Back to Bali: Ubud

Ubud – the famed cultural centre of Bali.

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And instead of exploring the museum, art galleries and temples in the area, we did a cursory walk pace the palace…

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… and ducked into the market, where the action truly is. I was especially sad that we’d already had breakfast at the villa, because there was so much to try in the area. Turn up early so you get a good opening price. The shopkeepers here are very superstitious and tend to give good prices for their first customers. Choose from local herbs and spices (vanilla pods are very cheap, but are far inferior to the Madagascan versions), or little handicraft and spa souvenirs, or basketry. Then haggle, keep smiling and agree on a price. Watch bemusedly as the shopkeeper flicks the your newly handed over bank notes over the rest of the wares for luck. Go past the souvenir shops into the maze and find your way to the basement. That’s where the colour is, where you can wander around marvelling at the vast variety of local fruit and vegetables on offer. Pull up a stool at a food stand if you arrive early enough, otherwise risk trying the colourful iced drinks and coconut-based kueh (local desserts) that have been sitting around for a while.

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After a day wandering around in town, what better is there to do than go for a hearty dinner?

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We’d heard good things about Naughty Nuri’s. A friend who’d just been ate there twice in the trip, the second time because dinner elsewhere was disappointing and they needed something to make up for the poor show. We didn’t try the cocktails, apparently the place does really mean martinis. What we did have was the coldest Bintang beer in Bali. It went so well with the ribs.

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The famous ribs are grilled by the roadside on a surprisingly small grill for a place so jam packed with hungry diners. The ribs were very good – the meat was the right intermediate between tender and chewy, and marinade a straightforward kicap manis (dark sweet soy sauce) base. I liked it, but not enough to like the satay (essentially pork cubes dunked in the same sauce) too. This place seemed a bit one-dimensional to me, but I’d go back for the impossibly cold beers.

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Naughty Nuri’s Warung Ubud
Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Ubud
Bali, Indonesia
Tel: +62 0361 977 547

Back to Bali: Nefatari and the Bad Bugs

After Wakatobi, we stopped over in Bali for a few days to check out the delights of Ubud. A friend recommended us Nefatari Exclusive Villas, a short drive from Ubud proper. As with most Bali resorts, there was a complimentary pick up from the airport and we got there in slightly over an hour. They gave us Villa Pacak, which we got to after being led down a winding corridor that felt like we were in a maze. Check out the rustic finishes and the pretty garden.

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Villa Pacak is actually a two-room villa, but they closed up the second room. That was an unexpected because the pool was huge for a pool villa!

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The room itself was lovely, spacious with a canopy bed right smack in the middle of the room with a long makeup table with mirror to the back of the bed (which you can’t see in the picture)…

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… the locked adjoining door to the right (not in picture), and a huge bathroom to the left of the room. It was really quite massive and I clean forgot to take photos of it. You’ll have to take my word for it that it was very clean, despite my misgivings from seeing the slightly mouldy exterior walls adding to the atmosphere of the villa. There was a corner bathtub, that was strangely not in a corner, a semi-outdoor shower that let in splashes of rain and a WC area separated by the sink and mirror.

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A lovely touch was this little alcove where we could sit and read or simply chill out and look out into the pool.

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The view was a bit like this.

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In the evenings we admired the silhouette of the coconut palms while enjoying cold drinks from the fridge. It was modestly stocked with mineral water and soft drinks. That was a great touch, especially since there aren’t really shops in the surrounding area, just paddy fields.

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And in the morning, we had the choice of having breakfast at the villa at the little outdoor dining table or at the main dining area. They had a special romantic table set between two ponds. We chose the upstairs dining area instead and contented ourselves with just a pretty picture.

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Their bubur ayam is pretty good for breakfast. It’s a huge bowl of rice porridge with chicken bits, vegetables and boiled egg. A yummy start to the day with fresh juice and cut fruit!

