A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Lynne Woolley

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 15:42 Archived in Indonesia Tagged weaving bali indonesia cooking cycling yoga organic Comments (0)

Lombok, Sumbawa and Komodo National Park

Here be dragons!!!

all seasons in one day 31 °C

Firstly, I’d like to quash a vicious rumour started by my own father. My lovely straw hat is very much still alive and will feature extensively in this blog.

Hat chilling on Sumbawan beach

Hat chilling on Sumbawan beach

We have decided to head east across Nusa Tengarra towards Flores. We weighed up the options for onward travel:
a. Overland in public bus and ferry combo – dangerous roads, takes a long time, no sleep…
b. Island hopping on a boat – numerous sinking incidents, tales of floating cockroach infested piles of junk, no sleep…

In the end we book a two night, three day trip with Perama. The travel forums are a bit like Marmite. Some people though it was the best thing they had ever done and some thought it was the worst. Justin freaks himself out with a forum entry from one of the passengers of a Perama boat that crashed into a reef and sank a couple of years ago. The incident took place in the height of the wet season though, which all the locals have told us to avoid boat travel during. We stop reading the forums in case we find anything else – the trip is booked and there is no going back. Probably not one to mention to the parents before we head off though (sorry mums, dads and mums mum).

We head off in a bus with 18 people from Europe and Australia. Amusingly our first stop is the Mataram Mall to buy essentials. We visited the mall the day before to buy essential chocolate supplies, so we head to McDonalds to make use of their free wifi. I also make use of the McFlurry machine for breakfast number dua (much to Justin’s horror).

On the way to the harbour we visit a couple of local villages, including the basic boatyard where our boat was made. The questions start – when was it made, who made it, how long will it be seaworthy for, what happens if x or y goes wrong, why is this boat being made out of rotten wood..? I can see Justin turning a whiter shade of white and I think we are all relieved when we leave the boatmakers yard.

Visiting some of the local pottery villages on the way to the port

Visiting some of the local pottery villages on the way to the port

We arrive at the harbour. The boat is pretty much as expected having read through all the blogs – basic and a bit rough around the edges. But, it is clean and the crew are helpful and friendly.

Our new home for the next few days

Our new home for the next few days

Goodbye dry land...hopefully we'll see you again

Goodbye dry land...hopefully we'll see you again

I think we may be eating some pineapples on this trip

I think we may be eating some pineapples on this trip

We head off into choppy waters. It doesn’t take us very long to reach our first stop, an island just off Lombok’s coast. We need to board a smaller boat to go to shore, which is brought around to the door. The crew attempt to hold it still. Unfortunately the waves aren’t helping as the small boat slams violently against our boat several times. “Okay two groups, who wants to go first?” By this point we’ve all backed away from the door a little and one guy asks if he can stay on the boat. In the end though we all MTFU and make the short trip across to the island.
Feeling a little bounced about after our first few hours on the big boat. Time to swap to a smaller boat!

Feeling a little bounced about after our first few hours on the big boat. Time to swap to a smaller boat!

There’s a nice quiet beach and we go snorkelling. The coral, as in many areas around Indonesia, has been dynamite fished to shreds. Mounds of blown up dead coral litter the sea floor. It is very sad to see the devastation and frustrating to think about how short-sighted the fishermen who use these destructive methods are. Perama run a number of socio-economic projects and 20% of their profits are ploughed back into local projects, in particular environmental protection and social enterprise projects. They are running a coral replant scheme and in the areas where new coral has started to grow back there are lots of little fish swimming around. Black clouds are starting to ominously move in and we head for a dinner of yummy barbequed tuna and campfire-cooked corn on the cob.

Our first beach stop...with dark clouds looming overhead

Our first beach stop...with dark clouds looming overhead


We are on a tour...therefore there must be organised fun!

We are on a tour...therefore there must be organised fun!

Back on the boat we bed down for a night on our deck mattress. The boat lists from side to side and the winds whip around the sleeping area sheeting. I spend the night dozing in and out of sleep. Justin unfortunately spends the night wide-awake. One too many bedtime forums about shipwrecks and storms.

Our next day is spent cruising in calm waters along the coast of Sumbawa. We visit saltwater island lakes, go snorkelling in clear blue oceans and relax on beautiful deserted beaches, with only a group of locals to stare at us. I try a bit of Bahasa Indonesian, but Sumbawa has two different languages. Unfortunately we end up having the same conversation over and over again:
“Hello Mister, where you from?”
“Manchester”
“Manchester United?”
“Tottenham Hotspur.”
“Wayne Rooney?”
“Tottenham Hotspur?” – blank look, end of conversation.

Climbing up to the top of an island. The view down to our boat...

Climbing up to the top of an island. The view down to our boat...

Going for a swim in an old volcano crater

Going for a swim in an old volcano crater

Sumbawa coastline in the distance

Sumbawa coastline in the distance

View from top of volcano down into old crater

View from top of volcano down into old crater

Just a few members of our sunbathing audience!

