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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bali, Bucket List, Indonesia, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

Bye Bye Bali

We arrived to overcast skies in Bali, which was odd, but we didn’t let the weather hold us back. It was now officially my last night with “the frenchies,” so we decided to go out with a bang. After some Bintangs and padang food (local Indonesian cuisine), we made our way to Kuta, sin city of Bali. How you can detest a place, yet find yourself back there again and again is beyond me, but that is Kuta. It’s dirty, debaucherous but oh so much fun.

We headed to some bars off of Poppies 1, where Flo and Marty decided it was a good idea to drink tequila. I stuck to my tasty tropical drinks for as long as I could, but when Flo came back to the table with 9 shots of tequila, I decided I couldn’t really let them try to drink all of it themselves now, could I? Plus, the peer pressure was mounting. So, with each of my three shots I not so silently cursed Flo, and they laughed at me as I just about managed to gulp them down and keep them down. Tequila, really?

From here, the night took a course of its own. The next thing I remember was a loud knock on my bedroom door at 7am. I figured it was the guys saying goodbye before making their way to Bromo, but it was Flo just making his way home from the club. I wish I could post one of the many nice pictures of the three of us on our last night, toasting our tequila, but cameras were lost, phones were lost. We did all manage to hold onto our dignity though, I think.

We all said an awful, hurried, hungover goodbye that morning, and I fell back into bed for a couple more hours sleep and then ventured out for a cure, a full English breakfast.

It was immediately odd to be without the guys. We had been on the same path for over 2 weeks in Indonesia alone, not to mention our other crossings in Borneo. Thankfully, we had promised each other at least an attempt to meet up in the Philippines if it was possible to make our paths cross.

My last few days in Bali were spent sorting the last leg of my trip to the Philippines, and needless to say, were a lot calmer and quieter.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Indonesia, long term travel, Moni, Southeast Asia, Travel

Moni, Moni, Moni

From Labuan Bajo, we made our way to Moni. Fortunately, we had done some research and found out that to travel by private car would cost little more than public bus and would save us an overnight stop in the middle of the journey, so we set out at 8a.m. for the 14-hour drive to Moni. We had picked up another passenger, so it was me and my two frenchies in the backseat. Luckily, we all took turns sitting in the dreaded middle seat. But truly, no matter where you sat in the car, you couldn’t sleep. The roads were too windy, it was too hot, and our driver proclaimed about 3 hours into the drive that he was tired…well, someone had to stay awake, especially on these roads!!


We stopped for a lunch break after about 3 hours, then a coffee break after 5…bad idea. It was over 100 degrees. We had already sweat through our clothes, but we decided to sip hot coffee, nonetheless ?? We continued on for another 4 hours, getting some sort of relief as the sun set. We had made it 12 hours, and after our dinner break, we had just 2 more to go. Unfortunately as we left dinner, we got a flat tire, which held us up a bit, but it was fixed quickly and we continued on.


We arrived in Moni around 10:30 that night and found a room at a small guesthouse, where we arranged motorcycles for 4:30 a.m. the following morning, so we could watch sunrise at Kelimutu. Kelimutu is an area where three lakes of different color sit next to each other. The Indonesian people consider this to be an extremely spiritual area, and believe that the spirits that have entered the lakes are what cause the various colors.


We trekked for about 30 minutes from base to see the lakes at sunrise, which was a nice reward for the 4am wake-up call and we spent some time soaking in the views. On the day we were there, one lake was bright blue, one was green and another was almost black.


The boys decided they were going to walk back to the inn, but I decided against that, and walked back to base. Unfortunately, there were no motos to take back to town, so I decided to sit and wait for the guys to pass back through. I guess I was going to walk afterall. As I sat waiting, a tour guide, Dino, from Labuan Bajo that we had been talking to at our inn recognized me and offered to let me hitch a ride back to town. I had breakfast and settled in for a nap, as the guys spent the next 3 hours trying to find their way back. They told me I had made a wise deicision. I don’t know if they were regretting their decision to walk, or if they were just relieved they didn’t have to hear me bitch the whole way home! As you can probably tell, after climbing two mountains and numerous other early morning “sunrise treks,” I was getting a little burned out on all the walking.
From Moni, we packed up and made our way by local bus to Maumere, where there is an airport with flights back to Bali. To travel back by bus and boat would have taken days, the flights were cheap and with only about a month left of this portion of my trip, time was of the essence. We booked flights for the following morning, and organized our last happy hour in Flores, which consisted of cold beers, street food and time to reflect on what an adventure Indonesia had been.


