Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Beach hopping in Koh Pha Ngan

Handily enough for me, the area of Bangkok I was staying in has a lots of small minivans which scoot off to different areas of Thailand. So from Victory Monument I was able to get a minivan to Hua Hin. It filled up in just 5-10 minutes and we were off… into the Bangkok traffic jams. After clearing a short distance, we turned off into a toll road and things picked up speed as the van hurtled south. A few hours later we stopped briefly at Chaam, before continuing on. Here the landscape is dotted with highrise condo blocks every couple of hundred metres down the beachfront to Hua Hin and beyond.

As I had left most of my stuff in Bangkok it was easy just to walk around with a small bag and check out rooms, eventually after asking a guesthouse for a room, they gave me a small Thai style apartment room in a ten room building. Across the road from old style wooden houses with fish drying on sticks. However also lots of building work on this small lane, more concrete condos popping up, I suspect the wooden houses will soon be disappearing.

That night I headed down to the nearby seafront restaurants, picking one I headed out to the edge of the wooden deck, where you could see some ships all lit up, presumably cruise ships, as well as the booming bright lights of the squid ships. I went for the seabass which has encrusted in salted and barbequed, it was delicious! After that I had a look around town and found some live music in an Irish bar. A few people were engrossed in watching the cricket for some reason, maybe it wasn’t a draw.

The next day I scoured around for some brekky and located a place selling bacon baguettes! However the bread was very chewy and I had a sore jaw at the end. A long walk along the beach eventually I popped back on to the road and into the mall. I was looking to pick up some new headphones, as mine were dead. I think I had another pair in my bag in Bangkok so I wanted a cheap pair to use for a week, however most of the headphones in the mall cost more than my MP3 player. Later I had a nosy around a large 7/11 and found some headphones, in fact the cheapest ones came with a radio. I headed over to Doi Tung where I had a tasty passion fruit slushy, but drank it a bit quick and got the dreaded brain freeze. Stay very still!

The previous day I had picked up a ticket to Koh Pah Ngan, so it was an early start, get the bus at the clock tower in Hua Hin, and then down to near Chumpon and a boat across to the island. This all takes a while and about 9 hours later I landed at Tong Sala on Koh Pah Ngan, after being stuck in a seat all day I was keen to stretch my legs and so started walking, I didn’t have an accommodation planned, so I thought I would likely see something that took my fancy. After a while not much jumping out, I eventually ended up walking all the way to Haad Rin on the other side of the island! Up and down some big hills, too. I grabbed a room and got some food, but the walk had tired me out. Had a look about, not full moon time, but still very quiet only a couple of souls in the Corner place, a few years ago when I was here it was packed, still no doubt in a couple of weeks when the full moon party swings into town things will be jumping again.

I ended up flagging down a songtaew back to Tong Sala for a 100 baht, and then another 100 baht songtaew took me up to Haad Yaaw (Long Beach). This is a decent beach, not too developed (yet!). The middle section has yet to have a resort on it, and you can see that nobody cleans that section, with a lot of driftwood, coconuts etc, unlike out the front of the other guesthouses/resorts. I read my book and drink banana lassis :) There is a bit of nightlife here with some music at night but not crazy like Haad Rin.

Next I walked north over to the next beach, Ao Mae Haad. I find a small bungalow on stilts close to the beach. A small island, Koh Ma, is connected to the mainland by an isthmus of sand, at high tide it becomes an island (just) with shallow waves coming in from both sides. Lots of construction going on here, with new bungalow sprouting up, and smoky rubbish being burnt, and buzzsaws sounding. Still down on the beach I got a massage on a platform and the only sound was the lapping of the waves, yep life if hard.

My next stop was a stroll over to Chaloklum, a long crescent of sand with a small Thai village and some fishing boats. I find a room at Rose Villa, where a Thamasat-based researcher is checking out the rooms, he was off next to Iceland, I suspect he may be in for a shock with the temperatures! I went out for a stroll and ended up at the Malibu resort, here they had beautiful sand with a few coconut trees for shade, very nice maybe I should have stayed here! I had a refreshing lemonade and then a paddle along the edge back into town, where the beach isn’t quite so nice, especially as you start approaching all the fishing ships. At night time I headed out for some grub selecting a restaurant called Aunjui. A beachside balcony seat allowed me to peer down and see the crabs running around at night, skirting the water’s edge. For something different I opted for tuna, however I forgot it was a lot meatier than something like snapper and struggled to eat it, as I had a whole fish. Strangely enough a lot of the time fish can be bought cheaper in Bangkok, maybe that is just the restaurateurs adding a huge markup!

A steep walk East brought me to my next stop, Haad Chom (Coral Bay). I got a bungalow right at the end of the beach, where I could hear the waves splash at night (well if my fan wasn’t cranked up full, I would have heard them :) Still a nice sea breeze, and a very comfy hammock for reading my book. I wanted to do some snorkeling here, and so grabbed a life jacket, snorkel and mask and headed into the blue yonder. The active corals are quite far out, maybe 50-100m. The water can be shallow depending on the tides, but all the coral here seemed dead, until you move out. Then the good stuff begins! I went out a couple of times, very nice fish and corals to be seen. Decent visibility but I wasn’t that keen on going out much further, I like to stick close to shore! I slowly made my way back to shore the second time, seemed hard going sometime you’re not sure if you’re moving much, kinda hard work. (Probably would be easier if I could swim instead of just splashing my legs and arm around and hoping for the best, of course!) After all that hard work I retreated to my hammock to listen to some music, and slap some aftersun on the back of my neck.

At dusk I went for a walk up the hill, beautiful mountainous green forest inland, looks like the kinda place where King Kong would live. A huge looking bird of prey with a white underside and a black top, lazily glided over the thermals, even from a distance it looked the kind of thing to keep the local stray dog population under control! Apparently there is a path to my next destination, but I don’t even see the start of it. Would be a tough hike, I decided to take the boat! A couple of French woman confirmed my decision they had been staying here for a week, and had tried to find the path with no success and they too opted for the boat.

After waiting for an hour for the tide to rise enough for the boat to be able to leave, the longtail sputtered along delivering us to Haad Kuat (Bottle Beach), a fairly small but very nice crescent of fine white sand backed by forest, possibly the nicest beach on Koh Pah Ngan. I found a tidy little garden bungalow, a little set back from the beach. Unfortunately a nearby river is stagnant and a bit smelly. Nosing around I spotted a house up top, maybe 200m above sea level, a lot of stairs anyway. Up there say a guy tapping away on his laptop, above a glorious view. Said he was a divemaster been out here for six months, the building was his friends house whom he was renting it from. Great views, but not sure about that climb, everytime you need something!

