All photos and text are property of Dave Forney and may not be used without express permission.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Winter in the Tropics - Part III

This is the third and last in my little three part series, "Winter in the Tropics".  This last post features a few random shots of the beauty that is to be found in the reef itself--mostly the plants and corals.  If you didn't get a chance yet, make sure to check out the first and second posts in this series. 

The dazzling colors and seemingly infinite variations are always mesmerizing to me.  It's like floating, nearly weightless, above and through a royal garden, only from a different world.

These last three shots feature Christmas Tree Worms, or Spirobranchus giganteus, growing in coral.  They come in a myriad colors.  The part you see sticking out always sports two, fan-like, Christmas tree-shaped structures that serve as both part of the respiration system and food collection utensil.  The worm itself is inside the coral and never comes out.  When you approach too close to the "Christmas trees" they suddenly disappear into the coral.  If you wait patiently, several minutes later they will cautiously reappear.  It's rather tough to get close enough to take a nice picture, because their so jittery.

Well, that's all for this edition of "Winter in the Tropics."  Hope you enjoyed it.  This weekend the family and I, along with two other MAF families are going into two villages in the Krayan region of Northeast Kalimantan, right along the Malaysian border.  I'll be showing films and sharing a bit, and the others will be involved in various aspects of New Years / Christmas services.  Stay tuned, I'm sure I'll post something about that trip upon our return.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter in the Tropics - Part II

Here's a few pictures of some of the fish and critters we found both above and below water.  If you missed the first post in this mini-series, go here, or just keep scrolling down till you get to the previous post.

Crabs everywhere!  This one had a nice, purplish color.

Blood-thirsty shark?  Not yet.  But big, toothy Moray eel...yeah, we see a few of those each time.  So far they've proved to be rather nice, but we haven't tried to catch one yet.  I don't think I'd want to, having seen the size and sharpness of their teeth!  This one was probably about four feet long and as big around as my upper arm.  We've seen them bigger.

A little pipefish about seven inches long, anchored by his/her curly tail in the bed of sea grass.  In some ways it resembles a seahorse, and is in the same general family.  Speaking of the grass, this is what the turtles come to graze on.  There are always a lot of turtles around Derawan, mostly Green Sea Turtles, but sometimes Hawksbill Turtles as well.  They can be found lazily drifting around these grassy areas, munching away.

Turtles are like salmon, in that they return to their birthing place to lay eggs (except that they don't die afterwards--at least they don't plan to die.)  Many of the sea turtle species are now endangered, so it's pretty cool to get a chance to see so many.  This time, at Sangalaki and Derawan, we got to see some brand new hatchlings.  In both locations there some men who jaga (watch) over the turtles to protect them from those who may want to eat the eggs (a delicious food that has other "health and wellness" properties according to many Indonesians), or the turtles themselves.  Britton got to help a few of the hatchlings out of their sand hole and release them on the beach where they made a wild dash for the sea.

An adult turtle swimming back out to sea after grazing in the grassy areas around Derawan.

Nemo and his daddy!  Actually, there are many different variations of anemonefish, but this is probably the most striking in my opinion, and of course the one made famous by the movie, "Finding Nemo."  The males are the brightly colored ones that we all know so well.  This happens to be a False Clown Anemonefish.

And peaking out from behind this gorgeous, giant purplish-blue sea anemone, is a Pink Anemonefish.  This was about 15 or 20 feet down, but the color was still just stunning.  I've never seen an anemone quite like this one.

Of course, there are many different types of star fish as well.  Here are two.

One of our favorites, a nudibranch.  They come in hundreds of different colors, patterns and shapes--but are almost always vividly bright and attractive.  They tend to be about one and a half to two inches long, and move very slowly.  Think slug...except really, really pretty.  What's unique about nudibranchs, is that they carry their gills on the outside of their body.

