Olivier and Sven goofing around in Asia

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Re-adjusting: the real challenge? :) (Sven)

Posted by goofingaroundinasia on October 1, 2009 at 3:13 AM Comments comments (15)

I've been back for about 2 weeks now... and I must say that - although I had read a book about and talked a lot to experienced travellers about the psychological aspects of this kind of trip - I could never have predicted what I feel now. I first thought of it being a personal feeling, but yesterday I got an e-mail from Olivier describing the exact same feelings... so I thought it'd be worth to mention and try to describe. Let me be honest with you: there's no way I can put this experience/feelings into words in a proper way... but I can try :)


One year was a lot of time away, more than enough in one stretch anyway. At the start of our trip I was full of energy, eager to explore, excited about it... But after a while you get so used to it, backpacking becomes your new "way of life" -- I got used to the culture differences, I got used to the hectic traffic situations, I took planes like I used to take buses back home... And I adapted to everything quite easily - I arrived in a new place without stress, just like "let's do this"... Which is great on the one hand, but the thrill is gone to some extent... It all becomes so normal and your energy and excitement to travel and explore new places decreases after a while. Which makes it harder for you to keep on carrying on, handle travel annoyances (like people trying to rip you off all the time, inefficiency,...). Also, one of the hardest things about travelling this long is certainly not having family and close friends around. Of course I met many people, and some of them became really good friends, but it's not the same like having a conversation with a friend back home who has known you all your life... And also, by the time you make really good friends in a place, you have to carry on to your next destination.


I don't want to sound negative about my trip at all though. This experience was FANTASTIC!! Before doing the trip I actually had some doubts but now I'm positive about it: this has been worth it all the way !! It's been such a life experience, learning how to be independent and to adapt to new situations, places and cultures, learning about and understanding other cultures and religions, seeing so much beautiful nature, dealing with yourself and others in difficult situations, being able to peek at our Western society from within Asia and realising the good/bad things about it, having time for myself I never had before in my old "stressful life"... I can go on for hours. The trip hasn't sure been easy all the way, but it was the best life experience possible which I will always remember and which has made me a different person to some extent. In one year I experienced more than in about 6-7 years of my former life... It's an experience I would recommend to everyone!


Of course I also knew that this trip wouldn't make my life easier. The more you break away from what "you're supposed to do in your life" (as to what our society describes :)), the more exciting and adventurous your life becomes, but you also make your life harder -- you're breaking away from certainties, you keep on wondering more "what's out there for me?",  "What's the meaning of life?" and "What do I want to do with my life?"... and many other questions. This trip made me realise that our Western society and what it tries to oppress to us as "the ideal way of life" is not the only way of life, neither is it the best one. Yes, we live in a fairly good society, we're relatively wealthy, we pay a lot of taxes but get a lot in return (like social security), the level of health care is perfect, our roads are in good condition and clean, it's easy to get food and hygiene standards are good... But travelling around in a totally different society I realised that we pay a price for that. People here have become individualistic and egocentric to some extent, leading their stressful lives and always being busy with their career, not having much time for friends or family. Kids are brought up by a domestic help / child-care as both partners have jobs and once people get old we put them away in retirement homes...  Also, society here pushes people so much to lead a stressful life... Causing a lot of burnouts... Also, children get stress from a very young age, they don't get any more time to play, and some can't cope and get depressions at an early age (how many 13-18 year olds get depressions nowadays? Quite a lot...). Or, people live their whole life "living up to what society tells them to do" and eventually they get the marriage, the career, the big house and big car... everything society told them to live up to... retiring at some point and suddenly realising that that's not what true happiness is about, realising that there's still something missing in their lives but failing to identify it. We have everything we ever needed and are probably never going to experience poverty, but we're whining and complaining all the time about things that don't really matter in life. We don't make any efforts anymore to talk to our neighbours or smile at people in the streets, we're so in need of our privacy, at night people rather sit inside watching their whole list of terrible soaps and TV-shows rather than go outside and meet their friends. Speaking of TV, watching the news nowadays doesn't make you happy either - misery all over, murders, roadkills, family dramas, politics being one big circus,... oh what a wonderful society do we live in :)


Travelling around in Asia made me realise how much life is different over there, how we evolved towards a smarter, richer and more advanced society, but not necessarily a happier one. I met people in Asia who don't have anything, who don't have a job and who basically live in slums and have no future... Why would they worry about the future, they'd better worry about today instead: every day they struggle to get food on the table for them and their family and seeing they don't have social security or money to pay for medical care, they might just die if they catch a disease. What hope do they have... they don't think about tomorrow, they think about today instead. I talked a lot to people there... And realised that, even though their life is so hard, even though they struggle constantly and even though they don't have any hope, they don't get depressed... they don't just sit there whining and complaining... they're not bitter about life, they accept it. They just carry on and try to enjoy every day in their lives. They smile at people and welcome them into their houses - showing a great deal of hospitality sometimes, they care for and look after their friends and family, they still hold dear some values and principles that are far beyond gone in our Western society... Although their lives is so hard, they're generally happy... even more so, they probably feel more happy than we do in our society where we have "everything we ever wanted".


Also, making this trip gave me more insight in how different people and religions are and how that leads to tensions in many countries. Indonesia for instance is a melting pot of different cultures (it has around 300 ethnic groups, each with cultural differences developed over centuries, and influenced by Indian, Arabic, Chinese, Malay, and European sources) and religions, and although there are some periodic clashes, they all live together relatively peacefully - taking into account what a big country it is. In our small country of Belgium, however, we don't seem to be able to cope with our migration issues, understanding and accepting different cultures and religions at all.  Travelling around in Muslim countries, I realised that before I didn't know ANYTHING about their culture and religion. Only things I had heard - especially from people who were criticising them in a racist way - or read. Same with undoubtedly the majority of people voting on "Vlaams Belang" - they don't know anything about their culture or society or their intentions and neither are they even interested, they see them as a threat to their society and their solution is just "kick them out". I do realise that the problems we have with immigrants aren't that easy, but we shouldn't generalise and certainly not judge as we don't know or want to know anything about their culture.  Ignorance and hatred have caused so many wars in the past and we never learn... we just carry on doing exactly the same thing.


Rereading the above part I realise I'm describing our society in quite a negative way, though don't mean to (think it's part of my re-adjustment process :)). It's certainly not that much better in Asia - people trying to rip you off all the time, corruption everywhere, people dying on the streets, people sending their children out on the streets to beg, no environmental awareness - people just throw their rubbish in the streets and waterflows become heavily polluted, diseases and people dying because they don't have money and/or means for medical treatment, hectic, dangerous and unhealthy traffic, tensions between ethnic groups, pickpockets, prostitution - at a very young age,... We saw and experienced terrible things as well... but we managed to put it into a perspective. We managed to compare western society to Asia... and point out the good and bad things of both societies.


Oh, something else I realised. We spent quite some time in Cambodia, a country with a terrible history (the Khmer Rouge killed more than 1,5 million people, killed intellectual and educated people) and which is still being exploited (Chinese building and exploiting dams, Japanese exploiting Choeng Ek (the killing fields, where people were executed) as a tourist hotspot,... As there's so much poverty and misery there (check out our pictures of Stung Meanchey - the waste dump in Phnom Penh), a lot of NGO's are based here. However, in a country with so much poverty and corruption, the challenge is not raising money to help people, the real challenge is making sure that money is actually used what it's meant for. So unfortunately a lot of the money disappears into people's pockets (some NGO owners even who drive around Phnom Penh in  their big Lexus) and is never used to actually help people. It's a tough call; both Olivier and I talked to people involved in voluntary work there and we realised it's hard to get things done in that culture (you can't put a local in charge, they don't have the necessary organisational skills or they will run off with the money). Even more so - I realise that if you contribute money to some volunteering organisation, you never know whether the money is actually going to go to what it's supposed to go. Due to circumstances we had to cancel our voluntary work in Mongolia, but I'm more than ever convinced that actually going there yourself and helping people out there is the best way to help... not just contributing money and "getting rid of your 'white man's guilt'" as they call it :)


Coming back to Belgium after such a  long trip is a weird experience. Of course it's great to have the luxury of having a whole house again and all the luxury, having all my stuff back and not having to live anymore on whatever "15kg of stuff" I can squeeze into a backpack, having such a variety and abundance of food again,... And it was wonderful to see my friends and family again, something I had been craving for. But I'm also confronted again with our society, it's like coming home to a society which is not my own anymore. People are whining and complaining about things I don't care about (yet they have everything they could wish for), people want to buy expensive stuff (I broke away from that kind of materialistic mindset), people are so stressed out - to meet with friends I have to book far ahead, people driving on the road are more concerned about respecting the traffic rules rather than road safety (they won't drive too fast, but they drive in the most egocentric way possible...), when I watch the news I'm disgusted by all the misery - so am I when I watch the soaps, TV-shows and commercials,... Oh, and it's cold, haha :)


Coming home is exactly how people described: nothing and nobody has changed; life is still the same here and people are still into their old mindset. I have changed, however... and it's not easy to readjust.    


Don't be alarmed though, I talked to many people who have done a trip like this before, and they told me the process I'm going through is normal and I'll readjust eventually.  I have to find my own pace again and it takes time.


Finally, once again I'd like to thank all of you out there to make this trip possible and to support us during our whole journey: my parents (thanks for supporting me, for always being there, for arranging practical things like looking after the house and the cat,...), my friends (you know how important you are in my life :)), my ex-colleagues (the support I received before I left on my trip was unexpected yet wonderful), all the wonderful friends I met during my travels - some of whom who have shown me a great deal of hospitality, my girlfriend (for loving and supporting me in difficult times), the aquaintances who follow up and commented on our blog,... Thanks to all of you!!


Well that's it for now. I'll keep you guys posted about any further plans and adventures :)


I'm always open to sharing travel experiences; just drop me an e-mail at sven.delmeiren@gmail.com. It might take a while before I reply, but I'll get back to you for sure !





- Sven

September 14 - 15: The long journey back home...

Posted by goofingaroundinasia on September 28, 2009 at 2:55 AM Comments comments (21)

I had never gone back home after a "holiday" with such mixed feelings. On the one hand one year had been a long time and I was really looking forward to see my friends and family again and recharge the batteries, but on the other hand I realised my trip had come to an end and I would miss Efrata.


Anyway, on September 14 I woke up, thanked Nabil for his hospitality and took the Skybus to the airport. There my plane left at 4pm for London and the flight would take 13 hours.


When AirAsia started flying to London in March, I had immediately booked my ticket as there were promotions - my ticket from Kuala Lumpur was only EUR 171  (!).


I prepared for a long journey... tried to sleep a bit, read half of my book, watched a movie and did a lot of thinking. Then the captain announced we were about to land... I was happily surprised that we were already there :) It was 10PM... the same day, as I had gone 7 hours back in time.


Going through customs in the UK was a big confrontation again with our whiny, cranky society. A small plastic had come out (loose) of my passport, I had just put it in again, no big deal. The guy wasn't friendly at all and asked me what had happened to my passport. When I told him it came out he promply replied "it doesn't just come out! You should have your passport replaced, don't ever travel with this passport again!". I was doubting what to do - telling him he's a grumpy asshole and that he doesn't have to work the fact that he hates his job and probably his life alltogether too on me... ? Instead I grumbled, nodded and walked on as soon as I got my stamp. I didn't want to risk trouble at the end of my journey... The hell I will get a new passport, pay for a new passport because of some stupid plastic (that's still inside anyway). No no no :)


Everything went smoothly. Got my luggage, went to the National Express bus office and bought my ticket to London Heathrow (I had arrived in Stansted) - about GBP 22, had to get used to life here being a lot more expensive (I was used to paying no more than US$ 10 for a long bus journey...


Had to wait for another hour, then boarded the bus to Heathrow. There I went to the departure hall. It was only about 2.30AM and my flight to Brussels would go at 11.50AM, so I had a lot of time to kill. There were people sleeping here and there and I decided to try to do the same. The chairs were very uncomfortable though, the armrests poked in my back... but I managed to sleep a few hours. I woke up when some noisy British guys checked in for their early flight.


