3-13 The Multitude of Museums in Malacca

Red Roofs of Singapore

We left Singapore on a bus on January 8th. We had to jump out at the border and go through border control then get back in, which was amusing. There were only 3 of us on the bus, so it took about 45 seconds despite our extremely impatient driver’s laments of it being very slow.

Malacca has an amazing amount of museums. There is a district that seems to be primarily devoted to stuffing medium sized buildings full of relics, models and large blocks of text. Some of the museums are grouped into sets, where you can pay a single admission for all of them. This is how we ended up in the Literature Museum, the Democracy Museum and the Military Museum all within 3 hours. There were two more in the set, but they were closed for renovations.

Museum of Literature!  Books and authors and things!

I really like that Malacca has a museum devoted to literature. Generally speaking, people assume that libraries are enough, but as the Museum showed, there is a lot more. They highlighted people who have made important contribution to Malaysian literature through writing or through maintaining traditional storytelling techniques. They gave short histories on different styles of Malaysian literature and what they were based on. And they showcased books. Honestly, I was a little lost. I don’t know Malaysian history or literature enough to know how all the pieces fit into the greater whole. I can learn all about the specifics of the first woman to be published, but only makes a little bit of sense because I don’t know the history and context of women’s rights in Malaysia. Still, it was cool to see a museum devoted to books.

The military museum was less interesting. Jason and I can’t agree as to weather it was military or military leaders. It had models of rooms in a mansion, lots of clothes and photos of important people and a table set for a formal meal. Again, I’m sure it would have been more interesting if I’d had context for any of it.

The old fort, partially restored with
red tile instead of red stone.

The third museum was the most modern. The Democracy Museum had a mission statement that was something along the lines of, “Teach young people about the history and importance of democracy in Malaysia.” They seemed to be doing a good job, since we watched about 2 dozen people between the ages of 18-30 wander in and out while we were there. The museum itself ran a nice line between giving some of the context for the foreign visitors and not re-telling Malaysian history to the Malaysian visitors.

The Deomcracy Museum had a display of royal formal clothes over the course of a hundred years or so. At the beginning, the clothes are what I would expect; men’s wrapped skirts and jackets held at the waist with a wide fabric belt. The belt was decorative, practical and held a kris, or Hindu sword. (My favorite kind of clothing are the kinds that contain swords.) As the years progressed, the style of clothing started to change. By the end of the display, the jacket was cut like a British miliary jacket, the skirt had been traded for pants and the kris had been traded out for a saber (good) or removed entirely (lame). This made me think about culture appropriation and how culture morph and change. There is a forthcoming post exclusively on this topic.

Crow’s Nest on the Maritime Museum

We left the 5 museum zone and went to look for food. Instead, we found the Maritime Museum. It was a giant ship. Awesome. We got to climb around the different parts, including going into the sleeping quarters, captains cabin and the holds below decks. Each area had a small exhibit and a note about what part of the ship it was. While we were there, there were several students drawing, measuring and using auto-CAD to create diagrams of the building. I wanted to ask what they were studying, but the language barrier made it too intimidating to even try. Instead, I took pictures of them. (I did managed to ask permission for that.)

I do love museums. They are vastly informative places. Going to 4 museums in one day was a bit overwhelming. I’m not sure how much information I actually managed to retain. Enough to know I need to learn more history, that’s for sure.

2-8 Temples Part 2: Prambanan

My continuing obsession with gargoyle-things

Prambanan is a Hindu temple built around 850 and abandoned beginning around 950. The temple complex was originally named Shiva-grha or Shiva-laya in homage to Shiva. It likely got the name Prambanan from the nearby village, though there are conflicting opinions on that. The temple was built by Rakai Pikaton of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty probably to show that the court had changed from Buddhist to Hindu. Also, because there was a really big Buddhist temple nearby and that couldn’t go unanswered. In the 930s, the royal court moved to East Java, probably due to volcanic activity. That was the beginning of the end for the temple, until its “re-discovery” in the early 1800s.

