Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mount Bromo, Java

The night before we had checked with the bus station to see what time buses left to Mount Bromo and they told us they leave every hour on the hour.  So the next morning at 8:30am we went to the bus station only to be told there are no public buses that run to Mount Bromo and that we had to take a minibus.  Those are usually more expensive but we had no options.  We walked over to the minibus station (next door) and negotiated the price to a reasonable sum.  We were told by the 2 people already on the bus we would have to wait until it was full.  They needed 10 people and so far (with us) it was 5, as there was another guy as well.  We waited and waited but we were frustrated as no other people were coming.  The minibus drivers refuse to leave until the bus is full as otherwise it’s not worth it for them.  One of the guys, Hesh, was trying to negotiate with them that if we leave now, we pay the agreed upon price, and if not, we would pay 5,000 rupiah less (around $0.50) since we know the prices are inflated.  He would not agree and the discussion got a little heated.  Andrew and I decided to see if we could take a motorbike there.  The prices for the motorbikes were double but they could leave right away so we were debating that when Hesh got us and told us he had negotiated that if we pay 10,000 Rupiah more each, we could leave right away.  That was still a better deal than the bikes so we agreed and we were able to leave.  Apparently Hesh had been waiting for over 2 hours for the bus to leave, while we only had waited 30 minutes.

Mount Bromo is an active volcano, but most of the time it’s not erupting but letting off steam.  There’s a village all around it and the attraction is to climb to the top of the surrounding mountains first thing in the morning to watch the sun rise over Mount Bromo.

We arrived at Mount Bromo within an hour and found accommodation in a guest house.  On the way up we chatted with Hesh (Australian) and Jenny and Mischa (Swiss) who were also planning on seeing the sunrise the following day.  We all ended up staying at the same guest house, and since the climb is done at 4am, we all agreed to test the climb that day so when we had to do it in the dark the following day, we would know where we’re going.  After lunch, Jenny and Mischa were napping and told the 3 of us to go ahead without them.  We told them they could come with us the following day since we would know the route, if they wanted to.

Andrew, Hesh, and I set off on the hike around 1pm.  It’s not a very difficult climb and we stopped quite frequently to take photos, it took us just over 2 hours to get to the top.  About 1 km from the top there were guys sitting on motorbikes offering us rides to the top for $1 each.  We thanked them but told them we would walk.  At the entrance to the viewpoint on the top, we had to stop as there were approximately 100 Indonesian guys that were taking a group photo.  We waited for them to finish and when they did, they swarmed us like bees.  One of the guys told us they were missionaries and were visiting Mount Bromo.  Every single one of them shook our hand and introduced himself to us.  We stood there for 10 minutes shaking hands and saying our name over and over again.  The funny thing was, when they introduced themselves, every single one had a name like Steve, Robert, Tom, John etc.  So we naturally assumed they spoke English but as soon as we tried to have a conversation with them, they would start walking and walk away.  They were very friendly and it made my day.  It was such a great yet weird experience to shake hands with that many people, like we were celebrities.

When we finally made it to the top the view was stunning.  The scenery surrounding Mount Bromo looks like the surface of the moon.  There are two peaks sticking out, one constantly blowing steam, and the huge, massive crater surrounding it is covered with ash from previous eruptions, with the village sitting around it.  In the ash covered plain, there is an abandoned temple, and it sits right at the base of the volcano.  We could see a few people walking around there as well as some cars driving around.  We found out there is a paved road you can take to the bottom and after we had something to eat at a food stall, we decided to take the paved road back.  The road back was a bit longer than the original route we had taken, but on the way back we would walk through the ash covered crater, next to the temple and the base of the volcano.  It was after 4pm at this point and we knew it would be getting dark soon.  The original plan was to climb Mount Bromo that day as well but since it was late by the time we started heading back, we knew that was probably out of the question.  The paved road down took a little longer than anticipated and we finally reached the bottom around 6pm, and it was already dark.  We knew we had another 8km to go before we would get back to the village.

