A Merry Christmas in Micronesia

The moment I saw a photo taken from Palau, I knew we had to go. The diving destination quickly skipped to the top of my travel bucket list and just seven months after seeing that first photo, we were in Palau. Coming from Japan, we had a four hour layover in Guam where we made the most of our time by hitting the beach. This was a sharp, but very welcome change from the snowy weather we had in Japan. guamThe main reason to visit Palau is the world-class scuba diving. We purchased a week-long dive package with Sam’s Tours in Palau that included all transportation, hotels and dives so everything was already taken care of when we arrived (highly recommend!). We were picked up from the tiny airport in Palau, taken to our hotel and the next morning checked into the dive shop that would become our home for the next week. Our routine over the course of the week was as follows. 1. Arrive at the dive shop and get our gear ready for the day.IMG_3924 (1280x960)2. Take an hour long boat ride to the outer reef for a morning dive. Palau is comprised of roughly 250 islands, 200 of which are uninhabited. The daily boat rides were actually a huge perk, almost like a free scenic boat tour every day. Look at all the different colors of the water!IMG_3654 (1280x960)IMG_3663 (1280x960)IMG_3665 (1280x960)IMG_3675 (1280x960)IMG_3730 (1280x960)IMG_3738 (1280x960)IMG_4127 (1280x960)3. Get back on the dive boat and head to a secluded beach to eat lunch. IMG_3689 (1280x960)IMG_3690 (1280x960)IMG_3692 (1280x960)IMG_3694 (1280x960) One of the days we stopped at the beach below where they filmed “Survivor Palau” back in 2005.IMG_3747 (1280x960)IMG_3782 (1280x960)IMG_3772 (1280x960)IMG_3793 (1280x960)IMG_3810 (1280x960)IMG_3818 (1280x960)IMG_3789 (1280x960)4. Take the boat to the next dive site(s) for one or two more dives.IMG_3932 (1280x960)5. Head back to the dive shop for happy hour and catch the sunset.IMG_3917 (1280x960)IMG_3916 (1280x960)IMG_4103 (1280x960)6. Eat dinner and pass out. I don’t think we ever made it past 10pm! We were lucky enough to have a great group of people on our dive boat and made some awesome friends from Germany.  IMG_4115 (1280x960)One of which, Markus, is a dive master and owns one of the nicest underwater cameras we’ve ever seen. Thanks to him, he’s let us use some photos he took during our trip. If you are ever in Austria, check out Bukannon Divers!bukannon3 (960x540)bukannon2 (960x639)bukannon7 (960x640)palauThe diving in Palau is incredible. Not only is the underwater life amazing, there is so much diversity. Within our 12 dives, we dove in channels, drop-offs, caves, holes, shipwrecks, etc. You name it, Palau has it all!IMG_3888 (1280x960)bukannon1 (960x639)bukannon5 (640x960)bukannon6 (960x640)Aside from the diving, one of the highlights of Palau was or snorkel trip to Jellyfish Lake. There is a lake on Eil Malk island where an estimated five million golden jellyfish migrate from one side of the lake to the other following the sun. The jellyfish don’t sting, in fact, they are super soft and squishy, which is a good thing because they are everywhere!  They were so delicate that if you swam too quickly, your fins could easily rip one to shreds. We jumped into the lake and started to head to where they were most concentrated. As we swam, we slowly became increasingly surrounded by hundreds and then thousands of them.IMG_3956 (1280x960)IMG_3974 (1280x960)IMG_3981 (1280x960)IMG_3983 (1280x960)IMG_4002 (1280x960)IMG_3998 (1280x960)We took a ton of photos at Jellyfish Lake…IMG_3992 (1280x960)IMG_3994 (1280x960)IMG_3968 (1280x960)IMG_3975 (1280x960)IMG_3960 (1280x960)IMG_4006 (1280x960)IMG_4018 (960x1280)
We took a video diving down through the masses of jellyfish. This gives a little perspective into how many there were and how dense the population was in certain spots of the lake.  

The day before our flight back to the States, we went on an all-day kayak trip to get up close and personal to the Rock Islands, a dense cluster of limestone islands which is part of Palau. We kayaked in lagoons and caves and went snorkeling and cliff jumping all day. Not a bad way to spend our last day!

