Hunting for Dragons in Indonesia

20130902-004338.jpg

After a quick overnight stop in a quite bizarre but pretty decent Airport hotel in Bangkok, we flew off to a City called Surabaya on the Indonesian island of Java and landed about 8 in the evening. Exiting through the arrivals gate made us feel like Man Utd arriving on one of their Asian tours as the crowds of people were incredible. One ‘metered’ taxi later we arrived in our most bizarre hostel of our trip so far. Caroline had found it on trip advisor and it had good reviews! After getting through Fort Knox to get in we were greeted by a lady who didn’t speak a word of English, but we pointed to our booking email and got our double bed room in some strange prison-esque courtyard room (with a very nice garden!). So we headed out to find some dinner from somewhere. I had read about a nearby shopping mall so we headed there. We were greeted with some super Westernised mall that was 80% coffee shops and bizarrely enough lots of A&W restaurants (makers of root beer and a huge favourite with Oli Smith and I!!). We eventually settled in some ‘pub’ bar expecting to sink our first beer of Indonesia. Unfortunately we didn’t realise we had landed slap bang in the middle of Ramadan and there would be no booze to be served so we opted for a couple of pizzas for our tea and scuttled off to bed.

The next morning we looked into the possibility of going to visit an active volcano called Mount Bromo and realised we had a chance of making it there that day if we set off before midday, so after demolishing our free breakfast and dark, gritty, dirty coffee we packed our bags up and got a taxi to the bus station armed with some very rough instructions to get on a bus to a town named Probolingo where a man would meet us and take us up to our hotel for the night near the base of Mt Bromo. Now, we had been to some busy places so far in our trip but this bus station was one of the most nuts places we have ever been, after avoiding all the slightly dodgy offers of help from the salesmen inside we listened to the security guard and headed out to platform 5 to get a bus! Yet again we were offered buy numerous blokes to get on their bus but found solitude in another security guard who told us which one to get and how much to pay. The worrying thing was that every bus already looked full to bursting and yet they still wanted to get us on board. As we had to get there by 3 pm we just dived on a bus that was heading our way, this lead to Caroline getting a seat near the back and me squeezing myself between 5 other guys on the back seat of the bus with my feet up on some old lady’s boxes. This seemed to entertain Eccles a lot when she turned around to see me in my shorts and vest sandwiched between to old fellas in trousers and warm, winter jackets! Anyhow, we settled into our journey knowing roughly what time we’d be in Probolingo and hoping the bloke we had spoke to in the morning would be there to meet us. As the time for us to arrive in the town approached the bus pulled to the side of the road and a man jumped on the back and asked for, “Car-o-Lynne Eggless?” I guessed this was us. We stepped off the bus and into this man’s tour shop and he explained the programme for our Mt Bromo Volcano Sunrise Tour, we paid our money and went to find food. An hour or two later a strange minibus pulled up and said for us to get in and that he was our lift up to the Mountain. Sure enough the minibus (Beemo’s in Indonesia) took us to our very rustic Hotel called Mount Bromo View. Our room was pretty basic and the temperature was dropping dramatically as we were at a quite high altitude now. Blankets and layers would be needed to get us through the night. That night we wandered down the hill to a slightly better looking hotel and had a very average meal of stir fry and cold spaghetti which was supposed to be noodles, we did however fill ourselves with some awesome banana chocolate pancakes and went to bed as we were up at 4 am to catch a jeep up the hill. A few hours later we were whipped up to the base of a mountain by an awesome little Wrangler Jeep that loved racing his mates across the sand flats in the pitch black. Still in the dark we trekked up a hill to the sunrise viewpoint so you could see the sunrise in the East and Mt Bromo on the West. It was crazy, busy up at the viewpoint so we went in front of the railings to get away from the crowds and get a clean view of a truly spectacular sunrise….

