Chasing the Dragon in the Philippines

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Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, 2015

August 10, 2015 at 4:04pm

Back on the mainland we rented a scooter for the 3 final days of the trip. We loaded our now 4 backpacks on this thing and drove it 2 hours north to the town of Ubud.  Ubud was like the Chiang Mai of Bali .. the place everyone talked about.. “You must go to Ubud !!” .. “Have you been to Ubud??” .. yeah yeah .. we went to Ubud. Ubud was jam packed .. traffic on the main road leading into town was like Seinfeld’s really bad traffic driving in reverse. Unreal ! But we had the scooter .. and just like Thailand, the scooter dominates the road .. the scooter doesn’t wait in traffic .. the scooter finds holes and squeezes into them to work it’s way through the stand still.  Just awesome .. Sometimes I would find myself stopped between 2 cars and feel like I was doing something wrong .. other scooters whizzing past us .. So, we would join them .. you never need to stand still on the scooter unless it’s a major intersection with lights .. and even then, you should be at the front of the line waiting .. not behind any cars.

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Ubud has been invaded by tourists .. real bad. Everywhere ! And all the shops and boutiques were geared towards tourism .. so much shopping. And here the “markets” were different.. normally, the Asian markets sell all sorts of cool stuff at reasonable prices .. and the vendors are cool and chill. In Ubud, the market was a high pressure zone … a spectacle for the “rich” foreigners to gaze upon. The foreigners in Ubud ( for the most part ) shopped at the posh boutiques and stores that littered this town .. and then they would take a stroll through the market to see how the peasants lived. The vendors at this market were broken .. sad and desperate .. confused .. they all seemed to be wondering why these rich foreigners were not buying their stuff. And they were begging you to buy something .. “please mister, make good luck for me .. buy from me .. me make good price .. bargain ok .. please buy from me”.. tugging at your arm .. jumping in front of you with items in their hands to show you. The shit part was that they would become hostile if you didn’t buy .. if you said “just looking”.. or “no thank you”..  It was pretty sad and inevitably those markets will soon disappear .. From what I read, Ubud had already closed 2 big markets and this one’s days are numbered as well. Sylvie and I were genuine shoppers at the market, but we don’t respond well to the high pressure .. We can’t save the market .. we can’t buy something from every stall .. we are always polite and we are sincerely shopping and looking for certain items to buy yes .. but what can you do when the stall doesn’t have it 😦 And what do you say when someone is in your face with an oversized trinket you clearly have no room for in your backpack .. *sigh

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Ubud has many theatrical performances to offer .. the Kecap dance being one of them. So we went to see this one hour show which featured some fire walking and Garuda, Vishnu’s mount.  It was pretty cool – lots of costumes and makeup .. lots of dancing – and a chorus of about 40 men in underwear keeping a “check check check” rhythm going .. “checka checka checka”. There was a story behind the performance, but it escaped both Sylvie and I. And when the fire walking started, we had coals flying at us and cinders landing on our clothing .. What a show!

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Ubud also had a monkey forest. This was my favorite part of Ubud. We got up early and entered the touristic forest when it opened.. this was great as we had the place to ourselves for about 2 hours. We played with bands of monkeys… so many monkeys !! We were in awe .. they were sneaky .. they tried to open your bag all the time. They would climb on you .. At one point, and I have it on video, I had 4 of them on me .. and 2 of them behind me on my backpack started a little fight over the zipper I guess .. they attacked each other briefly .. But the third one who was on my shoulder got excited by the commotion and decided to nip at my neck.. no big deal, I’ve been beaten my a few monkeys on this trip .. like a cat biting you, harmless .. a small pinch – But I still don’t want to be bitten, and once they start that crap, they keep biting .. So I reached up and grabbed his little body to remove him from me and he squealed “help!!”. Oh shit .. Suddenly, I had like 5 adults running at me !! Showing their teeth, squealing at me, waving their arms in the air .. I was under attack !! show no fear .. I stood up and showed them I would not be threatened and the ones that were on me, jumped off .. and the ones in front glaring and threatening me kept their distance. One lunged and attacked the Gopro Sylvie was holding .. 2 came up to climb and attack me by grabbing at my shorts .. I snapped my fingers and said in a deep voice, “ I am bigger than you !” and they backed off. It was hilarious .. 2 foreigners that were nearby were now very far away .. fearful .. 20 seconds later they were gone back out the way they came. That’s right, my monkey forest lol

Later on in our walk through the forest we encountered one of the rangers who was feeding them. He would hand us corn nibblets to feed the monkeys .. if you held the nibblets high up, they would jump on you to get at them.. been there done that without the nibblets .. but it was good to get some good photo ops for us.  Monkey forest was awesome.

