Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Amazing Australia

G'day from Sydney, Australia! We have had a wonderful time exploring this beautiful country, and we feel like we've only seen a small piece of it. 

We started our Australian adventure in Perth, Western Australia. Perth is a three hour flight from Bali so we thought we would give it a try. We are so glad we did. We stayed in an Air BnB in a town called Sorrento, north of Perth, on the beach. It was quiet and cute.

We rented a car in Perth, which was good because everything was far apart. Because our phone got stolen in Vietnam, we didn't have that as a navigation system. We decided to forgo the GPS and use a map. It was a good mental challenge, and we managed to not get lost forever in the desert! 

We did, of course, we got lost on our first day. The woman who owned the place we were staying said there was a cemetery close by that had a lot of wild kangaroos. It was supposed to be 10 minutes away, but we ended up driving about an hour and a half south. We ended up at a nice beach and had a lovely day hanging out at the beach and shopping. Kendra got a camera with wifi for her birthday! Note the improved blog pictures.  A few days later we finally made it to the kangaroos!

Kanga & Roo.

Mary chillin' with her friend, Bear Australia.

Mama with some baby feet hanging out! They all seemed to be in head-first.


On our second day, we took a two hour drive north through the bushland to Nambung National Park to see the pinnacles desert. The drive was beautiful through the Australian outback. 

Australian bushland.

No kangaroos were harmed during our drive to Nambung!

Sand dunes on the way to Nambung.

Just when we were starting to get concerned that we passed it somewhere along the almost-deserted highway, we finally reached the Pinnacles. The Pinnacles are basically rocks coming out of the ground, and nobody knows exactly how they formed. Some of them were quite tall, and with hundereds of them coming out of nowhere, they were really beautiful. 

Pinnacles desert- some taller ones.

Pinnacles desert- some smaller ones.

Pinnacles selfie. You can see the Indian Ocean in the background if you look close!

We managed to see some wildlife at the park! Some emu and a carpet python. We happened to be following the path of an Australian couple who were giving some of their tourist friends a tour, and they kept pointing these out to us. Very lucky!

Daddy and baby emus. Male emus are the primary caregivers . . . very progressive.

Carpet Python. We were assured they are not poisonous.

After touring the desert we stopped by the beaches, which were right across the street. They were amazing! White sand, crystal clear water, and completely deserted. We had expected the beaches in Bali to be the most spectacular, but Western Australia definitely won the beach contest so far. 

The beach at Nambung.

When we bought our ticket to Nambung, we were surprised to find it got us in free to another national park we had passed along the way. Yanchep National Park is about an hour outside of Perth, and it has Koalas! The koalas have their own little colony going in the park, although they are not native to the area. Koalas went naturally extinct in Western Australia thousands of years ago, although they know they once lived there becasue they have found skeletons in caves near the park. We were just happy to see them. They were very cute and sleepy.

Sleepy koala.

Bonus wild bird at the park.

We were so impressed with the beaches in Perth we spent the whole next day just driving down the coast and hitting different beaches on the way. They were so beautiful and clean, and fairly empty. We had a nice peaceful day and ended up in Fremantle, the hip and trendy area outside of Perth. We went to the Fremantle Market and walked around the town.

Cottesloe Beach.

In front of the Fremantle Market.

S'mores cookie from the Fremantle Market. AMAZING.

After our outdoor adventures, we spent a day with a friend of Kendra's parents' friend, Sam, who is a Perth local.  He was really friendly and took us all over the city. We started out in downtown Perth, checking out the outdoor shopping areas. We had to go there first because everything in Perth shuts down at 5! They have late shopping day on Thursday when things are open a bit later, but otherwise it is really an early bird city. It is also quite beautiful and very clean.

Down by the harbor, in front of Perth city.

After our tour of downtown, we went to Kings Park. Kings Park is like Perth's Central Park. It comes right up to the city and is huge. There are tons of paths and interesting plants and trees. There were also really nice views of the city.

View of downtown from Kings Park.

Bottle Tree in Kings Park.

Sam took us out to dinner and we happened to run into the Perth Pride Parade on the way! They do their parade at night on some years. It was fun to see some Perth night life. 

On our last day in Perth, we drove down to the southern suburb of Rockingham to go to Penguin Island, a nature reserve that supposedly is the home to many ferry penguins. We didn't see any penguins (during the day they are out hunting and fishing), but we did see a seal, pelicans, and some cute clamdigger birds. We relaxed on the beach and had a nice day. We were taking an overnight flight to Sydney, so we gave in to our inner tweens and saw the new Hunger Games movie. We recommend it! Kendra has been trying to do her hair like Katniss ever since.

Searching for penguins on Penguin Island.

Sleepy seal.



After our movie we drove to the airport and took the "midnight horror" flight to Sydney. Sydney is three hours ahead of Perth, so we took off at midnight and landed around 7 a.m. in the big city. Sydney is a completely different experience from Perth. It is a big city, and we stayed in a neighborhood called Glebe. We rented a room from a guy named Jonathan, who turned out to be really nice. He let us get in early so we could drop off our stuff and nap after the overnight flight, and then he showed us around the city at night. 

