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Typical transportation and life around Lake Toba

03:57 am: anarrayofletters

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How To: Avoid Durian Edition

Durian: a medium sized, yellow spiked fruit native to Indonesia. Particularly popular in Sumatra but eaten and transported all over the country. Sold in the raw and as a number of different desserts such as Durian Pancakes, Durian Ice Cream, etc. The worst smelling and tasting fruit second only to Brazil’s caju (see earlier posts on Brazil).

Most effective to least effective methods of avoiding this demonic fruit (both smell and taste):

1. Do not travel to Indonesia

2. Do not travel to Sumatra

3. Do not fly Lion Air or Garuda if you don’t want durian placed in the overhead compartment or to smell durian farts from the passengers in front of you.

4. Stay in your hotel as durian is not allowed

5. Fake an illness and/or wear a surgical mask at all times

6. Run away when offered (or slink casually back into the crowd)

7. Hold your nose and just swallow. This comes in handy when a restaurant owner offers you free durian pancakes and sadistically wants to watch you eat it. Take small bites and DON’T let it sit too long on your tongue

8. Beg a friend to eat your portion (consider bribery)

9. Only eat when you are already having sinus issues and everything tastes like cardboard anyways

10. Drink excessively

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Hiking through monkey and orangutan jungles in North Sumatra’s Bukit Lawang. Amazing to see these animals in the wild!

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Jakarta’s Street Life

As one of the business capitals of the world for both developed and developing countries, I can’t say I wasn’t shocked to find the majority of the city covered in 5 star hotels boasting enough conference rooms to host a small nation. The urban sprawl and lack of physical barriers give Jakarta an almost never-ending sense of expansion. As though the central highways reach beyond Java’s shores. Not to mention the traffic—making any journey in or around the city feel as if you are traveling absurd distances just to reach the corner 7/11 (where you can buy train tickets AND skin whitener!).

But perhaps most interesting but maybe not surprising is the way communities have developed around streets.

If you’ve ever traveled around Latin America you’ve seen the fruit stands and whatnot dotting the side of highways to give drivers a rest during long trips; even in Europe or the USA the occasional mall-like rest stop and/or lodge can be found every 20miles or so. But in Jakarta, these “rest stops” occur every 20feet. People stuck in traffic for hours will leave their cars mid-jam and pop over to a food stand to buy some tasty (but probably bacteria ridden) ayam goreng. As a result, food stands, mini marts, and mom and pop restaurants spill out onto the cramped Jakarta sidewalks to offer this liminal space between private and public.

The traffic jams in Jakarta are largely unplanned but ask any taksi driver and they can tell you the worst times are between 5am-noon and again from 5pm-9pm. So basically the entire day. As a result, these private/public spaces where drivers or pedestrians can move in an out of with ease offer a break from driver’s solitude and offer a makeshift community that lasts only as long as the jam.

Even if you’re not a driver, the stands attract nearby office employees, students waiting for public transit, and tourist groups waiting to cross the street. By in large though you see mostly Indonesian men frequenting these stands. But street life is not just for them! Children play in the flooded streets trying to hang onto the back of trucks and women sit making many of the hot foods sold at the stands. The sheer number of people on the streets despite the heat and heavy humidity is a testament to both the growing economic gap in Indonesia but also the ability of humans to form communities in physically and geographically complicated areas.

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Food findings in the Hong Kong International Airport

Clockwise: bird’s nest candy (???), panda-themed cookies and chocolates, fast food menu, questionable “organ congee”, food displays, pork ramen and Japanese dumplings for breakfast

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Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness
Ray Bradbury
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A Mini Adventure

Today I arrived in the Dominican Republic and I cannot believe it has taken me this long to leave the United States. Over a year since I last stepped foot on foreign soil and sunk my teeth into a new culture—way too long if you ask me.

My sister, her boyfriend and I have decided to join my parents in their new (temporary, as always) home in Las Terrenas for the holidays. Though I’ll only be here for a few weeks I thought I would continue this blog and recount some of my experiences in this new country. From the delicious seafood and lush green forests that surround my parents’ humble apartment, I can tell this is going to be a particularly delightful adventure.


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Aguas con los Cenotes

On my first open water SCUBA dive I was terrified to even jump off the boat. It was a wall dive and the thought of venturing so close to the deep blue had me squeezing for my Papi’s hand throughout the entire experience. I was only ten years old at the time.

Almost twelve years later, instead of trembling at the thought of a wall dive, I’m discovering the land—er, so to speak—of cavern and cave diving. I’m trading in my vast ocean for confined darkness and desperately searching for my Papi’s hand once again. Because this time, if something goes wrong you can’t just swim up to the surface and get back on the boat.

