Compound Living – Balinesian Style

I’m back on land finally – and living the Bali Life Style. And today was a cool lesson in the reality of Bali living for locals.

Diane – our 46 year old Male driver – lives in a compound with 49 of his nearest and dearest relatives. And lucky me – today I finally scored a tour!

I’ve been dying to see the inside of his compound since it was pointed out to me – the highly carved stone front gate is easily the nicest on our block – and if you peek in past the highly useful ramp that covers 1/2 the front steps and provides easy access to motor scooters – you can spot a gold and gilt covered prayer statue. So i was pretty hyped to go in – but afraid to ask. Thank goodness Diane must have read my vibes – he asked me first.

Compounds are family owned plots of land – often seriously huge so that they can harbor several generations of extended family. Effectively – these are villages within a village – providing housing for brothers, sisters, husbands and wifes, cousins and their children. Male children stay in the family compound, female children must leave to follow their husbands family. All things being equal – and baring either a sudden lack of interest in having kids, or a mini family unit that decides to have a dozen kids, the number of people living in the compound is generally stable. About the same number of births and folks leaving the compound either thru death or marriage means that the optimum number is about the realistic number – 50.

Interestingly – Diane doesn’t remember when his family got the compound – he was ‘born’ into it – and even when he was young – it had been in his family ‘a long time’.

But on to the nitty gritty of Diane’s compound. Starting at the gate – to the left is first the house of a cousin, and then the ‘big’ house – the home of the clan senior. in Diane’s case – this is his older brother – the one born first. How to spot the ‘big house’? Glit on the door frames and window edging of course!

Opposite the houses is the kitchen. Diane tells me that there is basically one kitchen for every living space – no communal cooking unless it’s a feast or festival day. I got a quick peek – stove top (no oven), fridge, sink, prep areas. Basic and functional.

Just near the ‘big’ house are two key parts of every family compound in Bali, and Diane tells me that everyone lives in a family compound. Key component 1 – a space for ceremonies. In Diane’s compound, this is a raised tiled open on 3 sides roofed area that contained just a large wooden table. This space serves as a funderal hall should a member of the family die, a wedding chapel is someone gets married – etc. you get the picture. Bodies lie in state till the next day if they died after lunch, and get buried in teh afternoon if they died in the morning. Next to that is the family compound temple.

This is the most interesting part of the compound to my mind. Apparently all compounds must have a temple – and once you realize that is what you are looking at – sure enough you can spot one in every compound. This enclosed space houses the most important spirtual elements of the home – the houses for the different members of the divine family. And in the north-east corner stands the link between this family temple and the major temple in all of Bali – situated at the foot of Mount Argung.

The entrance to the temple area is a set of raised steps – Diane tells me that this is to remind family members that you are entering a unique and special space. Found in the temple grounds is a larger platform that Diane tells me is used by the priest if there is a cermoney to be held at the temple. There is also a chair – and that holds the holy relic that is stored in a locked cabinet in one of the prayer houses. I know this because one of the prayer houses had a locked door – and I asked why.

Now that I know to look for these family sized temples – it’s easy to spot them. Often they are on the roof of a family home that is multiple floors, sometimes they are hiddlen in the middle of a compound, and sometimes they take up valuable space right along side the entrance gate.

The rest of the compound held a series of resting tables – large open air decks that had thached roofs and now walls, along with a brother’s batick making business in one area and his neices painting efforts in another. There’s a garden area – unplanted in the case of Diane’s family, and at the far end is a house that Diane’s brother has decided to rent out to paying guests. There are also ‘garages’ for the always present mo-peds and motor scycles.

Enough with the noisy inspection – Diane and I quickly gather our stuff and head out for a day of touring.

Signing off – The Soup Lady.

Was doing a Live-aboard on the Mangguanna in Komodo National Park worth It?

Interesting question. Glad I asked myself. The diving varied between Spectacular – 5 Star – Best I’ve ever done – diving, and pretty medicore. Sometimes on the same dive.

I asked Denny (dive master extraordinare) why we didn’t do some of the seriously famous dives in Komodo National Park (3 sisters, Cannibal Rock, etc.) – instead of hanging just in the more northern part of the park where the water is warmer, but the visibility very constricted by Indonesian standards. Our last dive was a muck dive (Denny’s description during the briefing) and it had water so cloudy I couldn’t see the bottom when I back-rolled in off the tender – and it was just 12 meters (30 feet) below. Visiblity like this means it will be challenging to see the sharks and other larger fish that circle around the reef.

And this was the case on several of the dives – and absolutely true for all the dives on days 3 and 4.

Denny explained that the safety of the guests came first – and they weren’t sure we could handle the serious drift dives. Ok – I can appreciate that I might be of concern, and maybe the vegetarian who just did her 99th dive – but the rest of the group was highly experienced, and would have done them with ease. So I don’t buy that as a reason. I think the issue was that we had to stay close to Labaun Bajo to pick up the Aussies on day 3 – and thus couldn’t just take the boat further away from the home base. This is disappointing to say the least – and not what I and the rest of the group that originally had booked on Moana Crusing had expected, been told, or wanted to happen.

