Le Tour De Taiwan – Day 18

I’m writing from Lanyu (Orchid Island), a small volcanic island off the southeastern coast of Taiwan. The plan was to spend 4 days on this little piece of paradise. However, because of the rough sea, yesterday’s boat was canceled. The perfect moment to write a short report about the last 9 days of cycling and traveling through the “Ilha Formosa”.

Heading From South to East

Heading From South to East

After having spent a day of exploring around Kenting, I got back on the road towards the east coast of Taiwan. Because of the strong wind, I was moving slow. Not that much of a problem considering the breathtaking scenery around me.

Breathtaking View Cycling Towards the East

Breathtaking View Cycling Towards the East

I decided to give my legs some rest and my upper body some work in the relaxed surfer town Jialeshui where I crashed at Winson’s house. Two days later, after a late afternoon surf session I bumped into another (crazy) Belgian! Koen is a fellow Prince Albert Fund alumni that spent one year working in Taipei. As we were moving in the same direction, we decided to bike together the next morning.

Surfing is So Happy

Surfing is So Happy…

Sunset in Jialeshui

Jialeshui Sunset

We took off early for one of the toughest but most beautiful “stages” of Le Tour de Taiwan until now: Jialeshui to Taimali (to see the route click here).  It was great to have a companion during the 115 km long ride in the sweltering heat on a hilly route (1551 m of incline). For those wondering where I get the stats from: Koen is an electrical engineer interested in technology registering our every move with one of his many useful apps.

Jialeshui - Taimali

Jialeshui – Taimali

Quite remarkable are the many “police stations” along the road. The criminality must be close to zero in most of the east as the stations function as “bicycle service areas”, invariably staffed with policemen keen on providing food, water, a place to sleep or information about Taiwan.

Police Station or Service Station for Cyclists?

Police Station or Service Station for Cyclists?

Sleeping Spot in Taimali

Sleeping Spot in Taimali

After a short and rainy night, we got up at 4.30 am and drove 30 km towards the pretty harbor town of Fugang. We arrived around 7 only to find out that the ferry wasn’t leaving until 9.30. Luckily we found shelter in one of the nearly five thousand (!)  7-ELEVEN stores in Taiwan.

Fugang Port

Fugang Port

The last few days on Orchid Island were spent snorkeling, diving and hiking. In short: enjoying life. However, the desire to head towards the mountains is growing. Hopefully the sea will be quiet enough to catch the scheduled ferry on Tuesday so I can continue my journey!

Port of Lanyu

Port of Lanyu

Diving

Two Crazy Belgians and One Crazy Fish

Lanyu View

Lanyu View

Sunset over Lanyu

Lanyu sunset

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Indonesian Island Adventures

It has been exactly one month since I started with the third and final part of my little trip around the globe, so time for another update.

Before heading to Indonesia I stayed a week at travel buddy Tom’s brand new house in Melbourne. Finally “the golden duo” TomTom reunited again and a perfect opportunity to recharge my batteries. Luckily this time (for a change) it was Ozzie Tom that had to face my smelly feet and give comments about my bewildered hair and the belief that using shampoo would damage the natural equilibrium by reducing the power of the natural oils keeping my golden locks in shape.

Indonesian Introduction

Before I had set foot on Indonesian soil I knew absolutely nothing about the country. If you would have asked me the capital I’d have guessed Indonesia city. Strange thing, because it is an important nation:

– The population of the country is around 230 million (depending on the source used), making it the 4th most populous nation in the world preceded only by China, India and the US. At the same time, it has the world’s largest Muslim population.

– Indonesia is composed out of no less than 17508 different islands, a record.

– Some (older) people on the island of Flores speak Dutch due to the colonial past of the island. I attempted to find a Dutch speaker, but unfortunately without success.

Enough facts and figures . Time for some travel experiences!

Balinese Bargaining

The minute I arrived in Kuta (not to be confused with Kuta in Lombok, a town I’ll be describing later on) I felt like getting the hell out of there again. The place gets very close to my description of hell on earth. I was in search for peace of mind, genuine Asian travel experiences and tranquility but got immediately hassled by all sorts of dodgy looking “salespeople” using the most horrible sales-approach:

Mister mister, accommodation? – I’m sorry, I already have something. But hotel is very nice! – No, I already have a booking. Special price for you! NO, NON, NEIN, NOPES, NEEN! (×15)

Mister, you from America? (the insult! I am European, don’t I look sophisticated?)

Mister, for you special offer (well, maybe first explain WHAT you are trying to sell me the next time).

