Masthead header

Update From Sulawesi

Hi everyone.  Life is good but internet is sporadic and I’m having a hard time convincing myself to spend hours in a dingy internet cafe when there’s the wonderful island of Sulawesi to explore.  The stories will have to come when I’m home…

For the interested though I’ve just made it now through Central Sulawesi (Makassar -> Tana Toraja region -> Tentena -> Ampana) and am catching a boat to the Togean Islands tomorrow.  Before that was Java and Nusa Lembongan – each island is like a country of its own here.

I’ll be back before you know it.

June 18, 2011 - 9:29 pm

Ssirko - Seriously, don’t spend anymore of your time on the computer! Go and have fun!!!!!1

June 18, 2011 - 9:29 pm

HayleyC - Beautiful photo! it just looks like an adventure waiting to happen 🙂

June 18, 2011 - 9:41 pm

Rasmus Hindkjær - Wise choice bud. Enjoy!!

Update From Pangandaran

Climbing volcanoes one day and surfing the next…stuff like this is starting to feel normal to me. The transportation is crap but does central Java ever have some amazing stuff to offer.

My visa extension went through so I’m good to stay in Indonesia until July. Sulawesi here I come. With about five weeks left before I head home, this is going to be the last big destination. I’ve been eying it up for a long time now, so (finally) here we go!

May 28, 2011 - 9:33 pm

Dan - Can’t wait for your next post! What interesting foods and drink have you been enjoying?

May 28, 2011 - 9:34 pm

karenia - Just checked out some photos from both Java & Sulawesi… both places look amazing! Great choice for your last five weeks… enjoy 🙂

One of those (long) days…

Breathe. Don’t get worked up cause that’s not going to help the situation. Just take a deep breath, let things be, and move on.

I’ve had to remind myself of this a few times in the past couple of days. The journey from Siem Reap to Yogyakarta has had a few hiccups.

It all started with a friendly tuk tuk driver. The night before leaving Siem Reap I was walking back to my guesthouse after returning my bicycle, getting the constant “Tuk tuk?” holler any foreign pedestrian can’t avoid here. This fellow was sitting on our quiet side street. We’d had a few conversations over the week I was there so I thought I’d say goodbye. One friendly conversation later I moved to leave and noticed the tuk tuk beside him. I asked of he was a driver (somehow it had never come up) and he said yes. He offered to give me a ride to the airport the next morning at a really good price. I said ok but insisted on paying more, I’m happy to pay a fair price to a friend who appreciates it! …I’m such a Canadian.

Well this ride got me to the airport where a plane got me quickly to the Kuala Lumpur airport which, contrary to what sleepinginairports.net led me to believe, is a dive of an airport. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet kids.  I’m not going to give the play-by-play of the 21 hours I spent here, but let me paint a picture for you:
Me sleeping in the corner of the international departures area on the hard tiled floor (no carpet in this place, they even are thoughtful enough to put dividers on the plastic chairs to prevent you from getting comfortable). I, at least, have a couple Cambodian blankets to protect myself from the frigid air conditioning. I eventually doze off and wake up to well over a hundred Malaysian schoolgirls loitering around me in their uniforms. I was so confused. I guess they thought the foreigner sleeping in the corner would be a good meeting point. I wasn’t going anywhere, I’m territorial about where I sleep. I just pulled out a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and made a sandwich.

I eventually got on the plane to my final destination. I just wanted to sleep but the Indonesian lady next to me was keen on my taking an interest in her daughter. I don’t know mist of what she said but she tried the ol’ I’m-just-going-to-get-up-and-stretch-oh-why-don’t-you-scooch-over-and-I’ll-sit-by-the-aisle to get her next to me. Then she offered to buy me lunch, buy me a drink, even inviting me for dinner and to stay at their house. In retrospect that last part would have been neat but in my sleep deprived state I politely declined. The poor daughter though – she was blushing so hard and kept telling her mom to shutup towards the end. I wish I could understand the banter between them, I bet I would’ve found that interesting.

