Category Archives: Indonesia

Bringing the lava into Java

Before we left Kuta in Lombok, there was the small matter of the last game of the premiership season to take care of. Even in this tiny little village in the middle of nowhere, we managed to find somewhere with the game on. We were the only customers in the bar, but were joined by a small group of Indonesians who tended to cheer whichever team was winning. It was an interesting night, but ended on a negative note. Bolton were relegated, and $amir Na$ri lifted the premiership trophy.

We had a day to recover from the football before leaving Lombok for Java. We had found a flight that was as cheap as doing the trip by bus and boat, so after a short and painless trip we landed in Surabaya. This was just a brief stopping off point before we made our way to Cemoro Lawang, and Mount Bromo. Bromo is an active volcano, and one of three peaks rising from the Tengger caldera, a crater stretching 10km across. Bromo’s last major eruption was in January 2011, where huge ash clouds caused a 5km exclusion zone to be introduced in the area.

We were making our way towards the bus, before being accosted by a local tout. He offered to drive us to Cemoro Lawang, find us a cheap hotel and then take us to Bromo; all for a low price that we couldn’t quite believe. But we double checked and he assured us that the price was correct.

View of Bromo from our hotel

View of Bromo from our hotel

So we had been expecting a long uncomfortable journey on a hot, crowded bus and instead were treated to a private air-conditioned 4×4 with half of the journey time. He even took a detour so that he could take us somewhere nice to eat. Apparently the food at the airport isn’t good enough or cheap enough. The journey there took us through some spectacular sights while twisting around mountains. But as we climbed higher and higher up the mountain, our driver became stranger and stranger. I’m not sure if this was due to altitude sickness or whether he just had mental problems. He started to make racing car noises when going around corners, he tended to stick his hand out of the window every minute or so and most worryingly he started to speed up.

We did however manage to arrive in one piece, and as promised our driver found us a cheap homestay guesthouse with hot water and a great view of the mountains. But when we started to ask him about our trip to Bromo, he told us that we would need to book that through our hotel. So even though we had double checked and he’d assured us that this would be included, we then had to go and book another vehicle to take us to Bromo the next day (Note to self: If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is).

Sunrise over Bromo

Sunrise over Bromo

Cemoro Lawang is a sleepy little town with a few places to eat and drink, but with great views over the crater and the three peaks of Bromo, Kursi and Batok. One thing that was different here to the rest of Indonesia is the climate; it was very cold here, especially at night. We were prepared though, and we soon sat in the restaurant with five layers of clothing on eating Rawan, which is a thick beef soup; perfect for the occasion. As we had hot water in the room I was looking forward to a shower, but I was disappointed to find that we actually had no water at all. So after another night of brushing our teeth over a squat toilet we had an early night, as the next morning (if you can call it that) we had a 3am start.

Bromo from the viewing platform

Bromo from the viewing platform

After managing to drag ourselves out of bed, we made our way in the pitch black to our jeep. We were accompanied by two Indonesians and two Koreans for the bumpy journey across the crater towards a viewing platform on Gunung Penanjakan, a higher peak nearby. It was a steep climb up the mountain, and after 30 minutes or so we arrived at the top. Sipping some local Javanese coffee was perfect to both warm and wake us up, while we waited for the sun to rise. It was surprisingly busy at the viewing platform, but people soon started to file out after the sun was up.

Our jeep then took us to the base of Mount Bromo, back across the crater next to a Hindu temple. There are loads of people offering ponies to take you towards the top of Bromo, but somehow I managed to get Katy to walk it. So we started the climb up, and the higher it got the hotter it got. We had soon stripped off some of the five layers we had on before arriving at the top. It’s quite a short walk to be honest, but at that time of the morning it seemed longer.

Bromo steps

Bromo steps

The views from the top of Bromo were stunning with clouds covering some of the crater below and clear blue skies above. Big plumes of steam were rising from the bubbling volcano, while people threw in flowers as an offering to the volcano God. It was just nice to take a seat and take in the amazing views. This trip was quite expensive, but the scenery and views from the top definitely make it worth it.

After the short walk back down to the base of Bromo, our jeep took us back to our hotel for some breakfast. By 09:30 we were back on the road to Surabaya, where we spent most of the journey sleeping. Surabaya isn’t a very nice place, with very polluted and dirty streets and very little else. It’s a hard place to walk around as all of the roads in the city are four-lane carriageways. But walk around is what we did.

