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Monday, February 28, 2011

Indonesia Part Three: The Raja Ampat Explorer

In Part Two, Todd and I finally arrived in Sorong, Indonesia, which is the gateway to the spectacular scuba diving region of Raja Ampat.  After two and a half days straight of travel, we finally made it and we were ready to see some fish!

Our boat, The Raja Ampat Explorer was truly in the Indonesian style.  I admit, it was not as nice as the Archipelago Adventurer II where we had originally been booked.  We entered on the dive deck and then headed to the salon area where we sat and had a coconut smoothie.  We were introduced to the crew - a total of 11 people, all from Indonesia.  A lot of the crew did not speak a whole lot of English, but we did have a cruise director/divemaster named Weka who spoke a lot of English.  While Weka was introducing us to the rules of the boat, a roach crawled down the wall behind him.

Ok, so we knew that there would be roaches before we got there.  I had read a ton of reviews of the boat, and many of them mentioned that there were critters on board.  This really isn't all that unusual for a dive liveaboard.  These boats dock in third world countries and get supplies from places where there are bugs.  It's almost unavoidable that they will show up on board, and it's incredibly difficult to get rid of them.  We had fought roaches before in Bonaire (those were huge ones, 3-4 inches long), and on the Turks & Caicos Aggressor (those were more normal sized, and were frequently seen on the sun deck and kitchen/salon, but never in our rooms).  So, I was prepared for the roaches and hoped we could make it work.

Once the crew had been introduced, they pulled up the anchor and we headed out into Raja Ampat.  The boat sailed until late at night.  In the meantime, we set up our equipment on the dive deck and then I headed down to our room.  The ship had two rooms on the top floor, and Matt and Ellen and the other couple, Daniel and Nicole were in those two rooms.  Todd and I were on the bottom floor, below deck.
Manusar, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

So, I asked our cabin steward, Madi, what room we were in.  All of them.  We had the entire bottom deck, a total of FIVE ROOMS.  Ohh kay.  So, I moved my stuff into the room that was in the bow of the ship, which was the only one with a double bed  (the rest were two twins).  I like to unpack, but Todd does not, so we put our luggage into another room on the beds and I put my clothes into the cubbies in the room.  Then, I took a two hour nap.  Todd had disappeared to assemble his camera, and it was AWESOME to finally lie down and take a long, long nap.

Todd finally woke me up, and I have little recollection of making it through the fog of the rest of the night.  I know we ate dinner, and I know that I went to bed at about 8:30.

Oh, the roaches.  They had started showing up in our room after dark.  We went to bed and turned the lights out, and we couldn't stop thinking about them.  More than anything, Todd couldn't stop thinking about them.  He woke up several times in the night, turned on all of the lights, located a few roaches (3 or 4) that had crawled out, killed them, and then went back to bed.  Then, at 5:15am, I felt a tickle on my chin and across my face...  And I was up.  Lights on, bug killed, and I decided to go ahead and just get up.  We went to brush our teeth and a tiny roach had gotten into the ziploc bag where we kept our tooth brushes.  I honestly did not know how we were going to make it through ten more nights of this, but I knew we were going to have to.
Our boat docked at the Raja Ampat Dive Lodge
No one but some of the crew were awake when Todd and I got up on deck at about 5:30am that first morning.  We had docked at the Raja Ampat Dive Lodge, owned by the owners of our boat.  Todd and I got out and walked around some in the dark.  We looked off the pier and could see fish.  Tons of fish.  Fish that were clearly bright colors.  I stood there wanting to grab a mask, fins and snorkel and jump in, but we couldn't.  The boat was ready to head out, so we went up to the sun deck with a cup of tea and watched the sun rise as we headed out to our first dive site.
Sunrise our first morning in Raja Ampat
The diving in Raja Ampat made everything - the travel, the long flights, the roaches - worthwhile.  We started out around Mansuar Island.  It was almost too much to take in.  Bumphead Parrotfish, Whitetip Reef Sharks, schools of fish.  I mean schools of fish.  Hundreds, thousands of fish.  Schools of huge Barracudas - and I mean 80 Barracudas swimming together.  You don't see this stuff in the Caribbean.  And Clownfish!  I finally got to see Clownfish!  The Clownfish were everywhere, and all different types, not just the Nemo kind.  Giant clams, some that might be as much as 100 years old, and little Nudibranchs.  That night, we did a night dive near the Jetty of the Raja Ampat Dive Lodge, where we docked again.  Weka came on land with Todd and me and showed us the dive lodge, which was still under construction, but very nice.

The pier at the Raja Ampat Dive Lodge
On our second night, we decided to try sleeping in the room next door to ours, which had two twin beds.  We left the lights on to discourage the roaches from visiting.  It went well, and no roaches came out during the night, but I didn't quite sleep as well because I hate sleeping with the lights on.  The next night, we stayed in that same room (which we called "The Sleeping Room"), but with only one light on and not two.  A roach crawled across the wall in the middle of the night.  I decided that if there were going to be roaches during the night, we may as well move back into the cabin with the double bed, so on our fourth night and the rest of the nights on the boat, we stayed in the bow cabin.  I never saw the roaches during the day, and my naps were uninterrupted.  We always slept with one small light on (which was good anyway because I was staying so hydrated that I was getting up a couple of times during the night).  No roaches ever crawled on us again, and with each night that passed, we saw fewer and fewer of them.  In the end, I think they'd gotten stirred up with the crew getting ready for our arrival, and things just gradually calmed down.  Still, by the eleventh night, we'd open our eyes during the night and see a roach somewhere in the room, shrug and roll over and go back to sleep.  We both developed a strange tolerance for insects in Indonesia.
A local fisherman

Each day followed the same schedule.  We would wake up between 5:30 and 6:00am, I'd go up and watch the sunrise with a cup of tea, then we'd have some toast and jam and get ready for the dive.  The first dive was at 7:30am.  After the dive was breakfast, then relaxing and reading on the sun deck.  The second dive was at 10:00am, and then we would have lunch.  After lunch, I'd usually take a short nap in the room before the third dive, which was at 2:00pm.  Next came snack time, followed by a dusk dive at 6:00pm, or a night dive around 7:00pm.  After the last dive was dinner, then bed between 9:30 and 10:00pm.

The food was good on the boat.  It was not gourmet, but I had been worried.  It was all Indonesian food, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Breakfast was Nasi Goreng (fried rice), eggs (more like a frittata most of the time), and vegetables.  Occasionally, the cook would make french toast or Indonesian style pancakes, which were more like crepes.  No syrup, sweet breakfast treats were served with honey.  We had fruit at every meal, usually pineapple, papaya, melon or mango.  At breakfast each day, we'd have a fruit smoothie, which was always delicious.

The captain and his catch
For lunch, we'd have steamed rice, and vegetables, fish, pork, beef or chicken.  Often, we would have shrimp or squid.  Everything was served in a stir fry, or fried or in sauce.  Occasionally sort of grilled.  Very Indonesian-style.  The Captain of the boat was also a fisherman, and he would catch us fresh fish to eat.  One day, we got back on the boat to find that he'd caught a huge Wahoo.  We were served sashimi that day with both lunch and dinner, which was a terrific treat.