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We were picked up by our airport transfer for our long trip back to the States. From Palau we flew to the small island of Yap, then to Guam and Honolulu before eventually making it back to San Francisco 25 hours later. I would have flown another 25 hours if we had to; Palau is totally worth the trip! While we missed seeing all of our family and friends over the holidays, it was truly an incredible birthday and Christmas vacation.IMG_3928 (1280x960)
Here’s to hoping 2015 brings as many amazing memories and getaways as this year did!bukannon8 (534x534)

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Philippines: Island Hopping in the Visayas

After taking three flights and a trike (Filipino version of a tuk tuk), we finally made to the Philippines! The Philippines is made of 7,107 different islands and our first stop was to a group of centrally located islands called the Visayas. It was 7 AM so we checked into our guesthouse in the city of Dumaguete where we enjoyed the complimentary rooftop breakfast of sticky rice with melted chocolate drizzled on top and then promptly passed out for the next few hours.

We booked three dives to nearby Apo Island through our guesthouse for the next morning. We woke up, got fitted for equipment and made our way to the small island off the coast of Dumaguete with our dive boat.IMG_2353 (1024x768) IMG_2358 (1024x768) IMG_2395 (1024x768)All three of the dives were amazing. The most memorable was a drift dive where the current was so strong I had to hold the regulator in my mouth because it felt like it was going to be ripped out. At one point, we all clung on to a few rocks to watch a huge school of jackfish but the current was so strong I could barely hold on, even with both hands. The other two dives had beautiful trenches covered with coral and reef fish. Throughout the day we saw turtles, puffer fish, lionfish, starfish, sea cucumbers, schools of jackfish, sea snakes, scorpion fish, leaf fish, and my new favorite…nudibranchs and tip worms!

The dive boat dropped us off on the shores of Apo Island before heading back to Dumaguete. We found a place to stay, rented snorkel gear and promptly hit up the beach with just a few hours of daylight remaining. IMG_2534 (1024x768)The main section of beach in front of Apo Island is known to be teeming with turtles that come to feed off the coral and sea grass. We entered the water and before we knew it, everywhere we looked, there were turtles. We couldn’t count them all if we tried and had to pick and choose which ones to swim with and watch. We’ve swam with turtles in Hawaii but never with so many in one place…it was awesome!IMG_2458 (1024x768) IMG_2460 (1024x768) IMG_2475 (1024x768) IMG_2520 (1024x768) IMG_2567 (1024x768) IMG_2571 (1024x768) IMG_2548 (1024x768) IMG_2600 (1024x768)After a couple of hours snorkeling with the turtles, we snapped a few photos of the setting sun, found dinner and called it a night.IMG_2536 (1024x768)The next morning, we woke up early and hit the beach for another snorkeling session. The reef was so nice and the turtles were so active that we came back to shore, ate lunch, and went back again in the afternoon. Aside from turtles, the reef was filled with beautiful coral, sea cucumbers, starfish, sea urchins, puffer fish and clown fish (who were so incredibly curious!) swimming around their colorful anemones.IMG_2668 (1024x768) IMG_2684 (1024x768) IMG_2614 (1024x768) IMG_2578 (1024x768) IMG_2637 (1024x768)Unfortunately, for about every five turtles we saw, we’d come across a black and white banded sea snake, meaning we saw a lot of sea snakes (definitely not my favorite). They breathe air so they would slither their way to the surface and then back down to the sandy shore. Even the photos give me the heebie jeebies!IMG_2504 (1024x768) IMG_2609 (1024x768) IMG_2650 (1024x768) IMG_2625 (1024x768)The dive boat picked us back up in the afternoon to take us back to Dumaguete. That evening, we went out to dinner and then hung out on the guesthouse rooftop for free oysters. Chris and I easily killed at least four dozen oysters and had our first Filipino beer, Red Horse. We sat with the people we had gone diving with and got the low-down on our next stop in the Philippines…Panglao Island. Transportation can become a nightmare when you are trying to jump from island to island and fellow travelers have proven to be the best resource for transport info!

