Magical Blue Flames of Kawah Ijen

A Beautiful and Dangerous Landscape

Sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is dominated by volcanos. These volcanos are a defining feature of the country. As we traveled around Indonesia, volcanos were not hard to spot. On the island of Java, there was one volcano in particular that stood out to us for its beauty and danger, Kawah Ijen. One of the more extraordinary sights in Java. The crater of Kawah Ijen is home to three amazing things we wanted to see up close: blue flames, sulfur mining, and a beautiful turquoise volcanic crater lake. It is a dangerous place to visit but we decided the adventure was worth the risk. A hike up the mountain and deep down into the crater is the highlight of any visit.

Kawah Ijen danger crater
Kawah Ijen during sunrise

Kawah Ijen danger crater
A warning sign of the dangerous Ijen caldera

Getting to the Crater

In order to see blue flames, we had to get an early 1 am start for the hike up to the crater. Our guesthouse helped us book a car to take us to Ijen since we were not part of a tour group. Arriving at the trailhead, we paid our entrance fee (15,000 IDR) and began our hike up the mountain under the stars. The 4 km trek starts off at a steep climb for about the first 1 km but then seemed to level off after that. Needing to take several breaks, we were glad got an early start. Getting to the flames required us to climb for about two hours to reach the rim of the crater. Followed by a 45-minute hike down to the bank of the crater lake.

Once we got to the top of the crater and could see the blue flames in the distance. Our excitement rose and we eagerly made our way down into the crater. Scrambling on boulders as we made our way down we came across numerous sulfur miners returning from the bottom of the crater carrying baskets of their sulfur loot. Some of these sulfur miners stopped to show us their beautifully carved sulfur keepsakes which can be used as soap or for decor.

Kawah Ijen warning crater
We decided to ignore the sign.

Kawah Ijen trail crater
The descent down into the crater scrambling through boulders in near darkness

Electric Blue Flames of Sulfuric Gas

What drew us to Ijen was the electric-blue fire that can be seen in the crater at night. The glow is not really from a fire but from the combustion of sulfuric gas. Emerging from cracks at both high pressure and at temperatures up to 1,112°F (600°C). Sulfuric gasses ignite on contact with air resulting in flames that can be as high as 16 feet. Even though the flames burn day and night, they are only visible during darkness.

What makes seeing these flames up close so dangerous is the toxic gas, including sulfur dioxide that rises from vents in the crater. It is advisable to wear a gas mask if you are going to see the flames up close. We didn’t bring any and it was not the smartest thing we did. We were lucky that the gas was blowing away from us most of the time. But when the wind changed direction and the gas surrounded us, it was almost impossible to breathe even with a scarf as a makeshift mask.

If you are going to go down in the crater to get up close to the blue flames:

  • Wear a respirator or protective face mask. The more effective it filters the air the better off you will be. When we were hiking down into the crater there were a couple of visitors who were affected by the sulfur dioxide gas. We were lucky but I wouldn’t take the chance again.
  • Bring some tiger balm, balm or nasal inhaler with menthol notes to sniff when you feel uncomfortable.
  • You will be scrambling over rocks so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and you may even consider gloves to help.
  • Use a headlamp to keep your hands free.

Kawah Ijen blue flames
A river of blue flames in the crater of Kawah Ijen

Kawah Ijen flames
Blue flames soaring high in the crater of Kawah Ijen

Kawah Ijen flames
Blue flames in the crater of Kawah Ijen

Kawah Ijen blue flames and sulfur
Sulfur dioxide gas and blue flames from a distance

Sulfur Mining

One of more interesting activities taking place in the crater of Kawah Ijen is sulfur mining. For over 40 years sulfur has been mined from the crater of Kawah Ijen in conditions that can be described as hellish. Sulfur deposits form as the sulfuric gasses cool. These cooling gasses condense into liquid sulfur that eventually solidifies. Near the edge of the lake, ceramic pipes have been installed on an active vent that helps to speed up the formation of the sulfur. These pipes route the gasses down the vent’s sloping mound where the liquid sulfur drips from the pipes to form hard sulfur mats after solidifying. Sulfur is a versatile element which is most often turned into sulfuric acid. This is used in a variety of products such as fertilizers, pesticides, beauty products, detergents and cleaners, preservatives, gunpowder, steel, and rubber.

Kawah Ijen sulfur tubes
Liquid Sulfur Drips Out of the Tubes

Kawah Ijen sulfur
Sulfur in the crater of Ijen volcano. Two baskets of mined sulfur are visible (very small) in the lower left.

Hard Work

Miners break up the sulfur mats and haul the chunks of sulfur out of the crater in baskets they carry on their shoulders. Carrying loads of 60 to 80 kilos once a day or twice a day they earn 900-1000 Indonesian Rupiah per kilo for about $5 a basket or $10 a day. In order to get paid, miners have to haul their loads to the nearby Paltuding Valley. This means they not only do they have to haul their loads up and out of the crater but then they carry them 3 km down the mountain road.

While hiking down into the crater we met a very friendly miner (pictured below) who sold us a beautifully carved sulfur flower. We were happy to have purchased such a unique item from him after talking to him about the difficult job he had. As we were making our way up towards the crater rim he was heading down on his third round-trip journey. He intended on going back a few more times. It is extremely hard work. Miners don’t always have the right protective equipment and are underpaid for their hard labor. Selling tourists souvenirs helps to supplement their small wages.

Kawah Ijen sulfur basket
A basket of sulfur is waiting to be hauled out of Ijen crater and then down the mountain

Kawah Ijen sulfur basket
The sulfur miner we met on the trail several times

Kawah Ijen sulfur souvenier
Carved sulfur we bought from the miner. We ended up having to leave behind in another country because it broke.

Kawah Ijen: World’s Largest Hydrochloric Lake

Kawah Ijen Crater Lake is the world’s largest body of water filled with hydrochloric acid. This acid gives the 1 km wide lake a turquoise color and results in a pH of almost 0. Sitting at an elevation of 2148 meters above sea level it is a beautiful site to see. Hydrogen chloride gas emitted from the volcano reacts with the water of the lake to form highly condensed hydrochloric acid.