Because we were joined on day 3 by 2 new divers – I believe that the 2 morning dives of day 3 had to be done within speed boat distance of Labaun Bajo, and the afternoon and night dives of day 3 had to be done in easy to dive locations so that the dive master could check out the new comers. This basically cost us one precious day of diving. On day 4 we could only do 2 dives because most of us were flying the next day – and we were scheduled to see the Komodo Dragons – but since the Aussies were doing 4 dives – again the locations were compromised. Yes – I was annoyed.

So – let’s say 1 star for dive site planning, 3 stars for the diving – and 5 stars for criter viewing. I would have loved to do a proper drift dive – I’ve done several before and enjoyed them – and expected that this time – but it didn’t happen. 5 or 6 of the 15 dives we did were outstanding – but that’s just 1/3. I know you can do better.

Another issue – the rats. Ok – it’s a boat – rats happen. I’m not stupid, I’m not ignorant – I know this. But it doesn’t make me happy. But what was of greater concern was the attitude among the crew. When guests comment about the rats eating our toothpaste, leaving droppings everywhere, climbing on our legs while we sleep – we don’t expect a shrug. Even if you can’t really DO anything – pretend to do something.

And this wasn’t just noticed on day 3 or 4 – On day 1 I spotted rat droppings on top of the cupboard in my room – pointed them out to the ‘chef’ – who did arrange to get them swept up. But clearly didn’t even try to arrange for some rat poisoin – and at that point we were close enough to Labaun Bajo to send a tender back. It’s ignoring the issue that makes it a problem.

Food – I commented in an earlier blog that the food varied considerably. I give the ‘chef’ points for trying hard – and there were some serious highlights – Those banana pancakes – perfect. And his smoothies were yummy. But there was a frustrating lack of variety, and nothing really new. Hey – how about some Snake Fruit or Mangosteens? Tempt us – tease us – challenge us. Don’t bore us!

Cabins – except for the rats – were great. My bed was extremely comfortable – plenty of head room even for an upper bunk. I would have liked a shelf in the cupboard – but that’s being fussy. And while the toilet arrangement wasn’t 5 star – it worked great.

Comfort – there were 3 chaises for 6 to 8 divers. So we constantly were fighting, or trying not to fight about who got the chaises. The bean bags were extremely comfortable – but had holes so the little white styrofoam beads keep falling out all over the deck. We complained, we asked for duct tape – we got told ok – and no duct tape EVER showed up.

Library – 3 fish books – NO reef animal book. So it was a good thing that Denny had his personal copy.

Amenities – no decks of cards, no dominos, nothing. No attempt to show videos, no photography station, no where to even plug in rechargeables if you didn’t bring your own converters.

So – would I go back to the Mangguanna? No.

Would I dive with. Komodo Diving? No

Would I dive again in Komodo National Park – Yes. Absolutely. Tomorrow if time, space on board a better boat, and money allowed.

So – bought the T-shirt – have extremely fond memories!

Signing off – The Soup Lady

200 Dives and Counting!

On March 18th I did my 200th Scuba Dive. Isn’t that cool?

Denny was my dive buddy – and the location was Palau Tenght in Komodo National Park.

I distinctly remember the first time I tried scuba diving – it was at a swimming pool at a hotel in Puerto Rico in 1976 – my husband and I ran into the guy running the resort course and he convinced my husband that even though he had horrid issues with his nose – he could teach him to dive – or his money back.

Such an offer my husband could not refuse.

So – we did it. We took the 1/2 day scuba intro at the pool – which ended up taking us into the swimming lagoon off the beach of the hotel. I’ll bet if we went 10 feet deep – it was a lot.

But we learned to take off our masks, how to breathe thru the regulators, how not to panic if you lost your regulator, and some more of the very basics of scuba.

The really attractive part of the deal was an offer to go to a small island 17 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico – Culebra – and do 2 boat dives there. To avoid the issues of flying after diving, the plane was actually open to the air (no pressure) and flew less than 200 feet above the waves – and they had to weigh us to determine where we should sit. In order to land – the plane tipped sideways thru 2 mountain peaks.

What nuts we were – but we did get to do 2 dives in crystal clear waters – and probably to a max depth of 25 feet. It was awesome.

Went home – got certified.

And now I’m doing #200. Wow – been a long way, lady.

I admit to hoping that #200 would be as memorable as #1 – but it was not to be. The memorable dives here in Indonesia (Komodo National Park) were 197 (Manta Point), 194 (Shot Gun), 189 (Castle Rock), 190 and 193 (Crystal Rock), and 191 (Secret Garden). The rest – including #200 – are a blur, nice but not spectacular.

