Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Borneo 1

Miri welcomes us with a little airport that reminds me of how Stansted used to be. Walk from the plane to the terminal and two baggage conveyors. Hopefully a good omen. We are staying in a very smart house on an estate in an area called Luak Bay. One of the more salubrious areas of Miri with some of the biggest, most palatial homes I have seen. They look like resort hotels set high up on the hills for the lowly commoners to gaze up at. Ours, I hasten to add is not one of those. Anyway, back to our pad for the next four months. It's in a mainly Chinese neighbourhood and in the two days we spent with Linda before she left we get several guided tours of the area and are introduced to some of her friends and shown plenty of shopping malls and eating places. Everything is a bit of a blur with so much to take in. But what I do remember is how she slipped in to the conversation that her next door neighbour is a Chinese gangster and she's had a fall out with him. He is now our next door neighbour for the next four months.......so we're a little concerned.

Our local beach

Having seen him, he's a big lump of a bloke with tattoos, shrewd looking eyes, always walks around without a shirt on and he does not smile. I tried my 'I'm just a lovely, friendly, helpful english girl' type smile along with a chirpy "hello". He shot back a glare that involved squinty eyes, lip pursing and a rapid swing of the head that I assumed meant "who the f**k are you talking to". Chris tried with similar results so we now just hope that he will keep himself to himself. Except all we can hear are his screaming child (actually since found out they have triplets!!!) and fishwife misses hollering through the walls. No wonder he's such a miserable bastard! During our first week here we hear him twice leave at about 2 in the morning....we assume to do some damage to someone that owes him money. Good time of day to a catch someone in and unawares! And more scarily, one evening he comes back about 11pm and pulls into his drive and starts washing down the truck. Mmmmhhh suspicious. We guess that he may be cleaning blood off the truck after doing some gangland dealings. Perhaps we actually need to find something to do!!

View of Miri from Canada Hill
And then there's Roger. The reason we are in Miri. He is a most delightful little dog who had a bit of a bad start in life but Linda took him on about two years ago and he has skilfully mastered the art of wrapping her round his little finger. He is a proper player. He knows how to manipulate most situations. He has almost human facial expressions and does this great trick of head down, paws tucked in and rollover on his back with a face that says " just tickle me, tickle me". This usually happens when you're trying to get him to do something against his will, like go out for the night! He has such a cute way of eating his dog biscuits. Not out of the bowl like most dogs, oh no. Too doggy for Roger. He has to be on a mat, the biscuits have to be placed between his front paws and he then uses his right paw to scoop them in to his mouth. Amazingly he breaks the rule for chicken.....that can be served from the bowl. Bless him. He doesn't bark too much, only when another dog comes round near his 'bitches'. They are a collective of three little Husseys that hang around outside the gate vying for Roger's attentions. There has also been occasion when we've come home of an evening and he will be 
'entertaining' one of them who has managed to squeeze under the gate! Her nickname is Minger. He enjoys his walks and he has adopted a little stray puppy (nickname spotty dick) also that manages to squeeze under the gate and they have a little bit of male bonding in the yard.

We have been taking time to discover Miri and what it has to offer. A bit like Singapore in that we have time to see bits that you wouldn't do on a weeks holiday. We've walked a couple of trails on Canada Hill and Lambir Hills. The wet weather makes them a bit tricky and quite challenging but good fun. We've been to several markets and tried some of Borneo's unique fruits. Mixed results, some really lush and some not so impressive. All them with strong tastes and equally strong smells. The shopping malls seem to be where a lot of stuff goes on and they are all connected to hotels. An odd combination but makes it easy to use them as landmarks for getting around. The shopping malls are full of Malaysian shops. I know that sounds obvious but there's a distinct lack of western brands. No M&S, Boots, H&M but there is KFC and macDonalds unfortunately.

On the subject of food, ask anyone here what Miri is about and they will all say Food. I have never seen so many eating places. With a big Chinese influence that's the predominate choice but there is pretty much every taste catered for. Grocery shopping is certainly a different experience and the cost and quality of it makes you understand why they eat out all the time. That and the fact you melt in the kitchen with a gas ring burning and the oven on. So we eat in maybe twice a week and have been lucky enough to be introduced to Mandy and Gary who have been showing us the good, cheap local eateries for the rest of the week. We still have yet to try a prawn fishing restaurant where you are giving a fishing line and bait and you have to literally catch your dinner. Sounds like fun so we'll try that next week. Got a feeling I'll be going hungry with my luck!
We have also joined a gym at the local Marriott hotel and go regularly for workouts, swimming and Pilates. Only problem with the swimming is you have to go out to the pool well wrapped in a towel, jump straight in the water and then cover up again immediately you get out of the water. Nope, nothing to do with the Muslim culture but all to do with those pesky sand flies. They are complete bastards and love to feast on our flesh. Apparently it's them peeing on you that makes you itch so much. And when I say itch, I mean seriously itch.....for over a week. That aside, we enjoy going and were invited to join the Pilates group on a Christmas/someone's leaving dinner. There was 15 of us and it was a really great evening. We met some interesting people that we would not usually have had the opportunity to. Around the table were Chinese Malays involved in building, oil, shipping and airlines, a French helicopter pilot, a Spanish oil man, a Canadian lady who has a yacht that just sails around the world, a northern lass who teaches our Pilates class, a beautiful Turkish woman who was leaving to go home and us, a couple of roaming gypsies. It was without a doubt a mix of the extremes and very entertaining.

