeling at Menjangan)

Our time in Lovina was short, but definitely packed. Although most people go to Lovina primarily as a way to get to Menjangan Island (1.5 ours away), apparently the thing to do in Lovina itself is to go see the dolphins. I had no idea until we got there, but apparently there is a large resident pod (or several) of Spinner Dolphins (the kind that spin around in the air when they jump out of the water… and which, to my knowledge, nobody is sure why). So, our last day in Lovina… in fact the day we were already scheduled to leave, we hired a boat with our friend Emily (from the dives) and went out to see the dolphins.

We were picked up at 6AM, and taken to a boat launch. It was just BARELY after dawn. We piled the 3 of us, another couple that we didn’t know, and our driver (a fisherman) into a small Balinese fishing boat (Jukung), and off we went. Even though some other travelers had warned us that it was a bit crowded and crazy, I was still not prepared for the level of chaos that occurred. There must have been at LEAST 50 other boats out there… all in the same bay, and all racing around like crazy people at every sighting of a dorsal fin. The poor dolphins! With that many boats, many of the drivers were blatantly aggressive in trying to “get there” before the dolphins dove back under the water. As a consequence, it seems like the general strategy was to just go full speed to the center of the pod. That part did not make us happy. Oh, and bear in mind… this is the OFF season. I don’t even want to imagine the lunacy of the high season.

In any case, we DID actually manage to see some dolphins, which was cool. And yet, if I had to do it over again, I would not. I’m all in favor of local folks figuring out how to make a living with all the damned tourists around, but… I think this particular sport is ripe for some regulation. I haven’t figured out yet why the dolphins haven’t left forever. Maybe they will some day, or maybe they don’t mind as much as I imagine they do. Either way, I think the current system is not healthy. I hope they figure it out soon.

12 11 Bali (1086)  Lovina
(very close boats)

12 11 Bali (1094)  Lovina Dolphins

We got back from the dolphins a bit late, and had JUUUUST enough time to grab a quick bite to eat and then run out to catch our bus. We thought we’d be on the same bus as Emily, which we were looking forward to, but at the last moment, we arrived at the bus stop, and she turned out to have a different bus, so we quickly said our goodbyes, and we were all on our way.

Our next destination was yet another small island, called Nusa Lembongan. We had considered going to this island earlier, because we heard it had some of the best diving that Bali had to offer, but we originally decided against it because we’d also read about most of the dive sites having strong currents. Well, over time, we learned a bit more, and also had gotten a lot more experience diving and snorkeling, so we decided to try it.

On the way, since all the (affordable) boats to the island were in the morning, we stopped for a night in the port city of Sanur. Sanur felt a bit like… a more high-end beach town. To give it a California comparison… it felt to me a bit like La Jolla (or maybe Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica). The restaurants and accommodation were generally catering to more high-end travelers than ourselves. Still, we managed to find a decent cheap spot. And what’s more, we even managed to find ourselves a pretty great shopping street. We found places with awesome sarongs and shirts. We got me something like.. oh… 7 or 8 different ones! As we were walking around town looking for the bus company, we found a special celebration happening right on the beach! Similar to what we had seen in Padangbai when we first got to the island, everyone was dressed in similar special clothing, and there were dances and music, and food arranged for beautiful offerings. Pretty magical!

First thing the morning, we were off to Nusa Lembongan. I would say I wish we’d gotten there sooner, because it was everything good about Bali, but… I think we just got there at the perfect time. The life on land was quite laid back but plenty interesting. It was not overly touristic, though there was at least good support for the tourists. The hotel we eventually found was not on the coast, but only maybe one block from it. It even had a swimming pool. I know it may sound a bit strange to have a pool at a place whose major draw is sea life (you want to swim? The ocean’s right there!), but it was a nice place to just relax and cool out on hot days when we were done snorkeling or diving.

The major non-tourism-related industry on the island is actually very interesting. They do sea weed farming! It’s pretty incredible to see happen. Aside from the different colors of the various seaweed that they’d spread out on tarps on land to dry, even the “farms” in the water were neat. They were all spread out in perfect little squares of space, roped off like any land crop (but much smaller than a typical farm plot), and then strung with a grid of small ropes to grow the plants on. To start off a crop, they’d use some starter plants from the previous batch, and tie a few bundles onto the lines in the grid. I don’t know how fast any of their plants grew but I do know that they seemed to go out there collecting every evening. I believe they ultimately sell the seaweed both as a direct food product, and also to exporters (i.e. to Japan).

12 11 Bali (1109) Nusa Lembongan
(Seaweed farm)

The way the island was laid out makes Nusa Lembongan a SPECTACULAR spot for sunsets. In fact, we went out to see sunsets just about every night. Some nights the cloud cover was too heavy, but most nights, there was just enough to really give the light something to bounce off as all the colors rolled through. Jimena enjoyed pigging out on her favorite fruits (Mangosteen) and we’d take a big bag of them to the beach and watch the sun come down every day. I think that out of our whole trip, these may have been the best sunsets of all. And here, even the seaweed farming helped, because as we’d sit there on the beach, and there would be farmers standing in their small boats and poling their way across the water like in Venice, highlighted beautifully in front of the glowing horizon.

12 11 Bali (1130) Nusa Lembongan sunset

One night we were sitting at a restaurant researching dive shops online and the guy next to us was looking at some neat dive photos. We asked him if he knew any dive shops that he would recommend, and he said “yes… but I’m biased!” It turned out that he was the owner of a great dive shop called Big Fish Diving. He gave us great information about where to snorkel, and after looking at different companies online, we decided to dive with his company. We had a great time, and really appreciated the great connection we had made. Even better, the dive shop hosted talks twice a week, and we got to geek out and listen to a lecture on “Weird and Wonderful Marine Life”, and it was about corals and related animals. It was a pretty great talk, actually, and a lot of fun.

Now that we’re talking about diving, though, it’s finally time talk about what it was like down there! Inside the water, there were some currents, but the local dive shops know how to time their dives to aim for calm periods (between tides) or at least start from different directions for drift dives, depending on the direction of the current at the moment. Also, many dive and snorkel spots are naturally sheltered from the currents, so it really wasn’t as big of a deal as I’d been expecting after reading all the descriptions.

