Ha Noi, Vietnam

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Hanoi by day, during the walk to the hotel where the conference was held. Believe it or not there are stoplights, although sometimes it didn’t seem so…

Well now that I’ve been back for almost 2 weeks, I figure it’s about time to actually post about Vietnam (sorry). For those of you who haven’t been following, I was there for about a week earlier this month for the International Primatological Society Congress 2014- in other words, 7 days of scientists and conservationists talking about monkeys and apes. Official stats say there were about 900 people there, and it was the biggest conference ever held in Hanoi, which is pretty cool! I won’t talk too much about the conference itself other to say that it was great to see old friends, meet other people in the field and learn about the research and conservation efforts happening around the world.

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One of the good Vietnamese meals I had- noodles (“pho”) with beef, peanuts and mint leaves, all topped off with some really strong coffee!

Let’s talk Vietnam, shall we? Hanoi, the country’s capital, is in north Vietnam, about a 5 hour flight from Jakarta. It’s an interesting mix of Asian and European. Some parts of the city (especially around the hotel/conference area) seemed like any other America city, but other parts, especially the Old Quarter, were more traditional. Lots of small shops, food stalls and even a huge night market! Unfortunately it was also pretty touristy and there were lots of backpackers, so sometimes it was difficult to find authentic food and Vietnamese crafts that weren’t astronomically priced. Although it was nice to be able to walk down the street without being stared at or getting “Hello Mister!” shouted at you (something that definitely does not happen in most parts of Indonesia), it was also unfortunate to see the obvious effects of Westernization. Interestingly enough, though, many people did not speak much English. It was a little bit disconcerting for me to be in this part of the world and NOT be able to communicate, but that’s what I get for going outside of Indonesia and Malaysia!  Aside from the Old Quarter, some of the other cultural sites in Hanoi are Hoan Kiem Lake and the Temple of the Jade Mountain. Legend has it that there is a 6-foot long giant soft shell turtle living in the lake, a member of a critically endangered species with only four animals left in the world. Unfortunately I didn’t have an opportunity to travel outside of Hanoi, but if I ever go back, seeing the Cat Ba langurs and Ha Long Bay will definitely be on my to-do list. Word on the street is that those are must-do experiences- next time!

Old Quarter of Hanoi at night

Old Quarter of Hanoi at night

Since I got back, it’s been go-go-go, with several grant applications to do, events to plan and help with, and a surprise (but very welcome!) visit from Richard and Robin of Orangutan Outreach. This weekend is really the first opportunity I’ve had to catch a breath and catch up! And as America wakes up, I’m off to find some dinner. Hmm, I think I’ll have rice tonight…

Stop #1: Kuching, Malaysia

Yesterday I arrived in Kuching, Malaysia for about a day and a half stay before flying to Vietnam tomorrow. Although it’s only a 30-minute flight from Pontianak (Capital of West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo), the Malaysian side of Borneo is very different from Indonesia. The biggest difference is probably in transportation, in Indonesia nearly everyone drives a motorbike and I’d say only about 25% of the vehicles on the road are cars. Here it’s totally flipped and there are way more cars than bikes, probably because the roads are nicer and the infrastructure is actually set up for cars. Anyway, Kuching is a very multicultural city with a huge Chinese influence and relatively strong tourism. I think I’ve heard more people speaking Chinese than Malay since I’ve been here, and nearly everyone speaks English. There are lots of Westerners roaming the streets and that’s hard to get used to, it’s been a while since I’ve seen so many bule (Indonesian word for foreigners)! There are also tons of souvenir shops hawking “Borneo” gifts, some of the stuff is nice and they do have some authentic Dayak craft shops, but most of it is just the same stuff you can buy anywhere else. It’s a far cry from Ketapang, I’ll tell you that!

Sarawak River and the waterfront in Kuching

Sarawak River and the waterfront in Kuching. The river is a focal point of the city, and “Old Kuching” lines the south side.

