Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bali Part III: Diving Blue Lagoon

One of the most amazing highlights from my first trip to Bali was the diving. I spent a day at Nusa Penida diving with 10 manta rays and another day exploring the Liberty wreck off the coast of Tulamben. I really wanted Duncan to dive the wreck, so I called Aqua Marine Diving because they had been 5-star on my first excursion. Diving in Bali is not just strapping a tank on, but rather an experience. The drive north to reach sites takes you through gorgeous countryside and the beach side cafes are little gems tucked away. The black sand at Tulamben is breathtaking as you trek down the beach to the entry point for the wreck. We booked in for 2 dives on the Liberty, but plans took an unfortunate turn. Weather was causing extreme currents to shut down the diving in that area and limit our options. After reading several reviews we opted for Blue Lagoon, figuring if nothing else we might see some cool macro critters.

The Aqua Marine van pulled up at 6:30 am and we climbed in. After a stop off in Sanur we began weaving our way out of the city. The countryside changed quickly as rice fields replaced tightly packed buildings. We headed east and the sea came into view. Mountains rose out of the fields to the west of us and the beauty of Bali began to shine. It is sometimes difficult to find the beauty because there is a lot of trash and pollution, but it never relents and is there for those who look past the exterior flaws. I explained this to Duncan as we walked down the street in Nusa Dua and found a carved elephant that was overrun with vines and trash. If you looked close though, you could see the intricate detail of the carving and appreciate the craftsmanship.

As we approached Padangbai the left side of the road was lined with trucks, all stuffed full with fruit, vegetables, building supplies and all sorts of random things. There must have been at least 150 trucks pulled over with their drivers playing cards, napping, eating and just killing time. Upon asking we were informed that weather had shut down all ferries and vessels going to Lombok. The weather was definitely worse than we had realized, considering the cargo ferries are pretty large. Crossing the Lombok straight can be dangerous and apparently they had lost a few vessels in recent months and were being overly cautious. The men driving the trucks would have to wait hours or even days until the block was lifted. Can you imagine telling a truck driver in the states that he had to just chill and wait with no air conditioned cabin, hotel room or meal in a restaurant? It is a different world.

Padangbai is a small village on the east coast of Bali. The hostels and cafes that line the shore have a surfer vibe and laid-back atmosphere. We were dropped at the same café I visited on my previous dive excursion. The walls were decorated with signs and shells; palm trees and plants provided a lush backdrop and cats snuck around the tables looking for a treat. We enjoyed our free coffee and waited for the gear to be loaded on the boat. We chatted with a girl visiting from Australia who was trying to get to Lombok. She loved being stuck in Padangbai as she waited for the weather to break. She raved about the quaint village and we sucked in all the information, plotting our next visit. This will definitely be our choice destination next time. Diving and the beach, not many tourists; perfect!

Our dive guide called us to the boat and we waded out to board. The boats are moored just off the beach and were really clean, comfortable and fast. Our group was a mix of divers and snorkelers headed for a day at the lagoon. We were set to do 2 dives before returning to enjoy lunch at the café. Our first dive was fairly shallow, as my sinuses were aching and I didn’t want to push it. In hindsight, the three weeks sinus infection, strep throat and fever that followed was probably not worth the diving. Ah well. We enjoyed massive schools of fish. It is incredible to see such healthy fish populations decorating the watery landscape. There are very few places in the world that populations are as dense as they are in Indonesia. The coral was not overly rich, but we did enjoy the largest field of stag horn coral that I have seen in a long time. Sad that coral fields as far as the eye can see are a rare treat in most parts of the world. Our guide rushed us a long a bit, but I wanted to sit and watch the sweet lips. They are one of my absolute favorite fish and I don’t get much time with them. They have amazing faces and if you are patient you can often catch a cleaning station.