There are other dives among the 200 that stand out – the overhangs and tunnels off the east coast of Grand Cayman, muck diving in the seriously cold water in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, and of course the Roraima – a wooden sailing boat that sits in 185 feet of water off the coast of Martinque. That was done as a decompression dive of course – with tanks tied off at 25 feet and 15 feet. I also fondly remember the sponges in the cave in Greece, and the octopus that AquaMan – our dive master in Greece – found for us to play with underwater.

Nice memories of blowing bubbles. Here’s the next 50 (I’m doubting I’ll make more than that.. To busy doing too many other things)

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Food aboard the Manguanna – Komodo Cruising – Komodo National Park

Scuba Diving is hungry work. I looked it up – and scuba diving for an hour burns 333 calories. 3 to 4 dives a day – you are talking twice my normal diet! So food is going to be important – divers want food now – and they want it plentiful – and of course they want it good.

How does the chef on the Manguanna deliver? Well – variable is the best answer.

The quantity is perfect – there are always left overs at every meal – even with 6 divers and 2 dive masters chomping in. And there’s more than just 3 meals – there’s a cooked snack after the mid day dive, plus food available in the common area fridge. So quantity – got that covered.

And there is certainly no question about the variety. We’ve eaten about 10 meals now – and there have been no repeats of the final dish. There are repeating ingredients however – banana shows up in about 1 of 4 meals, rice shows up in 3 out of 4 meals, and mystery meat appears in dishes almost all the time. There’s mystery beef, mystery chicken, and mystery fish, served grilled in the case of the fish – and in sauces in the case of the beef and chicken.

There is always something that looks like a vegetable – once it was an Inodesian dish of noodles and vegetables with peanut sauce (Yum), mostly it’s sliced tomatoes with seasoning – or sliced cucumbers with seasoning – or a mixure of both. My husband would be moaning about the overall quality – but I’m happy. It’s hot, well cooked, not overly salty (everyone but me adds salt), and the chef always makes a smoothie to go with lunch and dinner.

My favorite – last nights Pineapple smoothie. Delicous.

For desert – fruit. We’ve had watermelon, Passion fruit, Pineapple, etc. There’s a big box of Khong Guan Biscuits – the club price size – sitting out at all times if you need a munch. Plus loaves of bread, peanut butter – and a variety of Indonesian spreads (Brand is Morin) – Orange Marmalade, Strawberry Jam, Pineapple Jam, Chocolate Peanut, Morin Kaya Spread (with a picture of a coconut on the label), and of course Nutello. The Sisters – being Swiss – are doing a number on the Nutello!

Breakfast is hit or miss. The first morning the chef blew me away with his banana pancakes – oh man were they good. Since then its been more American Dinner with a kick – Pancakes with Hot Dogs, Sunny side up eggs on top of Ramen Noodles, like that. I keep hoping that those banana pancakes will come back – but even if they don’t I’m ok. I had 2 of those!

What’s notably lacking is brewed coffee. So I’ve been coffee free for 2 days and have the caffeine withdrawal headaches to show for it. But it’s probably better for my diving in the long run – so I’m avoiding all caffinated beverages – its water, water and soda water. Plus those smoothies lets not forget.

So – bottom line on the food. A for punctual. A for quanitity. And a C+ for quality. But I’m a tough judge, and those pancakes were wonderful – Ok – give him a B for quality. You don’t have to be 5 star to impress me.

Signing off to go on dive #10! – The Soup Lady blowing bubbles your way….

Manta Rays – the B-52 Bombers of the Pacific Ocean

Manta Rays are cool. And huge. Seriously huge. They act like they own the seas – and I suppose in a way they do. I can’t imagine a shark taking down a manta – I can’t even imagine them wanting too!

And Manta’s don’t eat divers – I’m not actually sure that they eat meat. Which brings up one severe lack on this dive boat – no one with a background in fish behavior – at least no one who speaks English. So I don’t really have anyone to ask. And the fall back solution for lack of knowledge – Google – is definitely hors de combat – No internet here – there’s barely cell phone coverage. Ok – actually – there isn’t cell phone coverage in any of the protected ancorages we’ve been in – even if you can see a tower – and there are towers – it’s still a challenge.

Anyway – back to the dive at Manta Point.

Because Manta’s need space – no protected reefs for them – the dive starts on a rubble field. The challenge – find the mantas! We’d seen several on the surface from the boat – SC actually threw on his fins and mask and snorkled out to get a good look – but now we had to find them in their element.

Good news – Denny has a 6th sense for this – and with only a few twists and turns – got me to exactly the right spot. The trick is to get up current from the Manta’s – so they swim towards you against the current. No problem for the Mantas – but us poor humans don’t swim up current very well. So we have to go in above where we hope they will be hanging getting a nice cleaning from the cleaning crew, and then drift down towards them. We catch a glimpse in the gloom of these large triangular shapes, and sink to the bottom and hold on for dear life. The current tries to pull us down stream – but we want to stay here in hopes the Mantas will do a ‘fly by’.