Yesterday and today I’ve really just been exploring around my guest house (Wo Jia Lodge), which is right on the waterfront and only about 40 Malay Ringets, or $12, per night. This past week I’ve been extremely busy with staff meetings and finishing up a grant application, so I’m taking a bit of time off today to relax. This morning I went out around 9 am and wandered around looking for some coffee- I finally ended up in China town where I sat in a VERY busy noodle shop and had pork noodles and a cup of coffee for breakfast! It was a little family owned shop with mostly Chinese patrons, and the employees were constantly yelling orders and running around. The noodles were really good, the pork was a nice change of pace (because Indonesia is predominantly Muslim it’s difficult to find pork at restaurants), and my food + coffee + a bottle of water only cost MYR 6.80, or about $2. Score! Then I walked around the waterfront, went to several Chinese temples, and found the Kuching city mosque.

Chinese temple in Kuching, just a few minutes from the Waterfront

Chinese temple in Kuching, just a few minutes from the Waterfront. This is one of three temples I found today all within about a 10-minute walk from each other.

On my way back I decided to walk away from the waterfront area and accidentally stumbled upon the Sarawak Museum. That was awesome because I wanted to go there but was too cheap to pay a taxi- although it was at the very edge of what I would consider walking distance, I’m glad I went. The Sarawak Museum is actually a collection of various museums with artifacts from Malaysian Borneo’s history and culture. I went to the Natural History section (very small), the Ethnology section (all about Sarawak’s Dayak people, including a model longhouse… I have a lot of Dayak friends in Kalimantan so this was especially interesting to me) and the Textile museum. Admission to everything was free, and although the exhibits weren’t huge they were for the most part really nicely put together. Finally after a quick lunch of pineapple friend rice and fresh apple juice, I ended up coming back here to my room around 1:00. Now I’m just going to relax, repack my stuff, and get ready to head to Vietnam tomorrow for a week of primates. My plane is at 5:30 in the morning so it’s going to be a very early start, but I’m looking forward to seeing Cheryl and her family, the OuTrop crew, and potentially some Columbia friends. I’ll post again from Vietnam sometime later this week!

Dayak woodwork crafts for sale in a souvenir shop in Kuching, if I had space in my bag this time I would probably buy some!

Dayak woodwork crafts for sale in a souvenir shop in Kuching, if I had space in my bag this time I would probably buy some!

New Job- Bringing Back the Blog

Well I haven’t posted on here in well over a year, but there hasn’t been much megatransect-ing happening for the past year either. I’ve been in the U.S. working, saving $$ and paying student loans, and job searching. Well that has all come to a close because….About_YPlogo-300x256I have a new job! Most of you reading this most likely saw it on my Facebook page already, but I am the new Program and Development Director for the Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program. This position is much more conservation-focused than others that I’ve had, as I won’t be doing any field work or data collection. Instead I will be managing GPOCP’s various conservation projects- working directly with the Indonesian staff, planning and strategizing, writing grants and communicating with stakeholders. I’m really excited; I’ve only met a couple of people that I’ll be working with on Skype but they seemed very knowledgeable and excited about working together, and I can’t wait to meet them in person! If you’re interested in the conservation projects, check out the “Conservation” links on the GPOCP website. There is a lot of great work happening, ranging from environmental education to assisting with investigations of illegal orangutan trade in the area. I’m sure I’ll write about each of the projects and programs more in depth at some point, but that’s a good overview.

I’ll be moving to Borneo (the western province, Kalimantan Barat) next month- leaving June 17th, to be exact! Needless to say, since I got the job I’ve been very busy trying to get everything in order- finishing up students at my current job, making sure I get new visa pages in my passport, scheduling doctor and dentist appointments before my insurance runs out in August, trying to find new international medical insurance… the list goes on. In a couple of weeks I’ll be heading out to Boston to meet Dr. Cheryl Knott, the Executive Director of the program, for training and to get a jump start on reports and grants that need to be written.

Long story short: Moving to Borneo. New (awesome and perfect) job. Bringing the blog back at the request of my family. Stay tuned for adventures in orangutan conservation and Indonesian wanderings!