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Nefatari was a lovely place with lots of great touches. The dropoff and pickup service was wonderful: you tell reception what time you want to leave if you can, otherwise you rock up to the reception and tell them where in Ubud you want to go to, then they’ll find someone to drive you out in their van. When you want to be picked up, you don’t even need to use your own mobile phone to call, they advise to get the restaurant or shop to call, or if in Ubud Central, just go to Tourist Information and ask them to help call. It can occasionally be a bit of a wait, but no more than 30 minutes. What really impressed us was when we asked for a driver with car for a day, fully expecting them to charge us for exclusive use of the vehicle. Instead, they checked what exactly we wanted to do and where to go, and worked out some pickups for us that got us where we wanted at the times we wanted at no extra cost even though it was further out of Ubud proper.

They also had a decent, but not fantastic massage. It’s very atmospheric as the massage rooms are beside a stream, but I found the room too cold (Ubud can get slightly chilly when it rains) and the massage mediocre. Plus I had a mystery bite on my chest that became very itchy. But with such low prices, lower than the flyers in Ubud town, there wasn’t anything really to complain about.

I woke up after our second night a bit sad to leave this great resort, until I started scratching. Thinking that it was just mosquitoes in the bathroom and that the mosquito coils they burn at night had lost effect, I unthinkingly started to scratch, and then found that I had more and more bites appearing all over my body, but particularly on my limbs and around my waist. It was intensely itchy and certainly not mosquito bites. On check out, I showed them a few on my wrist and forearm and was sympathetically clucked over. The reception desk said that they’d check the room and sanitise it for bed bugs.

And so we made our way homeward. On the plane, DC started scratching too. Little red bites started to appear on his body too! Both of us scratched for about one incredibly uncomfortable week. We were scared stiff that we’d brought back bed bugs. Whether they were bed bugs, fleas or something else (definitely not mosquitoes as I get mosquito bites far too often to recognise them easily), we can’t tell. There was no blood or evidence of bugs on the bed (I checked), and no groups of bites either in a breakfast, lunch, dinner line or clear clusters, but there were a lot, and all over the body, indicating that it definitely happened while in bed rather than out walking.

I emailed Nefatari thus:

Thank you for the nice stay at the villa. We enjoyed it all until the morning of check out when we find that we had multiple bites all over the body. Both my husband and I gradually had more and more bites, which only occurred on the morning of check out and thereafter. I alerted your front desk and the person in charge mentioned something about bed bugs. We do not know whether the bites are due to bed bugs or fleas, but would like to let you know so that you thoroughly sanitise the villa and all its furnishings.

And got the reply:

 Dear Madam,

Thank you for your patronage and we glad that your enjoyed your stay at Nefatari Villas.
And we are very sorry about the bites you mentioned, thank you for the information.
Around lobby area there are a lot of vegetation, may be you got bites from gnats or mosquitos

There are no bad bugs or fleas in the villa.
We just do general fogging, sanitise all over the property, villas, inside, out side once a week.

Our staff mentioned about bad bugs ( this is not bed bugs ).
They mean about the bugs ( bad = not good )

We are very sorry that happen on your last day.

Should you have any further input, please feel free to inform us again.

With warmest regards,
made

Bottomline? I don’t know if I could recommend this place. It was really lovely until the morning we checked out. I’d love for friends to experience the great stay, but not the horrible, intense itching for the week after. It was a terribly unpleasant souvenir. What we’re thankful for is that no bugs spread to our home, so all is well.