And surprisingly – the magic works! Denny and I hold on to the rubble at the bottom – and the Mantas arch and curve and glide their ways towards us. There are 2 at first – a Giant Black Manta, and then close on his heels is a smaller – but still huge – Devil Ray Manta. Like Giant vaccum cleaners, their open mouths sweep in all the algae they can devour, and they continue swooping and swerving around us for what feels like several minutes. After these 2 leave – 2 more appear – Wow. That’s 4.

They are so close you can see their eyes, their mouths, the fish doing the cleaning – litterally B52 fly bys underwater.

They eventually are above us – and we release our hold on the rubble to continue the drift dive. We come across 4 turtles – each more adorable than the last, and a small shark asleep on the sand. Among the rubble are coral mounds with lots of fish – but between the Mantas, the turtles, and the shark – what more do you need? Apparently Nudibranches and Lion Fish!

The first dive of the day was also glorious – a fish market or Aqurium as you will. The funniest moment of the dive – we pass a group from another boat who are surrounding a turtle taking pictures. And one diver takes a SELFIE with the turtle. He has one of those long stick remotes – and is holding it out in front of him while he poses near the turtle. I almost swallowed my regulator laughing!

Huge Porcupine fish, huge morays, lots of micro stuff, huge Sweetlips, and of course a shark. My favorite moment – well aside from the turtle seflie – was later in the dive when Benny and I found a turtle on it’s own. I was above him, Benny below – and he swam right up to me – so close I could have kissed him! Imagine – me nose to nose with a turtle – very cute.

Signing off to get ready for my 200th dive!

The Soup Lady

What a difference a day makes – More excitement on the Liveaboard!

Last night the Vegetarian showed up at my door – sobbing and needing a hug. What the? Just goes to show ya – never make assumptions about people – you are so often completely off base!

While I don’t think the Vegetarian and I would ever be best buddies – I talk way too much for her – we did find a common ground – and agreed to be friends. How cool is that!

I’ll back track a bit. At dinner, the dive masters announced that the next morning we’d be doing two really cool dives – Batu Balong and Manta Point. That was the high point. Then they announced that after the 2nd dive, we’d be joined by two more divers. They were coming by speed boat from Labaun Bajo. Oops – that messes the sleeping arrangements – big time. And how is that going to impact the buddy teams? Questions – Questions!

To review – there are only 4 cabins. The Vegetarian has one, the German has one – I’m sharing with SC, and the Sisters have a cabin. Where are we going to put 2 more people? Clearly – either the Vegetarian and German bunk together – or the new folks split up and sleep in different cabins. Either way – the Vegetarian is losing her single cabin. And she was broken up about it.

Turns out it wasn’t just that either. Her father was having surgery that day – and that was putting pressure on her. Plus – she stopped working a year ago to rebalance herself – what ever that means. She wants only positive energy in her life – and when things go against plan – it just becomes challenging to stay positive.

All of which makes me feel sorry for her of course – and part of me wants to tell her – shape up. You are 35 years old, you have enough money to travel at will in facinating places, you are healthy – get a grip. But that isn’t the whole truth – it’s hard to be alone. And I’m sure without her admiting to that issue – the lack of support network hurts. You need to be able to reach out to people and be sure in your own mind that the reaching out will be welcome. That of course is the trick – how do you know your reaching out will be greeted with concern, interest, and thoughts for your well being?

Heavy thoughts for such a beautiful place!

But things do work out. The 2 dives were amazing – more on that later – and the new couple are very experienced – and have their own dive master from Komodo Diving. So our buddy teams don’t change, which is a good thing.

As for sleeping arrangements – the German gallantly offers to move in with the Vegetarian – who can’t take the additional pressure of a change in rooms – and the couple (lets call them Aussies) gets the German’s room. Of course this morning the gal of the Aussies complained bitterly about how her bed is uncomfortable – a comment that all of us completely ignored.

And while they are seriously on the hefty side – the guy is 6’3″ and I’d guess well over 250 lbs and the gal is about 5′ 8″ and around the same weight – they are highly experienced divers, have 6 grandkids, and even better – Speak English! So, while accented, it tips the scales towards English as the main language. They also turn out to be very very funny! They completely cracked us all up talking about the Kangaroo’s in Austrialia. Turns out that she likes to take in the babies to raise when their mother’s dies – and he likes to run them over with his SUV equipped with a ‘Roo Bar’! Not only are they funny, well traveled, and English – they work full time. She manages a chain of homes for the disabled, he’s a project manager for a mining company in Austrialia. Very nice folks, and great at keep the conversation going over dinner. Their dream – to own a yacht and cruise the world – diving all the way around. Good luck to them I say!

And the Vegetarian got word that her Dad is fine. Trama over for now.

