Here’s a collection of the photos I took while working on a surf charter boat in the Banyak Islands of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. I spent a total of 10 weeks on that floating home and got to share the space with a diverse group of surfers. I’m grateful for the experience of surf exploration and challenging myself in new conditions, both as a photographer and a surfer.
I want to preface this update by letting you know there will be no beautiful visual photography reward at the end per our usual posts.
Alex is currently living on a catamaran up in the Banyak and Mentawai Islands and working as a photographer for a surf charter. He is there for a total of 6 weeks and therefor is not here to fulfill his side of this blog endeavor. However, I could not be happier or more proud that he is getting to do what is also known as “living the dream”-at least living the dream of an artistic surfer that is.
So, that just leaves me to report on our day to day life here in Bali-something I have wanted to do for a while. Our life has taken some beautiful twists and turns since landing down in the southernmost peninsula of Bali. We have made great friends, contacts -travel and business, and also gotten in touch with much deeper desires of what we want our life to be about. These all came as welcome surprises, since the original reason we chose to take a time out here was mostly for a budget break, and to stop moving for a while as I wanted to feel my feet on the ground and sleep in the same bed for more than 4 days.
The bed we found is in a town called Pecatu- pronounced Pa-cha-too, nestled along the rugged, cliffy coast of the Bukit Peninsula. In close proximity to world class waves and the beaches of Bingin, Padang Padang and the most well known- Uluwatu. Our home is essentially a free standing studio/bungalow/hut. It has nice high ceilings, a kingsized Asian style bed, a mini fridge, and an outdoor bathroom with HOT water and air conditioning..kind of a big deal here. It is in a circle of 7 bungalows just the same- with a pool and community out door kitchen in the center. We are nestled in the middle of fenced cow pastures to either side, and the ocean just a little ahead in front. Waking up to roosters, wooden cowbells thunking, and the smell of incense from the daily offerings is an everyday experience that I have come to find so comforting.
When leaving the serenity of our compound- just up a local road through a Balinese neighborhood, you encounter the funniest group of animals all up and down the road. It is common for chickens with babies, roosters, cows and dogs to cross in front of your motorbike, so its best to keep your speed low. Its kind of like a funny minefield of people and animals.
I have described the town in our previous post, so wont go too much into detail- but more just try to paint a picture of what its like for for foreign folks to try to make their home here in this part of Bali. Once you have your home secured- you need transportation, and the most popular and easiest way to get around is on a scooter or motorbike. I know, this is considered incredibly unsafe in a lot of peoples minds, but honestly it has been the most fun, liberating, and easy way I have ever been able to go from a to b. I actually don’t have any desire to drive a car ever again if possible- but most likely unavoidable at some point.
Most mornings, I wake up, look outside and put on my yoga clothes. Hop on my Honda Vario (the most common scooter around) and go to one of 3 different cafes. These happen to be the cafes that have a proper espresso machine- because I am just not man enough to handle the Bali Kopi every morning. The Balinese grind their coffee very finely and prepare it like instant coffee- no filter. The cool thing is, that since life and food are so reasonably priced in Bali- it is actually not that much more economical to eat at home every day. I also get a chance to see people, practice my Indonesian, do some reading, journaling and just wake up in a pleasant atmosphere.
The drive to the yoga studio I have been going to takes about 15 minutes and is a great way to observe daily life in this town. There are no high rises here, it is one main road with a few cafes, surf shops, quickie marts,local homes and warungs (small restaurants usually with local food). You pass by new businesses having opening ceremonies, tourists and busses on the bridge at Padang Padang, and people at their homes and businesses keeping busy preparing the days offerings, or burning yard waste and trash.
If you happen to run out of gasoline in your scooter, you can stop at a roadside hut that has old glass vodka bottles filled with a liter or two of gas. The going price seems to be about 8 thousand Indonesian Rupiah per liter which ends up being about 69 cents. Petrol prices are very good here.
After winding through town and the greenery that lines every road here on the Bukit- I get to the top of the hill in Uluwatu and make my way to the beautiful Morning Light Yoga studio at the Uluwatu Surf Villas. The studio sits on a cliff where you have jungle on one side, and the surf at Uluwatu below- one of the most beautiful spaces I have ever been fortunate enough to spend time.
Along with beautiful but low key resorts, there are a few spots for night life here too. Any given night there is a beach party or bar party with either a dj or local live band playing. Some are strictly tourist and expat shindigs- and some even attract local people. Personally, I have hung up my party pants in exchange for good sleep and hangover free mornings- but we have gone to a few of these events to spend time with friends and watch some pretty amazing sunsets- as well as listen to good music. We have had some lovely invites to temple ceremonies from the caretakers of our house, but so far have been away for the important dates. I hope to get to put on a real sarong and sash and make it to a ceremony while we are still in Bali. It is one of the most noticeable and beautiful distinctions of Balinese culture.
