Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mid-autumn festival

Chinatown is currently celebrating the Mid autumn festival. Pagoda street (between home and the MRT) is all decorated:

And people offer each other moon cakes: pastry traditionnaly filled with lotus paste (weird but sweet, and you get used to it) and egg yolks (a little yellow ball floating in the lotus paste beurkkkkkk)

I have tried to post this article by email twice, the first time didn't work at all and the second time was missing half of the words (and there are not many on this one!) so I went back to the usual technique!

Bali last leg

After going down the Rinjani, we decide on an Indonesian transport marathon. Objective: going from Lombok to the other side of Bali island on the same afternoon. Chances of succeeding: mmh now that we have a better appreciation of the local transport system, I'm not optimistic...
Anyway, first taxi on Lombok, ok, 2h to wait until the boat. Boat on time but the sea is looking rough!!!
Nearly 2h of trying to find a far away point to concentrate on not to be sick, done
Arrival on Bali, no taxi driver want to go to our final point... so we get the boat company shuttle bus to the first major town. What we hadn't planned on was the engineering work on the road. An absolute disaster 10km/h for 1H30 a new road is getting built but is far away from finished and they have already closed half of the old one.
It is getting very annoying, I'm really tired after the 3 days hiking, luckily R has promised me a treat for out last hotel of the holidays!!!! :-))))
That helps the motivation!!! We finally get to Sanur, we easily find a taxi and then we are on our way, another long way as the driver has less sens of direction than me and stops every km to ask for direction.
At 9pm we make it to our hotel, we have an hour before the last order at the restaurant so we enjoy the pleasure of the most amasing garden bathroom before dinner.

So it's clean and with fresh clothes that we turned up for dinner, there are only the 2 of us so it is very private.
The place is amasing and the photos will be better on the morning!

After a fantastic night of sleep in a bed!!! at normal temperature!!! and without a 6am wake-up we enjoy a wonderful breakfast with a fantastic beach view, we even spot a salamender! The number of crazy animals during this holiday!

and then it's walking on the black sand beach, swimming pool, flying the kite,real holiday activities!

anyway we are both aching so much that walking is difficult, going downstairs is border line impossible...
Early afternoon we check out and get a taxi to the Tanah Lot temple. It's supposed to be better at sunset but at sun set we'll be in the plane! so it's under the burning sun that we admire the cliffs,
we can't properly get to the temple as it's low tide

and then it's back to Denpensar airport with one convinction: we'll be back! There is so much more to do on this island then I ever imagined.

This was the last post of the Bali holidays but not the last indonesian one, I still have to tell you about our last WE on Java

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bali 3 - Lombok and the Rinjiani