Kota, Jakarta

Kota, Jakarta

We had found out that it was a national holiday that weekend in Indonesia, and as usual that ruined our plans. We tend to make a habit of this, but this holiday wasn’t mentioned on any website or guidebook so it wasn’t entirely our fault. This did mean that our planned trip to Yogykarta had to be changed as every bus, train, flight and hotel we could find were fully booked. We only found this out after walking to every station, travel agent and internet café in the city. By the end of the day we had managed to book a cheap flight the following evening to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

Katy’s brother Dave had put us in touch with an old friend of his who lived in Jakarta, and he kindly offered to let us stay at his home. So after a long day waiting for our flight in Surabaya (as there was very little else to do) we arrived in Jakarta. This is one big city. It’s very busy streets of shopping malls, fast food restaurant and endless traffic remind me of Kuala Lumpur, but just on a much bigger scale. That evening we settled into our luxury room with a great view overlooking the city, and got some tips of where to go and see.

We got up early and got a bus into the city and just walked around to see what we could find. Like many of the big cities in South East Asia, it’s not easy to walk around. Pavements don’t really exist, and those that do have huge cracks and holes in them. After a long day walking around, we headed back to the apartment for a night sat on the sofa watching TV; something you miss on your travels.

Cafe Batavia, Jakarta

Cafe Batavia, Jakarta

Yesterday we were treated to lunch and a guided tour of the city’s old quarter, Kota, by our host Andy. This area has loads of old Dutch colonial buildings left over from the 1600s. It’s very different from other areas of the city, and quite relaxing. We ended the tour with cocktails in the famous Café Batavia before heading back to the apartment for an afternoon nap. We had a big night ahead of us, with the Championship playoff final and the Champions League final.

We went out to a different area of Jakarta that was full of bars and clubs…and West Ham fans. It was very strange to see so many Indonesians supporting them, almost more than you would find in an East London pub. It was a great night where we met other expats and exchanged football banter. It was a late night as the football didn’t finish until about 04:30, so I’m writing this with a sore head and a cup of tea. This afternoon lazing by the pool seems like a good idea.

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until the next time…

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A breath of fresh Air

Finally I had found my bit of luxury on Gili Air, a beautiful little island off the East coast of Lombok. Our bungalow was fantastic, just a stone’s throw away from the beach and a pool to use at our leisure…heaven and just what I needed. We had a very lazy few days most of which started with breakfast on the beach, followed by some swimming and ending with a few Bintangs and local seafood BBQ.

Gili Air

Gili Air

We had breakfast brought to our room on my birthday which was a real treat and then spent most of the day snorkelling where we saw lots of turtles and many fish. We had already decided to eat at what looked like the poshest place on the island, a restaurant called Scalliwags. After a few pre dinner cocktails, we headed to the restaurant where Sam had not only booked us a table right on the beach but had somehow organised for some flowers to be put on our table too, although they weren’t real but lovely all the same. I was really looking forward to having some wine but when I saw that a bottle of Jacob’s Creek was £35 (yes the Jacob’s Creek that you can buy for a fiver in Tesco) I just couldn’t bring myself to order any so I settled for a Mojito instead.

My birthday night

My birthday night

Of course it wasn’t just my birthday that day, Arsenal were playing too which meant that the laptop accompanied us to dinner… very romantic. Unfortunately it wasn’t a great result for Arsenal and the laptop was eventually packed away. Soon after, the heavens opened so we swiftly moved inside to take cover. Suddenly Happy Birthday was played and a cake (choc brownie) with a candle bought over to our table which was a lovely surprise. I think they were hoping that I would order a dessert but apparently Sam had told them that if I didn’t to bring something over anyway.  It was a great birthday with lots of lovely messages and emails received throughout the day…a birthday to remember for sure.

Our next stop was a place called Senggigi on the east coast of Lombok. We’d heard that it was a small town but quite lively and worth a visit. We had two nights here which were both spent in the Happy Café as there was a live band on each night and served pretty good sushi. There wasn’t much to do during the day so we had a wonder around, walked along the beach and booked our bus ticket to our next stop in Lombok.

