Across the Pacific

We touched down in Los Angeles a few hours ago.  Spirits were appropriately high among the kids as they had just endured 18 hours of air travel and were that much closer to home.  And Chipotle. Alex and I were wrestling with a mix of feelings brought on by the end of the road, most immediate of which was a strong dose of sadness.  Though we have promised ourselves that more adventures lie ahead, and that they don’t have to involve massive travel, they will have to wait at least a little while. Not that we needed it, this point was driven home by what sat at the gate next to ours at LAX: an Air New Zealand jet, preparing for its long haul back to Auckland.  Seeing that plane was like a punch in the gut.

We finished strong in Indonesia, without being overwhelmed by the end of the trip. Bali may be a bit of a circus, but our time at Wakatobi more than made up for the crowds and traffic.  A diving resort on a tiny island, Wakatobi is easily the most remote spot we have visited – off the southern tip of Sulawesi, about halfway between Papua and Java. We took a two-hour charter that the resort runs a couple of times a week from Bali. Otherwise, I was told that a two-day boat ride is the only to get there.  Part of me feels like our flight was a bit of a cheat, and that we couldn’t appreciate just how in-the-middle-of-nowhere we were without getting there by water and land.

Once there, it was all about diving. We are still new to the sport but have clearly and accidentally spoiled ourselves by hitting the Great Barrier Reef and Wakatobi on the same trip.

preparing for the abyss

Where the GBR showed us larger creatures like sharks, dolphins, rays and turtles, the endless reefs of Wakatobi are a blast of color from the coral and the (often tiny) animals that live among them.  Some of the greatest finds are the smallest: the pygmy seahorse is about the size of the nail on your pinky finger, but you’ve had a banner Wakatobi day if you spotted one among the coral.

entering the abyss

Tallying species in your dive log is fun, but, more importantly, we have each finally gotten control of the underwater anxieties of managing breathing and equipment to the point where we can truly savor drifting the world below the surface. Earlier tonight, over dinner in an ominously dull Santa Monica restaurant, Alex recalled a dive spot called Conchitas. Unlike vertical reef walls which are so common around Wakatobi, Conchitas is a series of underwater bays separated by rideglines which attract larger species like sharks and rays via electromagnetism (our excellent divemaster Joeri provided that last bit; I can’t honestly vouch for it).  We did see some reef sharks and an eagle ray, but what Alex remembered most vividly was the sensation of drifting along the sea floor, up toward the lip of a bay, then topping out each ridgeline to take in the blue abyss beyond.  I can see it like it was earlier today, but can’t say much more about it without using silly words like blueness and abyssness.  We have underwater photos we can share in a few days, but I have my doubts that they will convey the moments much more effectively.

The kids mock me openly every time I mention it, but I read somehwere along the way that we should each be living for the moments that can’t be put into words.  I have a running mental list of these moments from our trip, and our dive at Conchitas fits well alongside Himalayan dawns, a hammerhead in Australia, and an icy sunset on the shoulder of Mt Aspiring. As we return home, our job will be to cherish these moments, let the headaches of constant travel melt away, and add to this list with more adventures.

that’s La La Land below

We’ll spend a week in California before returning closer to reality.


alex finding her Indo bliss

Canggu, Bali

We’ve heard alot of reggae over the last few months.  I remember in particular one tiki bar in Sri Lanka (I think its was called Smiley’s) that ran “Legend” on repeat each day, very loud. The Sri Lankan beach aesthetic, which rallies around the island’s red, gold, and green Lion Flag, lends itself easily to those irie vibes. Such vibes travel well along the global backpacker circuit, and we have been happy to cross paths with this scene many times this past year. Sun, sand, and reggae, in an exotic spot: a classic combination sure to attract hordes of travelers with time on their hands. As our big trip winds down, maybe it is appropriate that we have found the spot where hippie surf traveler culture seems, for better or worse, most fully developed: The Island of the Gods, Bali.

Those gods chose well when they picked their island.  The beaches are long and wide, and at least during our stay, offered big, soft waves well-suited to the 40-something Chevy Chase surfer.  Above the beaches, the land slopes steadily upward, through hot, sunny villages separated by terraces of rice paddies, rows of banana trees, and thousands of Hindu temples. Among the temples, each business and house seems to include its own private temple or shrine.

In the hills

Above these villages, steeper slopes hold more rice paddies, each greener than the last.  From here, the jungle becomes a forest, cool and misty, and the green eventually turns to volcanic black around the 10,000 foot level.  At least thats how it looks from below.

Bali from Lembongan

The dominance of Hinduism here, for us, is a callback to our days in India.  Ganesh is everywhere, but his counterparts Shiva, Vishnu, and Krishna aren’t nearly as prevalent as back in India.  In their place, the Balinese variety of Hindu decoration adds stone demon and guardian carvings which stand sentry outside of temples and houses everywhere you look.  Stone carvers selling their wares line many of the roads outside of the town where we spent six days, Canggu.

Guard the temple, scout the waves

In town, the Balinese honor the daily tradition of laying bamboo trays filled with marigolds, small food items, and burning incense at every door.  I was told that these offerings signal to the spirits that they should treat the residents with mercy, and the Balinese apear to take their obligation very seriously. The trays are replaced daily, if not more often, and we are as likely to see them marking a private home, guesthouse, or shop, as a parking lot at the beach, a waterpark, or a Starbucks.