You like massage? (of course I like a massage, you idiot)

Hello, you taxi? (You taxi? me Jane!)

Transport, yes? Massage, yes? (Transport NO! Massage NO! Annoying YES!)

Another annoyance is the fact that prices are nowhere near fixed. Needless to say that all of them crooked vendors try to sell you their goods or services for 5 to 10 times the real value. In the very beginning I felt helpless and stupid for being ripped off a couple of times. But pretty soon I developed a waterproof bargaining methodology I like to refer to as the “I have blue eyes and blond hair but I am not a stupid tourist” technique (probably resulting in still paying 20% too much).

Long story short: I directly got moving again. The next day I went straight to Padangbai and jumped on the slow ferry to Lombok.

The End(e)

On the ferry I met up with Made and his daughter Sarah. As we were heading in the same direction we teamed up, forming a quite remarkable trio. Well, I was sort of invading a family thing. But we turned out to have good times. Sarah soon became my little sister, with Made I had long discussions about international politics, economics and the role (pun intended) of toilet paper in establishing peace in the middle east.

Sarah and Made

Sarah and Made

We set ourselves the goal to get to Moni on the island of Flores to explore the three colored volcanic lakes. The journey entailed hours and hours on slow ferry’s and bumpy buses (I think we were more on the road than we were actually visiting things). Travelling across the islands of Sumbawa and Flores means that transportation is not frequent, never on schedule and from time to time one is forced to spend the night in a place like Sape with nothing but one small hotel without shower but with bugs on the wall. Yet, at the same time that’s the charm of it all. Slow travel at its best!

Highlights of the trip:

Forgetting about time and other modern life disturbances…

On the ferry:

Posing with Ozzie Marc en Patrick on the Ferry to Flores

Or on a bus:

Indonesian smiles on the bus

Spotting Komodo dragons in Komodo National Park

The Komodo dragon is the world’s biggest lizard (these sweeties grow up to 2-3 meter and weigh 70 kg) that can only be found on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores and Gili Motang.

The dragons are huge and it is an absurd view to spot these savage animals that remained unchanged by evolution since 15 million years. Even though they mainly feed themselves with the carcasses of dead animals, the Komodo’s also hunt birds and mammals. Interesting (and gruesome) fact is that the dragon’s saliva contains numerous bacteria. A bite of the large lizard means wounds get severely infected. Yummy.

Komodo dragon on Rinca

Driving from Ende to Moni (on the island of Flores) on a scooter

Probably one of the best experiences during my Indonesian travels. Every single local is waving or tries to stop you in order to have a chat (even though proper communication is impossible). Wonderful and absolutely mind-blowing to see the disarming smile on the faces of these people.

Indonesian smiles on Flores

Disarming Indonesian smiles

The ride on the scooter itself is pretty challenging as the roads are not in the best shape and the Indonesian traffic has its very own rules. Most important one: the biggest or most persistent vehicle gets to go first.

Indonesian motorcycle madness

The Kelimutu volcano and its three colored lakes

A volcano with three crater lakes with varying colors. We actually got up at 3.30 am to go and witness sunrise only to find a cloud covered sky followed by a serious downpour (yep, it is rain season). Nevertheless a dazzling view and wonderful experience.

Kelimutu volcano and its colored lakes

The airport in Ende

The coolest and probably the smallest airport I’ve ever seen. Mainly because of the unique location: right in town next to a wonderful stretch of beach. Upon entering the airport you pass through the metal detectors without emptying your pockets or taking off your belt. Beep-Beep-Beep. Whatever. Nobody bothers while you proceed, holding a 1.5 liter bottle of water in your left, a 1 liter bottle of Arak in your right hand.

Ende International Airport 🙂

And of course a rock star picture had to be made:

Belgian celebrity arriving at Ngurah Rai International Airport

Lombok Laziness

The Gili Islands

After all the stress I have been through lately I was in desperate need of a break. Perfect spot: the Gili islands (Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan). I met up with Californian Grace and pretty soon we were lying (or jumping) on a wonderful beach sipping cocktails, taking a plunge for some snorkeling or having a wonderful deep diving experience on Gili T, spotting white tip reef sharks, white trevallies and chevron barracudas

Snorkeling jumping Belgian on Gili Air

Even though Indonesian law on drugs is very strict -death penalty for drug trafficking, one to five years imprisonment for simple possesion- The Gili’s have something with Magic Mushrooms and most likely some other illegal substances. Instead of the regular “Mister! Massage, yes”, “Transportation, yes” you’d rather hear “Mister! Mushroomshake, yes” or “Fly to the moon, yes”.

