Winter Break (22-23) – Diving and Temple tour

When we looked at the calendar for the Christmas/New Year’s break and saw that we had a month off, we could hardly believe it. This was a longer break than what we had this past summer! However, the four weeks flew by very quickly. For the first two weeks, we traveled around Indonesia to some new islands we hadn’t been to yet and got in such much-needed diving. For the second half of the break, mom/Cindy came to visit Bali. 

To show you where we went for the first two weeks, here is a map to get your bearings:

From Canggu, we got a ride to the port town of Padang Bai. It would have been ideal to travel light, but we wanted to bring our own SCUBA gear for the 10-dives package we each got (let’s call it our Christmas gifts to ourselves) on Gili Air. From Padang Bai, we took a ferry to Gili Air. It was affordable and had very little hassle. Being on Gili Air was a great oasis from the busyness of Canggu. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the Gilis. Every now and then, you hear the soft purring of an electric scooter, but no cars/trucks/petrol scooters at all. People get around on foot, horse carriage, or bicycle. 

On Gili Air, we dove twice a day at 3W Dive Center. While diving, we were told that this is one of the worst times of year to come diving due to the rainy season; which kicks up a lot of sediment and turbidity in the water. However, despite a rocky day on the ocean when no one could dive due to the waves, we didn’t find any issues. Over the five days of diving, we saw a turtle on each dive and were amazed by the coral and manmade (with coral growing on it) underground structures. There is an (accidental) sunken ship near an old pier that is full of life and color. Our favorite site was called Turtle Point… yes, there were many gigantic turtles including one hawksbill that rivaled Grant’s height. On Christmas, we dove and then did a walking tour about the island, playing cards/darts along the way while snacking.

When we weren’t diving on Gili Air, we explored around the island. One day, we rented bikes and circumnavigated the 5km island. With the sand, the bike touring was slow going. On another afternoon, we did an Indonesian cooking class. We made some local specialties like chicken yellow curry and mie goreng (fried noodles).  We always say that the sunsets at our quiet beach in Canggu are the best, but the west coast of Gili Air takes the top prize in this category.

Images from Gili Air:

After our dives were completed, we packed up and said goodbye to Gili Air (for now). We got a ferry to the next island over, Gili Meno. Gili Meno was an (even) quieter version of Gili Air. Known for its turtle sanctuaries (both on the island and in the water), many people will snorkel around this island but never stay on it. Although it was tough (more for Alison than Grant) to find a good coffee in the morning due to the lack of espresso machines, we found its calm charming. For the two days here, we walked around the island each day, snorkeled, and read. At this time in the vacation, the rainy season blues started to kick in. We planned snorkeling for the next day, but woke up to unsafe waves and turbulent winds. Little did we know that the rainy season blues would upset plans for the next few weeks. At the end of our stay on Gili Meno, we got a ferry to Lombok. 

Images from Gili Meno:

To tell you the truth, coming back to Lombok was a mini culture shock. We had gotten used to walking around without trucks, cars, or (honk! honk!) scooters. Coming back to Lombok was a reminder that we “weren’t in Kansas anymore”. On Lombok, we stayed near Senggigi Beach. This is where we had come back in October for the Ironman 70.3 I attempted. It is a great place to stay and enjoy; the beaches are all very clean and accessible. We did a one-day tour with a local company to visit some waterfalls closeby. Initially, we had thought about renting a scooter while on the island and exploring the waterfalls ourselves, but at this time in the trip, the rain was consistent and daily. We didn’t want to get stuck out somewhere in the pouring rain. The tour ended up being really interesting and we got a better sense of the cultural and religious aspects of Lombok. Different from Bali, the people of Lombok are primarily Muslim except for small pockets here and there. On the tour, we visited a traditional market, two waterfalls/nature reserve, traditional village, and the oldest mosque in Lombok. The last item wasn’t on the initial program, but the tour guide asked if we would be interested in seeing it. It was an interesting structure to see and hear about; it was deeply embedded into the traditional cultural habitats of the Northern Lombok people.

For New Year’s, we went out to dinner in Senggigi and watched the fireworks on the beach. The various resorts put out the fireworks, so all we had to do was get ourselves to the beach to watch the show. For dinner on New Year’s Eve, and a few other evenings, we went to a restaurant along the main drag called Molly’s. It is run by a Balinese family and each evening the entire family was in the restaurant helping out (or just playing, as was the case for the newborn and toddler). The food was unreal and the environment was cool; so we ended up going back several times while we stayed in Senggigi.

