Earth Day

Just what did you think happened to all those bags anyways?
Its earth day here and a couple hundred high-schoolers are going out to some neighboring islands to pick up trash. That’s great, but I think it would be more useful if they picked up the trash in Labuanbajo to get a sense of how dirty this place is. However, the point of this little paragraph is not to rip on the littering citizens of this town, but to give them props on not using Styrofoam. Our boxed lunches come in just that, boxes, with brown waxed paper to wrap up saucy things to keep it from leaking through. Utensils are metal and reused. This is a nice change from the Styrofoam boxes and plastic spoons we usually get when we order takeaway.
The point of this second paragraph is to ask you to avoid using Styrofoam. Who cares if it’s cheaper, it is really REALLY bad for the environment. And try recycling while you’re at it. I’m ashamed to say, but will confess that we did not recycle at our apartment before we left. This was due to the fact that we had no recycling bins at our complex, and we were too lazy to figure out what to do with it on our own. But, traveling in otherwise beautiful places that have been needlessly littered with all kinds of recyclable and unrecyclable waste I often find myself asking, why don’t they do something about that? Can’t they recycle that or at least put it in a trash can? In the US, I’d say that for the most part we’ve got the no-littering thing down. But what about recycling? Even if where you live doesn’t have its own recycling pick-up, you don’t usually have to go that far to find a place. It’s definitely easier to find a place to recycle back home than in many of the countries where I question their own recycling nature. So let’s get with it and start recycling more!
Last, but not least, in the spirit of reducing waste, get yourself some reusable shopping bags—not just for grocery shopping, but for all shopping. If you’re not into the canvas tote thing, there are a lot of other options out there. One of my favorites is the old-lady Chinatown veggie roller cart, but I know that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Another option are brighter, lightweight bags, like these Envirosacks, that can be folded up really small so that you can have them ready for whenever.
Actually, I have one more last thing to say, and that is while biodiesel may be good for American farmers in Iowa, and politicians trying to get their votes, it is not any better for the environment or people who need to buy food. And I still have no idea why Bush went on a tour of Latin America promoting the stuff. But then again, he doesn’t always have a good reason for doing the things he does, does he?

There be Dragons


\"164_6445-4.JPG\"I cannot remember when I first heard of or learned about Komodo dragons, but I’ve always wanted to see them. Although we’ve seen various species of monitor lizards throughout SEA and we could’ve seen Komodo dragons in a handful of zoos, I really wanted to see wild dragons. The dragons can actually be found in some coastal regions of Flores, but they are most populous on the islands of Rinca and, their namesake, Komodo. So this morning, we hired a boat to take us to Rinca.


a scenic early morning boat ride

After a two-hour ride, we pulled up to Rinca’s shores and hopped off. We walked through some mud flats filled with crabs, before arriving at the ranger station, where we hired the required guide. Armed only with a long stick, our guide led us out of camp on a two-hour hike.


Luckily we saw a group of five Komodos right away, sunning themselves in the morning sun on the outskirts of the camp. Despite their lazy disposition, the sight of them was scary. Besides the 3 meter length of the two males, the first thing I noticed was the size of their enormous feet and claws. They appeared disproportionately large compared to the rest of their bodies. Even though the dragons we’re just sunning themselves, Sufrey, our guide, told us to stay at least 3 meters away. He said even though they look pretty lazy when they’re sunning, they could still move incredibly quick and lethally.


thats bigger than any persons hand I\’ve ever seen, to give you a frame of reference

We learned a few other scary facts, as well. The dragons occasionally kill people, the most recent victim being a village boy in 2007. The Komodos have no natural predators and they prey most commonly on buffalo, wild pigs, horses, and deer. They’ll also attack and eat baby Komodo dragons and people if the opportunity presents itself. While a group of dragons can kill and eat an animal at once if they hunt in a group, most hunting is done solo. Due to high-levels of bacteria in the dragons’ saliva, a single bite is all it takes to kill. Most often, a dragon will attack and bite a buffalo, only to leave until two weeks later. During those two weeks, the buffalo (or whatever animal was bit) develops an infection from the bite and dies, whence the dragon returns to eat. The toxic saliva is lethal for humans too, unless that person can make it to the hospital for a heavy and lengthy dose of antibiotics.