Kuta Lombok

Comparing Kuta in Bali with Kuta in Lombok is a bit like matching up Belgium with a well-governed country. Kuta can easily be defined as heaven on earth for those who love beautiful deserted beaches, surfing and cheap Indonesian food.

Food with a view

The best vegetarian restaurant I have ever set foot in is called Ashtari. British Helen and her Australian husband serve amazing food -wonderful coconut-chocolate shakes, a lentil curry or noodles with tempe, tofu and a wonderful spiced up vegetable mix- and their food temple is located on a hilltop with stunning views over the wonderful nearby beaches.

Jumping Belgian at Ashtari restaurant

Surfers paradise

Around Kuta there are several superb surfing breaks. Without the crowds and in sublime surroundings I was able to tilt my skills to yet another level. Though I must admit I still got to drink a lot of seawater and I managed to gather a collection of very nasty little wounds on my feet after surfing on a reef break. But as usual, catching that one good wave gives you the energy to get going again, forgetting about all suffering and pain.

Surfing at Seger Reef

Delightful deserted beaches

Images speak louder than words!

Coconut-girl Grace

Stunning Seger Reef sunset

Sunbathing beach cow

Monkey Business

Following our 10 days of total chilaxation in Kuta, we headed to Ubud in Bali. Close to the airport for Grace’s return flight to San Francisco and a good starting point for my further Indonesian explorations (Java). And oh no, there we go again (hello mister, hello miss, taxi yes, hotel yes, massage yes, GRMBL). Especially after the low key and relaxed travels, it was very difficult for me not to lose my cool (and mind) while constantly being approached in this “eat-pray-love”-settlement. However, that was before we got to the…

Monkey forest! A forest with heaps of tourist, temples and (surprise) monkeys. While playing around with these intelligent and nasty little macaque monkeys, I forgot about all the hassle straight away. There is a spot on planet earth where I can fully be myself after all.

Monkey Madness

One would get hungry after playing around with them crazy monkeys. On top of that, this report would not be complete without mentioning some of the great Indonesian dishes. What I like the most about Indo food is the fact that a piece of meat isn’t the cornerstone of every meal. Consequently I have been eating more or less vegetarian for the last month (I gladly made an exception while tasting some of the fresh seafood). Three amazing local meals we prepared ourselves during a half-day vegetarian cooking course:

– Bergedel (corncake): Tasty egg-corncake, very ease to prepare.
– Sayur Urab (Vegetables mixed with your hands): an amazing combination of fried green vegetables with grated coconut and a mix of several spices.
– Opor Sayur: vegetable curry, prepared with a basic spices paste, vegetables, coconut milk and lemongrass.

Preparing Sayur Urab

While traveling slow and spending time at the beach I got to read some of the books I have been dragging along in my way too heavy backpack. Inspiring trip, inspiring books, inspiring people (thank you May Jean, Grace and David):

– Three cups of tea – David Oliver Relin : Climber Greg Mortenson and his mission to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan after he ends up in a small Pakistani village following a failed attempt to ascend K2.
– Mountains beyond Mountains – Tracy Kidder: The story of Doctor Paul Farmer and his medical aid for the poorest of the poorest in Haiti.
– Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer: Detailed account of reporter Jon Krakauer’s dramatic ascent of Mount Everest.

Another goodbye later (bye bye Grace!) and with a severely messed up stomach, hurting feet and a badly infected mosquito bite on my knee I headed to the Denpasar migration office in order to extend my stay in Indonesia for my Java travels. The grumpy customs officer explained me in broken English it would take up to 7 working days to extend my visa. Upon arrival I was told that extension was a piece of cake (Tidah apa apa – No problem mister!). With only 2 days left on my visa, staying in Indonesia would have cost me quite a bit of money (20 $ per day overtime). Moreover, I didn’t really feel like hanging around in Denpasar to recollect my new visa (I would rather die).

After 15 seconds of shameful angry sobbing I checked out Air Asia’s sweetest deals. And that’s how I am currently writing from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Allright, time to get going again. I’d like to finish this post with the lyrics of the song that has been stuck in my head the whole day: Don’t think about all those things you fear, just be glad to be here!

The best to all of you!

Tom

Two Belgians jumping/rafting/dancing/diving/hiking through Colombia

After a horrible (why didn’t I pick a seat a bit further away from the vomiting lady) and exhausting busride I finally arrived in Colombia. There were several reasons to look forward to this new part of the trip: the fact that everybody I met was screaming out loud how wonderful the country is not in the least. Moreover, the planned encounter with Roy, a good friend from back home and the perspective to go diving/hiking in the Caribbean made me a happy man. The next few paragraphs summarize my personal Colombian highlights.