Just a few members of our sunbathing audience!

Watching the sun setting

Watching the sun setting

Beautiful sunset over Sumbawan beach

Beautiful sunset over Sumbawan beach

I know what you are thinking…Sumbawhere? According to Wikipedia (bible number 2!) Sumbawa is 15,448 km2 (three times the size of Lombok) with a population of around 1.33 million. This is one of the poorer islands in Indonesia. The majority of the population are farmers, although there is a massive gold and copper mine (one of the biggest copper mines in the world) being run by an American company with some interesting environmental records according to the press reports. Many of the island residents are at risk of starvation when crops fail. Tourism is a small part of the economy - there is snorkeling, world class surf spots and volcanoes to climb (I might wait a few years before suggesting another volcano climb to Justin though).

Sumbawa is a volcanic island – part of the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’. As we flew over Sumbawa on our way back to Bali we went very close to Mount Tambora, with its massive caldera. It was very cool to see it from the air. When we visited the museum in Lombok the guide took me over to a model of Sumbawa’s Mount Tambora. “As a geographer you’ll know this volcano.” I looked at it a bit blankly. “April 1815 – most destructive volcanic eruption in modern history?”. “Really," I reply "What about Krakatoa?” The guide looks at me and says “This was four times bigger and it killed about 80,000 people.” “Seriously?”. “Seriously. We call it Pompeii of the East. An entire kingdom was wiped out.”

I’ve had a look around on the web. One of my geographer lecturers from Cambridge has written quite a few papers on this area (I promise I was attending your lectures and not rowing). Mount Tambora launched 100 cubic kilometres of ash into the upper atmosphere. 1816 is known as the "year without a summer”. Agricultural crops failed and livestock died in much of the Northern Hemisphere, resulting in the worst famine of the 19th century. Apparently the eruption can also be linked to the invention of the bicycle, as the cost of maintaining horses rose, because of the cost of horse food and the death of many horses during the famine. Well you learn something new everyday!
Mount Tambora's caldera...it is a bit big! (PS I didn't take this picture. It is from wiki)

Mount Tambora's caldera...it is a bit big! (PS I didn't take this picture. It is from wiki)

After another tasty meal and several Bintang beers we settle down for the night. We will be sailing through the night, reaching Komodo Island the next morning. We need to sail through this section during daylight hours because the currents are a bit weird (not a technical geographical term, but they were 'a bit wierd'). The guide runs through all the do's and don’ts for our trip to the island, including a request for any women who are having a period to stay on board because the dragons can smell you several miles off (now there is something they don’t mention in the tourist pamphlet!).

The sea is calm and the sky is clear of cloud. We decide to sleep on the front deck under the beautiful stars. In the early hours a bright flash of light wakes me up. Still half asleep I get up to try to turn the lights off. It’s only when a second flash goes off followed by a low rumble of thunder that I realise it’s a thunderstorm. I stand on the side of the boat and watch as a third flash lights up the whole sky, showing a sheet of heavy rain in front of our boat. The crew have started to run about pushing down rain covers and strapping down sections of the boat. I head back to bed and sleep until sunrise. Justin’s bed has been tidied away and all his stuff is packed away. Confused I wander around the boat until I find a sleep deprived Justin cradling a cup of tea. No more travel forums for Justin!

UNESCO World Heritage Site number seven. Komodo National Park is between Sumbawa and Flores. It was created in 1980 to originally conserve the habitats of the Komodo dragon, but over the years has extended to protect the biodiversity (sea and land) of this amazing area. You can find out all about the conservation programmes and challenges faced at: www.komodonationalpark.org

The scenery around is incredible. Island after island covered in Savannah rather than the forest-covered mainland. We moor of Komodo Island and head to the visitor centre where we meet our rangers for the morning.
Our boat...Justin feeling better when he sees some of the other boats we could have sailed in

Our boat...Justin feeling better when he sees some of the other boats we could have sailed in

Like a scene out of Armageddon

Like a scene out of Armageddon

They give us some background on the conservation programme as well as safety arrangements. We must walk in groups. We must not wander off on our own. We must not touch the dragons (this gets a laugh, but the rangers look serious). We must not approach the dragons without a ranger and his sharp pointy stick (fork-shaped stick used to hold Komodo heads, which are very sensitive, as the rest of the body is as hard as stone). We must tell the ranger if at any point we cut ourselves. We must do exactly as the rangers tell us.

The ranger plunges into the story of the tourist who did not listen, wandering off into the savannah to get a closer picture. “…and all we found was his camera.” the ranger said in a hushed tone. “Were the pictures any good?” one of our group asks, which gets a good laugh. The ranger talk is serious though. Komodo dragons are powerful and dangerous animals and deserve respect.

