A Travellerspoint blog

Mount Manganui, New Zealand

Catching up with Dan

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I used to live with Dan at university and since I'd last seen him he has lived in Canada, where he spent his days snowboarding, and now lives in New Zealand, spending his days surfing. We'd got a couple of days free before my parents arrived and it was the perfect chance to catch up with him and his girlfriend Freya.

The drive from Auckland to Mount Manganui was beautiful. There's lots of fruit orchards, growing anything from kiwi fruits to avacados, plus plenty of wineries en route. Graham (our van and home) made his way through stunning riverside scenery and breathtaking coastal roads on our first trip out in him.

Mount Manganui towers above its flat seaside town when you drive into it. The area feels very expensive and I likened it to being in a scene from Desperate Housewives. The roads are pristine, everybody's lawn is well groomed, people seem to have plenty of time to sit in coffee shops and all the drives are filled with expensive cars.

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Dan greeted us into his lovely home; a beautiful beach front flat that he shares with his girlfriend and two other housemates. We were looking forward to spending our first night in Graham but couldn't refuse the offer of an actual bed... I'm sure we've got plenty of time to be sleeping in Graham over the next three months. It was just like old times; whisked away to 7 years ago at university when Dan was definitely the house joker (I'm not sure I can write what practical jokes he used to play on us girls on this blog page) and we spent plenty of time chatting about what each of us had been up to since then.

On our first afternoon there Dan showed us around Mount Manganui town (which included a burrito stop... delicious) and also an evening stroll around the mount at sunset. Me and Jason let Dan get on with his work for a few hours and we enjoyed a couple of hours on the beach sunbathing and playing bat and ball. I could see why rich Aucklanders come and spend their holidays here.

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We enjoyed a morning strollstroll around the lower part of the mount at sunset.

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It seems that the locals' active life revolves around the mount. The next day Dan took us on a morning walk up to the top where we were overtaken by loads of people doing their morning exercise routines. The sun was out and you could see for miles, a perfect wake up call.

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Dan had some work to be doing and me and J had a few things to sort out for the van, so spent our day separately. We bought some essentials for our road trip, including tea towels, fleece blankets, a frying pan and food supplies. We had a little time to spare so visited a local waterfall and swimming spot called Kaiate Falls, which was pretty but too cold for me to swim in. It didn't put off some of the local lads from back flipping into the refreshing pool though.

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Our day was finished off with a steak tea and some red wine, which Jason rustled up as a thank you to Dan and Freya for hosting. And then a really good night out with one of Dan's housemates, Ian, to a jazz DJ set at a local bar where we had a boogie after some complimentary drinks from Ian (as he used to work there).

We thought it best to make our way nearer to Auckland rather than stay with Dan so that we knew we were only a short drive away from the airport in the morning. Can you imagine my mum and dad's faces if we dare be late to collect them from the airport after a +24 hour journey to reach us?! I wasn't about to risk it. We left Dan and Freya (but not before Jason got some free avacados from the Farmer's Market) and spent the night at a beautiful free campsite next to the sea. I have to say, I LOVED spending the night in Graham; cooking our evening meal on our portable stove, watching the stars through the moon roof in our car as I fell to sleep and then waking up to sunrise over the sea...perfect! Let's hope the novelty of sleeping in a van doesn't wear off.

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Posted by bloorsontour 01:04 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

Auckland, New Zealand

Finding a home

We've moved from country to country a lot over the last 10 months, but I found the arrival into New Zealand from Indonesia the strangest. It felt like a VERY long way from home (which it is), but weirdly it also felt like home. There were pavements, rain showers, cool breezes and cars stopped for us at zebra crossings. Where had the pollution, crazy scooter drivers and humidity gone?!

We had 6 days to buy a van in Auckland before my Mum and Dad arrived for their two week holiday. We'd told them "No problem, we'll buy a van and chauffer you around New Zealand in that"...it turned out to be a little more stressful than anticipated. Lots of vans were for sale, but unfortunately for us most of them had been converted into full sleepers and had no passenger seats in the back of them anymore. Jason spent hours scouring the internet, local hostels and public notice boards to try and find a van. We also went into rental places to see about hiring a car or van for 2 weeks while my parents were visiting, but "no", they were all fully booked for the Easter holiday. Now for anyone who knows Jason, he is usually very laid back and stress free... so to witness signs of worry and apprehension was very uneasy to see! I was actually the one staying calm for once. We were sat in an internet cafe researching vans, when two Israeli boys came in to put up a 'for sale' poster on the notice board...you guessed it...it was for the perfect van!

We viewed the van and both knew that it was the right one for us. Unfortunately there was a small hurdle to overcome before we could purchase it. There was a chip in the windscreen that needed replacing in 2 days time, but that was fine because the Israeli boys were going to get that sorted through their insurance. The main issue was that the garage doing the windscreen didn't have time to do the WOF assessment (WOF is a sort of MOT that all cars have to have every 6 months in NZ). We didn't feel it was a good idea to buy the van unless we knew the WOF had been done. I gather the Israeli boys had a very stressful day ringing around Auckland garages to find somebody to do the WOF ASAP; we'd told them that we needed the car the next day because of my parents arrival and the fact that it was the Easter Weekend and no post offices were open to do the vehicle registration conversion. Time was running out!

We signed all the paperwork for the car, a Toyota Lucina 'luxury' 1996, and Jason named him Graham.

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Apart from van research, viewing vans and buying a van, we didn't do a lot else in Auckland. We were staying in a really nice hostel in a suburb called Ponsonby, just in a dorm room because that was all we could afford. The price difference between New Zealand and Asia was stark... we were no longer arguing over pence but more £££. There were some really nice shops, restaurants and bars. The main street reminded me of my university days on Ecclesall Road in Sheffield. We walked around Auckland centre and along the harbour front. I wasn't much of a fan of the main shopping centre but the posh part around the wharf was lovely (although everything was out of our budget).

By the time we'd sorted the van we had three nights free before Mum and Dad arrived... what to do?!

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Posted by bloorsontour 00:28 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Amed, Bali

Diving the Liberty Wreck

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Oh dear...whatever plans we'd made on Gili Trawangan for our next stop were soon quashed by a mean Balinese lady at the hotel we'd previously raved about in an earlier blog. We thought we'd quickly call into the nice hotel on Bali to change a few things over in our bags that we'd left in their storage and then rent a motorbike from them again to go up and visit Amed. This was not to be the case.

We had our bike helmets on and the motorbike keys in our hand ready to go and travel north to Amed on Bali, when a message was sent from an old lady that worked at the hotel to say that we couldn't... "Why?!". She wouldn't engage in conversion with us and let the poor receptionist do her dirty work. I think it was because we wanted to drive outside of Kuta, which lots of people do, and she wanted the bike to stay near the hotel. Of course its her decision who rents her bike, but it left us stranded near the airport with no mode of transport to get to a rental place in Kuta centre. To cut a long story short we walked for hours searching for a rental place nearby, went to the airport to ask around car rental places there, argued some more with the hotel, argued with each other about what to do next...until finally we were in very bad moods and resorted to staying in the hotel for the evening and getting an early start the next day to find a place to rent a scooter from. Not being in the best mood, the only thing to cheer me up was a nice hot bath (the hotel did have some redeeming features).

Luckily we found a scooter the next day and headed straight to Amed. Unfortunately we'd lost a day the day before so only had two nights there. We were debating whether it was worth all the effort, when blow me... we got pulled over by a policeman and fined £25 for not having an international drivers licence. £25 might not seem much to you, but in Bali that's a significant amount of money when your bike rental is only £4 a day...we weren't having much luck with this flippin' bike! We had no idea that you needed an international drivers licence, everywhere else in Asia is so lax. Oh well, surely things can only get better...

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Amed was really sleepy when we were there. Plenty of options for accommodation and our pick of restaurants. We had a nice little room near the beach that provided us with our breakfast on our private balcony every morning.

