The Majestic Uluru

Comments 2 Standard

After our busy Kakadu tour, we relaxed at the hostel before catching an afternoon flight from Darwin to Alice Springs, which sits pretty much in the middle of Australia – and the middle of a desert! During the two hour flight, we passed nothing but desert and uninhabited land – shows how big and unpopulated Australia is!

We spent the night in Alice Springs which is the largest town in the “Red Centre” which is not much at 25,000 people. Being in a desert in the middle of winter meant the days are warm and clear, but the nights freezing cold!!! Our room even had a space heater to keep us warm under the blankets – we haven’t felt this cold in months!!

The next day we had a bus pick us up at 6:30 am and we set off on the 6 hour drive through the desert to make our way to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Uluru has to be the most iconic landmark of Australia and we were both excited to see it! The large bus stopped a few times for toilet and snack breaks, but one stop had a camel farm and and a kangaroo enclosure. Kathleen was excited as this was the first kangaroo she has seen!

Australia now has 20,000 wild camels!

Australia now has 20,000 wild camels!

A red kangaroo

A red kangaroo

We finally pulled into the Yulara Resort at 1 pm which is a self contained town with a few hotels, petrol station, grocery store and campsites. Outside the resort, there is nothing for miles – other than Uluru and Kata Tjuta! We rented a car at Hertz and then drove to see Uluru. It was another clear and warm day and we were struck by how amazing Uluru looks as we drove up to the rock. We parked right at the base and we went for a short 2 kilometer walk to view some impressive rock art that is painted on the side. For the local aboriginal people, Uluru is a very sacred site and it is part of their creation story. Since it was already late in the afternoon, we left and headed for the sunset viewing area. We came equip with a bottle of red wine we had been carrying around since buying it at Bali duty free. With some nuts and chips, we made a nice cocktail hour as we watched the sun go down and Uluru lit up in beautiful colors!

Our first sighting of the rock

Our first sighting of the rock

Thanks Shannon and Randy for suggesting us to but the hats!

Thanks Shannon and Randy for suggesting us to but the hats!

Up close with Uluru - it looks like a wave

Up close with Uluru – it looks like a wave

Admiring the beauty

Admiring the beauty

We look super cool

We look super cool

When it rains, this is a waterfall

When it rains, this is a waterfall

Rock art

Rock art

The many faces of Uluru

The many faces of Uluru

We couldn't resit this photo

We couldn’t resit this photo

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Our spot for sunset

Our spot for sunset

Our happy hour!

Our happy hour!

Turning a deep red

Turning a deep red

Now orange

Now orange

And finally purple

And finally purple

The following morning we woke up at 5:45 am and left the hostel at 6 to ensure we would make it to Kata Tjuta in time to watch sunrise. Like I mentioned earlier, it was freezing outside…literally! The thermometer in the car was reading 28 degrees F (-2 degrees C)! Kathleen and I had multiple layers of clothing on but with the wind chill, it felt much colder. We even filled our water bottles up with boiling water and placed them inside of our coats for warmth. Despite the cold weather, we had another amazing view of Uluru and Kata Tjuta for sunrise. Both were magnificent and well worth the early wake up!

Pre-dawn light from the sunrise spot

Pre-dawn light from the sunrise spot

Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta

Sunrise

Sunrise

Wearing nearly all the clothes we packed

Wearing nearly all the clothes we packed

We warmed back up in the car and then drove a few more kilometers to Kata Tjuta to go on a 5 mile hike called “The Valley of the Winds”. Unlike Uluru which is one solid rock, Kata Tjuta is many rocks in a cluster – the name even means “Many Heads” in the local language. With the sun still low and cool, it was a great time to set off on a hike. We had some fantastic views and for many parts, it was just Kathleen and I hiking. Among the highlights was seeing 4 wild kangaroos not very far from us. It was very neat to be in such an amazing and spiritual place and see these uniquely Australian animals!