As the largest living species of lizards Komodo dragons can grow up to around 3 meters and weigh up to 70kg (or more if they’ve just eaten a goat whole). They can run at speeds of up to 20km as well as being able to swim around 500m. The Komodo dragon has a tail as long as its body and 60 serrated teeth, which deliver bacteria filled (possibly venomous – the scientific jury is still out on this one) bites. A slow, painful death…unless you get swallowed whole, which only takes 20 minutes. They have been known to attack and kill humans…although they mainly eat small mammals/birds, deer and carrion. Luckily for tourists they can survive on 12 meals a year and spend most of the morning slowly warming up.

We head off in groups through the savannah and forest. Birds call in the treetops, the landscape is unusual and the plants are very different to anything we have seen so far. A bush rustles to our right. “What is it?” says Justin to the ranger. The ranger peers through the undergrowth with his stick out in front before turning around and saying “Chicken!”. Excluding the chickens it does feel like the land that time forgot. No wonder the first western expeditions to the Komodo Islands are rumoured to have inspired the original King Kong movie.

We reach a clearing and the ranger at the front makes a signal for us to stay close together. Here be dragons! Three huge male dragons sit warming up. One moves very slowly across the clearing. It is very hard to imagine these animals running up to 20km/h, but they do. They swing their heads from side to side, letting their enormous forked tongue taste the air - hopefully not for the next meal. What is really amazing is the sheer size of a) the tail b) the claws. They’re enormous.

We start taking pictures. The guides have obviously done this before, urging us to go and stand behind the dragon before stooping down on the ground to take a picture that makes you look like you are riding a Komodo dragon. Awesome. The rangers start quoting facts and figures; including some that we haven’t been able to confirm a) they have three eyes b) they have two penises. If anyone has any info on this please email us.

Patting a Komodo dragon...

Patting a Komodo dragon...

...riding a dragon

...riding a dragon


It had big pointy teeth...

It had big pointy teeth...

and a sharp pointy tongue

and a sharp pointy tongue

"So what happens if your stick doesn’t work?” asks one of our group. “You climb a tree very quickly.” replies the Ranger. The dragon nearest to us lets out a low hissing noise and everyone immediately looks around for the nearest tree. Justin’s is a four-foot twig of a tree, which everyone finds very funny.

We head off for a really nice walk around the park before returning to the Ranger Station. Another guide comes over to tell us a Komodo dragon is “having breakfast”. We head over to the spot and watch for 30 minutes as the dragon rips, drags and shakes a deer carcass, at one point rapping it around a tree to get some extra leverage.
Hhhhmmmmm yummy deer

Hhhhmmmmm yummy deer


Komodo Dragon having a good chomp on dead deer...might not be suitable for children or people who cry when Bambi's mother dies

We are all so mesmerised by this that we don’t notice a number of dragons chilling in the long grass behind us. One of our group, busy taking photos, starts to walk backwards straight towards one. The ranger closes in with his stick. “What’s the matter?” the group member asks. The ranger points at the Komodo dragon a couple of feet behind him. I’ve never seen anyone move so quick.

Our time is up and we head back to the boat with wonderful memories of a fantastic trip. A couple of American college boys from a different boat hang back without their ranger. “Hey, look at me. I’m touching a Komodo dragon.” one of the lads says crouching down and reaching out his hand towards the dragons tail. The dragon looks around and his giant forked tongue flicks out. Needless to say college boy backed off pretty quick. What a muppet!

Our final boat stop is the beautiful Pink Beach, where the sand is pink! We pop on our snorkeling gear and head out to some of the best coral and fish shoals I’ve ever seen. No dynamite fishing here and what a difference it makes. Giant fish and coral everywhere.

We arrive in the port town of Labuanbajo, Flores. After booking into a hotel we head back to the boat for some dingin Bintangs with our group. A wonderful way to end an amazing experience.
Go team Perama!

Go team Perama!

---------------------------------

Adapted from wiki…

The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis to Latin speakers or ora to the locals), is the largest living species of lizard. Komodo Dragons can grow up to a maximum of three meters and on average weigh up to 70kg. They managed to get so big because of something called ‘island gigantism’ – basically they are at the top of the food chain on the islands, although it could be because they are distant relatives of a now extinct giant lizard family isolated by rising sea levels in the last ice age. They are only found on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang and Padar.

The Komodo dragon has a tail as long as its body, as well as about 60 frequently replaced serrated teeth that can measure up to 2.5 centimetres in length. Its saliva is frequently blood-tinged, because its teeth are almost completely covered by tissue that is naturally lacerated during feeding. This creates an ideal culture for the bacteria that live in its mouth.

Komodo dragons are carnivores. They hunt and ambush prey including invertebrates, birds, and mammals. Their group behaviour in hunting is exceptional in the reptile world. The diet of big Komodo dragons mainly consists of deer and carrion. For smaller prey up to the size of a goat, their loosely articulated jaws, flexible skull, and expandable stomach allow it to swallow its prey whole. but swallowing is still a long process (15–20 minutes to swallow a goat). A Komodo dragon may attempt to speed up the process by ramming the carcass against a tree to force it down its throat, sometimes ramming so forcefully that the tree is knocked down.