When you dive (or snorkel), there’s really only one place walkable on this island (called Mangrove Point, but if you hire a boat, they can take you to plenty of other spots around this island and its 2 immediate neighbors. The sea life here is really spectacular. I wouldn’t have guessed it, even after reading all the reviews of every dive site on or around Bali and Lombok but Jime and I really enjoyed our diving and snorkeling here. It’s not as convenient to snorkel because you have to hire a boat to get to the good spots, or rent a bike and go through a lot of hassle to get to Mangrove point, but when we were in the water it was really amazing.

The corals are every bit as healthy as they are at Menjangan, but they’re actually TEEMING with other fish life as well. The diversity and volume and beauty of the place just totally blew our minds, even after everything we’d already seen. Also, here, you can dive with mantas (las manta rayas gigantes)! There aren’t very many places in the world where you can reliably see manta rays year-round, but this is one of them. Interestingly, there are apparently different kinds of manta rays (which I had never heard before). There are the super giants, that live out in the open ocean, and they can reach up to 6 or 7 meters (22 ft) in wing span! And then there are the coral reef mantas, which are still bigger than any other ray, just not QUITE as big as the open ocean ones. The reef mantas can still get up to 4 or 5 meters, but are more commonly around 3 meters. Either way… they’re still a 9 foot creature that looks like a black flying saucer and yet flies gracefully through the water like an eagle. They are incredibly beautiful!

Unfortunately, it seems like the best place to see them is less than beautiful, but it was still worth every minute. To go see the bigger mantas, you have to go really far out, like maybe a 2 or 3 hour boat ride, and even then you have absolutely no guarantee that you’ll find them. With the reef mantas, it’s only a 30 minute ride, and they’re almost always in one of two or three places, and you can see them from the surface, so if they’re not in the first place you look, you just keep hunting around until you DO see them, and then you jump in. The place we found them on our dive trip was an area called Secret Manta, and the water conditions were less than ideal. The waves were heavy (as in, you can see them smashing on the rocks with lots of spray at the surface. Under water, where things are always a bit calmer, the surge would still just casually shove you about 1.5 meters (4-5 feet) at a time. This meant you had to really be careful not to be too close to anything (rocks, other divers, etc). Also, there are virtually no corals at all in this spot, and visibility was terrible. Oh, and it was covered with little jelly fish. Fortunately, they were mostly just the comb jellies, which don’t sting, but I still prefer to avoid them if I can, so *I* don’t hurt THEM. All this, though (surge aside), is what draws the mantas here. They eat the things that make the water cloudy. They come here, and they fly through the water filtering out all the little tiny animals. So, if you want to see them, this is where you go. And see them we did! I think all in all, we spotted at least 4 different individuals, but we had many more sightings. And they weren’t shy, either! Sometimes they’ll be swimming along, and since visibility is so poor, they’ll be heading right towards you. They’ll get REALLY close, and then they’ll just sort of slip past you, or under you or over you… with no change at all in their flow… as if they’d been planning to go that way anyway. They do not startle. It’s pretty magical to be sitting still and quiet under the water when this gigantic… black angel appears out of nowhere, glides effortlessly right over your head, maybe missing you by mere centimeters, and then floats away again, disappearing slowly from view like a ghost fading into mist.

After our dive, we got back in the water for a bit of snorkeling so we could get some pictures with our snorkel-only camera. It’s much rougher floating on the surface, so we only stayed for about 10 minutes or so, but even so, we still had plenty more awesome close-encounters. We came back another day and did a snorkel-only trip, and then we got even more pictures, and a couple of nice videos.

Aside from the mantas, we also hit a couple other really beautiful spots. At one spot, called Toyapakeh (which had some really COLD, deep sea currents that even made ME shiver), we saw another sea snake! This was another Banded Sea Krait, the same kind we saw at Gili Trawangan, only this time we DID have our camera! Redemption!!

I think our favorite, though, was probably a spot called Crystal Bay. That’s the place the really defines what I said above about this being perhaps the most amazing snorkel spot we’ve been to. There were a million hard corals, soft corals and anemones of many sizes, shapes and colors. The place was just covered with soft corals especially, all just swaying in the light surge like fine hair in a swimming pool. I’ll say it now: some day, I will build myself a reef aquarium. It will be at least 250 gallons. And when I start it, my absolute ideal dream would be to get it to look even a LITTLE like this place. Aside from all the corals, this diversity and abundance of fish life was incredible as well. We saw all of our favorites! It was like a finale of a play, where all the actors come back out on stage for one last grand performance (which was perfect, since this was our last hurrah in Indonesia). We saw a gigantic Yellow Boxfish that was probably bigger than any we’d seen before. We saw Spotted Boxfish, Moorish Idols, Unicornfish, Nemos, you name it.

(Hard corals and swaying soft corals in green, purple and blue.  There are many MANY more beautiful pictures where this came from!)

We had a miscommunication with the boat guy. He said our time was up, when we still expected to have another TWO hours in the water. After some re-negotiating we settled on 30 more minutes… grumble… As soon as we got back to snorkeling, Jimena SAW AN OCTOPUS!!! Crazy screaming, yelling, octopus, getting the camera ready, zoom in, video mode, GO!!! She managed to get an incredible video of the octopus swimming, hunting, swirling, changing shape… when here comes this other stupid boat right at us!! Pause video, look at boat to make sure we don’t get run over, and try to find the octopus again. We got to watch her for a few more minutes of swimming and hunting, and she was incredibly beautiful. What a performance! She was shallow (maybe only 5 meters), so even the lighting was decent. She moved, and oozed, and hunted, and changed colors and textures in a heart beat. She was even in relatively shallow water. Yes, we do in fact have pictures, and even video (though you’ll have to see the video in person). We watched her for a good 20 more minutes before she finally went to a spot a bit deeper (about 8 or 9 meters) and then just stopped, went dark, and stayed still (lights out, show’s over folks). We still watched for another 10 minutes or so, and I even did a couple dives to her, which caused her to change colors when she saw me, but also caused her to slip into a bit of a hole until I left. Still, all in all, we couldn’t have asked for a better send-off for our Bali trip. We had the most amazing corals and fish, and even a final octopus show encore. After 2 amazing months here, it was really hard to leave, but having this last… fling… with the under water world, was definitely the perfect going away present.

octopus E

To see the full set of pictures from the second half of our Indonesia trip, and all the amazing, freaking BEAUTIFUL coral pictures, Jime has them up here:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Indonesia Part 1 – Bali -- or “Wait, you mean there’s stuff ABOVE the water, too??”

