A Travellerspoint blog

Natural Selection

The legend of Darwin.

I was out of breath. My arms and legs ached with every stroke. The rain was pounding down on my back. Was that hail? Surely it was, it was stinging. The wind was whipping the ocean into a choppy frenzy. I tried to lay on my back to get some breath back, but the waves were just that little bit too high, resulting in a cough and splutter before resuming the battle with the sea. The only way was to keep swimming. I kept looking up at the boat, slowly inching its way closer. All around me people were immersed in the same battle, all striving to reach the safety of the boat. I was exhausted, but I would make it. Kick, stroke, breath, kick: slowly but surely inching forwards. Then I heard a shout and turned towards the voice. Seeing his arms flailing, and his head bobbing, water spluttering from his mouth. One of the girls was shouting for help.

He was drowning. And there was nothing I could do to help.

P1080096.jpg

I hadn’t met the guy, but I’d heard the stories. They said the only way to describe him was a liability. He hadn’t been in Asia long, but he already had a reputation. Still it was early days in the making of the legend of Darwin. He seemed somewhat intelligent, but a lack of common sense and social skills meant that after only a couple of weeks on the continent stories were spreading. I won’t describe all of them here, many are just not appropriate. But suffice to say sometimes his lack of logic is breathtaking. His real name isn’t Darwin, but since our fateful boat trip the nickname has spread like wildfire. He is now simply Darwin, and his legend is spreading across the globe.

Less than 24 hours in Asia and he’d had his money stolen. In fact he had little money to start with and just took off half way across the world after a vague suggestion from a friend. He’d also somehow fallen over a wall into a bathroom and broken a sink. Like I said, this guy has many stories, and more have surfaced since that fateful day.

And of course there’s the tattoo. Dear god, the tattoo. I’ve seen and heard of some bad tattoos, but this one was amazing. The ugliest mess of ink I could imagine. The story went his mates were in Bangkok and decided to get tattoos from one of the best tattoo artists in Bangkok, and emerged with some pretty good tats. Darwin however couldn’t decide what to get, so didn’t get one. Later that night, much later in fact he changed his mind. Heavy drinking, 6am and street tattooists who are almost as drunk as you are not a good mix. The tattoo covers his whole arm, and is supposed to be in Thai, however no-one who speaks Thai can read it. He even asked the “artist” to sign his work, getting one letter in before he was mercifully rescued by one of his mates.

41042_1015..35260_n.jpg

Now, back to that fateful day. We were in Sihanoukville in Southern Cambodia. A sleazy but fun town full of beach-style debauchery. We’d decided to take a boat trip out to some of the surrounding islands. There was a few of us. The Phnom Penh crew and my friend Ele, who I’d first met in Nepal. Also tagging along was Darwin. Ele was good friends with Darwins mate, and he had decided to tag along. I had a strange feeling before the trip, feeling somewhat nervous about taking this guy on a boat after all those stories. But surely I was just being silly?

IMG_5127.jpg

We had a great day, despite some somewhat dubious weather at times. We jumped from the boat, we snorkelled, we swam, we trekked through rivers and jungle and we lazed on a beach. There was a good crew of people on the boat too, about 35 or so.

When the boat got to the main island, we had two options. Take the dingy into shore, or swim. It was a fair way to shore 200m or so, but most of us decided on the swim. The way in was a bit tiring, but pretty easy, taking breaks along the way, floating along and looking at the clouds, it was actually a pretty relaxing swim. After the island fun it came time to swim back to the boat.

P1080164.jpgDSC01466.jpg

It was then things started to go wrong. As we begun to swim the weather turned. The wind came up, the heavens opened and the waves picked up. The wind blowing towards the shore meant that every stroke was that little bit harder, and any “rests” treading water meant a few extra metres that had to be caught up. Quite a few of us were struggling, but most would reach the boat. Two people had turned back and were quite close to the shore. I was about 40 metres from the boat, with Darwin about twenty metres behind me when he starting drowning.

Whilst I had enough energy to save myself, there was no way I could help anyone else. If I tried I would make myself a liability as well. It was a hard call to make, and I felt absolutely useless. Especially after all my rescue training over the last few years, not being able to help someone in trouble was a real kick in the teeth. But I knew that risking myself was the worst thing I could do. Still it was hard to just sit there in the water or turn away and save myself. I know I made the right decision though, as it was I was lucky to make it. Luckily there were people in better shape than me, and Ele and one of the Dutch guys, Lino, came to Darwins aid. They really did save his life. At one point he did go under and had to be hauled back up. Whilst they strived to keep him afloat they were slowly floating further from the boat. I stopped and watched, still wondering if there was anything I could do to help, except scream at the boat for help. I’d stopped for maybe 30 seconds and turned back to the boat. My heart sank. I’d been drifting and the boat was another 30 metres away. It was hard to describe that feeling, but it was shattering to see that beacon of safety drifting further out of reach. Everyone was spread out in the water, and many were yelling at the boat for help. There were others in the water struggling and shouting. Chaos had arrived.