After eating up to 80 percent of its body weight in one meal, it drags itself to a sunny location to speed digestion, as the food could rot and poison the dragon if left undigested for too long. Because of their slow metabolism, large dragons can survive on as little as 12 meals a year. After digestion, the Komodo dragon regurgitates a mass of horns, hair, and teeth known as the gastric pellet, which is covered in malodorous mucus…nice! Komodo poo is white because dragons cannot digest calcium.

Mating begins between May and August, and the eggs are laid in September. About twenty eggs are deposited in abandoned megapode nests or in a self-dug nesting hole. The eggs are incubated for seven to eight months, hatching in April, when insects are most plentiful. Young Komodo dragons are vulnerable from being eaten by predators, other Komodo dragons and their own mothers, so they live in trees for a number of years. They can live for up to 50 years.

There are approximately 4,000 to 5,000 living Komodo dragons in the wild. In the wild their range has contracted due to human activities and they are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. They are protected under Indonesian law, and Komodo National Park was founded to aid protection efforts.
The Komodo dragon does not have an acute sense of hearing, despite its visible earholes. The Komodo dragon uses its long, yellow, deeply forked tongue to detect, taste, and smell. With the help of a favorable wind and its habit of swinging its head from side to side as it walks, Komodo dragons may be able to detect its next meal from 4–9.5 km away.

Komodo dragons are solitary, coming together only to breed and eat. They are capable of running rapidly in brief sprints up to 20 kilometres per hour (12 mph), diving up to 4.5 metres (15 ft), and swim around 500m.

Dragons need to sunbathe every morning and hunt in the afternoon once they’ve warmed up. They sleep in burrows at night to conserve body heat.

Posted by Lynne Woolley 02:11 Archived in Indonesia Comments (4)

Gunung Rinjani, Lombok

Beaches, volcanoes, waterfalls and paddy fields as far as the eye can see...

all seasons in one day 31 °C

Nearly three years ago we climbed Gunung Agung in Bali for our honeymoon. As we watched the sunrise from the summit we saw an amazing mountain appear on the horizon. “That is Gunung Rinjani on Lombok.” our guide told us. We said to ourselves that one day we would climb Rinjani and look back at our honeymoon volcano in Bali.

Watching the sunrise over Rinjani from our breakfast table on Gili Air, we started to get itchy feet again. With our diver certificates completed, we decided to finally prise ourselves away from Gili Air.
The morning boat from Gili Air to Lombok harbour, with Gunung Rinjani in the background

The morning boat from Gili Air to Lombok harbour, with Gunung Rinjani in the background

Sengiggi is an unusual place. There are the usual mega resorts along the front, although they were very quiet. The town’s main road has its fair share of restaurants and live music venues (Happy Bar - how much you kept us awake and how good was your live band).

The fishing boats go out in the early hours to catch tuna, returning in convoy at around 9-10am, which is fun to watch. We were told that if the fishermen don’t catch enough tuna they go back out in the late afternoon and if they don’t catch enough tuna again they then have to go home and explain to their wife.

There are literally hundreds of travel agencies. You cannot walk more than a few meters without someone saying “transport?” or “trekking?” Even when we sit down to have some lunch, our warung has a travel agent inside. I have no idea how they can all survive financially. In Indonesia, there are unnecessary middlemen everywhere making money from being able to use a mobile phone, the mysterious “managers” you rarely get to meet and the front men who don’t get paid unless they are working and therefore don’t have a lot of money. Whenever you book anything you always find a complicated line of connections back to a company you were probably trying to avoid in the first place.

We’d worked out how much it would cost us to trek to Rinjani on our own, but we were offered a good deal on transport and a guide if we left with a group the next morning - a little earlier than planned but we decided to go for it. The next morning we climbed into a car at 5am and set off for Senaru, one of the northern bases for trekking up to Rinjani. We met our group and set off up the track and into the rainforest.

We had read a number of reviews of the Rinjani climb so we knew what to expect. It certainly wasn’t the “nice walk” promised by some of the travel agents keen to get people on their tours. It was three hard days of 8-10 hour treks on steep, rocky and in places traitorous terrain. The key words were to go at a pace you were comfortable with, take extra snacks and take care!

Half an hour later our group reaches a gate. The heat and humidity in the forest as well as a few steep sections had definitely got the heart pumping and we are already dripping in sweat. “Where are we now?” we ask the Guide. “The starting point.” he replies. “Then what was that?” we say a little surprised. “That was the nice garden walk.” he replies without a hint of sarcasm.
The entrance into the National Park...and the start of our climb (not including the nice garden walk)

The entrance into the National Park...and the start of our climb (not including the nice garden walk)

We pick up our team of flip-flop wearing porters, all of whom have calves like traction engines and are carrying 20 kilo bamboo packs full of food, cooking equipment and our tents. We head off for our first four km walk.
Our amazing porters...we're not worthy, we're not worthy

Our amazing porters...we're not worthy, we're not worthy

The Guide sets a pace, which he sticks to relentlessly for over an hour without stopping. We reach a clearing where a number of groups have already stopped for lunch. We ask when we can have our next litre bottle of water. “We were told we would get 3 litres of water.” Our guide nods “Yes, one today, one tomorrow and one the day after.” Justin manages to pick his jaw of the floor to say, “So we only have one litre per day? The average person should drink two - three litres a day without this amount of exercise on top.” Our guide looks a bit grumpy and wanders off and we hear the same conversation happening across the other groups. One Dutch guy is absolutely livid and many of the Guides are trying to reassure people that there are enough safe spring water stops along the way to top up.

