A Travellerspoint blog

Singapore

Yummy yummy

sunny 36 °C


Day1:
Our Airasia flight from Bali to Singapore had been bought a year before. (I had bought extra baggage but not forked out any extra for food, priority seating and certainly not for extra leg room). After 4 months around SEA arriving into Singapore airport and jumping on the MRT into the center felt like another world. It felt uneasily like a developed country.

We checked into the fantastic Five Stones hostel just near Clarkes Quay and were met by an old buddy from medical school. Yan took us to Clarkes Quay for a beer and nachos before whizzing us off for an incredible Singapore Chilli Crab dinner overlooking the sea. The view out to see twinkled with 1000’s of lights: hundreds of ships queing to get into the busiest port in the world.

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Chilli crab. Yummy! I never found out what Yan's bright idea with the crab was....

Day2:
Waking up the next day I ate my first cereal and fresh milk in 4 months. How I missed it! I then headed off for a run around the Marina Bay and Quays on the on the running track. Singaporians are just crazy for running and the city is a constant throng of runners! Arriving back I woke Lynne up and ate more cereal. With Lynne up and raring to go we walked out to explore Chinatown.

Old Singapore, cicra Lynne's Dad out with the Navy

Old Singapore, cicra Lynne's Dad out with the Navy


Singapore town planning- impressive

Singapore town planning- impressive

Chinatown Food Court

Chinatown Food Court

Chinatown new and old

Chinatown new and old

Statue in Chinatown

Statue in Chinatown

The contrast between well restored merchant houses (much like the fantastic Georgetown in Malaysia) and modern sky scrappers is fascinating. We stopped at the City Museum where Lynne got a bit too excited by the town planning, but it was well worth a stop (for me it was for great food court opposite. $3 for huge plate of Singapore Chinese!) After a bit more walking we stopped for delicious Dim Sum. We were getting carried away with the tasty and cheap food!

Dim Sum

Dim Sum

After some serious pavement miles we had a rest back at the hostel and in the evening headed off to the ubiquitos tourist trap Raffels for a overpriced Singapore sling and beer. We had been given instructions by Lynne's dad to find his old drinking haunt, the Army and Navy club, which we were informed overlooked Raffles. After circling Raffles a few times and consulting the mobile phone internet we worked out it was still there, just behind the some scaffolding and covers. Shame. Still, hanging out in the old colonial bar and breaking peanuts and hurling the husks on the floor is quite fun.

Raffles

Raffles

Singapore Sling

Singapore Sling

Later we went to the Esplande to meet up with Yan again for a few drinks and watch the amazing buildings around the marina bay light up. It is amazing how life works out sometimes. Your wife's mother ruptures her oesophagus and then a few days later you meet up with an old med school friend to find he is a upper GI specialist. Not only was Yan a fantastic host and guide, he was also very kind in spending time talking about the implications and future after such an incident.

Singapore Esplande by night.

Singapore Esplande by night.

Singapore CBD by night

Singapore CBD by night

Marina Bay Sands at Night

Marina Bay Sands at Night

Later that evening we finally sat down to make a decision about the future of the trip. Initially it had seemed simple, then after being told in no uncertain terms by Lynne's dad not to return it seemed complicated again. We worked out the costs, thought about delaying flights here and there, but in the end it boiled down to the simple question of flying further away from home, or going home and being with Lynne's family. By 3am I had cancelled the rest of the RTW trip and bought new tickets leaving in 26 hours to London.

Day 3:
Suddenly a holiday with over 2 month left on the clock shrinks to just over 24hrs. Time to fit in far too much into one day. We headed off to Little India and enjoyed wandering the old streets, temples and picking up some gifts for the family.

Curry in Little India

Curry in Little India

Next stop was the cable car up to the Mount Faber. To be honest the whole cable car and viewing is well run with some ok views but not a patch on Hong Kong, or seeing the Manhattan skyline. However only a short walk (though in 36 degrees and 100% humidity it felt long enough), was the brillaint Henderson Waves. A stunning bridge through the rain forest.