We moved along, exploring the crevices and finding nudibranchs, clown fish and other tiny treasures before returning to the boat. Our sixty-minute dive was relaxing and beautiful. We spent our surface interval chatting with some of the other guests and our guides, while enjoying the lush mountains exploding up from the sea. We could also see the massive volcano in the distance. Such a wild and rugged place when you remove the people and buildings that cover the shoreline. I like to think about places when the first explorers arrived by boat, that sense of raw wilderness and the excitement of exploration through lands unknown to the wayward travelers. Like anything, we sometimes miss our own experience until we are able to step outside of it. I wonder if the Balinese people realize what they have? Difficult sometimes when you put your head down to work and survive. I feel extremely fortunate every time I am able to get lost in a new world and immerse myself in the sights, sounds, smells and the sea.

Our next dive was probably one of the more bizarre that I have had in my experience of the underwater world. There is a massive submarine that takes tourists around the lagoon and it can be seen from various dive points, as it passes. We could hear the loud thud, thud, thud and whir of the propeller long before the white ghost came into view. The visibility was not excellent, so the submarine was very eerie as it moved in and out of our sights. Our guide kept trying to get us to see it, but we were over it the after the first encounter. It rides around in a deep area with no real life or structure. I felt like I was in an episode of Scooby-Doo crossed with a Clive Cussler novel. I am still struggling to get my head around it.

We found more nudibranchs and a black ribbon eel. The ribbon eels are so small and so animated. I could watch them for hours and was excited for Duncan to see his first one. Our guide disappeared as we hovered above the tiny creature. I got lost following 6 Moorish idols (like Gil from Finding Nemo) and again when I encountered an anemone filled with panda clownfish. I could watch clownfish all day. Their little faces are so cute and they have so much spunk. I find myself giggling and giving off a little squeal every time I see them. Yes, I am a dork, but I am completely okay with that.

We returned to the beach and found our way back to the café. Lunch was served as we sat down and we grabbed a couple of Bintangs to wash it down; nothing like an ice-cold beer after a dive. We settled into the back seat of the van for the ride home. It is nearly impossible for me to stay awake, post compressed air, ocean, sun and beer. I think I made it about 20 minutes into the ride trying to force my eyes open, not wanting to miss the countryside as it slipped past.

Blue Lagoon is good for easy diving and the schools of fish are amazing. Macro critters are a highlight and the surface interval provides and incredible view. Aqua Marine is a great operation and the price is very reasonable for what you get. I would recommend the Liberty Wreck and will definitely make the trek back to dive it again!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bali Who: Part II -Meals, Mullets and Magical Dance

Happy Birthday Duncan. I planned a relaxing day for Duncan, starting with a Balinese massage. Balinese women are miracle workers with hand strength far exceeding their petite stature. While Duncan tried to put the disposable underwear on his head, causing a commotion at the spa, I settled into a book and people watching.Yes, Duncan thought that the tiny pare of undies one of the ladies handed him could not possibly be expected to cover his unmentionables. I have had a massage in Bali before and has encountered to paper panties, but forgot to warn him. An international incident was avoided when Dunk negotiated with the ladies to wear his own boxers instead of the standard issue pair, not without a lot of blushing and laughter. The beach was decorated with large men in small swimsuits. Speedos, banana hammocks or my favorite-budgie smugglers (Australian slang) are certainly not fashionable, but they definitely don’t look comfortable either. So neither fashion nor function, unless you are a competitive swimmer and I doubt any of the men I witnessed fell into that category. Always amazes me.

Duncan survived his massage and we enjoyed a relaxing day by the pool before getting ready for our dinner adventure. The reviews I read about our hotel had several complaints about the size of the pool. I have to say that the pool was pretty massive with a large deep end and special area for kids. Yes, I have seen bigger pools, but this one was lovely and always very clean. I will say however, that the ocean in front of the hotel was pretty murky, which limited my swimming to one wade in up to my shins. Sad that such a gorgeous place has much so much trash and pollution.

My plan for Duncan’s birthday dinner was to eat on the beach at Jimbaran Bay. This area is renowned for its seafood restaurants that line the bay and offer tables on the sand, often with live dances or music. I selected a restaurant and made arrangements with Made, who would be our taxi driver for the remainder of our trip. When you pull in to the restaurant, yes you pull in vehicle and all; you are rushed by staff members and escorted to the dinning area. The vehicles are checked with mirrors on sticks in attempt to scout out bombs. This happens at every hotel as well. Since the 2002 bombings that killed 202 people, security has been heightened to reduce other incidents and also ease the minds of tourists in attempt to draw them back to the island.