Walking in the ash was surreal.  It was pitch black except for the moon which was shining the way for us.  We could just see the outlines of the two volcano peaks and the surrounding mountains.  The ash is like very fine sand and it’s just as deep.  Walking on it was like walking on soft sand on the beach.  It was hard going but we were having a blast.  There was no one else around and it was definitely a unique experience.  We weren’t really worried about which direction to go because we could see the lights of the village ahead.  When we stopped walking and talking, the silence was amazing.  We were ankle deep in ash but we didn’t care.  We had this place absolutely to ourselves.  Our only concern was that Jenny and Mischa might start getting worried about where we were.  We were due back hours before.  We walked and chatted until we arrived at the temple. That was the only time I had a very eerie feeling.  The temple is abandoned and absolutely covered in ash so it has a very spooky feeling around it.  We could see the steam coming from the top of Mount Bromo.  After taking a lot of photos we started heading back to the guest house.  Before we could get there we had to cross some large cracks, which I’m assuming were made by an earthquake a long time ago.  We arrived back at the guest house just after 8pm.  Our 5km hike had turned into 25km, but it was absolutely worth it.  The experience we had was amazing and it was the most fun I had had in weeks.  The only downfall was that we still had to get up at 3am to hike to the top of the mountain again for the sun rise.

When we got back to the guesthouse we found out Mischa was not feeling well and was running a fever.  Jenny thought it might be food poisoning.  They weren’t sure if they would go on the hike the next morning.  I don’t know if it was the anticipation of having to get up at 3am, but even though we were exhausted from our hike, we couldn’t sleep.  I think I finally fell asleep around 1:30am.  I had no desire to get out of bed at 3am but knew if I didn’t I would regret it.  Mischa and Jenny joined us and we kept a pretty brisk pace.  By 4am all the jeeps that were taking the tourists to the top of the mountain formed an illuminated line in the valley below.  We were trying to get to the top before all the crowds got there.  On our way up it was still pitch black, but in the distance you could see a sliver of glowing red.  It was definitely not the sun as it was to come up on the other side.  We realized it was lava flowing down from one of the volcanoes!  You could clearly see it flowing down even though it was quite far away.  Because it was dark it was hard to judge just how far away.  I must admit I got a little bit nervous.  Not because of the lava but because I was afraid the volcano would erupt and we wouldn’t be able to get away from the hot ash cloud.  Luckily it did not erupt and Andrew made me feel better by saying it’s better if the volcano is dribbling a little bit of lava as it’s releasing pressure, and that way it’s less likely to “blow”.  Even though I was a little afraid, it was still an amazing sight.

I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep or the hike the day before (possibly a combination of both) but my legs just weren’t cooperating with me and I didn’t think I would make it to the top.  Mischa and Jenny gave up half way up, even though they hike 3 times a week in Switzerland, as Mischa had to run to the bushes to relive himself (although Andrew and I came across him because he didn’t realize he was still on the path.  I felt really bad for him.  Food poisoning is not easy to deal with and I’m sure it was an embarrassing experience for him).  About ¾ of the way up I was ready to give up and call it quits.   I had tears in my eyes and my legs were not cooperating.  And then I saw the most amazing sight, a guy on a motorcycle.  I told Andrew, I don’t care how much he wants, we are paying him to take us to the top.  And we did.  And he was honest because he didn’t charge us more than what he had wanted the day before.  He took both Andrew and I on one bike.  We waved and laughed as we passed Hesh, still trekking to the top.  Once he got there he called us cheaters but I don’t agree.  I did not feel bad at all for taking the motorcycle up, as we had completed that hike, and more, the day before. 