I couldn't sleep anymore, so decided to watch another movie. When the movie ended it was about 7AM. I got really bored and tired...


At 9.30AM the check-in for my flight opened. I checked in, dropped my bag and had some breakfast. Then I lazed around for another while and boarded the plane. The plane left in time (fortunately) and landed at about 2PM in Brussels.


It was great to see my mum and her husband Marc again. However, being back in Belgium was strange... It all looked so familiar, it was like I never left. I sure felt like people who have done long trips before had told me - when you return after a long trip, you will notice that nothing and nobody back home will have changed; you have lived a totally different live and you're the one who has changed...


Of coure I had many stories to tell, then they dropped me off at my place. It was quite a surprise to see my dad there, he had come over to see me and would stay a few days.


Well back home... on to trying to re-adjust :)



- Sven 


September 7 - 14: Relaxing in Kuala Lumpur, my home away from home :)

Posted by goofingaroundinasia on September 27, 2009 at 4:48 PM Comments comments (5)

It was great to arrive in Kuala Lumpur again; as I had been there quite a few times it really felt like coming home again :)


At the airport Olivier was awaiting me. It was great seeing him again and catching up, and we spent several hours sharing stories about our adventures and future plans. Then, we took the Skybus to KL Sentral and the LRT to Nabil's place. Nabil was currently in Cambodia, but Olivier had been so kind to pick up the key to his appartment at his office (I arrived outside office hours).


I dropped my bags, we went for dinner and had a long chat again. Then his host Leeping picked him up. He would leave to London in two days.


It was nice to be back at Nabil's place and I really enjoyed having the appartment to myself, relax, chill, watch a movie... have some food and drinks... thanks Nabil, appreciated your hospitality a lot and hope to be able to return the favor one day :)


The next day I just relaxed and met up with Mani (a good friend and colleague of Nabil) and Mitch (a Dutch guy doing an internship in their company). We went for dinner (Mani introduced us to some great local food!) and had interesting discussions about various subjects.


On Wednesday I did some shopping and went to the airport to pick up Efrata. It was great seeing her again. We went back to Nabil's apartment and had some food I had prepared and a bottle of wine.


The next few days Efrata and I relaxed and had a great time. One night we met up with Surayya (whom I had been travelling with in March in Saigon when Efrata and I first met each other) and Antoine, a French cs'er.



Nabil had decided to come back to KL for a few days, so it was great to catch up with him as well.




One of the next days Efrata and I met up with my friend Fanny in Lake Gardens (a beautiful park I had been to before). In the evening Efrata and I took the bus to Sunway Pyramid shopping centre to check out the ice skating ring. I hadn't skated for a long time and was craving to do it again and Efrata had never done it before and wanted to try it. It was great to be back on skates... Efrata had a hard time at first, but she managed and really enjoyed it!



The next morning we went to KLCC and got ahold of tickets to the Skybridge. I had been there before with Nathalie but Efrata hadn't managed to go there yet, even though she had been in Kuala Lumpur a few times before. 



We did some shopping and decided to have a "cheese and wine" evening. We didn't find that many kinds of cheese in the supermarket and one of the cheeses' taste and smell (we called it "cheese ruzak" - "ruzak" means broken, wasted :))  was terrible, but we sure enjoyed it :)



 Oh, and meet Eeyore, who will keep Efrata company while I'm gone :)



We sure enjoyed our last days together in KL. On Sunday Efrata went back to Jakarta (she had to work the next day).


The next day I would start my long journey back home...




- Sven

August 28 - September 7 - Exploring Indonesia (part III - East-Java and Jakarta), Sven

Posted by goofingaroundinasia on September 27, 2009 at 3:47 PM Comments comments (24)


 Bondowoso and Kawah Ijen (East-Java)


During my trip around Indonesia I didn't want to miss out on visiting Kawah Ijen and Gunung Bromo, two of Java's highlights. Efrata hadn't visited either of those either.


When we arrived in Surabaya, we took the bus to Probolinggo, then from there two more buses (which was quite a hassle) to finally reach Bondowoso, near to Kawah Ijen.


A few months earlier, when I was planning my trip to Indonesia, I had posted some questions about my itinerary in one of the couchsurfing forums. Yonkie, a cs'er from Bondowoso, had e-mailed me and offered to stay at his place in Bondowoso if I wanted to visit Kawah Ijen. As our plans had changed late notice (initially we would stay in Surabaya for one day, but decided to push our schedule to be able to relax more in the end), I contacted Yonkie but was afraid that he wouldn't be able to host us. He was very friendly, offered us to stay over at his place and offered to pick us up at the bus station.


And he did. We got along very well from the start - Yonkie's a very friendly, hospitable and open minded person who has an opinion but truely accepts and respects other people's views. He's really into travelling and would like  to move to Australia soon (sure hope you'll make your dream come true mate... remember: "just go"!).


We had dinner at a local warung first, then went to his place. We first had a nice hot shower, then chatted a couple of hours with a good beer and some peanuts. 


The next morning, Efrata and I wanted to conquer Kawah Ijen, yet when Yonkie drove us to the bus station there turned out to be no more public transportation going there. Eventually Yonkie arranged two friends to drive us there for a fair price. We didn't find anyone who wanted to rent out their motorbike right away, and we didn't want to lose more time.


The ride was bumpy and took about 2 hours...   We were really glad when we arrived at the starting point of the hiking trail to Kawah Ijen.



Ijen Plateau was at one time a huge active crater, 134 km² in area. Today, it is a quiet but active volcano, and the landscape is dominated by volcanic cones.


The hike was only 3km long and not that steep. We met many guys carrying baskets of up to 60km / basket of yellow sulphur stones. They were obviously suffering and had to do this every day to make a living.


We were stunned when we reached the magnificent turquoise sulphur lake of Kawah Ijen, which lies at 2148m above sea level and is surrounded by the volcano's sheer crater walls. Ijen's last major eruption was in 1936, though a minor ash eruption occured in 1952. At the edge of the lake, smoke comes out of the volcano and the lake bubbles when activity increases.



We spent quite some time at the top, looking around and enjoying the view, taking pictures and devouring our tasty ayam rujak (chicken "rujak", a local dish).



When we got back, our drivers were impatient to go back already. We obviously had lost track of time and kept them waiting for a long time... whoops :)


It was obvious that they wanted to be back in Bondowoso as soon as possible. I didn't want to think too much, but I didn't feel very safe on the back of the motorbike because my driver was speeding, braking suddenly (some stretches were slippery!) and not avoiding bumps in the road (imagine the condition of his tires!). We arrived back in Bondowoso safely, though. I decided not to take a motorbike with driver anymore for long and dangerous stretches like this, unless the driver is someone I know and trust. I'd rather rent the motorbike and drive myself...


We waited for Yonkie to come home from work and he invited us over to his parents' place for dinner. Some other family members were there as well; they were very hospitable, friendly and genuinly interested in us and are trip. We had a nice conversation and the meal Yonkie's mum cooked was delicious !!


The next day Efrata and I would take the bus back to Probolinggo. We would take it easy that day: don't get up too early, and departing sometime after lunch.


When we got up, Yonkie was enjoying his day off and was just relaxing. We had some coffee and a nice conversation. He offered to take us to Pasir Putih on the north coast, one of East Java's most popular seaside resorts. We gladly accepted his offer, decided to stay for one more night and moving on the next day.



There wasn't that much to see in Pasir Putih, but we sure enjoyed the peaceful and refreshing evening walk. We took a few pictures, then drove back to Bondowoso, where we did some shopping. We all felt like cooking spaghetti... so that's exactly what we were going to do :)



We had great fun cooking the spaghetti and Yonkie proudly introduced us to his "magic box" - he cooks and bakes everything using his microwave. We looked at him i na strange way when he wanted to put the onions and garlic in a container with margarine and put it in the microwave, but it turned to work out :)



We really enjoyed our meal along with some good beers (Bintang, an Indonesian beer brand, is not bad at all). We had a long and interesting conversation about cs, travelling, life and what people want in life. We thanked him for his hospitality as we really enjoyed our stay there (and we wouldn't see him in the morning as he had to work) and went to bed.



The next day Efrata and I took a cyclo to the bus station and then the bus to Probolinggo.




Probolinggo and Gunung Bromo (East-Java)


 Efrata and I were really looking forward to visit Gunung Bromo. Compared with other major peaks, Bromo (2392m) is a midget, but this volcano's beauty is in its setting, not its size. Rising from the guys of the ancient Tengger caldera, Bromo is one of three volcanoes to have emerged from a vast crater, stretching 10km across. Flanked by the peaks of Kursi (2581m) and Batok (2440m), the steaming cone of Bromo stands in a sea of ashen, volcanic sand, surrounded by the towering cliffs of the crater's edge.


It was already around 7pm when we arrived in the bus station at Probollingo. From there we wanted to take whatever transport available to Cemoro Lawang, the starting point to visit Gunung Bromo.


We found out that the last public transportation to Cemoro Lawang had left, but that we could take a minivan to get there. When we inquired in a local travel agency, both Efrata and I found the guy way too slick in his stories and promises -- if we booked into his minivan (and he almost pushed us to write down our names, several times), he would make sure we would get cheap accomodation (he was mentioning prices of IDR 50,000 - 60,000 - we had tried booking by phone in advance and we knew that prices were higher and some places might be fully booked), when I asked him whether it was possible to rent a motorbike up there then it would be "no problem at all to find a motorbike there". Both Efrata and I had the same impression: this guy just wants us to take the remaining seats in his minivan and they'll drop us there in the middle of nowhere and for some "sudden" reason the hostel either won't have rooms available or it would be more expensive... So we insisted him on calling the hotel... he made a phone call and confirmed that there was a room available. When Efrata called, there seemed to be a room available but a lot more expensive... Confronting the guy of the travel agency he came up with some story about another hotel that didn't make sense. When he was so stupid to mention the name of the person co-ordinating tourism in the area and even giving his phone number, Efrata called that guy who told us we could get a minivan cheaper a few kilometer further. We told the guy from the travel agency off and decided to check it out.


Indeed, the ride didn't cost that much and we decided to book a tour with them also, basically only 4WD transport to a spot to see sunrise and then to Bromo itself.  Efrata had hurt her leg during the ascent of Kawah Ijen; it still hurt so she couldn't do a lot of hiking and climbing.


We didn't have accomodation yet but the minivan drive - as promised - took us to some hotels there. We didn't have any problems finding accomodation... Just a basic room as we would get up very early the next morning (3am) to see sunrise.


Around 4am the 4WD picked us up and drove us to Gunung Penanjakan (2770m), the highest point on the outer crater, along a very bumpy trail.


The viewpoint's platform was full of tourists, but that couldn't spoil it for us as the sunrise was absolutely amazing. It was really cold up there though!





 We stayed there for about one hour until the sun had risen completely, then drove on to Gunung Bromo. The 4WD stopped stopped in a big area of sand and we had to walk quite a while to the steps climbing up Gunung Bromo. The view was nice, not as impressive as the sunrise in the morning, but we enjoyed it and took lots of pictures.





We had breakfast, and took some more pictures as we had a beautiful view on Bromo from our porch! Then, we took the minivan back to Probolinggo.



When we inquired in Probolinggo about the bus to Malang the officer in the bus station tried to make us believe that there was no direct bus to Malang. We could book a minivan though.. and he pointed at the "rip off" travel agency we had told off the other night. As we didn't believe him (really sad that even the bus station officials are corrupt...), we walked further... and we were right as there was a sign "Malang" where all buses for Malang left.


We were approached again by several bus drivers offering tickets on luxurious air-con (read: freezer :)) buses, telling us there is no local "economy" bus to Malang.


Again they were lying... as we soon found the local economy bus going to Malang. They wouldn't fool us anymore :)




Malang and Batu (East-Java)


We decided to go to Malang because Efrata wanted to catch up with an old friend there.