Arriving in Lombok, we had been warned that the harbour was a tourist trap, so we argued for a long time before dropping the price of a 10km taxi journey below a London price! 1h later we realised that the 10 km were a bit longer than planned but to be honest if cars were fitted with engines instead of pedales, we might have a chance of moving at turtle speed instead of snail pace! (I haven't done much research, but I'm pretty sure turtles are quicker than snails even if they are still slow!)
To give an example, we started going up a hill and middway we had to give up, so the driver went backwards all the way down (in a way a learner would be ashamed of), took more speed, put first gear on and very VERY slowly we made it!!!
But he was a smiley guy who did not speak a word of English and we didn't really have a lot to do, so it was just a fun ride with a lot of time to admire the view!
After this taxi trip, we finally arrive to windy resort a little heaven in the middle of nowhere. We go snorkeling and R manages to spot a famous local fish which I have forgotten the name of but it's very big and it has a big bump on the head, I don't know how but I missed it :-( the name came back to me it's a parrot fish.
As it is a windy resort, we get the kite out and try to relax as much as we can in preparation for the next 3 days. So we enjoy a delicious pineapple in the pool, a massage and an early dinner.
The day after, we are getting picked up at 5.30am for a 2h drive up to the bottom of the Rijiani, this absolute enormous mountain that we are supposed to climb for the next 3 days. I'm going to be honest right from the beginning, when we booked the trip, there were 3 levels: 1 was to go to the cratere rim in 2 days, 2 was to go to the lake in 3 days and 3 was to go to the summit in 4 days, because we didn't have 4 days and because the summit is really difficult we decided to go for level 2. I was already worried of spending 3 days in a row walking and that did not get any better when we met our guide and he explained that today we will walk 9km going up 2000m, tomorrow will be down 700m and then back up and the last day down 2000m. 5400m vertically in 3 days, why did I agree to do that????
So first a pancake, then we reorganise the bags, the 2 big ones are staying at the shop, and we split what we need between our small bags and the porters. Oh yes! We have 2 porters carrying food drinks, tent sleeping bags and some of our stuff. They tie all of that on a bamboo stick that they balance on the shoulder and will do the same walk as us wearing flip flop and 35-40 kg on their shoulder!!! Madness! I'm not even mentionning that they overtook us both on the way up and on the way down...
Anyway first things first, we are given a lift to the registration station.
Everyone climbing the Rinjiani has to make a stop here. That done, we'll have to start walking, the van driver is not going any further:-( The guide said that the first 45mn were in the sun and then we'll be in the forest for a very long time, we apply sun block generously (after the burns we got on Lembongan, we are a bit more careful!) actually what he meant was there was light, no really the sun. So first 45 mn go ok, we are walking in the middle of coffee plantations. It's not too steep but I'm glad when he calls a break. Along the treck, there are regular "pos", it is a zone with a bungalow, hard floor, wood around so the porter can light a fire to cook...
Each time, there is a sign telling you the altitude and how far it is from the previous pos and how far to the next one, for me it is a really good way of having short terms objectives! We have walked 1.3 km and gone up 150m (I'm doing that from memory so you'll have to see if it adds up at the end!) a drink and a couple of biscuit and we are starting the 2nd part, 1km long, this is definitely the part of the 3 days I have found the easiest, I think I had warmed up and I wasn't tired yet. We are now in the tropical forest and most of the walking is done using tree roots as steps, unfortunately, steps are not equal! Some are huge, some narrows, sometimes you have to go around the trees, it is not a casual walk in the forest! Then we get to "pos 1" where we get more biscuits and meet a familly with a 2 years old kid, they have a special porter just for him!
We go again for 1.3 km this time, this goes fine again, we spot a few monkeys in the trees, the guide explains to us that the noise we hear are people hunting for pigs with dogs. And after another hour we are at "pos extra", I know 1h per km is not really a fantastic speed but I promise it's steep!

I decide to ask the guide which part is the thoughest part of the walk, hoping he is going to say "that was the one you have just done!" unfortuntely he says, "the part just before arriving at the cratere rim when we get off the forest", why did I ask? I'm depressed in advance...
Now last walk before lunch time (I think the guide is starting to understand that the only chance of getting me anywhere is food!), 1.1km this time but this one is veryyyy long, I think I'm hungry, so we make a couple of stops on the way. When we finally get to "pos 2", the porter is already cooking, the fog is there and we have to get an additional layer of clothes on.
For lunch a noodle soup with vegetables (that will be the same ones for 3 days but always cooked in a different way), rice (yes, rice AND noodle, just to tell you how many calories we are burning) and pineapple for dessert.
Good news of lunch time, we have walked more than half of our 9km (4.7km) but we have only gone up 600m. So, if I look at what is left (and I shouldn't), 4.3 km and 1400m vertically! Oh... And to start the afternoon, a very long walk until the next pos, 2.5km. Let's be honest, I was so exhausted that I created my own "pos" on the way. By the end of this one we are out of the forest and the fog is gone, we spot a familly of black monkey, very rare because very shy. Less than 2km to go now but I remember what the guide said, the hardest part is after the forest, 1.3 km of hell! It is so steep that my ankle can bearly flex to this point. I try to create small S in the linear path, the guide laughs at me when I ask why they went for a vertical line instead of nice S, he says that would be too long... Timewise, i'm really not sure! The ground is sandy, so there is some sliding backwards as well. Between the effort and the altitude and the pain in my feet and legs I probably stop every minute. Out of the 3 days this was definitely the hardest time. Finally we see the next pos, let's be honest, I'm dead by this point, there is more than 1km left to get to the top and I refuse to think about how I'm going to manage... So this break is longer. The last part is less sandy and more rocky and the views of the valley occupy me a bit so slowly we get to the top! 6h30, this is our time, we are congratulated by the guide who says the normal time is 7h, I think he is lying because I was in no way quick, but to be honest even R admitted it was one of the hardest walk he had done!
So now we can turn our eyes away from the valley and discover the amazing Rinjiani, named after a queen tribe, the new montain as they call it in the middle of the old cratere rim and at the bottom the lake. The rinjiani itself is now inactive, the last eruption came out if the new montain which is still smoking by the way. Our tent is ready, and dinner will be served just after sunset. Sunset is incredible, we can see Bali's volcanoes as well and the colors are fantastic.