So now, on a more personal level:
Today, I am getting ready to leave here for a month of intense yoga practice and teacher training up in Ubud. While the chilled out existence here on the Bukit is addictive- I have recovered enough energy to go dedicate myself to continued growth and education, while Alex is doing the same in his own way.
We have zero plans beyond this October- but are really loving and cherishing our freedom and adventures at the moment, and this has been leading us forward in the most natural feeling way. The connections with people we have made here while some short and transient- are connections that I have no doubt will make some of the most lasting impacts on us and our future choices. So I want to end this entry with some reflections for anyone who happens to read this. We have heard a few times from people that they are envious, or that they admire what we are doing. That its something they want to do themselves- or we also get concerned questions like where will we settle down to live? While these are so honest and appreciated- the best answer right now is that we really just don’t know- and we are not worried about it. Honestly.
What would you do right now, if you gave yourself complete permission to do what you want- with no consideration for what you believe you “should” be doing? Are those really your own “shoulds”? Could you trust that things would work out? That enough money would be there somehow-maybe from ways you never thought of or expected, love would be there, and that you wouldn’t have to be afraid of how it all ends, or what people will think? I admit, we had some circumstances line up in ways that I never could have planned that made this possible for us. And I’m not at all implying that everyone wants to sell all of their belongings and live in Indonesia either. And it is scary to do something opposite to what most of your friends or family are doing, or may expect you to be doing. And while we do miss our friends and family often-this has still been the right choice for us. I understand that there are millions of ways to engage in life in a way that you feel good about personally. So what does that look like for you? I just want to be one of those nagging reminders to people that you are not stuck- ever. Even if it feels so true that you are. If I can let go of a million limiting beliefs about myself and my life- and experience and understand this level of joy and freedom- I know it is possible for anyone. So?
So Alex published his photos before I got to writing this post, and as I thought on how I want to share our experience so far in Indonesia, I was finally able to formulate something. All of our time this far has been on only one of the 17k islands in the country of Indonesia, and that is Bali. Alex is currently in Sumatra as I write this, but that will be another post as I am sure he has been capturing some cool stuff while there.
But for today, its all about Bali.
We have been here for almost 2 months now, and it seems like it has flown by. We landed in Denpasar late at night on February 6 and our first stop was in Nusa Dua. We both agreed that once in our hotel there, it felt like we were really on vacation for the first time since we left on this journey. Mainly because we felt the distinction of the Balinese culture in everything right away- as well as being able to finally breathe when we went to pay for dinner for lack of shock at the food cost. We spent a little over a week in Nusa Dua, which I will try to summarize. It is one of the more touristy areas of Bali, as most of the South part of the island has become, however it was very obviously catered to tourists from other Asian countries. Lots of big tour buses and shopping not seemingly marketed at western tourists as in other areas. With that said, the hotels in Nusa Dua are very beautiful and are designed with Balinese attention to detail and making things more visually attractive. The first thing I saw is the lovely small grass basket offerings at every entry way to buildings, restaurants, and pretty much anywhere else that makes sense to the religious practice they do every day. There are usually flowers, small food items and incense in the offerings to the Hindu Gods that the Balinese honor- as well as other random things like cigarettes and cash. When asked, they also told me that the reason Balinese make things beautiful and pretty (which we call art, and they don’t have word for art) is to also serve the Gods and please them.
Alex found a couple of good surf spots in Nusa Dua and had to have a fishermans boat drop him off out past the reef where the wave was since it was a super far paddle out. We spent my birthday there on Feb 9, and Alex and the hotel staff surprised me with a chocolate cake at breakfast- clearly a high point of this part of the trip for me haha. I also from there took a car up a little ways to Sanur for the day for a great first Balinese cooking class. The teacher took us to her local market and showed us many new and exotic for me- ingredients. New kinds of fruits, spices, vegetables and she also taught us how to negotiate prices on things.
Balinese cooking uses many of the same spices but in different ways for different dishes. Shallots, garlic, chilis, kefir lime leaves, lemon grass, turmeric, ginger, galangal, coriander, and a few others are the base of their curries and the national staple of their fried rice dish called Nasi Goreng. I have majorly simplified a beautiful and complex cuisine here, and will try to get just a food post up as we live here longer. I am loving the food and want to honor and share it.
From Nusa Dua, the surf was picking up so we went up to Keramas which is a famous surf spot with a large, consistent right hand break- and the blackest sand I have ever seen. We stayed at Komune surf club which is the only real hotel there on the beach. Since the waves were good, there were some pros hanging around and we got to watch some good surfing and Alex caught a few himself.
After the waves at Keramas, it was time to head inland and upward to Ubud. Ubud is arguably the biggest cultural center of Bali. The most incredible Balinese artisans work and have so many amazing products in the surrounding area and center of Ubud. Wood carvers, furniture makers, batik artists, silver smiths, and many other beautiful shops can be found.
