Meeting up in Seminyak

While we were in Tulamben Diving, Dom’s mom and aunt went to check out the Gili Islands to sweat under the blazing sun. 

Here Jen’s mom rented a small villa with our own private pool in the centre of Seminyak, so we all reconvened there for a few days.

Like everywhere in Bali, we took it easy socializing and enjoying life.  One day, we rented a car & driver to visit the surrounding attractions. We started at Turtle Island which is mostly a tourist trap, but we made the best of it and enjoyed our close encounters with the various animals.  

We then went to Uluwatu Beach which is supposed to be one of the best surf beaches in the world.  At the time that we were there, the waves weren't that high, but the beach was really pretty.  

We finished our day tour with a stop at the Uluwatu temple.


Return to Tulamben

After 2 weeks in Ubud, we joined Jen’s parent in Tulamben. Here we spent a few days scuba diving with Jen’s dad, David.

After David did his pool lesson we went out to explore the “USS Liberty” and “Coral Garden”.

And as always, we saw a lot of fish and explored part of the inside of the wreck.

Family Fun in Ubud

We had such a great time doing our own interpretation of "Eat, Pray, Love" in Bali last year, that we decided to return for another month… this time with a little extra Love as we were joined by some family members! 
Dom's mom and aunt flew in from Montreal to spend nearly 3 weeks with us.  We met up in Ubud and had a wonderful time sharing our small part of paradise here, with them :)  We took them on some rice field walks, did a bit of shopping, drank coffee (Cat Poo Coffee), introduced them to Yoga, and of course.. the SPAAAA… when in Ubud, relaxation is a must!

As always, the food was amazing, yoga was fun, and the pool and spa were relaxing and fun. 

Drinking Cat Poo

Not actual Cat Poo, but in Ubud we had a chance to taste one of the most expensive coffees in the world: Kopi Luwak.  

The peculiarity of this "Kopi" (the Indonesian word for "coffee") is that it comes from coffee beans that have been digested by a Luwak (an Asian civet cat).  To summarize the process:

  1. Civets eat coffee berries
  2. Civets digest coffee berries
  3. Civets poo the indigestible coffee bean remains (in little clumps)
  4. Humans pick up the poo
  5. Humans roast and grind the partially digested coffee beans
  6. Humans make coffee and drink it.

For some reason, this is a prize delicacy… so we had to try it.  In Canada, Kopi Luwak Coffee costs around $100 per 100 grams (but it can also be much higher based on some unknown criteria)….ichhh.  Since Indonesia is one of the places where Kopi Luwak is produced, a cup costs only $6. 

Dom doesn't really drink coffee (4 cups in his entire life), so Jen was the one to taste it.  Her comment: "mmmm coffee…with an after taste of ass"… just kidding... actually it tasted a lot like any other coffee but it did have a rather unique semi-sweet aftertaste.. worth $100 for 100g?  Our tastebuds aren't advanced enough to think so, but we'd consider drinking a cup of it again when we return.. :)

Here's what the beans look like when you buy them.

And here is an image of a civet with some coffee berries.

 

Relaxing on Gili Air

Before leaving Bali, we decided to spend a few days on the beach on a tiny island called Gili Air.  The Gilis are 3 small islands an hour away from Bali, by boat.  There's pretty much nothing to but relax on the beach and play in the shallow aquamarine sea.  Motorized vehicles aren't even allowed on the island, so if you want a ride to/from your hotel you have to take a horse & carriage :).

We did a snorkelling tour that brought us to a few sites around the 3 islands, and saw a lot of fish and a few turtles.  The sun was scorching so Jen got a very nice sunburn on her back :( 

The next day, we strolled around the island and hung out in the water.  The rest of the time, we pretty much just relaxed and read.

Relaxing got boring a lot faster than we thought, so we decided to go back to Ubud a couple of days early... here's our taxi back to the pier ;)

Surprisingly, on the ferry back to Bali, we passed a submarine…!!! 

