Orangutan!!!

We went to Borneo with one key goal:  see orangutans.  (See…we do like some orange things….not everything orange is bad….)

So off we went today to the Semenggoh Nature Reserve.  The reserve takes orphaned and and rescued orangutans and trains them to live in the wild.  There are now about 30 semi-wild orangutans that live in the area.  The Reserve feeds them twice a day, but you never know how many (or if any) of them will come in for food — when there is plenty of food in the forest, they tend not to come. Which we were told is a good thing, because it means they have learned to fend for themselves.

We stood in the sweltering heat for 45 minutes, hoping that an orangutan would show up.  It was so hot, sweat was literally dropping off my head.  It wasn’t a pretty sight.  And, we were starting to lose hope.  But then we saw trees moving in the distance.  And, soon enough, we were lucky enough to see one young orangutan.  It was amazing.

(If you are reading this via email and can’t see the photos, please visit our website — the photos are set up as a slide show.)

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If you want to visit, don’t waste your money on a private guide.  Just take bus number 6, which leaves from a bus station not too far from the riverfront.  It costs a mere 4 ringgit ($1) each way.  The bus stops at the reserve, you pay your 10 ringgit to get in, and then it is a 15 minute walk or so to the feeding area.  As of July 2018, there is a bus that leaves Kuching at 7:20 and then leaves the Reserve at 11.  The feeding lasts from 9-10.

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Two days in Singapore

Back in April when we were applying for our 60 day Indonesia visa, we had to buy a plane ticket out of Indonesia.  We had no idea where we wanted to go, so we looked for a cheap fare on a reputable airline to a city with lots of flight options.   Ding, ding, ding…. KLM had a cheap ticket to Singapore.  So, setting aside the fact that we knew darn well that Singapore was a very expensive city, we bought tickets to Singapore.  And, I have to say, after nearly two months in Bali, Singapore was a welcome change.  There is no rubbish strewn around the streets.  Yeah!  You can drink the tap water.  Yeah!  Bathrooms are clean.  Yeah!  The wine isn’t made in Bali.  Triple yeah!

We only had two full days in Singapore, but we crammed a fair amount in (both figuratively and literally).  Day 1 started with a trip to the botanic gardens (which are easily accessible using the subway).  The gardens are a UNESCO world heritage site but, more importantly, there is an orchid garden.  Beautiful!

By the time we finished with the orchids, we were both a hot mess.  Dripping wet, dehydrated, and hungry.   So, we jumped back on the subway and made our way to ION Orchard Mall to visit a branch of Paradise Dynasty.  We first discovered Paradise Dynasty in Hong Kong back in 2015 and, I have to say, they make the best xiao long bao (soup dumplings) we have ever eaten.  Plus, they make an amazing cucumber and garlic dish and have hand-pulled noodles (lamian).   Imagine our delight when we realized they were a chain and had branches in Singapore!

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Paradise Dynasty is known for their sampler of 8 different flavors of xaio long bao — the porky goodness of the original (white), ginseng (green), foie gras (brown), black truffle (black), cheese (yellow), crab roe (orange), garlic (grey), and Szechuan (pink).  I like the original best.  Robert’s preferences vary, but cheese will never be his favorite.

After eating more than our fair share, it was off to do more exploring.  We hopped back on the subway and went down to the waterfront.  First stop was the Merlion statue.

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And views of Marina Bay Sands.

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We, however, quickly grew tired of the hordes of tourists and decided to go for a walk along the river where we ran across these mirror balls.  If you zoom in on the second picture, you can see a teeny, tiny version of us.

 

Now you might wonder why we decided to walk in the horrible heat and humidity of Singapore.  Easy answer — to make room for more food!  After we cooled down from the walk, it was off to Little India for dinner.  I’m going to be dreaming about that garlic naan for some time….  Unfortunately, Indian food and Robert apparently no longer get along.  Getting old sucks!  He was up most of the night and was pretty much tethered to the bathroom for the first half of our second day.  So, the Bird Park is going to have to wait for our next visit to Singapore.

