Hello Mrs!

We wander Ambon this morning, down to the water and the huge outdoor market. Fruit and vegetable stalls are the primary outlets and then down side alleys are the dry goods. Bumper to bumper traffic staccato beeping, unpleasant odours, vibrant colours, ”Hello Mister”, talking, laughing and finally, every once in a while, a ”Hello Mrs”.

Outdoor Market in Ambon, Indonesia
Outdoor Market in Ambon

Folks love getting their photo taken. Murray gets more requests for photos today and everyone has fun and laughs and says thank you after seeing their photo on the camera. A couple do ask for money but Murray nicely says “No Money”. Today we also had our photo taken with various folks.

Ambon, Indonesia

We wander down some lanes that are primarily residential. They are quiet and have a nice community feel to them. A place where the kids can run free and everyone knows everyone.

Ambon, Indonesia
Residential Lane

When it gets close to lunch, we start searching for somewhere ”safe” to eat. There are not many restaurants available to our western stomachs, except hotel ones. We almost go into the McDonald’s but decide not to. After much searching and humming and hawing we finally lunch at a bakery eating chocolate donuts, fried bananas and, for Murray, a cakey thing with filling. Very nutritional! We will eat at our hotel tonight for supper and have a proper meal.

Outdoor Market in Ambon, Indonesia
Outdoor Market in Ambon

On the way back to our hotel it starts to rain. Big drops right away, so we know it is going to pour. We duck under an awning in time and then watch many scooters drivers pull over across the road and also duck under a shop awning. The rain lasts for about 10 minutes and then eases off. When the scooter drivers start to leave, we know we can head out too!

Ambon, Indonesia

We are now resting in our hotel room after a four hour walk. We can start to think about the diving that is to come over the next 10 days as we cruise through the Banda Sea and the Forgotten Island chain. Our internet will be spotty for that time so we may not be able to post very often.

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Our itinerary originally had one half day in Ambon. Lion Air had other ideas and maybe thought that was not enough time to get a good grasp on the city. So to avoid another Lion Air screw up we arrive an entire day early.

Ambon is truly an Asian City. Busy, noisy and sweltering hot. The roads are jammed with vehicles. Mostly scooters, but there are many more cars than Ubud or Lembongan. The use of the ‘talking horn’ is still prevalent but it is not a constant as in some cities. The beep, beep is meant to tell other drivers, ‘hey, I’m passing’ or ‘I’m just around the blind corner so if you’re there watch out’, sometimes I think it means ‘hi friend’.

Ambon, Indonesia

Ambon’s motto is ‘the city of music’. And to its name as we spend 3 hours walking around town on Saturday afternoon there are numerous times we hear music. Not just from a passing auto or from someone’s house but live music in the city square, and very loud amplified music from a school yard dance for the students. There is music at the restaurants, not so unusual, but as I type this at 7pm I hear singing from somewhere on the street and it is not quiet. There is the Muslim call to prayer that plays over the several minarets around town and although it might not be considered music to some it is very lyrical and I find I have to stop and listen. I enjoy the tones, the tempo, the pauses, just the way the whole things sounds.

The music everywhere, the street noise, and the regular noise of the city makes for a very loud din. My ears are ringing for the first time since we arrived in Indonesia. All of this may not be some peoples cup of tea but I find it energizing.

Ambon is definitely off the tourist route. We met a couple of folks from the Netherlands today in the lobby of our hotel and there were a couple of other white skinned people at the hotel restaurant having dinner. (We were too lazy to go find a place to eat tonight, we bad) but those are the only obvious tourist types we have run into.

Every where we went today we were greeted with ‘Hi mister’. Not a lot of English here but everyone has that down pat. We did feel like we were quite an anomaly. One other thing people want of a camera carrying tourist is their photo taken. Several times in the couple of hours on the road we heard ‘hey mister, photo’. I would oblige and then show them the result. One of the advantages of the digital age and the cameras that came along with it.

Ambon, Indonesia
Soccer playing youths

Another indication not many people include Ambon on their tour route is the lack of restaurants. Not just tourist restaurants but any kind of food establishments. There are a few traditional Indonesian restaurants with whatever is on offer that day in a non heated, not refrigerated sneeze guard, but these are a bit sketchy for gringos. The food is spicy so that probably helps but it has been in 30C heat all day and might not sit well in untrained stomachs. We finally came across a very crowded café, the Pelangi. When we find the place it is chock full of local people. There were a couple of seats so we sat down. Great lunch, freshly cooked and pretty tasty.

Ambon, Indonesia

All in all Ambon is a pretty casual place. Although busy it is not threatening at all. The traffic seems to have a tolerance for pedestrians and especially tourists. As we walked slowly across the street, cars and scooters actually stopped for us. The people are super friendly. They are not aggressively trying to sell us something or upset because we are invading their private world. They seem more intrigued we would be here at all. Really, although there is not much here that would be considered tourist worthy, no theme park or zip line, it is a good place to see what the country is really like. What makes the citizens tick.

