Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Bali is the mecca of waves and we are the pilgrims. 

Map of Bali Surf Spots
Bali contains 3% of the world’s top 100 waves according to a recent edition of Surfer magazine.  That is an amazing statistic considering the amount of coastline the world has to offer and the small size of Bali’s coastline in comparison. 

If you wonder why we have such a fascination with waves, consider our backgrounds.  We all have taken various dynamic courses that rigorously detail the formulas of waves including their amplitude, type, and dispersion relationships.  Oceanic waves are the only waves that are of comparable size to humans and of a substance that allows such intimate interactions like surfing (as opposed to sound waves, gravity waves, seismic waves, etc.). Surfing is the ultimate hands on science experiment for those interested in fluid dynamics, and Bali is one of the best surfing destinations. 

Echo Beach / Canggu

After arriving at Denpasar airport, we took a taxi ride to the hotel that was more thrilling than most amusement park rides.  The roads are beyond congested, and it is not frowned upon to have several generations of family from infants to elderly riding the same moped through town.  Under the cover of night we were dropped at Echoland Bed and Breakfast on the western coast of Bali.  The next morning we had breakfast on the rooftop patio with a view of the ocean.  It doesn’t cost much to live like a highroller in Bali.

The waves at Echo Beach were mildly disappointing given the reputation.  As faithful pilgrims though, we remained strong and relished every wave the ocean offered.  Most nights we lounged at restaurants overlooking the beach and enjoyed the local dishes of Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and Satay (grilled pork, steak, and chicken).  If you want a more detailed review of the food, James would be happy to inform you. 

Aside from the lacking waves, we met Harris at the hotel.  Harris has lived in Perth, Australia for 8 years but is from Florida.  Owen also joined us on the second night at the bed and breakfast and enlightened us with his Australian accented “Owenisms”. They both happily joined our search for the 3%.


Echo Beach was hard to leave but the pilgrimage for waves took precedent over the lap of luxury.  We journeyed to Uluwatu, Bali (southern tip).  We stayed at a hotel called The Gong that is equidistant from the surf breaks of Uluwatu and Nyang Nyang. 

The Gong

 Our wave pilgrimage would not be without trials.  Like Echo Beach, Uluwatu was also starved for waves and Harris cracked his head in the pool.  He opted out of stitches in favor of more natural healing means, the glorious water of Bali well-known for it’s ability to produce staff infections.  Dirt roads, mud pits, and live coral were traversed to no avail.  No waves. No fluid dynamic interactions.  Nothing.  But as pilgrimages go, persistence is key.  The walk to Uluwatu to check the break was encouraging even though the waves were lackluster.


After being skunked for waves, we drowned our sorrows in the tourist culture around Kuta.  Legian beach, near Kuta, is not particularly known for its waves.   So instead of surfing, James, Gavin, Harris, and Owen all bungee jumped while I occupied the videographer position. In fact, one bungee jump was not enough.  They each did it twice. 

We managed our depression regarding mediocre waves by haggling with the locals for bags, t-shirts, jewelry, etc.  Because it was currently the off/rainy season in Bali, we got a resort style hotel room for less than half the normal rate.  Yes, you can even haggle with resorts. EVERYTHING is negotiable in Bali.  The last morning we got up at six in desperate hopes that our pilgrimage would not end in despair.  Surely, our patience would be rewarded.  We begrudgingly walked to the nearest beach break in desperate hopes of waves before our flight at noon.  This is what we found……

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Final Leg

Adam is working on an epic post from our time spent in Bali. We are back at the Crowne Plaza hotel in the Singapore airport, awaiting departure back to the states tomorrow morning. About to head to bed. Our itinerary for the final leg today (was) and tomorrow (is):

Thursday, November 10, 2011, 12:55pm Bali time: Flight Denpasar -> Singapore, arriving 3:30pm same time zone
Friday, November 11, 2011, 7:20am Singapore time: United Airlines Singapore -> Tokyo, arriving 2:50pm Tokyo time, one hour ahead of current (6 hour 30 minute flight time)
Friday, November 11, 2011, 5:00pm Tokyo time: United Airlines Tokyo -> San Francisco, arriving 8:55am PST (same day... weird!), 9 hour flight time
Friday, November 11, 2011, 10:41am PST: United Airlines San Fran -> Denver, arriving 2:15pm MST, 2 hour 30 minute flight time

11/11/11 will last 39 hours for us in our own relative time. Fun date for that to happen! I suppose we'll technically get to make three mega-wishes, two 11:11am ones and one nightcap. Better start brainstorming.

