Sunday, January 16, 2005

Today we woke up a little early, which was easy because of the one hour time change, so that we could eat before our one planned excursion for the day. We originally had nothing planned, but the night before we noticed in the information booklet for the hotel that there was a dolphin excursion where you could play with the dolphins. There wasn't a whole lot of information, but from the little given we assumed we'd take a car ride over a couple of resorts where the resort would have a big pool with a dolphin or two.

It turned out to be completely different than what we expected, and better than we imagined. We started off by driving to the ferry station to buy tickets (we thought it was free). The other couple had no idea it wasn't free either, and they didn't have any money. Luckily, they just wrote down an IOU and we were on our way. We got in the car and then started driving southwest through the Indonesian countryside. The dwellings were very poor when compared against what we'd seen in the Malaysian countryside. Almost no one had cars everyone was on little motorcycles, including families of four. We had absolutely no idea where we were, or where we were going. We went through a couple security checkpoints, complete with mirrors for checking under the SUV and razor wire barriers across the road. Eventually we turned into the small village of Tanjung Uban , which was bigger than everything we'd driven through but by no means big.

There we got a small boat and started heading off to the South (we think). We were in the water for about 15-20 minutes, hopping some large waves but for the most part floating smoothly. There were islands all around, including what we assumed to be Batam, another fairly common escape from Singapore . We arrived at a small island east of Batam that had a sign saying Welcome to Dolphin Lodge. There were about a half-dozen people in short wetsuits there to greet us.

This place was evidently a mini Sea World, with bonafide dolphin trainers. They knew about Sea World, as when we told them we were from San Diego they knew Sea World was there. They gave us a small briefing, and then we broke off into groups to be with the dolphins. We were in a group with the two other people from the Banyan Tree, two trainers, and one other trainer who used our camera to take some phenomenal photos throughout the morning.

The first pool we went into had two male dolphins, August and Pluto, who were 14 and 17 years old. We got to pet them, we got to dance with them (they stuck out their flippers), and they kissed us on the cheek. Then the trainers showed us some hand gestures for tricks. We got the dolphins to spin around in circles, make bubbles, pop their blowhole, and jump over a pole.

Then we went to a different pool, this time with one male (Bubbles) and one girl (Flipper). Things got a little interesting in this pool. For one, these two weren't trained as well. Also, because there was one male and one female, they were a little jealous of one another, and the male was a little protective of the female. Bubbles took issue with the attention we were giving flipper, and started swimming around with his genitalia out, bouncing into us and rubbing his member against us as he swam by in a show of dominance.

We kept trying to perform tricks with Flipper such as catching a ball, playing with rings, and jumping 10 feet out of the water to touch a ball, but Bubbles kept interrupting. At one point the trainer tried to make things better by trading dolphins with the other couple, and that seemed to be helping, as we were now giving attention to Bubbles. But when bubbles rolled over and were looking at his belly, he tried to pee on us. This whole episode was probably something that will never happen to us again. Before we left, the trainers showed us the first dolphin born in captivity at their facility, named Alpha. We took the small boat back to Tanjung Uban, then took the SUV back to the resort.

We were very hungry when we got back, and went straight to lunch at the Cove Restaurant, which serves Italian fare. Crystal had a baked Salami and Mozzarella sandwich, and Justin had a Fettuccine dish with shredded chicken and a sauce of sautéed garlic, chilies, olive oil, basil and black pepper. Both of us very much enjoyed our lunch, putting the Cove in the same tier as Vittorio in Pacific Palisades among Italian restaurants.

After lunch we went to the pool, right by the Cove. The water was warmer than the pool at the Shangri-La, but the air was much cooler. On the South China Sea facing part of the Banyan Tree, the wind seems to be constant. On the Bay facing part, there is almost no wind at all. There was a spot, right by a Banyan Tree actually, near the lobby, where one side of the sidewalk was windy and the other was still. All of the pools, and the beach, are on the windy side. Since the pool was a little chilly, Justin tried the ocean. He played in the waves for a bit while Crystal sat in a deck chair by the pool.

After the pool experiment we went back to the room and used our private Jacuzzi, which we knew would be warm. It was very nice, but had a weird layout, and the only places with headrests were in opposite corners from one another, and one of the headrests faced right towards the sun. All of these are minor complaints, however. Everything at the Banyan Tree was first class, a 1a behind Amanpulo (where we spent our honeymoon). Many people knew our names, everyone was very polite, and everyone always had a smile.

We ate dinner at Saffron, the flagship restaurant of the Banyan Tree, which served Indonesian and Thai food. Justin had Thai noodles with sliced beef and vegetables, and Crystal had Indonesian Roast Duck. Justin had another Mai Tai for comparison's sake. It was better than the one at the Shangri-La, which was a little bitter. For the first hour at the restaurant we were the only people there, so the service was impeccable. We've noticed throughout this trip that most other tourists eat much later than we do. We've been eating more or less at 7, 1 and 7 for most of the trip. This makes us think that most of the other Caucasian tourists we see are from Europe , which generally eats meals much later. We went back to the room and fell asleep quickly. We were both tired from all of the sun at the dolphin place. We didn't know we'd be out in the sun for nearly that long, and both of our shoulders took a beating.

At dinner we toasted to our first week on vacation, and hoped that our second and third weeks would be as nice.

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