Once arrived in the bus station, we had lunch. Afterwards her friend Dodi and Dani - a friend of his - picked us up with their motorbikes. They dropped us off at the hostel we had booked into (we had called in advance) and would pick us up again in 1,5 hours.


There seemed to be something wrong with our reservation, but that was good news as we got a more expensive room for the same price. The room was very nice, and we even had a private bathroom with western style toilet (I was a happy dude :)) and hot shower.


As promised, Dodi and Dani picked us up. They took us to a busy place with a lot of food stalls. During Ramadan Muslims aren't allowed to eat during the way until a signal is heard from the mosque. They gather at the food place, buy some food and drinks, meet friends there... and once the signal is heard they start to eat and drink.


That's exactly what we did: bought some food and drinks, which we shared once the signal was heard.


After dinner, Dodi and Dani wanted to take us to Batu, 15km northwest of Malang, which has a superb mountain scenery and a cool climate. It was really cold on the motorbike, but it was worth it, the views down on Malang were beautiful indeed.



We had some food and drinks, chatted for a few hours and then decided to call it the day.


The next morning we got up late, had lunch and headed to the bus terminal. From there we took the bus back to Surabaya. There we went to CITO, a big shopping mall where we would have a nice chocolate milk and meet up with Glo, a local cs'er I had met in Jakarta. We first boarded an angkot though ended up getting out, telling them off and refusing to pay (yes they would go to CITO, then when we boarded they didn't seem to know where it was and pointed into a wrong direction...) - we had had enough about touts :) 


Glo had texted us that she wasn't feeling well, so we concluded it'd be better for her to rest instead and we'd meet up some other time (somewhere, someday :)).


We headed to the airport, then took the plane back to Jakarta.




Back in Jakarta (West-Java)


We had booked a hostel around Jl Jaksa. When we arrived there though, they told us it was fully booked and they didn't note down our reservation. We were pissed off, asked to talk to the hostel owner who had confirmed our hostel reservation, complained and cussed him out. He first tried to justify not having a room by telling us how difficult it is to run a hostel there and how backpackers come in and leave if they don't like the room. We answered him that he should have told us on the phone instead of promising to make the reservation, and that backpackers wouldn't leave if the rooms weren't cleaned. We didn't waste any more time on him and left with a loud  "fuck off" :)


It didn't take us long to find another hostel though. We had dinner and a beer and dozed off. I had to get up early the next morning as Oni - one of Efrata's friends I met before in Jakarta - would pick me up at 7. I would join him to his school and would speak in front of his class about my country and my travels and would answer any questions they might have.


I had a wonderful experience at Oni's school. Both his colleagues and the students listened carefully and asked questions. Funny also... they asked me if I had a Facebook account and within 5 minutes I had another 10 friend requests, haha :)



Next, we drove to the University of Jakarta where we were meeting up with Efrata, Alek and other friends from her community. We went for lunch and then spent some more time chatting. Then Efrata and I left, as we were going to a CS meeting / karaoke and two friends of hers would join.


Having dinner with the cs crowd wasn't that much special, but the karaoke afterwards was - once again - great fun. It was great to see the cs crowd - with whom I had had great fun before - again  and we sang and danced along. Later on Boris (another friend of Efrata), Oni and Alek joined as well.



Later on that night, Oni, Alek, Boris, Efrata and I decided to get some food ,then called i the night.


The next day Efrata and I went shopping during the day; in the evening we went to see a movie (Nomad - seemed quite authentic and interesting at first, turned out to be an exaggerated, predictable American movie - can you imagine hearing Kazakhs speak English in a movie? :)). Oh, and in the afternoon she stitched my bag as it was broken. Thanks sweetie:)



Efrata and I counted down the days as I would have to leave Indonesia on September 7 (my VISA ran out). I would then stay another week in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) before flying back to London. Efrata brought some good news though: she would come to visit me in Kuala Lumpur from Wednesday - after work - until Sunday :)


So far my two months in Indonesia, on September 7 I took the plane to KL. It was not the easiest country to travel though one of the most interesting countries in my trip. For the first time I got so deep in finding out about and understanding part of the culture, for the first time I had been confronted that much with positive as well as negative aspects of the country, and for the first time I had had such an authentic experience in the countryside, mainly because Efrata - who speaks Indonesian and could communicate with the locals - and I travelled together.


Also, the first time I was in Jakarta the city overwhelmed me - its pollution, heavy traffic, noise, people everywhere and the lack of privacy, the heat... My second visit, however, felt different. I knew what to expect, I now knew more about the country, its culture and language.


Well... so far Indonesia, back to Kuala Lumpur!



- Sven 

August 9 - 28 - Exploring Indonesia (part II - Bali, Flores, Sumba), Sven

Posted by goofingaroundinasia on September 26, 2009 at 4:55 AM Comments comments (23)

Efrata's International Week had ended and all the co-organisers and participants had gone home. She had taken the rest of August off from work and we would travel around Bali, Flores and Sumba. We had really been looking forward to this trip for a while :)


Before moving on to Ubud, we checked out the memorial in Kuta for the victims of the 2002 bombings. On October 2002 two bombs exploded on Kuta's bustling Jl Legian, injuring more than 300 people from at least 23 countries. The number dead reached over 200.




Ubud and around (Bali)


Reading up on it in my travel guide, I really wanted to visit Ubud. Unlike South-Bali, Ubud's focus remains on the remarkable Balinese culture in its myriad forms. Around Ubud are temples, ancient sites and whole villages producing handicrafts. Its countryside remains unspoiled, with rice paddies and  coconut trees.


We didn't book any accomodation in advance and were aware that it could be a problem to find something cheap yet decent. Touts approached us as soon as we arrived, offering accomodation for IDR 200,000+, but we walked by... It took us a while checking into various places, but eventually we found the nicest accomodation for IDR 100,000 / night, including breakfast - a bungalow with a nice porch on the side of the jungle, very nice and clean and private bathroom. We immediately loved the place and decided  to stay 2 nights there. The owners of the hostel were very friendly and outgoing, yet respected our privacy.


We walked around Ubud, rented a motorbike and checked out various sites in the neighbourhood:

  • the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (officially called Mandala Wisata Wanara Wana), some cool and dense swathe of jungle which houses three holy temples. The sanctuary is inhabited by grey-haired and greedy long-tailed Balinese mcaques (monkeys) who look innocent, but beware... they grab everything they can get ahold of :)

    I really liked the Pura Dalem Agung (Temple of the Dead), one of the temples which has a real Indiana Jones feel to it. It has many statues and carvings of demons and monsters devouring children.

  • The market in Ubud. Initially I wanted to buy some souvenirs there, but couldn't find original things there;

  •  Just a few kilometers outside Ubud is Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave). The origins of the cave are uncertain - one tale relates that is was created by the finernail of the legendary giant Kebo Iwa. The small cave is carved into a rock face and you enter through the mouth of a demon.

  • From Goa Gajah we walked along the countryside, and entered Yeh Pulu, a 25m-long carved cliff face. It is believed to be a heritage dating from the 14th century. It depitcs various scenes of everyday life. There are some nice rice paddies surrounding it;

  • We drove to Tampaksiring to visit Gunung Kawi, the most impressive ancient monument in Bali. It consists of 10 rock-cut candi (shrines), memorials cut out of the rock face in imitation of actual statues. They stand in 7m-high sheltered niches cut into the sheer cliff face. The monument is indeed impressive. The steps required a 10-minute hike up on the way back, which was quite strenuous;

Road trip to Gunung Batur and Pura Besakih (Bali)


Both me and Efrata really looked forward to camp out with our tent. That's why decided to do a roadtrip - we drove up north to Penelokan, from there to Kintamani. From there we had a nice view on Gunung Batur and Danau Batur (Batur Lake), so we took some pictures.



The setting for Gunung Batur is otherworldly; it's like a giant dish, with the bottom half covered with water and a set of volcanic cones growing in the middle. Soaring up in the centre of the huge outer crater is the cone of Gunung Batur (1717m), formed by a 1917 eruption. A cluster of smaller cones lies beside.

We first had some noodles and bakso (meat balls, a local dish), then drove down to the lake. Unlike the main road, these roads were scenic and quiet, perfect to drive around and enjoy the countryside.


We drove all around Gunung Batur and wanted to reach the parking spot - indicated in our travel guide -, from where a trail would go up to the top. We asked directions several times and people kept on telling us the road would lead us there... However, the condition of the road became quite bad and when we finally asked for directions and showed the parking spot we were looking for on our map to a local, he told us we had gone too far. However, we could park our motorbike in his shed - where it would be safe - and for IDR 50.000 (US$ 5) he was willing to walk from his back yard towards the start of a hike up to the top. As it was already 6pm and there were many side trails, we decided to accept his offer.


He walked with us through lahar fields, then pointed at the trail we would have to follow to reach the top. Then he walked back.



The hike was fun though quite strenuous - we had to walk up along loose rocks and boulders, stepping one meter up and sliding halfway down every time...


Around 7pm it really started to get dark. As we were both tired and we didn't want to take any risks, we decided to put up our tent on some flat surface and spend the night there.


It was great camping out there, in the middle of nowhere, very quiet and peaceful and nobody around. Hmmm except for a curious squirrel / mouse kind of animal that ran by that is :)


At 3am our alarm clock went off... because we wanted to get up early and reach the top for sunrise. Around 3.45am eventually we managed to get up and started hiking in the dark, which wasn't easy as we only had one torch and the trails weren't that easy to follow.


When we had almost reached the top but as it was too dark to see where the trail further up was, we decided to view the sunrise from there. The sunrise was beautiful... we had suffered but this had been worth it all the way :)




After watching sunrise, we decided to go climb to the top. The last climb was quite tough, but eventually we reached the crater's rim. There we bumped into a large group of "tourist malas" (lazy tourists, just booking into tours because they are to afraid to venture into some adventure themselves :p). In fact their guide told us that it's not allowed to climb without a guide, but we kindly assured him that we were just fine and that it was none of his business :)


The views from the top were amazing, as you can see on the pictures.





 We descended again and picked up our motorbike where we left it. Then we drove all the way up to Kintamani. There we found a restaurant serving all-you-can-eat walking lunch for IDR 50.000 (about US$ 5). We really enjoyed the food, coffee and fruits and ate as much as we could. We stayed there for several hours...


In the afternoon we continued our road trip and drove to Pura Besakih, Bali's most important temple. In fact, it's an extensive complex of 23 seperate-but-related temples, with the largest and most important being Pura Penataran Agung.


We spent about an hour walking around the temples and taking pictures and watched a local ceremony.




Initially we wanted to spend the night somewhere around Gunung Agung, but as the weather was quite bad, we couldn't see the mountain. People also told us that there weren't any suitable camping spots around, so we decided to drive back  to Danau Batur (Batur Lake) to find a camping spot there.


It took us a while to find a nice spot, but eventually we did - a hidden away spot along the lake next to a temple complex. We put up our tent and chatted for a couple of hours with a fresh beer and some crisps before dozing off (as usual :)).


The next morning we woke up early again to see sunrise from our tent, beautiful :)




We packed our stuff and drove back to Ubud. There we handed in our motorbike, had lunch, picked up part of our stuff which we had left in the hostel we had stayed at and took the minibus back to Kuta.



Meeting Kent again in Legian (Bali)


Kent - one of the Aussie's I met in Delhi and travelled around Laos with - and I kept in touch through e-mail. He told me has was travelling around Indonesia as well and was currently staying with his dad in Legian. His dad comes there every year. He invited us to stay over and catch up, so we did.


It was great seeing Kent again and being able to catch up. Allison had gone back home (she had to start working again) and he had been travelling around Sumatra before going to Legian. The next few weeks he'd be roadtripping around Bali.


We had a nice chat, went for dinner and decided to call it the day.


The next morning, we did some shopping. We decided to buy ourselves snorkelling equipment as we thought it wouldn't be for hire in Flores and Sumba.