Lombok Life

Whoa. Okay, I’ve been back in Palangkaraya for long enough now, and have been putting off writing this blog because once I do it means vacation is really over.  Lombok is amazing, and I was able to do/see a lot of the island through the generosity of some new friends.  Much of my vacation was spent motorbiking around with my friend Dedi- in true Indonesian style, just “jalan jalan” without a schedule or even necessarily a plan for the day!  The only thing we knew for sure was that it would involve seeing some of the most beautiful places in the island and at least one stop for coffee 🙂 Here’s the rundown of what I did every day:

Day 1: This was my day to explore Senggigi.  I woke up in the morning and went to the beach, where you could see across the way to Bali.  Senggigi is a normal beach town; a little bit touristy but still a piece of “real Indonesia” (as opposed to the Gilis, which I’ll get to).  The beach was filled with locals because it was still school holidays here, and it was nice just to watch the kids play. I spent most of the day around the beach and walking along the main street.  In the evening I went to a Hindu temple, called Pura Batu Bolong, which is known for its nice sunset views.  I was befriended by some young people who were at the temple to pray, and they invited me to pray with them.  It was really interesting to see their rituals.  After that I got into conversation with another man, who invited me to eat dinner with his family at the temple.  They were very interested to hear all about America and what I am doing in Indonesia, and it was nice of them to share their food with me. In the evening I drank some local wine made of (what else?) rice with some of the guys from the hotel… yum!

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Incoming rain over Senggigi Beach

Day 2: This day we went to see two waterfalls in Central Lombok.  They are still quite unknown by Western tourists, so again it was mostly Indonesian families and teenagers just out to enjoy the day there. The walk to the first waterfall was quick, only 10 minutes, but then the second one was a bit further away and the walk more challenging.  But, the views were worth it!  It was also New Years Eve, and we went down the the party on the beach in the evening… after which I fell asleep at approximately 12:30 am. But hey, at least I was awake to see 2013 arrive!

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Waterfall #2, with a new friend who is studying to be an English teacher

Day 3: Kuta Lombok! Kuta is a huge beach/party town in Bali, and it has a much more chill counterpart in South Lombok.  It was a rainy day on the road and we left a bit late (enjoying New Years morning), plus added a stop for coffee and to visit Dedi’s friends, so we didn’t get to Kuta until about 3:30.  The town itself was quite nice, with more tourists than in Senggigi, and the beaches were amazing!  Some of the most picturesque I’ve ever seen.

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Tanjung A’an beach, Kuta Lombok

Day 4: Another rainy day in Senggigi, another day spent jalan-jalaning.  We biked up the northern coast from Senggigi, where there are several amazing spots to stop and overlook the ocean, Gili islands in the distance, and mountains of Lombok. The end goal of all this driving was Pusuk Monkey Forest, which is basically some forest on a hill that is full of macaques.  I’ve seen my fair share of macaques, so it wasn’t as magical for me to see as for other people, but they’re still pretty funny little animals. The rest of the day was spent just hanging around the hotel and relaxing.

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Looking out over northern Lombok, with Gili Trawangan in the background

Day 5: Just a boring day in Senggigi!  We wanted to go to the Gili islands this day, but it was too rainy, so we hung around the hotel and then walked around the beach later on.

Day 6: Today we went to the Gili islands- Gili Trawangan, to be specific.  The Gilis are a group of three islands in NE Lombok, between the main island and Bali, so they are one of the more touristy spots around.  It was weird to see SO MANY white people- and I’m going to rant for a minute here. Gili T was beautiful, and I can see why people want to spend time there, but they’re fooling themselves if they think that’s the real Indonesia.  I kind of felt like I was walking around Florida or somewhere else, because everything was pretty developed, and there were more Western food places than nasi warungs!  At one point we walked for 20 minutes or so and only saw a handful of Indonesian people.  That being said, the Gilis are worth a trip, and next time I’m definitely going to go snorkelling and see the other two islands.

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Friends on Gili T

Day 7: Today was one of the most interesting days of my trip- somehow I got roped into teaching an English lesson for a group of people who want to learn to be guides at the waterfalls.  So, back to central Lombok we went…  I was nervous, but turns out they just wanted me to give a pep talk to get these students excited about learning English.  It was kind of tricky to figure out what to say, but luckily everyone was supportive and interested in what I had to say. Lots of the students had questions but were too nervous to ask, I think, which is kind of ironic considering how nervous I was to be talking to a group of native Indonesian speakers!  After the talk we took a walk through some of the rice terraces in the area.

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Me “teaching”… awkward.

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Rice terrace walk

Day 8: The last day in Lombok!  There was nothing else to do but jalan-jalan again, and we drove back to Kuta to take in the sunset.  On the way home we stopped at a nondescript warung in Mataram, where I had one of the best meals of my stay, and then again at the hotel one of my friends cooked special nasi goreng as a going away meal.  My flight was very early the next morning and I had to leave for the airport at 4:15 am- not a very nice end to the trip, but I guess I had to return to the “real world” some time!