Getting around Sydney was pretty easy, and between the ferries, busses, and trains, we have seen quite a lot. On our first day, we walked down to Darling Harbor and took the ferry over to Circular Quay, where the famous Sydney Opera House is. 

Australian White Ibis. These are everywhere down by the harbor and they are not shy at all.  

In front of the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Trying to be Katniss in front of the Opera House.

A little windblown on the ferry in Sydney Harbor!

After our quick city tour, we decided to spend a day out in nature. We took a two hour train out to the Blue Mountains. We had really nice little hike, and checked out a cute neighboring town called Leura. Leura is famous for its chocolate shop, so obviously we had to get some. 

In front of the Three Sisters.

Checking out the huge rock formations along the path around the ridge of the mountains. 

Katoomba Falls.

Can't pass up local chocolate.

Our third day in Sydney was Thanksgiving. We had no real plans, but Mary decided to look online to see if she could find a restaruant in town doing Thanksgiving dinner. She didn't find one, but she did see the Columbia Alumni Association of Sydney was doing a dinner. Mary got her masters degree from Columbia in 2006, so she asked them if we could join at the last minute. We had a really nice traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and met some interesting people. Some Aussies who went to Columbia for school, some Americans who married Aussies, and a few who came here for work. It ended up being a really fun night.

Columbia alums giving thanks in Sydney.

The next couple of days consisted mostly of beaches. We went to Bondi Beach, where the people of Sydney go to "see and be seen," according to our host. It was crowded but not as much as we expected it to be. The sand was beautiful, white powder, but the ocean was freezing and the surf was rough so we didn't get in much. We went to Manly Beach the next day and after noticing a similar scene, we went to the "kiddie ocean," a roped off area that was really calm, to get some swimming in! It was fun to be in the Pacific Ocean and know that our home was just on the other side. 

Check. ;)

Bondi Beach. 

In the evening, we joined our host and new friend Jonathan for his birthday party, and we caught the fireworks downtown. With the beginning of summer and with Christmas approaching, the festivities are in full swing. Along with the fireworks there were buildings lit up.

Friday night at Darling Harbor.

Sydney in lights.

We finished up our Australian adventure with a walk across the Harbor Bridge for a quick visit to Luna Park, a theme park in the city that has been there since the 1930s. It was very cute. In the evening we went to a free show on the steps of the Opera House. It was the 25th anniversary of an aboriginal dance company. Unfortunately, it was raining so the show was cut short. What we saw was great, and the announcer was the actress in a really great movie we had seen called Sapphires. 

View from the Harbor Bridge.

Luna Park . . . only a little creepy.

Deborah Mailman and the head of the dance team stalling while they de-rain the stage.

Aborigional Australian dance show.

So that's it for the land down under. We had a great time in Australia, and now we are off to our last new country on this trip: New Zealand!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Beautiful Bali

Hello from Bali, Indonesia! 

We arrived in the evening at Bali's airport a few hours ahead of our Seattle friend and fellow traveler, Susan. When Susan arrived we headed straight to our first destination, Ubud. Ubud is known for its tarraced rice paddies, so we were all picturing a rural sort of experience. What we found was an active town, very much set up for tourists. Ubud has tons of restaurants, a big market, and over 130 massage places! 

We stayed at Jati Homestay, which consisted of several hotel-like rooms within a family compound. The compound is owned by an artist family, so there was beautiful art everywhere. Art is a big part of the culture in Bali, and everywhere we went we saw statues, paintings and wood carvings.

The population in Bail is mostly Hindu, and there were offerings to the gods on the sidwalks and everywhere. There were also tons of flowers everywhere. 

Flowers in Bali.

A tranditional offerring placed on the ground in from of homes and businesses every morning.

Ubud is the home of the Monkey Forest, a temple area full of monkeys. The locals at the Monkey Forest sold bananas to tourists and encouraged a lot of interaction with the monkeys. Upon arriving at the forest, a monkey grabbed and bit a bottle of water Mary was carrying. So we stayed a nice distant away. We witnessed a lot of very irresponsible tourism, like people handing trash and water bottles to the monkeys. The monkeys were cute, but it was a shame to see how much the tourism there shapes their lives. 

Monkey & banana.

Many of the monkeys had babies. We saw a lot of monkey family life! They group together.

Statute & offering outside a temple in the Monkey Forest.

Susan, Kendra & Mary on the bridge to one of the temples in the Monkey Forest.

Two monkeys.

Statue on top of one of the temples.

After the Monkey Forest we walked around town for a bit, checked out the markets, and got a massage. Balinese massages are amazing. We have had many massages on this trip in all different contries, and we agree Bali is the best. In many of the other places we have been, the massages are somewhat painful while they are happening, but you feel loose after. Balinese massage, while possibly less theraputic in the long run, feels good while it is happening. Its a nice way to mix it up from the bruise-inducing Thai massages!