We packed our stuff and headed to Denpasar airport. From there we would take the flight to Maumere (Flores). It hadn't been easy to arrange that flight... we managed to book online, but as Efrata currently doesn't have a credit card and mine wasn't accepted (only local credit cards could be processed online), we couldn't book the flight. When Efrata called Merpati Air she got in touch with a friendly lady who offered us to deposit the money into her bank account ; she would arrange everything for us then. So we did and she kept her promise.


Flores, here we come! :)



Travelling around Flores


Initially we planned to go to Lombok, but skipped to go because Efrata had already been there and Gunung Rinjani (one of the most beautiful volcanoes in Indonesia) was currently active and hikers were currently not allowed to go to the top. Also, Lombok is easily accessible from Java or Bali, it's quite easy to do some other time...


As both of us wanted to have an authentic experience and were up for some adventure, we decided to go to Flores, a fascinating, mountainous and beautiful island. Flores has a volcanic topography that has longed shaped its destiny. A chain of cones stretches the length of this verdant island, provoking a complicated relief of V-shaped valleys and knife-edged ridges. Today, though Flores is overwhelmingly Catholic, rich indigenous cultures continue to thrive alongside mainstream religious beliefs.


The flight we took from Denpasar first stopped in Waingapu (Sumba), then went on to Maumere (Flores).



Maumere - Larantuka


Arrived in Maumere, we immediately noticed that it's hard to trust people here. Efrata had called Rita (one of her friends who lives in Flores and with whom we would stay that night) who had told us to take a local bus from the airport to Larantuka (where Rita lives). Hords of taxi drivers approached us, trying to convince us that there was no local bus going, that we first had to take a taxi to the bus station quite a few kilometers further down. They were quite arrogant and unrespectful, just following Efrata when she wanted to call Rita, talking out loud while she was calling... And when I was telling them to "fuck off" they would go for a second, then start talking to Bahasa Indonesia to Efrata instead (I can imagine that some tourists lose their tempor, really do)... At a certain point we saw a bus coming, we noticed that it was the bus to Larantuka, the very bus we had to take... Though the bus driver refused us  to get on, they just drove away, not wanting to let us get on. We were pissed off... But we knew exactly what was going on: these guys knew each other and worked together. The bus driver gets some extra, the taxi drivers earn money by taking passengers to the bus station and there the bus picks them up... you could call it "organised crime" :) I'm really sick of this kind of tourist rip-offs and would rather walk the 8kms to the bus station with our heavy luggage rather than granting these jerks to take us there and earn money, so we told them off and started walking. Then we noticed the bus was waiting just outside the airport... Talking to the bus driver we had to bargain down the price (he was trying to overcharge too of course), but eventually we agreed and got on the bus. Phew! Well lesson learned, we had to keep our antennaes up in Flores all the time... because it was clear that local people could not be trusted.


Quite harsh actually... that in a country that swears on its tradition and its respect for other people and cultures... but they just lie to you in the face and try to rip you off, just like that. Even more so - not only do they try to rip off me as a tourist, they also lie to Efrata who's Indonesian too...


The bus ride was funny... obviously the bus would only leave Maumere once it had enough passengers, so the bus driver drove around the whole town... about 5 or 6 times, with loud and rather offensive music... Just imagine: driving around a religious and traditional country with very loud music "FUCK Martinez, FUCK FUCK Martinez!!!". It got even worse... one of the song went like "I wanna fuck you!", they turned up the music pretty loud... but there was a nun on board... Nobody seemed to take offense though, not even the nun. Hmmm, crazy country but we had fun :)


Anyway, finally we started driving towards Larantuka. The ride took 4-5 hours, the music was terrible  and the last stretch was really bumpy... but eventually we were dropped off at Rita's house.


Rita's family was very welcoming and hospitable. We had dinner (some kind of fish with a chilli sauce, delicious!) and some nice conversations. They did their best to give us advice and help us plan our next few days. After that Efrata and I washed some of our clothes (we really needed to) and went to sleep.


The next morning we got up early and had breakfast. Then Rita's father took us to the harbour, as we would take the ferry to the island Lembata.





Lembata is a fascinating island that attracts few travellers - around 200 a year according to government stats. It's best known for its whaling village (Lamamera, see later) and for the volcano Ili Api, which towers over the main town of Lewoleba.


We had to spend about 4 hours on the ferry and arrived in Lewoleba harbour around noon. Lewoleba is the chief settlement of Lembata and just a relaxed little town.


Although there were ojek (motor) drivers at the pier, they were not persistent, they wouldn't insist when we told them "no, thank you", which we really appreciated.


We decided to get some food first and entered a small warung. We had some great noodles with egg. We also tried some fried banana there... delicious!


Both Efrata and I wanted to go to Lamalera, a small town on the other side of the island which was - according to our travel guide - very authentic and where locals still hunted whales in a traditional way (with a spear!). When we inquired at the small tourist information office they told us there was no public transportation anymore that day, no other transportation would go there and road conditions are very very very bad... possible to do on a motorbike, but you'd have to put on special tires.


As locals tend to exaggerate from time to time, we didn't really believe them about the road condition right away... we've cruised along some dirt tracks before and although it's not easy, we managed quite well.


We inquired at the warung where we ate before and asked whether someone could rent out there motorbike for 2 days. We didn't mention that we would drive all the way to Lamalera... but told them that maybe the next day we would take public transportation there. The answer we got was the same: road conditions are very bad... Hmmm, we started thinking, maybe they're right and the road is really really bad... ?!?


One of the guys in the warung rented out his motorbike and we decided to cruise into the countryside, towards Ili Api. It was getting too late to start driving to Lamalera anyway.


We had a wonderful time driving around the countryside. Roads were quiet, the nature was stunning and everywhere we went people were smiling, waving and yelling "hi!!!!" at us. We followed a bumpy road for several kilometers until we reached a small village. There we decided to take a rest and parked our motorbike near some community hall. Immediately some people came out of the hall to welcome us. They told us they were rehearsing for some dance contest and asked us whether we wanted to come inside to watch them. The "leader" of the group was quite funny though... she was a teacher (a respected title here, and so she wanted to show as she gave orders all the time and was carrying a stick), she had a towel around her hear and she was wearing a terrible transparant dress, revealing her underwear underneath. Efrata and I could barely stop from laughing :)



Anyway, we decided to watch their performance. We stayed there for quite a while, talking to them and watching their music and dance performance. We were stunned to see how devoted an older woman was teaching the younger girls how to dance. We took some great pictures there, then decided to move on.


We drove for a few more kilometers, then decided to take a small road towards the beach. We parked our motorbike near to a football field where local kids were playing. The kids immediately stopped playing and came to us... we talked to them and then I decided to play some football with them which they loved.



When I was totally exhausted (it was about 35°C and I was totally out of shape!), Efrata and I went for a walk along the beach. The kids kept on walking around us, and we handed out some balloons (I had bought lots of balloons in Cambodia). We met a local chilling along the beach, so we had a chat with him too.



As the kids made a lot of noise and we wanted to have some peace and quiet, we drove a bit further down. There we sat down on the beach for a while, had a chat and relaxed for a while. Then we decided to drive back as we had a long bumpy road ahead of us.


We arrived back in Lewoleba right before dark and decided to have dinner at the same warung.


When we talked to the owners' family to inquire for a suitable camping spot, one of their sons offered to drive in front of us and show us a nice place along the beach. So he did, and the spot was perfect: very remote and quiet, along the beach, a perfect setting!


We put up our tent, relaxed a bit, listened to some music (Loreena McKennit's An Ancient Muse, perfect music for this setting and Efrata and I both love it:)) and had a beer and enjoyed the view and sounds of the sea. Around 8.30pm we decided to sleep, we had had a long day and we were tired.


Suddenly we were rudely awoken by light, the tent being shaked from one side to another and the tent being cut apart. By the time we fully realised what was going on and could take action, the thieves were gone... They had cut a big hole in the tent and managed to take my cell phone and run. A cell phone and Efrata's shoes is all they could take, fortunately.


We both didn't want to stay there (besides, the tent was ripped apart) and had a scary moment trying to secure the area (we didn't know what their intentions were, how many they were and whether they were still around). After that we packed our stuff, got on our motorbike and drove to the pier. There we rested for a bit to recover from what had happened... Then we went to the police office and tell them what happened.


We told our story and the police joined us to the same spot (funny how they let us drive our own motorbike... In Western Europe they would never let someone drive who had been through a possibly "traumatic experience"... Besides, we weren't wearing a helmet :p After that we drove back to the police office, where they offered us to roll out our sleeping bag and sleep for another few hours.


In the morning the chief police officer came to talk to us... he was very friendly and concerned yet kept on going on about how sorry he was and that he hopes i will not spread this story in Europe because he doesn't want tourism in Indonesia to be affected (quite funny :)). They would try whatever possible to recover my cell phone, but it would be hard -- I told him I appreciated his concern and his efforts, though that I also realise this kind of event is part of an adventurous trip like I'm on... and that something like this could even happen in Belgium. In fact I had been lucky... been travelling for 11 months and nothing really happened (apart from a wallet being stolen that is).


During the first hours after being robbed Efrata and I both agreed upon leaving the island as soon as possible... however, in the morning we gave it another thought and decided to just carry on and go to Lamalera, what we both wanted to see. The police officer was so nice to arrange to drop us off at a driver's house who took us to Lamalera. There we realised how bad road conditions were... It was possible by motorbike but very long (4 hours by 4WD!), lose stones and boulders, mud and even a river we had to cross. I was glad we didn't venture out here on a motorbike.



The men of Lamalera village on the south coast of Lembata hunt whales using nothing more than spears, wooden boats and a prayer to their ancestors. Because of the small numbers of whales taken - around 15 to 25 a year - these hunters have been deemed exempts from the international ban on whaling, and their extremely tough and hazardous livelihoud continues.



Lamalera itself is a tiny, fascinating, poor yet extremely welcoming little village. There are no phones, internet or banks. There's no escaping how the people live here - huge (whale) bones sit atop the shoreside boat shelters, giant (whale) ribs are littered in gardens, and if there's been a recent kill bits of whale meat hang from houses.



We checked into a hostel where the owners were very friendly and hospitable. We were offered some coffee and tea and had a nice chat with a German couple who had just arrived as well. They had been travelling for a long time and had some interesting experiences to share.


Then, we went for a walk around the village. First, we went to the beach and took several pictures of boat shelters, whale ribs and bones and children who were playing (and whom we handed out balloons to - they started calling me "Mr Balloon" :)). After that, we walked further through the village - being greeted and approached by the friendly villagers everywhere. When we entered a small school where a teacher was teaching several religious songs to the kids, we asked if we could watch for a while. The teacher kindly agreed and we observed the children for a while. Then we continued our journey along the grave yard and then back.



Going back, we passed by a wedding reception. A few men invited us to join to drink some Arak (a local alcoholic drink) and have a traditional kind of cigarette with them, which we gladly accepted. We talked with them for quite a bit, then went back to our hostel.


While we were sitting on the porch of our hostel, some local kids - we had talked to on the beach before - joined us. Efrata sang some Indonesian songs with them. After that, we had dinner together with the German couple. We asked the owner of the hostel to cook whale for us as we wanted to try the village's specialty. It wasn't that special, a bit chewy, but not bad either.



After dinner, we immediately went to sleep because the next morning at 3am they would pick us up to drive back to Lewoleba.


The road was long and bumpy again. Once in Lewoleba, we had breakfast, had another walk and relaxed a bit along the pier and took the ferry back to Larantuka.



Although we had had a bad experience in Lembata - being robbed in our tent - we really liked it there and had some wonderful experiences with the local people, who were mostly friendly, outgoing and hospitable. However, I think there's more to the island than you notice right away. We had a long conversation with the person who drove us to Lamalera. He told us that Lamalera was a very Catholic town and that muslims were not welcome there... and if a muslim would go there and look for trouble the older people of the town - not the police, the law had nothing to command there - would decide what happens to him. In  the past some muslim people have been killed (their heads cut off). They would also still practise black magic. So... the people appear very friendly and hospitable, but their extremistic belief holds a dangerous cocktail... people would literally kill for their  religion.