Starting our early morning hike Kata Tjuta

Starting our early morning hike Kata Tjuta

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Valley of the winds hike

Valley of the winds hike

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A cutie

A cutie

Lookout spot halfway through the hike

Lookout spot halfway through the hike

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A quiet and peaceful hike

A quiet and peaceful hike

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A wild kangaroo on the trail

A wild kangaroo on the trail

We caught him hopping

We caught him hopping

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We said goodbye to Kata Tjuta and Uluru and headed out of the park and back to the resort. We only spent about 24 hours in Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park, but it was an amazing place! We were happy we rented a car to give us the freedom to travel around. Later that afternoon, we flew to Cairns in Northern Queensland and we had a great view of Uluru as we took off!

Cool shot

Cool shot

Uluru as seen from the air...it's massive!

Uluru as seen from the air…it’s massive!

Kakadu National Park Take 2

Comments 2 Standard

After our busy first day, we spent the next day hiking some smaller rock formations in the area. Since it is dry season, the weather was perfect! The landscapes are so beautiful and you can’t see any civilization for miles.

View from the top of the rock formation

View from the top of the rock formation

Selfie Central

Selfie Central

Jumping for Joy

Jumping for Joy

View from the top!

View from the top!

After our hike, our overland truck crossed a crocodile infested river! So scary! We first made our way via a boat then a short hike to a gorgeous waterfall. There wasn’t much water flowing, but it was still lovely to see. This small water area, we were NOT allowed to swim in due to crocodiles! We got to take pictures and relax in the sun.

The sign posted near the river we were about to cross! Hope we dont' get stuck

The sign posted near the river we were about to cross! Hope we dont’ get stuck

A jeep crossing before us!

A jeep crossing before us!

Rob and our guide

Rob and our guide

Lovely!

Lovely!

More hiking...

More hiking…

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First waterfall!

First waterfall!

Gorge hiking

Gorge hiking

No swimming because of these guys! We saw them resting on the bank!

No swimming because of these guys! We saw them resting on the bank!

The next stop was another hike, more arduous this time over large boulders and rocks to the famous Jim Jim Falls. When we arrived, there was no actual falls due to dry season and lack of rains. We were however allowed to swim in this watering hole. It is crocodile controlled. Park rangers set croc traps and check it regularly to make sure they haven’t made it to the swimming hole. This was the only swimming hole I saw in the entire trip because the water was FREEZING! It was a good way to cool off after a hike.

HUGE boulders to hike over Jim Jim Fall

HUGE boulders to hike over Jim Jim Fall

Small tributary with croc traps!

Small tributary with croc traps!

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That night we set up camp and slept under the stars! We slept in a ‘swag’ or a sleeping bag with a little shelter with it. It was super cold at night and even Rob was chilly. The plus side, it was cool and crisp with little clouds so we can see the stars perfectly!

Our "kitchen" as we prepare dinner!

Our “kitchen” as we prepare dinner!

On our last day, we ventured to Makuk swimming hole first. It was not nearly 9 am, but most of our tour group hopped in! Me and a few of the cold ones stayed sunning on the rocks instead. It’s clear and crisp waters were perfect for Rob to jump into!

Day 3 hiking to our AM water fall

Day 3 hiking to our AM water fall

Watering hole

Watering hole

So many clear, cool pools of water

So many clear, cool pools of water

Rob standing on the edge

Rob standing on the edge

Rob jumping off the highest cliff he can find

Rob jumping off the highest cliff he can find

Watering hole fun!

Watering hole fun!

Our last stop was another look-out point and watering hole. They joke that it has an infinite pool overlooking the valley below. The water was so blue green and of course chilly! The view at the top was my favorite.

HUGE termite mound! There were so many of them as we drove through the outback!

HUGE termite mound! There were so many of them as we drove through the outback!

More massive termite mounds as we drove!

More massive termite mounds as we drove!

View at the top of our last spot! Outback for miles

View at the top of our last spot! Outback for miles

Awesome green blue water

Awesome green blue water

Infinite pool at the top?

Infinite pool at the top?

Rob's model shot

Rob’s model shot

wild horses!

wild horses!

Overall, it was a great time exploring the ‘outback’ and aboriginal culture. There is so much beauty in Kakadu National Park!

