Welcome to the Jungle!
17.10.2010 - 01.11.2010 31 °C
So last time I had just made it to Java…
After more hard negotiating with Bemo drivers we headed to the bus station for a five hour road trip to Probolinggo , it wasn’t the best bus journey but what do you expect for 4 dollars? We arrived in Probolinggo late so were stuck there for the night – there is absolutely nothing there of interest – so we were out of there first thing in the morning to Bromo – apparently one of the best volcanoes in Java and luckily one that we could climb for free and no guide. We met Mat and Sheryl from England and planned the trip up the mountain at 3am in the morning so we could see the sunrise. Now the one thing I noticed instantly about Java was the shear volume of people. It is so crowded – I did some reading to find out – Indonesia has 240million in habitants and 137million of those live on Java.
We realized that when we got up we didn’t actually know which way to go – but headed in the direction – luckily it wasn’t that hard and we made it up there quick time – and boy was it worth it – breath taking is the only way to describe it. It was the first clear morning they have had in weeks so we were lucky to see it all – the photos do not do it justice. We climbed on top of the roofs of these concrete lookouts and had the most incredible view. A few Americans had joined us but other than that we were all along. I was half expecting a dinosaur to come out into the clearing – there was no sight of anything modern.
Now I really wanted to climb Bromo but we had chosen to see it from a distance at the view point rather than climb it so we could get the view – but I really wanted to climb it… we had a bus to catch at 9.30 and it was 6.00am so I came up with the amazing idea of climbing Bromo that morning as well! It was about an hour from the town to climb it if we were quick so we started to climb back down from the view point and headed for Bromo. The Sulphar was pouring out of the volcano it was something special. We got some pretty cool pics from the top - I love the way they aren’t health and safety mad – no railings – nothing stop you falling in. It was 100% worth the 8 hours out of the way to get there.
It wasn’t the easiest getting from Bromo to Yogyakarta (our next stop) it involved a lot of changing buses which would take around 14 hours – so we decided to jump in a taxi with some people from Thailand which didn’t make it that much more expensive. We were in Yogyakarta to visit Borobudur – a temple about 60km from Yogakarta – it says that this ranks alongside Angkor Wat in Cambodia – I really hope it doesn’t as it means I will be disappointed…
It wasn’t that bad but to be honest it wasn’t that special. To go with the theme of saving money I wanted to get public transport which took a bicycle taxi and 2 buses rather then taking a tour bus – saving us a whole $5 but in my eyes it was worth it. The temple itself was rebuilt about 20 years ago when they discovered it hidden under all the volcanic ash – well they said it had been rebuilt – some of it just consisted of piles of stone. OK maybe Im being a little harsh – it wasn’t all that bad. I was just bitter after paying $15 dollars to get in –‘yes I said $15 dollars – first of all the locals pay $2 and that is like 3 nights’ accommodation for me. The funniest part of the day by far was that we were being treated like celebrities – all the locals wanted their picture taken with us.
So after a little bit of a disappointing visit we headed to Sumatra – the good thing about Asia is that internal flights are dirt cheap so we took a flight via Jakarta to Medan. Now Sumatra is huge – its something like the 6th biggest island in the world but only had 40 million people living on it. The roads are terrible – it really was a white knuckle ride for five hours to Danau Toba the biggest lake in South East Asia. This lake has a huge island (well actually its not an island – as it connected by a tiny bit of land, but the locals call it that) in the middle which we stayed on in a town called Tuk Tuk. Apparently this used to be a massive tourist area but it had been forgotten about around 10 years ago. We heard there was a good trek or two so we headed there. It was pretty cool, everyone was happy to see and meet us – there must have been about 15 tourist on the whole island. On that note I have to say the Indonesians are most friendliest people I have ever met – at first I thought that they just wanted you to spend money but they are so helpful and happy.
The first day we rented a moped and went for a ride, it was only $5 for the day which was pretty cheap although they were shouting ‘no insurance’ just as we set off. Luckily we didn’t have any problems and made it back in one piece although we were slightly wet after being caught in a rain storm. We had tried to ride up to a village on top of the mountain on the island but had to turn back as the road was not cut out for a bike. Undeterred we decided to trek up the mountain the following day – it started off ok – we had to head to a little village about 5km away and then start our assent. Now, me being me, I did not want to pay for a guide when you can trek on your own. So we looked in the lonely planet for some inspiration and it described a route – no it said its at your own risk and do not climb when its wet – what do they know hey? Actually quite a lot.
It was probably one of the hardest treks I have done – it had rained the night before and everything was wet and slippery. The trail was barely distinguishable and was so overgrown a Machete would have been greatly appreciated. Now, we had been going for an hour and it would have been best to turn back but stubbornly we decided to go on. It was only 700metres from the lake but it took along time to get up there. We had been told there was a cool village at the top – hmm, I wouldn’t really call it a village. We stopped at John’s, a local that lived there and stopped for some tea. It was a much needed recharge – apparently everyone turns up lost and thirsty not knowing how hard the climb was going to be. We were no exception… he pointed us in the right direction – which to my dismay was 17km to the point where we were heading.