Dinners were similar to lunch, except that we also had soup.  The soup was like an egg drop, with vegetables and meat sometimes thrown in, depending on what was around.  We did have pretty much the same soup for dinner each night for eleven nights.  It was delicious, though.

Our second day of diving brought us to Manta Sandy.  This is a famous site near Mansuar where Manta Rays come out to play.  The first dive went rather slow.  We hooked into the sand and some mantas swam past, but they did not get close.  We tried again on the second dive, and WOW!  The mantas swooped in, getting cleaned and eating right over our heads.  They were amazing.  Todd was getting great photos, and the mantas were sometimes so close to him that he couldn't focus on them.  It was crazy.  I love getting close to Manta Rays and these were HUGE - some as much as 12 feet across.
Matt (front) and me (behind) watching the mantas at Manta Sandy
Nicole watches a Manta

Pygmy Seahorse
After Manta Sandy, we traveled to an island called Gam, where we found Pygmy Seahorses.  These things are TINY.  They are only about a centimeter long, tops.  They blend in perfectly with the sea fans where they make their home.  We would find one (well, pointed out to us by Weka) and I would keep my eye on it, but it was tough to photograph because we would lose it again if we looked away for a second.  We used a ton of time on that dive trying to photograph the Pygmies.

The diving was going wonderfully, and it was making up for whatever sacrifices we were making in luxury on the boat.

Coming up in my next installment, we visit the Wayag region, which I have proclaimed as the most beautiful place on Earth.  We do some hiking, get caught in a storm, visit the Equator, and more...  Stay tuned.
Sunset on our way to Wayag

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Linky-Loos

Running and Health
  • CSN Stores from MissZippy: I haven't been doing giveaways lately, but I couldn't resist this one because CSN sells that Le Creuset pot I've been wanting...

Friday, February 25, 2011


I had wanted to get Indonesia Part 3 posted today, but I've been spending my spare time helping Todd get ready for his Photo Show tomorrow (specifically, I'm working on the music for the slide show).  So, this quiz has been going around in bloggyland, so I thought I would participate.  I'm sure I'll get Part 3 done by Monday, so look for it to post then!

(A) Age: I'm 32.
(B) Bed Size: King!  I love our bed, too!  It is super-soft, like sleeping in a cloud.  It does make it difficult when we're on these dive boats that put us in a double bed.
(C) Chore You Hate: Litter box!
(D) Dogs? I like dogs, I just don't have time for them and I'm particular about the kind of dog.  I love my sister's Corgi (Robbie).  He's adorable, but I think I need a dog I can run with and a Corgi has legs that are just too short.
(E) Essential Start Your Day Item: Breakfast.  I must eat before I run, and I eat as soon as I get to work.  It's also hot tea, though.
(F) Favorite Color: Green.
(G) Gold or Silver? Either.  I'm not particular, so I wear both.  My wedding ring is gold.
(H) Height: 5'7".  I got my height from my dad, my mom is really short.
(I) Instruments You Play: The piano, although I haven't played regularly since high school.  I don't even own a piano right now, but I would LOVE ONE.
(J) Job Title: Application Engineer.  I'm also a Dive Control Specialist.
(K) Kids: None, just a cat.
(L) Live: Manchester, Maryland
(M) Mom's Name: Carol.
(N) Nicknames: KLETCO, Mutty (my dad calls me that).
(O) Overnight Hospital Stays? I was in the hospital for 3 weeks once, when I had appendicitis.  It was horrible, and a life-changing experience.  The whole shebang had complications, and had things gone just a little bit differently, I might have died.
(P) Pet Peeve: Someone talking bad about my food while I am eating it, such as "wow, that looks so gross" or something worse.
(Q) Quote from a Movie: "I can smell you!"  --Dug, Up
(R) Right or Left Handed? Right.
(S) Siblings: Two older sisters who are twins, and one older brother.
(T) Time You Wake Up? I try to be out of bed by 7:30 during the week.  Saturdays, earlier, since that is early morning run time.
(U) Underwear: Clean.
(V) Vegetable You Dislike: I'm not big on potatoes, but I also dislike Brussels sprouts.  Last night, I bought some, though, because people keep trying to convince me that I need to just cook them right and I will like them.  We shall see.
(W) What Makes You Run Late: Todd.  I mean, I love him and all, but he runs late like nobody's business.
(X) X-Rays You've Had Done: Uh...  Do CAT Scans count?  I had one of those in the previously mentioned hospital stay.  I had my foot X-rayed when I broke my toe.  I've had eleventy billion tooth X-rays. I had an MRI once for TMJ.  I had to have my face (nose) x-rayed once.  I also travel a lot and I've had to go through the nudie machines at the airport 5 times now.  I usually don't opt out because I'm in a hurry, even though I am anti-nudie machines.
(Y) Yummy Food You Make: Rum cake, cinnamon rolls, avocado chicken, asian beef & noodles, pecan pie...
(Z) Zoo, Favorite Animal: I don't know what my favorite animal would be.  I like manta rays a lot.  And turtles.  And tigers.  And lions.  And cats.  And butterflies.  So, you know, whatever.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

MBE: Races & Vacations

I've been totally MIA on the Monday Brain Exchange.  It's sponsored by Jill, and I wanted to participate this week!

This Weeks Topic: Racing and Vacations

This Weeks Question: Do you make vacations out of your races when they are far from home?

I have to be honest, I don't particularly like combining vacations and running.  Don't get me wrong, I love running and I love vacations, but running stresses me out and so I prefer not to take true "vacations" that are running related.  My vacations tend to revolve around scuba diving.  That's because scuba diving is a sport where in order to have a really great time (you know, clear water, warm water, pretty fishes), you have to go far away.  It's also best to stay a while.  I can run anywhere.

So, I tend to choose my race schedule by sticking to races that are close to home, or races that will only require me to drive a few hours.  I don't usually switch time zones because time zone changes will make have to spend more time where I am going.

If you know my race history, you might notice one major exception to this: Disney.  The thing is, though, I am a Disney Vacation Club member, as well as a Southwest Airlines frequent flyer.  This means that often we spend very, very little on our trips to Disney.  We do also tend to stay only the amount of time necessary and don't make full "vacations" out of the trips.

I am giving some thought about running the Chicago Marathon this year.  That will be a timezone switch, and I'm planning to stay a day or two extra to see the sights.  I've never been to Chicago, so it should be fun!

Monday Brain Exchange

Monday, February 21, 2011

Indonesia Part Two: Jakarta to Raja Ampat

In Part One, Todd and I boarded a plane at Dulles airport for a 30-hour trip to Jakarta, Indonesia.  Our final destination is Sorong, the city that is the gateway to the incredible scuba diving in Raja Ampat.  Here, we'll make our way to Sorong with more adventures.  

We were in the hotel lobby by 3am to get a cab to the airport for our final set of flights.  As we waited, I kid you not, we saw a series of men with prostitutes.  One was escorting one out.  Others were coming in with them.  Hm.  Interesting.