Of all the countries I have visited, the many islands of Indonesia afford travellers the opportunity to get right into the heart of the country and off the tourist path (once you’ve stepped off the tourist circuit in Bali.) Indonesia can feel primitive at times, and sometimes I felt a definite lack of infrastructure, but a little bit of patience in this part of the world can make or break a traveler. So with enough time and patience, an open mind to a much slower and simpler way of life, and an arse of steel to endure all the 10+ hour car journeys, there is much to be enjoyed in this vast land.
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Flores, Indonesia, Komodo, Lombok, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

The Slow Boat to Flores


After a day of catching our breath and doctoring our hiking wounds in Labuan Lombok, we set out on what felt like the never-ending journey to Flores. We left the guesthouse at 4pm and caught a 6pm bus/boat which we travelled on all night, finally arriving in Bima at 4am. Here we sat at a dusty bus station, which consisted of a slew of a deserted busses lined up in a row. Directly across from this was a row of tables where we could at least get a cup of coffee. We sat and waited for this promised bus to show up, and at around 6am, it did. We boarded and began the next drive to Sape. It was a gorgeous drive through windy roads at sunrise, but I was fighting the onset of sleep, and deliriousness won this time.
In Sape, we bought tickets for the 8am ferry to Labuan Bajo. The temperature was already creeping up and none of us had got much sleep to speak of. We were hungry, hot and dirty as we boarded the last ferry. Once on the boat, we learned that the journey would take about 8 hours. As we left the port, I couldn’t help but think that I might be able to swim faster than this gargantuan boat was going to get us there. I had never felt so disgusting in my whole life. I’d been in the same clothes for 36 hours. I wanted nothing more than to scrub myself clean, shave my legs and clean out the black grime from under my fingernails. It was going to be a long, hot boat ride.
It was just that, but arriving in Labuan Bajo felt like some sort of liberation, and knowing we were going to be there for at least 5 days without having to move again sounded like heaven. First things first, we found ourselves a small garden bungalow nestled on a hill, overlooking the harbor and providing stellar views of the surrounding mountainous landscape. Secondly, we found a laundromat!! And then we got ourselves cleaned up… with a nice, cold shower!
Now it was time to get down to business and set up the diving for the week. We organized a couple of days of diving with Dive Komodo. The first day was an experience. Our first dive was in some of the strongest currents I’ve ever dived in. The vis wasn’t great either, so overall it was a bit of a disappointment, especially paired with the expectations I’d had of diving in this part of the world. The second site was actually called the “washing machine,” because it is known for a churning current at the beginning of the site, one that literally swoops you up and in , and throws you out on the other side. We were diving with, and not against the current this time, so it was more of an enjoyable dive. However, nothing compared to the second day of diving.
We set out to Manta Point for our first dive- a site notorious for manta rays. Before even getting into the water, we could see the rays swimming up to the surface to feed. After diving along with 3 or 4 of these majestic creatures and taking in some beautiful sprawling coral, turtles and sharks, we ended our dive. Back up at the surface, we spotted about 20 rays, and jumped in to snorkel with them during our surface interval. They are such beautiful animals to watch glide through the water.


After a couple more dives, we began our way back to land, making a stop at Komodo National Park on Rinca Island to see the komodo dragons. I’m not gonna lie, these creatures freaked me out a little bit. Before we arrived, one of the larger and older komodo dragons decided he was going to eat a monkey for lunch. This took place near the park HQ and someone had managed to capture the footage on his camera… Somehow, after seeing that, the walk through the park to see them up close made me a little uneasy. Still, we went and made it back alive, and spotted about 10 of these beasts on our trek.


We had about a 1-1/2 hour boat ride back to land after this, during which we managed to catch the sunset, and we topped off the evening with dinner and beers with the dive shop crew. On the agenda next- a couple days of chilling out and preparing for the next grueling journey to Moni. Oh, Indonesian transport, you’re killing me!
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Indonesia, Java, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

My Love/Hate Relationship With Mount Rinjani


From Ubud, I had a few days in Kuta (yes, I actually found myself in this debaucherous city again) and then a few days relaxing in a little bungalow on Gili Air. I had reconnected with the Frenchies, Alex and Flo, again, and we were making our way to Mount Rinjani.

April 1st marked the opening of the trails, so we booked in with a guide and a porter for a 3 day/2 night trek. The day started out really warm and clear and we began our hike to Rest Post 1. About one hour in, the rain began and it wasn’t just a light drizzle, it was monsoon like rain, drenching rain that soaks your clothes within minutes. Of course, what had I forgotten in my small overnight bag? My poncho!!

Our guide Tarid did all he could to help keep us dry. I had a plastic sleeping mat draped over my head and hanging down my back to keep my bag dry. This was tied around my waist with a plastic piece of string. Alex and Flo were hiking while holding a plastic tarp over the two of them. It was a sight.

We reached the rest area at Post 2 around 2:00. We were all soaked, my shoes were gushing water, and the trail had turned into more of a ravine than a trekking path. We headed for cover while Tarid prepared some coffee and lunch. The problem was, we were freezing. We wanted to put on dry clothes, but we also had to conserve what we had, knowing that we would want to be dry and warm at night when the temperatures dropped.

The rain continued for another two hours at least, and we just sat and watched, and tried to stay warm. It finally cleared up around 5:00 and we made our way 2.3 kilometers up to where we would sleep for the night just as it got dark. The trekking for the most part hadn’t been too challenging on the first day, it was just the weather that put a damper on things.