Perfect dog we met at a rest stop riding on his owner's motorcycle !

Perfect dog we met at a rest stop riding on his owner’s motorcycle !

Down Under in Kakadu National Park

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After our Asia adventures, Rob and I were excited to go to a first world country (Japan was the last one we were in!). We immediately boarded our flight and landed early morning in Darwin (Land Down Under!), which is located in the Northern Territory of Australia. From our flight, we began our overland tour right away to get the ‘Outback’ Experience. We were happy to see paved roads, normal toilets, grocery stores, metered taxis, and everything in English (what a nice treat!).

Our first stop on the tour was to visit an a local aboriginal family who have lived off of the earth for thousands of years. The father is a park ranger who helps monitor the northern territory since he knows the lay of the land better than anyone. They also have four daughters, who help give tours of their land and insight into their culture. The young girl we met still has to go through her aboriginal ‘tests’ in which she has to: hunt snakes in the billabong, cook, weave baskets & mats, partake in traditional dance as well as learn about the land.

Didgeridoo practice

Didgeridoo practice

Our guide showing us the different colors and materials they use to paint with

Our guide showing us the different colors and materials they use to paint with

During our time, they showed us how they make their own didgeridoos, which is a wind instrument developed by Indigenous Australians of northern Australia around 1,500 years ago and still in widespread use today in Australia. They also showed us the different materials they use in to paint their instruments with as well as the inside of caves. Rob also go to try spear hunting! (much harder than it looks!).

Young aboriginal girl teaching us about her culture.

Young aboriginal girl teaching us about her culture.

Rob hunting with his spear

Rob hunting with his spear

After our visit, we headed on a boat ride around a local billabong, which is usually formed when the path of a creek or river changes, leaving the former branch with a dead end. This is a great source of water for animals that come here during the dry season (which we were in now) to feed and drink water. While we were there, we saw massive crocodiles in their natural habitat (both saltwater and freshwater crocs). Some crocodiles get as big 7 meters! We also saw lots of birds too (too quick for my camera).

Sneaky croc

Sneaky croc

Water lilies where the crocodiles lurk

Water lilies where the crocodiles lurk

Looking for snacks

Looking for snacks

Immersed in the water

Immersed in the water

Down Under

Down Under

After that, we entered the famous Kakadu National Park. This large national park holding numerous hiking trails, camp grounds, aboriginal paintings and culture as well as wild life is roughly the size of Belgium!

Made it to the National Park

Made it to the National Park

Views as we hiked

Views as we hiked

We ended our day at the cultural focal point of the National Park in Ubirr. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to absolutely stunning cave paintings that are still intact and preserved to this day! After all of the rain and dry dust, you can still see the vibrant colors and drawings inside the caves. The paintings were (and still are today) used as a chalkboard to teach their young about animals, how to hunt, as well as stories of morality. We saw one rock art depicting a story about how two young girls turned into crocodiles and how dangerous they are. The paintings are gorgeous and hold lots of folklore and stories.

Drawing of a man hunting

Drawing of a man hunting

Turtle drawing found in cave

Turtle drawing found in cave

Aboriginals would 'mark' their painting with their hand print

Aboriginals would ‘mark’ their painting with their hand print

One of the cave overhangs that houses many paintings

One of the cave overhangs that houses many paintings

After we hiked our way through the park, we climbed to the top of the large rock that overlooks everything. You get a great view point of the wetlands, the grasses, rock formations, and the cultural area below.

At the top of the rock

At the top of the rock

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Lion King rock?

Lion King rock?

Weaving our way through the crevices

Weaving our way through the crevices

Exhausted from our travels, we got to camp late and helped our guide prepare steaks on the grill! What a nice treat.