We woke up pretty early the next morning to make our way to the ferry terminal for our fast boat to Bohol Island. We crammed into a tricycle with another traveler and made our way to Alona Beach on Panglao Island.IMG_2717 (1024x768)After searching and searching for a decent guesthouse, we were finally successful and headed to the beach for the rest of the day for swimming and sun. The beach was beautiful and the sand was so fine and soft it felt like mud!IMG_2719 (1024x768) IMG_2724 (1024x768) IMG_2722 (1024x768) IMG_2735 (1024x768)We found a great barbecue joint close to our guesthouse offering different combo meals of grilled meats and fresh seafood. Barbeque pork and barbeque chicken served with rice and iced tea has been our go-to meal for the past three nights.????????The next day we rented a motorbike for an all-day adventure to the neighboring island of Bohol (connected to Panglao Island by bridge). Our first stop was the Chocolate Hills which were formed by the uplifting of coral deposits mixed with time, rains and erosion – definitely pretty scenery we’ve never seen before!SONY DSC ???????? ???????? ????????We left the Chocolate Hills, made a few stops for snacks and were driving through rural unpaved roads when dark clouds started to roll in. We made it about 15 minutes before a downpour ensued. Luckily, we had pulled over next to a locals’ home and the family waved us over to take shelter in their hut. We spent the next hour and a half watching the rain, chatting with the family and the watching the father shuck a pile of coconuts. I can’t believe I didn’t snap a photo of the nice family before we left, but I did take a photo of their crazy pet monkey named “Monkey.”???????? DSC02258 (1024x681)The rains subsided but we were following the tail end of the storm so we were pretty wet when we rolled up to the Tarsier Conservation Park. We weren’t overly enthusiastic about this stop so Chris dried himself in the waiting room while I went into the park. For $1.50 I was able to see about a half dozen tarsiers – small primates with giant eyeballs and very long tails. They were cute in an ugly way and were definitely worth a quick look.DSC02261 (1024x681) DSC02270 (1024x681) DSC02273 (1024x681)We hopped back on the bike, made our way past town after town, crossed the bridge and were finally back in Panglao. We rented the motorbike for eight hours and I doubted we’d use it for that long but sure enough, we rolled in with only two minutes to spare and right before it started to get dark.

The folks we dove with on Apo Island told us that even though Apo was awesome, Panglao was even better. We didn’t really plan on diving while we were on Panglao but dives in the Philippines are cheap(!) so we booked two dives to the neighboring island of Balicasag. The boat ride out to the island was beautiful and the dives were amazing.IMG_2743 (1024x768)I think we can say that they were our favorite dives so far because we saw so many things we’ve never seen before and such a wide variety of sea life – frog fish, schools of angelfish (hundreds and hundreds!), schools of jackfish, stonefish, floating flatworms, tons of nudibranchs, lionfish, gigantic fan coral (larger than a person), tuna, grouper, etc. One of the dives was along a rock cliff that dropped 50 meters to the ocean floor and the different types of fish and coral were just unreal.  I wish we had photos of the things we saw but at the same time, it’s so nice to fully enjoy the experience without having to try to capture everything by camera!

We loved Panglao…the beach, reefs and food were all awesome, but it was time to move on. The next morning, we took a jeepney, tricycle, ferry, and two more jeepneys to the neighboring island of Cebu (told you transportation is complicated here). Jeepneys are old military jeeps from WWII that are now the most popular (and colorful) means of public transport in the Philippines.

Chris found us an awesome guesthouse to stay in so we relaxed for the remainder of the day. We awoke very early the next morning to make our way to Oslob, a small town on the southern tip of Cebu Island, to swim with whale sharks! Once we finally reached Oslob, we were given a short briefing, snorkel gear and hopped into a boat that took us to where about eight different whale sharks were swimming. IMG_2813 (1024x768) IMG_2786 (1024x768)Although whale sharks can grow to be up to 40 feet long, they are harmless and incredibly gentle giants. Chris guesstimates that the largest one we saw was 30 feet. They were so big and we were swimming so close that it was hard to photograph their entire body in one shot. IMG_2778 (1024x768) IMG_2802 (1024x768) IMG_2775 (1024x768) IMG_2794 (1024x768)Despite their name, whale sharks are classified as fish, not whales or sharks. They mainly feed off plankton and when they eat, they look like giant vacuum cleaners!  IMG_2806 (1024x768) IMG_2801 (1024x768)Swimming with whale sharks was such a great way to end our trip to the Visayas! We’ve been in the Visayas for eight days and have already visited seven different islands, logged five dives and five snorkel trips. It’s been a jam packed first week and we are looking forward to chilling out on the beach for awhile. From Cebu, we fly to the island of Palawan, the largest and most western province in the Philippines!

Indonesia: Surf, Swim, Snorkel, Scuba….Repeat.