We arrived in Indonesia at the Bali Airport, right next to a town called Kuta, which is a bit of a party town. This is not a feature (for us). As far as I can tell, other than the airport, the town has very few good qualities. There was a beach, but it was about as straight, empty and bland as anything you can see in California. I know, I know… for people who live in places like Washington, DC, the beaches in San Diego might sound nice. But my standards have changed. We came to Bali to snorkel and dive. If your beach doesn’t let me do that, then I have no interest in it. If you’re into surfing, I imagine the beach in Kuta might have been more appealing. That’s not my game, though. In any case, this is the starting city, and so we stayed for a few days.

We found a really nice hotel in a back alley of a back alley in the backpacker district. Actually, the hotel (Anemone Hotel) was very nice! It was clean, well-built, nicely landscaped, and even had a pool. Their yard was covered with a bunch of REALLY beautiful potted Desert Rose (Adenium) trees, all shaped into Bonzais, with artistically-arranged roots and everything. We decided our yard at home really needed a few, so... expect that in the near future.

Our room at the hotel even had a little porch, and they would us bring breakfast there every morning, which was pretty cool. Being a popular backpacker area, there were plenty of cheap restaurants in the area, and we found our favorite about 2 blocks away, where we could order anything from local Bali and more general Indonesian food to European dishes and even some super specialties like Dutch (Holland) food. All options were cheap, and all were pretty good (though I will admit we chose to skip the Dutch options, which oddly seemed to all be variations on an omelet). Between the restaurant and the pool at our hotel, we didn’t really mind that there was nothing else we wanted to see in this town. We were plenty happy to start off the SLOW part of our trip by just lounging around and doing absolutely NOTHING of constructive value. The pool was especially great for that.

12 10 Bali (9)
(The pool)

12 10 Bali (10)
(Desert Roses all in a row)

One of the things you see right away on Bali is that religion is life here. EVERYBODY is religious. I don’t know a lot about the main religion except that it’s called “Balinese Hinduism”, which is a mix of Hinduism and an older, local religion featuring animism, magic, and worship of ancestors, and that it’s followed by roughly 93% of the population. The religion is everywhere around you. Every single house, hotel, store and restaurant has at least one altar; some homes even have three big altars in the front yard. On top of that, virtually every city block and many businesses have their own temple. People also make many small offerings everywhere, around their homes and businesses. Offerings are typically little packets containing cooked rice, sometimes colored, and also some small flower petals. From what we could see, they set out the offerings twice a day, every day, in front of just about every doorway, driveway, porch and altar. The person setting them out even wears a ceremonial sash around their waist (imagine pajama shorts, t-shirt and flip flops, but with a brightly-colored sash tied around the waist). The packets for the offerings are little hand-made boxes or baskets, made from palm leaves. Mostly the boxes were just little squares, but sometimes they were nicer, with fancy-weaving. As a result of all this, the religion, and the various traditions and symbols that go with it, give Bali a very unique and special character, even compared to the other Indonesian islands, which are largely Muslim, with some Buddhism as well.

12 10 Bali (6)
(Various offerings)

12 10 Bali (4)
(A fancy altar) 

12 10 Bali (1)
(The alley by our hotel)

To be fair to our story, we did TRY to do one productive thing while we were in Kuta. We went to the immigration office to try to extend our visa for another 30 days (US Citizens are given a 30 day Visa On Arrival, which can be extended once for another 30 days). We read online that this would take about a week to process, and we didn’t want to have to come back here after only 3 weeks out of our 2 months to deal with that. So one day we got up early, got a taxi, got a bunch of copies and print-outs ready to deal with the bureaucracy like good Ticos are expertly trained to do. We arrived at the office, bought our forms, and got in line to take a number (interestingly, this was all following pretty much the exact script I went through at the Immigration Office in Costa Rica to apply for my Residency). We got seen by somebody fairly quickly. She reviewed our paperwork and had good news and bad news for us… Good News: Our papers seemed to be very well in order (with the exception of mine being in blue ink instead of black, but that was easily fixable, and a replacement form would be free). Bad News: We were too early to apply for an extension. We’d only been in town for 3 days. We had to come back in 2 or 3 weeks. D’oh!!

Well, we did some more digging around on the interwebs and figured out that other towns had immigration offices, and a few of them were closer to places we wanted to go. So, it wasn’t the end of the world. At least now we wouldn’t be stuck in Kuta longer than we wanted to be. I guess it was really good news all around!

Our first real stop on Bali, then, was to a town called Padang Bai, on the South side of the island, about 90km East of Kuta. Padang Bai is a big public Ferry harbor and Fast Boat transportation hub, so it sees a lot of traffic, but not usually a lot of people staying there (that’s apparently starting to change lately, but not so much in the tourism low season). The main area along the waterfront was pretty to look at, but there was still no good snorkeling right there (apparently there ARE some corals in there, but with all the boats constantly coming and going, it did not inspire confidence). There were, however, 2 really popular snorkel beaches near by – one a bit north and one a bit south. These were why we came.

Our hotel (Kembar Inn) ended up being the first one we saw when we got off the bus. They even had a tout (person who approaches you to sell something) greeting us as we got off. As a rule, we never trust touts, because if they’re actively campaigning for tourists, they usually want to rip you off. So, we took their card to be polite, but hiked on down to the boat dock anyway to begin our planned and coordinated search of the area.