Adding to the list of scary facts, Komodos are excellent swimmers. On our hike, we passed a nesting area. Luckily females only guard the nests for the first 3 of their eggs’ 9-month gestation. We saw a couple more dragons on our hike; one sleeping under a tree and another walking towards us on the trail- we obviously gave it the right of way and plenty of room. Unfortunately my photos did not come out very well, though. You’ll have to take my word that their muscular legs, reptilian swagger, and flicking yellow tongues are one of the scariest things imaginable. Besides the dragons, we also saw a ton of wild buffalos, a few megapode birds, and a lot of little insects, reptiles, and plants.


It was a beautiful hike that took us high up on the island, from where we had commanding views of the surrounding islands and sea. It was an enjoyable hike and I got to see something I’ve always wanted to, not a bad day. Need a reason to stay awake at work? Our guide, Sufrey, told us a story that occurred several years ago. A dragon wandered into the ranger camp and entered the cafeteria, probably lured by the smell of food. The dragon was probably pleasantly surprised to find a cafeteria worker sleeping and attacked, biting the worker’s arm! The guy was lucky to have survived, but had to spend 3 months in the hospital and take a daily cocktail of antibiotics before he was cured.


My Dive Buddy



\"164_6445-4.JPG\"Even since her dive course, Joylani’s been having ear problems. For our nine-diving readers out there, diving is a no-no if you’re experiencing any ear or sinus problems since you could seriously injure yourself and/or lose your hearing. She missed out on the excellent diving during our trip to Sipadan, so we were both really hoping that her ears would be good for Indo. Having had ear problems for a month and half, she was pretty discouraged about it and a bit wary of going down. But having not felt much pain for the past few days, she decided to swallow her fear and give it a go.


 Joylani looking determined to go diving today

She got a bit flustered on her first descent, but after collecting herself and some help from our dive master, she was flying along the ocean floor with me in the strong current. Over the next two days, she dove deeper than ever before and doubled her total number of dives. For someone who initially didn’t want to dive and then got off to a rough start, she’s quite the diver now able to do drift and wall dives. I’m happy to have a dive buddy and I’m pretty proud of her.


look at her go :)

Diving North Komodo



\"164_6445-4.JPG\"Indonesia has some of the best diving in the world, with the waters around Komodo possessing some of the country’s best diving. And although the dive sites north of Komodo are among the best in the country and the world, I was reluctant to sign up for a second day of diving due to the cost. On the boat ride back from yesterday’s dives, I was trying to think of a way to justify another day of diving- we’re not going to any more diving destinations on our trip, we’ll just dive here instead of Bali or Lombok, the market rallied last week didn’t it- when Joylani asked, “Matt, when are we gonna be in Komodo again?” Good point. Our first dive was at Castle Rock, a large submerged cone of rock and coral. We dropped in a ways from the site and let the current take us to the site. Swimming around it to the side sheltered from the current, we were greeted by a ton of big fish. The first thing I saw was a Great Barracuda, about two meters long. Just when I was thinking about how good it would taste, some even tastier fish swam between us. I looked around and noticed tuna and jackfish (trevally) swarming around us. Yellowfin and dogtooth tuna zipped around, while the trevally moved in large schools. There were some other cool things around too, like white-tip reef sharks, lionfish, nudibranches, the Moorish idols that liked to play with my camera, and the group of surgeonfish that followed Joylani around, playing with her column of bubbles.




can you spot the scorpionfish? Joylani couldn\’t either…


school of trevally

Our second dive was to Crystal Rock, also teeming with life. We saw a ton of different species of sweetlips and even a moray eel swimming out in the open, an extremely rare sight as only their heads are usually seen poking out from under rocks. There was a ton of table coral around too. Joylani stayed up top while Fabio, our divemaster and I went down for a third dive near a place called Seribayu Island. It was a wall dive without too many big things, so mostly we wet up and down the reef wall scouring for interesting things.


my best nudibranch photo to date


don\’t know what he\’s stretching for though… 

There were a quite a few soft corals I’d never seen before, a couple species of nudibranches I’d never seen before, a couple of cuttlefish. Besides having eaten lots of dried cuttlefish, I didn’t know anything about them. They look really interesting and propel themselves with “fins” than run the length of their body. The coolest thing though, was watching them change color as we followed them- maybe they could sense how much I like to eat them….



