Lost in (an Almost Complete Lack of) Translation

First of all, I am back with my best husband in the universe and that is extremely awesome.   Don’t plan on pulling that ridiculousness again anytime soon.  Second, we are living it up with our amazing friend Kumiko at her fat pad in Tokyo in the Shibuya district which is also awesome.  And thirdly, Japan is awesome.  (Yes, Gabe, that is three “awesomes” in as many sentences.)




finally cold again

We both arrived late on Sunday night from opposite directions, exhausted but happy and ready to hit Tokyo hard…..and that plan backfired.  With my jetlag and not having slept the previous night, and with both of us having gone to bed at 2am after traveling for many, many hours to get here, our first full day basically got as far a dinner and a quick peek at the Harajuku girls on Cat Street.  But by Tuesday we were ready to rock.  Kumiko went off for a 48-hour work jaunt to Seoul, Korea, and we started pounding the pavement seeing everything there is to see in Tokyo.  This place makes Singapore look like it was built in the 17th century as far as futuristic goes.  Some observations after our first week here:

1. The Japanese clearly loathe inefficiency, unworkability, and mediocrity.  Their weapon of choice for the battle against these three arch enemies is staggering, and seemingly insurmountable, complexity.


so…just get on the ginza line and then transfer to the JR line and then maigo.

2.  As far as personal presentation, the Japanese almost universally do not “do” overweight (Sumo wrestlers aside, of course).  What they also don’t do is frumpy – unless it is an express, stylistic choice.  They are the most put together group of people I have ever seen.  Even in their running clothes they make the French look sloppy.  And lest you think that dude that just walked by just rolled out of bed and put the crumpled clothes from the floor on, I am willing to wager my hat, ass, and overcoat that the hair is a result of some extremely pricey hair products and not an insignificant amount of time in front of the mirror, and the outfit was put together carefully from a collection of pieces that have been selected from some of the trendiest and priciest boutiques in town.


artificial rainbow


now who’s the local?


cool wood bench in glass building

3.  There is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay less English going on here than one might expect.  The least amount we have seen so far in over 6 months in Asia.  Even when confronted with no English menus and no English speakers in other places in Asia, we were always able to sort out a meal.  When confronted with the same circumstances here, however, we starved.  No ability to read Kanji = going to bed with no dinner.  The maps in all of the transportation stations are also extremely unuseful for the Kanji-illiterate.


the menu: I’ll take the sunagimo

4.   There is no better way to find out Obama won than sitting at a sushi bar in Japan downing delicious platters of sashimi and cracking up at the ridiculous animated pictures of Obama and Romney.  From this American’s perspective, the Japanese TV coverage took the most important day in American politics in four years and reduced it to a video game .  It was a super entertaining lunch.


“obama wins, look at his big ears haha”

5.  The Japanese people are way taller than I was expecting.  Completely un-relatedly, the cats here are HUGE.  Like seriously.  I would say they average twice the size of your average American housecat.



6.  Going to a Yakitori dinner with Kumiko and letting her order for you in Japanese is highly recommended.  So much fun to hear her speak Japanese like a local and treat us to a truly authentic experience.


“oh my god, chicken gizzard’s the best”

7.  Tokyo territory covered so far includes the Meiji Shrine at dusk shrouded in fog; people-watching on Cat Street and Takeshita-Dori in Harajuku (NOT to be missed if you come to Tokyo); Asakusa, Ueno Park and around exploration; wandering the mazes of ancient houses, shops and hidden Shrine gardens in the Yanese neighborhood; boating down the river at sunset on the water bus gazing up at the buildings and marveling at how  the Japanese even keep the UNDERSIDE of all the bridges perfectly maintained and painted; fall colors in the Imperial Palace gardens including a nap in the perfect-temperatured sunshine of Japan in November; Electric City (Akihabara) geek-gawking; general mall wandering (and, for the first time in Asia, no A/C needed!); lots of weird food tasting.


monks in the mist


haley soaking up the sun at a shrine

8.  Everything is beautiful here.  It’s clean, manicured, well-designed, aesthetically pleasing in every way.


haley in the imperial palace gardens in the sun


itty bitty tokyo restaurant


supersized bonsai garden


fancy hotel hallway


causing trouble

Today we are taking it easy until Kumiko gets back from a half day of work before we get her all to ourselves until Monday night.  The three of us are heading off to Nikko tomorrow to get some outdoorsy time in (hiking and hot springs) and a little more traditional Japanese culture.  Then it’s back to Tokyo for one night before we say goodbye to Kumiko and head to Kyoto for the end of our Japan trip and the very last international stop on this 14-month epic journey.  We might be the luckiest people around.  Looking forward to seeing everybody very soon!


Haley and Gabe


Other notes:

As is her duty when joining us during our travels this year, expect a blog post from Kumiko very soon.  Just because she is technically “home” does not get her out of her obligations.

They have cat cafes here where you can drink coffee and hang out with cats, supposedly as a way to de-stress.  You have to use a handi-wipe to clean your hands before you are permitted to touch these (germ phobic?) cats.  They also have maid cafes here where you can get served by girls in over-the-top pre-adolescent maid costumes (we gave those a miss).


maids serving lunch for nerds

Tokyo is way less intense than I was expecting.

This is the first country on our entire trip where the drivers do not appear to have homicidal feelings towards pedestrians.  It is quite a breath of fresh air.