We found a spot to sit, dropped our bags and (one of us at a time) walked around the small town for about an hour, checking out every place high and low that we could find. After all that, we ended up coming back to the first place we started at, Kembar Inn. Despite having touts meet us at the bus, they actually turned out to be the best deal in town. Aside from the room rate, which was pretty good, their breakfast ended up being the best one of the ENTIRE TRIP - not just Indonesia. They gave us MASSIVE portions (the omelets must have had at least 3 eggs each, plus veggies and cheese), plus coffee/tea and an open fruit buffet every morning. They also had gigantic banana pancakes made with ripe plantains (platano maduro). WIN! The hotel itself wasn’t pretty, but it had every feature we could ask for (large bed, fan, windows to the outside, private bath with a shower and western-style toilet, free WiFi, breakfast included). Those breakfasts, though, really make them a hard act to follow.   In particular, they gave us our first taste of a local fruit we had never heard of before (except for maybe 2 days earlier, randomly from another tourist) called snake fruit.  Snake fruit is very interesting stuff!  The skin looks exactly like snake skin… it’s even got scales!  The fruit inside has the same appearance and texture as cloves of garlic, but the flavor is very sweet and sour (like… maybe a cross between apple and lemon).

12 10 Bali (66) Padangbai
(Snake Fruit has snake skin)

Our first venture out for snorkeling was to a small, white sand beach called Bias Tugal. Getting there meant a roughly 30 minute walk south, up and over a big gravel hill, in full sun. The walk definitely sucked. The beach was beautiful, though! Sadly, the water was too rough to snorkel the first day. Next time we went there, the surge wasn’t quite so bad, but it was still not very nice. Also, the corals weren’t that spectacular.

12 10 Bali (140) Padangbai
(Bias Tugal from above)

The other snorkel spot was called Blue Lagoon, and it was about a 15 minute walk over a paved hill in the opposite direction. It was an easier walk, with even a little bit of shade along the way. This area was much nicer, and the beach was also gorgeous. The water was a bit challenging to get in and out of, due to a lot of rocks and some surge, coupled with a very shallow entrance into the water. In fact, we’d been warned to ONLY go at high tide, because low tide could actually be dangerous. I went online to find the tide times, and we waited for high tide. Alas, high tide seemed to be coming in the late afternoons, when the waters were too rough to get in. In the mornings, regardless of tide, the surge seemed to be mostly non-existant. We finally ended up coming back in the morning on a predicted low surge (overall) day. It wasn’t high tide, but at least the waves were calm and flat, so we could get in and out with almost no trouble at all.

12 10 Bali (69) Padangbai
(Blue Lagoon from above)

Finally! Real Snorkeling!! The corals here were definitely pretty! Lots of fish! Jime’s underwater camera bag finally began its glory days after all that traveling. Speaking of which, Jime’s underwater photography and videography are pretty damned impressive. We (now) have more beautiful underwater pictures than we have above-water pictures of anywhere else on our trip. Of course, as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. Photo editing has now become an almost daily ritual for her (by necessity). We also started taking videos. It turns out fish are more fun to watch when they’re moving. However, since Jime already has MORE than enough work with the photos (especially now), I have taken charge of the videos.

A quick note on underwater photography: pictures are very difficult to take underwater. You’ve got lots of challenges to work against: the water has particles which make it difficult for the camera to focus, the fish move fast!, when you do get a picture ready, the wave comes and moves YOU, the sunshine doesn’t reach very deep, and the light comes in as lines that ALSO move! And the prettiest fish are incredible because the actually reflect the light back, so it makes them look SHINY! Unfortunately the light shining INTO the camera confuses it and makes it not want to focus. Also, there are many TINY things hiding in large things, and LOTS of things underwater have camouflage… some have very GOOD camouflage (and some have fucking AMAZING camouflage that will break your brain). All the pics require photoshop touch-up to correct colors (i.e. tone down the blue, increase the red and yellow). Even with that, there’s not much that can be done to fix low-lighting conditions (increasing brightness in photoshop dulls the colors and makes things look less crisp). The flash on our little camera work under water because of the bag it’s in, and we don’t have a $5,000 underwater housing setup with external flash. Many, MANY pictures come out blurry due to a combination of factors. When it goes right, though, we can get some really wonderful pictures.

(Beautiful corals)

(Nemos in beautiful purple anemone) 

(Unidentified Spotted Boxfish) 

Some of the most difficult pictures to take are when we dive under water to try to get a closer pic of something deepish (let’s say anything 2m-7m down). In that case, you have all of the above problems, but then also have buoyancy issues. It’s really difficult to stay still during a breath-hold dive! Stable video, of course, is even harder than clear photos.

Sometimes I try to grab onto a rock or something to hold me down a bit easier, but I have to be SUPER careful when I do that, partly so my feet or body don’t bump into any coral (which is incredibly fragile, and which only grows back at around 1cm per YEAR), and partly so I don’t end up accidentally grabbing or bumping something nasty, like, say… a a Stonefish

(I am a rock.) 

that you often don’t see until they are right in your face, or right under where your hand was about to go (remember what I was saying about really GOOD camouflage? This is one example). This is why we always TRIPLE check the ground before we actually touch anything under water now. Dying from sudden, surprise puncture wounds laced with potent neurotoxins… that’ll ruin your whole day.

By the way… this topic will come up again in Indonesia Part 2.

While we were OUT of the water in Padang Bai, we happened to be there during a 3 day religious festival that happens twice a year, and that the whole island comes to. So for the first few days we were there, it was incredibly crowded, with full parking lots, an endless procession of people walking through town up to the temple on the hill, at all hours of day and night. Both the men and women wore sarongs, in different styles. The women often carried big bundles on their heads, the offerings that they would leave at the temple. With the big crowds of people we kept trying to get out of the way and make space for the women carrying huge loads on their heads, but it was very tricky!

We were invited/suggested to go check it out at night and told that there would be music and dancing. So, we dressed up in our mandatory Sarongs (pareos) and headed up the hill. It was pretty neat! We sat in a corner out of the way, and watched as people arrived at an open area, and gathered for a while. Every 30 minutes or so they would get ready and all climb the steps up into the temple. There was no dancing the night we were there, but there was some really cool music played by a large percussion band. They had all sorts of drums and pipes that they were playing, even something like a vibraphone that used the natural vibrations of metal bars for the vibrato effect. The musician in me was particularly impressed at the level of tempo and volume control they had… especially considering there was no conductor! In an entire band of percussionists… finding the leader was a bit of a challenge for me (but I did it anyway, because I had to know). We didn’t take pictures of people here because we did not want to be impolite, but we did get a couple of blurry shots of the band.