After dinner we have lots of time to watch the stars, we are so lucky, there is no moon so the contrast is even better, we can observe the milky way and millions of other stars, I have never seen such a sky before.
After a horrible night of sleep (cold and hard floor are not good sleeping conditions), we get up around 6.30 for a breakfast of pancakes and cheese sandwiches). This morning, first we are going down to the lake and then the hotspring for a good wash! Knowing that I have slept fully dressed because of the cold, it will be more than welcome to get in a warm bath and then change into a fresh set of clothes! First let's go down the mountain, the beginning is incredibly steep but in a different way than yesterday, it is like climbing, hands, feet, bottom, every part of the body is used to stay up! It is quite fun! I even get a stick which I'm going to grow even more fond of in the next days.
Soon we reach the pos where we meet people going up and looking exhausted. Short break and we continue our descent. This part is not even fun to do downhill it's hard to explain why but I can already tell I'm going to suffer on the way back up. This is the horrible thing about today, because we will sleep at the same place tonight, any meter we descent, we'll have to climb it back up!!!
Then we get to the lake, it is not as cold as expected and we enjoy a leg bath, but the guide is keen on getting to the hot springs straight away. It is another 20 minutes walk around the lake and down again; soon we see the fuming pools, we can't get to the first few ones as they are too hot so we target number 4. We are the first ones to arrive so it's great to get changed, we plunge in water around 38 C I would guess, boiling! We can't stay too long or we turn bright red and start sweating. So we go for short visits in the water, enjoying the water falls and making sure we scrub ourselves well!!! Very soon the place becomes popular with a group of Brits, Americans and even French which according to our guide are the keenest hikers.
We have lunch overthere and it is time to go back up, legs are heavy, first stop the lake, only 20 mn, ok, done.
Then it's time to do the part I didn't like on the way down, as expected, I hate it on the way up! I'm so slow that the guide offers to take my bag (on top of everything else he is already carrying), I feel slightly guilty but I accept! With the help of my stick, I finally make it to the pos where we saw the exhausted people! Time for a good break. I know there rest will be more fun, it is vertical by moment and that's when you feel like you need your climbing gears but in between there are pleasant flat-ish walk. It's funny to see how easy is walking after hours of steps!
The end is really fun, the best part is probably watching the porters climbing with their flipflop, balancing the 40kg on the bamboo and still managing.

Tonight we are at the cratere rim earlier than yesterday, unfortunately the sun set is not that good, there are too many clouds. But on the positive side, after another cold and sleepless night, the sunrise is beautiful we can even see the 3 Gilis! The other good new being that today we are going down!!! Start at 6.45am in order to be down before 1 pm as our afternoon schedule is packed with transportation (taxi, boat, taxi and taxi). Anyway so let's go down. The pos seem to be so much closer than on the way up. We make good progress at the beginning, the problem is just that any stop we make creates a very painful period straight after when our aching muscle need to warm up again. Around half way, I decide that all of that would be so much better if I was to sprain my ankle so here we go, done! So between the aching, the ankle and the 2 massive blisters which I can tell are forming below my toes I'm nearly silent on the way down. After a half hour break for lunch, we finish the 5h at 12.45 and have changed into a less smelly set of clothes to jump in the taxi by 1pm after having heavily thanked (and tipped) our guide and our porter.
As a summary, the views were fantastic, I'm sure they would have been even better from the top but let's be honest I'm already amazed I have managed to walk for 3 days so may be next time...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bali (2): Lembongan and Gili

