Aug 24, 2011


We procured a flight to South Central Kalimantan the other day, intent on witnessing one of man’s close relatives living in the forest in Borneo. Borneo contains some of the world’s largest rain forests. These lungs of the earth are under constant threat as they are illegally burned to the ground in order to grow cash crops such as palms for oil. Tanjung Puting National Park is a vast reserve of rain forest set aside for rehabilitating orphaned orangutans. When the forest burns, the orangutans lose their homes. They come here, often without their families, to thrive in a protected region.

Six tourists, ourselves included, boarded a wooden klotok from Kumai, a town heavily occupied by massive concrete windowless houses. They are homes to the swallows whose nests are then harvested for the infamous bird’s nest soup, a Chinese delicacy. The constant hum of Muslim prayer emanating forth from the mosques scattered about were masked by the pre-recording sound of flocks of swallows blasting from the openings of each house, an effort to lure more birds and more profit from the skies above.

The competing sounds of this vibrant river town quickly faded as our klotok chugged down the river destined for Camp Leakey, an orangutan observation and research center. We had before us three days of a true boat safari in the grandest fashion. We were treated to wonderful meals, endless tea and coffee, new friends from Spain and Russia, and superb monkey viewing on the shoreline trees high above the river.

The Orangutans were amazing creatures to behold. It was as though we were watching our own kind, albeit much hairier, climbing around the vines and canopy, devouring bananas at the feeding stations. When the orangutans first arrive to the park, they are fed daily while they acclimate to their new surroundings. Nearly every female carried a baby on her back.

As the days came to a close, we would re-board our boat for a sunset cruise to witness the proboscis and macaque monkeys along with the elegant kingfishers and the elusive crocodiles. As we headed back to port on the final day we caught a glimpse of the largest male orangutan of the trip sitting in a tree over the water. He likely weighed over 250 pounds. We could almost see him waving goodbye as we left the tranquil rainforest of Tanjung Putting and headed back to the madness of Asian city-life.

Aug 18, 2011

Tana Toraja

Religion plays a central role in nearly every culture and society that Amanda and I have visited over the years. Indonesia is well-known as having the largest population of Muslims in the world. However, in the two weeks that we have been here, their presence has been hardly noticeable.

The Toraja region of Central Sulawesi was once steeped in an ancient religion based on animism. Sacrificial offerings and complex rituals demanded their time, attention, and money. The Christians have since converted most of the people, sort of. Fortunately for us tourists that are thirsty for rare and unique cultures, the people have continued to practice their complex funeral rituals and live in their symbolic boat-shaped houses just as they have for hundreds of years.

Funerals last for five days and are attended by nearly the entire village. Gifts are exchanged, prayers are said and processions performed. What makes these funerals truly interesting are the ritualistic slaughtering of dozens of buffalo and hundreds of pigs.

The most sacred of buffalo, the albino with black spots, goes for well over $20,000. The richest families will kill over one hundred buffalo at each funeral. The funerals are such an expensive party that they often will not occur for months or years after death while the family raises money and makes the preparations for the party.

The people are undoubtedly Christian. They attend church on Sunday and name their children Abraham, Christian, and Mary. Yet, they have managed to keep a strong grasp on their past by continuing to hold these elaborate funeral ceremonies. Never before have two sides of the religious spectrum found such a harmonious place to coexist.

Then there are the houses. They are intentionally shaped like boats because their ancestors came by boat to Sulawesi. Each aspect of the house has ancient meaning and purpose. We saw old and new some grand, some quite small.

Amanda and I hired a guide for a two day trek across the rice fields and over the mountains from village to village. We attended a funeral ceremony, drank some homemade palm wine, lost some money at a cock fight, watched the farmers harvesting rice, celebrated independence from the Dutch, saw some hanging graves with wooden carvings of the dead, and experienced the pleasant life of central Sulawesi. We even spent the night in one of the fantastic houses.

The people of Sulawesi are some of the friendliest on earth. If only they could find a way to export their smiles and kindness, they would forever be wealthy. We were honored by the opportunity to spend time here. Thank you Sulawesi for all of your love.

Aug 13, 2011

Under the Sea

We are in a place I never knew existed and I suspect most have never heard of. The island of Bunaken is one of Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands off the coast of Sulawesi, itself a sprawling island in Indonesia. Why are we here? To fly.

Amanda and I have spent the last two days in a dream-like levitation as we soared above the most sublimely beautiful cityscape nature has ever constructed. This is the Paris, France of cities, the Sistine Chapel of churches, the Grand Canyon of Canyons.