Of course when I landed there was a big white X on my backpack. I had to unpack the whole thing for security on a table much too small for the task. First time that’s happened. I then went straight to the immigration office to fill out paperwork and apply for a visa extension. It’s going to take a week and might not even go through. I hope it goes through.

I had been in touch about staying in a room above an art house in the city. My cab driver only generally knew where it was so he was asking locals on the side of the street as we drove by. We finally found a fellow who new it, saying it was right here actually. I DO believe he knew exactly where it was, but he sure didn’t take me there. He brought me to a little losmen instead. So tired at this point I took a quick look around and dubbed it suitable, for one night at least.

After a nap I took a little look around and am pretty happy with the place. I’ve got one of the two roomswith a balcony so my hammock’s already set up out there. It’s on the top floor with a view. It’s a fair price and a couple dollars cheaper than where I was going to stay (I feel bad for telling the art house to expect me. I think I’ll swing by and let then know at least.). Oh, and the free breakfast and tea are tasty too!

The people here are so friendly and, with the exception of the batik scammer I spotted a mile away yesterday, they’ve all been great. I had dinner with an Indonesian man who, like all good Indonesian men, smoked like a chimney. We had some traditional street food – it was delicious.  Our conversation started with where I was from and what there was to do in Indonesia. He must have noticed the blessing strings around my right wrist because he asked “Are you Buddhist?” I answered yes for the first time ever (it is becoming a philosophy I follow). The man nodded and we went on to talk about some old traditions still followed at the Sultan’s Palace here (such as drinking ash water will give you a Buddha belly when you are enlightened). “Are you Buddhist?” I eventually ask, hesitant because it’s such a dominantly Muslim country. “Yes,” he answers. “But not on my papers.” He is like me and believes Buddhism is a philosophy and not a religeon (some other parts of Asia intertwine old religeons with it). He believes in God because he does not know the reason for a chili pepper’s color (there was a bowl of peppers on the table in front of us, so he used that as his example). He is of the mind that different religeons are different paths to the same God. Interestingly he identifies as Muslim on his papers because religeon is like wearing clothes. If people don’t like the clothes you wear they aren’t going to talk to you. He is also adament that he is a traditional Muslim and not a fanatical one. He lamented about the radical ones actually. They apparently roll up their pants differently to identify one another (kind of like gang symbols back home).

Another wise character that I’ve met on the road…you’d be amazed how many there are.

Time to hit the beach with some Malaysian friends I met over breakfast. Take care all.

Peace and love.

May 15, 2011 - 9:35 pm

karenia - Nice to hear the latest… so many stories! Take care… 🙂

May 15, 2011 - 9:36 pm

HayleyC - Wow! That is quite the journey you’ve been on for the last couple weeks! Living in the jungle sounds incredible! Except for the spiders of course(lol) but talk about a great place for adventure! Sorry to hear your travels to Yogyakarta weren’t that pleasant. Unfortunately that comes with traveling 🙁 Glad to hear your well and enjoying it so much. Looking forward to more. Take care friend, miss you!

-Hayles

From Laos Into Cambodia

I just saw an entire family on a motorbike. All six of them. And the children weren’t small. Impressive.

I’ve been feeling a bit like Indiana Jones this past week: exploring temples, wearing a sweet wide brimmed hat, kicking ass… The temples of Angkor are absolutely amazing. I like to run my hands over the intricate carvings and wonder at the hands that created this over a millenium ago. This intricacy combined with the sheet magnitude of the temple complexes kind of blows my mind. I swear I’m going to set off a trap by pushing in the wrong rock one day. Oh well, I could think of worse ways than an epic escape scene from a big boulder. Who am I kidding, I could outrun it.