The excitement of cable car

The excitement of cable car


Funky Bridge

Funky Bridge

Running the bridge

Running the bridge

Next stop, Marina Bay Sands. The building is enormous and is sat on top of Asia's second largest casino. Singaporeans, much like a lot of asia, love a flutter despite the huge joining fees and daily charge just for entering. The casino makes more money for Marina Bay than all its casinos in Las Vegas put together. Macau and Singapore are heralding the decline of Las Vegas. We explore the ridiculous shopping malls and then went to the top to have a drink. (Top tip, you can either pay to go to the top to have a look around, or go to the bar for free where two drinks is slightly cheaper than the elevator charge, though not if your wife orders a Champagne cocktail!).

Sky bar on the Marina Bay Sands

Sky bar on the Marina Bay Sands

With hours remaining on our trip we decided to battle Singapore at rush hour to make it out into the centre of the island to visit the fantastic Night Safari. The Zoo is attached to Singapore zoo but a different entity entirely and only opens after dark. There are a number of walks but the highlight is the Jurassic park esq open train ride. The enclosures are very cleverly designed with no bars or cages, but hidden water ditches. It gives the unnerving feeling that the animals could wander over to you at any point and take bite. The animal show was fun as well but we hadn't left ourselves enough time to enjoy it fully and would definitely return.

Night Safari Lion

Night Safari Lion

Night Safari Wolf

Night Safari Wolf

Day 4:
There seemed little point in going to bed after getting back from the Night Safai well after mid night and a early start 04:15 only hours away. And so we stayed up organising all the last little boring things that you need when returning suddenly e.g. Car Hire etc. I ate some more cereal and watched some movies. Heaving our rucksacs on for the last travel we hit the near desserted Singapore roads and hailed a taxi to the airport. Two hours later we were in KL again, and 11 hours after this we touched down in London heathrow.

The next three months:
My dad very kindly came to pick us up at LHR and drove us back to Shrewsbury. They said we could stay as long as we needed and we joked that we would stay for a few months in that case. Some nervous laughs followed. The next month flew by with daily trips to the hospital and trying to get our lives in order. We had planned to spend the last two months of our trip getting everything ready for our return. I got some GP locum work around Shrewsbury and did some rowing and coaching at the local rowing club. Three months later we finally made the planned move to London and have settled in East Sheen near Mortlake on old Father Thames. Three months since Lynne's mum ruptured her oesophagus she has finally been allowed to start sipping water.

Agecroft 24 hour row with Olympic torch.

Agecroft 24 hour row with Olympic torch.

Chris Hoy with torch.

Chris Hoy with torch.

Cancellara at the road race. Wiggins smashed it!

Cancellara at the road race. Wiggins smashed it!

Handball in the Copper box.

Handball in the Copper box.

Watching the rowing in the olympic park.

Watching the rowing in the olympic park.

Pass of the Cross. The highest pass in North Wales.

Pass of the Cross. The highest pass in North Wales.

Final word:
A common question is: 'So have you got it out of your system?' And I guess this was partly the aim of the trip, to satisfy that need to explore and experience what is out there. If anything this trip has ignited that hunger even more. Most of all it has shown us that all those fears that stop people from travelling, the worries about jobs and money, losing touch with the system which means paying tax, a mortgage, building a pension, are even weaker than before. We met endless inspiring people who had carved out the life they wanted, were successfully travelling with young children, had taken the risk. So for anyone thinking of travelling, or the reasons why they can't. I'll leave it to Mark Twain to finish off. (ultimate cheese moment)

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Posted by Justin Woolley 09.09.2012 08:00 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Bad news from here

I settled down in front of my laptop. I re-read an email from mum, worrying about something dangerous we’d mentioned in our blog and sending her best wishes for our onward travels to Australia. The email finished with the usual words of caution, care and love.