Kawah Ijen
Gasses rise above the green hydrochloric lake in the caldera of Kawah Ijen

Witnessing an Erupting Volcano

One volcano, Mount Raung, located directly across from Kawah Ijen spewed volcanic ash cloud that shut down airports and left thousands stranded from delayed flights out of Bali. From the top of the crater rim, we got a clear view of nature at work.

Kawah Ijen
Kawah Ijen’s erupting neighbor, Gunung Ruang. The same volcano that spewed ash for a week and delaying flights from Bali leaving almost 200,000 people stranded.

Kawah Ijen
Up above the clouds on Kawah Ijen

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Arabika Homestay which is on a coffee plantation. They were able to book us a car and driver to take us to Kawah Ijen. If you want to stay close to Kawah Ijen there are not many options. Another nearby option is the Catimore Guesthouse which also on a coffee plantation.

Kawah Ijen arabica guesthouse
Arabika Guesthouse

Kawah Ijen arabica guesthouse
Kawah Ijen viewed from Arabika Guesthouse

How to Get to Kawah Ijen

With the right guide, it can be easy to go independent of a tour group. We followed this detailed blog post to guide us. Coming from the island of Flores we flew to Bali and traveled overland on a bemo bus from Denpasar to Gilimanuk, then took a ferry to Java. Once we arrived at Banyuwagi on Java, we hired a bemo bus to take us up the guesthouse. We stopped at Catimore guesthouse first but it was booked up so we then went over to Arabika. Our plan was to continue on to Bondowoso and then Cemoro Lawang to see Mt. Bromo. But traveling on the largest holiday celebrated throughout Indonesia posed a challenge and altered our plans slightly.

Be Aware of Holidays

What we didn’t realize was that traveling during the Eid al-Fitr holiday would change our plans. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and many Indonesians travel back to their hometowns. Due to Eid al-Fitr, we were informed by our guesthouse that the normal public transit to Bondowoso would not be running for a couple of days. We hooked up with three French travelers who also needed a ride. Together we managed to find a ride back to Banyuwangi thanks to the guesthouse manager. Once our driver arrived, we crammed into his SUV with one person sitting in the trunk surrounded by all of our backpacks. It was quite an adventure but one of the most memorable parts of our journey. From Banyuwangi we took a train to Surabaya so we could get to our next destination, Mt. Bromo.

If you are traveling during Eid al-Fitr it is wise to book tickets ahead of time. Train and air transportation tend to sell out. We were able to get tickets to Surabaya easily. Our French friend who was traveling to Mt Bromo via Jember had to change his plans and go to Surabaya with us. He would have had to wait two weeks if he wanted to go to Jember.

Ghosts of War: Manzanar National Historic Site

Manzanar War Relocation Center

Welcome to Manzanar
Entrance sign to the Manzanar War Relocation Center

After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1942, American politicians and military leaders were worried about the population of Japanese that lived on the West Coast of the United States. They were worried that they may provide assistance to the Imperial Japanese Navy to conduct further attacks on America. So on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, allowing for the designation of military areas to exclude “any or all persons” from such areas. This was the government’s solution to the “Japanese Problem” on the West Coast. The result of this order was the forced relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans to 10 concentration camps located inland, keeping them away from the West Coast. Nearly two-thirds of those forced to relocate were native-born American citizens. One of these camps was the Manzanar War Relocation Center located in Owens Valley area of California on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Manzanar was a former farm town between the towns of Lone Pine and Independence.

Store sign
Sign on the front of a Japanese-owned store

While in high school I learned about this episode of American history when my class read the book “Farewell To Manzanar” by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. A story of her family’s internment at the Manzanar concentration camp. Having been forced to relocate to the camp from their Terminal Island home, incarceration of the family ultimately drove them apart. Reading about the conditions her family had to live in and the indignities that they suffered left a lasting impression on me. When most people think of people being put in camps during World War II, they don’t think about Japanese Americans. It is a part of California history and WWII history that is not often talked about. It is even a part of San Francisco Bay Area history that is not really discussed. The site of the Tamforan mall in San Bruno, a race track at the time, was one of 17 “civilian assembly centers” where Japanese were internees before being sent to the permanent “relocation centers.” 180 barracks were converted from the horse stalls and more than 8,000 people were held there between April 28 to October 13, 1942. Today a plaque outside the mall commemorates this episode of the sites history. A part of our history that hopefully will never be repeated.

Manzanar National Historic Site

Manzanar guard building
Guard building at entrance of Manzanar War Relocation Center

Identified as the best-preserved camp site, Manzanar was designated a National Historic Site on March 3, 1992. During my second visit to Death Valley, I made a point of visiting Manzanar as a side trip. This way I could better understand that period in our history. A couple of years later I took May there on our first trip to Death Valley together. It was an experience that left an impression on her also since she knew little of that part of history. We both were particularly interested in the story of Toyo Miyatake who smuggled a camera lens into the camp and constructed a camera body from wood. The pictures he secretly took at the camp are among the relatively few that show the plight of the U.S. citizen inmates. He befriended Ansel Adams when he visited Manzanar to take pictures for the government.

The camp was hastily constructed with first internees actually helping to construct the buildings.  Laid out into 36 blocks of residential barracks, each block would contain a communal mess hall, laundry room, recreation hall, an ironing room, and a heating oil storage tank. Manzanar was set up to function like a normal town with a post office, cooperative store, camp newspaper, churches, along with other shops to help the internees live a normal life. School facilities were established and the high school auditorium was the site of community events. When the high school would play games against the local high schools, they would always be the home team since they could not leave the camp. Manzanar had most of the necessary amenities that one would expect to find in most American cities, including a cemetery. An additional 34 blocks were constructed for staff housing, camp administration offices, two warehouses, a garage, a camp hospital, and 24 firebreaks.