Our host suggested we sit inside because the wind was quite intense, ripping up and down the beach. I was so disappointed and checked the beach tables just in case. Seeing that we would have been blown off our seats we settled at a table just inside a covered patio with an ocean view. We opted for fruity cocktails and the bartender whipped up something special for Dunk’s birthday, said with a twinkle in his eye. I reiterated that we did not want ice in our drinks. Water is an issue in Bali and even though you might not drink from the tap the ice cubes are made from that water. Yes, many hotels make them from bottled water, but many places do not. I did not want to start our holiday off with a nice serving of Bali Belly, so we asked for our drinks straight up. We were warned by the news before we left that there were issues recently, even with the bottled water. Duncan’s family grabbed us a bottle of Cotties Red Cordial to stash in our suitcase. Apparently this is the Australian travel secret for Bali. There is some sort of antibacterial chemical in the red cordial (a little scary in itself) that prevents Bali Belly. We started each day by pouring some in our bottles of water.

The standard procedure of these restaurants is for you to pick out your seafood and the amount you want. I let Dunk have the honor and waited to see what would arrive. You have the option of fried, grilled or steamed. We went with grilled, trying to stay somewhat healthy. We enjoyed local snapper, clams and calamari. We always check the fish, what type and where it is from. Nice when you can actually see it before. We rarely eat seafood out, so this was a nice treat. They put on quite a lavish spread with soup, salad and rolls before the main entrée. Dishes are served family style and you go for it. We washed down dinner with some cold Bintangs, the local Indonesian beer and enjoyed the wild ocean that was ravaging the beach. A local band sang “Happy birthday,” to Duncan as well as the Jimmy Cliff classic, “ I Can See Clearly Now.” Amazing how some songs transcend all languages and culture and make people smile everywhere they are played. The man singing had an incredible voice and we graciously tipped them for their performance.

We enjoyed fresh fruit for dessert before taking a stroll along the beach. Sadly, the beach was covered in trash. Debris washed a shore, but was also refuse from the restaurants. Makes your heart so sad to see. The waves crashing onto the beach were littered with brightly colored masses of plastic, while napkins, plastic forks and straws covered the beach in white. All the romance in the walk was lessened because we were both disheartened trying to dodge the trash. I wonder why people don’t care about the planet. Filthy beaches are no good for the earth and certainly not a selling point for tourists, a major industry in Bali. We managed to find some bare patches and did our best to enjoy the stroll before returning to meet Made. He was there and ready, most of the time they don’t actually leave, but hang out and wait for you. We were whisked back to the hotel and enjoyed a few cocktails before retiring.

Breakfast on our all-inclusive package was consistently the best meal of the day. They really put on a spread with the most eclectic mix of options I have ever seen. The Asian culture has had a tremendous influence on the island and this is seen in miso soup, noodles and pot stickers for breakfast. They also offered fresh fruit, yogurt, eggs cooked to order, pancakes, sausage, bacon, potatoes and other hot treats along with dozens of bread and pastry options. I figured, “ when in Rome,” and had some noodles with vegetables on one morning, veering from my regular massive fruit bowl and yogurt. We hit the fresh fruit season just right. The watermelon, my favorite fruit, was incredible. Definitely the best watermelon I have ever had. We also enjoyed pineapple, mango, cantaloupe, papaya, honeydew, mini bananas, passion fruit and snake fruit. I became obsessed with snake fruit on my first visit and have tried to find it other places with no luck. Called snake fruit because of the skin, Salak looks like giant cloves of garlic and is like no other fruit I have tasted. I got a giant bag at the market to have in our fridge along with having it at every meal. Dunk was not a fan; fine more for me.