When you see a brightly colored or striped fish, that's about six to 12 inches long, and it's NOT afraid of you...well, that probably means that you SHOULD be afraid of it!  This is called a Red Firefish, also known as the Volitans lionfish, part of the Scorpionfish family.  Their fins and spines are venomous.  They tend to hang out in pairs (male and female) under large corals during the day, and become active at night when they hunt and eat other fish.  This particular coral bloom is home to two large pairs, which I visit almost every time I go to Derawan.

Here's another variation that was almost totally black and white.  I've seen only one other that was colored like this.  It's very striking!  But again, any fish that does not run away, especially when you approach it probably knows something that you don't. :)

One of our favorite things to do is night snorkeling.  If you're the kind of person who gets that weird creepy-crawly feeling when you're out in the ocean, or a river or lake, because you feel like something is going to come up and chomp on you--well, then night snorkeling is probably not for you.  You know how your car headlights illuminate a narrow beam of light on a foggy night, well, imagine swimming in near total darkness, right on the edge of the reef where it drops away into complete inky black nothingness, with the only illumination being a solid, narrow beam from your dive light.

But seriously, it's a lot of fun.  Really!  The entire reef changes scenes.  Many fish come out to hunt (like the lion fish, which we've seen often and have to be wary of) and seek food, while others go to sleep.  We've seen squid, giant see slugs, sting rays, lobsters, cuttlefish, and even a large octopus, not to mention many, many types of fish out hunting and being hunted.  This time we saw a bunch of parrot fish sleeping in the coral.  It was really funny looking, as they were straight up and down, and totally out of it.  This one is about a foot long.  You could go right up to them and poke them, and it would take three or four seconds before the fish would wake up and then groggily swim out before suddenly freaking and darting away.  Call it the snorkeling version of cow-tipping.

There were tons and tons more fish and "critters", but it's hard to take underwater pictures, especially fast ones, so most never make it onto "film".  But you get the idea.  Check back soon for the third and final post related to our recent island trip.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter in the Tropics

I like winter--the real kind of winter, cold and snowy.  If it's just going to be cold and rainy then forget it!  In that case you might as well just keep the warm weather year-around.  And that's what we have here.  Winter in the tropics is, well...the same as summer in the tropics.  Hot and muggy.  Of course, there are ways you can enjoy that too, and I'm going to share a little about that.  

These pictures have been sitting in the "blog folder" for a few weeks, because I'm always a little timid to share stuff like this, in the fear that you might think we're not "suffering" enough.  Just kidding.  But seriously, I don't want to send the wrong impression, that it's all gorgeous scenery and fun vacations here.  The truth is, we work and serve seemingly non-stop, day after day, week after week, month after month...and often begin to feel exhaustion setting in.  The island we live on can start to feel claustrophobic too after a while (trust me, these are not pictures of our island.)  Before that happens, it's important to step back and take a break, and there's some nice places to do that nearby.

About once or twice per year, Britton and I jump on a speed boat with a bunch of other friends from Tarakan and head south about two and a half hours to some nice little islands for a weekend outing.  There's nothing even remotely like this on the island we live on--Tarakan.  There's no state or national parks, or zoos, or anything similar to what you might do with your kids in the U.S. over a weekend.  But we have other opportunities, and we try to make the most of them!

Hey, this is affordable father-son bonding.  Why not?  I still remember vividly, the camping and fishing trips my dad would take me on, when I was a missionary kid growing up in Brazil.  No matter how busy things got, he always made time for father-son outings, and it left an impact on me--a good one!  And that's one of the things I'm trying to do with my kids.  At this point, only Britton is old enough to snorkel, (and he's good at it!), but as time goes on, I'm sure there'll be more of my boys coming along.  In the meantime, I find other cool things to do in Tarakan with the younger kids.  (In case you're wondering, I've tried to get Joy and the rest of the kids to come along with us, but between her feelings that the waters are teeming with blood-thirsty sharks bent on eating specifically her, and the nightmarish thought of chasing the twins all over an island, I haven't quite talked her into it yet.  Patience.  It will happen.)

