Thursday, 29 November 2012

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

I wanted to get to Kuta to pick up a motorbike so I could go inland to Ubud and further north to some more volcanoes. Bizarrely there's no bus to Kuta (the main tourist area) from the capital. I grudgingly pay 50,000 for a minivan to take me. In Kuta I hire a motorbike for 5 days and head to the hills.

Getting out of Kuta and back though Denpasar is a nightmare - the traffic is horrendous. Once out though the roads are great, and fairly empty. I keep going north and ascending higher and higher. As I approach the mount Batur caldera is starts to rain. I have no raincoat and get soaked - which is extremely refreshing at first but the cool altitude air soon makes you cold! After seeing Bromo in Java this area is nothing special but still nice. On the roads around the caldera people actually ride up to you on their bikes and try and sell you tours or trinkets, or stop you to "talk" - in all the times I've had to say no to someone selling something it's the first time on a motorbike!

Quite cold now I head for Ubud, further back down to the coast. I stop at a coffee plantation for a kopi Luwak. A Luwak is a cute furry thing that looks like a weasel. They eat the coffee beans and poo them out intact. People collect, clean and roast these beans - the beans journey is supposed to add to the flavour. The owner brought out a range of different coffee and tea for me to try (and ultimately buy from the extensive shop). I would say the Luwak kopi tastes rich, and like chocolate - but would never replace traditional coffee for me. I wanted to say hello to the Luwak out of the cage but it was sleeping and the guy said no :(

Many flavour coffee and tea - Luwak kopi in the china cup 
Sleepy Luwak
Ubud's nice. There's a billion spa's and art galleries and some FABULOUS architecture. Traditional Balinese architecture is incredible - the most beautiful and geometric I've ever seen. The shapes and details are truly astonishing. Hindu temples containing this wonderful art are everywhere - even most homes have their own temple. I stayed at Eka's home stay which has a fine family temple attached. 

I went to the monkey forest! On entrance you can buy bananas but as soon as you walk in you're mobbed - monkeys climbing all over you trying to grab the bananas! A particularly large one jumped on me and took the whole bunch. I love monkeys, but not all over me. Even when you have no food they tug at stuff, or try and grab your water bottle or sunglasses - keep everything locked down is the rule here.

On the ride back to Kuta I got stopped by the insanely corrupt police. I've heard that most tourists get stopped at least once on bikes - I spoke to one guy who'd paid out over 1,000,000 Rupiah in fines! The reason for stopping me was that my front wheel was on a pedestrian crossing when stopped at a red light. When he told me this I seriously thought it was a joke. As we were speaking, locals were JUMPING the red light with no helmet, some were even going the wrong way over the red light!! Corrupt policeman #1 showed me a piece of "official" printed A4 paper stating a 500,000 fine. I said that I wouldn't pay it... I can't pay it - I literally didn't have that cash on me. I had 250,000 and he said "give me this" I said no, and that I would give them 20,000. At this point another corrupt policeman turned up and they had a conversation. The corrupt policeman #2 turned to me and got angry, saying I must pay now or I go to court - he was certainly trying to freak me out. Corrupt policeman #1 was now making 'don't mess with him' faces at me. I slapped 200,000 in his hand and he put it in his pocket then said "go".

Back at the guest house I was speaking to a Balinese lady. She said "Just get a court slip from them and leave - pay nothing. Nothing will come of it. I know because my husband is a policeman! You can't do anything in Bali without being ripped off, everybody is corrupt!" - then she ranted about a printer cartridge that she'd taken in and it'd been swapped or something.

I wanted to get stopped again, to test the theory - but never did! :) 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Java to Bali - not my favourite journey

I now needed to get to the next island in the Indonesian chain. The Cemoro Lawang sexy bus dropped me outside a private bus shop - with (of course) someone there to "meet" me. He was trying to get me on his bus to the ferry port (for 50,000 Rupiah), where I could get across to Bali. I really wanted to get the train - and was convinced it was cheaper. The bus guy said that the train station was far, far away. The problem is you're never quite sure if they're just saying that to get you on their bus, but it's not a problem - I can get a local bus across the town. This, also according to the bus guy, was not possible. Now I know this isn't true - there's ALWAYS a bus to somewhere from somewhere! I asked a few local drivers but didn't get much sense. After 20 minutes the bus guy came back and said he'd take me to the station for 10,000 - I agreed. It wasn't so far away - maybe 10 minutes drive. I booked a ticket but had to wait until 4pm for the train to arrive. The ticket was 30,000 - so in total I've only saved 10,000 Rupiah by not catching the bus - and I have to wait for two hours! The moral of this story? Stop being so stubborn and GET THE BUS THAT'S OFFERED TO YOU!!