If you ask a Japanese person for directions, more often than not they will walk you there.  Even if that means leaving their jewelry store utterly unattended (!!!) for 5 minutes while doing so.

We know six words in Japanese:  Konnichiwa (Hello), Sayonara (Goodbye), Arigato (Thank You), Hai (Yes), Ii-e (No), and Kumiko (Kumiko).  As I mentioned, we also don’t read Kanji.  This makes grocery shopping a challenge.  “Hai” is my favorite Japanese word.

When anyone enters or leaves a restaurant, all the chefs and wait staff yell a loud enthusiastic welcome or goodbye/thank you.  It is so fun.  You feel like you are their favorite person ever and they didn’t even know it until you just happened to walk into their restaurant.

Kumiko’s apartment is not typically Japanese (at all).  She has a king-sized bed (which she says is “amazeballs” – and yes, she still says “amazeballs”) which we are all sharing extremely comfortably.  Not exactly the visitor experience she was probably expecting but whatev’.  And the bed has a really hard mattress, which IS typically Japanese.

Gabe had to teach the Japanese chick how to use her rice maker.


Posted in Best | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Lost in (an Almost Complete Lack of) Translation

  1. guapalo says:

    I am pretty darn sure that Kumiko invented the word “amazeballs” just so there was some way to begin to describe your adventures.

  2. kenitosuze says:

    Yes, isn’t Japan ‘amazeballs’, (to take Kumiko’s lovely expression)?? Only a one day stop-over on our way to and from Bali at Narita (outside of Tokyo), but was so impressed at their meticulousness over every single thing. Our hotel room was The Example of energy efficiency (closet lights go on when door slides open, go off when closed) and guest hospitality (toothbrushes and tiny tubes of toothpaste, razors, lotions, soaps, shampoo, conditioner, cotton swabs, absolutely no need to bring your own toiletry bag) The winding streets in the old part of Narita, the Temples and gardens were beyond description beautiful and manicured. All we could figure out to order in restaurants was noodle soup (well, they had a photo of it on the wall) so we had a LOT of good noodle soup. Who’s complaining? I want to take Kenny there, I think he would LOVE it! Have fun in Kyoto and then smooooooth trip home. We love you truckloads! Suze and Kenito

    • gabe says:

      thanks guys for the sweet note. we had lots of fun in japan. it’s soo different from everywhere else we went and having kumiko to tell us what was happening made it 10x better. happy bday olie. we’re home now, but haley’s still writing one or 2 more travel blogs.

  3. kenitosuze says:

    By the way, today is Olin’s Birthday! Yay!! and yours coming up, Linda-Loo!

Leave a Reply

Alone in Asu

First of all thank you for all of the nice words for Haley. Thanks to you she’s healed and strong and ready to meet me in Tokyo tonight.  If you do ever fall victim to the nasty Dengue, drink lots of water and then call Haley, she’s an expert now.


earl taking surf pics under the palapa and volcano cloud at asu

Sorry for filling your inbox with posts recently. If you look at the previous post dates, you can see that they were written a while ago, it’s just that there was some kind of satellite malfunction somewhere in space which meant Asu was disconnected from the www. Now I’m in a Starbucks in Kuala Lumpur and surfing the internet faster than the wave coming in over the reef in front of Asu Camp. For the last 2+ weeks I was in Asu, Haley was thousands of miles away at a conference that she didn’t want to miss. Luckily, her ruthless sickness, most likely her second round of Dengue Fever, finished up shortly after she left. She was happy and I was relieved to know that she was recovering.

I wasn’t exactly alone after Haley left. I got to spend some quality time with Team Asu: our good friends Earl and Samantha, the staff Desi, Manna,  and a little bit of Folo,  two mostly extremely cute 5 and 6 year old girls Oli and Miso, 6 puppies, 3 dogs and a nice cat who I named Cookie. We had fun, and with all the real guests gone we didn’t exactly have a lot of responsibilities (especially me).  We ate like kings, played like kids and shut down the camp for the off-season in style. Those last two weeks blended into one big nice time that I couldn’t put in chronological order if I had to so here’s a big jumble of some of things that happened/I remember:

1. I got to surf a bunch of times right in front of the camp at the left hander reef break. Every time I went out I was a little less scared of the sharp reef that I was sure was going to eat me up when I fell and every time I got a little bit better at positioning myself deep enough to actually catch the beautiful waves. And every time was awesome, amazing, etc. On sunny days I would sometimes miss waves, because I was staring down at the school of bright blue fish swimming around beneath me. There was not one other person to compete with for waves. Earl and Sam came out a few times, but they just helped my cause by telling me where to go and how hard to paddle. I never got barreled, but I think I will next year and I barely touched the reef that I was so scared of with the toes of my booties.


view of wave from pool






uh huh

2. I also got to surf another wave off the island of Bawa that was 30 minutes away on Earl’s boat. That one was a right and according to Earl can be big and scary, but for us it was harmless and beautiful. That was lots of fun too. We did that twice (one time with Samantha too) and each time we would snorkel around after. We saw a turtle, some huge Trevally, lots of fish and tons of coral.


Bawa boat day


snorkel spot in the channel

3. We snorkeled out in front of the camp a few times.  Giant clams, coral everywhere, crystal clear water, etc. On our last night we decided to try out a waterproof flashlight and go for a night-snorkel. When we were about to jump in, it seemed that the flashlight was already getting weak, the tide was very high and there were big swells pushing into the keyhole in the reef where we planned on jumping in. We didn’t have another night, so we went for it. We were all a little scared for a while and when we looked under water where the flashlight beam was you couldn’t see shit except for when we were dangerously shallow and trying not to wash up on the reef, but for some reason it was lots of fun. A good old-fashioned adventure. We did end up seeing thousands of really weird little worms and some neat phosphorescence that lit up with our movements. Eventually we washed up on the beach as planned and walked home through the jungle.




sam in her element

4. We made kites from old hammocks and palm fronds and flew them high.


i know this picture isn’t that impressive, but that second pole on the left has a kite flying really high… see?

5. We ate lots of good food including: fish tacos, lasagna, steamed veggies, barbecued fish, chicken curry, salad topped with Feta cheese, freshly baked bread, french toast, porridge with fresh papaya and bananas, Beng-Beng chocolate bars with peanut butter on top, tea, coffee, cereal, fruit salad, banana cake, etc. Manna made most of that and now he is on his way to Bangkok to learn some Thai specialties. A little bit ridiculous to think that the food will be even better next time.

6. We baked cookies with all kinds of good ingredients.

7. We hung out on the beach and in the palapa lots.


puppy sunrise

8. We bought some rope and made a couple of swings. Neither of them were as cool as we had hoped they would be, but they were still cool.


me and miso testing the swing

9. I missed Haley and called her lots.

10. I went on a 3 hour walk with Samantha around the whole island. One neat thing about the island is that it lifted up about 2 meters after an earthquake in 2004 which means that a bunch of reef is now above sea level and you can still see dead coral formations everywhere. It also makes for big tidal pools that you can swim in with the fish or just watch the waves push through. We saw some nice trees, friendly locals, jungle and beauty all around.


sam on the reef that was under the ocean not long ago.

11. I woke up at sunrise almost every morning and walked down to the beach with the puppies.


palapa puppies

12. A couple of the days were rainy. Those days were lazier than usual.


black and white waves and grey skies

13. Sunsets and moon rises were great too.


big sunset blocker

14. Earl and I played lots of acey ducey. I won the first tournament, he won the second and is currently ahead 4-1 in the third. Another reason to go back.


look how happy he is to be winning. punk.

On November 1st we packed up on one of the most beautiful days. I got one last surf in, while Earl and Samantha took care of some things to close up the camp for the season. The sun was bright, the water was blue and clear, the wind was light and offshore and the waves looked like they were out of a magazine. It was a good way to end my 3 weeks on Asu and made me even more sure that I wanted to return. The previous night we had cooked some cookies with even more ingredients than usual, so we ate some of those along our journey.

The journey was:

20 minute walk to the boat, 30 minute boat from Asu to Nias, 2.5 hour drive across Nias, sleep, wake up and get in 10 minute car to airport, 1 hour flight to Medan, taxi to hotel. done. Everything went smooth as silk.

It was really fun to be with Manna who had lived in a small town on Nias most of his life and had never done a lot of things we were doing so everything was exciting to him. Some things I notices were:

It was his first flight. The first time in an elevator. The first time on an escalator. The first time using a telephone that was not wireless- he didn’t know whether to pick up or dial first and he seemed to not want to stretch the stretchy cord that goes between the phone and the handset. In Asu, they do have hot water, but it didn’t look like the shower at our hotel so I taught him how to turn on the shower. He asked me ‘where’s the water for the toilet?’- darn flush toilets. We were in a fancy hotel with card keys, where you need a card to open the door and then a card to turn on the lights- very exciting.

IMG_0459 (2)

manna about to break is personal elevation record

In Medan I mostly just enjoyed the fancy hotel room and the sushi and said goodbye to Earl and Samantha and Manna as they went to Bangkok and I went to find my girl in Tokyo for the last two weeks before home.

Other notes:

The Starbucks ‘bistro box’ sucks.

Go giants.

Happy birthday people. Sorry no more birthday pictures.

Yesterday at sushi with Earl and Sam, I ordered a roll and asked the guy if the tuna was raw or cooked. He said fresh. Turns out it was freshly cooked. I tried to switch it for something else and they said sorry ‘no exchange’, so I said fine I’ll just send it back and order something else… ‘sorry, no returns’. The first thing I ordered was rice. The rice came after we were done and asked for the bill. Samantha asked for a hot cappuccino and got a cold one. But the sushi was good. And don’t blame the language, ’cause Earl and Sam speak it like locals.

$75 cameras don’t take nearly as good pictures as more expensive cameras. Some of the nicer pics here are from Earl’s camera.

Never got a picture of me on a wave in Indo. Another reason to go back.

I saw 1 rainbow.


Posted in Best, Weirdest, Worst | 2 Comments

2 Responses to Alone in Asu

  1. bobcohn366 says:

    life in asu sounds great – reunited w haley in tokyo will be too. love and best wishes from california.

  2. joannecohn says:

    By now you all are back together in Toyko! Yahooo!!!! I love reading your blogs!!! Keep them coming – even when you are back in the States!

    Big hug!

    Aunt Jo

Leave a Reply

Dengue in Paradise

I’m still in Asu. Haley left yesterday and should be in Singapore now on her way away from me for an 18 day interlude before we meet up again in Tokyo. After Haley wrote the last post, things went very badly. It turned out that she didn’t just have a little flu or food poisoning, she was as sick as a dog and stayed sick for the entire 8 days that she was here. It started with a bad fever and paralyzing headache and body aches for about 3 days. Then 1 day of feeling almost OK, and then 4 more days of no energy, light headed-ness and nausea with some itchy swollen hands and feet mixed in. Our guess was another strain of Dengue, but we may never know. Either way, she says it was most likely the worst sickness of her life to date. So that sucked bad.


poor haley

Haley did make it out of bed for a few sunsets, puppy patting, lying under the palapa (beach shelter) which I built with Earl while Haley was in bed, and she even dipped in the Indian Ocean for a minute or two on her very last day here. It was sad because we had come a long way and were so excited to snorkel, explore the island, go swimming, etc., and we couldn’t do any of that. The main reason that most of that was impossible is that Haley could barely walk 50 ft before she had to sit down to avoid passing out.  One night after a beautiful sunset, it took us about 20 minutes to walk the 200 meters back to our cabin.

IMG_0027 (3)

sunset homerun

IMG_0012 (3)

haley doing her best


indian ocean- check

Of course, Haley wouldn’t let her dying slow me down. She kept ordering me to “go surfing, go have fun, stop worrying about me.” So I did that or at least tried to. While Haley would sleep or lie in bed I would go out and surf, build palapas, build kites, hang out with Earl and Sam and try not to worry too much about my sick angel. Yesterday when she left, she was feeling the best she had in a while, which was hopefully enough to get her through two long days of travel.

Now, let me tell you that Asu is paradise and Asu Surf Camp is the perfect place to stay in paradise. Our good friends Earl and Samantha have this place fine tuned and ready to enjoy. All of those little details that the rest of hotels in Asia often ignore aren’t ignored here. Every meal is delicious, the rooms are simple but clean and have balconies with hammocks staring out at the surf, Earl and Samantha are sweet and take care of things before you even think of them, and there’s no trash. Well, some trash does wash up on the beach, but compared to the rest of Asia, this place is as clean as a whistle. The water is clear and warm and Caribbean blue. You can watch the fish swim over the reef while you wait for a wave. Sunsets are ridiculous and sunrises aren’t bad either, both visible from the beach.

IMG_0048 (2)

never too sick for puppies

IMG_0078 (2)

haley in the intensive care unit

I’ll most likely be here for another two weeks and as long as the rain that is coming down now doesn’t continue for those two weeks, I think it will be a good two weeks. We’ve already got plans for a second palapa, more kites, more surf, snorkeling and more good food.

IMG_0035 (3)

balcony view with a little wave

IMG_0037 (3)

asu sunset over reef

Other notes:

Haley started feeding a cat that came around to our balcony and now I have a cat. Last night the cat pulled the plug to the water basin in the bathroom and let out all the water (probably about 50 gallons).

There are lots of hermit crabs around here.

I’ve been surfing 4 times. The first time I caught 0 waves, next time 1, then 3, then 5.  It’s a left and it’s really fun…and scary sometimes too.

The first palapa fell down after 1 day. The second palapa has lasted 5 days and made it through a stormy night last night. The goal for the second palapa is 10 days.

I’ve had a little cold for 10 days or so, but it hasn’t gotten in the way of things.

I miss Haley already. As far as I can remember, we hadn’t spent a night apart in 2012 until last night.

It’s pouring rain right now and doesn’t look like it will stop any time soon.

Posted in Worst | 11 Comments

11 Responses to Dengue in Paradise

  1. kumeeks says:

    i didn’t realize she was so sick :( i can’t believe the journey is coming to an end. i hope you guys continue the blog post!

  2. sister says:

    POOR SISTER!!! I was skyping with her tonight and I asked her if she knew that Dengue Fever was also known as Bonebreak Fever…and boy, she gave me the dirtiest look imaginable. I had no idea Sister had such a mean look in her facial repertoire! Hey, are you coming home yet? I’m over this being-gone stupidness.

  3. KikCaro says:

    Hope she gets better soon!

  4. 2sandyfeet says:

    Wow…Haley what a bummer! I hope you feel better quickly!
    Gabe- GL on the palapa manufacturing process!

    • gabe says:

      sorry for not making it clear.. you see by now she is healed..it was just when i was writing the blog that she was dying. I think it ended up lasting about 10 days. The palapa outlasted the dengue and was way more enjoyable.

  5. bobcohn366 says:

    glad haley is feeling better, that you got to be with earl & sam in paradise, that y’all are headed to be with komiko, and that you will be home in 2 weeks!

  6. kenitosuze says:

    Wow, Gabe and Haley: Yea, it sure sounds like dengue. Two couples, close friends of Olin and Ofelia’s got it two years ago in Leon, and the description matches ‘perfectly’, you do feel like your bones are going to break. Fever, rashes, their eyeballs ached so bad they couldn’t open their eyes, their calves stopped working so they couldn’t stand up. Oops, sorry to harp on it, I’m sure you want to forget every moment of it. So glad you’ll be home soon, can’t wait to hug you both! Love, Suze and Kenito (Sounds like our next adventure should be Asu!)

  7. rampigulati says:

    Hi guys!

    That really sucks that Haley is hurting like that. Hopefully she’s on the upswing. Can’t wait to see you guys in a few weeks!


Leave a Reply

Famous in Bukittinggi

Last time we posted a blog we were at Jakarta airport. It was just before we decided that it was not worth it to go into the city and try to find a hotel in the middle of the night when we had to be back in 5 hours for our next flight. This, however, was the wrong decision. We first tried to sleep on the floor outside the departures terminal with all of the other people who didn’t think it was a good idea to get a hotel for the night. It was hot, loud and smelled like a bathroom, probably because we were about 50ft from the bathroom door. Next we decided to try another spot on some dirt/dead grass in the parking lot area. This was much better except for the vicious mosquitos that were determined to eat us alive and did a pretty good job of it. Haley ended up sleeping for about 90 minutes and I slept for maybe 30. Note to self: never sleep in airport parking lot again…ever.

After that, we flew to Padang and then took a minibus to Bukittinggi. When we finally got there, we had been traveling for 29 hours with almost no sleep and we were tired. We ate some food, walked through the market and went to take a nap around 2pm.  We didn’t get up until 8am the next day. As usual, our expectations were not fulfilled upon arriving in this new place. We had 9 days before we were to catch a once-weekly flight from Padang to Nias via Palau Telo, and Bukittinggi did not look like a place we wanted to settle in. Mostly because we felt like we were residents in a zoo.  During our first stroll through the crowded market everybody stared at us. Everybody. A lot. Haley was wearing a summer dress with spaghetti straps, which we thought might be the issue in a town where most people are Muslim, with the women wearing head coverings. After our extended rest we went outside with much less skin exposed and now only 99.9% of people stared, pointed, and discussed us amongst themselves. It was a bit awkward to just be stared at, so we started to say hello to people. We discovered that as soon as you say hello, almost every time the other person would smile big and return the greeting and instantly become super friendly asking your name, telling you theirs, asking where we were from, what we were doing, etc.


ever feel like someone is watching you?


getting ready for the national anthem

After a day of catch up and rest in town, we headed to Abdi Homestay in the Harau Valley about 2 hours away where we celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary and our 1 year anniversary of this trip.  Abdi has 4 basic (cold water scoop showers, plywood doors, etc.) but super sweet bungalows at the base of a waterfall and cliff.  There is no electricity so each evening, our buddy Yoga would come by and light gas lanterns in our room, bathroom, and on our balcony – super romantic.  Ikbal, the owner, and his wife Noni would follow about an hour later to deliver a delicious vegetarian dinner.  We would eat our dinner by lamplight on our balcony and chat, while the geckos scrounged theirs from the insects drawn to the light of the lanterns.  One evening, a huge but quick storm moved through the valley and we sat and watched and listened as lightning and thunder cracked and crashed, echoing back and forth against the cliff walls.  Extremely cool.


rice patties in harau valley

Harau itself is really gorgeous – huge cliff faces, waterfalls, rice fields, gibbons, macaques, punky monkeys, and the tiniest bit of jungle not yet taken over by agriculture on the edges of the valley.  The major downer was, as usual, trash and sucky development.  There are all of these amazing waterfalls sprinkling down sheer cliffs but at the bottom they had built nasty ‘swimming’ pools and put shacks selling crap souvenirs and crap food and there is trash absolutely everywhere.  Plastic bottles, styro foam containers, plastic bags – in huge quantities. It was one of the worst trash situations we had seen yet and we were pretty bummed.  But Ikbal had told us there was one waterfall with no development, no trash, and no people.  So the next day we were getting ready to head out to find that waterfall.  Gabe went for an early walk to take some photos of our waterfall after the storm.  And that’s when everything went to hell.

Our camera – brand new and delivered by Aunt Jo in August – stopped working (seemingly unrelated to my dropping it a month prior but who knows).  I will spare you most of the details but we eventually left Harau early and headed back to get it fixed.  Gabe took it apart and put it back together again 5 different times but was never able to get it working.  So we had no camera from our second day in Harau up until our very last day in Bukittinggi (about 5 days) when we bought yet another camera.  Before we left Harau, we did find the trashless, peopleless waterfall which was stunning – probably the best waterfall we have seen the whole year and we had it all to ourselves all afternoon.  But we had no camera.  We also rode a motorbike all through the different fingers of the valley which was gorgeous, but, again, no camera.  We also saw a crazy mutant cat whose DNA got confused in vitro.  He was exactly half orange and half black with a perfect line down his face and back.  We had to stop and pat him and look him over to convince ourselves he wasn’t spray painted.  But again, no camera.


our waterfall

Our return to Bukittinngi was the beginning of a stint of celebrity status, where we really felt like we had a first-hand experience of what famous people must feel like when they go out into public.  Every day we were in Bukittinggi we were stopped at least 10 times for photos and autographs and requests for our facebook names – everyone arguing with each other and jockeying for a position right next to us, pushing each other out of the pictures so they could have one by themselves, asking if they could take just one more.  Walking through the town square at night in search of dinner one night, we had to make a run for a back street before we starved to death – we had been stopped 4 times in 5 minutes by curious locals wanting to chat and take pictures.  There were also several groups of students from nearby towns who had come to Bukittinggi on field trips in hopes of meeting and interviewing tourists.  One evening, we were interviewed 5 different times and happened to run into the students’ teacher, Mr. Haris, who was not any less excited than his students to meet us.  He basically begged us to come to his classroom the next day and given his town was on the way to Lake Mananijau, our plan for the next day anyway, we went.  Our presence at the school and in the class created absolute mayhem.  We did our best to teach two lessons on how to extend and accept or decline an invitation, and how to pay compliments, but I don’t think anybody learned anything.  It was so loud, everyone was talking and pointing and taking pictures, and there were no fewer than 40 other students from other classes crowded around the windows and doors of the classroom, yelling and talking and being generally fascinated.

CIMG4139 Photo0126 Photo0129 Photo0144

Photo0149 Photo0158 Photo0146

After promising Mr. Haris we would come to his house later that day to meet his family and have tea, we headed on to Lake Maninjau – a huge (17km x 10km) volcanic crater lake.  We had an awesome time riding our motorbike on the backroads of the lake, through countless local villages, people’s fascination with our existence/presence rivaling and often beating that of the locals in Bukittinggi.  We went to Mr. Haris’ house as promised for tea, met his lovely wife and their two children and graciously declined their invitation to change our itinerary and come stay at their house for a week.  After Mr. Haris sent Gabe out to the main road on the motorbike and made me walk with him so he could show everyone he had friends from America, we said goodbye and headed back to town.  It was a funny day.


The rest of our time in Bukittinggi was spent with students and in class.  More photos and autographs on our second to last day led to downright pleading by a group of girls to come meet their classmates and teacher at the town fort.  We sat under a tree on display for about an hour and a half surrounded by curious locals – students, teachers and randoms alike.  We answered question after question, showed them pictures of our trip, handed out autographs and facebook names, and of course had our picture taken a million times.  Our final day we went to yet another class at the invitation of the teacher, Mein.  The students were ages 3-5 and were really cute.  They sang songs and performed for each other in English and then we all headed to “Texas Fried Chicken” for Vania’s 5th birthday party.  There we all got crowns, we sang songs, played silly games and ate cake.  It was nothing short of adorable.  That evening Mein and her 2-year old son Shadik (who really knew how to cry) treated us to dinner at a local Padang restaurant and we packed up for a 5:30 am departure to Asu the next day.


lake maninjau near bukittinggi



IMG_0043 (2)


IMG_0039 (2)


Our trip to Asu was pretty smooth and took about 11 hours.  We flew from Padang to Nias Island where we got a car to the other side of the island and then a boat to Asu.  The car and boat went pretty much exactly as planned and were very straight forward.  The flight was ridiculous and uber-sketchy and awesome.  Here are the top reasons why:

  1. The airline is called NBA.
  2. To reserve a seat, they just write your name on a sign-up sheet.  You don’t even have to pay until you show up to catch the flight.
  3. That concept was too scary for us given the flight is only once a WEEK, so we got to the airport extra early (3 hours). Good thing as when I happened to look at the tickets after we paid for them – at 7:45am, I noticed it said the flight was at 8:30am, not 10:50am.  What about the schedule posted right on the ticket office window here that you referred us to last week?, we asked.  Oh, that’s old.  Ooooookay.
  4. Our tickets and boarding passes were hand-written.
  5. They weighed our luggage, our hand luggage, AND us.
  6. Our id’s were never checked – EVER.
  7. We put our bags on the belt to go through the scanner and decided to risk not emptying out our water bottle.  Turned out to be no problem given the chair in front of the X-ray monitor was unoccupied.
  8. The information about our flight on the airport screens said it departed at yet a third and different time.  Oh, that is because we haven’t told the airport about the new schedule yet, the sweet lady tells us.
  9. When the flight was ready to go, the guy who checked us in came around the waiting room and collected passengers in person. “ Time to go”, he said.  “Wait here, we all go together.”
  10. The plane looked about 50 years old, the cabin was not pressurized, ear protectors were on each seat, and the crew said precisely nothing before take-off much less gave a safety briefing.
  11. The windowframe was held on by velcro.
  12. The pilots were smoking during the flight.
  13. The flight “computer” was nothing more than a Garmin GPS mounted near the gearshift.
  14. The pilots were grinning and celebrating and gave each other a big thumbs up after we landed successfully the first time (we had a stopover on another island).  Gabe was pretty sure it was one of their first few solo landings ever.

IMG_0009 IMG_0030 IMG_0014IMG_0024

I feel pretty excited that we made it to Nias alive and despite having had a blast on the flight and having arrived totally safely, I would not recommend you take NBA Airlines, ever. I think we were pretty lucky.  So now we are settling in to life at Asu Surf Camp which is absolutely amazing so far.  And I say that despite having arrived with an intense flu/fever and having been in bed/the hammock since we arrived yesterday. Earl is taking care of some boat business back on Nias. Gabe and Sam are out on the wave in front of the camp right now which I can see from the hammock. The weather is gorgeous and the surf conditions look perfect.  I am trying to heal up so I can get out of bed/ the hammock and go in search of the litter of seven 6-week old puppies that are at the camp.  It’s great to be with our good friends Earl and Sam again.  I think we are really going to like it here.  More soon.


first sunset on Asu


Sam and Earl at the beach at sunset


Haley and Gabe

Other notes:

Haley wrote most of this blog and Gabe removed 1 ‘outrageously’, 2 ‘ridiculous’ and then gave up on that plan.

Our second hotel in Bukittinggi was directly next to a mosque that was very loud. Especially at 4:30am.

For one of the few times on our trip, our expectations were exceeded when we arrived at Asu and again when we were served dinner at Asu Surf Camp.

The Bukittinggi zoo is bad.

There are not many tourists in Bukittinggi or Harau Valley or anywhere around here.

Happy birthday everyone whose birthday it was recently….Jarod, Jordy, Nicole, Willa, Tara, Zoe Rubin, Zoe Hameed, and Benji whose birthday it is today – in Europe anyway – even though this blog is going to be post-dated.  We love you all so very much.

Posted in Weirdest | 5 Comments

5 Responses to Famous in Bukittinggi

  1. KikCaro says:

    Happy Anniversary!

  2. 2sandyfeet says:

    Wow! That is an awesome post of adventures!!! I too have slept at the Jakarta airport… in the same situation…and same result…. less than 1hour of sleep… your post brought back memories for sure! Anyhow, great to hear you guys are doing well and hope that you have fun at ASU and say “hi” to Sully for me (and tell him I was chatting with Wardo in the water the other day who would also say hi). Hope you take some shots of earl’s camp and post them- looking forward to it!

  3. kumeeks says:

    happy anniversary! It was good to see this entry after not having heard from both of you – perhaps the longest lapse since you guys started this blog. I can’t believe we’ll be seeing each other TOMORROW!! expect a huge culture shock in Tokyo after Indo!!

Leave a Reply

Derawan Shmerawan?

When we got here…


this dock is great, because the water is deep at the end and you can jump off. plus there is shade and turtles everywhere.

we were really disappointed.  Can’t say we didn’t warn you about how spoiled we are.  We weren’t kidding.  The disappointment lasted about 24 hours – we even considered just doing a day of diving and then leaving.  Turns out Pulau Derawan IS all that, and worth the three days and cost to get here….except for some trash and some seriously lacking respect for the environment which is what bothered us the most when we first arrived.  After we got over ourselves and I stopped wishing the entire human race (myself included) extinct, we stayed longer than planned and had an amazing time.  In fact, we were quite out of money and might have stayed longer than the 9 nights we stayed if the closest ATM wasn’t a full day’s travel away and our emergency stash of American dollars didn’t have too many creases for the one guy on the whole island we could find willing to give us a horrible rate to exchange it for Rupiah.


no ATMs on Main St. Derawan, just the Pelangi crew.





roof jumping at Pelangi on a nice day


look at that water. and then jump into it.


everybody now

As you can see from the photos, the water here is ridiculous, the weather has been virtually perfect, and the diving has been some of our best (more on that shortly).  We have been lucky enough to share much of our stay with some exceptionally lovely people – the nicest family in the universe, a crew of 6 from Australia (Neil, Yvette, Will (12), Charlie (10), Chessie (8), and Gerogie (6)), and dive master Debbie and her sweet friend Alex from Switzerland.  They really have enhanced our time here sharing card games, sand-castle building, snorkeling, karaoke-ing, sandbar-walking, swimming, jetty-jumping/flipping competitions, and even firecracker booby trapping (obviously Gabe hasn’t changed that much this year).


Coolest family on Derawan

As far as wildlife, we have been overwhelmed.  Huge turtles swim everywhere you look – off our bungalow deck, off the boat, in the shallows of the islands – you can hardly go 3 minutes without seeing a turtlehead or four pop up.  And, while we thought it would be hard to compete with the Perhentian whale shark, we found some stiff competition on Kakaban and Sangalaki Islands, just an hour’s boat ride from Derawan.  We spent our second day here on a trip out to both islands where we did a “wall dive” at a really cool drop-off off the coat of Kakaban Island. We saw turtles and beautiful coral and lots of fish, and diving alongside the wall was so cool.  I felt like I was flying.  The middle of Kakaban Island happens to also have a gigantic lake in the middle of it filled with millions (literally – we talked it over and we both agree that’s no exaggeration) of jellyfish.  And because this particular group of jellyfish have had no predators for however many thousands of years, they either never had or have lost their stingers.  So you can snorkel to your heart’s content surrounded by jellyfish….and get no stings.  So that was awesome.


see all the other ones behind this one?


180 degrees of perfection from Kakaban island



us on kakaban dock after dive and jellyfish and before mantas

Then we went to Sangalaki Island to test our luck diving at Manta Point for Giant Mantas. Luck was seriously on our side. During our dive we saw 6 mantas swimming through the deep, all about 3 or so meters across. So amazing to watch them fly slowly by with their huge mouths open filtering the water for plankton. We were awestruck, amazed, dumbfounded – you name it. It was so good that we went back again and spent another whole day at Sangalaki. The island is picturesque and we laid on the beach, ate lunch, and walked the perimeter of the entire island. The sand was cratered by hundreds of old turtle nests and practically the only “trash” to be found was the turtle shells from all the hatchlings. AND, we got lucky again and saw even more Mantas on our dives. But the absolute best was snorkeling with them on the surface. There were at least a dozen in the morning, and while I was diving in the afternoon, Gabe saw probably another 2 dozen more. We weren’t sure but it seemed like they were playing with us – they would swim toward us with their mouths wide open and then at the last moment turn hard and swim the other way only to swing back around 15 seconds later and do the same thing. They would swim around you, under you, over you. It was such a thrill, we could have stayed all day. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience.


Sangalaki island as seen from Manta Point..AKA paradise.



small giant manta.. maybe 4 ft across

Other highlights have been snorkeling with the turtles in front of our hotel, hanging on and jumping off the various jetties on the island, and “land” snorkeling from above the water. It’s also been fun walking down the “main” road saying hello to the really friendly locals (there is a group of 10 or so year old girls who have a total crush on Gabe), eating lots of Gado Gado and tempeh, and general gazing with our jaws dropped at the beautiful water and scenery. And, there is a serious population of cats on Derawan which of course means….KITTENS.


haley enjoying herself on the sandbar on a less sunny day



flying turtle



haley torturing


less torture, more patting




haley fitting in



perfect form


going for distance


one of the better sunsets from our hotel deck


talking to turtles from our balcony

Last night as we were gathering our stuff, we couldn’t find Gabe’s sunglasses anywhere – the pair he bought only 2 weeks ago to replace the pair he left on the dive boat in Perhentian.  We looked all over the place and they had just basically disappeared even though we had not left the deck the whole afternoon.  We went back through our pictures from the day to see if we could figure out when they went missing but no luck.  Gabe got up early today before our boat out to snorkel through the water out front to see if he had jumped in with them on (which he said he would “never” have done).  Still no luck.  About 20 minutes before our boat was due to pick us up we were exchanging pictures with the Aussie family and Gabe found photographic evidence in their shots that he did in fact jump in the water with them on – and exactly where.  Back out with the mask he went and barely 2 minutes later he came back up with a huge grin on his face and glasses in hand.  It was a sweet way to end a great 9 days.




further evidence


and they’re off


and on their way down to the sandy bottom



We left Derawan at 8am this morning with only a general direction – Sumatra – in mind as we were not able to look at flights or destinations on the internet.  After 15 minutes browsing flights (and not even checking email or facebook – can you even imagine the will power?!) at an internet café, we bolted to the “airport” in Berau where we caught an extremely shady looking airplane to Balikpapan.  That is where we are now.  From here we fly to Jakarta and figure out what we want to do on Sumatra for the next week before we head to Earl and Sam’s place on Asu.  We might be sleeping in the Jakarta airport tonight.

Thanks Derawan, for an epic stay.  We’ll respond to all of your emails and FB messages soon.


Haley and Gabe

p.s. most of this blog was written on our last day on Derawan and finished during our travels to Jakarta


cash only? really?


very secure


just in case we needed in-flight repairs?







Other notes:

You can walk the entire perimeter of Derawan in about 30 minutes.  But some people still have motorbikes.  Really a bicycle is hardly even justifiable.

No internet here. None.  Longest connectivity drought on our whole trip.  Hope nothing important happened while we were here.

Some guy who spoke no English found out we were from America and said ‘Oh, the international terrorists’.  Nice.  We were wondering whether the anti-Islam film was going to cause problems for us in Indonesia but as there were no warnings from the U.S. Embassy at the time we were booking our tickets, we came anyway.  We thought there’d be not much knowledge of it, if any, on Derawan given the lack of internet but we were wrong.  From now on we’re Canadian.

Many people here call Gabe ‘ewe com su pai!’ And we still have not figured out what it means despite asking about five people. Maybe a combination of stupid, handsome, and wild man/savage.

Indonesians really like to have their picture taken with us.


Gabe typed up a guide on how to get from Kota Kinabalu to here that took 45 minutes.

Local girls don’t like Justin Bieber, he’s ‘ayam’ (‘chicken’); but they do like lady gaga, she’s ‘bagus’ (‘good’).

Gabe got his flip-flop fixed here for $1.50. Good thing as there is not exactly a mall here.

I may or may not have dropped the (new) camera. On concrete. Again. There are some battle wounds but it is basically still working really well.

Drivers in Indonesian Borneo like to hang all sorts of decorations and stuffed animals in their windshields to block their view of the road as much as possible. And they avoid having seatbelts whenever possible. They also drive like maniacs.

It took us precisely 57 hours to get here from Kuching. The first day of the route was a taxi, a plane, and then two local buses, all in order to spend the better part of a day of back and forth at the Indonesian consulate in Kota Kinabalu (where upon entry you would have been certain you would not be able to speak to a person in this lifetime, much less get any sort of visa – but we it was actually cake to get around the mayhem and we had visas 5 hours (and $120) later). Then we took another local bus, to an overnight bus, to a minivan, to another flight, to another taxi, to a boat, to a car-share (a harrowing 3.5 hour roller-coaster through the jungle with a shared seatbelt) to a small city called Berau where we had to spend the night. That was followed by another (2.5 hour and harrowing) car-share (no seatbelts, but plenty of windshield blocking kitsch) to a speedboat that finally dropped us on the dock of our hotel on Derawan. It was worth it.


cute kids make long hot boat rides much better

There are no mosquitos on this island. Good thing we’re taking this malaria medicine.

Posted in Best | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Derawan Shmerawan?

  1. guapalo says:

    wall diving and all those sea playmates
    beautiful beaches, swimming, diving
    loving life with each other and wonderful people

  2. guapalo says:

    killer place to stay
    disappointed to thrilled
    finding sunglasses
    more paradise

  3. kumeeks says:

    looks like paradise! hope you enjoy the rest of indo. can’t wait to see you both IN A MONTH!!

Leave a Reply