Nefatari Exclusive Villas
Banjar Katiklantang-Desa singekerta
Ubud – Bali 80571
E-mail: stay@nefatari-bali.com

Wakatobi: Farewell

Too soon the Wakatobi trip came to an end. We were getting used to the pampering experience, with hot and cold selections in the buffet ready for a quick breakfast before the dive, having our gear set up and our own plastic cups (which were later given to us as souvenirs) topped up with fresh water when we got on the boat, having long leisurely dives (70 minutes!!), and coming up to hot drinks and snacks of fresh fruit and biscuits. Two dives in the morning and then return for lunch, which again featured hot or cold selections depending on how fast you want your food. I always looked forward to the pasta cooked to order. The afternoons were fairly unhurried, with only one afternoon boat dive. The beauty of the system was that we could use the rest of the afternoon either to fit in another dive on the house reef (as many unguided dives as you like) or laze on the beach or grab an afternoon nap. Then wander around the resort or fiddle with gear till sunset and get drinks at the bar (avoid the bad cocktails though!) and head for the super yummy dinners. Either that or the hardcore (for lazy lardbutts like us) night dive which leaves at dusk (no cocktails!) and returns for a late dinner.

After dinner, there would generally be a slide show of photos and a mini lecture on reef life. The best evening slide slow was the one on the penultimate night – for guests to share their best shots of the trip. Wakatobi has an in-house naturalist-videographer couple who spend hours and hours taking videos on the reef and they combined their own fantastic shots and previews of their videos with guest photos to make an incredibly awesome video montage (complete with carefully selected music). It was a pity we couldn’t take a copy home due to copyright issues, both with the videographer couple themselves and with other guests’ photos. A pity.

As mentioned before, the staff were lovely, even the expat staff! We’ve been to enough resorts featuring cocksure and arrogant expat staff (of all sorts of nationalities) who think they add another star to the resort simply with their presence. Thankfully, Wakatobi isn’t one of these. I had a slight ear infection halfway through. Miguel took a look at it and said I should sit out a day’s diving just to be safe. And all the other staff somehow knew about my bad ear the next day and asked how I was while I moped around the resort. And they somehow remembered throughout the next few days of the trip. It’s something that no amount of writing down would sort out, these people genuinely care!

So it was a sad day when it was time to leave. All the staff, and I mean all the staff, came out and helped load us up onto the boat. Miguel’s in the mid-left background looking straight at the camera. The rest were all saying their goodbyes and helping sort bags and people out.

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And when it was time to leave, they all walked to the end of the jetty and waved us off…

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… and kept waving until they were specks. It was such a sweet touch.

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I know I say it for too many places, but Wakatobi has a special place in my diving heart. It’s definitely a must-return.

Wakatobi: Snorkelling

We don’t normally snorkel on dive trips, mainly because we’re too tired from the diving and packing up the gear at the end of a trip that it’s not always worth our while. Unsurprisingly, Wakatobi was different. The house reef is really quite something, especially when just standing at the jetty you can see plenty of life. We saw crabs and even an octopus one day. Too bad we couldn’t get to the camera in time. This peppered moray eel, on the other hand, came out often enough for us to get a good shot! Imagine what the snorkelling is like if it’s like this just from the jetty!

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Snorkelling was much less cumbersome than diving. We simply walked into the water from the beach in our booties, with mask, snorkel and fins in hand. When it got deep enough, we slipped on the fins and mask then kicked off. The house reef was full of coral just a few metres away from the sandy beach area. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t much different-looking in landscape than when diving. It was wonderful to see the deep blue of the water even so close to shore.

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What was more astounding was the sighting of a banded sea snake so close to shore. I always thought they were too shy to go close to shore. Maybe it was desperate for air because it shot straight up to the surface. Luckily I managed to take a quick snap before it disappeared.

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It is much harder to take photos while snorkelling. Even though we weren’t in our wetsuits, it was tough to stay down. Some people snorkel with weights, even. Photos have to be taken quickly and accurately, like how DC got this shot of a honeycomb grouper.

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Either that or you’ll end up with strange compositions, like this with the same group partially hidden in the coral rubble.

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I was also surprised to see species that I’d not seen while diving, like this slender green fish with yellow stripes. If anyone can identify it, please let me know. It could be a juvenile, considering that it’s hanging out in the seagrass. Seagrass areas are well-known to be fish nurseries.

