Friday, 3 August 2012

INDONESIA – Komodo dragons and Manta rays

My first ever manta ray
Temple in Bali

Komodo dragons
Indonesia is one of the largest island nations on earth, spreading from Irian Jaya in the east, Sumatra in the west, Timor and Roti in the South, and Kalimantan (former Borneo) in the north; these 13 000 islands stretch almost 5 000km. The history, culture and beliefs of these islands are so different and multiform that one has to visit all of them to fully understand it.
This post is just a brief introduction to the whole island nation and may not necessarily be true to each individual island (since I didnt go to Sumatra, Sulawesi or Kalimantan).
There are incredible volcanoes to climb, Komodo dragons, Orangutans, phenomenal scuba diving, huge mosques and temples, etc etc etc… Indonesia is home to numerous of the world’s best waves.
Food is pretty good - Nasi goring (fried rice) is the most popular dish and its pretty good, I ate it all the time, with chicken, seafood or only vegetables..but it was always good. The soups were not bad either.
I skipped Sumatra and flew directly to Jakarta. Got my 30 day visa on arrival (20 $ - try to have the exact amount and in US$)
JAKARTA 10.12.2011
Landed around 6 pm, took a shuttle bus to the city (the guy sitting next to me on the bus insisted to pay my ticket even though I just met him and also gave me instructions how to get to the hostel) took me like 3 hours to get to the hostel where Foo was staying (Jakarta is famous with the worst traffic in Asia).  
Had a nice day around Jakarta exploring (not the nicest city in the world) and in the evening took a train to Yokyakarta which wasn’t exactly comfortable but in the morning we got there. 

View from the tower
A bit of traffic
As Foo says: "Little communist"

Rain rain rain
Yogyakarta or simply Yogya, is one of the foremost cultural centers of Java. Located at the foot of the active Merapi volcano & stretches till the Indian Ocean. It is renowned as centre of classical Javanese art and culture. I quite liked it but we didn’t get to stay long.
Borobudur temple. The most famous of Indonesia's temples is this huge Buddhist pyramid. This is a Buddhism's largest shrine in Indonesia, built in the 9th century. You can get a tour to go and see the temples or do it like us, taking a bus to Jombor, where you can change to another bus to get to Borobudur. It takes about 60-90 minutes, and should cost around Rp 10,000-15,000 one way, but bargain with the bus staff to get a good price. The entrance fee to the temple was something like 15 euros I think and they give you coffee or tea before you get in. Unfortunately, we weren’t very lucky with the weather, it was pouring down with rain and we got compeltely soaked.
Borobudur temple

The market near the temple
In the tricycle

We left in a minivan to Bromo and on the way Foo realized he forgot his camera in the restaurant we had dinner the night before. The drivers called the office there and managed to get it and promised us they would bring it the next day. Foo didn’t belive it until he saw it but they really brought it! It was going to be his 3rd time losing his camera (the other 2 were stolen though) and more important all the photos cos he didn’t have a backup.

The best approach to the volcano is from the village of Cemoro Lawang, only around 3kms from the crater, where there are plenty of cheap hotels, hostels and homestays. On the caldera edge a small village Cemoro Levang is situated. This place is extremely popular (due to the fact that it is a starting point of the volcano climbing trip) and, thus, expensive. The accommodation costs there are noticeably higher than average Indonesian prices: room rental starts from 100 thousand rupees, and it’s a shit room. However, if you try, you can find a room to spend a night for a cheaper price (around 50 thousand rupees).
Got there late at night and directly to bed in a really shitty place, was really surprised they had hot water. Got up at 4 am to go and see the volcano.
From Cemoro Levang it takes only 45 minutes to get to Bromo: you should go to the bottom of caldera (you can take a usual road or special foot pathes) and then after several kilometres you will reach the surface totally covered with ash (the locals call it the Sand Sea).Be warned though, it’s damn cold up there. A steep 256-step concrete staircase gets you up to the rim. Up on the rim, the volcano is belching out huge plumes of sulfuric gases. We followed the rim around a bit and sat down. Wasn’t the perfect weather but we still managed to see it. 