Having just arrived in Larantuka, I lost my sweater. It was attached to our backpack and by crawling aside the pushy ojek drivers I must have lost it. We tried to find it back but couldn't... well, stupid but no reason to whine about it so we visited a nearby shop where I got another sweater for barely US$ 8 :)


We took an angkot to Rita's house. She was surprised yet relieved to see is - her phone number was stored in the phone that was stolen, so we hadn't been able to keep in touch with her (Efrata only had her old phone number which wasn't active anymore...).



We were invited for lunch, then decided  to do some sightseeing with Rita and her sister Lia. They took us to some of the beaches (where we wanted to do snorkelling at first, but it was called and the water didn't look clear) and afterwards to hot springs. We had a great time enjoying and relaxing there.


Lia was getting a lot of text messages, we had great fun teasing her ("is that your boyfriend again?" Haha :)).


Once back in the house we had dinner and a shower. Then an uncle of Rita took us around town. He took us to a few chapels and celebrations (there were celebrations going on for Independence Day). In one of the chapels, the priest opened up the door that reveiled an old religious painting that they usually only show to the public once a year.





Once we arrived back in the house, we packed our stuff for the next morning and went to bed.


The next morning after breakfast we joined Rita to their roof terrace... they really had a beautiful view from there.



After that it was time for Efrata and me to move on. We thanked Rita and her parents for their hospitality and took the minibus back to Maumere, which would drive on and take us to Moni.



Moni and Kelimutu


Moni is a pretty village, nestled among soaring peaks, which serves as the gateway to Flores' main tourist attraction, Kelimutu. It is scenic, cooler than the lowlands and there are many traditional villages around.


We didn't have to search for a long time to find a decent yet inexpensive hostel (Bintang Guesthouse & Restaurant). We first went for a small walk, then had dinner and talked to the owner of the hostel, told him we wanted to rent a motorbike  to drive up to Kelimutu for sunrise the next morning. He decided to rent out his motorbike.



The next morning we got up around 4am. We dressed warmly (because it was quite cold) and then started driving up to Kelimutu which would be one of the highlights of our trip to Flores.



Set in plunging craters at the summit of a volcano, the coloured lakes of Kelimutu are undoubtedly the most spectacular sight in Nusa Tenggara. Astonishingly, the lakes periodically change colour (something to do with the composition of the minerals in the lake changing).


Kelimutu is sacred to local people, and legend has it that the souls of the dead people go to these lakes: young people's souls go to the warmth of the Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai, old people's to the cold of Tiwi Ata Mbupu and those of the wicked to the Tiwi Ata Polo.


The timing was perfect, we reached the top when the sun started rising... and the view was indeed beautiful. The first lake was dark green, the second one turquoise and the third one was black.



We stayed there for quite a while, took some pictures and made small video. Then we drove back to the hostel where we had breakfast.



After  breakfast we drove around the countryside and visited some small traditional villages. We saw women weaving ikat, people welcomed us everywhere we went and in one of the villages we were invited in the house of the head of the village. He wasn't there but his daughter showed us the house and explained everything about their traditions and history. We could also try on traditional wedding clothes and took some pictures. Of course a donation was expected and they asked if we wanted to buy Ikat, but that's the least we could do.





Once back in Moni, we returned our motorbike, checked out and got ready to take the bus to Ende, from where we would take the ferry to Sumba. While waiting, a local offered us a ride. He was a police offer at a nearby village and had to drive to Ende and was looking for people who wanted to join - it's more fun for him that way than having to drive alone. Halfway we stopped at a small market and bought some fruits.





We asked our driver to drop us off at the harbour, as there we would take the ferry to Waingapu (Sumba) at midnight. When we arrived at the harbour though, nobody seemed to know anything about a ferry going to Sumba that night...


We had spent hours before trying to find information about this ferry. We checked our travel guide and resources on the internet telling us that "ASDP" was the only ferry company plying that route. We googled for ASDP ferries and find several phone numbers. Most of these numbers were out of service. When we called the ASDP office in Jakarta they told us we had to contact the local office, yet they couldn't advise us what ASDP number to call. When we called ASDP Kupang, they told us first that they had no info. Then, when we called again and insisted, they said that they didn't know exactly but they would find out and we would have to call back later. We tried calling back several times, no reply or busy... When eventually someone picked up the phone, they told us that there was one ferry a week going from Ende to Waingapu, on Saturday night at midnight, and we wouldn't have to make a reservation in advance. As we know that they can't get things organised in Indonesia and you always should go for a second opinion or information source, we anticipated and had Rita's dad inquire with ASDP as well. They provided him with that same information.



Yet... there seemed to be no ferry. Our driver took an hour to drive us around town. We visited the pier, the Pelni (another ferry operator) office, an ASDP office, even the local police... they all seemed to not know exactly when the ASDP ferry would go. Not that night anyway... Terrible, we asked around in the whole town - a small town! - and nobody could provide accurate information... they talked on forever but didn't come to the point. Even the police was busier playing cards than willing to help us... We were so disappointed and pissed off!!!


We inquired with two local air companies (as we wanted to check whether we could still get to Sumba), though only Pelita Air plied the route Ende - Tambolaka (West-Sumba) and flights were booked for days.


We were both tired, frustrated and angry and realised that we wouldn't be able to get to Sumba the same day and that we had to top up on energy first. That's why we thanked our driver for spending time trying to help us and asked him to drop us off at a hostel. There they had listed the timetables of the ferries... seems the ferry we wanted to take only goes once a week, on Saturday at 10am... so if we had known we could have come to Ende earlier and still catch the ferry. Oh well...


We spent some time on the internet, calling around and checked into various options to see what we would do. Eventually we made a reservation with Merpati Air, we would have to go back to Maumere and would be able tio fly to Tambolaka (West-Sumba), on Wednesday. We decided not to pay for the flight yet; a reservation is valid for 24 hours and if it's not confirmed then it's automatically cancelled... we wanted to keep our options open in case another solution would pop up.


The next few days we spent around Ende. We walked around town, visited the Musium Bung Karno (Soekarno's former house when he was exiled to Ende by the Dutch in 1933), spent some time chatting with locals along the pier, watched a beautiful sunset, and had some delicious lunch at Rumah Makan Istana Bambu (we loved the Koloke - chicken in a sweet and sour sauce - and vegetable fried rice in oyster sauce). Also, we climbed Gunung Meja, a mountain in the shape of a big table. We managed to climb almost up to the top, then it started to get really dark. As the trail was very steep - and Efrata had a hard time climbing up on sandals - we decided to head back. We had really enjoyed our climb and didn't really care about not reaching the top, it would be dark when we get there anyway and we wouldn't see a thing.



Also, everywhere you go in Indonesia, you see people just sitting at the side of the street, selling stuff, talking, gossiping, or basically just lazing around. At some places they even built sheltered platforms to laze around. On the picture below I try to depict the life of a local, haha :)



On one of the afternoons, when we were walking around town, we got a phone call from Pelita Air, telling us there was a flight available from Ende to Tambolaka on Tuesday in the afternoon. We were thrilled and immediately went to the office to book and pay for the flight.  



We enjoyed our stay in Ende, but as there's not much to do in this small town, we were thrilled to finally take the Pelita Air flight to Tambolaka. On our way to Sumba, at last !! :)



Authentic and remote Sumba


The dry, undulating island of Sumba has the richest tribal culture in Nusa Tenggara, centred on a religious tradition called Marapu. It's one of the poorest but most fascinating islands to visit, with a decidedly off-the-beaten-track courtesy of its thatched houses, colossal carved megalith tombs, outstanding hand-spun ikat and bloody sacrificial funerals.


Physically it looks quite different from the volcanic islands to the north, its countryside characterised by low limestone hills and fields of maize and cassava. Sumba's extensive grasslands made it one of Indonesia's leading horse-breeding islands. Horses are still used as transport in more rugged regions.



Arrived in Tambolaka airport, we decided to ignore the guys offering us transport. We thought Tambolaka would be at least a village with a guesthouse... though it turned out to be only an airport. We we had to go to Waikabubak, about 40km south of Tambolaka. We ended up taking a minivan for a fair price.


Efrata and I were really excited about being in Sumba, we had looked forward for this for a long time. On our way to Waikabubak, we saw one of the bloody funerals - an ox was being offered and its head was cut off.


Arrived in Waikabubak, it took us a while to find a good hostel, but eventually we ended up in Hotel Artha. We had a chat with the friendly owner and asked him some information about the neighbouring villages and the countryside. Then, we went for a walk around town and had dinner at Rumah Makan Fanny, an eatery mentioned in our travel guide and also recommended by the owner of our hostel. The place is famous for its prawns in oyster sauce, but when we were there they ran out of prawns. Nevertheless, the food was nice.


The next morning, Efrata and I wanted to do a road trip, so we wanted to rent a motorbike. We asked the hostel owner, who told us one of his friends had a good motorbike and he would bring it soon... However, after breakfast and an hour more of waiting the guy still wasn't there. When the guy told us that his friend had to go to the market and decided not to rent out his motorbike I was pissed off, couldn't they just have told us right away?! Anyway, that's how it goes around here, even simple things they can't get organised... and even if they could they wouldn't... if you complain they don't understand why. They live from day to day and they HAVE time, if they can't get it done today they'll do it tomorrow... :) So we decided just to head to the local market and approached a guy with a motorbike there. We told him we wanted to rent a motorbike for a day and asked him if he was willing to rent out his motorbike... He hesitated at first, then agreed.


The motorbike wasn't the best one we had rented (I had to keep the engine running or it would stop), but there wasn't much traffic and road conditions seemed okay, we decided to go for it.


We drove from Waikabubak to Pasunga and stopped there to visit the traditional village.


A traditional Sumba village usually consists of two parallel rows of houses facing each other, with a square between. In the middle of the square is a stone with another flat stone on top of it, on which offerings are made to the village's protective marapu (spiritual forces). These structures, spirit stones or kateda, can also be found in the fields around the village and are used for offerings to the agricultural marapu when planting or harvesting. The village square also contains the stone-slab tombs of important ancestors, usually finely carved, but nowadays virtually always made of cement. In former times the heads of slain enemies would be hung on a dead tree in the village square while ceremonites and feasts took place.



We walked around the village, handed out some cigarettes to older people in the village (it's expected for visitors to bring 'gifts' like this, we knew in advance and had bought some packets of cigarettes) and took some pictures. Also, one of the locals invited us over and he explained about the village, its culture and history. Quite interesting.


We decided to move on and visited the traditional villages of Makatakeri and Lai Tarung. Especially Lai Tarung was very authentic. A few local kids offered to join us there, which we gladly accepted. We took many pictures of the traditional houses, tombs and some of the friendly village people.




Then we moved on. One of the villagers had told us about a horse riding contest in a nearby village, something we didn't want to miss. It took us a while to find the village, but we managed. There were lots of people and there were some food stalls and entertainment stands.




We watched part of the contest, then decided to drive back to Waikabubak. Arrived there, we visited three more traditional kampung (traditional settlements within the town). We spent hours walking around, exploring, taking pictures, handing out balloons to children and cigarettes to elder people, talking to locals...






We hurried to be back at our hostel at 7pm, where the owner of the motorbike was waiting for us. We thanked him and asked him whether we could rent his motorbike the next day too... He gladly accepted and promised to come to our hostel the next day around 6am.


The next day we planned to discover some more of the countryside and some beaches, then visit a traditional funeral in the afternoon.


It was great driving around the countryside and the beaches were beautiful. First we visited Pantai Rua, then we drove on to Nihiwatu Beach which we couldn't enter as some resort had bought it (welcome to Indonesia... you can get everything done if you have the money). We then drove to Pantai Marosi, a beautiful and deserted beach.

We parked our motorbike and went for a walk on the beach and a swim. The temperature of the water was perfect :)





When we got back, however, an unpleasant surprise was awaiting us... The seat of the motorbike we had rented didn't close properly and someone had decided to steal it along with the batteries that were inside. Also, the side mirror was broken.