Reading back over this post, I realize how much of a nerd I am listing and describing everything I saw, but I’ve realized that the diving community is pretty nerdy. Even the tough-looking hardcore divers start talking about marine life when they hit the surface: corals, reef-fish, nudibranches, pelagics, and so on. If you find my lists and descriptions of the dives boring, suffice it to say diving around Komodo is awesome.


our lunch spot wasn\’t too bad either…


parrotfish and surgeonfish feeding frenzy


shark photos are always cool

Diving Again


This rock was the tip of a huge pyramid of reef life under water.  You can see the change in the water surface cause by the current being diverted around the rock.

\"joylaniI finally went diving again.  It was a nervous decision to make, but I think it helped to know that if my first dive didn’t work out, I wouldn’t have to pay for any others.  With nothing to really lose, I decided to go diving with Matt.  At the start of my descent, I began breathing way to fast, and had to surface to calm down.  After a couple minutes I was ok, and Fabi, our divemaster, held my hand as I tried it again.  Success!  It felt nice to be back under the water.  One, two, three.  One, two, three.  I counted my breaths in and out to avoid breathing too heavily as I and the other divers were whisked away by the underwater current.  It was definitely a lot different from my previous training dives that had been beach dives into a shallow reef.  This dive was in the open ocean, and we were following a strong current in search of manta rays.  The water was moving so fast, it was hard to concentrate on seeing things because I was busy flailing my arms around and trying to stay set on the same course as the other divers.  All the flailing and my (still a little too heavy) breathing meant I used up my air faster than the more experienced divers.  But so did Matt and one other diver, so I didn’t feel too bad.  The three of us surfaced early.  Despite my lack of coordination, it was still a great dive.

The next dive felt much slower paced as the site was sheltered by a rock from the current (see above photo).  We swam back and forth along a wall and it was fun to look at the sea life from a new angle.  So much fun, in fact, that Matt and I decided to go diving again the next day.  Those two dives were even more fun than the last two because Matt and I were the only divers going out that day (in addition to Fabi), so we didn’t have to put up with anyone else’s bubbles and could go at our own pace.  Oh, and the dive sites weren’t too bad either.  :)


By the end of the day I felt like I had gotten the hang of this diving thing and am looking forward to the next time we go.  Whenever and wherever that may be, who knows?!


Looking up.


Colorful corals.


Fish Faces.


The bottom of the anemone.


Hello nudie branch!

Guilty Pleasure



\"164_6445-4.JPG\"I’ve finally discovered the meaning of “guilty pleasure.” I’ve never really had a guilty pleasure and if ever asked, I’ve always responded, “Books.” I’ve always bought books without too much consideration of price or how many unread ones I have at home. But books are relatively inexpensive and arguably a much higher intrinsic value than their dollar price. And while Joylani tells me that a guilty pleasure is a chick-flick, a pedicure, and a tub of ice-cream, I’ve discovered it to be diving. It’s a relatively expensive and short-lived activity. It’s a pleasure for sure and I do feel guilty about dropping so much money on it.

            Arriving in Labuanbajo, we immediately signed up for a day of diving. So this morning we headed out to do two dives off the eastern coast of Komodo. The first was to an area known locally as Manta Point. We descended into a really fast current, which just took us. The bottom was only at about 15 meters or so, where the current pulled us along quickly. It was kind of frustrating diving in such a fast current, because I couldn’t stop and look at things more carefully. I could stay almost stationary only if I swam as hard as I could against the current. We were rewarded for our troubles though when we ran into a manta ray. Although its 2.5 meter wingspan put it at an average size, it seemed enormous to me. Definitely one of the largest things I’ve ever encountered while underwater, if not the largest. It was 3-4 meters off the bottom, flapping its huge wings against the oncoming current. It “flew” so gracefully in the fast current, as we struggled to stay stationary with it. As it flew there, eating all the food the oncoming current was bringing, I was able to get down below and behind it from where I admired its size and gracefulness. Eventually it flew off, at which point we turned and sped away with the current.


this guy was 2.5 meters wide!


            Our second dive was to Batu Balong, a pyramidal rock with just its peak protruding above the surface of the sea. It was a good dive site, because the oncoming current hit the outcrop and split to either side, but the area immediately behind the rock (relative to the current) was uncannily calm. From the surface, the dive site looked odd; water as calm as a lake with rivers of current on either side, and regular-looking ocean beyond. Very odd, but we dropped into the glassy surface and descended down to about 20 meters. The dive consisted of zig-zagging our way up the calm face of the rock, where all the fish were concentrated due to the surrounding currents. The dive was awesome and I think it was probably the most fish I’ve ever seen concentrated in one place, which is quite a lot considering we’ve been to both the Maldives and Sipadan on this trip.