20130902-004535.jpg20130902-004606.jpg20130902-004625.jpg

The only annoying thing was the rude Dutch lady who pushed passed us dragging her two young daughters with her so she could get a better photo. It was so crowded that they had to stand apart. Just a the moment the sun peaked over the mountain one of her daughter’s fainted, I did my best to catch her, check she was alright and get back to the photography!!

After that we were taken to the base of Mt Bromo so we could trek up the black sand to the top of the crater to peer into the active volcano’s mouth! There were hundreds of local guides there trying to give you rides up to the steps on their pretty cool looking horses, but we had our own two feet and chose to walk up. After the vertical march up the view into the mouth was incredible as you could see straight into the dark hole and see the sulphur and steam escaping. The views of the surrounding landscape were equally dramatic and it was like being on the moon. After another Beemo ride down to Probolingo we got on another bus and headed for Bali.

The bus / ferry trip from Java to Bali turned into a classic Indonesian trip as it took about 5 hours longer than we were told. This was annoying as I had high hopes of watching Derby v Blackburn in the first game of the new season!! It was also absolutely freezing on the bus and it was so late we didn’t get to Denpasar bus station until about 10:30 pm, not ideal saw what’d no idea where we were goings stay in Seminyak, Bali. We shared a cab with 2 Dutch girls and marched up and down a street to find a room that was remotely close to our budget, but this seemed impossible. We had to bite the bullet that night and pay more than usual and stay in a slightly more posh hotel called Fave as it was now one in the morning. We hammered the buffet breakfast as best we could the next morning and then jumped in a cab moving to a much more affordable hostel called Happy Day Hostel. It was pretty new and was really nice, just a little quiet.

We chose Seminyak as our base for a few days after a few recommendations from friends who all had told us to avoid Kuta like the plague as it was a Mecca for drunk Aussies! Seminyak was a pretty strange place and probably a little over our budget really as the majority of restaurants were pretty fancy and the amount of cool clothes on sale in surf shops was tempting. We found a really nice area of bars on the beach down towards Legian and settled down at a wicked bar called Crystal Palace to watch our first beautiful Balinese sunset over the sea, whilst supping on some Bintang beer sitting on a couple of bean bags on the beach!! It was pretty Sweet. As was our evening meal at a local Warung (local restaurant). The highlight of our stay in Seminyak was undoubtably a very random day we had at a beach club called Potato Head. Lots of people had told us to go there, so we said goodbye to the budget for a day and wandered down to the club. It’s a really spectacular looking place as you arrive, the guys who own it are art collectors and have created a huge circular wall of wooden window shutters from all around Indonesia. The result is this strange coliseum looking facade!

20130902-004816.jpg20130902-004901.jpg

When we arrived there were no day beds (although these had a very steep minimum spend anyway!) so we ended up in the pool bar. Soon after a few Bintangs a rowdy bunch of older Aussie guys joined us an instantly hammered the poor lad behind the bar with a round of 10 different cocktails. It took him about 20 minutes to make them all, just as he gave a sigh of relief they ordered the same again. This carried on for the rest of the afternoon. At about 10 quid a cocktail (at least) they weren’t holding back. We got chatting to them and it turns out they were on a business jolly they’d earned by hitting there sales targets for a car company called Holden Adelaide!! We told them what we were up to and about working for Sky, they all loved footy and insisted on buying us drinks for about two hours! We tried to say no but they were having none of it! They were really nice and even invited us to there Japanese banquet they were having in some fancy restaurant, but we politely declined as we didn’t want to free-load too much!! Instead we stayed at Potato Head and ended up spending the night with two mid forty year old Scottish lesbian ladies who were sneaking their own booze in by hiding it in salad dressing pots!! They were really funny and interesting characters and helped top off a great day!

After Seminyak we spent 4 days in a little tranquil oasis town called Ubud where the pace of life was a lot slower and the bars of the beach towns are replaced with coffee shops and massage parlours. It was a nice town and we enjoyed just relaxing for a few days without having to travel anywhere. The highlight of Ubud was the trip to the Monkey Forest, which is exactly as it sounds. You have to be on your guard and make sure you don’t have any valuables or sunglasses on yourself as they are right little buggers and will knick anything they get their hands on, just in case it’s edible! The little baby monkeys were really sweet and very photogenic!