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I was very pleased that DC managed to capture a picture of this freckled hawkfish. If you follow this blog, you’ll know that hawkfish are one of my favourites. Sadly enough, I didn’t get any good shots of hawkfish while diving and was very pleased to add this to my collection of hawkfish shots.

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There were plenty of other types of fish, but what we got were generally pictures of fish trying to get away from the sudden movements of a snorkeler, like this Picasso triggerfish…

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… or this palette surgeonfish.

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We didn’t do so well either with this spotted boxfish, but at least we can show that there really was a lot of life near the shore.

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Closer to the seagrass were plenty of fish, like this school of parrotfish…

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… and a titan triggerfish that we were glad to see swim away.

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Right by the jetty were plenty of  network pipefish that were again a pain to photograph, especially with the surge as the waves hit the jetty. DC was very patient and took enough photos so we got this shot.

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On the jetty itself, we found our good friend the peppered moray. It was lovely to end our two-hour snorkel in the small area by reciprocating a visit!

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Wakatobi: Crustaceans

Wakatobi yielded quite a few interesting crustaceans. Sure, we’d seen most of them before, but it’s always nice to say hi to old friends. Let’s start with the lobsters. The spiny lobsters with their long feelers are always rather impressive, especially when you suddenly come across one in a crevice at eye level.

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Sometimes they can be quite shy and it’s hard to resist the temptation of reaching out and pulling it it out of its hole by the feelers! In case you’re wondering, yes we all managed not to cave in. After all, Wakatobi is famous for being a no contact dive centre. Do not touch is a central part of their dive philosophy. This is one of the reasons why the reef is so pristine!

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We also saw a bunch of crabs, like this shy hermit crab.

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There were also some porcelain crabs, but most were very shy. This is the best photo of such a crab in this trip. Sure, there would have been better photos if our guide Yono had used his pointer to push out the crab from under the anemone when it went into hiding. In fact, one dive I found myself staring at the empty anemone top, wondering why Yono wasn’t doing exactly that. Then I caught myself and realised again that keeping a pristine reef also means that you don’t disturb the animals from their normal habits. You just need the patience and the opportunity to get a good photo.

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Which is exactly what happened with this orang utan crab below. It looks like a piece of red lint at first, but look carefully and you can first make out its eye stalks and then its fragile-looking limbs, all covered by what looks like fluffy red fur.

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We were also lucky to see a collector crab on a night dive. It had pretty white and dark blue banded legs, and a rather fetching mantle of small anemones on its back. You see, it gets its name from the way it picks up charming-looking anemones and sticks it on as camouflage.

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DC managed to get a very impressive close up. The anemone flaps over its forehead, making it look as if it’s frowning.

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Next up is another DC masterpiece. It’s a spider crab, which is typically rather hard to spot and also hard to photograph, because the camera has difficulty auto-focussing with all the spindly legs in the way.

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And then the shrimp. One of my favourites are the commensal anemone shrimp. I love wagging my fingers at them in the hope of enticing them onto my nails for a good manicure. Unfortunately, none of them were keen enough this time.

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There were plenty of banded boxer shrimp in crevices, their trademark red and white colouration on their claws. It’s the same colouration of a barber’s pole and advertises a similar service. The shrimp offers a clean while a barber, a shave. It’s funny how there are these parallels in natural and human worlds.

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I was very happy to see some saron shrimp as they’re hard to come by. This one is a very red specimen without much marbling that a lot of its cousins seem to have. This pose somehow makes it look very poised, as if it knows that the camera is snapping away!

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One of the most frustrating crustaceans to shoot is the bubble shrimp. The two photos below are our best shots. There’s something about its frail tendrils and the voluptuousness of the bubble coral that really interferes with the camera’s focus.

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This is one of those you have to go diving to look at more closely. It’s so amazing to simply observe how a delicate shrimp can wodge itself in the bubble coral.

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And the piece de resistance? We’d never seen this before till Wakatobi. Plus, it’s hard to spot because it’s so darn small and even harder to photograph because the anemone tendrils it lives among tends to block the view of its characteristic head. Here’s the best shot we got so you really have to go diving to see it for yourself. I bring you…

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… the popcorn shrimp!