Though the local people have always known of the temple, it wasn’t a mark on the world stage until Sir Thomas Raffles’ involvement. One of his hired surveyors found the ruins and made a report, which caused more surveyors and more reports which led to some mass looting which led to some poor archeology which led to more looting. In 1918, reconstruction began in earnest and the main temple dedicated to Shiva was restored in 1953. The restoration of the temples has continued though possible restoration is slowing down. The temple and surrounding area have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are now in use for tourism, religious practice and cultural conservation. The archaeologists are only restoring temples that have more than 75% of their original stones available. Due to the heavy looting and re-purposing of the stones in the 1600s and 1700s, many of the stones are no longer available.

The statue in one of
the main temples. 

The original complex at 240 temples. The three big ones were dedicated to Shiva, Bramah and Vishnu with 3 slightly smaller temples dedicated to their mounts. An additional 10 small shrines are located on the 4 cardinal directions inside the wall. The majority of the temples (224) were placed in four concentric rings around the wall. Smart people like to debate why and what it represents. I won’t go into that for fear of the smart people.

To show respect to the temple, everyone wears a wrap skirt, much like a sarong. Because most tourists don’t have this on hand, they have bunches. As you walk through the ticket booth, they wrap a strip of fabric around your waist and tie it, mostly without speaking. If I hadn’t known ahead of time about the respect thing, it would have been a bit abrupt and abrasive. As it was, I found it funny.

The approach to the temple is startling. Though you can see the temple in the distance, it sneaks up on you when you come out of the ticket booth. Its like you were far away and by crossing into the ticket booth, you teleport much closer.

The extremely detailed carving was gorgeous and very
well preserved

There are two main areas in Prambanan. The first is the area is enclosed in a fence and holds thousands of blocks. The blocks were once a part of different temples, but the temples have fallen or been dismantled. In many cases, the foundation of the temples is still standing, but there is no information about what it once looked like. Instead, the blocks are stacked in neat piles in hopes that there can be more reconstruction in the future if new information comes to light.

The second area is the main temple. A ten foot wall surrounds it, though the ground on the inside has been raised about six feet, making the whole thing tower even further above the surrounding countryside. The ground is packed, dusty dirt that kicks up puffs with every footfall. The temple itself is actually a collection of buildings, not one large complex. The three main buildings are dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma with smaller buildings dedicated to minor Hindu deities.

The wall marking the inner sanctum and the
piles of stones where once there were temples

Again, the carvings are spectacular. Unlike Prambanan, the carvings don’t cover every surface, just almost every surface. The carvings here seem to be meant to help the visitor read the stories on the wall as they pass through the temple. They felt more accessible to the common man. Also, they had excellent gargoyles.

In both temples, drainage was worked into the fundamental architecture. I realize that the architectural knowledge involved in creating the temples is immense, but this touch really drove it home for me. People who planned for appropriate drainage and built their statues to elegantly control water flow are people who have truly mastered the forms they are working with.

These are beautiful creations that show the master works of hundreds of craftsman. They are to be revered for their historical and cultural significance. These places show the best of humanity, the best of what people can do when we work together and create.

By the end of the day, I was in temple overload. I stopped being able to appreciate all of that. All I wanted was a nap and a plate of food.

Prambanan, as it stands now

2-5 Temples Part 1: Borobudur

Borobudur Temple

I’m not what one might call a morning person. Because Current Me has no sympathy for what she inflicts Future Me, we signed up for a tour to watch the sunrise over Borobudur temple.

We got up at 4 am and got in a truck with one other person. I went back to sleep. Sometime around 5 am, the bus arrived in the hills above Borobudur temple. We got out and started winding up a mud-slick path in the dark. As the person behind me was dancing the Slip and Slide, I was grateful for my years of Pentecost bush walking. Part way up, it started drizzling.