The other weird thing was that no one in Jakarta knew where Sorong was.  For example, the taxi driver on the way to the airport asked where we were going.  We responded Sorong, but he hadn't heard of it.  We told him Papua, which the province where Sorong is located, and then he knew where we were talking about.  We were actually going to West Papua, which is a province on the island of New Guinea, and it's the least populated part of Indonesia (very different from Jakarta).

The airport in Jakarta was stressful.  Since Todd and I had neglected to get Indonesian rupiah, Matt and Ellen had to pay our exit fee.  No money exchanges were open that early, and the airport would not accept US dollars.  We had to pay a ridiculous amount of excess baggage fees, and they did take US Dollars for that, thank goodness.

I need to go off on a tangent here about Indonesian bathrooms/toilets.  While I was in the Jakarta airport that morning, I got my first taste of a public toilet in Indonesia.  Don't get me wrong, I came prepared.  I brought a Go Girl with me.  Go ahead and check it out, running or traveling girls, you will like it.  It allows you to pee standing up, something I wish I'd had at a certain truck stop in Italy in 2004.  Anyway, nearly all Indonesian toilets have a hose next to them with a spray nozzle - kind of the size you'd expect to have on a kitchen sink.  Some toilets don't have toilet paper, and presumably the hose is what is used instead, because I walked into multiple bathrooms that were either soaked everywhere (like, um, someone had been spraying a hose around the stall), or even one that had about 2 inches of water puddled around the toilet (Go Girl couldn't help me there).

The Jakarta Airport (note that I was in the domestic and not international terminal, and I think that made a big difference) didn't have toilet paper, just the hose.  I wasn't prepared right at that moment, as I'd failed to bring the Go Girl or my packet of kleenex, so I was at a loss.  I wasn't going to use the hose, and honestly at the time I hadn't made the hose-dirty netherbits connection.  I ended up using an old boarding pass, which was the only thing still in my pocket from the day before (and I must make it absolutely clear - that it was #1 only!!).  I'm sorry, TMI, but public bathrooms, or even bathrooms in general, are just different in Indonesia.

But wait, there's more.  I didn't see the squat potties in Jakarta, even though I probably would have if I had walked further into the bathroom.  I didn't get photos of my own on the trip, so the photo to the left is courtesy of bsmida.  It's pretty much what I'm talking about though.  The squat potties (what is their real name?  Who knows) were common.  There's basically bumpy feet areas on either side, and you're supposed to squat over them to do your business.  The bucket and scooper that you see there is so that you can fill the bowl with water in order to wash it down since it has no tank.

So, ok.  That's cool and all.  But, what baffles me about this style of toilet is that clearly people prefer it over sitting on a toilet.  Most public bathrooms that had toilets offered a choice - either a standard toilet or the squatty version.  This means that some people would prefer to go into the squatty version over the real toilet version.  I just can't understand this.  A lot of Indonesian women wear robes, long dresses or burquas.  I'm trying to imagine either the squatting version or the hose in those circumstances.  I don't know, I just think the toilet would be easier.  And toilet paper.  One woman that I saw coming out of a stall where she'd clearly used the hose was wearing skinny jeans and heels.  One would think she'd be wet, but she wasn't.  She must be really good at using the hose or whatever, because I mean, the stall was dripping wet.  It was crazy.

Anyway, I know all this is TMI.  I apologize, but I found this particular aspect of Indonesian culture just fascinating.

So, at the airport, we were boarded on to Express Air, which is an Indonesian Airline.  It was not as bad as I thought it would be.  They gave us little sandwiches on the flight, as well as tea, coffee or bottled water.  We headed to Makassar first, and had to deboard, but then headed out on the same airplane to Sorong. I took note of the Makassar airport, because we were scheduled to spend 6 hours there later in the trip.  Makassar, for the record, is also called Ujung Pandang.  The name changed around 1999 -- and West Papua's name changed from Irian Jaya in 2007.  I am not sure why names of places change so often in Indonesia, nor do I know why They Might Be Giants hasn't written a song about it.

On the Makassar- Sorong flight, they gave us food that I still have not identified.  It was in a styrofoam box, and it was chunks of some sort of vegetable.  It resembled potato, and it resembled tofu, but it was neither.  Its consistency was like raw dough.  Very chewy.  It was covered in peanut sauce and chicken, and actually tasted quite good.  I just never figured out what it was, and no one that I asked seemed to know.
Approaching our boat, The Raja Ampat Explorer with sister vessel TemuKira behind it.

Finally, at last, we were in Sorong, our final destination.  It had taken three days to get there.  It was sunny and hot when we got off the plane, and then we took a stuffy, crowded bus that took us to the tiny, hot terminal.  Porters were required, you could not pick up your luggage from the baggage carousel yourself.  A representative from the boat we were on was waiting for us at the airport, and we also met the other couple that would be joining us on our voyage.  Then, we were loaded into a taxi.

Taxis in Sorong - or maybe driving in Sorong - is a death-defying activity.  As far as I can tell, there are no driving laws.  They drive on the left, but they're certainly not opposed to crossing over and driving on the right when it's convenient.  Our cab driver beeped the horn a lot - I mean, beeped his horn at every single car that passed.  I was certain we were going to get into an accident in the 15 minute drive from the airport to the boat.  I had worried about the airlines, but honestly the cab was the most dangerous part of our trip.  Todd got out our video camera and took video, trying to ask me what I was thinking, but honestly I was thinking that I needed to focus on being ready to brace for impact.

We arrived in port, and then were loaded on to dingys and on to our boat, the Raja Ampat Explorer.  As we boarded the boat, it was approximately 11:00pm EST on January 23.  It took 53 hours to get there.

...and finally we were there, so in my next post you'll actually get to some of the meat of the story!!  Hooray!!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Linky-Loos

My favorite posts for the week!

Health and Fitness

  • Binge Eating Disorder:  This is the eating disorder that I've felt that I have had in the past.  Do I have it now?  No, I'm recovering, or over it, or whatever you are when you're not regularly binging.  Did I previously binge as described?  Yes.  This is an excellent article from Charlotte.

Other things

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Two Things...

  1. I want this pot.  I have fallen in love with it.  A while ago, I decided to start slowly purchasing all of the really, really nice kitchen equipment that I've always wanted but never felt like I could actually have.  This Le Creuset French Oven is next on my list.  I've never been able to justify one, since it's $300 and that seems like a lot for a kitchen pot.  But, I don't care.  I want it.  And I realize that there are cheaper ones.  Lodge makes a very nice one for a fraction of the cost.  I don't care.  I want the Le Creuset one.  I have been dreaming about it.  Yet, I still feel too guilty about spending that much to buy it.  I will though, soon.

