33 Hours From Bali to Flores

A quick geography lesson (because we certainly needed one before we started traveling around Indonesia):

Flores, just one in a long chain of volcanic islands.

Flores, just one in a long chain of volcanic islands.

Indonesia is composed of 17,000 islands. We were on the island of Bali and decided to head east to the island of Flores to meet Zev’s cousin, Mackenzie, who was on Flores doing research and planned to spend a long weekend on a boat tour around the Komodo islands.

Our first glimpse of the boat.

Our first glimpse of the boat.

The Tilongkabila, coming in to port in Labuanbajo, Flores.

The Tilongkabila, coming in to port in Labuanbajo, Flores.

We decided to forgo the $280 flight from Bali to Flores and instead invested in a first class cabin on the government ferry for $100, meals included. It was to be a 33 hour journey on the Tilongkabila, which was built in 1995 and age-wise falls in the middle of the fleet of Pelni operated boats, neither the oldest nor the newest of the 22 (?) boat fleet. We had no idea what to expect other than a day and a half from departure to arrival. Some of our expat friends told us we were crazy, others thought it would almost certainly make for a good story. So we readied our cameras and charged up our kindles for the long trip. The Lonely Planet suggested we bring sufficient food and water for the whole trip, so we loaded up on peanut butter, ramen noodles, and as many big bottles of water as we could carry without looking like alarmists.

Omnomnom.

A snack stand at the port in Benoa harbor, Bali.

Shopping for snacks before we get on the boat.

Shopping for snacks before we get on the boat. Would this be our last chance for food??

This is my skeptical face. It's not easy to ride a motorbike with a huge backpack and take photos at the same time.

This is my skeptical face. It’s not easy to ride a motorbike with a huge backpack and take photos at the same time.

Our day began with confusion. We arrived at the designated port only to be directed to a different area. Conveniently, the port authorities could offer us a lift to this new dock for the low price of $1 each, which we haggled down to 50 cents. With my luggage on my back, I was gripping my knees for dear life so I didn’t simply fly off the back of the bike. Finally at the right dock, the scene in front of us was one of pure chaos. Porters carrying boxes loaded with god-knows-what, hawkers selling all sorts of snacks and a million flavors of instant noodle, and people, so many people.

The cabin. It was a great hideout from the flurry of activity on the deck of the ship.

Our cabin. It was a great hideout from the flurry of activity on the deck of the ship.

Once we shoved our way onboard, we were led to our cabin which consisted of two beds, a window, a fan, a bathroom, and reading lights. A perfect setup to do nothing and relax. And that is what we proceeded to do for the next day and a half. Meals on the ship were served 3 times a day, a uninspiring routine of rice, fried chicken, and soupy vegetables in broth. The regular mealtimes may not have provided much in the way of sustenance, but they helped to mark the passage of time and provide a source of entertainment as we chatted with our fellow 1st and 2nd class passengers.

Twice on our journey we stopped in port to unload and load passengers and cargo. The crowds at each stop were overwhelming and the frantic crush to get onboard was equal parts amusing and terrifying with people climbing up the sides of the rickety gangplank to be the first on the deck.

In Bima, the crush to get onboard verged on insanity.

In Bima, the crush to get onboard verged on insanity.

We also loaded up local produce and unloaded vital supplies to the islands. Many of these ports rely on the arrival of the Pelni boats to supply basic necessities.

At the stop in Bima, Surabaya, we loaded up on the famous local onions.

At the stop in Bima, Surabaya, we loaded up on the famous local onions.

Between stops, we entertained ourselves by practicing our Bahasa Indonesia with the other passengers. We were interested to hear where the other passengers were going and what they did back home. Many people on the boat worked on the island of Bali and were heading home for Ramadan.

One of our lovely boatmates, truly delightful conversationalists.

One of our lovely boatmates. Our topics of conversation were somewhat limited by my vocabulary…

After many naps and a few books finished, we arrived in Labuanbajo on the island of Flores. It was dark by the time we finally arrived, but with the help of the overhead floodlights on the dock we could make out the shape of countless bodies pushing and shoving to get on the boat. Zev and I were overwhelmed and could barely make it through the tightly packed crowd. With the help of some very intimidating police officers, a path was cleared for passengers to disembark. We slowly shuffled through the port area and walked down the dusty main road to our hotel. After a hot shower and a quick bite to eat, we collapsed in bed and stayed there for the next 3 days. We were both suffering from a combination of malaise and stomach complaints. Avoiding the oppressive heat in Labuanbajo, we laid low until it was time to get on another much smaller boat to see the Komodo dragons.

IMG_1733

The sunsets in Labuanbajo were captivating. Up next, Komodo dragons, amazing snorkeling, and breathtaking dive spots!

Mama E comes to Bali

The gang all dressed up for the cremation ceremony.

The gang all dressed up for the cremation ceremony.

My mother and her friend Tracy came to visit us in Bali for the month of June. It was truly a delight to play tour guide to a captive audience for a whole month. Zev and I have been in Bali since January volunteering at a chocolate factory and completing our divemaster internship, so we feel pretty confident that we know all the local spots and could really show them the best of our temporary island home.

Part of the cremation ceremony involved a procession of a dozen of these massive structures which they spun in a circle to confuse the evil spirits.

Part of the cremation ceremony included a procession of a dozen of these massive floats which they spun in a circle to confuse the evil spirits.

Rafting the Ayung, in awe of the jungle wilderness.

Rafting the Ayung, in awe of the jungle wilderness.

Flexing with our rafting guide.

Flexing with our rafting guide.