Personally – I’m going Scuba Diving.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Cold Coffee, Snake Fruit and Nyepi – The Day of Silence

March 21, 2015 – and along with the rest of Bali – I’m celebrating the festival of Nyepi – the Day of Silence.

Some one clearly forgot to tell the bird in my room or the rooster – but for the rest of Bali – today is a day to reflect, to think, to consider. The 4 rules are simple – no fires, no entertainment, no travel, no working. On Nyepi the world is born anew – and in respect – we are silent.

An alternative explanation – on this day the Bad Spirits fly by the island – and if there is no sound and no lights and no fires, they will think it is uninhabited – and avoid us for another year. To be sure they are distracted – yesterday all the ladies were busy putting offerings out to distract them from entering the house – offerings including whole opened coconuts, rice, flowers, and in at least one case – candy bars!

Even the airport closes for 24 hours. I’ve been told that if you try to travel, you will be stopped and politely asked to go back home. People staying in hotels have told me that some hotels will prepare food for that day – others expect you to fend for yourself by stocking up the day before. Needless to say the little 24 hour stores that mainly stock crackers and cookies were doing a landslide business last night.

Some people leave Bali for Nyepi – fleeing to less restrictive locations like the Gill Islands or even Java – but we decided to experience it here in the Lady in Pink’s 2 bedroom palace. We have food (albeit cold – hence the cold coffee and Snake Fruit – names for it’s snake like outer peel – its actually a cross between an apple and a pear with 3 large pits), we have a swimming pool, and I have my trusty ipad. Blogging is my way of thinking introspectively – in case you didn’t notice!

But let’s backtrack to last night – Pre-Nyepi day – when all of Bali celebrates – Big Time. Seriously Big Time – with huge Ogoh-Ogoh being paraded thru the streets. This is traditionally an exorcism ceremony – held in every village in Bali. The idea is to vanquish the negative elements and create balance with God, Mankind, and nature.

Starting months earlier – each community group gets together to design, build and chorograph their part in these ceremonies. The ‘Build’ portion are the Ogoh-Ogoh – puppets or demonic statues that tower above the troops of young men who carry them on Bamboo platforms. These huge (15 – 20 – even 30 feet tall) monsters and mythological beings are built of bamboo, foam, electrical wire, whatever can be found. They stand on large bamboo platforms that provide room for the 30 or so people who will be charged with carrying them thru the street – and DANCING with them during the actual ceremony.

We saw groups of young people – 5 and 6 years old – with smaller Ogoh-Ogoh, totally proud that they were participating in such an important event. The larger, more massive Ogoh-Ogoh are carried by older teens and young men. Balinese orchestras of gongs and drums accompany each group – and some groups had female dancers – highly made up – that danced along too. One group was totally playing with fire – live flames carried as torches, and used to light hula hoops during their part of the ceremony. All I could think was – Disney would DIE at the risk – imagine 20 or so young dancers – live flames – and NO audience control what so ever.

The parade starts with each group man-handling their Ogoh-Ogoh to the local football field in Ubud (obviously – other villages have other gathering points). This would be easier if not for the advent of electrictity. There are wires strung across the streets haphazardly – and mostly way too low to allow these huge creatures with their massive wing spans, demon riders, or tall feather head-dresses to pass. So each creature has it’s pole bearers. Men who carry 40 foot long bamboo poles with Y shaped ends. The idea – they use the poles to push the wires out of the way – while the guys tasked with moving the Ogoh-Ogoh lower it all the way to the ground and push it past. Over and Over again. The effort required is stunning.

At the football field, the Ogoh-Ogoh gather, along with their carriers, their bands, their dancers, the proud parents, hackers of balloons and glow in the dark headresses, and the crowds of on-lookers. A carnival atmosphere develops as more and more Ogoh-Ogoh take the field. From 5:30 until time to depart for the parade and ceremony at the main cross-roads – the numbers grow from a few hundred to several thousand people. And that’s just here in Ubud – the same gatherings and celebrations is happening in every community all over Bali. The magnitude is challenging to appreciate.

The Lady in Pink and I hung out at a local restaurant with a great view of the field – watching the action without having to withstand the brunt of the heat of the day. Our table sat 4 – so we were joined by 3 different groups of fellow tourists in shifts – 2 female artists from Germany, an older woman, also an artist, from Amsterdam, and then a couple of tourists also from Germany. Good think the Lady speaks German, eh? I drank tons of water – had a Pineapple Ice Cream Milkshake – and occasionally ventured onto the field to take pictures. The Lady held onto our table (more and more valuable as the sun began to set), and chatted with our new friends.

I even joined one of the community groups (bought the T-shirt) – but they wouldn’t let me help carry. Hey – I offered! I’m not sure what it means – but my shirt says Tabeng Dada and sports an image of their Ogoh-Ogoh.