We were both pissed off... and Efrata was disappointed about something like this happening in her country. I needed to cool down so I went for a walk, in the meanwhile looking around hoping to find the seat back - it was possible that someone just wanted to "tease/bully" us by hiding the seat somewhere behind a tree... I didn't find it though.


There was nobody around, but there was a house close to the beach. Efrata decided to go to the house to ask the locals if they had seen someone passing by. In the meanwhile I checked the motorbike. Fortunately I could kick-start it - so I didn't need the batteries - and I managed to pile up some of our luggage so that we could sit more or less comfortably.


When Efrata came back from the house she was confused. She got the impression that the owners had something to do with the seat being stolen. They were rather hesitant and some parts of their story/answers didn't make sense (first they hadn't seen anything, then they remembered that someone had passed by on a red motorbike... first they didn't know whether it was one or two people on that motorbike, then suddenly they were sure it was just one person...). There were 2 men in the house (of which one was wearing a traditional machete - which is normal there) and an older woman.


While Efrata and I were talking, one of the guys approached us. It was indeed hard to tell whether he was telling the truth or lying... I didn't like the way he looked at us (but then again they're not used to see a white person there) and sometimes it seemed he was hiding something (yet he didn't master the Indonesian language, people speak some sort of dialect there)... Also, he was carrying a big stone and I was a bit alarmed, you never know around this region and after all we had been through I didn't trust anyone. When I told Efrata to get away from him and ask him why he was holding the stone he told us it was to guide the cattle (which turned out to be true as later on we saw him with his cattle). Eventually he left.


According to us these guys must have had something to do with it... the only road went along their house, there was nobody around and some construction workers further down told us that nobody had passed there after us.


We decided to forget about it and drive back. Even if the people in the house had stolen the seat then there was no way to force them to give it back - it's hard to predict whether they're not going to react in a violent way (I remembered the machete one of the guys was carrying), and going to the police wouldn't help ; we would only lose more time and the police wouldn't be allowed to enter the house anyway.


When we arrived in Waikabubak, we went to several motorbike repair shops to ask them whether it'd be possible to replace the seat. They didn't have that particular type of seat, and they would have to order it. We asked them to replace the side mirror though.


We had dinner and then drove back to our hostel. The owner of the motorbike was waiting for us and Efrata and I weren't very happy to tell him the bad news. The guy almost started crying... Seemed that it was not his motorbike but a motorbike of a friend's and he earned money with it as an ojek driver. His friend was a police officer, the bike was actually owned by the police... If the police would find out he had been renting out the motorbike then he would lose his job. We tried to console him and offered to join him to his friend, though he didn't want that. In the meanwhile the owner and some employees of the hostel joined the discussion (that's the way it goes over there... even if people have a conversation then everyone just comes and joins in, they don't have the concept of "privacy" there...). I usually don't like it when others interfere in a discussion which is none of their business, but they seemed to be able to calm down the guy and help us to work towards a solution.


Eventually we decided to give him IDR 350.000 (US$ 35), that would cover the rent for one day and the cost to replace the seat of the motorbike. He agreed, shaked our hands and drove off... he was quite emotional, he didn't manage to keep his engine running at first...


Although it was terrible to ruin this guy's day - maybe he was in trouble now, there was nothing we could do - we had been fair, agreed upon a price and paid for the costs... Besides, if the motorbike would have been in perfect condition the seat wouldn't have been stolen (it didn't lock properly)...


The next day, we got up early, had breakfast and took the Merpati shuttle bus to the airport in Tambolaka. There we took the plane to Denpasar (Bali), had lunch in the airport there and took a plane to Surabaya (East-Java) in the afternoon.



Well... the "motorbike incident" wasn't fun, but apart from that we really enjoyed our time in Sumba. It's truely one of the most fascinating and traditional islands in Indonesia.



- Sven

August 7 - 9 - Border run + hanging out with friends in Kuala Lumpur, Sven

Posted by goofingaroundinasia on September 26, 2009 at 4:42 AM Comments comments (3)

So my plans had changed and I wanted to stay in Indonesia for another month (Efrata and I wanted to travel around Bali, Flores and Sumba), but my 30-day VISA on arrival was running out... And it can't be extended so I had to do a "border run" - go to another country, come back and apply for a new VISA on arrival.


So I booked a flight to Kuala Lumpur, the cheapest flight available, and familiar territory, Kuala Lumpur really started to feel like home.


When I left Indonesia, however, I was stopped by an immigration officer, telling me that I had overrun my VISA for 2 days. I had entered the country on July 7 and interpreted the VISA on arrival to be valid for "one month"... in fact it turned out to be valid for exactly 30 days... So I should have left the country 2 days already... whoops :( I had to follow the guy to some desk, explained about the misunderstanding. Well, no problem, but I would have to pay a US $40 fine... quite annoying, but not much I could do, right?


I didn't do that much in Kuala Lumpur - did some shopping, walked around and discovered some more of the city, hung out with my friends Fanny and Surayya. I stayed with a local cs'er, Adrian, who had hosted Efrata before on her last trip to Kuala Lumpur. He was really nice, I spent some time with him and had some interesting conversations.


On Sunday I took the flight back to Denpasar (Bali). It was a great surprise that Efrata was waiting for me at the airport and it was great seeing her again.

July 7 - August 7 - Exploring Indonesia (part I), Sven

Posted by goofingaroundinasia on September 25, 2009 at 8:38 AM Comments comments (35)

Initially I didn't plan to go to Indonesia. I thought about making my way up to the Southern Part of China, from there up towards Mongolia. But as rainy season kicked in and South-China not being the perfect destination at that time and we decided not to go to Mongolia, I decided to change plans. This time of year the climate is best in Malaysia and Indonesia... and people kept on telling me how beautiful Indonesia is... so I decided to give it a try!



Jakarta (West-Java)


When I arrived in Jakarta, Dina - a cs'er - was so kind to pick me up. We immediately connected and had some interesting conversations. When she had to go for a meeting she dropped off at City Walk (a business centre / shopping complex) where I met Wisnu, another cs'er. I contacted him in advance and would be staying at his place. We chatted a bit, then he took me to his place on his motorbike.


Driving around Jakarta in rush hour reminded me very much of Phnom Penh in Cambodia - people along the streets everywhere, motorbikes, dirt and pollution everywhere,...


Wisnu rented a "kost" (a room in a shared house) in Grogol, North-West Jakarta. Just a small room, but I didn't need much luxury anyway. The place was infested with mosquitos though, but I had insect spray... making up for some exercise every night before going to sleep: killing the mosquitos :)


Wisnu took me to a local cs-meeting. First we had a drink somewhere near Jalan Jaksa (the main tourist street), then we went to Kemang Food Fest. I was surprised to meet some other people I had e-mailed with already: Lia, Rahra and Hellen. I had a wonderful time hanging out with this bunch: they were a bunch of good friends, having lots of fun and were very welcoming towards new people - locals and foreigners. We ended up chatting and playing cards until the early morning.



Later on that week - on election day - we went to another cs-meeting. First we had food at FX, a big shopping mall. Then we tried the "Atmosfear", sliding down in a tube from the 7th floor all the way down to the ground floor in about 15 seconds. Quite a thrill !!! Then we went to Inul Vizta for karaoke... I met many more people and had great fun, everybody joined in and was singing and dancing... cs Jakarta rocks :)



Dina was so kind to take me along the city centre earlier that afternoon. First we checked out Jalan Jaksa, then we went to Monas (the national monument), which was closed due to election day unfortunately. Then we proceeded our walk along Mesjid Istiqlal and the Catholic Cathedral, a mosque and a church facing each other, symbolising different religions and cultures living together peacefully. Then we decided to check out some ice cream in Jalan Veteran - yummy! :)



Sandy, Andri and Said - three local cs'ers - organised a small city tour around Kota (the old town of Batavia, which was once the hub of Dutch colonial Indonesia) and Sunda Kelapa (the old port) for 2 French girls and I. We walked around, they took us to Museum Sejarah Jakarta (Jakarta History Museum, housed in the old town hall). In the evening Said took me to Glodok, the traditional enclave of the Chinese, a bustling, rundown part of town. Then we went to Pasar Baroe ("new market"). As I told Said that I want local experiences when I travel, we decided to take the train. Economy class during rush hour... which you can describe as "being transported like animals": as many people crammed in as possible, the train doors remain open and lots of people are even sitting on top (!!) of the train. Fun experience and everybody was having fun with "bule gila" (crazy foreigner) squeezed in the train, but I wouldn't want to do this every day... :)





I had gotten in touch with Efrata, a girl I had briefly met in Saigon in March. She invited me to the reception / dinner of a friend's wedding, a great opportunity which I gladly accepted. Really interesting to see what a wedding is like, what the customs are, what food is being served, how everyone's dressed... Efrata explained about the culture and introduced me to her friends. Afterwards we decided to sing karaoke. Once again we had great fun!




In the meanwhile during daytime I spent some time walking around the city centre, trying to get used to the busy city, the pollution, the complicated street patterns, the public transportation and the fact that it takes a long time to get somewhere, the fact that there's people everywhere constantly trying to talk to you ("ke mana!" ("where are you going?") , "di mana?" ("where are you from?")... people are genuinly friendly and they are in fact interested in having a conversation, but it gets annoying not to have "personal space", something we are so used to in Western society. After working hours Wisnu spent some time with me, chatting and introducing me to some local food.



Pulau Seribu (1000 Islands) (West-Java)


Dina really wanted to visit "1000 Islands" up north, a string of islands in the Bay of Jakarta. Despite their misleading name there are only 130 islands in the group. Efrata joined in and the three of us decided to spend a weekend there.


We had to get up really early. Dina picked me up with a taxi, from there we drove to the harbour. There Efrata was already waiting for us. The ferry was quite fun, we sat on the deck enjoying the view, listening to music (having a conversation was impossible because of the noisy engine) and taking a nap (Efrata demonstrating that in no time she can sleep everywhere :p).




We ferry dropped us off at Pulau Pramuka (Scout Island). There we walked around a bit, then arranged an island hopping & snorkeling tour. We boarded a boat, had lunch in a floating restaurant and then left on our trip. The islands we visited are Semak Daun (lit. "grass leaves"), Pulau Kotok, and Pulau Kerambah. The islands were beautiful, the temperature of the water was perfect and the coral and underwater life were beautiful. We really enjoyed it.



We had decided to spend the night on one of the islands... where no accomodation was available, if necessary we would sleep on the beach (something Dina wasn't sure about at first, haha :)). There was another group of - rather young and noisy - students there, but we decided not to join them and enjoy the peace and quiet instead. We were offered to sleep in a boat house for free, on the pier. It was basically just a wooden house with no furniture inside, but it had a toilet and shower and we didn't require any more luxury so we gladly accepted. Also, we offered some noodles for dinner, along with some coffee and peanuts.


We had a wonderful night sitting there, chatting, joking around, listening to music, drinking coffee, eating peanuts and playing cards... Dina had gone to sleep, Efrata and I decided to stay up all night and watch the sunrise in the morning.



The next day we did some more snorkeling, then went back to the main island, where we took the ferry back to the harbour. Dina wanted to go home and Efrata and I decided to spend some more time together in Jakarta, having lunch, chatting and walking around in a shopping centre. In the evening Efrata took me to Menteng Park, a relatively quiet getaway from the busy city centre.


To make a long story short: Efrata and I fell in love and are still together until this day :)



Bandung, Tangkuban Prahu, Ciater Hot Springs (West-Java)


As Efrata and I both wanted to get away from the busy city centre and wanted to do some hiking, we decided to spend the weekend around Bandung.


Well, I couldn't follow and I still don't understand how Efrata managed to get there... taking a mix of different kinds of transportation, having to jump on and off buses (sometimes while they were driving!), constantly asking around for directions... Anyway, we got there safely :)


We walked a bit around Bandung but found it quite boring, not much to see there. In the evening we met up with two friends of Efrata. We had dinner and some conversations. After that Efrata and I decided to go to Lembang, close to the park entrance, and spend the night there.