I scrolled down and noticed a new email from my dad entitled “Bad news from here”. I managed to read the first few sentences. Mum had been feeling unwell. She’d woken in the early hours unable to breathe. My dad had rushed her to hospital where she was treated for a lung clot, but the treatments weren’t working. A scan showed a tear in her oesophagus and she was rushed to theatre.

I tried to read the rest of the email, but by this point tears were streaming down my face. I picked out a couple of words: intensive care, ventilator, critical condition. Justin appeared by my side so silently I didn’t even realise he was there. He was quietly reading the email, which was written in medical language. Dad must have asked someone to write it down, knowing that Justin would understand and be able to translate. It was a very rare and sudden illness. The cause unknown, but the result is a large tear in the oesophagus that needs immediate treatment. My mum was in a critical condition, but had already beaten the odds by making it through the first 24 hours.

We’d had a talk about what we would do if something happened whilst we were away. We’d agreed to come home only if absolutely necessary. “I want to go home.” I was hoping that Justin would tell me that mum would be out of hospital soon, that there was no need to fuss, but instead he nodded his head in agreement.

I can’t really remember the next few days very well. A blur of packing and saying our goodbyes. We rang home, but there seemed to be no words to say what needed to be said. We made a promise to my dad to wait a few days in Singapore, but at the end of the day there was only really one place we wanted to be. If we have learnt anything during our travels it is that there are some things that are more important than anything else.

Posted by Lynne Woolley 05:50 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Back to Bali

Where has all the egg gone?

sunny 28 °C

I admit it. I’m in a complete grump. We’ve just flown back from Nusa Tengarra and I am very jealous of the travellers moving onto the next set of islands. I want to meet the whale hunters in the Pulau Solars. I want to go back to Sulawesi and see how much it has changed in ten years. I want to go and climb a ridiculously dangerous volcano. Okay, maybe not the last one.

I’m currently sat in a café in Ubud. It is like that scene from The Beach when Leo’s character goes back to the noise, bright lights, tourists and touts of the mainland. After a month and a half of illness and five weeks of eating badly cooked eggs Justin is tucking gleefully into a plateful of overpriced food…I’m grumping! We’re sat overlooking a brand new gaudy Starbucks. The traffic is horrific. Multinationals have arrived in full force. Tourists are wandering down the main street in swimming costumes. Bleurgh

Starbucks…nooooooooooooooo!

Starbucks…nooooooooooooooo!

We came to Ubud for our honeymoon and loved it. Remote island travelling and several years of development has taken the shine of our second visit. We head out onto the backstreets to look for a quiet homestay away from all the noise. We find a lovely little house overlooking the beautiful green paddy fields. …this is the Ubud we fell in love with three years ago.

Food and cooking has been a constant theme of our blog, but Justin has really been pushed to the bad food limit over the last few weeks. Desperate to restore Justin’s faith in Indonesian cooking I book us onto a family run cooking class with Paon Bali: www.paon-bali.com. We are picked up in the morning by the father of the house. He is really lovely and very amused by my attempts at an Indonesian accent. Apparently I sound like a government official! He slows down the typical Balinese high-speed version of Bahasa Indonesian so that I can understand and teaches us some useful Balinese phrases (completely different to Indonesian).

As with every other cooking class in Southeast Asia we walk around a morning market to learn about local foods. We are about four hours too late for the ‘real’ market, but we try some new fruits and learn about the Balinese offerings that you see adorning taxis, businesses and homes. I have a go at bargaining for some fruit, but I am notoriously bad. Last time I tried I ended up in an argument with Justin and the lady knocked 50% of the price just to get rid of us. I’d give Monty Python a run for their money: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u75XQdTxZRc

Ubud market at 8am. Most of the trading has already been done in the early hours so many of the ladies were passed out having a snooze!

