Category Archives: Indonesia

Indonesia Was Amazing

So amazing that we have been blissed out for the past few weeks and haven’t even bothered to tell you about it! (We’ve also been pretty busy back in DC with a new project – more on that soon).

IMG_1344
snorkel selfie

The entire trip was such a wonderful experience for Simon & I. I always wonder as we plan vacations if we’ll be able to match or top the last grand adventure, and somehow it manages to keep getting better. Perhaps as we age we become wiser about enjoying things more? The highlight of this trip was diving in Raja Ampat from Papua Paradise Eco Resort. We were constantly in awe of some of the finest coral reefs we had ever seen. The biodiversity, although we knew it was coming, was unbelievable to behold. Hundreds of species of fish could be found on a single reef in this hotspot, including big predators like giant trevally (ulua in Hawaii). Even more amazing for me were the incredible number of tiny, often cryptic creatures hidden in the corals, sponges, and sea fans. Many species of nudibranchs were spotted on nearly every dive, and throughout our week in paradise we found an assortment of miniature shrimps and pipefish blending in perfectly with their surroundings. My

Pontohi pygmy seahorse, with Simon's index finger for scale
Pontohi pygmy seahorse, with Simon’s index finger for scale

absolute favorite was the pygmy seahorse. We were lucky enough to spot all four species of pygmy seahorse found in Raja Ampat at one point or another. These tiny animals range in size from 0.25-0.75 inches, and match their surroundings impeccably. In addition to being a fun photographic challenge (buoyancy check, anyone?), we couldn’t help but marvel at this product of evolution. So unlikely, yet so perfect for its environment. I am still completely smitten. As you may have gathered from our previous post, we were here during manta season. We had a lucky private encounter with two oceanic mantas just in front of the resort on our first day, and an enjoyable hour of watching five mantas cycle through a cleaning station at Manta Sandy later on. The best time to see mantas in RA is December-January-February.

IMG_2615
Lauren’s 29th birthday started underwater and ended with a warm & loving celebration at the resort.

We could wax rhetorical about the diving all day, but we’ll leave you with some photos and move on. We would highly recommend this destination to anyone, and we didn’t feel we could have done better than staying at Papua Paradise. We missed only a couple of dive sites that the live-aboards hit, but in exchange we got to experience the local sites, which we found to be equally phenomenal. The luxury of staying on land in a large, well appointed bungalow was evident, and we can’t say enough about the kind and helpful staff and management there. They even made me a yummy chocolate cheesecake for my birthday and had everyone sing to me at dinner – what a special surprise on a remote island, opposite the globe to my home! We decided to share photos via Picasa since there are so many. You can view our album here.

Advertisements

On Traveling Without Baby

We used to travel as a couple all the time - that's when we made the vacation deal in the first place.
We used to travel as a couple all the time – that’s when we made the vacation deal in the first place.

We told you about our ‘vacation deal‘ that we had made before Joey was born, and we recently tested it out. The deal was that every year when we had dependent kids, we would go on a vacation as a couple and on another with the kids. These had to be ‘real’ vacations, a bit of a vague term, but we both agreed that an overnight trip locally did not count.

When I say we tested it out, I don’t mean we went to stay at a B&B a couple of hours away for a few days. Simon & I left Joey in the excellent care of his grandparents for nearly two weeks while we traveled to the exact opposite side of the world to go scuba diving for a week. It took us four days to reach our destination (Raja Ampat, Indonesia) and three to get back.

Now we usually travel like this, which we also love.
Now we usually travel like this, which we also love.

We returned home safely and on schedule, well after Joey’s bedtime. The next morning we were eager to get up with him and spend as much time with him as possible. He was only mildly impressed that we had returned, showing more interest in his toys and the dog (possibly the best feature of the grandparents’ resort). After getting re-acquainted over the weekend, he was willing to return to Alexandria with us and get back into the groove of everyday life. Our previous nanny actually left for a full time teaching job (we got this information in Jakarta on the way home), so we got extra time with Joey last week working a split schedule. (We all like his new nanny very much!)

Now that you have the background, this is our executive summary:

The vacation deal is awesome. 

Going on an adventure as a two-some allowed Simon & I to enjoy our favorite activity together – scuba diving. This simply would not have been possible with a one-year old along. It felt very luxurious to transit through airports and go about air travel without a small child. We could talk at leisure, sleep when we wanted, eat at the same time, go to the bathroom when we wanted… More importantly, the vacation did exactly what it is supposed to – we both came home relaxed, happy, and strongly reminded of what is important to us (our family, the ocean, & exploring). The first few days were the hardest, partly because we were just sitting on airplanes. Once we realized that Joey was very happy with his grandparents, we were more relaxed about enjoying ourselves. It was a very special bonding time for the three of them too, and the grandparents’ were hesitant to relinquish him when it was time to go home.

What worked well:

  1. We had several days at the grandparents’ home with Joey before and after the trip to help him adjust. I think this helped everyone.
  2. Traveling over a holiday (New Year’s) meant that my dad had time off of work to help more with Joey and that we didn’t miss as much work.
  3. Lots of updates – my mom was amazing about sending us photos and updates every day.
  4. Do something you couldn’t do with a baby. Had we been lounging on a beach and swimming or hiking and camping I would have felt terrible, since these are activities that Joey really enjoys and participates in.

What I would have changed:

  1. Travel to a closer location. I realized as we were on day three of four getting to Raja Ampat that if Joey were in an emergency situation it would take us days to get to him. Next year we’ll go somewhere a wee bit closer to home

There you have it. As always, you have to do what is right for your family. But if a setup like this sounds fun, exciting, and relaxing to you – it probably will be. It is worth jumping over the initial hurdle to make it happen. All three members of our family are much happier as a result.

Papua Paradise Resort – 2 days in

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

IMG_1045

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.

Chesapeake_6

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!

Chesapeake_2

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.

Chesapeake_4

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.

Chesapeake_5

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.

Chesapeake_1

(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 🙂

IMG_0800 IMG_0822 IMG_0829 IMG_0832

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.