Christmas is looming and we have a couple of presents under our dodgy little tree. we're off to try and buy some half decent wine and a chicken to cook Christmas Day. I'm not holding my breath for Christmas crackers but then we did have our Christmas Day proper in November so it's ok. Oh yeah and I must take that picture of Roger in his Santa hat!

 Funny hat and a hard-on. The indignity....
I fucking hate Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all our friends and family. X X X X

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Back to Blighty

Nineteen days in not so sunny England and it feels as though all we've done is eat and drink in a nonstop round of being entertained. We came back after thirteen months with similar trepidation and anxieties to when we left, not being sure how we would feel. Would it be a marmite moment, love it or hate it. Would we hanker for the all the familiar things we know and love and would we want to slot back in to the comfort of doing what we had done before. Everyone speaking a language we understand, knowing what food we're ordering, trusting a dentist (more applicable to me after my luck with teeth) and a doctor, enjoying the social life and easy company of friends and family, films in English and all the other creature comforts of your own home. We certainly viewed England in a slightly different way and were able to appreciate it for a beautiful country. It was cold but bright blue skies that welcomed us along with the warm welcomes of family and friends. My parents had to put up with us taking over their house with our washing, shoes and clothes everywhere, using all the hot water and eating all the chocolate biscuits. But despite all that I know they enjoyed us being home and they gave us a most amazing Christmas Day on our last Sunday with all the trimmings, turkey, pigs in blankets, small sprouts (especially for novice sprout eater Chris), mince pies, crackers and the obligatory dodgy presents. Chris' being a badly fitting Mankini! 

For several weeks before we came home we had to get dates in the diary to fit everyone in and, in hindsight, we really could have done with more time so next visit will be longer. Angela and the Payne family were amazing and gave us use of their home and also plenty of moral support. Chris was able to see all his kids and really appreciated the face to face time with them and catching up with what they've been doing and having some deep and stupid Conversations. I got all the news from my brother and sister and their families and managed to see all my nieces and nephews who seem to be growing up so quickly that I'm sure I won't recognise them when I see them next. So, Sharon and David, keep sending me pictures and updates on what you're all doing.

All of our friends seemed genuinely pleased to see us and all of them provided the prerequisite of plenty of food and drink. So much so that we went to bed every night with bloated tummies and more than a little drunk on most occasions. Time for some detox now here in Borneo. It was interesting to catch up with everyone's news, who's seeing who, who's living where and, of course, to do random spot checks on who had been reading the blogs. Top marks go to Anita!

The trip was mostly an exciting, happy time but it also reinforced our feeling about not wanting to live in England. I know we leave a lot of things behind so It was a really sad realisation that we don't want to stay and live in our home country and want to get back to our bubble. And I know the saying goes 'the grass is always greener' and we appreciate there's always a compromise but until we've covered some more of this planet and experienced what else there is on offer the search goes on for a little piece of somewhere that will be our garden of Eden.

Leaving home again and saying goodbye to my mum and dad was difficult after living with them for a few weeks and unfortunately we didn't get to see everyone we wanted to or organise all the paperwork we should have done. I know Chris also spent a few tears over his kids but Who knows, maybe the next part of the adventure, four months in Borneo, might give us what we are looking for and we can sort out more sustainable long term relationships

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Gili's and Diving


The Gili’s –  are three islands which have developed into three apparent enitities – a party island, a quiet island and one in between. We are on the one in between – Gili Air. And you know what? Its very cool. There is a big range of ages, lots of couples, our accommodation is an air conditioned Balinese style hut and it is quiet with only the sound of the surf and murmurings of a few tourists.
The days are lazy blue days with wispy clouds drifting on the warm breeze. At about 6.00pm most evenings there is a sudden build up of wind (blew down the roof of the next door restaurant one night) and then, 30 minutes later, as the sun sets over the
sea, the wind drops back and the pleasant, warm night begins. The lights come on in the open air cafes that line the narrow sandy path that goes around the island and as we walk along, past these gently swaying orbs of blues, reds, yellow etc hanging from the thatched pagoda roofs and listen to the mix of reggae, david grey and chill out tunes we feel supremely relaxed.

My fears of sub-twenty dreadlocked party people shouting “Awesome” or “Drink, drink drink!” have not materialised. They're just folk. Not many of them either. We are all here just chillin and its good. The sun always shines and although the beaches are white they are corrally so I have not swum as much as I would have thought. But hey. When you get out there and look beneath the waters there is much to see.
Rachel conquers her fear of water?
Day one we drank lots of cocktails and then drank some more then passed out. Day two we decide that today is the day Rachel learns to snorkel so started off drinking a cocktail in a bar with Rachel wearing a mask and snorkel and between sips of long island iced tea, practising breathing through the snorkel. 3 seconds to first retch at the start but quickly improving. We ended the day with her snorkelling in the sea out of her depth – amazing progress for someone who was feeling claustrophobic and terrified of swimming in the sea. But then if you do see a turtle almost as soon as you get in its got to be an incentive. We end the day with a cheeky smoke, that I buy off a local, that sends Rachel immediately off to sleep and leaves me alone on the balcony listening to music.