We set up our tent, put on dry (and warmer clothes) and I positioned myself as close to the cooking fire as possible to try and warm up my feet. Tarid prepared a delicious dinner of Nasi Goreng, and I managed to somewhat dry my shoes by the fire. We headed to our tent around 10:00 knowing we had a 4:30 wake up call, but none of us slept that well. I was squashed between Alex and Flo and those sleeping mats mentioned before were better at protecting us from the rain than they were at cushioning our bodies. Each time I turned over I could feel my bones roll over the wooden beams.

The cold air and a cup of coffee was enough to help us get going the following morning, and we packed up our campsite and headed for a 2 hour trek up to the sunrise viewpoint. We hadn’t been afforded many good views up until this point as most of the trekking the first day was through the rainforest, but as the sun rose, we had amazing views of the surrounding landscape, the Gili Islands in the distance and Bali’s Gunung Agung.

We weren’t at the rim for sunrise- the trek had taken longer than expected, but there was no reason to be disappointed because when we did finally make it, what we saw was breathtaking. It’s difficult to sum it up in words. In front of us and just off to the left was Mount Rinjani (at 3,726 meters tall). It looked really steep, and that’s what lay ahead of us on the last day! Directly in front of us was Gunung Baru- smoking away. This actually sits in a crater lake of blue and sulfur yellow waters, the black lava base of the volcano jutting into the water like little black fingers. And to the right were steep, green cascading mountains. I think we all just stood in awe for a few minutes and let the views soak in.

We were in the middle of nowhere, so far away from the rest of civilization. It was nice to just sit and enjoy the silence, interrupted occasionally by the rumble of the volcano below.

Tarid and Jamal (our porter) met us at the rim, and we began our 2 hour hike down to the lake. To be descending instead of ascending was a welcomed change, and the weather was perfect for us- phew! The views were beautiful, and as we climbed further down, we realized just how big Baru was and how high Rinjani was. The volcano continued to gurgle and give off little puffs of smoke and as we got closer, I realized that the gurgling sounds were actually rocks being projected from the mouth of the volcano and rolling down the sides. Then out of nowhere came a noise like thunder, and Tarid started to yell out to us. We looked up to see the volcano erupting in front of our eyes. I couldn’t believe I was witnessing this. You secretly hope you’ll see something like this, but you never think you actually will. Tarid screamed out to us “Super Bloody Mega Bagus (good)!”

Needless to say, this provided some extra adrenaline for the rest of the climb down. We got down to the edge of the lake and rested for lunch for about an hour, and then we watched as heavy clouds rolled in and covered our views of everything. Still, we weren’t too worried as next on the agenda was a trip to the hot springs. This was glorious. The four of us just sat and soaked our tired muscles for about 30 minutes in the bubbling springs.

Feeling re-energized and trying to not pay too much attention to the impending rain, we began the last part of the days trekking- 3 hours up to the campsite. The rain began about 30 minutes in, but wasn’t as drenching as the day before. The first 2 hours were ok, but the last hour was trying. It was raining harder, the path was getting steeper and it was beginning to get dark.

When we got to the campsite, we set everything up as quickly as we could in an effort to keep everything dry. I got into the tent and directly into my sleeping bag in all my clothes minus my wet socks and stayed there. I was wet, cold, tired and cursing Alex and Flo for choosing the 3 day tour and not the 2 day one.

After some soup, we attempted to sleep. The following morning, we knew would be the toughest. We had a 2:30 wake up call, and a 3 hour STEEP climb to the top of Rinjani. I was wondering if we would wake up to clear skies or not, and I’ll admit that a (very) small part of me wouldn’t have been disappointed if we couldn’t make the final climb.

At 2:30 am the following morning, my watch alarm went off, and Flo jumped up and was ready to go instantly. Alex and I sat in the tent not wanting to move. It was damn cold, but it was clear, and I was thankful despite what I had felt the night before! I sat contemplating putting on my wet socks and shoes, but a hot cup of coffee made it all a little easier, and before long we had set out for the final 3 hours up.
The first hour was tough. I don’t’ know what it is about mornings, but I just don’t have that extra oomph and seem to struggle with my balance. Now pair this with the fact that we were climbing a giant black sand dune, and with every step forward that I took, I seemed to slide a half step back. I was asking Alex and Flo if this was really their idea of fun, and they just appeased me with the promise of cold Bintang and a Magnum ice cream as soon as we returned to level ground.

The second hour was a bit easier and we actually got to see red lava flowing down the side of the volcano at one point in time, such an awesome sight. The third hour was the most challenging of all. I literally thought about stopping and sitting down and enjoying the sunrise from where I was. I would have been okay with that, but I plowed on and began counting my steps in sets of 100. Then I tried swearing. With each step, I said “Never” “Again”, “Never” “F*cking” “Again.” I began asking myself what kind of self-inflicted punishment this was, but then I reached the top! Finally! We could literally see everything – Bali to the west, Lombok to the east, not to mention the views down to the lake and the rim of the volcano. It was all worth it in the end.