We chose to take a few classes ourselves and get a better idea of how these things are created. I took another amazing cooking class, Alex took a wood carving and batik class, and we took a ceramics class together at the studio of a local pottery maker. It was so fun and we both really enjoyed getting to learn and be creative in the middle of such a beautiful creative town. Ubud has a crowded bustling town center with backpacker hostels, tons of shops, restaurants and temples lining the narrow streets. The energy of the place is awesome. We spent an entire afternoon in the Monkey Forest Temple which Alex made a hilarious video of. It was really cool to be so close to the monkeys and just watch how they behave and socialize. And, there is a large in use temple in the area where they people go for their many ceremonies.
The Balinese have constant ceremonies. I wont even pretend to fully understand what they are all for but what I am understanding is that they are more like blessings and traditions unique to each village, and temple and family. For example, they have an electronics ceremony where the people decorate their cars and motor bikes to bless them and even cell phones and computers. When there is a ceremony in ones village, they miss work or come late dressed in their traditional sarongs and other attire.
I am really enjoying this part of the culture though. There is such an obvious commitment to tradition and the people take pride in it. They will always tell you when they had a ceremony in their village- and the longer we are here, the more we can just tell when it is one of those days.
Up out of the bustling down town part of Ubud, are rolling hills that are topped with miles of rice fields. It is so peaceful and amazing up in those rice fields. We got to stay in a house up there and enjoy the views of the sun coming up and down over the reflection on the water flooding the fields.
From there, we then came back down south to the area on the Bukit Peninsula called Uluwatu. Directly across the southernmost peninsula from Nusa Dua- the Uluwatu area is much less developed and still a bit rural. It also happens to have several of the best surf spots on the island, so we figured we would be here a while- just no idea how long. I have a lovely friend who I knew was living in this area, but had not really spoken to in years-just in touch due to the also lovely phenomenon of social media. I reached out to her as she is a yoga teacher and I was looking forward to getting in some much needed yoga while we were staying.
Little did I know that this place would grab us and not let us go, but in the best possible way. The minute we got to the Bukit and met a few more like minded travelers- I took some yoga classes in the most incredible ocean cliff studio, and we both got used to getting around on motor bikes, we have been hooked. Uluwatu is a great combination of travelers mixed with community minded ex-pats. Mostly surfers and their partners enjoying the company of each other while integrating in to the local Balinese culture as much as possible. We have really enjoyed getting to see what daily life is like here so we have decided to extend our visas for 6 months and give it a shot to see what happens. So far so good, and we are feeling at home for the first time in months. I will also spend some time soon on a post just about life here over the time we stay, but figured I had a lot to fill in since its been almost 2 months in Bali. This weekend is Balinese New Year holiday called Nyepi. I will be going back over to Nusa Dua with some friends to stay in a hotel since the main part of the holiday is that you cannot talk or go outside or have your lights on or even talk in your home. This is to cleanse the island of all bad spirits and start out the new year in a positive way. Since Alex is gone, I have opted out of solo silent isolation for the holiday and will enjoy a more relaxed yet still respectful version of this holiday on the other side of the peninsula.
There will be much more to come on Bali and Indonesia while we are here, but that’s enough for now I think.. Off to ask one of the caregivers of the property we are staying at to jump my motorbike battery- I left the lights on last night, oops!
I say a little bit, because this incredible country is so large that we only gave it a fraction of the time and attention it deserves- BUT the parts we did explore were every bit worth sharing. We landed in Sydney too early to go to our hotel which was right down town in the middle of the downtown business and shopping district. So, since Alex had been there before and we were both excited for some hot beach weather- we got in our right hand drive Prius rental car and headed to Bondi Beach around 9 am. After a proper Aussie brekkie and a long black (translation: breakfast and espresso drink like an americano) we felt our feet back on the ground again.
I went off to explore the very cool shops around Bondi, and Alex down to the beach to rinse off his plane trip. I bought some new sunnies from a local designer and a new bikini- as the Australians have great beach fashion, and I am feeling pretty fashion-less at this point of our travels. We made our way back up north to another beach where the surf was a little better that day. Also, I want to apologize if my -ies on the end of words at first seemed cheesy and unnecessary to me- but its truly how Australians like to shorten words and make them cute. So, who am I to change it in writing? Plus, try it- its kind of fun haha.
Anyway we finally made it down to our hotel in the center of Sydney, which was a Hilton we got a great deal on Agoda. After a good night sleep we were back up the next day to walk down and explore Sydney Harbor and the famous Opera House skyline at Circular Quay. That day we saw an exhibit from Yoko Ono at the Contemporary Museum of Art Australia and some other very interesting permanent exhibits as well.
That night we walked into Darlinghurst from our hotel per the recommendation of a good friend and had a drink at a cool pub though I cannot remember the name.
We only spent 2 full days in Sydney, so Im sure we missed a lot of things, but we were anxious to get on the road and explore the rest of the east coast of Australia. On our way out of town, we made a detour to Manly beach which is another stop on the surf trail of life. The ferry stops here from Sydney, and Im pretty sure cruise ships as well. We had some lunch, did a bit of shopping and were on our way again.