Today. I am typing this as Rachel is doing a free scuba try out in the pool. This is really gutsy stuff and I am so impressed with my girl. I hope she likes it – or deals with it. We’ll find out in about 30 mins. Blimey. She did!!!! Not only that she wants to now scuba in the sea. She told me that when she was in the pool and she was getting scared she would think of me and how good it would be to be able to do this together…. So here we are on the brink of yet another shared experience and at 2.30pm tomorrow we will be able to actually do a dive together (all being well)

I will hand over the rest of this blog to my very clever, very brave, very brilliant and lovely girlfriend who can tell you, first hand, about her adventures……
erm, scary is not the word. Actually lots of words describe it. exhilarating, exciting, terrifying and probably awesome.

I was too scared to go off a boat for the first dive so we walked in from the beach. And do you know what, all that equipment weighs a bit, I reckon about 18kgs, but once under the water you don't know its on. Anyway, I'm digressing. I felt pretty anxious but Tony, my divemaster, was very patient and as we went deeper he made me look into his eyes so I wasn't aware of how far down we had gone and couldn't panic too much. oh yeah, except for when we first started and I wanted to ask "how do  I swallow?" and "what if I sneeze?". Perfectly reasonable questions I thought!! We saw a turtle, a blue starfish, loads of beautiful fish and colourful coral. We went about 9 or 10 metres down and once we'd rinsed off and dried out I could not stop grinning. I was so pleased with myself and decided that a long island iced tea was in order to celebrate! and booked a wreck dive for two days time.

A wreck dive obviously meant going in off the side of the boat. Chris' words and Tony's words, "just plop off the side". ok, to get this clear I hate getting my face wet, I never jump in a pool, I never dive in a pool and I certainly would never drop backwards in to the sea with all this weight strapped to my back. So plop off the side was much more of a drama than breathing underwater! After half a dozen attempts and some gentle persuasion (trying to push me over) and leaving nail scrapes on the bench where I hung on so tightly, I eventually went backwards off the boat. I thought I was going to cry and at that point I would have got straight back on the boat....except with all that gear on its virtually impossible. So I spent the next 40 minutes equalising my ears and getting deeper and closer to a sunken ship. Unfortunately we didn't see anything too exciting and I was still so het up from getting in the water that it didn't give me the same sense of achievement. Then to top it off it took three people to drag me back on the boat like a rather grumpy beached whale. But after all that, I now look at what I achieved over my three days and am determined to get my Open Water PADI so I can see some of the wondrous sights that the sea holds.


Monday, 28 October 2013

Rip it up and start again...

How weird is this. Go into a restaurant in Kuta for dinner, stroll along the parade of shops and other restaurants, go to bed and then get woken by the sound of shattering wood, hammering and find that all you saw the night before is being ripped down. Kuta, or rather the part of Kuta that is along the beach, is being cleared. If you were one of those that built their business on the beach side of the road then it doesn’t matter if its brick or bamboo, big or small, old or new – its coming down. The reason is that stuff was encroaching on the beach but the

trouble is that the beach ain’t that great anyway. The sand is fairly rare as it is perfectly spherical 1mm balls. The problem with this is that when you stand on it every surface slides over the other and your foot sinks in up to you ankle. Consequently those pleasant strolls along the surf line are exhausting. So now the government have a lovely tourist attraction of a shit beach with what looks like a bomb site behind it – Welcome to Kuta. We are staying in a nice little group of five bungalows - all brick built, high thatched roofs, veranda, good wooden floors and funky outside bathrooms that were only finished 3 months ago. These too are due to be ripped down a few days after we leave. The town, or rather the area around Kuta has several bays all of which have low flat reefs some way out to sea which creates surfing waves. The town therefore is full of surfy types or wannabe surfy types


who transport their boards around on modified racks on the side of their mopeds. Its fairly cool and the beaches in the other bays are stunning with good white sand. Rachel and I even found a secret beach that was maybe a kilometre long that was completely empty. Just us, the crashing waves and the banana plantation that hides it to all except nosey brits that persevere along windy paths to find it.  We

have really just laid out on beaches and swam and toodled around on really lovely winding, undulating roads that run between the bays most of time. Except for one day when we were the only whites on a beach and were befriended by various groups of people from university girls, young college men and a host of school girls with notebooks asking us questions to improve their English. Very pleasant. We are off to the Gilis for a few days and hope that it will be all that we have heard and that the Lombokian ‘rip off the tourist’ attitude is not as prevalent there as other places we have been so far.