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Blue Corner Dive

We dove this week on Nusa Lembongan with Blue Corner Dive. The dive operation is owned by two Albertans, Andrew and Cody. Andrew actually worked for Murray a very long time ago at Snow Valley Ski Club. When we heard that Andrew had opened up a dive shop in Indonesia, we decided we would have to go.

The staff at the dive center are excellent. Personable, helpful and great dive masters. If you are looking for a dive shop on Lembongan, go visit this one. You’ll have a great time!

We dive our last dives and are surprised by a pod of dolphins swimming by. Unfortunately my photo of the dolphins just has shadows. I was able to shoot some pics on the second dive as the current wasn’t raging. Here are a few treats.

Lembongan, Indonesia
Mantis Shrimp
Lembongan, Indonesia

Lembongan, Indonesia

Next diving….aboard the Coralia! See you then!

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Creatures and Fish

Lembongan, Indonesia

We are spotting creatures both familiar and unusual in the waters off Nusa Penida, the island next to Lembongan.

Our dive master, Herman, found this humongous eel today. He is like the grandfather of all eels!

One my favourite types of fish are the butterfly fish. This one is a Blackback.

Lembongan, Indonesia
Blackback Butterfly Fish
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Today, we go to Manta Point. The boat ride there is a wild ride. The boat driver does not slow down cresting the large rolling waves and the boat, and its occupants, free fall back onto the water. It takes only one spine jarring thud for me to make sure my weight is on my feet and the bounce taken up by my legs after that. Everyone is holding on tight.

We arrive at the small bay to see about ten other boats in the area. Popular place. As a diver, what this means is we need to keep track of our dive master and group more carefully so as not to accidentally follow another group.

Manta Point, Nusa Penida

We drop down and spy a manta right away. The area is a cleaning station for the mantas. They swim to a particular spot and small fish eat parasites etc off the manta. The manta will hang, unmoving, in the water while the fish do their job. Every once in a while, we see the manta jump as a fish perhaps hurts it.

Manta Point, Lembongan

During the dive we have five or six sightings of mantas, not sure if they are the same ones or different ones. They are such huge majestic creatures that we just stare at them in awe as they glide past.

Moorish Idol, Lembongan
Moorish Idol
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Day Two in the Current

Today I take my camera diving. Taking photos in the current is…..challenging. By the time I spot something cool (like a huge turtle), decide I should take a shot, zoom, I’m by it already. Then I figured out I can hide behind large outcroppings where there is no current. That works quite well, but the fish are very shy.

Lembongan, Indonesia

The current speeds up and slows down, so I pay attention for when the current slows and turn my camera and light on in preparation for some picture taking.

Nudibranchs, Lembongan, Indonesia
A Nudibranch have have not seen before!

It usually takes me a few days to get reacquainted with my camera and light again, and this trip is no different. I take many too dark shots, but there are a few excellent shots, mostly of critters that do not move much.

I will keep practising!

Nudibranchs, Lembongan, Indonesia
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Murray’s Thoughts on Sanur

It’s been a couple of days since we boarded the ‘fast boat’ from Sanur to Lembongan but I had a few notes from Sanur I wanted to include.

Sanur is a much more urban environment. Almost a bedroom community to Denpasar, its daily uproar of the city spills into this beach area. The beach is a 5km stretch of sand. With the one afternoon we had there we did not even get to the end of the beach. The sand area is quite nice, lots of room for very many people. A paved path stretches the entire beach, from one end to the other. There is a variety of hotels and venders aligning the walkway, many warung’s (small Indonesian eating establishments), restaurants, trinket sellers, lounge renters and bicycle rental places. The water itself doesn’t look too pleasant. A lot of rocks and weeds. I noted this is a low tide, at high tide the water may extend far enough up the sand to make for a more pleasant swim. It was 2.30pm and the beach was basically deserted except for a few grey hairs lounging on the fancier hotels lounges. At 6pm there were a few local types on the beach and in the water. Maybe because it was cooler or maybe they came down after work. One of the advantages of this location is the ocean breaks far from shore so the water’s edge is quite calm. I think this is the main attraction to the particular beach in a country of beaches.

Sanur, Bali
Sanur, Bali

The busiest place was one block off the beach on the street where all the restaurants were. The traffic was like any other Asian city street, constant. The sidewalks were crowded and most of the restaurants had a few patrons. I did find the restaurants a bit expensive, at least compared to Ubud and now to Lembongan but there is always one or two with reasonable prices.

Our hotel, Alit Beach Resort, has seen better days. Right on the beach it has a prime location. By the grounds and the buildings, I think it may have been quite fancy in the past. But it has not been maintained and is quite shoddy. It could be the land is worth more than the trouble of a resort so the owner is just waiting for the right offer.