Afterwards, we drove the scooter north to Bedugul .. an area Lasse had suggested we visit. It’s a 2 hour ride uphill climbing yet another huge volcano.. and at the top, the road goes along it’s ridge and eventually you reach a beautiful scenic place overlooking 2 fresh water lakes. We snapped some pictures. It was very cold up here .. We were in shorts and everyone else was wearing sweaters and long pants .. lol .. crazy Canadians. It wasn’t that cold 😀

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On the way to Bedugal, we found a freebie .. an unplanned surprise. Nestled into the hillside was a huge abandoned resort .. perhaps from the 60s or 70s .. no clue. There was a rope strung across the grand driveway entrance .. meaning no entry .. but that doesn’t mean much around here. We walked right up to this place and had the run of it. There was an outside grand staircase leading to the upper levels and it was completely overgrown.. years worth. It had multiple levels .. huge rooms with balconies … multiple terraces .. ballroom and party rooms .. kitchens and servants quarters .. It was awesome just roaming around this place imagining what it must have been like in it’s day .. We weren’t the only travelers who had spotted this place, other foreigners were doing the same thing.

After 2 nights of Ubud, we headed back south and decided to get a room in Jimbaran, right beside the airport at Denpasar. We walked to Kuta, the party zone and found ourselves a watering hole for our final night in Indonesia. There was a great band playing and we stayed and drank till they were done. The singer, Very, hung out with us between each set. He was very entertaining and full of energy. He looked 25 and he was actually 43 .. He explained to us his beliefs on food and how it keeps him ( anyone ) young and healthy. His beliefs were similar to my own, although he was much more adherent and strict about it. I’ll summarize: Milk bad .. only needed to feed babies. Red meat the worst .. difficult to digest and causes all sorts of problems.. chicken and fish not as bad but still should be limited.. Flour and all it’s products super bad .. difficult for the body to digest .. so pasta and pastries or anything made with flour, out completely. Rice .. bad .. starchy and again hard on the system. Too much sugar bad .. diabetes .. All pop and juices sold in stores .. complete crap and lead to diabetes because of high sugar and preservatives. He eats 90% fruits and vegetables. He speaks the truth .. but you gotta be strong to live that way .. he encourages us by saying that body only needs 3-7 days to adapt to a new diet … and if you can get through those first 7 days, you will be fine, forever. Again, I believe he’s right about that .. after 3 days of quitting smoking, it was a done deal .. and if it’s not that way for you, then you lack control of your mind.

Very was a very wise person but being back in Canada I have come to learn something about him and perhaps many who live in far away lands like Indonesia.  I added him as a friend on Facebook because of his energy and his musical talent.  Since being back home, I have seen many of his posts on Facebook .. all sorts of dietary articles and the sort.  However, after the attacks in Paris, I noticed a sharp change in his posts.  Understandably, his posts became very defensive .. seeing as many ignorant people around the world starting blaming Islam for terrorism.  I take it all with a grain of salt.. being from the west and understanding that the U.S. puts it’s nose where it doesn’t belong.. all the time… it’s latest huge mistake was taking out Saddam Hussein .. destabilizing Iraq and the surrounding area… which has ultimately led us to where we are now .. IS causing major havoc.

One of Very’s posts really took me off guard .. this one showed me the light .. a huge understanding.  He posted a photoshop picture of Angelina Jolie with a quote saying something like “Death to Israel, the real terrorists .. the world much unite to destroy them”.  Despite my political beliefs or my disapproval with Israel’s actions against Palestinians, I still understand that this photoshop quote of Angelina Jolie is completely false.  Anyone from the west immediately understands this point.  Why ?  Because we live close to her career .. we see her every move on television .. we know that she would never openly slander a country like Israel because it would probably cost her her career.  This is a no brainer for Westerners.