Back at the bungalow I decided to have a shave. The sink had a plug, but the metal into which said plug is inserted isn’t firmly attached to the sink, so not much use! Power here goes off between 16:30-19:00, maybe to give the generators a rest. I have a red snapper for dinner, quite busy with people watching a movie. Chatting with some of the staff, one is from Isaan (North-East Thailand), kinda far away from there, seems a bit crazy, the kinda of person that doesn’t realize that they are dancing, not walking :)

The next day I continue on I thought I was getting a taxi boat, but it turned out to be a 4x4. There is a red dirt road linking Haad Kuat with the rest of the island, and my next port of call, Tong Nai Pan, which has two beaches, Yay (Big) and Noi (Small). For no particular reason I opted for Tong Nai Pan Yay. This is like a cove, very little in the way of waves, like Lake Placid! Not much in the way of a village, just a handle of small shops, restaurants and a couple of bars back from the beach. The beach is fairly long, when you walk from end to end. I realised I could juggle sand, by scrunching up a ball, draining the water and leaving them in the sun for a couple of minutes, instant juggling balls! The only downside is that sometime they disintegrate mid-air :)

I decided to walk over to the other beach Tong Nai Pan Noi, but grab some lunch first. A sandwich shop had caught my eye on the way in. Walking in the German owner was lounging around listening to Reggae. Had been here ten years, I had a large baguette, and a browse through his English book selection. I picked up “The Insult” after about ten minutes of reading I decided I had indeed read if before.

Continuing up the steep hill, then down into TNPN. The road in has some advertisement for restaurants, things are a more upmarket here. Signs for wine bars and tapas. A bit different from the usual backpacker haunts. I had dinner here in a very swish restaurant with a big open kitchen, after sitting down at a beachside table, then they whipped the other tables away and everybody else went inside, still I had a nice view! I was going to go for a fish dish, but the waiter informed me that was a starter, when I though it was a main. I changed to a Thai duck dish. Pretty tasty it was too, not so spicy. Nice setting, but pretty pricy compared to my usual fare, over 10 quid for dinner (outrageous! :)

There was some sort of party at another restaurant where they were going to have some fire dancing, but I still had to navigate the path back to the other beach, so I gave it a skip. Luckily enough the half moon, had enough light to guide my back, except for when a motorbike shines their light in your face, I could see okay.

The day after it was back to Tong Sala in a bumpy songtaew ride along the dirt roads. I arrived fairly early, I was undecided whether to spend a night here, or head over to Chumpon. Eventually I went for the boat, and spending the night in Chumphon to break up the ride a bit. Turns out the pier in Chumpon, is more like 30 minutes outside Chumpon. Still I arrived in town, and spotted a new looking hotel out the bus window as we rolled into town. I head over but it was fully booked out by a business group, who were yet to arrive, all the keys laid on the desk. Still the had another room in the older wing that was okay. I had been through here years ago on my bike, but couldn’t really remember it. Again I would be leaving in the morning.

The next morning I woke early and headed to the train station to check out the times of the trains going North. I really should have done this the night before as I just missed one, and there basically wasn’t any more for the next 6 hours. I asked the hotel reception is I could get a minivan to Hua Hin, the said try this road, so I went there but didn’t see much, asking a local he wasn’t sure. I continued looking, then the local guy turned up again with his motorbike and dropped my back at a guesthouse (about 50m away from where I originally stayed) They had a bus in an hour going to Hua Hin. The guesthouse people got me a ticket and a “free” taxi to the bus stop (free in that I paid 100baht more for my ticket than the other people at the bus station!)

Anyway the bus rolled up and we chundered along the highway, stopped in various little places. After 3-4 hours I had to get off to change bus at Pranburi (turns out it wasn’t a direct bus, something the ticket seller neglected to mention). After twenty minutes a minibus started off to Hua Hin and we plodded along for another 30 minutes or so. Anyway I arrived and set of for the same room that was full but got another place. I again opted for the seabass as it was so tasty! The next day another minivan whizzed me back to Victory Monument where I picked up my bag and stayed a night, before flying into Vientiane in Laos to pick up a new Thai visa.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

More Java and Sumatra

Next was Yogyakarta or Jogja. A short train ride from Solo, just one hour. I found a hotel and went out for a nosy. Walking took me to Jogjatronic, the wonderfully named electronics mall. After a spot of browsing in air-con goodness, I decided to stroll back.
The next day it was off to the Kraton, a walled village in the city. People here get to live for free, my becak driver informed me, but they can’t sell their houses. Guidebook says 25,000 people live inside the compound. Outside there was a bird market, with some bird food, such as maggots, ants and beasties squirming around in trays, ready to be served up to hungry feathered diners.

One night I decided to take in some culture and headed to the open-air Ramayana performance. The bus took us to the Prambanan temples, which is the backdrop for the theatre. A sheet of paper in English tells about the story, you can follow along here


One of the big attractions in Java is Borobudur, an ancient Buddhist temple built around 800AD. A very early morning bus from Jogja meant arriving there at 06:00. I was still expecting throngs of tourists, as it is Indonesia’s most popular tourist attraction, but it was surprisingly peaceful, well, in the beginning. Built on a hill, with the early morning mist sitting in the valley and surrounded by several active volcanoes, the Borobudur setting is spectacular. The stupa is huge, sitting on a 118m by 118m base. There is a north, south, east and west staircase leading up to the top, where the top stupa resides, amongst three circular levels, below which again are six square levels. The recommended route, is to walk clockwise around each level, progressing up one when a circuit is completed, a total walk of 5km. On the walls as you walk round are sculpted panels depicting Javanese life over a 1000 years ago, as well as images of Buddhist doctrine. Over 500 Buddha statues are also carved out of some of the 2 million estimated stones which make up the temple. At the top you get questioned by more students eager to practice their English for class, here easy prey is found due to the amount of tourists coming in on buses!


Onto Jakarta the capital of Indonesia, a massive city with a population around 8.5m.
I got reception to call me a taxi to take me to the train station as the guys hanging about outside were pedal-powered. 10 minutes, apparently, but nobody turning up. She said not to worry as the trains were usually late anyway! Reception phoned again, eventually the taxi turned up, by now time was short. He headed down the road, but it was blocked by the market, after a slow five (yes five) point turn, we were on the way, he charge along with the horn blasting. Then had to stop at the lights and get overtaken by all the motorbikes again. Arriving at the train station, I sprint (well lumbered as burdened by backpack) into the station. I jumped on the train, the last person to board, and the train left inside 30 seconds. Perfect timing :) After seven or eight hours the train lumbered into town. I was staying in the central Menteng area. This area seems to be home to some big houses, on surprisingly quiet side streets. Almost all the houses have large fences, or walls, topped with barbed wire or broken glass and a bored looking security guard outside. A shortish walk brings me to the oh-so-fancy Plaza Indonesia, where all the hi-so types hang out and do their brand-name shopping. I decided to take in some music, and went off to check out BBs, a small blues venue. After lots of wandering around, I finally gave in and asked for directions! Then I was pointed round the corner. The band wasn’t bad, except for a random karoker joining in who couldn’t sing. Another night I had a look in the Hard Rock Shop Café. Their definition off hard rock seems different to mine. The band were playing this

I left Jakarta for a few days heading to the slighter cooler climate of Bogor, about an hour away on the train. It’s a busy market town outside the train station, I walked out and down a street, took a couple of rights turns, along some more to find my hotel, turns out I could of just walk out the back of the train station, as I ended up 2 minutes from where I started. In the centre of Bogor is a large botanical garden, so I went for stroll around there. At the top of a small hill, overlooking the gardens, is a nice café for bite to eat. I had a fried banana with chocolate and cheese (complete with a red glace cherry on top).
Chocolate and cheese is quite popular in Indonesia!


