In the Land of Lanka with Zev’s Parents, Part 1

Before we run off for a few days of hiking and internet silence in the Himalyas, I wanted to share some photos from the first few days of our family (minus Ezra) vacation in Sri Lanka. The theme for the first few days was ‘Nature and Ancient Ruins.’ I’m getting too creative, I know…

Before hiking Sigiriya Rock, all smiles.

Before hiking Sigiriya Rock, all smiles.

The gorgeous frescoes at the top of Sigiriya Rock.

The gorgeous cave frescoes at the top of Sigiriya Rock.

Don and Claudia at the top of Sigiriya Rock.

Don and Claudia at the top of Sigiriya Rock.

A herd of elephants gathering at Minneriya to feed on the rich grasses.

A herd of elephants gathering at Minneriya to feed on the rich grasses.

The whole gang, and the elephants too!

The whole gang, and the elephants too!

We hiked ancient rocks to see beautiful cave frescoes, took an elephant safari to see the annual gathering of elephants on the lush lake bed of Minnerya, and saw the stupas and viharas of the ancient Sri Lankan capital of Polonnoruwa.

Beautiful stupas at Polonnoruwa. I love all the details carved in the stone.

Beautiful stupas at Polonnoruwa. I love all the details carved in the stone. The steps are being held up by little figures.

The famous seated buddha at Polonnoruwa.

The famous seated Buddha at Polonnoruwa.

We stayed in the jungles outside of Sigiriya at a fabulous eco-lodge called Vil Uyana. The hotel is set around a pond with gravel trails cutting through the marsh. In our bathroom alone we found frogs, bats, and a koi pond (!). We were even woken up in the morning by a mischievous monkey trying to get into our room.

Touring the north of Sri Lanka, we literally stumbled across wildlife at every turn, spotting creatures as varied as monitor lizards and elephants on the side of the road.

An enormous monitor lizard we encountered on the roadside.

An enormous monitor lizard we encountered on the roadside.

A lily pond near our hotel in Sigiriya.

A lily pond near our hotel in Sigiriya.

One more elephant for good luck. I really couldn't get enough of these guys.

One more elephant for good luck. I really couldn’t get enough of these guys.

Flores

Scooting around Flores.

Scooting around Flores.

After a few days snorkeling on Semaya Island, we decided to push on to our next venue.

Our friends from Ubud mentioned that they were considering a trans-Flores trip, slowly moving eastward across the island, sightseeing along the way. They were planning to drive across the island on a motorbike, an ambitious plan, verging on insanity except for the fact that Wayan is an expert biker and they were traveling with minimal luggage. With our enormous backpacks in tow, we were relegated to more pedestrian means of transportation, namely, the public bus or ‘bemo,’ as it’s known throughout Indonesia.

Long hours were logged in these colorful 'bemos.'

Long hours were logged in these colorful ‘bemos.’

These are usually older model vans, colorfully decorated and packed to the gills with passengers of all sorts, old and young, men and women, families with peeing-vomiting-crying babies, and men swilling palm liquor out of plastic gas canisters as the sun sets.  Even the cargo was entertaining: nervous chickens tied up by their ankles blinking quietly at someone’s feet, and a tied-up hairy black hog tossed atop the van along with random pieces of battered luggage.

Hanging out with some local kids in the hot springs.

Hanging out with some local kids in the hot springs.

The people we met on these long, hot journeys were without fail incredibly kind, considerate, and politely curious.  We also made huge improvements with our Bahasa Indonesia, mostly through eavesdropping on our friends from Ubud (one of whom is from Bali, and another has lived on Bali for 3 years and speaks impeccable Bahasa), but also just chatting with our seatmates on the long bus rides.

The conversations took a familiar pattern beginning with ‘Good morning, how are you? Have you eaten? Yes, of course. Oh good.’ Etc etc etc. The conversations were delightful and charming in their regularity, but also in the constant expression of genuine interest.

Beautiful crater lakes at Kelimutu

Beautiful crater lakes at Kelimutu

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The sites across Flores skewed toward outdoorsy things – hot springs, hiking up volcanoes, snorkeling, visiting a local village for a traditional animal sacrifice (you won’t see the graphic photos here, but it was an education for both Zev and me in how livestock is raised and butchered in village communities). Overall, Flores is a land of tremendous natural beauty, and unspoiled hospitality.

An animal sacrifice ceremony at a local village near Bajawa.

An animal sacrifice ceremony at a local village near Bajawa.

Mixing up blood lawar for the special feast.

