Browsing Category

Southeast Asia

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

“Happiness Is Only Real When Shared” -Into The Wild


I arrived back in Manila with a day to spare and decided to spend it at Friendly’s…I was hoping to have one last night to catch up with Guillaume, and well, it was wine night at the guesthouse. I got settled in, got some laundry done, repacked my bags and chilled out. I got chatting to Bruce, an American Unicef worker, whose specific job revolves around disaster relief. He definitely had some stories to share about his job, but we also got to talking about life abroad and how it changes you as a person, and how when you return home, whether it’s for a holiday or a longer period of time, you are never quite the same person as you were when you left.


I asked Bruce how it was when he goes back to the states now. He is in his 40s and single, and spends some time at home each year, visiting family and catching up with old friends. He said to me bluntly, “people just don’t get it….you have been on this amazing journey, seen things many people only ever dream of seeing, seen another way of life. You feel you have grown so much, and you go home and your buddy wants to show you his new flat screen TV he just bought. You realize that life just goes on.”


This is one reason why I think friendships formed on the road are so special and why they are so easy. I’ve never met one traveller who doesn’t have the time of day for another traveller’s tale. The excitement a traveller has about his or her journey is palpable. And after a conversation with someone on the road, your list of things to do and places to see can double, simply through their enthusiasm for what they have seen and done. These friendships are fast and easy, because you already know that what you have in common with this other person is something so unique…you already know you are going to have a blast with this other person, simply for the fact that you are so like-minded, you crave that sense of adventure, and you are open to anything.


I spent my last evening reflecting on the past 3- 1/2 months since I had returned overseas and been travelling solo. I thought about Lorne and Dragan and our crazy scooter excursions in Langkawi. I thought about Jena, my friend in Hong Kong, who took me in and showed me her bussling city. I thought about Flo and Marty, our adventures climbing Rinjani, our happy hours, and our promise to have a reunion one day in Paris. I thought about Aaron and our never-ending journey to seek out this faraway island I had my heart set on seeing, and our conversations about life. I thought about Kate, my boisterous dive buddy from Sipadan, who I continued to run into throughout Malaysia, and I thought about my early days in Borneo with Kat and Doris, the three of us crammed into little bunkbeds sharing our most horrific stoires of stomach problems on the road, and giggling away. I realized that as much as I thought about the places I had been and the adventures I had experienced, I thought more about the people I had met and shared the journey with.


I finally found Guillaume around this time, and was glad for his company. I can’t describe the feeling I had my last night sitting in Manila at that guesthouse. It was certainly bittersweet and sentimental. I guess you could say it was surreal. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how the last 3-1/2 months passed so quickly, and what about the last 2 weeks since I had arrived in the Philippines? All I know is that I was leaving on a high note. And although I was sad to leave, I was taking some irreplaceable memories with me.


Bruce came back from the store with ingredients to whip up some truly authentic mojitos, Benjie (the owner) was popping open bottles of wine left and right, the music was blaring, and everyone sat around talking over the music, sharing stories and making plans. For some people, Manila was a starting out point, for others, it was a return trip, but for me, it was my last evening abroad (until the next trip), so Bruce, Guillaume and I toasted. This already had the makings of another memorable night!
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Coron, long term travel, Southeast Asia, The Philippines, Travel

Wrapping it all up in Coron

From El Nido, I made my way by overnight boat to Coron. There are a few ways to travel between El Nido and Coron, but the cheapest is the night cargo ship, and seeing as I was at the end of my trip and on a budget, I chose this. I was with a few others from El Nido who were also heading the same way, so we boarded, found our cots and settled in. This was at about 11pm, and at 5am, we actually left the port. What can I say, it was going to be another long, hot boat ride, but it was going to be my last long, hot boat ride for a while, so I embraced it.
After arriving, we made our way to a guesthouse that was situated closer to town and closer to the dive shops, and minutes after dropping my bag and heading out to sit on the upstairs balcony, I looked down and saw Flo walking across a bridge in the distance. I called out to him and ran down to meet him. We had talked about meeting up here, but we’d both had sporadic internet connections and I wasn’t sure if he’d been able to get a flight or not. Fortunately, he had and we had run into each other. Unfortunately, Marty, my other Frenchie had ventured North to the rice paddies for treking, so we were minus one.


Still, Guillaume, who I had met in El Nido was also with us in Coron, and I couldn’t wait to introduce him to Flo. We headed out for dinner locally and had a blast catching up on the last few weeks and sharing our past adventures with Guillaume. We adopted Guillaume for the rest of our time in Coron. We arranged some awesome wreck diving, spent the days on the water and spent the evenings at a local grill that we couldn’t get enough of.