There was a sense of accomplishment, but I couldn’t help but wonder how difficult the climb down was going to be. Fortunately, due to the fact that most of the climb was sand, we were able to slide our way down, turning it into a sort of race to see who could slide the most, me spending some of the time on my butt, giggling all the way back to the campsite.

Tarid was already back at the site preparing coffee and banana pancakes, and we packed everything up to prepare for the 6 hour hike down. When we started out the weather was fine, but the climbing was steep and slick. And you guessed it, by the second hour, it was raining again. We donned our plastic tarps and did our best to power through. I just kept thinking about a warm shower and dry clothes and didn’t really think about the rain that was getting heavier and heavier. We stopped under a rock for shelter and met 2 women from Jakarta who were on their way up. I couldn’t help but feel grateful that we were on our way back and not our way up. Don’t get me wrong, it was well worth it, but it was intense.

The rain finally let up after 3 hours, and after4 hours we stopped for a light meal. I had to take off my shoes to survey the damage. Because my feet had been wet for so long, I could feel the blisters beginning to grow. I decided to try and wring out my socks and put some bandaids on, but the damage was already done! Then the rain began again. We finished the last 2 hours of the hike in a light drizzle, but we were only having to tackle rolling hills which made things a lot more enjoyable. We finished the hike through a rice paddie. Behind us were rolling hills that disappeared into misty, cloudy skies, and in front of us, the rice paddies looked like they disappeared into the sea.


We finished the hike and jumped into the back of a pickup truck that was taking us to Labuan Lombok, so we could get a boat to Flores the next day. I was so excited to sleep in a real bed and to take a shower (hopefully a hot one). We got to Labuan Lombok after dark and finally found the one guesthouse which had one room left. We surveyed the room- one big bed, then we surveyed the bathroom- no shower, just a bucket and water. We had no choice…I came to the realization that it was going to be a while before I was able to have a “real” shower. However, the thought of having to pour buckets of cold water over myself was so unappealing at this point in time. Still, we took turns getting cleaned up, and went out to scour the town for some cold Bintangs, which was no easy feat. We dined at the local market, while the “DJ” played Beatles tunes and kept coming over to us to see if we liked the music. Pure exhaustion had set in, and when the power went out around 9:30pm, I took it as my cue to retire.

The last couple of days had been filled with adventure, but had been physically draining. The upcoming days looked like they were going to prove to be no different, but at least I would have dry shoes and a mattress- or would I? This is Indonesia afterall!

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Indonesia, Java, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

The Kindness of Strangers

When traveling, I am constantly surprised by the kindness of strangers. But in Bali, no one is a stranger for long. Indonesia is known as the “land of smiles,” and rightly so. A smile is always returned and immediately followed by the question, “Where you come from?” Before you know it, you have a new friend.

Yansu is my newest friend in Bali. He seemed to take a liking to me during the drive from the airport the night I arrived, and the following day he began talking to me about taking a trip to his local village so I could meet his family and see the end of a religious ceremony that had taken place over the last couple of days.

After sharing our coconut in the afternoon, he said if I wanted to go with him, I should get ready and we would leave at six o’clock. This is the point where I wonder to myself if this is an authentic invitation or if I might be getting myself into a bit of a situation. Yansu seemed harmless though, so I accepted the invitation, and after getting ready, we hopped on his motorcycle to make the 30-minute drive to his village.

Yansu comes from a village called Tegal Besar, which sits east of Ubud and just below Candi Dasa. The village is home to 350 people, and Yansu explained to me that it is a poor village, but one that’s filled with very happy people. We arrived at his home, and within five minutes, I think I had met his entire family, because they all live within the same quarters. His father, who strangely resembled Obama, however, was still working in the rice fields at that point in time.

He showed me around his home and then took me over to the family temple which sat to the back left side of the house. Here, 3 people were praying and making an offering. I sat and watched for a while, before taking a tour of the village and the black sand beach. We ran into Yansu’s uncle and cousin at the beach. They all seemed so excited that I was there to visit and to participate in the ceremony that evening.

From here, we made our way to a local restaurant for Lalapan Ayam. This is a dish of chicken, served with a rich chili sauce and rice. Then, we headed back to Yansu’s home for the festivities. Before I could participate, I had to put on the correct clothes. Yansu lent me a sarong and a tie (amed) for my waist, while his uncle began to explain to me the meaning of the holiday.

I found out that the name of this festival is Odalan. This is a Hindu festival that is held every six months. (Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, but Bali is 95% Hindu). During this specific ceremony, families pray to the God of sun, the God of ground and the God of family (or the family temple), and make offerings of crushed flowers and holy water.

I sat down with the family and town people and participated in the prayers and offerings that were ending the 3-day Odalan festival. I felt so fortunate to be a part of this, but was more touched by how the entire family had welcomed me in. After the festival, I sat with Yansu’s father, uncles and brother and we shared a kopi tbruk, a sweet, strong, black coffee before heading back to ubud. I left with persistent invitations to return for the following week’s full moon festivities.

