We departed from Vish and Sunita’s house while the morning sunrays were still soft and long. Nairobi quickly faded behind us. Dwayne navigated the roads with a slightly terrifying confidence: the safari van’s top-heavy nature wobbled around the turns as we rose along a winding road, northwest to the edge of the Great Rift Valley. Below us, the valley stretched solid green, sprawling out for miles, further than the eye could see, vanishing in the distance. The forested slopes gave way to grasslands specked by acacias and cut by thin brown roads that connected modest dwellings. Two baboons straddled each other, unabashed, fornicating on the roadside, obstructing a perfect view. Their accusatory eyes glared sideways at passing tourists and their unapologetic clicking cameras.
A country known in the western world for having one of the most horrible genocides in recent history blew my expectations out of the water with its beauty, cleanliness and infrastructure. Plastic bags, the long-lasting litter of the ‘third world’—and much of the ‘first world’ as well—have been outlawed in Rwanda. Plain and simple: plastic bags are illegal. In the city and along the country roadways the ground is free of the heaps of trash so commonly seen littering the landscape.
In the heart of the Kalahari Desert live a small, strong people with slanted eyes, wide noses and caramel skin. Their slender bodies are adapted to moving through this arid yellow land. Women gather nuts, fruits and roots, knowing what each plant has to offer: food, medicine, dye, building material. The men hunt, mostly antelope, with poison arrows in multiple day pursuits: stocking the animal until they are close enough to shoot, then running after it as it flees, arrow lodged in its body, for days until finally the poison sets in, slows the animal and it can be sacrificed.
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.
Shark! Coming in from the front. Divers get ready— Divers down.
Five eager tourists stuffed into neoprene suits pushed on the bar of the metal cage and submerged their faces in the icy water, ready to see the magnificent animal approaching from afar.
I am in love with Africa, although it’s probably too soon to say that. I am in love with Africa the way teenagers fall in love with an enticing prospect—beautiful, intriguing and lustful. Cape Town has left me enamored and wanting more, eager to discover all of Africa, infatuated by what she has shown me so far.
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.
Imagine a flat, green island ringed by white sand beaches with views of blue mountains across the water. A warm, clear sea laps quietly at the sand, its color ever changing from aquamarine to deep turquoise with the light. Beneath the waters lay outcrops of sea grass waving gently in the shallows, and mounding stoney corals swarming with vividly colored fish. Narrow walking paths criss-cross the island and intersect with a circular one that outlines the circumference and takes a mere 90 minutes to walk at a leisurely pace. Most everyone walks. The only ‘vehicles’ are carts painted bright blue and pulled by small horses.
Dynamite fishing has been a problem in the Gili Islands and the evidence underwater is overwhelming. Huge sections of the reef turned to vast graveyards of shattered corals, virtually absent of life. Pocketed amongst these battle zones are rare oasis of corals that were missed by the bombing.
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.
Balinese Hindus place beautiful offerings, known as canangsari, in front of their houses. Mixtures of flowers, leaves, fruit, rice and crackers are laid out in handmade boats or trays of betel leaves, called a porosan. Each offering must be in a porosan and contain an areca nut and a lime. These key items represent the three manifestations of the Hindu supreme spirit, Sanghyang Widhi: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. Offerings are set out on shrines, to appease the good sprits, and on the ground, to appease the evil sprits. Often lighted incense is placed in the canangsari, sending beautiful fragrances out into the morning air.
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.
Fourteen and a half hours from LAX across the great Pacific Ocean to Taipei. Four hours in the airport and five more to Denpasar, the capital of Bali.
Bali lies between Java and Lombok in the island chain that makes up the country of Indonesia. The volcanic island is a little more than half the size of the big island of Hawaii. The tallest is mountain is over 3000m. Ninety two percent of the population is Hindu.