  2. I am back to my normal running schedule, and I ran Tuesday at a pretty fast clip for my first run back.  I took it easier tonight and went at a slower pace.  I have 8 miles to do on Saturday, and I figured I should take it somewhat easy tonight so I'll be ready.  I was up late doing a software release for work last night and didn't get to bed until about 3am.  Plus, this is the longest I've taken off from running since 2007, and, yay!  It seems like I haven't really lost much and I should be back to pre-Indonesia fitness soon!  Yay!  Also, temps were in the 60s today, and I have to say that it was GREAT because I'm not used to the cold anymore...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Indonesia Part One: Maryland To Jakarta

This was the trip of a lifetime, but also quite the adventure.  There were a few people who clearly thought we were crazy to book the trip in the first place, and then even more crazy to still go through with it after the problems that we had with the bookings.  I'm sure, once I tell the story of the trip itself, many people are going to just think we've gone off the deep end.  It was all worth it in order to see some of the most pristine and lush reefs in the world, and to experience another country and culture that is totally unique to anything we'd ever seen.

I had starting packing New Years Day.  I didn't want to forget anything, and I didn't want to be rushing at the last minute.  I was pretty much ready to go almost three days before we left, so at least the day of departure wasn't stressful from that perspective.  It was 20 degrees when we left home, but I was determined not to bring a coat to the Equator.  We left our house at about noon on Friday, January 21, and headed to Virginia.

Our plane was leaving from Dulles Airport, and my Grandmother's house is about 15 minutes from there, so we were parking our car there while we were gone.  My sister, Shelly, works nearby and was coming to drive us from Grandma's to the airport.  It was a two hour drive, and when we arrived, we saw that my Dad, his wife, and my brother were there.  They had come to see us off, which was a pleasant surprise.  We sat with them and chit-chatted, enjoying some of Grandma's homemade plum jam, until Shelly arrived.

Shelly brought her car rather than her SUV, which was a problem.  We each had a suitcase for clothes and a suitcase for dive equipment, and Todd had two big bags of photography equipment.  I even recently upgraded my backpack to a super-large version.  It was a good thing my dad was there, becuase we ended up putting all of our luggage into his minivan and he and my brother drove us to Dulles (and Shelly headed home).  I shivered in the cold saying goodbye to them, happy that someone in our family was dropping us off.

Dulles was uneventful, which was great because I've had some not so great experiences at Dulles Airport.  Our first flight was on United to LAX.  We left at 5:40pm EST, and it was almost a 5 hour flight to LA.  Once we arrived in LA, we were already getting pretty tired.

We got off the plane in LAX, and we were changing airlines on to Cathay Pacific.  I had only been to LAX once, and it was ages ago, so I had no idea how to find my way around.  We were clearly in the United terminal.  All of the arrival and departure screens were listing United flights only, and no signs were directing us to anything related to international flights, Cathay Pacific, or any other airline for that matter.  Finally, we asked a United employee, and discovered that we needed to leave the airport to go to the international terminal, which ended up being quite a walk.  Don't airports normally have things like signs, trains and shuttles for this type of thing?  It was sort of bizarre.

I have to admit, once I stepped into the international terminal, I pretty much felt like I'd already gotten to Asia.  The US was back in the United Terminal, but in the international terminal, we stuck out like sore thumbs.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, was Asian.  China Air, Korean Air, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines... they all had flights leaving and we seemed to be the only ones heading away from home rather than toward it.  We found the Cathay Pacific counter and checked in for our flight, only to find that they had very strict rules about carry on bags.  Did I mention Todd's giant photography bags?  Well, they weighed about 15kg each, and Cathay Pacific only allowed 7kg of carry on luggage per person.  Usually in such situations, we work it out by paying a fee for overweight luggage.  Cathay Pacific was not interested in this, they didn't want us bringing the bags on the plane at all.  We carried on the discussion, trying to find some compromise (as checking the fragile photography equipment was not something we wanted to do).  In the meantime, I kept quitely kicking my super-large backpack away, hoping they wouldn't notice and ask me to weigh it.  I had no idea what it might weigh, but I had a feeling it was more than 7kg.

Finally, they agreed to gate check the bags, and the manager in charge agreed to personally place them on the plane.  When we arrived at the gate, Todd removed some things from the softer, more fragile bag, and put them in the super-large backpack, and negotiated to be able to check only his durable Pelican Case instead.  Meanwhile, I continued to pretend like by backpack was really, really light, doing things like slinging it around and acting like it was filled with cotton, or perhaps feathers.

At last, we boarded the plane for the 15 hour flight to Hong Kong.  We had paid to upgrade our seats to exit row, and I had the middle seat.  It wasn't as bad as it sounds.  By the time we were in the air, it was past 1:00am Eastern, and I can only partially remember taking off and the first meal service (dinner, Chinese food).  I had my Kindle and I had started reading The Hunger Games on the flight from Dulles, so I continued with that, alternating with watching the personal televisions and trying to sleep.  Still, I think I was only about 3 hours into the flight before I started to panic, feeling like I wasn't going to make it and that I needed to get off the plane.  This was futile, obviously, so I just sat and watched another episode of Modern Family.

I learned that I did the best with short television sitcoms on the flight.  At one point, maybe 10 hours in, I decided to watch Despicable Me, and 90 minutes was just too long to keep my attention.  I had trouble staying awake, yet couldn't sleep when I tried.  In all, I would say I got about 5 hours of sleep on the plane, in 60 minute intervals, with books, television, and general boredom/staring into space in between.  Todd had taken an Ambien and had about the same amount of luck.  Occasionally, a flight attendant would come by and give us water, and occasionally I would get up to go to the bathroom or to get water myself.  Once, they brought us cup o' noodles, which was by far the best cup of noodles I'd ever eaten.  I tried to walk around the plane some, which was interesting because you can see what other people are watching on the television (I'd chosen Cathay Pacific because of it's extensive entertainment options - over 30 movies).  People were also sleeping in some crazy positions, also entertaining (but not mentioned in the Cathay Pacific literature).

It was a relief when they served us breakfast (again Chinese food), and soon after we were on the ground in Hong Kong.  On the way in, we had to walk through this device to check us for fever, which was interesting.  It was only 5am when we landed, so nothing was open in the airport, but it did look pretty nice.  We had about 2 1/2 hours to kill there, but there was nothing to do but wait at the gate.  Thank goodness for free wifi.  I wanted something to drink, but realized that we didn't have any Hong Kong money.  I thankfully found a store that took US Dollars, but then the options were... limited.  I couldn't read any of the chinese writing, obviously, and the drinks were not normal things like Coca Cola (which I thought was everywhere - apparently not).  I finally settled on Green tea, which sounded fine, but tasted gross as it was VERY VERY strong, and unsweetened.  Food options included squid chips and brightly colored marshmallows, and we decided to wait to eat until we were on the plane to eat.

The next flight took us to Jakarta.  It was about 4 1/2 hours, and we enjoyed another chinese breakfast with the same options we'd had on the last flight.  I got the chicken and veggies instead of the omlette, as the omlette was disturbing and I couldn't face it again.

And then, after something like 30 hours, we were in Jakarta.  It was easier to get into Indonesia than I expected.  I thought we would be facing the same grilling about Todd's photography that we'd gotten going to Belize, but no.  They chose a few bags at random to put through the x-ray, and then we were out of the airport and facing about 150 people screaming things at us.  Do we need a ride?  Do we want a taxi?  Do we need a place to stay?  Are we, perhaps, Mr and Mrs Chang?  Do we want to change money?  The answer to the last question was sadly no, and it should have been a yes, since we wouldn't have an opportunity to change money again for a very, very long time.