So the last time I checked in here I was about to march off into the jungle to live in a treehouse for a while. Turns out there were some roommates: 4 other (awesome) guys (I feel pretty lucky that we got a group that got along so well, we had some great times together), two friendly guides, a few tree rats, and lots of spiders. The gibbons kept their distance from the house but we always heard them in the morning. Early one morning one of the guides broke the rules and took us trekking in wild jungle in the rain. We were looking for a group he’d spotted in the distance from the treehouse. We found them (damn he’s good) and got really close (like 10 meters!). What well adapted animals, the way they move through the canopy is amazing to watch. Our jungle days went a little like this:
-wake up early to gibbon calls or Mick’s “You have to see this guys. Anyone want to go zipping in the mists?”
-a cup of tea watching the mists roll over the endless valleys (the treehouse we picked was a little more rustic and small than the others, but the view was unparalelled)
-trekking and ziplining through the jungle
-lunch with the group of girls in a neighbouring treehouse a few km away. That’s right, we had to stop acting like boys for an hour each day! (..it didn’t stop us)
-hammocking, reading, writing, and of course some more zipping in the afternoons
-wine, cards, and general shenanigans after dark

It was a good life. And what a cool project. They started the whole experience 7 years ago. The black gibbon was thought to be extinct but they found a family in the Bokeo jungle, so they made it a reserve. Then the big problem was poaching, and there being no one to enforce on the reserve. It’s not the greatest economy so that’s how the locals made money to take care of their families.

That’s where this project comes in. They took those poachers and gave them jobs as guides. I mean, who knows the jungle better? And now they make just as much as they would poaching in a year, but now the can do it year after year after year. With the money it brings in they also employ forest patrols to enforce the rules of the reserve. 7 years going and, by their steady expansion, I would call it a success.

Temples and monks is northern Laos, so some due time was giving into soaking all that up. From the alms that have become a tourist attraction in Luang Prabang to the lone painter painting in the corner of a tiny forgotten temple, trying to raise some money for its upkeep.

I’ve been on pretty much any sort of transport now that your mind can dream up, and I’m going to have to say that slow boat is probably my favourite. Two days journey down the Mekong was nice and relaxing.

I’ve made the decision to spend the remainder of my time Indonesia. Unfortunately some things I was looking forward to had to get cut (this time at least) but now I can focus on one place and get deeper into it. So the task of getting onto Java presented its ugly self.

Being so close to Cambodia, and being the huge temple nerd that I am, I just had to go out of my way and layover in Siem Reap for a week. A week feels so short for me right now. I met a couple from Australia on the plane who were only travelling for two weeks and were pretty envious of me. I hadn’t met anyone on the backpackers roads who was on a short timeline like that for a while…sometimes I forget how lucky I am.

Cambodia was short and sweet. Saw some traditional apsara dance and ate a lot of good Khmer food (and I had a pizza for the first time in ages!). Oh yeah, I saw some temples too.

I learned pretty quickly that it was good to look at the suggested tourist times and destinations…so you could avoid them at all costs. Sunset at Angkor Wat and Phnom Bakheng are wastes of time. There are so many other amazing temples that you can find your own amazing view somewhere else, and it will be peaceful and untainted by tourism.

The heat and dust was bit killer considering I was putting almost 100km on my bicycle some days. It was only going down to 28 at night…Let’s just say I was kicking myself for not springing for a guest house with AC. And the rains! My God does it ever come down heavy when it rains in Cambodia.

One of my earings got massaged out of its ear hole and the only earings they sell here are gauge 14/16… I haven’t decided if I’m going to let them grow in yet or just size down. Ugh.

Next stop: Yogyakarta, Indonesia
…eventually.

Deeper Into Thailand

A quick travel update.

I’ve been in the north – I couldn’t finaggle a last minute visa for Burma so I’ve been hugging the border pretty close. It’s pretty remote, but the landscapes are amongst the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and the people…well they’re amongst the most amazing I’ve ever met too.

Let’s see if I can fill some gaps from my first entry to now. An overnight bus got us from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I found myself wishing for that little pill Alice took that made herself smaller ‘cause these were definitely not designed for tall people.   We spent a week in Chiang Mai. The main thing bringing us to this particular place being Songkran of course, but there was lots of other stuff to take in too.

Bicycle exploration is always the best way to get a feel for a new city – you can go wherever you want, stop wherever you like, and do it at a speed where everything’s not just a blur in the window. Such as the school children practicing their cheerleading in the yard. It was more like burlesque and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on that!