6.5 stories underwater... with just 1 breath

Yup, you read correctly: we took just one breath of air and dove underwater to 20 meters deep…. We're not crazy, we just took a freediving course. 

According to Wikipedia: Freediving is a form of underwater diving that does not involve the use of scuba gear or other external breathing devices, but rather relies on a diver's ability to hold his or her breath until resurfacing.

And before we go any further, here are some equivalents to help visualize how high/deep 20 meters is:

  • 66 feet (for those of you still using imperial)
  • a 6.5 story building
  • 14 VW Jettas stacked on top of each other (1.43m)
  • 4 male giraffes (5.5m)
  • 6.5 basketball hoop heights
  • 24 baseball bats
  • 7491 tennis balls (2.67cm)
  • 15 lightsabers
  • 10 Darth Vaders
  • the length of a 10-pin bowling lane
  • 2857 common household ants joined head to tail

Ok, back to the beginning...  
While researching things to do in Bali, we noticed a place that offered "Freediving" courses.  We had heard of Freediving before but thought it was just a recreational activity, rather than an actual competitive sport with certified courses!  Seeing that it was a recommended thing to do here, it peaked our curiosity... but it was on a different island (Gili Trawangan)... and was.. a little too expensive for our budget.

Weeks later, in Tulamben… 
We met Guy and Lucy, a French-Canadian couple who are both scuba dive masters and have been coming to Tulamben to scuba dive for several years.  By chance, Guy had recently run into a Freediving instructor who recently opened a school in Tulamben called Apnea Bali... and what do you know, Guy was also interested in doing the class too!!  Guy negotiated a small group discount... it all seemed like such luck, so we jumped at the opportunity to register as well.

1 Breath... 12 meters
On the first day, we met up with our instructor, Lukas in the Tulamben office.  He explained the history, equipment, what freediving was all about, and showed us videos of the sport and competitions.  We then learned and practiced some breathing techniques and a bunch of other theory necessary before hitting the water.

In the afternoon, we drove to Amed (where the sea is a bit calmer) and proceeded to our dive spot.  Lukas set up a buoy and 12 meter rope with a tennis ball attached to the bottom.  Despite the water being pretty clear, you could not see the tennis ball from the surface... the rope just looked endless as it disappeared into the deep blue darkness below.  

We started out with a few practice dives to work on our duck-dive and fin-kick techniques.  Jen immediately had trouble equalizing her right ear, so it became apparent that she wouldn't be able to dive using fins (since this descent is faster than her ears could equalize).  Jen removed her fins and Lukas showed her a different diving technique using the guide rope to go down (allowing for a much slower descent and more frequent equalizing). 

We took this course to challenge ourselves and were initially both quite apprehensive about it.  We were super pleased that the course was really focussed on having fun, and at no point did we ever feel any sort of pressure to reach the tennis ball.  Lukas made the experience super reassuring and relaxing - on each dive, he followed us down and back up to ensure that everything was safe, that we were having fun and not panicking, and that we were well within our limits of not passing out.  He worked with us on techniques for movement efficiency, and staying calm & relaxed in order to conserve as much oxygen as possible during each dive.

After only a few attempts, we all surprised ourselves and each reached the 12 meter mark several times!! 

1 Breath… 20 meters 
Reaching the 12 meter mark was not exactly easy... so for Day 2, we were wondering how we would possibly reach 20 meters.  We started the day learning and practicing more breathing techniques, then learned the steps for rescuing free divers who pass out during a dive (not that it would happen to us today... but better safe than sorry).  Lukas set up the buoy and 20 meter rope.  As with the previous day, we took turns diving down the line, one after the other, as far as we could/wanted to go.  Dom finally reached the 20 meter mark using both "Constant Weight" and "Free Immersion" techniques.  Jen, still having problems equalizing, reached around 17 meters, which was really good since her rate of descent had to be really slow so she had to hold her breath longer.

