zondag 27 januari 2013


Today I finally found the time to practice a bit with my remote Canon shutter. I made some wanderlust-themed pictures of myself and my worldmap, which is hanging on my living room wall.

What do you think of it? I expected the pics to come out sharper/more focused, I don't know if I should blame this on shooting with a remote, or if the light was just not good enough (it's quite rainy here today...). Any advice is welcome!

By the way...my next destination will be the Dolomites, Italy! 3 Weeks of snowboarding with my boyfriend, his father and the groups they guide (check out their Facebook to find more information about their skitours, from cabin to cabin). I'm counting the days, 19 to go!

dinsdag 15 januari 2013

Indonesia: day 8 & 9

Day 8 - To Lombok

A new day, a new week. After spending the weekend at the Gili's, it was time to cross the water to Lombok. The Gili's lay pretty close to Lombok, so it would be a short trip with the boat - not a fancy fast one this time. That didn't matter though, we had to leave early, and it was actually quite nice to start the day with an easy trip on the waves of the Bali sea, heading to the north-west coast of our next destination.

Everyone on the boat was quiet, probably still a bit hung over. Leaving the Gili's behind us, I mused about these unique islands. We had a good time there, but there was definitely something remarkable about them. Almost no 'normal living' takes place there, maybe the islands should actually be considered as refuges from 'normal life'. Three small communities, fully separated from the main land, with their economy (as far as you can speak of it) completely based on tourism. In fact, I wonder if there's even a simple school on one of the islands! I have no idea how the ratio is between tourists and island residents, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's about 3:1... Travelers go to the Gili's to pause their trips for some days, to stop moving and only relax and party. There's nowhere to go, and no motorized vehicle to take you anywhere. Countless of travelers that come and go every couple of days, the whole year through...while no one will stay for much longer than a week...that's a bit sad, in a way! Well maybe sad isn't the right word, because the islands are beautiful and happy places where we enjoyed ourselves perfectly well, but still I felt a bit melancholic seeing them disappear in the waves behind us.

Enough pondering about the Gili's, on to Lombok! Our arrival on this new island actually woke me out of my contemplation quite roughly. We had not even reached the shore yet, or a whole bunch of Lombok men ran into the water to take our backpacks. They weren't exactly being gentle either! As soon as one of them took hold of a backpack, they carried it to their own horse-drawn carts, so you'd be more or less forced to step in as well and let them take you (paid, of course) to whatever your destination was. Mark and I managed to get out of the boat with our own bags (quite an achievement in that situation), but had to give in as well not much later. It was such a chaos, with men pulling and yelling at us from all sides, promising to 'know' our transport company and to be the cheapest and fastest one to get us to their pick-up station...what could we do?! And no, it was definitely not possible to get there by foot. Transport to Sengigi (one of the bigger cities at Lombok) was included in our transition, and clearly we would not be picked up at the 'harbour', so...we stepped inside a cart, and off we went. Mark had to literally fold himself on the small bench, being way taller than the average Indonesian man. Once on the way, our 'driver' turned out to be more friendly than he actually seemed to be back in the chaos. Maybe they háve to be like that, to get enough customers and provide their families of money and food? They probably lie about the distance for the same reason (or they just can't count), 'cause it couldn't have been more than a couple of hundred meters to the pick-up station. We could have made that crawling!

We settled down under a small sunroof, relying on our cart driver who said that a van would pick us up here and take us to Sengigi. Minutes passed by, a funny Lombok man took his chance and kept showing me his goods until I gave up my resistance and bought a small bracelet. Still no sign of our van...hoping we were on the right spot, we waited a little longer. It felt silly to be back in motorized traffic, but comparing the size of Lombok to that of the Gili's, everyone would agree that having cars and scooters can be pretty convenient as well.

Unlike Bali, most residents of Lombok are Muslim, just like on the Gili's. This means that the smell that is so typical for Bali is absent on Lombok. Neither will you see a temple or altar on every corner of the street, nor women making small offerings in colorful clothes. Instead the Islamic prayer calls can be heard five times a day from the mosques. It's bizarre, how much influence the main religion has on the streetview of the Indonesian islands, and how much they differ from each other!

Finally a van that appeared to belong to our transport company arrived on our spot. We hopped on and settled for a one hour drive to Sengigi. It wasn't until this drive before I realized at what a stunningly beautiful island we arrived. Lombok is definitely different from Bali as well! It's way less touristic, but I think it's less populous anyway. To me, it was a bit of a relief to be in such a calm and not-so crowded place after Bali and the Gili's. It's less of a tourism-based economy, with more normal working and school-going people. We passed farmers, fishermen and busy housewives surrounded by little children barely wearing any clothes. Lombok also seemed to be greener: more forest, more hills, more nature. So much stimulation to al of your senses, wow!

