Wednesday, December 30, 2009

funny, large primates... & orangutans

We just arrived in Banjarmasin after spending 2 nights on a boat viewing the orangutans. The boat is smaller, 2 levels and had a crew of 4 (cook, captain, guide and the deckhand). We sleep up top in the open air with a mattress and mosquito net. On the first day we saw several types of monkeys (proboscis, macaque, gibbons) from the boat as we travelled down the river. On the first day we stopped at a feeding station, used to give supplemental feed to orphan/injured orangutans that were returned to the wild. We watched as a large male ate his bananas and cassava root. He was an intimidating fellow!

Then we docked along the edge for the night. The next day we went to another feeding station and saw several orangutans; moms and babies and assorted single adults. Unfortunately there ended up being around 20 other tourists there and some were not respecting the rules of not touching or feeding directly. So we left early and walked around the area. We were fortunate to come across a wild boar mom and her 6 piglets (boarlets?). I nicknamed them Bacon & Bacon Bits. (I've always imagined that if I ever had an acreage I'd rescue a few livestock and give them ironic names like for chickens I'd call them: noodle & nugget). That night we again docked along the river to watch the amazing fireflies. It is hard to describe but they twinkle in the palm fronds like Christmas lights. I've never seen anything like it. One even landed on me & was quite neat to see up close. However, we soon had to abandon our first dock site. We could hear loud splashing and palm frond trunks snapping. After the crew and us debated whether it was a crocodile or an orangutan, we decided it sounded like a strong and angry orangutan. Then we moved down the river! There is a potential that orangutans that are released may come looking for food on the boat. The idea of waking up to a hungry, large, strong, hairy red primate going through your stuff is rather unsettling. We did in fact see one female orangutan at the second feeding station eyeing up a banana bunch on a docked boat.

So now we are in Banjarmasin for the night with plans to fly to manado via Jakarta in the morning. Manado is in a good snorkeling area so we are hopeful we can find a place to stay. Today we went out to the mall and more so than in other areas of Indonesia we are quite the spectacle. If I interpret the stares, pointing and laughing correctly, we are quite hilarious. I just respond with a big smile and everyone smiles back and continues to giggle. In all fairness we are both giants by local averages.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

wedding crashers

So yesterday, Dec 27 (today in Canada), we had a 3 hour drive to Semarang. Along the way the driver asked if he could stop to say Hi to his friend who was getting married. We of course agreed. The driver insisted we come into the reception. So here we are in this beautiful, formal Muslim wedding where everyone is dressed in their finest, with all the women in gorgeous Hijabs, while Jason and I are in beach ware. Everyone is smiling and so friendly but I wonder if they are thinking "who are these slobby wedding crashers?" And of course the reception was being filmed so we will live on in memory and digitally! We proceeded through the entire reception line with me extending my one hand for shaking to which each person grasped it in both hands. Only after did I clue in that I was supposed to extend both hands in a closed prayer like stance and then they would grasp them both. Then many people wanted us to stay and eat! Not only did we just finish a huge breakfast we did not want to insult anyone with our need for vegetarian food, so we declined, which was also probably insulting, but I hope not too much!

So we made it to Semarang and were put up in the Hotel Grasia by the airline who had to change our flight until today. The hotel is decent. clean, free wifi, free breakfast, tv, AC, and all for about 35 CDN a night (free for us). Last night we found a veg place in china town called, HA HA Vegetarian, and had a great meal with the nicest owners, who refused to take our tip. Afterwards we asked the owners where the Buddhist Tak Kay Sie Temple was and they insisted on driving us! We decided they seemed fine and we hitched the 10 min drive with the family to the temple. Once at the temple and older lady insisted on taking us around so that we placed the incense in the correct order at the different altars. After a friendly man chatted us up about the area. We did get into and odd conversation about washrooms in which the man commented that it was a pity that I, as a woman, could not just pee into the river easily. I must say it was the dirtiest river I have ever seen!

In all my travels this has been the most friendly place!

Friday, December 25, 2009

one more day in Borobudur

We are staying one more night (tonight) in Borobudur so that we can take a direct flight tomorrow to Pangkalanbun by the Tajung Puting National Park to see the orangutans. We will be picked up by a river house boat and stay on it for 2 nights and trek into the jungle to see the orangutans.