Gili Gede

So we left Nusa Penida. No black magic, no virgin sacrifices, no stunning scenery, and last night, no dinner because the town was getting all prayed up so we had to settle for water, Oreos and crisps – nutritious and slimming.  Instead of getting the fast boat from the island to Sanur for 150,000 IRP we are taking the local car ferry that takes a little longer and costs only16,000 IRP. A much more pleasant trip with more room to walk about and buy some breakfast – As it turns out … Oreos, crisps etc. As we reach Pandang Bai (East Bali) we see a bigger ferry on the jetty which is going to Lembar in South West Lombok so we buy our ticket and jump on board. This should hold about 40 cars and 300 people but there are only about 20 of us on board. So, as the horn blows and we set off into the amazingly blue sea, we have pretty much free run of the boat for the 4 hour journey crossing. We are feeling pretty pleased to be spending only 40,000 IRP each (about £2.30) as opposed to the normal tourist boat which costs 550,000 IRP (about £28.00) for a bumpy 2.5 hour ride. However, when we then discover a small cabin for rent which I negotiate down to 100,000 IRP (£5.50) we feel positively smug!!.
OK cabin is a bit grandiose for the actual accommodation but our 9ft by 6ft room had a desk, a rug, a make shift bed consisting of sheet covered, padded gym mats with, pillows, a fearsome air con to keep us cool, tv, video player and selection of dvds, two windows, use of a shower room, a box of tissues and a free leer from the swarthy crew member who pointed out the excellent facilities which we were now at liberty to enjoy for the next 4 hours. I am pleased to say we used all the amenities on offer (including tissues) for a very pleasant few hours on the gently rolling sea. Occasionally going out onto our private enormous sun bleached top deck to enjoy the warm breeze, look out at the immense azure sky and Sea of Bali and watch small shoals of flying fish skimming the sparkling, blue water. Life is without doubt somewhat fucking marvellous.
We call a hotel we had seen on the net just as the boat is docking and are pleased to find a smiling cheap cabbie calling “Meester Chris” as we get off. An hour later we arrive at a pitch black jetty and get on the hotel speed boat and cross over to a small island (Gili) called Gili Gede. Unlike the major Gillies in the North West this place and 12 other little islands like it are relatively unknown and unspoilt. And it is here that the somewhat eccentric proprietor, Peter, sixty seven year old American runs his slightly tired but very well positioned hotel. Within 45 minutes of arriving we have been introduced to the other three guests (a youngish german couple and a 72 year old Chinese man) and are eating a good meal, talking about delay tactics for cumming, Chinese foreign policy in Bali, the myths of mathematics and generally being rude to one another. Meanwhile our host is playing jazz flute in a very Anchorman style around the tables whilst the german strums some blues riffs…. It sounds really shit but can’t tell em.


New day and the Muslims are yodelling nice and early. For some reason this is to go on once an hour from neighbouring mosques all day. No wonder they are suicidal with call that wailing! Not surprisingly it is another beautiful day. The sun is shining and we decide to do two things. First we are going to take the larger of the two bungalows built on the reef (more on that later) and second we are going to walk around the island. It’s about 10 miles and mostly on beach and proves to be somewhat more difficult and deceptive than anticipated – difficult because of the lack of shade and available places to buy water (and when we do its warm) and deceptive because all is not as it seems. The beaches are white and sweeping and
gently drop to the sea but sadly they are coral and not sand so although they look very nice you would’nt want to walk barefoot on it let alone lay on it. The waters are crystal clear and amongst the hottest I have been in but you can’t easily get to and depth without having to walk on 20 metres of dead and sharp corral. The island from a distance looks verdant but upclose is actually fairly sparse and barren in places and whilst there are charming little fishing villages, about 30% of the locals scowl and ignore our cheery hellos and waves. Something we are definitely not used to. There are occasional coconut groves and a couple of large lagoons and the visually it all looks like heaven so we ignore the downpoints and revel in the visual feast that is all around us.


The hut on the reef. We have got a truly awesome hut actually built on the reef (pause for ecological disapproval). Its all weather beaten and bleached wood, throw rugs and a mish mash of furniture with a high roof and big bed. There are doors and windows that open to the water all around us. A large rickety deck surrounds the already spacious accommodation and we can run and jump off the deck directly off the edge of the reef into deep turquoise sea or clamber down the ladder to look at the profusion of fish and blue star fish that live beneath us. It is a truly lovely space. Light, airy, and a pleaant breeze filters through to keep it cool. Not only that but everytime the sun catches the water it reflects up onto our walls so that the sparkling light comes inside our hut as well. In fact it is so cool that today, apart from me using the complimentary kayak for a quick paddle across the channel to Lombok to get supplies, we have just lazed about on our deck and looked out at the magnificent view. Ooh one last thing. Last night we had the outside lights turned off so were able to stare up at the numerous twinkling stars or stare down over the edge of the deck and see phosphorescent sea creatures splashing moving about in their green illuminated world. Bloody brilliant!




Black Magic Isle?


I don't know where to start. Ok, Nusa penida is an island between Bali and Lombok. It doesn't feature on tourists radars and it doesn't have any tourism infrastructure. In fact everyone in Bali that we have mentioned this to has shaken their heads, frowned and asked if we mean Lembangon, a smaller dive island. We had to hunt down a boat to get us here and amongst the 20 or so passengers we were the only white faces. In fact we had booked tickets which, for no explainable reason, we suddenly couldn't use and needed to find another boat. Now we figure that this negativity could be down to several factors.
A) they want to keep this little piece of Indonesia all to themselves and we should go to the other island that's designated tourist area.
2) it really is crap and why would you want to visit?
iii) rumour has it that this little island is steeped in black magic and has a long history of Animism  and so could be a little bit strange, slash, dangerous, slash, exciting!

So we left this morning on the fast boat, should have been half hour but actually took about an hour and fifteen minutes and this is where my mind goes into overdrive. We are about twenty minutes out to sea and the boat slows and then stops in the middle of the water. Everyone looks at the driver and then back to the engines. Chris and I look at each other, there are definitely forces at work, conspiring to stop us getting to Nusa Penida. After ten minutes of tinkering we start off again with two of the three engines running still feeling a little unsettled. As the island becomes clear through the haze we see a large ominous looking cloud hanging over the centre. It feels like one of those scenes from a psychological horror movie where you think something is about to happen, and it doesn't, then you think it's going to happen now, and it doesn't. And then it finally does when you're not expecting it. But all that happens is we land on the beach to be greeted by Agus, our guest house owners cousin, and his friend who take us and our backpacks on their bikes to our bed for the next few days.