We spent our first afternoon on the beach and snorkeled around the bay. It's rocky so the water is really clear and there are plenty of tropical fish to look at, there was even an underwater shrine. There was a bit of a downpour so we retreated to a restaurant and got a massage on the beach from two local women. Although I felt really relaxed, it wasn't the best massage we'd had; I think the ladies were too busy having a good natter to each other rather than focusing on us. What I didn't like was the unexpected combing and plaiting of my hair at the end of the massage... if there's one thing I hate more than rodents it's the prospect of having nits (I'd seen many a local combing their whole families' hair on their doorsteps)... No nits found so far!

We really chose to go to Amed as it had a famous dive spot, the US cargo ship Liberty wreck. It was a boat in WW2 that was damaged by the Japanese. Luckily there were no fatalities but the ship had to be beached on the shore in Amed. It remained there until the Gunung Augung erupted and caused a big earthquake that moved the ship into the sea. Lucky for us divers, the ash that covered the boat became an ideal habitat for coral to establish and is now covered in beautiful sea life. The dive was fabulous; cruising along the length of the ship, steering through open passages, drifting past amazing tropical sea life and even fighting against the current in other places.

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Probably one of the best dives we've ever done. There was quite an amusing point at the end of the dive when Jason thought he'd lost me (amusing for me, but panic for J); I'd floated above Jason and our dive master in the shallow water when they were looking at a barracuda fish and they looked left to right to try and find me, but didn't look above them...well, they went dashing off into the blue and I was frantically tapping my tank to get their attention. Yes, they did turn around eventually and see where I was... Oops, I'd better stay nearer next time!

For the two nights we were there we ate at the same restaurant. The Balinese food was delicious. My favourite dish was chicken and pineapple chili curry and J loved the homemade banana ice cream. The lady that owned it was so lovely, she even gave a young couple a load of fresh herbs and spices to make some traditional recipes with. It was the busiest restaurant in Amed by far and you could taste why.

It was time to leave Amed and time to leave Bali, in fact it was time to leave South East Asia...it had been a blast! There was just time for one last amazing food stop on the way back to the airport.

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We've fallen in love with Indonesia and will hopefully be back to fill in those missing gaps that we didn't have time for on this visit. But for now, it's off to New Zealand to see my parents!

Posted by bloorsontour 03:03 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

Gili Islands, Indonesia

Relaxing on my Birthday

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It worked out better value to get a combined bus/ferry return ticket to the Gili Islands, thus giving us a stress free travel day. The bus picked us up on time directly from our hotel in Bali, the ferry was efficiently ran, and Gili Air turned out to be a paradise island.

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There are no motorbikes on any of the Gili islands, instead the main mode of transport is by bicycle or horse drawn carts. There's a certain romantic feel about the only way of getting around an island is by your very own horse drawn carriage, usually brightly painted to reflect the ambiance of the tropical island. There's a road/track that runs around the beaches' edge, which you can walk in a slow paced hour. There's a smattering of cute restaurants and bars on the beach and the local village lies in the middle of the island. I thought it had a slight feel of Malapascua, Philippines, about it; the locals living alongside the few sun seeking tourists. As we wandered around trying to find a deal on some accommodation, I knew I was going to feel very relaxed in this place.

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We found a really nice family run resort, Omar Gili. We negotiated a price of £17 a night with breakfast, swimming pool, our own wooden chalet and balcony, air con and hot water... Jason said we could push the boat out a little as we were spending a few days there over my birthday. Bliss!

There are only a few photographs of our time here. Jason said it was up to me how I spent my birthday... all I wanted to do was RELAX! Not that I can complain about our lifestyle at the minute...but sometimes all this travel, moving from place to place and activities everyday gets tiring. All I wanted to do was sunbathe, swim, snorkel, walk along the beach, sunset cocktails and good food... so that's what we did. All Jason asked was that I squeezed in a few games of bat and ball.

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We were only meant to stay 3 nights on Gili Air, but instead we spent 4. We thought we might have time to go over to Lombok island and climb Mount Rinjani, but unfortunately the weather was too bad. On clear days you can see Rinjani's crater from Gili Air, but for the whole time we were there it had been covered in thick cloud and rain. Local tourist operators had said that the treks were only running part way up the volcano because of the weather, so we decided not to do it. We definitely want to come back at some point and travel Lombok, especially to climb Rinjani in the dry season and make it all the way to the top. Jason has continued to say that he wants to experience sunrise above the cloud cover...

Instead of Lombok we caught a short boat ride to the party island, Gili Trawangan. Even though we were there in the quieter season, there were certainly a lot more people than on Gili Air and a party hotspot every night. More to come...

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We found another cute bungalow and agreed we'd stay here for 2 nights (2 nights turned into 3). We headed straight to a dive shop, Manta Divers, and signed up to an afternoon muck dive. I've been a bit dismissive of muck dives so far, but Jason persuaded me that I should give it a go. It was 'OK', as expected really. A dive with a sandy bottom amd a few little species hiding out; we did see a blue spotted ray, cuttle fish and some interesting pipe fish. (I think we've been spoilt diving in Komodo and Malapascua).

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An Australian guy, Warren, was on the dive with us and we joined him for some post-dive drinks. It would seem Jason and Warren got quite a taste for vodka joss shots: consisting of a mouthful of foaming energy powder downed with a shot of vodka (they're disgusting!). We joined a few people from the dive shop for some food a drinks that evening, which then turned into me watching Warren and Jason dance around at the evenings beach party. I have to tell you, it was VERY entertaining! I also revelled in Jason's pain the 'morning after'... those vodka joss' don't make for a good hangover and we missed the first two dives of the day the next morning.

After finally managing to move Jason we went out on an afternoon dive. Again, it was 'OK'...we saw a couple of turtles and a huge cuttle fish (which I found particularly impressive), but there was a lot of bleached coral and evidence of past reef dynamiting from fisherman. The dive had quite a nice drift and gently swept me over the coral bed and through the thermocline. The thermocline is beautiful underwater changes in temperature and depth, creating visual ripples of glistening water; I especially love it because if you're in the hot part of the sea its like diving in a warm bath. Overall diving in Gili was fun and the dive shop were really sociable, but for us the dive sites just weren't a patch on some of the places we've been before.

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We joined Warren and his friends for the evening again, enjoyed some food and had a few drinks. There's a good night market area on Gili Trawangan and we had some bbq'd fish with rice and vegetables. We thought we'd ordered BBQ mahi mahi fish, but weren't convinced that was what we got because when we did some fish ID later it looked nothing like what we ate...whatever it was we ate it served us a good evening feed.

Apart from diving we just spent our time lazing around on the beach...again! It gave us chance to work out what we were going to do next...

Posted by bloorsontour 02:54 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

Kuta, Bali

Finding the hidden gems

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By the time our plane had arrived in Denpasar, Bali, we had missed the mini-van connection to the Gili Islands ferry. Nevermind, it just meant that we gained a day in Kuta.

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We'd met numerous backpackers that had spoken negatively about Kuta; "dirty", "crowded", "cheap", "too Australian", etc... We needed to make our own minds up about this famous Bali destination so we hopped on a motorbike and spent the day exploring.

Following our noses we ended up breakfasting at a cracking little place, satisfying our taste buds with eggs and bacon. You could tell we were in a very Western area by the restaurants, people and shops around us (it certainly didn't feel much like Asia). We had a little browse around the surf shops before getting on the motorbike again to find the beach.

There were streets and streets of busy shopping areas. Loads of tourists. Lots of traffic. I was starting to see why so many people disliked Kuta. We found Kuta Beach, which turned out to be a very hot stretch of sand with a no go swimming code due to high currents. I was getting moody because I was so hot from my walk along the beach, but couldn't get in the sea to cool off. The lifeguards on patrol were signaling for people to get out of the shallow waters. I guess the beach wasn't as dirty as people had described, but it was no where near our top beaches list.