The dingy was there, but inexplicably not moving. The driver had little awareness of the urgency of the situation. The few swimmers who had gotten to the boat were searching for lifejackets and eventually tried to come to the aid of the strugglers in the water. The dingy finally got moving, but was going painfully slowly and stopped to pick up those closest to the boat. People were piled in the dingy and hanging off the sides. The driver wanted to go back to the boat and collect the others, including the drowning Darwin on a second run, but the hordes of screaming westerners managed to finally get the message across and he eventually made his way to the drifting three. I was hanging off the side of the dingy by this stage, trying to get my breath back. Every muscle was aching and my body was shaking.

Finally he was hauled into the dingy and it started making its way slowly back to the main boat. Darwin collapsed in the middle of the dingy. Fears were held however for the two close to shore. We’d lost sight of them. We all finally hauled ourselves onto the main boat and collapsed. Towels were passed out as everyone started to digest what had happened. People were nervously shaking and sharing tales of survival, waiting for the dingy to return. Eventually it did, with the remaining passengers and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. We had all survived.

It was certainly a lesson. How quickly an innocent swim turned into chaos and had the potential for a mass drowning. There were a few of us who really had feared for our lives that day. How just a few small waves and a bit of wind had turned a long but easy swim into one of the toughest things I’ve done, and really pushed me to the limits. It also reminded me that I am a fairly poor swimmer. And the fact that on the boat we all had fins, masks and snorkels, things that would have made that swim easy, even in those conditions. As it turned out, it was a lesson I didn’t learn, and a couple of months later put myself in a very similar situation. The big lesson, “Don’t F___ with water.”

After all the stories we all wondered how Darwin has survived for over 20 years. The thought occurred to me how he had escaped Natural selection this long. That’s when we named him Darwin and the legend of Darwin begun.

The rest of the trip was good, after a whiskey infused coffee and a beer I’d recovered and my aching muscles had stopped shaking. We were fairly social on the boat and met with a bunch of the survivors that night in Sihanoukville, and proceeded to party till the wee hours of the morning. We were tempted to get some T-shirts printed. “We survived Sihanoukville!” As we in fact hadn’t yet left the town of Sihanoukville alive, we decided this was a little presumptuous and delayed the printing of said shirts. These people became our travelling companions and together we shared the “Bodhi days” in Kampot, one of the most relaxed bits of my trip. While there I wrote the song “Natural Selection” an ode to the legend of Darwin. But the stories of our times at Bodhi can wait for another day.

IMG_5132.jpg

I kind of miss Darwin and his stories. In some ways he was a hard person to hang around, but he is unmatched in the story department. I hang out to get my “Darwin update” and hear about his recent antics.

But we shall see how long he can escape the powers of natural selection...

Posted by nomadSteve 23:29 Archived in Cambodia Tagged boats water darwin drowning Comments (0)

The Sibling Chronicles: Volume 1

Do we really share the same jeans? Ah, I mean genes...

Now I love my sister dearly. And we’ve had a blast since she arrived in Asia. Myself, Sophie and her friend Megs have had a great time bouncing around Malaysia and Thailand. But, sometimes I do have to ponder the question of genes. Here are just some of the stories of stupidity and wanton destruction of property from the first 10 days of our travels.

IMG_7036.jpgIMG_7015.jpg

The arrival

I’d been out in the morning to the Petronas Towers. A somewhat tedious exercise waiting in queues for a couple of hours then a rather disappointing visit to the sky bridge. Still it was ticked off the list. I had a few things to do that day around Kuala Lumpur, to prepare for Soph and Megs arrival the following day. Get my Thai visa in play and pick up my camera being the most important ones. I briefly returned to the hostel to grab some stuff and was shocked to find Soph and Megs waiting for me in the hostel. After not seeing her in over 6 months my first words were “What the f___ are you doing here?” Not the best greeting I know, but I was in shock. Turns out Soph had told me the wrong arrival date, on multiple occasions. And she didn’t even notice when we were running through plans on the phone the week before.

The Chair

Mid sentence she disappeared. One minute she was sitting around the table talking, the next she was gone. Crumpled in a heap on the ground, the chair she was sitting on lying in two pieces next to her. I couldn’t help it, I laughed. Megs laughed. Soph laughed. And a whole restaurant full of Malaysians laughed. Some things, like breaking a chair, are universal.

IMG_6994.jpgIMG_7039.jpg

The Fan

One beer down in a bar at Railay, enjoying a game of pool. After one of her amazing fluky pool shots she was swing the pool cue around for her next shot. Suddenly there was a large bang. Everyone spun towards the noise. A chunk of plastic spun wildly through the air before landing square on the pool table. It was followed by a whirring clanking sort of noise. The wall-mounted fan was not well, and sounded like it was dying. It took us a moment to work out she had swung the pool cue into the wall-mounted fan whilst it was spinning, snapping off one of the plastic fan blades.

The Room

It was late at night and we’d had a few drinks. We’d been sitting at t relaxing bar watching live music and a fire dancing show. Soph was fading fast, almost falling asleep on the chair. She headed home on her own. We discussed walking her home, but decided she would be fine on her own.