When Robert was finally able to leave the room, it was off to a hawker center for lunch.  I think he would have preferred to stay in the room a bit longer, but I was getting hangry and he definitely wanted to avoid the hitchy stage!  Poor Robert, out of all the food at the hawker center, he was limited to a sad little plate of chicken rice.  Fortunately for him, it was delicious.  (I chowed down on yet more Indian food).

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Then, it was off to Marina Bay Sands.  We were looking for an electronics store, but instead stumbled across Din Tai Fung.  OK, OK, fine, we knew precisely where the Din Tai Fung was but honestly had no plans to stop.  That said, the call of more soup dumplings was simply irresistible.  I will, however, say, that Din Tai Fung was a bit disappointing after Paradise Dynasty.  That said, if we hadn’t eaten at Paradise Dynasty the previous day, these dumplings would have been excellent.

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At this point, we both had what I like to call “extenda belly” and needed to do some more walking.  Good thing Gardens by the Bay is right outside of Marina Bay Sands.

While walking, we came upon some, ahem, interesting art.

If you are wondering, yes the baby was somewhat anatomically correct (it was a boy).

Then, you guessed it, it was once again time for more food.  We made our way to Boon Tat Street behind Lau Pa Sat hawker center for satay.  Every night, they close down a block and about 10 hawkers set up stands of satay.  Chicken, shrimp, beef and mutton appear to be the main choices, with some corn on the cob thrown in for good measure.  No pork though.  A perfect way to end our time in Singapore.

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Final thoughts on Bali

OK, OK, this really should be called final thoughts on Indonesia.  But, since we only visited Bali and Flores, that didn’t really seem fair.  So, here goes.

9A7C6DF91515C42CED9455EA52B865CCWe didn’t initially fall in love with Bali.  Honestly, for the first month or so, we were scratching our heads wondering why people love Bali so.  Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t hate it and we weren’t seriously considering leaving early.  But, Kuta is an absolute hell hole which appears to exist only to provide a place for Australians to get very drunk for not much money.  Seminyak is one big traffic jam.  Nusa Dua is nice, but could be anywhere in the world.  And Ubud, can we talk about Ubud?  Everything we read talked about Ubud being quaint and peaceful.  We seriously beg to differ.  The traffic is a nightmare and you take your life into your hands just by walking on the sidewalk (more on that below).  But then we went North to some small towns.  And then we finally fell in love with Bali.  But what we don’t understand is that (thankfully) most of the tourists never even go to the places we loved.

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There is trash EVERYWHERE. Empty lot in town?  Filled with trash.  Hillside down to the river?  Filled with trash.  Random spot along the road?  Filled with trash.  And we don’t see how it is ever going to get better.  Almost all of the restaurants insisted on giving us straws with every drink.  We don’t need straws to drink a can of soda water or a glass of iced coffee.  Really, we don’t.  (And some people even seemed to laugh at us when we requested no straws and others just ignored our requests.)  And most of the hotels provide bottled water every day (because the tap water is unsafe to drink) instead of just having a refill station.  And, although we went to a large grocery store in an attempt to buy a gallon (or metric equivalent) of water so we didn’t use so many small bottles, we couldn’t find anything like that.  At least the beaches were clean while we were there (although we understand that varies greatly depending upon weather).

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We don’t understand how on earth all the tattoo shops in Bali can stay in business.  They are everywhere.  Multiple shops on the same block.  Who is getting all these tattoos?

Seminyak is full of macrame and Native American headdresses and dream catchers.  We really wish someone could explain this to us….

Seminyak is also full of stores selling leather.  It is hot here.  Why would anyone wear leather?

We also wish someone could explain to us who buys all the cheap crap being sold at the beaches.  Cheap sunglasses, cheap kites, cheap knick-knacks, cheap jewelry.  I don’t know about you, but we don’t go to the beach to shop.  Oh, and what is with the really, really bad art being sold on the beaches?  Huge rasta paintings, huge paintings of Native Americans.  Weird….