Kuta is in the southern part of Bali and just below it is the Bukit Peninsula. We drove south and entered a very strange resort area called Nusa Dua which felt dated and quiet. There were lots of big hotels lining immaculate tree lined streets and displays of Hindu sculptures on street walls; but unfortunately there were few signs of it being a thriving tourist area. We had a little drinks rest at a cute cafe on the beach and virtually shared the sea view to ourselves.

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We headed further around the south coast, taking in the rugged cliffs with often inaccessible bays. We followed a sign for a sea view temple and and found a perfect bay. Although the temple wasn't anything to write home about, the beach was beautiful...crystal clear water, surfers paradise and peaceful.

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We only stayed at the beach for a short time because we wanted to try and catch sunset on Jimbaran Beach. We pulled in at the southern part where it was really busy (but good bustling busy) and had an array of restaurants offering seafood bbqs. We slowly wandered up and down the beach, inspecting each restaurant and making sure we chose the right place to eat. I have to say... I think we did good (although I can't remember the name). Jason chose a snapper; we had it bbq'd with chili dressing, served with nasi goreng, vegetables, omlette and ice cold beers. We watched the perfect sunset from our beach front table and the sky lit up ruby red in colour.

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Considering this was a bit of a "make-do" day in Bali, we'd had a perfect day together. Granted, there are cheap, touristy places in Kuta, but if you're prepared to get off the beaten track you will be rewarded with beautiful scenery. I certainly look forward to seeing a bit more of what Bali has to offer...

Posted by bloorsontour 01:36 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Maumere, Flores, Indonesia

Roland

We'd left Moni in the morning without a plan, we just knew that we could get to Maumere on the coast and then decide if we wanted to stay there or move on once we got there. There's supposed to be a nice stretch of sand along the east coast from Maumere where you can do some diving and it also had an airport in case we wanted to fly back to Bali.

Flores island had had really bad or no internet connection so far. I knew my mum would be worrying. We had no phone, no internet and we'd missed Mother's Day back at home...we were bound to be in bad books. Our first priority when getting to Maumere was to find an internet connection to let family know we were safe and well.

We got dropped off at the only backpacker accommodation in town (I can't remember the name). We walked in and walked straight back out again; it felt like a prison, had mouldy walls and unfriendly staff. There was a frustratingly slow internet room a short walk away so we went in there to try and contact home... snails pace internet made it only possible to send one quick email to our parents and then we gave up on anything else.

We had no way of searching for other accommodation in the area and no way of getting onwards flight tickets... hhmmm, what to do? We saw a small sign on the opposite side of the road from the internet room advertising an airline company, so thought it was worth a try. It turned out to be a lifesaver! A really friendly guy named Roland and his colleague booked some flight tickets for us the next day back to Bali. They also had free internet connection that we used to try and establish a bit more of a travel plan.

Not only did they help to organise our flight tickets for no extra fee, they also took Jason out on a motorbike to find accommodation for the evening. We ended up with a budget room a walk away from the airport and a stones throw away from the sea... just what we needed. In fact, Roland and his colleague seemed to be arguing about who should drive us to the hotel, they both wanted to help out so much. We offered to buy him a drink for his services, but he politely declined and stated that it should be him who buys us a drink because we are a guest in his country. In return all he asked for was a photograph with us... we kindly obliged.

I'm afraid we only took one photograph of our day in Maumere and unfortunately none of the friendly Roland. We had a little bit of time to grab some food from a local cafe before catching an early night ready for our flight the next morning. Sometimes, usually when you least expect it, there's a good Samaritan with a friendly smile to help you on your way. Thank you Roland!

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Posted by bloorsontour 13:59 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Moni, Flores, Indonesia

Kelimutu's Lakes

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The journey from Bajawa to Moni was interesting to say the least! The first part was fine as we took a shared car to Ende. The next part was more difficult as a landslide had blocked a large section of the highway. We had two options: get a lift to one side, climb over the rubble for 30 minutes with all of our stuff and then get a car at the other end; or take the scenic route around. We ended up getting a shared car that was taking a longer, more bumpy, dangerous, winding, breathtaking, heart stopping route around the landslide...I honestly saw my life flash before my eyes. To be fair to our driver, he was really careful and took his time over the worst of the road. We saw a fair few motorbikes on the floor and people walking sections because they'd given up.

Our room was 'ok'; we could have had a nice new room for £15 a night but we were good and remained on budget and paid £6 for an older room with no flushing toilet and cold shower. The place where we were staying, Bintang Guesthouse, was sociable and had a really nice host named Billy that played the guitar. You named a song and he'd be able to play it. There's more coming up about our entertainment there, but for our first night we got an early night so that we could make sunrise on Kelimutu volcano.

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We set off at 4.30am on our motorbike so that we were at Kelimutu's summit for sunrise. There's no hard trekking on this volcano, the road takes you more or less straight to the top with a well signposted path that leads you to a viewing area at the summit. The volcano is famed for its 3 crater lakes, all of which change colours. There's normally a blue/turquoise one, then a grey/blue one and a red/black one. I'm not sure what determines the change of colours, but you have to be lucky to get a turquoise, red and grey combo.

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We were a unlucky with the weather because the sunrise was covered in thick cloud. As the photograph demonstrates.

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We'd heard that you should stay around the crater lakes until about 10am anyway in order to see the sun shining over the lakes and enhancing their colours. So we bought a coffee and hot chocolate from a local man, snuggled in (because it was getting a little chilly) and had a snooze on top of the volcano waiting for the clouds to blow over.

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Most people had given up and left, but we persevered...the sun came out and the turquoise lake looked magical.

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Jason took some photographs of monkeys by the grey/blue lake.

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Jason was keen to explore off the main path and so we walked along the dark lakes' edge...my vertigo kicked in! There's a point where you can see two lakes up close and Jason was leaning over a little to get a photograph (although J will claim he was well in the limits of safety, I was getting clammy at the thought of falling into the volcano). Jason says "quick, look at the lake bubbling!"... I peer over the edge and then feel even worse for doing so. I got down on the floor and shuffled to an area away from the edge. (Honestly heights never used to bother me, but I can't seem to handle it on this trip).

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After our early start to the volcano I was feeling pretty tired and we'd heard about a beautiful beach about an hour and a half away. I was in the mood for relaxing. The drive to the beach was amazing; twisting roads through mountains and every person we went past shouted "hello". Koko Beach was your picture postcard paradise. There's a choice of two equally immaculate beaches, both palm fringed with nobody on either of them. Perfect!

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There was a shack on the beach with a really smiley man that ran it. No menu, no English, no idea what was being cooked behind the wooden walls...but we somehow ended up with one of our favourite meals of the island. BBQ'd mackerel with spicy veg, rice and sambol, bottled water, bananas and fresh coconut for £2 total. I continue to fall more and more in love with Flores.

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We'd spent the morning at a beautiful volcano and the afternoon in paradise, ate a delicious meal on the beach and then we had a full evening of entertainment back at our guesthouse. Billy got his guitar out, the arak was flowing, everyone was singing along and a good time was had by all. I seemed to get the short straw (although he provided lots of entertainment) and was sat next to Mauro, the local'funny' man. He didn't speak much English, but continued to proposition me as best he could. He wanted Jason to buy his blanket wrap for one million and asked the same question to him over and over again. He smoked like a trooper and I had to dart out of the way of his ash all night, nearly losing an eye on numerous occasions. He apparently has lots of women in the village to keep him 'company' and wanted to tell me all about them. Jason found the whole thing hilarious.

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We were unsure about our next plan of action...to see more of Flores or move on to another Indonesian island?!

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Posted by bloorsontour 13:44 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Bajawa, Flores, Indonesia

Homestay with Marselino

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There aren't many transport options when travelling around Flores; you can either get a local van/bus that's crammed with people and no guarantee of when you get to a place or you can pay for a space in a car (it seems to be a popular way of locals making money). We caught a car from Labuanbajo to Bajawa (via a 3 hour stop in Ruteng) and then a short motorbike ride to our homestay.