To get back to Bali from Lombok, we had planned on the same way that we arrived – via the ferry through Padang Bai. However, with the rainy season in general, and a typhoon coming up from Australia, all fast ferries were canceled for several days. We showed up in the morning to take the fast ferry, and were given the alternative option for that day – to take the slow ferry back to Bali. The company apologized profusely and told us that many people from the Gilis were trying to get back to Bali, and had to choose this same option. Gilis to Lombok is a very short distance, and they were able to get onto Lombok but not back west. We accepted the only option presented to us and loaded onto a bus with a group of people in the same situation. We arrived at the fast ferry dock and could see that many people were in the same “boat” as us – many were upset and unsure if they would make their plane flight from Bali that evening. We waited a while in the dock, and then boarded the large ferry boat along with piles of cars and buses. On the boat, we waited another hour before we took off. We were told the slow ferry is normally four hours, so we had bought some snacks and food from the vendors selling them in the dock. We were happy we had bought those snacks because the ride ended up taking more than five hours. The ferry couldn’t go as fast as its normal speed due to the large waves. There were many moments of turbulence on the boat and luggage/water bottles flying from one side to another as we went over a wave. I can’t imagine what a small ferry boat would have been like if a large ferry was even having trouble staying steady. There were a couple of panicked moments on my part (“Grant, we should get on our BCDS, right?”), but Grant calmed me down and said everything would be ok. We had taken two dramamine when we boarded, but many people were sea sick over the side due to the waves. We finally arrived in Padang Bai and got a car back home. We were thankful it all worked out safely!

My mom arrived a couple days later in Bali. I wanted to show mom the real Bali so I got myself food poisoning on the first day she arrived. Jokes! But seriously…the latte was bad news. Food poisoning is a crazy physical phenomenon – as soon as it’s over, you feel right as rain. However, during, all you can do is curl yourself on the stone floor, shiver, and pray for it to pass. At one point, while throwing up multiple times in a row, I prayed to God. To all the Gods. Into the bottom of the toilet. Praying for it to pass. Let’s just say, I get very religious after a bad latte.

We had many exciting plans for when mom was here. We hadn’t been to Uluwatu since arriving in Bali in August so we were excited to bring her there. We took a car down and stayed a couple nights in order to see the beaches and temple. By the time we arrived in Uluwatu, unfortunately, Grant had now fallen ill with something. Rainy season blues, eh? Mom and I walked around some of the beaches and explored the beautiful wonders of Uluwatu. I want to live there…seriously. The crystal blue waters, beautiful sand, and cool vibes from the surfers make this an amazing place. For Christmas, I had given my mom the “temple tour” while she came here to visit. On the agenda were the following temples: Uluwatu, Ubud, and Tanah Lot. We walked over to Uluwatu Temple (not far from our Airbnb) and bought tickets to see the Kecak Dance performance. This was a truly unique experience. I hadn’t seen it before, and had only heard about how spectacular it was. The performance acted out a famous Balinese myth through costumes, dancing, and the vocals of a group of multi-aged men. I would love to go back again at some point!

Kecak Performance at Uluwatu Temple

On the way back from Uluwatu, we stopped at the GWK statue. One reason Grant and I love having people visit is it gives us the excuse to go and see items that we wouldn’t normally visit. This statue was super impressive and a huge feat for Indonesia – it’s the fourth tallest statue in the world!!

After Uluwatu, mom and I went to Ubud. Grant had intended to come as well but still wasn’t feeling 100%. Mom and I had a great time in Ubud. We went to the monkey forest, did a bird watching tour (highly recommended), and went to the water temple. This temple is one of the few places where tourists are allowed to visit. I was a bit hesitant at first because I didn’t want to feel like a poser/fake person for visiting the temple. However, our tour guide was super helpful and explained every step and why each step is necessary (the ritual behind it). At the water temple, there are three large areas where the ritual occurs. Each area has a focus – the body, the soul, and the dream/forgiveness. In each spot, you do the ritual in a different way and with a different perspective in your mind. This is where our tour guide was helpful in explaining the parts. To my surprise, there were fish swimming around in the area with us. The water all comes from a holy spring that is found underground. After the rituals, our tour guide brought us to see the spring. It is magical where the water is coming up because there is sand on top, and it moves the sand in a circular pattern. It was mesmerizing and beautiful how the sand spins upon itself. We went to the water temple with an old friend from Bulgaria named Petar. He had been living and working in Ubud and following some of the local customs and practices. Thus, he was able to go into the actual temple where the activities of the priest are happening while my mom and I walked around the outskirts. Overall, it was an interesting experience and I would like to revisit the temple.