We usually spend the night, and most of our time, on the island of Derawan (Pulau Derawan.)  It's a small island that's home to a modest Indonesian fishing village.  There's basically two avenues of income here, fishing and tourism.  Derawan is not the type of place to attract high-paying tourists.  It's more of a backpacker and wandering tourist destination, which is fine with us, because it's cheap!

But we usually work in a day trip to a few of the surrounding islands, like Sangalaki, below.  Sangalaki is a very, very small island (that's the entire thing in the picture), that looks like it's right out of a postcard from the South Pacific.  Pure, white sand beaches, surrounded by crystal-clear water and gorgeous reefs--that's Sangalaki!  This is where we often see giant mantas, but this time we didn't.  It's also a turtle-preserve, and we were fortunate enough to see some hatchlings this time.  But more on that later.

So I figure I'll do maybe three posts about our previous trip to the islands.  This first one will focus on the places.  The next one the "critters", and the last one, the "corals and plants".  I always come back from one of these trips refreshed, and in awe of the beauty of God's amazing creation.  My hope is that you'll feel the same thing in the pictures  that I share.

Check back soon for the second post, featuring some of the critters that we found.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Last week I started working with Tripp Flythe to get him checked out to fly in the Apo Kayan region of Northeast Kalimantan.  After we landed in Data Dian we heard a loud processional working it's way up the airstrip from the river below.  The Bupati and his wife were being carried in a beautifully decorated canoe, high up on the shoulders of a group of young men, as traditional Dayak music was belted out from a hand phone wired into a battery-operated bull horn.  It was quite the festive atmosphere!

Indonesian states (like East Kalimantan--the one we live in), are similar to U.S. states in that each one has an elected governor and vice governor.  However, just below that level, they further divide the state into regions, or areas that are under the authority of a Bupati, also an elected official.  It's a fairly high-level position that can have a lot of influence, good or bad, on the people in that region.  The current Bupati is coming up to the end of his term limits and will therefore need to retire from that position.  He has been a good leader and is highly respected and appreciated by the people whom he leads and serves.
He also has a very good relationship with MAF, and uses us frequently when needing to travel interior.

Recently he asked if we could take him around on a "safari natal" (literally, "Christmas Safari") to visit many of the villages he has served one last time as their Bupati.  We were glad to help.  In most cases, there is no other way that he could have travelled to these villages, other than with MAF (unless you consider walking and canoeing for weeks or months on end a viable option.)  So while Tripp and I were walking/inspecting the airstrip and then flying practice takeoff and landings, Dave Holsten flew the Bupati and his entourage in two Kodiak loads from Data Dian over to Long Nawang.  The Bupati and the people in these and many other villages were grateful for our help with that.  Below is a picture of the Cessna 206 parked on the left at the top of the Data Dian airstrip, with the Kodiak parked to the right.

This past week was a very busy week of flying, as it usually is right before Christmas.  In addition to many "normal flights" (whatever that is), I also flew quite a few loads of supplies and people to various interior villages for Christmas church services, several medevac flights and unfortunately the body of a 20 year old young lady back to the village of Data Dian.  On Wednesday there was a serious motorcycle accident in Malinau (a one-hour flight from Data Dian), where the young gal was in school.  She was killed, but an 18 year old young man (a family member) on the same bike was seriously injured and MAF took him to Tarakan where he's still being treated at the hospital.  The next day, Thursday, I flew the body of the young woman back to Data Dian so her grieving friends and family could have some closure.  Though obviously very sad and devastated by her sudden home-going, they have a faith and hope that they will one day see her again because of their faith in Jesus!

On the return flight I brought the parents of the injured young man back out of the village and all the way to Tarakan, so they could be with their son in the hospital.  MAF is the only operator that can land an airplane in Data Dian.  Without MAF, it would take about two months to travel from Data Dian to Tarakan by land!  They were extremely grateful for our help!