The first morning we go to the 'Warung ' for breakfast and there's something in the air. A sense of excitement and anticipation to do with the big Balinese Hindu celebration tomorrow. In the space of the 30 metres to the beach bar we see an 8 year old child encircled by about ten males of various ages and he's holding three dice and running some sort of gambling ring. Then as the local ferry unloads a young man walks toward us wearing only a pair of shorts and a balaclava. And to top that there's some prize cockerels that have been kept in bamboo cages that are being prepped for a cock fight! Weird shit.

We spend the day riding around the island seeing the sights. There's a cave, that's left out of our guest house and a bay, that's right out of our guesthouse. There's basically one road that goes almost round the island. But guess what....we got a bit lost and ended up going up and down and into the centre of the island. It's pretty dry and desolate with not much growing but loads of friendly faces shouting 'hellos' and high fiving as we pass through the tiny hamlets. We do eventually get pointed in the direction of a beach that apparently Julia Roberts got married on. but the road is not actually a road, it's a track running along a ridge that's about three foot wide. We ride down it for about 15 mins but it's still a long way to the sea and we have no water and not much fuel so we reluctantly turn back and head to Crystal Bay. Which is quite lovely and almost deserted. After a day of stressful riding down lanes filled with potholes, chickens running out and gravel tracks we decide that there's not much more to Nusa Penida and that the possible option 2) was the real reason for the amazed faces when we first said we were coming here.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Bloody Beautiful Bali

Arrived in Bali and took a bus to the northern town of Lovina – the highlight of the journey being that the bus driver actually stopped to make an offering at a shrine. As we get off the bus we are approached by a fat man offering to show us a hotel. We are tired and hot and headachey since our day had started at12.30am with the Injun crater in East Java and it was now 4 oclock in Northern Bali so we jump on his and a friends bike, take a look and accept it. (Man those bikes are worked hard – mine had me, two back packs and the fat man - that’s about 214kg on a 100cc Honda!!

Anyway we pay, have shower and realise it’s a bit smelly, the shower requires balancing on a small slippery pedestal and there’s no a/c.  At about £10.50 we would normally be happy enough but we might stay here for a few days and so we decide to see what else there is for the next day. Virtually next door is the Nirwana Beach hotel – Lovely gardens, huge air-con room overlooking a great pool, statues, flowers and a sprung mattress. It is delightful and we are able to negotiate down to £9.00. So we go back to the original hotel, pay half the room rate for using the shower and messing the room up and move out and into our new room and end up staying there 5 nights.

There is not much to say about Lovina. It’s got several nice restaurants, a not terribly good beach and that’s about it. We looked at a few houses and plots of land for a guesthouse/bolthole (2 up 3 down with carport and tiny garden £19,000; An amazing large 3 bed villa with lovely garden inc pool and all furnishings £71,000 and our favourite that the owner refused to sell in the end was a 5 bed bungalow in about an acre that needed doing up but had huge potential for £38,000). We also did a cooking class in someone’s kitchen with a man who only wore a sarong and made everything way too hot. We did a couple of morning yoga classes on the beach with a nice Dutch woman, met and spent some time with an interesting 18 year English girl called Rosa and generally just chilled and toodled around some villages in the nearby highlands which was interesting and pretty with some stunning views and incredibly steep and dilapidated roads.
Eventually we drag ourselves away from our sun loungers and get the minibus to Ubud. We first came here a couple of years ago on holiday, with the requisite holiday budget and time constraints so doing it again as a traveller is a little different. This time we are not paying the laughably high prices and can actually take time to really see stuff.
We have decided to stay in a little village on the outskirts of Ubud in a family compound of a wood carver. When we arrive we are shown our delightful room on the compound roof with with open doors and windows on two sides, a dining area with big table and chairs and a further area with raised, covered daybed. Our view is over the village roofs and palm trees. It starts well with meeting many members of the family and joining them in making various decorative items for religious ceremonies out of reed. Real generation game stuff! We sup cold drinks, coffees and eat proffered cakes and it all seems perfect until that night when they first bring us a meal that is supposed to be cheap but is the most expensive we have paid for a meal in months (and this is the only eating option in the village) and then later when we were kept awake by constant barking of the family and neighbours dogs followed by cockerels and having leave the windows open because there was no power hence no fan. The termperature just built and built and we ended up lyng naked on the daybed watching Greys Anatomy till about 4.30am when the power came on, the dogs decided to sleep and the cockerels quietened a little. Sad to say we had to leave the following morning to the shock of the family who were expecting us to stay for 4 or five nights. New hotel has a huge airy room, air-con, no dogs and is in the town so eating options are somewhat better. We don’t mind limited facilities its just we don’t like getting ripped off.