The fog burned away slowly

At the top, we joined a few dozen other tourists, standing in the rain and waiting for the sun to rise. The other person in our truck had an umbrella, which he kindly shared. We had a tripod, which we shared. We ended up wandering the temple with him for the next 4 hours.

Though the sunrise was not spectacular, the walk was worth it for watching the mist dissipate from among the hills and valleys to reveal rice paddies, tendrils of smoke from breakfast fires and stands of bamboo. When the sun was up, we headed back down the trail to the truck. Our driver let us stop a few times as we approached the temple and the volcanoes.

At the temple, things got busier. Though we were early, there were other tourists who took a more direct route to the temple. We were by no means the first ones through the gate.

One of the volcanoes that covered the temple in ash

Borobudur is a Mahayana Buddhist Temple built around the 9thcentury and abandoned sometime around the 12th century. The original name of the place was probably not Borobudur, but it is unclear what the name might have been. Suggestions include Nagarakretagama and Bhumi Sambhara Bhudara. The name Borobudur seems to come from Sir Thomas Raffles mistranslation of the local town name.

Sleeping Buddha Mountain.  See the face?

The entire structure has 2,672 bas relief panels that tell stories from daily life, the Buddha’s enlightenment and past life, and a bunch of other things. These panels are still being used to do research about specific aspects of life during this time. The nearby museum has a boat made from specifications on the bas relief. According to legend, the style of boat portrayed sailed from Java to Africa. There were over 500 Buddha statues when it was built but due to looting most of the remaining statues are incomplete. What is with stealing the Buddha’s head? Its way less impressive without the body.

The proper way to approach a Buddhist temple is called perambulation where the person walks clockwise around the structure three time before entering. We started at the bottom and walked clockwise around the temple, level by level. There are 9 levels, 6 square and 3 circular. The whole thing makes a Buddhist mandala if viewed from the top. We’d done well over 3 perambulations by the time we got to the upper sanctuary.

These kinds of panels covered the temple

Each layer was wrapped in carvings and statues. The carvings depicted scenes from the Buddhist epic, meditating Buddhas and protective figures. Each carving was detailed down to the whorls of hair on a person’s head or the texture of leaves on the tree. Though a lot of the detail had been worn away by time, the remnants were still spectacular. The scale of the place was as awe-inspiring as the detail. The bottom level is 123 meters to a side and the highest point is 35 meters above the ground. There is an additional bit under the ground, but I don’t know how deep that goes.

So many Buddhas!  These ones even have heads!

The top of the temple was a round, open platform surrounded by stupas. Each stupa housed a Buddha statue facing outwards. From the top, we could see two volcanoes and the Sleeping Buddha Mountain. If the carvings hadn’t dazzled me already, this would have done it.

It is amazing to me that this kind of massive structure can fall out of use, but that seems to be what happened. The history of the 11th-12th centuries in Java is bit unclear. In some instances, it looks like the Buddhist and Hindu kings were friendly, or at least that their disagreements were not about religion. In others, it seems like they clashed, or possibly clashed with the invading Muslims. Sometime around the end of the 10thcentury, the king living near Borobudur seems to have moved his capital to East Java. This is probably due to an increase in volcanic ash. From there, the stories of the place bega morphing from holiness to haunting. Several later stories of princes and kings tell of bad luck and illness following looting attempts or visiting Borobudur. While Sir Thomas Raffle was the governor of Java, he went on a tour and was told about the temple. Since then, Borobudur has been gaining accolades and recognition around the world.

We headed back down in time to jump in our bus and head on to Prambanan. We took a short detour to stop by another, much smaller, temple. Though we didn’t go into the temple, we did have some fun wandering the monastery and taking pictures of the monks cleaning the grounds.

Watching the volcano

1-8 Museums and Rice Paddies

The gates to the museum.  Impressive, no?

Our second day in Ubud, we decided to go look for culture and rice paddies. The Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) was supposed to be one of the best art museums in Bali, and it was in the same direction as some rice paddies I wanted to take pictures of. So, we went exploring.

