Monday, January 30, 2012

Beautiful. Busy. Bali

Bali -- the trip we had been looking so forward to.  Eric and I booked our trip back in August and scored a great deal over Chinese New Year, when Penang is super crowded and busy and Eric has an extra two days off of work.  We hoped to escape the hustle and bustle of home for beautiful beaches and serene landscapes.  Our trip became even more exciting when Dave and Em added Bali to their SE Asia itinerary to join us! 

We arrived late on Thursday night in the midst of a heavy tropical downpour.  After a quick soaking on our way to the taxi, we were on our way to our hotel in Kuta for the evening.  We enjoyed a few Bali Hai beers at our rooftop bar and called it a night.

On Friday, we hired a driver to take us clear across the island to Lovinia where we had booked two wonderful nights at our own private villa.  Along the way we stopped at Bali's famous terraced rice paddies, visited a mountain temple and experienced Bali's unbelievable traffic and windey roads. 

After a mere day in the van with our driver, Gadae (pronunced - good day) we arrived to Villa Kupu Kupu and the beautiful volcanic black sand beaches of Lovinia.  Five months ago when I found this villa, I could hardly wait to stay there.  Private, secluded and gorgeous our accommodation definitely met expectations.  Our villa came complete with staff -- Cadet, who cooked and cleaned for us and our "Security Gardiner" who watched over our house at night and tended to the gardens and pool by day.  Unbelievable. 
We spent our first night enjoying the complementary welcome dinner of mee goreng (fried noodles) that Cadet prepared for us, drinking beer, playing (more) Euchre and enjoying our plush accomodations.

The next morning, after Cadet prepared us breakfast and kept our coffees and teas full, Dave and Em left the villa to explore Gadae's village and check out a few local temples.  Eric and I played on the beach and enjoyed having the entire beach and ocean all to ourselves.  The water was perfect and we even stayed out swimming during the rain.  It was super romantic.

It cleared up in the afternoon and we enjoyed poolside massages in our oceanside cabana.  Heaven.

Later that evening we headed into town for dinner on the beach. We enjoyed watching the sunset over the volcanoes and seeing the traditional fishing boats come back with their daily catch.   

Our time at Villa Kupu Kupu was way way too short!  I could have easily stayed another week.  We traded in our private and very quiet villa for the bustling streets of Ubud.  Along the way (back across the mountains) we stopped at a nice waterfall.  

After another long day in the van and Gadae's crazy driving, we made it to our last stop on our Bali tour, cultural Ubud.  We stayed in a very traditional Baliense villa, complete with open air rooms, large vaulted ceilings and big patios.  It was a nice retreat from the traffic in the town.
We spent most of time in Ubud walking around the city, taking in the culture, shopping, eating and figuring out what all the "buzz" is about.  Emily and I spent an entire day shopping and sweating (it was soo hot!)  We caught up with the men and did more shopping and eating with them!  We stopped to hydrate (aka drink a beer) every few blocks.  In fact, Em and I were late meeting the boys and sure enough we found them at the bar next to our meeting location....doesn't that sounds like a nice vacation?? 

Our last night we attended a traditional Balinese music and dance performance.  A nice ending to a nice vacation.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Our First Visitors

After 6 months of living in Penang, our first American visitors, Dave and Em arrived!  We were one of their stops on their 2 month Southeast Asia moon of honey. 

Our "family" portrait 
Dave and Em arrived after two cold weeks in China to our tropical home.  We spent a lot of our time hanging out on our patio, drinking rum and cokes, beer, and margs.  At night, we played quite a few hands of euchre, like good midwesterners after hitting up some of favorite food locations.

 Dinner at Northam Beach with our Kiwi friends, Nikki and Leon

Em enjoying a Penang specialty --Char Koay Teow

Unfortunately Eric had to work all week, so it was my wifely job to show our friends around town.  We wandered around historic Georgetown and Little India.  We toured the amazing butterfly farm and Tropical Spice Garden.  Em and I had a beauty day in the mall.  Dave even partook in our fish feet experience. We walked in the Botanical Gardens, swam in the pool and ate Roti! 

Em and Dave under the Moon Gate for Chinese New Year

We had a great visit with our friends and we wish they would have stayed longer.  After four short days, we headed with Dave and Em to Bali!!  (guess what our next blog will be about??)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jenn's Big 3-0!

Last weekend I gracefully said goodbye to my 20s and welcomed 30 with the help of our Penang friends and my amazing husband!  We celebrated this milestone accomplishment all weekend. 

