Sunday, November 7, 2010

Diving Lembeh @ 29 Sep - 4 Oct 2010

I booked the same diving package almost right after my Lembeh diving trip last year. Yup, I just could not get enough Lembeh and the diving lodge was simply superb in all aspects! This year, I was determined to spot those critters that I could not cross out last year. With ease, I spotted most of those critters in this trip …. Wonderpus, mimic octopus, blue ring octopus, bobbit worm, hairy frogfish etc. Definitely surfaced with contended smile after each dive, especially on my first day.

Two surprising shots from this trip - anemone shrimp and squat lobster bearing eggs!

A recap for those who are not familiar with Lembeh Straits. It was located opposite Manado city in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Don’t worry, the place was protected and could be dived year round. Most of the dive sites are black sand and rubbish enriched. Exactly it is the rubbish which nourishes the underwater critters here. All sorts of scorpionfish, frogfish, stonefish, octopus and small alienated critter lurk under the polluted straits. It fits its diving nature perfectly – muck diving, a true heaven for underwater photographer. Your naked eyes will always fill with unbelievable sights. Those critters are not earthly, each of them is either equip with extreme poison pouch or has near perfect mimic behaviour!

Disguise master - Scorpionfish & pygmy seahorse.

Octopus Maniac
Met my first wonderpus during the checkout night dive. On second day, met my first mimic octopus. This fellow got its unique and peculiar charisma. As its name suggests, mimic octopus is the master of mimicry. It could mimic seasnake, flounder, lionfish and other poisonous critters to avoid enemy’s attention. I was thrilled and when I made the snapshot, it actually changed so many form to feign off my camera. Ha… of course I enjoyed every moment of its performance.

Mimic octopus trying to fool my Canon camera.

Blue ring octopus is perhaps the most photogenic critters. When it is undisturbed, it remain as mud like colour which was bored and uninteresting. When it is agitated, it flashes its blue ring deeply and madly! But don’t ever mess with it, it is perhaps the most poisonous critters after seasnake. Worst of all, there is no cure for its bite currently. Fortunately, it does not bite unless it is life threatening.

Blue ring octopus was so pissed with my Camera. Yup, same octopus which could change colour in second.

It was always pleasant to spot coconut octopus. It usually grabs coconut shells with its tentacles. When it senses danger, it will “close” the shell and hide inside for a long time. Also, it is a very curious creature which likes to try various hideout point, such as empty bottle, shoes or containers.
Another scene to behold. My dive master showed as a GIGANTIC octopus in a reef dive. It was as huge as a car wheel! Ferociously, it ejected large volume of black ink when my dive master tried to sneak it out. Sweet!

Coconut octopus holding a shell.

Flamboyant cuttlefish, another poisonous critter.

Ugly Betty
Hairball frogfish is the ugly betty of Lembeh Straits, so ugly but yet cute and hilarious. First, our dive guide managed to find us a hairy frogfish. Yet, we complained that its hair is not “hairy” enough. He then found another one which was really super hairy! It crawled clumsily, yawned nonchalantly as if it had the whole world by itself. I liked the attitude very much. Don’t misjudge frogfish, again, it is poisonous and its ambush + hunting skill is perhaps the best! A lighting fast blow and the poor fish in front was no where to be seen. Its mouth could stretch enormously and this allows it to swallow a fish bigger than you expect.

Hairy frogfish about to yawn!

Another beast lurking at night is bobbit worm. This little alien-looking worm is not something you want to mess with. It always sticks out its shinny and plasticky body from the ground. Its snap is powerful that it could cut the poor fish to half in millisecond. Believe it or not, this worm could grow more than one metre!

Fearsome bobbit worm which could tear fish to pieces.

The Usual Suspects
As usual, I spotted the other common critters here, such as pipehorse, seahorse, coleman shrimp, spider crab, skeleton shrimp, squat lobster, pygmy seahorse, nudibranch etc. It is always Give & Take. I did not have any luck on rhinopias and tiger shrimp. But what the heck, it is the perfect excuse to revisit Lembeh Straits again.

Startled hermit crab.

Hiding goby.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

My name is Vodka and I am a great dog!