a lionfish, one of my favorites

            Besides experiencing the currents firsthand today, I learned a bit about them from our divemaster as well. The currents are what make the diving so good in Indonesia. I’m not sure of the specifics, but something about the cooler nutrient-rich currents from the Indian Ocean hitting the warmer currents of the Pacific creates an ideal environment for marine life. The temperature differences are noticeable too, as our first dive was 29C and our second 26C, a huge difference given their close physical proximity. Needless to say, what was going to a one-day splurge is shaping up to be an expensive two days as we signed up for another day of diving. What can I say? Guilty pleasure :)


fish hanging out on this side of the rock until the current switches direction

Ruteng to Labuanbajo

\"164_6445-4.JPG\"The drive to Labuanbajo was just as enjoyable as the ride to Ruteng. Beautiful scenery from mountains to ocean to rice paddies. Lots of small churches and Cathedrals in the rusty, dusty little towns. Next time I make it out to Flores though, I’m hiring a private car to do the cross-island journey, because its been incredibly difficult to get any shots the past two days. Two of the most scenic days of my life and no photos! Arggghh.

Ende to Ruteng

\"164_6445-4.JPG\"Joylani and I rode on the back of a couple of motorcycles to the bus station this morning. As we slowed and approached the station, tons men started running after us and grabbing my arms and bags. It was a bit scary at first, because it was all these tough-looking muscular Indonesians, but after our bike stopped I realized what was going on. First, I told them to let go of me and my bags and to back off. The half-dozen of them all let go, but kept on trying to convince me to get on one bus or another. Basically there were two buses going to Ruteng and they were fighting over me. The competition allowed me to negotiate the fare a bit, before I just picked one. Then Joylani’s bike pulled up and I watched them start for her before they realized we were together. We waited another hour or so for the bus to leave, but it was so entertaining watching them chase down and literally stop the motorcycles, cars, and vans of approaching potential passengers. Everyone else they assaulted were local; we were the only tourists, which made me feel better because at least they hounded down locals the same as they chased us down. It was especially funny watching them tear bags our of peoples hands barely after their vehicle had even stopped or seeing several of them run alongside a van and jump on and in it to get passengers. I’m not sure who was more impressive to watch: the ones running after vans and motorcycles barefoot or the ones chasing them down in flip-flops.

The rest of the day was not as entertaining, but just as enjoyable to observe. We spent most of the day on a bus to Ruteng, a cool town in the mountainous interior of Flores. Despite the chainsmokers and lack of armrests (which meant we were constantly clinging to anything so as to not fly our of our seats on the continually windy road), it was a good ride. Good only because of the spectacular scenery. After our ride, Joylani said Flores is one of the most beautiful places she’s ever seen, and I agree. She added, “It reminds me of Hawaii, but much bigger.” The topography is similar to what I’ve seen of Polynesia. Fingerlike lava flows into the ocean, jagged ridges, volcanic craters, tall skinny waterfalls, green covering every square inch of black volcanic soil or rusty red dirt, black sand beaches, and smiley Melanesians. Flores is awesome.

More on Flores…

164_6445-4.JPGAfter our hike down Kelimutu to Moni, we headed back to Ende, from where we’ll catch onward transportation tomorrow morning. Ende is squalid hole of a town, ranking up there with Belize City, the worst place I’ve ever been. So rather than talk about Ende, I’ll write a bit about the transitions we’ve undergone in traveling to Flores. On our hike down Kelimutu, Joylani pointed out that the many of the flora looks different from anything we’ve seen. This is due to the fact that Flores lies in a transitional zone of flora and fauna. Bali is supposedly the easternmost point of exclusively Asian species, while the easterly Indonesian island of Timor is the boundary of purely Austranesian species. The islands in between are a mix of Asian and Austranesian plants and animals. Flores is also an ethnic transitional zone, with the west being predominantly Malay (who populate everywhere we’ve been since southern Thailand) and the east being more Melanesian, from whom the Micronesians and Polynesians are descended. Some of the people even have black skin and blond hair, something I’ve only seen in pictures of places like the Solomon Islands. Ethnographically, Flores also marks the border of Christendom, being about as far west as 19th and 20th century Christian missionaries ventured. Churches are all over Flores and the only religious distinction is between Catholics and Protestants; additionally, the locals we’ve met have names like George, John, and Roberto. Its always interesting to cross boundaries and its cool to experience so many new things in a single place.