Mixing up blood lawar for the special feast. The fresh blood is mixed with salt, spices

Cooking up a stew near Bajawa. The men grilled and boiled the meat in huge oil drums.

Cooking up a stew near Bajawa. The men grilled and boiled the meat in these huge oil drums.

All of the ladies were involved in steaming the rice.

The ladies from the village steamed vats of rice to feed hundreds of people from nearby villages.

'Ma'af habis' means 'sorry, we've run out.' It became a catchphrase of sorts for Flores. Every restaurant, gas station, scooter rental, hotel was 'ma'af habis.'

‘Ma’af habis’ means ‘sorry, we’ve run out.’ It became a catchphrase of sorts for Flores. We visited Flores in the peak of the high season, and were greeted with this message at many a restaurant, gas station, scooter rental, and hotel.

A few things were constants throughout our trans-Flores journey.

1.The people of Flores were some of the friendliest we have met anywhere, children on the side of the road would shout ‘hello Mister!’ at the top of their lungs or race out to try to give you a high five, desperate to get a reaction from the funny looking foreigners.

2. The landscape of across Flores was breathtaking. Each new region was completely different, from hillsides with tall stands of bamboo, to winding seaside highways with sweeping views of the turquoise sea and misty volcanoes beyond. The sunsets were so incredible, it felt like nature was trying to show off each evening. It is difficult to express in words the variety of unexpectedly beautiful landscapes on the island.

3. The hotels on Flores were terrible. Oh man, so bad. Zev and I don’t mind staying in crummy rooms, as evidenced by our rat’s nest of a beach shack in the previous post, but Flores took it to a whole new level.

4. The food was pretty subpar. Ok, more than subpar. It was on the same level as the hotels. MSG-flavored fried rice for every meal (don’t think MSG is a flavor unto itself, think again my friend)? Check. Said fried rice takes 2 hours to arrive? You bet. A few times we nearly went hungry because every ‘restaurant’ in town shuts down by 7:30pm.

Sapodilla fruit.

Sapodilla fruit.

Despite my expression, this was one of the better meals we enjoyed. Grilled mackerel with sour and spicy fish soup.

Despite my expression, this was one of the better meals we enjoyed. Grilled mackerel with sour and spicy fish soup.

So all-in-all Flores was hit and miss. At the end of 3 weeks trekking across the vast island, I was so ready to see a big city. But we also felt like we had expanded our understanding of Indonesia and come to appreciate the hospitality of a place that is just beginning to come to grips with tourism. Living in the shadow of Bali, Flores has a pretty nifty tourism campaign underway and it seems to be drawing the crowds they hoped for, but perhaps the infrastructure of the island wasn’t quite ready for so many demanding tourists.

A friendly local pup, more interested in my food scraps than my camera.

A friendly local pup, more interested in my food scraps than my camera.

We discovered our own secret beach.

We discovered our own secret beach.

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A dusty market in Moni, Flores.

A dusty market in Ruteng, Flores.

Our next stop brought us directly to the big city. We headed to the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur and back to LaZat Cooking Class to learn more about the Malaysian food we are so crazy about. We can’t wait to share a few recipes and photos with you guys! Here’s a sneak peek:

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Underwater Komodo

The snorkeling and diving around the Komodo islands was breathtaking, so I thought it deserved its own post/ photo exposition. Zev is far and away the superior underwater photographer, so most of these photos can be credited to his amazing breath-holding and underwater photography abilities.

After snorkeling a few sites on our trip with Mackenzie, we knew we couldn’t leave without doing at least some scuba diving. Unfortunately the budget was tight, so we settled for a day trip, three dives total. Given all of the hype surrounding diving in the Komodos, we were a little nervous to put all our eggs in one basket. What if one of us had to scratch a dive? What if we didn’t see what we hoped for? In the end, we agreed to relax and just go with the flow. We opted not to go looking for Mantas (we had come up ‘kosong‘ or empty on Manta dives many times before, and while it’s always thrilling to see the giant rays, the dive sites where they hang out can be deadly boring if they don’t make an appearance).

We were not disappointed by our one day of diving. The sites were challenging and incredibly rich with sea life. Some of the sites we visited are known for strong and variable currents, but we were surprised to find that our experience diving with currents off of Nusa Penida in Bali had adequately prepared us and we both felt fairly comfortable in the fast waters. During our dives we saw white and black tip sharks circling bright healthy reefs teeming with large schools of fish. The snorkeling alone made the Komodo islands one of our highlights of SE Asia, and the diving was really the icing on the cake.