We spent the lion’s share of the time in Bali, using Ubud as our home base and taking day trips around the island. In Ubud we went on the Eco Bali bike tour, witnessed a mass cremation in our neighborhood, wandered through the rice paddies, took two cooking classes (the first one was terrible, the second one was the smoked duck cooking class at Casa Luna and a huge hit),  went whitewater rafting in the Ayung river, and snorkeled at Blue Lagoon in Padang Bai. My mother really got into the pace of island life. She adopted a love of the cheap and relaxing spas that seem to proliferate around Bali, was totally taken by the coconut beverages that are a staple of any Bali expat’s diet, and generally learned to slow down to Bali-time.

A couple of coconut fiends.

A couple of coconut fiends.

Beach resort in Lombok!

Beach resort in Lombok!

Local kids playing in the surf.

Local kids playing in the surf.

Goofing around at Kuta Beach, Lombok

Goofing around at Kuta Beach, Lombok

Mom and Tracy at Kuta Beach, Lombok.

Mom and Tracy at Kuta Beach, Lombok.

IMG_1425

One week we escaped the crowds and headed to Lombok, the less crowded and less touristy island to the east of Bali. While the beaches on Lombok were not as snorkel-tastic as those on Gili Air, we stayed at a recently opened beach resort and went into full beach mode. Breakfast on the beach was complemented by an excellent view of surfers trying to ride the local break. Some days we hired a boat to take us on snorkeling excursions to Gili Air, which morphed into pizza gorging afternoons with a few moments spent in the water. One afternoon we headed to the south of Lombok, which is known for perfect white sand beaches and traditional Sasak villages. It certainly didn’t disappoint and we ended the day playing in the surf with some of the local kids. Lombok felt very different from Bali. The 5am call to prayer was one of the most obvious differences, but it was also the more low-key style of tourism on Lombok that didn’t feel as claustrophobic as certain parts of Bali can be.

Our trusty boat, the JustIn.

Our trusty boat, the JustIn.

So many turtles on Gili Air.

So many turtles on Gili Air.

It was a fun filled month of non-stop activity. After a teary goodbye over a fresh coconut, we reluctantly put my mother on the plane to America. It was hard to say goodbye knowing the next time we’ll meet will be back in American once this great big adventure has come to an end.

Purification ritual at Tirta Empul natural springs.

Purification ritual at Tirta Empul natural springs.

I would be lying if I said Zev and I didn’t collapse for a solid 48 hours after my mother’s departure. We were beat. Playing guide for a whole month kept us active nonstop. We were also a bit daunted at the prospect of traveling again and had no clue where we were headed next. As usual, the universe gave us a hint as to our next stop in the form of Zev’s cousin who happened to be a few islands over doing fieldwork and wanted to meet up for a few days. A short 2 days after we bid our sad goodbyes, Zev and I boarded a 33 hour ferry headed from Bali to the island of Flores. We were in search of Komodo dragons – stay tuned for that adventure in our next post!

Getting lost in the rice paddies on mom's last day in Bali.

Getting lost in the rice paddies on mom’s last day in Bali.

Smoked Duck Cooking Class in Ubud

Balinese massage...on a duck.

Balinese massage…on a duck.

The beautiful lobby of Honeymoon Guesthouse 2, where we took our cooking class.

The beautiful lobby of Honeymoon Guesthouse 2, where we took our cooking class.

Last week in Ubud, Bali we decided to take a cooking class at Casa Luna, one of the best restaurants in Ubud. The owner, Janet DeNeefe, has been in Bali for over 25 years and wrote a gorgeous cookbook called ‘Bali: The Food of My Island Home,’ which sadly didn’t fit our budget or our backpacks. They have the most delightful bakery in town and are well known for running a fantastic cooking school. You know we can’t resist a good cooking class.

A traditional rice steamer.

A traditional rice steamer.

The Sunday Twilight Smoked Duck course didn’t disappoint. This style of smoked duck, known as Bebek Betutu in Balinese, is a very traditional dish prepared for ceremonies and important events. We have sampled this dish a handful of times at various restaurants around town and were dying to learn how it’s made.

Some of the spices used in Balinese cooking.

Some of the spices used in Balinese cooking, it gets a bit complicated.

The course started off with a thorough introduction to the numerous spices that make Balinese food so unique. There are 3 different types of ginger that are integral to Balinese cuisine, one of which I had never even heard of before. Does anyone know what the heck “White tumeric” is?  Neither do we, but the moment we smelled it, a light went off in both of our heads; Kencur, as the Balinese call it, is the common thread in all Balinese Food. It smells earthy and somewhere between mild ginger and tumeric. Let’s hope we can find it at home.

Our duck, waiting to be smothered with spices and wrapped up.

Our duck, waiting to be smothered with spices.

We ground up these spices with a mortar and pestle. My lovely mother hauled home a miniature version for our kitchen. :)

We ground up these spices with a mortar and pestle. My lovely mother hauled home a miniature version for our kitchen. 🙂

It eventually became clear that to recreate this dish at home would require a few creative substitutions. However, massaging the little duck carcass with the spices, wrapping it up in a Betel tree bark, and smoking it under a burning pile of rice husks made for a highly entertaining cooking class. The photos are not exactly ideal, given the class began at Sunset – but our trusty iPhones delivered some decent low-light shots.

All ready to be wrapped up and smoked overnight.

All ready to be wrapped up and smoked overnight.

The duck, all wrapped up, is covered with a clay pot and buried beneath rice husks.

The package is covered with a clay pot and buried beneath rice husks.

The rice husks are lit with kerosene doused coconut shells. Once lit, the rice husks burn all night.

The fire is started with kerosene doused coconut shells. Once lit, the rice husks burn all night.