Bad decision. After a little dancing Megs and I followed her back to the room. Megs went to open the door. It wouldn’t open. She tried again. Then I tried. It was locked.
We knocked on the door, hammered on the windows and yelled at the walls. But no-one was stirring, except probably the rest of the hotel; we were making a hell of a racket. I tried the windows; I even somehow managed to scale the wall behind our room to peer in the tiny bathroom window, but no luck. We attempted to break in, trying every window. Even trying to jimmy the locks with credit cards and bobby pins. Unfortunately we both lack experience in breaking into rooms, and we failed.
The problem was we had no idea if she was in there. The curtains were shut, her shoes were not outside the door and we had no evidence to say she had made it home. We had to check the town. So we spent the next hour scouring the small village of Railay East searching for her, but to no avail. We were both pretty pissed off by this stage and we decided to back to the bar, dancing for a while before again heading back. I was a few minutes behind Megs and my heart sank when I saw her camped outside our room. I made one last attempt at breaking in, again scaling the wall behind the room. I tried the windows one last time. The room had a lot of windows and i realised there was one I hadn’t tried. I pulled at it but nothing happened. For some reason, I tried again and it moved slightly. I managed to eventually prise it open and tried to climb in. The window was tight, and relatively high, so I very ungracefully fell head first into the room, letting out a curse as I hit the floor. I pulled myself up and looked around the room. I saw a small lump in the middle of the bed. It was Soph, happily fast asleep. We made as much noise as we could when we came in, but she was oblivious, sleeping through it all.

IMG_7084.jpgIMG_7164.jpg

The Fish Bath

We decided to try the famous fish baths. Those large tanks full of small cleaner fish that suck the dead skin from your feet and legs. Now this was ticklish, and it’s very hard to keep a straight face. For the first couple of minutes you are jumpy, smiling and laughing, but you get used to it. Now most people do. Soph on the other hand was in hysterics for the whole twenty minutes. We thought it was hilarious, watching her squirm and squeal as the fish nibbled on her skin. So did the staff, and all the other customers in the shop. She even drew a street audience. She left with not only smooth feet but an aching abdomen from laughing so hard.

The Sea Snake

We had one spectacular day of diving on Ko Phi Phi. More marine life than you can poke a stick at and a lot of fun. We were heading through a small underwater canyon in single file. Anna, the dive master out in front, the Soph and then me. They had stopped to ogle a lion fish and were hovering a few centimetres off the sea floor. Soph had picked the perfect spot to hover, right above a banded Sea snake, which was happily cruising about just under her legs. Now sea snakes aren’t aggressive, and they are not designed to bit large sea-going mammals (i.e., scuba divers) but if you are unlucky their bite can pack a deadly wallop. This presented me a slight dilemma. Do I point out the sea snake and risk her panicking, or move her out of the way. I decided to try to get her to come up a bit, and tried to signal her to move up. She just stared upwards, and shrugged, thinking I was trying to point something out. Of course as she looked up she actually sank more, towards the sea snake. I eventually grabbed her vest, pulled her up a few centimetres then pointed down, and she finally understood.

IMG_7124.jpgIMG_7142.jpgIMG_7303.jpgIMG_7384.jpgIMG_7432.jpgIMG_7435.jpg

These stories are from 10 days on the road. What can happen in the next 3 weeks? I hate to think. But I am quite sure this is only volume 1 of "The Sibling Chronicles."

Posted by nomadSteve 22:22 Archived in Thailand Tagged diving beach chairs sister Comments (0)

Godzilla Vs King Kong

Tioman Island. A land of monkeys, monitor lizards and monkeys fighting monitor lizards. Oh and there’s jungles and the odd reef as well.

semi-overcast 30 °C

Even from the boat Tioman was spectactular, a volcanic mass rising from the sea, a steep mess of jungle, shimmering beaches and volcanic cliffs and peaks. I’d chosen ABC beach, I’d heard it was peaceful and a nice place to relax. I really felt I needed just a bit of that time on my own. Find myself again. Write some new songs, read some books. It had been a couple of months since I’d finished a book. Being social had overtaken.

P1000207.jpg

I arrived on Tioman Island with a smile on my face, yet a small sadness in my heart. I was happy to be on my own again, after quite a few very social weeks. Looking forward to new adventures and new faces, and also a bit of "me" time. But I would miss these people, my new family. Erik with his ever smiling face and sweet tunes; Hakan and his grumpy German humour; Aro with her intrigue and constant jingling; Kevin with his cooking and optimism; Karen and her sexy Spanish cursing; Tya with her smile, her ukulele and the “chicken shaker” and everyone else in Le Village gang. Some I’d known for months, some a few days, though all with a place in my heart. But these things are part of travelling. The fast and intense friendships, all the while knowing that soon it will all end. But when it does end it also means the start of the next phase. New adventures and new faces to share those adventures. And the thrill of being on your own again.

ABC consists of one track that spans quitea long beach. The odd motorbike with sidecar carrying dive gear and the odd pushbike bounce along the road but most of the traffic is pedestrian. There are a number of guesthouses and restaurants spread across the strip and the odd bar; but they are far enough apart it gives the whole place a very relaxed vibe. The actual beach (excuding small patches at either end) is quite rocky and uninspiring, but the relaxed pace makes up for it.