As my flight to Medan was out of Jakarta I had to return back there for the hop across the water to Sumatra. This would be my fifth island visited in Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Bali, Lombok & Gili Air) Only another 17503 islands left!
Once I found somewhere to stay, the first thing that struck me was the unusual minibus in Padang, it’s like Xzibit heaven, all the rides are painted bright colors and covered in stickers, with really low trims. Such as this

More here

I was staying not far from the coast, but not much of a beach in the city, rather brown with a lot of branches and junk on the sand. I went for a look at nearby museum and ended up with a guided tour as a student wanted to practice their English again. I headed for some Texas Fried Chicken for a quick dinner. I wanted to head for Bukittinggi, about 900m above sea level. I ended up getting a Kijang (Indonesian for deer, but actually a popular large car/people carrier) from the guesthouse. The driver zipped off to pick up some more passengers (and some medicine) to transport to Bukittinggi. The ride wasn’t bad, I was up the front, so plenty of space and only a few hours to get there, an unusual event for Sumatra as I would find out.
In Bukittinggi I headed to a masakan padang restaurant.

Beef rendang was very tasty, not sure about some of the other stuff!

I left my main bag at the hotel and went traveling light, after seeing some pictures and paintings in the museum I wanted to head to the Harau Valley to see the natural scenery. This was easier said than done. I got a bus from Bukittinggi to Payakumbuh and then jumped on the back of a motorbike taxi to the Echo Guesthouse, another guest took 5 local buses to get here! The problem with buses here is the only leave when full.

I got a basic room here, and went for a walk around, being dwarfed by the cliffs on either side. Very nice scenery, but not a whole lot to do. I went to the waterfall, but no recent rain meant no waterfall. That night we had a bonfire and some roasted corn.
I also wanted to visit Maninjau lake, which meant backtracking through Bukittinggi. With a German tourist I endeavored to get back. This meant a walk down to the village, then some waiting for a motorbike taxi, this had a sidecar which allowed a view while traveling instead of the back of the drivers head. This took us to the bus station, where the bus sat empty, a very bad sign. A long wait was inevitable; a local English teacher was sat in the bus station having tea, so we talked to him for a bit, and Ricky, who instantly pointed out his green eyes, which makes him very unusual for Indonesia.

After an hour or so the bus turned on the engine, which usually means only another hour or so to go! Eventually we rumbled off, only to stop after about 500m, now we wait on the main road, instead of at the bus station, for reasons we can only imagine. After another hour or so, with a slow dribble of passengers, they decide it is enough and we are on our way. After a total of about 6 hours I arrive back in Bukittinggi, with a distance travelled of around 45km! I would have been quicker on a bicycle.
Anyway I get some good luck and after only ten minutes the bus to Maninjau departs. I was shocked! A windy drive was the order of the day. The final descent is down through 44 hairpin bends, so you better get used to being thrown from side to side on a bus.

Down at lake level, I get off the bus as I’m told this in Maninjau, but have no idea where I actually am, I pick a direction and walk, aha, a guesthouse. I have a nice view of the lake out my window. But not doing much for the rest of the day, I have a bit to eat and an early night. The next morning I go for a walk west to the next village, but I left my hat and suntan lotion in my main bag, and get cooked in the strong sun. I find a small museum, but it doesn’t mean much it’s all in Indonesian. I hop on a motorbike taxi to take me back the 7km or so I walked. The driver gets me back in record time!

Small fish farms dot the edges of the lake, when I have a look in the other direction; I came across another English teacher, who talks better English than me. Turns out he used to work in Jakarta for 15 or years, before moving back to his village here. I have a drink and a chat with him. At another point, I see people pulling bags up from the lake filled with the fish, these will be off to markets all around Sumatra. Strangely enough there aren’t many lakeside restaurants but I do find one, with a little extended decking out on to the lake, making it a very nice spot for a meal and a drink.

Back to Bukittinggi, another bus, another twisty trip, this time we have a puker on board. Not just a little bit either, a full-on Exorcist event. Anyway I get back to Bukittinggi where I get all my stuff together, laundry washed etc. Now comes the fun bit, a 14 hour trip to Lake Toba, yay!

Around 4pm I left for the bus terminal in an angkot. This would weave its way through town before getting to the terminal. Meanwhile on board, a couple of locals thought the foreigner was strange and amusing so whipped out their cameraphone to snap a picture of me.

When I arrived at the bus station around 4:30 the bus was nowhere to be seen. A couple of touts latched on, trying to sell me tickets. I told them I had a reservation, for ALS (the bus company the hotel had made the reservation with) and he said I had to go to the office to get the bus. At this point you don’t know who to believe but as the bus was nowhere in sight, I hopped on his motorbike and off we went to the office. Seemed to be okay as the bus was there and I had ten minutes to spare. Or so I thought, of course the bus didn’t even come close to leaving at the scheduled departing time of five o’clock.

The usual thing in Indonesia is to try and get you on the bus and sit you down, and then you have to sit on the hot bus and be patient. Sometime the driver will come and turn on the engine and leave it running, a sign that you probably have another hour to wait!
Another Medan bound bus was at the terminal I had a peek inside and it was much better than my “executive” class bus, it was “super-executive” with 3 big reclining seats and even looked clean and new! But it was going past my stop of Parapat, it was heading North first.

My bus was full of bags of goods, wrapped in hesian sacks lying down the centre aisle. And some big bags crammed up the back making it impossible to get into the toilet, real handy on a 14 hour ride. I went to complain to the ticket man, he told me they would be taken off at a stop in a couple of hours time. Hmm, I was thinking he also told me the bus would leave an hour ago!

