Zambia was what I was looking for in Africa. A red soil dotted with dry thorny trees, acacias and baobabs, where animals roamed freely. Birdsong filled the trees. Women wore their hair in elaborate braids swirling around their heads making them look regal. Taxis came in every make and model of car, their unifying characteristic a secondary aqua blue paint job. Monkeys were everywhere. Baboons hitchhiked on cargo trucks and scampered around in the streets like comedic vagabonds. The gray vervet monkeys with their quizzical eyes and pointed moustaches approached fearlessly stealing food, shoes and other unattended items from inattentive owners.
The sun set behind the distant ridgeline and left a yellow glow on the horizon. I had returned to the ridge where we watched the moonrise the previous night. Soon the moon would rise again, but tonight was the last lunar eclipse in the tetrad. The last light of day suffused purple on the yellow and red soils of the Painted Hills. I kept an eye on the horizon imagining a bitten orb rising bright above the hills, but it took its time.
This morning I arose with the sun, or shortly there after, which is an anomaly for me, a night owl who is more likely to see 2:00 AM than six—even seven—in the morning. I wanted to get a good hike in before a long day on the road. The alarm went off at 6:01am and by 6:50 I had rolled out of bed, dressed, refilled water bottles, stowed everything for the drive, cranked Anita’s top down, driven to the trailhead and began climbing the switchbacks from George Lake, just out side of Mammoth Lakes. By 7:30 I had hiked 1.75 miles, climbed close to 1,000 feet and arrived at Crystal Lake’s glassy water nestled beneath granite cliffs and spires.
Raindrops began falling and gray came in all around the pushed out the morning’s blue sky. So the three of us put on rain gear—my dad and I in matching rain pants and thin-shelled jackets, Jackson in his red coat. We set out for Hidden Lake with no notion of the distance or difficulty but free from the car and content to venture out until half way ‘til dark.
Curious about the capped spigots in the campground I wandered into the Coffee Creek ranger station. A young looking ranger with piercing blue eyes and a military hair cut greeted us shyly.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah, I was wondering which of your campgrounds have water.”
“I’m not sure miss, I’ll have to ask my supervisor.” He disappeared into the offices in the back and was promptly replaced by another ranger in baggy forest service pants and a cobalt T-shirt that hugged his muscular arms. He looked like a younger George Clooney but with bright hazel eyes and a casual manner.
The sweetness of scotch broom hangs in the warm, soft air. It is still, and the stillness is filling, as if the quiet peacefulness of this place might hold you up in it. A light breeze picks up and rustles the thick leaves in the tree above me. The echoing wind high in the pines stirs the soul; then the quietness returns. Chirps and whistles of birds in the nearby pines accent the silence, for it is not really silent at all, but void of all the noises we grow accustomed to in cities. When those noises no longer sound we sense their absence as perfect stillness; it is only after a moment of drinking in that silence that our ears make room and we begin to take in the sounds of nature—the buzzing insects and the whispers in the grass, the depth to the birdsong, each song overlapping, from near and far their melodies intermixing.
Jack and I are taking to the road. Our mode of transportation is a beast, or more lovingly the beast: a combination of Wiley, a three quarter ton Chevy pickup with four wheel drive AND four wheel steering—a grandiose hand-me-down from my soon to be father-in-law—and a slide in, pop-up camper nicknamed Anita after my maternal grandmother who had a travel bug to rival mine.
I am not a morning person. I never have been one and I doubt I ever will be. So it was not for the love of mornings that I arranged a taxi pickup at 4:30am. The hotel staff said to leave an hour before our 6:10am flight, but this was Africa and I wasn’t going to take chances. Experience in traveling has taught me that building in extra time is always a good idea.
We arrived with a big swell that had the surf town buzzing with excitement. As a cherry on top, offshore winds were also predicted for the entire swell.
The drive from Cape Town to Wilderness took us through beautiful countryside that resembled a cross between California’s 101 and red rock country; wine lands and red mountains. We stopped along the coast for Dave to surf a picturesque right point break called Mossel Bay.
Doha is a dusty city, monotonous and tan. Our taxi driver tells us that the downtown, across the bay has all been built in the last two years. After sleeping in the lobby for an hour we get into our hotel room and sleep for another half hour before our desert tour picks us up.
I could not have asked for a better day to celebrate turning 26. I received the best birthday present I could have asked for: Duct Tape. The fiber optic cable connector for my strobe arrived faulty so I have been unable to use the brand new strobe I got for the trip. Over delicious cinnamon ice coffee and a banana pancake, I was able to jerry rig the fiber optic cable to the camera housing with duct tape.
Off southeastern Bali lie the small islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan and their much larger neighbor Nusa Penida whose landmass is bigger than the bukit peninsula off southern Bali. We are staying in the town of Jungutbatu on the western side of Nusa Lembongan in a villa right on the water and directly in front of two beautiful waves: Shipwrecks and Lacerations.