I always wonder how the feeling of having a dog is. Coincidentally, my aunt is in the pet business and she had reserved me a Dalmatian puppy recently. Yeah, Dalmatian, the naughty and energetic synonym, exactly what you have seen in 101 Dalmatian movie. It was actually 2 months ++ ago when I took Vodka from my aunt. Why only I blog now? Well, good question, I was so scared that Vodka could not survive under my clumsy care. Haha… Apparently, now he is cute and lively, I can proudly present his pictures. Cheeky…

I was actually choosing from two puppies. It was an easy job because Vodka looked so much smarter than his brother. His mother is gorgeous but his dad is a bit albino. That is why Vodka has less spots. Fortunately, he inherited his mother’s good look and his eyes are full of emotions.

The first week was a nightmare. As a small puppy, he cried when I left for work, not to mention my first experience of cleaning the mess! I was almost at my limit of giving up. Once, I almost choked him to suffocation when he destroyed my carpet and slippers. After a week, things get better, a whole lot better. He seemed to learn quite fast. Now, he understands to sit quietly when I prepare food, shake my hand when I present my hand… Only now, I appreciate how intelligent a dog can be. They can literally guess your emotion! When Vodka broke something, say food tray, he would plead with his cute piteous eyes so that I would not punish him. Smart…

It is not all bed of roses though. The expenses to raise a dog are shocking! The injection cost, food, toys, treats, shampoo, nail cutter, vitamins etc. etc. It is in a monthly basis! Vodka is a destructive dog for sure. His toys could only last for few days intact. Also, Dalmatian has a HELL lot of energy! I think I shed some weight off myself just jogging with Vodka. And he is never tired of playing the throw-and-retrieve game.

That’s it. Let me show his pictures. He is now 7-month old. Healthy and fit, weight heavy and heavier. Hope he grows as stunning as his mother.

Front-view of Vodka. His dots only showed little by little as he grows.

Side-view of Vodka. When I said "Vodka, turn away", he actually obeyed. Haha..

Innocent look of Vodka. This look means he wants some treat.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Travel Yogyakarta @ 26 - 29 June 2010

I had forsaken backpacking for quite a long time. Yogyakarta would be a great idea to rekindle the long lost feeling. My backpacking mate did all the itinerary preparation and I had absolutely no remorse because I was one decade older than him… haha. Hardship should left for youngster. AirAsia really surprised me this time. Not only I managed to book its free return flight for only RM35 nett, the flight actually flew on time!
First, let me introduce Yogyakarta (or Jogjakarta). Located in Java Island, the region is located at the foot of the active Merapi volcano. Famous Buddhist temple of Borobudur and Hindu temple of Prambanan are the attractions that draw the tourists all over the world. Both are in the list of UNESCO world heritage. What a perfect backpacking spot – cultural, majestic, historical and yet affordable.

My favourite Borobudur sunrise shot from Yogyakarta.

Kraton and Malioboro Street
After settled down, we hired a local tuk-tuk to tour around Yogyakarta city. Well, that was quite a life-threatening experience. Inside the cramped tuk-tuk, we witnessed all sorts of vehicles criss-crossed before our eyes and yet the brake system was far beyond functional! Arrived in Kraton in one piece, we bought the ticket and started to explore the so-called Sultan Palace. The compound was decently spatial but the grandiose was nothing compared to the palaces in Europe or China. We had the chance to witness the wayang kulit performance, not too much of a fan though.
Maliobora Street is famous for shopping. You could find all sorts of souvenirs, sandal, T-shirts, decorations, wood carve etc. If you were T-shirt fans, you might like their creative slogan and catchy phrase. Day and night, the street was so packed that you had to fight your way through.

Wayang Kulit performance in Kraton.

Prambanan Temple (Hindu)
Built in the 10th century, this is the largest compound dedicated to Shiva in Indonesia. There are three temples at the complex of sanctuaries. The biggest temple is called Candi Shiva and the others are called Candi Brahma and Candi Vishnu. If you happen to visit Angkor Wat in Siam Reap before, this complex may look awfully tiny to you. Other than that, the temples were worth a hike.

Sunset at Prambanan Temple.

Dieng Plateau and Mt Merabu
Dieng was very much like Cameron Highlands – high ground, fresh air, winding road and so on. It was a pleasant getaway from hustle and bustle. We visited the volcano area. Yup, you could still see the smoldering smoke and hot spring oozing from the ground. The presence of sulphuric environment was constantly intimidating, as if to remind you stepping in the dangerous zone. Another two-hour of winding journey, we arrived at the world-renown Borobudur during sunset.

Cultural occasion in Dieng Plateau.

Candi at Dieng Plateau.