Clown fish at Semaya Island. Snorkeling.

Clown fish family at Semaya Island, snorkeling.

Tiny nudibranch off Semaya Island. Snorkeling.

Tiny tiny nudibranch at Semaya Island, snorkeling. (Photo credit to EQ, finally a decent snorkeling shot!)

A giant pufferfish, snorkeling at Semaya Island.

A giant pufferfish, snorkeling at Semaya Island.

Can you spot the devil scorpion fish? Snorkeling, Angel Beach.

Can you spot the devil scorpion fish? Snorkeling, Angel Beach.

Crystal blue waters. At Cauldron, Komodo.

Crystal blue waters. A site called Cauldron/Shotgun, Komodo.

Giant trevally in the background. Snorkeling at Batubolong.

Giant trevally in the background. Snorkeling at Batubolong.

 

Cool looking box fish at Batubolong.

Cool looking box fish at Batubolong.

Snorkeling cousins, Zev and Mackenzie! At Batubolong.

Snorkeling cousins, Zev and Mackenzie! At Batubolong.

 

Mackenzie and her fellow researchers.

Mackenzie and her fellow researchers. Batubolong.

Snorkeling at Pink Sand Beach.

Snorkeling at Pink Sand Beach.

Blue spotted stingray, Pink Sand Beach.

Blue spotted stingray, Pink Sand Beach.

Diving Castle Rock.

Diving Castle Rock.

 

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A very pregnant shark at Castle rock.

A very pregnant shark at Castle rock.

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More sharks at Castle Rock!

More sharks at Castle Rock!

Schooling fish at Castle Rock, one of the most famous dive sites.

Schooling fish at Castle Rock, one of the most famous dive sites.

Sea turtle, diving at Tatawa Kecil.

Sea turtle, diving at Tatawa Kecil.

 

Another stunning sunset after a full day of diving.

Another stunning sunset off Flores.

Komodo by Boat

The real reason we slogged all the way to Flores was to catch up with my cousin, Mackenzie, who was in the area completing a research project. She was visiting remote villages across Indonesia to interview local villagers, and saw parts of the country that few Westerners ever visit. Having spent a few days recovering from our epic ferry ride to Labuan Bajo, Flores, we met up with Mckenzie and her gang of fellow researchers and hopped on another, much smaller, boat for a three day tour of the Komodo Islands. It was so nice to meet up with family from back home and hearing about her project was fascinating.

Our trusty vessel.

Our trusty vessel.

After getting on the boat and stowing our massive stock of snacks and beer, we motored to Rinca Island, one of the two islands where you can see Komodo dragons, for our first trekking trip. Rinca’s savannah covered hills felt like a scene out of Jurassic Park. Since it was mating season, the Komodo Dragons were busy getting busy in the woods, but we did manage to spot a small one hanging out at a watering hole, and got up close and personal with the gang of elderly dragons that hangs out at the park ranger’s kitchen. We were told that they stopped feeding the dragons in the mid-90’s, but these guys must be senile enough to keep coming back anyway.

A 'small' dragon.

A ‘small’ dragon.

The enormous older dragons, lounging beneath the ranger station.

The enormous older dragons, lounging beneath the ranger’s station.

On day one we also went on the first of many snorkeling trips, where we found a baby bamboo shark sleeping under a rock, and managed to snap our best photo of the trip, of a baby box fish. We’d heard incredible things about the marine life in the Komodos, but neither of us imagined how spectacular it could be until we got there. As a rule of thumb, the crazier the ocean currents, the bigger and better the fish. To say that the ocean surface in many places around the Komodos looked like the agitation cycle of a washing machine wouldn’t be an exaggeration and the abundance of sea life certainly upheld that saying.

An adorable juvenile boxfish.

An adorable juvenile boxfish.

Our captain, Matt, who has been working on tour boats in the islands for nearly 10 years, was truly a jack of all trades. After every snorkeling trip, he welcomed us back onto the boat with a plate of piping hot pisang goreng (battered fried bananas), and prepared delicious dinners with fish purchased from local fisherman who paddled out to our boat in canoes to deliver their fresh catch. We slept on the roof of the boat, under a sky filled with the stars of the southern sky. After half a year in the southern hemisphere we’ve only recently adjusted to the sky with no north star and an upside-down big dipper.DSC_0153