We enter the heavens just off the beach from of our simple bungalow. The beaches are small as most of the coast line is lush with thick mangroves jockeying for space. Their massive roots protrude up from the sand surrounding their trunks like spiky towers searching for briny water that has left with the low tide. The first two-hundred yards off the shore are nothing terribly special. Grass grows from the sand and some unusually chunky and spiky starfish dot the landscape below. The water is smoother than the smallest lake. There is not even a hint of waves or motions; only serene calmness.

This ordinary scene suddenly gives way to a kaleidoscopic explosion of shimmering colors. The coral is simply stunning to admire. As we slowly float along with the current we are awarded with a slideshow of proportions that only nature itself could have possibly conceived. Our land-based frames of mind find it difficult to fathom the diversity of hundreds of varieties of coral, some small, some forming a table nearly forty feet across.

The sun has only three to five feet of water to penetrate as it casts its shine like a highlighter across the most important sections of text. But unlike that textbook that is filled with fluff, here in this underwater city, no square foot is without beauty, no crevice without life, no dark hole without lurking eyes. And we float and kick and swim and stare. We stare with wonderment, with astonishment, and with love for this earth which is capable of such colors. Fire corals, hydrocorals, fan corals, anemones, table corals, bush corals, pore corals, and bubble corals put forth shades of deep purple, fluorescent green, sky blue, mango yellow, deep red, and burnt orange. These colors put to shame the most beautiful of fall days in upstate New York. The shapes look both impossibly ornate and yet strangely organic at once.

And now I’d like to introduce you to the star attractions of this never-ending production: hundreds of thousands of fish. While the coral is indeed beautiful in its own right, its most notable quality is the inhabitants it contains. As we float by from above we are completely surrounded by at least a hundred fish at all times.

As I approach a particularly large school of key-sized shiny bright blue fish hovering above an equally large outcropping of flat shaped table coral, they seem to move as though I am the director of this shimmering orchestra. I wave my hand to within six inches of the herd and they retract backward like a massive bubble that bends under the slight touch of my soapy hand. I repeat these motions again and again and the school keeps exactly six inches from my hands, as though we have rehearsed this act hundreds of times. I decide to leave these beautifully coordinated actors alone and move out towards the edge of the coral wall. Here the coral clings to the side of a cliff that drops straight down into the nothingness below. The fish are heavily concentrated as they peck on the coral for nutrients. The clicking sound as they peck is at times soothing, and at times deafening.

I look left and twenty yards below me a majestic sea turtle glides up to the wall. His wings flap at a graceful pace as he turns around and soars back off into nothingness. We approach a family of clown fish hiding in an anemone. One exits his safety net and stares us down. They are the most aggressive two inches we will ever encounter. We decide to leave it be and move on.

Spotted and Yellow Boxfish flail around us, their bodies changing color as the light reflects from different angles. Massive schools stay close together as a group of four barracudas swim by. A striped sea snake nearly four feet long moves among the coral searching for its next meal. The majestic scorpion fish spread their spiny wings in all their glory warning us to the poisons they possess. And thousands and thousands of fish are everywhere.

After about an hour of beholding this magical mystery world just three feet below the ocean’s surface, we head back to shore. As we walk back three hundred yards to our hotel we are like two kids on Christmas morning. Our smiles are huge and we are grateful to have been so lucky to have this opportunity.

We somehow stumbled upon this place and it was the greatest trip into the ocean yet.

Magical Bali

In effect, we rented a covered wagon who’s horses couldn’t go up a hill. In reality it was a Suzuki Samurai with a bad fuel filter.

Driving along the coast of Bali was hot, noisy, and very crowded. So much so that Amanda and I decided to abandon our initial plans which had us on the main roads for three days, in favor of some back-road adventures.

We drove to a place called Jatiluwih (Jatalouie) known for its world class rice fields. They were absolutely magical. The hills were blanketed in beautifully constructed two-hundred-year-old steps. Each step organically followed the shape of the mountain into which it was carved. An impressive array of canals, channels, bamboo tubes and ingenuity carried water from one step to the next and across the entire valley. Never has the generosity of gravity been so grandly exploited. As we looked out from above, we saw just the right number of palm trees and exotic plants to remind us that nature is alive and well in this beautifully manipulated man-made wonder of the earth.

As one might imagine, the region is not without hills and inclines. Our rental car, sick throughout our three day adventure, finally decided to die on the way out of the valley. We were able to get it started again for its last hurrah as we gunned it half a mile up to the only hotel in the area. By no fault of our own we were forced to stay in a beautiful Balinese style bungalow overlooking the rice fields. We were lulled to sleep by the sound of the frogs. The dozen or so waterfalls behind our room fed the river which quenched the thirst of the water-loving rice plants.