We gave ourselves 2 weeks to drive from Sydney up to Brisbane where we had to return our car so we took our time cruising up the coast driving about 2-4 hours a day and choosing coastal towns to stop and explore. We stopped in Newcastle first, stayed 2 nights and explored the city by eating mostly. Newcastle has very nice beaches and we watched some hangliders take off and land on the cliffs. Then onto Forster which is a small beach town with ocean front shops, cafes and the coolest thing was the Forster Ocean Bath that is a an enclosed concrete pool on the beach that was built originally in 1936 that the residents enjoy still to this day.
After Forster, we went north to Nambucca Heads which was BEAUTIFUL. It is a beach where several rivers converge into the ocean, and the white sand and clear water create a rainbow of blue, green and very tropical looking waters. You can swim in the still river pools and walk along the rocks to the ocean where the waters mix and create some pretty intense currents.
Then we got up and moved northward to Byron Bay which is somewhere we both had been looking forward to seeing. Byron Bay is known in our circles for surf, fashion, art, hippies, and a cool Aussie beach lifestyle. We rented a little cottage in a resort just outside of town, and spent our days going into town, checking the waves and we even saw a Sufi music show. If you get to Australia sometime, Byron Bay is a must see and one of those special places in the world that are as much a vibe or feeling as a place to see.
After a few days in Byron, we moved just a few miles up to stay with a friend in Kingscliff. Kingscliff is a peaceful suburb on the ocean with very nice homes. We got to stay in one of these homes over the ocean with some locals who took us down to their surf club for Australia Day. Somewhat the equivalent to The 4th of July in the states, Australia day is a summer holiday where people bbq, party and get extra patriotic. Our friends showed us a good time, and one of them, Amy has a surf camp in Sumatra, Indonesia so we got to pick her brain a lot about how to go about the next part of our trip- while her partner Mark listened on. Just out of Kingscliff is a wild life reserve where I finally got to see the Koala bears and Kangaroos that I had been searching for along the roads while driving. These animals at Cirrumbin had been in captivity for generations and were peaceful and docile and so fun to watch. Koala habitats are endangered however as people are cutting down the Eucalyptus trees. And while the animals themselves are protected, this is their only food and home source in the wild so it is a bit of a problem.
After the park, we went on to Coolangatta to some more famous surfing spots and met up with another friend and fellow American who was in the area on business. He is a surf team manager for a major company and was traveling with some of his athletes, so we got to enjoy some meals and good conversation in between beach trips!
From Coolangatta, we drove up to Brisbane to catch our flight to Cairns, Queensland just north for an excursion on the Great Barrier Reef. Queensland is much hotter and more tropical than other parts of Australia we had been in. It felt like a completely different country! From the crocodile warning signs, and the jellyfish warnings on the beaches- we did not go swimming while up there with the exception of our Reef day, and we did that in a “stinger suit” which is like a thin wetsuit to protect from.. jellyfish stings. From Cairns, we took a boat out into the ocean about 45 minutes to the beginning of the Reef, anchored up and hopped in with our snorkels. We arent dive certified, so we missed a lot of the sea life for sure, but snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef is now a check on my bucket list! We saw a lot of fish that day, but the recent storms ruined visibility a little, and we could only see a limited area at Hastings Reef-when there are miles and miles of this wonder of the world that you can see from space and the airplane.
Also while in Queensland, we went to a crocodile farm. The price for skins of crocodiles is very very high and the demand was not going down so in order to control poaching and keep populations up, they began farming the giant prehistoric animals. This particular farm also had rivers and enclosures where very large old crocs live in peace as well. It was very cool to see these guys so close up and in a controlled environment. There was one 50 year old croc there who was captured because he kept eating the heads off a local farmers cows drinking in his pond. Kind of a hard dilemma about leaving them alone in the wild and coexisting with humans I think.
Total we were in Australia for a little over 3 weeks, and it was a great taste of adventure and culture. I hope to be back again to see all the things missed and left out, but until then, I will remember the great coffee, friendly people, wild animals, diverse land and cool beach culture and fashion. Two thumbs up for Australia.
Onward to Bali, and Indonesia.
The first thing we saw welcoming us to Auckland airport was a giant advertisement for New Zealand Air that depicted a pilot and crew member who were hobbits with long red hair and beards and hobbit ears.
The second was a very cool Maori archway over the entrance to the baggage reclaim area. I immediately knew we were in what has been a long awaited destination for both of us- and it felt MAGICAL.
After our shuttle ride to the hotel where I left my passport in the shuttle..Oops- we settled in for the night to rest up to explore Auckland the next day, which would be Christmas eve but a day ahead of the states. The holidays in the city were very mellow. Most of the businesses were closed for the days we were in Auckland, but we were able to do some shopping, eating and exploring on Boxing Day.