Our epic second day on the boat consisted of two hikes and three snorkeling trips. Although the big game animals, manta rays and Komodo Dragons, had taken the day off, it was still another day of jaw dropping scenery. Our 4 hour trek across Komodo Island began in temperate forests that felt surprisingly similar to our home landscape of the eastern US. Climbing up past the forests through the palm-tree dotted savannah to the top of a ridge provided breathtaking views of the island, all the way back done to the ocean. The paths up and down the hill were steep and dusty and we all took a few spills. Had we not seen dragons the day before on Rinca, the lack of wildlife, heat, and difficulty of the trail would have probably been overwhelming, but we managed to keep our cool and enjoy the view. Our two snorkeling trips to Manta Point were fruitless, but well made up for at our third spot, the Cauldron, where we saw more turtles than you can count (if you can’t count to 5), and a few of our boat-mates even spotted a dugong! To wrap up the day on yet another high-note, Matt lead us up a hill on an uninhabited island to watch the unset over a crystal blue bay.

The temperate forests on Rinca.

The temperate forests on Rinca really reminded us of the Shenandoah in Virginia.

Gorgeous views greeted exhausted hikers.

Gorgeous views, exhausted hikers.

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One of the many turtles we spotted while snorkeling at Cauldron.

A beautiful sunset hike with Mackenzie!

A beautiful sunset hike with Mackenzie!

DSC_0282 DSC_0290DSC_0264After getting off the boat on day three and saying goodbye to Mackenzie and her friends, we met up with friends from Bali who also happened to be in Labuan Bajo. They were heading back out to the islands to spend 2 nights at Seraya Beach Resort, a row of bare bones bungalows along a wide strip of untouched white beach and a bay full of pristine coral. Having no plans other than an eventual hot and crowded 4 hour public bus ride to begin exploring inland Flores, we happily joined them for a few days in a hammock soaking up Komodo’s spectacular scenery.

Beach bungalows on Semaya Island, an amazing little getaway.

Beach bungalows on Semaya Island, an amazing little getaway.

Our bamboo beach shack was also occupied by some kleptomaniac rats.

Our bamboo beach shack was also home to a rambunctious (and prolific) family of kleptomaniac rats who evidently thought Eliza’s shorts would make a great nest. Fortunately they didn’t fit through the rats’ front door.

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.

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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.

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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.

Super Moon on Gili Air

Super moon rising over Rinjani volcano.

Super moon rising over Rinjani volcano.

Happy little beach bum.

Happy little beach bum.

Lately, Zev and I have been playing tour guide for my mother, who is visiting us in Bali for the month of June. Most of our time has been spent seeing the sights around Ubud (which I’ll share more about later) but we spent this past weekend snorkeling and diving on Gili Air. Gili Air is a tiny speck of white sand and palm trees east of Bali, ringed by turquoise water and brilliant coral reefs. It was the perfect setting for an ultra low key weekend at the beach.

Just being touristy with the mama.

Just being touristy with the mama.

We spent plenty of time lounging around our perch on the northern end of the island, reading books and watching the waves crest. We spent the afternoons wandering the beach and wildlife spotting in the tide pools. Each evening, we were treated to a 270 degree view stretching from the western sunset over the open ocean to the eastern full moon rising over Mount Rinjani, the volcano on neighboring Lombok. It was after all, a super moon and we had the super panorama for the big event.

Another great sunset on Gili Air.

Another great sunset on Gili Air.

Howling at the moon.

Howling at the moon.

During our stay on the island we also experienced a rattling 5.2 magnitude earthquake, centered about 5km from us. We were suddenly acutely aware of the active volcano lurking on the horizon. For the rest of our stay, my heart jumped into my throat at the slightest lurch or bump, and especially during the tiny aftershocks we felt.

Looking for creatures in the tide pools.

Looking for creatures in the tide pools.

Check out this little guy we dug up in the tide pools.

Check out this little guy we dug up in the tide pools.

Gorgeous sunset outside of Legends bar, on the north side of the island.

Gorgeous sunset outside of Legends bar, on the north side of the island.

Lounging around the beach shack.

Lounging around the beach shack.

Kuala Lumpur, Hiking Gunung Angsi

A perfect breakfast, teh tarik or 'pulled tea' in a bag. This is the most civilized way to recover from jetlag; with a sweet milky frothy iced tea.

A perfect breakfast, teh tarik or ‘pulled tea’ in a bag. This is the most civilized way to recover from jetlag; with a sweet milky frothy iced tea.

Upon leaving the states, we made a quick weekend pit stop in Kuala Lumpur, one of our favorite eating cities, to pick up visas for our current stay in Bali. While in town for the weekend we met up with Ana, owner of LaZat cooking school where we learned to make amazing Beef Rendang on our last visit. She offered to take us hiking in the outskirts of the city and we gamely joined in.