In the afternoon, we returned to Tulamben for some play time.  We practiced recreational freediving around the USS Liberty, whose shallowest point is only 7 meters deep.  The main difference from our practice dives, is that we didn't have a guide rope to show us the most direct path down.  Who would have thought that the rope made such a difference!  The rope made a big difference with helping Jen go down slowly to equalize, and also really helped Dom to not panic during the dive.  What was easily attainable while following a rope, suddenly seemed so out of reach when diving freely.  

Since Jen's ear was still blocked, she just snorkelled around a bit and then called it a day and relaxed by the pool.  Dom managed to go down to 12 meters to see a turtle hanging around, and then dared to dive under one of the ship's trusses (this was a big swim-through hole, but just knowing there's an obstacle between you and the surface really makes you panic!). 

Day 3...
Ok there wasn't a day 3... but for Dom, there was definitely a night 2.  In the night after our second day, Dom kept waking up in a panic thinking that he was drowning - he was repeatedly having dreams/nightmares of drowning while freediving :).

Conclusion
This was a great experience, and we are hooked.  Even though it was scary at times, we had lots of fun and definitely enjoyed it.  Unfortunately, for us, it'll be a little tough to practice back home… though maybe not impossible.

 

 

Additional Reading:
For those of you who are keen to read more, we decided to include our personal accounts of the experience (mainly for our own future interest), and some cool freediving video links that they showed in the class :).

Dominic
"I am not the most comfortable person in the water.  I can't really swim for very long and I probably can't normally hold my breath for more 40 seconds.  Regardless, traveling is about putting yourself in different situations and experiencing new things: Let's say that this was definitely outside my comfort zone. The first day went pretty well, I managed to reach 12 meters in Constant Weight diving and about 9 meters in Free Immersion diving.  I felt good about myself and this gave me a bit of confidence.  The next day, was a totally different experience: 20 meters.  It was only 8 more meters than the previous day, but the things that I experienced impressed me: The human body is well done.  Here is what I mean: When I reached 20 meters for the first time.  I did my duck dive, and started paddling down with my eyes closed, trying to relax.  Eventually, I started feeling like I am running out of air, but, since this is suppose to happen, I continued going down.  When I felt that I could not take it anymore, I looked up (or down) and saw the tennis ball just 2 to 3 meters away… so I relax again and pushed for it.  By that time, I needed to breath hard, the only problem was that I was still 20 meters under the water.  So I turned around and made my way up.  On the way, my body spasmed and tried to take a breath of air (which did not happened, since my body forced my airways shut).  At that point, I panicked and started to kick wildly, trying to go as fast as I can (BTW, this is retarded, because I was not going faster but I was definitely burning more oxygen).  I then saw Lukas calmly beside me telling me to slowdown.  Remembering what he told us before, I calmed down and made my way slowly up to the surface and what do you know….I made it. It was incredible and the best part was, I was to do it again and each time it was a bit easier (and mainly without panicking).  Once you understand how your body works and that you will make it, it's a lot easier to do it again….I think I may be hooked……..This was pretty cool."
 

Jennifer
"Before this course, if someone had asked me how long I thought I could hold my breath, i'd probably have guessed 30-45s (without physical exertion).  I'm pretty sure I even remember trying to figure it out with friends before.. these "who can hold their breath the longest" contests always ended with me bursting out in a giggle fit within 20s  …apparently holding my laughter is far more difficult than holding my breath.  Diving into the deep blue darkness is no laughing matter… so (fortunately for me) the apprehension and undertones of fear did a good job of keeping the giggles at bay (well.. most of the time).

I had surface-dived many times before while snorkelling and always ran out of breath within 2-3m of the surface, so... I had a pretty good idea of my limits.  
My goal:  I certainly didn't have any grandeur ideas of actually reaching the 12/20m maximum depths!  I just hoped to pick up some tips to improve my depth a little.
My game plan: I'm a fairly strong swimmer (or at least I used to be).  Not believing that i'd be able to hold my breath for very long, I figured my best chance of reaching a decent depth would be to use strong swimming strokes to race to my max depth before my short breath-hold ran out.  
My demise:  Our initial warmup dives were only a couple of meters deep and sadly revealed that my right ear was too plugged to equalize quickly.  My game plan was thwarted before it began.  Lukas told me to take off my fins... I was feeling pretty defeated, despite his promise that there were other techniques to dive to depth.