Cenotes, Spanish for underwater caverns and caves derived from the Mayan ts’onot, is essentially a backyard swimming pool for many residents of the Yúcatan Peninsula here in Mexico. The extensive system of caves and caverns is among the largest in the world and boasts crystal-clear water coming all the way from the mountains of Nicaragua. The ancient Mayas used cenotes for a number of reasons (including sacrifice…leading to the discovery of skeletal remains at many cenotes) but today cenoteculture is a little different than it was back in the day. While Mayas used theMot Mot bird to find these fresh-water havens, today you’re almost guaranteed access to a cenote when you purchase a piece of land. Most of the cenotesattract SCUBA divers, tourists, and scientists but even the locals jump in on the fun and host a sort of “pool party” or backyard BBQ that you would expect to find in the States—just with this Maya twist.

The first cenote I ever dove was Dos Ojos right outside of Tulúm a few years ago. It was everything you would expect in a cavern/cave dive: lots of stalagmites/ctites, complete and total darkness, and beautiful cuts of sunlight streaming into the opening. I can remember hoards of tourists, dive groups rotating in every ten minutes, and picnics on the overhang of the cave ceiling.

(Entrance to Dos Ojos)

Coming back to Tulúm had me itching to try cenote diving again. We dove two in one day—Gran Cenote and Car Wash…

Gran Cenote:

It’s always colder than you expect it to be. And thinner, if that’s possible. It’s almost as if you’re cutting through the water rather than pushing and pulling against it. You’re weightless and for a moment you forget that you’re underwater; instead, you’re floating effortlessly in this quiet space where only your breath is heard.

Darkness looms ahead and as the golden stalagmites and stalactites welcome you into the cavern, the feeble flashlight that ventured down with you seems to grow stronger with every kick. But still there’s darkness. It’s as if it’s feeding off of your light and steadily swallowing you whole. Your heart quickens but not even claustrophobia can set in because the darkness has consumed any and all physical barriers. And it’s just you. Following the set of flippers in front of you. Hoping that they don’t disappear.

But then you turn the corner and swim towards the entrance. The most beautiful blue light beckons you back and the darkness suddenly forms the shapes of the limestone structures you saw at the beginning. You’re floating again. The flashlight has served its purpose and with each stroke your hungry eyes roll over formations that before the darkness hid. There’s a sensation that you are the first one to see this light and these formations. It’s as if this cave were discovered by you and yet you can feel the weight of time—other eyes have been here before. But it’s quiet. No one is there to claim the discovery as their own. All you can hear are your bubbles. The only reminder that you’re underwater.

(Looking towards the opening. Photo Cred: www.flickr.com/photos/xoto)

Car Wash:

It looks and smells like the lagoon from The Black Lagoon books that I read when I was a kid. There are bugs jumping on the surface and every so often a fish blows up bubbles from the murky deep. This is not your typical cenote. It was dubbedCar Wash because local taxi drivers used it for just that. But hidden beneath its dingy exterior is a cenote unlike any other in Mexico.

The first five meters are warm and cloudy. For a moment you are completely alone in the mess of yellow-green and this new sort of blindness has your body acutely aware that it is sinking.

Suddenly your feet are cold. Then your legs, your torso, your arms, and then finally your head. The water is crystal clear under the thick layer of algae and schools of small spotted fish dash away as you sink another few meters. The transition has you dazed for a moment as you take in this alien world: thick seaweed coats the dusty floor of the lagoon and the entrance to an uncharted cave sits up ahead with a thick, beautiful cloud of lime green and electric blue. Fallen tree branches stand at the opening of the massive cave and their black arms twist eerily into the cloud.

To enter the cave you have to drop another few meters and swim around the fallen tree branches and alien cloud. The limestone here is black with what appears to be gold patches. Intricate formations of the stone give the entrance an almost tarnished Baroque quality that only further suggests this alien, submerged world was built not born. Complete darkness comes almost immediately when you venture further in and only the alien light serves as your beacon home.

There are no fish here in the cave, no movement past that cloud of green. Even the freshwater turtles that dive down into the lagoon turn away from the entrance. There is no life down here—at least none you can see.

(Looking towards the opening, green cloud and all)

For more information on measures being taken to protect the cenotes, you can visit (and support!) SAVE: Aguas con los Cenotes at http://saverivieramaya.org/take-action/aguas-con-los-cenotes/

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Isla Holbox off the coast of Cancún. Quite possibly the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.

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Home, for the moment, in Tulum, Mexico

Home, for the moment, in Tulum, Mexico

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