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In 2015, we commented that it was almost always women who wear the traditional clothing.  In Bali, we finally visited a place where men also wear traditional clothes on a regular basis.  It was nice to see.

I would hate to be a teenage girl here.  Women are not allowed into temples if they are menstruating.  Can you imagine having everyone find out you got your first period because you can’t visit the family temple?

In 2015, we heard Toto’s song Africa everywhere.  Here, not so much.  In fact, other than when we googled the Weezer cover we had read about, we only heard it once and, even then, it was a cover.  Speaking of covers, almost every song we heard here was a cover.  It must have to do with licensing costs or the like, but even the radio stations just play covers.  Although, I have to confess, I kind of liked the muzak version of Sweet Child O’ Mine….  But I am disappointed that we have no idea what the song of the summer is….

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When we checked into our hotel in Ubud, we were a bit concerned about security.  Our front door was a sliding door and there were big gaps on either side.  Being from Chicago and all, that concerned us because it would have taken no effort at all to break in.  Silly us.  Bali is so safe.  As we were walking down the street in Ubud, we saw a woman opening up her shop for the day.  Guess where the key was?  Waiting for her on the doorjamb (where it had apparently been all night).  We saw a guy leave his tablet and wallet and scooter keys on a table while he went inside a shop to order a coffee.  And motorcycle helmets are just balanced precariously on parked scooters all over the island.  We were told the lack of theft is because most people are Hindu and believe in karma.  No clue if that is correct or not.

The Balinese people are some of nicest people we have ever met.  Seriously, always smiling, always helpful.  Until they get behind the wheel of a vehicle in Ubud.  Then, all the nastiness comes out.  We watched a little old lady try to cross the road and nearly get hit because nobody would stop for her.  And, the kids in Ubud were celebrating a holiday by walking down the street in costume and the drivers nearly ran them right over.

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Bali — and Ubud in particular — really needs to stop advertising “vegan ice cream.”  There is no such thing as vegan ice cream.  Whatever it is might taste yummy (I will even admit to trying some of the coconut milk stuff), but it is most definitely not ice cream.

Have you ever heard of a Michael Jackson coffee?  Black coffee with added cream.  I kid you not.  Seen in Ubud.

Both Ubud and Flores need to seriously work on their sidewalks.  In both cases, we risked death every time we walked somewhere.  The sidewalks — to the extent they exist at all — have huge holes in them and there are sewers underneath the sidewalk.  Sometimes, someone has tried to fill a hole with rocks or rags or cover it with sheet metal, but most of the time there is just a gaping hole.  In Flores, we just walked on the street because we figured the injury from getting hit by a scooter was going to be less severe than the injury from falling into the filthy sewer.

P1150867We learned that, in Bali, babies do not touch the ground until they are three months old.  Then, they have a ceremony. Can you imagine an American baby never touching the ground for three months?

Bali is the first place ever where I was the cause of high bar bills.  Normally, Robert drinks fancy cocktails so he always drives the bar bill, but here the cocktails were so expensive he typically stuck with beer.  So, it was the white wine that drove the bar bills.  And the different prices for wine were insane.  We paid anywhere between 45K IDR and 135K IDR  (3-9 USD) for a glass of wine.  The low end was typically for local wine (which actually tended to be drinkable) while the high end tended to be for imported wine, but even the local wine prices varied greatly.  As did the size of the pours.

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Distances are deceiving here.  Traffic is so bad that it takes forever to get anywhere.  For example, it took us 1 hour to go the 7 km (a little over 4 miles) between our hotel and the airport.

We clearly didn’t pack enough Band-Aids.  We have already purchased plasters 5 times.  And nothing is as good as a “Band-Aid brand adhesive bandage.”  (You haven’t lived until the adhesive on a Indonesian plaster eats away your skin…..)