So I decided to help out my Indonesian friend Very, and write him a quick note to explain that the photoshop picture was false.  He would have nothing of it .. he didn’t believe me for a second and was very upset with me for having even mentioned it.  I realised just how misinformed the poor guy was and wondered how many more from far away lands believe what they see and read so easily .. so willingly ..  I mean, we all see what we want to .. but in this case, it’s outright wrong and dangerous.  Just to say how “fortunate?” we are to have this common and basic understanding of the internet .. of Facebook .. of our “stars” .. Poor Very..  but it explains much doesn’t it.  Give this story some thought.

40 hours of travel back to Canada .. an amazing trip. Indonesia and Vietnam were excellent. Again, we come back to Canada, changed people.. new perspectives, new attitudes .. We learn so much from the Asians .. There are so many things I believe they do better than us .. I think this because they all seem so much happier than us .. less obsessed with materials and things .. more focused on family, people and nature. I think of back home and how much of a rat race we are in .. working jobs, paying debt .. rinse and repeat .. a grind. In Asia, of course that exists .. but that is because the elite are working to compete with the west.. losing themselves slowly I suppose .. Personal space etiquette and finer details of building practices aside, they are kicking butt.. it’s just a matter of time before they take over this planet.

This ends my travel blog for this 2015 trip.  Thanks for reading and stay tuned for any new writing.  Next summer, we will be traveling for a year and I will certainly be writing about it.

Once again, here is our video of the trip.

 

Nusa Lembongan, Bali, Indonesia, 2015

August 10, 2015 at 3:57pm

Back in Bali, where we planned to spend the final week of our trip .. We had 2 goals.. to visit the islands of Lembongan and Ceningan and to visit the town of Ubud. We did both 🙂

To get to Lembongan, we needed to take a ferry or a fast boat from Sanur Beach .. of course, our flight was late and it took forever to claim our baggage and break free from the airport. Daylight was burning !! so we hopped in a cab .. Sanur Beach is a strip of hotels and businesses along a major road on Bali so it wasn’t very evident how or what to do .. we opted to be dropped off at the major beach there and then search out the transport options.  To save on time, we chose the fast boat. It cruised across the ocean nicely jumping massive hill like waves with ease .. 30 minutes and we were at Lembongan. We found a scooter right away and found ourselves a very sweet bungalow… probably the nicest bungalow we have ever had. But of course, you always have to sacrifice something when it comes to accommodations .. they are NEVER perfect. No matter how hard you search the room when considering it, you only find the warts once you’ve paid.

This particular bungalow was immaculate .. a second floor pad with a nice terrace .. black painted wood .. beautiful tile floor throughout.. a bigger than king size bed and lots of room to move around. So what was wrong with this room ? Well, all the bathrooms in Asia are the same .. an excellent design if you ask me.. the one room concept .. the shower simply a fixture on the wall .. the entire bathroom is the shower and there is always an extra high pressure hose beside the toilet to spray away any mess you may have made. Very clean .. No shower door .. just an extra large bathroom (usually) to accommodate the standing room for your shower. Some of them have a lip in the tile to separate the water from the toilet area .. This particular bathroom didn’t have the lip .. which is fine when the bathroom floor is properly slanted towards the drain .. As most construction in Asia, things are built beautifully, but they haven’t mastered construction like Mike Holmes .. There are faults everywhere usually having to do with moisture and wood in the wrong places .. usually where tile and wood meet, you will see rot and mold .. whoa, getting off track – This bathroom floor was no longer slanting towards the drain, so after a shower, the floor had about half an inch of water. This would be a huge problem back home in our socks .. but here, this is not a “problem” .. your feet dry within 2 minutes anyways in this weather and we have been barefoot now for 5 weeks .. all good – Just to say though, the room is never “perfect”.