Yesterday we went to the Borobudur a huge and ancient Buddhist monument with over 500 Buddha statues. We went before sunrise and saw the sun peek through the over cast sky. On Christmas eve we had the amazing experience of meditating at the Mendut temple. It was a great place to do Tonglen Meditation , which is a method of connecting with suffering and awakening compassion. I had a lovely & peaceful experience.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

the chicken incident

It's not really my fault, but all the same, one local thinks I am obsessed with chickens. Mind you the chickens here are quite striking. They are really tall, like 2 feet, skinny and with long long legs, the better to out run your camera with. (I know this as I made Jason make several attempts at getting a shot of these elusive creatures. Perhaps one of the many signs when added together does in fact make me look a little chicken obsessed). There hasn't been a huge abundance of critters so of course on this mornings trip to the temples I made several observations to our guide about the chickens scurrying about. He in turn humoured me with facts about how the chickens return home at night on their own etc, & i remarked in awe about the difference in stature and plummage to our fat factory farmed chickens; I submit to you evidence #2. but seriously you have to see these freaky athletic chickens! Then conversation at some point turned to the fact that we are vegetarian. So of course all of this led to our guide taking an impromtu detour to show me a chicken market with the many types of chickens available that are used for singing/crowing competitions. I saw jungle chickens, fancy chickens, white chickens, and even one very prestigious lazy chicken who had the best cage. So there may now be a misunderstanding that canadians love chickens or that I am just a weirdo.

Ps the guide informed me that cooked jackfruit tastes like chicken. Seriously, you can't make that up.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


We are staying in the amazing Amanjiwo Resort which is breath taking with each room a villa and an amazing pool. It is is surrounded by misty hills, rice paddies and jungle. There are geckos, grasshoppers, butterflies, finches and giant bumblebees all around. It is an ironic place to contemplate the terrific book I am reading on how individuals can end world by donating their share to aid agencies. The book moves beyond guilt and proposes a calculation system to determine how much each person, based on income, should give. I highly recommend the book as it delves into a detailed ethical analyses of not only our responsibilities but how, even unintentionally, we in developed countries contribute to poverty in developing nations; The Life you Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty Written by Peter Singer, (click the title to learn more and read an excerpt).

The food, people and sights have been amazing. Everyone is so kind and lovely. This morning we had a slightly funny incident. As many of you know Jason & I are long time vegetarians but recently we have been cutting back on dairy, and avoiding eggs as well. The hotel staff are aware we are vegetarian and have been so accommodating. Jason ordered the the fruit salad this morning and the waiter soon came back to explain that it contained yogurt. Jason misunderstood the option for replacement of the said yogurt and ended up with a lovely fruit salad in a bowl of orange juice. ;)

This morning we are heading out to see some small temples and this evening we will spend time with some local monks, meditating and chanting! I will report more on that later.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Today was our first full day on vacation. We slept 15 hours last night and are still feeling the jetlag. We went to a Buddhist temple this morning that is from the 1600's. We also went to a great vegan restaurant called "the loving hut". At one point we ended up in a store similar to home depot to escape the rain. I have never seen rain like this! Tomorrow we fly to Borobudur. I am trying put my new blogger iPhone app with this post so we'll see how well it works :)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why We Travel

An excerpt from Why We Travel: A Love Affair with the World by Pico Iyer; "We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again-to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more." - I could not have said it better myself. The entire article is well worth the read.

Our next adventure takes us on our longest journey yet; 5 weeks traipsing through Indonesia. We leave December 19, 2009 and arrive in Jakarta and stay at the Hyatt. After a few days we will head to Borobudur an ancient Buddhist temple and stay at the Amanjiwo Hotel. I am looking forward to hiking, meditation and reflection. After this we are planning time in Borneo to visit Orangutans at the Tanjung Puting National Park

We arrive back in Calgary January 22, 2010. The rest of the time in Indonesia has yet to be planned. I look forward to the wandering.

PS I've included a photo of the gear I am taking. One back pack, one purse sized carry on. The essential gear I have includes; flippers, snorkel/mask, camera, clothes (in red stuff sack), Iphone (with roaming turned off so I don't have a repeat of the enormous mexican phone bill) running shoes, flip flops (plus one pair of slip on vans that I'll wear on the plane), big bag of medicine (grey and burgundy bag), bag of toiletries, travel towel, jacket (takes up too much room! - the black roll next to red stuff sack in the picture), 4 books ... & still lots of room!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

no hablo espanol ~ counterfeit what?

It started as a simple desire to get ice cream and gum while we waited for an antique store across the street to open (which it never did). We paid for the items (or attempted to) with a 10,000 chilean pesos bill ($20 canadian). The lady at the till examined the bill for some time and then disappeared into the back. She came back finally with a second person and both excitedly tried to explain something to us. We thought the bill was too big so we showed her we only had the 10,000 peso bills (damn bank machines). Then she held up the bill we gave her to the light to show that there is no hologram and once we looked at it, it was an obvious fake. like photocopied with the silver security strands glued on. ~ sigh~ so then she gave it back and we paid with another bill. And I put it in my pocket, not sure what to do with it. She waved her finger in a "No" motion (as in do not use it) and made the international gesture for handcuffs. We are lucky that she could tell we were hapless gringos totally like fish out of water and we just left the store.