Lunches were al a Carte and always include a lush salad bar and fruit tray. Gado-Gado was my favorite option. A traditional dish of noodles, bean sprouts, cabbage, green beans, scallions, tofu and tempe (firm soybean patty also known as tempeh) with a light peanut sauce. YUM! Dinners were a bit more varied with themes most nights. We had a Moroccan BBQ followed by some unfortunate live music. Think BAD karaoke. We had a traditional Indonesian night with a great dance performance. This was amazing and part of the culture that is incredibly beautiful. I was so excited for Duncan to see the intricate movements of the girls’ eyes and individual fingers. The movements are trance like and I got completely lost. Balinese dance is not just a performance, but also a visual and audible experience.

Another night we enjoyed the Kecak Dance. In this tradition, a group of men chant and sing to create a beat and tell a story. Dancers fill the space around a flame and love, battles and drama unfold in front of the audience. We got a seat up front and got drawn into the rapture. It always amazes me how disrespectful people can be when others are speaking or performing. We had people that would not stop talking sitting next to us. If you don’t want to enjoy the show then why are you sitting up front? I thought we might be safe from the loud talkers on their cells phones, but no, not even a quiet evening at a remote resort can thwart that. These people are sharing their culture and a sense of pride in their country and you cannot sit and stay quiet for 20 minutes. Boggles my mind.

When you stay at an all inclusive resort you get to know the other guests, as you see them at almost every meal and at the pool each day. Most people opt for all-inclusive because God forbid they venture out and see the country and meet the people. We had some amazing characters that shared the week with us. I spotted a Boston Bruins hat and commented, making friends with a couple from Massachusetts. There was the young couple that slathered themselves in sun block, but failed to cover their small children, who turned various shades of red over the week. The massive eating couple, with the husband nearly taking off my arm to grab a plate and get ahead of me in the buffet line. His wife gave me an embarrassed look of apology while he mumbled something under his breath. I just smiled and remembered never to get between him and a meal. Then there were the three young Brits that had shown up probably looking for Spring Break and found a family resort. These three guys played chicken in the pool and often shared 2 sun loungers between them. They were an odd looking trio, but seemed to make the most of the lack of party atmosphere. Most people that age flock to Kuta, the supreme party epicenter.

The most amazing couple however, was team mullet. It is not often that female mullet is displayed in full glory, but we were fortunate enough to have such an encounter each day of our holiday. Mr. Mullet rocked the graying long and curly, with luxurious locks below his shoulders for the party portion. His wife preferred the sporty model in jet black. The icing on the cake was the collection of banana hammocks that Mr. Mullet rocked poolside. My personal favorite was a pair of aged boy shorts that had writing on the butt, usually reserved for college coeds or members of cheering squads. I have never seen anything like it and it really was his defining moment of glory. When you start to grow that style, what do you say to the hairdresser or barber? Do you ask for business on top and party in the back? I am sure this couple had been sporting these dos since the 80’s and just wonder what goes through people’s heads. As someone with short hair that often decides to grow it out, the impending mullet that could happen makes me cut is short with reckless abandon. I fear the mullet, but am in awe of those who put in a solid performance.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bali Part 1:

I fell in love with Bali for the first time in 2008. It was not like anyplace I had ever been with the smell of flowers and incense filling the air, the gorgeous people welcoming me with open hearts and the mind blowing underwater world. Duncan and I met later the same year and I spoke about Bali so much that it became an ongoing joke about me trying to get him there. I knew he was intrigued as to why it had affected me so strongly and knew it would only be a matter of time before I dragged him there. We began traveling to more exotic locations and experiencing new adventures, although still in my heart, Bali slipped from my mind.

After the dramatic ending to our Whale Wars film shoot, we decided that a week somewhere to relax and actually process what we had been through was much needed. Amazing how you keep pushing forward and get the job done, without allowing yourself a moment to take in the emotions and the feelings of what you have experienced. We contemplated areas of Australia and realized that it would blow our budget very quickly. I love Australia, but it is very expensive to vacation there. I began to look at other options that were close by and would offer a cheap escape. Thailand, Indonesia and Fiji are all fairly close and easy to get to, but an add on the television for Bali caught my eye. The fire for Bali was reignited and I began furiously plotting and planning a trip. It worked out that 10 days in Bali, including round trip airfare and all meals, was cheaper than a week’s accommodation and meals in Australia. We were also approaching Duncan’s birthday and I wanted him to celebrate it on a beach somewhere, as last year he spent it on the boat in Antarctica.