Manzanar layout
Manzanar layout

Life at Manzanar

Manzanar barrack
Manzanar barrack

Each barrack was20-foot (6.1 m) by 100-foot (30 m), with each family living in a single 20-foot (6.1 m) by 25-foot (7.6 m) “apartment” in the barracks. During the cold winters, the wind would blow through every crack of the poorly constructed barracks. Each apartment was separated by partitions with no ceilings. The lack of ceilings on the partitions eliminated any privacy they wished to have. These conditions created a lot of stress on the families forced to live there. It was the communal men’s and women’s latrines that provided the greatest amount of indignity as they had no partitions. Life was not easy at the camp, internees had to wait in one line after another for meals, at latrines, and at the laundry room. Through these hardships, the people at Manzanar developed a community, forming cooperatives that operated various services, such as the camp newspaper, beauty and barber shops, shoe repair, and more.

Manzanar barrack inside
Inside of a reconstructed Manzanar barrack

To make life seem as normal as possible, each block established a garden. This helped to bring beauty and hope to the desolate landscape while improving their quality of life. More than 100 gardens were constructed. Some just simple rock formations, others were more elaborate with ponds and waterfalls. The meals at Manzanar consisted of hot rice and vegetables. Since meat was scarce due to rationing, a chicken ranch and hog farm were started in 1944 to add meat supplements to internees diets. Existing fruit orchards were cultivated and they even made their own soy sauce and tofu. Life was made more livable through recreation. A nine-hole golf course was created and internees participated in many sports, including baseball, football, and martial arts.

Manzanar home plate
Home plate from the baseball field at Manzanar

Manzanar garden
Manzanar Gardens

As hard as they tried, it was not easy living behind barb wire. On Dec 5-6 1942 an event occurred known as the Manzanar Riot. Shortages of meat and sugar were rumored to be the result black marketing by camp administrators. Tensions built between supporters of the Japanese American Citizens League and a group of internees who were educated in Japan. When JACL leader Feed Tayama was beaten by six masked men, Henry Ueno who was the leader of Kitchen Workers Union was arrested and removed from Manzanar. This led to protests by 3,000 to 4,000 internees outside of the administration area. They were able to negotiate Ueno’s return to the Manzanar jail which caused several hundred to protest his return. In an attempt to disperse the crowd, military police threw tear gas. When a driverless truck was pushed towards the jail, the military police fired into the crowd, killing a 17-year–old boy instantly. A 21-year–old man who was shot in the abdomen died days later. Nine other prisoners were wounded, and a military police corporal was wounded by a ricocheting bullet.

Manzanar block 14 barrack
Manzanar block 14

Manzanar barrack 14 today
Manzanar block 14 today

Loyalty Questionnaire

Manzanar guard tower
Guard tower as you drive towards the entrance of Manzanar National Historic Site

When the internees first arrived at Manzanar, they asked why they had to live behind barb wire fences and guard towers. What they were told was that it was for their protection, but they soon realized it was to keep the from leaving. In 1943, the government sent out what would be known as the loyalty questionnaire. All adults were asked questions that were intended as a means of assessing the loyalty of the Japanese-Americans in the camps. Responses to the questionnaire were also meant to help the War Department in establishing an all-Nisei (second generation Japanese-American) combat unit. Two questions would cause the most problems, numbers 27-28. To help establish a combat unit, question 27 asked if Nisei men would be willing to serve on combat duty wherever ordered. This caused young men to wonder if answering yes would be the same as volunteering. Everyone else was asked if they would be willing to serve in other ways, such as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Question number 28 would cause the most trouble. The question asked individuals to swear loyalty to the United States and renounce any loyalty to the Emperor of Japan. This put Japanese immigrants in a difficult position, at that time they were barred from becoming U.S. citizens and renouncing their only citizenship would leave them stateless. Citizens were asked to renounce loyalty to an Emperor they had never been loyal to, causing resentment. At Manzanar, 50 percent answered no to question 28. Answering no resulted in many people being labeled disloyal to the United States and being sent to the Tule Lake camp which had become the “segregation camp.”

Those Nisei who chose to volunteer in the Army were assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, known as Unit 442. Fighting in the European theater beginning in 1944, the unit saw action in Italy, southern France, and Germany. The 442nd Regiment was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare. The 4,000 men who initially made up the unit in April 1943 had to be replaced nearly 2.5 times. In total, about 14,000 men served, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts. The unit was awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations,  (5 earned in one month). Twenty-one of its members were awarded Medals of Honor. Its motto was “Go for Broke”.

Closing Manzanar

camp flags
Flags of the different camps

Manzanar was closed on November 21, 1945. It was the sixth camp to close. Internees were given $25 ($329 today), one-way train or bus fare, and meals to those who had less than $600 ($7,887 today). Many had no place to go after losing everything when they were forced to leave their homes and move to the camps. Those that refused to leave were forcibly removed. 146 internees died at Manzanar. Fifteen internees were buried there, but only five graves remain, as most were later reburied elsewhere by their families. Soon after the closure, Manzanar returned to its original state. Buildings were removed and only a few structures remained from the camp. One of the remaining structures was the Soul Consoling Tower in the cemetery.

Touring Manzanar Historic Site

soul consoling tower Manzanar cemetery
A military aircraft flys through the valley behind the Soul Consoling Tower in the Manzanar cemetery

Manzanar is located off Highway 395 just North of Lone Pine. The best way to visit Manzanar National Historic Site is to stop at the museum in the former high school auditorium and then do the self-guided auto tour around the site. At the museum, you will learn about the history of Manzanar and what it was like to live there from the many displays, photos, and videos. To hear the personal stories of the internees was a moving experience. There are many displays on the daily life, and stories about some of the individuals who lived in the camp. On the auto tour, you will pass by a reconstructed residential block. Stopping here, you can tour a reconstructed residential unit and mess hall. From there the tour will pass many locations such as the baseball field and vacant residential blocks. You are able to stop and view some of the gardens that have been unearthed before stopping at the cemetery and viewing the Soul Consoling Tower. At this tower, many people have left tokens of forgiveness. Some of these are on display at the museum. Manzanar is well worth a stop if you are driving Highway 395 through the Owens Valley or as a side trip from Death Valley. It is an important reminder of the wrongs we have committed against some of the citizens of this country and that we should never repeat those mistakes.

tea kettle from Manzanar cemetery
Tea kettle and note left at the Manzanar cemetery

tea kettle note from Manzanar cemetery
Note left with tea kettle at the Manzanar cemetery

object Manzanar cemetery
Objects left at the Manzanar cemetery

Fire engine
Fire truck in front of the Manzanar museum

Bali – Kecak Dance and Kicking Fire

Kecak & Fire Dance

Kecak Fire Dance in Ubud
Kecak Dance with hundreds of men chanting ‘kecak’ while the dancers portray the Hindu epic of Ramayana.

