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!