P1000264.jpg

I found myself a simple and cheap bungalow just back from the beach, a nice little hut to base myself from. Straight away I threw myself into my Advanced Open Water dive ticket. Again I loved the diving, exploring the underwater wonderland. Marvelling at the myriads of fish and coral on display. I actually realised I was really enjoying the learning as well. Over the past few years I’ve had very little formal learning, just the odd short course through work and some of the mines rescue training. Its been enjoyable throwing myself at something new. Whilst you do learn about the world while travelling, it isn’t very intense. And after a few months away it’s good to focus on something and use your brain a little.

As part of the Open water I did a night dive. Unfortunately we really didn’t see much at all. Visibility was ordinary anyway and the sealife seemed to have an aversion to our lights that night. I still enjoyed it however. It’s rather a unique feeling, being weightless, underwater in the dark with only the beam from your torch to light the way. We saw a few interesting fish, but definitely the highlight was when we were returning to the shore. I turned off my light as we were snorkelling back and noticed the odd glow. I asked the others to turn off their torches and as we adjusted to the light the phosphorescent algae started dominating the ocean. Its rather cool seeing it underwater with goggles. As it is lit by disturbance, my fellow divers seemed to be glowing, surrounded by a halo of tiny green glowing orbs. It did get a little hairy as we returned to the shore as the tide was quite low, and hence the seafloor presented a minefield of urchins to avoid in the dark. A couple of times in the shallows the only way to avoid them was to press my torch into the ground to push myself away. Of course this meant the light was gone. Of course when I re-lit my way more urchins had appeared. And as this cycle repeated itself a few times the fear of urchin stings was steadily increasing as I bounced from one darken lurch to another. Eventually though I emerged from this maze of black spikes back onto the beach.

My time on Tioman passed quickly, days melding into one. I got some of the solo time I was after, though the week was still very social. Meeting new people diving and a few enjoyable nights at one of the beach bars. I had a couple of good days snorkelling and a couple of days with a few fun English girls I’d met at the bar.

P1000181.jpgP1000320.jpg

I walked out to Monkey Bay one day on my own. I hadn’t quite realised how intense the little walk was. It took less than an hour, but it was all up and down over a few hills on a rough slippery track through the thick jungle. I hadn’t exactly come prepared in my flip-flops, and ended up doing the walk bare foot. Great fun though. And luckily at the bottom of each hill was the shore, so i ended up having a few dips to cool off on the way. Monkey bay was quite a nice snorkelling destination. When I finally found the best reef at the far end of the beach the clouds were just gathering on the horizon. I was snorkelling for a while, engrossed in the coral and fish swarming around the impressive drop off. Watching the bigger fish hiding down in the depths below the coral wall. I’d noticed it was a little darker and it was a little choppier, but it was only when I surfaced to head back to shore I realised how much the weather had come in. It was about to rain and the wind was quite powerful. I was about 100m from the shore and it was only a bit choppier out there, but the waves in at shore were quite strong, and it was quite dangerous getting back to shore with the coral and rocks in the shallows. But I made it with only a couple of minor scrapes. The storm hit with a vengeance as I made the trek back to ABC, the rain making the track slow and slippery, and the lightening flashing through the dark jungle. All in all a good day.

P1000467.jpgP1000439.jpg

One wet afternoon I was sitting on my bed playing guitar. I’d intended on a relaxed afternoon of walking and snorkelling, but a nice tropical downpour put an end to those ambitions. Outside the rain was pelting down and the heavens were cracking with thunder and lightning. Over the din I heard an unusual noise, a sort of light scraping clicking sort of noise. At first I ignored it, but eventually stood up to have a look. The door to my room was open, and on the floor was one of the Islands giant monitor lizards. This one would have been roughly a metre and half and was stood just in front the doorway. As I shouted and jumped in the air the lizard let out a small hiss and turned and sauntered back out the door. I knew there was no risk, but it still left me with a pounding heart. Strangely later that night a bat flew in through my open window, did two laps of the room and then shot back out through the front door. I was popular with the wildlife that day!

Another day I was walking down the track and spotted on of the islands many monkeys hissing at something behind a tree. As I got closer I realised it was one of the monitor lizards, who responded with a large hiss of its own. I was hoping for Godzilla Vs king kong battle, but the foes eventually got bored and went their own ways, the monkey giving me a hiss as it ran past. Bloody monkeys. You can always tell the people who are new to travelling in Asia. When they see a monkey its all “It’s so cute!” and reaching straight for the camera. Those who have been around for a while are wary. Keeping bags and cameras close and usually muttering “bloody monkeys.”