Knowing we wanted to see a traditional dance we headed to the visitor information center so we could get a schedule of the different types of dances that are performed in Ubud. The traditional Balinese Kecak dance portrays a segment of the Hindu epic Ramayana. Getting tickets were easy since we could buy them at the center, from vendors on the street, or at the entrance of the venue. During our first week in Ubud, we had decided that we wanted to watch a Kecak dance and bought tickets from a vendor as we walked down the street. The tickets we bought were good for any Wednesday or Saturday so we were in no rush to see the show and they had no expiration date. The day we bought the tickets had been a long day for us and we ended up going back to our hotel and crashing out, not seeing the show. Soon after we headed down to Seminyak, knowing we had to come back to pick up our passport after our visa extension, we decided we would see the show when we came back. Before making it back to Ubud, we saw a Kecak dance at Uluwatu Temple.

Uluwatu Kecak Dance


At Uluwatu Temple we arrived at the stage after all the close seats had been taken, so we scouted for some decent seats halfway up the stands. While we waited for the performance to begin our attention was distracted by the pretty sunset that was taking place. We headed up to the top of the stands and just admired the pretty sunset filling the sky with pretty shades of purple and pink, rushing back to our seats when the stage was being blessed. As the Kecak dancers entered the stage, chanting “Kecak” and forming circles, we became very excited. Being a little distracted while we tried to capture video and take some pictures we did not follow along with the guide, a mistake we wouldn’t repeat during the Ubud performance. We watched as the dancers performed their parts, elegantly moving, each movement telling the a part of the story. Soon the monkey king appeared, providing some comedic relief as he wandered through the crowd and the back to the main stage, preparing for the fight of good vs evil. With the final battle being played out before me, I regretted not following the story as it was unfolding before us. After the Ramayana story was complete we got see the trance dance. Fascinating as the monkey king kick burning husks of coconut around while dancing in a trance.

Ubud Kecak Dance

Wanting to get front row seats we got to the outdoor venue early so we could pick a good vantage point for viewing the dance. This venue was quite smaller and much more intimate than Uluwatu Temple’s performance, so we know we would be close to the action. Having picked our seats we were excited, anticipating the beginning of the performance, building higher as the stage was blessed and the centerpiece lit.

Kecak Fire Dance Ubud
Lighting the centerpiece after the stage had been blessed.

Our excitement increased when we heard the chanting of around a hundred half-naked male performers making their way to stage. The unique aspect of Kecak is that all the accompanying music is performed by human voice as the performers sit in concentric circles. Sitting there they chanted Kecak, varying the rhythm slightly, filling our ears with the beautiful sound of their unison chanting. Depending on the part of the story they will sit, sway, lie down, or stand up.

Kecak Fire Dance Ubud
Chanting “Kecak”.

Following along with the story guide we intently watched as the story of good vs. evil played out before us with dancers telling the story of prince Rama having to rescue his wife Sita from the evil Meganada with the help of the Sugriwa, king of the monkeys and his monkey army. It was a beautiful and interesting performance which we really enjoyed.

Kecak Fire Dance Ubud
Traditional Bali dancers during the Kecak Dance.

Kecak Fire Dance Ubud
Traditional Bali dancers during the Kecak Dance.

After the story of Ramayana was finished another dance was performed, the Fire Trance Dance, in which coconut husks were lit on fire and a dancer would kick the burning husks around the stage in a trance-like fashion. The sight of flaming husks bouncing off the sheets of metal that formed a barrier around the stage was a little frightening. Sitting in the front row, my mind watched in amazement and kept me on alert in case the husks accidentally came flying at us. Overall it was a very enjoyable performance and one we are glad to have seen.

There were slight differences between the performances but nothing too drastic. Just seeing one of the shows is good, no need to see both. Uluwatu Temple has a larger venue to accommodate larger crowds and performances in Ubud take place at different sites that offer a more intimate viewing. We were pleased with both shows.

Kecak Fire Dance Ubud
Traditional Bali dancers during the Kecak Dance.

Nabano No Sato Winter Illumination, One of Japans Best

Nabano No Sato – A Winter Wonderland of LEDs

If you visit Japan during the winter, there are plenty of winter illuminations around the country to see. Nabano No Sato near Nagoya is one of the best. Knowing this while staying in Kyoto, we decided to use our JR Pass to visit the Nagoya area and see the Nabano No Sato winter illumination. The Nabano No Sato flower park doesn’t hold back when putting on one of best light displays in Japan, using over 8 million LEDs to create a winter wonderland. Immediately as you begin your tour of the park, the light displays will mesmerize you. When walking through the world famous light tunnel you will feel like you are in a fairytale. While it is an amazing place to visit, it is not well known to foreign tourists.

Entrance sign
Nabano No Sato 2105 winter illumination

Beginning the tour
Blue children

enchanting lights
Enchanting lights

light trails
Light trails

blurry vision
Blurry Vision

blurry vision
Even Blurrier Vision

Light trees
Illuminated trees add to the beauty of the park

Nabano No Sato – World Famous Light Tunnel

The light tunnel is what drew us to this park’s winter illumination display. We had seen it in an advertisement when we were buying our JR Pass in Thailand. Once we found out it was at this park, we had to come see it. By far this was the main attraction at the park and for good reason, it is simply amazing to walk through. Taking advantage of the 1.2 million LEDs used to light the 100 meter tunnel, we had some fun with our cameras.