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Back home on Google Earth I was searching the coastline of Bali and the surrounding islands for turquoise water .. easily accessible turquoise water .. I found a very cool looking bay off the smaller island of Ceningan right beside Lembongan.. and it turned out to be a popular cliff jumping area. Cliff jumping into water that is clear as day .. This would be our training ground for high jumping into water ! We would make up for having chickened out at the waterfall in Labuanbajo. I had been looking forward to this for weeks .. The roads were brutal on this island .. Timmins style roads .. complete crap – but at least this place has an excuse .. it’s dirt poor. We traded in the rattled scooter for another Kawasaki dirt bike .. for 3 days woohoo 🙂 We traveled to the bridge between Lembongan and Ceningan .. a very cool single pass suspension bridge over loads of seaweed gardens between the two islands. Using our GPS we made our way to the spot I had found … called the Blue Lagoon. It was a bay alright .. with cliffs at it’s edges .. and there was a spot for the cliff jumping … and the water was sooo clear .. the area was from a post card .. But the water was huge .. the waves enormous – I don’t mean white caps and rolling classic waves .. I mean hills that move swiftly .. hills the size of houses .. one after an other .. smashing into the cliffs. Scary sh*t .. super scary. And upon further inspection, the ladder that lead out of the scariest water I have ever seen was no longer there .. just a rope daring you to try. No way .. small groups of people would show up every 15 minutes with the same aspirations .. but no one would dare jump into the sea here .. there was no way back up.

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The view from here was amazing and we sat watching these monster waves crash into the cliffs for hours .. In some spots, open caves entered the cliffs and when large waves entered the caves, the cave would spit out huge sprays of water. A particular spot that demonstrated this phenomenon quite well was called Devil’s Tear. In Indonesia they believe heavily in spirits .. the good spirits live in the mountains, and the evil spirits live in the ocean ..

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There is not much else to explain about our time on Lembongan .. just 3 relaxing days of exploring by dirt bike. I guess I could mention the whole religious dynamic happening here in Indo. First of all, you have the largest Muslim population in the world living happily alongside a very large Hindu population. On Java, it was mostly Muslim .. In Flores was the same thing .. Bali was mostly Hindu. But there are both religions everywhere .. Mosks everywhere.. The call to prayer 3-4 times a day .. Small banana leafs boxes everywhere .. The Hindus make them daily .. after their first meal, they put small offerings of food in them .. sometimes little snack breads .. candies .. fruits …with an incense burning. They are EVERYWHERE .. littering the streets .. chickens pecking at them .. cats and dogs scavenging from them .. old dried up ones from a week ago beside the fresh one put out this morning. Some are on shrines, some are on the sidewalk and some are outside your hotel room door .. It’s pretty cool how devoted they are to .. this. However, when talking about money and life with the locals, they often talk about how poor they are .. and how they only have enough money for “food” and for “temple”. I dug deeper with my questions to learn that “temple” means each family builds their personal temple at their home. Depending on their financial situation, this temple could be one small statue for the offering, to more elaborate full on buildings with statues and pillars and rooms .. There are huge yards everywhere in the country filled with monuments and statues for sale .. like lumber yards back home, only here they are giant heads, water fountains, pillars, special stones and bricks, statues of various gods.. kind of like a Mindcraft store to build and decorate your castle. A serious business .. $$ And every day they are supposed to make offerings to the gods to give them good luck and good life as they put it. Again, there are stores everywhere that sell the banana leaf boxes .. the minimal small boxes and the larger more expensive ones .. and all the stuff you use to decorate it like colorful linens and the incense. A smaller business $$… So, as poor as they are, it’s a daily expense for them to entertain their religion .. as well as a larger investment for the personal temples they all seem to have. -Insert critical thoughts here-

The amazing thing is that these 2 religions coexist in Indonesia .. with no worries or apparent hostilities .. unlike some other places in the world .. *cough cough .. And I have to say that the people here were the friendliest and nicest people in any country I have traveled to. They greeted you with a smile all the time .. eager to please .. eager to help .. sooo helpful ! It didn’t matter if you were purchasing something from them, or eating at their restaurant or staying at their hotel, they were willing to guide you the right way .. wherever it was you wanted to go, even if that meant their direct business competition.. no worries at all. Perhaps they are all amazing actors just pretending to like us .. but I’ll take it. A friendly face half way around the world goes a long way for your travel mood and morale. The Muslims here dressed accordingly. I’ve seen the clothing here and there on tv and in Toronto .. but here it was hard core dress code. The men wore their clean white outfits with the hat .. and the women wore the head piece .. not covering the face, only the hair and neck .. a type of hoody. I was starting to see the individual styles of these head pieces near the end .. liking certain ones better than the others.