The ARMA was pretty neat. As usual, I don’t have the artistic background to appreciate modern art. There were 2 pieces that stood out to me. One was a painting covered in religious symbols. Each symbol was in a little box and the boxes made rows. I think if I knew more about the symbols in question, it would have been a fascinating piece. As it was, I could recognize the Hindu and Buddhist origins but that was about all. The second artist had squeezed the paint out of the tube in long lines. She layered them on top of each other with spaces in between to make an amazing 3D effect in the rice fields, on the hat of the workers and the thatch of the houses. I thought that was pretty cool.

Me, trying to carve. 

More interesting was the “traditional” section. There were traditional style paintings from a huge range of time periods. The older ones were batik images showing scenes from Hindu epics while the newest one depicted the Tiger plane crash in April, 2013. It was interesting to see the different influences throughout history and how they chose to display them in the museum. The paintings from around WWII had a distinctly Japanese cast, everything from flowers and mountains to the way the human form was depicted. The more modern ones had more colors per image while the older ones had one main color and then one or two highlight colors. (I wonder if this comes from the history of batik, in which colors are layered over one another with the negative spaces created by wax.)

The path to the paddies

After we wandered around the galleries, we went out to the wood carving demonstration. The carver allowed us to try, but we were both being timid. I was afraid I would ruin it, which made him laugh. He didn’t seem to think I could, which looking at his other stuff, I’m not sure I could have. I think he would have just incorporated it back into the work and no one would ever know the difference.

We wandered out the back of the museum into a rice paddy. At first, the path was nice and neatly kept with stepping stones to walk on. Then, it turned into plain concrete, and finally into raised mud. I think we were further than most tourists go, but it was interesting. The first ones we were walking through were all plain mud. There were little nurseries in the corner with bright green rice seedlings while ducks roamed the mud. We met a nice old farmer working on blocking his seedlings from the ducks, but we couldn’t communicate much with him.

Duck, duck, grey duck (or brown duck)

After awhile, we wandered out the back of the rice paddies and into a little neighborhood. On a whim, we followed a sign that said “Kris display” (‘Kris’ are the Hindu swords.) The sign pointed into someone’s household complex. We walked in and stood there in confusion for awhile. An old lady found us and brought us to the kris display. There were a bunch of beautiful kris with stunningly rippled blades. She had a wide variety of ages of the blades. They were her husband’s but he died and She was trying to sell some to us, but we turned her down and left. I think she needs to sell them to a museum.

Down the alley

The contrast between the curated art museum and the back room of an old woman’s house didn’t even strike me until the evening. Somehow, it seemed to fit that both of those things would exist basically side-by-side in Ubud. There were a lot of contrasts like that in Ubud.

Rice paddies tucked in behind the main road

1-4 Puppet show, Dawn at Borobudur and Overnight Trains

What do these things have in common?

They are all my excuses for not writing a blog post or six today.  Sorry.  Here’s some pictures from the last few days instead.

Cockfighting on the streets of Ubud.

Jason working on his new wedding ring.  Maybe he’ll hold onto this one.
This altar was tucked into an alcove on a busy main street.  A small miracle must occur each time someone places an offering on this altar without getting hit by a car.

The roof was a bit low, I promise I’m not as grouchy as I look there.
Javanese shadow puppetry.  These puppets are beyond intricate, though much of the detail was lost in the photo.

Borobudur, an ancient Buddhist temple, just after dawn.

12-28 Sacred Monkey Forest!

Monkey on a wall! They did that a lot.

After a 2 hour taxi ride, we arrived in Ubud. The taxi took 2 hours due to traffic, it had nothing to do with the distance we traversed. I had happily forgotten traffic existed.

We wanted to go out and explore a bit in Ubud and we had most of the afternoon to do it in. We put our stuff in our room and asked directions to the Sacred Monkey Forest since everyone said it was near by.
As far as I can tell, the story with the Sacred Monkey Forest is that a very long time ago, a group of Hindus built a temple in a forest. The monkeys inhabiting the forest were either made sacred by the presence of the temple or the temple was put there because they were sacred monkeys. I’m not sure, but either way those monkeys have a great life.
Seriously, hundreds of statues.

