Indonesia part 2- Bali, Java and Sumatra
15.11.2011 - 14.12.2011 28 °C
In Flores, mid November me and the Jersey girls hoped for a fun 2 day boat trip to Lombok but only a pair of couples were with us and those that were doing the complete return trip (already on board) were either unaccommodating or were too odd/uninteresting. Despite a nigh on full boat and the top deck being crowded there was little interaction or banter and few drinks being bought with my 5 cans that night being a ‘good tally’. When time for some shut eye it was a choice of gambling with the rain clouds or being with the crew and rats beneath so wisely chose the former.
We left our mooring at 5.15am for the short hop to Rinca Island then in small groups a speedboat took us to the jetty. Our first encounter with the famous Komodo Dragons was very unspectacular indeed with two near the path we used on barren land. As I had been warned there was a large group of the 2 metre reptiles outside the kitchen (‘natural habitat’ my arse) laying in close proximity, or in some cases on top of one another barely moving. To cut a long, boring story short we did a hike into the green, coconut tree covered rolling hills and through some sort of forest not seeing a single one probably because all now realised that being given food is much easier than infecting an animal and waiting days for it to collapse and die!
Disappointed, I just wanted to forget the whole debacle. Snorkelling in North Komodo helped even when on way back a territorial Titan Triggerfish (dive books warn of these) swam from the depths to bite my toe, doing so to half a dozen others including the guide. Having a good spot on deck we chilled the remainder of the day as moved between Sumbawa and a large, unknown volcanic island with storm clouds either side making for quite the spectacle. As is customary on our non party boat we ate a good portion of food, had a beer and set beds up at a miserable 8pm. I shared my stolen Bali bed sheet with Ari, watched the stars and fell asleep.
At Moyo Island we walked 3 metre waterfall that although may have been average at best the swing over the top into the plunge pool was a lot of fun. Back on the open ocean our last ‘stop’ was a tiny coral island which we took a boat to but as all the coral was completely dead and sharp we swam carefully back the few hundred metres. Approaching Labuan Lombok the summit of Rinjani loomed overhead and a few hours later on a coach we were in Sengiggi for the night.
I organised a bemo early to Bangsal, ignored the shitty surroundings and arrived on Gili T (third time in as many weeks). I went directly to Jo’s Turtle Bungalows for a deal on a double bungalow and triple fan room as Lolo was arriving in a couple of hours as (changed final days of her trip to Indo). I had a standard Gili day (lunch, wifi, beach, room, market) then purchased Brum (rice wine) from my dealer as girls locked themselves out; required five guys, a tool box and a bathroom window to open as no spare key. Being my first Friday here we checked out the party happening at Rudy’s, lost Ari and Nicky and not too late went to the bungalow.
Over the next two days I boringly spent a significant amount of time online (posted final Australian blog), sunbathed, booked fast boat to Bali, shared a giant snapper with Ari, ate cheap thick chocolate pancakes, saw a proper sunset third time lucky at Paradise Bar, smoked expensive Sheesha and spent time with Lolo.
My time on the islands of Nusa Tengera was over when a four engined, very powerful speedboat got us to Bali at 11am in next to no time. In the central cultural town of Ubud we chose one of the first places we went past, mid range Sagittarius, then Lolo showed me around (good vibe) before the heaven’s opened at which point we ate a trio of appetizers for lunch and I paid for my first ever massage at a rate of only $5 for an hour (happy ending not apparent.haha); was too weak for my liking (need to be painful!). Once washed some of the oil off we used the empty hotel pool and along with Amy ate at Sjaki’s Warung which employs and helps disabled kids; mixed juice was out of this world!
After a big breakfast we changed places and rented two scooters (Ari and Nicky doing own thing from now on) to see rice terraces and the intact and impressive Gunung Kawi temple set in a valley down steep stairs by fields and a river covered in hanging vines (high humidity). We briefly saw the dormant volcano and adjacent lake of Mt Batur (nothing special), went into thick fog and returned to Ubud on another, more fun road in constant drizzle making good time. We visited Bintang Supermarket on outskirts of town and had one of the best Indonesian meals at Mangga Madu (Tuna Base Kalas) before getting drenched just as we departed. That evening, at Dew Warung, we chatted to an English guy, and an American who intends to purchase a bike and ride throughout the country- very jealous.