I arrived back at the guesthouse and sat reflecting on the evening. To me, this is what it’s all about. Bali can be quite touristy and I had the opportunity to step away from it all and really get off the beaten path, thanks to Yansu, his generosity and his pride for where he comes from. These are the moments that separate a visit to a place, from really experiencing a place and another culture- moments that separate a trip from a journey.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Indonesia, Java, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

Back to Bali

Is it true that a place can melt away stress?? If so, then I have to believe that this place is is Bali. I only passed through here on the first half of my trip, but it was enough time to realize what a special island this is and to know that I needed to come back for an extended period of time. So, I find myself in Ubud for the next few days.

I arrived very late from Jogykarta. My flight was delayed, but Yansu, who works at the hotel I had arranged to stay at, was at the airport in Denpasar to pick me up. We made the hour drive to Ubud and arrived just after midnight. The following morning, I awoke to a treat. It was a gorgeous day! For some reason, the colors in Bali are so vivid, it’s like everything is glowing and electrified. The sky is bluer than most places (if this is possible) and the green of the rice fields and palm trees seem to pop against the blue background. Small yellow and pink flowers grow in every tree, and give off an exotic aroma of ginger-lime and rose.

I am staying at the Dewi Ayu Inn. I must say it’s a bit of a splurge at $15 a night, but it came highly recommended, and I figured 3 nights wouldn’t break my budget. It’s a treat to have a hot water shower, and a pool sits just a stone’s throw away. Each morning, one of the workers places a thermos of tea on a table on my veranda, and as soon as I venture out, someone is there to see if I’m ready for my breakfast, which usually consists of a plate of fruit and a banana pancake, all ordained with the intoxicating flowers mentioned above. Luxury if you ask me!

The plans for my first day were to chill out. I had a good book and a pool and it was hot. I ventured across the road to the Ubud Inn for lunch- an open air restaurant that backs onto a lilly pond. Huge red bouganvellia-like flowers surround the lillypond, and a small water feature sits in the middle. The atmosphere is made that much better by the Balinese trance like music playing in the background. I tasted a lemon and ginger juice, which I see as becoming highly addictive.

After lunch, I strolled along Monkey Forest Road, taking a peek in some of the galleries and shops, and then headed back to spend a few hours by the pool and chilling on my veranda (I just like saying that). Yansu made periodic visits throughout the day to make sure I was happy. I told him, “This place makes me happy.”

He climbed a tree and retrieved a coconut which we split for an afternoon snack. Life doesn’t get much better than this, and I find myself contemplating staying longer or finding a reason to come back here for an extended period of time in the future.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Borabudur, Bucket List, Indonesia, Java, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel, Yogyakarta

That Buddha Is One Cool Dude…

Yogyakarta is a nice city, but there’s not a whole lot to see here. The two main attractions, Borabudur and Prambanan, sit about 30 minutes on either side of the city center. Still, the local padong food is delicious, I was staying in a great guesthouse with some friendly travelers, and I found a supermarket that sold blue cheese (!) What more could I ask for? I ended up staying in Yogya, called “Joja” by the Javanese for about 4 days.

On my first day, when I actually started feeling human again, I vetured out for some local food and then treated myself to an hour long Javanese massage. This cost me about $6 and really, I should have gone back everyday after that. It was glorious.

On the second day, I somehow found myself waking up at 4am AGAIN! This was for a sunrise view of Borabudur. I had organized a trip with three others and as we left town, an Aussie guy decided to join our group and jumped in the van. He’d had a good night out in Yogya, in fact, he hadn’t made it home yet. During the hour long drive, he proceeded to preach to us about what a “fine dude” that Buddha was, with a Smirnoff Ice in hand, often times forgetting his thoughts mid-sentence…hilarious! By the time we’d finished touring Borabudur, he was nowhere to be found. We ran into him later that evening at a local bar, and he gave us a hazy look like he recognized us from somewhere, but couldn’t place it. When he finally figured it out, he came over to say hello and showed us the new tattoo he’d got that day- half-finished, probably due to his condition! Never a dull moment, I tell you.

Borabudur and Pramabanan were impressive. I personally enjoyed Borabudur more, and found the architecture more interesting, but it could also be that by the time I reached Prambanan, it was nearing 40 degrees, and I was flailing. I headed back to town for a chill afternoon, and then met up with the group from the temple tour to see a Javanese puppet show.

This isn’t really something I would usually attend, but I appreciated the invitation and went along for the 8:00 show. Now, while I can appreciate the art and craft behind this, the story was read aloud in Indonesian, and all we had was a dodgy English translation of the story. An hour in, when I found out the show was 2 hours long, I slipped out the back door. In town, I ran into an American couple who I had met on the journey back from Ijen, so I spent the last hour of the puppet show enjoying some Bintangs with them! Time well spent.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Indonesia, Java, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

The Wonders of Java

After chilling for four days in Derawan, and doing a whole lot of nothing, I felt recharged and ready to set off to see more of Indonesia. I flew to Surabaya, and got out of there quickly. It’s a muggy, dirty city with little to offer a traveler (in my opinion). I hopped a local bus to Probolingo, which is the in between point for seeing Mount Bromo and Ijen. By the time I got to Probolingo, there were no more buses making the trip up to the mountain, so I spent a night in town and made friends with a local tour guide, Tony, who loved English football and “smoked like Bromo,” as he said. We went for some good local food and some Bintangs.