Wakatobi: Reptiles

We saw quite a few turtles at Wakatobi, all green turtles. Green turtles are apparently named for their green fat rather than being green on the outside. Historically, they’d been hunted by sailors for fresh meat, but thankfully people don’t eat turtle that much these days.

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The turtles we came across were rather friendly, in that they didn’t mind us being around at all, even though we got in pretty close.

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Sure, this one didn’t really do the eye contact on first meeting thing, but it’s good enough for me!

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Here’s where DC’s super duper camera and mad camera skillz took over and he managed to get these pensive…

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… and vaguely sulky photos of this green turtle. See how beautiful and true the colour is…

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… compared to the one I took with the washed out blue cast. (I take full responsibility for not getting the settings right, but no amount of editing could sort this photo out, so I generally left it alone.)

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And after a while, we got over our excitement and left that turtle. We delighted in others just passing by, like this one cruising along in the blue watching the coral wall go past.

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A less friendly reptile was the banded sea snake. DC managed to get in nice and close to this one in a crevice. He’s so brave, I wouldn’t have the nerve! Check out its beautiful black and grey-blue scales.

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It’s a very shy creature and doesn’t stick around much. I only managed a hasty shot that shows off its rounded head and rudder-like tail.

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And off it went, not to be seen on the same dive again, while yet another green turtle looked on curiously.

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Wakatobi: Puffers and Other Odd-Shaped Swimmers

One of DC’s favourites is the seal face pufferfish. It’s got such a nonchalant expression with its pouty black lips, but isn’t easy to photograph. These puffers shy easily and don’t like divers coming too close. No wonder DC’s so pleased with this side portrait.

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The white-spotted puffer was more common at Wakatobi. It was mostly found hanging out near the coral, often getting a good clean from the blue-streaked cleaner wrasses. See how its mouth is open in seeming content while being tended to by the little fish. It was much easier to approach when being cleaned. There’s an etiquette at cleaning stations that no one eats anyone else, so each fish gets its turn to be clean and is less wary than normal. A great rule!

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Sometimes the puffers seemed to be asleep as they lay on the sand. Even though we got really close, this one didn’t seem to be bothered at all.

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Same for this large star puffer. It seemed to be sound asleep (fish don’t have eyelids) with its mouth agape. DC managed to land gently on the sand and kneel in front of it to get this shot.

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Again not so common was the porcupinefish. Its distinctive head shape is super cute. There’s something about the large eyes and  rotating fins that I get a kick out of watching it make its languid way over the coral.

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Unrelated to the puffers but still odd-shaped to me is the bumphead parrotfish. At our first sighting, I was really exciting because if we do ever see them on a trip, it was invariably only one or two relatively fleeting encounters and then they were off. At Wakatobi, we saw so many, normally in pairs, that DC lost interest after a while…

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… but not before capturing a few close-ups. See how the bumphead’s forehead and mouth area are slightly scuffed. This is from banging into the coral and then nibbling off bits. You’d typically expect a herd of bumpheads to turn up if the water suddenly becomes cloudy from the sheer amount of coral chomping the buffalo of the sea do.

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My favourite odd-shaped swimmer is the clown triggerfish. I can’t tire of admiring its wonderfully whimsical patterns, from the large white dots on its belly to the yellow lipstick with extra white outline round the mouth to the yellow fan detail on its dark blue tail.

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The only thing that could be vaguely scary about the clown triggerfish (its cousin is the often highly aggressive titan triggerfish that clever divers normally stay clear of) could be its teeth. But here, all it’s doing is keeping its mouth open partly as invitation for a dental check, partly as signal that it’s in “please tidy the room” mode.

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Last and littlest in this series is the black-saddled toby. It’s a little fish that darts around quite a bit and I’m glad that this photo of one furtively trying to get away is composed so dramatically!

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