20130902-005042.jpg20130902-005102.jpg

From Ubud we caught the fast boat across the ocean to a small group of Islands called the Gilis. They are really small little paradise like beach islands where no motor vehicles or dogs are allowed. They only transport is by bicycle or Cidomo (horse drawn carriages). Our first stop was Gili Trawangan (or Gili T) which was the biggest of the three. The boat ride was two hours of very bouncy travel. We had heard many stories of the island’s accommodation being full, so we quickly scarpered with the first bloke who offered us a room. Turned out he wanted $40 for a real crap hole, so we said no and walked back out to the street only to be grabbed by another guy and taken to his small row of rooms. These were much nicer and we struck a deal, even though it was more than we wanted to pay. Just after we had shaken hands the local Island mosque started its call to prayers. It was phenomenally loud and as we looked out the mosque was less than 100 meters away with about 5 loud speakers all pointing at us, it was SO, SO, loud!! The place we were staying was called Kidi’s Place and the lad Joe who was running it was really friendly and funny! What was also really nice was that the other lad Hammerman (??) wanted to practise his English every morning, so he would bring me a list of sentences he’d written and ask me to correct them and then made me read them aloud so he could record them on his Blackberry and listen to them. He said he listened to them as he was falling asleep which was a bit weird but he was super keen to learn all the time! It was a nice way of helping them out as they looked after us really well. The first day we walked around the island which took about 2 hours and was super hot. The next day we went snorkelling and got our first glimpse of quite how spectacular the ocean was around these islands. There were millions of fish of more colours than you can ever imagine, all swimming through beautiful coral. We had a fun old night out in the Irish bar in town and even got to watch some of the England v Scotland match! The best food on the island was undoubtably the local food market where you choose skewers of meat or fish which they then bbq on a coconut husk smoked grill, all served up with rice and veg. They were blooming nice!

20130902-005220.jpg

20130902-005343.jpg

20130902-005422.jpg

From Gili T we caught a small boat across the sea for 10 minutes to the much smaller and more quiet Gili Meno. We found a room in a small family home-stay in a pretty basic place called Debby’s Backpackers, but it was super cheap at least. There was only a fan and the shower was salt water and cold, but when your in paradise it doesn’t really matter as we knew we wouldn’t be spending too much time in the room. The island itself was only 5 km in circumfrence (I know because I ran it!!) and really was the most quiet perfect little island you could ever imagine. The snorkelling just off the beach was literally like sticking your head in an aquarium and on our second day there we went on a 3 hour boat trip and got to snorkel only 2 feet away from turtles, swim above shipwrecks and the famous Gili Wall dive site. It was a great place to spend a few days but I think you’d get a little bored if you spent too long there as everything closes by 10 pm and you would get through the restaurants pretty quickly.

The final Gili island we went to was Gili Air, which is like a mix of Trawangan and Meno as it has much more going on bit is still not very built up. We decided to splash out a little and spent two night in an amazing traditional beach hut at Sandy Bungalows. Yet again the snorkelling was out if this world and Caroline even got to see two sea-snakes! This pretty much gave her a heart attack and turned her into Rebecca Addlington to get her out the water!

20130902-005604.jpg

One unfortunate side effect of us spending pretty much every night in a different room is the development of my drunk sleep-walking! Now I’m not the best at seeing in the dark sober so when I’ve had a few (and it doesn’t even need to be many) I somehow merge my dreams with reality and don’t really open my eyes as I search for the toilet! The dreams usually involve us being held hostage somewhere and me not being able to figure out where the toilet is. It’s especially bad in dark square rooms, fortunately I’ve always woke up in time and made it to the loo!! I’ve done it three or 4 time snow, thankfully never in a dorm!! The highlight was in Cambodia where I apparently grabbed Caroline’s leg and shouted, “we’re not in our room!” To which she sat bolt upright and said, “what? Where are we?” And then looked around and said, “we are in our room!” And went back to sleep as I realised that we were in fact in our room and the toilet was though the bathroom door and not in the outside corridor as I had been looking for in my sleep!! It’s a bit weird and embarrassing but I know you’ll all love to hear about it too!! (This happened on our last night on Gili Air!)