Bali, so far, is by far the most beautiful place we have come across in our tour. The people are an attractive bunch and, as most Asians, are very friendly and smile a lot even when, through their appalling driving habits, there are near death accidents and still everyone laughs and smiles and waves rather than reach for the baseball bats. The towns and, even more so, the villages and fields all smell wonderful and the profusion of aromas leave you dizzy and smiling. No wonder they are so calm here with aroma therapy on tap 24/7. The air is heavy with the scent of Frangipani, Flowering Arabica coffee bushes, bougainvillea and a whole host of other smells.  The architecture is stunning – bamboo walls, thatched reed roofs, highly carved stonework, sweeping tiled roofs, shuttered windows and ornate doorways and wonderfully aged lava stone bricks with lichen, moss and vines growing all over. Anywhere there is space there is an ornamental pond, a lily filled basin, bonsai trees or a decorative Feng Shui garden complete with twisting and turning pathways that weave amongst aging statues, pleasing wooden creations or some intricate metal artwork. Whilst in the back ground the gentle tinkling of bells can be heard. It is a place where the sense of touch, smell, sight, sound and taste are all gratified equally and each day we are left satiated and tired through the experience with it.


Ubud is a town of craftsmen and artists selling every imaginable wood carving. The villages outside seem to have a similar gravitational pull with some working iron, others stone or Batik and one that concentrated on bone carving with a heavy emphasis on water buffalo skulls. Of the places we visitied the highlights were the Elephant Keep which was a stone temple for Hindus, Buddhists and Animists which
 was set on the edge of a forest which Rachel went off to explore and found a beautiful river. The very impressive Rocky Temple which was carved out of the side of the cliff face that drops away at the edge of some paddy fields and looms over a very picturesque river that tumbles over rocks as it cascades through the central plaza area. And finally the most beautiful shrine we have seen so far with water fountains, decorative garden and loads of interesting and finely detailed stone pieces (The stone masons were still chipping away at new and ever more elaborate creations). Bali is very much a thumbs up from us and a place one could easily live in.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

One year later...


Wow, what a twelve months we have had. It seems like a lifetime ago, but as clear as though it were yesterday, that we packed our backpacks for the first time and waved a tearful farewell to my mum and dad and England on a damp and dreary October morning. Full of hope, excitement and anxiety tinged with a little sadness but ready to face the challenges of our planned adventure.

So far we have managed two continents, nine countries and have lost count of the number of cities and towns visited. It has been a huge journey in, both, the number of physical miles travelled and also the emotional and spiritual change we have experienced. Don't worry, we haven't gone completely " hippy" but we like to think that our philosophy of life has improved. Material possessions seem less important, and hopefully not just because we don't have any, we try to be less judging and more forgiving of people and their attitudes and, speaking for myself and I think Chris too, we seem calm, happy and balanced with less anger and frustration.

 The actual part of travelling has been tiring and exhilarating probably in equal measures. So the tedious hours waiting in airports, at train stations and bus parks and then not being sure if you're even on the right bus/train is outweighed by the intriguing sights you see, amazing and interesting characters you chat to and the improbable situations you end up in. One that springs to mind is the long train journey from Mapusa to Hampi where ten minutes before the train arrived Chris didn't even have a seat booked. Which was actually irrelevant once it did arrive as it was a free for all. But we spent the next seven or eight hours in a dirty, third class carriage squashed on a bunk with a Dutch guy whilst the mass of bodies all around fought for a space along with all their baggage. We watched amazed at the hawkers, selling any food type you can imagine, getting on and off the train followed by the transsexuals eliciting money from all the males through the threat of some sexual advances and chatted with young doctors in training who were heading out on holiday. An assault on all the senses. That is one of many 'travel' stories you will have read throughout the blogs and the journey between most destinations has been as much a part of the adventure as the places themselves.

A few highlights have been....

The most awe inspiring sky seen from the dessert in Rajasthan. Clambering over the almost deserted temples of Hampi. Wrapped in blankets against the cool, fresh air, Yoga and wading in the Ganges in Rishikesh. That first breath taking sight of the Himalayas from Macleod Ganj. The organisation of Singapore and it's superstructure trees in the gardens. The new year celebrations and fireworks from Singapore harbour. The Disneyland of vietnam that was Hoi An with twinkling lights and piped music on the pedestrian streets. Seeing the spectacle of Angkor Wat and all the temples. The serenity of the monks in Luang Prabang. Moving with the breeze in a hot air balloon over the limestone cliffs and the river of Vang Vieng. The oppressive heat and storms of Ayutthaya. The sound of a lion roaring and monkeys chattering waking us in Chiang Mai. The friends we made in Chiang Mai. The 'hellos' from the genuine smiling faces of the Burmese.  The incredible temple on a limestone sliver rising from a lake in Hpa An. The jungle trails we hiked in the picturesque Cameron Highlands. The sweat we lost trekking in the rainforest at Taman Negara. The peace and tranquility of the Perhentian islands with no motor vehicles. The overwhelming sight the of active volcanoes Bromo and Ijen.

It is impossible to give a most favourite place or day. There have been very few days that haven't been memorable for one reason or another. It has been a year of learning and discovery about cultures and religions that we had little or no experience of before. We have both had to dig deep at times to find extra reserves of energy and patience to get through some situations. And now we sit here reading through this with tears in our eyes, "soppy tarts" I hear you say but that is exactly the difference that the last year has made.

Keep reading the blogs and commenting, we love to hear from you. Looking forward to what the next twelve months brings.

