30 December 2011

Not From This World [Bromo, Indonesia]

The Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park is a completely unique part of Indonesia. I'm struggling to think of words to describe it, so bear with me. Imagine a massive basin (10kms wide) surrounded on all sides by steep cliff faces. The bottom is a flat, desolate area of sand and volcanic rock. Rising from the basin are two huge, smoking volcano's sitting side by side. The volcanic rock and the way it has formed makes the whole area seem as though it is not from this world. In the distance is one more volcano, Semeru, which shows off by blowing out massive clouds of steam at regular intervals.

We arrived to Probolinggo about 4:30pm and found a van going to the 'bus station'. Problem - they dropped us at tourist agency and told us to go in to the office. Uhhh, no, we wanted to go to the bus station! So that pissed me off, but not as much as the guys at the agency trying everything they could to take our money. Apparently all the local buses had finished for the day, but they could organise us a ride up to Cemoro Lawang (a small town overlooking the National Park) with some Indonesian tourists. But it was going to cost us IDR 50,000 each, double what the local bus costs, and probably double what the Indonesian guys were paying. Smelling a rat, I asked for directions to the local bus station and said we would find a hotel, stay the night, and catch the bus up the following day. Soon afterward they magically found some more people that wanted to go up, so now the price was only 35,000... funny that, because no one else actually joined us on the bus.

27 December 2011

Cyclo-Mania [Yogyakarta, Indonesia]

Yogyakarta is a city full of squawking birds, intense heat and lazy cyclo drivers. An interesting mix; well worth a couple of days to check out.

Red eyed and sleep deprived, we departed our uncomfortable (to put it nicely) overnight train journey from Jakarta. The first thing we did in Yogyakarta was to find somewhere to stay. Everything was really expensive, but we did manage to find a very basic place for about $6. By basic I mean that the bed did not even have a blanket, and I was sure we were going to catch something after entering the bathroom. It was rank!

22 December 2011

Clean Enough [Jakarta, Indonesia]

Jakarta is one of the most warm and friendly capital cities I have ever visited. For me, getting over the concrete sprawl and seeing the real city is easy; it is right there in the smiling faces of every person you see. While there is not many 'tourist attractions', I enjoyed every second in the city.

We arrived to the capital late, off our flight down from Medan. Even still we wandered the streets in search of cheap accommodation for about an hour. None was forthcoming, and we ended up paying $9 to stay in a room directly over an extremely noisy karaoke bar. But we were so exhausted from a huge day travelling we didn't even hear the bad Tina Turner renditions going on downstairs.

11 December 2011

Zero Orangutan [Bukit Lawang, Indonesia]

Bukit Lawang is famous for one thing - orangutan. It is a small town that is home to an orangutan rehabilitation center. Any sick animals are nursed back to health at the center, while displaced animals are released into the forest surrounding. Twice a day the rangers go into the forest and feed the semi-wild orangutan. As a tourist, you can go and watch the feeding, but there is no guarantee that the orangutan will show up. The rangers feed them a bland diet which encourages the animals to forage for themselves.

And it seems they were foraging pretty well. We went to watch two feedings, and both times no orangutans showed up. The only animals that came were a couple of cheeky monkeys. It was quite disappointing, even more so as they charge you once to get in, then again for your camera (and it is pretty expensive!). But we did experience one cool river crossing on this leaky boat.

10 December 2011

Gay Mad Max [Berastagi, Indonesia]

There is only one reason to visit the town of Berastagi in Northern Indonesia; the proximity of Mount Sibiyak; a pretty sizable volcano. There are actually two volcanoes in the area, but Sibayak is the closest and easiest to climb. That is not to say it is easy, many people have lost their lives on Sibayak. In fact there is a big list of all the people that have died in the information center, the idea is to encourage you to hire a guide. But guides are expensive, and we are highly experienced mountaineers. OK, that last bit was a lie, but we'll be fine!

The evening we arrived into Berastagi was one of the worst storms I have experienced. It was bucketing down, there were claps of thunder coming from every direction, and lightning was lighting up the sky. This concerned me for two reasons; our guest house leaked like a sieve, and that it would be too wet to go hiking the following day.

8 December 2011

Not Broken? [Lake Toba, Indonesia]

I just spent 2 days hanging out on an island. Nothing special, right? WRONG! This island is in a lake which formed in the crater of an extinct VOLCANO! I picked up a brochure on the place, and it stated that Lake Toba is probably the highest lake in the world! Probably is good enough for me; I'll claim it. The lake is bright blue in colour and crystal clear. And the island is like a tropical paradise, complete with swaying palm trees. Did I mention it is in the crater a volcano? How cool is that?

Let's back up a couple of days. Julia and I arrived to Medan in Indonesia after our short flight from Penang. The first sign we got that Indonesia is a fairly laid-back country was when the plane was pulling up to the terminal; we saw a guy asleep right on the tarmac, underneath a plane. I don't think they allow that sort of thing at Heathrow? Anyway. the visa-on-arrival process was quick and painless. In fact it was faster than most borders that do not require a visa. I think they are just after the cash.

6 December 2011

Chaos of Cultures [Penang, Malaysia]

The first thing we did after arriving in Penang was try to find information about the ferry across to Indonesia; times, prices etc. But the first guy we asked said that the ferry was no longer running. A quick check on the internet confirmed. The reason? Cheap flights had eaten up all their business. The closest port that had services to Indonesia was south of Kuala Lumpur! Not ideal.

So the options were to either get a bus down to Port Klang, then a ferry which would be expensive and very time consuming, or fly. Flying was relatively cheap and took only an hour. But this would be the first flight I had taken on this whole trip. Nine months and 43,000+ kms overland, I really did not want to fly if it was at all possible. But realistically, it wasn't; Julia and I wanted to visit places in the north of Indonesia, so to go overland (or water) would take days and cost a LOT. Plus I have already booked a flight from Bali to New Zealand just before Christmas, so I fail the overland goal anyway. I may as well fail it a couple of weeks early.

5 December 2011

Long Walk Down [Cameron Highlands, Malaysia]

The Cameron Highlands are a unique part of Malaysia. Sitting at around... well, I cant find out how high, but it is pretty high... so the climate is much cooler than most of the country. This allows plants to grow here which otherwise would not, in particular tea and strawberries. In true Malaysian style, the area is thick with lush forest, but in between the hills are covered in rows of green and golden tea. Spectacular.

We arrived in to Tanah Rata, the main travelers hub of the highlands, in the early evening. The trip up was painfully slow - the huge bus trying to navigate the thin, windy mountain roads, but extremely beautiful. We caught our first glimpses of the tea plantations, as well as the untamed forest which stretched out over the valleys. By the time we got in it was too late to go out and explore, so we found ourselves a cheapish guest house for the night.
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