From Gili Air we decided we would do one of the things we had been looking forward to since we first started planning this trip and booked a 4 day and night boat trip to Komodo Island to see the world famous Komodo Dragons. They had always fascinated us both and the fact that they are only found on a few islands around Komodo makes them all the more interesting. So after a short boat trip to Lombok, we hung around the office for a couple of hours (nothing is done quickly in Indonesia) and eventually were walked to our boat on the pier. To say it wasn’t one of the luxury boats would be an understatement, it was a little tatty and basic but it would be our home for the next 4 nights. We were quickly introduced to our guide, Hans and the crew, including Captain Ahmed. Only Hans spoke any English and that was often only, “yes”, “no” or “one hours”!!!

20130902-005740.jpg

20130902-005812.jpg

20130902-005857.jpg

Fortunately we were on the boat with another 15 other people from all over the world and we all seemed to get on really well and were very much all of pretty much the same mindset. There were Brits, French, Germans, an Aussie, a Finn, Swiss. It was a good thing we all got on so well as we were all sleeping on the deck upstairs and were all packed in very close to each other. We set sail from Lombok and headed East. We stopped for dinner which was a very pleasant chicken curry and rice (always rice in Asia!) and played some cards before the captain asked is to turn the light off downstairs as he needed to start sailing again!! The first two nights travel on the boat were pretty damn horrendous and it felt like we were riding the ‘perfect storm’ wave at times, although I’m sure it was just normal ocean waves! There were a couple of people seasick, but given the amount of movement in the boat I’m surprised there wasn’t more. On the 2nd morning on the boat we were served breakfast and it soon became apparent that it was everyman for himself and there was no such thing as ladies first!! (I stayed true to my British roots and waited for everyone to get theirs before filling my plate up in one serving!!). We then trekked to see a pretty cool waterfall in the middle of the jungle and all took advantage of the natural shower as there wasn’t one on our basic boat!

20130902-010014.jpg

As the boat made its way East towards Komodo we would pass huge turtles and stop every now and then to do some more amazing snorkelling or visit huge salt water lakes. A lot of time on the boat’s deck was just relaxing in the sun, playing the card game Asshole and making friends with our new shipmates!! Eventually on day 3 we made it to Komodo Island and docked at the pier to enter the National Park. Here we were met by our guides with their 6 foot long Y-Shaped sticks which would apparently protect us from the man-eating Dragons! We were also told to be on our guard against poisonous spiders, Russell’s Vipers and Spitting Cobras!! On entering the national park we were led on a trek around the park to see some of the dragons and other wildlife but the real highlight was after the trek when we were taken straight to the rangers lodges where 4 huge Komodo Dragons were just basking in the sun. They were absolutely enormous with the biggest one being about 6 foot of pure muscle! They were pretty docile on the whole and we were allowed to go within about 10 feet of them, allowing us to get some great photos. I could have stayed for ages just watching them. Then all of a sudden one of the females got angry with another Dragon and a huge, very speedy chase developed, which was amazing to see, they were so fast when they wanted to be.

20130902-010217.jpg

20130902-010243.jpg

20130902-010325.jpg

Another highlight was when we were taken to a desert island called Manta Point which was a tiny strip of sand and arguably the most picture perfect beach in the world. We were then dropped on Rinca Island and saw even more Komodos, including a large adult male that came strolling down the dirt path we were walking on. The guide told us all to dive into the bushes as they stood guard as the massive monster meandered past us about 2 feet away!! Scary!

