Dolphin Spotting

It’s 5:20 am. There’s a faint gray glow in the sky. The sun is just beginning to rise behind a thick cloud cover. I sip my coffee on the front porch, look out over the gently lapping water and wonder if today will be today. We’ve tried almost every morning since we’ve arrived here, but are always foiled by bad weather and heavy currents.

I hear footsteps approaching on the wet grass. It’s our captain. “Today is good. We will go,” he says with characteristic brevity.

The boat is ready to launch

The boat is ready to launch

I finish my coffee quickly and go to wake up Hugo. I wrestle his drowsy body into a life vest as Gareth packs the camera and a snack, just in case it takes longer than we expect.

Heading out to sea

Heading out to sea

The sun creeps higher and pinkens the sky. The motor hums reassuringly as we slice through the water.

The sun is still hiding, a downside to traveling in the rainy season

The sun is still hiding, a downside to traveling in the rainy season

I’m really not sure how far offshore we have to go. I’ve become used to the ambiguities of life here, of only understanding a fraction of what’s happening at any given time. I just trust that the captain will find what we’re looking for.

An expert eye on the horizon

An expert eye on the horizon

Hugo is nestled between my knees. He doesn’t really have a place to sit in the narrow boat, so I keep a tight hand on him as we speed forward.

Everyone's keeping watch

Everyone’s keeping watch

The captain points: “There, I see them.” The race is on.

Suddenly they’re everywhere, hundreds of them, surrounding us. Leaping and splashing, a soft pffff as each one takes a breath.

It's an experience impossible to capture on camera

It’s an experience impossible to capture on camera

Sometimes it’s just a dorsal fin cutting above the surface, sometimes they leap, full body out of the water in twos and threes. We see their eyes looking at us.

Hugo kept saying "Maybe we'll also see some narwhals." At age 3, anything is possible.

Hugo kept saying “Maybe we’ll also see some narwhals.” At age 3, anything is possible.

It’s time to head back to land. The mist has burned off the mountains and we get a clear view of our house as we come around.

Coconut palms and mountain tops

Coconut palms and mountain tops

We’re home in time for second breakfast.

It was an early wake up call even for this early bird

It was an early wake up call even for this early bird

When I talk to our captain later that afternoon, he tells me (with more than a little self-satisfaction) that the fancy resort next door sent out some boats that same morning and never found the dolphins.

It was nice to have the pod to ourselves.

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A Day At The Kampung

Mt Merapi looms ahead of us, a perfect dark cone, partially enveloped in mist. My ears pop, proving we’re gaining altitude even though the road doesn’t appear to be going uphill.

They say the volcano is smoking 300 days a year. Every time I look at it I doubt my vision, half convinced that it’s just wisps of cloud like we see around our more familiar and benevolent volcano at home, Mt Rainier.

Mt Merapi’s last major eruption was in 2010, the year before my previous visit to the area.

Today we’re taking a day trip to a village (kampung ) in the shadow of Mt Merapi where the students are doing a brief homestay.

Looking for fish, of course

Looking for fish, of course

Except, instead of spending time with the group, Hugo decided he’d rather spend time with his new friends.

Another 3 year old who likes throwing big rocks in the water! What are the odds?!

Another 3 year old who likes throwing big rocks in the water! What are the odds?!

Notice the black volcanic dirt:

Three boys, some trucks, and a pile of dirt

Three boys, some trucks, and a pile of dirt

The highlight for Hugo was this moment:

"I touched a baby duckling!"

“I touched a baby duckling!”

This village is also the home to a gamelan, which is a set of instruments used to play traditional Javanese music.

A detail of one of the pieces of the gamelan

A detail of one of the pieces of the gamelan

There are mostly xylophones and gongs, but one person will play a hand drum to keep the beat.

Hugo grabs a mallet and gives it a go

Hugo grabs a mallet and gives it a go

The pieces range in size from a xylophone about 18 inches across to this enormous hanging gong:

This calls for a bigger mallet

This calls for a bigger mallet

If you’re interested in hearing the gamelan in action, check out this video below:

We headed back to Yogyakarta, Hugo exhausted and dirty, the best way for a toddler to end the day.

“Green Islam” And The Bumi Langit Institut

The Bumi Langit Institut is a Muslim organic farming cooperative located about an hour outside of Yogyakarta.

An overcast morning view of coconut trees and red roofs. In the foreground is a solar panel. They say on a clear day you can see all the way to the ocean.