Our first travel plan was rescheduled because we were asked to extend our shoot and take a detour to Albany, Western Australia. We wrapped our shoot and the plan was set. I hate all-inclusive packages and avoid them like the plague, but without a car and staying in a higher end, but remote (as I remembered) part of the island, we thought it might be the most cost effective option. I hesitantly pushed the “book” button and it disappeared into cyberspace. We made arrangements for our hotel shuttle and all that was left to do was pack. We left our massive cases loaded with winter weather gear and random items with our Aussie family. They had been wonderful and opened their home to us numerous times, because we keep coming back.

With a bag each, we returned the rental car to the airport and went to check in. The flight was scheduled to be 3 hours and 40 minutes, which in my world equals one trashy magazine and a nap. The guy at the exchange counter asked if we had US dollars for the visa. I had completely forgotten that they only accept US dollars for the $25 visa fee. Odd because the US dollar has tanked and they would be better off requesting a different currency. Anyway, we got the required money and made our way to the Virgin terminal. I have to say the Virgin (America, Atlantic or Australia) is the way to fly. The crew is always friendly, economy seats do not equal riding in a sardine can and there are free movies, great food and alcohol.

We arrived in darkness, which always adds an element of fear and excitement as the drive rips around corners. The arrival process in Bali is chaos, but nothing compared to the exit. (See the next bog) Indonesia offers visas on arrival for most western countries, so we were all set in that department. We paid our $25 and got inspected by customs before passing through. You hand off your standard arrival forms and then are ushered through to grab your luggage. I had not warned Duncan that there would be a sea of men waiting to wrestle bags off the belt and demand money for their safe return or to tote them to another location. As a man moved towards Duncan’s bag I found myself becoming that person in slow motion, moving towards Dunk and yelling, “doooooooonnnn’t leeeettttttttt hiiiiiimmmmm…touch the bag.” Duncan stood there, bag in hand giving me his,” Jill, what are spazzing about now,” look. I explained the situation and we gathered our bags and navigated the gauntlet out to the arrivals area. I scanned the crowd and saw the sign with Ms Morris on it and moved with authority towards our driver.

Our package at Club Bali Mirage included roundtrip airport transfers, so we jumped at the offer. We usually prefer to rent a car, but what I remembered of driving in Bali was absolutely terrifying. I say this having seen the 405 at rush hour and making regular appearances on I-95 in Miami. Duncan stared wide-eyed as we weaved in and out of traffic and zipped around corners. Our arrival was a blur and as we checked in at the open-air lobby, our fresh juice welcome cocktails were delivered. Apa Kabar was the only thing I really remembered and I did manage to wow our driver with language prowess, counting to 5 in Balinese. I asked how to say thank you and we were at least on our way. I find that knowing even a few words makes all the difference. It shows respect and an effort to really connect with the people of wherever you are traveling too. Don’t worry if you mispronounce, they will appreciate the gesture and most likely you will get a smile.

We were shown to our room, passing through the lounge area and making our way to the 3rd floor. Anxious to see our deluxe room, we fumbled with the card to open the door. Voila! Two single beds! What? 6 weeks in bunks and there was no way I was paying to sleep in a single bed. I explained to the concierge and he suggested that we move the beds together. I am not a travel diva, but I had a moment. Oh hell no, we are not paying for a room where we have to move the beds together. I marched downstairs and explained the situation. Unfortunately there were no deluxe rooms, so the slumber party idea was suggested again. Not happening. The man behind the desk twitched a bit before he offering us a Romance room. Excellent. We moved down the hall and walked in to find that “romance” means hanging a drapery around the bed from ceiling to floor. Exhausted we put our gear down with a sigh of success and exhaustion. Our new room looked like the pictures of the deluxe room that were shown on the website, so all had worked out.