P1000253.jpgP1000458.jpg

I was reminded whilst on Tioman how conservative Malaysia can be. You don’t see much of it in most “tourist” spots and in the centre of Kuala Lumpur with all its Chinese and Indian influence. But outside these areas Sharia law is still enforced on the Muslim born population. It’s illegal for a Malay to drink in public, which includes bars, so these are usually confined to tourist and expat areas. A sign on the ABC wharf warns of the punishment for a Malay caught drinking. A large fine and/or imprisonment and/or 6 lashes. Quite harsh. I was also talking to a western girl working on the island who has hooked up with a Malay guy. That is completely illegal and he faces hefty punishment if this is discovered (again a mix of fines, imprisonment and lashes.) They are now doing there hardest to get working visas in Australia or New Zealand so they can leave. They are sure that if they stay, one day they will be caught.

After my jaunt to Tioman Island I returned to Kuala Lumpur and Le Village for two nights. This time I was determined to leave and quickly purchased myself a flight to Phnom Penh. I had finally decided somewhere at least a little different to Malaysia and Indonesia was in order. Cambodia was one of the places I was really looking forward to especially Siam Reap and the Angkor temples.

One of the scariest days of my trip was the day I had left. I’d had a small bite or cut on my right arm for a few days. The day before I left around lunchtime I noticed it was red and inflamed, a small tropical infection. The next morning I woke to a throbiing pain in my arm. It had turned into a giant pus-weaping inflamed lump. My arm was red from my wrist almost to my shoulder. I caught the boat to the port town of Mersing and ended up stuck there for 5 hours. I tried to find a doctor, but with no luck. It’s hard in a place like that on a Sunday during Ramadan. I did find a pharmacy and buy some antibiotics which I immediately started. By this stage I’d noticed what looked like track marks heading up my arm and I was developing a fever and a sensitivity to sunlight. Shit. This was getting bad.

I bought a thermometer and started monitoring my temperature. when I started it read 38 degrees, but as the hours wore on it increased. Half way through the bus trip back to KL my temperature was 40. Remembering that phrase "Brain boiling" I was getting worried. “Stuff heading to the hostel when I get there,” I thought, “I’m going straight to hospital!” Luckily half way through the trip the fever broke and the swelling in the arm went down considerably. When I arrived in KL my temperature was back to normal and I decided medical attention could wait until the next day. When I woke in the morning the swelling had almost disappeared. The antibiotics? A good immune system or just a strange infection? Who knows. Whilst it was “almost” back to normal the next day the infection just won’t disappear, whatever I throw at it. And almost two months later I still have a small pussy open would on my arm. Damned tropics!

I was expecting some of the familiar faces to be in the Le Village hostel when I returned, but I wasn’t prepared to see basically the entire crew perched on the hostel couches when I stumbled in at midnight. I had expected not to see some of that crew again on this trip, and our goodbyes the week previous might be final. Another couple of good fun social days ensued. The final night was filled with good food, drinks and good jams. Always fun jamming with Erik. He somehow throws that infectious smile and attitude of his into his guitar. And of course Tya with her soaring voice and expert chicken shaker (ie. Egg shaker) skills. Locky still hadn’t gone to India and we had more final goodbyes before I finally took my leave again and headed for the airport. That morning included some other “final” goodbyes, and a rather emotional farewell to Aro. Pangs of sadness rocked through my heart as I once again said goodbyes, but after a few minutes a smile had crept back onto my face and the joy of being on the road had once again buoyed my spirits. And that is why I travel. I guess when that feeling goes it’s time to stop.

But that time is not now...

P1000556.jpgP1000532.jpgP1000443.jpg

Posted by nomadSteve 22:18 Archived in Malaysia Tagged beaches tioman snorkelling diving monkey lizard Comments (0)

Returning to the black hole

How I missed most of Malaysia...

I knew it would happen. If I wasn’t careful it would devour me again. Like so many travellers before despite my best efforts I was sucked back in. Only by peer pressure and persistence I managed escape and to see more of the world. Another week in Le Village hostel, Kuala Lumpur.

P1000020.jpg

I’d been racked with indecision. Where do I go to after Indonesia? Borneo, the Philippines or Peninsula Malaysia? I finally decided upon the Philippines. I was planning to meet up with Sarah there (one of the “Famous 10.”) The plan was to fly to Kuala Lumpur with Aro and Hakan and then onto Manilla from there, with two nights in Le Village. But the world had other plans for me. My credit card was declined for the KL to Manilla flight. I was running out of time before the flight to KL, so I arrived without a ticket out (something I knew was dangerous.) After a heavily delayed flight we arrived at Le Village at 2:30 in the morning, greeted by Locky (the wild-haired cheeky young Malay who runs the place.) As usual the place was in party mode and entering the kitchen I was assaulted with a barrage of typical traveller questions, asked without time to reply by two Dutch girls and a fiery Latina. “Where are you from? Where have you come from? How long have you been travelling? How long left? Where are you going? What’s your name? “

Despite being stupidly tired after another late night out in Kuta the night before I ended up staying up till the sun rose. That’s Le Village for you. After only an hour in the place I was thinking “maybe I could stay here a couple of days...” And of course I did. There was always something keeping me there just one more day. Kuala Lumpur doesn’t really stand out as a city, but staying in Le village is all about the social.