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But again, I have to stress how frikken nice and helpful the people were .. I could only conclude that it was their religion that made them so “acceuillant” as the French say. Because the religion was front and center ..BAM .. in your face from day 1 .. at 4:30 a.m. with droning, sometimes off-key, call to prayer blaring over the loud speaker… the Hindu banana boxes everywhere .. the dress code in full effect .. the Hindu shrines and personal temples in every front yard .. the mosks .. everywhere all the time. After 4 weeks of Indonesia, I firmly believe their religion asks them to be good to others, and that they actually follow it. I have a new attitude towards .. religion. Still not for me, but whatever keeps your mind healthy, happy and at peace, I say “go for it!”.

Labuanbajo, Flores, Indonesia, 2015

August 10, 2015 at 3:52pm

Oh Lasse .. as he sat there on the curb doing his math, I knew full well that this would be a challenging and very long journey across to Labuanbajo. I can just hear him muttering “2 hours plus 1 hour .. then 50 kms for 3 hours … plus 2 hours of ferry … plus 3 Bintang ” .. We had to hop to the next island over .. then cross it .. then hop to the next very large island .. cross it .. then jump once again to the next island to reach Labuanbajo. 24 hours he says .. I’m thinking 3 days. It’s this, or we fly …. or we skip Komodo National Park .. which would have been a big blow to our trip, as it was the big highlight from our research. The flights were way too expensive .. and Sylvie made a good point that we had just lazied around the Gili islands for the last 5 days, and that we could now get back to working hard for some new rewards. Let’s do this ..

We hopped on the next ferry to Lombok and cabbed it to Mataram, the largest city on the island. We pulled into a deserted parking lot for buses at around midnight and I knew then that my 3 day estimate was to be correct. Lasse had been told that buses ran from this place every hour .. not so. This place was deserted, dark and a bit scary. We learned that the thieves that sell you tickets don’t actually leave the station .. they live there. There were 5 of them here .. the only 5 people for miles that were still awake. This city had shut down probably 2 hours prior.. dark and desolate. A bunch of stray dogs roaming around, the 5 thieves and our disgruntled cab driver standing by waiting .. knowing we were trapped and would need his services again. One of the thieves was sporting a guitar, so I borrowed it from him and started playing everything I knew while Lasse chatted them up and confirmed for himself that we were not going anywhere tonight. Our cab driver would then drive us to some dark street that had hotels for the night ..

The next morning we went back to the bus station to find it very much alive and kicking .. buses everywhere .. merchants, cabs, hustlers, customers. Craziness ! We spent about 45 minutes asking around for the bus we needed to get to Sape, the sea side town at the end of Sumbawa. It was very tough trying to figure out who was being honest and who wasn’t .. all 3 of us asking separate groups of people to get straight answers .. divide and conquer ! In the end, we found our bus that would be home for the next 15 hours… oh my .. As we sat there waiting another hour for it to leave, the musicians did their rounds up the aisle.. along with the banana merchant with the basket on her head .. the 4 different ladies selling rice chanting “nasi nasi nasi” ( rice rice rice ).. the 3-4 merchants selling liquids and chips and peanuts .. over and over, you have to say “no thank you” as they pass up and down the aisles over and over again.. sometimes it’s just easier to avoid eye contact and be that cold foreigner. And of course, the ticket thieves hanging around the aisle as well .. Allah knows why..

 

It took 2 hours to cross Lombok Island to the ferry and from the moment that we saw the ferry, till the moment we drove off of it, was a wopping 4 hours. The actual voyage across the straight was only 1 hour. Lots of waiting .. it took them 2 hours to load the ferry with people, trucks, buses and scooters. The seating area was out of control. Long rows of seats, like pews in a church .. and at least half the seats were nonexistent.. they had fallen off years ago leaving behind a metal bar with the sharp bracket still attached .. some hammered down to be less dangerous. Our seats were about 2 months away from falling over .. they had a nice backward lean to them. This area was super crowded and super hot .. and of course there was entertainment! First we had the guitar players and their singing .. not bad at all ! Then an infomercial from a guy selling cream .. it took 20 minutes before we realized he wasn’t preaching the word of god, but actually selling something. Then the final act was a drunk telling jokes in Indonesian.. he must have been funny, as people were generally entertained by him. Who knows, he was probably making fun of us in his act, as we were the only westerners on this ferry ..

