Thursday, April 28, 2011

Learning Bali Through Surprises

Whether it is on Greenschool campus or elsewhere in Bali, Mother Earth is constantly surprising me with her complex gifts of nature. Each new gift gives me the opportunity to learn more about my ecological surroundings & the life that coexists around me. Today a 3rd grade student presented me with a foam nest on a large leaf. I knew it was an egg sac of some kind, but I was clueless as to who laid it. I had never seen such a thing, it looked like a huge flem ball. I did specie classification in school & everything, but that was in the states... Now, in this tropical environment it is a whole new ballpark of plants & animals. I took it to my fellow scientist Martin & once we had established that it was not something coughed up by my boyfriend we both started researching.. By the end of the day we were happy to announce that the Greenschool is now home to the foam nest and eggs of a foam nesting Golden Tree Frog - most likely a species of Polypedates. For further details follow this link:!
Also, Last week a rare fungus popped up on campus, we were privileged to have a fruiting body of the amazing 'Dictyomorpha indusiata' species on campus. This species of fungus is related closely to the common stinkhorn. It was one of the most attractive fungi we have seen on campus.
The main part of this organism, as with all the fungi, is of course its extensive mycelium, the network of hyphae (feeding tubes) which spread underground through the soil, digesting and breaking down wood and other organic matter. It is a very important saprophytic organism, naturally recycling organic waste and turning it into soil. Many scientists predict that fungi will play an essential role in helping humans to take care of the planet, by breaking down all kinds of waste to form....soil. Paul Stamets has written an excellent book on the subject - 'Mycelium running'. Highly recommended!

Keep your eyes open to the wonders & wildlife around you!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Earth Day @ Greenschool

As we all know, everyday is Earth Day at Greenschool. It is a daily ritual to teach the kids how to plant trees, flowers, & plants, as well as make them knowledgeable about their impact on the planet. But when the actual holiday comes around, its a pretty big deal here in Sibang Kaja, Bali. We stop the whole school day to celebrate this special time. And who else would be better to plan the event than the "Green Studies" teachers...? Needless to say, Matt & I had a lot of planning under our wings, but when all said & done, the day went as smoothly as we could have hoped for.
The morning began with a huge gathering on the soccer field, all students from pre-k to 10th grade were present as well as all the teachers. Matt & I set up 10 stations which all the classes rotated between, and each station had a different Earth friendly relay. For instance, one of the relays was kinda like the ol' egg & spoon race, except they were carrying mini planet Earth balls (they had to save the planet-obviously, it couldn't drop!). At Greenschool, each student is a member of a house, they are either a member of Earth, Air, Fire, or Water, these "houses" create a healthy rivalry where the kids compete against one another on a continual basis. In this event they were split up into their houses & competing against each other, so they were very competitive in a quite positive manner. By the 10th round, the kids & the teachers were exhausted~it was beautiful.
Matt & I also organized an assembly which started with a presentation the 10th graders had put on to teach the rest of the school about the history of Earth Day. They also went into detail about their "houses" and explained how each element is very much their own entity, but they all depend on each other for survival. After the 10th grade was done, there was a dance for Saraswati Day (a Balinese Holiday which also falls on Earth Day). It is a celebration of the goddess of knowledge & education. After that we had a few musical performances, and then it ended with a
very deep drama production by grade 6. They set the tone for the rest of the assembly, and reminded everyone why it is so imperative for us humans to start making a difference & respect Mother Earth. Their presentation was called Altars of Extinction, they made large cut outs of extinct & endangered animals & performed a ritual which was accompanied by a women playing the singing bowls. The whole crowd was silent as one of the students introduced all of the animals & stated whether they were extinct or endangered. It resonated with everyone, our hearts all collided with empathy.
The last part of the day was very student oriented. We arranged with all the teachers for each grade to organize their room with their own Earth Day theme, where guests could tour the school & see what they had prepared. We also had NGO's in the heart of school & many students were raising money for worthy causes like Japan & non-profits like SOS (Sumatran Orangutan Society). There was everything from paper making, planting seedlings, Earth day pledge signing, to Green Smoothies for Japan & massages for monkeys. It was a pretty neat tour. And did I mention that John Butler was present.. ;)
Finally, the day came to an end as we all gathered again in the Mepentigan for one last song. Our staff band performed "Living in Bali" (our school song) and everyone in the whole school sung it at the top of their lungs. It was an incredible way to end the day..

"There is hope if people will begin to awaken that spiritual part of themselves, that heartfelt knowledge that we are caretakers of this planet." ~Brooke Medicine Eagle

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

1 of the 11 mantas that crossed our path

Click this link to check out an underwater video of one of the mantas that crossed our path that day...