Mount Bromo and the Ijen Crater

There are many cool things that Rachel and I have witnessed or done on our travels  but, without doubt, seeing Mount Bromo and going to the Ijen Crater are definitely up there in the top 5. I’ll get directly to the point…. It’s 3.30am and we are bouncing along the road in a landrover to a view point on an escarpment overlooking the ‘sea of sand’ in which stands Mount Batok and Mount Bromo. The ‘sea of sand’ is in fact 5,000 acres of grey, volcanic ash that sits 200m deep in a huge basin edged with sheer rock faces. Mount Batok is the conical shaped extinct volcano that stands beside the blown top, still active Mount Bromo. A volcano that last erupted 20 years ago but still constantly emits pungent sulphur smelling clouds from its crater.

The viewpoint stands about 50metres above the dense mist clouds that sit in the basin until they are daily burnt off by the sun by about 9.00am. Until then they hang  there lapping at the cliff face of the basin over spilling across barren landscapes at low point in the distance. From where we stand it appears as a huge white lake from which the peaks of Batok and Bromo rise above.

Initially the scene is a pale set of shadows set against the black, star studded sky. But gradually as the sun nears the horizon the colours start to  emerge with the shadows becoming denser, browns and greys and hints of yellow show themselves against the pink and blue hues of the of the dawn.

 The scene is truly mystical and completely captivating. A limitless sky, the sense of majestic nature showing what she is capable of and a huge silence broken only by a distant barking of a dog and the crowing of a cockerel welcoming another day.

The sun eventually crests the lowest ridges to the applause of a handful of similarly awestruck tourists some distance away and as the light floods the scene everything becomes more vivid and distinct. Ridge and rock formations on the sides of the mounts become visible. The sun’s glare giving enormous contrast to the landscape with areas of shadow and highlights fighting for the eyes attention.

 As the light increases we head down onto the sand and walk towards the base of Bromo and the climb up to the crater lip. The mist is still thick down here so everything is hazy or only visible at short distance.  Horsemen (offering rides up to the crater) suddenly appear and fade in the mist, fellow onlookers a dotted here and there on route to the same place and all this set against the silhouette of a budhist temple and the looming mountains make it all very surreal.



We slog up the incline through mini canyons of sand and finally up a few hundred steps to look down into the black bottomed crater of Bromo. A swirling sulphur cloud rises slowly from the black maw before us. There is no sound, no clue to the power that could burst forth, just sense of desolation and wonder as we look into the earth.



Later we sleep, breakfast and wander around the small village before going to bed early. We wake at the positively lazy hour of 5.30am and decide to get up and get out before our bus leaves at 9.30am. We scramble down a dusty path from the ridge on which the hotel sits to the sea of sand once more. It is amazing how different the landscape seems from a lower view point and we click dozens of photos from a point just level with the mist.  Going onto the desert plain we head off following white marker rocks to the temple and then to follow small sand canyons into the more remote areas where there is no one to be seen. Its barren but it is truly beautiful.


Next location is the Ijen Crater. Its not a widely known place but just happens to be one of the few places on earth where blue flames come up from the lake and are visible in the volcano crater (Ijen) at night.  No sooner have we gone to bed than we have to get up. It’s 12.30am and we have a 1 hour minibus journey followed by a 3 km trek up the side of the volcano and a 40 minute trek down into the volcano. The trail up is smooth ash on hardened dirt and mainly set at about 30 degree angle so its exhausting and slippery. Twice I past a darkened silhouette retching at the side of the path or breathing like a dirty phone caller in the darkness.  On one side is a rock face on the opposite there is a steep drop away. Made even more scary as all you can see the black abyss. However the stars are twinkling in their magnitude and it is so exciting we both keep giggling (and rasping for breath). Suddenly after a slight flat bit we start heading down and the path becomes a series of flat rocks and roughly hewn boulders and we are there – looking down at a scene which can only be likened to the imagined Dante’s Inferno.


Jagged rocks, flashes of occasional cameras hundreds of feet below, billowing white cloud set against the black outline of the crater lip and, from the coal black depths of it all, blue flames.

Pictures cannot do justice to this scene but in words let me say it was “Awesome” (Not in loosely used Americana but an absolutely fucking awe struck expletive). Rachel speaks my thoughts and says her stomach is churning and her hairs are standing on end. We work our way down by following patches of possible pathway lit by the inadequate beams of our torches. And now we are there, twenty feet away from spurting blue flame, shooting columns of foul smelling sulphurous smoke that clings to our throats and stings our eyes and makes breathing (even through a wet rag and facemask) difficult. The smoke shrouds the flames then stand proud and in their billowing mass as they are back lit. A few people (not many brave it) move about using superlatives of all languages and try to capture the moment that is impossible to photograph because it’s something you need all the senses to appreciate. At the end of the day we, Rachel and I, are at the bottom of an active volcano beside a pool of molten sulphur looking at blue flaring flames springing from the earth whilst surrounded by steam and billowing jets of earth fart and its 4.00am in the morning – we love this life!!!!!!!!
Full pics go to gallery and see Mount Bromo, Ijun Crater, Indonesia


Saturday, 5 October 2013

Perhentian Islands

Hooray, We are on one of rather confusingly called "Holiday" bits of our travels. This time the excuse is because of our friends visiting from England. So, we trundle off to meet them in KL and spend two days there...KL tower and watch people base jumping off. Petronus towers for some of us to look like old queens, Batu caves and then the night train (should have been 1st class but the train company messed up and forgot the carriage) down to the Perenthian Islands