I had arranged for a car to drive us from the airport to our hotel, and this was shockingly easy to find.  The driver even had water for us to drink, which was awesome.  It was Sunday, and therefore traffic was light.  Apparently, Jakarta traffic is usually so bad that the government requires a certain number of passengers, and drivers will even pay strangers to ride in the car with them so that they can get into the city.  Not so on Sunday, apparently.

We arrived at our hotel, the JW Marriott Jakarta, and before we even could pull up to the hotel, security guards walked around our car with mirrors checking underneath for bombs.  They opened the trunk.  They inspected everything.  This hotel has been bombed twice.  The last time was in July 2009, and that had been a car bomb.  We were cleared and allowed in, and then all of our bags were searched using a method far more thorough than the TSA.  Everything was opened and inspected, and when the guards found that our scuba gear included knives (a necessary piece of scuba equipment), we were asked to check our scuba gear with the bellhops for our stay.  This was fine, since we weren't diving in Jakarta anyway.

Entering the JW Marriott Jakarta
While I waited for Todd at security, I took some time to inspect the wedding signs that had been put up for a wedding that was taking place at the hotel that night.  This was the only photograph that I took in Jakarta, as we were jetlagged and even slightly delirious from the travel.  Apparently, sending signs made of flowers to couples getting married is a big thing in Indonesia, and we even saw the same thing again later when we saw a funeral in Bali.

I don't know if I've stayed in a truly 5 star hotel before, but this definitely was one.  A concierge was waiting for us in the lobby, and she walked us up to our room and took care of getting our other bags and making sure that we had a wakeup call in the morning, as well as arranging a car to take us back to the airport for the rest of our journey.  I don't know if this was normal, or if this was because we're Marriott rewards members (we were using points for this trip), or what.  The room had a bathtub and bath salts, so I took a luxourious bath and changed into shorts.  We set an alarm so that we could take a 45 minute nap, and I am not kidding, it felt like 2 minutes.  We were so incredibly tired, and it felt so good to strech out and actually sleep laying down, rather than sitting up.

After the nap, we decided to find our friends Matt and Ellen, who should have arrived.  We couldn't seem to get a hold of them in their room, but then Todd got a text that they were in the Executive Lounge.  We got into the elevator and started hitting 30, but we didn't have access to Floor 30 since we hadn't reserved Executive lounge privlidges (we could have, but it would have been more Marriott points, and thought it wasn't worth it).  The elevator started moving even though we hadn't successfully pressed the button, but when it opened, it opened on Floor 30, and standing there was Matt, who had gone back to the elevator to go to his room and try and find us.  Too funny!

Apparently, according to Matt and Ellen, we looked like zombies.  I definitely felt like a zombie, and I was wondering when we would feel normal again.  We'd been traveling for a day and a half, and we had a 5am flight in the morning.  Matt and Ellen not only fly business class, but also had spent a few days in Singapore, so they were over their jetlag.  We chatted with them for a while, then went down to the buffet in the hotel.  I had heard nothing but wonderful, glowing things about the buffet in the hotel, but I was so tired, I only kinda-sorta paid any attention to how good the food was.  I did avoid drinking or eating anything questionable such as raw vegetables, since I was really worried about getting traveler's diarrhea.

As you can imagine, sleep came easily when we were back in the room.  Sadly, it was only a short sleep since we were waking up at 3am in order to get back to the airport for our 5am flight.

More to come, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stats as of 31 January 2011

January 2010
75.5 miles
16 hours, 39 minutes
Avg Pace: 13:15/mile
Walt Disney World Marathon 2010: 5:52:40 (13:28/mile)

January 2011
35.7 miles -- 39.8 miles less than in 2009
7 hours, 31 minutes -- 9 hours, 8 minutes shorter than in 2009
Avg Pace: 12:38/mile -- 37 seconds faster than in 2009

Better late than never on the stats, huh?  Yay, it's me and I'm back from Indonesia!

I totally wanted to run while I was out of town, and the fact that I just took a 3 week vacation is the reason why I ran a whopping 40 miles less this year than last in January (not to mention that last year, I ran a marathon in January).  The running just didn't happen while I was away.  I had the clothes with me and everything.  I was first supposed to try to run in Jakarta, where we stayed overnight on our way to Raja Ampat (a full trip report is coming in what may be a months worth of posts).  I wasn't sure how I'd feel when I'd gotten to Jakarta after traveling 23 hours.  I thought I might be restless from sitting still on a plane and wanting to hit the treadmill in the Marriott.  In fact, I was wiped out and wanted nothing more than to sleep for the remaining 20 days of the trip.  So, no running in Jakarta.

We were then on a boat for 11 days, and then scuba diving in Bali.  I never mix running and scuba diving because it can be potentially dangerous, so the next place where I could have run was in Ubud.  Unfortunately, I got sick in Ubud, so the last thing I wanted to do was to run.  Even when I was feeling better, the roads were dangerous and really not meant for running.  We did see some cyclists in the mornings, but very few runners.  In the end, I did walk about 6 miles every day that I was in Ubud (even when I was sick), so I got plenty of exercise.  In fact, I lost about 3 pounds over the course of the trip.  Losing weight is a first for me on vacation - I typically gain about 5 pounds per 7 days of trip.

So, it's now been almost a month and I haven't run a step.  I got home Saturday night and didn't have the energy to face the treadmill on Sunday.  I'm not used to the cold anymore, so I'm not looking forward to running outside.  I'm supposed to run with my friends at my running store tonight, but I might go home and run there instead, so that my first run back can be alone.  I am still jetlagged - we are sleeping all kinds of crazy schedules - so, I'm sort of wiped out.  Part of me is REALLY dreading running, and part of me can't wait.  I'm ready to get this first run over with so that I will know whether I'm totally out of it or not.

We'll see.  Once I get over this hump, I'm back to training again, getting ready for the Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in May.

Stay tuned for more Indonesia goodness!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Indonesia Saga

I haven't talked about my planning of my Indonesia trip very much. There are a lot of reasons for this - I wanted to keep the travel dates private, I didn't know what to say, and I had other things to write about.  This trip is a huge deal to us.  We planned it over the course of 18 months.  Things didn't exactly go to plan, so I thought I'd share what we have been going through that I haven't really written about until now.

Summer 2009
The idea for the trip began the day after our wedding in July 2009.  Our witnesses for our wedding, Matt and Ellen, were discussing this incredible liveaboard (scuba diving boat that you stay on) boat that they were planning to travel on in Indonesia.  Matt was very excited, and Todd caught on to the excitement.  Todd asked me if I wanted to go.  The trip was to Raja Ampat, Indonesia, which I had never even heard of.  I didn't think that we could afford it, and I worried about the fact that we wouldn't be able to go anywhere else.  Where would we get the money?  Where would we get the vacation time?

Matt showed me the website for the Raja Ampat boat, called the Archipelago Adventurer II.  We went home from Little Cayman still thinking about it and pondering if we'd be able to go there.  I investigated and saw the price and the amount of vacation we'd need - the liveaboard trip itself was 10 days long, and it would take 2 days to get there, and 2 days to get home.  That would mean that we would need a minimum 14 days of vacation.  Yikes.