If you could see the video, can you just throw me a comment to let me know it worked... this is an experiment to see if I can share my videos this way...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Epic Flores & Komodo National Park Adventure

We just got back from our spring break trip in Flores. As everyone knows, spring break always goes by too fast, but Matt & I made the most of the time we had off. I'm beginning to think that schools have breaks solely for the teachers, bc if teachers had to instruct 365 days a year, they would probably end up in an insane asylum. So needless to say, this nice week long break was TOTALLY necessary to the evolution of both Matt & my sanity.
We jumped on a plane almost as soon as the gong struck Spring Break & headed for Flores, which is 3 islands east of Bali. We arrived in Labuan Bajo and stayed there for two nights. It was an interesting place, not exactly a vacation get-away but it was where we had to find our diving packages. So, we booked a dive trip, & headed out to the remote islands as soon as possible. We hopped in an old shaggy boat & drove an hour towards the horizon where we found a very desolate island called Surya. There was absolutely nothing on the island except bright green grass & a long white sand beach aligned with little bungalows. Totally away from everything. All the passengers looked at each other with a shit eating grin all thinking "Yes! This is exactly what I need." So we were in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do, & no expectations or to do lists. It was beautiful. It was a bit rainy while we were there, so it forced us to read, write, & play cards. Really, I don't think I could have asked for anything better at that moment. It was amazing how long it took me to actually relax after being in the groove of work for so long. After one day of being on Surya my engine had cooled, and finally I felt carefree & relaxed.
One evening just before sunset, Matt & I pealed ourselves away from our serious R & R session we had become dedicated to, and headed to the top of the island about 100m above sea level to catch the sunset. The colors of the island & the surrounding ocean water was extremely vivid from this point of view. The grass was screaming bright yellow & green, & the ocean was flaunting the brightest blue I have ever witnessed. In the distance the neighboring islands were beautifully placed, a painter couldn't have aligned them better. And the sunset was definitely one to remember. We couldn't help but to meditate, do yoga, & feel extreme gratitude to be alive on the top of the island that sweet evening.
Two days later as we sat in the restaurant eating breakfast a huge pirate ship pulled up to the island to pick Matt & I up along with another couple from Holland. All of us were overflowing with excitement to get on board. We were bound for two days & one night on this live aboard which included SEVEN different dive spots & trekking on Rinca Island where the famous Komodo dragons live. I was sincerely looking forward to diving in this region of the world-I had only heard great things. The first day was absolutely amazing we did three dives all in different sections of Komodo Island National Park. One of the dives had a moderate current, it was my first experience with a current, we just floated by everything, I was in awe of the incredible life & colors I was zooming past. There were certain points where I just wanted to stop & take a closer look, but there was no chance of manipulating this current. I saw a huge cuttle fish (squid-like), a moray eel, and two turtles dancing together, all new visions for me underwater. When night time rolled around our dive master informed us we would also be doing a night dive... Which I have to be honest about, I was pretty nervous. I'm a sucker when it comes to darkness, I can't see well & my eyes play tricks on me, literally I see things. And when your in the ocean, you really never know what could be creeping, if you know what I mean. I've been told that humans learn the most when they enter the "Zone of the Unknown," so although it was a bit freaky at times it was mind expanding. Plus, anytime I got scared I just swam quickly by Matt's side, literally, like a little girl running for security scared of the darkness.
Even after these great experiences, the best was still yet to come. Our second day was action packed with some of the BEST dive spots in Komodo Island National Park. We woke up at 6:30am and pulled on our scuba gear with one eye open, and dropped in the water at a spot called Batu Bolong. It was an atoll which is an island made up entirely of coral. As soon as I sank 10 meters into this water both of my eyes were wide open, and if my mouth wasn't holding my air my jaw would have been dropped. This spot literally was a scene from Finding Nemo, the colors & the biodiversity of fish & Corals was insanely beautiful. Talk about an ecosystem, this place was thriving in every sense of the word. There was so much going on, it was hard to focus on one particular spot, but when you did a whole 'nother world was exposed. It's hard to explain in words the extraordinary features of this place, but when we surfaced my boat mate described the experience quite eloquently when she yelled "MY MIND HAS BEEN BLOWN & I HAVEN"T EVEN HAD BREAKFAST YET!"
The next spot we went diving at offered me a gift I had never been offered before. The spot was called Manta Point, so I bet you can guess who I was acquainted with here.. We dropped in the water & it was plain white sand, hardly any coral, and after the first 10-15 min went by we all started wondering if we were actually going to get to see any Manta Rays. Then out of nowhere came this GIGANTIC black cloud coming straight for us, as it got closer I could see it huge mouth, I got super nervous "this thing is totally gonna eat me" I thought. Then, I remembered Mantas are one of the most gentle creatures who roam the waters. Their sheer size is just intimidating at first. I'm talking a 4-6 meter wingspan, these creatures were HUGE, but they swam so impassioned, like an eagle soaring slowly through the sky. We saw 11 mantas total on this 62 minute dive, and two mantas, one black & one white, even gave us a dance as they romantically swarmed each other.
After our 7 dives were over, we were exhausted! Diving really takes it out of you. So we sailed towards Rinca with full intention to witness the Komodo dragons. These creatures were incredible, they are the largest lizard in the world, and only live in this one very special crevices of the Earth (Rinca & Komodo Islands). These dragons are serious carnivores, they take down cattle & each other for dinner. Their face reminded me of Raptor, these things have had to be around for a LONG time, they resembled dinosaurs, not your typical lizard. From the tip of their nose to the end of their tail these monsters average about 3 meters in length. Did I mention that they carry bacteria in their mouths that can kill humans, so pretty much, they dominate where ever they live, therefore they are highly respected on these two islands.
After this, our live-a-board adventure quickly came to an end & we grounded again back in Labuan Bajo with one day left to relax & restore.

Now, its back to reality...
But, Matt said it best we pointed out: "where do you go for vacation when you live in Bali??"
Ahhhh home sweet home.