We left Gili Air and made our way to Kuta in southern Lombok. Our main goal for the next six days was to score some waves for Chris and we heard that Kuta Lombok was a surfer’s paradise. We arrived into town and checked into a guesthouse that was run by an American man and his Indonesian wife. The owner is really into surfing and had tons of boards for Chris to choose from.???????? ????????We walked around Kuta Beach and were completely surprised to find that we were the only travelers on the two huge stretches of beach.IMG_1680 (1024x768)We rented a motorscooter outfitted with a surf rack from a local named Popcorn. We hopped on our hog and went off to explore the outskirts of town to get a better lay of the land. We started to head west until we reached Mawan Beach where some huge shore break was rolling in. IMG_1764 (1024x768) IMG_1725 (1024x768) IMG_1718 (1024x768)We hopped back on the bike, headed back through town and continued east towards Gerupuk, a small harbor town where boats are hired to get to the surf breaks offshore. IMG_1743 (1024x768)The sun was setting so we talked to the locals and got the low-down for Chris to return the next morning.  The locals excitedly pointed to the breaks in the distance claiming the swells were “like a tsunami!” Apparently we had come at the perfect time for some killer waves.

The next morning at 6AM, Chris met with two Canadian girls who were also staying at our guesthouse and rode out to Gerupuk to hire a boat out to the breaks. There are different breaks suitable for all levels of surfers and since the Canadians were still beginners, the first stop was at Don Dons. The Canadians had been surfing Don Dons every day for the past week but when they saw how big the waves were that day (1-2 foot overhead with some larger sets), they waited in the boat for 30 minutes contemplating if they should paddle out or not. Chris was stoked and surfed there for the next few hours until the boat took him back to shore. He never even made it to Insides, the more intermediate level break, because they were just too big (double overhead and larger)!

The next afternoon, I went along for the boat ride. The waves had substantially died down and the break at Don Dons was almost non-existent. Amazing the difference one day can make! We hired a boat with two Dutch and went out to Insides where the waves were head high. This is the day that I realized that I’m terrible at capturing surf footage. I don’t know if it was the position of our boat behind the swell, the challenge of trying to spot Chris in the lineup or our camera’s crappy zoom and dying battery that led to my many failed attempts at capturing him riding the waves in. IMG_1805 (1024x768) IMG_1810 (1024x768) IMG_1801 (1024x768)After a few days in Kuta Lombok, we moved down the street to Kuta Cove Hotel for our last two nights. Our private bungalow,  situated around a grassy knoll, was just one of the 11 newly constructed rooms available.???????? ????????Our bungalow, the Sultan Suite, was incredibly spacious with beautiful teak furniture, a huge bed and air conditioning (it gets HOT in Indo so air conditioning is a savior)! ???????? ????????The rooms are clean with brand new linens and fluffy white towels. At the moment, the showers only have cold water but this is very normal for the area. The website indicates that each room has a flat-screen TV and mini fridge but they have yet to be installed. We didn’t have a need for a TV, but if that’s your thing, they are hopefully working on getting these put in over the next few months. They have super speedy WiFi which we put to good use updating the ole blog!

Breakfast is included in every reservation. We had two choices and ordered the banana pancake both times with our morning coffee. Hands down, it was the best banana pancake we’ve had on our trip and that’s saying a lot considering we just left the “banana pancake trail” (the traveler circuit through mainland SE Asia).????????The location of the hotel is the best, especially if you plan on surfing and beach hopping. It’s centrally located and anything you may need during your stay is just a few steps away. Lucky for us, it just so happened that our favorite warung was just across the street!????????Warung Jawa 2 was recommended to us the first day we arrived in Lombok. Husband and wife owners Toto and Is serve up heaping piles of delicious Indonesian food for only $1.20 (easily the best deal in town). After our first meal, we knew we’d be back again and again. Our favorite dish was the nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) but they also made amazing fresh fruit juices. We were hooked on a banana, papaya, pineapple and lime juice combo until Is made us an avocado, banana and lime juice mix. So good and so cheap…just 60 cents a glass!???????? IMG_1847 (1024x768) IMG_1844 (1024x768)When Chris wasn’t surfing, we’d take the motorbike out to one of the nearby beaches. Our favorite was Mawan Beach because hardly any tourists visited and it was a short and scenic 20 minute motorbike ride away (we’d often be stopped by herds of cattle crossing the road).IMG_1755 (1024x768) IMG_1922 (1024x768) IMG_1761 (1024x768)We’d have the whole beach to ourselves with the exception of the occasional school bus that would come and offload a hoard of kids for a few hours. When this happened, we both became celebrities… especially Chris because they loved his white skin. There were literally lines of kids waiting to take photos with us. A few of the kids were too shy to approach us so they’d (not so) secretly take photos of us from their camera phones.IMG_1954 (1024x768) IMG_1957 (1024x768) IMG_1951 (1024x768) IMG_1939 (1024x768)We also made it out to a few beaches that were a bit farther away. We stopped at Selong Belanak beach and also Mawi beach where the waves were ginormous. We brought the board but Chris didn’t paddle out. After five days of surfing, he was beat and the swell looked like they were putting up a good fight that day. We swam and watched a storm roll in before struggling to make our way back to town on the incredibly muddy roads.IMG_1879 (1024x768) IMG_1874 (1024x768) IMG_1875 (1024x768)Thanks to Kuta Cove Hotel, on our last day in Lombok we were allowed to checkout in the late afternoon so we could go to the beach in the morning, hit up Warung Jawa 2 for lunch and enjoy the comforts of our room before catching our flight to Bali. If you are looking for a clean, private room with strong WiFi in a prime location, check out Kuta Cove Hotel. It would have been amazing if there was a pool on location and turns out, a pool is in the works and is planned to be completed at the end of 2013. We had a good stay with them but think the best is yet to come as they start to fully complete their rooms and amenities. To make a reservation or for more information, visit their website, Like Kuta Cove Hotel on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

