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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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Until the next time….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Until the next time…
We’ve been travelling seven months now, and one thing we have learnt is that it’s tiring. I remember when we first left England and were in Beijing, we met someone who had been travelling for about six months. They were cutting their trip short because they were too tired. At the time I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing, but now I appreciate it a bit more. The constant moving, the endless search for cheap but acceptable rooms, the long and uncomfortable bus journeys all add to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for sympathy, and I wouldn’t change anything about our trip. It’s just been a learning experience.
What’s made me talk about it this week was a moment Katy had as we walked to a beach called Corong-Corong. After breaking her beloved flip-flops and having to walk bare-foot across rocks, she exclaimed “Sam, I’ve had enough of beaches and being hot. I just want some home comforts, like air-con and a swimming pool.” I did point out to her that we have neither air-con nor a swimming pool at home, but it didn’t seem to help the situation.
The Philippines has been a hard place to get around; probably the hardest out of all the countries we have visited. It’s something I didn’t really expect as I thought countries like Laos and Cambodia would be more difficult, but it was quite the opposite. Anyway, this is what I think led to Katy’s mini meltdown. To be fair it didn’t last for long, as after a long walk in the blistering heat we eventually got to the amazing beach that is Corong-Corong. We spent the afternoon relaxing in hammocks, swimming in the crystal clear sea and playing frisbee on the on the white sandy beaches. Then we watched the sun set whilst enjoying a few beers with fellow travellers.
It was a great day that was finished with another Katy treat. We had pizza and white wine for dinner. This may not sound like much of a treat, but wine is something that we really can’t afford on our budget, and pizza is…well pizza. It was more like a shot of wine than a glass to be honest, but it was nice to have a change.
We decided to change rooms as after having no electricity on the first night, we then had no water on the second night. So after a few hours walking around and checking prices, we settled for the Nido Bay Inn; slightly more expensive, but with hot water and WIFI. El Nido itself only has power between 14:00 and 06:00, which takes a bit of getting used to. It can make the morning quite hot in the room when there is no fan blowing. But it’s the price you pay for staying somewhere like this.
After spending a couple of days doing very little, we booked two more dives. We were the only people on the boat other than the dive master and the captain, and we headed off to the island of Miniloc. It was a beautiful day, and we were really looking forward to our first fun dive, with no tests, skills or exercises to do. We didn’t even have to set up our equipment, so we just sat back and relaxed as we headed to the first dive site on South Miniloc.
The first dive was almost like diving in an aquarium, with thousands of different types of fish everywhere. We saw enormous schools of yellow snapper and jack fish, some massive puffer fish along with countless others that we didn’t know. It was a great dive, and very different from our last dive in Malapascua with the sharks.
We got back on the boat and had a break, with coffee and cake served by the captain. We talked about what we had seen and enjoyed the sun before heading to our next dive site, Twin Rocks. This was a very different dive from the first one, but one that made Katy very happy. We saw our first turtles here, and they were huge. We had been hoping to see some for a while now, and they are so nice to watch under the water. We also saw some sting rays and other fish, but the turtles were the main attraction. It was another great afternoon diving, which only makes us want to do it more. It’s very addictive, but sadly the one thing stopping us from doing it more is the cost. It’s very cheap to dive here in the Philippines (£18 per dive including all equipment and boat etc), but that can quickly eat into a budget.
For the next few days we did very little other than a bit of exploring. We walked around the coast to see what beaches there were on offer. They were quite nice, and deserted, but not a touch on Corong-Corong. So we decided that we would explore some of the islands by kayak to see what we could find.
The last time we went kayaking (in Vang Vieng, Laos), we spent the first ten minutes bickering about getting in rhythm and who should steer. It wasn’t any different this time either, but once we got going it was ok.
We didn’t really know where we should head to first, so we chose a beach that was just in sight on an island called Cadlao. We were quite relieved to get there as it was hot and tiring, and we cooled off in the sea to relieve our slowly fatiguing limbs. I even managed to find and open a fresh coconut for Katy to drink.
Once we got some of our energy back, we continued on around the island, until we found a nicer beach. Again it was quite hard work getting around there with the currents (and Katy’s steering), but once we did it was worth it. It was a lovely beach that was totally deserted. We spent a few hours there, and literally didn’t see another soul. This is how I pictured the Philippines before we arrived here, and it was great.
The area actually reminded me a bit of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, with its limestone cliffs strutting out from the water. The big difference here is the beaches. Beaches like the one we found are common, and it’s easy to find your own private beach for the afternoon if you venture out by boat or kayak. There are over 7000 islands in the Philippines, with over 1500 just off Palawan.
For the last couple of days we have done very little, again. Tomorrow morning we leave on a rather epic journey to get to Bali. First we have a five-hour journey to Puerto Princesa and then after a couple of hours break we have a flight from Puerto Princesa to Manila.
We have about four hours to amuse ourselves in Manila airport before another flight to Singapore that gets in at about 01:00. We then have six hours waiting at Singapore for our flight to Bali. It will be quite a testing day I’m guessing, but we should be used to them by now.
The Philippines has been a combination of ups and downs. Very bad travel days combined with amazing diving, beaches and surroundings. Overall I think it is worth the effort because there is nowhere we’ve been so far that has had the wow factor that we’ve found here. Hopefully Indonesia will give it a good shot.
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…