There weren't many affordable accommodation options in Bajawa, but luckily we pre-booked a couple of nights in Marselino's Homestay...however...we got to his house and he said he'd got no message about our reservation! We arrived at the same time as 2 girls and ended up having a debate as to who should have the last room... luckily we won! It was a very basic twin room with shared bathroom (although the bathroom was more of a tiled hut with a bucket) and an amazing banana pancake breakfast.

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Marselino was very 'rasta' laid back, with long dreadlocked hair and nothing was too much trouble for him. We took him up on his offer of being our guide around Bajawa the next day. For our evening meal we shared a huge plate of homemade guacamole, chicken satay and nasi goreng and then got an early night ready for our tour the next day.

Marseliono seems to be the man in 'the know' and had a busy morning sorting breakfast, bike rentals, transport for people... and finally we were off on our own guided tour with him. We followed him on a motorbike through beautiful scenery and local villages with the odd stops for photograph opportunities too. We stopped off a local cafe first where he collected our lunch for later... Hmmmmm, I was sceptical at this point whether I would enjoy my lunch to come as different sauces were ladled into a brown bag...

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Our guide seemed to know everybody we crossed, something of a local celebrity. People were so friendly, almost every person would shout "hello" as we drove past and kids would be desperate for a high five.

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Inerie volcano dominates the landscape. Jason was very keen to make the 4 hour climb to the top, but unfortunately we wouldn't have time. So instead we just took in the view.

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The roads are lined with fruit trees, you name it and it was there...banana, papaya, pineapple, coconut, melon, guava and avocados. Marselino stopped to point out the avacado tree and to pick some of the fruits from the floor to make smoothies with. A conversation then started between him and a local farmer and they agreed a price of £1 for 15kg of avocados (Marselino couldn't believe the price in the UK, maybe £2-3 for one).

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We visited a Ngada village named Luba first: quaint thatched houses with a centre piece of wooden parasols.

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The wooden parasols in the centre represented a village clan and were constructed on top of animal sacrifices (a chicken, pig and dog had to be buried alive beneath them during a village ceremony). Marselino took time to explain about the Ngada traditions of the villagers; we learnt how they practice a fusion of animism and Christianity, that they still follow the caste system and how its a matriarchal society. It was fascinating to learn about their culture.

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These buffalo horns and pig jaws are outside all of the houses and show what animals are sacrificed during the production of a family house.

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We also visited Bena village, which is bigger than Luba and set up with souvenir stalls selling sarongs, nuts and jewellery. We got conned into buying macadamia nuts, only for Marselino to tell us that they weren't and if eaten raw in any significant quantitu they can be poisonous... lucky escape.

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There's something to be said for living the simple life; families living side by side enjoying each others company, living off the land with plentiful fruit and veg, kids running around carefree, no video games or internet to distract. These kids were so happy with a plastic bag on the end of some string, running up and down the village screaming and laughing...I shall remember what joy a plastic bag can bring when kids at home beg for the latest computer game. I can hear my Wrinkles (Grandparents) agreeing with this sentiment as they have tried to tell me this for many years, "In the good old days..."

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It was a short motorbike ride to the hot springs where we enjoyed a delicious Indonesian lunch (no need for my earlier scepticism). Wrapped in a brown bag we feasted on bamboo curry, thick vegetable omelette, spiced barracuda fish, sambol, rice and noodles... I wish I'd taken a photograph but we were too busy eating it! There was a local man there who insisted on giving us arak, homemade rice wine; the sory that when it goes down your throat it burns. Ergh! Not good, but felt impolite to decline his offer.

There's the perfect pool of flowing water at the hot springs, where a cold and hot water stream mix together. If you stayed in the flow of hot water for too long it was scalding, and with the weather being hot anyway it was unbearable. Nevertheless there were some patches that were just right and we basked in the sun. There was a really cute little boy there, who was showing off to Jason, jumping and splashing around like a fish.

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After this we took to our motorbike again, collected Marselino's avocados from the side of the road and headed back to our homestay. It had been a really lovely day; we'd had a great guide, learnt a lot about a new culture and met some of the most beautiful people on our travels. I had well and truely fallen in love with Flores Island.

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Posted by bloorsontour 02:14 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Labuanbajo, Flores, Indonesia

Magical Komodo National Park

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By the time we got to KL airport the boys would already be in the sky somewhere on their way home. We had a brilliant couple of weeks with them but now it was time for a new adventure in Indonesia. We should have shares in AirAsia the amount of times we seem to have flown with them recently. We arrived at Bali airport in the evening and had pre-booked a hotel near the airport as we were flying to Labuanbajo the next morning.

Although it was a brief overnight stop in Bali, it was one I was looking forward to because I had booked a hotel room with a bath. All that know me well, know that there's nothing more I love than a bath... I literally can't remember the last time I got to have one. For £10 a night Anika Melati Hotel was worth every penny; bath, air con, a proper thick duvet, spa, pool and a short walk to the airport. We'll definitely be back.

The next morning we were off to the airport again. I'm pretty sure it was the first time I'd been in a propeller aeroplane (or at least that I can remember) and as we were walking up to it I couldn't help but think it looked like a toy plane... let's hope for a safe landing.

We'd already arranged our accommodation and activities in Labuanbajo because we'd emailed quite a few dive shops to enquire about their rates and activities in the Komodo National Park. We headed straight to Manta Rhei Dive Shop and were met by Jules who got us immediately kitted up with our dive gear for the next few days... I was so excited to be under the water again. The dive shop also had a resident dog named puffer (I assume named after the puffer fish). We were staying in their homestay for free because we were diving with them for two days. Whilst we were waiting to be shown to our homestay we had an oxtail soup lunch and found a coffee shop with internet (and air con!). Once shown to our room we were quite pleased; our own room and ensuite plus an entire house to ourselves.

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Labuanbajo is the main hub for people to access the Komodo National Park from. It's relatively small with a main street filled with dive shops and Italian restaurants (don't ask me why, but all food there was either Indonesian or Italian). There's a small working fishing harbour where you can see them bringing in the days catch and a local market near the pier. If we'd had enough time we could have hired a motorbike to explore the bat caves, waterfalls and spider web rice terraces near to Labuanbajo, but unfortunately we didn't.

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Our first day diving Komodo National Park was incredible. The sun was shining, our boat had comfy bean bags for us to lounge in, breakfast on top deck and a breathtaking landscape. The National Park is a series of islands, which at the time of our visit were lush green mounds popping out of the sea in every direction. I can think of no better way to spend a morning.

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The first dive, Tarawa Basar, was a beautiful bright coral bed with tonnes of tropical fish. We saw a crocodile flathead fish as soon as we entered the water and 3 hawksbill turtles munching on the coral. They were so close you could touch them (but obviously this isn't allowed). Then our dive guide, Rennee, tapped her tank to get our attention and there, right in front of us, was a 3 metre manta ray gliding gracefully straight towards Jason...all J could do was hope that there was no collision and enjoy the moment.

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Could the diving in the park get any better when on our first dive encounter we saw hawksbill turtles, black and white tip sharks, a crocodile flathead fish, giant sweetlips, a black velutinid and a majestic manta ray?! Oh yes, Batu Balong was a beautiful reef garden and coral wall that was jam packed with tropical fish (you name it, it was there); white tip sharks, sweetlips, lionfish, pufferfish, bat fish, moray eels, parrot fish, snappers, wrasse, unicorn fish, sea snakes, the list goes on... All I could do was float around and marvel at the coloured coral and abundance of sea life. Jason was also thrilled because he managed to find himself a pink metal scuba stick with attached wristband; a lot of divers carry them so you can point at objects, tap your tanks for attention and anchor into the sea bed whilst observing in stronger currents.

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Rather than doing a third dive in the day we opted to get off the boat at Rinca Island to see the komodo dragons. We'd seen quite a few monitor lizards on our travels, which were frankly too big for my liking anyway, so the prospect of seeing the deadly komodo dragons made me apprehensive. I'd researched beforehand and knew that the dragons were extremely dangerous creatures, so was surprised when our guide met us off the boat with only a stick as self defence (I was hoping for a machete/gun combo). I'd even put my shoes on because didn't fancy the idea of having flip flops if I needed to run away (I am Safety Soph after all).

