A Travellerspoint blog

nusa tenggara

no roads lead east

sunny 95 °F

reminiscing about long-lost college days has been a pastime of many alumni. when i meet some university kids traveling, i remember the days of innocence, that ended only three short years ago. in case the images of spring breaks were getting fuzzy, the hedonistic setting of kuta, bali reminded me just how naive college life really was. a night out on tacky legian st. satisfied just about nothing, but gave me a reason to get off the island.

before i left for lombok, i made a stop in ubud, and luckily for me, my stay coincided with a readers and writers festival. the pondok library dealt with my literary needs, while a few warung filled my belly with delicious balinese dishes.

BAS RELIEF
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lombok's centerpiece, gunung rinjani (3742m), was an awesome sight from the valley below. the volcano rose up from its green surroundings prominently. the slope of the mountain couldn't rival fuji-san's precision, but mother nature can't be bothered with such details.

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roughly seven hours of uphill hiking afforded my group a view of the crater. we set up camp and had a brief nap before leaving around 3 am for the early morning acscent. the loose rock near the summit kept my legs in constant pain, while the stars above shone brightly enough to keep some balance in the universe. the sunrise over the crater was truly majestic. i reached the summit a few minutes before the rays reached over the horizon, and the next half an hour was prime-time for photos. the triangular shadow cast by the conical crater reached out and covered bali in the distance, with its mountain, gunung agung, sending its greetings over the sea. the gili islands, which i visited just a week prior to my ascent, were dots in the shadow, hiding from the early morning sun. all the pain in my legs quickly vanished with amazement at nature's wonders.

GUIDE
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the next two days of trekking featured some swimming in the crater's lake and more uphill climbing than i would have liked. although the ensuing sunset was wonderful given our campsite at the top of the rim.

the next week or so i spent on a variety of buses, boats, bemos and motorbikes before i reached flores. the island of sumbawa, stuck in the middle of lombok and flores, was a tough-cookie in terms of travel, but its inhabitants gave me heaps of food, drink and love for the end of ramadan. the eight-hour ferry trip from sumbawa to flores also gave me my first glimpse of komodo and its waters, which gave me more than any diver could ask for.

three days and six dives in komodo and rinca national park was a tiring experiene, but one of the most rewarding on the trip. the underwater coral gardens, marine life and currents made for some adventurous dives. also seeing a few mantas up close was a treat that any diver dreams of. the highlight was perhaps my last dive, which featured a fifteen-minute drift by some beautiful coral and then half an hour of chilling out with friendly fish.

CHILLIN' 20m under the surface
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a trip to rinca was combined with diving, and the beastly monitor lizards did not disappoint. they recently devoured a water buffalo so the carcas was still intact when we arrived. for the most part, they did not move at all and a few of them rested peacefully in the mud. with the dry season coming to an end, the flora on rinca was dry as a whistle and shade was selling at a premium price.

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the road across flores, gratuitously dubbed a road, leaps up to the mountains and descends down to the sea. the varied landscapes were gorgeous and passed the jam-packed bus rides more pleasurably than others on this journey. my stop in bajawa was highlighted by staying with a muslim family. they opened their arms at the bus terminal and i returned their hospitality with a few guitar tunes. im not sure if they understood my lyrics, but smiles filled the room.

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moni, a village at the base of gunung kelimutu, served as a relaxing setting for a few days. i took an early morning moto ride up to the top and saw the three different colored pools of water with my own two eyes. it was a peaceful morning devoid of visitors, and my new peruvian-american buddy jose and i enjoyed the walk back to the village.

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flores was the place in indonesia which made a return trip a certainty. the beautiful scenery, friendly faces, and lack of tourists all made my tour worthwhile. the islands of maluku, sulawesi and papua all rank highly for my next trip through the archipelago. for now, im enjoying fast internet in bali, and preparing myself for aus in a few short days. asia has been wonderful to me and i hope to come back in a few years when i've wandered a bit more.

Posted by ggithens 19:12 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Equatorial Vagrancies

twice as nice or full of flavor? who assesses my behavior?

sunny 0 °F
View se asia, beaches abound on ggithens's travel map.

a few weeks in tsunami-ravaged aceh proved to be a wonderful cultural experience. the heart of the province is nearly all lush jungle, and its inhabitants are kind in nature and quite inquisitive. many smiling faces were interested in my life, and were not overbearing as many others have been. the gorgeous scenery was complimented with a visit to urban banda aceh during ramadon. the streets were full of food at 6:42pm when the bell tolled in the mosque. i couldn't help walking into a local eatery and sitting with acehnese for dinner. it was a moment that traveling makes possible. that evening the sky was also a dark shade of blue, a hue common in the depths of the sea.