Jason wanted to keep the bill as a souvenir but I thought explaining that to the guy with the rubber gloves at the airport did not seem like a good idea. So the bill has been ripped up.

Other than that adventure, Santiago, Chile is a great. Nice metropolitan city. We can't get a whole lot done as I start melting by 2pm. We did see a Frida Kahlo and Deigo Rivera exhibition, the museum of fashion, and antique store, the vegetarian restaurant (only one in santiago - thank god i found tofu i was dying on the boat with out it), and the pool. 

On that note..... I am off to the pool.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Stanley, Falkland Islands

We landed this morning in the port of Stanley (pop. 2115 people), Falkland Islands. We took a short bus tour (with a funny local guide) through the town to see such curiosities as the peat moss farm (used as fuel), the museum, areas fenced off due to land mines (from the 1982 war), assorted wild birds and so on. Then we walked up and down the 2 main streets looking in shops and trying to find some vegetarian food. Lunch was just so so, but we did luck out and get some snacks at the grocery store. I did see a one footed water bird that was doing quite well; I wonder what is his story? Lots of cats around as well but I am pretty sure there is no connection to ol’ one foot, as the bird is pretty large.

The Falkland Islands are a British Overseas Territory in which the local government takes care of internal affairs and Britain takes care of external issues and defense. They have their own currency which is equal to the British pound. We learned about the 1982 Falklands War and visited a memorial to the fallen British soldiers. Essentially Argentina forces invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands on April 12, 1982 until they were overcome by British forces on June 14, 1982. Over 250 British soldiers, and an estimate of over 600 Argentina soldiers died.  Argentina was claiming ownership of the islands while Britain has maintained administration of the Falklands since 1833. Prior to this, it is reported that English navigator John Davis first sighted the islands and in 1690 British Captain John Strong made the first recorded landing. There were no Indigenous peoples in the Falklands, when the British landed.

Then we had the bright idea to walk back to the port to get on the ship. You know when movies show those mirages in the desert where the water just seems right in front of you but you never seem to get there? It seemed like the boat was so close but we walked for quite a while in the rain. About 3/4 of the way back a local gentleman took pity on us and offered us a ride. He said he could tell we were from out of town. Like the hitchhiking incident in Thailand, I figured the walk back was more of a risk that accepting the ride. :) He was a lovely fellow and dropped us right at our boat.

Tomorrow we will start to explore some of the further out areas and see the local wildlife such as Rockhopper Penguins.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Reflections on the world we share

Yesterday morning Jason, and other guests & guides, completed the last 3 miles of the arduous 30 mile hike that Shackleton and 2 of men had to make after landing in Fortuna Bay. The details of the trek and survival story are in a previous blog posting. They ended in Stromness, a now abandoned whaling station. I decided against the hike as I thought my bruised backside would not do so well. 

Yesterday afternoon, we took the zodiacs from the boat to land at Grytviken, the site of Captain Larson’s whaling station. The station is of course abandoned but a large amount of buildings, machinery and vats that used to hold whale oil, remain on the site. There is also a museum & gift shop, British Antarctic Survey research station, and the grave of Ernest Shackelton who had died from a heart attack. Grytviken has up to 20 staff in the summer, with the museum staff, and it drops to about 8 people in the winter, primarily scientists. Some of the scientists came on board to present on their work and life in Grytviken. One of the most important things highlighted is the importance of Krill, a small shrimp like animal, that basically support the entire animal web in the Antarctic area. Several animals such as penguins, seals, whales etc depend directly on eating the krill. Other whales and leopard seals depend on eating animals that eat the krill.

I encourage those who eat fish to ensure they are eating fish caught in sustainable manners. For instance, in South Georgia there are several things in place to reduce the thousands of Albatross Birds that used to be drowned in the area due to long line fishing (as they dove to catch the bait and were pulled to their deaths). The initiatives include faster sinking hooks, bird deterrent devices, night fishing etc. You can go to to view which fish species are less likely to be overfished, poorly managed, and have a lower by catch (the animals that are killed ‘by accident’ when fishing), less pollution etc. You can also purchase fish that have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

It is imperative that we all realize the impact of pollution, discarded plastic, fishing etc has on our delicate ecosystem. Things that happen down here impact us on the other hemisphere and vice versa. Many of the whale species are still in low numbers from being hunted to the brink of extinction. There is a swirling plastic mass (the size of Texas!!), called The Plastic Vortex or Garbage Patch, in the ocean of all of the bags and plastic refuse that have collected here from dumps etc. Sea turtles are particularly vulnerable as they view the plastic bags as jelly fish and then eat them and die. One small thing that anyone can do is to use reusable cloth bags, & generally reduce, re-use and recycle. You can also save money and reduce pollution by converting to CFL bulbs which use far less energy. 

"Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves." — Chief Seattle

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gold Harbor & Ocean Harbor

I have been taking advil and using an ice pack so my backside is starting to feel better. It is the worse and largest bruise I have ever had. Quite the souvenir! I stayed in for the morning as I wanted to rest. Jason went out for the 5am zodiac trip to land in Gold Harbor. He said it was similar to yesterday with King Penguins, elephant seals, fur seals, skua birds and so on. One of the fur seals got annoyed and ran up and bit through the protective pants of one of the naturalists. He was fine though and the seal did not reach skin.

This afternoon I felt better to I brave another zodiac trip into Ocean Harbor. It is an abandoned whaling station and the wreck of the Bayard, an iron hulled sailing boat, has remained since 1911. We went ashore and took a mapped out route to avoid the cantankerous fur seals. The harbor has a small flat area of land and then it is surrounded by mountains on one side and a steep moss and grass covered hill on the other. As we were enjoying the view a herd of reindeer stampeded through. They are not native to the area and were introduced in 1911 for sport and for meat. It is quite the sight to see reindeer gallop through a gathering of fur seals! 

The area had quite a few fur seals and elephant seals. I like the elephant seals the best. They look like huge blubber slugs and are believed to be the deepest diving animals. It is hard to believe as they move slowly on land. They have a better disposition than the cranky fur seals. They also making this really loud burping sound which is apparently their bark. But I tell you it sounds like a huge beer belch fest. I swear they let out huge farts too but apparently that is just their snorting. They are so offensive that they are cute. The fur seal pups are really cute as well. Fur seals were thought to be extinct, due to hunting, but started reappearing in the 1950’s. by 1825 about 1.2 million fur seals had been killed for pelts.

The whaling station has been torn down with a few remnants remaining including a brick shed and some pieces of metal machines. There are quite a few whale bones strewn about. Whales were hunted for their blubber (oil for things like margarine, lanterns etc), meat, and so on. It was an somber sight to see the bleached whale bones next to the graves of whalers who had died. Whales are now protected in the South Georgian waters but are hunted in other areas on a small scale. Back in the day, 175,250 whales were killed and processed in the whaling stations of South Georgia.

I thought I’d also mention that the tabular ice bergs (or table top icebergs as they are also known), that posted photos of, are around 100-150 feet tall (above the water!). The portion below the water is another 700-800 feet! These icebergs are breath taking and hard to capture in the photos as there is little to offer scale.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Antarctic Tumble

I had my first mishap today when I took a tumble in the zodiac boat in rough waters. The zodiacs pull up beside the  lower side of the large boat to a door opening (on the side of the hull) where you embark or disembark the zodiac. The ocean was rough today with waves and swells. The zodiac was bobbing up and down more than 6 feet! All of a sudden as I was stepping up on the pontoon edge to get onto the large boat I went down hard. Thankfully I fell back into the zodiac and not into the ocean. However, I of course hit the corner of the wooden storage chest in the zodiac and now sport a large bruise and scrape on my backside. But all is well, except for perhaps again my pride. I was approached by another guest who, of course, had been taking pictures of the zodiac disembark from the boat deck above and caught the action as he was in rapid picture mode. So tomorrow I should be able to see the 10 action shots and rate my dismount. I think it is a clear 9.5.

Prior to the little tumble, I was exploring St Andrew’s Bay, on South Georgia Island, this afternoon which is home to the largest King Penguin colony in the area. There were also hundreds of assorted seals, mostly fur seals with some elephant seals mixed in. One teenage fur seal charged us but we successfully evaded. The seals are adorable. The King Penguins currently have chicks who are nearly as big as they are but covered in “grizzly bear brown” down feathers. In the morning we took a zodiac tour of Cooper Bay to observe the Macaroni Penguins and assorted seals as it was too dangerous to land. National Geographic/Lidbald Expeditions area really excellent at ensuring guests are well informed and that we all adhere to respecting the wildlife. Honestly, none of the critters seem bothered by us and they are to always be given the right of way. We ensure that we do not get too close, nor interfere. 

We will spend another 3 days in South Georgia and will then head to the Falklands.