The following morning I made my way up the windy roads of Probolingo to the village that sits at the edge of Mount Bromo. As we climbed higher, we entered the clouds and the temperature began to drop. It was getting proper cold! The villages we drove through were small farming villages, nestled on the hills of lush green mountains. I felt as if I’d been transported back to medieval rural France. That’s the only way I can describe the villages themselves. Little one story brick homes sat at the edge of the farmland and smoke from fires blew out the chimneys. I almost expected a Frenchman carrying a pheasant and a baguette to be walking down the road. Yet, we were in the middle of Indonesia.

I checked into Yoshie’s lodge for the night, an eccentric and colorful guesthouse. Home was a little basic bamboo room, but in the courtyard was a working hot shower! The following morning, I had a 4am wake-up call, as I was heading up to Penanjakan to watch the sunrise. Here, you can see Bromo and Mt. Semeru, both of which are smoking in the distance.

We got to the mountain with some time to spare, enough time for a cup of coffee to warm up and a chat with some Indonesian students from Jakarta. (It’s always nice to meet people traveling in their own country, and I saw a lot of this in Java). From here, we made our way to the viewpoint, which to my surprise was a short flight of steps- such a nice change from the hour long treks I have become accustomed to on this trip.

The sunrise was a bit cloudy, and therefore not very colorful, but the clouds did eventually give way to the volcanoes in the distance, and shortly after sunrise, we made our way by 4-WD down to the “Sea of Sand,” which is the barren land surrounding Mount Bromo. From here, we were able to hike up to the top of the volcano (via 400 steps). You can actually peek down to the hole in the earth and watch as smoke billows out- a sight I had never seen before! I also managed to walk about half way around the entire caldera, a moment where I definitely had to pinch myself to assure myself it was real.

Mount Bromo is obviously an active volcano and last erupted in 2004, killing 2. Mount Semeru is also active and at this point in time, is not open to visitors, due to its high level of activity.

I headed back to Yoshie’s for some breakfast and packed up to make my way to Ijen. I believed Ijen to be right next to Bromo. That’s how it looked on the map anyways, but it turned out to be a 6 hour-drive. Still, we passed through some beautiful villages, coasted along next to the ocean for a good portion of the drive and then finished up with a drive through a coffee plantation. In fact, I stayed at Arabica guesthouse which sits on a coffee plantation. Needless to say, there were endless cups of free coffee here, which helped for yet another early wake up call.

At 4am the following morning, we were on our way to see Lake Ijen. This is a volcanic crater, now filled with water, that sits next to another active volcano, that pumps out so much sulfur you have to cover your mouth and nose at times because of the strong smell. But given the natural elements, the color of the lake is beautiful, almost like a glowing soft green color.

We hiked about 3 kilometers from the park entry to the top of the caldera, where unfortunately, due to the direction of the winds, we weren’t afforded very good views of the lake, but after about another hour’s hike down, we were standing lake side and were able to avoid the sulfur stream and get a good look at the size and beauty of the lake. The temperature of the lake felt like a hot tub and you could see little bubbles climbing up to the surface.

We were also able to watch the men harvest the sulfur. Big metal tube like structures, literally lead to a furnace like building, where sulfur billows out. It eventually hardens and forms a dark yellow crystalline object (which looks like an entire candle has melted down). The men then break up these pieces of sulfur and put it into baskets which they carry up the side of the volcano. These must weigh upwards of 200 lbs, yet one basket may only yield them about 6,000 rupiah ($.60). (The product is used as a preservative in dried fruits, as well as in makeup.) Sometimes I don’t know how these men do this hike with an additional 200 pounds, in flip flops, most of the time while puffing away on a cigarette!

After hiking back up from the lake, we were able to get some better views of Lake Ijen. Then, it was time for the ride back to Probolingo followed by a 3-hour wait for my luxury minivan to Yogyakarta. Well, it was far from that. The van was from 1980, had no AC and it sounded as if the wheels were going to drop off. The promised 7-hour journey took around ten hours, probably due to the fact that the driver pulled over every 3o minutes to try to figure out what was rattling underneath the van.

Still, we did not breakdown!! And we arrived in Yogyakarta around 5am, just steps away from the guesthouse I had scoped out before arriving. Luckily there was a spare room, where I would spend most of that day, recovering from my journey and one too many 4am wake up calls.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Indonesia, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

The Amazing Race to Pulau Derawan: Parts 1 and 2

After diving Sipadan, I had planned on having a leisurely morning and was in no rush to get to the border town of Tawau to cross into Indonesia, but I ran into Aaron, who had been off looking at wild orangutans, and he had organized a taxi to Tawau, so I quickly got everything ready, paid for my diving and jumped in the taxi. I then got out, went back to the dive shop and collected my passport that they were holding. (That could have been really ugly).