If we had more time in Indonesia, we would have continued heading east but we only had a little over three weeks in Indonesia and with one week left, we made our way back to Bali ($21 flights!). Our guidebook described Nusa Lembongan as the perfect place for diving, surfing and nice bungalows on the beach so that’s where we headed next.

We spent the night in the harbor town of Sanur and woke up the next morning to take the local ferry to Nusa Lembongan, a small island, off the coast of Bali. We checked into our awesome bungalow on the beach run by a sweet local man and his family. Thanks a ton to the Smittles for our Indonesian beach bungalow honeyfund. It was so cute and comfy…definitely one of the better places we’ve stayed in Asia!???????? ???????? IMG_2111 (1024x768) IMG_2059 (1024x768)Our bungalow was right next to a dive shop where we booked two dives for the next morning. As an added bonus, they had an amazing infinity pool overlooking the ocean which we used almost every day throughout our stay. IMG_1996 (1024x768)After breakfast the next morning, we walked over to the dive shop to get suited up for our first dive to Manta Point which is just off the coast of the neighboring island Nusa Penida. Just like the name indicates, we were here to look for manta rays (large eagle rays reaching over 20 feet in wing span)! On the way out to the dive spot, we passed pods of dolphins and natural waterfalls along the cliffs…spirits were high! IMG_2032 (1024x768)We patrolled the coastline and saw a ton of boats anchored together but we continued on looking for our own dive spot away from the crowds. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see any in the water so we turned around to head back towards everyone else. We saw a small manta ray on the surface but by the time we entered the water, all of the other boats were gone and so were the manta rays. We had told ourselves that we may not see one so we tried not to get our hopes up, but seconds before we entered the water, our dive instructor started telling us how we’re about to be swarmed with mantas and that its going to be one of the coolest experiences ever and blah blah blah! Disappointment is an understatement.

We had lunch on the boat and continued on to our second dive spot, Crystal Bay. As the name suggests, the water here was crystal clear. It was like another world. The coral was incredibly colorful and so vibrant. There were thousands of fish swimming around…the entire sight was amazing. I’ve never seen so much reef activity before; it was just so densely populated with life. Before we knew it, we were back on the boat heading back.