One of the things keeping me there was Locky leaving party, the worst surprise party in history. Locky really is the lifeblood of Le Village, and loved by everyone who stays there. He was leaving for a few months of travel around India one week into Ramadan. We decided to throw him a party the day before Ramadan started, with Kevin (one of the long-termers, a chef from New Zealand) cooking a big fancy meal. I was part of the “distraction” team, with a few of us dragging Locky along to the cinema to see Inception, buying the rest of the crew a few hours to cook and decorate. As we left the cinema I rang the guys at the hostel, telling them we were on the way. Then I rang them from around the corner, and even made sure to shout “We’re home” from the bottom of the steps. As far as I know Locky still had no idea. As we got to the top of the steps, we saw the silhouettes of about 20 people in the common room. But inexplicably no “SURPRISE!”

P1000043.jpgP1000035.jpg

Instead everyone sat in the dark waiting for someone else to start. Locky was getting confused. “Why is everyone sitting in the dark? Why is everyone quiet? Why are there balloons....?” Finally a belated an unenthusiastic surprise echoed out, but the moment was somewhat missed. We did however have a great night and some good food courtesy of Kevin.

There’s not a hell of a lot else to say about that second week in Le Village. Late nights and lazy days, it was certainly time to leave. I was planning on leaving to Tioman Island, but I never quite left. In the end it took “the crew” heading to Kuantan on the East Coast to drag me out of the place. The crew was bolstered by Erik, another member of the “Famous 10” who returned from Borneo. We managed to drag him along with us, despite him arriving at 2:30 in the morning. It’s always nice having the “Fake Swedish” around. He’s one of those people whose energy and smiles are contagious. We had one great night in Kuantan, sleeping on the beach. Had a few sneaky drinks (whiskey and coke mixed in Maccas cups) as drinking is fairly frowned upon in conservative Malaysia. A good night was had; guitar and ukulele jams, swimming with the phosphorescent algae and watching the storm roll in. We had to make a quick dash to shelter as the rains hit, and ended up sleeping in a strange deserted tower thing by the beach.

P1000059.jpgP1000094.jpg

Despite feeling the pull of Le Village, I resisted the urge to follow the rest of the gang back to KL and pushed out on my own once again. Finally heading for Tioman Island. I said my goodbyes to the crew at the bus station, which was quite emotional, as I wasn’t sure when or even if I would see them all again. As it turned out, all of them were in KL when I returned 10 days later...

P1000105.jpgP1000128.jpgP1000129.jpgP1000126.jpgP1000115.jpg

Posted by nomadSteve 04:22 Archived in Malaysia Tagged kuala_lumpur backpacking Comments (2)

Discovering Lombok: A beginners guide to losing a German

Five bikes, one accident and a lost German.

30 °C

Last year when I was in Vietnam we did one of the Halong Bay cruises. We’d heard horror stories about the start of these cruises: waiting in Hanoi for three hours, waiting in the port for hours for the boat or getting on the boat to discover a rotten rat infested hulk. Our start was smooth. Too smooth. We were picked up promptly, taken straight to the port and got straight on our boat. The boat was nice, lunch was set on the table and as we stepped aboard the boat was untied and begun to leave the jetty. After all the stories I couldn’t believe it was so smooth. I turned to my sister, “That was way too easy...” And it was. Forty metres from the dock our boat became stuck on a sandbank, where we spent the next hour waiting to be towed. In the end it took a tugboat and another ferry to remove us from the sandbank.

Myself and Cesars departure from Gili Air was similar. We were told there was “usually” an afternoon boat from the island. When we arrived at 1:30 for the 2:00 ferry we were told that the ferry would leave when they got 20 people. “ Ok we might be here a while,” I thought. But no, at 1:55 we were herded onto the tiny boat, the ropes were untied and the boat was pushed into the water. Again I thought to myself “That was too easy...” Then they tried to start the engine. After twenty minutes of languishing 10 metres from shore in the shallows and quite a few tries the engine spluttered to life. Only long enough to propel us another 50 metres out into the depths before dying again. The engine was pulled apart and poked and prodded but to no avail. Eventually another boat came and towed us back to shore before we all jumped ship and the new boat finally ferried us back to Lombok.

P1020124.jpg

It was there we were reunited with our comrades, our ever resilient “leader” Papa Smurf, Aro and Hakan. Whilst we had been relaxing on the beaches, keeping active with snorkelling and circumnavigating the island, they had been hiking the 3700 metre high volcano of Mt Rinjani. Whilst I would have loved to have done it, it would have only meant one short night on Gili Air. The next day whilst we sat in our beachside bungalow it drizzled all day. Looking across at Lombok all you could see was cloud, no volcano in sight. I was happy to be on the island.