It was about this time that I wanted to hit pause. My time in Coron was slipping away. Soon it would be time to head back to Manila to begin the journey home. I was envious of those around me who were just starting out, and those who still had months left on their journeys. It was all beginning to sink in that this chapter was coming to a close. Still, I had been adamant about not slipping into “home” mode and had truly milked everyday of my time in the Philippines for all it was worth.


On one of my last nights in Coron, Flo and I ventured out to buy a decent bottle of wine. His parents had recently flown over from France to meet him for some diving and they had brought him some foie gras. We decided to pop open some vino, and have one of our traditional happy hours, complete with appetizers. Not too long after, Guillaume showed up with a bottle of Matador Brandy. It was his last night, so we bid farewell and I told him I hoped to see him at Friendly’s Guesthouse in Manila in 2 days time.


Two mornings later, I was saying a final goodbye to Flo and making my way to the airport to fly back to Manila. Getting on this flight was more upsetting than the entire journey home because it was the beginning of the end. Everyone else was staying on in Coron and venturing off to the next port of call. I had to part with the group and make my way. It was really sinking in now that this was the end of my journey.
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, El Nido, long term travel, Southeast Asia, The Philippines, Travel

El Nido Baby!



I arrived late in Puerta Princessa, Palawan, but found the really nice, earthy guesthouse that my friend Kate had recommended to me. This place was constructed with the elements in mind. The back patio area was open and airy, and trees grew all around. Hammocks hung in each corner, and even power was optional – translation – the generator wasn’t always working. So I arrived to candlelight, but it sort of added nicely to the vibe . My first day was spent enjoying the ambience. I find myself coming to the end of my trip and being ok with chilling in a hammock at the guesthouse for a day and not feeling too guilty about it.
From Puerta Princessa, I headed two hours west to the sleepy beach town of Sabang. This is home to one of the longest subterranean rivers, which I saw by kayak in the rain. The weather had sort of put a damper on my plans of getting a beach bungalow and having some one-on-one time with a beach towel and the sand and sea before going home. I was running out of time, so instead of wasting anymore time in rainy Sabang, I decided to head directly north to El Nido. I said goodbye to the people at the guesthouse, and began the journey.


The journey was a bit torturous. Seven hours on unpaved roads in a van with AC that functioned at about 20%, and about 30K from town, the axel on the van broke so we were stranded while we waited for a new van. Needless to say, I was ready to get there already. But when I arrived, I knew I’d made a good decision to head straight here.


El Nido has a laid back beach vibe and affords for some amazing island hopping. I checked into my long sought after beach bungalow, that while aging still had a lot of charm, and then went to meet some fellow travellers for beers. The plan for my last 8 days was nothing. Aside from some island hopping and diving in Coron, I wanted to completely chill out, not see, do or move around.
Five days later and I was still doing just this and I was still in El Nido. The island hopping had become addictive. The vistas are absolutely breathtaking, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen water so blue and clear. Pair this with being able to be dropped on a deserted island for a day, complete with a lunch of fresh grilled fish, fruit and vegetables, and you can see why i started to fall in love with island life. The days were spent lounging on boats and beaches, and the evenings were spent with a newly forming crew of people that had been growing since Sabang. I met my Australian neighbors at the bungalow, and headed out to meet their other friends for dinner, and it turns out to be the same people I had met in Sabang. Small world!


Having a good crew of people made for some fun nights, one of which we spent at the local discotheque. Yes, no matter the size of a town, there is always a disco…sometimes you just have to look a little harder. The Filipinos love their current American pop music and they loved that we were at their disco.


El Nido was a definite highlight of my trip to the Philippines, but after six days there, it was now time to head North to Coron, for some wreck diving and a reunion…
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Donsol, long term travel, Southeast Asia, The Philippines, Travel, whale sharks

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Donsol

I arrived in Manila at some unearthly hour in the morning and made my way to Friendly Guesthouse (highly recommended hostel accomodation in Manila, complete with BBQ’s, wine nights, interesting brownies ;-p and the ever so friendly owner, Benjie).


As I was making a cup of coffee and waiting for a bed to become available, I ran into a guy who I had met at my guesthouse in Langkawi, Malaysia. Talk about coming full circle! I had met Bart over 3 months ago, and he had since been traveling through Australia and New Zealand. What a small little world we backpackers travel in?


Unfortunately, because of the eruption of Iceland’s volcano, he, along with many other Europeans, found himself playing the waiting game before he could get a flight home. Fortunately though, this afforded him an extra 10-days to see some of the Philippines. We spent the morning catching up, and I told him of my plans to head to Donsol to swim with whalesharks. By the end of the morning, I had a partner in crime.