Flores (East Nusa Teggara)
Flew from Denpasar, Bali to Labuan Bajo (bought the flights the day before), shared a taxi with a Spanis-German couple for 40 rupiah. It is one of the best place to dive in Asia. I never thought of diving before, looked too scary to me (did “Discover Diving” in Hawai but in 2004 and it was exciting but I´ve never thought of getting the license and doing it properly). It seems that everyone comes to Labuan bajo for 2 things – diving and Komodo dragons. As everyone around me was a diver, I gave up and did the course. Choosing the dive shop to do it wasn´t easy since we wanted to do it as quick as possible (the course usually takes min 4 days) and do the last dive at Manta point. Decision was made when speaking to one of the instructors, turned out she was Bulgarian  (I was convinced she was Eastern European but her English was too good). First 100% Bulgarian I met in Asia – Elitza, pure Bulgarian but raised in Canada.
Got my “PADI Open Water” diving certificate, studying like a school girl every night after doing the skills in and under water all day long. We still spoke in English most of the time (shame!) but she was really good and careful with me. Did 4 dives within the course, one of them was at Manta Point. The name of the diving site is not a coincidence; there were so many manta rays there, everywhere.  The only problem was that the current was so strong that everything was passing so fast, you just have very little time to realize what’s going on and what you have just seen.  Unless you hold on something at the bottom, rock or whatever, there is no way to swim against the current and stay immobile. The whole course (4 dives) cost me around 300€ but its worth every cent. I´m so glad that Foo convinced me to do it and Elitza was my instructor. Not many peope can see ten Manta rays on their 3rd dive! That´s why Labuan Bajo is amazing for diving cos u see everything there. The German guy who was a dive instructor in Spain also said that that was the most amazing dive in his life and im sure he has done many.
Labuan Bajo from the hut

Elitza´s exemplary jump

Not as elegant but hey, I'm still learning
My first Manta Ray

Coming back
The dives included a short stop at Komodo islands, actually at Rinca island cos apparantley there are more Komodo dragons living there. Had a guide with the other guys from the diving/snorkeling and walked around looking for more Komodo dragons. Seems that most of them relax under the huts at the beginning. Didn’t get very close but still if one of them decided to attack us, wouldn’t have any problem cos they are very fast and the guides had just big sticks to protect us. And if they bite you, you are almost 100% dead, not because its poisonous or something, just the wound wouldn’t close up because of the bacteria they inject into the wound so you would bleed to death cos the island is so far away from any hospital…The only solution is to go back as quickly as possible to Labuan Bajo and then fly to Bali…But then another problem arises – most of the visitors of the island are divers who have just done their 1 or 2 dives and you are not allowed to fly at least 12 or 18 hours after the dive…So in any case, its better not get bitten by the dragons.
Getting to Rinca island

The dinner for the dragons
Going back
Celebrating my Padi licence 
The day we wanted to leave by ferry (local one) and then a bus to Lombok, there was a ferry strike (timing!), so after waiting for a few hours with an English couple we met at the diving, we realized that there was no chance to leave the island for the next 3 days unless we take a plane. So we literally bought the ticket 20 min before departure, it was more like buying a bus ticket, no passport check, no X-ray. The only way to do it was to take a plane to Bali and then another one to Lombok. It was definitely more expensive than the ferry but none of us wanted to stay longer in Labuan Bajo cos there is nothing to do there, the village is not that nice and beach is unbelievably dirty.
At the airport, waiting at the gates, we had a panic attack that we can´t fly fly due to the diving the day before but after a quick calculation and asking around we calmed down (the plane was late and 12 or 18 hours had passed – but really close though)
The plane
Indonesia´s classic - old school plane + volcano
The island is located east of Bali, slightly smaller, sort of an “unspoiled Bali”.  it has a mainly Muslim population, compared to Bali, which is almost 90% Hindu right in the middle in Islamic Indonesia. While both islands share a lot of similarities, Lombok has its own attractions and plenty of contrasts as well.

Leaving Senggigi into northern direction is where the fun really starts. Just within 2-4 hours of driving the long-winding coastal road, you will find Waterfalls, Hot springs, pristine and secluded beaches in black, gray or white colors aplenty. The northern shores are picture-perfect and more than once you will find yourself in awe of the beautiful landscape. Driving in Lombok is a pleasant and easy experience – due to the easy traffic conditions. 
Traditional villages (Kampungs) are nested at mountain slopes and long-winding roads lead you to the most remote places on the island. Traffic is of low density and in most places you will still even see Horse Carts, which are used to transport good, people and produce around the island.
Loved it. Beautiful landscapes, volcanoes, empty beaches…Rented a motorbike and was around the island the whole day, luckily didn’t rain. 