Spring at Water Temple near Ubud

After Ubud, it was time for me and Grant to head back to school. Mom kept herself busy while we were at school. One afternoon after school, we went to the third and final temple along the “temple tour” – Tanah Lot. We had the great fortune of attending the temple on the same evening as its “birthday”. Twice a year, people attend their village temple to celebrate its creation. There were many people there at Tanah Lot, giving offerings/blessings, playing music, and having family picnics along the green areas. It was very special and nice to see how people actually celebrate. Of course, we couldn’t go into the actual Pura (Temple) because we aren’t Hindu and don’t know the practices, but we could see the gist of what people wear, what they bring, and how they act at these types of ceremonies. 

On the last weekend that mom was in Bali, we took her to a (bonus) temple in Bedugul. We stayed overnight in the calm and cool town of Bedugul. We went to the Botanical Gardens and famous temple there while eating some great local food!

Despite the rainy season, overall, mom got very lucky while she was here. We got wet a few times while we were out and about, but it didn’t dampen the plans terribly. With a heavy heart, mom headed back to the airport while we were at school one afternoon. See you in June when we are home this summer!

Bedugul Temple on the Lake

October Break and ‘Fall’ing into Bali Life

We were very excited to have a week off, do some great diving, and see our friends Thomas and Inga again. When we announced that we’d be moving to Bali, they were both very happy for us and almost immediately called us on the phone, first saying congratulations, then asking when would be a good time to visit (they are always down for a meetup!). We originally met Thomas and Inga on our very first liveaboard trip in Thailand. Becoming fast friends over our mutual love of travel, diving, and bacon, we have gotten to see them quite a bit in our wonderings. After brainstorming some ideas, we made the decision to meet up for another liveaboard trip in Komodo National Park. 

Diving in Komodo was an amazing experience! Not only were the various dive sites we visited teeming with life of all kinds, but we all got to dive together as a small 4 person group and share the daily adventures of looking for yellow box fish, avoiding trigger fish attacks, and working on our buoyancy through challenging currents. 

Unfortunately, there is no underwater photos or videos from this trip. On the second dive of the first day, our trusty GoPro broke off its housing stick and sank into the deep. None of us saw it happen but the evidence was clear. Back on the boat, clipped to my BCD was the stick, but no GoPro. “An offering to the ocean gods” I remember saying. We were a bit gutted but this unfortunate incident forced us to be more in the moment and stay present to everything happening around us. Well, those ocean gods clearly loved our wonderful gift because the entire trip was full of incredible sights and creatures! We saw turtles, sharks, all kinds of mantas and rays, eels, and tons more. Some of the dive site highlights included: “The Shotgun” (a small channel between two island where the ocean rushes through and carries you along for a rollercoaster-like ride!), “Shark Alley” (an intense current dive where you hook into the reef and sit back and watch all the sharks come in and out of the current) and “Manta Alley” (an amazing reef site where, you guessed it, the mantas love to hang out at the cleaning station). We all got to see some of our favorites, except for Thomas. Sorry dude, no whale sharks on this trip; sign us up for the next one! 

Aside from the fantastic diving, our liveaboard also arranged for us to see some of the other amazing natural highlights the Komodo islands have to offer. We stopped off one afternoon on a very small, secluded beach. “Pink Beach” got its name for the mixture of white and red corals which, over time, get ground down into sand which has an awesome pink color to it. Another morning we got up early to take a small boat to Padar Island to catch the sunrise. At the top of a short hike, the incredible landscape of the Komodo islands showed off all its greatness. A variety of mountains and valleys scraped along the horizon of the sea. It’s as though someone took a strip of paper from a heartbeat monitor and laid it across the ocean. 