We learned that a normal/"good" rate of descent & ascent is about 1m/s.  This means that a 20m dive would be done with an approximately 40s breath-hold (with physical exertion).  
Free Immersion:  In this technique, you use the guide rope to slowly pull yourself down to depth and back up to the surface.  
Inching to Equalize:  Using the guide rope allowed my descent to be much slower, but it still took several attempts to equalize.  I'd begin descending, stop to try several times to equalize... when it didn't work, I'd have to climb back up a bit to try equalizing there, then proceeding down a little further repeating the process…  it was VERY slow and rather frustrating.  I'd have to do this every single dive, so my average descent rate was probably something like 0.1-0.2m/s.
The Squeeze:  The deeper you go, the more water pressure there is on your body - you actually physically get squeezed!  Internally, your lungs squish down to half their size by the time you reach a depth of 10m, so you can really start to feel the pressure of your diaphragm being pushed right up into your rib cage.

My Dives  
I became so focussed on slowly inching down the rope trying to equalize that it surprised me when I actually hit the end of the 12m rope.  
On the second day, my ear was even more irritated, so equalizing was even slower.  I did several dives, following the same super slow process… sometimes i'd get antsy and just want to go back up, but Lukas was always there just floating right in front of me..  patiently watching with such a calm energy... as if to silently say "you're doing great, just take your time, everything is ok…".  His calmness was contagious and made me feel/realize that everything really was ok.. I learned to forget my brain's screams to breathe and the weird feeling of being squeezed.  I'd refocus on patiently equalizing and inching my way a little further down until I couldn't equalize anymore, and was shocked to find out that I actually made it down to around 17m.  I was even more shocked when Lukas told me that all of my dives were nearly 2 minutes long, and that since I reached the surface with plenty of oxygen he was certain I was still capable of much more.

I was super happy that I accomplished leaps and bounds more than I was ever expecting.  I learned that our minds really play tricks on us to keep us bound within its lazy limits.  This course was a great reminder that we are capable of pushing our limits even further than we think.  It was a great challenge, a refreshing and inspiring experience, and addictively fun!!"

  

Current Freediving World Records:

Constant Weight with Fins Dive
Women - 101 meters
Men - 126 meters

Free Immersion Dive
Women - 88 meters
Men - 121 meters

Static (no physical exertion) Breath Hold 
Women - 8min 23sec  
Men - 11min 35sec

 

Cool freediving videos:

Our Apnea Bali Instructors Freediving the USS Liberty:  

"Free-falling" Underwater:  

Freedivers Parkour:  

World Record Freedive:  

Diving the USS Liberty

On our motorbike tour around Bali, we stopped in a tiny town called Tulamben to scuba dive the USS Liberty.  The USS Liberty was a US transport ship that was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942, and beached on the island of Bali.  It eventually sank in 1963 after a volcanic eruption, and has become a popular dive site as it's now home to a large variety of marine life.  The ship now lays on its side with some sections as shallow as 7 meters below the surface.  The best part is that the wreck is easily accessible directly from the shore.

We shopped around for dive prices and surprisingly found the best deal at the resort right next to the wreck: Puri Madha Bungalows.  Their dive shop made us an excellent offer - 25$/person/dive including a guide, underwater camera, and all gear rental.  Since neither of us had dived recently, they included free time for us to refresh our skills in the pool prior to doing the 2 wreck dives.

After all these years underwater, the USS Liberty is now collapsed in several areas and completely covered in coral.  In most areas, you can barely make out that it's a huge ship!  Occasionally you still happen upon some distinctive ship-like features jutting out from the sea floor... that was really cool to see.