12 10 Bali (53) Padangbai
(Festival people, dressed in their finest, bringing their offerings to the temple)

12 10 Bali (45) Padangbai
(Festival band)

For food in town, we found ourselves a restaurant that was VERY nice - fancy even - but with very cheap prices (lower even than some back alley places). It was right at the waterfront, so on top of being beautifully-decorated, and having great food, in large portions, and presented with artistic flair, they also had a beautiful sea view. We made it our favorite place and ate most meals there.

12 10 Bali (44) Padangbai
(Pineapple Fried Rice:  $3.50 / 1,750 colones) 

Eventually we decided to move on from Padang Bai and head for another very popular snorkeling spot: Amed, on the East coast of Bali. Amed is actually a connected set of 5 little towns, so even within Amed, there were a lot of specific options up and down the coast. We started at the south end, and stayed in some bungalows called Good Karma. The bungalows were beautiful! They were all completely all hand-made from local, natural materials (mostly bamboo). For pretty much the first time on our trip, we had no Wifi for a few days straight. Actually, though, it was a nice break. If ever there was a place designed to get you to slow down and unplug, this was it.

Good Karma is set in their own little bay, so we had essentially our own private beach with nice sand, only steps from our front door. Finally, this was the “Snorkel Out” life we’d been looking for! The water in the bay was incredibly gentle, and almost completely flat. Even currents were non-existent unless you get out past our little bay, but then you really go for a ride. At one point, we were worried we were gonna have to get out, and hike back on the road barefoot. Fortunately, we were able to make just enough headway against the current that we were able to get back around the bend and into our protected bay again. Days like that, though, you’re very glad to be wearing big fins on your feet.

12 10 Bali (165) Good Karma
(Our bungalows at Good Karma) 

12 10 Bali (149) Good Karma
(Our porch)

12 10 Bali (187) Good Karma
(Our beach.  Amed is a fishing town.  Those boats are called Jukung, and they’re what we used on our boat dives here)

As for the corals, they were definitely beautiful! They had good shapes, and pretty good variety, but not a lot of color. There were tons of fish, though, which was very cool. One of the unique fish we saw was a gigantic Map Puffer. It was FRIGGIN HUUUGE! We didn’t even know they existed in that size, so it was pretty exciting to see it, we did a lot of pointing and rushing around trying to follow it. We’d seen lots of little puffer and boxfish by this point, and this Map Puffer was easily 3 times as big as any of them. When we returned to that spot the following day, we found it again! We figured out his territory!

12 10 Bali (240) Good Karma Black Belly Trigger fish E
(These lovely things, called Black-belly Triggerfish, are all over the place) 

12 10 Bali (262) Good Karma Giant Map Puffer fish E
(Pretty and HUGE Map Puffer) 

One challenging thing about staying in Amed was that there was no public transportation of any kind, nor taxis. So, when we decided we wanted to check out another snorkel site a couple kilometers down the road from us, called the Japanese Wreck, we actually rented a motorbike. That day, of course, was a story all by itself, but you already know it by now. J Sadly, the damned (and I mean that literally) Titan Trigger at the Japanese wreck site means we don’t have any good pictures of it. Oh well.

After 4 nights at Good Karma, we decided to move up the road a bit to Jemeluk Beach. After using the motorbike on Japanese Wreck day to scout out our next place, we hired them to pick us up 2 days later. Unfortunately, we assumed they would be picking us up in a car, we never thought to ask… they showed up on 2 motorbikes (yay, more motorbikes… our favorite… and no helmets). Joy. So, we sent them off on their own with our 4 backpacks first, and had them come back on a 2nd trip to get us.

The place we chose was about 2km up the road from Good Karma - a place called Warung Ombak/Papa Homestay (Warung means restaurant in Indonesian… it’s equivalent to a Soda in Tico). We bartered the room down from $20/night to $12/night, including breakfast (they told us not to tell our neighbors, who were paying full price). It was a very small place, only 2 rooms. It had more modern construction than Good Karma, so it was a bit less charming, but still immaculately clean inside and in good condition. They even had a beautiful little garden right in front of our door. The place itself was hidden from the street behind some mostly undeveloped land (being used as cow pasture). If we hadn’t seen the sign on the road, we would have had no idea it was there. So, every day when we went out for lunch, we’d walk past the pigs, the chickens, the neighbors and the cows.

They had no WiFi here either, but there were some restaurants nearby that had it. The rooms themselves were not on the beach here, but the restaurant was. So, really... instead of a 3 meter walk, we had a 10 meter walk. There was no suffering here. The beach wasn’t as nice as Good Karma. It was rocky, rather than sandy, but not too painful to walk on. The corals in front of our place were good but not spectacular. There were plenty of fish, though. Actually, we saw our first Lionfish here! From the stories that Jime’s mom used to tell, we were expecting Lionfish to be all over the place in Bali, so we were actually surprised that this was the first one we saw. But then we learned; we learned that all Lionfish are cowards! It turns out they ARE all over the place, but… they’re all hiding under rocks! We had no idea they did that. You’d think a fish that’s decorated like a peacock or a tiny parade float would be strutting through the water like a runway model, showing everybody how Faaaabulouuuus it is. But, no. They hide themselves in the dark, like trolls, under large rocks, and only come out for tiny moments in time when they think nobody is looking. Maybe all that decoration is the sign of an inferiority complex? I have no idea, but… I will say that once we knew where to look, we started seeing them almost every day.

12 10 Bali (438) Jemeluk Lion fish
(Cowardly Lionfish) 

The bay here was a bit larger than at Good Karma, so after getting bored of the spot in front of our place, we went around to the other side, in front of some restaurants. Since those restaurants had WiFi, we’d bring our computers in a locked backpack and leave them with the restaurant, snorkel around for a few hours, then come back out, have lunch and enjoy the internets. On THIS side of the bay, though, in front of our restaurant, is where we finally saw our first SPECTACULAR corals. The colors were bright… vibrant even. The fish were abundant and fun. In fact, after only a short while in the water, we even got swarmed by a school of about 6 Orbicular Batfish that were not only unafraid of us, but seemed to genuinely be excited to hang out with us. We were pretty excited to hang out with them too, and we spent an hour having them come aaaaaalmost up to our hands. There were also a couple of Blue Nose Parrotfish in the little swarm, but they weren’t quite as… “on” us… as the Batfish Other stuff was definitely cool. But when we got back, the Batfish came hurrying out to greet us. It was the coolest thing. We made that our favorite snorkel spot for the rest of our stay there.