Our plan was to climb Gunung Rinjani on Lombok (a big volcano). But before that, we wanted to see a bit of the rest of the island, so Mark came up with the idea to rent scooters for the next two days. We asked our driver to drop us at a rental place in Sengigi. The guy of the little rental office was a bit weird and véry pushy. He wanted us to book our (guided) Rinjani trip with him as well, but we only wanted two scooters! Finally he let us go, yelling after us that we had to come back to book the tour later...'yeah right' :P

We only had to cross the street to find a good place to stay for the next days: the Central Inn. It looked a bit like a tropical motel, and we discovered it had júst opened. The remote control and our bed-end were still covered in plastic, can you imagine?! Because the inn was still starting up, the prices of the rooms were low, while very comfortable (including airconditioning, free wifi and a hot shower!). Lucky us! We took a shower, arranged breakfast for the next day and relaxed for a little bit, browsing through the Lonely Planet chapters on Lombok. Time to explore this new island!

We took off on our scooters, this time I rented one myself as well (the Lombok traffic seemed to be a bit less hectic than on Bali...so I figured I might be able to actually stay alive :P). After heading slightly inland, we turned north towards the monkey forest near Pusuk. This road goes over a sort of 'pass' (over a small mountain), so the first hour we only rode uphill on the winding roads. Traffic goes slow uphill, so it gave me the chance to get a bit used to the scooter (driving on the left!)...even though Mark still managed to overtake every road user that went slower than neccessary (leaving me anxious to keep up with him...oh my!).

I enjoyed the Lombok scenery, so different from Bali in it's architecture, like I mentioned before. No more temples, but a lot of small huts, some mosques, land for sale (cheap!) and some old buildings here and there hailing from old colonial times. In between, all shades of green you can imagine and even more! Once on top of the 'pass', we stopped for a little break and to play with the monkeys. Man they are perky! Hanging out at the side of the road (literally, they just sit on the guardrails), they got used to being close to people and steal their potential food (or other interesting things). If you do something they don't like, they let you know clearly. They might touch you (while grabbing food), but you won't touch them. I was a bit scared of the big ones (seriously, has anyone ever been attacked by a monkey?), Mark was laughing at me of course. Luckily there were a lot of cute little monkey babies as well, I tried to photograph all of them until Mark dragged me away to pursue our trip downhill, convincing me it was nót possible to take one home with us. Such a shame.

Anyway, downhill we went, back towards Bangsal (where we arrived that morning). Once in Bangsal, we turned south again, now driving along the shore instead of through the forest. Another view, but still as beautiful...and hot! Missing the shade of the woods, the sun was now burning on our bare shoulders, arms and legs. With the sea constantly luring on our right side, it wasn't long untill we found some off-road route towards the beach. Nothing beats a refreshing dive in the ocean when it's hot! We had the beach almost to ourselves, only some Lombok kids were paddling a bit further along the beach. We draw some attention from them, I must say... Obviously the touristic season had not begun yet at Lombok, the kids yelled at us 'hi tourists!' and giggled out loud. Sweet :)

When we were in the water, suddenly an Indonesian boy started waving and shouting at us from the shore. We thought something was wrong, so we hurried out of the water towards him. The boy smiled at us though, shook our hands, introduced himself and welcomed us on his beach. Uuhm..okay? He was very friendly though and chattered a bit with us. He came sitting next to us on our towels, and showed his favourite music on his smartphone (the poor boy had a terrible music taste, my goodness). Mark and I weren't sure what he was doing or if he wanted anything from us, so we just babbled along. After a little while the boy asked us if we wanted some fresh coconutmilk. Well...why not, we thought? So off he went. It took quite long before he came back, later we realized he actually picked them off a tree right then! You won't get them any fresher ;) When the boy finally came back, he had two chopped off coconuts in his hand with a little straw sticking out of them. He also cut off some of the 'flesh' of the coconut, apparently this can be eaten as well. I must say, honestly...I didn't really like the taste (milk nor flesh), but that boy was só enthusiastic that I couldn't disappoint him. Of course in the end he wanted money for it, Mark and I already expected so, we're still 'the rich tourists' for him. So we gave him some coins, and he finally left us alone on 'his beach'. Silly boy :)

Late afternoon we continued our way south towards Sengigi again. We refreshed ourselves for a bit in our room (I took a nap and dreamt about being a horse, according to Mark who watched me stamping in my sleep...oh well), and took off to the city's centre for our evening meal. There are plenty of little restaurants along the main road of Sengigi, so it didn't take long before we settled down with a Bintang in one hand and the menu in the other. I believe I went mostly for European-like food these days, I wasn't making my belly very happy with the Indonesian dishes. So: fries, salad and a piece of meat for me please! Not very cultural, but my body said thank you :)

Day 9 - Waterfalls and a scooter accident

Waking up the next day, we enjoyed breakfast (pancakes, again!) on the porch of our room. Every morning we step into a thick blanket of hotness as soon as we opened the door of our air conditioned rooms, and it was still early in summer! I liked the temperature though, after the little shock of getting out of our cool room, it was lovely to feel the morning sunrays burn on my skin and lift up my head, eyes closed, to enjoy the warmth and light.