We made it in time for sunrise and the view was stunning.  There was no haze and we could see more mountains and volcanoes in the distance.  There were a lot of people at the top, since they were all brought up there by jeep.  I would guess around 300 people, and they were all fighting for the spot at the front to take the perfect picture.  I was standing beside Andrew and Hesh asked me to take a picture of him.  As soon as I turned around someone had pushed their way beside Andrew and now I was forced to stay in the back.  Also at the top there were some vendors selling hats and different souvenirs.  Andrew had bought a hat the day before as it was surprisingly cold, and he paid around $10,000 Rupiah, which is roughly $1.  That morning, an Italian guy was trying to negotiate the price of a hat for himself from a vendor, except it wasn’t really much of a negotiation and more of demand.  The vendor was giving him a price of 40,000 Rupiah and the Italian guy just kept yelling “20,000!!”  And the vendor would come back with the price of 40,000 thousand, and the man just kept yelling “20,000!!”  I don’t know how much he eventually bought the hat for but I felt really bad for the vendor as the Italian man was almost verbally abusing him.

We started making our way back down to the bottom, but first we stopped for coffee and some breakfast in one of the stalls.  Almost all of the people in the jeeps had gone and we were pretty much the only tourists left, when the park ranger approached us and asked if we wanted a ride down in his pick up.  We knew we had at least a 2 hour walk back down so we negotiated a pretty good price and got into the back of the pickup.   We took the same road down that we had walked the night before, but because we were in a car now it was kicking up a lot of dust so we had to wear our bandanas around our mouths to be able to breathe.  It wasn’t the most comfortable ride with all the potholes but we got down much quicker than we would have walking.  He dropped us off in front of the temple, where all the other jeeps had stopped.  From here we would have to walk to climb the top of Mount Bromo.  I didn’t feel like doing the hike but I knew later I would regret having missed the opportunity to climb to the top of an active volcano.

Mount Bromo is an active volcano and steam is constantly rising from the top.  The hike to the top is tiring because even though there’s a set of stairs, they are completely covered in a thick layer of ash.  It’s like walking in very fine sand, and as everyone knows, walking in sand provides a lot more resistance so the walking is a lot tougher.  This hike, however, is not as long because that mountain is not that high.  It took us around 20 minutes to reach the top and we were able to see inside the volcano.  We couldn’t see any lava as apparently this volcano is very deep, but the steam kept rising and you could hear the gurgling coming from below.  We stayed at the top for a few minutes, but there wasn’t too much to see.  Instead of walking down the stairs we decided to act like little kids and run down the ash mountain.  It was really fun but since the ash is more than ankle deep, our shoes were filled with ash afterwards.  We said goodbye to Hesh and started making our way back to the hotel, with stops for pictures.  When we retried to the hotel Jenny was frantically looking for Hesh because he had her backpack in his room and the bus was waiting to leave.  We didn’t know where Hesh was but we quickly packed our bags so we could catch the bus too.  There aren’t many public buses you can take from Mount Bromo, and if you miss the public one, you have to hire a private one which costs a lot more.  At the last minute Hesh showed up and we were able to leave to Probolingo.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Arriving In Java

We returned to Ubud for 1 more night (the ferry crossing back was nice and smooth…these are the kind of boat rides I like) and the following day we got a taxi to take us to the Ubung bus terminal. We negotiated prices for a 2 hour public bus to take us to Gilimanuk where we would take a ferry across to Java. The ferry crossing is only 45 minutes long and it’s on a large ship and the seas were calm so we didn’t experience any dramas there, however on the ferry a guy befriended Andrew and started chatting with him, and initially we thought he was a nice guy, until his friend came to sit with us too. Right away I got suspicious. What are 2 guys chatting with us for? Since I’m a woman they didn’t pay too much attention to me (that’s actually the best part of travelling with a guy. If you are walking down the street by yourself, everyone will bother you and try to sell you something, but when I’m with Andrew, they only bother him and leave me alone. It’s like the man’s word is more important than the womans) so I tuned them out and was reading. But I overhead them telling Andrew that instead of going to Mount Bromo we should go to this other mountain where their “friends” go. It turned out their “friends” organize tours there and it’s more beautiful than Mount Bromo. Andrew thanked them for the info but that we were still going to Bromo. I noticed one of the guys was talking to someone in the back of the boat and I couldn’t figure out who he was talking to, but then I realized there was a bunch of guys sitting in the back and he was talking to them. It turns out these guys take the ferry all day long and look for tourists like us to try and convince them to go to this other mountain. As we were getting ready to get off the boat, one of the guys came up to us and asked if we were sure we didn’t want to go and we said yes. Then he said he could get us cheap transport to Mount Bromo, because the train wasn’t going until 9pm and there were no buses. Again we declined. We got off the boat and because of the number of people getting off and pushing their way through, Andrew and I got separated. Right away a bemo driver approached me (a bemo is a mini-van which is used like a public bus. They all have a route they take and you pay very little money for them to take you, but you can also charter them to take you where you want. Unfortunately we never know the route so we very rarely take them unless we are chartering them for ourselves) and started mumbling something at me. He kept mumbling a word at me but I had no idea what he was saying and the frustrating part was he wasn’t trying to make me understand him. He just kept repeating it over and over again. Finally I got really annoyed and started yelling at him in Polish. I said “Do you understand me? No? I don’t understand you either so stop talking to me!” The look on his face was priceless, because of course he couldn’t understand Polish, and he just walked away. I think this was the most effective way of getting rid of a bemo driver that I have found so far. Afterwards I felt bad, but it happens so often that someone mumbles something at you or keep following you around and mumbling, without trying to make themselves heard, and you have to keep repeating “what?” over and over again, that it gets really annoying after a while. It just so happened that I took it out on that guy.