After the green pancakes (again) and a little dip in the pool (it has finally stopped raining) our taxi picks us up to go to Sanur where we will take a boat to Lembongan. During the trip we learn that only cars post 2010 are fitted with seat belts at the back, but they have had the A/C and electric windows for years...
1h later we are in a speed boat full of French (there are everywhere in Bali, we were promised tons of Aussies and instead we have French as tourist companions) heading towards Nusa Lembongan, a paradise quiet island.
We spend the afternoon walking from bay to bay on the coast path and going for a swim when the temperature becomes too high. We even attempt a bit of snorkeling but the local production of sea weed close to the shore kills the feeling for me of swimming (I don't like things touching me...)

R had to renounce going surfing as it was low tide.
We book ourselves on a snorkeling trip for the day after and enjoy the night watching local kids playing on the beach, a very relax way of life!

Next day, swimming suit on, snorkels and mask ready, sun block on (looking at us on the evening apparently not everywhere...) we are boarding the boat which is taking us snorkeling in 3 different places, offering us great views of the nearby island Nusa Penida and the other small one I have forgotten the name of.

Visibility is great, much better than during our last diving trip in Malaysia! We see lots of colorful fish and R makes full use of the underwater camera!

We also meet some very unusual types of fish:

The sea becoming a bit too rough (and me a bit too white), we head onshore and have a snack on the white sand of Mushroom bay before going back to our hotel.
The rest of the afternoon is spent looking at how red we are and sorting out boats for the day after. As we didn't plan ahead enough, the direct boat to Gili island is full so we'll have to replace it by a little aventure!

So the day after, a local boat is supposed to pick us up at 11am to go back to Bali. At 9am we are quietly having breakfast when we are told that the boat will be here in 3 minutes. Luckily, it was 3 Indonesian minutes so that gave us a good half hour before climbing in this tiny wooden embarcation. So it is a thin boat with a bamboo stick in each side to balance it. There are 4 tourists and 4 locals on it plus an enormous pile of stuff at the front which I'm pretty sure prevents the captain of seeing where he is going!
But before heading off, we make another stop and get 4 other tourists with their backpacks! This time it is going to sink, for sure. For half a second I do wonder about life jackets but who am I kidding...
Anyway fingers and toes crossed, we leave the coast and head to Bali. We are very lucky, the sea is amazingly flat so we finally make it alive to the other side!

A taxi and we are in a different harbor to get this time a boat to Gili! This time no story about the boat it was normal but the process of buying tickets, getting on board and finally arriving in Gili was very painfully long!
We would have been better off on the slow ferry!
Anyway, we are on Gili! There are no cars, no motorcycles, just horse carriage and bicycles. We get to our hotel which is a bit inland and we enjoy the lovely bungalow and the amazingly long swimming pool!

After Lembongan, it is a nice upgrade. A bit later we borrow some bikes and go for a little tour, mainly aiming at the diving shops!
Tomorrow will be made of 2 dives: shark point and sunset point. There are actually no logic to these names because we did not see any sharks at shark point but saw 3 at sunset point where we did not see the sun set... (still following?)
So first dive, you'll have to believe me because I have no photos, it was deeper than the camera allowance: one enormous sea snake black and white, at least 3 turtles, an octopus!!!!! And obviously plenty of colorful fish
Second dive: 3 sharks (white tip and grey coral), it is very impressive! One was lying at the bottom and 2 other swimming, I have to admit that when I saw them swimming I wasn't feeling THAT comfortable... We also saw turtles and a cuttlefish, that's very impressive!
On the evening I have to give up my massage as the very small number of locals on this touristy island are way too busy celebrating the end of fasting (it's still Ramadan!) to give me a massage... :-(((
Never mind instead I'll have seafood! (I know, interesting swap!)