As promised our eccentric host Weni provided us with an omelette at 7.30am to give us strength to bike half way across the island to Tulamben via Padang Bai, an Alfa Mart (break) and the truck congested hills near Amlapura. With Mt Agung to my left and the ocean to my right we reached Tach Terminal Dive Resort within two hours. On a pebbled beach nearby amongst a few other groups we did a shore dive by simply walking into the water, putting on flippers, letting air out BCD and following gradient of sea floor getting very good visibility compared to the dark, choppiness on the surface. 15 metres down and the first enormous section of hull from the 1942 Liberty battleship appeared with everything ahead being almost all other parts of the ship enabling us to explore, go agonisingly close to 30m, see the fish and coral growing on the metal and do some swim thru’s for about 45 minutes; was nice doing my 25th dive alongside two friends I could trust. At our safety stop thousands of sizeable fish took over the sea following one another quite spectacularly.
For lunch we detoured to the fishing villages of Amed for grilled tuna then rode home now quite tired and hot. Looking for a dinner joint we ended upstairs at popular Bendi’s wondering what the fuss was about- small portions, ok taste. Not wanting to miss dessert for second night in a row I had a cornetto as the girls bought pricey cake.
Prior to leaving cultural Ubud I took money and my SLR with me to visit the market and bartered by heart out for some stubby holders, place mats and a striking wooden mask, then had Weni’s son drive us sat in a luxury MPV (150k- cheaper than tour places) to Kuta (yes, again!). Being the last night of her trip me and Lolo had an aperitif, she treated us to a lovely seafood dinner and we met the Germans for a night out.
As Lolo departed to Europe and Amy to Yogyakarta I paid minimal amount for a taxi to Manu and Baschar's place to refresh in the pool, make homemade pasta dish and spend the rest of the afternoon and night watching Thor (brilliant), Cowboys and Aliens (bad), Hangover 2 (funny but a complete copy) and The Next Three Days (intense thriller); mixed Oreo's and ice cream along with a couple beers which turned out to be dinner. I slept soundly on the man sized futon.
The following day we lounged around the house (ate baked beans and put washing in) and visited resort driven Dreamland beach (no shade and no girls) then the more secluded, harder to get to Hidden Beach in Uluwatu, popular with surfers as a big reef break. I met a few of Manu’s friends, three frisbee, sat in the shallow water getting burnt and struggled to turn away persistent old women selling bracelets and offering massages. Encountering rush hour in the extreme and for once not in a car it was GAME ON! Doing as the locals do I weaved in and out of buses/trucks, used pavements, fought for position at every light, figured out which lane would move next and went wrong way on a highway.
We ate Fungyung Mai at Seminyak market, bought cheap spirits, drank at the house and had an average last night in Bali liking the clubs even less somehow, finishing in Piggy’s Bar with my friends at 3am.
Prior to being picked up in a luxury minibus at 5.30pm Java bound I repacked completely and watched yet another film. I enjoyed the complimentary dinner half way to the ferry and maybe got an hour sleep when, much earlier than expected, arrived into Probollingo at 2am. I negotiated a reasonable price for a Bromo excursion and got on a very old, broken van to Cemoro Lawang in the pitch black.
Only having my thin waterproof jacket I was cold when an Ojek (manual bike) went over rough ground to Penanjakan where I hiked fast alongside horses (tourist trap) to the top waiting for sunrise. With every passing minute more and more could be seen of the crater rim and volcanoes but unfortunately the huge Mt Semeru was shrouded in cloud.
We crossed the ‘sea of sand’ then I walked with Mt Batar to my right up a huge set of stairs to Mt Bromo crater to be right on the edge; lens protector rolled half way into the active hole but a local retrieved it. I stayed there half an hour admiring the lunar landscape and went back to town for nasi goreng and some supplies then in Probollingo, along with some Canadians, found wifi and very cheap shakes before the 11am bus.
I made friends with Mike and Danny (from Kelowna) for what turned into an epic journey beginning with total gridlock in Indonesia’s second city, Surabaya, unable to cope with the ensuing heat (all just in boardies) and ending with an electrical issue making our insane driver treat the bus like an f1 car to make up time actually arriving into Yogyakarta at a reasonable 10pm. Amy met us for dinner and I shared a room with her in one of the few available hotels.