We woke early morning and took a long walk through the fields. The retaining walls make for excellent walking paths. It was a walk back in time where buffalo tilled the fields, the women carried their supplies on buckets balanced on their heads, and the men planted each plant by hand in the mud.

The car was given a new fuel filter overnight and ran great on the way home. What was at first a huge pain in the ass was transformed into a wonderful memory thanks to the magical powers of Bali.


The buffalo wore ornate headdresses, gold in color. They stood restless as their handlers wrapped their horns in colorful cloth, adorning the quite beasts with the intricacies normally reserved for weddings and funerals. They stood in pairs side by side. A small cart painted bright yellow, green, and orange was in tow.

As the announcer began shouting unknowns over the P.A system, they took off running. The driver in the cart smacked the shit out of the buffalos as these enormous creatures used for plowing and towing burst out into unimaginable speeds. The ground rumbled as they sped by us spectators. This was the great Mupati Cup Buffalo Race of 2011 in Negara Bali.

We ran across this NASCAR race of the island by chance and it was easily one of the highlights of Bali. They raced for hours in heats of three on a dirt road carved through the rice paddies. Their flags waved in the wind as the crowd watched intently cheering for the favored contestants.

Thanks for the treat Bali!

Aug 1, 2011

3 Years In the Making: Hello Bali

Never has relaxing come at such an expense for Amanda and I. Money notwithstanding, this vacation to paradise cost us three years of law school, three months of bar exam study, and two days of the bar exam. I realize that these items all revolve around me. However, in the first years of our married life, that is exactly the way it was. The last three years were stressful, busy, and very un-relaxing. Law school was a fifty pound weight around both of our ankles, a third wheel in our lives, an obnoxious neighbor that insists on dropping in at the worst times. That is not to say we had no fun. Amanda and l never eschewed completely our hikes, camping trips, and relaxing trips to Michigan. Yet I can say with confidence and I am sure Amanda will agree that life for us of late was no box of chocolates.

And now, here we are in Bali. We have awarded ourselves for enduring three years of stress with the grand-daddy of chocolate bars. Bali is coated in nuts, caramel, nougat, and bigger than we could ever eat. Our task for the next five weeks is to explore, relax, have fun, and not stress. That’s the kind of assignment any of us can get behind. It might be the most emotionally expensive trips we’ve taken in our careers as travelers. But here we are, ready to leave behind another chapter in our lives and embrace the next.

After dumping all of my acquired law knowledge at the Phoenix Convention Center last Tuesday and
Wednesday, I was feeling light, empty, and ready. Don’t ask me what a tort is or how many jurors must agree. Right now, I don’t know and I don’t care. Amanda and I spent Thursday in a whirlwind packing for our journey. By 10:30 Thursday night, we were rolling down the tracks out of Tucson and towards Los Angeles. The train was step one of our journey. It was my first time riding the train in my own country and, to be honest, it wasn’t too bad. We got some sleep and it arrived to L.A. and hour early. And the price simply can’t be beat, so long as you buy your ticket far enough in advance.

Once in L.A. , Amanda and I were able to spend some time with my sister and her fiancé who live in Hollywood. We spent our day in L.A. strolling through the beautifully manicured streets of the Larchmont neighborhood. In L.A. we finished up some last minute preparations, such as picking up our visas at the Indonesian consulate.

Fast forward 24 hours of flying and here we are in Bali. We spent our second anniversary in the most incredible hotel either of us have ever seen let alone stayed at. (Thanks mom and dad). The Laguna is surrounded by beautiful swimming pools everywhere you look. It is a universe engulfed in luxury and smiles. Our stroll down the board walk took us past all of Bali’s finest hotels. We are in a segregated compound of sorts filled with wealthy tourists from all parts of the world.

Yesterday we took an excursion to a fish market for lunch. We strolled around looking at all the fresh fish for sale. Snapper was on our minds as we selected a two pound beauty. We then walked it across the street where we had it grilled to perfection. An enormous fish with a side of rice got us through lunch and dinner yesterday. It was easily the freshest fish we’ve ever eaten. It had most likely been dead for only a couple hours. Delicious.

Today we are meeting up with a former photography professor of Amanda’ s who has found a way to retire in Bali with her husband. We are excited to talk with them about all the changes in Bali since we were last here six years ago. Bali has exploded with tourism in that time and is now suffering from all the growing pains associated with the influx of foreigners and their money. Prices are skyrocketing and water levels are dropping.

Yet, despite the influx, we are confident that Bali will never run low on its hospitality and heartwarming smiles. We missed you Bali, thanks for having us back.