In the early morning we took an Angkot (kind of minivan) to the park entrance and started our walk to Tangkuban Prahu, a volcano crater. It wasn't easy to find though, there were trails and junctions everywhere. Eventually a friendly local showed us the way. The huge crater was an impressive sight; it still emits sulphur fumes but is not particular active - its last serious eruption was in 1969. We walked around the crater, took some pictures and then hiked down to Kawah Domas, a volcanic area of steaming and bubbling geysers.



Once back on the main road, we both felt like relaxing after our trek, so we decided to go to Ciater Hot Springs, 8 kilometers northeast of Tangkuban Prahu. We went to the Ater Hot Spring Resort and ended up swimming, relaxing and chilling in the pools - drinking a fresh and tasty strawberry shake - for almost 4 (!) hours :)



In the evening, we took the train back to Jakarta. Business class this time :)



Bogor and Kebun Raya (West-Java)


" romantic little village" is how Sir Stamford Raffles described Bogor when he made it his country home during the British interregnum. As an oasis of unpredictable European weather - it has about 322 thunderstorms a year - cool, quiet Bogor was long the chosen retreat of colonials escaping the crowded capital. Today, the town of Bogor isn't quiet anymore and the city is choked with the overspill of the capital's traffic problem.



The real oasis remains untouched though. Planted in the very centre of the city, with the traffic passing idly by, Bogo's botanical gardens ("Kebun Raya") are truly world class, covering an area of around 80 hectares.


The gardens contain streams and lotus ponds, and more than 15,000 species of trees and plants, including 400 types of magnificent palms.


Efrata and I went there together with Pretty, Mega, Ita, good friends of Efrata. It was a very nice and quiet day-trip away from the busy city centre. The gardens are beautiful. We walked around, had a nice lunch, chatted and played "truth or dare".


When the gardens closed down (around 6pm... a pity because we would have loved to stay longer!), we returned to Jakarta.



Jakarta (2)


I ended up staying quite some time in Jakarta and doing some side trips from there. Wisnu was so kind to let me stay 2 weeks at his place, then I felt it was time to move - it's great to stay at local people's places, but I don't want to be too much of a burden and stay too long.


We ended up booking a hostel in Jalan Jaksa, the main tourist area in Jakarta.

Some trips/activities/sights:


  • Efrata took me to University of Jakarta and introduced me to her friends and her community. I had a great time and everybody wanted to know about my travels. They were really nice and even ended up teaching me some basic Bahasa Indonesia (the Indonesian language). Had some great conversations, played some cards... then had dinner together with Alek and Nico. They took me to a nice warung (that's what the eateries along the street are called) close to university where they go a lot. The food was very tasty and inexpensive.

    After that Efrata, I and Alek decided to go to Menteng Park and meet up there with Oni, another friend of theirs. We bought some beers and sat in the park, chatting for quite a few hours. Then we decided to go to Oni's place, where we would all spend the night.

    In the morning Oni was so kind to drop me off at the place where I was staying. He also offered to show me around and he invited me over to his class (he teaches computer science) to talk in front of his students. I promised him I'd love to meet his students and would contact him again in August or September.

  • Efrata is a facilitator for home schooled students, and she invited me over to her class to talk and discuss about travelling. It was a wonderful experience - I talked for over an hour and they were really interested and asked me all kinds of questions, some related to cultural differences.

  • I went to another cs meeting at Kemang Food Fest, had some nice conversations and played cards;

  • We took Wisnu and Dina out for dinner because I wanted to thank them for what they'd done for me -- I stayed at Wisnu's place for about 2 weeks and he had gone out of his way to make my stay enjoyable and show me around, and Dina had picked me up from the airport and spent quite some time together with me;

  • Went shopping, checked out various shopping malls. When Efrata had to work, I took some time to venture around the city myself;

  • Having dinner around Jaksa, we bumped into Nizza (a friend of Efrata) and Sam, a guy from South Africa who lived in Kuala Lumpur but was visiting Jakarta. We had a drink together with them and the next day Sam joined me to a book shop. I bought 3 books: Lonely Planet of Indonesia, Paulo Coelho's "The Zahir" (Efrata's favourite book, she wanted me to read it) and Lonely Planet's "Indonesian Phrasebook" as I wanted to start learning Bahasa Indonesia;

  • Checked out some local food. Quite nice, but I skipped the "chicken feet" though :)

In the meanwhile Efrata and I were making plans for the next few weeks. She co-organised an international week for foreign students and she would travel to Yogyakarta and Bali. I would join her, and she would take off the rest of August to travel around Bali, Flores, Sumba and East-Java together.


I must say that - although things were going great between Efrata and I and we were doing a lot of fun things - I had a hard time in Jakarta. The busy and polluted city, people on the streets everywhere asking all kinds of annoying and somewhat private questions, people staring at us all the time, the fact that some traditional hotel owners do not allow a man and a woman to stay together in the same room if they're not married (so it wasn't easy to find a room sometimes), the inefficiency (that especially... they're good at talking for hours and gossiping, but getting things done seemed quite hard...), the heat, the mosquitos... I was happy when we could leave Jakarta and move on to Yogyakarta.



Yogyakarta, Borobodur, Prambanan (Central Java)


We decided to take the night train to Yogyakarta. Didn't sleep much though... we didn't have sleeping berths (just normal seats), the lights remained on, there was a lot of noise, at every stop people came in trying to sell all kinds of food/drinks,...


We arrived early in the morning. The largest part of the next few days Efrata would be busy with the international week she co-organised. She was staying in the same hotel as the participants; I decided to book into a room in the Prawirotaman area (the backpacker area).


That afternoon Efrata and I (she had a free day) decided to visit the Borobodur temple complex. This colossal Buddhist relic is one of Southeast Asia's marvels, surviging Gunung Merapi's ash flows, terrorist bombs, and the wear and tear of a million pairs of touris flip-flops to remain as enigmatic and beautiful as it must have been 1200 years ago.



We arrived there about an hour before closing time so we rushed in, but an hour was more than enough to walk around, see the temple, take some pictures, enjoy the area.

and the upcoming sunset.


While Angkor Wat is bigger and more impressive, Borobodur sure is worth a visit too.



The next day I decided to rent a motorbike... only 3 US$, the cheapest motorbike rental so far :p


I drove around Yogyakarta first - trying to get used to the labirynth of one way streets -, and decided to drive to the Prambanan temple complex in the afternoon. It's on the road to Solo 17km northeast of Yogyakarta and the best remaining example of Java's period of Hindu cultural development. Not only do these temples form the largest Hindu temple complex in Java, but the wealth of cultural detail on the great Shiva temple makes it easily the most outstanding example of Hindu art.



I took the whole afternoon to visit the temples, wandering around, taking pictures, enjoying the green area surrounding the temples. I sat down in the grass for a few hours to do some reading. In the late afternoon I headed back to Yogyakarta.


In the evening I met up with Wilton, a cs'er from Yogya, in Malioboro Shopping Mall.


Arriving there and parking my motorbike somewhere in between the hundreds of other motorbikes, I wondered how I would find it back... but I didn't have time to worry about it because I had to rush in to meet Wilton :) We had a nice time talking about various subjects, then walked around a bit in the city centre.


Fortunately most of the parked motorbikes were gone by the time we got back, so I easily found my motorbike :)


The next morning I packed my bags (Efrata and I were leaving in the evening), checked out of my hostel and met up with Andrew, a cs'er from the US. Another local cs'er joined whose name i can't remember. We had lunch first, then drove to Kasongan, Yogyakarta's pottery centre. The pottery and art-work we saw there was amazing.


Back in Yogyakarta, I flagged down an "ojek" (motorbike driver) who took me to the airport. There I met up again with Efrata, who introduced me to her fellow organizers and participants of the international week.


That night we took the plane to Denpasar (Bali).



Sanur, Kuta, Legian and around (Bali)


When we arrived at Denpasar airport, we noticed immediately that this is a touristy destination. Hords of taxi drivers were waiting for us, trying to overcharge us. We ignored them and walked out of the airport. There we flagged down a taxi who dropped us off in Sanur. We had booked into a hostel there for one night because all accomodation in Kuta and Legian was either full or ridiculously expensive.


We woke up early the next day and went for a nice walk along the beach. After that, I couldn't keep Efrata from going to Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast :)



Then, we took the taxi to Kuta and started our long quest of trying to find accomodation. Kuta is really touristy and all accomodation was either fully booked or too expensive (they charge up to and over IDR 200.000 / night (+/- US$ 20, which is a lot to Indonesian standards). We didn't give up and eventually found a nice place for IDR 70,000 / night (US$ 7), Beneyasa Beach Inn II off Poppies Lane.


The first days Efrata was busy organising the international week. I basically just lazed around, I didn't like the place very much as it's only beaches and full of tourists.


When Efrata had a day off, we decided to rent a motorbike and cruise around. First, we drove to Ulu Watu, one of several important temples to the spirits of the sea along the south coast of Bali. The temple is perched precipitously on the southwestern tip of the peninsula, atop sheer cliffs that drop straight into the pounding surf.



The temple wasn't that special, but the views along the cliffs was breathtaking. We had a great walk along the cliffs, where no tourists go.


Then, we drove back up north, along Kuta and Legian's busy shopping streets. It was rush hour and the traffic was terrible. I tried to get us up there safely, while Efrata laughed at me when I tried asking directions to "Kerobokan" and didn't manage (I said "Keroboboan" and the locals looked at me in a funny way, not knowing which place I meant :p) :)


After an hour we arrived in Tanah Lot, possibly the best-known and most photographed temple in Bali. There were tourists everywhere coming there for sunset. There was a guy asking for money to see the "holy snake". It just looked like a normal snake though and when we asked him what's so special about the snake, he kept on mumbling "it's a holy snake", haha :)



Although the place was touristy, the sunset was stunning. We really enjoyed walking around and seeing the sun go down and took many pictures.



Then we drove back to Kuta and handed in our motorbike.


I arrived Indonesia on a one month "VISA on arrival". As it was about too expire and I couldn't simply extend it, I had to leave the country, come back and apply for a new VISA on arrival if I wanted to stay longer. So the next day I would fly to Kuala Lumpur (the cheapest flight), stay there for 2 days and then come back, getting a new VISA on arrival which would entitle me to stay in Indonesia for another 30 days. Quite a hassle, but the only way...



- Sven


Relaxing on Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Sven, June 29 - July 4)

Posted by goofingaroundinasia on September 24, 2009 at 2:29 AM Comments comments (21)

I had met up a couple of times again with my friend Mia (who was "partner in crime" for checking out the nightlife in Phnom Penh :)). She was in Kuala Lumpur too, recovering from a knee injury. She could barely walk and it would be like that for 4-6 weeks, which was driving her crazy as that would limit her in her travels.


Seeing that it would be hard for her to travel on her own, that I had no plans for the next few weeks and I hadn't been able to explore Mayalsia's islands yet, we decided to travel together to Perhentian Islands. I took the bus from KL to Kuala Besut, the jumping off point to catch the ferry. While waiting for the first ferry to depart (another 2 hours) I had a chat with Nico, a fellow traveller from Chili. Mia and I had planned to go to D'Lagoon, a place on Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Small Perhentian Island) - which people described as a truly relax and quiet place  - and as Nico hadn't made any other plans yet, he decided to join us there.