Ubud market at 8am. Most of the trading has already been done in the early hours so many of the ladies were passed out having a snooze!

Local shopkeeper buys flower petals for Hindu offering in Ubud market

Local shopkeeper buys flower petals for Hindu offering in Ubud market

Talking through what makes up a Balinese offering

Talking through what makes up a Balinese offering

We then travel to a little village just outside Bali. Our guide goes through the politics of paddy fields – how they are distributed to families in the community, how the community comes together to plant and harvest four times a year and how they all contribute money to developing their community enterprise. It is an impressive system. It is also 100% organic, with ducks being brought in to help with clearing away the harvest and fertilising the fields. Production is up from the years they used chemical fertilisers and profit is being spent on new community facilities and businesses.

Ducks helping with the organic harvest

Ducks helping with the organic harvest

We head to our guides house to meet the rest of the family, before making a start on a huge range of Balinese dishes: kuah wong sup jamur (clear mushroom and vege soup), be siap mesanten kare ayam (chicken in coconut curry), sate siap (minced chicken grilled on bamboo sticks), kacang me santok gado gado (veges in peanut sauce), jukut urab (coconut and snake bean salad), pepesan be pasih pepes ikan (steamed fish in banana leaf), tempe me goring tempe kering (deep fried tempe in sweet soy sauce) and last but not least kolak biu kolak pisang (banana in palm sugar syrup).

Justin grinding away with his giant pestle and mortar...and it was still too short for him much to the amusement of everyone

Justin grinding away with his giant pestle and mortar...and it was still too short for him much to the amusement of everyone

Kura kura (sea turtle) crazy...Justin has said no to the full dinner service though<img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_sad.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':(' title='' />

Kura kura (sea turtle) crazy...Justin has said no to the full dinner service though:(

Chicken satay...the big fat one is greedy Justin's!

Chicken satay...the big fat one is greedy Justin's!

Fish smothered in spices and cooked in banana leaves

Fish smothered in spices and cooked in banana leaves

Banana, coconut and palm sugar dessert...very tasty with some kopi Bali

Banana, coconut and palm sugar dessert...very tasty with some kopi Bali

Tempe

Tempe

Gado gado...my new favourite dish

Gado gado...my new favourite dish

Our saudara for the day...the wonderful Wayan. Thank you for being so photogenic!

Our saudara for the day...the wonderful Wayan. Thank you for being so photogenic!

My mouth is watering again just thinking about them. Yummy. The classes are informative and the group is good fun. We are made to feel very welcome by the family who show us around their home and talk about their life. Balinese culture is very interesting, wrapped up in a strong sense of community and family. I’m feeling a little ashamed of my grumping now.

We spend the next few days trying to eat two months of missed fruit and vegetable at every vegan and vegetarian café Ubud has to offer (and there are a lot). I have to stop Justin from reading the alternative medical treatments advertised on most of the menus. Lets just say that Justin isn’t a believer! I do indulge in a treatment, a lovely spa day courtesy of mum and dad. A massage, mud bath, rose bath, face pack and manicure later and I am feeling great! Justin finally finds a hairdresser…

The mop gets a cut from one of only two trained hairdressers in Bali!

The mop gets a cut from one of only two trained hairdressers in Bali!


Touristy trip to tea and coffee shop…including the famous civet coffee, which I decided not to try at £50 a cup.

Touristy trip to tea and coffee shop…including the famous civet coffee, which I decided not to try at £50 a cup.

Not so vege. Suckling pig from THE pig shop in Ubud (next to the Palace if you are wondering where)

Not so vege. Suckling pig from THE pig shop in Ubud (next to the Palace if you are wondering where)

We both go along and get hooked on early morning yoga classes at Radiantly Alive www.radiantlyalive.com. Stephanie is a great teacher and talks us through all the basics…at pace. I never thought it would be possible to sweat while stretching! We both have back and flexibility problems so yoga is really helpful. We also ended up on a very random 'downhill cycling' trip…where is the fun in that. Cycling is meant to be painful. Lunch was excellent though!