Our package included 24-hour meals, so we decided to check out the menu. We washed down mie goreng and nasi goreng with bottles of Bali Hai. We were the only people in the massive main dinning area and it was all a bit surreal. Both of these dishes are pretty standard in Bali with vegetables and meat mixed with noodles
(mie) or rice (nasi), served with a friend egg on top. Without meat, they are a delicious vegetarian option. With bellies full, we slipped into vacation mode and enjoyed another beer. We managed to stay up until midnight, well I should say, I managed, as Dunk is always a night owl. We toasted Duncan’s birthday before retiring to our room.

I was a little worried that Duncan would be disappointed if Bali was not everything I had described. I had made the vacation call and wanted him to fall in love like I did. I also wanted to make sure that his birthday was a blast. We had celebrated it early before we left for Australia, expecting to be somewhere bobbing around Antarctica. The circumstances had changed, so I wanted to make sure we were somewhere warm and that he had a really nice day. I booked him a Balinese massage and planned a dinner on the beach at Jimbaran Bay. I also looked into other activities to fill our vacation. We did not want to do too much, as the point was to relax and recharge, but I wanted to make sure he really got to see the culture. With this, I set out to book a road trip, diving and a trip to Kuta.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Albany South West Australia: Whale Heaven, Shark Hell

This one is tough to write because I love the people we met and the heart that is Albany, but the city has a dark side that is difficult to ignore.

When we travel for work we are usually limited in the range and realm of our exploration. We venture to the nook and cranny restaurants and bars, but do not always get to do a road trip. When we returned to Fremantle on the Brigitte Bardot we got the offer for an impromptu road trip to Albany. Albany is about 5-8 hours by car from Fremantle, depending on which route you travel. We needed to get there, so there was no detour to Margaret River. Notorious for their wine tours, we probably would not have made it to our destination.

We packed our gear into our Nissan X-Trail and headed out. Monty, my ever-present traveling companion perched on our gear, able to keep an eye on our exploits. The landscape changes rapidly as you slip away form the outskirts of Perth and veer inland. The soil becomes redder and the sprawling expanse is far more arid than the cool breeze that is referred to as the, “ Freo Doctor.” Farmland started to fill the roadside with massive cattle, kangaroos, ostrich and alpacas decorating the fields. Small roadhouses were scattered every 50 kilometers or so. We stopped at Lady Rae’s and met Lady Rae, wearing a hat decorated with a sparkly nametag. The world is different here. Time seems to slow way down, like it does when you head to the southern states in America. Words are spoken slower and stretched in their pronunciation. The shelves are lined with touristy trinkets that have been collecting dust for at least a decade, boxes of cookies that have a little less dust and some homemade handy crafts that are indiscernible. I felt like we were in a movie with the characters crawling out of the woodwork.

Monty is ready for the trip

A random roadhouse

We arrived in Albany finding the hillsides slipping into a sprawling natural harbor. Albany has a long history with the sea and that history still breathes within the everyday life of this quaint seaside town. Isolated from major cities, the people of Albany are hearty and hardworking, many relying on the port for their livelihood. Albany is also known for its place in Australia’s whaling history. Even before it was a settlement, whalers from America, France and Britain dropped off convicts and carried on whaling. The town’s proximity to the deep-water shelf made it an ideal location for efficient capture and processing of these leviathans. In 1978 the last whale was brought into Albany for processing, as the doors of the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company closed for good.

The Brig Amity Replica

Since 1978, “ Amazing Albany” has built a reputation for being an eco friendly town, now running whale watching trips and utilizing wind turbines for power. Tourist guidebooks lure in perspective visitors with words like, “green,” and “eco-minded,” and for the most part I would have to agree with these statements, that is unless you are a shark.

Duncan and I settled in at the Best Western and decided to take a stroll around town to check out the scene and get the scoop on when the Forest Rescue guys might be coming into town. We wandered into the White Star Line Pub to grab a pint. The White Star is famous for its ship the Titanic and being tourists we opted to check it out. We immediately spotted a man sporting a Sea Shepherd t-shirt and a ZZ top beard and made our way in his direction. Sid warmed up to us quickly and before we knew it he was buying us a round and we were buying him one. Sid works at the port and offered some Intel on the arrival of the ship that was carrying the Forest Rescue crew. We chatted whales, the ocean and life in Albany.