We are off again for another four km walk at the same pace. We walk in silence for most of the time apart from the sound of heavy breathing, there isn’t time to stop and look around. Head down, march on. An hour and a half in and our carb low rice meals have already worn off. We haven’t stopped once and Justin eventually stops in front of me. “This is ridiculous.” We stop and take out some of our extra snacks and our now precious bottle of Pocari Sweat (Indonesian Lucozade).

The Guide and the rest of the group have disappeared off along the path. “This isn’t a good pace for three days of walking." I say. Justin nods and we decide to go at ‘turtle pace’ – a steady training pace with regular water stops. Better to get there in one piece than to not get there at all.

We head off a while later and catch up with our group. “What’s the matter?” the Guide says. “Nothing, but we are going to go at a slower pace.” Our Guide turns around without saying anything and heads of again at his pace. We wait at the back and head off at ours. We raid the emergency chocolate supply a couple of hours later and finish the last half hour in reasonably good shape, whilst our group in general limps in looking exhausted and dripping in sweat.

We arrive on a campsite shrouded in cloud and quickly change into some dry, warm clothes. You almost feel like you’re camping on top of the cloud and every now and again the sun shines through and tries to dry the damp clothing we’ve laid out. Having hauled up all our equipment, the porters are already busy setting up camp and making dinner. Massive respect! The good campsites are already full so we have had to perch our tents on a few rocky flat(tish) areas.
Camping on the clouds

Camping on the clouds

We eat our Nasi Goreng around a little fire we have made and watch as the clouds part, the sunsets over the ocean and the stars appear. It is very beautiful. We all head to bed early for a very uncomfortable and unfulfilling nights sleep. “I don’t like hillwalking and I don’t like camping.” I hear Justin mumble as we lie in the dark. The only saving grace was getting up to go to the toilet at 1am and feeling like we were standing on top of the world. The Milky Way in all its sparkling glory stretched out in front of us and we sat in silence for at least half an hour watching the shooting stars and satellites fly by.

The next morning we are up at 6am to watch the sunrise. The cloud has gone and you can see right down into the crater where the mini volcano created by the eruption two years ago sits smouldering. After spending day one focused on pounding uphill we spend most of the morning starring down at a very narrow, rocky path with a sharp drop into the crater (not for the faint hearted). We slide down the large rocks on our bums, slowly make our way around areas where the path has disappeared and scramble down loose rocky areas holding onto wobbly rails. The views into the crater are amazing, but once again we have little time to stop as we tromp on for hours on end.
Our first glimpse down into the crater

Our first glimpse down into the crater

We are accompanied by the constant sound of “Hati-Hati” (careful / slowly) from our Guide, whose look of real concern is more than enough to convince you that this is no joke. “How would they get you out of here if you had an accident?” I hear Justin think out loud. After our climb we found out someone fell in this area a few days after we’d walked it and had to be carried out on a bamboo stretcher by the porters, which must have taken hours.

We reach the bottom of the crater at lunchtime and walk around the flat lake edge. Local fishermen are busy at work catching and smoking fish. Justin and some of the guys go for a swim in the lake, whilst I have a splash around in the shallows. It was very surreal to watch Justin swimming with a smouldering volcano as a backdrop.
Finally made it to the crater and I didn't fall and break my neck. My jump height was seriously affected though!!

Finally made it to the crater and I didn't fall and break my neck. My jump height was seriously affected though!!

Chilling next to a casual volcano

Chilling next to a casual volcano

Groups start heading off uphill to the next campsite. Some of the US uni students are heading off on their own leaving their Guides lagging behind, which was pretty stupid given the fact that the cloud was descending and there are numerous paths and drops. We’ve got the opposite problem. Our guide heads off and leaves us behind. We have no idea how far we have gone and how much further we have to go and plod on. We manage to summit in just over two hours rather than the four hours the Guide had told us (phew).

A more comfortable night beckons with our hay-lined campsite. We eat our noodle soup and head straight to bed after watching the sunset. Our alarms go off at 2am for breakfast. We can already hear groups heading off and there is a line of little torchlights bobbing up and down along the path to the summit. We are given four crackers for breakfast (for a five hour ascent and descent). I can practically hear Justin indignation behind me as we sit around the fire slowly munching on them. But, it is okay because the Guide has a couple of biscuits to give us half way up...woop woop! Luckily we’ve saved a box of biscuits and an emergency chocolate bar.