Finally – all the groups have gathered – and it’s time for the parade to start. The Lady and I opt to avoid the crowds – and take the longer, but less travelled route back to the main intersection. We arrive just as the largest of the Ogoh-Ogoh – the one with the wings and the rider on the back of the monster arrives – and are duly frightened as it swings menacingly above our heads.

This is truly the mosh pit to end all mosh pits. And we opt out. Mistake actually. Had we stopped and thought about things a bit better – we’d have gone for high ground with a view of the intersection – but we underestimated how important and how long the ceremonies at the intersection would be. We’d have been much better having a good view. Eventually we realized our error – and worked our way back into the fray – but higher so less pushing. We got to watch one group do it’s entire 20 minute performance – and then bailed to begin our long – 40 minute – up hill walk home. This was actually not nearly as difficult as I had imagined it would be – I only stopped twice, once for a delicous 30 cent flavored popcycle – and once for a rush bathroom stop. And the temperature had cooled off considerably – which made walking much much easier.

Never-the-less – it was home, swimming pool, bed.

Signing off to think deep thoughts on Nyepi – The Soup Lady





Best Dive EVER!

Actually – I’ve had two of the best dives EVER so far this trip. Dive’s so outstanding that you will remember them forever – Dives that had everything. And we’re only on dive 8 of 18. What will they pull out of their hats this afternoon, tomorrow, the next day.

Castle Rock and Crystal Rock are comletely amazing dive sites – with the one we just finished – called Shot Gun a very close second.

I’m not going to bore you with a list of the types of fish we saw – lets just leave at a zillion and all be happy. These sites rocked because of the close encounters of the fishy kind – running into multiple turtles, 10 sharks, unknown scazillions of fish. And they rank amazingly high on the topography mark as well.

Let’s start with Castle Rock. On the surface, there is nothing to see, it’s all hiding below on an exposed rock mound that is teaming with fish and corals, both hard and soft. Because it is so exposed, and because the tides here run in and out – there’s a lot of current around the rock. This makes it an ideal place to see schools of fish darting in and out of the coral, or swimming idlely around and around the rock. Sharks of course love to see circling fish – so we get treated to several circling sharks! Denny, my dive master and buddy extraordinare – shows me how to hold on to a dead piece of coral in order to watch the show over/above/around us. It was awesome.

Crystal Rock – similar name, simlar geography – differes only in that there are actually 2 reef areas – separated by what Denny calls ‘The Fish Market’. I’m guess that is because it is here that Sharks come to pick up lunch. We enter with a fast decent to get below the surface current – and stablize at about 70 feet to enjoy the show. Denny is an expert at spooting Nudibranches – there are lots to see too. Brightly colored, these reef dewlers makes for nifty micro diving. We swim over the rubble to the Pinancle, circle it admiring all the brightly colored inhabitants – then swim back to the main rock to accend. Denny says we’ll do this dive again – and I’ll thrilled.

Crystal Rock – 2nd Time. This time we do Crystal rock first thing in the morning. Timing matters because different fish are active at different times of the day – with early morning seeing the most activitiy. I love the slanting light in the early morning better too. The Sisters convince Sarif and Denny – our 2 dive masters – to schedule this dive at 7:00 am – with the briefing at 6:30. Remember – these are all boat dives so after the briefing – we have to board a small boat, drive to the dive site, then get wet. Denny and I head off in one drection, the rest in another. Back roll off the boat – and we immediately spot a black tip shark, who is as surprised to see us as we are to see him. He makes one lazy circle between Denny and I – giving me a hard cold stare. Am I breakfast? Do I look yummy? Or too bony?

Fortunately, he decides against a taste – and swims off into the blue. Whew.

We continue our decent, round the corner of the pinnacle – and there’s another shark asleep in the sand. Ok – asleep is good. Further on – two small baby sharks are there to be found, also lounging around doing nothing much. But that’s not the end of it. We continue to circle the mound, and come upon 3 more sharks – in hunting mode! Denny grabs me and pushes me on his back. I get it – this is not about thinking I’m cute – this is about making like a really really big fish – so the sharks will decide to try for easier game. They criss cross in front of us twice – and again decide for easier stuff – and make for the blue.

Ok – that’s a lot of shark sightings for a dive that isn’t a ‘shark dive’. For once I’m going to be lowish on air. Lowish for me means coming back with less than 1000 lbs – and I’m already at 700. I signal Denny that we need to do our safety stop – and on the way up to 15 feet – there’s a gigantic turtle – stuffing his face. He’s using his front fins to hold the food, and munching away. Honestly – it’s so human – it’s scary! The turtle is probably 1/2 my size, and comletely un-interested in us. So we get the best decom ever – 5 minutes of turtle watching. And for the icing on an already over the top cake – a unicorn fish – large of course like everything here in Komodo National Park – swims right by. 5 Stars!

Oh yes – and somewhere in amongst the shark and turtle sightings – Denny also finds a Pgymy Seahorse, 2 huge Morays, 2 star fish, green coral packed full of little fish that poke their heads out – and dodge back in as soon as I wave at them.