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Evening Prayer
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my time on pulau weh, just north of banda aceh, was a bit disappointing due to low visibility under the sea, but nonetheless, the seaside bungalows were a treat. the cheeky macaques that jumped on my roof were a complimentary offering from Mama Mia, the gentile owner of the bungalows.

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jungle time came in halves - the first being a trek to scalding hot springs and the second an hour with tame orangutans in the Bukit Lawang Rehabilitation Center.

my guide on the trek was not too enthusiastic, although he was addicted to grass. we were unable to see wild orangutans, or at least nothing more than orange fuzz in the treetops. the camping spot by the hot springs, however, was ideal for relaxing, smoking and pondering what action to take if a sumatran tiger were to come for a session.

the tame orangutans came around for a bite to eat just under the treetops, in a scenic spot devoid of cages. the mother and child were quite amusing, walking between tourists and even posing for a profile picture. after walking down the hill we passed a few empty cages, which is a good sign for the rehabilitation center. the hostels along the river in Bukit Lawang were nearly empty, as it seemed most places were in Sumatra.

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HOT SPRINGS
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a dubious encounter with a taxi driver in medan led me to a bus terminal, and then to lake toba, the numero uno tourist destination in northern sumatra. the main town was full of hostels, eateries, book shops and hundreds of people who called me "friend" from their stores. surprisingly, i wasn't itching to leave after a few days. the batak people, followers of Jesus Christ, had some rocking concerts at night and the empty town made for eerie, yet intriguing walks. also, the island in the middle of the lake is the size of singapore, and the views were sublime from my balcony.

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a couple days in berastagi reminded my of india, sans live animals defecating in the street. i can't admit i miss that delightful sight. the town offered little, but an active volcano was within walking distance of the stench-riddled markets. perhaps the highlight of the town was the $.40 pancake - large enough for two adult males and packed with peanuts, bananas and gooey chocolate. it was breakfast and dinner for three consecutive days.

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Volcano Crater Rock Signatures
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Kids.....
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at the tail-end of my malaysian trip i visited bako national park, a seaside jungle only accessible by boat. the allure grows..... the proboscis monkeys and macaques were visible near the beach, and a few heavenly sunsets gave me the chance to contemplate life on mars, or maybe that was just bowie on the ipod. the national park was actually run for avid travelers, unlike the natural amusement parks up in sabah. i hope to return to sarawak for a more in-depth investigation, but bako and malaysian independence day were a great start.

Merdeka Day Boat Race -> Go Yellow Team!!!
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Proboscis Monkey Outline
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whose prose knows
where the story goes?

Posted by ggithens 06:36 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Sabah

0 °F
View se asia, beaches abound on ggithens's travel map.

Landing in Malaysian Borneo after a whirlwind tour of the peninsula left little time for me to speculate on what gems I wanted to see in Sabah. A brief visit to the tourism board, however, alleviated me of my speculation problems in about five minutes. After reading through the concise summaries of Sabah's natural wonders I was drooling at the thought of wandering through virgin rainforests with orangutans and proboscis monkeys eyeing me from above. But, as a budget traveler, the miser in my mind was thinking that a week in the magical valley could be eight anywhere else in SE Asia. Tough decisions.

My first stop heading east from the elongated strip-mall, otherwise known as Kota Kinabalu, was the Mt. Kinabalu National park. A single goal was upstairs upon arrival - summit the highest peak in Borneo. Gnarly, nasty, disgusting right? The sheer cost of the hike is enormous, roughly $70, but I was prepared to shell out ringgit to ascend into Sabah's clouds with a guide I didn't need or want. The park ranger turned me down for a day climb since I arrived too late, but he said the following day would be acceptable. Perhaps it was a fortuitous denial, because my exploration of the mountains' surrounds was a grand experience, and begged the question -> Why would I pay $70 for a view from a mountain? To most tourists I've met this is a pittance, the cost of fun here in Sabah, but after contemplating paying for nature, I realized that I would rather save the cash for something else. So, the avid hiker in me was disappointed, but the penny-pincher and rigid moralist in me were grinning with glee. My camera was still put to good use in my two days roaming the outer trails of the park.

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Hiking with the kiddies
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Saving a few bucks came in handy for my current activity, scuba diving. Semporna, the gateway to some world-class dives, has been my home for the last week or so. Its' dive shops offer extremely reasonable deals on courses, and I was glad I waited to begin my diving life in eastern Sabah.

The fish and coral certainly use every shade in the spectrum, and the sensation of breathing underwater is still so foreign to me that I get that gleeful childhood smile. It is lovely to know that there are activities and adventures that can make you feel like a kid again, especially with scary words like mortgages and marriages floating around. A water-proof camera could make the budget list for the next trip, but for now everything is above the saltwater. Our boat rides featured sublime islands and some locals fishing in the Celebes Sea.

Rainbow
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Scuba spot
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Zissou's creation station
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Posted by ggithens 23:58 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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