There was a lake at the top – after 14km we made it to the lake – more of a pond I would say and stopped for lunch. I was utterly shattered, I did not think I could walk much further and when we got told it was actually 7km to the town rather then the 3km we thought I wasn’t much happier. So, I thought it would be a good idea to hitch – this was the best part of the day for me – a local family crammed us in their car with the kids in the back and dropped us at the nearest town – we started waiting for the bus to drop us 22km back to Tuk Tuk when I thought at trying my hand at hitch hiking again – and to my pleasure it worked – we got onto the back of this truck carrying gas and were on our way – it was crazy – all the locals were pointing and laughing at us sitting on the back of this truck. Now he was delivering gas around the island so I helped him out dropping off these 5 gallon containers of gas at various stops along the way (rather me than him as he was smoking whilst carrying them). He was such a nice guy – didn’t want any money was just a good deed – I stand by what I said earlier – they are the friendliest nation I have met.
Then it was time to head to Bukit Lawang about 7 hours from Lake Toba – I had high hopes as its one of only two places in the world that you can see Orangutans in the wild. We arrived in this quiet little town Julie, a Swiss girl that we met on the way and were the centre of attention for the town – there must have been only about 10 other tourists there – everyone was so friendly - a really nice community. We were staying at the Rainforest Lodge that is owned by a lovely woman called Nora – if you ever go you should definitely stay here!
We chatted to a few guides who told us what to expect on our two day jungle trek. They told us about the famous Orangutan Mina – who was released years ago into the wild from captivity and has a score to settle – she has attacked over 60 guides to date – we saw our guides scars to prove it. He said we would most probably bump into her – or her into us! So we set off that morning at 8am into the jungle and within 20 minutes had our first sighting – a baby Orangutan with its mother in a tree right in front of us – its such an amazing sight – we must have stayed there watching for about half an hour. The trek itself got pretty tough at times – lots of slippery hills to climb and things to trip over.
We saw 10 wild Orangutans that day – it was awesome and yes we bumped into Mina – my god she was huge and she came straight for us – luckily our guide was in between us and he had some food so she didn’t attack. It was pretty scary – you don’t realize how huge they are until they are 6 foot in front of you – luckily we all got by unscathed and tucked in to our lunch of Nasi Goreng and fruit- they put on a pretty good spread for being in the jungle. We were soaked through with sweat and luckily next to our camp ground was a river, which I dived straight in. I did think how many tropical diseases I might catch at one moment while trekking but it soon goes out of your head. Had a few bites and leaches but other than that all seemed ok. Now I thought we would be sleeping in tents – oh no – plastic tarp held up by a few sticks – it was awesome – we stayed up in candle light playing cards and the guides we teaching us some funny games – these guys were hilarious.
So after a night of not much sleep due to the rocks under my tarp it was time to get going again, we saw white Gibbons and the other local monkeys that day. It was an awesome experience which left me well and truly shattered. But there was still more fun to be had – we rafted back down that afternoon to our lodge – the water was freezing but it was so refreshing after being sticky in the jungle. Unfortunately it was time to leave the following day, Nora was heading in a similar direction to see her dad in hospital so she took us to her sisters place in Binjai about three hours from Bukit Lawang for some lunch and drinks which was really nice of her. Then she pointed us in the right direction of our night bus and off we went. 12 hours later we arrived in the north of Sumatra in Banda Ache. No they are pretty fanatical about their religion here and I had been told you have to be careful - for example the law is that if you get caught drinking alcohol you get 40 lashes! Shit – I might have to be a bit careful.
After arriving in Banda Ache it was a quick taxi to the ferry and an hour later we were in Pula Weh. We had been told the diving here is excellent - i wouldn't say excellent and to be honest there is absolutely nothing to do on Pula Weh apart from diving but all the same I had a good time. So that brings a close to my Indonesia travels as I fly out of Banda Ache in a couple of days to Malaysia. If anyone is thinking of traveling South East Asia then you really cannot miss Indonesia – seriously one of my favorite countries so far!
That was the end of my blog but I thought I d better add a section about the Tsunami. One the way back from Pulah Weh I stopped off in Banda Ache for the night… I thought it would just be a boring stop over whilst I waited for my plane the next day – boy was I wrong.
I got to a cheap hotel in the centre of Banda Ache. In 2004 when the Tsunami hit this place was totally flattened – the wave was apparently 40 metres above sea level - the pictures I saw left me speechless. After the Tsunami a lot of volunteers came to help in Banda and the locals are very grateful to all tourists that come and they are all so nice. But since 2005 very little tourists come to Banda Ache.
I must have been stopped about 10 times on my way to find a place to eat that came recommended for photos with the locals. Now Banda Ache is very religious and they have their own laws governing the area – to name a couple: Adultery is punishable by death and drinking alcohol will get you 40 lashes! So I thought I d better be on my best behavior.
The next day I hired a moto driver to take me around to see some of the evidence left over from the Tsunami. First stop was the Mosque, the mosque was the only building that survived the Tsunami in the area – the destruction is indescribable from what I saw in the photos.
It is hard to believe the power of the wave – there were two more memorials left over from the Tsunami – one a 2500 tonne ship that was carried 4km inland by the wave. The power of the wave must have been immense. Then also there was another boat that landed on top of a house – it has been left as reminder of the tragic events.
I was in for a shock – next to the boat was a wall of photos – now it left me speechless with a lump in my throat – the photos were from the aftermath of the Tsunami, it showed the thousand of bodies just washed up on the land. Its hard to believe that they have almost rebuilt the whole city and the locals are more then happy to share their stories of what happen to them that day. During my trip in Sumatra there were a few natural disasters – a volcano erupted in Java just two days after I left and another Tsunami hit the west coast of Sumatra when I was in the north islands. It’s a reminder of how these people live under constant threat from natural disasters. Its hard to describe how I felt after visiting some of the sights – I almost felt wrong taking pictures there but the locals want you to so that people know the magnitude of what happened that day.