Cell phone data here is dirt cheap.  We paid just over $5 for 9 GB.  No monthly fees, no contracts.  Just get a sim card and go.

We have perfected the sidewalk stare down with Chinese tourists.  For some reason, they expect us to step aside so they can walk two abreast.  We weren’t having it.  We have found staring them right in the eyes to be quite effective.

Bali is another country where keeping enough small change on hand is always a challenge.  Even stores have a problem with it.  We were once offered candy for change.  And Robert was offered chicken flavored chips for change.  Stores routinely round the bill up rather then even bothering with small change.  When the smallest coin is worth 0.7 cents, you don’t really worry about it.

P1160437The Indonesian word for “water” is “air.”  So, I drank quite a bit of “air soda.”

We really regret not calling out the Australian woman in Amed screaming about how she really hoped Mount Agung would erupt so her vacation would get extended.  The locals are busy worrying about the safety of their families and their livelihood, and she is wishing for something that would further hurt the local economy while being completely oblivious to those around her.  It really was disgusting to hear.

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The snorkeling in Amed is amazing.  We saw so many fish and were able to snorkel directly from shore.  We saw trigger fish and clown fish and cuttlefish and starfish and Nemo fish and angel fish and sweetlips fish and a rock fish and a ton of other fish we cannot name.  Plus, I’m pretty sure I saw a sea snake — given they are highly venomous and there is no antivenom, I didn’t stick around long enough to figure out precisely what it was!  (Don’t worry mom, they generally don’t bite unless provoked and I sure as heck wasn’t going to provoke it!)

As much as we didn’t like Bali when we first arrived, we are already thinking about when to go back to Indonesia.  We will stay out of the main tourist areas and focus instead on the places that are still a bit sleepy.

 

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Amed and a road trip

We have made our way to Amed, which isn’t really a town per se but a collection of seven different villages, mini-marts, dive shops, hotels, and restaurants stretching along several kilometers of coast line.  Amed is drop-dead gorgeous.

There are beaches full of brightly colored fishing boats.

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The restaurants serve fish pulled out of the ocean earlier the same day and can’t even tell you what they are serving until the fishermen return — Robert sure has been enjoying that.   I’ve been enjoying homemade coconut ice cream.  And coconut pancakes.

There are wonderful views from up high.

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And the sunsets are out of this world.

P1160649Robert tells me the diving is amazing — you can even dive from shore.  I can vouch for the snorkeling.  Two feet from shore and you start to see fish.  A few feet further and there is coral.  The reefs are absolutely full of fish — while snorkeling we saw angel fish and trigger fish and clown fish and parrot fish and box fish and lion fish and cuttlefish and a whole bunch of other really cool fish.  Hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands) of fish all within swimming distance to the bar!  Some were even a little bit scary, like the translucent silver guys swimming around in big schools all with their mouths wide open.  Others were just downright cool, like the shrimp-like creatures hanging out on the tops of rocks.

Because Amed is so spread out, the best way to get about is via motorbike.  We walked to sunset point one night (which is less than a mile from our hotel) and locals repeatedly asked us if we needed a taxi — nobody walks here.  When we explained we had a motorbike and just wanted some exercise, I’m pretty sure they thought we were crazy.

But, beware!  Motorbike riding around here is some kind of art form.  There are no rules.  OK, that isn’t quite true, we’ve worked out one rule.  Honk politely to let people know you are there.  Not the rude honks we are used to in the U.S. — just a short little beep to say hi.  Honk at dogs and chickens too.  Other than that, anything goes.  Riding on the wrong side?  Just fine for short distances.  Four across?  No worries!  Passing huge trucks on blind corners?  Sure, if you are brave enough (we were not).  Pulling out in front of traffic?  Sure, why not, they can see you and slam on the brakes.  Nine year olds driving their toddler siblings?  No problem at all.  It is the wild, wild west!