Downhill cycling…crazy kids

Downhill cycling…crazy kids

Balinese treats for lunch after our long hard cycle...

Balinese treats for lunch after our long hard cycle...

We also indulge in a little weaving (Yes weaving. We are so cool!), visiting the wonderful Threads of Life museum and shop. It is only a tiny museum, but it has a fantastic collection of all things weaving from across Indonesia. The project not only preserves heritage, but also helps set up weaving co-operatives to generate income for villages. We would definitely recommend a visit if you want to find out more and support this great organisation. The documentary on the guys going out to remote villages in Sulawesi to find rare weaving (much of which has been sold to collectors in times of poverty) and to commission work is really interesting: http://www.threadsoflife.com.

Threads of Life Museum displays

Threads of Life Museum displays

Weaving!

Weaving!


My favourite piece

My favourite piece

Posted by Lynne Woolley 06.09.2012 15:42 Archived in Indonesia Tagged weaving bali indonesia cooking cycling yoga organic Comments (0)

Flores Part 2

The end!

sunny 32 °C

Bajawa and the Ngada and Nagekeo people.

Lynne and myself, Akke and Xander, Miquel the guide and Sipri the driver all met at the car in the morning and headed off to see some the local villages we had heard so much about. We were excited. As we drove we passed through new villages with the local house style made out of corrugated iron. We were then dropped off in a bamboo forest and walked down the road to catch our first glimpse of the tourist popular Bena. We joked as we first glimpsed it that we could see a car and was that the local car park. Quick as a flash our guide was on his mobile. “Car ruining photos!” And in a few seconds it was out of sight. Slightly surreal.

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On our way to the traditional village. View to one of the many surrounding volcanos.

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Our first view of Bena. With car moved Stunning!

Despite this it was clear that the Ngada villages were very different from the Manggarai peoples. We waked on past Bena to return to it later as the last village of the day and to buy some local Ikat weaving and headed into the forest to walk to our first village. As we went our guide pointed out local crops and Akke asked questions.

Approaching out of the forest the village of Toliela spread out before us as a rectangle of houses surrounding smaller stranger objects. Behind sat the backdrop of iridescent green volcanoes and blue sky. Children ran around playing football and flying kites made out of plastic bags. Chickens scuttled around. And that was it. No cars. No motorbikes. Nothing. We were in a traditional village, seemingly untouched by many of the spoils of modern world. Of course there was a satellite dish and TV, but still there was a beautiful feeling about the village.

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Kids having a lot of fun.

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Parasols representing the male spirit.

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Horse details on little houses of the female spirit. Representing protection and home life

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Details on house. A figure of a warrior says a man from another village has joined that houses clan. If it was a house, it means women. A marriage thing.

Every aspect of the village was steeped in symbolism and had meaning. Three parasols represented the man, the three small huts women, while the huge rocks represented the next generations. The Nagada are matriarchal and the men come to live in the women’s clans house. The warrior or house on some roofs symbolizing the movement in and out of the traditional number of clans in the village. Toliela had two parts on two levels and impossibly the second level was more beautiful.

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Amazing views at Toliela second level.

Pressing on down the hill, pursued by local children singing and laughing we arrived at Gurusina and spent another few hours wondering around taking in the amazing surroundings and appreciating more and more the detail and meaning in every construction.

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Bena's large stone monoliths representing the next generation.

Ende, Moni and Kelimutu.

Our drive the next day took us past the port town of Ende with its famous black sanded and blue stoned beaches. We spent a short time hunting for the perfect blue stones comparing and contrasting our finds. It seemed the locals were doing it at a more industrial level, filling bags to sell. This was clearly the local business along with Arak production (moonshine). We pressed on and after seven hours in the car, and feeling pretty well swerved out we arrived in Moni, gateway to the volcano Kelimutu.