All in all, Lombok was a fantastic place to go on vacation, and it was so nice to make local friends.  There’s really no other way to experience a place.  I’m really lucky to be able to speak the language, because it makes travelling so much easier.  But, I would definitely recommend a trip here to anyone; there’s still so much of the island that I didn’t see and I’m sure it’s squally amazing.  Hopefully there’s a next time….

Now I’m off to camp today for a few days- not sure how long, but it’s time to get my forest legs back.  Fingers crossed that it’s not too painful!  Sampai nanti, all.

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Sunset over Gili T

Lombok, here I come!

Vacation, vacation, vacation- it’s time for me to take one!  I’ve been here since July with virtually no breaks, and everyone else around me has gone on vacation in that time, so I’ve decided to take one after Christmas. I posted once before about possible vacation spots and after much deliberation/searching online/reading the Indonesia Lonely Planet guide back to front, I’ve decided to go to Lombok for 7-10 days. Originally I wanted to travel overland through Flores, which would be an amazing trip, but I’ve unfortunately realized that I don’t have enough time or money to do it properly so I’m saving it for another time.  But, Lombok should still be a very nice and relaxing place to go, so I’m not complaining!  To be honest, it was really difficult to choose where to go- Indonesia has over 17,000 islands and I have a feeling that all of them would be worth seeing.

Lombok is the big island to the east of Bali and to the southeast of Kalimantan. It’s less touristy than Bali and has pretty much all of the major Indonesia attractions- beaches, snorkeling, volcanoes, and lots of small villages just waiting to be explored.  My holiday starts on December 22nd; I’m spending Christmas in a village in South Kalimantan with our camp cooks, who have graciously invited anyone left in camp to their family’s home there.  They live near Banjarmasin (see the map), so my plan right now is to leave there on the 29th of December and fly to Mataram, which is the only airport on Lombok.  Once I get there, my basic plan is to go up along the north coast to Senggigi, then inland to see Mt. Rinjiani, and then maybe down to the south west coast if I still have time.  There is also a pretty high possibility that I might just skip most of that plan and park myself in a beachside bungalow on the Gili Islands for the rest of the trip to have some quality relaxing time! The nice part is that since these are less-traveled areas, I don’t necessarily have to make a plan. It’s easy enough to just turn up in a city or on an island and find a place to stay.  In fact, I’m only going to book one room in advance- and I paid $13 for it.  You can’t get much better than that!

Ahhh, now if only December would go a little faster…

Mt. Rinjiani, Lombok

Gili Air, Lombok

Sunset in Senggigi, Lombok

Things I have done today instead of eating Thanksgiving dinner

  • Woken up at 5:11 am still annoyed from the power outage and subsequent death of the generator last night to find that the electricity-thank god!-had been restored
  • Eaten a mango (bought for the equivalent of 50 cents at the local market) and brushed my teeth with a toothbrush that cost me the equivalent of 25 cents
  • Marveled at how cheap things are here, more than once. Sometimes I forget the exchange rate and when I remember it just blows my mind
  • Skyped with Mark for the first time in… many, many months. Now that my volunteer coordinating is done I will luckily have more time to stay in touch with people
  • Met the BBC film crew at the airport to get them set up in Palangkaraya for the next few days.
  • Made a tentative plan for my January vacation, I think I want to go to Lombok, Flores, and Komodo Island!
  • Gone to the mall to treat myself to MERKUN food. Hello chicken sandwich, fries, and a magical drink known as the Mochachino cream.  Ignored the fact that I also treated myself to Merkun food last night.
  • Started checking a paper we had translated to make sure that everything still makes sense. Got sleepy and took a nap instead.
  • Woke up to find that my delicious piece of bread filled with a chocolate and shaped like a turtle (seriously awesome and one of my favorite treats here) was covered with tiny ants… tore off the parts with ants and ate it anyway. I’m not sorry.
  • Started checking said paper again, learned that the actual word for “biodiversity” in Indonesian is “keanekarangaman hayati”, and stopped checking said paper because my head hurt a little bit.
  • Wrote this blog post.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in America!  I hope your day is filled with turkey, cheesy things and cheesier jokes, and beer (and that you eat/drink extra for me).  I’m thankful for the jungle, cool breezes, ice cold drinks, and those of you that read this blog.  On a more serious note, I’m very thankful for my friends and family who have been keeping in touch with me while I’ve been here. It’s nice to know that there are updates and news from all of you waiting for me in my inbox when I come to town from camp, and even nicer to be able to Skype, text, or talk on the phone with you when I can 🙂  And on that note, I will speak to all of you again when you emerge from your turkey and football-induced comas.  Just know that I am very, very jealous of all the eating you are about to do, so to make myself feel better, here are some photos of my tentative vacation spots!