Once you have your motorbike and get comfortable riding it, you can also visit places like Tirta Gangga, which is a formal royal palace and now largely just a beautiful garden and swimming area.

Tirta Gangga was destroyed when Mount Agung erupted back in the 60’s.  And, on our first attempt to visit it, as we drove by Mount Agung, we saw this (sorry about the photo quality but we were in a bit of a hurry….):

P1160398Yeah, that freaked us out just a teeny tiny bit.  Ok, fine, it freaked us out quite a bit and we turned our scooter right around and headed back to the safety of our hotel.  Robert’s dive shop got quite a kick out of that story.  Turns out Mount Agung burps smoke/ash like this all the time. (One night it even threw up lava, starting several large forest fires on the mountain.  We had go bags packed….but they were completely unnecessary.)

After being in Amed a couple of days and seeing these small eruptions over and over, we screwed up our courage and headed back to Tirta Gangga.

On the way, we passed some stunning rice fields.

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When you arrive and negotiate your way past the people who want you to hire them as a guide (and the lady who may or may not have scammed us out of 2000 IDR — or 14 cents —  for parking), the first thing you see is a water garden filled with stepping stones and cool statues.

P1160441It was pure dumb luck that I managed to get this photo, because the stepping stones are littered with tourists trying to get that perfect Instagram shot.  I got stuck out there while some idiot posed on nearly every stone.  Let’s just say Robert was not even remotely amused when he got stuck on the stones….

But the statues are really, really cool.

As are the numerous fountains.

The ponds are full of fish.  For 5000 IDR (35 cents), you can get three little bags of fish food (buy these from one of the shops before entering the gardens).  Some of the koi were huge!

The gardens also contain a multi-story tower.

P1160487There are beautiful flowers.

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And massive lily pads.

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And crazy looking dragonflies.

P1160523And, all the way in the back are some downright scary statues.

As you are leaving, keep an eye out for the shop with a sense of humor.

P1160646Amed and the surrounding areas are stunning.  And hurting because of the volcano scaring away tourists, even though every bit of information we find says Amed is safe.  We can’t wait to come back.

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The bad boy of Bali

Meet Mount Agung, the bad boy of Bali.  Lately, Mount Agung likes to smoke.  Not sure if his favorite brand is Marlboro or Camels or Lucky Strikes or maybe even Gitanes (there are quite a few French people here after all).

P1160378In any event, while he seemed to have kicked the habit for awhile, he took it back up this week.  Say it with me boys and girls.  Smoking is bad — very, very bad.  Smoking causes the airport in Bali to close.  Smoking causes tourists to flee and causes local businesses to suffer.  See the smoke coming out of Mount Agung?  Bad Mount Agung, bad!

(Don’t worry, we aren’t staying this close to Mount Agung.  We took some pictures as we drove by today.)

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Look at the pretty fish!

I’ve spent the last few days relaxing poolside, while Robert has been out diving.  He has seen quite a few cool things, including sharks and a pod of about 30 dolphins.  (I’m pretty annoyed I didn’t get to see those dolphins…..)

Here are a few of his better photos.  See the big puffer fish in the first photo?

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A little bit of Jurassic world

Robert and I have made our way to the island of Flores and the town of Labuan Bajo.  The town is pretty sleepy — one main road lined with dive shops and a few restaurants.  We came here with two goals:  Robert really wanted to dive, and I really, really wanted to see the Komodo dragons.  (These are most likely the goals of 99.99% of the tourists who come here.)  Well, check and check.

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Prior to arriving in Flores, we had booked a trip with a local dive shop.  Robert would get to dive twice, I would snorkel while he dove, and then we would visit Rinca island together to see the dragons.  A perfect plan for a perfect first day in town.

Bright and early, we jumped on a boat and headed to sea.  The water was all different shades of blue, the clouds were beautiful, and we were surrounded by islands.  Plus, the boat served really good bread as part of the breakfast offerings.  (Sure, laugh about my need for good bread.  Then spend some time in Asia.  You will understand….)  It was looking to be an amazing day.