In the station I needed the toilet. A guy who was hanging about said it would cost "dua ribu" (two thousand). I paid and sat back down, then noticed two other men sitting with him, all looking at me and laughing. Someone else wanted the toilet and asked how much to which he replied "Satu" - meaning one. I know I know I know, this is peanuts - one thousand is nothing - but, tired from an early start and with a very sore knee, I was annoyed (more by the sniggering than the money). I went over and tried to say that I heard the toilet was one thousand for a local but two for a tourist? They just sat there grinning at me, saying "dua dua". I sat back down, plugged myself into my mp3 player, closed my eyes and waited for the train.

The train took 5 hours to get to the ferry port (another reason to get the bus!). At the port I decided to find somewhere to stay as it was now nearly 10pm. I walked up and down the main street, but there was nothing in my price range so I got on the ferry. The ferry was small, and had an extremely loud karaoke system in the lounge! Thank you mp3 player - sometimes I have no idea what I would've done without it on this trip. Occasionally looking out of the window it seemed like we were going around in circles. I went outside to see what was happening and we were going around in circles. The driver was trying to park at the car ramp but couldn't. We would approach at bad angles, but instead of adjusting it the driver would pull completely back and go around for another attempt. No joke: this went on for 30 minutes! I'm guessing the driver was a trainee.

At the port in Bali there's nothing but organised tour buses at this time (midnight) - I needed to get to the capital (Denpasar). The next bus wasn't until 7am. I considered sleeping on the grass verge but decided that A: I wouldn't be able to sleep and B: my stuff might get robbed if I did nod off. I met a man who's uncle had a hotel nearby and they did me a good rate, as It was late. He took me there on his motorbike. The hotel room was posh - aircon and a massive plush bed! This, I was utterly glad to see - and I slept like a baby.

Next morning and my knee was fine, like nothing had ever happened. I walked out of the hotel and was confronted with a giant Buddha - how I missed you! I got on the Denpasar bus - this journey would cost me 30,000 and take 5 hours. On the bus were 3 young Balinese lads. They seemed highly amused by my presence and whispered to each other then snickered while glancing at me. They then were taking pictures 'secretly'. I know there's a language barrier but did they think I was completely stupid? This went on for about an hour - I ignored them - once again plugging myself in! I don't mind if people talk to me, or ask for a picture - I like meeting people - but when it's done like this it's just weird!!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Cemoro Lawang, Java, Indonesia

Cemoro Lawang is a small village on the north-east corner of the tengger caldera - containing dormant mount Batok, active mount Bromo and very active mount Semeru. The bottom of the caldera is a lifeless flatland of black volcanic ash, called the sea of sands. Bromo last erupted in 2011 (people died) and now smoulders white sulphurous smoke menacingly (when volcano smoke turns brown there's an issue!) - Semeru erupts every 20 minutes, throwing a massive puff of smoke high into the sky.

99.9% of people come with organised Jeep tours. They leave Bali at 8pm the previous day, or Surabaya at midnight, or somewhere else early and drive here for sunrise at 5am. I didn't want to do this - I wanted to get here under my own steam, and stay in Cemoro Lawang. I caught a bus to Tunpang and asked about to see if someone can get me into the national park. After not much success and heavy rain now falling I hid under some tarpaulin, where a man was serving noodles - I had some and a kopi. When the rain subsided someone said their friend would take me on a motorbike for 150,000 - which I declined. Eventually I got them down to 100,000 and we set off - my big rucksack between the drivers legs and my camera bag on my back, under my fetching silver rain poncho that I'd just bought.

We climbed up, and up, and up, and up. It got cold and we were swallowed by thick mist. At times the road was so steep that I had to get off and walk, while the driver revved the poor bike up the hill. I say road, but it was more of a path, with volcanic sand and large holes. At this point I remember thinking what on earth am I doing?? Have I completely lost my mind this time?? I had no idea where we are, I can't see in front of my face, I had no helmet and I just gave this guy 100,000 to bounce me up to the top of an active volcanic caldera. My arms and legs were aching so much from gripping the bike seat!

Eventually it flattened out and we burst out above the mist. We were riding along the top of one of the caldera arms that reach out into the land below. All around were villages and their farms, growing everything imaginable in the cool air and fertile volcanic soil - they slope steeply down the side of these caldera arms. After a while we hit a downward section then suddenly it opened out into a beautiful, green savannah with the caldera wall surrounding us. I'd read about this on the internet - you don't see this on the jeep tour! Another 20 minutes and we dropped further onto the caldera floor and the road turned into a black volcanic expanse as we entered the sea of sand. Crossing this sand was sketchy - the bike slithered and dithered but the driver was skilled and held it well.