Tara and I

Gili islands – these idyllic island have long attracted travelers in search of sea and marine life, pure white sand and sun. On Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan life is laid back and full of rustic charm and numerous beachside cafes. Gili Trawangan or shortly Gili T, is known as the party island and we decided to spend Christmas there. Gili Meno is very mellow and quiet and the atmosphere on Gili Air is somewhere between the two. 
So the first one to see was Gili Air which is the nearest to Lombok mainland. Did my deep water dive there so now Im licensed to dive up to 30 meters. The visibility wasn’t good enough and the dive master was very good either but anyways we saw some animals amongst them my first shark (black tip shark). We stayed at a nice place just off the ferry, had a nice hut for ourselves with a cute lizard and a shower outside. One night we went out to a nice bar on the other side of the island with live music and it was fun coming back with other people from our guesthouse all a bit drunk and silly.
While Foo requested some “Foo time” (which means without me) I went around the island, a full round takes about 2 hours. Nice restaurants, nice huts and pretty views and sunsets.

Just one left

The last one
Mission accomplished!

Boat to Gili Meno
Gili Meno was really quiet, more for couples and families but I loved it. Only  few people on the beaches, not hassle from locals. Unfortunately it was December 30th and Foo wanted to move to Gili T, the party one so we took another boat to the last one from the Gilis.
Gili Meno

Christmas in Gili T – big party everywhere, lots of drinks, kept losing everyone but luckily met the English couple from Komodo and stayed with them for a while. Was weird, I think my first Christmas in the middle of summer. Met up with friend of Foo - Niamh from Ireland.
Gili T

Christmas at Gili T
Niamph´s hostel

Another amazing sunset
Leaving Gilis, we took a fast boat to Bali. Got sick on the boat and was really trying not to throw up all the way. I know now that it is called fast boat not by accident. Made it to Padang Bai and then a bus to Ubud.

Ubud, my favourite town in Bali. Perched on the slopes leading up towards the central mountains, Ubud is one of the main touristic attractions in Bali. Unlike South Bali, however, Ubud’s focus remains on the Balinese culture in its myriad forms. Really peacefull and nice. Just some annoying locals offering you a taxi at every 5 meters. Around Ubud are temple, ancient sites and whole villages producing handicrafts. The best thing to do, is to rent a motorbike and explore the region. That’s what we did. We went to most of the ancient temples (Hindu) and further up to the volcanoes. 


Apparently to see the volcanoes, you have to get there around 7,8h in the morning and we always made it at noon. We werent very lucky with the weather though, made it 2 days in a row to the volcanoes but the view was like that:

First attempt to see the volcano
Second attempt one day later
We also went diving in Tulamben where is the wreck of US cargo ship Liberty. On the way there we were stopped by the police - something really typical in Bali, they. After half an hour of arguing, they realized that won`t get any bribe from us and that are missing the other potential "clients" on the road, so they let us go with the promise that in 5 days time we will be back with our driver´s licenses to pay the fine. But both sides knew that it wouldn`t happen. Dont even remember what the fine was for - I think its because we said that we dont have driver´s licenses, didnt wanna risk them being taken away.
About the diving, it was interesting, my first wreck diving! Couldn `t enjoy the dive as much cos my mask kept leaking so I had to clear it up all the time but apart from that was pretty good. The way back to Ubud on a motorbike in the dark (4h) was interesting too, but we made it safe and in one piece.