Eric kicked off the celebration on Saturday morning, taking me for Dim Sum for breakfast and then letting me open two of my gifts -- an iPOD docking station (for my iPOD, not my iPHONE since I did not have one) and a custom made beautiful green turmaline necklace set in 18K white gold!!

I still can't believe Eric bought this for me!  I love it! 

Later that same day, Eric organized my birthday party with our friends.  We started off with "drinks and nibbles" at my favorite bar, Babylon Beach Blanket, where we sipped cocktails and watched the sunset right on the ocean!  Amazing. 

Eric arranged for a mini bus to pick us all up from the bar and transport us back to our place to change before heading to the Hard Rock Hotel for the infamous Foam Party.

The crew and Coco

Yes, you read that right, we went to a foam party for my birthday celebration.  The truth is, I had never been to a foam party before.  They are hugely popular at frat parties in college, and well, I've never been frat party material.  So now, as an "adult" I figured playing in a make-shift tub of foam was a perfect ending to my 20s, and that it was.

We ended the evening with a bus ride back to our condo and a stop for roti before peeling off our bathing suits and getting sand all over the apartment! 

The next day was my actual birthday and my birthday weekend festivities continued.  We had lunch at Cafe 55 where we relaxed and enjoyed this cute location and amazing food!

We also hired a trishaw and had a quick tour of downtown Georgetown.  This was a cool way to see the historic areas!  After our tour, we returned to our condo for Birthday Cake and my last present, an iPHONE 4S!!  I officially graduated to a "big girl" phone!

It was a great Birthday!  An extra special thanks to my wonderful and amazing husband who made this weekend very very memorable!  He is a man of many surprises. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Our Western Oz Adventure

We spent Christmas and rang in the New Year "Down Under" in Western Australia.  When Eric and I found out that we did not have to travel back to the States for a work meeting in early January we decided to take advantage of our worldly location and chose to check out Australia.  We got (super) cheap tickets but negated to realize that we would arrive on Christmas morning, where consequently, Christmas is a national holiday, meaning everything would be closed.  Oh, how quickly we forgot what happens in Christian countries on Christmas...everything shuts down and people spend time with their families.  Silly us....We made do on Christmas, thanks to Nikki hooking us up with her friends Thomo and Cathy, who took us in on Christmas.  They fed us, kept our glasses full and made us feel "at home" for Christmas.  It was wonderful.  We had a true Aussie Christmas. First stop was Cottosloe Beach where we soaked up the ubber intense sun before heading off for our first Sunday sess (session) at Thomo and Cathy's.

Merry Christmas from Down Under

Soaking up the sun on Cottosloe Beach

Christmas at Thomo and Cathy's

Day 2: After we said our Goodbyes to Thomo and Cath, we stocked up at the local IGA before heading out on the first leg of our 1500km road trip to Exmouth and the Ningaloo Reef.  We spent a good part of our day in our Ford Fiesta watching the "Bush" change as we went through micro climates in the coastal desert north of Perth.  We stopped for lunch at the Pinnacles and Nambung National Park where we checked out these otherworldly structures.

A few more hours up the Coastal Highway and we arrived in Geraldton in time for a take away dinner of fish and chips and sunset over the Great Indian Ocean.

Day 3: The Long Haul
We pulled out of Geraldton by 7am with our Dome Coffee in hand for the long 10 hour leg to Exmouth.  We were warned by our Aussie friends that this drive would be quite the journey and to make sure we were well stocked with gas and water and to stop at the Roadhouses along the way as it could be a few hundred kilometers between stops.  Eric and I have both done some road tripping back in the states and weren't intimidated by the distance or the time in the car.  However, we did not anticipate that our journey would be done on a two lane country road known as "The Great Northern Highway" where we could drive for miles and miles and never see another car or road train.  It was just us and our Fiesta driving through the rough and uninhabited Western Outback.

  The vast open road

Highlights of the day include hitting 51C (or 125F) outside before noon, seeing the landscapes change at least a dozen times, stopping for a quick swim and snorkel in the beautiful Coral Bay, discovering 6 foot tall termite nests and ultimately arriving in Exmouth before sunset. 

 Eric standing next to a huge termite nest! Amazing!

The Open Road

Day 4 - Ningaloo Reef
The real reason we drove all this way was to snorkel off the untouched and mostly unruined Ningaloo Reef, which is accessible right from the beach.  No tours were required to snorkel here, just our mask and fins.  We woke up early to beat the heat and the sun's rays and ventured to Turquoise Bay, where we were the first people on the beach.  This beach definitely lived up to it's name, clear blue waters, white sand and no crowds!  This beach has natural sea currents which enabled us to do drift snorkeling where we could float face down and the current take us over the gorgeous reef.  We saw tons of tropical fish, antlered corals and sea cucumbers.  It was awesome!  We had to pay attention to our location so we didn't get stuck in the currents and get swept out to sea.