The entry is a wide walkway with stone walls and terraces leading up into the forest. The entire sanctuary covers several acres in the heart of Ubud, but the part accessible to tourists is probably about a square mile. The paths were mostly paved with tightly fit stones and framed in knee-high walls. There were statues, cornices and other fancy stonework every ten feet and much of the wall itself was carved. Places like the inner temple had higher walls. The stone work throughout the complex was covered in green moss, that almost glowed when the sun hit it right. It was a pretty stunning effect on the guardian statues.

The highlight of the place is the monkeys. Technically, they are long-tailed macaques, but whatever. They were totally not afraid of humans, like they brought their still-nursing babies out among the humans kind of not afraid. They would scramble past us, jump across the path in front of us, walk right up and say hello, rummage people’s pockets for food, and sit and stare at you from the middle of the path.
This monkey wanted to check me for food.  (I had none)

I think my favorite monkey moment was trying to take a photo of a monkey, only to have another one walk up and start exploring my pants. I handed the camera to Jason and let it explore my hands and pockets until it got bored. SO CUTE!

Jason and I walked behind the inner temple, to an area that was a bit quieter. There was nothing spectacular to look at, so it wasn’t full of tourists, which made it spectacular in and of itself. (The inner temple was off limits to people who were not dressed appropriately and they did not provide appropriate clothing. Basically, it was off-limits to tourists.) We were standing in a small walkway between the temple wall and the forest watching the monkeys on the wall when a monkey fight broke out. A bunch of monkeys went jumping to and from the wall while monkey noises were coming from the forest. Jason and I froze and watched behind each other to make sure we were not going to get in the way of any teeth or claws. The monkeys leapt around for a bit and then settled back down. The whole time we were back there, the monkeys totally ignored us, even when I was within a foot of one. (It snuck up on me!)
I bribed it with a banana, but it kept showing its butt to the camera.

While observing other tourists (a different breed of monkey) Jason and I both had some strong reactions to their actions. One group of tourists had a handful of bananas. They were tossing the bananas back and forth over the monkey and teasing it. When it got pissed and swarmed someone for them, they were surprised and tried to tell it “no.” Then they were surprised when the monkey didn’t listen and grabbed the banana. This offended me rather a lot for several reasons. First off, this is not your space. This is a place, and these are monkeys, that are sacred to someone. By opening up the space to people who do not share their faith, they are being generous. We, as outsiders, need to be respectful of their faith. It isn’t important whether or not I share that faith, I still need to show respect to the people for whom this is a sacred place. Secondly, the monkeys are wild animals. They are going to follow their own rules and do their own thing, they aren’t going to listen to being told “no.” I feel like that was almost part of the sacred space. The monkeys do their thing outside of human control. Which brings me to the last realization. People like that expect that they can control everything. They think they should be able to ration out the bananas to the monkeys they like. We don’t get to control everything, sometimes the monkey takes the bananas.

The creek that fed the holy pool.

Speaking of monkeys and bananas. The women at the front gate were selling bananas to tourists with which to feed the monkeys. We each took a few bananas and held them up. The monkey ran up our clothes and stood on our shoulders to grab its banana and a few then sat their to eat their bananas. It was pretty cool.
We spent probably 3 hours exploring the sanctuary. Aside from the gorgeous main temple, there were hundreds of other statues and shrines scattered around everywhere. A larger shrine to a holy spring was down a bridge (carved like snakes/dragons). At the bottom, there was a small temple, and a pool. From behind the temple, we followed a narrow path along a creek to the shrine for the holy spring.

Basically, the Sacred Monkey Forest has all the things I love: old cultures, beautiful art and nature. I was a very happy camper.

The wall of the inner temple was a work of art in its own right.

