A Travellerspoint blog

Indonesia

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)

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)

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