We continued thinking about it.  Ten days after we arrived home from Little Cayman, the JW Marriott in Jakarta was bombed.  We didn't let this bother us too much, since even if we went on the trip, we were not going to be near Jakarta.

Then, around the end of July, we watched the documentary Equator: Reefs of Riches.  Oh my goodness.  This documentary focused on Raja Ampat specifically and made it look amazing.  We began seriously thinking of how we were going to manage going on this trip, and finally made the commitment to book in mid-August.  Only a week later, my dad had a series of heart attacks and open heart surgery, and we began seriously thinking about trip insurance...

Raja Ampat
The reason why this trip is so special is that it is taking us to the Raja Ampat Islands in Indonesia.  First of all, Indonesia itself is just a terrific place to dive, but Raja Ampat in particular is absolutely incredible.  Raja Ampat means The Four Kings and is made up of over 1500 islands.  Raja Ampat includes the most diverse coral reefs in the world, and is relatively new to the scuba diving world.  We were potentially going to have the ability to dive on dive sites that had never been dove by anyone before.  We might see a species that is totally undiscovered.  Plus, the place is just phenomenally beautiful.

We were looking forward to seeing Pacific fish that we'd never seen before, tons of soft coral, sharks, and more.  This included Wobbegongs, which I wasn't particular familiar with and had never heard of.  In general, though, it was just going to be a phenomenal trip.  We were thrilled, excited and eager to get on our way.

Still, at the time that we booked, we were an incredible 17 months away from actually going.  Friends and family thought we were nuts.  Co-workers were amazed that we were asking for time off this far in advance.  We seemed crazy.  Conversations went something like this:

Friend: How are things?  What have you been up to?
Kim: Oh, well, we're planning a trip to Indonesia.
Friend: WHY?  Why in the world would you go there?
Kim: Excellent diving.  Best in the world.
(blank stare from Friend)

Fall 2009
There wasn't much that we could do after we paid our initial deposit for the Archipelago Adventurer II.  I had found some trip reports from other divers who had gone on the same boat, but Todd refused to look at them because he was afraid it would make him too excited about the trip when it was still over a year away.

We gave some thought to extending the trip, and finally decided on spending an extra week in Indonesia so that we could see the Island of Bali.  I had known others who had visited Bali, and it truly looked spectacular.  We thought it would be nice to have some additional time to get over our jet lag before meeting Matt and Ellen in Sorong (where the Adventurer II was docked).  I began looking at resorts and scuba diving on Bali. There is so much to see in Bali!!!

Winter 2009/2010
In January, we were officially one year away from our trip.  I continued to plan the Bali portion, and I began talking to our travel agent about airfare and Bali.  Little else went on, except eager anticipation of planning the rest of the trip...

Spring 2010
Finally, in March we were only 11 months away from our return trip.  The travel agent let us know that the best course of action to add on Bali would be to go to Bali at the end of our trip rather than the beginning.  This was still a great idea, since it would allow us to rest and relax some after our Raja Ampat adventure.  We worked out travel plans, and booked the airfare.

The downside was that the best route to get to Sorong was going to be via Jakarta.  That's right, the city that we were happy to not be visiting because of the recent bout of terrorism was now part of our itinerary.  The upside was that Hong Kong also became part of our itinerary, and we planned a stop over there on our way home.

I planned our hotels and found that best place to stay for our one night in Jakarta was going to be the JW Marriott.  So, we would be staying in the same hotel that was bombed in 2009.  (Commence freak out from my mom).

We planned to visit Tulamben for diving while we were in Bali, followed by a relaxing few days in Ubud (which some of you might know from Eat, Pray, Love).  Plan of action was set.  Hotels were booked.  With the exception of the domestic Indonesian airline tickets (which must be booked less than 90 days in advance), our trip was planned.

Summer 2010
July found us back in Little Cayman again with Matt and Ellen.  We had an excellent week on the island, and it was funny to hug them at the end of the trip while saying, "See you in Jakarta!"  We were getting so excited.  Everything seemed wonderful.  Todd was starting to look at some of the trip reports from the Archipelago Adventurer II, and I'd found some other reports from Villa Markisa, where we'd be diving in Tulamben.  We made plans about equipment.  We bought new dive computers.  We tried to expose ourselves to more challenging dive conditions so we'd be ready for the currents that we were sure we'd find in Indonesia.  Things were good.

Fall 2010
The problems started the end of October.  Although, for me it was the following week - the first week of November.  I was at work, daydreaming a bit about our upcoming Indonesia trip.  It was now less than 90 days away.  I was looking for more photos or trip reports and instead I came across a post on Scubaboard entitled "Adventurer 2 liveaboard accident (no injuries)"

Uh oh.

It is with a heavy sense of disappointment that I must tell you of an incident which occurred with the Archipelago Adventurer II in Raja Ampat on the 26th October 2010.

At 8pm in poor conditions close to Kri Island, the Adventurer II vessel sat at anchor after a night dive, due to a combination of factors to do with weather and current, the vessel dragged the anchor and struck the reef stern first, sustaining damage to the driveshaft and propeller. The vessel was upright, but due to the propeller damage it proved impossible to dislodge her despite our efforts. As this became clear, the guests from our charter disembarked and have been graciously assisted by the team at Papua Diving, to whom we are very grateful. All guests and crew departed the vessel without incident, along with their belongings everyone remains safe and the group are continuing their dive adventure in Raja Ampat.

Currently we are assessing the damage to the Archipelago Adventurer II, as a result of the damage to the driveshaft, water did enter the engine room, however the vessel has been towed back to port and will enter dry dock to repair any issues caused by the impact. Due to extensive insurance, the machinery will be replaced as necessary and Archipelago will cruise the waters of Indonesia again as soon as possible. At this time however, we don’t know the extent of the damage to the machinery or the vessel itself until we enter dry dock for a comprehensive inspection and assessment of the damage.

As a result of the uncertainty, and due to our desire to continue providing our divers with a quality experience in Indonesia for the same itineraries, timeframes and durations already agreed with our groups and individuals, we have chartered another vessel for the duration of the repair until we can cruise once more with the Archipelago. The dive crew, chef and service team from the Adventurer II will board the new vessel and will provide our trademark service, diving and food. We will utilize our custom built aluminum tenders too. We do realize this is not ideal, however after such an incident, we are working as quickly as possible to provide the best possible solution for our divers.
As you might imagine, I started to panic a little.  At least things sounded under control.  I contacted our friend Matt, our travel agent and the Archipelago Fleet themselves.  All of them assured me that things would be fine, and that there was a substitute boat, Sea Safari III.  Or, if things went as hoped and planned, we would be on the Archipelago Adventurer II as planned...

We continued on with our planning.  We were disappointed that we might not be on the boat that we had intended, but we assumed things were going along fine.  I kept in touch with my travel agent about when the domestic Indonesian airline tickets would finally become available.  Apparently these things happen very last minute.

I finally called my travel agent in early December to find out about the tickets.