Walking around town in Ubud in seach of our massages.

Susan & Mary pre-massage with the scrubs and oils.

On our second day in Ubud we hiked to the rice fields. It was really hot and humid, but worth the sweaty climb to see the countryside that Ubud is supposed to be all about. It was very beautiful and relaxing. We had lunch in an organic restaurant with an amazing view. 

A little friend we met on our walk to the rice paddies.

View of Ubud from the top of a hill on the way to the rice paddies. 

On the road through the rice paddies.

Rice & Palms.

There were ducks all over in the rice paddies. 

Rice, up close.

Balinese crepe at the organic restaurant in the rice paddies. The crepe tasted a bit vegetable-ish. Banana in the middle with shaved coconut and palm sugar syrup on top. Not bad.

Religious symbols in the rice paddies.

After our tour of Ubud, we hired a car to take us up north to Bedugul. In many of the countries we've travelled, we've found drivers get kickbacks when they bring their passengers to certain tourist attractions. We told our driver we wanted to go to Bedugul, and stop at one hot spring along the way. He ended up taking us to a silver factory/store, a painting house, a wood carving house, and a coffee plantation along the way. Unexpected detours, but it turned out to be a nice little day tour.

Jackfruit! The wood carving place had lots of interesting fruit trees. We were more excited about the trees than the wood carving.

Mary's favorite fruit: mangosteins. Not yet ripe, one just coming out of the flower.

The luwak coffee plantation. Luwak coffee is a Bali specialty. Luwak, or mongooses, supposedly eat the best coffee berries, so the coffee makers let them eat and then pick up their poo. They clean the undigested coffee beans out of the lewak poo and make coffee out of them.

The nocturnal lewak, resting from a long night of eating coffee beans and pooping.

Finally, a unique food we DID try! Susan & Kendra at the luwak coffee plantation.

Self explanatory.

Susan at our lunch stop, getting up into the mountains and rice fields of north Bali.

We finally made it to the hot spring! 

Bedugul is up in the mountains/large hills, near Lake Bratan. Lake Bratan has a beautiful old temple on it that is often featured on postcards and tourbook images of Bali. We stayed at a bed and breakfast type pleace called Strawberry Hill, which featured an organic strawberry farm. It was about ten degrees cooler than Ubud, and really beautiful. The flowers (which are amazing all over Bali) were especially beautiful in this region.

Breakfast at Strawberry Hill.

Our little bungalow.

Guests at the hotel were allowed to pick strawberries in the organic strawberry farm! Mary excited for strawberries.

Bedugul flowers.

We walked about 2km down a winding road to get to Lake Bratan. We walked through town, which was very small with a little market. The lake and temple were beautiful, with lots of people in the traditional lace clothing of the area. 

Mary & Susan in front of the Lake Bratan's famous temple.

A man worshiping inside one of the smaller temples in the complex.

Outside the temple.

Kids in formal dress playing at the temple playground.
In front of lake Bratan and the temple.

We spent our last night in Bedugul playing darts in the hotel restaurant/game room/bar. It was very fun and relaxing. We got up early the next day to finally hit the Bali beaches! We took a car down to Sanur, a sleepier beach area than the more famous Kuta. We wanted the relaxing expierience. Unfortunately, Susan had some food poisoning our first day there which made the day rough for her, but we still managed to go to the ocean for a bit and check out a spa. The spa scene in Sanur is not as good as Ubud, but there are still a lot of options. The beach is a bit rocky, but incredibly warm and calm due to a natural or man made barricade. The waves are crashing hard on some distant barrier, but the part for swimming closer to shore is like a bathtub. 

Kendra & Susan at the beach in Sanur.

After a final day of beach and pool, Susan had to head back to Seattle. We had a few more days in Bali, so we took a day trip to Dreamland Beach and Uluwatu. Dreamland Beach is on the west coast of Bali, the other side from Sanur. It was completely different, with huge crashing waves and smoother sand. There were tons of surfers who were fun to watch.

Cliffs above Dreamland Beach. To get down to the beach we had to walk down some precarious stone stairs. 

Kendra jumping waves at Dreamland Beach.

Uluwatu is a famous temple on the southern tip of Bali, which was once only used by royaltty as a place of worship. It is on a huge cliff and the waves crashing up against the cliff are truely magnificant. It is known as a place to watch the sunset, so we made sure to get there in time for that. The only downside was the presence vicious monkeys, but we managed to escape unscathed.

Uluwatu Temple.

Sunset at Uluwatu.

Our pictures do not do Uluwatu justice because the connecter from our camera to our iPad broke and we had to resort to iPad pictures. Our iPad is old and the camera is not great, so hopefully we find a solution shortly! The sunset was really lovely. On our last full day in Bali, we woke up at 5:30 to see the sunrise over the ocean. It was definitely worth the early wake up.

Next stop: Perth, Australia!