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Ende Beach

A disappointing meal in Moni’s Bintang Café was our reward, 90 minute wait for my most bizzare meal to date. A very strange long macaroni in a tomato sauce of quartered tomatoes. Anyway with a 4:30am start we didn’t have much time to sulk and hit the sack early.

I think secretly Lynne had been planning this for a long time. Some sort of geography wet dream. Why it had to involve getting up at silly o’clock and dragging my self repeatedly up large volcanoes is my question? Marriage I guess. But there we were again. Thankfully it was a short walk this time to the top. There were even stairs. Kelimutu is famous for its three crater lakes that change colour at random. We were treated to an amazing sunrise and two and half craters seen. Then the clouds rolled in. Feeling a bit worse for wear I trudged back to the car and had a snooze only to see the clouds parting a few hours later. I shot back up the mountain and found Lynne and our Dutch friends enjoying perfect views of the three craters and surrounding countryside.

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Kelimutu sunrise above the clouds.

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Twin craters behind. The black lake sat in the third crater in the direction we faced.

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Close up of lakes.

Maumere, the Sikka district.

After the early morning Lynne and I did our best nodding dog impressions as we made our final drive to Maumere. We stopped for lunch at an amazing Wurung (shop). With the perfect setting on the beach I was still a little unsure with its basic interior. However we ordered a fish for the four of us and were showed a moderate sized tuna. It appeared 15mins later grilled to perfection with lemon and turmeric and other spices rubbed in. Amazing food. Very yummy.

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Warung's beach view.

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Yummy Tuna

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The third from of traditional house seen on our brief trip down Flores. Sikkah.

We checked in to Gardia hotel 7km outside of Maumere and said goodbye to Sipri. A highly recommended driver, we found him at random in the street but he’s in the LP bible if anyone is passing this way again. We sat down and enjoyed a parting beer with our Dutch friends. It had been a great pleasure sharing the last 10 days with them. Always quick to laugh and appreciate our surrounding they made great travel partners. The food was rubbish, but the beer was cold and the view pretty stunning. Good luck to them in Sulawesi.

The first flight out of Flores was not until the day after, and a little stranded out of town, we settled down to a day of pretty much nothing. We watched two of our $1 DVD’s, appreciating Thor’s genius for a second time. We read. And we walked on the beach. As we wandered along we realized the hotel was next door to a Karaoke Club, and that this was likely a brothel. The working karaoke girls chased us down the beach and were very excited to have their photos taken with us on their mobile phones. Lynne’s Bhasa was getting pretty good but she was left a bit tongue-tied by this experience, so we stood like plums and had our photos taken with the smiling and giggling girls. Another strange experience chalked up.

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Maumere beach and boat. As always with Flores. Amazing volcanoes.

5:30am the next morning we were bouncing along in the back of a bemo to Maumere airport and a Wings flight bound for Bali. The restaurants of Ubud were calling me!

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Eggs in Indonesia:

Time for a rant. So after the delights of Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian food it was a tough act to follow but now 40 days in, I’m just a little fed up with Indonesian food. Don’t get me wrong, we have had some great dishes, some delicious curries, Lynne has fallen for Gado Gado (vegetables with a peanut sauce) and we have had some great Nasi Campur (rice with lots of random bits), but please, please can someone teach Indonesians to firstly cook eggs, and secondly when is an appropriate time to put one in or on a dish.

Omelettes are overcooked rubbery affairs with whatever was not cleaned out of the wok mixed in. Scrambled eggs are omelettes that have received a savage attack from a meat cleaver. But there is something about fried eggs that now makes me a little sick just thinking about them. Firstly an old wok must be found. If it has been used to fry fish or a dead cat then all the better. Next fill with an oil, perhaps engine oil? Then fry. Return a few hours later and place on the top of food, all food, like every dish. And when it’s not a fried egg it is something else. “Perhaps you would like scrambled eggs in your spaghetti Bolognese Mister?” No thanks, but I still get it.