We are exhausted but happy. Morale high, but the onset of the "travel blur" as Adam put it is looming. Pray for expediency (thanks Kads)!


The Band is finally heading home

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hostel Living in Kuala Lumpur

View from KL Tower

US Dollars to Malaysian Ringgits, barracks to hostels, one road to thousands, and English to…well, a bunch of languages that we don’t understand.

Quite a photogenic pair of towers

We were thrown from militaristic structure and 25-mph-or-less onto streets where traffic lights are suggestions and crossing the road as a pedestrian is strikingly similar to the game of Frogger (it turns out we’re all natural champions of the game). It was quite a jolt of a transition, but it was an exciting arrival in Kuala Lumpur, and even more so once we got to the long-awaited Reggae Mansion, our hostel located just outside of Chinatown, which Gavin fortunately stumbled upon online. Everything there was brand spanking new, as it had only opened a month or so prior, and the amenities were luxurious as far as hostels go.

Our office at the Reggae Mansion

Getting some dinner with Josh of New Zealand

We quickly made some acquaintances in the 16-person dorm room we stayed in, and the friendly folks running the hostel were throwing a couple parties over the weekend to celebrate Halloween where we had some good fun and made a couple more bi/tri/quadrilingual friends. They threw the Halloween parties in an upstairs lounge that was complete with apple bobbing and shots and ladders – the usual American party games.

The Orchid Garden

People we met included Aussies, Danish, Kiwis, and a fellow American from Cali. Most of them were wandering the world for months, often coming from or heading off to places like Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, or some island in Indonesia. Most had amazing stories of the wild sights they had seen across Southeast Asia, but we tried to compete by telling our stories of launching weather balloons on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean where they probably filmed Lost.

One discovery just across the street from our hostel was a great little antique bookstore (think old, creaky attics) in which each of us ended up grabbing at least one item. It was as clustered as anything, with seemingly random stacks of books everywhere. But the lady working there could lead you right to what you wanted. The store was called Junk Bookstore (probably a translation error), which was a bit of irony considering that it had rare and probably high-demand items if brought back to the US.

During the days we explored the streets of KL, attempting to catch as many of the big sights as possible. Though trips up to the sky bridge of the Petronas Towers were closed for renovations, we were able get a panoramic sky view from the KL Tower, wander the national park, peruse an Orchid garden, and check out the national Mosque. Particularly interesting was hearing the daily Islamic prayers come out on loud speakers over the otherwise white noise of the city, which we heard very clearly while walking through the orchid garden. That was definitely a new experience for us.

Getting ready for our first sleeper train ride

Our KL trip ended with our very first sleeper train ride, which was a pretty novel experience. Following another day in Singapore, we began our next leg of the journey with a flight out to Bali, Indonesia, where we’ve heard only great things from the travelers we’ve run into. Julia Roberts also tells us it’s a great time (we watched Eat, Pray, Love to prep ourselves for Bali). Standby for updates on the final leg of the trip.

Onward to Indo


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Leg Two

I write from Reggae Mansion in Kuala Lumpur (capital of Malaysia), our swag downtown hostel for the next three nights. We are taking a brief Internet break so this will be a short post, but I thought I'd quickly post our travel schedule for the second leg of our journey: DG -> Singapore -> Kuala Lumpur -> Bali

Friday, October 28, 3:15am (DG time): Fly military C17 Diego Garcia - Paya Lebar Air Force Base, Singapore, arriving 10:15am Singapore time
Saturday, October 29, 8:45am (Sing. time): Board train Singapore - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, arriving 3:00pm KL time (same as Sing.)
Tuesday, November 1, 11:00pm: Board overnight sleeper train KL - Singapore, arriving Sing. next day at 6:45am
Wednesday, November 2, 4:20pm: AirAsia flight Singapore - Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, arriving around 7pm I think

We are about to head out into KL to check out a few quick sites and grab some local chow. Then our hostel is having a Halloween fajesta tonight, so we'll check that out. New currency is Malaysian Ringgits. We will see what the next three days here bring us... nothing planned for now save a list of some interesting places to check out (e.g. Petronas Towers, Batu Caves, orchid gardens) and a courtyard full of people to meet. Let the games begin.