For this day, we decided to visit a waterfall, quite a few kilometres inland. But first, we had to book our Rinjani tour for the next day, so after breakfast we hopped on our scooters and rode along some different booking agents (anxiously avoiding our scooter rental place, we we're só not booking our tour with that pushy guy!). There are plenty of guided tour agencies in Sengigi, so in the end we just ventured into one of the offices and asked for the prices and possibilities. We wanted to do the three day tour, and définitely go to the summit (what's the point of it otherwise?!). There were three package possible: a basic package (1 cm mattresses, simple food and water), a special packages (thicker mattresses, a bit more diverse food, and I believe some lavatory supplies), and last: the deluxe package. This last package is seriously insane, it has even thicker mattresses, Bintangs, a lot of special lavatory supplies, and chairs. Chairs! Come on people, choose if you want to climb a vulcano or stay in a 5 star hotel, but don't try to combine both! You have to realize, all supplies are carried by special carriers: some Indonesian guys that climb with you with all the bagage (including tents, water and food) on their backs. It's unbelievable how much weight they have to haul up onto the vulcano, how can people ask them to take chairs on top of that and walk beside them with no shame?! Sigh...

I will get back to those chairs later, but for now we had our tour booked. We would be picked up about 5 a.m. the next morning, at our hotel. It would be wise to go to bed a bit early this evening... But first: the waterfall! They were actually two waterfalls: Benang Stokel and Benang Kelambu. It was quite a trip to get there, first we had to head a bit southward to Mataram, the main city of Lombok (from Sengigi that's at least an hour on the scooter). The closer we got, the busier the traffic became, you can imagine. Mataram isn't a nice place (at least what I saw of it, it might very well be prettier once you get off the main roads), but once we passed it, everything became nice, green and quiet again. From Mataram it's about 27 kilometers east to the waterfalls, probably another 1,5-2 hours. We were getting more and more inland now, which meant more rice fields: such a typical scenery for Indonesia. We paused for a moment beside one, drinking a bit water (away from the shore it became even warmer) and eating some cookies. Every now and then you have to stop to get new petrol, which is sold in transparent bottles alongside the road, mostly by women with little stalls. They look a bit like bottles with urin, actually (is this a silly thought?). You just pour them into your tank under the saddle, and on you go!

The last bit of the road the pavement got worse and eventually disappeared. We came through tiny villages, where the kids looked at us like they'd not seen white people in ages, laughed and waved at us. Even though Mark is an excellent map reader, we had to start asking the way to people, 'cause those small sandy roads could not be found on our maps anymore. Funny thing we noticed was how a lot of villages, no matter how small (even the ones with no paved roads in them!), had big shiny mosques. A lot of them were still under construction. Obviously a lot of money goes into these religious buildings, which I find a bit debatable. On the other hand, they provide quite some opportunities for employment, some of them were crowded with construction workers. Others seemed totally abandoned though, like the construction had discontinued halfway, because no more money was left to proceed. A strange situation, if you ask me.

Finally, after quite a rough last part of the road (imagine an uphill unpaved road where you have to find your way between huge holes you don't want your wheel to slip into), we reached the waterfalls. Well, not the waterfalls themselves, but some kind of a starting point, with a parking space for our scooters. Obviously we had to proceed by foot. Some men were chilling out under a roof, we asked them how to get to the falls. One of them (named Iskandar) offered to be our guide. He stated that it was still quite a walk to the first waterfall, which we could've found on our own though. Nevertheless, to get to the second waterfall, we had to be guided, otherwise we would definitely get lost in the woods. He seemed nice, and even though he had to be paid for his service, he said we could decide for ourselves how much we wanted to give him, afterwards. So we agreed, and the three of us went off for the first waterfall.

A beautiful walk and about 15 minutes later, we reached Benang Stokel. In the middle of the woods, there was some kind of small open valley, with a tall cliff on the opposite side. Here the waterfall (Benang in Indonesian) could be found, pouring down for about 20 meters into a little shallow pool. Local people believe this water has healing powers, so a lot of them come to bathe in it. Indeed there were some Indonesian families, with adorable (seriously!) little kids, spraying and playing naked in the water. It was a very peaceful place, with (luckily) few tourists. We later heard this is completely different in the main season, there even are food stalls in the valley by then! Even more amazing is the fact that the valley is completely filled with water in the rain season, right there on the place were we stood! We took a few pics, and jumped off another, smaller waterfall nearby. Iskandar said the water was deep enough for a jump, so of course we couldn't let the chance pass by. It was worth the long and slippery detour we had to take to get back on track (only once though ;)).