Eventually we got moving and hit the twisty road of Bukittinggi, like a series of connecting u-bends. These roads definitely weren’t built by the Romans. Things straighten out into just s-bends. And after a few hours, sure enough the big bags blocking the toilet were to be removed. Except nobody seemed to know how they got them on the bus in the first place, so lots of pulling and shoving, and squeezing and grunting got the heavy bags out in a timely half-hour or so. Then we shot off 1 mile and ended up outside the hospital, I asked somebody what was going on? “Accident”. Not quite sure, anyway we say there for another hour or so, before the busboy who was helping with the big bags, came out with his foot in a splint, I think he broke his toe by the looks on things.

We were off again, I was grateful for my new purchase of headphones, which plug your ears like, well, earplugs. This way I can listen to my own choice of music, and try and doze. Around midnight we stopped at a restaurant for some supper, not that many people seemed to be eating, but another hour stop, doesn’t really take that long to have a drink, but never mind. The rain had come on now, and it was pouring down. Slowly the bus filled up again, and off again. Past a precariously angled truck which had cut the corner too tight, and the tyre had slipped into the mud. Trundling on through the night, through the darkness (There are no street lights) Parts of the road are just mud and dirt, but mostly tarmac. Try and sleep, but head lolls off to the side as you go round incessant corners. I almost dozed off, but wake up and my head bounces off the chair.

Dawn slowly comes, not before the kid across from me puked up, but then the outside brightens up. We are still rolling along, now we stop for breakfast. Not feeling hungry, so just a cup of tea. Teh Manis is popular, comes out boiling hot, so just pour it into the supplied saucer and let it cool, then slurp it up. Except we stop here for almost two hours so not much rush. The spare wheel is added to a suspect looking gauged and baldy back tyre. Instead of replacing it, the just push one on beside it. And we’re off again, this time I spot a sign saying Batak, the people of Lake Toba. Can’t be far right? Wrong! The man behind points out Lake Toba, well so he says but it is still another couple of hour before I finally arrive at Parapat, the only person to get off. I disembark to the lonely Parapat bus station, look around, wait for the tumbleweed to roll out the way. Then somebody comes along asking if I want to go to the ferry, but I’m done with travel for today, I just want to get to a hotel and lie down. I get an angkot and end up in the nice Hotel Asari, aaah I finally made it. Tomorrow I can catch a ferry across to Tuk-tuk in Samosir, the large island that sits in Lake Toba.

Lake Toba itself was formed after a super volcano exploded 25 million years ago, a cataclysmic event which nearly wiped the humans off the face of the planet. It would make Krakatoa explosion seems like a pop tart. Off the ferry I found a room a short walk from the ferry. The small village of Tuk-tuk is set up for tourists, full of guesthouse and restaurants and shops, except nowadays there is hardly any backpackers in Sumutra, compared to the heydays of the 70s when it was firmly on the backpacker trail.

The guesthouse had some nice areas, ideal for lazing around and reading a book, while taking in the views. Actually kinda looks like Scotland, strangely enough! A short trip to a neighbouring guesthouse for a bit of variety and a spot of dinner. These were some really tasty chips, not French Fries, but proper chips! I made a mental note to return for some more. But tonight there was some entertainment at the guesthouse, some Batak music and dance would be performed. First the dancing, which was… underwhelming. It mostly involved clasping your hands together and waving them up and down, and then… well that was about it. Then came the second dance which involved the dancers clasping their hands together and waving them up and down. The handful of tourists watching were somewhat bemused. A third dance followed which had a bit of variety and by the fourth they had dragged up some spectators to join in.

After that the real action began, some Batak singing. Imagine a Mexican marriachi band with a Swiss yodeller and you have the beginning of a Batak band. Sprinkly liberally with some hearty shouts of “HORAS!” and it’s complete. Then came the drinking song, and the guy that looked like an Indonesian Freddy Mercury was hamming it up, staggering around drunk, lurching from table to table, clinking glasses.
Here is an example of Batak Singing

The next day I just had a walk through Tuk-tuk to the other side of town, very quiet here. Still I found somewhere for a bacon sandwich (according to some “Batak” means pig-eater!). Back near my guesthouse, there was a small dilapidated 4 hole crazy golf course, so I easily conquered that (in 50 odd shots). Another day I set off the next village over, an hour or so walk away. More of the stranged curved roof shops and houses, said to resemble buffalo horns, the roof slope off to points at each corner, looks needlessly hard to make, but still they most be able to cut the metal to fit otherwise it couldn’t be done!
When I arrived at the village, turned out to be a popular stop for a ferry cruise to stop and do a bit of shopping, so lots of Asian tourists cruising through the market, the boat soon left and it went back to being empty. After refuelling with some Pocari Sweat I strolled back home, for some dinner.

Time is running short and I need to be in Medan for my flight to Kuala Lumpur, so I had to set on an another long journey, a morning ferry ride back to Parapat, and then 4 or 5 hours on the bus to Medan, and a ride in a sidecar to the hotel. Anyway I arrived in Medan, just had one full day to nose around here. Seemed to quite a lot of old Colonial building but most of them had seem better days. The new building were the near omnipresent megamall, aaah air-con. Medan has year round humidity rate in the high nineties. The last day it was up and out early as my 08:45 flight had been moved forward to 08:00.

Everything went smoothly, and I arrived in KL, getting past the Swine Flu detectors (actually just heat dectors, checking for fevers) and immigration, then downtown where I tried to find the hotel I stayed in a few years ago, when I was last in KL. I remembered getting off the monorail at Imbi, so I repeated that. Then after a short walk realised I made the same mistake last time, should of stayed on till the Bukit Bintang stop, not that far a walk, but a bit harder in the sun with the pack. I was looking for the hotel but I came across another close to the same spot so just planted myself in there instead. After a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur nosing around some old spots, getting lost in the massive Times Square mall, watching Terminator Salvation and eating Secret Recipe blueberry cheesecake, I decided to leave the 35C heat and head for the somewhat cooler climate of the Cameron Highlands.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

East Java

After a couple of days in Kuta I headed north to Lovina, a bit quiter here, but just a short stay as I’m heading to Java. I got a minibus which alternately chundered and thundered down the road west. Crawling through the villages, stopping at clusters of people to see if they want a ride (wouldn’t it be easier if they flagged down the bus, as opposed to the other way about?) A quick stop for the drive to pray at a roadside shrine, making me somewhat wary of the road ahead, but it was fine. I got to the ferry terminal and onboard smoothly enough, after a short wait we were off. It’s only a small distance from Bali to Java, and should have been a quick ride, but there didn’t see to be anywhere for the ferry to dock, so we sat offshore waiting for a space to open up for half an hour. Once that was done, I was back on dry land and heading for the train station. Walking along the road, I was speared as a sudden gust of wind blow a roadside stall awning into my path as I was watching for traffic, so I walked straight into it, with the pole stabbing me in the chest, not much damage done though and I’m sure it gave the locals a good laugh. The train station is only a couple of hundred metres away from the ferry terminal, but with my full backpack in the midday sun, it seemed further. Anyway I safely secured a ticket for tomorrow heading to the oddly named Probolinggo. I decided to bed down for the night in Banyuwangi, the nearby town. Flagging down a bemo, I was on the way to Hotel Baru. The driver insisted on jabbering away even though I didn’t understand him. Sometimes in English, lots of numbers and times, “6 o’clock 5 thousand. 9 o’clock 7 thousand, no 10!”. Anyway I got to the hotel and dumped my stuff and headed across the road for a spot of lunch. It took all of one meal to get “Java Belly”.