D'Lagoon beach looked great, it was indeed very small and quiet and a perfect place to relax. When I checked into one of the cottages though I noticed how basic the rooms were. Just beds, electricity only a few hours per day, holes in the wall through which mosquitos could come in, no mosquito nets and a bathroom which was even more basic. Well, we didn't need much luxury anyway so we'd see how it goes... :)



As I arrived in the morning and I'd have to wait for Mia to arrive in the afternoon, I decided to go for a walk. I walked through the jungle towards nearby beaches: "Turtle Beach" and "Adam and Eve's Beach", really nice and remote beaches... On Turtle Beach there was no one, on Adam and Eve's Beach just a few people. I decided to relax on the beach for a while, then headed back and on my way back I bumped into Nico. He had tried to walk all the way  to Long Beach but got lost and had to come back because he forgot to take water :)


As the "resort" (if you could call it that :p) was owned by muslim people I feared they wouldn't sell beers, and seeing how important it is for both me and Mia to enjoy a nice beach setting like this with a good beer in the evening, I called Mia for help. She bought some beers in Kuala Besut... so we were saved, haha :)


In the late afternoon Mia arrived. She, Nico and I had dinner and decided to have a beer and play cards... well, "Shithead" of course, Mia's favorite card game :) While we were playing, the owner of the resort ran in and told all the guests to follow him to Turtle Beach. There was a turtle laying eggs and we could see it.


Nico and I decided to check it out. Mia couldn't because of her leg, but we'd  take pictures for her to see. Funny to see 30+ people grab their torches and make their way to the other side of the island in the dark... once arrived there, we had to wait. For a moment I thought it was some tourist trap, but finally we could go and see, and indeed, there was a giant turtle. We only looked at it for a short while, then decided to leave the animal alone. You wouldn't want 30+ tourists taking pictures of you while giving birth either, right? Haha :)


That night Mia and I were eaten alive by mosquitos :p We both had applied mosquito repellent, but that only works for a certain number of hours, and they still keep buzzing around your head keeping you awake. We decided that the setting was a bit too basic for now and decided to check out Long Beach.


We discussed our plan with Nico, who agreed that this place was too quiet. Nico and I decided to walk through the jungle towards Long Beach. A nice and rewarding walk up the hills to a place with some windmills, nice views from the top. We saw many giant lizards too, seems like they're all over the island. A bit scary though, for a moment we thought there was a crocodile :p



Long Beach was indeed quite a lot bigger and had more of a backpacker and party vibe... which was great. Nico and I decided to look for accomodation first... which didn't seem easy. Most places were fully booked or too expensive. Eventually he booked into a dorm; Mia and I booked into a bungalow. Then we called Mia to tell her we found accomodation and she could come over... In the meanwhile Nico and I had a beer at the Reggae Bar, waiting for Mia's boat to arrive.


The next few days we relaxed, had good food, played cards, drank beer, swam, do internet stuff from time to time, watched movies, played some pool, read,... Really enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere there. Mia was having a hard time though, feeling really annoyed by not being able to move more (her leg really hurt whenever she'd walk along the beach).




In the meanwhile we figured out about what we wanted to do the next few weeks. Nico and I would go back to Kuala Lumpur (both just for a few days before going to Indonesia), Mia decided to visit Cameron Highlands. So we took the ferry back to Kuala Besut, where our ways parted.



As all buses back to KL turned out to be fully booked for days and both Nico and I had to be back there in time, we decided to book a flight back with FireFly. I was first a bit hesitant about FireFly, but the plane was comfortable and the service excellent. Nico enjoyed his nap and didn't even wake up when the stewardess brought us some food and drinks :)



Once back in Kuala Lumpur I did some more reading for my trip to Indonesia and I sent some e-mails to couchsurfers. I was planning to meet quite a few people there, and found a local person to stay with: Wisnu.


Don't remember if it's at this time, but Olivier e-mailed me to tell me that he would not go to Mongolia. I had a hard time deciding what to do as on the one hand my travel perspective had changed - I didn't really have the urge of exploring as much as I had when I first left; besides, Mongolia isn't the safest region to travel and not the easiest country to travel, didn't feel like doing that on my own, travelling there would be really expensive -, on the other hand I didn't want to leave Colour4Kids, the organisation, down. Eventually I ended up writing the organisation about my dilemma and they assured me that there were 3 other Dutch people going there, so if I would decide not to go then it wouldn't endanger the whole project. So eventually I made the decision not to go to Mongolia and to travel around Indonesia instead. Many people told me it's very beautiful, so I really looked forward to going there.



- Sven

Kuala Lumpur: feels like home (June 14-28 and June 5-6, Sven)

Posted by goofingaroundinasia on September 24, 2009 at 2:17 AM Comments comments (2)

It actually felt great to be back in Kuala Lumpur - I had been there quite a couple of times, I knew the city quite well, my friend Nabil was so kind to let us stay over at his apartment, it was great to see my friends there again, it actually felt like coming home :)

  • Nathalie hadn't been to Kuala Lumpur yet, so the first day we went for a walk along Chinatown and Little India, then on to KLCC and the Golden Triangle. Quite a long walk and her foot -  which was still not okay, she was supposed to rest instead but she couldn't sit still - hurt when we got back;
  • Of course we enjoyed the local food - Nabil took us to a food court and my friend Joey introduced us to some local food. Did you know that they can turn a whole chicken into some powder, called "chicken floss"? Scary thought :)
  • Nabil recommended us to visit Lake Gardens, a big park. It wasn't easy to find as the KL City Map I had was terrible, but it was worth it. We really enjoyed our walk there and my friend Joey joined us;
  • It was great catching up again with Somsiah and her son Rezuan, who had hosted Olivier and I during our first visit to Kuala Lumpur. As usual she spoilt us way too much and cooked great food for us;
  • Nathalie managed to get 2 tickets for the Skybridge between the Petronas Towers. First we were shown a commercial about Petronas, then we took the elevator up the 41st floor, going really fast (1 floor / second!). Once arrived at the Skybridge, we were allowed to look around there for 10 minutes - which is not long, but it was enough to take some nice pictures;

  • My friend Joey took a day off from work ("emergency leave" they call it :)) and we went on a day trip to Kanching Waterfalls north of Kuala Lumpur. Really nice day trip, great to do some jungle hiking, climbing and bathing in the pools. We had to watch out for the monkeys though, making sure they wouldn't run off with our pic-nic;

  • I met up a few times again with my friend Fanny. Checked out some local Chinese food and we visited 2 pubs: Reggae Bar and The Beatles Pub. The latter had a karaoke, so we had to sing a few songs :)
  • When I was in Singapore, Angela had told me about Rockaway 2009, a rock festival in KL she would go to - and seeing Olivier and I previously hadn't been able to find some decent live music in KL, I just had to check it out. Joey and Fanny joined me to the rock festival and we met up there with Angela and her friends. The first bands were terrible, though I was really impressed with Joey managing to stay for quite a long time, even though she didn't like the music at all. She even managed to sip a bit of beer when one of Angela's friends bought us a beer, haha :) After a while Joey left (Fanny had left already, she had another appointment). Later in the evening, the bands became better and Angela and her friends and I really enjoyed the music. The organization of the event was quite funny though ; in order to get a beer you had to get into the media / vip only stand. You were actually not allowed to go in there and the security guy wouldn't let us in, a simple "I want to get a beer" was sufficient to let us in, haha. I ended up staying until one of the last acts, then I rushed back to take the last LRT back to Nabil's apartment where I was staying;

Nathalie and I also discussed our further travel plans. Her foot wasn't healing as fast as she wanted and that really annoyed her, making her decide that she needed some time by herself. That's why she decided to travel to Borneo. I would spend some more time in Kuala Lumpur, then go to Perhentian Islands.

- Sven

Back in Singapore (June 9 - 13, Sven)

Posted by goofingaroundinasia on June 22, 2009 at 5:34 AM Comments comments (4)

I last wrote about one of my Airasia flights being cancelled. well, everything worked out well. I e-mailed the person responsible to ask them what to do and it turned out that actually both of the flights I would be taking were cancelled, so they just booked me on the next flights. The only downside was that I would arrived 1,5 hrs later in Singapore but that wasn't a big deal.

When I arrived my Belgian friend Nathalie (who had been travelling around New Zealand for 3 months) was already waiting for me. It was great seeing her again and we had a lot of catching up to do. Bad news was that she had broken her foot in New Zealand; she had to wear a moon boot and was supposed to rest for 6-8 weeks.

As I hadn't been able to find a couch for the first few days and as I didn't want to have to stroll around the whole city to find accommodation - especially regarding Nathalie's condition - I had booked a hotel in advance. The price was reasonable (to Singaporean standards that is :p), the people were friendly and the location was perfect: very close to an MRT station. After we checked in, we decided to check out the food stalls right next to the MRT station. The food was cheap and delicious and the rest of the evening we exchanged travel stories over a few beers.

The next day we decided to do some sightseeing. We went to Clarke Quay and Chinatown. Walking around Chinatown, Nathalie had been talking about our hearing getting worse. Both of us sometimes experience problems trying to understand a conversation in noisy places. The subject popped up because my ear was hurting a bit - it got irritated after using ear plugs a while ago and I think flying made it worse. In the afternoon we bumped into this hearing aids' shop which had a sign "free hearing test", so we decided to check it out. We told the owner of the shop (a German woman) about our "hearing problem" and she confirmed that it's quite normal nowadays - there's a lot of noise everywhere, people use cell phones, listen to loud music - so it's normal that people get hearing problems at a lower age. What Nathalie and I are experiencing however, is not a hearing deficiency, but has to do with the brain not being able to interpret all the signals in time - that's why we can't understand others very well in noisy places. After that, we both took the hearing test. Nathalie's test was ok. My test showed that my right ear has slightly diminished hearing, but that ear was hurting so the irritation might be the cause - will test again when it's healed though. After that we had a nice chat with the shop owner about travelling, her moving to Singapore and life there, quite interesting.

In the evening we met up with my friend Elin. In December I had only met up with her briefly because her grandmother was in the hospital then. It was great to see her again and she showed us around Clarke Quay, the Esplanade, the casino and told us about the different places and the history.  

The next morning I received great news from Angela, a cs'er. She couldn't host us herself as she's in the middle of moving into a new place, but we were welcome to stay at Cheryl's (a friend of hers) place. During the day Nathalie and I did some more sightseeing (well, she was supposed to be resting her foot but she was too stubborn to do so :p), checked out the area around Arab Street and Mustafa Center. In the evening we met Angela and her boyfriend, Cheryl and Simon - a German cs'er. We had some Indian food first, then moved into Cheryl's place. We had a few drinks, chatted and had great fun at Cheryl's place. We got along really well and felt at home already :)

The next day we met my friend Mae for lunch and decided to try the Hokkien Mee at Lau Pa Sat - delicious. After that we decided to check out a computer fair. Nathalie bought a small form laptop there (she had been planning to buy one for a long time, but the special promotions made it worth checking it out and buying it here) and Mae wanted to check out a camera she was planning on buying. When we left the building Nathalie's foot was hurting, so we decided to have some ice cream along the esplanade. There we met up with Linda, who had guided me around the city centre in December.

At night we met Angela and Cheryl. We had dinner and decided to check out a live performance at the Esplanade. The atmosphere was great, but the band - The Pinholes - sucked :) Later on Simon, Ashish and a friend of his joined us. We went to a bar and had a lot of fun. I was very exhausted when I got home though, as my ear was getting worse. It didn't hurt but it was blocked so I had a hard time conducting conversations in the noisy pub :$ I decided to wait a few more days, but go to a doctor if it wouldn't get better soon.

The next day Nathalie and I decided to check out Sentosa Island, one of the only getaways from the busy city centre, but very artificial. I didn't really want to go there before, but seeing we were in Singapore anyway we decided to check it out. We had a nice day but it was exactly how people had described it - artificial. We spent some time on the beach, but the beaches weren't that nice as they were facing the harbor.

In the evening Cheryl joined us and we went to Elin's place. She had invited us for a traditional dinner. She told us all about the culture, the tradition, the food, her religion (islam), Quite interesting, but we had to get used to eating with our hands though. Well if you think it's easy, try eating chicken by only using your right hand, and try not to make a mess :p After dinner we looked at Elin's wedding video. She got married to a German guy in April; I was invited to the wedding but couldn't make it because I had friends coming over to the Philippines.  

Well it was great catching up with friends and spending time with our new found friends, but I had spent time enough in Singapore. Once again, a beautiful city but apart from shopping and nightlife it doesn't have much to offer. Time to move on :)

- Sven