Once I found Andrew we started asking around how much a taxi or bemo would be to the train station, but the guys from the boat came off and started telling everyone exactly where we were going, and I don’t know what else, but all of a sudden the prices were very high or they refused to take us. I was so angry. It’s like a mafia. They all know each other and work together and they arrange the prices between themselves and then we can’t even negotiate. So we just started walking down the street with the idea that we would stop a bemo, one that hadn’t been at the ferry terminal, and ask him to take us. Before we went very far, we found a store and asked how far the train station was and they informed us it was right around the corner. We walked there and found out the train in fact did not run until 9pm that evening. We found a bemo driver and were negotiating with him to take us to the bus station, when the guy from the ferry shows up! He starts talking to the bemo driver, and then again trying to tell us he can find us a ride. I asked him “Are you following us?” but because I’m a woman he completely ignored me. Luckily so did the bemo driver and we agreed on a price and he took us to the bus terminal. When we arrived at the bus terminal there was a bus loading up with people and it turned out it was going to Probiolingo (the town we were headed that night before Mount Bromo). We boarded the bus and got ready for the 5 hour journey. That was an interesting ride because I don’t think the locals there usually get tourists taking their buses so they were very excited to have us on board. Everyone was very pleasant and talked to us. When I sent Andrew to get some snack for the road before we left, one gentleman came over and told me he thought I should go out there and help Andrew because he looked confused. I looked over at Andrew and laughed because he did look confused as to what he should buy. I thanked the man but told him I thought Andrew would be okay to make a decision on his own. A couple of ladies took pictures of me when they thought I wasn’t looking and giggled when I looked back at them. Others were simply curious why we would come to Indonesia and if we had to save money for a long time to come here. This is where it usually gets difficult to share the whole truth with them, as if we tell them the truth about how much we make and how much we spend, they will think we’re rich. It’s impossible to convey the cost of living in Canada to them in a short conversation so we usually end up fibbing a bit. It was curious for them we would come to their country and some told us they had never left the island of Java. I thought that was crazy since Indonesia is made up of 17,000 islands and they had spent their entire life on one of these islands. Overall we had a great time chatting with the locals. We spent the night in Probolingo in a hotel right next to the bus station where we would catch the bus the next morning to Mount Bromo.