Beach in Kuta Lombok

Beach in Kuta Lombok

We’re now in Kuta Lombok (not to be confused with Kuta Bali) and it’s a very quiet and relaxed town. We came here really because we needed a few cheap days and figured it was easy to keep it cheap just lazing on the beach. It also means that we’re back to cold shower and mosquito nets. Well we’re three days into our five night stay and it’s been overcast and rained a lot so we’ve had no lazy days on the beach so far. I know you’ll probably have no sympathy for us considering all its done is rain in the UK for the past few weeks. We did manage to take a bike (scooter) out yesterday and explore some nearby beaches and villages.

Kuta attracts a lot of surfers so we headed out towards one of the surfer beaches to watch them, which involved a few steep hills and plenty of pot holes. Anyway we didn’t make it as half way up one particularly steep hill, we started to slide backwards. I was shouting at Sam saying ‘what are you doing…brake’ and he was shouting that he was, but we kept on sliding backwards and were eventually rescued by a bush. The result, a small cut on my foot and Sam has a burn blister on his leg but no damage to the bike. I think we’ll just give the surfers a miss. On route to one of the beaches we managed to take a wrong turn and ended up on a rickety old bridge. It probably wasn’t meant for driving a bike over but we persevered and managed to avoid the nails sticking out and various wood slats missing to find that at the end we couldn’t get off. We noticed some locals laughing at us who eventually came to our rescue and practically had to lift the bike off for us. So all in all not a successful day on the scooter.

A bridge made for walking, not scooters

A bridge made for walking, not scooters

On our first night here we found ourselves in a place called the Full Moon Café as they offered free WIFI. We were having a drink and checking emails etc…when one of the barmen came and asked if we could help him set up a Facebook account. So Sam got to work and helped him out. We took his photo for his profile picture and by this point all the staff were gathered around our tiny laptop fascinated by what Sam was doing. They had their own laptop but needed help setting up the accounts. At one point when we had finished, we noticed them all gathered around their laptop laughing and Sam even joked that they were probably hacking into our accounts. Well they weren’t thank god and when Sam went over to have a look, one of the guys was filling out the security question about ‘who is your favourite author’…his answer was ‘chicken’. Lost in translation I think but it was very funny.

We’ve had company for most of our meals here…young children selling bracelets who just won’t take no for an answer.  It’s all very sad really especially when you see their mothers standing watching and encouraging them. If it was just one or two I might be tempted to buy a bracelet from them but there are too many. Cambodia was the same unfortunately.

We’ve just moved hotels yesterday as we’ve managed to find a cheaper room with a pool which is nice but it’s still raining so whether we get to use it remains to be seen.

Its Sunday now and its still raining but more importantly its the big day…last game of the season. We’ve checked out various bars and it looks like we’ll be subjected to either of the Manchester games but we’ll have the laptop to check other scores. I have a horrible feeling in my gut but all I can do now is wait for a miracle.

#COYW and #COYG

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until the next time….

A fish called wonder

To say our journey to Bali was hideous is an understatement. Katy managed to squeeze in a couple of hours sleep at Singapore airport while I watched the Barcelona vs Chelsea game in a 24 hour café. We arrived at Denpasar after 30 hours of travelling, shattered and somewhat unprepared.

Surfers on Kuta beach

Surfers on Kuta beach

I’m not sure whether we’ve become more blasé about things since we left, but we arrived at immigration with no money to pay the $50 visa fee. There were no ATMs before the immigration counter, so we were a bit worried. We managed to persuade them to let me through to use the ATMs on the other side if they held onto my passport. This sounded fine until on my return to pick up my passport, it had gone. After not sleeping for 30 hours, you could say that my sense of humour had failed me. As the immigration officer laughed about it and sent his friend off to try to find it, all I could do was wait and hope. Katy was still on the other side of immigration wondering what was going on. It was a stressful 15 minutes, but thankfully the passport turned up. We paid the visa fee and grabbed a cab to our hostel.

We were staying in Kuta which is supposed to be the lively area of Bali, but all we wanted to do was have a shower, grab some food and have an early night. The next day whilst exploring all of the tiny back-streets selling a multitude of tat, we booked a flight to Labuan Bajo for the next day.