Yes I am spoilt, and yes I am stupid for ordering Italian in the first place but I do feel a bit better now. Rant over.

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Fried Egg horror.

Posted by Justin Woolley 08.05.2012 20:28 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Flores Part 1

The beginning!

sunny 33 °C

Labuanbajo and Komodo NP:

Alive! The cruise from Lombok was actually great and my misgivings were misplaced. It serves me right for reading too much before doing an activity. Note to self, “don’t read accounts of boats sinking before getting on any more boat trips.” However sleeping on deck was not as restful as one might have hoped and we were pretty tired when we arrived in Labuanbajo.

LBB sits on the edge of Komodo NP. A ramshackle fishing town with lots of dive shops, B+B’s and restaurants. While we overheard some less than happy tourists, Lynne and I loved its rough charm, tasty food, but most of all, its pick your jaw off the floor setting. It nestles on a series of green hills with a view out to KNP’s hundreds of islands. Sunsets with a cold beer were heaven.

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LBB sunset!

We spent the first day recuperating and organizing after a solid sleep in. We booked a diving trip and, along with our new travel buddies Akke and Xander (a Dutch couple from the boat trip), arranged a driver to take us to the other side of the Flores on a 4N/5D adventure.

The next morning we were up early and cruising out into KNP with Divine Diving (a fantastic diving school with well earned amazing reviews). The same ubber currents that worried me during the cruise were in full flow, and this time we were going to dive in them.

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Diving Komodo Dragon!

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KNP view from dive boat as we cruised out to Komodo island.

Dive one was Batu Bolong (hole in rock). As we sat on the upper deck receiving our dive briefing we saw the currents in full force whirlpooling past the rock. Our dive was to take us into the current shadow of a large rock. We were to dive down and then zigzag our way back up the rock over the dive with the dive master leading us and giving hand signals when he saw the current at either side. Any misgivings soon vanished as were entered one of the most amazing dives of my life (and many of the other divers on the boat). Huge shoals of every fish imaginable, sharks, turtles, lion fish, scorpion fish, nudi branches and huge Napoleon Wrasse. Massive smiles.

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Strong currents visible during briefing. Eeek!

Dive two. Manta Point, or Makassar reef if we didn’t see any Manta! A drift dive along a ruble coral bottom. For the last few months this sight was producing 30-50 giant manta’s on every dive. Then a week ago they left. We were hoping they might return. Our briefing for this dive included an explanation of the many divers who had followed Manta and then after a while realized they couldn’t see their dive group anymore. Aptly named “Manta Madness!!” As it turned out all we saw was a Manta tail cruising away from us. The dive was lovely in itself with some great micro life to see as well as the crowd pleasing macro life. I came across a smashing mantis shrimp. Fabled for breaking cameras put too close with its punching fists!

That evening Lynne and I celebrated my birthday a day early with a trip to a lovely restaurant after watching the sun go down in the Treetop Bar. Only mild stomach cramps from our rich pasta and cheesecake dinner. But they were well earned stomach cramps and it felt ok!

Ruteng and the Manggarai people.

We met our driver Sipriano at 8 am and were soon cruising out of LBB east along the Trans-Flores highway. It was more of a windy road than highway. Soon the beauty of Flores began to dawn on the four of us. Endless steep, green volcanoes with small villages nestled amongst their bases and on their slopes.

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Road Trip!!

We were excited to be heading to see the spiderweb rice padis. The area around Cancur was particularly famous. These giant padi fields are owned by entire villages with the padi divided up to represent the importance of each owner (designated by notches on a post in the middle). As we approached Cancur we started to glimpse half webs of padi. We then pulled up at a steep slope and a local guide took us to the top of a hill just as the sun burst through the clouds. Two vast spiderweb padis covered the floor of the valley. Quite unlike anything I had seen before. But Flores was turning out that way.