When the ferry docked, we headed downstairs to where all the vehicles are crammed together .. running .. Carbon monoxide smog hanging in the air, so we moved quickly. We had learned that it’s easiest to exit the ferry right away if you can cram between the buses and cars to work your way to the front of the ferry where you can simply walk off in front of everything.. Very tight spots, climbing over boxes and crates, between scooters and sometimes squished between the wall and a bus with maybe a foot between .. à la Star Wars trash compactor. We found our bus and managed to work our way to the entrance which the driver opened about 1/3 of the way before the door rested against the car next to us .. we squeezed in the bus to find everyone was already on ! We were the last .. no one told us .. just by chance we decided to come in .. 5 minutes later we were driving off and tackling Sumbawa.

Back on the mainland the bus barreled along the curvy road .. climbing and coasting back down .. brakes, turn hard, gas, brakes, turn hard, gas, brakes, gas … this is where we realized that most of the seats were no longer connected to the bus. So every brake, I would notch forward and have to replace my seat in its proper spot. Impossible to sleep under these conditions. About ½ way across Sumbawa, in the middle of nowhere on the side of the highway, we picked up Liv and Anke. These 2 nice girls were headed the same way we were and it didn’t take long for Lasse to start weaving his magic with the new arrivals. Liv was from Holland and Anke was from Belgium. This wasn’t their first BBQ .. Anyone sitting in the middle of Sumbawa, on some country road waiting for THIS bus is no rookie.. they would be valuable allies in our journey to Labuanbajo. We weren’t the only westerners on the bus anymore. We were 5 now 🙂

We pulled into Bima at around midnight .. landing yet again in the middle of the night when everything is closed up and dark. Bima is about an hour from Sape .. so we weren’t done for today just yet. We needed to get to Sape tonight as the ferry leaving Sape was at 8:30 the next morning. Things were looking pretty bleek .. everything closed .. no buses .. not much action. Liv and Anke led the charge by simply walking towards the main road of Bima and then walking towards Sape .. in the middle of the night. This turned out to be a pretty good idea, as within 5 minutes of walking we were being followed by mini trucks, Toyota vans and Bemos asking if we wanted hotels or rides to Sape. We followed the girl’s lead as they turned them all down waiting for the price they wanted.. it only took 20 minutes of walking and saying “no thank you” until we finally landed a nice ride at the price we wanted. We pulled into the village/town of Sape at around 1:30 am .. found a hotel and had some Bintangs to celebrate having made it this far !

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The next morning we headed to the port to catch the ferry only to learn that it was still in Labuanbajo and that we would have to wait for the 4:30 ferry.. Really ?? a whole day lost .. in this 1 horse town with nothing to do. Sylvie and I went back to our hotel and slept till check out and then met up with the group to wait out the rest of the time. At 4:30 we boarded the ferry and by 6:00 we were crossing the beautiful stretch between west and east Nusa Tenggara. The waters were littered with islands and of course the main attraction of Komodo island. People slept on the dirty deck .. anywhere and everywhere .. so we did the same, minus the sleeping. It was a long 6 hours and for the 3rd straight day, we landed at our destination in the middle of the night when everything was closed. Walking down dark 3rd world streets looking for a hotel in Labuanbajo was no treat .. we were exhausted and hungry. We eventually found a very scummy couple of rooms .. it was the only place open 😦 Sylvie spotted 2 very large roaches in the bathroom and so I pulled the bed away from the wall and we slept with the lights on. We never went to the washroom that night … at first light, we sprang out of the bed and found a new hotel .. wimps we are haha.. bah, we are on vacation after all !

Two and a half days to make it here ..a mere 400 kms.. wow. But I wouldn’t take it back for the world. It was the most challenging trip ever .. something we will never forget. All this for Komodo National Park. The “National Park” is simply a geographical region that is protected. A huge patch of sea and many islands. Four of these islands have Komodo dragons living on them. They used to be all over Nusa Tenggara but they were hunted to extinction. These islands were the last refuge for this magnificent beast and we meant to see them first hand. This can be done a number of ways .. a tour being the default and easiest way. But we hadn’t travelled 3 days only to be crammed on a boat with 20 others and escorted around on a schedule.. Our little group of 5 agreed that we would hire our own boat and go to Rinca island ourselves ..

