Sunday, June 20, 2010


A stupendous Father's Day to all the great dads out there, especially my own!   I have always been grateful to have such a great Dad.  I have lots of happy memories of my dad- flying kites in the park, playing in the snow in our backyard, playing marathon games of Monopoly at the kitchen table, and sneaking Christmas cookies from behind my mom's back....which we still do.  I can't wait to hang out with my parents when I get back to the U.S. Strangely enough, I couldn't find a picture of just my dad and me, so here's one of the whole family at my college graduation.

Special wishes to my brothers too.  Growing up, I remember my brothers popping out of my closet wearing monster masks and bribing me not to tell my parents about the pretty girls that showed up while our parents were away.  Who knew that my big brothers would turn out to be two of the greatest fathers I've ever seen?  Seriously, despite the fact that they traumatized me by threatening to feed my guinea pig to their friend's boa constrictor, my brothers have always loved and supported me, and now they're doing the same for their kids.  I'm very proud.

For Mother's Day, I posted all sorts of cute pictures of animal mothers.  There aren't as many caring fathers in the animal kingdom, but I did find some of the monkey males cradling some of the babies.  Pretty cute stuff!  Too bad I don't study seahorses- those are some of the most committed dads around!

Here's Luke, looking after Catherine's little boy.  Luke's pretty good with the little ones, and sometimes they run to him when they get in over their heads while playing with the bigger juveniles.

Leo, the alpha, doesn't really seem to have a knack for holding the infants, but he still does it from time to time anyway.

Here's Hercules, rolling around in the middle of a mass of romping juveniles.  He reminded me of a human dad, wrestling with his boys on the living room floor.

So, happy day to all the dads out  there- human and monkey!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bali Day Four: A Long Drive...and Snorkeling!

Our last day in Bali was just as beautiful as the previous three had been.  We ate another delicious round of pancakes out by the ocean, and took a last cruise around the reef, knowing that it might be awhile before we get to break out the snorkel gear again.  Singapore isn't known for it's world-class dive sites.  We mostly saw the same things we'd been spotting for the past few days, with the addition of some large grouper.  The currents were stronger that time, and fighting them was pretty tiring.

After snorkeling, we walked down the road to Warung Mekar, where we had a delicious lunch cooked by the ultra friendly owner.  As at Warung Bobo, we were given fresh popcorn as an appetizer and we found that it was delicious with chili sauce on it.  After lunch, Bryan took another round with the camera while I got our stuff prepared to go.  He got some beautiful flowers, and a good shot of this delicate little olive-backed sunbird.

Bryan also took a photo of the unique boats that we saw everywhere.  They had outriggers on both sides.

Of course, Alice was along for the ride.  She loved the black sand beach.

I hung around and read while we waited for a driver to come and pick us up.

Late in the afternoon, our driver picked us up and we left beautiful, peaceful Amed behind.  It was nice to do the drive in the daylight since we'd missed the scenery on our way up.  There were different views around every twist and turn- people working the fields, green mountains (see the corn in the foreground?  It made Bryan and me feel very at home), terraced rice paddies, and beautifully landscaped homes.

 At one point, we saw some guys sitting in a circle along the road.  Two of them were holding chickens, and our driver told us they were having a cock fight.  He pointed out the row of basket/cages lined up next to the men, and said that the cocks are kept under the baskets so that their bodies will be clean and undamaged before the fight.  As some of you might have guessed, my stomach was turning at the thought of the poor animals being raised just to fight.

Here we are in the car- you can see the windy roads in the mirror.

As we got closer to Denpasar, there were lots of traffic circles with sculptures in the middle of them.  This one was one of my favorites.

As we went along, we were able to catch glimpses of the ocean along the road, and at some places (like the one below), there were ponds near the road, with the ocean further back.

My favorite site of the ride was this pig on a leash.  So random.

And I barely snatched a photo of this person, riding along on a motorbike with a glass bakery display case mounted on the back.

By the time we made it through a crush of road construction and to the airport, we had about two hours before our flight left.  Normally that's more than enough time, but this was an Indonesian airport, so we got right down to the business of waiting in lines, lines, and more lines.  By the time we made it through the multiple phases, we were hungry and all we could find was this unusual McDonald's. There was a sign advising you not to eat there unless you had 15 minutes to wait for your food.  You ordered your food and then someone in a McDonald's in front of the airport cooked it and then brought it inside. The food was fine, but the system was bizarre.

The KLM flight back was fun, as Bryan and I linked up our in-flight entertainment systems and dueled each other at Tetris.  We had a wonderful trip, and I think I can easily add Bali to the list of places that we wouldn't mind returning to someday!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bali Day Three: MORE Snorkeling and a Balinese Massage!

Ahhh, another perfect day in Bali.  In keeping with our relaxation theme, we slept in and then ate breakfast in the gazebo again.  I tried something called a banana jaffle, which was pretty much a pocket of toasted white bread filled with mashed banana.  It was OK, but the pancakes were better.