In great reverence and respect, the monkey peed on the statue.

Monkey, pillar, monkey, pillar…
Jason also bribed this one with a banana.
Regal monkey is a roof ornament.

The littlest monkey was SO CUTE!
The shrine at the end of the creek.

12-22: Up, Up and Away!

Our students came to see us off at the airport.
We left Vanuatu on Friday, December 20th. I tried to use up the credit on my phone as we sat on the runway and got down to 30 vatu before they made me turn my phone off. Jason did better, he was down to 2 vatu.
We spent Friday night with friends in Brisbane. Did you know there is this magical box that you put dirty clothes in and they come back clean and halfway dried? That thing is full of black magic and miracles. Our friends let us use their washing machine and drier, though half the clothes ended up on the line anyway because the dried was too small to dry all the clothes.
Saturday morning, we flew to Darwin. We are now off on our grand adventure! We’ll be traveling for the next few months. The general plan is to spend about 2 weeks in different Southeast Asian countries. We leave for Bali, Indonesia on the 23rd where we have a room booked until the 26th. On the 5th, we fly from Jakarta, Indonesia to Singapore. We leave Singapore three days later by bus and head into Malaysia. That’s as far as we have planned.
Red rocks along the road in Darwin

Leaving has not been easy. First of all, we both worked up until the end. I spent all day Monday and Tuesday at work, then stopped by on Thursday for a last review with my counterpart. Jason worked Tuesday and part of Wednesday and stopped by Thursday for an exit interview with his principal. So, we’ve been cleaning out the house, packing up and saying our goodbyes around a more-or-less 40-hour a week schedule. Insanity.

Smol spel from wandering the streets.

The emotional part of leaving is a combination of unreal and bittersweet. I don’t real believe that I won’t be returning to Vila in a few weeks. Jason hasn’t realized that he won’t be drinking fresh kava again for a very long time. The moments that have made it real are odd. My mother’s worries about contacting us was one. Usually, we call about once a week and I sit outside the Peace Corps office and tell her about all the insanity that made up my life. Now, we will be reliant on skype and email. (We may have a phone while traveling but it will vary country by country, depending on the price of phones plans and SIM cards.) Jason closing his bank account was final for him. They let him keep his cards, though. (They took mine, but I didn’t ask for them back.)

In many ways, the “big” things really didn’t feel big to me. Wan SmolBag did a very nice little goodbye. There was awesome cake. They gave me a t-shirt and set of Love Patrol as well as a tablecloth and napkin set in Vanuatu style. I got calicoed but not baby powdered. (Traditionally, gifts of calico are wrapped around people’s shoulders at these things, then they get baby powder dumped on their heads.) We did our last kava with staff and volunteers on Thursday evening. A bunch of people came out, but it just felt like a nice evening for a shell. I’ve been to so many last kavas, I don’t think my heart recognized that one as my own. 

I think it will set in more strongly in a few days. Once we are really going and it is clear we really aren’t going back, then it will be real. Right now, I’m just on vacation. 

The view from Shefa Kava Bar where we did our last kava with staff and many, many other kavas over the last three years.

9-21 Dive Against Debris

Bigfala hip blo doti.  That was just the glass bottles piles…

There are several international scuba diving organizations. They provide standards for training, standards for certifications and other such goodness. The one Jason and I are certified through (PADI) also has an environmental component called Project AWARE. They help organize events that support the oceanic environment. One of those missions is the Dive Against Debris. Basically, a local dive shop sponsors everyone to go dive and pick up litter. Then, they weigh it, categorize it, count it and report the numbers to PADI. PADI tracks the information and I presume uses it for things or makes it available for research purposes, though I’m not actually sure.