Ana took us on a monster of a hike; 9 miles up and down a jungle mountain! I survived with only one leech attack and some very sore legs.

Boozy rice porridge, apparently a traditional pre-trek breakfast full of energy and alcohol. ;)

Boozy rice porridge, apparently a traditional pre-trek breakfast full of energy and alcohol. 😉

All smiles before the big climb.

All smiles before the big climb.

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It felt like such an achievement to reach the top.

It felt like such an achievement to reach the top.

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IMG_1182 IMG_1181 IMG_1126After this day of hiking, I’ll admit we were hobbling around a bit…our fitness routine has been a bit lacking since completing our Divemaster program. So we recuperated with lots of tasty Indian food and Roti Canai. The food in Malaysia has become so familiar and old hat to us, I failed to take many photos of it. I promise not to make that mistake next time, and hopefully ‘next time’ will be right around the corner! Each visit to Malaysia finds us even more enthralled with the cuisine, the culture, and the people. And each time we fly out, we leave whispering in wonder at how much we love the place.

The gorgeous Petronas Towers.

The gorgeous Petronas Towers.

One of our favorite spots for Roti Canai, the fact that it's open 24 hours is a major bonus.

One of our favorite spots for Roti Canai, the fact that it’s open 24 hours is a major bonus.

Banana leaf meals, love these places, but sadly didn't find the time for it on this visit to KL.

Banana leaf meals, love these places, but sadly didn’t find the time for it on this visit to KL.

We even managed to discover a whole new neighborhood, Brickfields, which is a colorful tangle of roads with rows of bangle shops, sari stores, and restaurants specializing in South Indian cuisine.

A vegetarian banana leaf meal, one of my favs.

A vegetarian banana leaf meal, one of my favs.

A shop of technicolor deities, this was my fav.

A shop of technicolor deities, this was my fav.

Bangle shop in Brickfields, KL

Bangle shop in Brickfields, KL

Two Weeks in America

This week marks 7 MONTHS on the road. This is the halfway point in our trip and a big milestone. I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed, it’s a bit scary to be honest. It seems like just yesterday that we were nervously packing our bags and trying to explain to our friends our vague travel plans. Today we are confident in telling our friends that we have only broadest outlines of plans, and prefer it that way. Our travel style has become somewhat more relaxed, and the sense of urgency to cover ground has given way to a quiet contentment (and spending a lot of time in Bali).

Packing up for the first time was a bit chaotic.

Packing up for the first time was a bit chaotic.

I think back to our first weeks figuring it all out in China. We had no idea how to order food in restaurants, we stared at the menus printed in Mandarin and were overwhelmed with the sense that we may actually starve.

Through China and Burma we sorted out our various travel roles and have finally settled into a style of travel that suits us well.

In those first weeks on the road, we proudly told others about our grand scheme to be on the road for 14 months. We weren’t always sure we would make it the full term, telling ourselves that we could go home if it got to be too hard. It didn’t get to be too hard, it grew to be a tremendous amount of fun and a great adventure. There was no shortage of struggles or cranky moments, but I am more certain that we are capable of surviving for 14 months on the road. We have relished meeting a fascinating cast of characters and hearing their fantastical tales. We have gained a tremendous amount in both wisdom and backpacker street cred since those early days in China.

Holy camoly we’ve been homeless wanderers for a long time.

We’ve also been very sneaky lately, we were actually in America for the last two weeks visiting family. Zev’s brother recently graduated college (congrats Ezra!) so we headed home for the festivities.

Congrats Ezra!!

Congrats Ezra!!

Having the chance to see family again, recharge our batteries and restock our backpacks was refreshing. So much has changed since we left, and yet it is comforting to know that we will always have family and friends that make us feel at home. I might not have an apartment or house to call home, but there are many places that feel like home.

As you can tell by the slideshow below, we ate very very well for the last two weeks. It was a flurry of American food, more than it would be proper to tell you about. An embarrassment of delicacies. Perhaps it’s a good thing our trip was so limited, any longer and I might have done permanent damage to my arteries.

We’ve found it is really hard to hit the road again after seeing family, it takes a bit of time to adjust to the solitude of travel. There are no routines when you’re backpacking, every day is a new one requiring its own bundle of planning and logistics.

Although many heart wrenching goodbyes followed, we packed up our bags and hit the road again, making a quick pit stop in Kuala Lumpur to pick up fresh visas for Bali. My mother is arriving in Bali today and I can’t wait!

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