Our 2nd dive of the day is called Shot Gun – and I’m thinking – how can you possibly compare with Crystal Cave. And yet – it does. This is one of those cool topography dives – where the briefing takes 30 minutes to cover all the different things we need to think about. The dive starts on a zen voyage thru a sandy field spotted with sea eals, coral mounds, and the occasionally huge Sweetlips (that’s a type of fish). But we gradually are swept by the current into a funnel between two island peaks – and the current picks up steam. A ring around a ravine and we can look up to see dozens of difenent schools of fish swimming in all directions. We climb up the ravine, and then grab a hand hold at the top to prevent the now extremely strong current from sweeping us further away. After a time admiring the schools from the top – we let go – and are swept away over the coral heads. It’s like flying surounded by water! At the end of our wild ride, we decom over a field of soft corals larger than I’ve ever seen before. Stellar dive.

Signing out because we are diving again in just a few minutes – The Soup Lady

Life on a Live-aboard in Komodo National Park, Indonesia

I would SO be voted off this island. Not that I’m either surprised or upset – mostly just wish things could be different. But it’s the risk you take traveling alone – no friend to cover your back!

But I’d be here again in a shot anyway – so I guess it’s not that bad an island.

Ok – The Mangguana is an Indonesian style live-aboard dive boat. That means there’s no dive platform – you dive off dingys that take you to the dive site, and then in theory the boat circles around for an hour waiting for someone to surface. Must be boring – and hot – and rather dull – but I guess the kids that do this make a living – and that makes it worth doing. The Mangguana itself has 4 ‘guest’ cabins – each of which has 2 bunk beds, a bathroom (sort of), a sink, and an all important Air Conditioner. You definitely need AC in this climate – that’s even with the breeze.

The bathroom has to be experienced to be believed – It consists of a shower and a toilet – no seperation. And only a shower curtain to separate the bathroom from the bedroom part. So you can sit on the toilet to shower – or just stand and shower. If you do either – use the towel to dry the seat – or you are going to be wet bummed for the day! On the good news front – the shower works fine, and they supply shampoo. So getting rid of the salt water – a natural result of doing an hour long scuba dive – isn’t a challenge.

There are 2 main areas of the boat that are for guest use – in the front is the ‘dive preperation’ area – benches, boxes for gear, places to hang wetsuits. On the upper deck behind the steering house is a huge covered area that serves 5 or 6 times a day as a feeding ground. There’s a giant wooden table – 8 chairs, a fridge for holding drinks (free except the beer – $2,50 each on an honor system), a serving area for misc. food – coffee, tea, sugar, plates, silverware, 2 boxes of cereal (yum), a toaster – and the all important fish books. What’s a dive boat without fish books. They could seriously use a better library though – a reef creatures book would have been so great.

There’s no segregated photo table – so photographers wouldn’t be in love with this boat – and the toilet would definitely disaude my husband from being here – but I’m a happy camper.

There are 6 divers on board – and 8 staff. 2 dive masters one of which I think doubles as captain, the chef, the waiters, the prep cook, the guys who drive the 2 tenders, and then miscellaneous people who appear and disappear without much guest contact. I’m guessing they fill the tanks, clean the dishes, keep the boat ship-shape. I’m not even sure where all of these folks are living – although the below deck portion of the boat must be huge – it’s completely off limits to the likes of us. There’s also the portion directly under the open area living space – maybe that has crew quarters, although I’m guessing it might be the kitchen from the delicious smells.

Ok – so on to why I’d be voted off.

6 guests – to protect the innocent – I’m giving them fake names.

There’s SC – Stalwart Canadian. He’s a Montrealer, formerly helping businesses set up ERP systems – who gave up his job and decided to scuba dive until he ran out of money. This boat is just one stop on his extended trip. He’s actually also my room mate – and a better room mate you couldn’t get. He’s so quiet – yes, even asleep – I often don’t even know he’s in the room. And he’s neat – his clothes are carefully put away – and his bed is MADE. And he’s a good diver. Practically Perfect in every way.

There’s the German – he’s an extremely experienced diver – over 800 dives – and he probably the nicest person among the guests. I don’t know much about him, other than he comes from a small village near Stuttgart – and like me is on a limited time holiday. Although his is not only including this dive boat – it’s including 4 days at this incredible diving resort in the park. I later found out that he’s 52 (surprising that), has a girlfriend who doesn’t care to dive (how sad), and works in a company that makes Headlights for BMW among others.

There are the Sisters – 2 gals from Switzerland – one of whom is a dive instructor. They find me annoying – to say the least – but hey – they are young, beautiful – and there are no eligible guys on board. Must be hard on them. They spent the last week at the above mentioned fancy resort – and now they are here. Great figures, awesome bikini’s, perfect tans – They have been there – seen that – and as far as I can tell find the dives ok – but not great. It’s hard to tell for sure, they tend to sleep or read when they are not eating or diving. But then – so do I.