An overcast morning view of coconut trees and red roofs. In the foreground is a solar panel. They say on a clear day you can see all the way to the ocean.

At Bumi Langit, they strive to live off the grid (hence the solar panels), and use biogas systems to generate gas for cooking.

Homemade kefir and sorghum bread for breakfast

Homemade kefir and sorghum bread for breakfast

There is also a focus on permaculture farming, a farming design method meant to create a self-maintaining, integrated habitat system.

The kefir was a big hit

The kefir was a big hit

There is also an emphasis on the idea that being good environmental stewards is essential to the Islamic faith.

I told him he could look at the sorghum, but he couldn't touch it. Following this rule requires all the powers of concentration that a 3 year old can muster.

I told him he could look at the sorghum, but he couldn’t touch it. Following this rule requires all the powers of concentration that a 3 year old can muster.

Despite the negative news hitting the headlines recently about the high volumes of plastic waste in the ocean here, Indonesia was a pioneer of the “Green Islam” movement.

Touring the farm

Touring the farm

In 1887, in order to combat growing unrest and conflict over scarce resources, the Pesantren Gulak-Gulak school was founded to teach environmentally sustainable practices in an Islamic religious context.

Checking out the duck pond

Checking out the duck pond

Today there are many such schools, including a school called Ilmu Giri, founded in 2003 by Nasruddin Anshory, whose work in environmental education was recognized by the 2007 UN Climate Change Conference in Bali.

Making a friend

Making a friend

Hugo and I just spent the morning touring the farm, but they have many educational programs available for visitors.

Excited to pet the farm cats

Excited to pet the farm cats

If you are interested in reading more about Bumi Langit Institut, please see their website.

Looking for bugs

Looking for bugs

For more information about Islam and environmentalism, I invite you to check out the Islamic Foundation For Ecology And Environmental Science (IFEES), a UK-based charity focused on environmental conservation.

Bangkok Sea Life Ocean World

We spent the morning at

Bangkok Sea Life Ocean World!

Bangkok Sea Life Ocean World!

Which is pretty much Hugo’s idea of heaven.

Relaxing in the jelly room

Relaxing in the jelly room

We bought tickets online ahead of time and arrived right when it opened.

Don't feed the wildlife

Don’t feed the wildlife

We ended up having the whole place to ourselves for awhile.

He will name all of these fish for you if you're willing to listen

He will name all of these fish for you if you’re willing to listen

Special bonus: kids under 3 are free! And Hugo won’t be 3 for two whole days!

We climbed in the tank!

We climbed in the tank!

If you’re interested in aquariums, I highly recommend this one. It’s enormous and truly world class. It comes with a world class admission price, too, but is worth it for the sea life obsessed.

Racing the fishes

Racing the fishes

Definitely aim to arrive early and miss the crowds of school children being led around by obnoxiously loud guides with bullhorns.

Oh, and don’t let the giant moray eels bite you on the way to the gift shop!

This may be the least flattering photo that I've ever purposefully posted on the internet

This may be the least flattering photo that I’ve ever purposefully posted on the internet

A Day at the Farm

Today we took a field trip to a farm to see the rice growing process up close.

Hugo was not willing to get up close and personal with a water buffalo

Hugo was not willing to get up close and personal with a water buffalo

We watched the water buffalo pull a plow through the mud, and saw rice growing at various stages. The most interesting part was the rice threshing process, where first the dried stalks are put in a giant basket and beaten to separate the grain from the shaft.

Stirring the rice

Next, the rice is scooped out with the giant spoon and spread out on a tarp on the ground. Then fans are used to blow away all the extra straw, leaving behind only the rice grains.

Hugo's rice fanning talents are apparent at an early age

Hugo’s rice fanning talents are apparent at an early age

The final step is to grind away the outside husk, leaving behind only the edible grains. Every step is manual and time consuming. A lot of work from a lot of people’s hands goes into each grain of rice in your dinner bowl.

Sifting through the final product

Sifting through the final product

I always feel a little strange about this kind of ecotourism. It’s an educational experience where you literally get your hands dirty and learn about the farming process, but it takes the backbreaking labor of rice farming performed year in and year out by our hosts, and reduces it to something we experience for our own amusement, something we wash off at the end of the day and never give a second thought. It was kind of like an elementary school field trip to the supermarket — just a tiny glimpse into the complex process that brings food to our tables around the world.