He and I boarded an overnight bus the following evening and got the hell out of Manila and headed to Legaspi where we caught a van to Donsol. Donsol is a dusty little town, surrounded by some decent beaches, but the main draw is the fact that it’s a migration sight for whale sharks, and you can organize trips to swim with these gorgeous animals.


Bart and I checked into a cheap homestay in town, sorted our whale shark excursion and spent the afternoon on the beach, playing scrabble with an eccentric bar owner, Julia. We then ran into a couple of other travelers from our van ride, and soon had a crew for happy hour and dinner. We went back to Julia’s for dinner, where she fed us fresh grilled fish, salads, even pasta! After dinner, she insisted we drink Brandy with her and then roped us into another game of scrabble. I had to redeem myslef from the afternoon game.
The following morning we headed back to the beach and got checked in for our whale shark interaction experience. We were paired up with other travelers to make a total of six and we headed out on our banga boat with Ebbie, our captain, and the rest of the crew. Ebbie was our main man- the one who actually jumps in with us and leads us to the whale sharks, but there are four others on the boat- a driver, two men on lookout and one who controls the engine. Ebbie explained to us to stay ready (maks, fins and snorkel on). He would let us know which side of the boat to be on, and as soon as they killed the engine, he would call out “go” and we would slip down off the side of the boat and let the boat glide by us. Then Ebbie would jump in and lead us to the whale shark.
At this point I was so damn excited! I really didn’t know how I was going to react to seeing one. This is not just like seeing a 1 to 2-meter reef shark, these whale sharks are huge…I just didn’t know what to expect.


Not long after making our way out to sea, Ebbie informed us to make our way to the left side of the boat and called for us to “go!” We did but unfortunately we had missed this one. We all climbed back onto the boat, anticipating the next go-round, but you could tell Ebbie was visibly disappointed. I started to get nervous…was there a chance we wouldn’t see any? They said morning was the best time and that you can see these creatures until the end of April?


Only a few minutes later we were ligning up on the right side of the boat to jump in. I stayed close to Ebbie and saw him give me the signal underwater to watch him. As I did, I saw this huge mouth literally moving towards me. I think I yelped into my snorkel as I moved out of the way of an 8-meter whale shark. Awesome is the only word to describe this experience. We didn’t stay with the first one too long, but we had about seven other swims that morning, at times being able to cruise along next to these giants for five minutes at a time.


It was so surreal to watch their spotted bodies glide through the water below. They are quite gentle animals and were rarely phased by our presence. This was truly such a unique experience and well worth taking the time to get to Donsol for.


About the only other eventful thing to report from Donsol was the other not so cute animal we found living in our guesthouse. I awoke in the night to Bart yelling that a rat had bit him on the toe. I thought he was just talking in his sleep, but he carried on about it to the point that I was now wide awake. I tried not to make a big deal of it so he would forget about it too, but then I saw it, and it wasn’t just any rat…it was a big rat and it was scurrying along the wall towards the window.
It was HOT in Donsol, so the doors and windows were open. The windows were like horizontal shutter blinds that you could wind one way to open and the other way to close. Miraculously, Bart managed to catch the rat between two shutter blades, where we found him hanging the next morning. Before leaving, we politely pointed it out to the owners so that the next arriving guests wouldn’t be too alarmed by this oddly positioned animal. Eeeew! Now it was time to head back to Manila and back to the uninfested Friendly’s Guesthouse to await my flight down to Palawan.
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Songkran, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Travel

Songkran Water Festival

From Bali, I made my way to the Philippines with a short stopover in Phuket for Songkran. Now, Phuket really isn’t much to write home about. Although a popular destination for tourists visiting Thailand, it lacks any real character and what might have been charming at one time has now become overshadowed by huge resorts and a burgeoning sex industry. Luckily though, it was Songkran, Thailand’s annual water festival, so it was a little easier to just turn a blind eye to the surrounding environment and celebrate a truly authentic Thai holiday.

I made my way to Phuket via KL, and while boarding my flight, I got chatting to two Malaysian girls who were headed to Songkran as well. They told me to find them when we landed, so we could split a taxi to Patong Beach. I did just that, and on the way to the hotel, they told me what to expect.

Songkran is a water festival. Originally, it was a celebration of a new solar year and Thais used to sprinkle water on Buddha for good luck, but slowly this has evolved to spraying, or should I say dousing each other with water, in a loosely arranged street parade.

The girls told me to go with them to their hotel, drop my bags, and then we would purchase our water guns and head out on the street prepared to fight back. Thankfully, I had some warning because the walk from the taxi to the hotel alone left me drenched, but all the more excited to get out there and join in. The rest of the day was spent fighting Thais and other tourists with water guns, water balloons and buckets of water….a great New Year’s celebration – better than a balldrop if you ask me!

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.