(Orbicular Batfish and me) 

(Orbicular Batfish at Jime’s hand)

Here in Jemeluk, we finally signed up for our first dives. The day before the dives, though, we screwed up and got ourselves sunburned. BADLY. Second degree burns over our whole backs, extending out to part of the backs of our legs and arms. We had to postpone the dives for about 4 days until our backs could handle putting on a wetsuit. Fortunately, our tiny little hotel had an aloe plant, and they were kind enough to let us cut off a couple leaves. That helped a lot. We also used a lot of skin lotion. Anything to help! We felt pretty dumb. We had intended to get a LITTLE color on our backs that day, in order to build up a tan slowly. But, I guess we both got a little carried away, and ended up “tanning” for about 2.5 hours. Jime actually felt like she had covered up soon enough. Nope. Anyway, I think you know that whole story already too.

As for the dives, I think I’m gonna do something here that might seem a bit gimmicky, and just post our dive log entries (the stuff we’ll mostly copy into our physical dive logs when we get home). I recognize that most of you won’t care for the full details, but I personally find them interesting, and I think they tell their own story, for those who do know how to read them (and there’s plenty of actual story in this version for those who don’t get the rest).


20-Oct-2012 Amed Wall
Dive Company: Eco Dive
Dive Master: Kadek
Surface Interval before dive: 6 months (Alex); 5 years (Jime)
Max Depth: 22m
Bottom Time: 45min
Visibility: 20m+
Remaining Air: 40bar, Jime: 60bar
Safety stop: 5 meters, but with strong current. Alex had to kick constantly to stay in one place and keep from yanking Jime loose. Dive Master was anchored (but not to anything big) and holding Jime’s hand.
Conditions: Strong current pushing opposite direction from what we expected. Was supposed to be an easy drift dive, but ended up being a work-out “out and back”.

Boat dive, small Indonesian spider boats, same area we had been snorkeling.
Exposure Suit: 3mm Shortie Wetsuit
Weight: Jime: 9kg, Alex: 6kg
Fish: Nudibranch, Big Eye Trevally, Titan Trigger, Clownfish, Anemonefish in Soft Anemone, Emperor Angel, Mackerel, Sea Cucumber, Royal Angelfish. Gigantic corals around 3m high X 2m wide.
General Impressions: Jime’s first dive in 5 years. Difficulty adjusting. She was scared, disoriented and awkward the entire dive. She felt compelled to hold her regulator in her mouth (by hand) the whole time. She had water in her mask that kept getting in her nose. She was too uncomfortable with everything else to clear the mask (also, she has a hard time with those skills in general). Alex was comfortable in general, but slightly awkward with trim and balance. He could have used 1 or 2 more kg. Dive site honestly was not very exciting. We’d seen more things while snorkeling. Kadek held onto Jime most of the time to help her keep up, stay down. Alex’s depth gauge didn’t work. Dive master didn’t care.

20-Oct-2012 Amed Pyramids & Pyramid Wall
Dive Company: Eco Dive
Dive Master: Kadek
Surface Interval before dive: 90 min
Max Depth: 19m
Bottom Time: 51min
Visibility: 20m+
Starting Air: 200bar, Jime: 200bar
Remaining Air: 60bar, Jime: 60bar
Safety stop: 5 meters, no current.
Conditions: Little to none. Very slight drift dive.
Exposure Suit: 3mm Shortie Wetsuit
Weight: Jime: 9kg, Alex: 6kg
Description: Boat dive, small Indonesian spider boats, same area we had been snorkeling. Started out in the middle of The Pyramids (so we could check the current first and then decide which way to go). The pyramids are artificial reef structures. We saw a giant puffer on the second pyramid. Right as we settled at the second pyramid and saw the big puffer, Alex saw a Manta!! It was just over the drop-off, out in mid-water. It was white, and Alex just saw it come in, turn around, and head back out.
Fish: Big star puffer, Leaf Scorpionfish (3, white and pink) standing on coral and in cracks with fins as feet. Blue Spotted Stingray (0.5m below us... made me think of Steve Irwin), Cushion Starfish, Anemonefish, clownfish, Hawkbill Turtle?, Beautiful turtle came around the reef right at our depth, and swam by us, casually, within easy touching distance… It noticed us and couldn’t have cared less that we were there. Jime found an Octopus tentacle (about 1ft). The (most likely dead) octopus body was probably under a rock. The tentacle didn’t really respond when Kadek moved it, but Jime thinks it may have retracted a little. The end was eaten off. If it wasn’t dead then, it will be within the hour.
General impressions: MUUUUCH better dive. Much more coral, many more fish, so many “rare” sights in one dive (Manta, turtle, leaf scorpionfish). Probably the prettiest dive we’ve ever been on. Lots of beautiful anemones, including long-fingered ones. Almost all had clownfish/anemonefish. We started out very shallow, and with zero current. Jime was MUCH more comfortable this time. I was a bit more trimmed out and balanced, but still could have used an extra kilo or two.


Our next town was Tulamben, about 30 minutes north of Amed. We stayed in a guest house recommended by our dive master from Jemeluk. They have a small room they rent behind the dive shop, it was a few blocks to walk to the beach, but it’s cheap, and they’re friendly. Speaking of the beach, the beach here is pretty shitty: no sand, only big rocks that hurt to walk on. Since we don’t have booties for our feet (like we usually have when diving), snorkeling here requires dedication. Fortunately, we are champions at this by now. We even have our own refined techniques. We walk down to the water with our flip-flops on, then leave them close to the water-line and put a rock on top of them (saves them from floating away if the water level rises). While most people try to clumsily walk through any water that’s not up over their knees at least, we’ve learned that it’s much easier to swim, and we know how to float in water that’s only a few centimeters deep. So pretty much, we sit ourselves down at the water that’s at least ankle deep, put on our mask and fins, and start swimming. When we’re out, we laugh to ourselves and quietly mock the other snorkeling n00bs, and occasionally express horror when we fear might be standing on the fragile corals. When they do this right next to us, we let them know as politely as possible how very, very wrong that is.