Flores, Indonesia

Komodo National Park, Komodo Island, Indonesia

Rice terraces in Lombok, Indonesia

A few thoughts on leaving

I always have mixed feelings about leaving the country for an extended period of time. On one hand, it’s extremely exciting to go somewhere new (or go back to somewhere old) and experience cultures far different from ours in America.  There are new languages to learn, foods to try, places to go, friends to meet and reunite with, and research projects to be done.  On the other hand, I feel guilty leaving friends and family back home because I know that there are fun and exciting things going on there as well. Plus, it’s challenging to try to keep up friendships when you can’t just drop by someone’s place for a visit, or when you don’t have internet or phone access for weeks at a time.  It’s hard keep up with the everyday details of people’s lives, which is a lot of what friendships are based on, and that can be stressful!  Luckily I’ve learned that real friends don’t forget you when you leave and that when you come home everything goes back to normal.  Unfortunately when you go away for a long time, you also risk missing big events- for example, I’ve been invited to multiple weddings that I couldn’t go to because I was out of the country, including one this fall that I am bummed to miss.

I’m in no way complaining about my life; I love doing field work, and I think everyone knows that I’ve been itching to get back out there since pretty much the minute I came back from Indonesia last year (I am in no way cut out for an office/city-bound life!), but I am also cognizant of the fact that it kind of sucks for my friends and family that I’m not around all the time.  Of course, I try to mitigate this by incessantly reminding people that they can always come visit ME- who doesn’t want to take a vacation to Bali?- but alas, it’s too expensive. Hell, there’s no way I could afford it if I weren’t doing this job!

Re: missing things, I constantly miss people while I’m away but rarely do I find myself actively wishing for material things.  However, I somehow managed to carve out a bit of time from my busy plane schedule of watching movies, sleeping, and playing Bejeweled to think about my top 5 list of things from Western culture that I’ll miss.  Without further ado, here it is:

  1. Cheese- there is no cheese aside from something pretending to be Kraft singles in Indonesia, which is complete torture for a Midwesterner such as myself
  2. Wine- goes without explanation, I think
  3. Wearing tank tops in public- out of respect for the local culture we wear sleeves all of the time when outside of camp, but it’s so hot that sometimes this is a super drag!
  4. My (stuffed animal) dog- sorry Pongo, but there was no room in the suitcase for you buddy
  5. Having clean feet and no bug bites- again goes without explanation

On the flip side, there are some awesome things that can only be experienced in Indonesia… so to even things out, here’s the top 5 list of those:

  1. Wildlife and the forest in general-the obvious choice for #1! Orangutans, gibbons, sun bears, tarsiers, hairy caterpillars, birds big and small, and the list goes on, not to mention the trees and pitcher plants and other vegetation…
  2. Avocado juice- along with every other kind of juice that you can get from little warungs (little food places on the street that will sell you rice and veggies for about $1 a meal), this is a mix of fruit, ice, and sweetened condensed milk. I know it sounds gross but it’s delicious, especially when chocolate syrup is involved
  3. Motorbike rides to remote field sites- SO FUN
  4. Fiercely competitive badminton games
  5. A cold mandi (Indo version of a shower) after a long sweaty day in the field- I’m convinced this is one of the best feelings ever, hands down. Nothing like dumping buckets of water on yourself to re-energize for the rest of the day.  The trick is to timing your mandi correctly. If you do it too early, you start sweating again, but if you do it too late you risk actually being cold when the sun goes down. It’s really a delicate balance!

Anyway, travel update: posting this from the Hong Kong airport- only about 7 hours of traveling to go! I feel like I stepped into a time warp since I crossed the date line from the west, but all is good.