Labuan Bajo town

Labuan Bajo town

We had an early start the next day, and after a short flight we arrived at probably the most basic airport I will ever see. Labuan Bajo town is a quiet street with a few places to eat and drink, but the main reason that people come here is for Komodo National Park. We were only here for four days, so we had quite a lot to squeeze in during that time. We checked into a guesthouse recommended by our friends Alex and Emma. I think Katy had been hoping for a bit of luxury, with swimming pools and air-conditioning mentioned beforehand. Instead we got a fan room with a squat toilet and no sink so you had to brush your teeth over the toilet. It was however half the price of everywhere else, it was clean and it came with breakfast.

Komodo National Park

Komodo National Park

We spent the afternoon looking around for deals for our dive the next day, and once that was sorted we had a look around the town before getting an early night. The next day we left town at 06:45 on a small boat with four other people, and headed to Komodo National Park. It was a two-hour ride to the park, so we just soaked up the morning sun and took in the amazing scenery around us. The first dive site we went to was Castle Rock just North of Komodo, and had been recommended by several people.

The dive itself was amazing, and definitely the best we have done so far. We saw sleeping white-tipped sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, turtles and a huge amount of very big fish. It was a drift dive, and was actually quite hard work. There was a really strong current, so we had to be careful not to get carried away into the ‘cauldron’ which dropped off as far as the eye could see.

After an hour break, we headed off to the next dive site, Crystal Rock for our second dive. This was another great dive where was saw baby white-tipped sharks, napoleon wrasse, a big school of giant travelli, but the highlight of the dive was watching an eagle ray doing somersaults right in front of us. Even the dive master who has done thousands of dives said she’d never seen anything like it. After lunch we started to make our way back to Labuan Bajo. We had a choice to have a third dive, but our budget wouldn’t stretch to that. So instead we went snorkelling and topped up our tans on the boat. On the way back, we were followed into town by a group of dolphins, with the sun setting in the background. It was a brilliant day, and although it was expensive it was definitely worth the money.

Komodo dragons

Komodo dragons

After a day recovering from diving, we had another trip to Rinca to see the Komodo Dragons. It was another early start and another two-hour boat trip. This time we were the only people on the boat, so we had plenty of room to spread out and relax. The weather was great, and we were greeted at the island by our dragon ranger, Nana. He was a native of the island and was very knowledgeable about the dragons. We walked for about an hour before seeing our first dragon who was sat protecting her nest. After a few photos we continued on to the base where there were about eight dragons just chilling out by the kitchens so we took loads of photos and just sat and watched them for a while.

Komodo dragon

Komodo dragon

On the way back to the boat the heavens opened and we got soaked (seems to be a running theme on all our treks so far). Once on the boat, the Captain did his best to keep ahead of the storm and we stopped off for some snorkelling but soon had to get back on the boat as the rain had caught up with us. We then moved onto another spot for more snorkelling (still raining) and at first we thought we would just give it a miss but then we saw baby black tip sharks swimming close to the shore so we got in to take a closer a look. I’m glad we did as the corals and fish were great and swimming so closely to the baby sharks was amazing. We were very wet and freezing by the time we got back to the hotel, nothing that a nice warm shower could have sorted out…shame that wasn’t an option.

The next day we caught our flight back to Bali and spent the afternoon shopping around for our next dive trip and watching the surfers whilst the sun set. We knew we wanted to dive in Tulamben as we’d be told about an amazing wreck dive there. Liberty wreck is an American cargo ship which was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942. It sank on the sand floor at a depth of 5m and it slopes down to about 35m. As it’s so close to the shore, we did a beach entry to the wreck. It was our first wreck dive so we were really excited. After two and a half hours we finally arrived, and we weren’t the only ones. There must have been about 50 people there. We did two dives and both were great as we got to explore the outside and the inside of the wreck. The fish life wasn’t as exciting as previous dives but having to swim through small holes and into the actual wreck made up for it.

Yesterday we enjoyed some delicious local food and had an early night in preparation for our 6am pick. Today we arrived in the Gili islands on Gili Air for Katy’s birthday weekend and we plan on staying there for about four nights but I guess that will depend on how many Katy treats there are. We’ve checked into a very nice beach bungalow; a birthday present to Katy from our friend Samantha (thank you very much). We have nothing planned other than sunning ourselves and maybe a few cocktails.

We’re struggling to upload images due to a very slow internet connection, but as always all of our images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until the next time…

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