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Friendly kids at one of the many photo stops.

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Spider padis!

Now for an interesting little aside. The sort Indonesia and Flores throw up. Hobbits are from Flores. Not NZ or JR Tolkin or Peter Jackson. Just north of Bajawa an an amazing discovery was made. There were long stories of a tiny humans living on Flores but no proof. Then in 2003 in Liang Bua cave a tiny skeleton was found the size of a three year old child. But this was an adult skeleton. Whats more she existed 18,000 years ago, when modern Homo Sapiens (us) were the only (?) human left. Was this another case of giagantism and dwarfism that occurs in small island populations? A genetic disease? When did they die out? No body knows but Homo Floriens had been discovered. (Standing only 1m tall imagine them coming up against Komodo dragons which also live on Flores. Dragons often attack by standing up on their hind legs and swiping with their 1.5m tail to knock prey over. An even scarier proposition if you are a third of the size the Dragon!!!!)

By mid afternoon we had arrived in Ruteng and we checked into the local convent. Yes, convent. We were staying at Santa Maria convent. No drinking or smoking and the gates shut at 9pm. It was the cleanest place we stayed in all of SEA.

Late in the afternoon our driver took us to a traditional Manggarai village. Ruteng sits high in the hills and the village was shrouded in clouds. The traditional huts loomed large at the end of a raised stone oval. The center of the oval stood another raised platform, the village burial ground. We wondered around the village and sat down in side a traditional hut with a few of the villagers and Sipri as our translator. The villagers spoke some Bahasa Indonesian but Sipri was from Ruteng and could speak their local language. We sat for some time asking questions (I’m sure Akke won’t mind me saying that she is very good at asking questions!). We discussed traditional building methods as well as Cacai fights. These consist of two men from opposing villages, bare above the waist but with a shield and face guard trying to whip their opponent to submission. The villagers proudly told us you couldn’t go to jail if you killed your opponent and that a good win was when you got their eyes through the facemask. That took real skill!

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First view of Manggarai village.

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Manggarai village houses a little closer up.

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Cacai fighting stick and shield.

Bajawa and the Ngada and Nagekeo people.

The next day we were off bright and early again and heading into another tribal region of Flores, the Ngada and Nagekeo. The Flores landscape continued to mesmerize with endless beautiful volcanoes and padis. With the volcanoes the Flores highway was continuously rising and falling while snaking around. The highway seemed constantly in a state of repair or landslide removal. The local technique of cutting vertically into the soil and stone slopes without reinforcement seemed bound to fail, but they seemed to press on regardless. Luckily Sipri was turning out to be an excellent driver, the safest we had experienced in SEA.

It was a long seven-hour drive and we were happy when we finally reached Bajawa and booked into the Edelweiss hotel for two nights. The town was again high in the hills but it was far from Alpine, anyway the rooms were cleanish.

After unpacking a bit we headed to the market for a bit of exploring. We bought some fruit and then got lost in the maze of a market. Dried fish, stomachs of some large animal, vegetables, batteries and well, anything else you could possible want or not want (to smell) was available.

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The usual SEA market but with added "cobwebs" for dramatic effect.

That evening we arranged a guide to take us to some traditional villages the next morning……….

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Stupid things travellers say (or write):

Another classic from the special people who don't engage brain before writing. This time a lady was complaining on Tripadvisor about her stay in an Indonesian hotel. She spent the whole holiday in the same hotel but said that every morning before it even got light she was awoken by a terrible racket like singing. This went on every day and she wouldn't stay there again. She gave the hotel a low mark.She ended by saying she had no idea what the noise was. Ok, so people may not have been to a muslim country before or heard the call to pray before, but perhaps engage enough with the place you are travelling to ask what the noise is. Arrrrrrrgh!

Posted by Justin Woolley 08.05.2012 06:38 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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