Temples of Bali

Comments 2 Standard

After spending some time in Ubud, Rob and I hired a taxi for the day to take us to some sites around Bali. We first went to the Monkey Forest which is 20 minutes outside of Ubud. Unlike the one in downtown Ubud, this one was quiet and far less people. The monkeys are less aggressive and it was truly beautiful to see the temple in the middle of the forest! We were both petrified, but our guide said it was fine for the monkeys to walk on us. The guide gave Rob a piece of fruit and the monkey literally climbed up his arm! (along with a monkey butt in his face haha). There are over 400 monkeys living in the forest in the surrounding area and they are put there to protect the temple. It was a fun way to get up close and personal with them.

Entrance to the monkey forest

Entrance to the monkey forest

So mysterious

So mysterious

Lovely temple in the woods with no crowds!

Lovely temple in the woods with no crowds!

Petrified

Petrified

Rob with a monkey butt in his face

Rob with a monkey butt in his face

I enjoy the Mohawk hair-do

I enjoy the Mohawk hair-do

Looking for snacks in his hair

Looking for snacks in his hair

The next stop was gorgeous rice terraces that dot the countryside as you weave your way up the mountainside. Rice is a huge food necessity in Indonesia. No meal is complete without rice. Rice is also an essential part of social and religious ceremonies, since Rice in essence forms the lifeblood of the community.The goddess of Rice is known as Bhatari Sri, or the mother of Rice. As the Indonesian archipelago’s staple food, Dewi Sri is not only venerated in Bali, but also on Java and other rice-producing islands.

Rice terraces covered in water

Rice terraces covered in water

So green and lush

So green and lush

Rice terraces that goes on for miles

Rice terraces that goes on for miles

After this, we went to see the Royal Family Temple. Still used today, this is a special and sacred place for the royal family to pray. We even got to see an official prayer offering in honor of the royal family. It was lovely to see all of architecture and the moat that surrounds the temples.

This temple is surrounded by a moat!

This temple is surrounded by a moat!

Royal Temple

Royal Temple

Official walking to the temple to give alms

Official walking to the temple to give alms

Giving his official offering

Giving his official offering

Royal Family Temple

Royal Family Temple

Royal family temple selfie

Royal family temple selfie

Awesome architecture

Awesome architecture

Our last stop was the lake temple that is an iconic image of Bali. While we were there, we saw a young couple getting their wedding photos taken in the traditional outfits. They were so beautiful and she even smiled for the camera! Once you get to the lake, you see the lovely temples ‘floating’ on the lake.

A young couple posing for me off-camera

A young couple posing for me off-camera

Iconic Bali image

Iconic Bali image

Temple by the lake

Temple by the lake

Lush flowers surround it on the water

Lush flowers surround it on the water

Lake around the temple

Lake around the temple

Last meal in Asia: Beef Rendang, Cassava soup, corn fritters, shrimp crackers  and of course rice!

Last meal in Asia: Beef Rendang, Cassava soup, corn fritters, shrimp crackers and of course rice!

Ubud, Bali – “Eat, Pray, Love”

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We left the Gili Islands and headed back to “mainland Bali” the the spiritual capital called Ubud. The town was always popular for travellers, but recently gained fame for it being portrayed in the book and film “Eat, Pray, Love”. The town is situated up in the hills and it has a nice and comfortable climate. We were initially struck by the culture of the town and how it appears to “alternative travelers”. Nearly every restaurant was vegan this, organic that, raw food….blah blah. We did get some good local Indonesia food of gado-gado and Nasi Campur! We also stopped later and got famous Balinese roast pig. It was spicy and the crispy skin was amazing. Not quite as good as Italian roast pork in my book!

Gado Gado- steamed veggies in lemongrass with homemade peanut sauce on top!

Gado Gado- steamed veggies in lemongrass with homemade peanut sauce on top!

Nasi Campur

Nasi Campur

Famous Balinese suckling pig

Famous Balinese suckling pig

Anyways, Ubud was a nice place to relax and enjoy some nice temples within the city. The small guesthouse we were staying in had a lovely view of a rice terrace with a nice patio overlooking the field. Kathleen used this time to practice some of her yoga…she misses doing it at home!

Rice field behind our guesthouse

Rice field behind our guesthouse

The doorway to our room!

The doorway to our room!

Namaste

Namaste

Cobra dancer?