Our trip would not have been complete without seeing the infamous komodo dragons! We stopped off on the main Komodo island and were greeted by the park rangers, all of whom are walking around carrying large, robust sticks with a “Y” shape at the end. No guns, boots, or tactical gear. They only protection we had was a couple of dudes in flip flops and a big ass stick. There are a few established trails that the rangers take tourists on in hopes of spotting some dragons. It didn’t take long before we encountered our first one! We weren’t sure if we’d even see any (no guarantees with mother nature) but we ended up seeing quite a few. One even followed us for a little while as we were heading back down the trail towards our boat. We’ve seen a few creatures that we might compare to living dinosaurs, these magnificent beasts are one of them! Very cool!

Upon our return to Bali, Thomas and Inga used our place as a home base to tour around and explore the island, while Alison and I…went back to work! Fortunately for us the week we returned was also Halloween!! A little context: during the weeks leading up to Halloween, I put together a few classes after school teaching special f/x makeup application and design. It was a lot of fun and the students I had in this mini-course were amazing. They really got into the ideas and loved getting messy. They left each session looking like zombies or car crash victims in all their horrible, macabre, gory glory. Needless to say, they scared the shit out of the security guards as they exited campus. It was awesome. On that Friday, the school hosted their annual Halloween party for the school community. They hadn’t been able to throw the party for the past few years, for obvious reasons, but this year the school was determined to bring it back full throttle. I got asked to apply makeup for some of the teachers who were running stalls and participating in the event, and Alison was a huge help as we had so many kids and teachers wanting makeup. It was a few tough hours of balancing and juggling all the makeups but it was a ton of fun to walk around afterwards and get caught up in the spirit of the Halloween festivities. Kids and parents all got dressed up in costumes to enjoy the festivities and activities that the school put together. It was amazing to be around that much Halloween energy. It definitely brought us back to the amazing Halloweens we had growing up in New England. 

That weekend was also our last weekend with Thomas and Inga before they flew back to Germany. We had some really fun times with them while they were here and it was wonderful to see them again and create more memories! Thanks you guys! We’ve already decided another reunion meetup will take place sometime in 2023. Stay tuned. 

Alison and I both love to adventure and have new experiences. But during the “normal” week, we also both love our routines. Settling into Term 2 at school had its challenges. For one, the amount of time we spend in the classroom each week took a little getting used to (not to mention the planning/grading that comes with it). The first year at a new school is always a challenge as you’re constantly learning (and attempting) to keep your own self afloat in all the new chaos. But in Term 2, we found our mojo. Alison stayed consistent with her increasing extreme athletics. During a weekend in November, Alison ran one of the wildest races of her athletic career! It was a 55k trail run where competitors run up one of the volcanoes here in Bali (Mount Batur), then around the lake at its base, up another mountain on the other side, then complete the loop of the lake only to run up Mount Batur again before finishing! Seriously, my girl’s insane. But she’s also an absolute animal and was the second place female finisher!! We’re very proud! It’s worth noting that out of the 54 total competitors for this event, only 23 met all the various cut-off times and finished. Wow! You’re a rock star Li’l Bug! It’s been a busy season for Alison as she’s also completed a few other events as well including a 100k L’Etape (Tour de France) cycling event and trail run up Mount Agung (Bali’s highest peak). She’s also been an avid member of a local running group. No one knows where she finds all her energy. It’s a mystery that rivals the Shroud of Turin or the Bermuda Triangle.

Not to be outdone, I’ve also been doing my share of cycling and running (though I can never make myself quite enjoy running; audiobooks certainly help but only so much). Many of you may know that for most of my life I’ve practiced martial arts. I started when I was a kid right up through my mid-twenties; even owning a school of my own for 4 years before getting into teaching. But I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. I had a great instructor while we lived in China and tried to find my place in Bulgaria but things/COVID didn’t really work out. Here in Bali, there is no shortage of things to do and try. I recently started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and have really enjoyed it. It’s terribly difficult and mentally taxing but I suppose I like it that way. More progress to come.

In early December, Alison and I celebrated our anniversary at a very chilled out, off the beaten path kind of place not too far from our home in Canggu. It was quiet, comfy, and even a bit swanky. We had a lovely time and thought it could be a place to keep in mind if we ever need to just get away for a day or two. The food was incredible, the beach was practically empty, and the sound of cars and scooters was nowhere to be found. It was idyllic. We might have to make it a tradition while we’re here! 

Term 2 wrapped up and we found ourselves preparing for our much needed holiday break. A scuba diving trip to the nearby Gili Islands. More on that later. 

We wish you all well and hope you are all happy, healthy, and doing the things you love. 

Peace and Love,

Grant & Alison