El capital de la Salsa

In Cali, it’s all about rhythmically moving your feet, hips and whatever other body parts to the beat. The city is packed with “salsathecas” and everybody, no matter how young or old, is able to dance. The type of Salsa is “basic”, since most of the locals learned to dance on the streets. All sounds very tempting, and the perfect opportunity to approve my lack of skills. Excited and with lots of enthousiasm I put on my “dancing shoes” and arranged clases with Ximena, the personification of salsa. 10 hours later, I got the very basic move going. At night, we hit several salsa clubs in order to put into practice our poor abilities. With on the background 10 Colombian girls shaking their heads in disbelief, the dancing improved slightly. Pretty sure that an extra 100 hours of dancing school would have enabled me to impress some of the beautiful Caleñas. Unfortunately we had to get going again

Ximena learning Tom how to dance salsa

Sipping coffee in Salento

We decided to make a stopover in Salento, a small village in the middle of the “zona cafetera”, the main coffee producing region in the country. We learned all about the coffee production process while visiting a “finca” (farm), saw pineapples growing and played hide-and-seek in a bamboo forest before starting a one-day hike through the marvellous “Valle de Cocora”. The perfect way to relax previous to our trip towards Bogotá.

La Valle de Cocora

Qué alegria, la Candelaria!

When arriving in Bogotá, I had a bit of a double feeling. Afer the city vibes of Cali and having enjoyed the nature around Salento I did not really feel like settling in a busy and crowded place again. In addition, one of the main reasons for halting in the capital was to pick up my passport at the Belgian embassey. After struggling with South American administration for several months, it would be a great relieve to finally get hold of the important document again.

But as always you live the greatest experiences when expectations are low. We settled in “La Candelaria“, the historical centre of the city. The neighborhood is packed with universities, libraries and several museums. The architectural style of the houses is stunning. But what caught my eye the most is the wonderful street art. For more pictures, click here.

Street art in La Candelaria

Rafting rumble in San Gil

San Gil is referred to as the adventure capital of Colombia. And as we were passing by whilst working our way up towards the Caribbean, the call for adventure made us stay the night, planning a wild rafting trip the day after.

The Suarez river is one of the wildest in Colombia and perfectly fit for thrillseekers of all sorts and kinds. The rapids (or high current parts of a river) go up to class 5+, the highest level for commercial rafting. And well… an adrenaline rush of more or less 2 hours later, we found out why!

Rafting on the river Suarez

Sleep with the fish

During the last 5 months I went hiking through some of the most wonderful landscapes, got my Spanish at a next level, learned how to surf, dance salsa and many things more. But the most exciting discovery undoubtedly was the magical underwater world.

After having followed three days of courses and several dives, I got my open water diving certificate in the small and touristy city of Taganga. Allthough the visibility under water is not the best and the corals aren’t the most colourful, I experienced how relaxing and special diving is. As soon as you go under, your muscles relax and you feel like entering a whole new world. Waiting for the boat to drop you off at the diving area while being tailed by 5 dolphins, jumping in the water and seeing “nemo” accompanied by an enormous seaturtle, getting an underwater picture taken together with a good friend paying you a visit in Colombia… Once again one of those moments where you realise that it could have been worse! ( For more pictures, click here).

Two Belgians under water

In search for Ciudad Perdida

Ciudad Perdida or “the lost city” is Colombia’s number one archeological site, located in Sierra Nevada. The only way for tourists to get on site is by doing a hike (4-5-6 days) through dense and rainy jungle.

A few keywords describing the way up there: wet, mud, mosquito bites and rewarding. While trying to cross the river, slipping on another rock, falling down and wetting my shoes (again) in the meanwhile scratching one of the 30 bites on my left calf… Quite a few times I was wondering why on earth I was walking towards Ciudad Perdida. Upon arrival at the lost city, the answer appeared to be quite easy and straightforward. Allthough built 800 years before Machu Picchu, the construction is spectacular, the scenery breathtaking. On top of that, the way to get there is adventurous and the amount of people checking out the monument ridicously low!

Two Belgians jumping at Ciudad Perdida

Part II

My time in South America is slowly coming to an end. Allthough the last 5 months were the best I had in my entire life, I am looking forward to the next part of the trip. After all, San Francisco, the Burning Man festival and New Zealand aren’t the worst of places… Anyways, more on all this in the next update!

Hear you later!

Tom