We made our way to the Indonesian Embassy in Tawau. I had already sorted a 60-day visa for Indonesia in advance, but Aron needed his. We then needed to get a boat to Tarakan. We arrived at the embassy around 10am and found the right people to talk to, including a helpful man who informed us that the only boat going to Tarakan was at 12:00. The visa process takes 2 hours minimum, so we knew we’d be lucky to make that day’s boat.


Miraculously, just over an hour later, they called out that the visa was ready- maybe our smiles and pleas had helped. We thanked them, immediately found a taxi and headed to the port, got 2 tickets for the 12:00 boat, managed to get some take-away noodles, cleared immigration, paid the port fees and boarded the boat at 11:50. It was pure luck that we had made it, and we shot each other a look like “how are we on this boat?”


We collapsed into our seats, and no more than 5 minutes later, a man walked up and told us that we were on the wrong boat! The boat to Tarakan was docked next to us, so we grabbed our bags, hopped over to the next boat and had a laugh. Oh how that story could have had such a different ending!


We had a 4 hour boat ride ahead of us, so we had time to read up on Tarakan. I had met a German couple in Niah who had given me some great information on Indonesia, specifically a 3-page set of notes on how to get to Pulau Derawan, which is where we were headed. This included how much each boat and taxi would cost, as well as places to stay if we got stuck. Bless them!


Once we got to Tarakan, we could go no further that night, so we booked into a very seedy hotel. The only good thing was it did have AC, but the smell permeating from the bathroom made me fear to use it! I was just glad to be traveling with someone so we could commiserate together. And so, we headed out on the town to try and send as little time in that room as possible.


The following day began early. We first had to get a boat from Tarakan to Tanjung Selor. This could be done by official boat for about $8 or speedboat for $7. We haggled with the speedboat drivers but they wanted four passengers, not 2, so we decided to go on the official boat. We were getting mixed information from everyone and after being told we could buy tickets on the official boat, we learned it was sold out. One of the speedboat drivers overheard all this, and took us back to his boat. He had found four other people, so the six of us set out for Tanjung Selor in the most ghetto speedboat ever.


Fortunately, the seas were calm, but as we left the jetty, it began to pour down with rain. Surprisingly, there was a tarp, which kept us somewhat dry and after about 15 minutes, the skies cleared.


We arrived in Tanjung Selor and were handed off to a driver who could take us to Tanjung Berau. We handed over $7 eachand one driver took us down the road, and handed us over to another driver, with a portion of the money we had given him. That’s transportation in Indonesia for you! We began the 2 1/2 hour drive through the windy roads of Kalimantan.


Once in Tanjung Berau, we needed to take one last local taxi to Tanjung Batu, where we could get the speedboat to Derawan. By this point in time, you’re probably thinking this must be a special place to make such a long trek. Trust me, I was too! Another 2 1/2 hours later, on what seemed to be like the never-ending car ride, I spotted the big, blue ocean. We jumped on a speedboat and made the 30-minute ride across to Pulau Derawan- a small island that you can walk around in 40 minutes.


Power runs from dusk til dawn and bungalows sit on top of piers that jut out into the ocean. Turtles come up to visit each morning, you can walk down the steps of the pier to snorkel with them, shoes are optional, meals cost $1.50 each…. you get the picture. It was gonna be well worth the 2-day journey it took to get there.


Luckily, we got the last room at Losman Danakan, and luckily they sold Bintang. A cold beer was in order after that trek. We walked through the sandy roads of their “town,” chatting with the locals and the kids playing in the street and I immediately remembered the friendliness of the Indonesian people. It was good to be back. I promised myself I wold make it back for a more in-depth tour of this beautiful country, and Derawan seemed to be the perfect place to start the Indonesia chapter.
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bali, Beach, Bucket List, Indonesia, island life, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel, Travel Wishlist


Ahhh, Bali. I understand why people come here and never leave. Pair a BEAUTIFUL island with affordable food, activities and entertainment and chill laid back people, and you have Bali. Not to mention it’s also the most temperate place I’ve been so far. The sun is hot, but the humidity is low and dies down fully at night, so on the back of a scooter you can still feel a bit of a chill.

We arrive in Bali late, but have plans to meet up with friends for the evening to celebrate Amanda’s birthday. We are staying in a town called Legian at the Hotel Jayakarta (a bit of luxury before we begin the hostel circuit). Legian is your typical beach town, but just next door is the town of Kuta, which is a bit like Ibiza’s sister. It’s also the site of one of the bombings of 2004. As you enter the main strip, they have built a memorial to commemorate the people from all over the world who lost their lives. Despite the party atmosphere, I take a minute to reflect and pay respect.