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And, in fact, Robert had one spectacular dive (and one pretty good dive).  Check out this amazing video of a manta ray.  Robert was hanging onto a rope when we he took this because the current was so strong it would have flung him away otherwise.  The manta ray, on the other hand, was basically standing in place without any effort whatsoever.

Robert also saw a turtle, six reef sharks, starfish, and tons of other fish.

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My snorkeling experience?  Well, let’s just say it has put me off snorkeling a little bit.  I’m not a confident swimmer in the first place.  Add in a guide that laughed when I asked for a life jacket, didn’t even notice when I had a full-on panic attack and started hyper-ventilating in the water, failed to point out half the sea life, and nearly kicked me multiple times when he dove to take pictures of things.  And, then add in currents so strong at the second stop that I nearly got swept under the boat.  Let’s just say I didn’t care how expensive wine was in Flores, I was downing some after that experience!  I did at least get to see a manta ray and two turtles, plus a variety of other fish, although the water was pretty murky so the view wasn’t great.  (For those of you who have heard the snorkeling is amazing here in Labuan Bajo, based on my limited experience, I would disagree.  I’ve snorkeled in far better locations, with better coral and more fish, including Thailand and Belize.  Perhaps I’m jaded, as others seemed to have had a great experience.)

After the water activities, it was back on the boat to the island of Rinca.  There are two main islands here to see the dragons:  Rinca and Komodo.  Rinca is the closer of the two.  As we pulled in, there were a couple of monkeys playing on the pier.  And, as we walked towards the welcome center on the island, we got our first glimpse of a Komodo dragon as it ambled right across our path.  Cool!

As we waited for our ranger (provided by the park, not by the dive shop), a mud-covered water buffalo strolled by.

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We also saw several deer hanging out in the yard and under a deck.  Sadly, one of them (not this one) was dying from a dragon bite.

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Then, it was off to look for more dragons.  Our ranger said there were two rules:  stay together and don’t talk.  The ranger talked nearly the entire walk.  And, the group got separated almost immediately.  (I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not.)  So much for safety.  But, we did get to see dragons. This guy is downright adorable.

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There were several hanging out by the ranger camp.  Our ranger said they hang there because they smell food.   Look at the claws!

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After passing by the ranger camp, we went to an area they call the nest.  Guess what these two had just finished doing?  No, thankfully, we didn’t witness the act itself.

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Yes, that wet noodle in front is the female dragon.  The mating process can last several days and involve multiple “sessions”  — she looked completely spent so I’m hoping these two were completely done.  She will lay about 30 eggs in a couple of months.  When the babies hatch, they will run up a tree so mom doesn’t eat them.

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This looks like a very self-satisfied smirk to me.  But, perhaps he has reason to be satisfied — we were told the males outnumber the females two-to-one on Rinca so they have to fight for the opportunity to mate.  Apparently, the fighting looks a bit like sumo wrestling but gets pretty violent.

I will say, Rinca was a bit of a disappointment.  We got to see about 7 different dragons and that was really, really cool.  But the whole thing felt a bit zoo-like and it seemed odd to me how many animals were hanging out at the camp.  One has to wonder if the animals are fed to keep them close to keep the tourists happy.  The ranger said no, but ….  And, given how lax the ranger was with security, it makes me wonder even more.

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As our day trip wound down, Robert booked a second dive and we made plans to go see Komodo Island and some of the other islands around Labuan Bajo.  And, then, disaster struck.  The dreaded Bali Belly!  So we spent the rest of our trip hanging out at our hotel pool and cafe, which ultimately turned into a very relaxing couple of days (at least when we weren’t reading about and getting stressed out about the insanity going on back home).  Now that we are both feeling better, I think we would both like to return and do a short live-aboard trip to see more of the area.

(And, I just have to say before the match tonight, Go Iceland!)

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