Crystal Clear Water! Wow!

Our next location was just down the road at Oyster Stacks.  This rocky beach is great to snorkel at during high tide.  We timed our arrival perfectly and were able to jump in the water and snorkel, 10 feet off shore, literally!  We played around here for about an hour until the cool water temperatures and strong rays made us retreat to the shade. 


On our drive back into Exmouth, I spotted a tree full of Galahs -- pink breasted cocktail looking birds. I managed to get super close to the flock before they flew off.  All of the noise also woke up the kangaroo that had bedded down right next to the tree.   The roo was naturally curious and let me get a few awesome shots before hopping away.  (Now I could check that off my list)

Galahs taking flight

Our first live spotting of a kangaroo!!
Exmouth's resident Emu

Our last night in Exmouth we had a great Italian dinner at Pinocchio's, where food was good and wine came by the liter, for only $16.  Good thing we could walk back to our hotel.

Day 5: Coral Bay -- Our Favorite Beach

We left Exmouth by mid morning, headed back down the Great Northern set to explore the parts of WA that we missed on our long drive up the coast.  There isn't much (well anything) between Exmouth and Coral Bay, just a long 2 lane road; no Roadhouses, no gas, nothing, just the open road.  We high tailed it back to Coral Bay, clean, clear crystal waters where we enjoyed lunch and snorkeling right off the beach.  Eric and I both think this is one of the best beaches in the world!  We saw sand sharks, rays, giant fish, and huge clams literally right off the beach.  We highly recommend the journey to Coral Bay, it's not as far as Exmouth but you still get the experience of Ningaloo and the gorgeous beaches of WA. 

Love this spot, you can barely see where the sand and ocean meet

Eric showing off his snorkeling skills

Beautiful Coral Bay

After our beach excursion, we drove 2 more hours to Canarvon, our stop over for the night.  Not much to do or see here, just a place to rest our heads and stock up before our next day of driving.

Day 6: Kalbarri National Park
Like all of the other travelers staying in Canarvon, we left this no stop light town early headed for Kalbarri.  On our drive we found an amazing lookout point that really shows the vastness of the WA outback.  You can see barren coastal desert for miles, no houses, no lights, just open untouched land.  Pretty amazing!  I'm not sure we have been anywhere this undeveloped, including Big Bend in Texas.

This shot sums up our road trip!

Eric and I added our names to the large rock piles that other visitors have left

We arrived in Kalbarri by mid afternoon.  Unfortunatley we were unable to see some of the highlights in the National Park, as they required a 4-wheel drive vehical to reach and our Fiesta just couldn't get the job done.  Tired of driving, we headed for our vacation rental and enjoyed a home cooked meal, our gorgeous sea view, coastal cliffs and some star gazing.

New Years Eve & Fremantle:
Our 6 day road trip drew to a close after another 6 hours in the car on our way to Fremantle, or Freo, as it is locally known.  Along the way we passed a naturally pink hued lake, that produces beta keratin and vitamin A. 

 We also made a quick stop in Swan Valley and sampled some decent Western Australian wines before finally making it to our apartment in Freo.  

We spent New Years Eve wandering around town, sampling fish and chips, drinking beer at Little Creatures and people watching.  We rang in 2012 in our apartment and listened to the city below count us down.  We toasted a great year and welcomed the adventures to come!
The last sunset of 2011

2012 was off to a good start in Freo.  We spent the next 2 days wondering around, visiting markets, shopping and drinking beer.  We never got in the car and went every where by foot!  It was awesome.  We met up with Thomo and Cathy one last time before heading for our final evening in Perth.
Eric sporting his new hat and enjoying a beer

Jenn drinking a proper pour at Monk

Our last night in WA was spent in Perth.  We had an early (6am) flight back to Malaysia and we needed to be close to the airport.  We wrapped up our trip with a visit to the gorgeous Kings Park, with great city views, and our own Sunday (Monday, it was a public holiday) sess in the park. 

You can take the girl out of Michigan can't take the Michigan out of the girl
Go Blue!!
Our last session 

We had a great adventure in Western Australia.  We saw so much of this part of the country.  All and all we are glad that we drove up to Exmouth.  We had lots of time together in the car to reflect on the last year and set some goals for 2012.  We are looking forward to a year full of love, travel, family, friends and each other!
Cheers Mate!
From Down Under,
Jenn & Eric