We spend the evening on a Kuta pub and club crawl, and consume numerous $2.00 Bin Tangs. But, we refuse to let a little hangover cut into our beach time the next day. We secure some spots on the beach and spend the day sunning, and sipping pina coladas to cure our ailments. Add to that some noodles and soup for $.50 from the local street vendor and we are feeling A-OK by happy hour.

The following day brings more of the same, although I had promised myself that I would attempt surfing while in Bali. A friend had told me this was a great place to learn because the waves aren’t too big. So I find Rudy, the beach-chair seller cum beer vendor cum surf teacher. I venture over to him and he yells, “Elena., what’s up?” I negotiate surf lessons and board rentals for me and my two friends.300,000 Rupiah for three boards and a two-hour surf lesson for all of us. That’s about $30 USD. Rudy gives us surf shorts and carries our boards down to the water’s edge. We’re all feeling a little anxious but excited. He gives us about a 2-minute demonstration on land of what we need to do. It basically goes like this. “Ok, so you get on board and you paddle, paddle, paddle, and then you catch wave, and ‘poof,’ you pop up.” So we all demonstrate back to him. He obviously has all the faith in the world in us (or doesn’t really care) because the next thing you know we’re all out in the water, boards in tow, bracing the waves coming towards us. Now, I’m pretty comfortable in the water, but sometimes the waves would catch the board and swoop it right away from me- good thing we have ankle straps!

After getting out far enough to catch some waves, Rudy helps me spin the board around get centered. As I lay flat on the board, I turn my head around to see the wave coming toward me, approaching faster and faster. Rudy yells to me, “Paddle hard Elena.” I paddle hard and go to pop up on the board, and just as quickly fall right back in, the wave crashing over me. Take two, same story. At this point in time, hair is plastered across my face and I’m thanking Rudy for supplying me with a surf shirt or else all of Legian beach would’ve have been getting a bit of a show.

I realize I’m doing something wrong, and I tell Rudy I need help knowing when to pop up. “Ok, Ok Elena. You paddle hard. When I yell “POP” you pop up.” This sounds like a good plan, so we get the board turned around, he slides me to the back and we watch as the wave approaches. I start paddling and just as I feel the force of the wave and a bit of a lift, I hear Rudy yell “POP!” I jump up and I’m riding my first wave. Ok- it’s brief, but I’m doing it! Throughout the next hour it is more of the same, but I catch about 4 good waves, and that is enough to make me happy…and sore. What a work out. It’s like doing sets of push-ups and crunches until your muscles start to shake. And we all know there’s only one cure for that… A one-hour full-body massage. So I find Wyen, a little lady who has been stalking us the all day, and I make myself comfortable on a beach chair. One hour and $10 later, I am in a happy place. I have just enough time to head over to Ku-De-Ta, a beach resort in Seminyak, to catch the sunset.

Here, we meet up with one of my old colleague’s friends, Eduardo. He takes us over to Jimbaran Bay to sample what they are best known for… their seafood. After selecting a 1kg fresh snapper, we head to the beach, kick off our flops and get comfortable at a table on the beach. We toast our Bin Tangs. Behind us waves crash on the beach and in front of us, authentic Balinese dancers put on a traditional performance.  The garlic and lemon-roasted snapper comes out from the kitchen, and Eduardo tells me I should eat like a local…with my hands. So we tuck in, and every bite is better than the one before.

From here, we are all in the mood to go out, so we venture out to listen to a Reggae bar. It is still early in the night, so things aren’t quite happening yet, but as it gets later, we find ourselves making our way back to Kuta…we have been sucked in.

I wake up feeling pretty rough, but I know this is no hangover. I have been suffering from pain in my sides over the past couple of days, but I thought little of it. Now, it has turned from a dull pain into a sharp pain that is hindering my movement. Is it the surfing? Too much time in the sun? Not enough water? Too much beer? The street food? Well, I can’t let it slow me down. We have a day trip planned to Ubud, a town that sits about 1 ½ hours north of Legian. Bill, our Balinese tour guide, picks us up at the hotel at 9am, and we begin the trek to Ubud, stopping along the way to look at batik stalls, silversmith shops and art galleries. We have lunch overlooking a rice paddy field and stop at a waterfall on the way home. On the way back to Legian, Bill is telling us all about the rest of the island: treks to volcanoes, tours to Lombok, diving in the Gilli Islands. I feel torn. We only have one night left in Bali, and I feel like I need to stay at least another two weeks to see the rest of the island. I assure myself I have the time to get back before the end of my trip, and I know I’ve said this before, but I WILL be coming back to Bali- on this trip, not the next one.

We get back to Legian just in time to pick up some Bin Tang and scope out a place on the beach to catch the sunset. Rudy is out here again, doing his thing, selling beers to the other tourists soaking in the last rays of the day. “Hey Elena,” he says to me. It makes me smile. It makes me forget about the pain in my side… We sit and watch the sun drop, and then watch as the sky goes from the blue of day to a brilliant display of pink, orange and yellow, and then dark. The end of another beautiful day in Bali.