Most of the local people are sea weed farmers. Roughly three inch thick branches are sharpened on one side by hand and stuck into the sand in the shallows inside the barrier reef. Two parallel lines of these branches are set out with rope hanging in between for the seaweed to grow on. These dark rectangular plots make a patch work in all the inland waters and shallow protected coastal areas. The locals go out at low tide to harvest the sea weed, plant more and maintain the plots. They push motorless boats along with long poles, gather sea weed in vast baskets and in the bottom of their slender boats. When the tide gets exceedingly low the area inside the outer reef looks more like an agricultural field than a beach.
We took a taxi to Padang Bai, where we boarded a boat that brought us across the channel between Bali and Lombok over to the Gili Islands. Off the north west coast of Lombok lie three tiny dots of islands known for good diving, beautiful beaches and a wonderful atmosphere—the Gilis. Each of these islands is supposed to have its own ambiance, Gili Trawangan is the party island, Gili Meno is the locals island and Gili Air is the romantic quiet island. We had heard about the surf of Gili T so naturally that’s where Dave wanted to go.
The boat ride skirted the beautiful Bali coast, crossed the channel and pulled up along the equally beautiful coast of Lombok then over to Gili Air. As we pulled towards the white sands of Gili Air, a wave and a few surfers caught Dave’s eye.
“Honey look.” The swell was down so we weren’t expecting to find waves on Gili T.
“Should we get off here? Does the wave look like something you’d want to surf?”
It did, so we made the instantaneous decision to jump off the boat.
In their journeys, from rugged slopes to the salty embrace of the sea, rivers pass through dense forests, narrow canyons, open plains with long vistas. Riding on their waters can bring you into an otherwise inaccessible landscape, into the thickest forests, through tall walled gorges filled by rushing water, and let you pass unnoticed by the banks where wildlife come to drink. Add to this the thrill of a turbulent ride and the exhilaration of navigating rapids, and you have my love of river-rafting. And so, in the crowded heat, laying under a ceiling fan, I signed Dave and me up for a white water rafting trip down the Ayung River.
We saw our first monkeys today on the temple roof above Padang Padang, perhaps the most famous left hand barrel in indo. Small, nimble gray creatures, they move effortlessly from the temple ledges up into the trees and back.
Young monkeys played together, tumbling across the temple floor. Moms and young babies sat on the rooftop. One monkey climbed aboard a white umbrella sticking out of the temple roof, and began bouncing on it. Thrilled, we watched them play and move about. The monkeys began to take interest in us and came closer which at first we were excited by. Then a few moved in quickly. I turned to find a grandpa monkey standing on the tree trunk behind me, it snarled and revealed pointed fangs. As Dave puts it, “We took the clue and exited quickly.”
I shall intersperse both Dave and my stories in the blog so you can see what I did and feel what he did:
Overnight the swell doubled. Dave has been itching to surf Ulus. It looks great in the morning but we were told to wait for the mid tide. By the afternoon the wind is on the water making it roughly textured. It looked big and fun, but it’s hard with no reference points to tell how big it really is. Dave is impetuous, and decides to paddle out.
“We were told that most of the waves around, including Uluwatu, worked best on a medium low tide. With this in mind, we checked Ulu’s the first morning of our stay on this remote part of the Bukit peninsula. It was high tide, about 20 people out, and the waves were huge! Watching some of the surfers drop in, it was clear that the waves were at least 20 ft on the sets. Knowing that my board was not big enough, and hearing that high tide was not the best time to surf, Sierra and decided to visit the famous Uluwatu temple and wait for the conditions to shift. After spending a few hours at this beautiful temple, which is perched on a 500ft cliff overlooking the water, we decide to head back home, eat lunch, and then check the surf again.
Uluwatu is a truly special place. The volcanic cliffs in this area are tall, and entrances to the beaches below are through steep slots in the rock. It was low tide during our first trip down to the beach at Uluwatu. We took a series of steep stairs down the cliff, between rocks that are flooded sea caves at a higher tide, out onto a small section of sand, beyond which stretched the reef, now partially exposed by the tide. The reef at low tide sectioned off various pools in which children splashed and adults waded. Beyond the pools, lay the reef crest and then the waves. Big beautiful lefts traced the edge of the reef, peeling along perfectly. Dave was enthralled, like a kid in a candy shop.
We hiked up the stairs. The path took us through the town of Uluwatu—shops of collaged materials are tucked on top of one another along the cliff face. Tourist souvenirs, surfboard rentals, cafés, laundry, mini markets and a place advertising showers and a toilet. Narrow footpaths make their way between the shops and up the cliff.
At the top of Uluwatu village lays perhaps the most beautiful ocean vista I have ever seen. The cliff point in the distance is covered in lush green vegetation, and gives way to a vertical black face. Below is a series of waves. The lone left in the distance, nearly inaccessible, peels perfectly along the point. A series of reef breaks fire off in between the far point and Uluwatu, which is below us. Ulus is big and practically perfect, the type of wave you become mesmerized watching.
We had dinner at our new favorite restaurant, Single Fin. Fins is at the edge of the top of the cliff. From the balcony you can watch the waves from the far point and see Ulus wrap around the point below. We dinned, drank unbelievable fresh juices and watched the sun set on the day, leaving the clouds first yellow then pink.