On our last morning in Gili, we make full use of the amazing pool and the amazing white sand beach before taking a boat to Lombok (another boat...)
Lombok deserves a post on it's own so I'll stop now!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Holidays in Bali (1)

I have 10 days holidays to tell you about, to avoid a giant post and a very delayed one, I'm going to split it in several parts (I don't know yet how many...)

So the first one is about Ubud on Bali island.
Landing at Bali international airport on a Saturday afternoon, we take our time to find a taxi by first having lunch while observing the construction of the new terminal. First, a new terminal is definitely needed as the current one doesn't reflect the image of the huge tourist destination that Bali surely is! Secondely, the safety protective equipment used in Indonesia are somehow different from what I'm used to... Flipflop and baseball cap are mandatery and gloves don't come in pairs!
Anyway, we are now in a taxi to Ubud (after the usual negotiation). Ubud is the cultural capital of Bali, known for traditional danses, art, meditation etc. It's less than 40 km away from the airport but it takes us 1h30 to get there. Traffic is both slow and mad. There are scooters and motorcycles coming all directions, the road surface is far away from flat and the entire infrastructure is critically underdesigned. After a bit of 4*4 experience and under the rain, we arrive at our hotel, a lovely place at the (very ) far end of one of Ubud 3 main roads.
First stop of our Ubud visit is the monkey forest, just 10 minutes walk from the hotel. This is a normal tropical forest with an enormous grey monkey population. From the entrance they are everywhere! Tourists feed them on bananas constantely so they always come to see what we have for them! It's the baby season, so lots of mum with their little ones hangging on the front. No aggressivity shown so it is quite a pleasant walk. There is even a small temple at the top. From the forest, we walk up to the town centre checking art galleries. We book tickets for an evening Balinese dance show and we turn down about a million offers for taxi. In Indonesia, anyone who owns a car is a taxi driver and is trying to make some money out of his 4 wheels!
The Balinese dance show is made of an orchestra of 20 men playing xylophone and probably 20 women performing different dances all carrying a religious signification. The music is rythmic and very repetitive (R's excuse for falling asleep) and the ladies do some really crazy dances just with their eyes and fingers. From time to time, a dragon turn up to make everything more interesting!

The timing of the show was quite good as it is pouring down during the dances and it has stopped by the end!
2nd day in Ubud, it is still raining... I have checked 3 times, the guidebook is positive, we are in the middle of the dry season! We must have brought the rain with us from Sg!
After a breakfast of green pancakes (not sure why but lovely with bananas) we hope for the best and start our walk in the ricefields. The sun is even starting to show soon after we start. Rice paddies everywhere, so much green is increadible! There are lots of kites flying around (attached to long strings from the fields), ducks in between fields and snakes! Yes snake count for today: 3 (ok, I didn't see the 1st one but R did, the second one crossed the path just in front of us and I spotted the last one on the side of the path and it was HUGE!!!)
I also saw 5 big lezards (including 3 times the same one when we got lost), 1 noisy dog, lots of chicken (ayam in Indonesian) and lovely butterflies.
We are now all muddy and sweaty (indication not being the strong point of the country, there are about 10 signs to indicate the starting point of the walk but not a single one after that...)
After lunch we exchange walking for cycling to go in between 2 rivers.
The first 20 minutes are spent either on the side of the bike pushing it or carrying the bike, I was starting to wonder if we were on the right path! Anyway, we see more rice paddies, one dead snake, lots of ayam and young girls learning the traditional dances.
After such a day of exercise, we deserve a good shower and a massage! And a lovely dinner! And a drink in a bar with live music! (that's it :-)
Our time in Ubud is now over, tomorrow we are moving on to Lembongan, a small island on the south east of Bali and the subject of a new post!