The next day we all hired motorbikes to embark on a five day adventure around the island, sleeping rough and seeing the “real” Lombok. We headed North, the plan (rough as it was) to circumnavigate the island and duck down to the beaches on the southern peninsulas. It was good getting on the bikes again, only my second day on a bike but the feeling was good. Zipping around, darting in and out of the traffic. It was a good route, somewhat easing us into it, starting with relatively quiet roads, and only hitting busy traffic on the last day. The day consisted of more spectacular coastline taking us around the shell of Mt Rinjani which dominates the geography of Northern Lombok. By the afternoon we had ducked inland and reached the town Senaru, the starting point for treks up the volcano and a couple of waterfalls. We made for the waterfalls. All the locals were saying we needed to hire a guide to reach the second waterfall and the swimming hole there. We were sure we could reach it ourselves and started down the hill. The first waterfall was quite small, but pleasant. Set in beautiful tropical rainforest. We then tried to find the second waterfall. As is common in Asia, the whole setup there is designed to keep the guiding business going. The track toes not require a guide at all, but the start is purposely obscured and misinformation common. The waterfall is a half hour walk on a pretty well marked track following an interesting old aquaduct development, the trick is finding the start of the track. And of course any locals you ask will give you wrong information. After heading ½ an hour the wrong way following the aquaduct, which alternated between a surface canal and tunnels through the hill some of the group was getting annoyed we had obviously taken the wrong way. Myself, I was enjoying the walk through beautiful rainforest with nice views down the valley.

P1020008.jpg

We returned to the first track and myself and Joel investigated a small track of to the side I had noticed on the way to the first waterfall. Around the first corner it opened into an obviously used track following the aquaduct upstream, across an entertaining “bridge,” past a small wier and some huge trees. By then the others had caught us up and after a couple of river crossing we finally reached the 2nd waterfall. During one of these crossings Hakan was taking a video with his ipod when it slipped from his grasp, falling into the river. He managed to grab it just in time before it was swept downstream. Amazingly it still worked, and he now has a rather entertaining video of dropping it into the water. The waterfall was great, a large torrent of water crashing into the valley, creating a nice little swimming hole. The small valley was full of spray from the waterfall and it was surprisingly cold. Still, we couldn’t pass up the option of a swim in such an idyllic location.

Whilst the water was cold the thrill of being in the waterfall was invigorating, with lots of shouting and punching the air ensuing. At one point I went right up close to the pounding water, watching it pour from above. I dove underwater to see the churning white of the cascade underwater. Then I realised the white was getting closer and quickly. I tried to surface but was shocked to discover I right under the cascade, the weight of the water thundering down. I quickly dove back down to escape the force of the assault but the churning water was disorienting, and again I resurfaced under the downpour. A half gasp of air, and after another more considered attempt I escaped the surge. The other guys were cheering, and of course not heeding my warnings both followed my lead heading into the eye of the raging waterfall. Luckily we all lived to tell the tale and left the waterfall feeling very “alive.”

P1010990.jpgP1020023.jpgP1020026.jpg

After stopping for some food, the typical local dish of Ayam Goreng with Nasi (Fried chicken and rice) we made our way back down to the coast. We were a little behind schedule, and arrived after dark. Luckily we found a nice stretch of beach with a little sun shelter where we spent the night. After struggling to create a small campfire and a few packets of biscuits we lay down to sleep. The shelter was quite old, with a few missing planks and the five of us curled up in the remaining area. Between the hard planks, and the cool night air none of us slept well and the next day we were all wondering why we didn’t sleep down on the beach, especially given the amazing starscape with the vivid milky way streaking across the sky. The moon was also spectacular, large and golden leaping skywards from the ocean. We awoke to the sunrise, the bright orange ball of the sun hovering on the horizon, bathing the sky in shades of orange and red.

We quickly jumped on the bikes heading to the next town for some breakfast. We ended up finding a local market, just setting up for the day and enjoying Nasi Campur Ayam (steamed rice, vegies, sambal and chicken) for breakfast in a decidedly Indonesian setting. The first real local market I’d been too in Indonesia. We then belted it down to a small local beach near Lombok harbour. The sun was scorching and the black volcanic sand was hot under foot but the water was nice and refreshing, and crystal clear. It was nice seeing the locals enjoying the day at the beach as well, naked kids and fully clothed adults (being a conservative Muslim area) playing in the water.

P1020047.jpgP1020052.jpg

After a swim we found some shade to get some more sleep, though we were kept awake by a group of local teenagers, one guitar and a lot of raucous singing. Our plan was to sleep on a beach on the lower west coast, before the next day heading inland and punching south to the beachside surfing town of Kuta (not at all like the towns namesake on Bali.) Just before the beachside town where we were planning on staying Hakan stopped on the side of the road to reattach his baggage which had fallen off the back off his bike. That put him just behind the group, but far enough to miss the coast road and head inland. Speeding quickly away to try to “catch up” to us. We waited by the coast for a while, sending Cesar to find him. After a while we decided the best course of action was to follow along the main road, and find somewhere inland to sleep as the day was getting on. We eventually found Cesar, slightly shaken after a minor fall caused by slipping baggage and continued on in search of the missing German. Hakan had had a penchant for speed, often taking off in front of the group. So of course when he was left “behind” he pushed pretty hard to “catch up.” We eventually stopped at a crossroads, unsure of which way he would have gone. He had no mobile and darkness was approaching. This was the first time we lost Hakan.