Gili Islands, Lombok

We haven’t been very organized with the planning of our visit to Indonesia, so on a whim we decided to go to the Gili Islands in Lombok.  They are on the way if you want to see the Komodo Dragons in Flores but we were still debating if that was something we would be doings.  The costs associated are a little steep.  To get to the islands, of course, you have to take a ferry.  We opted for the fast boat (1.5 hours) as I had no desire to spend 3 hours on a boat.  After the bus took us from Ubud to the ferry terminal we boarded our surprisingly small boat.  There were maybe 20 people on board.  We started chatting with a Canadian girl that was sitting in front of us and she told us she gets sea sick.  We started sharing stories and I told her that I don’t get sea sick but I don’t like boats and am generally bad luck on a boat.  We shared stories with her about the horrible boat rides we had had over the past 8 months.  She wasn’t thrilled with the stories but she was happy we shared our Gravol with her.  We were happy to get rid of it as we don’t use it and just carry it around.  The boat ride, of course, was not smooth at all.  The wind was quite strong as were the waves.  It was not a fun ride.  One girl (not the Canadian girl) was extremely sea sick.  Literally, the whole time she was throwing up.  Other people started getting sea sick too but most managed okay.  I was stressed out but an hour into the trip I though, okay, half hour to go.  Then found out the ride would actually take 2.5 hours.  Great.  So I did the only thing I could think of to get my mind off the situation, and I started reading my book.  The time just flew by and before I knew it we had reached the Gili Islands. 

We were staying on Gili Trawangan as it’s the budget island, although we weren’t able to find a room for less than $20 per night.  Gili Trawangan is 1 of 3 islands that make up the Gili Islands (although the world Gili actually means island).  The other two are right next to each other and you can see the shore of Gili Meno quite clearly, with Gili Air on the other side of it. There aren’t any cars on the islands and the only way to get around is by foot, bicycle or horse carriage.  The island is not that large so we opted for the “by foot” option as to rent a bicycle costs as much as renting a motor bike in Kuta.   The island is surrounded by coral so there are only a few spots good for swimming.  Since the islands are so close it would be tempting to swim across to them but the currents are really strong in the deep waters and you can see the currents from the beach as the water rushes past.  But there’s no danger in the shallow swimming parts.  That evening we explored the island a bit and ate at one of the many cafes.  The island is quite busy as well and doesn’t have a remote feeling to it at all, but the beach is nice and the water is crystal clear.

We had been having trouble sleeping as everywhere you go in Indonesia there are roosters and they start their crowing at 4:30am and continue intermittently throughout the day.  In addition, since Indonesia is a Muslim country, all the Mosques start their prayers at 5am over the speakers.  We were hoping to at least avoid the roosters on Gili T but that was not to be.  You do get the hang of putting your head between the pillow and the mattress to drown out the sound after a while though.  So far we have been unsuccessful in finding ear plugs.  The next day we spent the day at the beach.  The weather was great and the sea was warm but the winds had not died down at all the sand kept being blow right into our faces, hair, ears…everywhere really.  We ended up getting burned even though we spent most of the day in shade, but I guess the sunscreen had washed off while we were swimming.  That night we discovered a great night market with different food stalls.  It’s currently Ramadan so all the people fast during the day and eat only after sunset so all the great food stalls open up in the evening.  The food is great and cheap!  After we ate, we bought some Bintangs and sat on the porch of our room.  The next couple of days we spent on the beach as well, and our routine didn’t vary too much from the first day, except that one day we took the time to walk around the whole island, which took just over an hour.  After 4 days of this we decided it was time to leave.  We had been planning on doing some scuba diving there but the prices were a little expensive so we decided to pass.

Ubud, Bali

Apparently peace, quiet and tranquility are not something you can find in Ubud easily. After the Perama bus dropped us off we went for a search of a place to stay.  I was expecting a lot of rice paddies and tranquility.  What I got was a smaller version of Kuta.  It definitely wasn’t as crazy but it was still busy.  I was shocked by the traffic jams.  There were a few rice paddies to be seen but not what I was expecting at all (and not what you see in the movie Eat, Pray, Love).  We found a great guest house to stay at and this time we made sure there were no bed bugs.  We inspected that bed and the sheets extremely well.  We had lunch at a restaurant with a great view of the rice paddies and then spent the rest of the day exploring Ubud.  Traditional dances are the main attraction here but that’s not really our cup of tea so we decided it was one expense we could omit.  The next day we rented a motorbike and went to see Lake and Mount Batur.  A dormant volcano with a lake at the bottom.  It took around an hour to get there but along the way we saw some stunning rice paddy terraces.  Exactly what I had expected to see in Ubud.  We chatted with locals and just generally explored the area, stopping at fruit stalls to purchase some fruit.  That evening we bought a couple of Bintang beers (it’s great beer) and sat on the porch outside of our room and relaxed.