We are both big breakfast people- and I am a big coffee person, so this is always one of the most interesting things when we arrive somewhere new. The standard big Kiwi breakfast- I hope this is correct, is eggs poached, toast, sausage, roasted tomatoes, baked beans, and sauteed mushrooms. This ends up being pretty much what you see on every menu- or some variation of this. The coffee in New Zealand is incredible also. You can go to just about any road side gas station or cafe and get the freshest made espresso drinks. No old, burnt sitting on the pot coffee for the Kiwis, and they seem to drink coffee all day every day. I understand- as the climate in most of New Zealand is similar to that of Seattle, or England… with the exception of summertime in some parts of the islands it is pretty damp and chilly a lot of the time. However- I will say that everyone was telling us that we had some of the worst weather that they have seen in a long time, so I wont attribute the coffee drinking only to the weather. Flat white, long black anyway your order it, its good.
We spent 3 days in Auckland, obtained our campervan, and set out on the road- left side, right drive style.
The first night in our campervean was awesome. We went north as far as we could make it and it was the beginning of the most gorgeous green rolling field scenery that we would enjoy the entire 3 weeks of our road trip from the north island to the south. That night we landed in one of the Department of Conservation campsites at the beaches of Uretitti. It was a big open hilly plot of land, where there were no boundary lines, and camps set up randomly all over the property up to the back side of the sand dunes, and on the other side of the dunes was an incredible beach with white soft sand.
This would never fly in the states. There would be so many rules and lines and assigned spots- so for us it was truly an eye-opener into different ways of doing things like camping even.
In the days that followed, we made our way south toward Wellington. Along the way, we explored the Waitomo Caves, Lake Taupo and our favorite, the coastal surfy town of Raglan. Raglan is a special little town that you have to drive through a long stretch of farms to get to on the central west coast of the north island. Raglan is known for one of the longest rolling left breaking waves in the world. And, since Alex prefers going left, this was like a Mecca for him to at least check out. I fell in love with the hippie mellow arty vibe of the town. We contemplated going and staying there for a couple of months- but decided that it is too far and remote for us to make our lives.. right now- so why tempt our selves. Anyway, if you get a chance- go to Raglan sometime. Its awesome. The caves in Waitomo were also a unique experience. These wonders of nature stretch miles and miles under un assuming green pastures with sheep grazing up over the top. We were lowered down into the caverns via climbing ropes, and spent the day in wetsuits with rubber boots, headlamps and hard hats. Tubing down the cave rivers in the pitch blackness, we saw lots of glow worms and small cave tunnels. We then had to climb a full on rock wall to get up out of the cave which was very scary for me- I froze on a concaved part of the wall and thought I wouldnt make it back out! Alex, with his long limbs- spider-manned his way up in no time.
We spent a total of 7 days on the north island, and took the Inter Island Ferry across to the south island from Wellington over to Picton. We spent 2 days in Blenheim in the Marlborough wine region which was amazing. The wine in New Zealand is incredible, and the scenery was just as beautiful. The fertile, abundant farm lands were covered with vineyards and various organic farms. It was one of MY favorite spots in New Zealand. We then went west to Nelson which was a very cool city, Abel Tasman national park- which was gorgeous almost tropical ocean setting and one of the best hikes we did in NZ. From there continued south through glacier lands and Fox Glacier to the Fjordlands of Milford Sound. Seeing all kinds of incredible dramatic scenery along the way- and of course the sheep that NZ is so well known for with the current statistic being about 8 sheep to every 1 person in the country!
We crossed over to Queenstown which is like an alpine kingdom in the middle of the island surrounded by the most beautiful lakes, homes and a very cool town center that reminds me of what I imagine Aspen to be like. Queenstown is also famous for its ADVENTURE sports and where Alex decided to go bungee jumping off a bridge.
We made our way up the east side of the south island-through Dunedin, Timaru, and on to Christchurch where we would depart to Sydney from. We visited a very cool Maori rock art museum in Timaru and got to learn about the native people of New Zealand, who are fascinating if you ever get time to learn about. I wont attempt to explain here for reasons of lack of accurate info, I am not a cultural anthropologist, and the fact that I could write all day about New Zealand- but am also pretty sure you dont want to read all day about New Zealand… Plus, the Maori have such a rich and interesting culture and history that it would need its own post. This is just about our personal excursion.
It was eye opening to see the the devastation of the 2011 earthquake that hit Christchurch.
We had so many sights and experiences I know I have left some things out and could go on and on about New Zealand. To say it is beautiful- which I did several times.. is a huge understatement. I am a little hesitant to admit that I am not a Lord of the Rings fan- but if you are, it is even more magical and breathtaking than the movies even show. It is very easy to travel around by car, and camping is honestly I believe the BEST way to explore and really see this incredible country. The Kiwi people, from what I observed and experienced -are friendly, laid back, and enjoy the benefits of their green gorgeous home. The holiday parks and camp grounds are full of Kiwi families, European, American and various other foreign travelers. They are very traveler friendly and easy to find as well as last minute pull in for the night. I HIGHLY recommend the trip that we did in New Zealand for any ones bucket list. It is indescribable in so many ways, and the experience is so unique that I have had a hard time even trying to explain it. Alex captured some great moments and a lot of the essence of the natural wonder and beauty that we experienced. It was a truly transforming and humbling trip for us and we are so glad we made it there. If you have ever wanted to go to New Zealand, just go- it will exceed any of your expectations and dramatically shift and spoil your perception of natural beauty.