Cobra dancer?

Like a pro

Like a pro

Kathleen trying to teach me yoga

Kathleen trying to teach me yoga

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Indonesia in 90% Muslim (actually the largest Muslim nation in the world), but Bali is actually Hindu (like India). Centuries ago, the king of Bali refused conversion to Islam and since then, Hindu has been the norm. Instead of mosques, there are temples and shrines all around the island. Shop keepers always put an offering outside their shops of flowers, rice, and incense. In town we visited the Saraswati Temple – while small, it gave us a good look at Balinese architecture.

Temple in Ubud

Temple in Ubud

Rob doing a great imitation

Rob doing a great imitation

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In the evening, we went to a cultural show and dance. The show was held at a small temple which made for an amazing setting. The place was packed, but we got there early and had great seats. The show was very fascinating, even though we really didn’t know what was going on. There were at least 20 men playing instruments (all percussion) and the performers outfits and dances were amazing!

Palace Temple in Ubud before the cultural dance show

Palace Temple in Ubud before the cultural dance show

A musician smiling to his buddy across the way

A musician smiling to his buddy across the way

Look at those eyes!

Look at those eyes!

Dancing up a storm

Dancing up a storm

I love the hand movements

I love the hand movements

Facial expressions help to tell the story

Facial expressions help to tell the story

A dancing mythical creature

A dancing mythical creature

Famous Bali mask

Famous Bali mask

2 kings ready for their close up

2 kings ready for their close up

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Trying to lure the king

Trying to lure the king

Gorgeous

Gorgeous

Favorite cultural dance of entire trip!

Favorite cultural dance of entire trip!

Gili Air

Comments 2 Standard

After our few days on Nusa Lembongan, we tempted fate again and took another boat to the island called Gili Air. The Gili Islands are an archipelago of three small islands — Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air — just off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia. The islands are a popular destination for tourists looking for a remote island experience (which we were!). Our two hour boat ride was actually nice and painless and worth the money (surprisingly!) since we were worried about a scary boat taking us to the island.

Gili Air is small. There are no cars, just horse drawn carts (used as taxi and transport) as well as bicycles. You can walk around the entire island in an hour or so. There are beach shacks, restaurants and dive shops and not much else. Since it was high season (tons of French people), we booked early. We got a little bungalow inside the island (really just a 5 minute bike ride to the beach).

Our 'fast boat' to Gili Air

Our ‘fast boat’ to Gili Air

Beach on Gili Air- laid back and full of sunshine

Beach on Gili Air- laid back and full of sunshine

Our first day, we spent on the beach (cheap and fun). The beach wasn’t as nice as we would have thought, but the water was warm and the weather was great so we had a nice time just laying out. Later that night, we saw one of the best sunsets of the entire trip! So beautiful and the sky was so clear you could see the volcano on the island of Bali.

Beach digs

Beach digs

White sandy beach

White sandy beach

Lovely sunset

Lovely sunset

Taking it all in

Taking it all in

The volcano in the background

The volcano in the background

Best sunset

Best sunset

The next day our “eat, pray, love” experience went downhill shifting to “bargain, pay, get ripped off”. We spent half the day trying to find safe, not too expensive ferry ride back to Bali (aka civilization). As with everything you book in Southeast Asia, this took 4 hours of going to different travel agencies and deciding if they are a scam or not, then trying to barter the price for the ferry (so you aren’t getting ripped off), then try and confirm that the ticket is in fact real (our guy changed the time on the ticket compared to what ferry we actually wanted to be on–we were wise to this and showed up on the ticketed time even though it was 4 hours earlier than the next boat). They do this so you miss the “ticketed boat” and have to buy a new fare for the boat you actually wanted.

After our stressed out experience, we ate at a local Warung. I got basic nasi goreng (stir fried noodles with veggies and an egg on top) which is the famous local dish. A few hours later I had the worst chills and got so sick! I couldn’t get out of bed the entire next day. Having eaten food in Delhi Belly India, in hill country Nepal, sketchy food stands in China, sidewalk restaurants in Vietnam, and local joints in Thailand I NEVER got sick. This was the first time I got truly food poisoning and it happened to be on the most touristy island you could think of, in a proper restaurant at that!