We begin the ascent, which within minutes has us scrabbling up rocks and sliding on volcanic rock. Only another three hours to go. The first lightning bolt lights the sky. The storm is miles off coast, but it lights up the steep and narrow path in front of us as well as the summit in the far distance.

My torch starts to fail an hour in. Our Guide is unhappy and I wish I’d asked for a better torch. “You need to come and walk behind me.” he says. “I’m fine with Justin at the back with our torches.” I reply. “This is dangerous section, you need to be behind me with my torch.” I might not agree with the way this Guide has been running this whole thing, but he knows his mountain and I move up behind him. “I can’t go at your pace though, I need to go at mine.” He glares at me and turns around without saying anything. Within a few minutes he is 20 meters ahead of me. I am left in a dark void, except for the occasional moments of sheet lightning, which show the path ahead and the sheer drops to either side of me. Great! My only comfort is to hear someone from our group comment on how much better the pace is!

An hour later and we hit the small volcanic rocks that slide back a few feet everytime you take a step forward. It is hard going and seriously demoralizing after 30 minutes of not really going anywhere fast. By now all the groups have merged together into one long line. Some of my group is in front and some have fallen behind. We’ve started to overtake other groups who are now sat either side of the path looking a bit shell-shocked and exhausted.

Justin gives me some biscuits and heads off. I start off again, but fall and try to scrabble forward on all fours before sliding back four or five feet. I end up sat down wiping volcanic dust from my biscuits. I look across the ocean and see the sky turning pink. The sun is already rising and the summit behind me still looks a million miles away.

One of my rowing friends once told me that sometimes “You have to take yourself outside and give yourself a good talking to.” This was definitely one of those moments. I heard Justin calling back. I dug my toes in and pulled myself up. A few minutes later I could hear whoops and cheers from the group in front. The summit was close and I was going to make the sunrise with time to spare.

I wrapped up warm and sat next to Justin watching the sky change colour ever few seconds and the sunrise over the clouds. The whole of Lombok spread out around us and in the distance you could see the Gilis and Bali as well as Sumbawa. Gunung Agung started to appear on Bali. A second mountain also appeared before we realised it was the shadow of Gunung Rinjani. It was the best view I have ever seen and we luckily had an amazingly clear day (I think I might have cried if it had been cloudy):
Moonrise over Lombok and Sumbawa

Moonrise over Lombok and Sumbawa

We made it

We made it

Beautiful views across Lombok's volcanic planes

Beautiful views across Lombok's volcanic planes

Just had the last of my emergency chocolate and sitting on top of a volcano...happy times:D

Just had the last of my emergency chocolate and sitting on top of a volcano...happy times:D

Beautiful sunrise across Lombok and Sumbawa

Beautiful sunrise across Lombok and Sumbawa

The shadow of Gunung Rinjani and Gunung Agung, Bali in the distance

The shadow of Gunung Rinjani and Gunung Agung, Bali in the distance

We start to head back down to our campsite. Our Guide passes me and stops “I don’t think you’re going to make it down today without a lot of help.” After the achievement of summiting it is like being slapped across the face. “I’m fine thanks, I’m just going to go at a sensible pace.” I reply. He turns and walks away. By now we can see everything that was hidden in the dark and Justin finds that his 90kg weight becomes useful for the first time as he slides down the volcanic slopes with ease. The steep drops, narrow paths and the beautiful views across the surrounding volcanic fields:
Justin slides down the path from the summit

Justin slides down the path from the summit

The bain of my life at 4am in the morning

The bain of my life at 4am in the morning

Me and my shadow and a mini volcano

Me and my shadow and a mini volcano

We descend for two and a half hours. Breakfast of banana pancakes and deep fried crackers is waiting for us. We eat as much as we can and put the rest away in a bag for later…trust me after walking for five hours cold deep fried crackers taste AMAZING! We start our five-hour decent down to our end point. I’m feeling exhausted, but as I start off I find that I’m leaving the rest of the group behind and I comfortably make it down. I’m going to put it down to turtle pace leaving me with more than enough energy to keep going and recover properly…or possibly the big red rag that got waved in my face at 7am in the morning.

We thank our porters who have done an amazing job. Our lift, a sunburn inducing open backed truck, turns up to take us on our hour trip to Senaru. We shower, have lunch number two, do a bit of stretching and crawl into bed. The next day we are stiff and tired, but we head for a gentle walk down to a local waterfall, which is beautiful. No chance of doing a shampoo advert impression here though – the water pressure is incredible (P.S. The rocks were slippery when wet…see below).
Could not get much closer without being blown away

Could not get much closer without being blown away


We have lunch in the homestay just as a new group turns up. “So the tour guide said it was quite an easy walk.” one of the girls says. Hmmm where do you want us to start…

Note to self:
a) Justin doesn't really like hillwalking.
b) Justin really doesn’t like camping.