Up next is Australia!
I am not sure what I can really say about Oahu and not only do it justice, but not offend anyone who loves, lives, or grew up on the island. So, I will try to keep it pretty straight forward with few judgements or too many opinions.
We got to Honolulu Airport, got our rental car- and after some discussion about which “midsize” would have fold-down seats to fit the surfboard- we were on our way up to the north shore.
For those of you who are as ignorant as I was on this place- the north shore of Oahu is FAMOUS for surfing. I kinda knew that, but like- not even close to the reality that is the size, and popularity of the waves up there. We planned this portion of the trip just in time for the Billabong Pipemasters surf contest, which is the final of the “Triple Crown” of surfing. I wont even try to describe Pipline as a wave- because I dont surf, and I am certain I would say some lame, kooky, trying to sound like I know what I am talking about thing about something that should only be described by those who truly understand what the hell goes on out there. So, I will leave it at this was the biggest wave I have been close to, seen people surfing on, and- a shit ton of other people thought it was a pretty big deal also.
That being said, we checked in at our air bnb condo in Turtle Bay where we were staying with an older retired couple who happened to be the mother of two brothers that are known (by surf people) as big wave surfers from Oahu.
The couple was kind of a trip- lots of stories and strong opinions.. but hospitable and kind regardless.
We spent our days the first week getting up and heading to the beach to watch the contest, and the people in the crowd. I, not knowing who half of the surfers were- was still impressed when they would walk by and Alex would tell me who they were, and then we would laugh when I would see someone who “looked” like a pro and ask “whos that honey?” And he would then tell me- “thats no one.”
Lots of thong bikinis are in right now in Hawaii- butts everywhere, is the only real fashion I will report- so the Brazilian influence is there for sure.
Other than watch the contest, we got to see a few friends who live on Oahu. We spent one day out in Kailua, which was amazing, one day way out west on a perfect empty beach that I cannot remember the name, and a very fun evening Christmas Caroling with the north shore locals starting at Sunset Elementary.
There is a lot to say about life on the north shore, but I am sure I only saw a little of it. To try to explain it is going to be selling it short. Just go and see. For as many people that go there, they are still seeming to win the battle in “keeping the country country.” I also must mention, that Oahu- like the other islands in Hawaii that we visited- is also a beautiful paradise. It is just the most modern, populated, and developed- which adds other dimensions of culture, and especially in Honolulu, global cuisine.
After 2 full weeks on the North Shore, we felt a little urge for some resorty “Hawaiian” experience, so we booked a room for a couple of days down on Waikiki beach. It was just before Christmas, and the city was lit up and very festively Hawaiian. A great last dinner with my cousin Kim and family before they left for Seattle, and a fun beach day with some friends from California the next day- gave us the perfect send off from our Hawaii adventure. We had our first and only Mai Tais down at the Beach Bar at the Moana Surfrider- awesome and full of rum- and with that we were ready to board our next flight.
Then, we were off to Auckland New Zealand for Christmas, camping, caves, and bungee jumping…?
Hope you enjoy the photos!
Is the first sign you see when you leave the tiny plane and small airport in Kualapuu, Molokai.
This sign is also the first indication that life in general has slowed down, and it is time to let go of whatever your typical routine and expectations are for the duration of the time you are on Molokai.
Molokai is not an island that most people go to when they are in Hawaii. Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and even Lanai have high end beach resorts. They have a night life, fine dining experiences, and shopping. This is just not that kind of place. And I want to emphasize that is why we enjoyed being there so much and the people work very hard to keep new development out. When we told some of the local Hawaiians on Kauai we were going there, the most common response is- “why?”
Not because it isn’t beautiful, or like the other islands- a very special, some believe sacred and spiritual place- on the contrary, it being so undeveloped leaves even more of a mysterious and intoxicating feel than some of the neighboring more populated islands. I can only try to understand the question of “why?” as what exactly is drawing you over there? Most people who have heard about Molokai are only familiar with the story of Kalaupapa- the still existing settlement that was a place of exile for people with Leprosy- now called Hansens Disease. It is still a functioning community as well as State and National park that is home to now only 9 remaining patients who chose to live there. There is a long and fascinating as well as sad history about the people who were forced against their will to go live down on this peninsula before the vaccine for the disease was found. There is a deep respect for one of the settlements original caretakers- Belgian priest, now named Saint Father Damien. He went there at the height of the people being exiled there, and took care of them without fear or reservation. Eventually dying of the disease himself, he is remembered for his courage and selflessness in caring for people that were treated as a threat. There are thousands of grave sites of all ages and dates up until now and that really struck us when we first got there. I wont quote any more of the story or dates- as I dont remember exactly and think its much more interesting if you read about it, however, we did do the 2.4 mile hike down the side of the extremely steep sea cliff with 26 switchbacks to see this unique place. Along with just the rich history about what happened there with the patients- there are ancient Hawaiian ruins from the days long before the king banished the people with leprosy there. My cousin Kim’s boss- the principal at her school is married to a National Park ranger, and we got a little extra tour after the formal tour was done.