The first thing I did in the ancient capital was book a train ticket to the new one, Jakarta, which involved taking ticket 136, having time to take photos of the river/houses/people and then asking a million and one questions about which train/class/time/price.
We ate a Bakso and met my pal Brooke at Bintang Cafe to catch up, gaze over his latest electronic purchase and go over his amazing stories. Later the three of us had a coffee in Exselsio to avoid the rain then I rented a scooter and followed him the 32km south to the seaside town of Parangritis ('Paris'); very good road able to go high speeds. In the seemingly dead centre Purnomo, owner of Budi Inn and quality English speaking guy, showed me my 50k a night room then I met Brooke’s 18 year old tiny bit of fun, Indra, at the warung she spends all day and night working in.
I rested till mid morning and went for a ride about town (literally only two white people...can see why it’s good to relax and write a book) getting shown all the ‘sights’ including jiggy jiggy road (red light area), moon beach road, the rough sea and brown, uninviting beach, a dirty fishing village, mosque, broken and unused wide promenade, quad bike shops, dozens of empty warung’s and cliffs. We had coffee mix with Indra’s brothel owning mum in her shack (she took photos and tried calling in her girls for us- $20) and that night ate two full plates of food, sipped water that smelt/tasted as if from sewage from his favourite eatery then drank warm beer at some local hangouts full of ugly hookers and drunks, feeling a tad uneasy. At the busy, live music club (terrible tunes) we enjoyed one rare cold beer as being the main attraction can get a bit much; strange day.
Being a hot, sunny day and a bit late to do a long ride we both spent much of the day on the internet at Budi and Widodo’s through Brooke’s Olive Pad. I used the big, greenish public pool for some laps (kid’s there stopped and stared whole time) then rode by beach for sunset and up into the hills being bitten numerous times before Purnomo fried up some potatoes on toast with butter and having an early night.
Eager to see what many believe is one of the ancient wonders of the world I was up before 5am for the long ride past reflecting rice fields and the epic ring road of Jogya but ended up going way too far as too impatient to stay put doing 60kmh with Brooke; tortoise and the hare! Now having avoided the sunrise tours we had Borobudur practically to ourselves (discount using expired youth card). Built in ad 824, the largest monument in the southern hemisphere was quite the sight to behold and in an amazing condition, being ‘lost’ for centuries. I made my way around the sculpted reliefs that adorn the lower galleries progressively making my way clockwise to the top of the square, black lava stoned pyramid where the giant, empty 10m stupa stood in the middle, surrounded by 72 smaller ones each containing a statue (number of them headless). Exposed to the sun constantly it was time to move on and see blocks that fell off from an earthquake (remarkably the entire structure’s pieces are not ‘glued’ into place). We got quite wet going to the city to meet Sarzy and her friend for lunch (two students whom conversed with about relationships and religion) then completely soaked the 40 minutes ‘home’. Once dry I put on the action packed Transformers 3 and slept by midnight.
Going solo I again did the trip to Yogyakarta very early on, this time to meet Mike and Surtardi (weird student he met in Kraton who had a bike) for a Merapi day. After nearly killing myself following them through an amber/red light on a main junction we hoped would be a straight forward day. At Kinahrejo we were disappointed to not only be unable to see the summit but due to a lack of information or flows/damage; considered climbing as was original aim but would take too long and both unprepared (Mike later did it when I was on train- damn!).
Getting different information we searched the western and southern slopes for what we were after, having no luck and on verge of forgetting it, until by chance stumbling across a vast wasteland of dried mud stemming from the volcano with numerous ruined buildings and objects so took time exploring; no tourists or shops or anything- very odd. We checked out the informative museum housed in a futuristic, modern building (expected a shack of some description), ate a few small dishes at an Indonesian only menu place (guessed), waited for Surtardi to have his third puncture of the day fixed (genius how the man does it) and left them for the coast; enjoy the drive. Having covered over 350km in two days on my scooter I was falling asleep watching football on the projector in the cafe once ate and wrote emails.