For me this would not be an ideal place to spend a week or so. Chilling on the beach is not my thing. There were a few surfers out passed the water break and the waves looked formidable but I don’t have time to learn another sport so all I will do is watch and admire. There is also a spot where some kite boarders are gathered and it looks like a really good area for that with a very strong on shore breeze blowing. I did see a couple of dive shops but I did not read anywhere in my research that this is a good place to dive. If your purpose is relaxation this might be a place to come but otherwise I don’t think it is worth more that a couple of hours of touring.

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First Dive Day

Wheeeeee! What a ride!

Our first dive in the waters off Lembongan was in a ripping current. We flew over the coral and sponges and fish.

The second dive of the morning was more pedestrian in a gentle current. Murray even had time to shoot some videos. (I did not take my camera today I wanted to concentrate, I had on my brand new wetsuit.)

Here is a short video for you.

Clown Fish
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To Sanur then Lembongan

We have had a couple of travel days and a no WIFI evening. Yesterday, Made Sudarta, drove us to Sanur, a seaside beach town in southeast Bali. On the map, it looks to be a part of Denpasar’s metropolitan area. This is the location of the ”fast boat” that we will use to get to Lembongan.

After checking into our hotel, we walk the beach front and main street to get a picture of the area. There are some very posh beach resorts along the strip. We have been wondering where all the grey haired people were as we didn’t see very many in Ubud. Well, we found them! They are all staying at the posh resorts, relaxing on the beach under umbrellas. Didn’t feel the need to join them!

View from Sanur Beach

We found supper and wandered back to our hotel. I picked this hotel as it was half a block from the fast boats and knew it was, at most a 3 star hotel. As we walk to our room, I realize it is about a 1 star hotel. In its prime, the resort would have be exquisite. Cottages, large and small, huge swimming pool, gardens, restaurant all in pristine condition. Today, many of the grass roofs have holes in them. Windows in cottages are boarded up. The pool is well kept! Our room is tired looking, the sofa lumpy, the bed linens very dated, the taps in need of some CLR and there is no WIFI. But, we make the most of it and it is only for one night. We went on bed bug alert and made sure no bags sat on the sofa or the floor through the night. I did have some teeny ant like critters in my bed……gross!

Sanur Beach
Sanur Beach

In the morning, we pack up and trundle to Rocky’s Fast Boat office right on the beach, under some umbrellas. We check in, they tag our luggage and give us wrist bands and then we also sit in the shade of the umbrellas to wait for the boat. The interesting thing about these boats is that we load off the beach, so we are wading into the surf and stepping onto the boat at the back, next to the SIX outboard motors. I hiked the legs of my shorts up as high as they would go to try and not get wet. Worked pretty good. 

The trip across the strait is 30 minutes and not rough at all. The boat is filled with vacationers and a few locals. On the Lembongan side, we disembark onto the beach again and wait until the workers unload our luggage. They are very efficient at it, carrying three large suitcases at a time, about 50 kg or more!

Lembongan is more laid back than Bali. No cars, only motorbikes, scooters, golf carts and small trucks that are used for large taxis. The narrow main road is lined with shops and restaurants. There is more garbage here than we have seen so far. I think we will get along just fine on this little island.

Tomorrow, we dive!

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Off to the Countryside

Yesterday Murray arranged with Made Sudarta, a local taxi driver, to take us on a little adventure. Made (pronounced Mad-ee) picks us up at 9:30 and we are off!

Our first stop is Pura Tasman Amun, a temple built in 1634 by the then King of Mengwi. Bali used to have nine kingdoms, but the Dutch slowly conquered them in the early 20th century. There is still a royal family of Mengwi that maintains the temple. The grounds are immaculate and the buildings well kept. 

Our next stop is the Desa Coklat Factory. We are a little disappointed in that we could only peer through a couple of windows in the factory to see workers mixing chocolate and wrapping it. There are some tasting samples of milk and vegan chocolate, which we try a few. We do manage to purchase one bar of Organic 73% Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt! 

Our last stop is the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As we approach, we can see why the area is special. Layer upon layer of rice fields on every side of a large valley. Made drops us off and we walk down the paved path through the fields. There are many tourists here, almost too many for our liking. A young Dutch couple ask me to take a photo of them so I do and then we chat for a few minutes. 

We continue down the path and decide to keep going to, mostly, get away from the other folks and to find good photo ops. We wind down into the valley and the rice is so rich and verdant. We say Good Afternoon to the farmers working the fields and always get a friendly response or a “Where are you from?”. We walk for about an hour and then find our way back to our driver.

We chat with our driver for the whole trip and learn a lot of miscellaneous info about Bali. Here’s one….did you know the first born son is always called Wayan and the second born is called Made. Then the child is given another name also and is called, for example, Made Sudarta. (Wikipedia notes that there are a couple of names for each first and second etc born and that girls are also included in this.)

It is a good day of seeing some sights and also viewing the countryside and how the local people live and work. Tomorrow we are off to Sanur and then Lembongan Island.

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