For us, this was not the reason we went to Molokai, however we were glad we took the time to go down there. We went because my closest first cousin and her family live over there. My cousin Kim, and her husband Ryan moved to the island just after they were married almost 10 years ago. They left behind friends, family, and colder weather in western Washington state to begin their elementary school teaching careers on Molokai. Although they often talk about returning to the mainland, this has become home for them. They have a solid group of friends, most with kids- as they also have a 2 yr old son, and steady jobs that have created a place for them in this tight community.
We stayed with Kim and Ryan and Bobby for the first week we were there. They live in one of the two main condo complexes located on the south coast of the island. The lawn view from their lanai is incredible, and just beyond the expansive lawn, pool, and bbq area is the glassy shoreline. The Saturday before Thanksgiving while we were staying there, we had a party down in the bbq area with about 15 of Kim and Ryans friends, and their kids. We made home made pizzas on the grill, and had some other potluck contributions from guests- including fresh venison kabobs from a deer that was hunted on the island that week. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, and ready to make plans to get together while we were visiting. We felt pretty honored that Ryan’s fellow PE teacher and good friend Marshall invited us over the night before Thanksgiving to build a traditional Hawaiian Imu oven. Marshall and his family live on a 40 acre Hawaiian homestead where they grow all types of fruits. Marshall is very connected to his Hawaiian heritage, and shared some super interesting legends and spiritual beliefs that come from the island. Including, the story of the staple food that is a very big part of Hawaiian tradition- the Taro root. He also just won a contest for the best honey in the state of Hawaii- honey he harvested from his own bees.
Alex was very excited that they use one of his favorite starchy food staples from growing up in Puerto Rico, the breadfruit. Along with breadfruit, pork shoulder, corned beef, and a turkey all went into the Imu for overnight steam cooking in the ground. This was both of our first time seeing something like this done, and it was really cool- and surprisingly simple. It just takes some time, patience and knowledge about the tradition. Oh, and banana trees on your property as well as some lava rocks just laying around. So essentially- is easiest done on a tropical island.
Some decent waves came through while we were there, and Alex went on a few morning missions to some uncrowded secret local spots with Kim and Ryans good friend Clint. I enjoyed the time to sleep in, cook with some of the leftover Thanksgiving food, and enjoy time with my cousin and her little guy Bobby- who never stopped impressing us and cracking us up with his dance moves and love of pop songs.
Our 2 weeks in Molokai was special to us, and it was not only due to the beauty of this understated still relatively untouched Hawaiian island- but the people we got to spend time with and were so honored to have them share their special home with us unreservedly. Specifically- Kim and Ryan, Clint and Loretta and their kids, Marshall and Hayzool and their kids. Our last night spent there was at a sunset beach cookout on the west end of the island. It was my cousin, her family, us, and the 2 other families that we got to know a little better as well as some people we met for the first time that night. It was a perfect ending to our time there, and we left understanding and appreciating Molokai so much more than we expected.
Next off to Oahu and the north shore..
And Alexs photo selections from Molokai
First: A disclaimer about my Hawaiian spelling and pronunciations- they may be insultingly wrong…I did my best.
Ahh, the sound of roosters every morning and bright red dirt on everything we own. Kauai was good to us. We arrived late afternoon to a very relaxed feeling Lihue airport- also where we saw our first of many wild chickens.
After an incredibly pleasant experience picking up our rental Chevy Malibu- we then mapped out our location for lodging at the house we booked on airbnb. We chose to stay up on the north shore of Kauai in Princeville. And after exploring the majority of the rest of the island, the north shore was my favorite. The Hawaiian islands are diverse in their climates and can change from wet, tropical rainforest to desert within just a few miles. The north shore of Kauai is lush, green, and absolutely beautiful.
We got to the house we were staying at in a neighborhood just next door to the St. Regis and the golf course. Not exactly the kind of travel we were expecting considering we are essentially backpackers on a budget, but we got a great deal.
The house was newly built and in the traditional plantation style with 5 bedrooms downstairs, and common space and kitchen upstairs. Robbie, who rented us his master suite in the house was much younger and more British than what we expected. We were immediately curious is to how he was able to have this amazing property and “business”.
Turns out the house was his parents retirement destination and he was so fortunate to be able to live there and help out by renting the rooms. It was really fun staying there for a week, and we got to know Robbie and his friends as well as other travelers coming through. Because of the awesome kitchen, we were able to get groceries- from the local Foodland, and farmers markets close by.