Last Friday the MAF kids put on a Christmas program for our team.  They did a great job.  Here they are pictured after the little show.

Hannah played Mary and Hudson played Joseph.  Britton was a narrator.  At one point it suddenly dawned on me that I had become that weird dad that's always down in the front row, taking photos and video of his kids and embarrassing them at the same time.   When I was a kid I used to think, "I'll never do that."  But alas, here I am, a proud dad...and unable to help myself! :)

On December 23rd we hosted an open house for all of our Indonesian friends and neighbors.  As I mentioned a while back, it's the custom here for people to visit their Muslim friends in their homes for Idul Fitri, at the end of their holy month of Ramadan.  We went to many of our friends homes at that time, and when Christmas roles around they return the honor by coming to our home.  Of course, we also had many people from our church and from MAF as well.

The people seem to come in waves, and many times they wanted pictures.  This was one such "wave" of people.

And here's another.  Chris and Sarah D. joined us in hosting our open house.  Chris flew here for about a year before returning to the U.S. to marry Sarah.  They recently returned to Tarakan, but live up a little road that's sort of hard to find, especially in the dark.  So we joined forces.  In the picture, Joy is in the center, Sarah on the left, and Chris...well, you can probably figure out which one he is.  I'm behind the camera.

All said there were well over 75 people who came!  It was exciting and humbling to see how many friends we have here in Tarakan.  Other times when we've done this, Joy has served Indonesian food that we know everyone will like.  But some of her friends asked her to make something "American" this time.  So she made Spaghetti--lots of it!!!  I know, I know, that's not American, it's Italian.  But close enough.  We made it the way Americans make it, and they loved it! 

From our family to you and yours: we wish you a very blessed and merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Air-to-Air Shots

O.k. here's some eye candy for you aviation enthusiasts.  The rest of you might find this post a little boring.  Last month while some folks were here from MAF UK, we took the opportunity to do some air-to-air photo shoots and video here in Tarakan.  Below is one of the "generational shots" I took, representing the three aircraft type that we fly here in Tarkan.  

The video guy, Jonathan, and I were sitting in the back of the lead plane, a Cessna TU206, shooting out the open double doors (the doors can be removed and a spoiler kit installed to deflect some of the wind.) Just below and aft of us was the next plane, PK-MPX, also a Cessna TU206.

Next in line was our Quest Kodiak 100, PK-MEB.  (In February I'll be heading off to Spokane, Washington for a few weeks of training in the Kodiak.)

And finally, PK-MAE, our Cessna 208 Grand Caravan.

The main reason for and star of this photo shoot was the Kodiak.  So after grabbing some formation shots of all three planes, the 206 an 208 headed home, while I focused my lens exclusively on the newest member of our fleet, MEB.  Here's a few the shots I snagged.

There's a whole lot more, but you get the idea.  Here's a shot that Layton Thomson took from the Caravan window.  You can see Jonathan and I squeezing into the open door frame of the lead 206, trying to get that perfect shot (or in Jonathan's case-video.)

Earlier that day we also spent some time shooting photos and video of the Kodiak in action on some of our exciting strips in the Apo Kayan region.  This is not something we normally get to do here...but it was a lot of fun!  The MAF UK guys (and a gal) were here to grab stories and images of how the Kodiak is used to impact the ministry in Northeast Kalimantan.  In order to communicate that, you need to get some shots of the "horse" at work, and that's often hard to do when you're the only one out there--thus the unusual move of sending a group of us out to do nothing but shoot action shots.  

Of course, we had to grab a "tough guy" shot of the five of us before it was all said and done.  Here, in the village of Long Nawang, pictured from left to right, Layton - photographer, Dave H. - pilot, Jonathan - video, me - video/photos, Paul C - video.  In this case, all of us were mostly shooting full 1080p HD video, with the exception of Layton, who was taking pictures.