The next day it was off on the train, I had booked a ticket in “Eksekutif” class, which meant air-con, which was acutally kinda chilly in shorts and t-shirt. 5 hours later I was at Probolinggo, and as I couldn’t be bothered with another 2 hour bus journey to my destination, Bromo, I decided to stay here for a night. I found a new hotel in the centre and went for a nosy about. As this isn’t a tourist town (most people bypass it from the outlying bus or train stations straight to Bromo), the locals aren’t used to hairy foreigners (I need a shave) walking around. Just walking down the street evokes shouts of “Hello Misterrrr!”

As it is a crowded 2 hour minibus ride up, up and up to Bromo, I decided to leave my main bag at the hotel and come back the next day, as an added bonus this meant I could get my laundry done as well. After separating everything out, I almost forgot to bring my (wonderfully repaired) camera. With everything set I headed off to the bus station. Here I was greeted by some guy pratically dragging me to the minibus to Bromo. Never quite sure whether to trust these guys or not. I decided to head back into the station, despite their protestations, and find out some more info. Seems they were right, although a few tour companies have a shuttle bus, the public bus was were the guy had pointed me. However the public bus only leaves when full, after an hour of waiting things were slowly filling up until…. another bus came along and took most of the passengers, but it wasn’t even going to Bromo! So back where we started waiting for people to fill up the bus. I got talking to a couple of locals, and they chatted with the driver. If I paid 60,000rp (3 times the price) we could go now, seemed like a good idea, as I felt I might still be waiting here tomorrow. Once I agreed, people crawled out the woodwork and jumped on the bus also. After some steep climbing and some roads where you don’t look down we arrived at Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, where you need to buy an entrance ticket. Price in Lonely Planet 4,000rp - actual price 25,000rp. Then I head to Lava View Lodge, price in Lonely Planet 150,000rp - actual price 350,000rp. (Tomorrow it increased to 400,000rp for high season) Ouch! But it was only one night and it had a great view over the landscape, so I just stayed there anyway. Seems my guide book prices may be a bit dated, published Jan 2007.

The hotel is situated right on the edge of the huge old crater wall, which is 10km across. Inside the caldera you can see down to the Sand Sea which is a wide expanse of, well, sand. A few kilometres away are the geologically new Gunung(mountain) Batok and Gunung Bromo, which spews out sulphuric steam and smoke. The plan was to get up early and climb up to the edge of Bromo for sunrise. I set my alarm for 4:30, but I was awake by 3:30 anyway when some jeeps arrived at the hotel to take away some other guests. I stubbornly refused to get up until my alarm went off, by which time most other people had gone. I jumped out of bed and sprinted out the door (well sleepily stumbled anyway). The torch had fresh batteries in it, and I was off down the steep dark road into the Sand Sea. A guy with a horse, kept along beside me, hoping I would change my mind and ride his horse. Down at the bottom and there was enough ambient light to see the volcanoes, but the torch is useful for seeing where you feet were going and for following the white markers. About half way across the sand sea, there was about enough light to see where I was going and I could dispense with the torch. I shook off the man with the horse with a sprint through the sand!

Turning left, I walked past the Hindu temple stationed at the bottom of Batok and then onto Bromo itself. Here the climbing started, and by this time I had peeled off a layer to just my t-shirt, while the locals were swaddled in layers of cloth. Steady progress was made with a few rest to catch my breath. Not sure how much difference there is in oxygen around 2000m above sea-level, or if it’s just unfitness! Daylight was here, but the sun hadn’t broken over the mountains, as I reached the bottom of the stairs. Up the 250 steps, and I had made it to the edge of the Bromo crater. Here I chatted with some other visitors, a large group of Indonesians and a Malaysian couple. I bought some flowers to chuck into the crater, in the past live sacrifices where thrown in. Looking down you can see the smoke rising up out a hole, surrounded by fissures, but no actual bubbling lava. Theoritically you could climb down into the crater, as evidenced by some writing in pebbles, but that didn’t seem a good idea at all, I figured the barrier was there for a reason! After taking in the sight, it was off back down the volcano, across the sand sea, back up the outer caldera wall and back to the hotel. The time 06:30. I went back to bed for an hour, before breakfast. After talking with the hotel clerk, it seemed there was a shuttle bus leaving at 09:00, seemed a good idea to get on that as I had booked a train ticket for the afternoon. I secured the last seat. Or at least that’s what I got told. We drove to a different hotel, and I got asked to leave the bus, somebody else had the seat and the bus was ful. A different bus would come along shortly to pick me up (yeah right, heard that before!) but sure enough another bus didn’t turn up, but not before another 3 people got crammed on my old bus. Rumbling down the mountains, we headed back into Probolinggo bus station. Only then did I realised that the other people on the minibus had a through ticket to Denpasar, seems like a horribly long journey to me, I was glad to get off after a few hours cramped into the small seats, and I don’t exactly have long legs.

A bemo took me back to the hotel, it was Saturday and it was full of boisterious school children and a boisterous driver. It was only 11:00 when I arrived back at Hotel Paramita. My laundry was done and my bag was still there, contents intact! I now had to hang about till be train at 14:00. Anyway eventually I was on my way to Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city with a population of 2.6 million. Arriving at Gubeng train station, I opted for a becak to take me to a nearby hotel, a bicycle driven with the passenger on a seat at the front, 10,000rp. Probably would have been cheaper in a metered taxi! Unfortunately the hotel was full so I had to go elsewhere, this time it was in a metered taxi.

The next day I set off into the old city, heading for the “Red Bridge”, here there was fierce fighting during Indonesia battle for independence. In fact, it was here in Surabaya that Indonesia battle for independence began. Apparently it is known as the “City Of Heroes”. Certainly seems to be lots of statues dotted around the city. Back across the bridge, marks the start of Chinatown. A busy area, filled with becaks and some of the biggest rats I have ever seen in my life! There was a dead one at the side of the road, look like a guinea pig.

I decided to have a splurge and spend a night at the fabulous Majapahit Hotel. This old colonial style hotel was built way back in 1910, so almost a century old. Upon checkin I was escorted to my room. Here they even had some fruit and chocolates laid out. The furnishings are very elegant, solid dark wood, gilded taps etc. A bit different from my usual residences. Even had somebody come in to turn the bed for the evening. Although when he asked, my brain didn’t click into gear and I was wondering what he was talking about! Set back from all the traffic, with green landscaped gardens it seems like a different world from outside, but within 24 hours I was back on the buses.