At 8.30am alongside Purnomo on his powerful touring bike we cruised through the green valleys and winding roads east to see Krakod (prettiest- rock platform, good sand, everyone in jeans/jumper), Sepanjang (peaceful), Drini (fishing orientated) and Kukup which was the most populous and had many interesting things for local tourists to buy such as rare tropical fish (puffer’s so funny when they expand out of water), painted hermit crabs, shell souvenirs and deep friend crab/shrimp which I bought a 250g bag of (couldn’t resist, like crisps).
One of his old friends owned one of the warung’s where they cooked us up an irresistible family sized plate of octopus in black bean sauce that I couldn’t finish. Closer to Paris was a cave with a view all the way to a now cloudless Merapi some 50km away (life sized wooden animal sculptures on road). I chilled with him and Brooke until was time for me to go and catch the 20.15 overnight train on platform 5 at Tuga Station (they drove my bags in the car ahead); thoroughly enjoyed my few days in obscurity out the backpacker path.
In the ice box that is Exekutiv class I sifted through photos and slept a few hours until pulling into Jakarta’s Gambir Station at 5.05am then directing a ‘first day’ taxi driver to Jalan Jaksa initially struggled to find an available room (not surprised at this hour) but lucking out at Hostel 35 with one that I could occupy right away and still get free bread and spread. I slept some more then knew it was time to hit the streets of one of Asia’s megacities, starting off by taking the busway at Sarinah (40 cents) to Kota; no pushing or shoving and was by far tallest person. I walked through Taman Fatahillah square and along Kali Besar canal to the Batavia area to see the beautiful wooden boats at the ancient Sunda Kelapa port that once had Captain Cook’s vessel Endeavour on its inventory.
I ignored my map and went out of the tourist trail, feeling safe and waving at all the smiling families, and then straddled an underpass full of house boats/people living in squalor to a recognisable landmark, drank a beer and gathered my thoughts at empty VOC Galangan then wondered aimlessly. On the bus south I spoke to a young insurance worker called Insan then admired the 20th century Indonesian version of Nelson’s column; Soekarno’s Independence monument. I read the political stories dating back centuries and right to the top had views over the city; 250,000 capacity Mesjid (mosque) most identifiable. I inadvertently got too close to the vice presidents home taking a short cut, used very cheap internet, wrote journal and later got some street food and had a quick beer at an expat bar.
Worried about traffic I got up super early at 4.35am, carried everything to Gambir and jogged to get on the moving bus to the well laid out airport with much time to spare. I had an emergency aisle seat on Garuda Airlines flight JT394 and two hours later landed in Sumatra where guide Doni was there to meet me and help get to Bukit Lawang easily through use of a Becak (bike with two seat carriage behind), Angkuta (minibus) and a hot, coach complete with Banjo playing, pierced weirdo seeing the acres of palm oil plantations that threaten the wildlife (London Sumatra Company); he was passionate about football so gave him my English flag I have had since 2008. The final 2km leg was on the back of Doni’s black motorbike and a narrow river crossing to Indah Guest House. After a cool down I looked around and met three Argentinean’s who would be doing trek with (1.1 million for everything) and relaxed until Canadian Mike and two Irish girls (Sinead and Deidre) arrived; chatted over a chicken and potato curry, beers and cigarettes then went to bed all excited.
When Doni and second guide Nurdin arrived we looked at some rubber trees and entered the Gunung Leuser National Park to each plant our mango trees in hope they would get chance to grow. Deeper into the forest (fairly humid) we came across some White Handed Gibbons making noises then as terrain became tougher a curious white and grey/black male Thomas Leaf Monkey followed us closely (female and 1 month old baby high up), jumping within inches of my face, letting me touch its foot, chasing us on the path and trying to put its hand in my backpack- so cool.
Pre packed fried rice and chicken was served as man of the jungle Doni interacted with a Hornbill doing a flawless reproduction of its noise. Coming close to see two Orangutans in a nest and reaching camp at only 2.45pm our spirits were dampened. Another walk was out the question when it rained hard after tea and biscuits but meant we could see card tricks, do logic tasks with matches and eat a mix of curry, chicken and tofu under the leak proof plastic cover of the main shelter. When sky did clear we sipped ginger tea, had nuts and did some group round the fire games then went out like a light on the hard floor.
For hours me and Mike were only ones up (given fried fish) then at 10am we all put on socks and headed upstream in the river itself seeing patterned spiders, a Monitor Lizard, random reptile and an odd white bug with anteater type nose that jumped.