Light tunnel
Light Tunnel, the starring attraction

Light tunnel
Selfies, the most popular thing to do in the tunnel

Light tunnel
Swallowed by light

Light tunnel
Going to the light

streaking Light tunnel
Streaking in the tunnel

Nabano No Sato – Different theme every year

This year’s theme is Alpine while last years happened to be Niagra. Every year the theme changes so you can always have a different experience. It was amazing to see a giant LED version of the Alps. To our surprise, there was another tunnel after we left the main display. This one was blue and even more fairytale like.

streaking Light tunnel
Alpine display, the winter illuminations main display

streaking Light tunnel
Alpine display, the winter illuminations main display

streaking Light tunnel
Blue tunnel, felt like we were walking to another world

streaking Light tunnel
Blue streaks

Nabano No Sato winter illumination – Getting there

The best part about the park is you get a coupon for 1000 Yen to spend in the park. We took the JR to Nagashima station but you can also take the Kintetsu line. From the JR station, we crossed the train tracks and walked over to the Kintetstu line station where we took the bus to the park.

Time: 9:00 to 21:00 (until 22:00 on weekends and holidays)
Admission: 2100 yen
Access: 30 minutes by bus and train from central Nagoya

Touring the handicrafts of Bo Sang

Bo Sang – Handcraft tour

Bo Sang, which is located on the outskirts of Chaing Mai is known for the handicrafts that they produce. These range from umbrella’s to silk clothing. Nearing the end of our stay in Chiang Mai we decided to hop in a songthaew and tour the different handicraft facilities. A handicraft tour is a popular tour so getting a songthaew to take you there is very easy.

Bo Sang – Umbrella Factory

This stop was a little underwhelming. From all the pictures we had seen, we were expecting the factory to be overflowing with bright colorful umbrellas. Unfortunately, we did not find lots of colorful umbrellas being made. Instead, we got to watch a few white umbrellas with skulls on them being made. One thing to note is if you want to decorate your phone or computer, they can paint anything. While we did not get to see colorful umbrellas being made, the gift shop was loaded with umbrellas of colors with many nice designs on them.

bo sang umbrella in progress
An umbrella in the process of being made

bo sang umbrellas

umbrella frame in progress
Assembling the umbrella frame

large umbrella frame in progress
Assembling a large umbrella frame

colorful umbrella
One of the umbrellas in the gift shop

making fan
They also make decorative fans

finished products
Finished fans and umbrellas

Bo Sang – Silk Factory

Our next stop on the Bo Sang tour was the silk factory. Here we were able to see the entire process of silk manufacturing. From silkworm egg to cloth. It was an interesting tour seeing all the steps of production.


Silk eggs
Silk eggs

Silk worms
Silk worms

Silk making
Silk making

Bo Sang – Silver works

Our last stop on the Bo Sang tour was the silver making center. Watching the artisans make silver goods was a fun experience. If we had the extra money or room in our backpacks, we might have picked up some souvenirs.

bo sang silver in progress
Punching silver designs

bo sang silver in progress
Punching silver designs

bo sang silver in progress
Making silver jewerly

Beleraghi Village – An Overnight Stay, Off The Beaten Path on Flores

Beleraghi – Off the Beaten Path

When we were doing research for the island of Flores, we knew we wanted to stay in and visit traditional villages. Beleraghi Village was on our way to Bajawa and made for a good place to stop and stay overnight after traveling from Ruteng. With Flores being a very mountainous island, getting from one town to next usually took all day. The roads were narrow, curvy, and the locals call it the “snake.” Finding Beleraghi is not easy, as it is not on the tourist route and you would have to be either traveling by motorbike or hire a private driver to reach it since it is on the other side of the mountains from Bajawa. After spending the day traveling from Ruteng, our driver turned off of the Trans-Flores highway when we neared the town of Aimere. He could only take us to a certain point, after which we would have to hike the rest of the way to the village. Once our guide arrived, we headed up the trail towards the village. Having hiked up the very steep and strenuous 9 km trail to Wae Rebo Village a couple of days before, this 3 km trail seemed much easier by comparison. The beautiful landscape surrounding us made it even easier by constantly keeping us distracted.

view of the ocean beleraghi
A view of the ocean and horse grazing the field on the way to Beleraghi Village.

village elder beleraghi
The village elder heads to Beleraghi Village.

Chewing bettlenut beleraghi
A woman rests while chewing betelnut on the way to Beleraghi Village.

Traditional Ngada village

Once we finished hiking the trail, we were greeted with a warm welcome as we entered the village. Having ridden in the car all day, we were a little tired, but as the hidden village came into view, our weariness went away and we felt like we had discovered a hidden treasure on the island. The village consists of sixteen beautiful traditional houses, located in a forest clearing which gave the village a feeling of being in harmony with its surroundings. Sitting in parallel rows, the houses are renovated on a regular basis so the villagers can ensure that their culture values are well maintained. Five of the sixteen houses are sao pu’u, first or original houses, indicated by a miniature house on the roof. Another five distinct houses are sao lobo, last houses. These have a miniature human figure on the roof. There are five clans that live in the village at the present time. Each clan has its own sao pu’u or sao lobo.

The traditional houses of Beleraghi Village.

Ngada people refer to their village as Nua in the local language. A Nua consists of traditional houses which are owned by different clans. Along with the houses, each clan also owns a pair of ancestral shrines ngadhu and bhaga which are located in the center of the Nua. Arrangements of megaliths are located to the shrines. Ngada people do not consider the house as just a place of residence. The houses are differentiated between ordinary buildings and ceremonial houses. A ceremonial “great” house, or sa’o meze, is linked with one clan and named along with the clan’s place of origin. This is where a clan gathers for ceremonies and ritual occasions.

One of the first or original houses called a sao pu’u as indicated by a miniature house on the roof.

A sao lobo or last house symbolized by a man on top of the roof.

Detail shot of a sao lobo symbol.