We also switched bungalows- we'd had an ocean-front one for the first two nights, but it wasn't available our last night, so we moved to a garden view.  When Bryan saw the sparrows nesting on our new porch, it took him about five seconds to bust out the camera.

Before heading back into the water for even more snorkeling, we spent some time taking photos of the lovely scenery.

And then we went snorkeling again!  It just didn't get old.  That time we saw a lot of great stuff- tons and tons of big purple stars, including one with only four arms.  It didn't look like it had been injured, it just looked like it had a strange mutation.  It kind of looked like a floppy plus sign.  Bryan had gotten better at snorkeling, and there wasn't nearly as much sputtering as there had been the day before.  I'm in the picture below, almost disappearing into the water with my blue snorkel and blue swimsuit.

For lunch, we went to the Amed Cafe, which is part of a bigger business that runs a hotel and a tour agency that does snorkeling and scuba tours.  The whole compound looks like some sort of mythical garden, with tropical plants, statues, and fountains.  Even the parking lot had three playful elephant statues.  Yes, I'm pretending to feed one peanuts in the picture below.  I didn't know anyone was watching.

 The cafe was traditionally decorated, with an altar off to one side and hand-carved figures mounted on the walls and hanging from the ceiling.  The altar had bold black and gold figures all over it.  We sat right next to it so that we could admire the ocean and the figures at the same time.
If you look closely at the elephant, you can see a couple of swastikas on the cloth draped around it.  Swastikas are a common symbol in Hinduism and other eastern religions, so they're fairly common in this part of the world- there's even one carved into the sidewalk near our apartment.  Despite their auspicious connotations for many Asians, I still give a start every time I see one.  I suppose it will still take some getting used to- the history of the symbol is so fraught with tragedy that it's hard to ignore their negative connotations.  There's sometimes an uproar when the symbol is used in situations where its meaning is not clear.  This was the case when the retail chain Zara released this handbag, which included swastikas in its design.  The inclusion of the swastikas was an oversight and the bags were quickly yanked from the shelves.

The issue of the swastikas aside, we were enjoying the ambiance of Amed Cafe, and we ordered some tropical drinks (made with arak, of course!) to sip while we took it all in.  Lunch tasted like fish again, but so it goes.  The tranquil surroundings made me forgiving of the nasty taste, and I just mashed up my food to make it look like I'd eaten some.

This carving reminded me (again) of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, and also of this cat carving that we saw at Angkor Wat.

So Amed Cafe turned out to be a little bit of a gem!  The food wasn't really up to snuff, but the drinks were cold and refreshing, and they certainly had a nice atmosphere going on.  After hanging around there for quite awhile, guess what we did?

If you guessed snorkeling, then you've been paying attention.  We went snorkeling again, and it was great, of course.  I'll spare you the details, since I've already shared about 10 times that it's fun, and there are fish.  Afterward, we sat around playing rummy and trying to decide how we were going to splurge with our remaining rupiah, some of which are pictured below.  One US dollar is equal to over 9000 Indonesian rupiah, so bills often come to ridiculous amounts like 200,000 IDR.  It seems so strange.  A professor once told me about how he used to work in Indonesia, and when payday came he was handed a shoebox full of money.

We decided to spend some of our rupiah on a traditional Balinese massage for me.  Bryan declined, asserting that the relaxation of a massage might be outweighed by the discomfort of having a stranger in his personal space.  I went to the front desk and asked them to call up one of the local masseuses, and double-checked the price.  An hour later, a friendly little woman showed up and laid a mat down on our front porch.  I got comfortable, and spent the next hour getting a fantastic, soothing full-body massage, complete with aromatic coconut oil.  It was the pinnacle of our relaxing vacation, and when she was done, I felt like a cooked spaghetti noodle.  Perfection.  And it cost about six American dollars.  Wow.

While I'd been getting massaged, Bryan had been roaming around, still getting comfortable with our relatively new camera.  He got some nice shots of a spotted dove perched on a nearby shrine, pecking at the offerings left inside.

Most of the time we were in Amed, the peak of the volcano was shrouded by clouds, but Bryan caught a clear view of it while he was out walking around.

He also found this cute little lizard, who was very cooperative as Bryan snapped one photo after another.

After my massage, I was too relaxed to do much of anything, so I just sat around reading for awhile.  Eventually Bryan and I went to get a late dinner at nearby Warung Bobo.  Some locals were performing folk music there, and the atmosphere was very festive.  I was sick of fishy food, so I ordered spaghetti olio, and was thrilled when it came to the table tasting exactly how I hoped it would.  Our very friendly waiter recommended banana crepes with honey and shaved coconut for dessert, and Bryan and I concurred that the crepes were the best thing we'd eaten in Bali.  We struck up a conversation with a young local guy at the next table, and learned that he was an aspiring politician with a great deal of respect for President Obama.  I hope the guy runs for local government- he was level-headed and charismatic, and he seemed to understand some of the things that the locals needed to do in order to promote tourism, such as preserving the reef and maintaining the road.

Full of delicious food and Bintang, we headed back to the bungalow for our last night in Amed.