To Lombok via Bali; December 20-24, 2012

While we like to think of ourselves as travelers who seek variety, it's the fifth year in a row we're headed to roughly the same geographical area for our winter vacation. We just can't stay away from the excellent diving in the "coral triangle" of Southeast Asia. In 2008 we went to the Philippines; to Malaysian Borneo in 2009; Indonesia (West Papua and the Spice Islands) in 2010; and Palau, Micronesia in 2011. Draw a circle around those locales and the diameter is surprisingly small, although culturally and politically many of them are worlds apart. This year found us headed right back into the circle, and in fact back to Indonesia, although to a completely different region from our 2010 trip. This time we're visiting Lombok to climb Mount Rinjani and Komodo for a week of scuba diving (and a bit of dragon-viewing), with a few overnights here and there to get from one place to another.

We set off on our favorite air carrier, Singapore Airlines, with stops in Hong Kong and Singapore before reaching Bali, where we decided to spend two nights. Our destination in Bali wasn't the party-oriented beach resorts -- we'll check those out during our brief overnight on the way home -- but rather the artsy interior. The family was in high spirits; the kids were done with first-semester finals thanks to a shift in school calendar, and Tim, a senior already (how did that happen?) had secured early admission to his first-choice college (hint: he won't be far from the nest).

There were two notable occurrences en route to Bali:
  1. We managed to completely avoid the December 21 Mayan end of the world by crossing the dateline just as the auspicious moment was upon us. Wondering if we'd be stuck in our Boeing 777 forever with nowhere to land, we were relieved when the lights of Hong Kong appeared. (Or are we now living in an alternate universe?)

  2. Sharing the exact same rows on our flight from Singapore to Bali were a British couple who'd been among a handful of other guests with us on the Seaventures Dive Rig three years ago in Borneo. Now what are the chances of that?
For our two nights in Bali we stayed in an inexpensive but atmospheric guesthouse on the outskirts of Ubud, considered Bali's cultural capital. (Ubud was named 2009's Best City in Asia by Condé Nast Traveler, which boggles our minds a bit -- it's nice, but not that nice. It was also made a little too popular by the Eat, Pray, Love book and movie combination.) Unlike most of the rest of Indonesia, Bali is predominantly Hindu, and the town and surroundings are full of offerings and temples (photo 1). Along with rice paddies and steep gorges, it does make for a very nice setting and atmosphere. We decided to explore by rented mountain bike. In town it was a bit unnerving with the cacophony of cars and motorbikes, and out of town the combination of hills, heat, and humidity brought on quite a sweat, but overall it was a fun exploration (photos 2 & 3), especially for Tim who already misses his daily rides at home. We also visited the popular Monkey Forest Sanctuary (photo 4), had some excellent food, and attended the requisite dance performance (photos 5), although jet lag was getting the best of us by that point in the evening.

Next: On Lombok we embark on a four-day trek up Gurung Rinjani, the second-highest volcano in Indonesia (or third-highest; reports differ), privately guided by Mr. John's Adventures. Mr. John's gets good reviews and the mountain is reputed to be both challenging and spectacular. The biggest uncertainty this time of year is weather; the forecast looks pretty good and our fingers are crossed.

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