The first day of snorkeling in Tulamben was actually a bit of a let down, though. We saw the wreck of the USAT Liberty (which is an old sunken ship that used to be a US Army Transport (that’s the USAT part) ship that got torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in WWII). This wreck is supposed to be one of the best dive sites in all of Bali, and one of the best wreck dives in the world, because it’s so accessible and so shallow that even snorkelers can see parts of it. Unfortunately we could see much less of it than we expected, so we were done in about 20 minutes, and since the visibility sucked the first day we were there we were worried that maybe we had wasted our time coming here.

We looked toward shore on the north side of the wreck and we found at least some corals, but nothing spectacular. A little farther down the shore, though, we came across a massive, football field-sized area FULL of Garden Eels. There were even two different kinds. Some were small (75cm) and striped black and white. Others were tall, maybe 1.5m, and all black. They’re mostly cowards, but at least not as bad as the Cowardly Lionfish. If you swim towards them, they drop down completely into their holes. But if you just hang out there, and wait patiently, they eventually come back out. The ones right underneath you won’t come ALL the way out, but just enough to keep a healthy distance between them and you. So… maybe this place doesn’t suck after all.

The next day, we again went away from the wreck, but to the South, to an area called the Coral Garden. Holy crap, this area is cool! Lots of great corals, amazing fish life. Also, we saw an Octopus!

The Octopus Story (escrito por Jimena Alvarado Chavarría & Alex Hansen Hansen):

We went snorkeling in the Coral Garden for the first time, and spent quite a while there. From the entry point to the right, the area was pretty filled with corals, anemones and fish. It was beautiful, but choppy and with an annoying current. After a while we decided to bail out and come back the next day. The camera was out of battery anyway, and we wanted to explore it more calmly and with more time. The area to the left of the entry was pretty bare: rocks with a few scattered corals on them, and some artificial reef starters that had some life, but not much going yet. To Alex’s amusement, one of them was in the shape of an airplane. That one had a huge white anemone next to it, about 7m deep, with some really pretty clown fish (Nemos).

(Airplane artificial reef)

(Nemos in anemone)

(Very pretty Giant Clam in the Coral Garden)

After looking around for a bit, we gave up on the area and headed out. Alex was just aiming directly for the shore, while Jimena first headed closer to where we’d left our shoes. Before she started going shallow, she stopped to put the camera down the back of her shirt so it wouldn’t scrape on anything as we got out of the water (it was a very SHALLOW exit, pulling ourselves hand-over-hand on our bellies as far as possible because it was stupidly hard to stand or walk on the rocks). At some point, she paused and stuck her head out of the water. When she did, she heard Alex calling out “OCTOPUS!!!!” and hauled ass over to him, trying to get the camera to turn on one last time (battery was just about exhausted), in case there was only a second to see it.

The octopus was beautiful! It was only about 4 meters below us, and his head was about the size of 2 oranges when inflated. He was sitting on a rock, pretending (quite well) to be part it. This was a Day Octopus (Alex looked it up later), and they have INCREDIBLE camouflage (Alex says this is what he was referring to when he spoke of “Brain-breaking”). It was hard to see him even though he was out in the open, and we were looking right at him. You could be looking right at him, and then he’d just DISAPPEAR right in front of your face. Knowing how he does it does not spoil the magic, but rather makes it even more magical because you know he’s NOT using smoke and mirrors to do it. Jimena got a few pictures in, but aside from the octopus being very hard to photograph under the best of circumstances… the camera stopped responding: it wouldn’t zoom at all, and wouldn’t confirm that it had taken pictures! Noooo!

In any case, we watched the Octopus for about an hour, and it was an incredible show. When he would move from one place to another he would turn dark brown and smooth, floating away with his tentacles curled in. Sometimes he would move from one spot to one a bit far away, and let his tentacles fly flat behind him, like an airplane wing. Sometimes he would just… melt, slowly, between one rock and another, oozing his body and tentacles like liquid from here to there.

When he stopped at a rock, hunting for food, he’d spread out, stretching the membranes between his arms like plastic wrap around the entire rock. Doing this, he’d turn briefly white and bluish, then change color to match the rock. Other times, he would just stop and rest on the side of a large boulder, with a few tentacles out, and transform completely into the rock: color, texture, patterns of light and dark. He’d melt out of your sight right in front of your face. You’d be staring right at him, neither one of you moving, your eyes would still lose him.

He put on a nice show with the colors, all told. He would go from brown while swimming, white while landing, bluish while he stretched membranes to brown like the rock, and finally grow bumps and spikes to match the texture of whatever he landed on. It was incredible. We watched him for a long time, sometimes calling over divers to come see it, but mostly they were dumb and scared him. Jimena was sooooo disappointed not to be able to get video, because it was such an incredible spectacle. She went over to his favorite spots and memorized where they were to try to find him later.

The following morning we ended up back in that area at the end of our second dive of the day, and he was there!!! Of course, we had no camera at all then, because we had been diving, but she was at least able to see him for a few seconds before he hid under the rock. It seems we scared him a lot more this time by being so close up (as opposed to yesterday, when we were floating at the surface).

Since now we knew we could find him again, though, we decided to go RIGHT back into the water after our dive. We got the camera and headed for the same spot. Alas, nothing. NOTHING!! We looked in that area for about an hour, over and over, knowing full well that if he wasn’t actively moving, we really had no chance of seeing him because of the damned camouflage. We swam to other areas and came back a few different times. While in a different area, Alex finally DID spot him… but only for a second. Unfortunately he looked up to get Jimena’s attention and lost him. D’oh!! Even though we looked in that area for a long time, we never saw him again. It seems he knew exactly when there was a camera around and made sure to stay away from the lens. Oh well. At least we saw it! And, we did get a couple pictures in. I will warn you, though, that even when you know he’s there, it’s STILL really hard to see him.

is the only picture where you can see him clearly) 


Dive Log Entry:

24-Oct-2012 Tulamben Liberty Wreck
Dive Company: Sea Hua Ha Ha
Dive Master: Kadek (a different one!)
Surface Interval before dive: 4 days
Max Depth: 28m
Bottom Time: 56 min, in the water about 7am, already lots of divers!
Visibility: 30m+
Starting Air: 200 bar Alex, Jime: 200bar
Remaining Air: 20bar, Jime: 50bar
Exposure Suit: 3mm full suits
Weight: Jimena 10kg, Alex 8kg (belt)
Description: Alex’s depth gauge didn’t work again (different city, different gear, different company, different dive master). Dive master didn’t care.