Travel Agent: Well, they have asked me to hold off on ordering those tickets because there might be a problem with the boat.
Kim: Wait, what kind of problem?
Travel Agent:  Well, the substitute boat...  It may have hit a reef also.

Hard to believe, but true.  We weren't sure what exactly was going for several more days, as communication between us in the states and those in Indonesia was somewhat spotty and hard to get.  Basically, when you send an email to Indonesia, you have to sit and wait a good 12-14 hours before you hear back because our daytime is their nighttime.  My travel agent was on the west coast, too, which didn't help, so she wasn't in the office until 3 hours after me.

We finally heard from the Archipelago Fleet almost a week later, on December 13.  They let us know that they were going out of business as of December 20...

Uh oh.
As most will know, the Archipelago Adventurer II vessel was damaged during the storm in October 2010. In order to meet commitments to guests and valued agents, at considerable expense Archipelago chartered, relocated and fitted out another vessel, the Sea Safari III, to operate cruises while the necessary repairs for the Archipelago vessel were assessed and completed. Our service, chef and dive crew were stationed on board, the captain and officers were from Sea Safari and, although the facility was not the Archipelago Adventurer, divers enjoyed the diving, food and service of our team on board, and were happy to accept partial refunds for the lower quality facility. To those understanding and patient divers, I am very grateful.

Unfortunately, on 5 December 2010, Sea Safari III was also involved in an accident and was grounded in Raja Ampat. All guests and crew disembarked safely, but the Sea Safari vessel was lost and has since been destroyed in a fire.

This second incident proved to be too much and Archipelago has been forced to cease operations. Regardless of previous successes, it is clear that no company can survive successive disasters such as this. In a matter of days, the company went from having significant cash reserves and good cashflow to being on the verge of bankruptcy. The cost to charter the replacement vessel and relocate it, to purchase new compressors, to pay for guests replacement diving and accommodations, in addition to other significant recovery payments made in response to the Archipelago accident, wiped out the company's ability to respond effectively when the Sea Safari incident happened. At this time there is no money for Archipelago to charter a new vessel and continue operations. The shareholders and Board of Directors in Jakarta have no other choice but to cease operations.
Oh boy.

So, there we were, five weeks before our trip and no boat.  Our itinerary went like this:  Go to Jakarta.  11 days later, there will be a hotel reservation in Bali.  Not good.

We scrambled and tried figuring out what to do.  I honestly don't know what we would have done without our travel agent.  A week after we found out about the incident, after much back and forth, we had some solutions.

I had flat out rejected an idea of Matt's to go on another boat in the Lembeh Strait/North Sulawesi region of Indonesia instead.  Even though that is spectacular diving, it wasn't what I had been daydreaming about for many months.  We did find two other boats who might be willing to help us out.  One was going to change its dates by two days, and was not nearly as nice as the AAII.  The other was a brand new liveaboard willing to create a trip just for us, but it would only sail with 8 passengers.  We were only 4 passengers.

And so, the waiting game continued as we waited for our travel agent to contact the other Archipelago passengers who were booked on our charter to see if they would want to go on the other boat.  We waited, and kept putting off the one boat that wanted an answer from us.  Finally, the answer came - the boat we wanted had a broken watermaker and it would not be ready to sail in time for our dates.

And so, we were booked on the Raja Ampat Explorer, which was gracious enough to move their entire itinerary to our dates.  And so, we went.

I've been so nervous about this trip.  The planning has been a roller coaster of emotions, like no other trip before it.  I don't truly know what to expect, but hopefully I've had a great time.  I'm sure you'll know soon, as I should hopefully start posting real-time again within the next day or two.  (This post was completed January 14)
The Raja Ampat Explorer

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday Linky-Loos: Indonesia Video Edition

Saturday Linky-Loos has been on hiatus for a few weeks and there is a very simple reason why - I've been away.  Where have I been away to?  Well, I've been on the trip of a lifetime in Indonesia.  I'm writing this post before we left, but I can tell you that on our 21-day trip, we were planning to visit Jakarta, the beautiful dive destination of Raja Ampat, the island of Bali, and Hong Kong.  We started planning this trip right after our wedding, in July 2009 (we first thought of going, in fact, the day after our wedding).  So, it's been a long time coming.

This is our Paradise Falls!!  We've been saving and planning and trying to make this trip happen for 18 months now.  Before that, we'd been dreaming of a trip to scuba dive in the South Pacific for years.  I've been both excited and incredibly intimidated about this trip.  Stay tuned, in fact, for tomorrows post, where I will talk about the enormous amount of emotional energy that has gone into resolving some of the problems that we've had planning this trip.  It's been crazy!!!!!

I should be back to blogging real-time this week (at least some short posts, I hope).  Having never been away for more than 14 days, and having never gone this crazy-far away from home, I'm not really sure what I'm going to be feeling like when I arrive back in Maryland.  I will be home today (after a nearly 20 hour trip home from Hong Kong, which is at least a little better than the 23 hours that it took to get to Jakarta).  

Anyway, here are some interesting videos about Indonesia that I've collected in my 18 months of trip planning:
  • I tried to find just one video that sums up Raja Ampat and Indonesia, and I found this one, called R4 Over and Under (Raja Ampat means 4 Kings):
  • The above video was done by aquasapiens56, and they have some terrific videos out on YouTube.  If you liked it, also check out this one, which is much longer but shows a ton of Raja Ampat footage.
  • One Year Traveling in Indonesia in Four Minutes:  I became somewhat obsessed with this video in the last month or two.
  • Into the Drink: Indonesia: If you've never seen Into the Drink, it's a show similar to Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, except instead of following a chef, you're following a Dive Master.  It's hard to find actually airing, though.  This is the very first episode, although it was filmed in a different part of Indonesia than I visited.  I love the intro to this episode though:
    You've been lied to. I've been lied to. We've all been lied to about a country that is so full of beauty and love. Bruce Coburn once sang that he'd seen the face of hope among the hopeless. In Indonesia, I saw the face of happiness among the hopeful. I don't care who you are, never give me your opinion of this country again until you go see it for yourself. Need a reason to ignore the evening news and book your ticket? I can give you 17,000. So, get on it. Be blessed and be a blessing. Be the light and be illuminated. Take away wisdom and leave the people you meet wiser for having met you.
  • No Reservations: Indonesia: Speaking of Anthony Bourdain... His Indonesia episode covers Jakarta (where we were January 23/24) and Bali (where we spent a week). He talks a lot about Expats in Indonesia, something I'll have to consider after I've been there. (Part two, Part three, Part four, Part Five)
  • And finally....  Paradise Falls  This is us - down to the savings account that we use to save for vacations.  (and I should note -- I can't make it through Up without crying, even though I've seen it like 25 times.  And not even just at the beginning -- I cry all over the place in that movie)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Todd & Me

Back in October, I asked around for some topics to post on my blog and some of you asked me some great questions!  I'm answering them when I can, and here is the next one.  It comes from Jill:
You might have talked about this before, but how did you and Todd meet?
Todd & Me, September 2006 (at the Maryland Wine Festival)
Todd and I met at work.  In fact, he was one of my mentors as a Java Developer.  We worked together first years and years ago at a financial company where I was an intern during college.  I later took a full time job there as well.  Todd was in IT there as well, but I didn't really know him.  I knew of him, but I didn't talk to him all that much.  I knew his name and face, and we'd talked a few times (we went to the same college), so that was about it.  When I left that company, I probably would have said I'd never see or work with him again, if you'd have asked me.