On our first night there, we were invited to dinner at Alexs friend Nicks house. Nick swam with Alex at University of Florida, but was born and raised on Oahu. He is now living on Kauai working for the St. Regis and enjoying learning more about sustainable living and farming on his girlfriend Biancas family homestead. When he invited us to come up to the Kalehewai Ridge property, we were so excited to see how they were living. Nick and Bianca and her father had built one of those kit homes on the property apart from the large main plantation house. This one was shaped like a barn, with a large deck and was really cool on the inside. They cooked us the most amazing Korean style bbq with fresh Kimchi, Bok Choy from their garden, and an introduction to the Hawaiian diet staple, Hanalei Poi. We had a great time catching up and learning about everyday life on Kauai and the farm.
Princeville is located just up the hill from Hanalei Bay- and around the corner from the Napali coastline. We spent an entire day starting at about 930 am hiking up to Hana’kap’i’ai falls. It is about 4 miles in and back so 8 miles total on incredibly rough, muddy, and rocky trails with river crossings and some steep inclines. However, when you reach the falls and get to swim in the cold fresh pool at the bottom it is worth the long difficult hike.
We visited several other local beaches around the north shore, the guys got some surfing in (of course).
We also got to go up to the other side of the island to Koke’e and camp in the hills. Nick and Biancas family friend have an awesome little cabin on some very secluded property where they like to go up and camp. We couldn’t get the keys that particular day we were heading up, so we pitched tents on the property under the carport, and set up camp there. No running water or bathrooms around- so we used the outdoor facilities for everything. It was amazing how much colder and different the climate was up there.
After coming back down from camping, since we had checked out of our first house the two days before, we stayed up at the farm with Nick and Bianca and her family for the night. They were so welcoming and awesome. We cooked dinner in the main house with Biancas mom Lou, a sports massage therapist, and horse trainer, her dad Mark, a builder/roofer and big wave surfer, her 2 sisters, neighbors, sisters boyfriends and neighbor kids. We learned about how they ended up in Kauai from California and acquired and developed the amazing home and property they had. Also, the family had taken a break and decided to leave Hawaii for a couple of years to try life in New Zealand- which is one of our next destinations..
The next day, we got up and headed back to the airport. After a week on Kauai, it was time to head over to Molokai where we are currently with my cousin and her family- husband Ryan, and almost 2 year old Bobby. More on this soon- but Some Kauai photos from Alex first!
With lots of love,
Dana and Alex
Just getting this blog and trip off the ground, I am now posting about Costa Rica- while already in Kauai.
We moved out of our house on October 5, and were waiting on a good friends wedding that was not until November 12. So, we figured that we were not going to be paying rent that month and that we needed to go to Costa Rica. This is one of the places that we talk about a lot and consider living, and since I had not been, and it had been a while for Alex- we jumped on some good deals on flights to San Jose. Having heard about Mal Pais/ Santa Teresa from friends who surf, Alex decided that this was where we would spend our 12 days in Costa Rica. I didnt want to move around from place to place knowing that we were set to be on the move for the next year, and we also like being able to feel more settled into an area to get a feel for day to day life there.
There was a great deal on airbnb at the Zula Inn, right in Santa Teresa. It was a one room bungalow with a full kitchen and bathroom right across the street from the beach. There was a great communal living space outside with a pool that I loved when I saw the photos, so we booked it for 12days.
After the first flight from Los Angeles to San Jose, we got on a tiny 12 person airplane over the bay to the Nicoya peninsula. It was a beautiful flight with un real views of the lush, green hills and cliffs- and mixed with a little of both excitement and fear until we landed on the beachfront strip in Tambor.
After we taxied about 30 min to Santa Teresa, Alex rented a board in town- as Santa Teresa is known for incredibly consistent surf, and I loaded up on books and an also rented bike to get around town.
After about 4 days there, on a particularly good day- I took the bike down to the main surf spot in town to hopefully meet up with Alex when he got out of the water, and a nice jog on the beach.
I thought I was being clever and hid my backpack under a towel on the sand- and while I was jogging someone grabbed it. We had been warned, but I was feeling so comfortable that I thought my stuff was safe at least for 10 minutes.
It was not. Thank God, our bank and credit card companies were super helpful, and we were able to replace most of what was taken.
While we were waiting for our new debit cards, my sister in law, Coral, wired us some cash- and the amazing owners of Zula Inn were also so generous and loaned us cash to hold us over.
Our daily routine was pretty consistent and looked mostly like this:
Wake up, meditate, Alex go to surf, I would go to the cafe and read. Then post surf, we would have lunch, relax and then read and hang out at the pool. Then, either cook or figure out where we would go to dinner, and get to bed around 10, and repeat the next day.
We are both pretty mellow at this point in our lives and are really enjoying the slower, gentler pace of life than what we were used to before. This routine may sound boring to some, but it is what feels good and makes me happiest right now.
By the time we left, I was sad to go- but it was a lot easier knowing that we had much more ahead of us. I could definitely see getting used to life in Costa Rica however.
These are some of the highlighted photos Alex took in Santa Teresa.