Off to Malang. When I arrived in Malang, it was raining but not much of a problem as I jumped in a taxi to a hotel. It continued to rain in the afternoons here, and I missed most morning as I was staying up watching the Champions League semi-finals which were being broadcast on local TV. I went for a walk in the alun-alun, which is a criss-cross of paths through a park. Some local students stopped and practised their English with me (complete with videotaping). So they are probably still trying to decipher my Scottish accent.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Oz & Beyond


I arrived in Sydney a day ahead of my parents, giving me a chance to scope out the surrounding environment of the Vibe hotel. We were situated just on the edge of things, about a half-hour walk down to Darling Harbour and about 15 minutes south of the looming observation tower. Orientation in Sydney seemed easier than in Melbourne.

The next day I met up with the parents in the hotel, with my mum looking out the 7th floor window onto the busy Sydney streets and spotting me. We headed off for a spot of brekky at the nearby two good eggs café. Our first day was a quick nosy round the regenerated Darling harbour, past the ships, anchors, lighthouse and to the welcome wall. This wall list the original arrivals and has thousands of names, out of these thousands my Mum spotted “MCLENNAN Alexander and family”.

In the afternoon we jumped on a bus to the world famous Bondi beach, pleasant enough, certainly busy enough. Folks thought it would be longer, but it’s a crowded little crescent of sand, the nearest beach to Sydney and of course very popular. A stroll to the headland gave a nice elevated view back over the bay. I didn’t see any sharks.

Next day it was back down to Darling Harbour and with perfect timing we hopped onto a public ferry to shuttle us off to Circular Quay in Sydney Harbour. The Sydney waterways are busy and look surprisingly clean! The ferry chugs along underneath the massive Sydney Harbour Bridge, anchored at either end by two massive stone buttresses. At the top tiny little toy people look back down at you. Continuing on you past some fancy, and likely very expensive harbourside housing, and on past a small marinas where there is a lot of money floating on the water in the form of yachts. Then past Luna Park, kinda like an Aussie version of Coney Island. Finally before docking there is the little matter of one of the most iconic buildings in the world, the Sydney Opera House.

Now, at The Rocks, the historic side of Sydney is here, or was here. There wasn’t a whole heap to see anymore, except for the old waterside bonded warehouses, now fancy restaurants. A closer look at Opera House beckoned, when walking around it you can get a better idea of the actual three dimensional shape, as opposed to a single jaggy building if often looks like. After nosing about there and taking photos, a walk in the park was next, we skirted the edge of the park, past the wedding (nice backdrop) and on through Hyde park and past a large cathedral, eventually arriving back at the hotel a little worse for wear.

Another day in Sydney, another beach. This time a half-hour ferry ride brought us to Manly ferry terminal. A short walk through the tourist-tat shops got us to the beach, the weather being a bit overcast, didn’t make it look sparkling, but after a long paddle down to the end the sun glimpsed out and, of course, it looks nicer in the bright sun. Bigger, but quieter than Bondi, it felt more laid back. After stocking up on some Ozzie pub grub (which is invariably higher than UK pub grub!) We tackled a walk up the hill and past a grand old renovated house/castle which was now yuppie flats. Oh yeah and there was a big black and yellow spider lurking in the hedges, ready to embroil any unsuspecting tourists. That night, we headed back down to the Sydney Harbour to see the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge all lit up, except that they weren’t. Okay there was some subtle lighting, but they must keep the fancy lights for special occasions.

Another day, and it was time for a bit of culture, so to the museum. We found it there was a tour, but our guide was likely to be mistaken for an exhibit so we had a look round at our own pace. Lots of stuffed animals, and some big dinosaurs, and some small scary velociraptors! Also this:

Wading with worms

Feeling the sand move under your feet in the surf is a wonderful feeling … but are you sure that the movement is just sand?

In beaches all over south-eastern Australia live Giant Beach Worms. These worms wriggle beneath the surface of the sand and can grow to two metres long.

Bait collectors take advantage of the worms’ feeding habits, pulling the worms out when they poke their heads up to feed.

Later we went to the Sydney Wildlife Centre, a sprawling animal complex near the waterfront. Full of creepy crawlies and a surprisingly fast tortoise. Loads of stick-insects in a tank, at first you see one or two then realise they are everywhere! A few snakes, lizards, skinks, and two headed weird reptiles. (One end is a fake head). Upstairs you pop out into the “outback” where the ‘roos roam free(ish) and the wombats amble underground. In another section a giant cassowary bird plods around looking to be fed.
Another section features koalas, aaaw! Then upstairs the butterflies flutter everywhere. Just next door to the Wildlife Centre is the Sydney Aquarium, another huge building. They have all the usual suspects of underwater colour, as well as some big tanks with tunnels, in here is frumpy looking lettuce-munchers, the dugongs, as well as lazy old turtle.

Byron Bay

Next stop is the airport and north to Ballina, where we pick up a rental car and return South for an hour to the old-style charm of Byron Bay, except it rains. Rains for 2 days.
In the lighter rain we have a look around, seems like a laidback little place, we find a nice restaurant for dinner. Seems to be one of these place people come for a few days and end up living here. Outside out apartment a Kookabury bird looks for scraps. Before we leave we head down to the beach and it looks slightly wild, now the rain has eased, but still the grey waves froth and pound just offshore.


Now for a long drive up the coast to Noosa, the drive is fine, until we reach the centre. Here we are ambushed by roundabouts. Somewhere something went wrong and we are lost we ask a policeman for directions who draws a laughably complicated map of roundabouts, we get lost again, but eventually find the right road. However there is no number, just a hotel name. At the end of the road we find our place. A very nice resort style apartment with lagoons (swimming pools are old hat). Even I’m tempted in for a paddle. A trip to the nearby marina ensures some dinner at the second choice, the first restaurant has shut its kitchen for an early night.

Next day we have outrun the rain (for now) and it’s all clear blue sky. The next day we drive over to Noosa Heads and finally find a parking space. The place is full of surfers, we choose a more sedate stroll up a hill with great views back over the coast. Back in town we find a small bay, Sandy Cove, with shallow sparkling clear water and smooth sand. The glistening waterways and the bright sun, the blue skies combine to make Noosa look like postcard material.

Fraser Island

After getting on North to Hervey Bay we had a smooth passage over to Fraser Island on a catamaran. Here we stayed at the elegant Kingfisher Bay eco-resort. Cleverly shielded in the forest, it is barely visible from the jetty, made of lots of dark wood, and connecting walkways to the rooms. Fraser Island is the world’s largest sandbar island; basically it is made from sand not rock. The first night we watched the sunset and have a nice meal. My Dad opted for the Emu, Ostrich & Kangaroo combo meal deal, so I had a taste also. The rain has arrived at night time in Fraser Island, dumping around 50mm overnight.