In my next job, I worked with a lot of people who had left the financial company, and had been brought from there by some managers who had gone there to work.  Todd was brought in to work there about a year or so after I was.  We were co-workers and friends, and that is where we got to know one another.

My development group there was really awesome.  We were pretty close friends, and frequently went out to lunch and did things together.  It was pretty fun for a while, although it didn't stay that way.  So, since Todd and I already were friends before we started dating, it's difficult to pinpoint when exactly we went from friends to more than friends.  He was my date for my 10 year high school reunion in 2006, so I consider that to be our first "date," but who knows.

I always like to say that I really only started dating Todd because I wanted to get closer to his cat.  This is totally true.  The Bug is irresistible.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rerun: George Foreman Grill SUCKS!

Since I'm in quite a busy time with things going on, I'm posting a host of old posts that posted on my blog ages ago.  Here is today's selection:  This post originally posted on April 22, 2005 back when my readers were mostly people who knew me.  My writing style sucked, so I have edited it a tad for readability for those who don't know me.  Other than that, it's mostly the same.  This post happens to be one of my most popular posts of all time, in terms of hits.

I have decided that I am the only person on the planet that hates the George Foreman Grill. People are constantly talking about them and telling me how great they are. These same people make sure that I have one, or else my life would be sincerely lacking.

Well, I have one. I hate it. I think it is the most overrated kitchen appliance that I have ever owned (I also hate my waffle iron, so maybe that one beats it by just a hair). For starters, I have the oldest style grill. It's the small one that doesn't have a bun warmer or removable plates (which I see they have now). First of all, that "grease" that is dripping off of the food is not fat, it's the juice. That's the stuff that makes it nice and tender. Sure, even on an outdoor grill, you're going to get a certain amount of drippage of juices/grease, but the GFG purposely squishes the meat down so that it squeezes the juices out!!!! As a result, the chicken breasts that we had tonight were dry like they always are.

Secondly, the grooves in the top aren't as deep as the grooves on the bottom. So, the top of the meat is always hard and overbrowned. You can't control temperature, at least on my model - it's hot or off - so I end up with crispy top. And, people who say you can't burn something on the GFG or sorely mistaken. You can burn just the top or outside and leave the inside raw. I've done it - this is why I no longer cook chicken with bones on the GFG. Near the bone, the chicken is raw with a nice crusty brown on the outside.

I could probably live with this were it not for the cleaning. Cleaning this stupid thing is absolutely ridiculous. When you buy one, they give you this little comb thing that you're supposed to run down it to get the glop off of it. That sucker is useless and I frankly have no idea where ours is. I end up scrubbing the stupid thing with a sponge - by the time I've done this, I could have used a broiler pan. Even with the sponge, it's hard to get in between the really deep grooves at the bottom where it holds the meat on. I always feel like the GFG has a constant BBQ sauce smell no matter what I do - I never ever feel like I truly got it clean. Tonight, I tried lining the stupid thing with foil, which actually worked pretty well on the top, but the foil didn't quite cover the bottom and I ended up having to scrub parts of it anyway. Still, it was a bit more bearable.

Finally, and I know I'm the only person that's ever done this. It had gotten to the point where I don't mention that this happend to me because people laugh. I've tried to cook things on the grill and they just slide off onto the counter. I end up having to hold them with a fork while I throw the lid down to hold the chicken in place. Someone please tell me if this has happend to you so that I won't feel like such a freak.

Anyway, despite the fact that I hate it, I do use my GFG (just not for steak, which would ruin them, and not for anything with bones). Why do I use it? Well, I avoid it at all costs. Tonight, though, it was dark by the time I was making dinner and it was also raining. I didn't really want to go outside to use the grill in the rain with a flashlight. The broiler was also not an option. Sorry, but I tend to set off the smoke alarm when I broil things, so I avoid that as well. So, I sucked it up and used the stupid GFG. But I didn't enjoy it.

Note from 2011:  Since I wrote this post, I gave my George Foreman Grill away to someone who didn't really know how to cook.  It worked for him, I guess.  I haven't missed my George Foreman Grill for even a minute.  I replaced it with a Delonghi BG24 Perfecto Indoor Grill, which has met my indoor grilling needs perfectly and is a nearly perfect substitute for the outdoor grill for days when it's cold, rainy or windy.  I've cooked just about everything on the Delonghi, from steaks to chicken to fish and have never had a problem.  For the record, I'm also much better with the broiler now...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Galloway Questions Answered!

A couple of months ago, I posted about My Galloway Roots, and some questions were asked about the Galloway method.  I wanted to respond to some of those questions, finally.

K asked:
How do you keep track of your intervals while running? Do you use a watch timer to alert you? Or do you have a garmin?

I actually have an old, old watch.  It's a Timex Ironman that I purchased right before the Marine Corps Marathon in 2007.  The one pictured at the left isn't the watch I have, since mine has long been discontinued and I'm too lazy to get up and go take a photo of my watch.

My watch has an interval mode that allows me to set it to beep at the intervals that I select.  I can basically do any range that I want, and it makes it easy.  Garmins do have interval timers as well, and the Gymboss (reviewed here last week) is also an option.

A few big things that I look for in a running watch:

  • It must be full-sized (mens).  I can't stand the tiny size of women's running watches.  My watch has a nice, large face and I love that.
  • It must have a separate chrono and interval timer setting.  Meaning, if I want to change the intervals I'm doing in the middle of a run, I don't want to have to stop my run timer.  
  • It must be water resistant.
  • Nice, but not a must-have: I picked out my current model because it has a race goal setting.  This allows me to choose a race distance in either miles or kilometers, and a target time.  At each mile, it will then tell me how far off from my target time I am during my current race.
I don't really feel that I need a Garmin, and I tend to keep things a long time.  I've replaced the batteries in my watch three times now and it's still going.  It's all I need!

i'm assuming (because i really don't know much about galloway) that you use the same running/walking principles in races as training? do you modify the ratio for different distances?

I actually train at either a 1:30 and 1 interval (meaning 1 minute and 30 seconds of running and one minute of walking) or a 2:1 interval.  I run races of 8 miles and above at a 1:1 interval, though.  Believe it or not, I go faster at a 1:1 interval than a 1:30 and 1 interval, but I some kind of sprint doing 1:1s for the shorter distances.  I tend to be all over the place though - I do 45 and 30s for 5Ks.  I did my last 10K at a 1:30 and 30 interval.  It all depends on the length of my race and the pace that I wish to maintain.

BUT - I'm a slow runner.  My fastest mile time is 9:48, and that's the pace that many of you run your marathons.  Most of the much faster runners that I know run at either a 4:1 pace, a 5:1 pace, or run at each mile marker.  What you choose is unique to you, although Jeff does have a lot of guidelines that he uses.

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