We aren't exactly avid divers or marine biologists, so we don't know many names of what we saw… but we definitely saw a lot of really cool stuff compared to most of our dives in the past :).

We even saw a black tip reef shark...

and a big school of jack fish..

Whether you've never dived before or are an experienced diver, this is a site that we definitely recommend!

Scooting in Bali

To make it easier to get around in Ubud, we rented a scooter for a very reasonable price of about $4usd/day.  We kept it a few extra days to explore the Northern and Eastern parts of the island and experience a different side of Bali.

Our first destination was Munduk, a small village to the North, on the edge of what seems to be a collapsed crater.  Before leaving, we identified two possible hotels and plotted them on the iPhone.  When we "arrived", we were in the middle of nowhere.. there were no hotels or villages, and the supposed "road" seemed to be an extremely narrow dirt path going down.  Not knowing any better, we attempted to take the bike down the narrow footpath, but doubled back after 10 minutes figuring it can't be right.  Lucky for us, we must have looked really lost at the main road, some friendly locals driving by in a truck stopped and asked us what we were looking for.  They kindly pointed us in the right direction and we quickly found our way to Munduk and the proper location of the hotel… moral of the story: GPS coordinates are not always right! ;)

From Munduk, we explored the rice fields and scenery in the area.  We let ourselves get lost and (again) ended up on another super narrow path.  This path was beautiful though as it went through the rice fields and had a trickling stream on the side.

 

On the way to Muduk, we also stopped in Bedugul to see the local temple on the lake.

 

The next day we continued North to the coast, then veered East toward Tulamben.  We had only planned to stay a night or two here, but enjoyed it so much that we stayed 5 nights.  This gave us plenty of time to scuba and snorkel around the USS Liberty shipwreck, and learn to freedive (more pics/details to come, in future posts).

 

After Tulamben, we originally intended to do a 2 hour hike of Mount Batur (a volcano with a nice view of Bali and Lombok).  Unfortunately, a bit of research revealed several accounts of horror stories where tourists attempting to hike it on their own were getting hurt.  These were not typical hiking-related injuries - in recent months, tourists have actually been beat up by aggressive locals who have created a monopolistic Mount-Batur-Tour-Guides Gang in the area.  They won't allow any tourist to pass without paying (around $20/person) and, from the stories we've read, they've repeatedly resorted to agressive verbal abuse, shoving, punching, and kicking until the tourists give up and leave the area.  Turned off by these stories, we didn't want to support this behaviour in any way, so we bypassed the volcano and went directly back to Ubud.  Hopefully they will put a stop to this soon as it's a bit of a shame - the pictures of the hike look amazing.

Our short scooter loop was great and definitely one of our Bali highlights!  We saw a lot of rice fields, passed through small villages, and saw locals in their daily routines.  Here are a few more random pics from the trip :)

 

Silversmithing in Ubud

In addition to rice fields and spirituality, Ubud is also known as the artistic centre of Bali.  Streets here are lined with the many artisan stores of painters, sculptors, glass blowers, and silversmiths.  We found a silversmith that offered classes and, of course, we just had to take it!  

Choosing a Pattern

We wanted to take the class as a learning experience so when we arrived, we had no clue what to expect or what we wanted to make.  They served us refreshments and gave us some books of jewellery designs to browse through for ideas.  We both decided to make pendants - Jen picked a "Ying Yang Tree" and Dom decided to create his own design by mixing a few ideas from the books.

Cutting the Pattern into Silver

After drawing the actual-sized design on paper, the design it is glued onto a pressed silver plate.  Holes are punched into the areas that will be removed and we used these holes as the starting points for the process of carefully cutting out the design using a super small saw.

Smoothing

After cutting, the next step is to clean up and smooth out the raw edges using a bunch of super small files.

Blow Torching

The next step was to use a foot-powered blow torch to burn off the paper and add a silver loop to the top of the pendant.

 

Polishing

The last step involved using a range of different sand paper grits to gradually grind, smooth out, and polish the pendant.