--------------------------------------------------------------
We often use travel forums and blogs to research places and things to do. You do occasionally come across very funny things as you read through. This was a classic about the waterfalls in Senaru: “Be prepared for some things that the guides may not tell you in advance. The stairs down to the waterfall may be very slippery when wet, particularly those covered in moss.
”

Posted by Lynne Woolley 03:12 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Kalimantan, Borneo

Orangutans don't like the rain

all seasons in one day 29 °C

After one epic road trip through Thailand and Malaysia we have eventually arrived in Balikpapan in search of wild Orangutans. As our taxi driver takes us into town we are surprised to see how developed the port town is. Supermalls as far as the eye can see and 24 hour KFCs are on every street corner, in some cases on opposite sides of the road (well you wouldn’t want to have to cross the road!).

So far we haven’t met a single person who speaks English with the exception of customs who spent half an hour rummaging through Justin’s rucksack, in particular his clock (which apparently rattles suspiciously) and his medical kit, which was ironic considering how many prescription drugs you can buy over the counter in Indonesia!

I spent two months living in a rainforest in Sulawesi so I have a basic grasp of Bahasa Indonesian, much to the delight of our taxi driver who spends most of the journey pointing out his favorite places to eat Bakso (meatball soup – also one of President Obama’s favourite meals). The taxi driver tells us about the KFC and McDonalds problem, basically everyone is getting very fat.

We find a hotel for the night, complete with a mandi (Indonesian shower)…how much I missed you!
Mandilicious...cold water scoop shower. Painful and lovely all at once!

Mandilicious...cold water scoop shower. Painful and lovely all at once!

By this point I’m feeling really unwell and fall asleep on the bed for four hours. Justin goes in search of some travel information, only to find either expensive tour packages or no one who speaks English. Feeling a bit better I have a chat with the hotel staff about local bus services and we decide to save our money and travel to Kutai National Park ourselves over two days on the local buses – first to Samarinda and then to Sangatta (which weren’t that interesting so I’m not going to talk about them).

I’ll just say it was an experience! You turn up at the bus station and sit in a bus with no air conditioning for 3 hours whilst the bus company try and load as many people and as much stuff on as possible. We rather smugly sat on the back seats where Justin could stretch out his legs only to find the aisles being filled with bags of chicken feed and the emergency exits blocked by luggage. Even the locals were getting angry.

The bus then rolls down the hill it is parked on (literally rolls to save on petrol) and starts trying to pick up a few more passengers who will stand clinging to the doors. About two hours into the journey one or more of the following will happen a) the engine overheats because the bus is overloaded b) the tyre blows because the bus is overloaded c) we roll backwards down hills because the bus is overloaded.
Always room for one more!!!

Always room for one more!!!


Tyre blown...would that be because we are carrying twice the recommended weight load???

Tyre blown...would that be because we are carrying twice the recommended weight load???

We pass petrol stations with giant queues for petrol. If you thought the British shortages were bad you should have seen this. Demonstrations over the government’s decision to reduce the fuel subsidies were starting across the whole of Indonesia. Riot police were out in full gear.

We eventually made it to Sangatta feeling a little shaken from our bus journeys. We have the phone number of “a guy” who you ring if you want to visit the Kutai National Park and stay in the research centre. “Bisa bicara bahasa inggris?” (Do you speak English?) “Sedikit” (A little)…hmm this could be interesting. I ask questions in Indonesian and he responds in English (luckily his English was a lot better than my Indonesian). One of the weirdest conversations I’ve ever had, but luckily it is enough to arrange transport, a guide and some accommodation for the next few days.

We head out to buy enough food for two days and get a taxi to the riverboat station. From here we jump on a small boat and head 20 minutes down the river to the research centre. The sections of rainforest we have seen so far on our journey have been decimated to say the least.

Indonesia has lost more tropical forest than anywhere else in the world (except Brazil) over the last few of decades. Illegal logging, palm-oil plantations, open-cast coal mining, road construction etc etc have all contributed to a horrific rate of deforestation, which in turn leads to a whole range of issues from flooding to soil degradation as well as poorer air quality and loss of habitat. Greenpeace estimate that over 50% of Indonesian’s rainforest has already been deforested.

We’re relieved as we head down the river to find the trees getting thicker and the sound of monkeys and birds getting louder. We can see the research centre hidden among the trees, as we pull into a little wooden jetty. We walk up and meet Mr Udin our guide.
Journey up the river from Kabo to Kutai National Park

Journey up the river from Kabo to Kutai National Park

Our new home for a couple of days

Our new home for a couple of days

Beautiful view across the river

Beautiful view across the river

He makes us a cup of tea and we ask questions about the animals we might see…most importantly will we see Orangutans? He sighs a little and looks up at the sky, which is turning a dark grey before saying “Orangutans don’t like rain”. A crack of thunder rings out over the top of the forest. He says something to me in Indonesian but I don’t understand the key words, luckily he knows the English “No touching...wild orangutans don’t like cuddles, no touching….dan tidak pisang (and no bananas!).”