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Komodo dragons can only be found on Komodo, Rinca and Flores, and there are only about 4000 worldwide. The park ranger informed us that they don't feed them because they don't want them to relate food to humans; however it's strange how a lot of the dragons congregate around the staff kitchen (sceptical). Nevertheless, it gave us a great opportunity to see them up close.

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One had just finished a feast and we could see its leftovers around its chops...I think it made him look particularly menacing. Their tongues poke in and out of their mouths as they sense what's around them and I was just hoping it wasn't me as their next meal.

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The guide took us on a short walk around the island and explained a little more about the dragons and the park. I quizzed him about 'death by dragons', 'guides attacked by dragons', 'tourist injuries by dragons'... let's just say I didn't feel anymore reassured. There was a nice viewing spot at the top of the island where we enjoyed the views and sea breeze, but unfortunately we didn't get the brochure photo of the view with the dragon in the foreground, just me instead.

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The 2 hour boat ride back to Labuanbajo was bliss. We had afternoon tea and cakes served on the top deck and took a snooze in the sun as we sailed back to the mainland. The dive company really treat you well and their boat seemed to be one of the best in the harbour. In the evening we enjoyed a lovely Italian meal by the waterfront and had an early night ready for our early start diving the next day.

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The diving the next day was equally spectacular. Pengah Kecil and Siabah dive sites were beautiful and filled with sea life, however the highlight of our day was Manta Point. I think this was up there with the thresher shark dive we'd done in Malapascua, Philippines. As we submerged into the water there was instantly a huge 4 metre manta ray beneath us at a cleaning station. As we drifted along the sea bed there was another three circling each other, then another two, then another... and another! I lost count how many we saw. It took all of my energy to deflate and grip onto the sea bed against the current so that I could watch these magnificent creatures. They are so graceful against the current... I on the otherhand was struggling to keep my balance. Jason's new pink stick came in handy as he could dig it into the sandy floor and balance himself against the strong currents. Even if you don't scuba dive you can get a really good view of the rays on snorkelling trips as the water is only 5-10 metres deep. At one point one of them swiftly changed direction and glided straight over our heads... incredible! I'm running out of superlative to describe the whole experience.

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When we got back there was just enough time to see a sunset over Labuanbajo from a rooftop bar with a large Bintang beer... Magical!

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If there's ever a holiday where you want to see natural beauty, unworldly creatures, paradise beaches, great food and beautiful local people... you should book a holiday to Komodo National Park. There's so much more we wanted to see and I definitely want to go back again!

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Note: we need to invest in a red filter for our underwater camera because you lose colour in deep water and our photographs don't capture just how bright it was down there.

Posted by bloorsontour 03:28 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Farewell Tom, Rich, Sam - it was a blast

Kuala Lumpur for the last time (for a while anyway)

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We arrived back in Kuala Lumpur for our last time (me and Soph have lost count of the number of trips to and from the airport here). It was clear that Tom, Rich and Sam were turning their attention to the week ahead and so a quiet, early night was in order. We called in at the Central Market for lastminute souvenir shopping before going for a cracking curry around the corner from the hostel. The hostel rooftop bar would be our final destination on what had been a fun few weeks.

The trip had run its course and I think everyone was happy, or at least ok with returning to our respective "normalities". The hard part was the thought of when we would get to see each other again. Tom said " I guess I won't see you for a couple of years..." Hopefully that won't be the case, it seems like a very long time, but then we've been away for 10months already and that time has flown by. I feel that all of my good friends and I are happy seeing each other when we can, without expectations. There's little upkeep and it's always good when we do meet up. Tom did however promise to strike me if I develop the upward inflections of our colonial brethren... Fair enough.

So, LadsonTour had ended and it was back to me and Ginge on the road - not such a bad prospect! We were both sad to say goodbye indefinitely, but were really pleased that the 3 of them made the effort (and expense) of coming to see us. It meant a lot and made the organisation required more than worth it! Thanks a lot you 3. You're welcome anytime!

P.S. we'll definitely be back visiting the uk in the next 2 years.

Posted by bloorsontour 22:07 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Langkawi, Malaysia

Sun, sea, sand, jet ski, birthday, gin...

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At last, some beach time! We were all looking forward to relaxing on the white sand and Sam was extremely keen to rock his beach body. A taxi took us straight to our hotel, which we'd already booked on our previous visit to Langkawi a few weeks ago.

Within a couple of minutes we'd been introduced to our neighbours, Annie and Jamie, who bought us all out a can of Skol beer from their fridge as a welcome drink. They couldn't have timed it any better. We sat out enjoying our beers and chatted to our new neighbours, who turned out to be real characters. There was some debate amongst us over their age but I reckon they were in their 70s, they'd travelled all over the world, both had the tanned leathered skin of sun worshippers, and Jamie looked like a roadie from the Rolling Stones (long, perfectly blond sleeked hair). There was a lot of man love for Jamie!

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The evening was getting on a bit and we'd missed sunset, so instead went straight out for some food at the restaurant we'd loved on our last visit to the island. We bought a bottle of Tanquarey gin for the table and enjoyed a feast of prawn fritters, rotis, beef rendang, chicken curry and prawn curry... the evening got off to a very good start!

We then walked along to the beach and enjoyed a few drinks on the bean bags. It was a very civilised evening of wine and good chat... that was until sand wrestling got underway... Boys will be boys! Rich rugby tackled Jason to the ground, but unfortunately Jason retaliated and turned him into a sand monster. J had managed to get sand in his ears, eyes, beard, I'm sure all sorts of crevasses... I was trying to brush it off him and Tom was dowsing him in water to help (although that appeared to make Rich's eyes worse). I think it was all taken in good humour...

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The next day was a lazy day of sunbathing, swimming, eating, sunbathing, drinking, snoozing... very relaxing. There's not much else to report from the day, but we did have a nice evening at Jam Rock (a new bar on the beach with sunset views). We enjoyed a few cocktails, watched the sun go down, listened to an acoustic set (with King Kong as backing dancer) and ordered some bbq food. The food looked really good and we were looking forward to a feast. Unfortunately I think there were some teething problems; Tom had to send back his raw fish, Sam's steak was tough, mine and Jason's food was cold and missing items and it all arrived at odd times. We politely complained and eventually our food came back a lot better. We certainly couldn't complain about the setting, a perfect wooden beach bar (still partly under construction), nice vibe and chilled atmosphere. Satisfied with our food we got up to pay and were told by a friendly Malaysian guy that we didn't need to pay for any of our food and 'sorry' for the problems... Winner! Although it was a bit tight on Rich because he paid for his BBQ burger up front, which was very average and he didn't complain, so ended up being the only one to pay for food that night.

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Happy Birthday Richard! Me, Jason and Tom got up early and went for a morning swim in the sea, a really lovely start to my day! We gave Tom a few pointers on his swimming; relax the arm stroke out of the water and slow down the kick; and guess what...he looked a professional. We then met Sam and Rich for a massive breakfast at one of the bigger hotels near to our rooms. We only paid £2 for an all you can eat breakfast and it even included baked beans... amazing! I'm sure the establishment were keeping an eye on Sam as he worked his way through all the banana loaf that was on offer.

The day was of Rich's choice; boat trip, swimming, motorbikes, snorkelling? He, alongside the others, decided on a day of sunbathing and bat & ball. After a morning of sunbathing we thought Rich might want his first Birthday beer of the day so went to a Mexican restaurant for their happy hour and we all wore Mexican party hats to get Rich in the Birthday spirit (I think Jason could get away with being a Mexican... don't you?)

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We also treated ourselves to a bottle of wine, picnic style in plastic cups, on the beach.

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I don't know what it is with the boys, but they love bat & ball... they even went on a lengthy hunt to find a shop that sold them. I've never played tennis with Sam, but Jason tells me that he's got a vicious slice and this seems to be the case with bat & ball as he broke the bat. Sam you're very competitive. There are some cracking action shots.