Pulling up the tires. 
Last Saturday, Big Blue ran a Dive Against Debris. Jason and I joined in, because, why not? And it was a great chance to dive and do good things at the same time. The deal was show up, gear up and get in groups then each group takes a different stretch of ocean floor. We each had a burlap sac that we filled with whatever garbage we picked up. When the bags were full, we surfaced and handed them over to the boat, got new bags and went back down. Anything too big to pick up, we marked with a emergency sausage (big tube thing that floats) to come back for later.
ALex being shocked by the rubbish
I told the other PCVs about it so we had a Peace Corps squad, which was kind of neat. (It was right around the Close of Service Conference for the guys leaving this year, so a lot of people were in town.) Most of us on the team were not experienced divers, so we went with a dive master. Not that they thought anything was going to go seriously wrong at 8 meters deep, but I’m ok with having a bit of extra security.
The dive went well. The visibility was about 1 meter, because every time you picked up something off the ocean floor it sent sand and silt everywhere which then couldn’t settle because you were busy kicking your fins and sending more sand and silt into the water. We picked up 402 kgs of garbage, including four tires.
I lost my hair tie diving.  Also, who uses film strips?
The most interesting thing about the dive was how it changed my perception of the ocean floor. Generally when you dive, the goal is to not touch anything. Sunscreen residue on fingers blocks the photosynthesis of coral, squishy things are easily damaged, spiky things cause damage and fish are just too quick to touch. This time, I was supposed to go and pick things up. It totally changed the experience of being underwater. I think it added a dimension that my experience had so far lacked and that made me pay a lot more attention to the experience as a whole.
I very much enjoyed doing the dive against debris. I will totally go on the next one.

9-6 Australia Part 1: Diving!

On the boat!

The highlight of this trip was the diving and the dive tour. We booked it well in advance after reading about a bunch of different dive operators. We went with Deep Sea Diver’s Den because it was PADI certified (as opposed to one of the other international certifications), had good reviews and was in the cheap side of the mid-range of prices. We made a good choice.

They picked us up on Monday morning and took us to the wharf where we boarded the first boat. The boat left the harbor and headed for the reef. After about an hour and a half, we stopped at the first dive site. I was glad the dive master who was guiding us made us run through basic skills, since it had been a few months. The other two people we were diving with hadn’t gone in a few years and it showed.

The dive itself was nice. Not the most impressive one we went on, but still, anything on the Great Barrier Reef is pretty much bound to be cool.

We left from that dive site and went further out on the reef where we dove again. After that dive, we joined up with the big, live-aboard boat. Jason and I and a few other people changed boats and put our stuff away. We had about ten minutes to sit down before we were back on the dive deck for dive three.

The fish really liked the ship’s light at night.

At this point some of the dives start running together. I’m not sure which one it was that I spotted the fire fish/ lion fish sleeping under the anchor blocks. (I was having problems equalizing and was going down slower than everyone, so I spotted it.) Then we swam over a turtle, though not a big guy. Only about two feet long. (Different ideas of big turtles started applying on the next dive.) We also saw a black-tipped reef shark that was about five feet long.

We returned to the boat around 5 and had an hour to chill out. I went up top and watched the water. That is a whole lot of blue. We ate tasty food and then went diving again. (Jason would like me to point out that the food was fantastic.)

I watched the sunrise.  It was a good one.

The night dive was very cool. There were big gray fish that have learned to hunt by the light of the torches. If we pointed a torch at a fish, the big fish would swoop in and eat it. It was almost as much fun to watch the other divers as to watch the fish. Each diver became a little pinpoint of light as we swam. It was like watching moving constellations. During our safety stop, (every dive there is a saftey stop before you go all the way up to let your body reacclimate) we covered our flashlights and waved our fingers through the air. There was a full moon and the bioluminescence made trails of sparkles through the water. I had a magic wand in my fingers.

Jason and I were the last group to head up. The boat had a flood light on the back and a bunch of fish were attracted to it. We watched the silhouette of the other divers and the fish in the light as we ascended. We could see little rainbow sparkles in the their bubbles, too.

Dawn over the live-aboard boat.

They fed us again once we were dry. The cook made too much dessert so we had to have two. In the morning, we ate breakfast and immediately got back in the water. We saw a turtle who’s shell was more than a meter long. We saw another turtle and a few more sharks. (Just reef sharks, don’t freak out.)