 

Ta Da!!

They gave us a cord to loop the pendant onto and voila - we got to admire the fruit of our labor!  We were both quite happy with how our designs turned out.  It was a fun day!

 

Eat Pray Love Ubud

The popularity of Bali has boomed in recent years due to the vastly popular book and movie "Eat Pray Love", featuring Julia Roberts.  Although the movie isn't just about Bali, we can definitely say that the title words rang true with us - we absolutely loved the people, atmosphere, and food in the spiritual centre of Ubud, Bali. 

We started our adventure in Bali with 2 days in Kuta - a loud, over-commercialized city near the airport which.. we don't really recommend unless you like noise, being overcharged, or beaches littered with garbage..

PRAY
As part of our world trip, we wanted to go somewhere where we could learn and practice Yoga.  After some research, we found a place called The Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali, so we headed there to check out the studio and immediately signed ourselves up for the 20-class pass (which they allowed us to share between the 2 of us).  The atmosphere of this place is unlike any other yoga studio we've ever seen (not that we've done a lot of yoga in the past...).  Nestled in a serene area, the huge windows of the lower studio open up to a lotus pond, while the upper studio overlooks the surrounding rice fields… to top it off, the studio also features a quiet organic cafe and spa nestled amongst the vegetation.

We mainly did the typical Vinyasa Flow classes, but they also offer a huge selection of specialty classes to choose from.  We decided to try some, including:
  • Anusara Therapeutics - focuses on alignment to relieve and heal musculo-skeletal aches and chronic pain in knees, neck, feet, lower back, and wrists.
  • Sukshma Yoga - uses breath and micro movements to provide subtle exercise to internal organs.  We learned to use our Yoga power to clean our breath without using mouthwash or brushing our teeth… ok, that one maybe a bit more far fetched, but we did learn a lot from the rest of that class :).
  • Acro Yoga - a fun class that combines yoga with pairs acrobatics.  A few more of these classes and we'd be set to join the Cirque Du Soleil.
  • Qi Gong - oriental movement meditation for cultivating internal energy.  Basically, you slap all the parts of your body… apparently it helps to stimulate blood flow.

Unlike the intense Power Yoga classes that we'd previously done in Calgary, we felt that Yoga Barn better understood and taught the essence of Yoga.  They continually reminded us that "Yoga is not about instant gratification.  It's a gradual process about yourself and having fun - it's not about power or pain".  They seem obvious statements to read, but are not always apparent when you participate in certain classes back home.

EAT
The food in Ubud in wonderful and cheap.  For around $5/pers/meal, we indulged ourselves in gourmet flavours and loved every meal. The restaurants here cater to every diet, from roasted suckling pig and hamburgers to vegetarian and raw vegan desserts.  To top it off, several restaurants even have outstanding views among the rice fields.

LOVE
Bali is typically know for its beaches and perfect surf waves.  The lesser known things are what we learned to love the most, particularly the rice fields.  You can actually find them all around Ubud, though most are hidden behind the various hotels, restaurants and shops lining the roads.  Venture just outside the centre of town and you'll be rewarded by the scenic beauty.  We did a few walks around town specifically to appreciate the rice fields and we were not disappointed.  
We were also fortunate enough to stay at a fairly inexpensive hotel ($33USD/night) that has an infinity pool that appears to flow right into the fields….wow.  Some of the luxury bungalow rooms ($55-$95USD/night) even have really nice balconies facing the rice fields.  For fun, we took a tour of some new villas belonging to the hotel next door - for $150USD/night you get an amazing 1 bedroom private villa with its own private pool.  It was definitely once of the nicest accommodations either of us had ever seen!  

We spent our last day at a spa where you can get a 2.5hour package (including a 60min massage, body scrub, body mask, flower bath, tea, and a cookie) for only about $28cad.

Aah, what's not to love about this place...
We absolutely loved our experience here and hope to return one day.  Hopefully, the real-estate and tourist booms don't destroy all of the things here that we came to appreciate so much.