The next day, we rented a motorbike to explore the island and visit a few beaches. The beaches were nice but they were either tiny or had tons of boats parked in front. I think we had the best views of the water from where we stayed.IMG_2077 (1024x768)We decided we couldn’t leave Nusa Lembongan without seeing a manta ray so we signed up for a snorkel tour which turned out to be one of the best decisions of the week. Our first stop was back to Manta Point. This time, we could see at least three mantas from the boat and when we jumped in the water, there they were….so beautiful and graceful! We swam with about five different manta rays for the next hour.IMG_2149 (1024x768) IMG_2169 (1024x768) IMG_2156 (1024x768) IMG_2152 (1024x768)We were taken to our next spot…Crystal Bay where we were excited to see a few more mantas. This time, the water was much cloudier than our previous visit scuba diving; I don’t know if it was the rain from the night before or that the sun wasn’t directly overhead. Such a bummer since we had the camera with us this time. Our snorkel boat took us to a total of five different spots, each different and unique in their own way, before taking us back to our guesthouse. Between the dives and the snorkeling trip, I think we were able to experience the best of both worlds!IMG_2243 (1024x768) IMG_2210 (1024x768) IMG_2241 (1024x768) IMG_2254 (1024x768) On our last full day on Nusa Lembongan, Chris rented a surfboard and paddled out right in front of our bungalow to Shipwrecks. The waves were waist to chest high but were still a fun ride. I rented snorkel gear and swam out in front of the neighboring mangrove forest until I saw tons of coral and reef fish. I was about 300 yards from the shore and completely alone in the middle of the ocean so naturally I started to freak out and started to head back in. On the way back, I saw a species of starfish I haven’t seen since our snorkel trip to the Galapagos!IMG_2336 (1024x768)Nusa Lembongan doesn’t have an ATM so we had to estimate how much we’d spend on the island for a week. When we arrived back to Bali to catch our flight, we had some extra dough to spend so we got Chris a haircut, stocked up on toiletries and treated ourselves to massages. The $4.50 for an hour long full body massage was definitely well spent. I think its slowly hitting us that we’ll never find those kind of deals when we are back in the States!

Wow…Indonesia is definitely one of our favorite countries. There are several places where we felt we’ve seen and done it all, but Indonesia is not one of them. We hope to return sometime in the future to visit the more remote islands. Although Bali was great, if we came back again, we’d go straight to Lombok and head to the islands east towards Komodo or north towards Sulawesi. We contemplated staying in Indo for six weeks but decided against it so  we could squeeze in three weeks in the Philippines, our next destination. Here’s to hoping we made the right decision!

Disclosure: We received a complimentary stay at Kuta Cove Hotel in exchange for sharing our experience. These thoughts and opinions are completely our own.

Exploring Indonesia By Land And Sea

Our next destination was Ubud in central Bali which was made famous by the book/movie Eat, Pray, Love. We checked in to our homestay in the center of Ubud and spent what time was left in the day walking through the rice fields on the outskirts of town just as the sun was going down.???????? ????????The next day, we wanted to taste one of Bali’s famed dishes, ‘babi guling,’ which translates to suckling pig. The pig is stuffed and infused with a variety of spices and then roasted on the spit. Anthony Bourdain recommended going to Ibu Oka’s which was super convenient because it was just two blocks away from where we were staying. We ordered the ‘special’ which was a combination of pork roll, fried pig meat, sausage and pork skin on rice with vegetables. It was good but if I could do it again, I would have ordered a plate of just the meat, which was definitely the best part.????????We rented a motorbike for six hours which cost us $2.50 (including gas) and were off to explore the town. Ubud is exactly how you picture Bali to be in your head. There are fields of rice paddies, small temples, monkeys sitting on the street corners and friendly Balinese people waving as you drive down the twisting roads. Small cafes, shops and restaurants are everywhere. It’s touristy, but beautiful and easy to see why people love it so much.

Ubud is a small town and can easily be explored by motorbike in a couple of hours so we started to head north of town towards the rice terraces of Tegalalang. This is what I came to Bali to see because I love rice terraces!???????? ????????We continued driving further north looking for a place to stop for a cup of coffee. We weren’t searching for any ordinary cup of coffee but the famous ‘kopi luwak’ or ‘civet coffee’ which is the most expensive and low-production variety of coffee in the world. We stumbled across Sebatu, where they brew the ‘cat poop coffee’ on location. We started with a tour of their gardens where they grow a variety of different spices, herbs, cacao and coffee beans. We picked a few of the very ripe, red coffee berries to try to feed to one of the many civet cats on their grounds. The civet cats looked like a cross between a ferret and a weasel. They looked cute at first but were vicious little creatures!???????? ????????The civet cats eat the ripe coffee berries which are digested and the bean is passed out of their system. The excrement is collected, washed, peeled, roasted and ground into a coffee…a real delicacy for some! It’s believed that the natural fermentation process in the civet cat’s digestive process creates a more aromatic and less bitter bean.???????? ????????The tour included a complimentary tea/coffee tasting, but we had to pay $5 for a cup of the kopi luwak coffee. According to Wikipedia, a pound of kopi luwak coffee can sell for $200 a pound so I guess we got a good deal! It didn’t taste much different from regular coffee but I do think the coffee grounds have a much stronger aroma than traditional Balinese coffee.???????? ????????We made our way back to Ubud and the next day, were back on the motorbike heading north again. This time, our destination was Mt. Batur, a volcano on the northern side of Bali. The view of the volcano and lake below were beautiful. We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the views before heading back towards Ubud.???????? ???????? ????????On the way back into town, we stopped at a different kopi luwak tour for their complimentary tea/coffee pick-me-up (no cup of kopi luwak this time). As we passed by Tegalalang, we decided to have a walk around the terraces. Thankfully, we visited the terraces in the dry season so we could climb around the hillside to enjoy the views.???????? ???????? ????????Once we were back in Ubud, we finalized our preparations for our next destination in Indonesia… Gili Air. The Gili’s are a group of three small islands off the coast of Lombok and Gili Air was said to be the best place of the three to relax and chill out for a few days. The following morning, we took a minivan to Pandangbai, a harbor on the east coast of Bali and boarded a fast-boat which took us to the island of Gili Air.