The last member of our group is the Vegetarian. She’s from Amsterdam – owns a flat there – but seems to not call Amsterdam home. Her mom is Indonesian – and she grew up here in the Island – I’m not sure what she does to afford diving – but she’s tall, thin, wears a different bikini every 3 or 4 hours – and she’s the reason I’m bunking in with the Canadian.

I arrived first at the dive shop in Laboun Bajo – but they had problems fitting me into a wet suit. They had to order one from a different shop – that one too didn’t fit – so a third was ordered. Bottom line – I ended up going to the boat last. By the time I boarded the boat – each guy had taken a cabin, the sisters had a cabin, and the Vegetarian had a cabin. The crew suggested that we share – being both girls and all – but she made a fuss. “I was promised my own cabin – I need my personal space.” Well, don’t we all dear.

But – color me flexible – I don’t mind sharing with a guy – and the SC said he was ok with it too. So we are room mates. And as I said before – he’s the best room mate ever. I literally never see him in the room – I go to bed before he finishes drinking beer at night – and he’s been gone before I’ve gotten up every morning. How he can brush his teeth in silence is a mystery. I even asked him this AM if he slept in our room! (Yes – he did).

Diving is always done in a buddy team. So – the Sisters are one team, surprisingly SC and the Vegtarian (who is actually not nearly as bad as she first appeared) is a 2nd team, the German is paired with one dive master, and I’m paired with the other. When we get in the tenders – everyone gets into one tender – except me and Denny – my dive master/buddy. This is not a bad deal – doing every dive one on one with someone who loves pointing out the fishes, the nudibranches, the reef animals – and can find pgymy sea horses – is never going to be a mistake. But it does mean a lack of comradery with the rest of the guests – hence my certainity that I’d be voted off!

Ok – enough about the boat and my fellow divers – It’s time for out 8th dive of the trip – and it’s only day 2.

Got to go suit up!

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Who is the Richest Person You Know?

I had a friend tell me that I was the richest person he knew. Which made me stop and think. What exactly did he mean? Is that comment an insult or a compliment? What is a rich person any way?

Is it only about having money? Or is it more about apparent life style? Did he think I’m rich because I am old enough, healthly enough, and driven by the need to see things I haven’t seen before enough to want to spend my carefully hoarded money on crazy trips?

When I got married, my husband and I lived on boxes of Macaroni and Cheese – it was all we could afford. We’ve worked hard, saved money, spent carefully over the last 44 years. Does that make us appear rich today? Is not spending money when you are young, and then deciding to spend it a bit more freely when you are a senior make you seem rich?

Or is being preceived as rich a reflection of my need for adventure and my willingness to spend the money required to achieve it? Or is that comment just a refection of how few people my friend knows? Or at least how few people he has the true financial picture of?

Bill Gates is supposed to be the richest person in the world – do his friends think he’s rich? Does he think he’s rich? Do I think he’s rich? I’m not so sure that he’s rich in the ways I think are important. Can he travel anywhere he wants, can he just sit at home and watch the bird feeder? I suspect that his life style isn’t really one that I would enjoy – money or no money.

And I honestly believe that you meet more interesting, nicer people when you aren’t staying in fancy hotels and eating at fancy restaurants and taking taxi’s everywhere. You meet people when you take the risk of public transportation, eat in popular places, stay in places where there are kitchens or lounges that other guests use to reach out and meet each other.

I agree that I take wild and crazy trips – but I don’t even own a car, I ride buses! I haven’t bought new clothes in a long time – except for socks. Those wear out – so annoying. I have a tiny suitcase that holds everything I need for a month (or more) of extreme travel. I check the price of everything I buy – often twice.

If I was as rich as my friend seems to think – why would I have tried so hard to win the Biggest Baddest Bucket List contest – a contest that I still say I could have done better with – but water under a bridge and all that.

Despite the exotic locations – I don’t spend a lot of money traveling, or eating, or buying clothes. I bought a new watch a few days ago – $25 at Walmart – because my old one just got tired and stopped working.

I admit to a love of nice faucets and granite counter tops and magnificant views. But I think those are some of the essentials of life. Like a Toto Toilet. What is life without a proper flushing toilet. Really – does that mean I’m rich? Does putting up with a toilet that doesn’t flush properly say something about your financial status – or just say something about what you deem as important.

So I guess I’m wondering what I do that makes him think I’m rich.

I remember my husband once telling me that you always imagine that people have everything you have – and then add to that what you see them having that you don’t have. So maybe that’s part of the issue. He can afford to spend 3 months on an island – I spend just 2 weeks and call my self lucky. I still go to work (and love it) when I’m home – he is full retired – his time is his own.

Well – I guess I’m ok with being thought of as rich. As long as I don’t have to deal with paparazzi. That would definitely drive me nuts!

Signing off to contemplate her bank account (NOT!) – The soup lady.