Next day and it was off on a tour of the island. A strange beast of a bus ground its way up a small track, four wheel drive is a necessity here. The tour guide called this part the rollercoaster. Plenty of bobbing about, but once we got over that bit the rain had filled in many of the potholes, smoothing out the road. We headed off to a viewpoint where we could see a large sand dune, looking like desert as it blowed its way across the island, gradually moving from one side of the island to the other. On one side the sand is brown and full of nutrients, and metals which the plants and the wildlife extract, and then when it reaches the other side it has been stripped of all elements and is just silica, but this ‘empty’ sand has the pure white colour. After that we raced along 75 mile beach, the beach double as a highway, and has the usual road rules. Except that there might be some tourist standing in the middle of the road building a sandcastle, or perhaps a light aircraft will land on the road as it doubles as an airstrip. Along this beach, we stopped at the wreck of an old liner. Another stop was at the sandstone cliffs, were many different colours of sands can be seen stacked together, apparently. Better looking form afar as close up it looks just like rock! Zipping back along the road, a dingo was spotted, so everybody rushed out with their cameras, and the dingo turned her back and walked off. In the afternoon, we had a short trek through the jungle, spotted a few lizards, and looking at the natural sights, such as the colourful tree roots and an oddly fork-shaped tree. Back out the other side we hopped back on the bus and were transported to Lake McKenzie, a large freshwater lake. Here the rainfilled lake was crystal clear. Back for a biccy and a cup of tea, a monitor lizard lazily climbs a tree in search of eggs. Long way up to go if there is no food there!

After some twisty roads we arrived at our hotel, up a very steep street, almost underneath the big bridge. We headed down to the ferry terminal and over to South Bank, a sprawling civic space with gardens, museums, cafes and even an artificial beach. A few hours are spent nosing round the attractions, with the occasional stops for refreshments. Later that night we headed back down to the riverside for a drink at one of the restaurants beside the harbour, a short but steep walk from the hotel.


Arriving at Cairns we got a short taxi ride to our apartment on the Esplanade, except the Esplanade is very long and we were at the very quiet end. After a long walk into town we finally discovered some life. A cluster of restaurants and bars, time from some fish and chips! After dinner we organized to go on the Quicksilver boat to the Great Barrier Reef. Here we were shipped off to the outer reefs onto a large pontoon. Then you could jump in semi-submersibles and take a tour round the reef (Good for those of us who can’t swim!) We had some good luck, seeing a stingray, a turtle and a shark as well as the expected underwater world of corals and teeming marine life. Back on dry land we went to a nice restaurant down the other end of the Esplanade, I had a delicious giant steak! Mmm


Darwin still appears to be a little like a frontier town, or a small city. Certainly the smallest place we visited in Oz. We were only here for a couple of days, but they were Easter Friday, a national holiday and Saturday. So a fairly quiet time in Darwin, except for the noisy hotel. The hotel certainly wasn’t as nice here as the others, but survivable for a couple of nights. We headed into the park and a look round the quiet harbour, before heading into the central streets, and the pedestrianised strip. We head off on a long sweaty walk to the wharf for some lunch, only to find out that most of the fish in the cafes is imported, not locally caught. After an average lunch, we have to brave the heat and the sun to walk back to the centre for a look round the shops. That night we head off to Hanuman restaurant for another tasty dinner. On the Saturday a late flight out to Bali meant a lot of hanging around during the day, waiting until it is time to go to the airport.


Arriving late at night in Bali we zipped through immigration, picked up our bags quickly and avoiding being stopped in customs. We were met at the exit by the hotel and smoothly off into the chaotic Bali traffic, around 20 minutes later we were at the hotel in Legian. Having a couple of rooms booked, one quiet one noisy. The noisy room was beside the road, the next day I swapped for one away from the road, only to be beside a music pub.

The first day was a walk down the beach from Legian to Kuta. The beach is 5 minutes from the hotel but that 5 minutes involves walking past the sunglass sellers, massagers, watchmen, restauranteurs, motorbike drivers and of course navigating through the traffic. Once on the beach, walk left! A paddle along besides the crashing waves was as close as I would get to swimming. Not really a swimming beach, but popular with surfers, many coming over from Australia. Sunbeds are common with pasty foreigners sprawled out, maybe sipping on a coconut or more likely the local beer, Bintang.

One of the strange things about Bali is that you can turn a corner or nip into a restaurant and it feels like a different planet as the traffic noise dies away replaced by hypnotic background music, concrete replaced by gardens and heat cooled by chilled fruit juice.
A few stops like this are definitely called for when walking about. Then down the narrow lanes of Kuta were shops line the streets while cars, motorbikes and pedestrians jostle for space.

At night time we headed for the Indo-National restaraunt not far from the hotel. Strangely enough I had eaten here on my previous visit to Bali. I had a buterflied snapper and a taste of Dad’s lobster thermidore.

The next day we turned right heading along Legian street into Seminyak, with clusters of shops selling everything and anything. Turning right we headed down a dead end, but at least we saw a squirrel! Back up, we turned down Double Six street onto the beach again, but not before stopping off for a drink at a some quiet bungalows with a French owner. Maybe here I was attacked by ants, but somehow I seemed to be covering in red, itchy insect bites on my legs. (The mozzies went for the arms!)


A quiet little hotel overlooking rice paddies was out accommodation in Ubud, the cultural capital of Bali. Although the hotel is quiet, the centre is still a busy little hub of broken pavements and motorbikes. A walk along the perilous pavements brought us to the Monkey Forest, where we bought a few bananas for our monkey overlords. Inside the shaded walkways lie monkey gorged on bananas, okay not all of them just the ones at the start of the route! Further in monkey clamber around in groups, mostly quite quiet until a fight breaks out and then everybody legs out to one end of the forest, little baby monkeys hanging grimly onto their mothers as they move en masse away from the danger.
Back outside a short steep walk away lies a nice café for a welcome long, cool drink.

Here we took in a Legong dance, we features some strange monsters, such as the mystical Barong playing in the forest, until a pesky monkey comes and irritates him. This is accompanied by local musicians bashing away on instruments such as the gamelan, kinda like a xylophonic drum system.

Another night we head off to a temple on the other side of town, tonights attraction here is a Kecak performance. The temple is wonderfully atmospheric with burning torches lighting the path to the temple grounds where the performance will take place, although not quite inside the temple itself presumably, as there are old ladies selling beer to the tourists.
Soon the Kecak begins and lots and lots of Balinese men begin chanting. Quite an audio experience as the rhythm and tempo varies. One human metronome chants “bub” throughout, while a lead Kecak-er really gets into it, working up a sweat, as he chants and sways. It’s one of these things that is just completely different and intriguing to watch.
Later a man comes out in a trance, riding a broom like a horse, he then kicks flaming coconuts around, this is where it’s dangerous to be in the front row of the audience!
Later he is wrestled to the ground and taken out the trance, and left looking exhausted. Hard to tell how much is real and how much is drama, but his feet did look very black!
We get a taxi back to Siam Sally a new Thai restaurant closeby our hotel for a late dinner.