We docked on the island and set off towards the north end where we had reserved accommodations. We ditched our stuff in the room and went straight for a swim in the warm, crystal clear water. The beach isn’t the best due to the washed up coral but the ocean views were pretty amazing.IMG_1485 (1024x768) IMG_1488 (1024x768) IMG_1490 (1024x768)That night, we walked to a local warung (Indonesian for small restaurant) called Warung Muslim. We went for the ‘nasai campur’ which literally translates to ‘mixed rice.’  It’s a heaping pile of white rice, hot chilis, vegetables, fried tofu, shredded chicken and peanuts for 15,000 rupiah (about $1.50). It’s sooo delicious that we came back every day for lunch during our six day stay on Gili Air. Locals and tourists alike love it so much its become an institution. If you visit Gili Air, a trip to the warung is a must – don’t let the looks of the food stall scare you away.????????We heard that to fully appreciate everything the Gilis have to offer, you have to go on a few dives so we decided Gili Air was the perfect place to take our open water scuba course.  I’ve been on a few resort dives in the Caymen Islands and Chris and I did a dive in Cozumel but we wanted the real deal. We chose a three day course with Manta Dive and were paired with two other girls, SeYoung from South Korea, Alex from Switzerland and our instructor, Jan (pronounced Yawn), also Swiss.

The first day, we were in the pool learning four basic scuba skills. We were surprised but very excited to find out that we were going on our first dive that afternoon. Our first dive was to a max depth of 12 meters (40 feet) with the first 15 minutes practicing the skills we learned and the last 45 minutes on a fun dive exploring the reef. The visibility was amazing, it was easily 25 meters (82+ feet) and we saw some cool reef fish we’ve never seen before, a moray eel and some beautiful coral. Sorry, no underwater photos, our camera only works up to 10 meters.IMG_1515 (1024x768) IMG_1518 (1024x768)The next day was very similar. We started in the pool doing drills and learning skills and then were back in the ocean in the afternoon. Our second dive was a drift dive so we didn’t have to swim at all; we were just carried away by the current. The entire ocean floor was a giant bed of coral, it looked like a garden in the sea – so pretty! We also saw our first sea turtle…so awesome.

That night, we moved out of our room to a sweet bungalow right next door to the dive shop (and a closer walk to the warung!). It was just a few meters from the beach and we were able to pick-up the WiFi from the dive shop and it cost us just $13 a night…score!????????The third and last day, we didn’t go into the pool at all, we just had one morning dive and one afternoon dive but this time to a depth of 18 meters (60 feet). Again, the visibility on all of these dives was ridiculous – you could see so far. Even when we were in the boat, you could look down and see the ocean floor. It was some of the clearest water either of us has ever been in. On our last two dives we saw giant clams, tons of sea anemones with clown fish, puffer fish, another moray eel, heaps of angelfish, parrotfish and many more fish and coral (I love coral!) that we had to look up and log because we had never seen them before. We saw several sea turtles and were able to get so close to them I couldn’t believe they didn’t get scared away.

