I spent Christmas in Montreal, where the weather was the hottest since 1960. On Christmas Eve, I was grocery shopping in short sleeves!
Then I went back to Ottawa and this happened. Evidently, time to escape for the winter. I tried to book a reward flight to Kuala Lumpur, but either I couldn’t, or the “free” flight was in fact quite expensive. When oil prices tumbled, some Star Alliance airlines eliminated the fuel surcharges they had been adding to the ticket prices. Others, like Air Canada, Thai, etc., just renamed them “carrier charges”. So your reward ticket in the end is only a slightly discounted ticket.
If you live close to the American border, you can fly from there because United doesn’t do that. I tried that, but the Burlington – New York segment was never available for reward flights, which I suspect is on purpose and at the request of Air Canada. In the end I booked a surprisingly cheap Ottawa – Newark flight, and a JFK – Bali reward flight. This gave me an afternoon in Manhattan.
I contemplated visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum, but there were hundreds of millions of people lined-up to get in and I knew if I tried to wait in line I would miss my flight, and possibly my birthday in July.
So I just went to the outdoors monument, two pools of water like this one, built where the twin towers once stood and as big as they were. All around on the “fence”, the names of the 2,753 victims. I think it’s a very appropriate, very poignant memorial.
I rang in New Year’s Eve 2001 in Manhattan with a friend. Before we left, he insisted we climb up one of the towers. I complained because of the line-up, but relented. I am glad I did. Thanks Fred.
The new tower, in the clouds.
Wall Street’s famous bull, under a pile of tourists.
And for the first time of my life, I rang in New Year on a plane. Since reward flights often offer bad connections (in this case New York – Tokyo, 3h wait, Tokyo – Singapore, 8h wait(!), Singapore – Bali), I threw in extra points for business class, which on ANA looks much more like other airline’s first class.
Knowing I would want to rest after such long flights, I booked two nights in the closest neighbourhood to the airport, Kuta. I spent the first afternoon shopping and getting a haircut, then immediately regretted being in Kuta. I spent the next day waiting for the day to end. I won’t even write about it. It’s good for clubbing I hear, although Islamists in Jakarta have pushed through a 150% increase in alcohol prices since I visited in 2013. Since most tourists are from Australia, a land of people oppressed by some of the worst alcohol taxes in the galaxy, I suppose they can get away with it.
Randomly walking around – and being asked if I wanted a taxi or a massage 4 times per block, no exaggeration – I stumbled upon the monument to the 2002 bombing. It was not the first Islamist bombing in the city, but it was by far the deadliest, killing 202 people. Most were Australian and Balinese, but there were also victims from 20 other countries, including 2 Canadians. Tourism took a very big hit in the following years. Since I mentioned terrorism twice in a few paragraphs, I might as well keep going.
I was debating going to Jakarta on my way to Kuala Lumpur. I read it is not a very pleasant city, but being the capital of such a large country, I figured I would give it 48 hours. Since internet tends to be bad in Indonesia, I often go to Starbucks, getting the use of their usually decent WiFi in exchange for a good but overpriced coffee. Well, on January 14th, Islamists blew up a Jakarta Starbucks (and other nearby sites), killing 4 people, including one foreigner, a Canadian. Glad I didn’t go. Also glad for the people of Indonesia that these terrorists were dumber than rocks. At least 4 terrorists with suicide vests, grenades and guns attack a busy, soft target by surprise to cause maximum carnage and manage to kill… one person each! Some people kill more than that by accident.
And in a Paris copycat attack, about half a dozen Islamists in Burkina Faso gunned down 30 people in a cafe, including 6 Canadian volunteers. The sad thing is that if you follow such statistics, you will know that 30 attacks in 14 countries killing 331 people makes the second week of 2016 a slow week for Islamic terrorism (2015 average was 55 attacks, 500+ killed per week). So, I guess you can’t be safe anywhere anymore, although the risk of an Islamist attack on Tristan da Cunha or Svalbard doesn’t exactly keep me up at night.
On a much lighter note, I am sure many of you have heard of Dollar stores, or 1 or 2 Euro stores. In Bali it’s the “Everything for only 100,000 Rupiah” store!
Nasi goreng (nasi: rice, goreng: fried) is a ubiquitous dish in Indonesia. It comes in many shapes, but basically is fried rice with spices, vegetables and little pieces of meat, often covered with an egg (or mixed in). Historically, it was often a breakfast dish made with dinner leftovers. I think most tourists, even the non-adventurous ones, enjoy the different versions of this dish. But unlike Indonesians, they may not want to have it every day.
One business owner got that very well!
I went to the small village of Tulamben on the east coast for some diving, even though I knew it was not the best season (rains, so low visibility under water). If you removed all the diving centres, there would be very little left in the village. I mentioned to the dive centre that I was fairly experienced, but had not been diving in 2 years. The next morning, I got this dive brief from the local dive master: “No English. Let’s go”. Oh well.
A little food porn. Although the centre I was diving with only had a few rooms, they did have a little restaurant. I asked the guy what I should have and he suggested fish on banana leaf. This being a fishing village, it was unsurprisingly fresh and delicious, but the funny thing was that he said something to the lady in the kitchen, grabbed a big knife and went around the building. A minute later he came back with a banana leaf! Local food for real. The stuff under the leaf is minced vegetables. Really delicious and would look well presented if I had not dug in before taking a picture.
This is nasi lemak, the typical breakfast of Malaysia, which I enjoyed on a Bali-Kuala Lumpur Air Asia flight. Coconut rice on a banana leaf served with chicken “rendang” (spicy stew), onion “sambal” (spicy sauce), an egg, peanuts and fried anchovies. A great mixture of tastes. Comes in many varieties.
Although I’ll try most things, I must admit I usually get a little grossed out after eating a few whole fishes. However, these sardines and so tiny, I could eat a whole bowl without an afterthought.
Nature is full of beautiful, diverse life… and also bloody horrors like this. In case you think these are seaweeds, they are not. They are snakes. A forest of snakes, which surprisingly are not called something appropriate, like “abyssal abominations” or “Hell’s grass”, but rather bear the inappropriately cute name “garden eels”.
They live burrowed in the sand and eat plankton and other floating stuff. They can grow to be a repulsive 4 feet long. The ones in the front of the picture are not shorter, they are retreating underground as they see me approach. A sight I will never “unsee”.
The USAT Liberty, an Army cargo ship, was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942. It was badly damaged but didn’t sink right away. To be able to retrieve the contents easily, the captain beached it on the Balinese shore. Because of this, you don’t need a boat to visit it, you just swim to it from the shore. This makes it a very popular spot and I thought it was very overrated, mostly because it is excessively visited and the corral is very damaged.
Being so close to the surface, the bow was nice and colourful.
Second dive, Corral Garden. A bunch of artificial reefs and statues. Perfect for a lame pictures next to a reclining Buddha.
The third dive was at a non remarquable corral wall called the drop off. However, just upon entering the water, I saw one of my favorite underwater sights, a large school of fish slowly moving together. Here being “chased” by another diver. Luckily I saw it again (or another one), at the end of the dive and filmed a little video.
For divers among you, I can say this was the first time I thought the best part of a dive was AFTER the safety stop! In fact, this was barely diving at this point, I probably could have stood up in the water.
And that was my very “all over the place” Bali/New York/whatever beginning of the New Year. Next, Malaysia’s beautiful Cameron Highlands.