20130902-010433.jpg

We eventually docked at our final point of Luaban Bajo on the island of Flores but we all agreed we would spend another night sleeping on the deck to save us a bit of money. Everyone went their separate ways to sort out dive courses and accommodation for the next few days, but a large group of us meet up for some beers that night and the Brits (us, Jase and Seb) and the Aussie (Bianca) stayed out until the bitter end and headed off to some locals bar in the hills called Paradise! When we got there it was about 90% local guys and they were all really friendly. There was a live reggae band on covering everything from Nirvana to Bruno Mars and we had lots of fun dancing to them and making friends with the locals! The undoubted funny moment of the whole four day trip was when it came to getting back on the boat. Our boat was quite far from the edge of the harbour and try as we might we couldn’t pull it back in. So Jase had the idea of boarding via the neighbouring boat. This worked well at first, despite waking up the other boat owner! So Jase stepped across onto our boat and somehow eventually ended up off our boat and into the harbour’s water! After a few moments of shock, panic and escape, we all (perhaps not his girlfriend, Bianca) burst out laughing! No harm was done apart from to Jase’s pride perhaps.

The following day we all said our goodbyes but mostly all ended up in or around the same hotel, so we stayed in touch. One place that needs a mention in Luaban Bajo is the fish market, which is basically just a line of fish sellers with the freshest, most beautiful fish and squid all for sale to eat there and then from their amazing BBQ grill with rice and vegetables. Each plate never cost more than 50,000 ruphiahhs, which is £3.50, it’s fair to say you would struggle to get nicer fish anywhere and it was so cheap it was unbelievable. I had the squid every night and it was fantastic.

20130902-010600.jpg

We made one final mad dash to Kelimutu via a tiny aeroplane from Luaban Bajomto Ende. The runway in Ende was right next to the sea and was used as a crossing by the locals to get from their houses to the town. When we arrived we ended up being driven by a good guy called Gregory up to the small town of Moni, where we would spend the night before getting up for sunrise at 4:00am! The next morning Gregory drove us up the mountain and we walked the last 20 minutes up to the top of a huge hill so we could watch the sunrise over the three different coloured lakes of the volcano of Mount Kelimutu. It was crazy to see three lakes in such close proximity to each other all a different colour. One was black, one green and the other a very pastel sky blue. Apparently they change colours every month or two depending on the mineral content in the water and temperature. The clouds rolled in pretty quickly after sunrise but we had long enough to see the three lakes. We then walked back down to the village of Moni which was a decent 14 km trek! The journey home was pretty crazy also. We waited with a tourist officer for the bus to take us back to Ende, but it never showed so he said we could get in this car that went past for 50,000. Turns out we weren’t the only one as there were eventually 11 of us in the jeep. I had Caroline on my knee in the front for a very uncomfortable 2 hours. In the back a kid was car sick, but it was a journey we won’t forget in a hurry! Once in Ende we found a cheap room for the night and went exploring for food. It was a very strange town and they were fascinated by us and pretty much everyone said hello to us we walked around. It was really nice. We spent our final night near the airport in Kuta but didn’t really venture much further then out our hotel and to the WaterBom Waterpark which was sensational. One ride called Climax was the best ride both of us have ever been on. You stand on a platform in a capsule, then a lady counts down from 3 and the floor just drops away from you sending you hurtling down the slide at 70km/h. It was amazing and we went on it 4 times each!!

20130902-011612.jpg

20130902-011744.jpg

Well that was it for our time in Indonesia and we have had an absolute blast here. It was a strange place at first but once you got to know how the people work and how friendly they generally all are it is a fascinatingly diverse place. We’ve seen some astonishing things and met some lovely people.

We’ve taken tons of photos of this great place please feel free to click this link to see the all.

Terima kasih (Thank You) Indonesia

Lots of Love,

Tom and Caroline
x

20130902-011847.jpg

Advertisements