Each of our dives was unique and we learned something different. It was nice that our four dive locations were spread out among the three Gili islands so we were able to see a little of each island. After completing our four dives, we took a quick swim test and written test and that was it – we were certified divers! We had such a great group and our instructor was awesome.IMG_1540 (1024x768) IMG_1543 (1024x768) ????????It was so weird waking up the next day not having a dive scheduled. Instead of diving, we rented snorkel gear for $1.50 each, and went snorkeling right off the beach. For some reason, our expectations were really low so we were blown away by all the sea life just a few meters off the shore. This time, we had our underwater camera in tow so were able to snap a few photos of the sea life.IMG_1583 (1024x768) IMG_1594 (1024x768) IMG_1640 (1024x768) IMG_1631 (1024x768) IMG_1642 (1024x768)Because we grossly over-estimated the cost of snorkeling in Asia, we decided to pool the snorkeling money we received from our honeyfund and put it towards the ultimate snorkeling experience…scuba certifications. So a huge thanks to the following people in no particular order: Mary Tom and David Thor, the Kronengolds, Jessica  Simmons, Ben Barasky, Anna Williams and Jon Bak, Virginia Waldkirch, Emily Flowers, Dayne Murray and the Smittles for helping us get certified! We had an absolute amazing time learning to dive and now that we are certified, we are certified for life. It’s something we look forward to doing for many years to come so thank you all for getting us started on a new hobby we can enjoy together!

That evening, we finally had time to walk around the entire island which took just over an hour. The island is closed to cars and motorbikes and there’s a nice trail you can take along the coast all the way around. ???????? ????????Afterwards, we enjoyed dinner at Wiwin Café, our usual restaurant to sit right on the water. We went there every night because it had cheap and delicious local and western dishes and the ambiance was amazing.???????? ????????We will definitely miss the Gilis! We contemplated extending our stay for a few more days but I don’t believe we’d ever think it was a good time to leave. From here, we head to southern Lombok in search of some killer waves brah!

Abalone Diving at Salt Point State Park – Sonoma County,CA

Yesterday we woke up early to drive 2.5 hours north for an abalone diving class by Sonoma Coast Divers.  We met up at the Gerstle Cove parking lot in Salt Point State Park after an incredible drive up CA-1.

Abalone are large, edible sea snails that are considered a delicacy in many Asian cultures as well as here in the US.  The meat from abalone can sell for upwards of $100 on the black market and their shells can be highly coveted.

Abalone in California are highly protected and regulated and may only be taken using breath-holding techniques or shorepicking; scuba diving for abalone is  prohibited.  Abalone must measure at least 7″ to be taken in California and each person can only take 3 abalone per day and 24 total per year.

After our instruction on equipment (you must have an abalone gauge to measure the size and an abalone iron for removal), diving techniques, fishing laws, and abalone removal techniques, we geared up in 7 mil wetsuits with boots, gloves, and hood to keep us warm in the 50-degree water.  We then hiked down a rocky cliff to our entry point.  After a relatively smooth swim out, we were ready to start diving.

Abalone need to be removed with a certain technique, otherwise they clamp themselves down onto the rocks and usually cannot be removed.  This technique is not easy to master, but Chris was able to get his limit of three abalone in about an hour. Annie came back empty handed but enjoyed the snorkeling! While diving, we swam through large kelp forests and saw many large starfish, a white sea lion, fish, anemones, kelp, and of course abalone.

After taking our abalone, we headed to a picnic table overlooking the ocean for a potluck picnic featuring our catch! Abalone are able to live long after being removed from the water.  While our abalone were on the table, they moved and attempted to roll themselves off their backs.  Annie found this to be particularly disturbing, but thought she would film their movement:

To prepare abalone to eat, we removed the abalone from the shell and trimmed off the tough portions.  We then filleted the ab steak and pounded the meat to tenderize it.  The meat was then lightly breaded and pan fried to a golden brown for 30-45 seconds a side. We donated all three of our abalones to the potluck lunch and were left with these beautiful shells for a trophy (7″ on left, 7.5″ on right, and 8″ in middle).

More about abalone: Diving can also be very dangerous due to the large amounts of bull kelp throughout the Northern Coast of California.  It is not uncommon to hear about divers who get stuck in massive kelp beds and are unable to free themselves before drowning.

There are massive fines (usually around $1,500 per offense) for taking small abalone, using illegal equipment (scuba, illegal ab irons, etc.), taking more than your limit, failure to obey tagging laws, and other various regulations.

Abalone are found along the coastal waters of every major continent with the exception of the Atlantic Coast of South America, the Caribbean, and the East Coast of the United States.  The majority of abalone species are found in cold waters, off the Southern Hemisphere coasts of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, and Western North America and Japan in the Northern Hemisphere.

Learn more about abalone and abalone diving

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