Now it was time to get to the second waterfall: Benang Kelambu. Iskandar had not lied when he said we might get lost without a guide on our way towards it, we passed a lot of side roads and junctions that were leading into the forest to who knows where. But with our cheerfully chatting guide, we found our second waterfall in about half an hour, where we were completely on our own. Though Benang Stokel was nice, this waterfall left me breathless for a moment. We old stairs lead down to it, another small valley completely surrounded by forest. On one side, water is pouring down like a big net being spread out, for 35-40 meters down. Kelambu actually means something like a mosquito net! The rocks the water is pouring down from are almost completely covered by plants and bushes, which gives it an even more unique look. On the foot of the fall there are rocks, small and big, scattered around. We climbed them, getting completely soaked by the haze of the fall, passing under the falling water into little caves behind it. Iskandar laughed and relaxed for a bit, already used to this beautiful view. He took my camera and made lots of pictures of us... I might sound a bit sentimental right now, but I will néver forget this dreamy place. 

On our way back to the scooters, Iskandar told a bit about himself, his wife and little girl. He asked us if we had a facebook account, and suddenly we were added as his online friends, right there, in the middle of nowhere, on his smartphone. How weird is that? The world is becoming so small, now I receive updates from Iskandar on my facebook timeline, with pictures of him posing in front of the Benangs, together with tourists just like Mark and myself. Mark and I agreed on what we would give to Iskandar for his services (of course his stories about his wife and little daughter made us a bit more generous). After saying goodbye to him, we started our long way back towards Sengigi.

Now I've come to the saddest moment of this holiday (I tried to postpone it as long as possible, hence my superlong story above :P) ... I had a little scooter accident. Actually that was not all that bad, I can handle a fall and some bruises. Worse was the fact that my Iphone got stolen during the little chaos that arose during my fall! I had it in some kind of front pocket on my scooter, so I could easily take it out during our drive (I stopped regularly for a moment, to take some pictures of the scenery). The fall was just a stupid accident, no one's fault. I slipped with my back wheel on the sandy road, not even going fast. It was a busy place, close to the centre of Mataram. Luckily I was smart enough to fall next to a gas station with a shop, where they sold betadine and plasters :) I bled on my elbow, knee and foot, but finding out my Iphone was gone made me so angry that I totally forgot about the pain. If looks could kill, all the Indonesian guys on the little square in front of the shop would have been dead. They must have seen who took my phone (or maybe even did it themselves), but refused to say anything. Grrrrrr..... We had no choice but to follow our way to Sengigi, leaving my unfound phone in Mataram. Even a quick visit to one of the few Hindu temples on Lombok on our way back (on the most stunning location you can imagine) didn't really calm me down, but at the same time I felt ashamed for it.

I felt hurt for my lost photos, I had already taken so many during this holiday! Of course I mostly used my DSLR camera, but a lot of funny quick shots and some memorable short videos were taken with my Iphone. A smartphone is replaceable, but not those visual memories. Also, I worried about my parents. I knew they worried about their daughter, so far away in a strange country. I knew they were often anxiously waiting for a sign of life from me, an assurance that everything was okay. From now on that would be only possible by email, for which I had to go to an Internet cafe. I hated the fact that they would probably worry even more now, even though it was not at all necessary (try to convince parents of that, especially when you're an only daughter). Anyway, there was nothing I could do about it, nothing that would bring my phone back. I had to accept the fact, take the necessary arrangements and just go on, if I did not want to let it spoil my vacation. So once back in Sengigi, I blocked my number in an Internet cafe, changed some passwords and send an email to my parents, Marks mom (who knows a lot about insurances) and my own insurance company. After that we searched for the police station in Sengigi, because I would need a declaration of theft for my insurance company. The police office was a joke, it finally made me smile again. My goodness, what a bunch of silly, bored and lazy men. It took ages before they found the right papers, all the agents were interfering. I wouldn't be surprised if I was the first visitor of the office that day. The mood was indulgent though, and over all the men were friendly. They all bent down over my declaration, admiring my handwriting. Well, uuhm..thanks!

That night we went to bed early. Of course I was still a bit upset, but I really tried to come to peace with what happened, and to stay positive. Right now I was even more a real traveler, away from home, with another 'chord' cut through. Maybe I could take this opportunity to grow even more independent, and enjoy the moment and place I found myself in more. Maybe that was actually a good start of our climb of Gunung Rinjani!

Follow me!