On December 30th we went to Kuta, the most horrible place on the island with not less repulsive beach! Don’t understand how people go there on their 10 day holiday!  I was disgusted by the shear volume of rubbish dumped in the sea and the complete lack of care about the state of the ocean. The beach was full of   annoying locals trying to sell you everything – from beer and sarongs to tickets to any place on the island and a boyfriend or girlfriend if you wish. It wasn’t just a bit dirty, there were heaps of rubbish all over the beach. We were hoping that if we go further towards the posh area of Legian beach but no change. Actually there were most persistent hawkers, you are not left alone even for two minutes. And all the budget places were full, it took us a few hours until we find something available and affordable (30th and 31st of December!)
Kuta beach - the nicest possible photo I could take
The beach
Kuta beach. At least the sunset was ok!
All the bars were very snobbish and full of young drunk Europeans and Australians, tried one of them but quickly gave up on the idea. And then on the way home we found "Green box" – the only normal bar in Kuta, nice crowd, cheap drinks and very near our shithole.
New Years in Kuta
There was a CS party in a house that some Canadians rented. Me, Foo, Lora and Niamf bought some alcohol and food, took a taxi following the directions they gave me. It was more complicated than we imagined, at end some local girl took as on her motorbike one by one to the house.
There was an Indian Canadian guy who had a Bulgarian girlfriend and an Italian guy who was living in Sofia and spoke Bulgarian. Everybody jumped in the pool when the bells started, Im not sure if I was there though and no one is capable to confirm that. The guys who rented the house had arranged this taxi service for everyone at the party to Kuta which was very generous of them. Foo and I went straight home (the shithole) and Lora and Niamh tried to find a party roaming the streets for a while but after fighting with some locals, came home as well.
Lora, Foo, Niamh
Lora being kidnapped by a local
The CS house
Just before New Years - the only photo available
Lora leaving, January 1st, 2012
Next day Lora left to the north and Foo, Niamh and I headed to Ulu Watu area (near Padang Padang), the legendary surf breaks… Stayed in a cheap and basic guesthouse first night but when it stopped raining I found this surfer´s place just on the cliff with water view and we unanimously decided to move there. It had its private beach and offered surf lessons and rentals. Since everyone was surfing, Foo and I watched some surf lessons on You Tube and felt ready to give it a try. Both of us had try it before but not very successfully.  Rented the surf boards for 3 ambitious, I thought It wouldn’t be enough but after an hour both of us were so tired that decided to go and have lunch and then come back in the water….I spent more time under water trying to take breath after being smashed by the waves again and again. And the next day my belly was so rub sore, covered in wounds. I understand now, why all the surfers wear rash T-shirts.
The hostel


The plan was to go to East Timur for the time I had left until my flight to New Zealand on the 7th but we still didn’t have the visas. If you cross the land border from West Timur (Indonesia) to East timur, you need to have a visa. Actually we applied for visas 3 weeks earlier but East Timur authorities were pretty useless and after exchanging a few emails and applications, the visas were still pending. The other option is to fly directly to East Timur, then you get the visa at the airport but the flights were too expensive, almost 200€ round trip, way too much to spend only for 5 days of pleasure in East Timur (and who knows if it was going to be pleasure). So instead we headed to the north.

North of Bali. Lovina
We stayed in a nice guesthouse close to the beach. The town is nice and full of nice restaurants, not a party town though, mostly for couples.
Went Dolphin watching for 40000 Rp (the price is fixed). Took us a cuple of hours to find them but it was pretty cool. The only down side was that at the end of it due to food poisoning I shut myself, so the last 15 minutes weren’t the best ones J (for some reason Foo found it hilarious and couldn’t stop laughing and taking photos of me). We were about to go diving the day after but I wasn’t feeling good at all so we skipped that (didn’t want to shit myself again, this time in the wet suit!). It just confirmed what I already  knew - eating local food is much better than expensive western style restaurants, never got sick eating street food before.
Lobina beach
Not happy
And after almost 2 hours looking for them, we found them

The beaches are made up of washed out grey and black volcanic sand and the water is clean and calm. Even lying on the beach the locals simply don’t leave you alone. They end up walking with you for miles along the beach when all you want is to chill & explore. You couldn’t walk around on your own, and you were almost required to have a ‘friend’.  I still was OK putting up with it, even had fun talking to some of them but Foo…After spending almost a year in South East Asia, he couldn´t stand them (to put it mildly). He refused to talk to them or even looking at them so I was in charge of all the talking and making sure they go away as fast as possible.
Almost merging into Singaraja(second biggest city in Bali) to the west, Lovina is a convenient place for trips around the north coast or central mountains. That’s why we rented a motorbike for a day and explored the area – some waterfalls (air Terjun Gitgit, 11km from Singaraja), tiny villages, views over green valleys and lakes (danau Buyan and Danau Tamblingan)…

On the 7th of January, we made it back to the airport, Foo bought his flight to East Timur next day, went to our “favourite” Kuta, spent the day there and at 10pm I took a taxi to the airport, flying to New Zealand with a stopover in KL - the last time I land to the airport of KL I hope.


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