Paradise comes at a price of £16 a night in the Perhentian Islands. For that we have one of 5 wooden beach bungalows on the gentle arc of the very private and beautiful Petani bay. The bungalows are spacious and rustic looking with flotsam of all descriptions making up large portions of the d├ęcor. Bleached white driftwood tables, handmade chairs, coral and shell decorations piled in corners or balanced on shelves; great lengths of substantial looking rope coiled around solitary upright posts or draped from branches of trees. Artistic creations of the current staff and past guests adorn the trees or open spaces around the huts – a wind chime here, a
freeform structure there, a piece of a wreck with a flower arrangement on it elsewhere.  The tiny resort is a picture set against the back drop of dense jungle with green leaves of Palm trees shading the bougainvillea that grows in abundance
around the houses. Golden sand, dotted with large rounded boulders, stretches the short distance to the jutting pieces of rocky headland that define the far ends of the beach. And beyond – a gently lapping aqua marine sea with the warmth of a bath stretching to an horizon of faraway hills and the open South China Sea. Our time on these car free islands has so far been spent sunbathing and reading, listening to music and enjoying the company of our dear friends Melanie and Gary who have come, their bottles of duty free merriment in hand, to visit us from England. Our time has also be spent shitting! Rachel, for a few weeks has suffered from an almost constant need to be near a toilet so has ate very little and now I too have got some sort of food poisoning from KL that leaves me in spasms, sweats and sore arsed. Welcome to Rachel’s world – she can keep it!

Another day and Gary and I do a dive off Shark Point (big misnomer – should have been called crappy dead coral dive – But I guess people wouldn’t do it). Heard there could be large black tip sharks about on that dive so was excited but alas none seen and later found out from the dive master that he only see’s one in every ten or so dives.  Ho hum, it was cheap (wonder why?). Got back to find Mel and Rachel half cut with a bottle of vodka and gin beside them on the beach. Lovely!
5.00pm and the daily build up of heat creates a fresh crop of huge looming  storm clouds to amass on the mainland and start edging their way towards us. As the sky changes from the perfect blue to an immensity of grey we watch a huge waterspout rise out of pewter coloured water out in the ocean and wind its way along for ten minutes or more.

Later, we run from the huts to the restaurant as the rain starts and reach it just as the first torrent hits. Thunder rumbles and the skies are streaked with jagged shards of lightning. The music from the stereo is drowned out by the patter on the roof tops The restaurant (picture perfect in design) suddenly changes into a scene of frenetic energy as menus fly, candles fall and placemats are whipped up by the tremendous wind. Shutters are grappled into place and tied to posts and banisters, tables are hastily shoved back to congregate around the bar end of the room whilst the rain seeping through the gaps wets the floor around us. Suddenly we have done all we can and after mopping brows and straightening clothes we take our seats and assume our roles of tourists trapped by the storm and set about eating and drinking our way through the evening. Our laughter and animated conversations stopped occasionally by extraordinary claps of thunder, displays of lightening and a little later the cry of “Sorry everyone – the boat is sinking we’ll be back!” called through the kitchen hatch.
Given the opportunity to be able to say I had a nice meal or to say I helped rescue the boat left me in  no doubt which route I should take so abandoning my sweet girlfriend, my sweet and sour chicken, tee shirt and shorts I rush out in my boxers. The air outside is electric and apart from the lighting that momentarily blinds before illuminating everything in silhouette it is black. I turn to the shoreline and run through the breaking waves to a spot light some 100 metres away. There, waist deep, are the three staff straining with the boat towards the shore whilst the waves broil around them. I join the fray and timing our efforts with waves we heave the boat to shore and when we can get it no higher, drop rounded fence posts beneath and roll it further up the beach to the tree line and relative safety. A good story, a good deed and a good, sodden, entrance back in the restaurant to reclaim my clothing and a towel.

The morning shines down on the debris brought in by the previous nights antics and after breakfast we set off on fast motorboat ride across the channel to the larger island. It is a perfect cloudless day and the best of days to be skimming the waves on a boat with spray flying all around us and the wind tousling our hair.


We are dropped on a shallow bay with a few empty beach bars and bungalows on it and walk to the huge monoliths sticking out of the water at the far end of the bay to snorkel for a while before setting off on the walk across the island to another bay. The walk turns out to be brilliant and diverse. First a path through reeds and long grasses then into gradually more rampant trees and bushes, up a gentle slope to taken in a view from the top then descending though pleasant wooded areas overlooking tree tops until we reached the other side. We had hoped to see a little wildlife. We were not disappointed with the gradually lager monitor lizards ending
with a a 5ft one blocking our path and needing a little persuasion to move whilst a troupe of monkeys leaped from tree to tree above our heads on their way to somewhere. Melanie, being a little wary of critters, looked like a cartoon character not knowing whether to run, stay still, wimper, shit herself or, as she eventually did, beam a big smile.

Last full day spent exploring the island some more and walking from Petani to Coral Bay along the coast track past derelict huts and cute little bays then back across the island to Long beach for Long Island Iced Tea and Pizza and a bathe in the warmest waters so far. A really chilled and lovely day.
As I sign off we are bizarrely laying on a mattress on the floor of the spare room of the owner of the Petani Beach. We said we would be going to the airport and would need a hotel and were told not to bother by Kiri (resort manager) and that Hash (the owner) would put us up. So here we are. God knows where, not sure how far from Airport and how we are getting there  in the morning but, you know what, The man is very friendly, hospitable and speaks good English and at the end of the day adventures aren't found in normality are they?