We moved from that mooring to one closer to shore where we did two dives. The last dive was my favorite. We went in caves. Our dive guide knew which caves popped out at the other end, so he led us through them. In one, the first exit we were heading for was blocked by a giant sea turtle, so we went further in. The second one was really dark and so neat. (Jason was much less impressed. I thought it was awesome.) Also, we swam under a turtle and saw a sleeping shark that was over 2 meters long.

Sleepy head. 

We transfered boats again after lunch and headed back to shore. (Again, Jason would like to say that the food was delicious.) We both napped on the way back in. Diving that much is exhausting, but really cool.

It had been a few months since we’d been diving, so it was good to go again. I had a few rough dives in the middle where I really struggled to keep my buoyancy right. I was pleased with my last two dives where I felt much more in control and calm about it. I still need to stay pretty aware of it, but at least I feel like I can control it and not have it be the only thing I do during my dive.

1-5 Millennium Caves

Walking to the caves.
It was quite a hike through mud

 Because we are busy playing tourist on Santo, we went to a tourist place. Like everything in this country, it is all about being in the right place at the right time. Jason and I were on a bus going back to the house we’re staying at and the driver asked us if we wanted to go to Millennium Caves. Five days later, we went.

They say the tour takes three hours but that is Island Time, it actually took about five. We arrived at the first village via bus. From there, we walked to the second village where we met our guides. Then we started the hike. The hike took us an hour and a half along muddy foot paths into the bush. Jason and I felt right at home, it was just like going to the garden. Then things got cool.

The cave mouth is down a steep slope. The slope has ladders that we had to crawl down facing the wall, like a proper ladder. After the ladders, there is short stretch of boulders and then the cave mouth. To get down into the cave mouth, we had to rappel down a ten feet of rock face. Fun!
There were a lot of ladders to climb down into the caves
The cave itself is about a hundred feet tall and varies between ten and forty feet wide with a river running through the middle. There are birds and bats roosting in the walls from about ten feet up to the top of the cave. All we could see of most of them was their butts sticking out of the nests, though occasionally, I’d see a baby bird squawking in its nest. Unfortunately, the butts sticking out over the nests also released a lot of excrement that we had to walk and climb over or wade through. Eww.
Into the caves!
There were bats and a river to hike through

We walked in the river that started out about knee deep and got as deep as my hips in some places. For the most part, it was shallow enough that I could see the bottom and where to put my feet, but every once in a while, it got a bit dodgy. The water wasn’t the cleanest and in the dark a flashlight beam doesn’t go far. A lot of people wiped out at least once. I just sat down on a convenient rock.
At the end of the cave, we rinsed the bat poo off in the river and had a picnic. After our picnic, we got our floaties and started canyoning. By canyoning, I mean climbing around on really big rocks. Sometimes the rocks went up, sometimes they went down and sometimes the guide just sort of disappeared. That was when we had to crawl under a really big rock. It was FUN!
We went down the river in childrens’ toys.
We also climbed over rocks with them

At the end of the canyoning section, we got to a nice lazy river through a gorge. We floated down the river on our floaties. Both Jason’s and mine had holes so each time we had a break on the rocks, we would blow up our floaties again. The gorge was gorgeous (had to be said) with waterfalls, places to jump from and short breaks of rocks to climb over. When Jason and some of the other people got too far ahead, they did ankle (or is it wrist?) -deep handstands while they waited. Some of us were too busy taking pictures to go quickly.

Floating down the river was AMAZING

The end of the tour was a climb up some more ladders and another rope-assisted waterfall climb. At the top of the waterfall, we leveled out to an easy path to the first village. We took a break at the village and ate pineapple and passion fruit before we walked the last half an hour back to the bus.

The canyoning was SO COOL! Totally my kind of fun. It was one of the more beautiful places I’ve seen in this country of wonders.