Hostel beds in 16-bed dorm.. Adam bottom right, me bottom left, James in the penthouse

View from rooftop bar

Friday, October 28, 2011

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Yes, I did steal that quote. And no, we did not eat any fish. Yes, there is seafood on Diego Garcia, but no, it is not locally caught (so we’re told).

Where to begin...

fun in the sun after being bumped a day (10/3)

I think that we’ve bragged enough about our enchanted coconut forests, the magical lagoons, daily doses of windsurfing, haunted plantations, the boss crabs with their swag, and the chatty Kathy birds, who apparently don’t go to sleep. So I’ll curb mention of ray chasing by paddleboard, shark scouting from the island depths of Turtle Cove, and feral sterile donkey riding (if you have to ask, you can’t afford it).

Well, it went very, very fast, and in the best ways possible. We’ve basked in the joys of being disconnected from society (mostly – at least no cell phones ringing). Knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we embraced rolling out of bed, fixing a quick cup, and getting out and comfortable with nothing but the milky way lighting the road (and a Jupiter here and there to help out). The shift work was great, and we all took on the duty of DYNAMO balloon launcher like it was our own little experiment. We experienced a good deluge, Seattle-style spray with nothing but grey, and the ever-sought-after blue with as much blue coming from above as from below our feet. And though we usually had the water beneath us, we were ALWAYS thinking about our thesis work, we promise.

hanging out with the Fodies

Many a balloon was launched and many a Pam was sprayed. I think a little explanation is called for here. So, if you go high enough, even down here at hot and humid 7°S, you get to the freezing point – usually around 4 or 5 km up. What happens there (pretend you’re a weather balloon): provided there are rain droplets (AKA cloud), you get iced up, iced up some more, until you become heavy enough that the buoyancy of the helium can’t keep you afloat and you begin to sink back down. But wait, it’s warm down here, so yes, the ice melts off, and finally you can begin to ascend again. We’ve watched at the computer as balloons bobbed around this “freezing level” (clever, isn’t it?) some 5 times before it either harvests the courage to break on through and continue on up or succumbs to the stresses of the cold world above and bursts.

I told you this place was enchanted!

Now, back to the Pam. It was rumored before we departed the department that Pam spray – yep, the cooking oil – could be used for its hate-of-water-ness (hydrophybia) to prevent icing on balloons. Diego Garcia clerk: “No Pam here, Bill of New Zealand.” Bill of New Zealand: “No Pam?! Ouy, let’s try some olive oil. Cheers!” So extra virgin olive oil it was. Starting from early failed attempts of boringly applying with a paper towel (me), all the way to getting down and dirty with the bare hands to “assure that it was completely lathered up like a greased pig” (Gavin), to “I’m just going to try letting the balloon go without the instrument pack this time.” (Won’t name names here, I don’t want to get Gavin in trouble.) We tried it all. We called it Field Olive Oil Deployment (FOOD), and boy, what a delicious campaign it was. Let’s get some professors out here next time for these fun activities!

Carlos earning his Balloon Launch Merit Badge

Well, the newbies are in, and the torch has been passed. All of yesterday was spent watching the new folks rig up the balloons themselves, from start to finish, with us being there only to provide tips. They’re already rolling on their own, and taking care of business. Today was our day of relaxation, which included some racquet ball, ping pong, a special celebratory din-din at the local fine dining spot, and a final goodbye to our good friend Carlos, or Charlos, or Charlie, who many of you will fortunately get to meet in the near future.

a couple of sunrise shots on our way out

Happy to say that I’m writing you from my comfy seat in the skeletal, infamous, surreal USAF C-17, as Gavin and Adam sleep the soundest of soundly to the hum of the engines (find videographic evidence below). It’s 4:45 a.m., our time, so I guess that means I have to start calling tomorrow today.

Now for our highly anticipated backpacking leg of the journey. We’re off to find this restaurant we hear of at the end of the universe. With that I leave you to the soothing sounds of the C-17 and some sleeping beauties.

- Jame’s R, the band (coming to an island near you)

P.S. The bit about the sterile feral donkey riding was just a tease, but we hear it's a riot.