The sa’o meze is divided into three parts. The outer veranda is a public place where daily activities are done, such as weaving. The inner veranda is a private space and where guests sleep. That was where we would be sleeping. The spiritual center and most sacred of a ceremonial house of the is the hearth which is separated from the inner veranda by a small door and stairs. Not only is the hearth considered to be the resting place for the ancestors, it is also where a woman gives birth, ritual performances are conducted, and sacred objects are stored. These objects include swords, digging sticks, woven cloth, and palm wine.

woman waling in beleraghi
A woman walks in front of ngadhu and bhaga shrines in Beleraghi village.

shrines in beleraghi
ngadhu and bhaga shrines

Traditional Welcome Ceremony

When we arrived in Beleraghi near dusk and were told we would be guests later that night at a bamboo flute concert put on by the villagers. But first, we needed to have a traditional welcoming ceremony, ti’i ka ebu nusi for guests and eat dinner. To the Ngada people, foreigners are considered guests and not tourists. Ti’i ka ebu nusi, ‘give food to the ancestors’, is about introducing guests to the ancestors, to ask for their blessings so no obsticles would come in our way. We were not the only guests at the village, a Dutch family was also staying in the village for the night. Our welcome ceremony took place in sao one, the most sacred inside part of a Ngada house.

Gathering around the hearth in the sao one, our ceremony began with the sacrificing of a chicken. I have never ever seen a chicken killed before, so it was a very interesting experience. It began with a chanting ceremony and the chicken’s beak was sliced open allowing blood to drip onto a pan. We each had to dip a finger in the blood and then smear it on our palms. Chicken blood was then put on all four corners of the room as a blessing to the four spirits. After the chicken had been slightly roasted above an open fire, it was plucked and later given to the village elder, or mosalaki, who split open the chicken to look at its intestines. He read the condition of the intestines, seeing if there had been any incidents on the way to the village and making a prediction about the continuation of our journey. I am not sure if he found what he was looking for since he did spend quite some time examining it. I ended up in the hospital a couple of days later, needing to pass a kidney stone. After examining the intestines, the chicken then became part of a traditional dinner.  After dinner, we would go see a concert.

sacrificed chicken
The chicken that was sacrificed for us.

sacrificed chicken intestine
Examining the chicken intestine.

Bamboo Flute Concert

We were lucky that night, coming to the village on a night they would perform a suling concert using traditional bamboo flutes. Sitting there listening to them play under the stars was a special treat. After the concert, we each explained a little about ourselves, giving them an idea of what our lives and culture is like. They were all surprised by the fact that I lived on a ship that jets took off and landed on, never hearing of or seeing an aircraft carrier before. After the concert, we went to sleep the same way they have slept, on wooden floors with a thin mat, feeling very lucky to be staying in the village.

Flute concert
Villagers playing on bombadoms, trombone-sounding bamboo instruments.

Flute concert
Playing bamboo flute instruments hand-made by villagers.

Flute concert
A woman from Belaraghi village playing the bamboo flute.

Exploring Beleraghi Village

Waking up before dawn, we set out to explore the village before breakfast. It was very quiet in the morning, even after breakfast. Unlike Wae Rebo, there were not a lot of people who lived in the village. Most of the villagers lived near the beginning of the trail and sent their children to school in the nearby town. With very little activity going on, we spent time dressing up in traditional outfits and just took in the surroundings.

Village family
Mom and her son and daughter hanging out in front of their house.

Dogs playing
Puppies playing in front of a traditional house with symbolic wood carvings.

Dress up
Dressing up in the traditional clothes of Beleraghi village with our guide Rainy.

Villager cleaning cassava leaves, a locally grown vegetable for dinner in front of her house.

Carvings in Beleraghi Village

Having many meanings, carvings are an important element of Ngada buildings in Beleraghi. They can be found on the outside and inside of houses. The horse, or jara, which is featured prominatly, symbolizes transportation, trading, and hunting. The chicken, or manu jawa, is a symbol for the continuation of life and is the smallest animal offering. During construction of houses, offerings are required at every step. The snake, or sawa ba’a, is the protector of the house and ancestral spirits, which are thought to reside in the house. These carvings can be easily found on the bhaga style houses called loka. One belonging to each clan.

Carving detail
Carving detail on a bhaga, the entrance to a temple.

Getting to Beleraghi Village

The easiest way to get to Beleraghi village is by hiking the 3km trail that starts at Paukate village. This trail goes through wide-open gasslands with great views of the Aimere coast. From Bajawa, take the Trans-Flores highway towards Aimere. At about 2.5km, take a right turn at the Ende-Aimere junction. After around 35km, at the Keligejo junction, drive to Pauleni village to register in the guestbook and continue on to Paukate.

Elephant Poo Paper – Something To Write Home About

What to do with all that poo

When we arrived in Chiang Mai, we knew it was popular for the many elephant camps that surround it. What we didn’t know was what was happening with the dung the elephants produced. In the Mae Rim area of Chiang Mai, there is a place you can visit that recycles elephant dung into paper. PooPooPaper Park uses not only elephant dung, but also horse and even panda dung to make paper used for a variety of purposes. Once we found out about this unique place, we knew we had to visit it. Hiring a songtaew, we set out for the park on a slightly rainy day. Arriving at the park, we were greeted by a friendly staff member who arranged for a free guide to show us how poo is made into paper. The tour can also be done self-guided, there are descriptive signs at every station. There are other facilities that also take dung and turn  it into  paper, but this is the only one that you visit and participate in the process.

elephant poo card
Elephant made a card for you

elephant card
What to with the poo, make paper products

Boiling poo

PooPooPaper Park is an interactive open air facility. Not only can you learn how the paper is made, you get to help make it. The poo that the park uses has to meet two common requirements. Coming from a herbivore that has a highly fibrous plant diet and have a somewhat inefficient digestive system. Having an inefficient digestive system leaves a lot of fibers intact when the animal poops since the digestive systems do not digest and break down all the fiber.

elephant poo
Elephant poo waiting to cleaned

elephant poo
Elephant poo

We were able to start participating in the process at the cleaning and boiling station. All non-fiber material such as dirt, mud, pebbles, etc is removed as much as possible until there is just fiber material left. Using a bleach-free process, the fiber is boiled to a pulp for 4-6 hours at 90-100 degrees celsius which makes it more supple. Since there is no bleach used in the process, the park does not make a paper that is truly white. A trade-off the park is happy to make since it poses no risk to the natural environment. Each step of the process is environmentally sensitive, making the paper products truly green.