Then suddenly he appeared beside us with a cheeky grin. A lucky break. We started again looking for a place to sleep. We found two options, close by each other. An old overgrown soccer field with comfortable grass to sleep on 50m from the roadside and a building site with some shelter. We chose the soccerfield and that night another amazing starscape greeted us as we drifted into a rough sleep, interrupted by buzzing mosquitoes and the odd pointy tuft of grass poking through our sarong “mattresses.”

P1020064.jpgP1020055.jpg

I was awoken in the middle of the night by Aro. “Steve, get up.” I was a little startled but sat up, and surprised to see it was just us at the clearing, and a light rain had begun fall. I asked if the others had left us in the rain, and Aro replied that a bunch of locals had stopped on the road and were hanging around our parked bikes. I looked toward the road and saw the guys heading back towards the clearing. When they returned they said drunk locals were saying our bikes were not safe on the side of the road and that we should move. I was sceptical, but as it had also just started to rain we had to move anyway. Meanwhile the locals had appeared at our clearing, and I was surprised to see knives and machetes around their waists (though it is a very common sight with rural Indonesian farmers.) We got to the bike, quickly left and headed up the road. The locals were behind us for a while, so we continued till they took a side road. We waiting for 15 minutes, to be sure they didn’t see where we ended up, then headed back to our 2nd option, the building site. This actually proved to be more comfortable (even though the rain did not last,) With some shelter and surprisingly soft dirt and gravel underneath.

Again we left early, hitting the road just after sunrise, quickly punching it down to Kuta for breakfast. I was surprised how many tourists were in Kuta. Still a local looking town with cheap places to eat, but there were quite a few guesthouses and touts patrolling the streets. Kuta is on a peninsula and surrounded by some pretty good surf beaches. This of course means the town is full of surfboard wielding Aussies. We had a good day though, cruising the surrounding beaches on our bikes and surveying the spectacular coastal views from a surrounding headland. We had a nice evening, enjoying a couple of beers, meeting a German guy and an American girl, culminating in a nice little campfire on the beach before heading to our first beds for a couple of nights.

P1020077.jpgP1020082.jpgP1020099.jpg

Thorsten , the German guy, who has been studying part of his engineering degree in Jakarta decided to join us for the last two days of our trip. We headed west across the island aiming for the Peninsula that juts out from the Southwest corner of the island. We were planning on stopping at pottery town for a while and were leapfrogging along, asking for directions. Hakan was out front. He stopped with Aro, unsure of where the pottery place was, before taking off at speed ahead. The rest of us stopped a short time later at the pottery place and waited for Hakan to return once he realised he’d gone past it. We were standing on the side of the road when he shot past us in the other direction, completely missing us waving at him. We assumed he would come back when he reached the last place we were all together (just a couple of kms up the road.) He never appeared. This was the 2nd time we lost Hakan.

We sent out search parties in all directions with no avail. Waiting for over an hour. Eventually we reluctantly decided the best course of action was to push on. None of could work out why he hadn’t come back, but decided we would at least find him the next evening back at Sengiggi. As we only had a very rough plan, we all assumed he was lost and there was little chance of finding him. We searched around, found an internet place and left him a couple of messages telling him what we were doing and hit the road again.

The rest of the day we took it easy, keeping it slow and staying as a tight group. The road to the Peninsula was spectacular. Beautiful sweeping coastal roads with hardly any traffic, stunning beaches with only small local villages and soaring inland hills. This was by far the most scenic and fun to ride part of the trip.

P1010984.jpg

I was completely stunned when we rounded a corner on a tiny road, at a tiny local village 7 hours after we’d lost Hakan to see his smiling face sitting on his bike at the side of the road. It turns out after he’d ridden past us he’d mysteriously gone all the way back to Kuta, before taking the rough coast road towards the Peninsula.

After getting some take-away local food from a small roadside stall we went along rough, rocky, sand and gravel roads to the end of the Peninsula. We made camp on the beach. For the first time on the trip arriving before dark and having time to prepare for a beach campfire. We had a great last evening, now with the six of us sitting by the fire and admiring yet another stunning night sky.

I actually slept pretty well that last night on the beach (despite our 2am move up the beach to escape being washed away by the rising tide.) The last day we retraced our steps back up the stunning Peninsula road and into the Islands main city of Mataram. At one point Thorsten overtook Aro on a gravelly sections of road. I was infront and saw in the rear vision mirror his bike starting to skid and then tip. I screeched to a halt and turned to see if he was ok, only to see that Aro had also gone to ground trying to avoid him in the road. No major injuries were sustained, just a few grazes and a pretty sore foot for Aro. We said goodbye to Thorsten before the city, sending him back to Kuta. It was the first time I’d navigated through an Asian city on a bike and quite enjoyed it, ducking and weaving through the traffic.

P1020107.jpg

It was kind of sad returning to Sengiggi knowing that again we would have to say our farewells the next day, the Ten well and truly splintering this time. But thats travelling. Time for new experiences and new faces. As usual I’m not sure what my plan is yet (after a brief transit through Bali and Kuala Lumpur), but I am looking forward to punching out on my own again. It’s about time.

Posted by nomadSteve 19:38 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 23) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 »