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Rinca is a smaller island which boasts a higher dragon population. You can’t visit Komodo dragons completely on your own .. On the island you need to hire a guide that takes you around because obviously, the Komodo dragon is a dangerous animal. They are very large and strong and can outrun a human easily. They advised us to run in zig zag if we got chased .. kind of like running down a hill to outpace a bear. You can climb a tree because the large ones cannot climb anymore .. however, the younger ones climb trees easily. Oh boy !! So, some people make the trip and never see a dragon .. some people come a few days in a row and never see a dragon. This time of year is mating season which meant that our chances of seeing a dragon were even less .. Luck was on our side and these beasts were crawling around the ranger camp right at the beginning of our trek. We saw 6 in total .. 3 very large ones and 3 smaller ones. The guides had a wooden staff with a Y shape at the end to pin down any dragons that got too close. Of course, this was never needed and the experience was pretty incredible. We were within a few feet of these things .. a younger one made a loop and came walking right beside us sticking out it’s snake like tongue. I am sure everyone has seen the nature specials on tv about the Komodo dragon .. it’s saliva contains bacteria that will kill you within a few days if not treated.. apparently it only needs to lick you .. then it follows you around for the next few days watching you die .. then it eats you.

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After visiting Rinca, our captain took us to a small island for some snorkeling. These waters are the clearest and more robust ocean waters I (we) have ever seen. Protected means just that and the fish are more plentiful and allowed to grow .. We saw the biggest fish here. It was actually starting to rain that afternoon and still the snorkeling was amazing.. Lasse spotted the lion fish.. thanks Lasse 🙂

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Aside from visiting the giant lizards we also took a little motor bike ride to a waterfall. Sylvie and I rented a KLX150 because I needed my motorbike fix .. Lasse and the girls crammed onto 1 scooter ! Oh my .. I just had to laugh watching them climb the hills at a snails pace .. or having the girls walk most of the off road section of the ride while Lasse man handled the scooter up or down steep rocky, muddy roads and trails. Hilarious. The KLX was point and shoot .. point in the direction you wish to travel, and press on the gas.. too easy. The waterfall itself was pretty cool and there was a challenge before reaching it. We found ourselves on a rock shelf maybe 5 meters above the river that led to the actual waterfall. And of course, this meant you had to jump in. These crazy Europeans had cliff jumped before and had no problems making the plunge. I regret to write that we actually chickened out and did not jump. We felt crappy about it then, and I feel crappy about it now. We had a another cliff jump planned later in the trip … in crystal clear ocean water to learn how. So, we decided not to do this jump and wait for our training jump later on. We found a safe entry point up the river and swam to the others to experience the waterfall… which was pretty cool. No photos .. and hard to describe ..

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Labuanbajo would be the place where we went our separate ways. Anke was to return home to Belgium so she was the first to leave .. by bus and ferry all over again to catch her flight out of .. Mataram ? Lasse and Liv were going to continue through the island of Flores for a bit before flying out to Sumatra. Sylvie and I were flying back to Denpasar to finish up our final week of traveling in the comforts of easy peasy Bali. All good things must come to an end. It was great having such experienced and fun travel partners and Sylvie and I will never forget the experiences we shared together. Thanks guys 🙂

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On our last day in Labuanbajo, Sylvie and I returned to the captain and hired him to take us to the desolate Kanawa island. A very small island surrounded by reef .. A French guy named Sylvain was looking for a boat to Kanawa, so we made a deal with the captain to pay less and he could charge the new arrival independently .. good deal 🙂 Sylvain was a nice guy and loved his snorkeling as well. We had the run of the island and snorkeled most of the day.