Kuta, Bali

We decided to spend a couple of days in Kuta, Bali as it’s the cheapest.  We picked a hotel which wasn’t the cheapest but reasonably priced, after we had been dropped off by our cab and had to walk from guest house to guest house looking for accommodation.  It seemed a lot of places were full.  The one we ended up staying at, New Arena hotel, was nothing to write home about but it would do.  After eating at the Rainbow CafĂ© and being entertained by the waiter with his magic tricks (which he later taught us) we went back to our hotel.  That night we discovered the hotel had bed bugs.  And lots of them.  We had pre-paid for 2 nights so we couldn’t do anything and it was already late and the office was closed so we had to make due.  Thank god we had our silk liners with us to sleep in.  It seemed Andrew’s bed (it was a room with 2 twin beds) attracted most of the bugs so we shared my twin bed that night, after I had sprayed it with mosquito spray hoping to at least keep the bugs away.  I was so grossed out I literally wrapped myself in my sheet like a cocoon.  I could barely breathe.  But I woke up in the morning without any bites.  Although I did dream they were walking all over me.  We asked a couple of people in the hotel if they had bed bugs in their rooms and they were very appalled and said no so we asked to switch rooms.  Maybe it was just our bad luck.  Unfortunately no, this room also had bed bugs.  I think the other people just didn’t even know they had bed bugs.  Andrew woke up with quite a few bites on his arm but he didn’t cocoon himself like I did.  I escaped the wretched hotel without any bites.

It was hard for us to see the appeal in Kuta.  We had been to quite a few places in SE Asia and this was by far the busiest.  I think it’s all the Australian families that go there because it’s close and cheap.  The beach wasn’t even very nice and the water was far from blue.  We didn’t use the beach the whole time we were there and we spent 1 whole day shopping for a new bikini for me.  Since we started travelling we had lost some weight and none of our clothes fit properly anymore (I constantly look like I’m wearing a potato sack) but especially my bathing suits.  I couldn’t go in the water with them for fear they would fall off.  I ended up spending a lot more than I hoped but picked something I was very happy with.  Miraculously Andrew’s patience stayed intact the whole day and he didn’t complain once.  He very patiently provided his opinion on every single piece I tried on.  That night we watched the F1 race at a bar.  The next day we rented a scooter and drove around exploring the southern part of Bali.  We stopped at the resort area, Nusa Dua, and although the beach was much nicer (as were the resorts…I think that’s where all the pre-packaged tourists go) it still wasn’t as nice as I expected.  We then went to the Ulu Watu area to check out a temple and some of the beaches there.  The Padang Padang beach is especially nice, but it was late afternoon by the time we got there so we didn’t get to spend any time there.  Since we weren’t really enjoying Kuta we decided to leave and go to Ubud.  I was looking forward to some peace, quiet and tranquility.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Our flight from Christchurch to Bali had a stopover in KL, but due to the 36 hour delay we quite obviously missed our connecting flight.  When we landed in KL, 11 hours after leaving Christchurch, we went to the service desk to see when the next flight was.  It wasn’t until the following day, but because we were exhausted from the past 3 days of lack of sleep we asked if we could push it out 3 days.  They agreed so this gave us some time to relax in KL before getting on another flight.  Air Asia said they could only provide us with 1 night of accommodation but we said we were fine to pay the other 2 nights ourselves.  Everyone who had missed a connecting flight due to the delay was taken to a hotel near the airport and provided with food.  Andrew and I weren’t on a schedule so we weren’t too stressed out but there were people who were flying for a 2 week vacation from Christchurch to London, and they had already lost 3 days due to the snow storm and now they would be losing one more, so they were pretty keen to get out of Malaysia.  The next day Andrew and I switched hotels closer to downtown KL and we spent the remaining 2 days just bumming around the city and eating great food.  Then we caught our flight to Bali without any further problems.