We head of into the rainforest, which is some of the best I have ever seen. The top canopy feels like it is a mile above our head and there are still very large trees, several hundred years old in situ. We negotiate a number of Indiana Jones style wooden bridges and stop ever few minutes to listen and look around. We find some Orangutan poo, and hear a heavy rustling in the upper canopy, but we cannot see anything.
Beautiful flowers

Beautiful flowers

Going for our morning hike through the rainforest

Going for our morning hike through the rainforest

Big tree!!!

Big tree!!!

Wierd insect - number 1

Wierd insect - number 1

Wierd insect - number 2

Wierd insect - number 2

The view from the bottom to the top canopy

The view from the bottom to the top canopy

Beautiful trees and ivy

Beautiful trees and ivy

Our Guide heads of into the undergrowth to look for monkeys, leaving us alone on a path. All you can hear is the trees swaying from side to side, the birds calling high up in the top canopy, the thunder rolling over the top of the forest and the occasional rustle of the branches as something unseen passes overhead. It is a beautiful moment of quiet, until Justin starts reading out the football scores! Evidently the coal companies need their wifi signals even in the middle of the rainforest! Our guide returns having had no luck in his monkey search and we head back for lunch and an afternoon nap.
Justin checking the Tottenham score...in the middle of the rainforest

Justin checking the Tottenham score...in the middle of the rainforest

We get ready to head out again for the afternoon. We’ve had an hour break in the rain but the wind is getting up and the sky is growing dark again. It isn’t looking good. We reach the edge of the jungle and from a distance we hear the boatmen calling us. Our Guide looks at us…”Orangutan!” We head over to the other side of the centre. The boatmen are very excited and point at a tree about 30 meters from the boardwalk. Sat in a fruit tree right on the edge of the rainforest in full view is a giant male Orangutan, having a feast in the break between thunderstorms. Our Guide looks at us “Very lucky”.
We head into the undergrowth so we can get some photographs from the side. He is happily munching away, silently swinging from branch to branch and using his feet and hands to slowly move up to the higher fruit laden branches. No wonder they call them the forest people. He is very big and being a male his big flat face and dark sunken eyes are amazing to see. We watch him eating for about 40 minutes before the wind starts to whip up and overhead dark thunderclouds roll in.
Our first glimpse

Our first glimpse

Peering out through the trees

Peering out through the trees

Enjoying some fruit before the rain starts

Enjoying some fruit before the rain starts

Our guide motions for us to start moving back to the boardwalk, but as we walk the Orangutan swings over onto a branch within meters of us and we all freeze on the spot. He sits there looking up as the rain starts to fall - the perfect photo:
AMAZING

AMAZING

He turns his head slowly and looks straight into the camera. I look around and realise we are now stood directly in the treeline back to the forest – exactly where the orangutan wants to go. I look at the guide and he whispers “Run.”

We hastily retreat through the long grass and crawl onto the boardwalk. The orangutan starts making kissing noises and grunting and before we know it he has launched himself across into the tree we had stood under only a minute before. By now the rain is pouring down and we run down the boardwalk and stand under the research centre canopy. Turning we see the orangutan stood on the boardwalk coming straight towards us in a purposeful lumbering movement before he cuts down into a thick shrubbery and disappears into the rainforest.
Orangutans in the downpour...

Orangutans in the downpour...

I realised I was shaking slightly as we sat down to wait for the thunderstorm to pass over. I’ve seen orangutans in zoos and pictures, but when he swang onto the branch and looked directly at us it was amazing, awe inspiring and slightly scary all at once. We talk about how many orangutans are being lost every year in this part of Kalimantan and the guides tell us stories of local businesses killing them to prevent damage to croplands and the loss of their forests. They are in every respect an endangered animal, even in parks where rangers are trying to keep them safe (http://climate.aib.org.uk/actionbar/127059). It is really sad to think that our children might not be able to do what we have just done if something drastic doesn’t happen.

We fall asleep to the sound of the rainforest coming alive with nocturnal animals and to the scurry of rats overhead. The next morning we say a sad goodbye to Kutai wishing we could have stayed there a lot longer. Our journey back is just as eventful with the engine blowing up and seeing a number of bad crashes. Possibly the worst bit was watching the bus company staff take it in turns to lean out (whilst their colleagues held onto them) and wipe the front windows when it started to torrentially pour down because the windscreen wipers weren’t working. Magic!
and another breakdown

and another breakdown

Luckily we met Mario who works for a coal company and lives in Balikpapan. He was on his way home and helped us do the full journey in one day. He pointed out all the different multinational companies and programmes as we drove past (of which there were many!) and helped me fill out several pages of my Indonesian dictionary. It took nearly 13 hours and eight forms of transport but we were pleased to be back in Balikpapan, especially as Justin was feeling really unwell. Time to get the Lion Air out of here!
Wings Air...hmmmmm

Wings Air...hmmmmm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orangutan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bornean_orangutan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kutai_National_Park

Posted by Lynne Woolley 06:39 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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