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Today was legendary .. It was today that our long search for a shark would end .. Sylvie spotted both of them and yelled through her snorkel “Shark !!!” .. it was music to my ears .. years of snorkeling and some scuba diving and I had never seen a shark .. and there it was swimming right by us .. The black tipped reef shark.. the second one was about 1.5 meters long .. We tried to keep up with the skittish fish but these things are fast .. We also saw a cuddlefish and a sea snake that traveled forward and backward so gracefully, that we had no clue which was it’s head or tail .. We also saw huge Trevalle ( Jack fish ) and other very large fish I can’t name. Sylvie also spotted a unique brown puffer fish which we followed around for a while. It was an incredible day .. my favorite day of snorkeling ever.

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The next day we flew out back to Bali .. very sad to leave this area of the world .. it’s so far from home and so far off the beaten track, I doubt we will ever return.

 

Our travel video for those who missed it ..

Amed, Bali, Indonesia, 2015

Amed, Indonesia, 2015 July 30, 2015 at 3:51am

In the wake of all the worldly uncertainty (the Paris terrorist attacks).. the divisions being spliced between schools of critical thought, religion and human rights .. I reluctantly post the next chapter of our Asian trip.  I am in no way insensitive to the current happenings of the world..  Let’s just call this a short break back to when things were less … complicated.

For those interested, we have finished compiling a video of this trip.  It’s the classic music playlist melded with various scenes of our trip from Vietnam to Indonesia.  The video was shot on a GoPro and is a ghastly 55 minutes in length… the best footage can be found around 21 minutes in .. at Mount Bromo .. wow.  It is banned in Germany and probably won’t play on a smartphone .. laptops and computers be best.

Let us continue ..

Our fast boat from Gili was excellent.. less than 2 hours to do what had taken us 2 days a week earlier. Back in Padangbai again and we searched out a scooter for a couple of days. We loaded up our bags, bought a SIM card for our phones and set a course for Amed on the North Eastern Coast of Bali.

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The ride was good .. had to be alert the whole time as they drive on the other side of the road and pass each other anywhere, anytime. This plays tricks on the Canadian driver’s mind if you can imagine. The intersections were most difficult, but we just followed the flow and constantly checked behind us. We made it to the Amed area in about 2 hours. This was a road that followed the coast line with very little tourism .. a few villages dotted the coast and it was bay after bay of beautiful water and dark sand beaches. Las playas negras.  We found a nice little bungalow for ourselves and did some dark water snorkeling .. it was a bit scary .. The dark sand reduces visibility and everything just seems colder even though the dark sand is hotter than white sand.

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There were 3 spots we wanted to snorkel.. a “Coral Garden”,  bay and a sunken Japanese fishing boat. The Coral Garden was pretty disappointing having just came from the Gili Islands. It was getting late in the day, so we decided to scout out the other 2 spots so we would be ready for tomorrow. Some nice coastal riding and blackberry maps .. That night we contacted Lasse who was finishing up a 5 day tour of Bali on his own scooter. He was coming to Amed to meet up with us. Sure enough, the next day we were once again reunited with our Danish friend. We snorkeled together and had some good times on the bikes. We found the sunken Japanese boat which was pretty cool .. it wasn’t this huge vessel I had imagined in my dreams, but still a decent sized boat that had become a habitat for many fish. Good times. We had some Arak spirits with a good meal that night and planned on leaving the next day together back to Padangbai to return our motorbikes.. from there we figured our paths would once again diverge.

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Sylvie and I had a plan to visit another Island called Lembongan to find this spot called the Blue Lagoon to attempt our first cliff jump. Lasse was heading to Komodo by bus .. a very difficult 2-3 day journey of buses and ferries across a pretty rarely traveled part of Indonesia. Sylvie and I had researched this route back home and wondered if we had what it took to make the journey. During the planning phase, we had chickened out and opted for a flight there and back to see the Komodo dragons. But now that we were here, we learned that flights were super expensive and we were now debating whether or not to skip Komodo altogether. But Lasse has a way of rallying people together .. which he did.  He managed to convince us to make the journey with him to Labuanbajo, Flores. That meant taking the ferry AGAIN to Lombok, then crossing Lombok by bus, then a Ferry to the giant island of Sumbaya, then a very sketchy bus or two or three across this island and finally another ferry across to the Island of Flores… yikes .. Probably the toughest journey ever for us..

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Lasse was very convincing .. and just like that, sitting on some corner curb, homeless with our backpacks, in some town called Padangbai, we said “Let’s do this” .. 20 minutes later we were on the next ferry off of Bali.