Up a steep hill all of a sudden we found ourselves being watched by six Orangutans each on a perch in its own tree; so happy! We watched their behaviour in awe with the lazy, unpredictable male (forced to hurry away when he was in motion), a female that stared at us and placed her arms behind her head in a human like way and a mother and daughter darting through the canopy metres above us being my fondest memories of another memorable wildlife encounter.
Elated, we sat on leaves for food and progressed down to the main river very carefully trying not to slip and using branches for support. At our second camp we were mindful not to go more than a couple metres into the fast moving current as I got a free back massage from the water whilst washing sweat/dirt from my body in; forest towering above and many animal noises. We had grilled river fish and played an addictive card game (Juan’s idea) with each person being someone different attempting to figure out who was the thief each time; Deidre best liar.
We ate a plate of fresh fruit, did a difficult, fruitless hike and floated downstream in two sets of tubes for little more than an hour to Bukit Lawang splashing one another and seeing more development closer to town; thought were further away. In celebration of a successful trek we had a big dinner and a mixed fruit, gin punch that was hell strong especially the watermelon and sugarcane which soaked up most alcohol getting quite tipsy and falling asleep at the table.
In the Suzuki APV car the two of us claimed sovereignty over the prime middle row and used laptop till it died. Lake Toba came into view below at 5pm but when we asked to stop for a photo I witnessed something I hoped I would never see- a young dog meeting its end coming between two opposing vehicles (I couldn’t hold back the tears). In Parapat we made it to the final, 6pm, ferry to Tuk Tuk; friendly people on board (Friday). Now with a Spanish guy (Polo), American Mormon (Anthon) and German (Marlen) we all disembarked at Samosir Cottages and picked out rooms; ensuite with balcony for 30k each- winning! We listened to Batak music whilst having a deserved beer and a burger then played doubles on free pool table and partied at Brando’s Bar watching the majority male Sumatran’s flirt with the few women; we stood out like a sore thumb in there.
After a slow morning me, the Canadian and the German took our time going back and forth on the only road on the peninsula seeing the pointy, well crafted Batak houses, enquired about canoes (one in working order) and boats (extortionate), had beef and rice and at Carolina’s with birthday boy Anthon (employed by Rough Guides) dived into the warmish lake and paid a token amount for the hourly ferry to bring back us to our hotel; nice joint on roof. Grey cloud in distance turned into gale force winds and torrential rain lasting most of evening. Much to his surprise we gave the signal for the girls to bring out Anthon’s cake (arranged it earlier) then as they went to their rooms me and Marlen had a couple more drinks and watched the not very scary Paranormal Activity 2.
Come lunchtime the next day it was time to hire mountain bikes to Tomok and test out how unfit I was from a lack of cardio exercise. A hill stopped us going any further so had a Kopi at harbour then a big plate of food at a place the police chiefs go to (rice, fish head, noodles, veggies, spicy sauce, and egg).Having enough we swam, did diary, smoked remainder of our stuff and amidst another afternoon rain storm picked a popular, homely restaurant for taco’s and seafood rice then put on Harry Brown.
I packed, settled my portion of the bill and along with Marlen got cooked breakfast and paid for three scooters to go right around the entire island. At Panguran we avoided the hot springs (heard no water!) and cruised the west coast to Nainggolan where rested prior to the road deteriorating to what may as well of been a tractor track made up of rocks and holes. From one extreme to the other the next hour was quite possibly the most fun I have had on motorised transport EVER- no other vehicles, flowing curves hugging the landscape, crystal clear views for miles around and rarely holding back on the speed.
We parted ways as I stepped on to the final ferry to Parapat at 3.30pm; no rain! I gave Ricky my 65k and was sat in the back by luggage for the 4 hours to Medan. Not bothered about anything remotely luxurious I paid bottom dollar for a box room with no outside lock and just a mattress and fan but as didn’t leave the bed it wasn’t a problem; actually liked it!
Taking a fittingly local mode of transport, the Becak, to the Airport as waited at the only gate of the ‘International’ terminal I thought about the remarkable 8 weeks spent in a truly awesome country that I have barely scratched the surface of- I WILL BE BACK! At 11.35am on December 14th I was off to Kuala Lumpur for some modernity before copious drinking in Thailand...