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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
Or on a 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And of course a rock star picture had to be made:
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
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”.
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.
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.
Delightful deserted beaches
Images speak louder than words!
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.
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.
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!