Appropos of nothing, we ran into a huge convoy of VW Things in Jatiluwih

Those last two spots point to the other side of Bali, which is alive and well on the southern end of the island.  Western tourism is huge here, driven largely by surfing, and has been for 30 years. Traffic can be brutal.  Densapar, Bali’s only major city, features resorts, shopping malls, and amusement parks like you would see at any US beach town.

One small example of the amazing graffiti in and around Canggu

Canggu is on the western fringe of the Densapar’s sprawl. The pace of development here is impossible to miss. Among constructions cranes and traffic jams are countless tattoo parlors, organic food stands, yoga studios. At least one shipping container night club is in the works. Motorbike culture is strong among locals and tourists, but Canggu offers a thriving custom motorcycle scene catering to an itinerant macho hipster demographic which we haven’t seen elsewhere.  The term “Bali Bro” seems a good fit, if it hasn’t already been coined.

There is a tremendous amount of just hanging out going on in Bali

What Canggu doesn’t have are the low-budget staples of tourist culture that we’ve so often run into throughout Asia: t-shirt and elephant pants shops, Buddha hawkers, and knock-off North Face stands. Maybe those are back in Densapar and Kuta.  Something else that we noticed missing among the western visitors: any interest, however superficial, in local culture.  The primary pursuits among our fellow travelers appear to be surfing and partying (One neighbor at our guesthouse held court one evening on the veranda with a scholarly lecture on how best to stay hydrated while leading a life of heavy partying in the tropics.  He has a huge motorcycle).

Happy hour

So we are left with what appears to be a peaceful cohabitation: the western tourists and expats alongside the Balinese. The intersection between the two lies somewhere on the beach, between the surf lineup and that evening’s reggae band. In Canggu, at least, this arrangement  seems to work. Maybe this has to do with the local economics: one local guy told us that few Canggu natives have to work at all, thanks to the influx of Chinese money supporting real estate development in town. Whatever the case, we would be crazy to think we’ve figured this spot out after just a week.   It certainly was not what we expected.

Livelying up themselves

This post was supposed to be about the reason we came to Bali – surfing! – and I have failed to mention one bit of the fun and success we found among the waves of the gods’ island (Yay Balicamp!). We loved it. Will share more soon, and if the internet cooperates, there will be video.   But we’ve just landed on Pulau Tomia for the grand finale of this big trip.  Time to put the phone down.


More loiterers loitering

Au Co Adapting

They say kids struggle with transitions.  And we’ve definitely seen evidence of that with our crew over the years.  But during the last almost 10 months they’ve become masters of adapting to new conditions.  One example: we move a lot.  Our average stay in any one place is about 4.5 nights.  And for all the fun of checking into and checking out a new homestay, hostel, hotel, villa, there’s all the hassle and stress of packing up all our stuff, once again. Packing was about my least favorite chore at home and it’s become no less pleasant for me on the road.  That only increases my admiration for how well and, for the most part, how cheerfully our kids tackle this task.

Leaving Hanoi….


Of course, some transitions are pretty easy to handle.  Like our recent move from the seat of our motorbikes….

As fun as it was, many hours on the road does its toll on your backside

… followed by a few nights in a homestay in the heart of Hanoi…

Where all 6 of us shared one pretty cramped (cozy?) room

…to a 3 day cruise on beautiful, and spacious, Halong Bay.

halong-bay-in-vietnam-island-wallpaper-3840x2160  For this, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, we chose to indulge in a splurge.  I didn’t know quite what to expect when I booked the cruise many months ago and to be honest I hadn’t given it a ton of thought.  I made the plan before B and I realized so deeply that experiences appealing to us would not necessarily translate to the younger set.  A week ago, as we boarded our ship, the Au Co, I quietly wondered if we had made a mistake.  This pretty luxe vessel was charming for sure, but it did not exactly have family friend written all over it.




Our crew brought the average age down a few decades.  I worried the kids would be completely (and justifiably) bored as they watched us sip cocktails with a bunch of friendly, but decidedly older Ozzies on the Lido Deck…


Or, alternately, that Brendan and I would spend all our time trying to keep the kids’ antics from impinging on the elegant comfort our shipmates had paid a pretty penny to enjoy.  In yet another display to our kids’ great adaptability, neither turned out to be the case.

They embraced the opportunities for adventure the trip offered.

We explored a 3-chambered limestone cave with remarkable stalactites and stalagmites.  Coco schooled the group on the difference between the 2.


We cycled on Cat Ba Island to a small village where we visited the farms and met some local schoolchildren.



The next day we woke up early to take bamboo boats to another part of Cat Ba to try to spot the highly endangered Cat Ba Langur–only 61 left in the world.  

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No luck seeing the Langur (except through Google searches), but no one complained much. We had a beautiful ride.


To the extent we did engage in typical cruise activities, the kids played the part beautifully.

Eagerly participating in the spring roll making contest and fruit carving lesson….



Charming the Ozzies as well as some great new friends we made from our home-home (DC) and our wannabe home (NZed)…


And showing off some killer table manners while sampling the ship’s fine cuisine….


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What fun we had!

Except maybe when doing schoolwork…

But especially when celebrating Holly’s 12th birthday…


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Rona and Courtney of Auckland and Tiffani and Matt of Alexandria helped us toast the birthday girl

And what beautiful photos the kids created to document this part of our adventure.  I’d say that the foregoing are the best shots in any of our posts so far and all (but a few amateur shots by me) the work of our younger set.  DSC_0361DSC_0249


As I sometimes remember to tell them (but not nearly often enough), they amaze us every day.