Helpful people!
Sea of sand
Arriving at the village it was damp, and you couldn't see much. This is pretty typical in the mountains here, the best time is certainly the morning. I plodded about in the rain looking for a cheap place to stay. A lady let me sit under a shelter with her, which I thought was nice - then I realised she was selling fried banana - which was tasty. Later I found a "homestay". This term baffles me. It suggests that you'll spend time with a family, eating food with them and enjoying a warm fire in the evening (or something). In reality they've built some cheap rooms at the back of their house, and you never quite know who, or if indeed there is a family at all! Whatever the case - I was glad to have a room.
After a walk about the village I realised that there's nothing to do, and nothing to see with the clouds, so went back to the room for an early night - ready for a 3am start tomorrow.

My room
Pondok Wisata homestay
The high street
Kitty on a rug
I was woken by vehicles - tourist Jeeps - lots of them - from here/there and everywhere. I was a little late waking so threw on my clothes and grabbed my bag and torch. The walk up to viewpoint 2 is fine, if steep at the end - the only danger are the Jeeps roaring past every minute, typically oblivious to ped's. I have to jump off the road several times! After an hour you're there and passing those hundred + Jeeps parked up on the roadside. Now there are tourists and horses and hawkers to dodge. The sun is beginning to rise and the view is unworldly, with cool mist trapped in the caldera, waiting for the sun to come and release it. Bromo simmers quietly and Semaru releases its trademark puff of smoke every so often. People jostle for a position to get the best photo. An American man is stressed and tells people to "MOVE please, I need to get this shot". It's all too much for me and I continue following the steep dirt path to viewpoint 1 - the summit - not accessible by Jeep. It takes an hour to get to the top - and the view isn't much better, but it's a lot quieter!

At 8am it's already scorching hot and the clouds are moving up. I have some fried potato and banana at a little shop at start the walk back down.

So hot on the way down. All the tourists have already gone and the place is deserted. Some farmers ask me to eat some rice with them - I politely decline as I'm full of banana and potato. Further down an old man offers me some food - which I also politely decline. The locals are lovely!

I walk back though Cemoro Lawang and down the hill into the caldera. My left knee felt weird, kinda twitchy after the walk down, but I carry on across the sea of sand. It takes about 30 minutes to get across by foot - you can take a horse, motorbike or Jeep also if you want. You walk past the Hindu temple (only the Hindu's would build a temple in such a crazy location!) and up some steep, loose sand - then up the 100 or so steps to the crater rim. Standing up there is awesome, looking down into the huge, steaming hole far below! Occasionally the sulphurous steam blows over you, forcing you to cover your face. I stayed here for a long time - I love things like this. To think there's an enormous lava lake not so far below you, that could potentially erupt at any second, is humbling.

On the way back down my knee was in severe pain. I had to stop every two or three steps and when I got to the bottom I rested at a little stall and had some noodles and coffee, trying to work out what on earth I'd done to my knee. After stopping for some pictures with Indonesian worshippers (Muslim and Hindu) I had to get on a motorbike taxi - I couldn't walk any more. I think I was trekking for 5 hours, my knee was not happy! Back at Cemoro I grab my rucksack and find the local bus out. I have to sit around for 2 hours waiting for the "sexy" bus to fill up, so grab a nasi special (rice, chicken, egg, sausage) and a 100plus energy drink. I poke and prod my knee for a bit.

Poten Hindu temple

Hi Death! How are you?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Malang, Java, Indonesia

There's a really nice hostel on the roof of the Helios hotel. Small bamboo huts with double beds, and a large barn with comfy four storey bunk beds. There's a great little cafe with some local and western food. I took one of the top bunks in the barn, it's quite a climb.

Malang is a big, busy city, but has a compact, town feel to it. It's pleasant to walk around and the people are extremely friendly and cool. I saw some fixed-wheel bikes - a sure sign of lurking hipsters! There's also a lot of coffee shops serving up some tasty hot (or iced) Java - these coffee shops are populated with buzzing students, heads buried deep in their Mac's. I only spent one night here though, planning my route down through Java, and into the Bromo national park.

Gun emplacement on a Lotus flower, held by a hand - WTF!?
Colonial house
View from the top of Helios 
Call to prayer over the rooftops