Eating pasta because we had enough of the "local" food after I got sick

Eating pasta because we had enough of the “local” food after I got sick

Dinner side

Dinner side

Needless to say, Rob and I had enough of our “island” experience and were excited to head to Ubud the following day.

Nusa Lembongan Island Adventures

Comments 3 Standard

After our exciting and relaxing time with Alex, we took a quick flight to Bali, Indonesia to check out the beaches and culture. It seems to be just another crooked country in southeast Asia. Two hours it took through immigration (they gave Rob a hard time about the pages in his passport again), but seemed too tired for a bribe that late at night. Once through immigration, we waited another hour for an “official” taxi, who then tried to tell us there was a “nighttime taxi cab fee” once we didn’t buy that, he said there was a fee because there were two hours of traffic and that was extra (which we didn’t buy) so after some fighting he relented to the posted price. This was the official taxi cab stand inside the airport! They are suppose to be the company that won’t rip you off. We found our driver and our supposed “2-hour” drive took all of 40 minutes, max. Tired and worn out we slept in our overnight accommodation in Sanur beach in preparation for our ferry to Nusa Lembongan.

We arrived at the port, and among all the scams, we somehow managed to find a boat that was leaving that hour to go to Nusa which was only 30 minutes away by boat. We stepped aboard, hoping that it wouldn’t sink. (Last year a boat of tourists sank due to horrible safety standards and way to crowded boats!). Once we arrived on the island, we were taken by “taxi” aka pick-up truck to our hotel.

Boats resting off shore

Boats resting off shore

Awesome pool!

Awesome pool!

Total babe at the pool

Total babe at the pool

We found a great, new hotel in Nusa Lembongan that opened just 20 days before we arrived (we got a GREAT deal on the room rate)! We were scared as to what we would find since there were no reviews and it was so brand new. We lucked out on an awesome bungalow with a great pool that overlooked the ocean. From our deck, you can see the seaweed farmers each night as the tide goes out, collecting seaweed to sell.

Locals farming the seaweed

Locals farming the seaweed

Seaweed at low tide

Seaweed at low tide

Collecting seaweed

Collecting seaweed

Lady drying her seaweed she just collected

Lady drying her seaweed she just collected

We ate at the bungalows that night since it was my birthday and Rob surprised me with an awesome 28th birthday cake. It was a fun evening and a great way to celebrate.

Happy 28th Birthday!! Great cake after dinner.

Happy 28th Birthday!! Great cake after dinner.

The next day, we rented a motorbike (which Rob loves to drive) and went to see Mushroom Bay and Dream Beach. Mushroom Bay was crowded with lots of boats and restaurants, so we camped out on Dream Beach that afternoon. It is a small beach, surrounded by a cove with rough waves and blue water. Rob, being the brave swimmer he is, was one of the only people to actually go swimming in the rough currents. He said the water was so clear and the water refreshing making it a great dip in the ocean. I was scared the entire time he was out there!

Mushroom Bay

Mushroom Bay

Dream beach behind us

Dream beach behind us

Rob riding the "rough" waves on Dream Beach

Rob riding the “rough” waves on Dream Beach

I prefer to catch some rays

I prefer to catch some rays

Later in the day, we drove around the island and got to check out: the mangroves, tiny beach huts that line the shores, temples that dot the interior of the island, and scenic hill top views over the ocean. It was a nice place to get away from the crowded city center and a nice way to appreciate the beaches.

Rob and his famous motorbike (he wants to get one to ride around Norristown with)

Rob and his famous motorbike (he wants to get one to ride around Norristown with)

Boats docked off shore

Boats docked off shore

The mangroves around the island

The mangroves around the island

Local temple in town

Local temple in town

Life in the day of

Life in the day of

View at the top of the hill

View at the top of the hill

Prayer offering on the coast

Prayer offering on the coast

Sunset in Nusa on the last night

Sunset in Nusa on the last night