elephant poo boiling
Boiling the elephant poo

Coloring poo

After cleaning and boiling the poo, it was off to the coloring and mixing station. The fiber is mixed with a color dye then shaped into a ball before it is made into paper.

elephant poo fiber
Poo fiber

elephant poo coloring
Coloring the fiber

elephant poo colored balls
The many colors of the elephant poo balls

Playing with poo

The best part of the tour was being able to make paper. A colored poo ball was given to each of us and we mixed and agitated it until the fibers spread out over the screen. Getting to help make the paper was a very fun experience. Instead of just watching the process, we actually got to make paper ourselves. May went first. Our tour guide instructed her on the step by step process of spreading the fiber out across the screen evenly. With the help of the guide, May made a perfect piece of paper that was set out to dry. After watching May and then the one of staff make a piece of paper, it was my turn. I didn’t do as well as May, though. My paper was given a 7 out of 10. It may seem easy, but there is a certain skill to making the perfect paper.

elephant poo paper making
Making poo paper

elephant poo paper making
May’s poo paper

elephant poo paper making
A master poo paper maker at work

elephant poo paper making
Agitating the fiber

elephant poo paper making
Paper in progress

elephant poo paper making
All that colorful paper

Drying the poo paper

Once we were done making the paper it was time to set it out to dry. After the paper is removed from the water and drained, it is set out to dry for a couple of days. At this point, we were done with the guided tour and only thing left was to go to the crafts section. At the crafts center, you can purchase cards, wallets, or bookmarks that were premade or make your own. We decided that making our own cards would make this experience, even more unique. Making cards was fun, doing arts and crafts is a good way to relax and let our creative sides take over. Visiting was one of the more unique and fun experiences we had in Chiang Mai. Showing that environmental responsibility can take many forms.

elephant poo paper making
Peeling the paper

elephant poo paper making
Paper set out to dry

elephant poo paper making
Stacks of paper

elephant poo paper making
Supplies for our cards

elephant poo paper making
May’s poo card

elephant poo paper making
Josh’s poo card

elephant poo paper making
Having loads of fun

Australia: The Smallest Continent is So Large

Australia is the smallest continent in the world, but it is extremely vast, and many other countries can fit inside. You can drive for hours upon hours in vast nothingness before you arrive in a city or town.

Australia Post Card

When we spent three and a half weeks traipsing through Australia. Of the seven different states/territories (Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania) we were only able to visit four (New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia). More specifically, we visited Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, back to Sydney for Vivid Sydney, and then finally Perth.  We plan on returning for round two with a camper van to explore the natural beauty we were unable to see during this trip. Flying around via Tigerair Australia, Australia’s budget airline, which we found out later, was reputed to be the worst airline to fly with since they received the most logged complaints, 1000 in 12 month span. Tigerair got us from point A to point B and one time charged us $80 AUD for extra baggage fee for being over the weight limit and of the four flights we had, two flights were delayed. But we have to admit if it wasn’t for the two-day sale we came across, we wouldn’t have been able to fly all over Australia



Our first stay here was in Neutral Bay, North Sydney, at the Neutral Bay Motor Lodge where we caught a ferry across the harbor fromCircular Quay. The 15-minute scenic ferry ride gave us splendid views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. Sydney is a walkable city and most of Australia is known for their cafe culture and shopping (which we weren’t too interested in). On our second day in Sydney, we met Steven, from South Africa, while we were having lunch in one of the many Chinatown food courts. We ended up spending the rest of the day walking around with each other through the CBD, Sydney Opera House, and the Royal Botanic Gardens where we came across wild yellow-crested cockatoos squawking extremely loudly while feasting on grass. The next day we flew to Cairns, pronounced Cannes.

View more photos of our Sydney trip here.

Sydney Opera House Close Up
Sydney Opera House made up of ceramic tiles.

Sydney Opera House Close Up
Sydney Opera House from the ferry boat.

Yellow Crested Cockatoo at the Sydney Royal Botanical Garden
Yellow Crested Cockatoo at the Sydney Royal Botanical Garden.

Yellow Crested Cockatoo at the Sydney Royal Botanical Garden
Yellow Crested Cockatoo enjoying dinner of grass.


While Sydney was cold, the weather was similar to San Francisco, Cairns was hot and humid. We stayed at the Travellers Oasis, enjoyed a BBQ party with emu, kangaroo, crocodile, Australia sausage and other treats, also visited Kuranda to see later decided to rent a campervan with Spaceships to head north to Daintree Rainforest and later explore the tablelands down south. Our first day we saw Mossman’s Gorge and arrived at night and saw a bat fluttering around the camp kitchen. In the morning, we woke up to the sounds of the jungle, including bats, cockatoos, insects. We decided to take the trail at where we were staying and in the lush green rainforest filled with palm trees, vines, and many other plants the aboriginals may have used as natural herbs for healing, we also saw a wild rat?. We drove through Daintree and stopped at the boardwalks to walk through the different habitats. One boardwalk, we were so lucky to see a wild cassowary which we didn’t get a clear picture of because he moved too fast!

Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef Snorkelling


After having a lot of fun exploring the Queensland, we flew down to Melbourne to experience Australia’s most diverse city. Melbourne is known for its culture, whether that is laneways lined with cafes or it’s streets filled with art. Not knowing what to expect of Melbourne, we spent our days wondering around the streets of the city taking in all the street art. With so many alleys and laneways to explore, we didn’t have time to visit the museums we had planned on going to. Getting around the city is easy, there is a free tram that makes a loop around the city centre where the main sights and street art are located. Like we do in every city we visit, we made our first stop at the visitors center. The staff was very friendly and helped us plan our route for touring the laneways and street art alleys. Besides art, the city has many good places to eat due to large Greek and Chinese populations, there is a variety of dishes to choose from. We ate pirozhkis while touring street art and kebabs while visiting the Queen Victoria market. Every meal we had was from a different ethnic dish.

Josh and Sully

Croft Alley

For a side trip, we decided to go down to see the Brighton Beach Boxes. Since it was winter they weren’t in use. It was very nice to wander down the beach and look at the colorful boxes. The boxes are all painted different colors and have different themes. If you like outdoor art, Melbourne is the place to go.