Borobudur Temple (Buddhist)
We visited Borobudur twice, dusk and dawn. The sunset experience was appalling because the crowd took the toll. I was actually speechless to see the locals picnicking at the top of Borobudur – polluted, smelly and noisy. Sunrise experience was completely different, it was AMAZING! Thanks to Manahora Hotel, we were given privilege to climb Borobudur at 4.30 am before public could access. Of course, you need to pay extra but it worth every cent, or I should say rupiah. I witnessed the most breathtaking sunrise. It was such a surreal scene - the feathery clouds, the picturesque greeneries, the calm Buddha and stupas, the purple sky hue, the crawling sun in between the two volcanoes, the reflective light…. It was magical. Since then, clicking noise from my Canon SLR never stopped. I was breathing in fulfillment because I knew I would bag in many good shots.
A series of breathtaking sunrise shots.

Food and Javanese Coffee
Not to be conclusive, but I think the food in Bali are far better than Yogyakarta. Though, it was still worth to try their local delicacies – Amanda Brownies and Javanese coffee. Out of impulsiveness, I tried the most expensive coffee in the world – Coffee Luwak! This coffee was internationally recognized as the most high-quality and expensive coffee. The local Luwak (a type of nocturnal Indonesian mammal which resemble cat) will pick the best coffee seeds to consume at night-time. The enzyme inside its stomach will help neutralize the acidity and fermentize the coffee seeds. After the Luwak desecrate, the wastes (its poo with neutralized coffee seeds!) were reprocessed to make the top-notch coffee. The first seep was confusing. Hmm… It was neither smooth nor bitter. Somehow, the taste was nice in a way that you could hardly expect. Will I try it again? Well, with that price, I probably would pass.

The famous Kopi Luwak.

Some other side story. It was World Cup season and ironically, the locals wish their old Dutch friends to win the game. If you happen to forget, Holland conquered Indonesia and left quite a legacy there. It was also the night when England lost to Germany. Lampard’s agonizing face was rewinded over and over in the TV, haha… I was impressed that the normal TV channels in Indonesia aired World Cup matches. Shame on ASTRO and Malaysian TV channels.
How should I rate Yogyakarta? In some way, I like peaceful Borobudur sunrise as much as I hate its congested sunset. Not so much of a cultural shock as I had travelled to Indonesia before. Borobudur is still worth a journey as its sunrise will really astonish you.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Travel Rome @ 7 November 2009

I know I have been slacking in blogging recently. The reason being is that I travel less frequent recently. Hmm.. Is that a good thing or bad thing, I wonder. Cut it short, I had a full transit day in Rome on the way back to Malaysia from Venezuela. Let say, South America never stop amazed me. Though, I did not have chance to wander around Venezuela and therefore, no photos. But I had plenty of time to revisit Rome. My last visit to Rome was about 10 years ago, right after my graduation. Damn, scary to even think about how fast the time passes!

In my memory, Rome was sunny hot, dry and crowded. This time, Rome was breezy, still sunny but much relaxing! Of course, statues and buildings everywhere were still screaming to my Canon camera to flash. After reading and watching Angels and Demons, I said to myself - Silly me, why not follow Dan Brown’s foot step, save my time to think about the itinerary. I then visited St Peter Square & Basilica, Vatican Museum for the masterpiece Sistine Chapel and Colosseum.

I did not remember if I saw Swiss Guard in my previous visit but I spotted them this time. They were guarding the St. Peter Basilica. They wore those silly, circus-like, orange-blue-stripe baggy uniform, exactly what we saw in Angel and Demon. St. Peter Basilica was still as impressive as it was.

I was probably too young to appreciate Sistine Chapel 10 years ago but this time, the masterpiece just struck me speechless. The guide book explained that the essence of the design was to create a ‘seamless’ and ‘endless-feeling’ ceiling. Michelangelo was such as a damn good interior designer. The Last Judgment was insanely animated after so many millenniums. Well, as usual, I eavesdropped around to listen the stories from those tour guides. Apparently, Michelangelo was so furious when a high-rank priest condemned his work as being too obscene. He then purposely painted, in the fresco, that the bad-mouth priest slumped in lowest hell, with his genital bitten by an evil python. Hah… Michelangelo definitely had some sense of black humour.

Strolling to Colosseum to take the perfect night shot. I was standing there for almost an hour to capture a perfect nightscene. What a regret to left my tripod at home!

The revisit could not be better. Hope to revisit miss-out Trevi Fountain and Pantheon someday and I guess that should be easy because - All roads lead to Rome!