We took some Thai cooking lessons, though I stand by that they were more Thai eating lessons.  We each made 7 dishes…so full! I learnt quite a bit, it wasn’t that hard at all. And the best part is we got a cook book from the school after our “graduation!”.  Now the real test will be to see if I can pull it off back home without the guidance and readily available ingredients. Over here though it is a lot of work considering how cheap the food is on the street.  I can see why not too many people cook over here.

We learned some Thai massage too.  But really you can hardly even scratch the surface in a one day course. I’m sure people who know massage scoff at these courses the same way I scoff at the ones that claim to make you an “expert yogi” after a 4 hour course. Ugh.

Louis, my guide for a day, took me up to a hilltribe village. It was just me and him (and the cobras and tigers he kept pointing out the signs of) on the long hike in, but it went by quickly with good company. He was super friendly, spoke great English, and was great at getting me involved up there.  The town drunk kept following us around – swinging his flask, stumbling around, playing us a tune on his homemade instrument, always smiling his toothless smile.  It was nice in a strange sort of way.

Itching for an adrenaline high one day I signed up for some downhill mountain biking.  I’m pretty comfortable on a bike so wasn’t expecting it to be too hard but i was pleasantly surprised by some tricky sections. I even took a trip over my handlebars once, haven’t done that in a while. We had a great group that got super close in the Songkran warfare on the snail paced ride back into the city. It was still a day early so we were unarmed except for what we could macguyver together in the back of our songtow. At least after completely soaking us our Thai attackers had the decency to pour us a drink and share a good laugh in the standstill traffic. Lots of night life was followed up with these friends, the best of which being the muay thai fights of course.

Perhaps my favourite moment of Songkran was sitting in on the big Thai ceremony at the east gate. I didn’t understand a single word that was spoken but it was still beautiful. Their dance and the focus on intricate hand movements fascinates me. As does their whole concept of beauty but I won’t get into that..

Lets see…after Songkran Chiang Mai went from the “warzone” to some sort of normal. Actually it was a little eerie walking the quiet streets Saturday morning, but oh so nice to be dry for the first time in days.

We moved on to Pai, taking the curviest road I’d ever been on (that is until we moved on past Pai :p). 100km took about 4 hours – I actually found it quite nice, but the poor boy behind me was suffering pretty hard from motion sickness so I think he’d disagree. This town’s a cozy little place where time seems to stand still. The food and music here are the best I’ve seen on the trip so far too. Renting motorbikes is the best way to get around and explore the countryside. And believe me when I say it’s worth exploring (waterfalls, hotsprings, caves, temples…it’s a good place to get lost).

Next was to move even further north, north of Nam Khong, to help out on an organic farm/lodge for a few days. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting but it was a great experience iin its own right. A place like that certainly attracts a certain type of person, and I was lucky enough to cross paths with several wise souls in the short period I was there.

I hitchiked back to Pai yesterday (a monk was my hitching partner – you would think it’d be easier to wave down a ride with a monk…it wasn’t :p ). A couple days of reorientation are in order here and then I’ll be shuffling east a little bit into northern Laos. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to hop online but no worries, all is well.

April 24, 2011 - 9:37 pm

Chuck - Great story! Love the perspective. I’ll have an Organic farm experience waiting for you here! The garlic is poking it’s shoots up and we’ll be planting lettuce this weekend.

April 25, 2011 - 9:38 pm

Brad_k - What amazing experiences you’re having! Thanks for posting and keeping us updated Dave, I’m really enjoying following you on your travels. Pai sounds amazing and I can’t wait to see your photos when you return! Take care!

April 25, 2011 - 9:38 pm

HayleyC. - Wow Dave! That all sounds so wonderful. Thanks so much for keeping us all updated! It’s quite interesting to read about all things you’re experiencing and the amazing places you’re encountering. Pai sounds like my kind of place! haha! Can’t wait to hear more!
Take care! Miss you! 🙂

April 25, 2011 - 9:44 pm

Robert Kay Aich - Beautiful.