On the East side of Bali lies Sanur, original Bali holiday destination. Things here today are a bit quieter than the busy West side, which is home to Kuta, Legian, Seminyak etc. The beach is rather odd, as the waves break far out on a reef, a long way offshore. So don’t expect to hear much lapping of the waves. Our hotel was the Tamu Kami hotel, a nice older style hotel, where the owners would dine in their own restaurant, and wander round stick flowers in peoples ears. Slightly Fawlty Towers, but nice!
One night we go for a long walk down the beachfront looking for a good restaurant but didn’t see much, so heading back along the main road we came across a French restaurant, with an odd name like “ng nc” and entered in there. I had a delicious steak with roquefort sauce, very tasty!

Friday, March 20, 2009

On the farm

After my job at Allianz had finished I had a few weeks to sort myself out before the lease expired. In typical fashion I left things to the last minute :) Then the day before I managed to arrange a place working on a farm through helpx.net. The deal is you work around four hours a day in exchange for room and board. This suits me as I have only 3 weeks before I have to be in Sydney. The farm is called Giddy Up GeeGees and is situated a 30 minute train-ride north east of Melbourne. The stop is called Diggers Rest, named because in ye olden days it was a common pit stop for gold miners traveling between Bendigo and Melbourne. It is also famous for the first powered flight to ever take place in Australia near the turn of the 20th century. The pilot, a fellow going by the name of Harry Houdini.

When I first arrived at the farm there were a lot a people here, a bit less now. The owner is Lena and has a six year old son named Cayd. As you might have guessed from the name, Giddy Up GeesGees, it is a horse farm. (Those who didn’t, go back to class). Lena teaches riding lessons for a variety of people. There are around 30 horses on the property which is spread over 40 acres. Charlotte, Sarah, Barky were helping out at the farm. Michelle is a full-time worker here. There’s also five dogs, Moby, a big rottweiler, Max, a collie, Pillow & Sheets a pair of Yorkshire terriers and Milo a bug-eyed Chihuahua. As well as three cats, Patch, Madeline and Puss-puss, oh and a few dozen chickens! Strangely enough they mostly all get along fine, except when Milo’s tail increases to 200rpm it means she’s going to try and lick the cats’ faces, which the cats are less than impressed with and dish out a flailing paw when patience wears thin.

The work at first mainly consisted of giving Barky a hand, or a pair of hands I guess. I was mostly holding onto stuff, which he was cutting up with a grinder. Fortunately I still have all my fingers. One day it was really hot and so we all done some housework such as scrub the fly poo off the ceiling. My other jobs were spraying weed killer, a small plant grows called Padinsons Curse, which is toxic to horses, the toxin builds in their livers, so that had to be eliminated. The spraying machine has a handle to pressurize the contained, unfortunately it broke off the first time it was used. I tried to bodge it back together but it still required some awkwardness to operate. Think of pushing your left hand from your armpit down to your waist, then repeat… for days! Anyway that finished up and it was on to painting the stables. The first thing was to dust down the panels and gates. Then smooth them down a bit before painting them. But things are very dusty, so sometime you just have to paint the dirt! After a while I got the second coat and things were looking good, certainly a lot brighter than before, but how long stables remains white I wouldn’t like to guess!

At the weekend I did a couple of trips up to Bendigo, which used to be a major gold mine. I did a tour of the mine where you go down about 60m underground. This was level 2 of 17. The 17th Level is over 400m down. Down in the lift we went, to don our hard hats and lights. Then through the corridors, the guide told us about how operates and fired up some of the machines such as the very noisy drill. Actually a lot less claustrophobic than I imagined, but the initial diggers wouldn’t of had it so spacious. On the surface there are some trays set up to pan from gold, but all I found was mud and rocks.

Back above ground I went to the Chinese Museum, as word of the discovery of gold spread, immigrants flooded into Bendigo and Ballarat, while Melbourne reaped the economic benefits. As a result of this influx many Chinese arrived from Canton, as the local economy had been badly damaged by the British during the Opium Wars. Some arriving as indentured workers. Other sending money back to their families and returned. Of course, others stay and some married Australian or European woman and settled. The result was a fairly large Chinese population, resulting in a Chinese temple and bridge being built in Bendigo. The museum itself houses Loong, the oldest imperial dragon in the world, also he’s huge winding his way around the perimeter of the museum. During festivals he would be woken from his sleep by lots of noise, such as Chinese firecrackers. (I was in Melbourne during Chinese New Year and the firecrackers ARE loud!)
Then dance through the streets supported by fifty people (and fifty relief dancers).

Also in Bendigo there is some pleasant park and an old style conservatory. Through the city runs the creek, from which the output from the mine is still output, so you might find some specks of gold, but it also outputs all the rocks and mercury which is used to chemically attract the gold. Up one of the streets is the art gallery which is quite nice. Nearby is a lookout tower for great views over the city.

Another weekend I head off to explore Malmsbury. Exiting the train I walked along the platform only to find out you can’t get off, have to cross back across the tracks. The train station has an old heritage-listed building, but it’s all boarded up (maybe awaiting restoration). So I went down the road a bit and past a boarded up hotel, bit of a ghost town feel. I saw a sign for the reservoir and headed off over there, a large aqueduct and lots of channels (around 500km) carries the water onto Bendigo.

Didn’t seem too much in Malmsbury so I headed back to the train station, but I couldn’t even find a timetable. There was a sign up about changed timetables next week, it also had a phone number, so I had to phone them up (and be on hold for ages) to find out the next train didn’t leave for 90 minutes. I decided to go for another stroll, turning the other way I spotted around 10 parked cars, what is this?! I headed down to investigate further, turns out this is actually the main bit of Malmsbury around ten shops and cafes, including the famous Malmsbury Bakery where I had a tasty steak and bacon pie for lunch. The other shops are art gallery and bric-a-brac-a-knick-knack shops. Some nice painting there actually but I didn’t have any walls to hang them on! Oh yes, also a large carved wooden wombat, and a botanical garden with a few ducks, although according to some local not as many in years gone by.

Another day I headed over to the Melbourne Zoo on the north edge of the city, a quick car ride with Lena & Cayd. A big park as we were there for a almost 3 hours and I didn’t see it all. Didn’t see any ligers. A large aviary was the last thing I visited, there I spotted some Ibis, which I recognised because they like to visit the farm!