Sydney – Vivid Sydney

We returned to Sydney for the start of the Vivid Sydney Festival. Experiencing the Vivid Sydney festival was an exciting experience. Not only did we get to see all of the 3D projection mapping on the buildings around the harbour, we also climbed the harbour bridge at night to get a different view of the festival. As we climbed the bridge, we wore vests that lit up so we could also be a part of the festivities. If you are planning to come to Sydney in April, you should try and see this festival.

Opera House Vivid

Sky Line Vivid

Bridge climb


While most visitors to Australia tend to stay on the more populated East Coast, we decided to venture out West and spend some time in the isolated West Australia capital of Perth. While spending a few days there, we were able to see the world’s largest gold coin, weighing in at 1 tonne, at the Perth Mint and tour the tunnels underneath Fremantle Prison. We didn’t spend a lot of time in Perth, but enough time to make us excited about exploring the West coast of Australia on a future trip. Though Perth is remote, it has lots to offer and makes a great starting point for exploring Australias vast West coast.

Fremantle Prison
Fremantle Prison.

Perth Mint
Perth Mint.


Wae Rebo: Remote Traditional Village in Flores

Conical Houses of Wae Rebo

In the mountains of Flores lies the remote traditional village, Wae Rebo, on top of a picturesque mountain 1,100 meters above sea level. In 2012, the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation honoured the village with an Award of Excellence for its efforts to preserve its traditions and culture. Wae Rebo is home to the traditional cone-shaped Mbaru Niang homes which are typical of Manggarai tribes. These unique homes are constructed entirely without the use of nails, consisting of a wooden structure which is covered with layers of palm leaves, giving it a massive roof and distinct cone shape. Unlike other traditional villages, Wae Rebo is home to one single clan whose ancestor, Empu Maro, established the village 100 years ago. Today the 18th generation of his descendants have strived to keep alive Manggarai traditions. Visiting Wae Rebo is to step back in time, there is no cell phone reception, no wi-fi, and the only electricity is provided by a small solar panel.

Wae Rebo Elder
Village elder watches the morning activity in Wae Rebo

Wae Rebo Sunrise
Traditional conical houses of Wae Rebo

Five Levels

The houses consist of five levels with each serving a separate purpose. Level 1, lutur or tent, is the living area for families. The second level, lobo or attic, is for food storage. The third level, lentar, to store seeds. The fourth level, lempa rae, is reserved for food stocks in case of drought and the fifth level, hekang kode, and most sacred is kept for offerings to the ancestors.

Child peeking
A young boy peeking out of a window of a Mbaru Niang home in Wae Rebo

Getting to Wae Rebo

Wae Rebo is located near the town of Ruteng though most people choose to stay in a homestay in a small village called Denge located at the starting point of a 9 km hike uphill to Wae Rebo. We decided to go Denge from Labuan Bajo by private car hire via a 7 hour scenic, but tumultuous drive and hike to Wae Rebo to stay overnight there. May decided to stay in the Denge village while I hiked to the top. It was an arduous trip, mainly due to the poorly maintained one-lane very windy road that leads to Denge. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery and excited children along the way yelling “bule (boo-lay),” which means foreigner. They seemed so excited to see tourists and a group of kids showed off for us when we stopped for a rest along the road.

Group of kids on the way to Wae Rebo

Flores Rice Field
Rice field on the way to Wae Rebo

The only way reach the village is to hike 9km up a mountainous trail which was a bit of a challenge during the mid-day heat. It was well worth the hike and I was not the only one on the trail. Doing the hike on a Sunday, the trail was crowded with villagers bringing sacks of coffee beans down from the village and hauling supplies up to the village. Sunday and Monday are the two days of the week that they resupply the village by selling coffee beans at the market in Ruteng and purchasing supplies. After meeting many villagers on the way to the village during my many rest breaks, I finally reached the part of the trail that would descend down to the village. Before entering the village, I had to signal my arrival by ringing a bell located in a stand just above the village. Once I reached the village I greeted the chief and gave my offering to him, 20,000 IDR in the drum house. The structure of the village includes the traditional houses, a drum house which is the symbol of the unity of the clan and a communal building and an altar. In front of the drum house is the compang, a stone altar where the souls of the ancestors are believed to stay. Wae Rebo is the only village in the Manggari district that has the complete village structure.

Wae Rebo Sunrise
Sun rays bathing Wae Rebo during sunrise

Morning in Wae Rebo

Staying overnight in the village was a great experience and highly recommended. I woke up early for sunrise, hiking up to the “kids house” for a good vantage point. Sitting in the silence of the morning, I thought about how lucky I was to be able to visit this village. Surrounded by the mountains and taking in all the wonderful scenery as the sun slowly rose above the mountains was a wonderful experience.

Morning in Wae Rebo

Morning smoke in Wae Rebo
My guide enjoying a morning smoke in Wae Rebo

Laying Out Coffee

After watching the sunrise, it was time for breakfast so I headed back to the guest conical house. There was very little activity in the village aside from some villagers pounding maize, one of the staples of the villagers diet. Once I arrived back at the guest conical house, breakfast was waiting. It was a tasty traditional meal, a good way to start the day off before I would have to hike back down to Denge village. Once breakfast time was over, the village came to life as the villagers began to lay out the coffee beans they had harvested for drying under the sun. Watching everyone move around, laying down tarps and then spreading bags of coffee beans on them was interesting. They would rake the beans so that they were evenly spread out and would then sort through them. Once everyone had laid out their coffee beans, the village became quiet again except for the children that were out playing. This signaled it was time for me to start my hike, at least it was downhill this time.

Sorting Coffee
Sorting Coffee

Sorting Coffee
Spreading coffee

Flores island in Indonesia is only a 90-minute flight from Bali but feels like it is a whole other country. Not long ago it was a remote backwater on the Indonesian tourist trail but is gaining more visitors each year. Of the four islands we visited during our time exploring Indonesia, Flores rewarded us with diverse culture and traditions, warm residents, and stunning natural beauty. One highlight of the two weeks we spent on Flores was visiting the remote mountain village of Wae Rebo.