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I'd had a lot of sun time and feared I was looking like Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, so left the boys to their game and got ready for a night out. We went back to the same restaurant in the evening as it was 'bring your own' and splashed out on a bottle of bubbly for the birthday boy. It was to be another evening of drinking... my liver needs more time than this to recover. We went to a couple of bars and then on to the only club on the island, Sun Bar. It was the strangest place but seemingly very popular as it was busy, it gave us a chance to have a Birthday boogie anyway.

It was quite late when we got up the next day and we were all in the mood for another Mexican fix to help us with our hangovers. The portions are massive and I'm a particular fan of their chimichanga and lemon & mint drinks. I think it was just what the doctor ordered. The only other thing we got up to was sunbathing, bat & ball and general beaching around.

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In the evening we went to a seafood restaurant that was jam packed with customers, so we had high hopes for our food. We should have known to walk out straight away when it took so long to organise a table and then when the waitress took no interest in taking our order. I quite like the loud shouting and hectic food haunts in Asia, however I think some people found the screaming in their vicinity a bit too much. The boys debated whether or not to try a lobster, but in the end went for shared crispy squid starters, with Sam having crab as a main dish and Tom and Rich ordering fish. We waited...and waited... and waited for our order. We watched other people give up and leave the restaurant in frustration at waiting. We hung on in there and eventually, after 90 minutes, got some of our food delivered to the table. We all felt really bad for Sam, he was really looking forward to his seafood meal for the evening and his plate of crabs were virtually inedible; just scraps of claws with no meat in them. In the end he gave up and shared the fish from our orders, which were too huge for person to manage themselves anyway. I'd just like to say now that me and Jason had a lovely meal at this place, but I think the mood had been hampered by poor service and others inadequate meals. It then got worse when we bought it to the waitresses' attention and said we wanted the service charge taking off the bill. There were lots of debating, lots of staring and in the end shouts of frustration from the waitresses that they would have to foot our bill to the owner. By the end of the meal we just wanted to get out of there and me and Jason retired to our bed. I guess you can say "you win some, you lose some"...

It was our last day in Langkawi and the main activity of the day was jet skiing! Eek! Jason and his mum did it a few weeks ago and the video of them looked so much fun... well this time it was my turn. Luckily I was partnered with Sam, as Toms experience was 'wet' to say the least. I'm sorry Sam, I know I was timid, but I was so scared of the power the jet ski had and you seemingly drive it with very little control at very high speed. I think Sam may also have suffered from a burst ear drum from my screaming the entire time. How I stayed on the jet ski is a mystery, Sam went full pelt through the waves and all I could do was cling on for dear life. It was such good fun, better than any ride at Alton Towers, and I'd recommend it to anyone. As for Tom's experience...we all jested him when he tied swimming goggle bands around his sunglasses before getting on the jet ski, but he definitely needed them with Rich's driving. I couldn't stop laughing at his cob when we returned to the shore "Rich did me a over...I can't believe he chucked me off the back of it"... he was soaked but at least he still had his sunglasses on his head. As for Rich, he was beaming from ear to ear.

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There was just time for one last meal at the Malaysian 'bring your own' restaurant... and yes, it was another table full of food. I must admit this time there was a bit of confusion with our order and the restaurant service was a little lax, but you can't grumble at what you get for your money... the food is delicious and our bottle of gin went down a treat. Rather too well for some...Rich had to retire early to sleep it off while I enjoyed a few prosecco cocktails in a bar. There was one last giggle from Langkawi...that was Rich locking out Sam and Tom from their room and then being unable to open the door to let them back in...I was in fits of giggles (maybe the prosecco bubbles had gone to my head).

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Note: there was a lot of drinking, but it's a must when staying on a duty free island!

Posted by bloorsontour 00:40 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Georgetown, Penang

Food, cocktails and street art (take 2: lads on tour)

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Georgetown was our last stop before hitting the beaches of Langkawi. The weather was blistering hot and the pace was slow.

We checked into Wassup Hostel, ready for our first night of sharing one room... it was cosy. I thought Sophie would be thrilled at the prospect of spending the night with 4 strapping lads, but she confided that this was not the case, with her concerns being based on smells and Rich's sleep walking tendencies.

After we'd settled in, we headed out, decided to get some food and so we took them to the Eastern and Oriental Hotel where we'd enjoyed a nice meal with mum a few weeks ago. It was all very civilised... although not the best food of our trip the tiffin was pretty good again.
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Next up we recommended a visit to the Blue Mansion. We hoped that they would get the same tour guy we did, who was excellent. Instead they reported getting a Ting Tong from Little Britain lookalike and they could only understand 50% of what she said. It was nice and handy for the cocktail bar afterwards anyway... The pedant in one may highlight an issue with the "happy hour" at this place; it actually spans 5 hours... We made the most of things and for Sophie four margarita's seemed to have taken effect (Sophie claims to have only had 3...). We went in search of food but got distracted by various bits of Chinese new year celebrations and called in at a temple, at which point Sophie began fluttering around the courtyard like an oversized and somewhat dazed butterfly. She was a hit with some costumed Chinese men with weapons, being plucked ahead of the queue for a photo.
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Eventually we found a curry house for a much needed feed. As you can see from the picture, it was all a little too late to rescue Sophie and after a few laps of the nearby streets, we left the boys to a few more cocktails. Soph was apologetic, but she'd provided plenty of entertainment for the evening!
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We ventured out for brunch after a lie in and stumbled upon an excellent little place: (Jawi House Cafe & Gallery). Tom and Sam spent the rest of the day arguing about how good their respective dishes were and why each was the best. Naturally, neither conceded, but it was definitely a sign of a good meal. There was even a good pudding selection, which is pretty unheard of in Asia. The pineapple and coconut tart was good and there was an incredibly bouncy chocolate cake, but the prize went to a type of set rice pudding with a coconut and palm sugar sauce. It's hard to explain, but it was a taste and texture sensation!
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After a long lie in and an extended feeding session, it was time to see George Town's historic centre. Well, after a bit of shopping... Sophie got herself a ribena ice on a stick, Tom deliberated for a few hours and then bought Catherine a photo, Rich and Sam treated themselves to a vintage poster (Rich opting for the vintage beer one).
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So, Georgetown... I'd found most of the art (or rather Sophie had given a cracking guided tour) on our last trip, so I gave a whistle stop tour of the big names. The highlights being Sam and Rich's attempts at a Bruce Lee flying kick, Tom and Sam on a swing and Tom and Sam pretending to be part of the basketball scene.
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Next up, we decided to take a trishaw though an area, so far unseen and get dropped off at the cocktail bar to start our evening. Unfortunately we chose a couple of bandits! We agreed that 30mins would be enough as we'd seen a lot on foot already. After a little over 10 mins (I knew this as I checked when we set off and it was 6pm give or take a minute) they announced that time was up. We had a stand off, I told them that we'd be reporting them to the tourist police and took a mugshot. Mine and Sam's driver looked a little sheepish, with the other guy the apparent ring leader. We ended up paying something like £4 instead of £5, which I hoped would not lead to having a trishaw Mafia after us, but would mean they hadn't completely won!
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We kept Sophie in check on the cocktail front, ordered some food to be washed down and put the world to rights for a few hours. Being Chinese new year, there was a big celebration on the Esplanade. It was an assault on the senses (mainly the ears)! Sam described as "machine gun fire of words", endless, repeated, high pitched, screaches of words! The lion dancing was impressive and it was certainly an authentic experience. We were glad of a little quiet once it was all over.
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Our time in Georgetown was short, but on the day of our leaving, we had time for one last meal at Jawi house. It didn't dissapoint and we left for our flight feeling pretty content with our time (I think?).