A hearty soul, Sid clearly loves the ocean and has a massive respect for it. We earned our street cred having survived the rogue wave that inevitably took the Brigitte Bardot out of the campaign. Although we have not seen a quarter of what most mariners do in a well-seasoned career, we do have some salt behind our ears. I am happy to say that, now cozy on dry land. Sid expressed his disgust of the removal of such incredible animals, particularly under the guise of, “ research.” As a marine biologist I resent the use of this word because it makes people uneasy with projects that are actually doing legitimate research.
Sid is one of those people that you stumble across in life and it is random draw from the deck. The random chaos of the universe put us in the same place at the same time and a t-shirt was the simple catalyst of the interaction. I love how life works and the people we meet along this crazy, strange and wonderful journey. We exchanged emails and I do believe that we will see Sid again. There is one thing about the people of Australia; when they say to come visit if you are in town again, they mean it. They are not making a polite gesture; they actually want you to come back.

We also visited the 1849 Backpackers to get some waivers signed and found another treasure. I have stayed in some less than savory hostels and this was a quaint little home away from home. The owner, Danny, was passionate about his place and his work with children, welcoming us and accommodating all our requests. We stayed at the Best Western and I would say to anyone, even those of the non-backpacking flavor, that the 1849 far exceeds the hotel! Free Internet, clean rooms, ample living space, satellite television, free parking and no attitude or aroma of alcohol and body order soaked carpet. Yes, Albany is a spectacular gem, nestled against a gorgeous harbor and filled with a rich history, but if you are a shark, Albany, like so many coastal towns, is a dark place.

As we wandered around town it was time to grab some dinner and we began scouting out our options. We found a little bar called Nonna’s and decided to sample some of the award winning local wines. When in Rome right? As we enjoyed our libations we asked to see a menu. We go into autopilot when we see “fish,” on the menu and ask what species it is. Amazing how many servers do not know or seem to care. Our perky waitress responded that it was shark with a smile. I immediately got a pit in my stomach. We walked out and I felt disgusted having purchased even just a glass of wine at the establishment. We did grab a menu to use a tool in educating people about the issue.

Unfortunately this is not the only place that happily serves shark as its fish option. In fact, the majority of places we wandered into not only serve it, but they have it proudly announced on the menu. The most appalling was the children’s menu at Nonna’s that had Shark Filets & Chips as their top item. How about a little mercury poising for your kids?

Our next step was to figure out what kind of shark. It didn’t take long to determine that most commonly it is bronze whaler. Ugh, another pit in the stomach. My experiences with bronzies are few, but all remarkable. I snorkeled with them in New Zealand on a shoot and was apart of tagging the SBERP’s (Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project) first bronzie in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Bronze whalers are aptly named with their bronze skin that gleams in the sunlight. They are broad like bull sharks and are one of the most beautiful species of sharks I have ever seen. I am happy to report that Rustlers did not serve shark on the menu and the service was outstanding.

Tagging a bronze whaler in Western Australia

Bronze Whaler skin

It boggles my mind that a place that describes itself as eco friendly and has gone to extreme lengths to redeem its checkered whaling past, would serve shark as a staple on their menus. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. The information is there. Sharks are vital for our oceans and health wise they are filled with mercury. Why on earth would you eat them? There is absolutely no need. I don’t live in Albany, but I have shared my concerns with friends and family in Australia and I hope that people speak out on behalf of the ocean that washes along their coastline. Sharks are not as charismatic as whales, which is all the more reason to step up and be a voice for them.

This isn’t just about Australia; it’s about globally being aware, but also being aware of what is happening in our own backyards. We are quick to point fingers and blame Asian countries, but they are not the only regions that are slaughtering these incredible animals. Check your local restaurants Do they serve shark? Watch out for other names such as hake or flake. Ask questions and educate yourself on what is going on around you. How about your grocery store’s fish counter? Ask them is they ever offer shark and what species? Start asking questions. When you ask questions you make people think. People need to think to make change. Start the movement and start the motion.