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

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

Surf, sulfur, seafood and other strangenesses

Tired, but dazzled and once again amazed by the beauty of mother earth, the 4 brave Huayhuash-hikers got back to the Hostel. After an amazing shower and luxurious diner (back from a nine day hike a juicy steak is more or less heaven) we all went our own ways again. Australian Tom and I (TomTom) bought a ticket for the bus in the direction of Trujillo where we transfered towards the relaxed surfertown Huanchaco. Tears flowed when “la Furia Roja”  defeated the poor Dutch national team. More weeping when the golden pair TomTom was separated. Australian Tom got en route to the Galapagos islands. I decided to make a stopover in Huanchaco.

Huanchaco Hyves and Mancora malice

The small town of Huanchaco is known for its surfing, fishermen and cool vibe. The “pescadores” still use their traditional fisherboats or “caballitos de totora”. It is said that these watercrafts were the first to be used to surf waves. Thus, finding a symbol for this cool township wasn’t very difficult. I installed myself in “La Casa Suiza”, weird enough a French-owned hostel. Aside from that a perfect spot to stay: good value, comfortable beds and amazing home-made pizza.

Tom and the caballito de totora

During the trip I discovered the thrill of riding waves. So, I was pretty keen on further improving my skills in Huanchaco. Determined as I was, soon a new “golden duo” was founded. Surfing instructor Tommy was appointed as my private tutor, being incredibly motivated to pass on the surfing-vibe. My  surfing-Spanish improved considerably, as well as my handshake.

Slowly I got my surfing at a next level. I drank liters of seawater and suffered severe cold, lying there in the Pacific Ocean waiting for “la ola perfecta”. And… three days later I caught my first enormous (for me at least) wave. And it was well worth all torment and pain!

In the hostel, I met Sofia, a Swedish girl travelling her way up through Peru. And as we were both a bit sick of the lack of sunshine in Huanchaco, we agreed upon moving further north together.

We still had some time left so got to the “Huaca de la Luna”. Together with the Huaca del sol, the pyramids constituted the powercentre of the Mochica culture (100 to 900 a.C.) – Hey, a little history lesson won’t harm you. Another interesting phenomenon to be found on site is the Peruvian dog. The animal is characterised by its hairlessness and was a popular pet kept during the Incan empire.

Incan hairless Peruvian dog at the Huaca de la Luna

Following our brief encounter with one of Peru’s archeological treasures we progressed and headed for Mancora. Only to find out we both did not really like the vibe of this self-called beach paradise. Probably a result of the contrast with the adorable atmoshpere in Huanchaco compared to the “pushy” feel of Mancora. Thus, we spent some time wandering around the beach and surfing before scheduling our trajectory to Ecuador.

Flashy fishermen, mating whales and blue-footed boobies

We dropped our anchor in Puerto López, a small coastal village 5 hours away from Guayaquil.  In the morning, fishermen can be spot on the beach, dragging huge manta rays and marlins shorewards while pelicans are hanging around, waiting to get a tasty bite of the fish. In the evenings, we got some of the best seafood prior to hitting one of the well-lit bars with oceanview on the main strip, sipping a cocktail.

The charming village of Puerto López

Pelicans in line waiting for some tasty bites

Manta rays waiting to be taken to the local fish market

Besides the fishing, tourism is the main industry in Puerto López. The city is the headquarters for the Machalilla natural park, the only coastal preserve in Ecuador. Mid-june to october, the mating whales are the main attraction here. Tours can easily be booked, and you’re guaranteed to spot some coupling humpback whales. And indeed, it’s quite spectacular to see the huge animals jumping around while spraying seawater with their blowholes.

Humpback whales playing around in the Pacific Ocean

We opted for a combined tour, with stopover on the “isla de la plata”, an island a few kilometres offshore. The isle is referred to as “the poor man’s Galapagos”, as some of the same species can be found overthere. And well… Shuffling through my bank statements and hearing about the excessive prices of the Galapagos cruises, I was pretty fine with the “budget version”. We spotted quite a few birds of which the blue-footed booby and frigatebirds were the absolute highlights. We ended our day with an hour of snorkeling in the coral reef the island is surrounded with.

The blue-footed booby

Frigate birds relaxing

The next day, a mototaxi dropped us in Agua Blanca, a small community in the middle of the Machalilla park a few kilometres north of Puerto Lopez. The indigenous people make a living mainly out of agriculture and tourism. Guided tours take you into the community, where the most memorable spot is the sulfur bath. You are meant to cover yourself with some of the mud on the bottome of the lagune to get your skin purified. Allthough the smell of eggs did not really attract us right away, we followed the wise advice of our guide and smeared some of the delicious ooze over our tired bodies.

Sofia and Tom enjoying a smelly-sulfur-mud-treat

Getting back into the village, Sofia and I decided to go our own ways again. Sofia wanted to go kitesurfing, while I was fierce to go for the same thing, only without the kite. Moreover, in Puerto Lopez I got hold of  “the kite runner” through the book exchange, more then enough kite for me.  So a lot of whining and weaping and another adieu…

From Canoa to Colombia…

Shortly after, I arrived in Canoa, more or less the Ecuadorian equivalent for Huanchaco. The coming days I took the time to get some final surfing vibes in Latin America. Especially my last session I’ll remember for a long time.

In my early morning surf I got to know the phenomenon pointed out by locals as “el beso de agua mala” literally translated: “the kiss of the bad water”. While paddling in the ocean, all of a sudden my whole forearm felt as if it was burned and stung with 100 needles at the same time. Apparently I bumped into an audacious type of jelly fish. Luckily the pharmacist was able to give me a good antidote, so I was ready for a second surfing session.

Lying in the water later in the afternoon I suddenly heard a screaming sound. Scanning the ocean promptly I saw a girl struggling in the water. I did not hesitate and with my surfboard I got her back on shore. Quickly I speeded towards the doctor who got the unfortunate young woman back on her feet. A somehow scary experience. Nevertheless, all’s well that ends well!

Surfing Canoa

Leaving behind all the excitement, I packed my bag, ready for some new adventures. I am currently writing from the small Colombian border town Ipiales where I am awaiting the nightbus to Cali. There I will meet up with Roy, a good comrade from back home in Belgium. Together we’ll be cruising through Colombia the coming weeks.  In the meanwhile, I will ameliorate both my Spanish and Salsa skills. And believe me, especially for the latter, there is quite some improvement possible. But, more on all of this in my next post. To end I want to wish everybody a great summer and an exhilarating vacation!

The best to all of you!

Tom