Shore dive, egg-size rocks for a beach. Entry went fine, no problem with nerves or clearing, we started shallow. Jime has had her left ear plugged since the last dive-day, 4 days total. Alex was feeling very well-balanced and trimmed, recommended that he keep his weight belt very high up, and that helped stay horizontal. Jimena was feeling pukey!!
Fish: We first saw a small white frog fish, not too close up. Later we saw a pink pigmy seahorse, about 7mm total!! Got to see it close up, with time to take a good look. We were at 18m. Even though we were right next to it, it was very difficult to tell it apart from the coral, it just looked like any other branch!! Swam around for a while, went into the wreck and out. It was beautiful seeing the sun shining through the soft corals, and very impressive being under big corals. Hard to be careful not to bump into anything. Saw a couple of bumpheads close up. Stopped to take a close look at a big red anemone and a red clown fish. Alex was looking for a place to rest his hand, and almost put it on a red scorpion fish!! About 10 inches long, lots of fringes, VERY close up! Beautiful. Also stopped to look at a yellow (pink?) frog fish, this time closer up, and more time. Swam around the wreck for a while, and went out to the corals next to it. Jimena found the Giant clam we had seen while snorkeling!! Able to stop and get a good look, even get hands on it to gauge the size, about 75cm! It was not embedded into coral, sitting out in the open. Also swam RIGHT over a blue-spotted stingray, maybe 50cm away! Jimena had a BIG problem! While we were ascending into the corals, she was feeling too buoyant, and she was trying to be responsible and ascend slowly. She pressed her deflate button, but didn’t feel a difference, even though it was bubbling. The more she pressed, the worse it got, until she floated to the surface!! The dive master was watching and came to help. It turns out that while she pressed with her index finger, her THUMB was pressing the inflating button! Learn that mistake once, and thankfully it did not happen at a worse time. When we were almost back at the shore, we stopped at look at a Mantis shrimp. We had time to stop and get face to face down on the sand. Incredible colors, red eyebrows, big blue eyes!! Alex says he was able to see the crosshairs in the eyes. He had about half his body out of the hole and stayed around for a few minutes. Awesome and unexpected!

24-Oct-2012 Tulamben Coral Garden
Dive Company: Sea Hua Ha Ha
Dive Master: Kadek (different!)
Surface Interval before dive: 2 hours
Max Depth: 24m
Bottom Time: 48 min
Visibility: 30m+
Starting Air: 190 bar Alex, Jime: 200bar
Remaining Air: 20bar Alex, Jime: 50bar
Exposure Suit: 3mm full suits
Weight: Jimena 10kg, Alex 8kg (belt)
Description: Shore dive, egg size rock beach. Entry went fine, no problem with nerves or clearing, we started shallow. The initial part was mostly bare sand, with some small patches of coral. We stopped to take a close up look at a white frog fish. We got to lay down on the sand and get face-to-face for a long time. Pretty amazing! Ridiculous and cute! Alex touched his tail and he didn’t move. We swam over to another coral formation that had a dead giant clam, Jime stopped to look at the shell and some teeeeny grey shrimp, and it turns out that was the shrimp cleaning-station. On the other side of the rock there were beautiful cleaning shrimp, red, white and yellow. The body was about 1.5 inch, but they had long white antennae and claws. Kadek had one get in his mouth to show us, and we were able to stop and put our hands in to get cleaned!! They were like little insects, walking all over our hands and picking at our skin. It didn’t hurt, but you could feel them pinching! At some point Jimena had 6 of them on one hand. If you pulled your hand away from the rock, they would jump off and back on the rock, it was a proximity cleaning service. In the meantime, the tiny grey-black shrimp (1cm body) were crawling all over the rock next to us, looking like ants. As we left the shrimp, and went around the rock, there were two morays getting cleaning service. They were right next to each other, their heads sticking out, and we were able to stop and look at them face to face for a while, maybe 2 feet away. They stared right at us for a while, and opened their mouths for the shrimp! Teeth-cleaning like at the dentist. Pretty incredible. We kept going at around the same depth for a while, sandy and pretty empty. When Kadek had us check our air, Jimena was already at 90bar!! So fast! So she gestured to Kadek to go shallower. As we were heading up, we started seeing a lot more corals, and stopped to look at 4 different lionfish. Beautiful and spread out, pretty big, and always under a rock. They move very slowly, as if they were floating or walking, seem like a big parade float. Also saw a big (potato?) grouper, pretty close up. Once we got shallow, we were in the area that we snorkel over regularly. Unfortunately there was a bit of a current there, so we rushed past things pretty fast. There was enough time to look at the anemones close up, and touch them a bit. Suuuuuuuuper soft, just like they look. The tentacles are sticky, and jump back when you touch them. Got to see a few Nemos close up, but between the current and the low air, there wasn’t enough time to enjoy them well. We headed back toward the airplane area (artificial reef) and Jimena stopped to look at the big anemone with Nemos that is down there (looks white and round in our snorkel pics). She also went looking for the Octopus we saw the day before, and checked the two spots where he had been stopping. She was able to locate both spots and FOUND him at the second one!!!

He was mostly out of the hole when she saw him, but as she gestured and got closer, he sank slowly down into the hole. She watched him go from black to white, and had his eyes red as he sank into the hole… white with red eyes receding… incredible. A great end to the dive.


After Tulamben, we headed off of Bali and took a Ferry to Lombok to renew our Visas for another 30 days. There are at least 3 places we COULD have done this on Bali, but they would all take at least a week. In Mataram, we read consistent reviews saying this could be done overnight at worst, and same day if we paid extra. As it happens, this turned into quite an adventure. That, though, will have to wait for the next post. See ya next time!

And here’s the last little present I’ll leave you with.  The pictures starting in Bali show our first underwater experiences.   After the first few things above ground, the pictures will eventually ALL be there.  And honestly, they are SPECTACULAR!  I think Angkor Wat was possibly our best photo set so far, but these underwater pictures are truly something special.  I barely included a TASTE in this post.  The full set, so far, is here: