Papua Paradise Resort – 2 days in

(Mostly by Simon. Lauren doesn’t tend to write about toilets.)

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Papua paradise resort is everything you would expect, looking at their website online. Tropical beach with palms. Idyllic bungalows over the water with little sharks swimming between the pilings. Smiling faces. Diving.

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What makes Papua paradise different, for Simon anyway, was a US one cent coin placed on the desk in our bungalow. We assumed a previous guest had left it. About an hour later, as we were assembling our cameras and underwater housings, Simon needed a small coin to use on the camera mounting screws. It then became apparent just how thoughtful and accommodating the staff here are for divers. There is even a room with A/C and all of the tools and gadgets needed to clean, service, and charge underwater cameras, which we have made good use of already!

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We were having (delicious!) lunch when some kids exclaimed that they saw something in the water. “What’s that over there?” “I think it’s a manta ray”, Lauren said. After watching this thing (or things) move around for a few minutes, we could clearly see the rise and fall of pairs of wings, followed by a small, curved fin. Mantas. 100 meters away. Lunch was abandoned as we ran over and grabbed our fins and the camera.

 

Swimming out to sea, we found that the shallow reef flat in front of the resort abruptly ends and deep water begins. Beams of sunlight sparkled down into the depths. The rays seemed so tantalizingly close. We pressed on. We were almost there when the rays disappeared from the surface, presumably because we were making such a commotion. Turning around, we noticed that we were quite far from shore now… Suddenly, a black shape materialized into view. A single, large, and completely black manta swooped past us and disappeared into the deep. Fantastic.

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We returned to the pier, where the kids had convinced one of the staff to ready a boat to find the mantas. We hopped on and joined the effort. It became apparent that the mantas don’t like boats and would quickly disappear when approached. After failing to get near them twice, we watched them from about 30 meters away, happily grazing on the surface. Lauren & Simon quietly entered the water and slowly swam towards them, the family following close. We were finally rewarded. The rays were feeding on dense numbers of little blue amphipods on the surface of the ocean. They would pass us, skimming the surface with their giant vacuum cleaner mouths, before flapping their wings and gliding away.

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Overall, yesterday was a near perfect day. In addition to the manta encounter and constant delight over the perfection and thoughtfulness of Papua Paradise resort, we had three amazing dives near the house reef. The sheer number of fish, cryptic animals, and cool invertebrates was astounding. By dinner, we were writing to the grandparents’ “resort” requesting that Joey be sent over with diapers and sunscreen because we were never coming home.

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(Just kidding – please don’t give our jobs away!)

 

There was a storm this morning. About 4:30 AM the wind and swell suddenly picked up. The bungalow, which is made from palm leaves and wood sourced from the local jungle, doesn’t exactly remind you of a sturdy fortress. The wind and rain were driving into the side of the building with scary force and causing the building to sway. Sitting on the toilet, you could feel the seat move as the pipes under the building were hit by swells!

 

Incredibly, however, not a single drop of rain came through the roof. After the sun came up, an inspection of the bungalow revealed no damage. While the place looked a little fragile, the quality of its construction became apparent to us when we saw that it had emerged from the squall unscathed.

 

We are enjoying the views and schooling baby black-tip reef sharks under the bungalows while we wait for the all-clear to get in the water again. Word is that the dive boats should be running again after lunch.

 

Jakarta Layover

Car-free day in Jakarta, seen from our room at the Hyatt. Vendor carts with red roofs are on the lower right.
Car-free day in Jakarta, seen from our room at the Hyatt. Vendor carts with red roofs are on the lower right.

After about 36 hours of travel, we made it to Jakarta with all of our things! Simon had a free night at the Hyatt (any Hyatt…!) so we decided to take advantage of that here. What a great choice. This is by far the nicest hotel either of us have ever stayed in, and the staff are amazing. Before we could even ask (upon checking in at 2am), the concierge insisted on setting up a late checkout at no charge – for 6pm the next day! We were able to get access to the ‘club,’ which included a delicious and diverse breakfast buffet including fish soup, congee porridge, eggs made to order, croissants, and european cheese. Our room came with towels wrapped as kissing swans on the bed, gourmet cookies in a box, and an amazing bouquet of fresh flowers. I’m a little surprised we left at all 🙂

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Us in front of the Indonesia National Monument (MONAS)

After a well deserved shower/bath and sleep, we enjoyed our fancy breakfast and decided to explore the city. Today (Sunday) is car-free day in the city, where a large section of street starting at our hotel and ending at the Indonesia National Monument is closed to cars.

Simon's pick of the day - a brace of bunnies being carried to market
Simon’s pick of the day – a brace of bunnies being carried to market

Street vendors abound, as do locals on bikes and on foot. This enjoyable break from total traffic jam occurs every Sunday morning. We had a pleasant walk up to the National Monument, which has a nice park around it, also filled with little street vendor carts, children flying kites,

Taxi fare from the airport to our hotel. 1 US dollar = 1243 Indonesian Rupiah
Taxi (‘taksi’) fare from the airport to our hotel. 1 US dollar = 1243 Indonesian Rupiah

and an impressive array of characters (adults in costume) including sponge-bob, winnie-the-pooh, nemo, and quite a few more that we didn’t recognize. We enjoyed walking around the city, and have been pleasantly surprised at how nice it is here. There is relatively little crime, lots of beautiful lush vegetation, friendly people, and fairly few tourists. We were notably the only white people around, but received relatively little touting. We were surprised when children in the park wanted their photo taken with us!

Simon doubles up in front of MONAS
Simon doubles up in front of MONAS

Well-fed and well-rested, we are ready to take on our last flight before we finally arrive at Papua Paradise in Raja Ampat tomorrow. We depart Jakarta at 10pm, and after a couple of stops arrive in Sorong at 6:30am. From there we will be collected by boat, and in the water as soon as possible.

IMG_0871Regarding travels without baby: At this point, we both are feeling like the trip was a good idea. We do miss Joey, but can’t deny the luxury of being on a plane without him. He has been a champion about air travel so far, but I can’t imagine him enjoying the slew of flights we went through over the last two days. As a couple only, we were able to do things like both eat our in-flight meal at the same time, sleep as long as we wanted, and watch our choice of program on the little televisions. Of course we talk about him endlessly and are delighted to be receiving cute photos of him having fun at the grandparents’ resort. We notice every child under the age of 6 and smile at them. Fortunately, that sentiment has been received as kind and not creepy here. It is really pleasant to have down-time as a couple, too! I don’t think either of us realized how busy we have been over the last few months, but it is wonderful to have a break.

*We were not involved in the missing AirAsia flight. Our local flight is on Srijawa Air, which is not affiliated with AirAsia. Thank you to those who have expressed concern.*

The Vacation Deal

It was easy for pre-baby us to make promises about how we would continue to go on dive trips post-baby
It was easy for pre-baby us to make promises about how we would continue to go on dive trips post-baby

Back in the day, Simon & I made a deal. We promised each other that every year that we had dependent children, we would go on at least two vacations every year. One would be a family vacation, and one would be just us. The goal was to periodically refresh our relationship and get a chance to go diving at least once a year.

We made this deal before Joey was born. In 2013, we went on many trips as a couple (I was pregnant, but we decided it still counted) and traveled with Joey to Sequoia National Park, San Francisco, and Virginia. In 2014, we took Joey on a sailing adventure in the Caribbean and to New Zealand. We started planning our dive trip eight months ago, and today we embark on our first trip without him.

We’re writing to you from Washington Dulles International Airport, en route to Tokyo then Jakarta. From Jakarta, we stay one night in a hotel before climbing aboard an island hopper flight that will eventually land in Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia. In Sorong, we will be collected by boat and taken to Papua Paradise Dive Resort in Raja Ampat, Indonesia for eight days. Get excited- there will be many fish pictures coming soon! We are on a special hunt for an anemone with a clownfish for our nephews, in addition to our other favorites.

Our digs for the next week (papuaparadise.com)
Our digs for the next week (papuaparadise.com)

What we didn’t realize ahead of time was how very hard it would be to leave Joey. We know that he is in excellent care (grandparents’ resort) and we are not worried about his well-being, but we miss him! We made this deal before we knew how attached we would be to Joey, how much fun he is, and how much joy he brings into our lives. We expected it to be tough to leave him for a week, but definitely did not understand just how tough it would be.

Post-baby us are less sure about leaving this sweet little goober for a week and a half, because we already miss him dearly!
Post-baby us are less sure about leaving this sweet little goober for a week and a half, because we already miss him dearly!

At the same time, we are so excited to get in the water together and visit such an amazing place! Raja Ampat hosts some of the finest coral reefs in the world, at the center of marine biodiversity in the coral triangle. The jungle is equally spectacular, and hikes to search for rare birds of paradise are a regular activity there. We will be staying in a hut over crystal clear water, with an abundance of tropical fish and juvenile reef sharks schooling below. It is going to be an amazing week.

So was it a good idea? We’ll report back after we return on that front. For now, we are reassuring ourselves that we just had a wonderful Christmas with Joey and left him in a wonderful place. We think that we owe it to him to come back with amazing stories and photos if we are going to leave him for a week and a half.

Resolutions – Make Less Trash

It’s a little early to make New Year’s resolutions, but an article has been haunting me since I first saw it circulating facebook a couple of days ago.

The girl who makes no trash. (Also named Lauren).

It seems like a trick – but I’ve been reading through her blog and it is not. No-trash-Lauren is a 23-year old in New York City, who makes everything she uses from bulk ingredients. She buys clothing second-hand. She recycles items, but does not throw them away.

Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.
Our stash of fabric (reusable) linens for the kitchen- from the bottom up are dish towels, napkins, dish cloths, baby wash cloths, and snack bags.

Now, this is an extraordinary feat. I am impressed. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what no-trash-Lauren is doing, because I had always considered myself and my family to be quite environmentally friendly and conscious of producing minimal waste. We share one hybrid car. We use reusable stuff in our kitchen, and reusable diapers on our baby. I haven’t purchased new paper towels or paper napkins in years. We buy an impressive proportion of our ‘new’ items from craigslist, neighbors, and consignment/second-hand stores. But even with all of that, we produce a 13-gallon bag of trash every week.

So, now that we have identified the problem, I am attempting to put my science skills to good use to find a solution.

we are NOT throwing away any diapers or wipes
we are already NOT throwing away any diapers or wipes

First – what are we throwing away? I’ve been keeping an eye on our trash for the past week. Our biggest culprits are 1: food packaging (we make most of our own food from scratch, but those raw ingredients come in packages), 2: packing material from parcels and mail (I am a big fan of amazon.com), and 3: cleaning products (clorox greenworks wipes, old sponges, swiffer refills).

 

Next – what can we do about it? I am not trying to achieve zero waste over here (we have jobs and a kid after all – this IS no-trash-Lauren’s job), but I would love to make a big reduction in our landfill waste  next year. One of my favorite quotes is from Oscar Wilde- “Everything in moderation – including moderation.”

So with that in mind, this is my plan of attack to reduce our trash output. Many of the items below are those that I do sometimes, so my biggest goal is to be more consistent.

  • Never get bags at the store. Always bring reusable bags. I’m even asking Santa for reusable bulk bags for flour, sugar, beans, etc for Christmas. Furthermore, I am looking for stores in Alexandria where I can buy more foods in bulk.
  • I’m no longer going to buy coffee unless I have my own reusable cup with me or the cafe serves drinks in ceramic cups. I own plenty of these, but I’m guilty of periodically getting the red cardboard Starbucks cup when I forgot my stainless steel mug at home.
  • To that end, we will be much more cautious about where we go out to eat and consider packaging of food.
  • Our lunches will be entirely packages in reusable materials.
  • No more disposable swiffer refills or disposable cleaning wipes. I bought washable, reusable microfiber cloths to attach to the swiffers and have more than enough old towels and rags for cleaning.
  • I will place my mail-ordering habit in the ‘needs to be more in moderation’ category. I definitely order too many things online, including clothing for myself that I could potentially find second-hand. However, the biggest catch for me Joey. It is ironic, but because we use items like stainless steel sippy cups and cloth diapers for environmental reasons. However, it is harder to find these items at local stores or consignment shops, so I almost always have to order them online. I will note that often these are made in USA, UK, or Canada, so perhaps that helps balance purchasing items at a local store originally made in China?

That leads me to Simon’s first response when I told him about this – how many times do you have to use a canvas grocery bag to balance the plastic bags? The plastic bags are far cheaper and require less energy to make. Buying a big stash of reusable bags and using them 2-3 times doesn’t make a lot of sense environmentally or economically. I’m more focused on lifestyle shifts here, but definitely take his 2 cents to think through your choices.

A major focus of no-trash-Lauren’s blog and new start-up is eco-friendly household cleaning products, personal soap, shampoo, etc. I applaud her efforts, but this is where I reach the moderation point. We already make an effort to buy eco-friendly cleaning products and toiletries for ourselves (7th generation, Mrs. Meyers, bulk soaps, etc.) I use vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice in place of stronger cleaners often. However, I’m not currently willing to invest more time in making all of those items from scratch. I am happy to buy them from The Simply Co. and other manufacturers, and am excited to find more of these options in Alexandria.

So there you have it. Less trash, more moderation, but don’t forget to keep the moderation in moderation.