Posted by bloorsontour 05:44 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Lake Toba, North Sumatra

Samosir: Volcanic Island

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It proved to be quite an uncomfortable overnight journey from Bukit Lawang to Lake Toba; in a car in upright seats, bumpy roads and the occasional snore from Jason. We arrived in Parapat in the early hours of the morning, nothing was open, it was pitch black and rather cold. Eventually a little cafe opened and we all had a nasi goreng (fried rice) breakfast, which seemed to cheer us all up no end.

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The ferry across Lake Toba was a traditional wooden boat and brightly painted. Unfortunately there was an annoying tout pestering us (which is not good when you're talking to a group suffering from lack of sleep). We each kindly told him "thank you for your information, but we're going to view other accommodation and then decide which one we want to stay in"...he wouldn't take this for an answer. I was struggling to keep my cool and had to turn away. Luckily he gave up and we were able to enjoy the beautiful lake view and catch a quick nap on the boat.

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If you look on a map the island of Samosir looks incredible; it was formed from a volcano eruption and the lake now lies in the middle of its caldera. Lake Toba is huge and Samosir Island sits in the middle of it and is the size of Singapore. Most people stay in a village area called Tuk Tuk; with plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops to keep you occupied on an otherwise very sleepy island.

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We ended up getting rooms at Liberta Guesthouse. Me and Jason viewed our room, which was empty at the time of our arrival, and based on our lovely wooden bungalow with hot water agreed to spend two nights here (at £4 a night we couldn't believe what we were getting for our money).

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Unfortunately the boys didn't agree... When their room became available they nicknamed it the "crack den"... Oh dear! They had a wooden hut with cold water and squat toilet, Rich's mattress was on the floor and an ant problem. They were only paying £1 each a night. Liberta's Guesthouse itself was really nice; on the lake, nice little seating area for breakfast and friendly staff. I think mine and Jason's standards have definitely lowered as we've stayed in a lot worse accommodation than their hut for more money... nevermind, they survived the ordeal with only a few mosquito bites.

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I made every attempt to stay awake for the day. We enjoyed breakfast at Liberta's and then took to the lake for a dip. I paddled out a little way but got a bit panicked by the plants floating in the lake. I tried really hard to keep my eyes open but had to give in and had a little afternoon nap. We all ended up catching 40 winks and then reconvened for a walk around Tuk Tuk in the evening.

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Tuk Tuk's quite pleasant; although there's not a lot going on, it is still very picturesque and laid back. We wandered around for a little while, taking in the views and working up a hunger. Weirdly, there were signs for magic mushrooms everywhere, but don't you worry, me being straight laced, I told the boys that I'd be extremely disappointed in them if they tried them and instead veered them in the direction of normal food instead.

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We found a restaurant with cheap beer and bbq'd fish where we spent the rest of the night eating and drinking. We had beer galore, a huge fresh fish, nasi goreng and the best chilli/lime sambol ever!!!! We need to try out this recipe at home. As if all that food wasn't enough we then called in at another restaurant for homemade donuts and coconut cookies... delicious!

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We'd planned to have one full day on Samosir and so chose to explore it on a motorbike. I pulled the short straw and had to drive around on my own bike...I quite enjoyed it really. Jason had Rich on the back of his bike because he can't ride a bike, not even a push bike, but surpringly asked if he could practice on a scooter... Jason's face was a picture at his request... Don't worry, the boys managed to persuade him out of practising on a motorbike and he remained a passenger for the whole day.Don't you think Sam looks like a Lego man in his motorbike helmet?! Haha, it was the only one left.

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We drove through traditional villages and admired their batak architecture.

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The boys stopped for a swim next door to the water buffalo's watering hole. I didn't fancy sharing a bath with a buffalo so instead took some photographs from the beach. The water is volcanically heated and the boys said it was warm and occasionally they felt bubbles underneath their feet.

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We had nasi goreng for lunch and coconut by the lake.

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And took in the views of the lake and its volcano.

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We only had time for one whole day at the lake, if we'd had an extra day we might have done a fishing trip or hike to a waterfall, but to be honest it's a very sleepy place and you can get a sense of the island in just a few hours.

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Just before we flew out of Medan we had one evening free to experience a little of what Medan had to offer. When you drive into the city it's a crazy busy, heavily polluted, sprawl of run down streets and I wasn't looking forward to venturing out from our hotel room to get some food. Everyone we crossed shouted "hello mister" or stared at us for an uncomfortable amount of time as we walked past them. We'd managed to find a cafe just a short walk away from our hotel and sat in their dirty plastic seats on the edge of a very busy road. We made out a few words from the menu, like "ayam" (chicken) and "nasi" (rice) and when our order came had a table full of delicious freshly made food. One of my favourites was the stuffed sheets of pastry/roti mix that had been deep fried and then dipped in chili sauce (the boys even ordered seconds). As if the food wasn't enough to make us all smile, we then had a very interesting form of entertainment from a local girl... I can't quite describe the concoction of songs or dance moves or facial expressions, but even the locals seemed to find the whole performance very amusing. From dreading an evening in Medan I ended up quite enjoying my myself and found all of the locals to be extremely friendly.

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Posted by bloorsontour 00:56 Archived in Indonesia Comments (5)

Bukit Lawang, North Sumatra

Sophie's Relatives

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I had managed to convince everyone that a short flight to North Sumatra was the best plan to see some jungle. Me and Soph couldn't have left Southeast Asia without seeing the orangutans (insert Sophie being ginger joke) and Bukit Lawang had been highly recommended for such a venture. It would have all been quite easy were it not for Rich...

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Arriving 48hrs late would have meant that we could meet at the airport and fly together from KL. To add to Rich's misery both of his flights from London and then Dubai were delayed. At last contact from him before leaving KL; we expected him to miss our flight and arrive on the one 2 hrs after ours. All we would have to do is delay our prearranged taxi at Medan airport by a couple of hours and wait around a bit...

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In the end Rich joined us around 58hrs late, after we had waited in Medan airport for 5 hrs. Our driver, Harry, was amazing about it and never lost his smile! Given the ordeal that Rich had been through, we were all very nice to him, not once asking for an apology for how we'd all been put out, or asking him to pay our coffee shop bill... That's what good friends we are!

We had a 4 hour drive to Bukit Lawang, which was pretty bumpy. Rich got some sleep, nearly headbutting the windscreen and gear stick several times as he bobbed away. Harry drove steadily whilst surrounded by mayhem! I'm not sure any of us were looking forward to our return to Medan in a few days time...

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Arriving in Bukit Lawang, I think we all had a big sigh of contentment. Even Rich may have thought the journey was close to worthwhile. We were led down from the car, over a footbridge with a gurgling river flowing below. The place felt instantly relaxing and we were given nice rooms right on the river, before being ushered to the restaurant for a few beer Bintangs and a feed. A great way to destress!

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Soph and I left the "lads" looking fairly sleepy, but in the knowledge that a party seemed to be getting going somewhere across the river... Naturally they couldn't resist. Apparently it was entertaining despite being a bit of a grill (a party with only men present).

We decided to give ourselves a day off to catch up on a bit of sleep before starting the trek. Our day consisted of swimming in the river (having first forded part of it, which was quite a challenge), floating in the rapids, watching Rich "calmly" battle the rapids; telling us how fun it was despite the occasional look of extreme panic, Bintang stops and plenty of eating...

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Sam was a little concerned about muscle deflation whilst away from a gym. He decided that the best way to combat this was to order most of the menu for each meal, partnering with Tom to justify the order. To be fair, Tom tried to compete and ate his fair share so as not to be outdone.

We did manage to fit in an afternoon cave walk. This proved a little more arduous than anticipated with plenty of climbing around. There were lots of bats that got a little close for some people's comfort (Rich was like a coiled spring, ready to go at moment). It was a fun little excursion and a bit of preparation for the day ahead...

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Our trek was described by our guide Thomas as a little grueling given the heat, humidity and gradients. We set off not knowing quite what to expect. Within a few minutes, we were dripping with sweat, but within half an hour we were too busy watching the wildlife to worry about any of that. Our first encounter was a load of longtail Macaques with babies.

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Next up was Sandra, the Orangutan! We had expected to trek for hours before spotting some orange way up in a tree. No, it would be much be much easier than that!

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We were just getting close to Sandra when Thomas called us to follow... We had heard gibbons, but knew that we'd be lucky to see them. Me and Soph had heard them elsewhere on our travels, but they can be fairly elusive...

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They were pretty high in the tree, but we could clearly see their graceful acrobatics and they stuck around for a good while. We had been lucky!

It seems that the orangutans around Bukit Lawang are semi-wild. Happy to disappear into the jungle for days, but knowing that there will be free meals on hand from the guides wanting to provide the best experience for their tourists. Sandra had gotten a little jealous of the attention we'd been giving the gibbons and followed us in the branches above. She took a pee on me to make sure she had my attention - "oh Sandra..."

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Eventually the gibbons moved on and we left Sandra to search for more orangutans. We learned that baby orangutans are cared for until they are around 6yrs old. The next "man of the forest" that we met was 7 and very mischievous! Grace wouldn't have been a word to describe him; erratic, energetic and a little scary may be better...

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Sophie had a stick launched at her and we all ducked as he swung overhead. We hadn't expected such a close encounter!

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The Thomas leaf monkeys were entertaining little characters.

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There were plenty of other orangutans, each with their own personalities.

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We even met Mina, the much fabled "aggressive" orangutan. A few of the guides reported being bitten by her in the past. She definitely had a mean attitude and walked along the ground, unafraid. The guides distracted her with food and she was pretty hilarious, refusing to look at them and holding an outstretched hand which ignored anything she didn't fancy, but took any carrot that was offered. Thomas informed us that Mina was responsible for an increase in employment as every group needed an extra guide for when they encountered her... They carved out a path around her and we all filed quickly past and continued on for 10 mins before our guides decided it was safe. We then waited the guides on Mina duty to catch up. Rich was just about to answer the call of nature when Mina came walking up the hill and we had to quickly move on again... There was definitely something a little menacing about Mina.

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The last part of the walk was pretty grueling, going up and down with a fair amount of climbing. We were very glad to reach camp and find a crystal clear river to bathe in. It was stunning and whilst we wallowed around in the water, we watched monkeys and a big monitor lizard on the opposite bank. Candra, Sam's favourite guide, even brought over coffee and biscuits - it had been a great day!

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This wasn't to be the end of the entertainment though... Thomas informed us that he had to go, but that we would be left in the capable hands of Ollo and chef Ali. The food was plentiful and delicious; even Sam was defeated by the quantity. Afterwards we were told that there'd be "thinking games" and then "laughing games"... We were a little sceptical about the laughing part, particularly as we would be alcohol free for the evening.

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Ollo was a pretty infectious character and it was a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere as he challenged us to "move one matchstick to...". After a few of these, it was " time to laugh". Its a little hard to describe what happened next, but all 5 of us were in stitches from the start as Ollo and Ali demonstrated the first game. We have a few drinking games for the future... The day definitely goes down as one of our best on our trip so far!

Sleeping conditions were rustic to say the least and the toilet was a pit, with its main fault being a complete lack of privacy. Sophie had me on guard duty whenever there was business to be attended to...

We all seemed fairly fresh the next day and by the time we had taken another good feed, crossed the river, jumped into a waterfall pool and received a "massage" from the falling water, we were good to go. It turned out that our day would be considerably easier than the previous. We had time for a bit of sunbathing and swimming and another mamouth meal. When it was time to leave, we climbed into our inner tube raft and floated back to Bukit Lawang in about 40 mins. It was a great end to the trip, with Ollo singing away and beaming back at us for most of the journey. There was one obstacle remaining: fording the river. Sam lost it a little at this point, being a little top-heavy to carefully pick his way across the river...

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All that was left was to have a last few Bintangs and thank our amazing guides and hosts (in no particular order): Thomas, Candra, Bendy, Ollo, Ali, Tuwes, Lilik and Harry. They had made a good experience unforgetable!

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As we sat waiting for our overnight car to Lake Toba, we found out that 3 members of Thomas' family had been involved in a fatal motorbike accident whilst we were in the jungle. On the trek Thomas had told us about the effect of flash floods in 2003 when nearly 300 people from the village died and about how he had lost his mother. The people we had met seemed very happy and lived good lives. It would be hard to say that many people rushing around their lives at home are better off, but when it comes to the value placed on a life, we are certainly much more fortunate.

Posted by bloorsontour 21:26 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Lads on Tour: KL

The lads are 'ere, well two thirds of them anyway...

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Our two weeks travelling with friends, Sam, Tom and Rich, didn't quite get off to the best of starts. Rich hadn't made it onto the plane. I honestly couldn't believe it. His passport was close to expiry and so they wouldn't let him fly. Whilst we were all catching up with each other in KL, he was somewhere in Liverpool trying to get an emergency passport to allow him to travel within the next 48 hours from the UK... would he make it out to us?!

We'd not seen our friends for over 9 months and so there was a lot of catching up to do over some obligatory beers. We were staying at Reggae Mansion Hostel and they had a nice bar upstairs for us to enjoy their happy hour in. It was good to get some of the gossip from back home.

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Tom and Sam needed some catching up on sleep after their long flight, but after that were keen to explore KL. By now it felt like me and Jason had spent a lot of time in Kuala Lumpur and so knew a few of the sights they'd want to see. It was Chinese New Year when they arrived so thought we'd head for a wander around Chinatown, only to be disappointed that there was no sign off any celebrations there. That said, I still think Tom and Sam enjoyed wandering around the area soaking up a little of a night market atmosphere. Of course there was one thing on their minds... Food! We had a lovely meal at an Indian restaurant in Little India; a table full of naan beads, curries, mango lassis and rice. We then spent our evening back at the hostel bar playing card games with a g&t (or two).

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The next morning we went to the famous Petronas Towers. Tom's an architect and was keen to see them up close in the day light. The area surrounding these mirrored towers is nice to walk around, with a park, aquarium and shopping mall close by. We'd only seen them by night light previously from a distance so it was good to actually see them up close from a different perspective.

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We'd read that you could get a cracking landscape view of Kuala Lumpur from Tittiwangsa Lake. We jumped in a taxi and had a nice stroll around the lake, taking in the views and stopping for a drink. The lake appeared to be a stop for local families to take their children on bike rides around the lake, we were the only tourists there and I felt like we'd dropped on a gem of a spot as the views of the city were so good.

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We thought we'd be in time to visit Masjid Jamek mosque back in KL, but unfortunately it was a Friday and they don't allow tourist visitors' entry on Fridays. That was a shame as we made sure we'd timed it for after afternoon prayers... maybe if we get chance we could visit it on our return trip at the end of their two week holiday. Instead we went for a curry...yes again! We stumbled across a little cafe that served a brilliant lamb biriyani and the best garlic butter naan I've ever had.

We were pretty sure that Sam and Tom would enjoy to spend an evening at the Heli Lounge with a cocktail watching the sun go down over KL. We'd done it previously with Jason's mum but enjoyed it that much that we wanted to go back again. It was just as good. After this we went to Bukit Bintang to enjoy some Chinese food. The area had a great atmosphere, really bustling with some buskers nearby. It's just a shame that the road isn't shut off from cars as they squeeze their way between the rows of restaurant chairs. After many beers and satay chicken skewers we found a bar based on a recommendation Sam had had from a friend. It was really nice, outside of our backpacker budget, so Tom and Sam kindly treated us all to a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin for the table... let's just say it went down very well! It was soon 4am and I was ready for my bed; but the boys made time for a final early morning curry stop before bed!

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We had a plane to catch the next morning. Rich was supposed to be flying in 48 hours later than scheduled and meet us at the airport... however... both of his flights had been delayed! His bad luck continues. Luckily there were a few flights leaving for Medan from Kuala Lumpur that day, we just hope he would be able to get a last minute seat on one of them...

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Posted by bloorsontour 23:16 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

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